Politics, culture, business, and technology

I also blog at ChicagoBoyz.


Selected Posts:
Sleeping with the Enemy
Dancing for the Boa Constrictor
Koestler on Nuance
A Look into the Abyss
Hospital Automation
Made in America
Politicians Behaving Badly
Critics and Doers
Foundations of Bigotry?
Bonhoeffer and Iraq
Misvaluing Manufacturing
Journalism's Nuremberg?
No Steak for You!
An Academic Bubble?
Repent Now
Enemies of Civilization
Molly & the Media
Misquantifying Terrorism
Education or Indoctrination?
Dark Satanic Mills
Political Violence Superheated 'steem
PC and Pearl Harbor
Veterans' Day Musings
Arming Airline Pilots
Pups for Peace
Baghdad on the Rhine

Book Reviews:
Forging a Rebel
The Logic of Failure
The Innovator's Solution
They Made America
On the Rails: A Woman's Journey

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betsy's page
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Tuesday, February 28, 2012  


cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

7:09 AM

Friday, February 24, 2012  

The scale of the universe

(Takes a while to load, but worth it)

via Cassandra

7:17 AM


How Obama makes decisions.


Ron Suskind's book Confidence Men portrays Barack Obama as being confounded by his duties as president. Some of the scenes depicted by Suskind would be comical if they were not so tragic for America.

For example, when Obama's experts assembled to discuss the scope and intricacies of the stimulus bill, Barack Obama was out of his depth. He was "surprisingly aloof in the conversation" and seemed "disconnected and less in control." His contributions were rare and consisted of blurting out such gems of wisdom as "There needs to be more inspiration here!" and "What about more smart grids" and -- one more that Newt Gingrich would appreciate -- "we need more moon shot" (pages 154-5).

Suskind writes:

Members of the team were perplexed...for the first time in the transition, people started to wonder just how prepared the man at the helm was. He repeated a similar sorry performance when he had a conference call with Speaker Pelosi and her staff to discuss the details of the planned stimulus bill. He shouted into the speakerphone that "this stimulus needs more inspiration! Pelosi and her staff visibly rolled their eyes."

Presidential exhortations more befitting a summer camp counselor will evoke such reactions.

Several months ago, I cited a study of Woodrow Wilson written by Sigmund Freud and William Bullitt:

Throughout his life he took intense interest only in subjects which could somehow be connected with speech...He took no interest in mathematics, science, art or music--except in singing himself, a form of speaking. His method of thinking about a subject seems to have been to imagine himself making a speech about it...He seems to have thought about political or economic problems only when he was preparing to make a speech about them either on paper or from the rostrum. His memory was undoubtedly of the vaso-motor type. The use of his vocal chords was to him inseparable from thinking.

To Obama, it's all about the speeches, all about the hype. Despite his faux reputation as an intellectual, the man has remarkably little interest in contemplation, analysis, or problem-solving.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

6:43 AM

Wednesday, February 22, 2012  

Obama is planning draconian cuts in the Federal Flight Deck Officer program, also known as the armed pilots program.

via Five Feet of Fury

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

9:02 AM

Tuesday, February 21, 2012  

Nothing is so unsettling to a social order as the presence of a mass of scribes without suitable employment and an acknowledged status...The explosive component in the contemporary scene is not the clamor of the masses but the self-righteous claims of a multitude of graduates from schools and universities. This army of scribes is clamoring for a society in which planning, regulation, and supervision are paramount and the prerogative of the educated. They hanker for the scribe's golden age, for a return to something like the scribe-dominated societies of ancient Egypt, China, and the Europe of the Middle Ages. There is little doubt that the present trend in the new and renovated countries toward social regimentation stems partly from the need to create adequate employment for a large number of scribes...Obviously, a high ratio between the supervisory and the productive force spells economic inefficiency. Yet where social stability is an overriding need the economic waste involved in providing suitable positions for the educated might be an element of social efficiency.

continued at Chicago Boyz

8:40 AM

Sunday, February 19, 2012  

The millions of immigrants dumped on our shores after the Civil War underwent a tremendous change, and it was a highly irritating and painful experience. Not only were they transferred, almost overnight, to a wholly foreign world, but they were, for the most part, torn from the warm communal existence of a small town or village somewhere in Europe and exposed to the cold and dismal isolation of an individual existence. They were misfits in every sense of the world, and ideal material for a revolutionary explosion. But they had a vast continent at their disposal, and fabulous opportunities for self-advancement, and an environment which held self-reliance and individual enterprise in high esteem. And so these immigrants from stagnant small towns and villages in Europe plunged into a mad pursuit of action. They tamed and mastered a continent in an incredibly short time, and we are still in the backwash of that mad pursuit.

