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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Friday, August 31, 2012  

Two related posts…first, Peter Drucker:
Originally posted 11/13/2005
In Managing in the Next Society, Drucker writes about the tension between liberty and community:
Rural society has been romanticized for millenia, especially in the West, where rural communities have usually been portrayed as idylic. However, the community in rural society is actually both compulsory and coercive.
One recent example. My family and I lived in rural Vermont only fifty years ago, in the late 1940s. At that time the most highly popularized character in the nation was the local telephone operator in the ads of the Bell Telephone Company. She, the ads told us every day, held her community together, served it, and was always available to help.

The reality was somewhat diferent. In rural Vermont, we then still had manual telephone exchanges…But when finally around 1947 or 1948, the dial telephone came to rural Vermont, there was universal celebration. Yes, the telephone operator was always there. But when, for instance, you called up to get Dr Wilson, the pediatrician, because one of your children had a high fever, the operator would say, “You can’t reach Dr Wilson now; he is with his girlfriend.” Or, “You don’t need Dr Wilson; your baby isn’t that sick. Wait till tomorrow morning to see whether he still has a high temperature.” Community was not only coercive; it was intrusive.
And that explains why, for millenia, the dream of rural people was to escape into the city. Stadluft macht frei (city air frees) says an old German proverb dating back to the eleventy or twelfth century. The serf who managed to escape from the land and to be admitted into a city became a free man. He became a citizen. And so we, too, have an idyllic picture of the city–and it is as unrealistic as the idyllic picture of rural life.
continued at Chicago Boyz

6:24 PM

Thursday, August 30, 2012  

I’ve frequently heard various Democratic operatives and Dem-supporting journalists asserting that Obama has empathy with the middle class, which (according to them) Mitt Romney lacks. Which raises two questions:
–What sort of middle-class empathy does Obama really have?
–What sort of empathy should a leader have?
Regarding the first question, it might help to segment the concept of the “middle class.” I think Obama’s attitude toward struggling blue-collar members of the middle class–especially those who live in small towns–is pretty clearly illuminated by his2008 comment (at a private fundraiser) about such individuals being “bitter” people who “cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them..” His attitude toward middle-class small businesspeople shines through clearly in his “you didn’t build that” assertion. And his attitude toward upper-middle class professionals is demonstrated by his reflection about how boring it would have been for him to be a Wall Street lawyer, and his apparent belief that doctors regularly choose to amputate the feet of diabetic patients because it pays better than treating them.
In reality, Obama’s attitude toward the middle class is pretty much as the same as his attitude toward just about everybody else–contempt. At, there is a sort of condescending pity, but rarely if ever anything approximating actual respect.
What sort of empathy should we want in a political leader, anyhow? As an analogy: imagine that you’re on an airliner that is in trouble and needs help from Air Traffic Control. You certainly want your assigned controller to care very deeply about the safety of your flight–but do you really want him to be spending his mental bandwidth “feeling your pain” in a Clintonian sense? Or if you’re a patient undergoing surgery, doesn’t the same point apply? You want genuine concern about getting the job done, but you don’t want or need a lot of emoting and especially you don’t want or need emotional display.
What you should want, in the case of a leader, is alignment of goals–you want the criteria by which the leader measures his own success to have a high overlap with the things you want him to accomplish. And it should be clear that if Obama succeeds in fundamentally transforming American society to something that accords with his vision–more centralized government power, a diminished private sector, a transition away from fossil fuels, a larger union movement, more focus on ethnic identities and less on common American identity, etc–he will feel that he has succeeded, regardless of what happens to the standard of living and economic opportunities for middle-class Americans.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

7:47 AM


A great Ian Tyson song, sung here by Tom Russell:
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

