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  • Book Review: God is an Englishman

    Posted by David Foster on March 27th, 2015 (All posts by )

    The Swann family saga, by R F Delderfield:

    God Is an Englishman

    Theirs Was the Kingdom

    Give Us This Day

    In 1850, Adam Swann returned from India to his native England, having decided that a career in military service (especially in what he now viewed as basically a mercenary force, the East India Company’s army) was not for him.  He had in his possession a valuable cache of jewelry which he had acquired on a battlefield and (probably illegally) kept for himself.  While in India he had kept abreast of events in England by reading several-month-old newspapers, and was intrigued with the possibilities unleashed by industrial expansion. His original intention was to sell the jewelry and invest the proceeds in railway stock or in actually building a railroad branch line somewhere–but was dissuaded by a chance meeting with a railroad official, who advised him that railway building was in a bubble and that most of the lines now being constructed would prove uneconomic.  The official had, however, an alternative suggestion: put the money on the horses.  But not in the usual way.

    There’s more future in horse-transport than the Cleverdicks would have you believe.  The railroads can solve all the big problems but none of the small ones…If I were you, Mr Swann–and I wish to God I were and starting all over again–I would spend the next week studying the blank areas of that map there.  Then travel about and take a look at the goods yards of the most successful companies, and see merchandise piled in the rain on all their loading bays for want of a good dispersal system.

    Swann takes the man’s advice and sets off on a cross-country ride to evaluate the prospects for a new horse-drawn freight transportation business.  On the way, he meets Henrietta, who is fleeing a prospective marriage arranged by her father, a coarse and greedy mill owner.  It is Henrietta who proposes for the projected transport company the name Swann-on-Wheels and the wheeled-swan logo that will soon adorn the sides of hundreds of wagons rolling throughout Britain.

    The series is the story of Swann-on-Wheels, of Adam and Henrietta’s marriage and family, and of British society in the time period 1850-1914.  Unlike most historical novels covering this period, the aristocracy plays a very minor part, to the point of being almost completely irrelevant to the story, other than as a source of status markers:

    In the England into which he had been born, blood and breeding were still paramount and continued to call the national tune. Ancient wealth was still the legislator and determiner of the national destiny.  But all this had changed when he was still a lad.  By then the man of brass and the man of iron had come into their own, elbowing their way forward and demanding, at the top of their voices to be heard and heeded…Adam, who sometimes conjured with these abstracts, saw the process as a second Reformation, a phase of history repeating itself, with inventors, engineers, and their sponsors matching the hard-faced adventurers of Tudor times…For his part, he welcomed the transformation.  To him it was a cleansing tide, notwithstanding the mountains of muck and rubble it left behind…(but) it seemed to him that the wives and daughters of the men of brass took no pride in their menfolk’s astounding victory.  All they wanted, it appeared, was to replace their former masters without deviation by so much as a single inch from their ways of life, or discarding a single one of their prejudices.

    Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Book Notes, Britain, Business, History, Management, Tech | 5 Comments »

    Drill, Baby, Drill

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on March 25th, 2015 (All posts by )

    yemen-anti-houthi_3242589b

    It looks like the battle for Saudi Arabia has begun and, if it follows the pattern of other Obama wars, it will be soon lost, or so Richard Fernandez believes.

    Even the New York Times sees it.

    President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi fled Yemen by sea Wednesday as Shiite rebels and their allies moved on his last refuge in the south, captured its airport and put a bounty on his head, officials said.

    The departure of the close U.S. ally and the imminent fall of the southern port of Aden pushed Yemen further toward a violent collapse. It also threatened to turn the impoverished but strategic country into another proxy battle between the Middle East’s Sunni powers and Shiite-led Iran.

    Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies believe the Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, are tools for Iran to seize control of Yemen and say they intend to stop the takeover. The Houthis deny they are backed by Iran.

    The stakes are very high for Europe, especially.

    Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Current Events, Energy & Power Generation, Europe, International Affairs, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Middle East, National Security, Obama, Russia, War and Peace | 34 Comments »

    “Iran’s Diplomatic Brilliance”

    Posted by Jonathan on March 25th, 2015 (All posts by )

    Michael Rubin:

    Never before has a country repeatedly declared its goal was “death to America,” taken clear actions to achieve that aim, and suffered no serious consequences for its actions. The reason for this is Iran’s diplomatic brilliance. They have conditioned successive administrations as easily as Pavlov: They hint at diplomacy, and get a free pass for abusing and murdering Americans.

    Rubin is spot-on, and his critique applies to US administrations of both parties, from Carter’s to Obama’s. The Iranian regime has never paid a significant price for its numerous attacks against Americans and American interests. We may pay a high price for this failure.

