Wednesday, October 31, 2012
From the hag and hungry goblin
That into rags would rend ye
And the spirits that stand
By the naked man
In the Book of Moons, defend ye!
That of your five sound sense
You never be forsaken
Nor wander from
Yourself with Tom
Abroad to beg your bacon
The moon's my constant mistress
And the lonely owl my marrow
The flaming drake
And the night-crow make
Me music to my sorrow
I know more than Apollo
For oft, when he lies sleeping
I see the stars
At mortal wars
And the rounded welkin weeping
With a host of furious fancies
Whereof I am commander
With a burning spear
And a horse of air
To the wilderness I wander
By a knight of ghosts and shadows
I summoned am to tourney
Ten leagues beyond
The wide world's end
Methinks it is no journey
(Not specifically a Halloween poem, but it certainly sets the mood, doesn't it? This is Tom O'Bedlam's Song, dating from sometime around 1600. There are lots more verses, and many different versions.)
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
HIGHER EDUCATION, UN(DER)EMPLOYMENT, AND DISSATISFACTION
Some thoughts from the great economist Joseph Schumpeter, writing in 1942:
The man who has gone through a college or university easily becomes psychically unemployable in manual occupations without necessarily acquiring employability in, say, professional work. His failure to do so may be due either to lack of natural ability—perfectly compatible with passing academic tests—or to inadequate teaching; and both cases will . . . occur more frequently as ever larger numbers are drafted into higher education and as the required amount of teaching increases irrespective of how many teachers and scholars nature chooses to turn out.
The results of neglecting this and of acting on the theory that schools, colleges and universities are just a matter of money, are too obvious to insist upon. Cases in which among a dozen applicants for a job, all formally qualified, there is not one who can fill it satisfactorily, are known to everyone who has anything to do with appointments . . .
All those who are unemployed or unsatisfactorily employed or unemployable drift into the vocations in which standards are least definite or in which aptitudes and acquirements of a different order count. They swell the host of intellectuals in the strict sense of the term whose numbers hence increase disproportionately. They enter it in a thoroughly discontented frame of mind. Discontent breeds resentment. And it often rationalizes itself into that social criticism which as we have seen before is in any case the intellectual spectator’s typical attitude toward men, classes and institutions especially in a rationalist and utilitarian civilization.
Well, here we have numbers; a well-defined group situation of proletarian hue; and a group interest shaping a group attitude that will much more realistically account for hostility to the capitalist order than could the theory—itself a rationalization in the psychological sense—according to which the intellectual’s righteous indignation about the wrongs of capitalism simply represents the logical inference from outrageous facts. . . . Moreover our theory also accounts for the fact that this hostility increases, instead of diminishing, with every achievement of capitalist evolution.
Reminds me of Francis Bacon’s assertion…way back in the late 1500s!…that one cause of sedition and mutiny in any polity is “breeding more scholars than preferment can take off.”
Monday, October 29, 2012
Tyrone Woods was one of the men murdered at the State Department facility in Benghazi, Libya. His father,Charles Woods, was spoken to at the memorial service (at Andrews Air Force Base) by Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden.
Charles Woods did not perceive very much remorse or genuine sympathy on the part of these politicians. While assessing someone’s genuine level of sympathy is of course a subjective matter, what is not subjective is the actual words that are spoken…and the following words, according to Mr Woods, were spoken by Hillary Clinton:
“we’re going to have that person arrested and prosecuted that did the video.”
We know now, of course, that the Benghazi attack was a pre-planned terrorist operation that had little if anything to do with the video in question. All the evidence, furthermore, is that the Obama administration was aware or should have been aware of this fact at the time, and that their strident and repeated public assertions to the contrary were either reflections of incompetence and opinion-jumping, or were actual deliberate lies. But even if it had been true that the attacks were in response to fury over the video, this would not have justified Hillary’s above statement in any way. Tyron Woods and the others were not murdered by a filmmaker; they were murdered by violent radical Muslims.