4:22 AM

Tuesday, August 28, 2012  

I recently saw the retrosilent film The Artist (which I thought was pretty good), and by chance, a couple of days later I picked up a magazine with an article on the history of early talking-picture technologies. This in turn led me to do some Internet searching. One of the early sound-movie technologies was something called Vitaphone. With this approach, the sound was recorded separately from the film, using a very large (16 inch diameter) phonograph record.
“How on earth did they ever keep the sound and the picture in sync?” you may well be asking. During recording, the camera and the record-cutting machine were both driven by AC synchronous motors powered by a common line; during exhibition, a direct mechanical connection between projector and record-player was employed. Lots of detail about the process, as well as a review of the pioneering talking movie Don Juan, in this 1926 NYT article.
Vitaphone was heavily used by Warner Brothers and its sister studio First National between 1926 and 1931–in addition to feature films, the technology was used for over 1000 short subjects. While the technology offered good fidelity by the standards of the times–electronic amplification was used–the separation of picture media and sound media made editing difficult, and during exhibition of a film it was necessary to change the records every 10 minutes or so.
When Vitaphone was displaced by the sound-on-film approach, circa 1931,some–but by no means all–of the Vitaphone movies were transferred to the new technology. The Vitaphone Project, which has been active since 1991, is dedicated to finding the old films and old disks and bringing them together in playable format again.
Related posts:
Czarist Russia, in color (the first link at this post doesn’t work anymore, but the rest of them do)
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

12:06 PM


…in The New York Times.
IBM mainframes, like other mainframes, actually are of course digital and everything they do is part of “the digital world.” Indeed, IBM’s entire history, going back to the pre-computer punched-card days, is all about digital information processing.
“Digital” is not really a synonym for “cool modern stuff,” any more than “analog” is a substitute for “old-fashioned boring stuff,” but journalists generally seem to use the words that way.
(In the case of the linked article, I suspect that the article-writer and the headline-writer are not the same individual. LinkedIn made the headline even worse by changing it to “IBM Evolves to Serve Digital World.”)
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

6:02 AM

Friday, August 24, 2012  

Originally posted 3/4/2004
There’s always a steady steam of books and articles offering advice to people who are beginning, or about to begin, their business careers. In the current crop of such publications, there seems to be a lot of emphasis on “taking care of yourself’–negotiating hard about starting salary, being insistent about raises and promotions, making sure you get full credit for the things you accomplish, etc etc. This general theme seems particularly pronounced right now in advice directed at women.
Within limits, it’s common sense. If you don’t stand up for yourself, you’re going to get run over. And, in an era of (at least perceived) insecurity, it’s natural that people would be increasingly focused on career self-protection.
But. Note the qualifier, “within limits.”
Readers of the afforementioned publications need to also read a little article that appeared in Investor’s Business Daily (2/23), under the title “Opportunists are Trouble.” Opportunists:
..avoid assignments that carry high risk of failure–even when such situations also present a great opportunity for success. They shirk responsibility for the actions of their subordinates…And while opportunists might seem highly intelligent, it’s often not the case…They master the art of appearance, but have very little depth.
The article quotes the author of “Staying There,” Thomas Schweich:
If you are going to be an executive with staying power, you must value ambition, destroy opportunism and be adept at telling the diference between the two…(Wise) executives search for small, tangible signs in those they are evaluating.
Earl Graves, founder & publisher of the magazine Black Enterprise, offers some advice as to how to detect an opportunist. One clue is an excessive preoccupation with perks–company credit cards, tickets to sports events, etc–and particularly, a focus on perks during the first few days on the job. And Mike Sears, previously CFO at Boeing, advises executives to look out for the “spotlight” mentality. People with this personality trait will “be charming when the spotlight is on, but turn irritable and condescending when they think “no one of importance” is watching.”
Another clue to an opportunist–and this one should be obvious–is excessive use of the words “I” and “me” when discussing positive outcomes. And then there’s the “should be” flag. Let’s say you ask your subordinate about the status of an assignment, and his response is that “it should be done.”
“(It) says that you think I am too stupid to figure out that you do not know the answer,” (said a senior Justice Department official). (And it) “says you are ready to blame someone else if the job hasn’t been done. You are pre-distancing yourself from the failure.”
It seems to me that many of the current practices in our educational system–grade inflation, excessive focus on unearned self-esteem–contribute to the development of the personality pattern referenced here under the name “opportunism.” And the problem with the kind of business advice that I mentioned at the beginning is that it tends to reinforce these tendencies, rather than causing the individual to reflect on them and balance them out. I worry that some of this advice could cause people who could have been successful to adopt behavior patterns that will destroy or limit their careers. Some, of course, will succeed despite their behavior (or even because of it, in unhealthy organizations), and they can then do damage that is sometimes on a very large scale.
A worthwhile article, and Schweich’s book sounds very interesting.
8/24/2012: I was reminded of this post by Bill Waddell’s post here.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