     

    Posted in Current Events, Iran, Middle East, National Security, Obama, Terrorism, War and Peace | 11 Comments »

    El Caminito del Rey Update

    Posted by Dan from Madison on March 25th, 2015 (All posts by )

    One of the best vacations I ever took was with Jonathan as we tackled the famous El Caminito del Rey. You can see footage of that glorious day here:

    For those who may be a little less adventurous, parts of the route have been re-built and are now officially re-opening. You can see a website on the Caminito and the restorations here.

     

    Posted in Diversions, Europe | 8 Comments »

    A Tribute to Lee Kwan Yew.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on March 24th, 2015 (All posts by )

    Thomas Sowell has a fine tribute to the leader of Singapore who died yesterday.

    It is not often that the leader of a small city-state — in this case, Singapore — gets an international reputation. But no one deserved it more than Lee Kuan Yew, the founder of Singapore as an independent country in 1959, and its prime minister from 1959 to 1990. With his death, he leaves behind a legacy valuable not only to Singapore but to the world.

    Born in Singapore in 1923, when it was a British colony, Lee Kuan Yew studied at Cambridge University after World War II, and was much impressed by the orderly, law-abiding England of that day. It was a great contrast with the poverty-stricken and crime-ridden Singapore of that era.

    Today Singapore has a per capita Gross Domestic Product more than 50 percent higher than that of the United Kingdom and a crime rate a small fraction of that in England. A 2010 study showed more patents and patent applications from the small city-state of Singapore than from Russia. Few places in the world can match Singapore for cleanliness and orderliness.

    Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Civil Society, Conservatism, Law, Politics, Society | 3 Comments »

    So: how does it feel at World’s End?

    Posted by Charles Cameron on March 24th, 2015 (All posts by )

    [ Reposted from Zenpundit ICYMI there — on conveying the experience of the eschatological — on the way to better understanding the allure of IS ]
    .

    Beatus de Facunda. And the fifth Angel sounded the trumpet: and I saw a star fall from heaven upon the earth, and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit" -- Revelation 9.1-11

    And the fifth Angel sounded the trumpet: and I saw a star fall from heaven upon the earth, and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit

    **

    WE ARE ENTERING PHASE TWO:

    I think we’re entering Phase Two of our conversations about Islamist eschatology.

    In Phase One, the task was to point out that apocalyptic scriptures and scriptural interpretations were a feature of Al-Qaida discourse, and specifically used in recruitment, and this phase was necessary because apocalyptic movements, in general, are all too easily dismissed by the secular mind until “too late” — think Aum Shinrikyo in Tokyo, the Branch Davidians in Waco, Heaven’s Gate in Rancho Santa Fe.

    With GEN Dempsey declaring that IS holds an “apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision”, with Graeme Wood describing that vision in a breakthrough article in The Atlantic, with Jessica Stern and JM Berger making the same point forcefully in their ISIS: The State of Terror, and with Will McCants promising us a book specifically about the eschatological dimension of IS, that need may now have passed.

    In my view, the salient points to be made in Phase Two are:

  • that the apocalyptic ideology of IS has strategic implications
  • that there’s a largely and unwisely ignored area of religious studies dealing specifically with eschatological violence, and
  • that the sense of living in eschatological time is viscerally different — I’ve termed it a “force multiplier”
  • In particular, IS strategy is likely to draw in part on the specifically eschatological last hundred pages in Abu Musab al-Suri‘s 1600-page Call to Global Islamic Resistance. As I noted in my review of Jean-Pierre Filiu’s Apocalypse in Islam, Filiu himself states there is “nothing in the least rhetorical about this exercise in apocalyptic exegesis. It is meant instead as a guide for action”. While Filiu devotes several pages to it, Jim Lacey ignores it completely in his A Terrorist’s Call to Global Jihad: Deciphering Abu Musab al-Suri’s Islamic Jihad Manifesto, commenting only, “Where appropriate, we have also removed most of the repetitive theological justifications undergirding these beliefs” — see my review of Lacey for the Air force Research Institute.

    I’ll deal with the religious studies literature on violent apocalyptic movements in a future post.

    This post is my first attempt at addressing the feeling engendered by being swept up in an “end times’ movement. I foresee this as my major upcoming area of interest and future contributions.

    **

    SUGGESTED CONTEXTS:

    There’s an extraordinary paragraph in Seduction of the Spirit by Harvey Cox, the prominent Harvard theologian, in which he tells us what the world’s next great encyclopedic work on religion might be like — using the analogy of Thomas AquinasSumma Theologica in a decidedly post-psychedelic age:

    Thus the next Summa might consist not of a thousand chapters but of a thousand alternative states of being, held together not by a glued binding but by the fact that all thousand are equally real.
     
