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

arts & letters daily
natalie solent
critical mass
john bruce
joanne jacobs
number 2 pencil
roger l simon
common sense and wonder
sheila o'malley
invisible adjunct
red bird rising
academic game
rachel lucas
betsy's page
one hand clapping
a schoolyard blog
joy of knitting
lead and gold
damian penny
annika's journal
little miss attila
no credentials
university diaries
trying to grok
a constrained vision
victory soap
business pundit
right reason
quid nomen illius?
sister toldjah
the anchoress
reflecting light
dr sanity
all things beautiful
dean esmay
brand mantra
economics unbound
dr melissa
dr helen
right on the left coast
digital Rules
college affordability
the energy blog
tinkerty tonk
meryl yourish
kesher talk
assistant village idiot
evolving excellence
neptunus lex
the daily brief
roger scruton
bookworm room
villainous company
lean blog

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014  

Kevin Williamson, writing at NRO, notes that political self-interest is no less selfish than economic self-interest. About Barack Obama, he has this to say:
What could it possibly mean to be lectured on selfishness by a man whose entire career has been dedicated to no cause other than the cause of himself? “Selfishness” has been conflated with materialism and greed, but the literal meaning of the word is excessive devotion to one’s self and one’s interests. To be unselfish is to be ready to give up that which one holds most dear; for some men, that is money, but what is money to a president of the United States, who knows that in retirement he can support himself in ducal style with one day’s work a month at Bill Clinton rates, in princely style with two days’ work, and in imperial style with three? Money is an abstraction to a retired president. But the thing that he really cares about — power — Barack Obama guards in a fashion more miserly than that of any mythical dragon watching his horde. (sic–I think he means “hoard”)
And political power, of course,  is always and everywhere convertible into economic wealth. The conversion may be in the form of in-kind benefits…the dachas and special stores made available to the old Soviet elite, the extremely expensive government aircraft made available to Obama’s vacationing family (and even to his dog) as well as to himself…or it may involve the at-least-implicit conversion of influence into money. (Al Gore’s financial net worth in now somewhere around the $200 million level, the Clinton’s are at roughly the same level. Today’s WSJ mentioned that former Clinton counsel Lanny Davis has been hired by a Chinese company to defend them against charges of violating California law. Lanny Davis may be a good lawyer, but is anyone really so naive as to think that his selection for this job has nothing to do with influence?) And in the celebrity-obsessed culture of 2014 America, the public recognition that comes with political office and power increases still further the ability to turn power into economic wealth. Get the power, the wealth will come…although, of course, for many obsessive power-seekers, the psychic rewards of power itself are the primary motivators.
Obama once remarked “I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money.”  Has he ever considered the possibility that maybe at a certain point he’s accumulated enough power? I doubt it. To a considerable extent, I think, the Democratic harping on inequalities of wealth and income acts as a smokescreen to avoid discussion of the high and increasing inequalities of power.

continued at Chicago Boyz

11:36 AM

Saturday, January 25, 2014  

The Iranian nuclear deal (more on the deal and the secret side agreement; see also this) refers to uranium enrichment thresholds of 5% and 20%. These may not sound too threatening, given that a nuclear weapon requires enrichment to around the 90% level. BUT the percentage enrichment of the uranium is NOT a good indicator of the amount of work required to get there.
Start with a tonne (2204 pounds) of natural uranium feed–to enrich it to 5% will require about 900 Separative Work Units–SWUs being an indicator of the amount of energy, time, and capital equipment required for the process. Take to 5% enriched product and continue enriching it to 20%, and the incremental cost will be only about 200 SWUs, for an accumulated total cost of 1100 SWUs. And if you want to turn the 20% enriched substance into weapons-grade 90%-enriched uranium, you need add only about another 200 SWUs of effort, for a grand total of 1300 SWUs. Thus, the effort required to get to that seemingly-harmless 5% threshold is already 69% of the way to weapons grade, and 20% enrichment is 84% of the way there. See this article, which explains that “the curve flattens out so much because the mass of material being enriched progressively diminishes to these amounts, from the original one tonne, so requires less effort relative to what has already been applied to progress a lot further in percentage enrichment.”
There has been very, very little media coverage on this point. One place the issue was discussed was in February and September 2012 reports by the American Enterprise Institute, which were discussed and excerpted at PowerLine in November 2013. Note that the AEI analysis shows an even flatter enrichment curve than the one in the article I linked above–AEI is showing 90% of the total effort for weapons-grade as being required to get to 5% enrichment, rather than “only” 69%. In either case, it should be clear that possession of large quantities of material enriched to 5% is a very nontrivial milestone on the way to constructing a nuclear weapon.
Meanwhile, 4 billion dollars worth of frozen Iranian funds are being unfrozen and sent to Iran. Money is fungible, and almost certainly some of this money will go to support Iranian-backed terrorism, funding operations intended to kill American military personnel, Israeli civilians, and quite possibly American civilians in this country as well. And some of it will probably go to support R&D on advanced centrifuge technology, allowing Iran to move even more quickly to a nuclear weapon when it decides to do so.
continued at Chicago Boyz