6:49 AM

Wednesday, August 22, 2012  

Several good songs about the rodeo:
Tom Russell, Bucking Horse Moon
Judy Collins, Someday Soon
(Earlier songs-with-related-themes post: Heartsignals)
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

1:32 PM

Sunday, August 19, 2012  

Should this be a “Just Unbelievable,” or a “Sad and Disturbing, but not Surprising?”
A student at the University of Southampton discovered that her photograph had been digitally modified by university officials, in deference to the “cultural sensitivities” of certain students and prospective students.
And, in related news, here’s a Canadian man who was arrested for walking his dog in the vicinity of Muslim demonstrators.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

11:35 AM


Weather permitting, the 200-year-old USS Constitution will be going for a brief sail today.
The ship's website is here.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

4:53 AM

Friday, August 17, 2012  
RERUN--BOOK REVIEW: Life in a Soviet Factory

Originally posted 3/29/2009
Bitter Waters: Life and Work in Stalin’s Russia
by Gennady Andreev-Khomiakov
A fascinating look at the Soviet economic system in the 1930s, as viewed from the front lines of that system.
Gennady Andreev-Khomiakov was released from a labor camp in 1935, and was fortunate to find a job as a book-keeper in a sawmill. When the factory manager, Grigory Neposedov (a pseudonym) was assigned to run a larger and more modern factory (also a sawmill), he took Gennady with him.
Although he had almost no formal education, Neposedov was an excellent plant manager. As Gennady describes him:
He was unable to move quietly. Skinny and short, he moved around the plant so quickly that he seemed to be running, not walking. Keeping pace with the director, the fat chief mechanic would be steeped in perspiration…He rarely sat in his office, and if he needed to sign some paper or other, you had to look for him in the mechanic’s office, in the shops, or in the basement under the shops, where the transmission belts and motors that powered the work stations were located…This enthusiasm of his, this ability to lose himself completely in a genuine creative exertion, to give his all selflessly, was contagious. It was impossible to be around Neposedov without being infected by his energy; he roused everyone, set them on fire. And if he did not succeed in shaking someone up, it could unmistakely be said that such a person was dead or a complete blob.
With his enthusiasm and dedication to his factory, Neposedov comes across almost as a Soviet version of Hank Reardon (the steel mill owner in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged), with this difference–Nepodesov could throw himself as enthusiastically into bureaucratic manipulation as into his technical and leadership work. All of his skills would be needed to make this factory a success.

Although the sawmill had modern equipment, it was producing at only a fraction of its design capacity. One of the problems was energy: the plant was powered by a 200HP steam engine, and whoever had built the place had spent almost all of the budget on other equipment, leaving very little for the boiler. The original boiler that came with the plant turned out to be useless, and was replaced with a salvaged boiler..this worked, but was not in good shape and produced only about half the steam needed to run the engine–and the plant–at full power.
At this point in history, and in this particular corner of the Soviet economy, the amount that was available to be paid to workers was strongly related to the output of a plant. And workers at this sawmill were becoming increasingly desperate, on the point of actual starvation. Neposedov, aided by Gennady, pusued a three-part program of improvement: (1)fix the boiler, (2)improve the workflow (as we would now call it) within the plant, and (3)put in place an incentive system for the workers.
New “pipes” for the boiler were somehow obtained (I think “pipes” in this context refers to boiler flues) and the workflow was continuously analyzed and improved. The most interesting part of the story, though, deals with the incentive program. The plant manager apparently had discretion to put such programs in place as long as he could pay for them out of increased output. (As the book describes it, there were extensive accounting systems in place throughout the Soviet economy–indeed, Lenin had once gone so far as to say “Socialism is accounting.” The accounting seems a bit similar to what you would find in a multidivisional American company with extensive intracompany transactions.) The incentive system that Gennady designed for this sawmill was based on very sharp pay increases for the workers when production exceeded target–so that, for example, you could double your pay by producing only 25% over target. (Actually, the plan paid collectively by group and by shift, rather than on an individual basis.)
The incentive plan, together with the repaired steam boiler, resulted in very high production–140%, then 160% of target–and correspondingly high pay for the workers. Gennady had some nervous moments when he feared he had made a mistake in the calculations and the cost of the additional wages would exceed the amount generated by the new production….a mistake like this could easily have landed him back in Siberia, or worse. But it turned out that the new system was indeed sustainable.
The local Communist Party leadership, while pleased with the increased production, was disturbed that the propaganda buzzwords of the day were not being implemented. “Socialist competition” was hot at the time, and the Party organizer insisted on competition at the individual worker levels, not just the group and shift level.
continued at Chicago Boyz