What Hillary said is directly analogous to a WWII government official attempting to comfort the grieving father of a soldier killed in battle with Nazi forces by saying:
“we’re going to have Charlie Chaplin arrested and prosecuted for making that movie (The Great Dictator) that got the Nazis so upset with us”
Hillary’s remarks should be offensive not only to all Americans but also to all people everywhere who care about individual freedom.
And what is this about a Secretary of State and a President reaching down N levels into the bureaucracy and demanding that aprobation violator be arrested because of his political “crimes”? This is something we would have expected in the Third Reich or in Stalin’s Russia, not in the United States of America.
This administration’s handling of the Benghazi affair makes very clear, as if it wasn’t clear enough already, just how little respect this administration has for the lives and liberties of citizens.
These people are truly morally deficient, in a major way.
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
THE ERA OF THE THUG IN AMERICAN POLITICS?
One would like to believe that this is an exceptional case without larger significance. But then, I am afraid, one would be wrong.
“This may have been advertised as an anti-war rally,” said Suzanne Davidson, “but I could hear in the distance, as I looked at the hate-filled faces, military boots marching on broken glass.”
Davidson is a leader of a small group in LA that had been meeting regularly to show public support of Israel. Prior to the group’s usual rally on October 6, she learned that an “anti-war” group was planning a major demonstration in the same area. Should she cancel the pro-Israel demonstration? No, she decided…after all, what could be feared from a “peace” rally?
But from the very beginning, Davidson says, members of the “anti-war” demonstration behaved in a hostile and intimidating manner toward the smaller pro-Israel group, beginning with curses and a demand to “F___ off.” This escalated to the cry “You are Zionist Nazi pigs.” 1500 “anti-war” demonstrators marched past the 25 members of the pro-Israel group, some of them shouting “shame on you,” along with assorted name-calling. “I shudder to think what would have happened had the police not been there,” wrote Davidson.
As shameful as this event was, similar behavior–and much worse–has become increasingly common. At Concordia College (Toronto), Benhamin Netanyahu was prevented from speaking by a riot of Palestinian students and their supporters. Thomas Hecht, a Holocaust survivor, was pushed against a wall, spat on, and reportedly kicked in the groin. A woman said that during the same incident, attackers “aimed their punches at my breasts.” Two weeks later, at the same college, a Jewish student was beaten bloody by an Arab student.
Laurie Zoloth, a campus Jewish leader, summed up the campus situation in these words: “This is the Weimar republic with Brownshirts it cannot control.”
I cited other examples of political violence and intimidation in the post, and noted that while such behavior seemed to be most common on college campuses, it was not limited to those venues–in Colorado, for example, a car belonging to Rita Moreno (a leader of the initiative to scrap bilingual education) was torched. There was no proof that the fire-bombing was political…but Moreno says that there have been other forms of harassment against supporters of this initiative, including dumping of garbage in their yards and 3 AM phone calls.
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
WORTHWHILE READING & VIEWING
Some great photos of lava hitting the ocean
A great day in Manhattan for $20
Community college students deserve more respect than they're getting
Silicon Valley woman seeks to challenge Martha Stewart
Kitten and puppy pictures improve productivity
The case for apprenticeships
Flying with a great copilot. Captain Dave compares her to a concert pianist.
Sunday, October 21, 2012
THE PHOBIA(S) THAT MAY DESTROY AMERICA
I am continually amazed by the level of fear, contempt, and anger that many educated/urban/upper-middle-class people demonstrate toward Christians and rural people (especially southerners.) This complex of negative emotions often greatly exceeds anything that these same people feel toward radical Islamists or dangerous rogue-state governments. I’m not a Christian myself, or really a religious person at all, but I’d think that one would be a lot more worried about people who want to cut your head off, blow you up, or at a bare minimum shut down your freedom of speech than about people who want to talk to you about Jesus (or Nascar!)
It seems that there are quite a few people who vote Democratic, even when their domestic and foreign-policy views are not closely aligned with those of the Democratic Party, because they view the Republican Party and its candidates as being dominated by Christians and “rednecks.”