1:52 PM

Friday, January 24, 2014  

…some thoughts from Theodore Dalrymple.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

7:52 AM

Thursday, January 23, 2014  

I saw a group of women who hated each other for over 20 years come to tears when they realized what the workflow was doing to their relationships.
Hopefully, outright hate isn’t all that common, but I do suspect that many painful relationship problems in organizations are caused by processes and incentive structures that create conflicts of a pointless, perpetual, and unresolvable nature.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

1:54 PM

Friday, January 17, 2014  
SELECTED POSTS FROM 2013, continued

One more batch…
Freedom, the Village, and the Internet. Will social media re-create the kind of social control once often found in the village community?
301 Years of Steam Power. What they told you in school about James Watt and the invention of the steam engine was very likely wrong.  Related: 175 Years of Transatlantic Steam.
An Age of Decline? Is America in one, and is the situation irretrievable?
The Baroque Computers of the Apocalypse. The remarkable air defense system known as SAGE.
Book and Video Reviews:
Fly the Airplane. Two flight instructors write about their romance, their flight around the country in a 1938 Piper Cub, and the life lessons that can be derived from aviation.
Elective Affinities. Goethe’s novel about a love quadrangle.
Wish Me Luck. A very good TV series about Special Operations Executive agents working in occupied France during WWII.
Author Appreciation: Rose Wilder Lane. RWL was both an astute and thoughtful political philosopher and a pretty good novelist.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

3:51 PM

Sunday, January 12, 2014  

There aren’t too many of these around.
I don’t think there were ever any two-seat versions of the F-86 built, so a pilot’s first flight in the Sabrejet is going to have to be solo.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

1:48 PM

Saturday, January 11, 2014  

Was 1950 the high point of literacy in North America?
An interesting if depressing piece here: Post-Literacy and the Refusal to Read.
The author notes that the post-literate individual resembles the person from a pre-literate oral culture in many ways, BUT:
On the other hand, post-literacy is not a relapse into orality, which, in its intact form, has institutions of its own such as folklore and social custom that codify the knowledge essential to living.  Post-literacy can draw on no such resources, for these have only been preserved in modern society in literature, and post-literacy has not only lost contact with literature, but also it simply no longer knows how to read in any meaningful sense.  It cannot refer to the archive to replenish itself by a study of its own past.
…which implies, of course, that people in post-literate societies are more susceptible to manipulation than are those in either oral or literate cultures.
Note also the description of the private college which is so desperate for tuition revenue that it forces its professors to tolerate almost any level of bad performance and outright laziness from its students. As I’ve observed before, the idea that “non-profit” institutions are inherently morally superior to for-profit entities is ludicrous, and increasingly obviously so.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

