Wednesday, January 30, 2013
RERUN: JOUSTING WITH A PHANTOM
(I originally posted this in July of last year. I thought it might be appropriate for a rerun given that so many otherwise-intelligent commentators are currently falling for the idea that the Obamaites truly and naively believe in “equality of outcomes.” In reality they believe in no such thing, but are conducting horizontal class warfare with the intent of collapsing the multiple ladders of success that have traditionally existed in American society into a single ladder, with access tightly controlled by people like themselves.)
Those people who call themselves “progressives” are talking a lot about equality and inequality these days. And conservatives/libertarians, in response, attempt to explain why “equality of outcomes” is infeasible and unwise.
To a substantial degree, though, they/we are jousting with a phantom. Because leading “progressives” don’treally believe in anything resembling equality—indeed, quite the contrary.
Consider, for example: Many people in “progressive” leadership positions are graduates of the Harvard Law School. Do you think these people want to see a society in which the career, status, and income prospects for an HLS grad are no better than those for a graduate of a lesser-known, lower-status (but still very good) law school? C’mon.
Quite a few “progressive” leaders are members of prominent families. Do you think Teddy Kennedy would have liked to see an environment in which he and certain other members of his family would have had to answer for their actions in the criminal courts in the same way that ordinary individuals would, without benefit from connections, media influence, and expensive lawyers?
The prevalence of “progressivism” among tenured professors is quite high. How many of these professors would be eager to agree to employment conditions in which their job security and employee benefits were no better than those enjoyed by average Americans? How many of them would take a salary cut in order to provide higher incomes for the poorly-paid adjunct professors at their universities? How many would like to see PhD requirements eliminated so that a wider pool of talented and knowledgeable individuals can participate in university teaching?
There are a lot of “progressives” among the graduates of Ivy League universities. How many of them would be in favor of legally eliminating alumni preferences and the influence of “contributions” and have their children considered for admission–or not–on the same basis as everyone else’s kids? Yet an alumni preference is an intergenerational asset in the same way that a small businessman’s store or factory is.
The reality is that “progressivism” is not in any way about equality, it is rather about shifting the distribution of power and wealth in a way that benefits those with certain kinds of educational credentials and certain kinds of connections. And remember, power and connections are always transmutable into wealth. Sometimes that wealth is directly dollar-denominated, as in the millions of dollars that former president Bill Clinton was paid in speaking fees last year, or the money made by a former government official who leverages his contacts into an executive job with a “green” energy company–even though he may have minimal knowledge of either energy or business. And sometimes the wealth takes the form of in-kind benefits, like a university president’s mansion. (Those who lived in the old Soviet Union and Eastern Europe can tell you all about in-kind benefits for nominally low-paid officials.) And, almost always, today’s “progressivism” is about the transfer of power from individuals to credentialed “experts” who will coerce or “nudge” people to do with those experts have decided would be best.
To a very substantial extent, the talk about “equality” is a smokescreen, conscious or unconscious, behind which “progressives” pursue their own economic, status, and ego agendas.
Writing in 1969, Peter Drucker–who was born in Austria and had lived in several European countries–wrote about what he saw as a key American economic advantage: the much less-dominant role played by “elite” educational institutions:
One thing it (modern society) cannot afford in education is the “elite institution” which has a monopoly on social standing, on prestige, and on the command positions in society and economy. Oxford and Cambridge are important reasons for the English brain drain. A main reason for the technology gap is the Grande Ecole such as the Ecole Polytechnique or the Ecole Normale. These elite institutions may do a magnificent job of education, but only their graduates normally get into the command positions. Only their faculties “matter.” This restricts and impoverishes the whole society…The Harvard Law School might like to be a Grande Ecole and to claim for its graduates a preferential position. But American society has never been willing to accept this claim…
It is almost impossible to explain to a European that the strength of American higher education lies in this absence of schools for leaders and schools for followers.
The “unwillingness of American society to accept this claim”…the claim of elite education as the primary gateway to power and wealth…has been greatly undercut since Drucker wrote. And “progressives” have been among the main under-cutters and the leading advocates for further movement in that direction.
Original CB discussion thread here.