4:32 AM

Thursday, August 16, 2012  

A thoughtful and well-written piece from COMJAM: Dear Admiral…
The applicability of these thoughts is not limited to the Navy.
Bureaucratic language and the bureaucratic mindset are not the friends of the true marketing imagination.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

12:34 PM

Wednesday, August 15, 2012  

Originally posted 1/10/2011.
E J Dionne, an establishment liberal who writes for the Washington Post, complains that many House Republicans “behave as professors in thrall to a few thrilling ideas”–ideas, that is, about limitations on the power of government–and says:
Their rhetoric is nearly devoid of talk about solving practical problems–how to improve our health care, education and transportation systems, or how to create more middle-class jobs.

Instead, we hear about things we can’t touch or see or feel, and about highly general principles divorced from their impact on everyday life…

Daniel Jackson, a rabbi who lives in Israel, says:
Now, it was this last sentence that grabbed my attention. Why is it problematic to discuss things that are abstract? I would have thought that for those who style themselves as intellectuals, keeping abstract, non-tangible concepts in mind would not be an issue.
Perhaps, however, that is precisely the problem. This is not a new conflict–between those who maintain a fiduciary responsibility to unseen concepts and those who simply cannot understand such phenomena.
Read the whole thing.
In reality, of course, the size, scope, and structure of government has an enormous effect on a nation’s prosperity or lack of same. As an extreme example, a society with Soviet-union-level centralization can implement endless detailed programs for improving the lives of its people: it is going to remain a much poorer society than it would have been with a less-controlling structure.
In the corporate world, a bad CEO may work very hard to make the right decisions in dozens of different areas–but if he fails to delegate and to put the right incentive structures in place, if he strangles the initiative of his subordinates by centralizing everything in his own hands, then he is very likely to fail—and the larger and more complex the corporation, the more likely this failure is to occur.
(Original CB comment thread here)
8/15/2012: A discussion thread at Bookworm on the roots of Progressivism’s appeal links to an article (see comment by Old Buckeye) which is very relevant to this topic.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

6:01 AM

Tuesday, August 14, 2012  

(Originally posted 5/2/2003. Nine years have passed since the original post, and I think we can safely remove the question mark from the phrase “An Academic bubble?”)
Over at Critical Mass, there’s recently been much discussion of Brooklyn College. This is the institution at which English professor Frederick Lang was removed from the classroom–evidently in large part due to his hard-nosed grading policies and his unpopular habit of writing honest comments on student papers.
The devaluation of standards in academia has been going on for a long time. Eric, a commenter at Critical Mass, reports on a conversation that took place at SUNY–Stony Brook when he was a professor there. Faculty members were discussing the math final grades:
“What should the minimum D be?”
“180 out of 420.”
“No, we’d fail too many people.”
They eventually decided on 140 out of 420. At this point, Eric asked:
“Bernie, would you trust someone who got 140 out of 420 to do your taxes?”
“Eric, that’s not the point.”
“Would you trust him to be your doctor?”
“Eric, that’s not the point.”
“Would you trust him to build a bridge for you?”
“Eric, that’s not the point.”
So what is the point?
Of course, we all know what the point really is. The point is for students to obtain a piece of paper–a diploma–which is viewed as a passport to economic success. Increasingly, the perceived value of this diploma is decoupled from any knowledge or accomplishment that it actually represents. It is valued for the circular reason that–it is valued.
This situation is reminiscent of other pieces of paper–stock certificates in certain dot.com companies. At the height of the boom, people were acquiring these certificates without much consideration of the current or potential business results of the companies they represented. (“I don’t know what it does,” said one investor of a stock, “but I know it’s moving.”) The hope was simply that a popular stock would become more popular and hence increase in price–that is, these certificates were valued because they were valued.
A bubble is not infinitely sustainable. In the market, stocks will eventually collapse if there are no earnings to support their price levels. And, in academia, degrees will not be valued indefinitely unless they represent genuine knowledge and accomplishment. The collapse may not be as immediately dramatic as a market collapse–but it seems inevitable that it will eventually happen.
8/14/2012: Glenn Reynolds recently published a book titled The Higher Education Bubble. It’s available via Kindle for $1.99, which I believe is a temporary price…I haven’t read it yet, but I’ve downloaded it, and will be reading it soon.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