8:30 AM

Tuesday, January 07, 2014  

The “Affordable Care Act,” aka Obamacare, seems to be full of surprises.  For example, it seems that many Americans are being forced onto Obamacare exchanges where most plans provide only local medical coverage…a bit of a problem for people who travel, change jobs, or have vacation homes.  To take another example, this Washington Post article says Obamacare may make it impossible for people living in American territories (such as Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands) to purchase health insurance policies at all. “Unexpected!” results of Obamacare seem to be almost daily news.
These surprises especially strike those ordinary Americans who are the targeted users of Obamacare, of course…but  also, they seem to strike many of the creators of the program. Some members of the government classes, of course, simply lied about Obamacare’s effects…first and foremost this is notoriously true of Obama himself. But I also feel sure that there are many among those CongressCreatures who voted for this 2000-page bill who have been genuinely surprised by some or many of its outcomes. It is simply not possible to clearly predict in advance the effects of a piece of legislation so all-encompassing, so verbose, and so quickly pushed through.
Rose Wilder Lane, still at that point a Communist, visited the Soviet Union in 1919. After she explained the benefits of central planning to a disbelieving village leader, he shook his head sadly and said:
It is too big – he said – too big. At the top, it is too small. It will not work. In Moscow there are only men, and man is not God. A man has only a man’s head, and one hundred heads together do not make one great big head. No. Only God can know Russia.
Indeed, one hundred or one thousand or ten thousand heads together in the form of CongressCreatures or health care bureaucrats did not suffice to make one great big head that would fully grasp the implications of Obamacare. Nancy Pelosi was sort of right when she said “But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it”…she should have carried it further and said: “We have to pass the bill so that we can find out what’s in it.”
It is precisely this difficulty in predicting the outcomes of sweeping change, on a society-wide scale, that makes such sweeping and radical change something to be usually avoided..and when indeed necessary, to be conducted with caution and careful forethought. British statesman and political philosopher Edmund Burke made this point eloquently and famously. Nothing could be more anti-Burkean than Obama’s statement on October 30, 2008: “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.”
After coming to realize that the defects of Communism are inherent and not just due to problems with one particular implementation of it, Rose Wilder Lane also became convinced that:
Centralized economic control over multitudes of human beings must therefore be continuous and perhaps superhumanly flexible, and it must be autocratic. It must be government by a swift flow of edicts issued in haste to catch up with events receding into the past before they can be reported, arranged, analyzed and considered, and it will be compelled to use compulsion. In the effort to succeed, it must become such minute and rigorous control of details of individual life as no people will accept without compulsion. It cannot be subject to the intermittent checks, reversals, and removals of men in power which majorities cause in republics.
Note how this comment ties in with the Obama administration’s tendency to adjust the healthcare insurance program via quick and arbitrary administrative rulemaking, rather than via the legislative process. RWL would say that this kind of behavior is inherent in a program intended to establish government control over vast swaths of society.
She also notes that:
Nobody can plan the actions of even a thousand living persons, separately. Anyone attempting to control millions must divide them into classes, and make a plan applying to these classes. But these classes do not exist. No two persons are alike. No two are in the same circumstances; no two have the same abilities; beyond getting the barest necessities of life, no two have the same desires.Therefore the men who try to enforce, in real life, a planned economy that is their theory, come up against the infinite diversity of human beings. The most slavish multitude of men that was ever called “demos” or “labor” or “capital” or”agriculture” or “the masses,” actually are men; they are not sheep. Naturally, by their human nature, they escape in all directions from regulations applying to non-existent classes. It is necessary to increase the number of men who supervise their actions. Then (for officials are human, too) it is necessary that more men supervise the supervisors.
…and discusses the temptations of power to a leader who believes in expansionist government:
If he wants to do good (as he sees good) to the citizens, he needs more power. If he wants to be re-elected, he needs more power to use for his party. If he wants money, he needs more power; he can always sell it to some eager buyer. If he wants publicity, flattery, more self-importance, he needs more power, to satisfy clamoring reformers who can give him flattering publicity.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

1:31 PM

SELECTED POSTS FROM 2013, continued

A Winter’s Tale. An appropriate post given today’s temperatures.
Saint Alexander of Munich. Alexander Schmorell, a member of the anti-Nazi student resistance group known as the White Rose, has been canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad.
Deconstructing a Nazi Death Sentence. The transcript of the verdict passed by the “People’s Court” on members of the White Rose provides a window into the totalitarian mind.
Despicable. US Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking in Istanbul, compared the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing to the nine Turkish activists killed by the IDF as they tried to break Gaza’s naval blockade.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

6:48 AM

Sunday, January 05, 2014  
SELECTED POSTS FROM 2013, continued

The Power of Metaphor and Analogy. How verbal imagery affects decision-making.
Not a Single One. Not a single Democratic senator managed to demonstrate enough judgment and courage to go against his Party herd and vote “Nay” on the Hagel confirmation. Also, interesting comments from a political science on the increasing tribalization of the electorate…strongly related to what I call the outsourcing of judgment and conscience.
Coming Soon, to Places Near You? How French bureaucracy in the 1920s offers a preview of  rampant American bureaucracy in our present era.
The Reductio ad Absurdum of Bureaucratic Liberalism. Swedish police were unable to suppress the riots, but they were able to issue parking tickets to burned-out cars…reminding me of an old SF story by Walter Miller.
More on Bureaucracy. Peter Drucker explains why every government must be a “government of paper forms” if it is not to degenerate into a mutual looting society.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