Friday, January 25, 2013
A WINTER'S TALE
“It is so cold in here,” said Gretchen. “The fire is almost out.”
“I will go to our woodpile and bring more wood,” said Hans.
“There is none left, Hans,” replied Gretchen sadly. “We have used all our wood that we saved for the winter.”
“I will go into the great forest,” responded Hans, “and bring more.”
“Hans!” said Gretchen with alarm. “The forest wardens will take you! I have heard that there are more of them, and they are fiercer than ever toward wood thieves!”
“Nonetheless, I must try, dear Gretchen,” replied Hans firmly, “for you and for the little ones.” He put on his thin overcoat, opened the door, and stepped outside into the icy, howling blast.
A folk tale from the Middle Ages?
Thursday, January 24, 2013
COOL RETROTECH: A NEW OLDEST COMPUTER
The world’s oldest functioning computer is now the WITCH, aka the Harwell Dekatron Computer, recently resorted to operating condition in Britain. It is also, almost certainly, the world’s slowest functioning computer.
The WITCH, built at Britain’s Atomic Energy Research Establishment, was designed circa 1949 and completed in 1951. Circuits are comprised of dekatrons..a type of electron tube with an inherent count-to-ten capability..and ordinary telephone relays. The machine can store 40 eight-digit numbers, and while it can operate in stored-program mode, it was more normal to execute programs directly from punched paper tape. A “loop” when operating in this mode was an actual physical loop, with the ends of the tape glued together.
This computer was designed for reliability rather than blazing (by the standards of the time) speed, and it was so slow that a human could keep up with it for a limited period of time—but after half an hour or so the human would have to drop out, exhausted, while the machine plowed on, “utterly relentless.” I’d guess that the WITCH..taking into account its ability to operate unattended..could do as much computation as a human group of 5-10 people. Despite the machine’s slowness, the staff at Harwell found it useful, and it continued in use there until 1957, when it was given to Wolverhampton Polytechnic…which is where it got its current name, the Wolverhampton Instrument for Teaching Computer from Harwell. There it supported research and teaching until 1973. It was rescued from storage a few years ago and restored by volunteer efforts. It is now on display at Bletchley Park, the WWII center for codebreaking.
The restored WITCH displaces the previous oldest-working-computer champion, the Ferranti Pegasus.
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
…high-powered weapons being provided to someone who should not pass a basic background check.
As I noted here, each F-16 is equipped with a M61-A1 Vulcan gun—the capabilities of which vastly exceed those of any “assault rifle”—in addition to considerable other weaponry.
And while providing this weaponry to the Morsi regime, the Obama administration actually wanted to send a bill to our traditional ally, France, for the logistical support we have provided them during their Mali operation. The total amount of the payment demand (which was dropped after France went public with its criticism) was about $17-19 million. This amount of money is very close to the cost of one of the 20 F-16s we are providing to Egypt.
Saturday, January 19, 2013
THE DREAM(LINER) AND THE NIGHTMARE (OF SOCIAL TOXICITY)
The FAA has issued an Emergency Airworthiness Directive against the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. The AD requires that the battery system be reviewed and modified as necessary to eliminate the danger of fires such as those that have recently occurred on these aircraft. The changes needed could presumably involve manufacturing processes, sourcing of components, electrical-system design, or some combination of these things.
The FAA’s action here seems to me like simple and reasonable prudence. It is not uncommon for new aircraft types to encounter problems during their early operational days, and the 787 is an innovative plane in many ways, especially in the use of electrical means to replace functions traditionally done by hydraulic systems and by engine bleed air. (A nice overview of 787 systems here.) There may well turn out to be simple fixes that can be quickly implemented to resolve the issue; on the other hand it’s possible that the fix will involve signficant redesign and will cost Boeing and the airlines considerable money. Purely as speculation, I’d guess that the worst-case result for the study required by the AD would be the mandated replacement of the plane’s lithium-ion batteries with conventional aircraft batteries, at some sacrifice in the plane’s useful load and some redesign both of the relevant control systems and of some interior spaces.
But the purpose of this post is not to talk about 787 technical issues, as much fun as that might be.