    Imagine what kind of world it would be if instead of merely tolerating or studying them, one could actually be, temporarily at least, a Sioux brave seeing an ordeal vision, a neolithic hunter prostrate before the sacred fire, a Krishna lovingly ravishing a woodsful of goat girls, a sixteenth-century Carmelite nun caught up in ecstatic prayer, a prophet touched by flame to go release a captive people…

    Religious experience is as wide, and in fact as wild as that, and the lives and world views of a Black Elk, a Teresa of Avila, an incarnation of Vishnu and an Isaiah are as different as cultures can be, united only in the degree of their focus. Cox can list them, he can invite us to consider their experiences in turn, but he cannot entirely bring us into each of their lives. Between them and his readers is a distance not only of cultural imagination, but of conviction, of tremendous passion.

    **

    In Fiction as the Essence of War, George Vlachonikolis wrote on War on the Rocks recently:

    Coker reveals the struggle of many a veteran by asking: “how can someone who was there tell others what it was like? Especially if they can’t find a moral?” This is a thought that will resonate with anybody with a wartime experience. As for me, my 6 years in the Army has now all but been reduced to a handful of dinnerpartyfriendly anecdotes as a consequence of this plight.

    Stern & Berger, on page 2 of their book, ISIS: The State of Terrorism, write:

    It is difficult to properly convey the magnitude of the sadistic violence shown in these videos. Some featured multiple beheadings, men and women toether, with the later victims force to watch the irst die. In one video, the insurgents drove out into the streets of Iraq cities, pile out of the vehicle, and beheaded a prisoner in full view of pedestrians, capturing the whole thing on video and then driving ogg scot-free.

    Some things are just hard to explain in a way that viscerally grips the reader, engendering rich and deep understanding.

    The power of religion is one of them, and that’s true a fortiori of the power of its extreme form, that of those who are “semiotically aroused” — in Richard Landes‘ very useful term — by the power of an “end times” vision.

    **

    I have quoted the first paragraph of Tim Furnish‘s book, Holiest Wars, often enough already, and I’ll quote it again for shock value — I don’t think it’s the sort of analogy that can be “proven” or “refuted”, but it gives a visceral sense of the importance of identifying an Islamist jihadist apocalyptic movement as such, and understanding what that implies:

    Muslim messianic movements are to fundamentalist uprisings what nuclear weapons are to conventional ones: triggered by the same detonating agents, but far more powerful in scope and effect.

    And Richard Landes in Fatal Attraction: The Shared Antichrist of the Global Progressive Left and Jihad gives us a sense of how an apocalyptic undercurrent works:

    It is a great mistake to suppose that the only writers who matter are those whom the educated in their saner moments can take seriously. There exists a subterranean world where pathological fantasies disguised as ideas are churned out by crooks and halfeducated fanatics for the benefit of the ignorant and superstitious. There are times when this underworld emerges from the depths and suddenly fascinates, captures, and dominates multitudes of usually sane and responsible people, who thereupon take leave of sanity and responsibility. And it occasionally happens that this underworld becomes a political power and changes the course of history.

    **

    A FIRST APPROXIMATION:

    Let me take a first stab at indicating — by analogy — the level of passion involved:

    Cox writes of prophecy, Sylvia Plath of electroshock treatment. In her poem, The Hanging Man:

    By the roots of my hair some god got hold of me.
    I sizzled in his blue volts like a desert prophet.

    And her description of the same experience in her novel The Bell Jar is no less, perhaps even more powerful — note also the “end times” reference:

    I shut my eyes.
     
    There was a brief silence, like an indrawn breath.
     
    Then something bent down and took hold of me and shook me like the end of the world. Whee-ee-ee-ee-ee, it shrilled, through an air crackling with blue light, and with each flash a great jolt drubbed me till I thought my bones would break and the sap fly out of me like a split plant.

    Let me suggest to you:

    Many IS members feel they have been shaken “like the end of the world” and live and breathe in “an air crackling with blue light”.

    __________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    The illustration at the head of this post is one of many from The Beatus of Facundus, itself one of many brilliantly illustrated versions of Beatus of Liebana‘s commentary on Revelation. I was first exposed to Beatus by an article Umberto Eco wrote for FMR magazine. Eco also mentions the Beatus in Name of the Rose, and indeed wrote a most desirable book on the topic.