What is the origin of this anti-Christian anti-”redneck” feeling? Some have suggested that it’s a matter of oikophobia…the aversion to the familiar, or “”the repudiation of inheritance and home,” as philosopher Roger Scruton uses the term. I think this is doubtless true in some cases: the kid who grew up in a rural Christian home and wants to make a clean break with his family heritage, or the individual who grew up in an oppressively-conformist Bible Belt community. But I think such cases represent a relatively small part of the category of people I’m talking about here. A fervently anti-Christian, anti-Southern individual who grew up in New York or Boston or San Francisco is unlikely to be motivated by oikophobia–indeed, far from being excessively familiar, Christians and Southern people are likely as exotic to him as the most remote tribes of New Guinea.
Equally exotic, but much safer to sneer at…and here, I think, we have the explanation for much though not all of the anti-Christian anti-Southern bigotry: It is a safe outlet for the unfortunately-common human tendency to look down on members of an out group. Safer socially than bigotry against Black people or gays or those New Guinea tribesmen; much less likely to earn you the disapproval of authority figures in school or work or of your neighbors. Safer physically than saying anything negative about Muslims, as you’re much less likely to face violent retaliation.
JEFF SYPECK'S GARGOYLE POEMS
...are now available in book form.
The book includes 53 poems accompanied by black-and-white photos of the gargoyles and grotesques. These poems are really good...one of my favorites is here.
You can get the book via the usual on-line sources, the National Cathedral Store, or direct from Jeff's site at the first link.
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
DOES THIS COMPANY HAVE A FUTURE?
In late 2011, Ron Johnson–creator of the Apple Retail Stores–joined J C Penney, of which he is now CEO. His appointment was greeted with considerable enthusiasm.
Margaret Bogenrief doesn’t think much of the approach that he is taking…indeed, she uses the phrase “retail disaster of the decade.”
What do you think of Johnson’s strategy and tactics, and what would you do if you were in his position?
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
THE CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS, AS VIEWED FROM A SOVIET LAUNCH FACILITY
This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the world dangerously close to thermonuclear war.
I’m currently reading Rockets and People, the totally fascinating memoir of Soviet rocket developer Boris Chertok. A review of the whole thing will be forthcoming in the not too distant future.
Chertok’s career encompassed both military and space-exploration projects, and in late October 1962 he was focused on preparations for launching a Mars probe. On the morning of Oct 27, he was awakened by “a strange uneasiness.” After a quick breakfast, he headed for the missile assembly building, known as the MIK.
At the gatehouse, there was usually a lone soldier on duty who would give my pass a cursory glance. Now suddenly I saw a group of soldiers wielding sub-machine guns, and they thoroughly scrutinized my pass. Finally they admitted me to the facility grounds and there, to my surprise, I again saw sub-machine-gun-wielding soldiers who had climbed up the fire escape to the roof of the MIK. Other groups of soldiers in full combat gear, even wearing gas masks, were running about the periphery of the secure area. When I stopped in at the MIK, I immediately saw that the “duty” R-7A combat missile, which had always been covered and standing up against the wall, which we had always ignored, was uncovered.
Chertok was greeted by his friend Colonel Kirillov, who was in charge of this launch facility. Kirollov did not greet Chertok with his usual genial smile, but with a "somber, melancholy expression."
Without releasing my hand that I’d extended for our handshake, he quietly said: “Boris Yevseyevich, I have something of urgent importance I must tell you”…We went into his office on the second floor. Here, visibly upset, Kirillov told me: “Last night I was summoned to headquarters to see the chief of the [Tyura-Tam] firing range. The chiefs of the directorates and commanders of the troop units were gathered there. We were told that the firing range must be brought into a state of battle readiness immediately. Due to the events in Cuba, air attacks, bombardment, and even U.S. airborne assaults are possible. All Air Defense Troops assets have already been put into combat readiness. Flights of our transport airplanes are forbidden. All facilities and launch sites have been put under heightened security. Highway transport is drastically restricted. But most important—I received the order to open an envelope that has been stored in a special safe and to act in accordance with its contents. According to the order, I must immediately prepare the duty combat missile at the engineering facility and mate the warhead located in a special depot, roll the missile out to the launch site, position it, test it, fuel it, aim it, and wait for a special launch command. All of this has already been executed at Site No. 31. I have also given all the necessary commands here at Site No. 2. Therefore, the crews have been removed from the Mars shot and shifted over to preparation of the combat missile. The nosecone and warhead will be delivered here in 2 hours.
