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PHOTON COURIER
 
Sunday, November 29, 2015  
SOME RANDOM THOUGHTS


Hillary Clinton, if elected president, would likely do for gender relations what Barack Obama has done for race relations.
Speaking of Hillary, anyone remember her response when the harmful impact of her proposed healthcare plan on small businesses was questioned?  Her response was: “I can’t be responsible for every undercapitalized small business in America.”
No one was asking her to “be responsible” for them, of course, only to refrain from wantonly devastating them.  Should Hillary become the Democratic nominee, Republicans need to ensure that this quote, and other similar ones, are brought to the attention of every small business owner in America.
There are a lot of small business that are run by women, and an effective attack on the Democratic hostility toward small business should help to reduce Hillary’s advantage among the female demographic.  Part of such attack should consist of hammering on the cultural factor–the truth is, Hillary feels contempt for you, Ms small businessperson–and part of it should consist of a very specific and tangible critique of particularly obnoxious regulatory and tax policies.  (I recently ran across a message board on which Etsy sellers, really micro-manufacturers, almost all female, were discussing the pain suffered while trying to comply with IRS inventory accounting rules.)
Marco Rubio’s comment statement that “we need more welders and less philosophers” was unfortunate.  His overall point is entirely correct–we need to stop stigmatizing vocational education and assuming that College is and should be the only path to a really good job–but he could have said it better.  (See discussion at Ricochet, led by an actual philosopher.)  Republicans need to be careful not to project contempt toward anyone who thinks of himself as an intellectual, in the way that Obama projected contempt for a wide swath of working people with his snide comment about “clinging to guns or religion”…which comment certainly cost him votes and would have cost him a lot more had Republicans been able to use it more effectively.
In that same debate, when the subject of whether large banks should be bailed out in crisis situations came up, neither Cruz nor Kasich mentioned the existence of the FDIC.  I don’t care about Kasich, but Cruz should have responded that ‘we have the FDIC to protect the vast majority of depositors–although we need to ensure that it is adequately funded by fees to the banks–so the real question about a bailout has to do with protecting the bank shareholders and bondholders–and no, we shouldn’t do that.’
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

9:09 AM

Sunday, November 22, 2015  
BOOK REVIEW:  ON THE RAILS--A WOMAN'S JOURNEY  (rerun)
by Linda Niemann


(Norfolk Southern has renamed its Memphis railyard in honor of Deborah Harris Butler, who is retiring as their EVP of planning.  I notice that Ms Butler started out with a degree in English literature…which reminds me of another woman who went from an English degree to a railroading career, and wrote a truly great memoir about her experiences.)
What happens when a PhD in English, a woman, takes a job with the railroad? Linda Niemann tells the story based on her own experiences. It’s a remarkable document–a book that “is about railroading the way ‘Moby Dick’ is about whaling”, according to a Chicago Sun-Times reviewer. (Although I think a better Melville comparison would be with “White Jacket”, Melville’s book about his experiences as a crewman on an American sailing warship. Which is still very high praise.)
Niemann had gotten a PhD and a divorce simultaneously, and her life was on a downhill slide. “The fancy academic job never materialized,” and she was living in a shack in the mountains and hanging around with strippers, poets, musicians, and drug dealers. Then she saw the employment ad for the Southern Pacific railroad.
When I saw the ad in the Sunday paper–BRAKEMEN WANTED–I saw it as a chance to clean up my act and get away. In a strategy of extreme imitation, I felt that by doing work this dangerous, I would have to make a decision to live, to protect myself. I would have to choose to stay alive every day, to hang on to the side of those freightcars for dear life. Nine thousand tons moving at sixty miles an hour into the fearful night.

Niemann is hired by the Southern Pacific to work at Watsonville, a small freightyard whose main function is to switch out all the perishable freight from the Salinas Valley. Other pioneering women are also joining the railroad at this time, and Niemann soon finds herself a member of an “all-girl team,” assigned to work the midnight shift during the rainy season. Their responsibility will be to reorganize all the cars that have come in during the day, positioning them on the correct tracks and in the correct sequence. They will have at their disposal a switch engine and an engineer, but it will be their responsibility to plan the moves as well as to execute them–coupling and uncoupling cars and air hoses, setting and releasing handbrakes, throwing switches. Before work, they meet at a local espresso house.
It was an odd feeling to be getting ready to go to work when everybody else was ending their evenings, relaxed, dressed up, and, I began to see, privileged. They were going to put up their umbrellas, go home, and sleep. We were going to put rubber clothes on and play soccer with boxcars…

