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Sleeping with the Enemy
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Koestler on Nuance
A Look into the Abyss
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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
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Arming Airline Pilots
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They Made America
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PHOTON COURIER
 
Saturday, January 31, 2015  
CONFORMITY KILLS


(Last Wednesday was chosen by NASA as a Day of Remembrance for the astronauts lost in the 1967 Apollo fire, the 1986 Challenger explosion, and the 2003 crash of the shuttle Columbia.  The occasion reminded me of my 2003 post which appears below, with the links fixed.)
What does a space shuttle disaster have to do with the current troubling situation in the teaching of the humanities? Strange as it may seem, I believe that there is a connection.

Most observers believe that the Columbia disaster was caused, to a substantial degree, by the unwillingness of key individuals to speak up forcefully enough about their safety concerns. This is often phrased as a “culture issue” or a “climate issue”–but, however you phrase it, it seems that a significant number of people didn’t raise their concerns–or at least didn’t raise them forcefully enough–because of worries about the implications for their own careers. (This also seems to have been a key factor in the earlier Challenger disaster.)

And in today’s university humanities departments, there are many senior professors who understand that much of what is now being taught is nonsense, and who are heartsick about the “posturing and lies.” But, as Erin O’Connor says: “…an older generation of “dinosaurs” looks on, seeing it all, and saying nothing. They do this to minimize the open displays of contempt for their traditional ways that they have learned to expect as their due.”

Now, here is an interesting point. There are very few people in American who have more job security than a civil servant or a university tenured professor. But this security seems to have little payoff when it’s time to speak up about something important and truly controversial. Perhaps jobs that offer high security tend to attract people who are not risk-takers. Or perhaps concerns about being liked by one’s peers trump job-security issues per se. In any event, it does not seem that systems with a high degree of employee protection really yield the expected benefits in terms of outspoken employee behavior.

I’m sure there are some NASA employees who had and have the courage to speak out, just as I am sure that such courage exists among some senior professors of the humanities. But it seems that such people are too few in number, at both institutions, to make a real difference.

No set of organizational policies, however well-designed, can substitute for human character. It takes many virtues, including the virtue of courage, to make an organization perform effectively. That’s true whether the organization is a university, a corporation, or a government agency.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

11:51 AM

Wednesday, January 28, 2015  
"TOP-TIER UNIVERSITY GRADUATES ONLY"


Here’s a LinkedIn post from a young woman who doesn’t like the way certain companies are specifying “degree from a top-tier university required” in certain of their job postings. I think she makes some good points.
From the standpoint of the individual company or other organization, absolutely requiring a degree from a “top-tier university” (whatever the individual’s other experience and capabilities) reduces the size of the talent pool and quite likely increases costs without commensurate benefit. From the standpoint of the overall society, this practice wastes human resources and creates damaging inhibitors to social mobility. (And in most cases, “top-tier university” is defined based only on the perception of that university’s “brand”…very few HR organizations or hiring managers conduct serious research on the actual quality of different universities from an educational perspective…and the perceived quality may be years or even decades out of date.)
I think we as a society have delegated far too much influence to the admissions officers of various Ivy League universities, and also to whoever constructs the metrics for the US News & World Report college ratings. When discussing “inequality” and declining social mobility..and less-than-stellar economic growth…the role of credentialism in all these things needs to be seriously considered.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

2:47 PM

Saturday, January 24, 2015  
THE FIRST TRANSCONTINENTAL TELEPHONE CALL


…was made 100 years ago, on January 25, 1915. (Well, actually, that was the first officialtranscontinental phone call; the line had actually been completed and tested by July of 1914, but the big PR event was timed to coincide with something called the Panama-Pacific exposition.) Alexander Graham Bell was in New York City and repeated his famous request “Mr Watson, come here, I want you” into the phone, Mr Watson then being in San Francisco.
Long-distance calls from the East Coast had previously reached only as far as Denver; it was the use of vacuum-tube amplifiers to boost weak signals that made possible true transcontinental calling.
Here’s the NYT story that marked the occasion. Note that the price announced for NYC-SF calling was $20.75 for the first three minutes and $6.75 for each minute thereafter. According to the CPI inflation calculator, these numbers equate to $486.38 and $158.21 in today’s money.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

7:06 AM

Monday, January 19, 2015  
MICK RYAN'S LAMENT


I heard this song on the radio a couple of days ago and googled it…it was written by Robert Emmet Dunlap and covered by several singers, including Tim O’Brien and the group at the link above, whose version I think is especially fine.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

8:23 PM

 
HOMESTEADERS IN NEBRASKA, 1880s THROUGH 1900

Wonderful photos at American Digest

More images here

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

7:07 PM

 
IS AMERICAN ENTREPRENEURSHIP IN DECLINE?

Jim Clifton, who is Chairman & CEO of Gallup, presents data showing that creation of new businesses has fallen considerably over a long-term trend running from 1977 to the present, and that for the last several years, the number of firms created has actually fallen below the number of firms closing.