After clicking on the Yahoo report about the AD issuance yesterday, I took a look at some of the comments, and a depressing experience it was. Here are some samples:
Makes you wonder if Boeing did not have the FAA inspectors in their back pocket while certifying this airplane “air worthy”? Maybe a few bucks went along stuffing their respective back pockets as well. Good example of certifying government agencies working too close with the manufacturer.
For the FAA to say it’s safe and then ground the planes, all credibility and trust in competence is out the window.
Were they just going to wait until the costs of wrongful death lawsuits surpassed the cost of fixing the problem?
They do lots of testing but just like windows they release it to the public and then we will fix all bugs in the system
Parts made in China
#$%$ batteries made in China and a world-class American airplane manufacturer fell for their cr@p product. Do you think that perhaps Chinese agents were behind deliberately sabotaging our country’s product?
Dream gone bad. Overseas outscourced components on the cheap, assembled by redneck scabs in South Carolina.
Just one more example of the FINE work being produced by wonderful, hardworking and dedicated union workers.
Just more retaliation from Obama for the move to non- union South Carolina.
no one care anymore all the factory workers just go to work to try to make $$$$$ and this it is hard too the pride in making or to build something does not exist anymore!!!!!!!!!!!!
Too bad the GOP helped rich buddies ship all the manufacturing jobs to china? Expertise comes with manufacturing. Burger jobs make poor planes?
Read through several pages of comments like these, and the overwhelming overall impression is one of social toxicity…of people glaring furiously at one another, quick to assume that anything to goes wrong in any aspect of life is due to either malice or incompetence or both. It is a picture of generalized resentment and distrust, coupled with entitled ignorance.
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Two stories of personal opinion change, from:
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
HOW ABOUT GUN CONTROL FOR TERRORIST-SYMPATHIZING ANTI-SEMITIC NATIONAL LEADERS?
Well, it took a few days, but the news about Egyptian leader Mohamed Morsi’s anti-Semitic rant (from late 2010..he referred to Israeli Jews as “bloodsuckers” and “descendents of apes and pigs”) has finally been picked up by traditional media outlets. (A video of the speech, with English subtitles, can be found here.)
We already knew about Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood connections, about his centralization of power, about his affinity for Sharia law. We already knew about the increasing oppression of Christians in Egypt.
Hey President Obama–you want to talk about guns?
The F-16 carries an M61A1 Vulcan gun, which fires 20mm projectiles at the rate of 6000 rounds per minute, in addition to various ground-attack and air-to-air missiles.
The Abrams tank carries a 120mm smoothbore gun with a muzzle velocity of more than a mile per second…even with an earlier generation of ammunition it could penetrate 22 inches of armor at more than a mile, and this performance has since been improved. The Abrams also carries three machine guns and a sophisticated ballistic computer system.
So, Mr Obama…do you think Mohamed Morsi can pass the background check to qualify for the ownership of such weapons?
Monday, January 14, 2013
RERUN: METAPHORS, INTERFACES, AND THOUGHT PROCESSES
(I originally posted this in late 2007…I was reminded of it by the recent story about the Obama administration’s propaganda video game featuring space aliens, global warming, and gender issues)
My post today is inspired by In the Beginning was the Command Line, by Neal Stephenson, a strange little book that will probably be found in the “computers” section of your local bookstore. While the book does deal with human interfaces to computer systems, its deeper subject is the impact of media and metaphors on thought processes and on work.
Stephenson contrasts the explicit word-based interface with the graphical or sensorial interface. The first (which I’ll call the textual interface) can be found in a basic UNIX system or in an old-style PC DOS system or timesharing terminal. The second (the sensorial interface) can be found in Windows and Mac systems and in their respective application programs.
As a very different example of a sensorial interface, Stephenson uses something he saw at Disney World–a hypothetical stone-by-stone reconstruction of a ruin in the jungles of India. It is supposed to have been built by a local rajah in the sixteenth century, but since fallen into disrepair.