     

    Posted in Book Notes, Iraq, Islam, Middle East, Religion, Uncategorized | 11 Comments »

    V S Naipaul on ISIS as the Fourth Reich

    Posted by David Foster on March 24th, 2015 (All posts by )

    Read and consider

     

    Posted in Islam, Terrorism, War and Peace | 5 Comments »

    Tacos? May I Present …

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on March 23rd, 2015 (All posts by )

    For your dining pleasure, the three-star winner (South Texas Division) of the Chicagoboyz World Heritage Taqueria Guide – Erick’s Tacos, on Nacogdoches road.

    Behold the simple splendor of their open-air dining facility!
    Ericks - simple splendor
    Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Business, Diversions, Entrepreneurship, Photos, USA | 7 Comments »

    For whom the bell Dengs, it Dengs for Lee

    Posted by L. C. Rees on March 23rd, 2015 (All posts by )

    Zama

    Elite mouthpiece Charlie Rose once asked former Singapore Prime Minister Lee “Harry” Kuan Yew which of the many, many, many, many world leaders he’d met in his long, long, long, long career he most admired. Lee chose Chairman of the Central Advisory Commission of the Chinese Communist Party Deng Syauping. Lee especially admired Deng for Deng’s world-historic “adaptability”.

    Flashback: 1978. Deng makes Deng’s first state visit to Singapore. Deng is flummoxed by Singapore’s prosperity (Deng’s briefings were inadequate). Deng asks Lee how Lee made Singapore prosperous. Lee tells Deng how Singapore climbed the food chain: First, attract foreign direct investment with cheap labor. Second, become subcontractors. Second, became contractors. Third, become competitors. Fourth, learn as you go. Veteran Marxist Deng muses aloud: Singapore’s created an egalitarian society using capitalism. Lee happily seconds Deng thought. Deng flies back to China. Deng applies the Lee model to China. Everyone lives happily ever after.
    Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Bioethics, Biography | 9 Comments »

    Ernesto’s

    Posted by Jonathan on March 23rd, 2015 (All posts by )

    Ernesto's Taco Shop

    Ernesto’s Taco Shop in Perrine, Florida has been awarded three stars for 2015, highest possible rating in the prestigious Chicagoboyz World Heritage Taqueria Guide.

     

    Posted in Photos, Product Reviews/Endorsements | 4 Comments »

    I Am Woman …

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on March 21st, 2015 (All posts by )

    … hear me roar … and then turn around and whine because some cis-male said something, or looked something, and I feel so … so threatened! Look, girls…ladies … possessor of a vagina or whatever you want to be addressed as this week in vernacular fashion; can you just please pick one attitude and stick too it? Frankly, this inconsistency is embarrassing the hell out of me (sixty-ish, small-f feminist in the long-ago dark days when there was genuine no-s*it gender inequality in education, job opportunities and pay-scales to complain about and campaign for redress thereof). This is also annoying to my daughter, the thirtyish Marine Corps veteran of two hitches. The Daughter Unit is actually is very close to losing patience entirely with those of the sisterhood who are doing this “Woman Powerful!-Woman Poor Downtrodden Perpetual Victim!” bait and switch game. So am I, actually, but I have thirty years experience in biting my tongue when it comes to the antics of the Establishment Professional Capital-F Feminist crowd.

    Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Blogging, Civil Society, Current Events, Deep Thoughts, Diversions, Feminism, Personal Narrative | 11 Comments »

    A Tipping Point Approaches.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on March 21st, 2015 (All posts by )

    The Obama Administration is close to announcing a deal with the government of Iran on their nuclear program. The deal will include some weak language on delay in the acquisition of a nuclear weapon by Iran and the dropping of all sanctions against the regime by the US and its European allies. This will be a disaster, in my opinion. The New York Times has another editorial today which includes delighted anticipation of the deal and more invective against Prime Minister Netanyahu who opposes the deal.

    “In a way, the administration has already won,” said Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East adviser to Democratic and Republican administrations. “If you get agreement by the end of March, it will be historic in nature, it will have demonstrated that the administration is prepared to willfully stand up to Republican opposition in Congress and to deal with members of its own party who have doubts, and has withstood Israeli pressure.”

    The “historic agreement” will fulfill the ambitions of the allegedly “moderate” Iranian president Rouhani. The Weekly Standard has a nice biography of Rouhani ( which means “pious” or “a cleric” in Arabic.) by some people who know the story and who can use Persian language sources.

    Yet since 1979, throughout his entire political career, he has systematically violated what even hard-nosed Islamic jurists might consider sacred obligations that rulers owe their subjects.

    Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Current Events, History, Iran, Middle East, Obama, Politics, Terrorism | 12 Comments »

    “Drugs, Inc.” – the Most Important Show on Television

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on March 21st, 2015 (All posts by )

    “Drugs, Inc.” is a television show on the National Geographic Channel that focuses on the business of drugs, from producers to traffickers to users to police. I can’t recommend this show enough and I watch every episode that comes up on my DVR.