LINK 

And furthermore: 

The U.S. now ranks not first, not second, not third, but 12th among developed
nations in terms of business startup activity. Countries such as Hungary, Denmark, Finland, New Zealand, Sweden, Israel and Italy all have higher startup rates than America does. 

Read the whole thing. 

These numbers and trends seem somewhat counterintuitive to me. I see a lot of startups looking for Angel funding, and quite a few of them getting it. There is a lot of public interest in entreprenurship, as evidenced by the success of TV programs such as "Shark Tank," and even universities are attempting to capitalize on the interest in entrepreneurship by offering courses and programs on the topic. I suspect that much of the decline in business creation is among people who don't have a lot of formal education--many of them immigrants--and who is former years would have started businesses but are now inhibited by inability to navigate the dense thicket of regulations and pay the substantial costs involved in doing so. OTOH, I also suspect that quite a few of these people have actually created businesses, in fields such as home maintenance or home day-care, and are doing so off-the-books in ways that don't get counted in the formal statistics. 

Among those who do have college degrees--and especially among those who have spent six, eight, or more years in college classrooms--student loan debt, much of it incurred on behalf of degrees having little or no economic or serious intellectual value, surely also acts as an inhibitor to business creation.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

8:02 AM

Thursday, January 15, 2015  
THE RALLY IN PARIS

Was it a meaningful coming-together in resistance to radical Islamicist violence and in support of free expression and Western civilization?

Or was it a meaningless feel-good event, along the lines of the old "sending our love down the well" vignette on South Park?

Claire Berlinski, who was there, tends toward the first view.

The blogger known as The Diplomad--a long-time US Foreign Service officer--tends toward the second.

These are both very astute observers and analysts.  Read them both, and comment.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

6:35 PM

Tuesday, January 13, 2015  
APPALLING, BUT NOT REALLY SURPRISING

Obama White House wants to persuade/encourage/pressure media to drop coverage that might upset jihadis or potential jihadis


Last Thursday, I mentioned the administration’s 2012 criticism of Charlie Hedbo’s decision to publish “offensive” cartoons.  Comes now presidential spokesman Josh Earnest, defending that administration position and asserting that there will be more such presidential critiques directed toward noncompliant media in the future.
This reminds me of something.  Oh, yes…
In the late 1930s, Winston Churchill spoke of the “unendurable..sense of our country falling into the power, into the orbit and influence of Nazi Germany, and of our existence becoming dependent upon their good will or pleasure…In a very few years, perhaps in a very few months, we shall be confronted with demands” which “may affect the surrender of territory or the surrender of liberty.” A “policy of submission” would entail “restrictions” upon freedom of speech and the press. “Indeed, I hear it said sometimes now that we cannot allow the Nazi system of dictatorship to be criticized by ordinary, common English politicians.” (excerpt is from The Last Lion: Alone, by William Manchester.)

Churchill’s concern was not just a theoretical one. Following the German takeover of Czechoslovakia, photographs were available showing the plight of Czech Jews, dispossessed by the Nazis and wandering the roads of eastern Europe. Geoffrey Dawson, editor of The Times, refused to run any of them: it wouldn’t help the victims, he told his staff, and if they were published, Hitler would be offended. (same source as above.)

Obama’s desire to ensure that the media avoids antagonizing jihadis is of a piece with Chamberlain and Dawson’s desire to avoid antagonizing the Nazis.
And I’m reminded of something else Churchill said.  In March 1938, he spoke of Britain and its allies descending incontinently, recklessly, the staircase which leads to a dark gulf. It is a fine broad staircase at the beginning, but, after a bit, the carpet ends. A little further on there are only flagstones, and, a little further on still, these break beneath your feet.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open



7:33 PM

Monday, January 12, 2015  
BOOK REVIEWS:  2014 SUMMARY


Last year I reviewed quite a few books, including several that IMO are extremely important and well-written.  Here’s the list:
The Caine Mutiny.  The movie, which just about everyone has seen, is very good.  The book is even better.  I cited the 1952 Commentary review, which has interesting thoughts on intellectuals and the responsibilities of power.
To the Last Salute.  Captain von Trapp, best known as the father in “The Sound of Music,” wrote this memoir of his service as an Austrian submarine commander in the First World War–Austria of course being one of the Central Powers and hence an enemy to Britain, France, and the United States.  An interesting and pretty well-written book, and a useful reminder that there are enemies, and then there are enemies.
That Hideous Strength.  An important and intriguing novel by C S Lewis. As I said in the review, there is something in this book to offend almost everybody.  So, by the standards now becoming current in most American universities, the book–and even my review of it–should by read by no one at all.
The Cruel Coast.  A German submarine, damaged after an encounter with a British destroyer, puts in at a remote Irish island for repairs.  Most of the islanders, with inherited anti-British attitudes, tend toward sympathy with the German:  one woman, though, has a clearer understanding of the real issues in the war.
Nice Work.  At Chicago Boyz, we’ve often discussed the shortage of novels that deal realistically with work.  This is such a novel: an expert in 19th-century British industrial novels–who is a professor, a feminist, and a deconstructionist–finds herself in an actual factory.  Very well done.
Menace in Europe.  Now more than ever, Claire Berlinski’s analysis of the problems in today’s Europe needs to be widely read.
A Time of Gifts.  In late 1933, Patrick Fermor–then 18 years old–undertook to travel from the Holland to Istanbul, on foot. The story of his journey is told in three books, of which this is the first.  This is not just travel writing, it is the record of what was still to a considerable extent the Old Europe–with horsedrawn wagons, woodcutters, barons and castles, Gypsies and Jews in considerable numbers–shortly before it was to largely disappear.
The Year of the French.  The writer, commentator, and former soldier Ralph Peters calls this book “the finest historical novel written in English, at least in the twentieth century.”
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

