Tuesday, November 29, 2016
THE AMERICAN VIRTUAL CIVIL WAR
Musings on Cirque des Crazi, at Ricochet, was inspired by two long-time (since childhood) friends of the author and his wife…one a senior nun and the other a retired IRS manager…who have “been looney, angry, mean and distempered crazies before, during and since the election”…”Yes, they are Hilaryites. They are the scourge of (his wife’s) Facebook, showing no mercy or measure of humanity. Both use language that would make Trump blush. Many people on Ricochet have reported similar insanity and we all watch the media created Cirque Des Crazi on the streets of blue cities and the academic child care centers formerly known as Higher Education.
Read and discuss...cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open
Sunday, November 20, 2016
BOOK REVIEW: THE ROAD BACK (rerun)
Erich Maria Remarque
(I had intended to rerun this post during the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, which took place from July 1 to November 18, 1916…missed that window, but of course the war lasted for two more years after the Somme)
The narrator is a young German who served in the First World War. The war is finally over, and Ernst, together with his surviving comrades, has returned to the high school from which they departed in 1914. The Principal is delivering a “welcome home” speech, and it is a speech in the old oratorical style:
“But especially we would remember those fallen sons of our foundation, who hastened joyfully to the defence of their homeland and who have remained upon the field of honour. Twenty-one comrades are with us no more; twenty-one warriors have met the glorious death of arms; twenty-one heroes have found rest from the clamour of battle under foreign soil and sleep the long sleep beneath the green grasses..”
There is suddden, booming laughter. The Principal stops short in pained perplexity. The laughter comes from Willy standing there, big and gaunt, like an immense wardrobe. His face is red as a turkey’s, he is so furious.
“Green grasses!–green grasses!” he stutters, “long sleep?” In the mud of shell-holes they are lying, knocked rotten. ripped in pieces, gone down into the bog–Green grasses! This is not a singing lesson!” His arms are whirling like a windmill in a gale. “Hero’s death! And what sort of thing do you suppose that was, I wonder?–Would you like to know how young Hoyer died? All day long he lay in the wire screaming. and his guts hanging out of his belly like macaroni. Then a bit of shell took off his fingers and a couple of hours later another chunk off his leg; and still he lived; and with his other hand he kept trying to pack back his intestines, and when night fell at last he was done. And when it was dark we went out to get him and he was as full of holes as a nutmeg grater.—Now, you go and tell his mother how he died–if you have so much courage.”
Not only Willy, but several other student/soldiers rise to challenge the tone of the Principal’s speech:
“But gentlemen,” cries the Old Man almost imploringly, “there is a misunderstanding–a most painful misunderstanding—”
But he does not finish. He is interrupted by Helmuth Reinersmann, who carried his brother back through a bombardment on the Yser, only to put him down dead at the dressing-station.
“Killed,” he says savagely, “They were not killed for you to make speeches about them. They were our comrades. Enough! Let’s have no more wind-bagging about it.”
The assembly dissolves into angry confusion.
Then suddenly comes a lull in the tumult. Ludwig Breyer has stepped out to the front. “Mr Principal,” says Ludwig in a clear voice. “You have seen the war after your fashion—with flying banners, martial music, and with glamour. But you saw it only to the railway station from which we set off. We do not mean to blame you. We, too, thought as you did. But we have seen the other side since then, and against that the heroics of 1914 soon wilted to nothing. Yet we went through with it–we went through with it because here was something deeper that held us together, something that only showed up out there, a responsibility perhaps, but at any rate something of which you know nothing and of which there can be no speeches.”
Ludwig pauses a moment, gazing vacantly ahead. He passes a hand over his forehead and continues. “We have not come to ask a reckoning–that would be foolish; nobody knew then what was coming.–But we do require that you shall not again try to prescribe what we shall think of these things. We went out full of enthusiasm, the name of the ‘Fatherland’ on our lips–and we have returned in silence,. but with the thing, the Fatherland, in our hearts. And now we ask you to be silent too. Have done with fine phrases. They are not fitting. Nor are they fitting to our dead comrades. We saw them die. And the memory of it is still too near that we can abide to hear them talked of as you are doing. They died for more than that.”
Now everywhere it is quiet. The Principal has his hands clasped together. “But Breyer,” he says gently. “I–I did not mean it so.”
Ludwig Breyer’s words: “We do require that you shall not again try to prescribe what we shall think of these things…Have done with fine phrases” capture well the break which the Great War caused in the relationship between generations, and even in the use of language. It is a disconnect with which we are still living.
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
ATTACK OF THE JOB-KILLING ROBOTS, PART 2
In my previous post of this series, I remarked that most discussion of the employment effects of robotics/artificial intelligence/etc seems to be lacking in historical perspective…quite a few people seem to believe that the replacement of human labor by machinery is a new thing.