    Welcome to the $300 billion industry of Drugs, Inc., where traffickers pocket huge profits, addicts become chained in a vicious cycle and law enforces wage war across diverse battlefields – farmers’ fields, shady labs, urban street corners and suburban schools. How does this business work? Can it be stopped or should it be regulated? What impact does it have on those it touches?

    Drugs Inc somehow gets interviews with drug dealers and drug traffickers. They are always wearing a mask of some sort and often their voices are garbled electronically. It isn’t clear to me why they agree to be on TV or why the authorities don’t follow up on the leads from the program or subpoena their records. I can’t comment on the authenticity but it certainly seems real, especially the interviews with the users or “fiends” as they are described by the dealers on the series.

    The first thing that the show will do for you is change how you look at homeless people. All of the users on the show are either 1) drug dealers themselves likely far down the chain in order to support their habit 2) panhandlers or some sort of schemer / prostitute. There occasionally are recreational users or those with jobs but since they typically interview hard-core drug users many of those individuals can’t do a regular 9 to 5 job.

    The panhandlers are a relentless lot. They wake up in various places, sometimes in their cars, sometimes in a tent, sometimes in an abandoned building, or elsewhere. When they get up, it is time to make some money in order to buy some drugs. They always know exactly what they are doing and have a target amount of money to “earn” in order to score what they need to stave off dope sickness.

    Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Business, Chicagoania, Economics & Finance, Film, The Press | 19 Comments »

    Sunset in Chicago

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on March 21st, 2015 (All posts by )

    Recently I visited my friend to see their new baby and they had fantastic views of the city looking west and north. Not a bad photo from my iPhone 6… my iPhone 5 and 4 cameras were terrible.






    Cross posted at LITGM

     

    Posted in Chicagoania, Photos | 7 Comments »

    Of Stories, Character, and Beliefs

    Posted by David Foster on March 20th, 2015 (All posts by )

    Here I will link several posts that I see as related.  At the moment I don’t have time to tie them together in a coherent way, so will just put them out there in a somewhat disconnected fashion in the hope of sparking some good discussion.

    Scott Adams:

    I would like to see a study of decision-making based on how much fiction one consumes. My hypothesis is that consumers of fiction will draw their “experience” in part from fiction and it will warp their understanding of what is practical or possible in the real world…I think exposure to fiction makes you less grounded in the real world (subconsciously) and more likely to make decisions the way the captain of the Enterprise would have done it, for example.

    This is a quite different view of the role and value of fiction from the one expressed in an article I summarized in my post Fiction and Empathy:

    In one experiment, researcher Keith Oatley and colleagues assessed the reading habits of 94 adults, separating fiction from nonfiction. They also tested the subjects on measures of emotion perception (being able to discern a person’s emotional state from a photo of only the eyes) and social cognition (being able to draw conclusions about the relationships among people based on video clips.) This study showed a “strong” interconnection between fiction reading and social skills, especially between fiction reading and the emotion-perception factor. This correlation, of course, does not by itself demonstrate the direction of causality. Another study involved assigning 303 adults to read either a short story or an essay from the New Yorker and following up with tests of analytical and social reasoning. Those who read the story tended to do better on the social reasoning test than those who read the nonfiction essay.

    Dr Oatley has referred to fiction as “the mind’s flight simulator.”

    And here is an argument that reading fiction will make you a better investor:

    Unlike historical accounts, through well-drawn characters it is possible to absorb the world through another perspective, an immensely valuable skill for investors looking for ideas (or trouble). A memory bank of fictional characters will also help when the market “hive mind” pushes prices in unexpected directions, answering the question “what kind of person buys here?”  The primary lesson of fiction is learning “this is how people act”, when they’re scared, confident, happy, determined or demoralized. Not how I would act, or how I think they should act, but how the combination of different experiences and different patterns of cognition lead to aggregate outcomes. Empathy.

    In her post the message and the story , SF writer Sarah Hoyt offers some thoughts on how novels can influence the worldviews of their readers:

    But part of it is that I doubt the effectiveness of overt messages in stories. I don’t scruple to say I was raised by Heinlein, nor that I wasn’t the only one. The man might have had no biological kids, but he has sons and daughters all over the world, including me.

    But then we have to look at how he raised me. Remember I came at Heinlein through (mostly) the later books because most of the Juveniles (Door Into Summer and Have Spacesuit Will Travel excepted) were either not translated to Portuguese or no longer available when I came along. And yet, what I took from his books was not the obvious messages: “Though art God” or the bedhopping or multiple marriages as the natural way to live. (Oh, for a while, but that was the spirit of the times, too, being the late seventies.) What I took from the books were not so much the messages as “the way to be.”