10:12 AM

Thursday, January 08, 2015  
THE ATROCITY IN FRANCE 

 Yesterday, Claire Berlinski reported from Paris 

Obama, of course, "condemned" the attack. It's important to remember, however, his administration's response to earlier threats against the magazine Charlie Hebdo:

In other words, we don't question the right of something like this to be published; we just question the judgment behind the decision to publish it. And I think that that's our view about the video that was produced in this country and has caused so much offense in the Muslim world.

The quoted statement basically implies that people should use "judgment" to avoid saying or publishing anything that will offend Muslims. The video referred to is of course the one that the Obama administration blamed for the Benghazi attacks, going so far as to purchase newspaper ads to denounce the video. And Hillary Clinton, who was Obama's secretary of state, told the father of one of the murdered Americans (Tyron Woods) that "we're going to have that person arrested and prosecuted that did the video." Not "we're going to destroy those terrorists," but rather, they're going to destroy a filmmaker. The Obama administration's statements have acted not only to normalize that "thug's veto" over all expressions of opinion, but even to put United States government power behind the thug's veto.

Time Magazine posted an article titled "5 Facts That Explain the Charlie Hebdo attack." Can you guess what they were, and which one they left out? (Link) And numerous publications are censoring the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. 

The staff of a humor magazine demonstrated far more courage than either Western governments or the bulk of Western media in standing up for Enlightenment values. I'm reminded once again of a passage in Sebastian Haffner's memoir. Haffner was working in the Prussian Supreme Court, the Kammergericht, when the Nazi thugs came to the Court, demanded to know who was Jewish and who was not, and established totalitarian control over what had previously been an actual judicial process.

As I left the Kammergericht it stood there, grey, cool and calm as ever, set back from the street in its distinguished setting. There was nothing to show that, as an institution, it had just collapsed. 

That evening, Haffner went with his girlfriend to a nightclub called the Katakombe. The master of ceremonies was a comic actor and satirical cabaret performer named Werner Fink: 

His act remained full of harmless amiability in a country where these qualities were on the liquidation list. This harmless amiability hid a kernel of real, indomitable courage. He dared to speak openly about the reality of the Nazis, and that in the middle of Germany. His patter contained references to concentration camps, the raids on people’s homes, the general fear and general lies. He spoke of these things with infinitely quiet mockery, melancholy, and sadness. Listening to him was extraordinarily comforting. 

In the morning, the Prussian Kammergericht, with its tradition of hundreds of years, had ignobly capitulated before the Nazis. In the same evening, a small troop of artistes, with no tradition to back them up, demonstrated the courage to speak forbidden thoughts. “The Kammergericht had fallen but the Katakombe stood upright.” 

CNN, MSNBC, Time Magazine, the White House, the Elysee Palace, 10 Downing Street may have all demonstrated a lack of resolution in the face of Islamist threats and violence, but at least Charlie Hebdo has stood upright

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

6:17 AM

Monday, January 05, 2015  
SOME KEY TECHNOLOGIES FOR 2015 AND BEYOND


…as viewed by General Electric
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

2:07 PM

Sunday, January 04, 2015  
TODAY'S ISRAEL-BASHERS

UAW Local 2865 (that's UAW as in "United Auto Workers") has voted to join the movement to boycott Israel.

So, what kind of work do the members of UAW Local 2865 do, would you imagine? Do they work the line in an auto assembly plant? Are they involved in making components such as brake shoes or camshafts? Do they pack and ship spare parts in a distribution center?

continued at Chicago Boyz

6:07 PM

Friday, January 02, 2015  
WORTHWHILE READING & VIEWING


prehistoric village, found beneath the sea near Haifa
Steven Pinker and Andrew Mack assert that actually, the world is not falling apart: “Never mind the headlines. We’ve never lived in such peaceful times”

Also, Richard Fernandez argues that the American can-do spirit continues to exist
Ideology and closed systems, at Grim’s Hall
In France, criticism of Islam can get you prosecuted. Basically, we are seeing the return of laws against blasphemy–and not only in France–but with this difference: I don’t think ever before have governments forbidden criticism of a belief system that is not held by the majority of their citizens, or at least of their ruling classes
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

8:41 AM

 
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