This post will attempt to provide some historical perspective on today’s automation technologies by sketching out some of the past innovations in the mechanization of work, focusing on “robots,” broadly-defined…ie, on technologies which to some degree involve the replacement or augmentation of human mind/eye/hand, rather than those that are primarily concerned with the replacement of human and animal muscular energy…and will discuss some of the political debate that took place on mechanization & jobs in the 1920s through 1940s.
Throughout most of history, the production of yarn for cloth was an extremely labor-intensive process, done with a device called a distaff, almost always employed by women, and requiring many hours per day to generate a little bit of product. (There even exists a medieval miniature of a woman spinning with the distaff while having sex…whether this is a comment on the burdensomeness of the yarn-making process, or a slam at the love-making skills of medieval men, I’m not sure—-probably both.) Eventually, probably around 1400-1500 in most places in Europe, the spinning wheel came into use, improving the productivity of yarn-making by a factor estimated from 3:1 to as much as ten or more to one.
Gutenberg’s printing press was invented somewhere around 1440. I haven’t seen any estimates of its effect on labor productivity, compared with the then-prevailing method of hand copying of manuscripts, but surely it was at least 1000 to 1 or more.
The era from 1700-1850 was marked by tremendous increases in the productivity of the textile trades. The flying shuttle and other advances greatly improved the weaving process; this created a bottleneck in the supply of yarn, which was partly addressed by the invention of the Spinning Jenny–a foot-powered device that could improve the yarn production of one person by 5:1 or better. Power spinning and power looms yielded considerable additional productivity improvements.
An especially interesting device was the Jacquard Loom (1802), which used punched cards to direct the weaving of patterned fabrics. In its initial incarnation, the Jacquard was a hand loom: its productivity did not come from the application of mechanical power but rather from the automation of the complex thread-selection operations previously carried out by a “Draw Boy.”
Turning now to woodworking: in 1818, Blanchard’s Copying Lathe automated the production of complex shape–a prototype was automatically traced and copied. It was originally intended for making gunstocks, but also served in producing lasts for shoemakers, and I believe also chair and table legs.
Another major advancement in the clothing field was the sewing machine. French inventory Barthelemy Thimonnier invented a machine in 1830, but was driven out of the country by enraged tailors and political instability. The first commercially-successful machines were invented/marketed by Americans Walter Hunt, Elias Howe, and Isaac Singer, and were in common use by the 1850s.
By the late Victorian period the sewing machine had been hailed as the most useful invention of the century releasing women from the drudgery of endless hours of sewing by hand. Factories sprung up in almost every country in the world to feed the insatiable demand for the sewing machine. Germany had over 300 factories some working 24 hours a day producing countless numbers of sewing machines.
The beginnings of data communications could be seen in gold ticker and stock ticker systems created by Edison and others (circa 1870) , which relayed prices almost instantaneously and eliminated the jobs of the messenger boys who had previously been the distribution channel for this information. Practical calculating machines also appeared in the 1870s. But the big step forward in mechanized calculation was Hollerith’s punched card system (quite likely inspired in part by the Jacquard), introduced in 1890 and used for the tabulation of that year’s census. These systems were quickly adopted for accounting and record keeping purposes in a whole range of industries and government functions.
Professor Amy Sue Bix, in her book Inventing Ourselves out of Jobs?, describes the fear of technological unemployment as silent movies were replaced by the ‘talkies’. “Through the early 1920s…local theaters had employed live musicians to provide accompaniment for silent pictures. Small houses featured only a pianist or violinist, but glamorous ‘movie places’ engaged full orchestras.” All these jobs were threatened when Warner Brothers introduced its Vitaphone technology, with prerecorded disks synchronized to projectors. “Unlike other big studios, Warner did not operate its own theater chains and so had to convince local owners to screen their productions. Theater managers would be eager to show sound movies, Harry Warner hoped, since they could save the expense of hiring musicians.”
The American Federation of Musicians mounted a major PR campaign in an attempt to convince the public that ‘living music’ was better than ‘canned sound.’ A Music Defense League was established, with membership reaching 3 million…but the ‘talkies’ remained popular, and the AFM had to admit defeat. A lot of musicians did lose their jobs.
Saturday, November 12, 2016
ATTACK OF THE JOB-KILLING ROBOTS
Here’s a new factory for making automobile frames, specifically designed to minimize the need for human labor. The CEO of the company that built it actually said, “We set out to build automobile frames without people.”
At the start of the process, rough steel plates are inspected by electronic sensors, automatically pushing aside any that deviate from tolerances. Conveyors take the plates through punching, pressing, assembling, and nailing machines, as well as a machine that can insert 60 rivets simultaneously in each frame. A set of finishing machines then rinse, dry, spray-paint, and cool the frames. Aside from a few men moving frames between conveyor belts, the floor routine of the plant requires almost no hand labor.