    By creating characters that were tough, questioning, strong, and, most of all, useful, he made me want to be that way. I took as my model (being touched in the upper works) the broken caryatid, not just for characters but for what a human being should be, lifting whatever the burden without complaining.

    Now, it takes a certain type of personality to teach at that level. I’ve seen it in some teachers, too, who, regardless of whether they teach you history or English, really give you a model you aspire to being. The left, being daft, thinks this has to do with the character/teacher looking like you. They think only black people can model to black children. This is part of their insanity with “there must be so many characters of tan per book.” And also with promoting incompetent teachers to positions of power, because they have a certain ancestry or skin color.

    But it doesn’t work that way. It’s more subtle. It’s more about being who you are in such a strong and convincing way and making the characteristics you have or approve of so admirable that people want to follow them.  Which is what Heinlein did.
    Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Film, Human Behavior, Media | 8 Comments »

    Ichneumonoidea

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on March 18th, 2015 (All posts by )

    I was reading a slightly ick-making article the other day about certain wasps which prey on caterpillars in a peculiar and parasitic manner – the female wasp injects her eggs into the body of the chosen prey, where they hatch into grubs and feed from the host … from the inside. In certain varieties, it appears that the inserted eggs/grubs affect the biochemistry of the luckless host, which eats and eats, but never to benefit itself. Entomologists who specialize in this kind of thing find this adaptation immensely fascinating, which is why I was reading about it, through a link form some place or other. It’s all very Alien, on a insect level, and the likeness to the movie doesn’t end there; eventually, the wasp grubs chew their way out through the body of the caterpillar … and wait – the dying caterpillar serves to the last gasp as a sort of insectoid bodyguard to the developing wasps, even sheltering them in the silk which would have made its own cocoon. And then the caterpillar dies and the fully-developed wasps fly away, to start the cycle all over again.
    Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Americas, Civil Society, Conservatism, North America, Obama, USA | 11 Comments »

    Heh

    Posted by Jonathan on March 18th, 2015 (All posts by )

    Modi congratulates Bibi

    Modi congratulates Bibi.

     

    Posted in Elections, India, Israel | 5 Comments »

    Book Review: The Year of the French (rerun)

    Posted by David Foster on March 17th, 2015 (All posts by )

    The Year of the French, by Thomas Flanagan

    (This being St Patrick’s day, I’m taking advantage of the hook to re-post this review, in the hope of inspiring a few more people to read this incredibly fine historical novel)

    Ralph Peters calls this book “the finest historical novel written in English, at least in the twentieth century,” going on to say “except for ‘The Leopard,’ I know of no historical novel that so richly and convincingly captures the ambience of a bygone world.”

    In August of 1798, the French revolutionary government landed 1000 troops in County Mayo to support indigenous Irish rebels, with the objective of overthrowing British rule in Ireland.  The Year of the French tells the (fictionalized but fact-based) story of these events from the viewpoint of several characters, representing different groups in the complex and strife-ridden Irish social structure of the time.

    Owen MacCarthy is a schoolmaster and poet who writes in the Gaelic tradition.  He is pressed by illiterate locals to write a threatening letter to a landlord who has evicted tenants while switching land from farming to cattle-raising.  With his dark vision of how an attempt at rebellion must end–“In Caslebar.  They will load you in carts with your wrists tied behind you and take you down to Castlebar and try you there and hang you there”–MacCarthy is reluctant to get involved, but he writes the letter.

    Sam Cooper, the recipient of the letter, is a small-scale landlord, and captain of the local militia.  Indigenously Irish, his family converted to Protestantism several generations ago to avoid the crippling social and economic disabilities imposed on Catholics. Cooper’s wife, Kate, herself still Catholic, is a beautiful and utterly ruthless woman…she advises Cooper to respond to the letter by rounding up “a few of the likeliest rogues,”  jailing and flogging them, without any concern for actual guilt or innocence. “My God, what a creature you are for a woman,”  Cooper responds. “It is a man you should have been born.”  “A strange creature that would make me in your bed,” Kate fires back, “It is a woman I am, and fine cause you have to know it…What matters now is who has the land and who will keep it.”

    Ferdy O’Donnell  is a young hillside farmer on Cooper’s land.  Far back in the past, the land was owned by the O’Donnell family…Ferdy had once shown Cooper  “a valueless curiosity, a parchment that recorded the fact in faded ink the colour of old, dried blood.”

