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

site feed

A link to a website, either in this sidebar or in the text of a post, does not necessarily imply agreement with opinions or factual representations contained in that website.

<< current

An occasional web magazine.

For more information or to contact us, click here.

E-mails may be published, with or without editing, unless otherwise requested.

Monday, May 30, 2016  

A powerful and beautifully-done music video:  The war was in color

Neptunus Lex:  We remember them

Also from Lex:  A memorial day message from 2004

Update: Bookworm’s Memorial Day essay for this year is up at her site

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

6:19 AM

Tuesday, May 17, 2016  

Hans Fallada

(I posted this review four years ago...given the continued economic difficulties faced by many Americans, and the political implications thereof, this seems like an appropriate time for a rerun)

I've often seen this 1932 book footnoted in histories touching on Weimar Germany; not having previously read it I had been under the vague impression that it was some sort of political screed. Actually it is a novel, and a good one. The political implications are indeed significant, but they're mostly implicit rather than explicit.

Johannes and Emma, known to one another as Sonny and Lammchen, are a young couple who marry when Lammchen unexpectedly becomes pregnant. Their world is not the world of Weimar's avant-garde artists and writers, or of its risque-to-outright-degenerate cabaret scene. It is far from the world of a young middle-class intellectual like Sebastian Haffner, whose invaluable memoir I reviewed here. Theirs is the world of people at the absolute bottom of anything that could be considered as even lower-middle-class, struggling to hold on by their fingernails.

When we first meet our protagonists, Sonny is working as a bookkeeper--he was previously a reasonably-successful salesman of men's clothing, working for the kindly Jewish merchant Mr. Bergmann, but a pointless quarrel with Bergmann's wife, coupled with a job offer from the local grain merchant (Kleinholz) led to a career change. Sonny soon finds that as a condition of continued employment he is expected to marry Kleinholz's ugly and unpleasant daughter, never an appealing proposition and one which his marriage to Lammchen clearly makes impossible. Lammchen is from a working-class family: her father is a strong union man and Social Democrat who sees himself as superior to lower-tier white-collar men like Sonny.

When Sonny and Lammchen set up housekeeping, their economic situation continually borders on desperate. Purchasing a stew pot, or indulging in the extravagance of a few bites of salmon for dinner, represents a major financial decision. An impulsive decision on Sonny's part to please Lammchen by acquiring the dressing table she admires will have long-lasting consequences for their budget.

The great inflation of Weimar has come and gone; the psychological damage lingers. Sonny and Lammchen's landlady cannot comprehend what happened to her savings:

Young people, before the war, we had a comfortable fifty thousand marks. And now that money's all gone. How can it all be gone?...I sit here reckoning it up. I've written it all down. I sit here, reckoning. Here it says: a pound of butter, three thousand marks...can a pound of butter cost three thousand marks?...I now know that my money's been stolen. Someone who rented here stole it...he falsified my housekeeping book so I wouldn't notice. He turned three into three thousand without me realizing...how can fifty thousand have all gone?

Inflation is no longer the problem, unemployment is. There are millions of unemployed, and those who do hold jobs are desperately afraid of losing them and will do anything to keep them.

continued at Chicago Boyz

9:41 AM


Over at The Lexicans, Bill Brandt posted an item about an 8-part TV series titled 'American Genius'...it is about a selection of inventors and entrepreneurs who have had a major impact on technology, society, and history.  It sounded worthwhile and I've watched about half of the episodes--thanks, Bill!...definitely worth watching, but OTOH I think there are a few things in the series that should have been covered a little differently.

Edison vs Tesla is about the AC-vs-DC power wars, and correctly reports on the sleazy fearmongering tactics that Edison used in his unavailing attempt to maintain DC's dominance.  The show referred to George Westinghouse, who was Tesla's sponsor in this battle, as "sort of a railroad baron," completely ignoring the fact that Westinghouse was himself a major American inventor.  Most people would think of a 'railroad baron' as someone who owns or manages railroads, not someone who invented the air brake.

Farnsworth vs Sarnoff  is about the battle to dominate the emerging television industry.  It was presented as a David-versus-Goliath story--though Goliath was in this case named David (Sarnoff)--individual inventor versus ruthless tycoon.  Sarnoff was indeed ruthless, indeed could be fairly referred to as a prototypical crony capitalist...but it would have been interesting to point out that he wasn't always a Goliath, wasn't born to that position, but had in fact come to this country as an impoverished Russian Jewish immigrant and had encountered severe and career-threatening anti-Semitism on his path to Goliath-dom.

Space Race is focused on two individuals, the German/American Wernher von Braun and the Soviet rocket designer Sergei Korolev.  Korolev was played by an actor who looked a little too young for the role at the subject time period:  more importantly, it should have been mentioned that Korolev had been arrested and sent to the Gulag, where he lost most of his teeth due to the brutal labor-camp conditions.  There were psychological scars as well--Boris Chertok , who worked closely with Korolev for years, said that there was only one single time that he saw the man really happy.  In a series focused primarily on the leading characters and their conflicts rather than on technical details, these things deserved to be covered.