The place looks more like what I have just described than any actual building you might find in India. All the stones in the broken walls are weathered as if monsoon rains had been trickling down them for centuries, the paint on the gorgeous murals is flaked and faded just so, and Bengal tigers loll among stumps of broken columns. Where modern repairs have been made to the ancient structure, they’ve been done, not as Disney’s engineers would do them, but as thrifty Indian janitors would–with hunks of bamboo and rust-spotted hunks of rebar.
In one place, you walk along a stone wall and view some panels of art that tell a story.
…a broad jagged crack runs across a panel or two, but the story is still readable: first, primordial chaos leads to a flourishing of many animal species. Next, we see the Tree of Life surrounded by diverse animals…an obvious allusion (or, in showbiz lingo, a tie-in) to the gigantic Tree of Life that dominates the center of Disney’s Animal Kingdom…But it’s rendered in historically correct style and could probably fool anyone who didn’t have a PhD in Indian art history.
The next panel shows a mustacioed H. sapiens chopping down the Tree of Life with a scimitar, and the animals fleeing every which way. The one after that shows the misguided human getting walloped by a tidal wave, part of a latter-day Deluge presumably brought on by his stupidity.
The final panel, then, portrays the Sapling of Life beginning to grow back, but now man has ditched the edged weapon and joined the other animals in standing around to adore and praise it.
Clearly, this exhibit communicates a specific worldview, and it strongly implies that this worldview is consistent with traditional Indian religion and culture. Most viewers will assume the connection without doing further research as to its correctness or lack thereof.
I’d observe that as a general matter, the sensorial interface is less open to challenge than the textual interface. It doesn’t argue–doesn’t present you with a chain of facts and logic that let you sit back and say, “Hey, wait a minute–I’m not so sure about that.” It just sucks you into its own point of view.
WORTHWHILE READING & VIEWING
Puppy teaching puppy to go down stairs (via NeoNeocon)
People with low self-esteem seem more likely to defend brands/companies that have been criticized
Characteristics of people who fall for financial con games...with possible applicability to people who fall for political con games
The benefits of tinkering
J Crew CEO Mickey Drexler has some thoughts on hiring
The difference between makers and manufacturers
The container ship as a 14-knot floating bank
Some great butterfly pictures
Sibling of Daedalus posts some paintings by Bernardo Bellotto
Also from the Sibling: the small towns of Ireland
Bookworm and her daughter engage in a little time travel...reminding me of some similar time-traveling done by General Edward Spears (see comments at link)
Sunday, January 13, 2013
PARODY HAS NOW BECOME IMPOSSIBLE
A government-funded videogame featuring a black alien female superhero delivered to Earth to fight global warming is about to be released. The game was inspired by the artist’s “sense what we do on Earth impacts the universe − not just pollution destroying the ozone layer, for example, but our thoughts and how we organize gender roles and social systems also have impact.”
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open
Thursday, January 10, 2013
GREAT MOMENTS IN WIFE-SELECTION
“So I said, ‘Oh, really, Erich, that sounds terrible, who are they?’ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘one of them is Paulette Goddard and the other is Marlene Dietrich.’ So I said, ‘Well, Erich, my God, you’re in real trouble here.’ But he was deadly serious. ‘Which one do you think I should go for, Douglas? ‘That is a terrible dilemma, Erich, I mean, my God, this is something we have to think about very carefully.’ ‘You know,’ he said, ‘Marlene is very attractive, but Paulette is really good at the stock market. I think I should go for Paulette.’ So I said to him, ‘Well, Erich, the stock market is very important, no doubt about that.’
As a Remarque fan, I certainly hope he was kidding about this decision process. (Which would tend to belie the title of the linked autobiography: Erich Maria Remarque: The Last Romantic.)
In any event, he did marry Paulette Goddard, and (unlike his previous marriages and relationships), the marriage lasted. (Given Remarque’s comment about the stock market, I was wondering if there was any data on her long-term annualized rate of return–the comment here about “her talent at accumulating wealth” suggests that it was probably pretty good.)
“It was really just a visualization for resourcefulness,” he clarifies, ”because people who are not resourceful drive me bananas.”
Jeff married MacKenzie Bezos, a writer, in 1993. I can’t speak to her jail-springing skills, but I’ve read her novel The Testing of Luther Albright…I wasn’t all that impressed with it on first reading, but went back and read it again and thought it was quite good.