    Arthur Vincent Broome is a Protestant clergyman who is not thrilled by the “wild and dismal region” to which he has been assigned, but who performs his duties as best he can. Broome is resolved to eschew religious bigotry, but…”I affirm most sincerely that distinctions which rest upon creed mean little to me, and yet I confess that my compassion for their misery is mingled with an abhorrence of their alien ways…they live and thrive in mud and squalour…their music, for all that antiquarians and fanatics can find to say in its flavor, is wild and savage…they combine a grave and gentle courtesy with a murderous violence that erupts without warning…”‘

    Malcolm Elliott is a Protestant landlord and solicitor, and a member of the Society of United Irishmen.  This was a revolutionary group with Enlightenment ideals, dedicated to bringing Catholics and Protestants together in the cause of overthrowing British rule and establishing an Irish Republic.  His wife, Judith, is an Englishwoman with romantic ideas about Ireland.

    John Moore, also a United Irishman, is a member of one of the few Catholic families that have managed to hold on to their land.  He is in love with Ellen Treacy, daughter of another prominent Catholic family: she returns his love, but believes that he is caught in a web of words that can only lead to disaster.  “One of these days you will say a loose word to some fellow and he will get on his horse and ride off to Westport to lay an information with Dennis Browne, and that will be the last seen of you”

    Dennis Browne is High Sheriff of Mayo…smooth, manipulative, and devoted to the interests of the very largest landowners in the county, such as his brother Lord Altamont and the mysterious Lord Glenthorne, the “Big Lord” who owns vast landholdings and an immense house which he has never visited.

    Randall MacDonnell is a Catholic landowner with a decrepit farm and house, devoted primarily to his horses.  His motivations for joining the rebellion are quite different from those of the idealistic United Irishman…”For a hundred years of more, those Protestant bastards have been the cocks of the walk, strutting around on acres that belong by rights to the Irish…there are men still living who remember when a son could grab his father’s land by turning Protestant.”

    Jean Joseph Humbert is the commander of the French forces.  A former dealer in animal skins, he owes his position in life to the revolution.  He is a talented commander, but  the battle he is most concerned about is the battle for status and supremacy between himself and  Napoleon Bonaparte.

    Charles Cornwallis, the general who surrendered to the Americans at Yorktown, is now in charge of defeating the French and the rebels and pacifying the rebellious areas of Ireland.   Seen through the eyes of  a young aide who admires him greatly, Cornwallis is portrayed as a basically kindly man who can be hard when he thinks it necessary, but takes no pleasure in it.  “The color of war had long since bleached from his thoughts, and it remained for him only a duty to be scrupulously performed.”

    This book is largely about the way in which the past lives on in the present, both in the world of physical objects and the world of social relationships.  Two characters who make a brief appearance are Richard Manning, proprietor of a decrepit and debt-laden castle, and his companion Ellen Kirwan:

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    Posted in Book Notes, France, History | 5 Comments »

    Eddie Izzard: Star Wars Canteen

    Posted by Jonathan on March 17th, 2015 (All posts by )

     

    Posted in Humor, Video | No Comments »

    St. Patrick’s Day and Journalism

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on March 17th, 2015 (All posts by )

    I’m going to combine two posts here that don’t sound like they’d go well together – “Day Drinking” and lazy journalism. There was an article by Stanley Bing (the pseudonym of an executive who writes for Fortune magazine) who happens to 1) be an actual business executive 2) writes effectively (and hilariously). While I can’t find the exact post I am paraphrasing below:

    Whenever I see anything written about my company in the popular press, it is generally incorrect. Thus I must conclude that most of what I see written about other companies in the press isn’t right, either.

    Business Insider is a great resource that I read on my iPhone most days when I have a few minutes to kill. They have some original content and re-post from other sources. Recently I read about the “five biggest” St. Patricks’ day celebrations (parties) which was a typical “puff piece” article for them – you can see it here.

    The only problem with this article is… that it is lazy and wrong. Our own correspondent Dan happened to be on the ground in Las Vegas for St. Patrick’s day last year and he said it was “Chicago on an inter-galactic scale” which I believe since Dan has been at a ton of drinking events through being a sports fan forever. I am having trouble verifying this on the ol’ intertubes but it is the kind of event where “hey, the Chicago River is green, we can trot this story out every year, there we are done” but the massive scale of Las Vegas means that if you have a drinking event they can just pour out of the hotels and onto the streets (that they shut down) and go crazy and drink outdoors. Probably the only way to officially verify this is to send Art Mann out to Las Vegas as the ultimate decider…

    Onto Chicago for St. Patrick’s day… we had a beautiful day and so everyone was out in force. People were lining up per usual in the wee hours (many bars open at 6am) for a long day of drinking here in River North.

    I loved this outfit… a drunk gumby up at Paris Club!