The program refers to a successful Soviet test in 1957 of a missile with intercontinental range, shortly before the launch of Sputnik.  Actually, the test was a failure because the warhead disintegrated on reentry...and reentry, while a critical factor for ICBMs, is not important at all for one-way satellite launches.  The American belief that Sputnik meant all of our cities were vulnerable to Soviet missiles was a little premature--not much.

I thought Wernher von Braun got off too easily in this program.  The show did mention that the V-2 missile was assembled by slave labor in an underground factory adjacent to a concentration camp: the truly horrific nature of V-2 manufacturing (this was possibly the only weapons system ever made that killed more people in its making than in its employment) could have gotten more emphasis, and the evidence is that von Braun was fully aware of what was going on in this place.

I'm also not convinced that von Braun was as absolutely critical to US missile and space programs as the show implies.  The program to build the Atlas missile, which was developed in roughly the same time period as Korolev's R-7, was directed by USAF General Bernard Schriever, with technology expertise provided largely by the newly-formed Ramo-Wooldgridge Corporation and by Convair.  I see no reason why this team could not also have conducted a Moon program, had they been so chartered.

The show does point out that von Braun, in addition to his technical and management contributions, played an important role in popularizing the ideas of rocketry and space travel...I had been unaware of his work with Disney to this end.  So, in addition to being a genuine rocket scientist (and, arguably, a war criminal in at least a moral sense), von Braun was also one of the great PR men of the century.

Again, with the omissions and missed opportunities, the series is still very much worth watching.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

9:34 AM

Thursday, May 12, 2016  

Vladimir Bukovsky was prominent in the dissident movement within the old Soviet Union, and spent 12 years in prisons, labor camps, and psychiatric hospitals.  He has lived in Britain since the late 1970s, and has been a vocal opponent of Vladimir Putin, referring to Putin and his cricle as the heirs of Lavrenty Beria--Beria being Stalin's notorious secret-police chief.  Bukovsky also expressed the opinion that the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko (in Britain, by radioactive polonium) was done at the behest of Russian authorities.  So you can be pretty sure that Bukovsky isn't on Vladimir Putin's list of 10 favorite people.

Recently, Bukovsky has been charged with child pornography by British authorities.  Claire Berlinski believes that he was likely framed by the Russian regime.  (More from Claire here.)  It certainly seems quite possible that Putin's intelligence agencies planted the evidence on Bukovsky's computer, and I am happy that Claire is going to be further investigating this matter, which has received little attention from the legacy media.

I tend to believe that Claire is right and Bukovsky is innocent, though I have no way of putting probabilities on this at the moment.  I am also impressed by the logic of  Diana West's question:  "Is there a sentient person, naturally revolted by the thought of child pornography, even five or six images' worth, going to believe for one minute that the British state, for decades having turned the blindest and hardest and most craven of eyes against the sexual despoilment and prostitution of generations of little British girls at risk at the hands of criminal Islamic "grooming" gangs, has suddenly developed some compelling interest in protecting the welfare of children, and thus turned its avenging sword on ... Vladimir Bukovsky?"

Above and beyond this specific case--and it is extremely important to ensure that Bukovsky gets fair treatment by the British judicial system, which seems unlikely without considerable sunlight on the matter--there an overwhelmingly critical general issue involved here: that of national sovereignty. There is little question that Litvinenko was murdered at the behest of people in the Russian government.  There is no question at all that the ayatollahs running the Iranian government called for the murder of Salman Rushdie, a citizen of Britain, because they didn't like something he wrote.  There is no question at all that many imams throughout the Islamic world are calling for the murder of people in other countries, based on the opinions of those people, and there is no question at all that Iranian authorities are actively encouraging acts of violence against Israel.  And there is no question at all that German authorities are prosecuting a comedian for the 'crime' of insulting a foreign leader, at the behest of Turkish ruler Erdogan.

John Kerry, America's idiot secretary of state, recently talked to a group of college students about a borderless world, which he apparently either believes is inevitable or of which he actually approves.  But in the universe that actually exists, a borderless world is one in which foreign leaders and rabble-rousers can cause great harm to citizens of other nations, with the governments of those nations either unable or unwilling to protect them.

G K Chesterton is credited with the saying "Don't ever take a fence down until you know the reason why it was put up."  (ascribed to Chesterton by John F Kennedy--the actual Chesterton quote can be found here)  But I doubt if Kerry has ever read Chesterton, and also doubt that he is capable of understanding him if he did read his works.