12:43 PM

Friday, January 03, 2014  
SELECTED POSTS FROM 2013, continued

Western Civilization and the First World War…with a very good comment thread.
Would You Trust Your Financial Future to This Woman? Patty Murray, a U.S. Senator and an obvious moron and bigot..as the quotes in this post clearly demonstrate…is head of the Senate Budget Committee.
Whose Interests Will Jack Lew be Representing? There were some rather interesting clauses in the Treasury Secretary’s employment agreement with Citigroup.
Time Travel. Some personal connections with the past.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

7:43 AM

Thursday, January 02, 2014  

I’m reviewing my posts over the last year, and will be linking some of them here, in some cases with additional commentary. Here’s the first batch…
The bitter wastes of politicized America, on the toxic social effects of ever-increasing government power.
Also relevant to the subject of this post are some of Sebastian Haffner’s observations on inter-war Germany. He notes that during the Stresemann chancellorship, when a certain level of stability and normality was achieved, “there was an ample measure of freedom, peace, and order, everywhere the most well-meaning liberal-mindedness, good wages, good food and a little political boredom. everyone was cordially invited to concentrate on their personal lives, to arrange their affairs according to their own taste and to find their own paths to happiness”…BUT a return to private life was not to everyone’s taste:
A generation of young Germans had become accustomed to having the entire content of their lives delivered gratis, so to speak, by the public sphere, all the raw material for their deeper emotions…Now that these deliveries suddenly ceased, people were left helpless, impoverished, robbed, and disappointed. They had never learned how to live from within themselves, how to make an ordinary private life great, beautiful and worth while, how to enjoy it and make it interesting. So they regarded the end of political tension and the return of private liberty not as a gift, but as a deprivation. They were bored, their minds strayed to silly thoughts, and they began to sulk.
I’m afraid that in America today, we also have a fair number of people who expect to have “the content of their lives delivered by the public sphere,” and this is another factor in the growing politicization of absolutely everything.
The Dream(liner) and the Nightmare (of Social Toxicity). How reactions to the problems with the Boeing 787′s battery system exemplify the declining levels of trust in American society.
Excusing Failure by Pleading Incompetence.  Hillary Clinton’s testimony on the Benghazi debacle clearly demonstrated her inability and/or unwillingness to understand the nature of executive responsibility. It is truly appalling that anyone could seriously consider this woman for the job of United States President.
Respect her Authoritah. Nancy Cartman-Pelosi thinks it would be disrespectful to cut congressional salaries because it would reduce the dignity of lawmakers’ jobs.
Connecting the World. Undersea cables, and their social & psychological impact.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

11:33 AM

Wednesday, January 01, 2014  

I was trying to figure out the not-very-intuitive interface for presetting stations on my car radio, and remembered a car radio we had when I was a kid: it could “memorize” the frequencies of selected stations in an entirely mechanical manner. IIRC, you pulled out a setting button when the radio was on a station you wanted to “remember,” and when you later wanted to return to that station, you simply pushed the appropriate button in. (I believe this feature was mechanized via clamps gripping a continuous string that drove the tuning mechanism.)
Which got me thinking: there was once a whole range of cunning mechanical devices that performed memory, logic, and arithmetic tasks that would now be done with a microprocessor or some other form of digital logic. Things that come to mind include railway signal interlocking systems, Linotype and other typesetting machines, mechanical calculators, mechanical analog computers, and ship and aircraft autopilots.
Googling around, I found that there is actually a feature film about the Linotype:  a bit about the history of typesetting, the development of the Linotype machine, the basics of how it works, some of the social/economic implications, and much nostalgia from former Linotype operators (and also from younger operators, who are working to keep the trade/technology alive.) The film is available free to those who have an Amazon Prime membership.
This video explains how the Linotype works and then goes into considerable detail about the mechanism.
Regarding the social/economic implications, the first video notes that while Linotype reduced typesetting labor requirements by a factor of 6:1, it also drove an explosion in the volume of printed material, and a concurrent increase in literacy, and wound up actually increasing the number of people involved in the printing trade. I would also suspect that the high capital cost of Linotype equipment was one factor that drove a consolidation of the newspaper industry toward a small number of highly dominant papers in each city.
One place where a Linotype can be seen in operation today is the Baltimore Museum of Industry, which has a machine which is periodically activated.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

6:35 AM

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