continued at Chicago Boyz

1:56 PM

Tuesday, November 17, 2015  
THE ATTRITION MILL SPEEDS UP


In one of my posts on the aftermath of 9/11, I introduced the metaphor of the Attrition Mill.  An attrition mill consists of two steel disks, rotating at high speed in opposite directions and crushing the substance to be milled between them.  Metaphorically, I see America, and western civilization in general, as being caught in a gigantic attrition mill, with one rotating disk being the Islamofascist enemy and the other disk representing certain tendencies within our own societies…most notably, the focus on group identities, the growing hostility toward free speech, and the sharp decline of civilizational-self confidence.
The combination of the upper and lower disks of the metaphorical Attrition Mill is far more dangerous than either by itself would be.  For example, the student government at the University of Minnesota has rejected a resolution calling for annual commemorations of the 9/11 atrocity.  Why?  It was argued that such a resolution would make Muslim students feel “unsafe.” The “Students for Justice for Palestine” said that being reminded of 9/11 on its anniversary would lead to increased “Islamaphobia.”
It seems pretty clear that this sort of ridiculously deferential “sensitivity” does not make immigrants, or children and grandchildren of immigrants, more likely to assimilate.  Contrarily, it reinforces group identifies and intergroup hostilities.  And in doing so, it creates a social environment in which it is much more likely that actual terrorists–representing the upper disk of the Attrition Mill–will go unreported or even be actively supported in their ethnic/religious communities. And that, in turn, greatly increases the risks inherent in large-scale migration.
Hillary Clinton reacted to the Benghazi murders by blaming a video, going so far as to tell a grieving father that  he would have his revenge–not on the killers, oh, no, but rather we are going to have that filmmaker arrestedHere, we see the threat and actuality of Islamist violence being used as an excuse for interfering with the free-speech rights of Americans…and you can bet that if that precedent is successfully established, it will be applied with plenty of other justifications, too.
And both disks of the Attrition Mill are revolving with increasing speed. The attacks on Charlie Hebdo, the Paris kosher grocery store, and the Russian airliner were followed by the large-scale attack that just happened in Paris.  The lower disk of the Mill is turning faster as well:  Amherst students are demanding restrictions on free speech, with compulsory “reeducation” for offenders.  We have seen insane behavior at Yale, with students raging at a couple of professors who dared to suggest that people not go overboard about the issue of  Halloween costumes.  Here is Alan Dershowitz on what is happening to our colleges:  “the fog of Fascism is descending
continued at Chicago Boyz

1:18 PM

Wednesday, November 11, 2015  
VETERANS DAY 2015

One of Kipling's less-well-known poems:  The last of the Light Brigade

There were thirty million English who talked of England's might,
There were twenty broken troopers who lacked a bed for the night.
They had neither food nor money, they had neither service nor trade;
They were only shiftless soldiers, the last of the Light Brigade.

They felt that life was fleeting; they knew not that art was long,
That though they were dying of famine, they lived in deathless song.
They asked for a little money to keep the wolf from the door;
And the thirty million English sent twenty pounds and four !

They laid their heads together that were scarred and lined and grey;
Keen were the Russian sabres, but want was keener than they;
And an old Troop-Sergeant muttered, "Let us go to the man who writes
The things on Balaclava the kiddies at school recites."

They went without bands or colours, a regiment ten-file strong,
To look for the Master-singer who had crowned them all in his song;
And, waiting his servant's order, by the garden gate they stayed,
A desolate little cluster, the last of the Light Brigade.


Read the whole thing here


cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

3:17 PM

Tuesday, November 10, 2015  
ANOTHER SOFTWARE DEBACLE


The project to computerize immigration documentation is not going well…after $1 billion in expenditures and and a new estimated total cost of $3.5 billion—the original estimate having been for half a billion.  (via Marginal Revolution)
And, of course, we’re all aware of the problems with the Obamacare website and supporting back-end systems.
Back in 2006, I wrote about the failure of the FAA/IBM project to develop the “Advanced Automation System” for air traffic control: The story of a software failure, based on the writing of Robert Britcher, who was involved in the project.
The problems with the ATC project were to my mind somewhat more excusable than the ones with the current immigration project:  the “Advanced Automation System” was required to operate with extreme reliability and availability with stringent real-time response criteria, to interface with radar systems, and to support a complex and safety-critical user interface.  The immigration system sounds like basically a large database and workflow system.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

8:53 AM

Friday, November 06, 2015  
LEWIS VS HALDANE  (rerun)


(I cross-posted my 2014 review of C S Lewis’s novel That Hideous Strength over at Richochet, where a good comment thread has developed. Some of the comments reminded me of the extremely negative review of the book written by JBS Haldane in 1946, and Lewis’s response thereto.)
Haldane was an eminent British scientist (population genetics) and a Marxist. C S Lewis was…well, you probably already know who C S Lewis was.
Haldane’s critique was directed at the series of novels by Lewis known as the Ransom Trilogy, and particularly the last book of the series,  That Hideous Strength . Lewis responded in a letter which remained unpublished for many of years. All this may sound ancient and esoteric, but I believe the Lewis/Haldane controversy is very relevant to our current political and philosophical landscape.
To briefly summarize That Hideous Strength: Mark, a young sociologist, is hired by a government agency called NICE–the National Institute for Coordinated Experimentation–having as its stated mission the application of science to social problems. (Unbelievably, today the real-life British agency which establishes rationing policies for healthcare is also called NICE.) In the novel, NICE turns out to be a conspiracy devoted to very diabolical purposes, as Mark gradually discovers. It also turns out that the main reason NICE wanted to hire Mark is to get control of his wife, Jane (maiden name: Tudor) who has clairvoyant powers. The NICE officials want to use Jane’s abilities to get in touch with the magician Merlin and to effect a junction between modern scientific power and the ancient powers of magic, thereby bringing about the enslavement of mankind and worse. Jane, though, becomes involved with a group which represents the polar opposite of NICE, led by a philology professor named Ransom, who is clearly intended as a Christ-figure. The conflict between NICE and the Ransom group will determine the future of humanity.
A brilliantly written and thought-provoking book, which I highly recommend, even if, like me, you’re not generally a fan of fantasy novels.
With context established, here are some of the highlights of the Lewis/Haldane controversy:
1) Money and Power.
In his article, Haldane attacks Lewis for the latter’s refusal to absolutely condemn usury, and celebrates the fact that “Mammon has been cleared off a sixth of our planet’s surface”…clearly referring to the Soviet Union. Here’s part of Lewis’s response:
The difference between us is that the Professor sees the ‘World’ purely in terms of those threats and those allurements which depend on money. I do not. The most ‘worldly’ society I have ever lived in is that of schoolboys: most worldly in the cruelty and arrogance of the strong, the toadyism and mutual treachery of the weak, and the unqualified snobbery of both. Nothing was so base that most members of the school proletariat would not do it, or suffer it, to win the favour of the school aristocracy: hardly any injustice too bad for the aristocracy to practise. But the class system did not in the least depend on the amount of pocket money. Who needs to care about money if most of the things he wants will be offered by cringing servility and the remainder can be taken by force? This lesson has remained with me all my life. That is one of the reasons why I cannot share Professor Haldanes exaltation at the banishment of Mammon from ‘a sixth of our planet’s surface’. I have already lived in a world from which Mammon was banished: it was the most wicked and miserable I have yet known. If Mammon were the only devil, it would be another matter. But where Mammon vacates the throne, how if Moloch takes his place? As Aristotle said, ‘Men do not become tyrants in order to keep warm’. All men, of course, desire pleasure and safety. But all men also desire power and all men desire the mere sense of being ‘in the know’ or the ‘inner ring’, of not being ‘outsiders’: a passion insufficiently studied and the chief theme of my story. When the state of society is such that money is the passport to all these prizes, then of course money will be the prime temptation. But when the passport changes, the desires will remain.


continued at Chicago Boyz

1:42 PM

Thursday, November 05, 2015  
THE IVY LEAGUE AND AMERICAN SOCIETY


I believe that excessive credentialism is definitely reducing social mobility and inhibiting the full use of America’s human talents…and that the excessive reverence paid to “elite” colleges is part of this problem.
I’m reminded of something Peter Drucker wrote, way back in 1969:
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…

We as a country are a lot closer to accepting Grande Ecole status for Harvard Law School and similar institutions than we were when Drucker wrote the above.
He continues:
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. It is almost impossible to explain to a European that the engineer with a degree from North Idaho A. and M. is an engineer and not a draftsman.
See also my 2011 post Drucker on Education, which includes additional excerpts from Professor Drucker on this topic.  Very well worth reading and contemplating.
University Diaries also has a post and discussion thread on Glenn’s column.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

5:10 PM

 
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