Global interchange facilitates many good things, in trade, culture, and human connections:  it can also be a vector for bad things such as epidemics and cross-border murder and intimidation.  Cheerleading for a 'borderless world', without serious consideration of how to encourage the good and prevent the bad, is highly irresponsible.

At a bare minimum, each civilized government should ensure that any planned legal proceedings against its one of its citizens which appears likely to have been instigated by a foreign power should be carefully vetted before proceeding.  Each civilized government should also react very strongly to any call by a foreign government for the murder of one of its citizens or residents--ranging from trade sanctions up to the funding of the overthrow of the regime in question and continuing to, in extreme cases, military action.

Claire could use some additional contributions to assist with her work on the Bukovsky case; the link is here.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

9:15 AM


‘When the crocus blossoms,’ hiss the women in Berlin,
‘He will press the button, and the battle will begin.
When the crocus blossoms, up the German knights will go,
And flame and fume and filthiness will terminate the foe…
When the crocus blossoms, not a neutral will remain.’

(A P Herbert, Spring Song, quoted in To Lose a Battle, by Alistair Horne)

On May 10, 1940, German forces launched an attack against Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Few people among the Allies imagined that France would collapse in only six weeks: Churchill, for example, had a high opinion of the fighting qualities of the French army. But collapse is what happened, of course, and we are still all living with the consequences. General Andre Beaufre, who in 1940 was a young Captain on the French staff, wrote in 1967:

The collapse of the French Army is the most important event of the twentieth century.

If it’s an exaggeration, it’s not much of one. If France had held up to the German assault as effectively as it was expected to do, World War II would probably have never reached the nightmare levels that it in fact did reach. The Hitler regime might well have fallen. The Holocaust would never have happened. Most likely, there would have been no Communist takeover of Eastern Europe.

This campaign has never received much attention in America; it tends to be regarded as something that happened before the “real” war started. Indeed, many denizens of the Anglosphere seem to believe that the French basically gave up without a fight–which is a considerable exaggeration given the French casualties of around 90,000 killed and 200,000 wounded. But I think the fall of France deserves serious study, and that some of the root causes of the defeat are scarily relevant to today’s world.

First, I will very briefly summarize the campaign from a military standpoint, and will then shift focus to the social and political factors involved in the defeat.

continued at Chicago Boyz

9:09 AM

Friday, May 06, 2016  

…my feelings right now as expressed in song, prose, and poetry.

Bob Dylan:  I threw it all away

For I’, substitute ‘we’:

Once I had mountains in the palm of my hand
And rivers that ran through every day

I must have been mad
I never knew what I had
Until I threw it all away

Procol Harum:  Broken Barricades:

Now gather up sea shells
And write down brave words

Your prayers are unanswered

Your idols absurd

The seaweed and the cobweb
Have rotted your sword
Your barricades broken

Your enemies Lord

British general Edward Spears, describing his feelings in the aftermath of Munich:

Like most people, I have had my private sorrows, but there is no loss that can compare with the agony of losing one’s country, and that is what some of us felt when England accepted Munich.  All we believed in seemed to have lost substance.

The life of each of us has roots without which it must wither; these derive sustenance from the soil of our native land, its thoughts, its way of life, its magnificent history; the lineage of the British race is our inspiration.  The past tells us what the future should be.  When we threw the Czechs to the Nazi wolves, it seemed to me as if the beacon lit centuries ago, and ever since lighting our way, had suddenly gone out, and I could not see ahead.

Yet it was only two years after Munich that Britain demonstrated its  magnificent resistance to Nazi conquest.

From an English or Scottish ballad:

I am a little wounded but am not slain
I will lie me down for to bleed a while

Then I’ll rise and fight with you again

Lie down to bleed a while, if you need to–but not for too long–but do not give up.  The stakes are way too high.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

9:38 AM

Wednesday, May 04, 2016  

Prince Andrei (in War and Peace), who is falling in love with Natasha, is talking with her sister Vera:

"Yes, that is true, Prince.  In our days," continued Vera--mentioning "our days" as people of limited intelligence are fond of doing, imagining that they have discovered and appraised the peculiarities of  "our days" and that human characteristics change with the times--"in our days a girl has so much freedom that the pleasure of being courted often stifles real feeling in her."  (emphasis added)

Bingo, Leo Tolstoy!  I have often observed people writing or speaking about "these days" but equally or more often about "this country" or "this society" as if they had conducted a vast comparative study.  Frequently you will hear people talking about some unfortunate characteristic that is pretty much universal across space and time and attributing it the "modern American society" or simply "our society."  Few of these, I'm pretty sure, have either spent a lot of time in  other societies or made a serious study thereof, nor have many of them conducted extensive historical research about other eras.

I'll give the floor to Gilbert and Sullivan, whose Lord High Executioner was looking forward to doing away with:

The idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone  
All centuries but this, and every country but his own

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

1:19 PM

This page is powered by Blogger.