Sunday, October 14, 2012
SOME NOTES ON THE VP DEBATE, CONTINUED
In the last post, I reviewed Biden’s comments about the Benghazi debacle; now I’d like to discuss his thoughts about Iranian nuclear weapons.
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: When my friend talks about fissile material, they have to take this highly enriched uranium, get it from 20 percent up. Then they have to be able to have something to put it in. There is no weapon that the Iranians have at this point. Both the Israelis and we know we’ll know if they start the process of building a weapon. So all this bluster I keep hearing, all this loose talk — what are they talking about?…We will not allow the Iranians to get a nuclear weapon. What Bibi held up there was when they get to the point where they can enrich uranium enough to put into a weapon, they don’t have a weapon to put it into…Facts matter. All this loose talk about them — all they have to do is get to — enrich uranium in a certain amount and they have a weapon — not true.
It is extremely important to understand that, while one might think going from 20% uranium enrichment to the 90% that is required for a nuclear weapon, means that one is only 20/90 of the way there, this is not correct. The first steps in enrichment require more effort–more centrifuges, more energy–than the later steps, because the amounts of mass that must be dealt with are much greater. The nuclear industry actually has a metric, “separative work units,” to measure this. Enriching uranium from a standing start to 5.6kg of highly enriched uranium requires about 1270 SWU, whereas if you start with a feedstock that is already 20% enriched, you only need less than 200 SWU. Even if you begin with material enriched only to the level needed for a power reactor, only about 400 SWU are needed: a savings of 3:1 compared with starting from scratch. (Here’s another analysis with slightly different numbers but making the same point…4% enrichment is much more than 4/90 of the way there, and 20/90 is far more than 20/90 of the way there.)
SOME NOTES ON THE VP DEBATE
First, let’s look at this interchange on Libya:
MS. RADDATZ: What were you first told about the attack? Why were people talking about protests? When people in the consulate first saw armed men attacking with guns, there were no protesters. Why did that go on for weeks?
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Because that’s exactly what we were told —
MS. RADDATZ: By who?
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: — by the intelligence community. The intelligence community told us that. As they learned more facts about exactly what happened, they changed their assessment. That’s why there’s also an investigation headed by Tom Pickering, a leading diplomat in the — from the Reagan years, who is doing an investigation as to whether or not there were any lapses, what the lapses were, so that they will never happen again. But —
MS. RADDATZ: And they wanted more security there.
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Well, we weren’t told they wanted more security again. We did not know they wanted more security again. And by the way, at the time we were told exactly — we said exactly what the intelligence community told us that they knew. That was the assessment. And as the intelligence community changed their view, we made it clear they changed their view. That’s why I said, we will get to the bottom of this.
Who is this “we” of whom Joe is speaking? It would appear that “we” refers specifically to himself and to President Obama.
The President is supposed to run the executive branch of government. It is not the function of an executive to passively wait for information to be provided to him. It is rather his responsibility to ensure that people, systems, and procedures are in place to provide him with the information that he needs…more broadly, to establish an information and decision architecture so that information flows where it is needed and appropriate actions are taken on a timely basis. Obama, like his boss, thinks like an “individual contributor,” as the term is used in business and other organizations, not like an executive. Biden and Obama are concerned not with the performance of the overall organization but rather with how they look, believing that the two can be separated.
If a ship runs aground because the executive officer put one incompetent sailor on the radar scope, and another incompetent sailor on as visual watchman, it is most unlikely that the Captain will be able to save his career by saying “Nobody told me about that reef up ahead.”