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    Posted in Chicagoania, Humor | 7 Comments »

    The very heart and soul of conservatism

    Posted by Grurray on March 16th, 2015 (All posts by )

    There was a brief discussion in the previous post about Reagan and his true ideological credentials. This topic seems to come up from time to time. Whether it’s deficits, immigration, tax policy, etc., it’s become somewhat of a revisionist pastime to go through the historical records with a fine tooth comb and compare them side-by-side to our zoological political classifications, performing a tidy checklist one-by-one.

    Now, blessed with this luxury of spurious hindsight, a lot of people have come to the conclusion that Reagan was not a conservative. He was apparently some sort of mutant. He was possibly really a Democrat that created a pretend, Hollywood version of Conservatism. Perhaps he was really just a war-monger, and what’s conservative about that?

    Fortunately, we don’t have to speculate and debate the motives of the man like he was some sort of long lost, half-mythical figure. Others thought of this already when he was still around and did the legwork for us. In this 1975 Reason magazine interview, Ronald Reagan lays it all on the table about what he really thinks about conservatism, libertarianism, and the role of government in our lives.

    This interview was from a time when Conservatism was enduring a low water mark. It was shortly after Watergate and during the discouraging Ford presidency. One of the few bright spots was Reagan and his exhortation for “raising a banner of no pale pastels, but bold colors which make it unmistakably clear where we stand on all of the issues troubling the people”.

    In the Reason interview he states unequivocally right off the bat that

    If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism.

    He then goes on to say

    Well, the first and most important thing is that government exists to protect us from each other. Government exists, of course, for the defense of the nation, and for the defense of the rights of the individual.

    Government exists and has too, but the best government is the one that is kept to a minimum. His thoughts on the central libertarian concerns about coercion are important on this matter

    REASON: Of course, if you’re talking about starting from scratch–the shipwrecked people on the island– you’re really talking about a voluntary approach, aren’t you–as against taxation?
     
     
    REAGAN: Well, we’re inclined to think that our government here is a voluntary approach and that we’ve set up a government to perform certain things, such as the national protection, etc.
     
     
    REASON: Aren’t we deluding ourselves to talk in terms of consent, though? When we talk about taxation, aren’t we really dealing with force and coercion and nothing less than that?
     
     
    REAGAN: Well, government’s only weapons are force and coercion and that’s why we shouldn’t let it get out of hand. And that’s what the founding fathers had in mind with the Constitution, that you don’t let it get out of hand.
     
    But you say voluntary on the island. Let’s take a single thing. Let’s say that there was some force on the island, whether it’s hostiles or whether it was an animal, that represented a threat and required round the-clock guard duty for the safety of the community. Now I’m sure it would be voluntary but you get together and you say look, we’re all going to have to take turns guarding. Now what do you think would happen in that community if some individual said “Not me; I won’t stand guard.” Well, I think the community would expel him and say “Well, we’re not going to guard you.” So voluntarism does get into a kind of force and coercion where there is a legitimate need for it.

    It’s clear from this article, that Reagan is stating that he is really a proponent of what we call now Minarchism.

    More specifically Reagan was a Right-Minarchist

    R-M reject the non-aggression principle with respect to national defense. They do so not because they favor aggression but because the principle, in its standard interpretation, is a non-action principle. It would not allow a preemptive attack on an antagonistic state that is armed, capable of striking us at any time, and known to be contemplating a strike. R-M, in other words, tend toward hawkishness when it comes to national defense.

    Many of the card-carrying Anarcho-Libertarians have declared that, after Ferguson, Minarchism is dead because the Night Watchmen have grown into fleecers, swindlers, and oppressors. However, they’re misguided. What’s really happening there is not Minarchism but Statism.

    Statism lives not in a big tent but in a colossal coliseum. It comprises a broad set of attitudes about government’s role, propounded by “types” ranging from redneck yahoos to campus radicals, each type proclaiming itself benign (for some, if not for others). But each type would — in thought and word, if not deed — set loose the dogs of the state upon its political opponents and the vast, hapless majority.

    Minarchists advocate that

    the ideal government is restricted to the protection of negative rights. Such rights, as opposed to positive rights, do not involve claims against others; instead, they involve the right to be left alone by others. Negative rights include the right to conduct one’s affairs without being killed, maimed, or forced or tricked into doing something against one’s will; the right to own property, as against the right of others to abscond with property or claim it as their own; the right to work for a wage and not as a slave to an “owner” who claims the product of one’s labor; and the right to move and transact business freely within government’s sphere of sovereignty (which can include overseas movements and transactions, given a government strong enough to protect them).

    The right to be left alone includes being left alone from a morally bankrupt fine levying system unfairly absconding money and hard earned possessions.

    We see the basis of Minarchism comes from the person Reagan called “the prophet of American conservatism,” