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PHOTON COURIER
 
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

Tuesday, December 30, 2014  
MOVIE REVIEW:  THE IMITATION GAME

See my post at Chicago Boyz

2:37 PM

Wednesday, December 24, 2014  
CHRISTMAS 2014

Newgrange is an ancient structure in Ireland so constructed that the sun, at the exact time of the winter solstice, shines directly down a long corridor and illuminates the inner chamber. More about Newgrange here and here.

Grim has an Arthurian passage about the Solstice.

Don Sensing has thoughts astronomical, historical, and theological about the Star of Bethlehem.

A wonderful 3-D representation of the Iglesia San Luis De Los Franceses. Just click on the link–then you can look around inside the cathedral. Use arrow keys or mouse to move left/right, up/down, and shift to zoom in, ctrl to zoom out.

Vienna Boys Choir, from Maggie’s Farm

Lappland in pictures...link came from the great and much-mourned Neptunus Lex

Snowflakes and snow crystals, from Cal Tech. Lots of great photos

A Romanian Christmas carol, from The Assistant Village Idiot

In the bleak midwinter, from The Anchoress

French Christmas carols

Rick Darby has some thoughts on the season. More here.

A Christmas reading from Thomas Pynchon.

The first radio broadcast of voice and music took place on Christmas Eve, 1906. (although there is debate about the historical veracity of this story)

An air traffic control version of The Night Before Christmas.

Ice sculptures from the St Paul winter carnival

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, sung by Enya

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Jeff Sypeck on a winter garden

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

8:23 AM

Tuesday, December 23, 2014  
A CHRISTMAS-APPROPRIATE POEM FROM RUDYARD KIPLING


(may not seem Christmas-appropriate based on the first 2 stanzas, but read on...)


"Gold is for the mistress--silver for the maid
Copper for the craftsman, cunning at his trade."
"Good!" said the Baron, sitting in his hall,
"But Iron--Cold Iron--is master of them all."


So he made rebellion 'gainst the King his liege,
Camped before his citadel and summoned it to siege.
"Nay!" said the cannoneer on the castle wall
"But Iron--Cold Iron--shall be master of you all!"


continued at Chicago Boyz

8:13 PM

Monday, December 22, 2014  
THE CHRISTMAS EVE RADIO BROADCAST OF 1906



…a case study in the difficulties of finding historical truth.
On Christmas Eve of 1906, a few shipboard radio operators–listening through the static for signals in Morse code–heard something that they had never before heard on the radio, and that most had never expected to hear. A human voice.

The first voice radio broadcast was conducted by Reginald Fessenden, originating from his experimental station at Brant Rock, Massachussetts. After introducing the transmission, Fessenden played a recording of Handel’s “Largo” and then sang “O Holy Night” while accompanying himself on the violin. Fessenden’s wife and a friend were then intended to conduct a Bible reading, but in the first-ever case of mike fright, they were unable to do it, so the reading was conducted by Fessenden as well.
Fessenden’s radio work at this period was based on a high-frequency AC generator (alternator), an electromechanical device created by Ernst Alexanderson of GE and modified by Fessenden.   The signals were generated at somewhere around  45-80khz.  (Low frequency compared to today’s normal radio, where the AM band starts at around 500khz; high frequency compared to the 50-60 hz that AC generators normally produce.)  The Alexanderson machines were expensive and very large–broadcast radio on a commercial scale was not practical until the introduction of the vacuum tube for both transmitting and receiving, several years later.
The italicized story, which was the subject of a post I wrote in 2004, has apparently been accepted in radio and electronics engineering circles for many years: in fact, in 2006 there were commemorative events of the broadcast.  More recently, though, the story has been challenged:  James O’Neal has done considerable research on the matter and concludes that the Christmas Eve broadcast never actually happened,  based on lack of contemporaneous evidence (logs of other radio stations, for example)  among other factors.  He argues that Fessenden was no shrinking violet, indeed, he was a publicity hound and would have been expected to do everything possible to publicize such an obviously PR-able achievement…if it had actually happened.  (There is no question that Fessenden did do pioneering work in radio, including speech/music transmission: the controversy deals specifically with the legendary Christman Eve broadcast.)
Comes now John Belrose, who has also done considerable research on this matter and who argues that the broadcast did in fact happen.  Belrose notes that from a business point of view, Fessenden was pursuing radio for point-to-point applications, rather than broadcasting, and hence would have had no reason to devote great effort to publicizing the Christmas Eve event.  I found a much longer analytical piece by Belrose here; he has done further research and continues to believe that the broadcast did in fact happen. The associate editor of IEEE Antennas and Propagation Magazine, where the article appears, finds his arguments persuasive.
1906 was only 108 years ago, not long in historical time. Yet even for an event so relatively recent, which would have involved several people directly and been heard by several more, and which was relevant to extremely intense litigation around the rights to various radio-related patents, anything near absolute certainty appears impossible to attain.
In any event, here’s O Holy Night.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

11:09 AM

Sunday, December 21, 2014  
CLOWNS, FOOLS, AND GENERALLY UNPLEASANT PEOPLE OF THE WEEK

See my post at Chicago Boyz

7:31 AM

Thursday, December 18, 2014  
A CRITIQUE OF CREDENTIALISM, CIRCA 1500


…from Leonardo da Vinci.
Leonardo did not attend a university to study the liberal arts, and apparently some of his contemporaries disrespected him considerably because of this omission.  His response:
Because I am not a literary man some presumptuous persons will think that they may reasonably blame me by arguing that I am an unlettered man.  Foolish men!…They will say that because I have no letters I cannot express well what I want to treat of…They go about puffed up and pompous, dressed and decorated with the fruits not of their own labours but those of others, and they will not allow me my own.  And if they despise me, an inventor, how much more could they–who are not inventors but trumpeters and declaimers of the works of others–be blamed.


(The quote is from Jean Gimpel’s book The Medieval Machine)
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

1:28 PM

Tuesday, December 16, 2014  
SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL


The Sydney Morning Herald called for “empathy” for the terrorist who committed the recent hostage-taking in a cafe.  Hillary Clinton, too, has recently called for empathy for our enemies.
I’m reminded of something G K Chesterton wrote:

The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. When a religious scheme is shattered (as Christianity was shattered at the Reformation), it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless. Thus some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity (I am sorry to say) is often untruthful. For example, Mr. Blatchford attacks Christianity because he is mad on one Christian virtue: the merely mystical and almost irrational virtue of charity. He has a strange idea that he will make it easier to forgive sins by saying that there are no sins to forgive. Mr. Blatchford is not only an early Christian, he is the only early Christian who ought really to have been eaten by lions. For in his case the pagan accusation is really true: his mercy would mean mere anarchy. He really is the enemy of the human race– because he is so human.
(Orthodoxy, 1908)

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

8:50 AM

Sunday, December 14, 2014  
THEME: FANNY KEMBLE


The posts in this fourth “theme” roundup are about the British actress and writer Fanny Kemble, whose observations on America…and on life in general…are very interesting.
Fanny Kemble’s train trip.  A ride on the newly-constructed London-Manchester line, in 1830.  Fanny’s escort for the trip was George Stephenson (“with whom I am most horribly in love”), the self-taught engineer who had been the driving force behind the line’s construction.  She contrasts Stephenson’s character with that of an aristocrat called Lord Alvanley  and the class of which he was an outstanding representative.
Author appreciation:  Fanny Kemble.  Shortly after her railroad trip, Fanny visited the United States on a theatrical tour and married an plantation owner from Georgia.  Her “Journal of a Residence in America” got a lot of attention, quite a bit of it negative; however,  her vivid description of the realities of slavery has been credited with helping to ensure that Britain would not enter the Civil War on the side of the Confederacy.
Further Fannyisms.  Some excerpts from the Kemble journals that I thought were particularly interesting.
There are a number of memoirs by Europeans who visited America during the late 1700s and throughout the 1800s, and I hope to review some of the other ones in the future.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

8:58 AM

Thursday, December 11, 2014  

"PROMOTION JOBS"


(I came across this while going through some old Photon Courier posts…originally from 2005)
I recently read The U-Boat Peril, by Captain Reginald Whinney, RN, a British destroyer commander during WWII. In the late 1920s, Capt Whinney attended the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth. He was not very impressed with the place, and his retrospective analysis is interesting:

What was really wrong with Dartmouth then? Well, my answer is cynical. The jobs of captain in command of the college and of his second-in-command, the commander, were 'promotion jobs'; and, in those days, the incumbent in a promotion job had only to do the same as his predecessor had done and he could hardly fail to be promoted. Further, these same captains and commanders had, while at Dartmouth...usually themselves been Cadet Captains. What was good enough for them...The requirement was to keep the sausage machine going.

I have no idea how accurate Capt Whinney's assessment of Dartmouth is...surely, they must have been doing something right, given the Royal Navy's performance in the war. But his analysis of the "promotion job" is an interesting one, with its applicability by no means limited to military organizations.

It's almost tautological...if you put people in jobs where all they have to do to get promoted is to remain in the job for a few years, then they are unlikely to do anything but remain in the job for a few years. You're certainly unlikely to see much in the way of innovation or of risk-taking behavior.

So, if you are an executive, you might ask yourself whether your organization includes anything that looks like a "promotion job"--and, if so, restructure it; that is, unless you actually like drones and time-servers as subordinate managers.

And what about the realm of education? It strikes me that, as things are now, the role of being a college student has been largely structured as a "promotion job." The student is incented to go through his 4 years or more, avoid taking any classes that might be difficult enough to unduly threaten his GPA, and avoid antagonizing any faculty members in a way that might harm the GPA or the letters of recommendation. Because the objective is, too often, not to accomplish things during the time spent on the job (in this case, to learn things), but rather to spend the requisite amount of time so that the much-desired certification can be obtained. That's a "promotion job" in Whinney's sense.

This is less true, of course, in the hard sciences and in engineering, where it's obvious that after graduation you're actually going to need to know what Young's Modulus is (or whatever)...but across wide swaths of American higher education, the concept of the "promotion job" seems highly applicable.

cross-posted at  Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

1:28 PM

Tuesday, December 09, 2014  
WORTHWHILE READING & VIEWING


Amazing treehouses from around the world
Failure Porn.  Is there now too much celebration of failure?
Leftists don’t like being reminded of the socialist roots of Naziism.  Also:  Hitler and the socialist dream.
Best programming languages for beginners to learn.
Some signs of recovery in the rustbelt

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

9:53 AM

Sunday, December 07, 2014  
PEARL HARBOR + 73


See Bookworm’s post and video from 2009 and her post from 2011; also, some alternate history from Shannon Love.
In 2011,  Jonathan worried that the cultural memory of the event is being lost, and noted that once again Google failed to note the anniversary on their search home page, whereas Microsoft Bing had a picture of the USS Arizona memorial.  (12/7/2014: same thing this year, at least as of this posting)


Shannon Love analyzes how Admiral Yamamoto was able to pull the attack off and concludes that “Pearl Harbor wasn’t a surprise ofintent, it was a surprise of capability.”
Trent Telenko wrote about the chain of events leading to the ineffectiveness of the radar warning that should have detected the approaching attack.
Via a Neptunus Lex post (site not currently available),  here is a video featuring interviews with both American and Japanese survivors of Pearl Harbor.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

7:05 AM

Friday, December 05, 2014  
THEME:  GERMANY'S DESCENT INTO NAZIISM


The posts in this third "theme" roundup explore different aspects of the question:  How did one of the world's most advanced and cultured nations descend so rapidly into a state of utter barbarism, which was eventually curable only by the application of apocalyptic violence?

Book Review: The Road Back.  This neglected novel by Erich Maria Remarque, best known for All Quiet on the Western Front, is a beautifully-written portrayal of the psychological impact of the First World War.

Western Civilization and the First World War.  Cites some thoughts from Sarah Hoyt on the impact of the war, and excerpts a powerful passage from the Remarque book mentioned above.

An Architect of Hyperinflation.  Central banker Rudolf von Havenstein, "der Geldmarshall,"  although a well-meaning public servant, had much to do with the extreme inflation that proved so socially destructive.

Book Review:  Little Man, What Now?  Hans Fallada's famous novel follows the experiences of a likeable young couple in late-Weimar Germany.  (see also movie review)

Book Review: Wolf Among Wolves.  Also by Fallada, this is an epic novel with many characters and many subplots, set a little earlier in time than Little Man, during the period of the great inflation.

Anti-Semitism, Medieval and Modern.  Suppose you had historical information from the 1300s showing in which German cities pogroms had occurred…and in which German cities pogroms had not occurred.  Would you think this data would be of any use in predicting the levels of anti-Semitic activity in various localities in the 1920s thru 1940s….almost six hundred years later?

Book Review:  Herman the German.  Gerhard Neumann, who would eventually run GE's jet engine business, writes about growing up in an assimilated German-Jewish family (more stereotypically Prussian than stereotypically Jewish) during the 1920s and 1930s.

Book Review:  Defying Hitler.   Sebastian Haffner's important memoir of growing up in Germany between the wars.

Who would be a Nazi?  Writing in 1941, the American author Dorothy Thompson speculates about which of her acquaintances would and wouldn't "go Nazi" in a "showdown."  The original post consisted of  links to the Harpers and to a  Chicago Boyz post by Michael Kennedy with ensuing discussion.

cross-posted at  Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

9:18 AM

Wednesday, December 03, 2014  
EXTREMELY COOL


Home movie footage from a 1931 cruise aboard the ocean liner Mauretania.

This ship was built in 1906 and was sister ship to the ill-fated Lusitania.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

7:01 PM

Monday, December 01, 2014  
THEME:  PRODUCTIVITY AND ECONOMIC GROWTH

As Jonathan pointed out here, one problem with the blog format is that worthwhile posts tend to fade into the background over time, even when they might be of continuing value.  One approach I’d like to try is Theme roundups, in which I’ll select a number of previous posts on a common topic or set of related topics, and link them with brief introductory sentences or paragraphs.  At least initially, I’ll focus on my own posts.

The posts in this second "theme" roundup focus on issues affecting productivity and economic growth.

Energy, Productivity, and the Middle Class.  The primary driver of middle class affluence has been the availability of plentiful and low-cost energy…especially in the form of electricity…coupled with a whole array of productivity-increasing tools and methods, ranging from the horse-drawn harvester to the assembly line to the automated check sorting machine.

Demographics and productivity growth.  Slowing population growth is of concern in just about every developed county because of the effects on worker/non-worker population mix.  Economist Michael Mandel presents a country-by-country analysis of the productivity growth rates required, in light of these demographics, to achieve a doubling of individual income by 2050.  (from 2005)

The Innovator's Solution.  My review of the now-classic book by Clayton Christensen and Michael Raynor.  Far more valuable than most books on business strategy.

Closing time?  Citigroup (this is from 2010) listed  "ten themes that spell the end of Western dominance," while Joel Kotkin challenged what he called "declinism."

Entrepreneurship in decline?   Michael Malone, who has been writing about technology and Silicon Valley for a couple of decades, worries (in 2009) that the basic mechanism by which new technologies are commercialized–the formation and growth of new enterprises–is badly broken. (Malone's original article has disappeared, but I excerpted part of it.)

Decline is not inevitable.  Many Americans have come to believe that our best years are behind us.  I assert that American decline is by no means inevitable…and if we do wind up in long-term decline, it will be driven not by any sort of automatic economic process, but rather by our own choices–especially our own political choices.

The suppression of entrepreneurship.  Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone has some words for Obama.  (2010)

The politics of economic destruction.  What Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd tried to do to angel and venture capital funding of new enterprises.

The idea that bigness automatically wins in business still seems to have a remarkable number of adherents, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Startups and jobs...some data.  (the original post was just a link)

Bigotry against businessspeople.  Media and political hostility toward businesspeople, and its consequences.

Leaving trillions on the table.  The transistor as a case study in central planning versus entrepreneurial diversity.

Misvaluing manufacturing. The once-common assertion that "services" are inherently of higher value than manufacturing was not very well thought out.  (2003)

"Protocols" and wealth creation.  With  help from Andrew Carnegie, I challenge some assertions in a David Brooks column.

Musings on Tyler's technological thoughts. Comments on Tyler Cowen's book Average is Over.  While it's worth reading and occasionally thought-provoking, I think much of what he has to say is wrong-headed.

cross-posted at  Chicago Boyz,  where comments are open

5:42 PM

Thursday, November 27, 2014  
THANKSGIVING AND TEMPORAL BIGOTRY

(rerun, with updates)

Stuart Buck encountered a teacher who said “Kids learn so much these days. Did you know that today a schoolchild learns more between the freshman and senior years of high school than our grandparents learned in their entire lives?” (“She said this as if she had read it in some authoritative source”, Stuart comments.)

She probably had read it in some supposedly-authoritative source, but it’s an idiotic statement nevertheless. What, precisely, is this wonderful knowledge that high-school seniors have today and which the 40-year-olds of 1840 or 1900 were lacking?

The example of knowledge that people usually throw out is “computers.” But the truth is, to be a casual user of computers (I’m not talking about programming and systems design), you don’t need much knowledge. You need “keyboarding skills”–once called “typing.” And you need to know some simple conventions as to how the operating system expects you to interact with it. That’s about it. Not much informational or conceptual depth there.

Consider the knowledge possessed by by the Captain of a sailing merchant ship, circa 1840. He had to understand celestial navigation: this meant he had to understand trigonometry and logarithms. He had to possess the knowledge–mostly “tacit knowledge,” rather than book-learning–of how to handle his ship in various winds and weathers. He might well be responsible for making deals concerning cargo in various ports, and hence had to have a reasonable understanding of business and of trade conditions. He had to have some knowledge of maritime law.

Outside of the strictly professional sphere, his knowedge probably depended on his family background. If he came from a family that was reasonably well-off, he probably knew several of Shakespeare’s plays. He probably had a smattering of Latin and even Greek. Of how many high-school (or college) seniors can these statements be made today?

(In his post, Stuart compares knowledge levels using his grandfather–a farmer–as an example.)

Today’s “progressives,” particularly those in the educational field, seem to have a deep desire to put down previous generations, and to assume we have nothing to learn from them. It’s a form of temporal bigotry. Indeed, Thanksgiving is a good time to resist temporal bigotry by reflecting on the contributions of earlier generations and on what we can learn from their experiences.

As C S Lewis said: If you want to destroy an infantry unit, you cut it off from its neighboring units. If you want to destroy a generation, you cut it off from previous generations. (Approximate quote.)

How better to conduct such destruction than to tell people that previous generations were ignorant and that we have nothing to learn from them?

11/27/2014: In the Hawaiian traditional religion, there is apparently a saying that goes something like this--

A monster cannot survive in an environment of gratitude.

It seems likely that the decline in the emotion of gratitude in our society is indeed correlated with the rise of monsters.

Previous CB discussion threads here and here. See also related posts by Jonathan and Ginny.

Thoughts on the lessons of the Plymouth Colony from Jerry Bowyer and Paul Rahe.

cross-posted at  Chicago Boyz , where comments are open

7:29 AM

Tuesday, November 25, 2014  
WORTHWHILE READING & VIEWING

A special Russia-focused issue of National Geographic, in 1914

Does automation make people dumb?

Strategies for dealing with randomness in business

Labor market fluidity in the US seems to be declining

There are very different reactions to the waving of an Isis flag and the waving of an Israeli flag at Berkeley

Strategies for dealing with toxic people

Czars as political officers

Two princes:  Machievelli's Il Principe and Antoine de St-Exupery's Le Petit Prince

"Speaking Truth to Power."  A great post by Sarah Hoyt on the way this expression is being used:

One of the most fascinating conceits of our ruling powerful elites — be they in entertainment, politics, governance, jurisprudence or news reporting — is the often repeated assertion of being some kind of underdog “speaking truth to power.” This comes with the concomitant illusion that anyone opposing them is paid by powerful interests.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

11:43 AM

Sunday, November 23, 2014  
RETROTECH:  AN ON-LINE DISCUSSION BOARD


...in 1907


Interesting that girls as well as boys were participants in this network


cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

9:15 AM

 
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