Tuesday, October 09, 2012
WHY DOES OBAMA WANT TO KEEP BEING PRESIDENT?
Alana Goodman notes that Obama doesn’t like debating, doesn’t like people, and doesn’t like politics…and wonders why he does want to keep being President. (via Instapundit)
In my 2009 post he’s just not that into us, I suggested two analogies for Obama’s original desire to win the Presidency…reposted below, with some additional comments at the end…
Here’s George Orwell, writing in 1940 about England and the English:
When you come back to England from any foreign country, you have immediately the sensation of breathing a different air. Even in the first few minutes dozens of small things conspire to give you this feeling. The beer is bitterer, the coins are heavier, the grass is greener, the advertisements are more blatant. The crowds in the big towns, with their mild knobby faces, their bad teeth and gentle manners, are different from a European crowd. Then the vastness of England swallows you up, and you lose for a while your feeling that the whole nation has a single identifiable character. Are there really such things as nations? Are we not forty-six million individuals, all different? And the diversity of it, the chaos! The clatter of clogs in the Lancashire mill towns, the to-and-fro of the lorries on the Great North Road, the queues outside the Labour Exchanges, the rattle of pintables in the Soho pubs, the old maids biking to Holy Communion through the mists of the autumn morning – all these are not only fragments, butcharacteristic fragments, of the English scene. How can one make a pattern out of this muddle?
But talk to foreigners, read foreign books or newspapers, and you are brought back to the same thought. Yes, there is something distinctive and recognizable in English civilization. It is a culture as individual as that of Spain. It is somehow bound up with solid breakfasts and gloomy Sundays, smoky towns and winding roads, green fields and red pillarboxes. It has a flavour of its own. Moreover it is continuous, it stretches in to the future and the past, there is something in it that persists, as in a living creature. What can the England of 1940 have in common with the England of 1840? But then, what have you in common with the child of five whose photograph your mother keeps on the mantlepiece? Nothing, except that you happen to be the same person.
And above all, it is your civilization, it is you. However much you hate it or laugh at it, you will never be happy away from it for any length of time. The suet puddings and the red pillarboxes have entered into your soul. Good or evil, it is yours, you belong to it, and this side of the grave you will never get away from the marks that it has given you.
George Orwell was a socialist. He wanted to see radical transformation in his society. But in the above passage, he displays real affection for the English people and their culture.
Can anyone imagine Barack Obama writing something parallel to the above about America and the American people? To ask the question is to answer it. Clearly, Obama does not identify with America in the same sort of way that Orwell identified with England.
Why, then, did Obama wish to become our President?
Monday, October 08, 2012
SAD AND DISTURBING, BUT NOT SURPRISING
Annica Eriksson, a lunch lady at school in Falun, was told that her cooking is just too good.
Pupils at the school have become accustomed to feasting on newly baked bread and an assortment of 15 vegetables at lunchtime, but now the good times are over.
The municipality has ordered Eriksson to bring it down a notch since other schools do not receive the same calibre of food – and that is “unfair”.
Sunday, October 07, 2012
In the wake of the first Presidential debate, a lot of people have been using boxing metaphors, analogies, and images. Which reminds me of three good songs:
Saturday, October 06, 2012
WHAT CENTURY IS THIS?
The attempt to delegitimize free speech continues, with growing advocacy of what would essentially be blasphemy prosecutions.
Here’s a professor at the University of Chicago who thinks it unfortunate that a strong interpretation of the First Amendment prohibits the government from “restricting the distribution of a video that causes violence abroad and damages America’s reputation.”
A strange understanding of the word “causes.” If a group called Avengers of Sicilian Honor decides to blow things up every time a movie is released that isn’t properly respectful of the Mafia, then is the movie causing the violence? Obviously, the entitycausing the violence is the Avengers. One would have hoped a law professor would understand this.