Things are different when people subjected to drastic change find only meager opportunities for action or when they cannot, or are not allowed to, attain self-confidence and self-esteem by individual pursuits. In this case, the hunger for confidence, for worth, and for balance directs itself toward the attainment of substitutes. The substitute for self-confidence is faith; the substitute for self-esteem is pride; and the substitute for individual balace is fusion with others into a compact group.

It needs no underlining that this reaching out for substitutes means trouble. In the chemistry of the soul, a substitute is almost always explosive if for no other reason than we can never have enough of it...We can be satisfied with moderate confidence in ourselves and with a moderately good opinion of ourselves, but the faith we have in a holy cause has to be extravagant and uncompromising, and the pride we derive from an identification with a nation, race, leader, or party is extreme and overbearing. The fact that a substitute can never become an organic part of ourselves makes our holding on to it passionate and intolerant.

To sum up: When a population undergoing drastic change is without abundant opportunities for individual action and self-advancement, it develops a hunger for faith, pride, and unity. It becomes receptive to all manner of proselytizing, and is eager to throw itself into collective undertakings which aim at "showing the world." In other words, drastic change, under certain conditions, creates a proclivity for fanatical attitudes, united action, and spectacular manifestations of flouting and defiance; it creates an atmosphere of revolution.

--Eric Hoffer, The Ordeal of Change

(emphasis added)

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

7:07 AM

Friday, February 17, 2012  

Erin O'Connor links to George Eliot:

It is an interesting branch of psychological observation to note the images that are habitually associated with abstract or collective terms -- what may be called the picture-writing of the mind, which carries on concurrently with the more subtle symbolism of language. Perhaps the fixity or variety of these associated images would furnish a tolerably fair test of the amount of concrete knowledge and experience which a given word represents, in the minds of two persons who use it with equal familiarity. The word railways, for example, will probably call up, in the mind of a man who is not highly locomotive, the image either of a "Bradshaw," or of the station with which he is most familiar, or of an indefinite length of tram-road; he will alternate between these three images, which represent his stock of concrete acquaintance with railways. But suppose a man to had successively the experience of a "navvy," an engineer, a traveller, a railway director and a shareholder, and a landed proprietor in treaty with a railway company, and it is probable that the range of images which would by turns present themselves to his mind at the mention of the word "railways," would include all the essential facts in the existence and relations of the thing. Now it is possible for the first-mentioned personage to entertain very expanded views as to the multiplication of railways in the abstract, and their ultimate function in civilization. He may talk of a vast net-work of railways stretching over the globe, of future "lines" in Madagascar, and elegant refreshment-rooms in the Sandwich Islands, with none the less glibness because his distinct conceptions on the subject do not extend beyond his one station and his indefinite length of tram-road. But it is evident that if we want a railway to be made, or its affairs to be managed, this man of wide views and narrow observation will not serve our purpose.

Probably, if we could ascertain the images called up by the terms "the people," "the masses," "the proletariat," "the peasantry," by many who theorize on those bodies with eloquence, or who legislate for them without eloquence, we should find that they indicate almost as small an amount of concrete knowledge -- that they are as far from completely representing the complex facts summed up in the collective term, as the railway images of our non-locomotive gentleman. How little the real characteristics of the working-classes are known to those who are outside them, how little their natural history has been studied, is sufficiently disclosed by our Art as well as by our political and social theories.

Read the whole Eliot passage plus Erin's post.

See also Peter Robinson's post about Khrushchev and Soviet management practices, which I see as being pretty related.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

2:55 PM


A thoughtful essay by Richard Fernandez about the costs of the effort to establish top-down control over all aspects of human life.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

6:00 AM

Tuesday, February 14, 2012  

Government lunchbox inspectors in North Carolina

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

7:37 PM

Monday, February 13, 2012  

Even in the freest society power is charged with the impulse to turn men into precise, predictable automata. When watching men of power in action it must be always kept in mind that, whether they know it or not, their main purpose is the elimination or neutralization of the independent individual – the independent voter, consumer, worker, owner, thinker – and that every device they employ aims at turning man into a manipulatable ‘animated instrument,’ which is Aristotle’s definition of a slave.

On the other hand, every device employed to bolster individual freedom must have as its chief purpose the impairment of the absoluteness of power. The indications are that such an impairment is brought about not by strengthening the individual and pitting him against the possessors of power, but by distributing and diversifying power and pitting one category or unit of power against the other. Where power is one, the defeated individual, however strong and resourceful, can have no refuge and no recourse.

There is no doubt that of all political systems the free society is the most "unnatural." Totalitarianism, even when it goes hand in hand with a modernization of technique, constitutes a throwback to the primitive and a return to nature. It is significant that the "back to nature" movements since the days of Rousseau, though generous and noble in origin, have inevitably tended to terminate in absolutism and the worship of brute force.

Eric Hoffer, The Ordeal of Change

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

7:29 AM

Saturday, February 11, 2012  

...conducted by Francis Fukuyama, about America's current trajectory. Thiel co-founded PayPal and is a venture capitalist; he was an early investor in Facebook. In 2010 he created a fellowship with the mission of awarding $100,000 each to 20 people under 20 years old in order to spur them to quit college and create their own ventures. Fukuyama is a political scientist and writer best known for his book The End of History.

Link to the interview

I think this point made by Thiel is particularly worthy of note:

One regulatory perspective is that environmentalism has played a much greater role than people think. It induced a deep skepticism about anything involving the manipulation of nature or material objects in the real world. The response to environmentalism was to prohibit scientists from experimenting with stuff and only allow them to do so with bits. So computer science and finance were legal, and what they have in common is that they involve the manipulation of bits rather than stuff. They both did well in those forty years, but all the other engineering disciplines were stymied. Electric engineering, civil engineering, aeronautical, nuclear, petroleum—these were all held back, and attracted fewer talented students at university as the years went on. When people wonder why all the rocket scientists went to work on Wall Street, well, they were no longer able to build rockets. It’s some combination of an ossified, Weberian bureaucracy and the increasingly hostile regulation of technology. That’s very different from the 1950s and 1960s. There’s a powerful libertarian argument that government used to be far less intrusive, but found targeted ways to advance science and technology.

Read the whole thing.

Link via Isegoria

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

5:44 AM

Friday, February 10, 2012  

Predictions about the year 2000 made by Robert Heinlein in 1952.

via Newmark's Door

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

5:50 AM

Wednesday, February 08, 2012  

The first stored-program electronic computer capable of doing useful work was the EDSAC, built at Cambridge University and commissioned in 1949. It supported research in several scientific disciplines as well as the development of software techniques until being scrapped as obsolete in 1958. There is now a project to rebuild this pioneering computer: the reconstructed version will be made as close as possible to the original, with one exception...and the reasons for the exception, I think, are perhaps more related to social history than to the history of technology.

EDSAC used vacuum tubes (valves, in Britspeak) for its arithmetical and logical functions; for memory, it used something called a mercury delay line, an idea borrowed from WWII radar technology. (EDSAC=Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator.) information to be stored was introduced at one end of a tube of mercury, down which it traveled in the form of pulses of sound. About 1 millisecond later, at the other end of the tank, the pulses were picked up, amplified, and emitted again at the starting point, with the whole train of information bits in the line thereby being kept in continuous circulation as long as the power was on.

Can you guess how the reconstructed EDSAC is going to differ from the original version?

continued at Chicago Boyz

7:19 AM

Monday, February 06, 2012  

The IRS has a proposed new regulation which would prohibit charter-school teachers from participating in state retirement plans. (At present, all of the states which authorize charter schools permit, and in some cases require, the charter-school teachers to participate in these plans.) Furthermore, the new regulation would apparently apply retroactively and would cause the teachers to lose the state contributions to their accounts which have been accrued, and on which they were no doubt relying, unless they give up their employment. More here.

Today, February 6, is the last day for public comments on this issue under IRS procedures.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

6:50 AM

Friday, February 03, 2012  

I got a Kindle a few months ago, and have been very pleased to discover lots of old and largely-forgotten but very worthwhile books available for download, often for free or for 99 cents. In this and future posts, I'll be giving some focus to these neglected but worthy books and their authors.

Rose Wilder Lane, born in 1886 in the Dakota Territory, was the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the "Little House on the Prairie" books. Lane is best known for her writings on political philosophy and has been referred to as a "Founding Mother" of libertarianism; she was also a novelist and the author of several biographies.

In her article Credo, published in 1936, she describes her political journey, beginning with the words:

In 1919 I was a communist.

continued at Chicago Boyz

3:35 PM

Thursday, February 02, 2012  

Novelist Ben Marcus talks about how a writer can create emotional involvement on the part of his readers

A Harvard Business Review writer on how your use of pronouns reflects your personality

Speaking of Harvard, Cold Spring Shops has an interesting piece on status differences among colleges

The American Spectator on Environmentalism and the Leisure Class

Daniel Drezner on American resilience

Chicago Boy Ralph Goergens calls attention to the Building Technology Heritage Library

The world's most luxurious trains

And speaking of trains, see this fine piece of writing by Celia Farber

4:31 PM

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