12:50 PM

Monday, August 13, 2012  

In early 2010, I wrote about the growing affluence of the metropolitan Washington, DC area:
Chevy Chase, MD, is an affluent suburb of Washington DC. Median household income is over $200K, and a significant percentage of households have incomes that are much, much higher. Stores located in Chevy Chase include Tiffany & Co, Ralph Lauren, Christian Dior, Versace, Jimmy Choo, Nieman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Saks-Jandel.
Since then, the affluence of the DC area has been growing by leaps and bounds, and is the subject of a recent NYT article: Why DC is doing so well.
What particularly struck me about this article was the following sentence:
If you wanted to imagine what the economy might look like if the country were much better educated, you can look at Washington.
Really? A lot of the people whose salaries are driving DC affluence have Masters degrees in Political Science, PhDs in International Relations, etc etc. Does the article’s author (David Leonhardt) really think the US would be more prosperous if we had more people with degrees of this sort, often working for organizations with vague and unmeasurable missions? Does he really not understand that the wealth these people consume is actually produced with people with very different skill sets and, sometimes, with no degrees at all?…People who know how to raise crops, drive tractor-trailors and trains, fabricate metal, design circuit boards, manage supply chains, and generate electricity?
Another and even more bizarre passage from the article:
The narrower of (the two economic lessons that he says can be drawn from DC’s success) is a reminder that, for all its unpopularity, a Keynesian response to an economic crisis really can make a difference. The Washington area’s households and businesses have cut back in recent years, too, but their frugality has been offset by steady government spending. If anything, government has helped fill the void, with the District of Columbia’s having received more stimulus dollars per capita than any state…

In reality, of course, the affluence of the DC area doesn’t prove anything more about the validity of Keynesian economic-stimulus theory than did the affluence of the Versailles court during the last decades of the French monarchy. Transferring wealth to a favored elite will obviously make that elite, and their immediate dependents, richer, and this is true whether the money is extracted directly from non-favored classes via taxes, or obtained via debt financing for which the non-favored classes will later be on the hook. This doesn’t either prove or disprove anything about the efficacy of deficit spending on an economy-wide basis.
Leonhardt does admit that “some” of DC’s new wealth is the result of economic rent-seeking, which he defines as “tapping into the economic value created by someone else, rather than creating new value,” but goes on to say, “Still, Washington’s good times are not all — or even mostly — about rent-seeking.” In this, I think he is entirely wrong. Most of DC’s increased affluence is indeed the result of rent-seeking, which most definitely a zero-sum game.
True, not EVERYONE of the DC area is in the rent-seeking business. As I noted in the 2010 post linked above, certain Federal activities are directly economically productive: “An air traffic controller is as much a productive part of the air transportation system as is a private-sector airline pilot. A real research scientist at NIH or CDC is as much a part of the productive healthcare research system as is a researcher at Pfizer or Medtronic. (I use the “real research scientist” qualifier because these agencies seem to be devoting an increasing portion of their resources to nanny-state scolding.) And we do indeed have a private sector in the DC area–indeed, very significant portions of the Internet and Cloud Computing industries are based here, especially in suburban Virginia out toward Dulles Airport.
But DC affluence is for the most part not being driven by the incomes of network engineers and marketing executives out in Sterling, or by the salaries of medical researchers in Bethesda or FAA managers of the air traffic control system down on Independence Avenue. It is being driven by the incomes of people who are outside the productive economy and are, in a very real sense, parasitic on it. The DC area imports large amounts of resources from the rest of the country–food, consumer goods, gasoline, computers, even electric power–for which it does not trade countervailing value.
In this summary of articles by David Leonhardt, the author of the NYT article linked above, I notice that he is a strong advocate of higher taxes on “affluent Americans.” What this comes down to in practice is higher taxes directly imposed on some categories of affluent Americans (and indirectly imposed on many categories of not-so-affluent Americans) acting for the benefit of other categories of affluent (and soon-to-be affluent) Americans.
What the Obama administration and its supporting “progressives” are pursuing is indeed class warfare, but to a substantial degree it is class warfare of a horizontal rather than a vertical nature. It’s a war against people who run small businesses and even medium-sized manufacturing companies, against people who work on oil drilling rigs or down in coal mines, against parents who would like their kids to have an alternative to the dysfunctional public school system, for the benefit of people like many of those you can see in expensive DC restaurants every day and evening of the week.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