Wednesday, January 09, 2013
THE BITTER WASTES OF POLITICIZED AMERICA
The expansion of government replaces competition with coercion. Free people lack coercive power, so they must compete with each other for business opportunities. Customers must be persuaded. Employees must be attracted. It’s messy sometimes, and the process must be policed for theft and fraud, but it’s generally constructive.
Government power replaces all that with a simple, brutal, zero-sum equation: what you are given must be taken from someone else. The regulatory process is corrupted by both ideology and special interests. Even when it avoids outright corruption, the process is expensive, because it’s not constructive the way private competition is. Wealth and value are lost through forced redistribution. It’s a smaller, poorer world, in which political influence becomes valuable currency. Your fellow citizens are not your competitors – they are your enemies. They become selfish plutocrats or lazy parasites. Their defeat becomes an occasion for riotous celebration.
And effective political power requires solidarity – sizable groups of voters acting in concert, to press their common interests upon the State, whose officials in turn benefit from packaged electoral support. The best way to hold a large group of people together is to make them feel as if everyone else is out to get them. The most effective political adhesives are distilled from hatred and distrust. People who disagree with your agenda are “attacking” you or “robbing” you. How commonly do you hear dissent described in precisely those terms nowadays?
When the government controls everything, there is no constructive relief valve for all this pent-up tension. It all boils down to a “historic” election once every couple of years, upon whose outcome everything depends. They’re all going to be “historic” elections from now on. That’s not a good thing.
Saturday, January 05, 2013
WESTERN CIVILIZATION AND THE FIRST WORLD WAR
Sarah Hoyt has been reading a lot about the 1920s, and–in a post which encompasses both Agatha Christie and Robert Heinlein–she does some thinking about the impact of Word War I on the twenties and on Western civilization generally.
World War I was terrible, and for many reasons, including the prevalence of pictures and news, the fratricide/civil-war quality of it, the massive number of casualties. It shocked an entire generation into … writing an awful lot about it, and into trying to tear down the pillars of civilization, believing that Western Civilization (and not human nature, itself) was what had brought about the carnage and the waste.
A thought-provoking post, well worth reading, with an interesting comment thread. I very much agree with the comment by William Zeller:
Here’s my quick version of the test I use to determine if a speaker is doing the WesternCiv teardown:
If the argument begins with the phrase: “American…” or “America…” and proceeds to identify a horrifying cultural or political trait.
Absolutely…and this happens all the time…people observing something bad and discrediting it to America (or, less frequently, to Western civilization as a whole) without making the slightest attempt to consider whether the bad thing they are talking about might be something like a cross-cultural human universal rather than something specific to Americans or the West.
There’s no question in my mind that the First World War did do immense harm to Western civilization, as we’ve often discussed here. Erich Maria Remarque’s excellent and unfortunately-neglected novel The Road Back, which I reviewed in this post, is very helpful for understanding just how powerful and malign that impact was.
Sarah’s post reminded me of a particular passage in Remarque’s book. Ernst, the protagonist, has returned to Germany after the end of the war that killed most of his classmates and fellow enlistees. He has accepted a job teaching school in a small village:
There sit the little ones with folded arms. In their eyes is still all the shy astonishment of the childish years. They look up at me so trustingly, so believingly–and suddenly I get a spasm over the heart.
Here I stand before you, one of the hundreds of thousands of bankrupt men in whom the war destroyed every belief and almost every strength…What should I teach you? Should I tell you that in twenty years you will be dried-up and crippled, maimed in your freest impulses, all pressed mercilessly into the selfsame mould? Should I tell you that all learning, all culture, all science is nothing but hideous mockery, so long as mankind makes war in the name of God and humanity with gas, iron, explosive, and fire?…Should I take you to the green-and-grey map there, move my finger across it, and tell you that here love was murdered? Should I explain to you that the books you hold in your hands are but nets in which men design to snare your simple souls, to entangle you in the undergrowth of fine phrases, and in the barbed wire of falsified ideas?