And today’s robotics and artificial-intelligence advances go far beyond automating routine manufacturing labor and take over the kind of cognitive functions once thought to be exclusive to human beings. Here, for example, is a new AI-based system that displaces much of the thought-work which has been required of the people operating railway switch and signal installations:
The NX control machine is in effect the “brain” of the system. It automatically selects the best optional route if the preferred route is occupied. It will allow no conflicting routes to be set up. It eliminates individual lever control of each switch and signal.
Pretty scary from the standpoint of maintaining anything like full employment, don’t you think?
Friday, November 11, 2016
DON BEAUDREAUX SUPPORTS GOVERNMENT BY EXPERTS
Saturday, November 05, 2016
SELL YOUR SOUL OR LOSE YOUR LIVELIHOOD
Sebastian Haffner, whose memoir I reviewed here, describes what happened to his father–a civil servant under both Weimar and the Kaiser–following the Nazi takeover. The elder Haffner, long-since retired, had considerable accomplishments to his credit: “There had been great pieces of legislation in his administrative area, on which he had worked closely. They were important, daring, thoughtful, intellectual achievements, the fruits of decades of experience and years of intense, meticulous analysis and dedicated refinement”–and it was extremely painful to him to see this work ruthlessly trashed by the new government. But worse was to come.
One day Mr Haffner received an official letter. It required him to list all of the political parties, organizations, and associations to which he had ever belonged in his life and to sign a declaration that he ‘stood behind the government of national uprising without reservations.’ Failure to sign would mean the loss of his pension, which he had earned through 45 years of devoted service.
After agonizing about it for several days, he finally filled out the form, signed the declaration, and took it to the mailbox before he could change his mind.
“He had hardly sat down at his desk again when he jumped up and began to vomit convulsively. For two or three days he was unable to eat or keep down any food. It was the beginning of a hunger strike by his body, which killed him cruelly and painfully two years later.”
Haffner Senior was retired; he would surely have no chance for other employment if he crossed the new regime. He could either violate his convictions and sign the document, or sentence his wife and himself to total impoverishment and possibly actual starvation.
As recently as 10 years ago, it would have seemed unlikely that any American would have to face Mr Haffner’s dilemma. But things have changed. If current trends continue, it is very likely that YOU will have to foreswear your beliefs or face career and financial devastation.
Plenty of markers along this dark path are already visible. Things are worst in academia, it seems. At Yale, lecturer Erika Christakis resigned after being vitriolically attacked for suggesting that people not get all stressed up about Halloween costumes. Her husband, Nicholas, has also resigned from Yale. Ms Christakis says that many of those were intellectually supportive of the couple were afraid to make their support public: “Numerous professors, including those at Yale’s top-rated law school, contacted us personally to say that it was too risky to speak their minds. Others who generously supported us publicly were admonished by colleagues for vouching for our characters.”
Just the other day, I ran across this article, which uncomfortably parallels the Haffner story.
(Iowa State University) students are told that they must abide by the school’s policy against “harassment” of anyone in the university community. Students must complete a “training program” consisting of 118 slides online, covering the university’s non-harassment policies and procedures, and then pledge never to violate them.
But what if a student thinks that the ISU policy goes way beyond preventing true harassment and amounts to an abridgement of his rights under the First Amendment?
In that case, ISU reserves the right to withhold the student’s degree. So either the student agrees to abide by the policy even though it may well keep him from speaking out as he’d like to, or have his academic work go for naught.
Iowa State is going beyond ‘only’ requiring you to shut up about your opinions and will also require you to positively affirm beliefs which you may not share.
The attack on individuals’ careers and finances due to their political/philosophical beliefs is by no means limited to academia. There is the case of Brendan Eich, who was pushed out as CEO of Mozilla because of his personal support (in 2008) of a law which banned same-sex marriage in California. There are multiple cases of small businesspeople subjected to large fines because of their refusal to violate their convictions by baking a cake or providing other services for a same-sex wedding.
And don’t think that just because you support gay marriage…even if you support what you think is 100% of the ‘progressive’ worldview–that you are safe. Deviationism can always be found, as the Old Bolsheviks discovered during the time of Stalin. Northwestern University professor Laura Kipnis, herself a self-defined feminist, was investigated by the university after complaints were made about an essay she published under the title “Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academia.” Kipnis writes:
A tenured professor on my campus wrote about lying awake at night worrying that some stray remark of hers might lead to student complaints, social-media campaigns, eventual job loss, and her being unable to support her child. I’d thought she was exaggerating, but that was before I learned about the Title IX complaints against me.