7:46 AM

Sunday, August 12, 2012  

On August 12, 1812, the Middleton Railway put two steam locomotives into regular service, marking the beginning of the railroad era—the social, economic, political, and consequences of which would be vast. The poet Heinrich Heine, living in Paris in 1843, vividly captured the sense of the smaller world enabled by the railroad:
I feel the mountains and forests of all countries advancing towards Paris. Already, I smell the scent of German lime-trees; the North-Sea breaks on my doorstep.
The August 1812 event marked the first regular use of trains which were mechanically self-propelled…railroad technology itself goes back much further, beginning with tracks cut in stone in ancient quarries and continuing with the use in Germany, circa 1558, of wooden rails for the movement of ore within mines and with the introduction in Britain, in 1604, of flanges for keeping wheel on rail. These “wagonways,” as they were called, allowed one horse to haul about 4 times more freight than the same horse could handle with wagons operating over conventional roads.
The Middleton Railway was created as a result of commercial pressures: in 1745, a mine owner named Charles Brandling was finding it difficult to compete with other miners who, unlike him, had access to water transportation. Brandling’s agent, Richard Humble, proposed the creation of a wagonway, which soon extended to a location near the River Aire. (About 35 miles.) The line was privately financed; Brandling did however obtain an act of authorization from Parliament, which gave him the power to obtain “wayleave,” which seems to have been a form of delegated eminent domain.
Although horsepower in the literal sense was the major prime mover in this railway’s early history, a stationary steam engine was applied to help the horses over a particularly steep hill. By 1808, though, the Napoleonic wars had caused the price of horse feed to rise and the resulting high costs of transporttaion were again making the Brandling colliery uneconomic. John Blenkinsop, the newly-appointed colliery manager, designed and patented the rack and pinion method of traction and contracted with a local foundry to build two locomotives, which were named Salamanca and Prince Regent. Steam operations continued until the 1830s, when the line reverted to horse-drawn traction (a couple of boiler explosions were involved in the decision, I’d also suspect changes in the ratio between the prices of horse feed and coal), switching back to steam in 1866. The Middleton Railway was used for coal-hauling until 1967, and is now operating as a tourist railroad. The railway held its 200th anniversary celebration in June of this year, commemorating the first public demonstration of its steam engines on June 24, 1812.
continued at Chicago Boyz

4:34 AM

Friday, August 10, 2012  
Originally posted 7/11/2004

I read about this incident in December, 2001, and have been thinking about it ever since. (The article appeared in Information Week, of all places.)
In May 2001, the writer went to see a movie in the upscale NYC neighborhood of Chelsea:
Before the movie started, the coming attractions included a public-service ad–you might have seen it on TV–showing a mother and small child in a home, then the outside of the home, then into the air to show the neighborhood, then higher to show the city, then miles up into the sky showing the whole country. And then it showed a pilot in a jet high above the earth from whose perspective the earlier scenes were viewed: a pilot in the U.S. Air Force patrolling the skies while the audio played the gentle song, “All Through The Night.” When the audience realized that it was an ad for the military, many people hissed, booed, or laughed derisively.
Several unpleasant forms of human behavior were on display here–for starters, ingratitude, class snobbery, and a generally jaded and sneering attitude. It strikes me that no society in which such attitudes prevail is likely to long survive.
And something else strikes me. The probability of individuals behaving in the way that these people did is directly proportional to their educational level. It’s very unlikely that people with only high school diplomas would have responded to the film in the way that these theatergoers did. It’s more likely that college graduates would respond in such a way. And it’s very likely indeed that those with graduate degrees (in the “humanities,” not the hard sciences) would respond as this audience did.
(I have no proof for the above conclusion, but it seems pretty obvious based on the way that attitudes in our society tend to be distributed across educational levels.)
In C S Lewis’ novel That Hideous Strength, the principal character is captured by a sinister cabal. He is put through a process of training which is aimed at killing “all specifically human reactions” in a person.
To kill the “specifically human reactions” in a person and substitute something else…is that the effect of higher education–especially graduate education–as often carried out today?
Please understand that I am not arguing against education in general or against humanities education in particular. Judging by its fruits, however, something is much amiss with higher education as conducted in America today (and, I suspect, in Europe as well.) It often seems to create and/or reinforce in an individual a set of unloveable attributes such as:
–An unmerited assumption of superiority toward his fellow citizens
–An inability to appreciate skills other than the ones he himself possesses (such as, for instance, the ability to fly a jet fighter)
–An inability to engage on an emotional level
In the Information Week article, the writer (editor-in-chief Bob Evans) expresses the hope that the attitudes expressed at the movie would, in the light of 9/11, become a thing of the past.
This undoubtedly was true in some cases (as evidenced from the stories of many denizens of the blogosphere.) But the positive reactions to the Michael Moore movie (which almost certainly come mainly from the same class of people who jeered at the film in Evans’ article) indicate that the malign spirit of which he wrote is still very much alive.
8/10/2012: Cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

5:35 AM

Thursday, August 09, 2012  

A panoramic view of the surface of Mars, via the Rover Curiosity.

link via Dean Esmay

1:13 PM


Originally posted 4/4/2008

Sarah quotes AirForceWife:
A few weeks ago I read an article that summarized a study about kid play. The results of the study were ASTOUNDING. The gist of it was this:

For the last fifteen years or so, parents have been directing children’s play more and more in an effort to help them learn earlier and more easily. Action figures are no longer generic, but so specific they can’t even be kept in the same vinyl storage case. Rather than “free play” where kids interact together with a minimum of adult involvement, adults are now fully involved and moving their spawn from place to place and activity to activity without giving the kid a chance to just play.
And a lot of kids don’t know how to “just play” anymore.

The results of the study showed that in trying to help our kids this way, we were actually stunting the evolutionary adaptions that kids self-teach themselves to problem solve and interact in society. These learned behaviors are the basis for everything else a kid learns. In effect, we are giving our kids learning disabilities by trying to give them learning advantages.
Sarah also writes about her own experiences:
I am no longer teaching knitting classes, but I am still working at Michaels when they have in-store events. And my favorite thing to do is watch parents interact with their kids when they bring them in for the kid-geared free events.

One example was the day sponsored by Crayola where the kids got to try out these fancy new markers and paper. So the craft was to make a door hanger, you know, like a Keep Out sign. And it was fascinating how many parents didn’t like the way their kid was coloring or what he was doing and literally took the markers from his hands and made the hanger for him.
Related: See this post–the kids are older, but the issues are pretty much the same.

8/9/2012: Cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

7:56 AM

Wednesday, August 08, 2012  

May there be many more!

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

5:52 AM

Originally posted 10/2/2004
Updated 8/8/2012

In Wind, Sand, and Stars, Antoine de Saint-Exupery refers to the legend of the monkey that dances for the boa constrictor--in the hopes that the snake will be so enchanted that it will let the monkey go on living. (St-Ex was making an analogy with a man he met in a village during the Spanish Civil War, who was trying very hard to be extra-friendly to his neighbors...in the hope that they wouldn't shoot him for political differences.)

It strikes me that there is a lot of dancing for the boa constrictors going on it the world today.

In the debate Thursday night, John Kerry attacked President Bush for underwriting research into bunker-busting nuclear weapons. "I'm going to shut that program down," says Kerry, arguing that we are not "sending the right message to places like North Korea" when we are pursuing such programs. Evidently, Kerry believes that if we provide the proper role model by abandoning such efforts, then North Korea and Iran will be more inclined to abandon their own nuclear programs.