…I feel a cramp begin to spread through me, as if I were turning to stone, as if I were crumbling away. I lower myself into the chair, and realize that I cannot stay here any longer. I try to take hold of something but cannot. Then after a time that has seemed to me endless, the catalepsy relaxes. I stand up. “Children,” I say with difficulty, “you may go now.”
The little ones look at me to make sure I am not joking. I nod once again. “Yes, that is right–go and play today–go and play in the wood–or with your dogs and your cats–you need not come back till tomorrow–”
Thursday, January 03, 2013
B-29 "FIFI" NEEDS HELP
Until recently, the world’s only flyable WWII B-29 bomber was “Fifi,” operated by the Commemorative Air Force. Unfortunately, the airplane has…at least temporarily…lost its flyable status due to the need for expensive engine repairs. You can contribute to Fifi’s engine fund here.
The B-29 Superfortress was the most technically advanced bomber of WWII: it featured pressurization, a centralized fire-control system for its guns, and both higher speed and a greater bomb load than the B-17. Visually, it is also a very beautiful airplane, at least to my eye. Design of the aircraft that was to become the Superfortress began in 1938 with the receipt by Boeing of a request from the Army Air Corps–Boeing funded the much of the initial development itself since the Air Corps did not at that point have funding for the project. The initial production order was not placed until May 1941…remarkably, production aircraft were being delivered by the end of 1943…total production would reach almost 4000 aircraft. Thousand of subcontractors were involved. My back-of-the-envelope calculation based on numbers in this factsheet suggests that there must have been somewhere around 100,000 workers involved at one level or another in B-29 production.
Japanese fighter pilot Ryuji Nagatsuka described his first encounter with the B-29, on a combat training mission in late 1944:
At a distance of 1000 feet, I had a clear view of this famous bomber for the first time. It was like some fabulous flying castle. Its elegant, uncamouflaged fuselage made me think of a monstrous flying fish. What imposing fins, what a rudder! Those most disquieting thing about it was those six domes: two gun turrets on its back and four defense turrets operated by remote control…The four engines developed 8800 horsepower. The white star that stood out against a black background seemed to me like a challenge. It was the mark of the enemy.
The efficacy of the B-29′s centralized fire control system…which provided not only remote control of the guns but automatic computer calculation of necessary offsets (“leads”) to hit the target…has been questioned–but Nagatsuka gives it a good review:
Their central firing computer, controlling the gun turrets by remote control, had proved extraordinarily efficient. An isolated B-29, on a photographic mission one day over the Nipponese archipelago, had been attacked by more than ninety of our fighters, and, lo and behold, the enemy plane, which was not equipped for a bombing mission, managed to repulse their attack by climbing to a very high altitude and putting on all possible speed. During this battle, which lasted more than half an hour, he shot down seven of our fighters and finally escaped.
However, most of the gunnery equipment was removed from the B-29s when US General Curtis LeMay ordered a change in tactics from high-altitude day bombing to low-altitude night bombing, focusing on the use of incendiary bombs. Wide areas of Toyko and several other cities were destroyed: the total number of Japanese killed in these raids has been estimated variously but was certainly at least 100,000.
In bombers named for girls, we burned
The cities we had learned about in school
They said, ‘Here are the maps’; we burned the cities.
We’ve talked here before about the dangers of the loss of historical knowledge. I believe that keeping FiFi flying is a useful contribution to maintaining the continuity of American historical memory. Again, you can donate here.
ShrinkWrapped has published his father’s recollections of flying 50 missions as a B-24 tail gunner. There are 6 different posts in the collection–start at the bottom for the first one.
Thoughts about strategic bombing at my post Dresden
Excerpts of some of Randall Jarrell’s WWII Air Corps poems, here
The Ryuji Nagatsuka quotes are from his memoir I Was a Kamikaze (obviously, an unsuccessful one)…an interesting book that is worthy of a review one of these days.
Tuesday, January 01, 2013
…to NeoNeocon, who is this year’s Grande Conservative Blogress Diva, as determined by Gay Patriot based on the blogosphere voting.
Congratulation’s also to Neo’s court, consisting of Diva Regent Sarah Hoyt and Diva in Waiting Bookworm.
These are all excellent bloggers and well worth bookmarking and regularly reading.