Friday, November 04, 2016
THE INNER RING
The behavior of the network of people surrounding the Clintons, as detailed in recent revelations, reminds me of a talk that C S Lewis gave at King’s College, University of London, in 1944.
And the prophecy I make is this. To nine out of ten of you the choice which could lead to scoundrelism will come, when it does come, in no very dramatic colours. Obviously bad men, obviously threatening or bribing, will almost certainly not appear. Over a drink, or a cup of coffee, disguised as triviality and sandwiched between two jokes, from the lips of a man, or woman, whom you have recently been getting to know rather better and whom you hope to know better still—just at the moment when you are most anxious not to appear crude, or naïf or a prig—the hint will come. It will be the hint of something which the public, the ignorant, romantic public, would never understand: something which even the outsiders in your own profession are apt to make a fuss about: but something, says your new friend, which “we”—and at the word “we” you try not to blush for mere pleasure—something “we always do.”
And you will be drawn in, if you are drawn in, not by desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when the cup was so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back again into the cold outer world. It would be so terrible to see the other man’s face—that genial, confidential, delightfully sophisticated face—turn suddenly cold and contemptuous, to know that you had been tried for the Inner Ring and rejected. And then, if you are drawn in, next week it will be something a little further from the rules, and next year something further still, but all in the jolliest, friendliest spirit. It may end in a crash, a scandal, and penal servitude; it may end in millions, a peerage and giving the prizes at your old school. But you will be a scoundrel.
Thursday, November 03, 2016
HUMAN EMOTIONS AND THE NUCLEAR CODES
Two stories about Hillary Clinton:
1–Yossi Tzur, who lost his son, Assaf, in a terror bus bombing in Israel, described the meetings with a number of American officials that he participated in when he came to this country as part of a delegation including other families of terror victims:
“We were welcomed with warmth, with empathy, all heard us and gave us their attention, well, almost everybody.”
Tzur went on to describe the delegation’s meeting with Rudy Giuliani. “You could feel the warmth of the man, his humanity, his care,” he wrote. “You could see tears in his eyes when he told the stories. The meeting was scheduled for an hour, it took almost two hours and then he stood with us patiently taking photos with each and every one.”
From New York, the delegation went to Washington for a series of meetings, one of them was in the Senate with NY Senator Hilary Clinton. Tzur recalled that “we arrived at her office in the Senate and were shown into a small meeting room, it could hardly fit all of us, it was dark, crowded, it didn’t even had water on the table. So we waited.
“Time went by, 15 minutes, 30, an hour. Her aides were embarrassed saying she is coming any minute now. After an hour and a half Clinton arrived.
“She looked as us seeing the group in the room, we could see she is not really there with us, we felt she was impatient and just looking to finish it and go. We felt really uncomfortable… Even before we could speak she said, you probably want a photo, come let’s go out, leading us to the stairs. There she asked us to stand on the stairs and one of her aides took the photo. We still wanted to talk to her, people came ready to tell her their story, she didn’t intend to hear, it looked she didn’t want to hear. With inhuman coldness she went out amongst us all and disappeared in one of the corridors leaving us shocked and disappointed.”
2–Linda Tripp, White House secretary during the Bill Clinton administration, describes the reactions of Vince Foster and Hillary Clinton while watching the horrible Waco “law-enforcement operation” (in which 76 people died, including many children) unfold on television:
“A special bulletin came on [CNN] showing the atrocity at Waco and the children. And his face, his whole body slumped, and his face turned white, and he was absolutely crushed knowing, knowing the part he had played. And he had played the part at Mrs. Clinton’s direction.
Her reaction, on the other hand, was heartless. And I can only tell you what I saw.”
Indeed, it seems obvious that Hillary Clinton does not possess the normal human complement of emotional reactions, that she is cold and robotic. Something is definitely missing there.
Democrats and their supporters keep arguing that Donald Trump must not be trusted with the nuclear codes. In my view–if a decision for or against a nuclear launch must be made, I’d prefer it to be made by someone that can understand at a visceral level what it means for real people. Which would not be Hillary Clinton, who really does not appear to see other human beings as anything other than tools in her unending power games.
There has been much discussion lately about whether decisions in war can be entrusted to intelligent robots. I’d rather not see the most important military decision of all time made by a human robot.
Tuesday, November 01, 2016
WORTHWHILE READING AND WATCHING
During my first days at Smith, I witnessed countless conversations that consisted of one person telling the other that their opinion was wrong. The word “offensive” was almost always included in the reasoning. Within a few short weeks, members of my freshman class had quickly assimilated to this new way of non-thinking. They could soon detect a politically incorrect view and call the person out on their “mistake.” I began to voice my opinion less often to avoid being berated and judged by a community that claims to represent the free expression of ideas. I learned, along with every other student, to walk on eggshells for fear that I may say something “offensive.” That is the social norm here.