Which makes about as much sense as arguing, in the late 1930s, that Britain and the U.S. should have provided a better role model for Nazi Germany by abandoning key weapons programs--say, the Spitfire fighter and B-17 bomber. Could any sane person believe that such actions would have led Germany to moderate its behavior? And today, could any informed person not believe that the leaders of Iran and North Korea are cut from cloth very similar to those from which the Nazi leaders were cut?

In this post (link no longer available), Bill Hobbs explains the importance of the bunker-busting weapons. But to me, the key issue here is not whether building the bunker-buster is a good or a bad idea. The key thing is the absolutely stunning level of naivite that Kerry has demonstrated in thinking that the kind of people who run Iran and North Korea will respond in any substantive way to demonstrations of "good behavior" on our part.

Dancing for the boa constrictor. Maybe he'll like me, says the monkey, maybe he won't eat me--at least not yet.

(complete debate transcript here. Thanks to Little Miss Attila for the link.)

Shannon Love has written a very astute post on this subject. Sample:

In Kerry's world model controlling nuclear proliferation is about moral suasion. He would contain the threat of rouge nuclear entities by making nuclear weapons a moral taboo. To create this taboo, we must lead by example and refuse develop new nuclear weapons. Our shining moral example will create a world in which it will be difficult for any national or sub-national political entity to justify creating, stealing and using nuclear weapons of their own.

At his heart Kerry is a talker. His core skill is political persuasion. He wants fiercely to believe in a world where any problem can be solved with enough articulation. He honestly believes that he can convince anybody to do anything. In his model, the US does not need nuclear weapons, especially new types of them, because they are superfluous when moral example and negotiation can easily contain the nuclear threat.

Sadly, Kerry doesn't understand that violence isn't about moral standing, it is about physics.

Also read the comments.

Update 8/8/2012: And here’s Barack Obama, in 2009, giving a great exhibition of boa-constrictor-dancing by asserting that deep reductions in the US nuclear arsenal will somehow make the North Korean leaders want to give up their nuclear weapons.

Cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open.

4:43 AM

Tuesday, August 07, 2012  
Originally posted August 1, 2005

Donald Sensing reminds us that the First World War began on August 1, 1914. Don has a summary, and there is a fairly extensive entry at Wikipedia.
I’m not sure that most Americans understand just how devastating this war was for Europe. The casualty levels were immense, representing significant portions of an entire generation.
At the French military academy of Saint-Cyr (the French equivalent to West Point) a memorial was erected after the war with the inscription “To the class of 1914.” Every single member of that class was killed in the war. (Reference here.)
The following passage is from F Scott Fitzgerald’s novel Tender is the Night. The time is about 10 years after the end of the First World War. The setting is the battlefield of the Somme.
Rosemary waited tensely for Dick to continue.

“See that little stream—we could walk to it in two minutes. It took the British a month to walk to it—a whole empire walking very slowly, dying in front and pushing forward behind. And another empire walked very slowly backward a few inches a day, leaving the dead like a million bloody rugs. No Europeans will ever do that again in this generation.”

“Why, they’ve only just quit over in Turkey,” said Abe. “And in Morocco—”
“That’s different. This western-front business couldn’t be done again, not for a long time. The young men think they could do it but they couldn’t. They could fight the first Marne again but not this. This took religion and years of plenty and tremendous sureties and the exact relation that existed between the classes. The Russians and Italians weren’t any good on this front. You had to have a whole-souled sentimental equipment going back further than you could remember. You had to remember Christmas, and postcards of the Crown Prince and his fiancée, and little cafés in Valence and beer gardens in Unter den Linden and weddings at the mairie, and going to the Derby, and your grandfather’s whiskers.”
“General Grant invented this kind of battle at Petersburg in sixty- five.”
“No, he didn’t—he just invented mass butchery. This kind of battle was invented by Lewis Carroll and Jules Verne and whoever wrote Undine, and country deacons bowling and marraines in Marseilles and girls seduced in the back lanes of Wurtemburg and Westphalia. Why, this was a love battle—there was a century of middle-class love spent here. This was the last love battle.”
“You want to hand over this battle to D. H. Lawrence,” said Abe.

“All my beautiful lovely safe world blew itself up here with a great gust of high explosive love,” Dick mourned persistently.

8/7/2012: Cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open
UPDATE 8/8/2012: See also Sgt Mom’s well-written post about her visit to Verdun.

4:32 AM

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