Does criticizing a religion, to whatever excessive degree, automatically create violence in a way that criticizing the other things–the Mafia, for example, or cats, or the male gender–does not? See this post and discussion at Ricochet. In comments there, I said:
Why should *religion* be more protected from offensive speech than any other belief system…and what, precisely, qualifies as a religion? If we mock the extreme-environmentalist believers in a conscious Gaia, are we committing blasphemy? How about believers in astrology, or magical crystals? How about Nazi believers in the ancient Teutonic gods?
And why should beliefs with a supernatural belief content receive more protection than comprehensive but non-supernatural belief systems? A dedicated Marxist has as much emotional investment in his beliefs as does a fundamentalist Baptist or an extreme Muslim.
Who is going to decide that Muhammed and the Holy Trinity are protected from mockery, but the belief in astrology is not? Are we going to have a list of approved religions? Who is going to establish such a list, and based on what criteria?
The real criterion, of course, would be propensity to violence. If a group shows a propensity to violence when its icons are criticized, then it would in practice receive special protection under the 21st-century blasphemy prohibitions. Those advocating for such rules either don’t understand the incentive system this would create, or don’t care.
Last Wednesday, Zbigniew Brzezinski–yes, that Zbigniew Brzezinski, the one from the Carter administration–added his voice to the chorus of those calling for restrictions on free speech:
Thursday, October 04, 2012
RERUN: WORTH PONDERING
The seed haunted by the sun never fails to find its way between the stones in the ground. And the pure logician, if no sun draws him forth, remains entangled in his logic. I shall not forget the lesson taught me by my enemy himself. What direction should the armored column take to invest the rear of the enemy? Nobody can say. What should the armored column be for this purpose? It should be weight of sea pressing against dike.
What ought we do? This. That. The contrary of this or that. There is no determinism that governs the future. What ought we be? That is the essential question, the question that concerns spirit and not intelligence. For spirit impregnates intelligence with the creation that is to come forth. And later, intelligence is brought to the bed of creation. How should man go about building the first ship ever known? Very complicated, this. The ship will be born of a thousand errors and fumblings. But what should man be to build the first ship? Here I seize the problem of creation at the root. Merchant. Soldier. In love with the prospect of faraway lands. For then of necessity designers and builders will be born of that love. They will drain the energy of workmen and one day launch a ship. What should we do the annihilate a forest? The question is not easy. What be? Obviously, a forest fire.
–Antoine de St-Exupery, Flight to Arras (1942)
(The above quote is one of a thread of 54 Worth Pondering
posts at Photon Courier–the thread starts here
Monday, October 01, 2012
THE FRENCH AVIATORS AND THE SLAVE
The discussion of Islamic slavery in the discussion thread here reminded me of a great piece of writing by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. St-Ex was a pioneering airmail pilot who spend much time in North Africa. The events described date from the late 1920s or early 1930s.
“Hide me in the Marrakech plane!”
Night after night, at Cape Juby, this slave would make his prayer to me. After which, satisfied that he had done what he could for his salvation, he would sit down upon crossed legs and brew my tea. Having put himself in the hands of the only doctor (as he believed) who could cure him, having prayed to the only god who might save him, he was at peace for another twenty-four hours.
Squatting over his kettle, he would summon up the simple vision of his past-the black earth of Marrakech, the pink houses, the rudimentary possessions of which he had been despoiled. He bore me no ill-will for my silence, nor for my delay in restoring him to life. I was not a man like himself but a power to be invoked, something like a favorable wind which one of these days might smile upon his destiny.
I, for my part, did not labor under these delusions concerning my power. What was I but a simple pilot, serving my few months as chief of the airport at Cape Juby and living in a wooden hut built over against the Spanish fort, where my worldly goods consisted of a basin, a jug of brackish water, and a cot too short for me?
“We shall see, Bark.”
All slaves are called Bark, so Bark was his name. But despite four years of captivity he could not resign himself to it and remembered constantly that he had been a king.
“What did you do at Marrakech, Bark?”
At Marrakech, where his wife and three children were doubtless still living, he had plied a wonderful trade.
“I was a drover, and my name was Mohammed!”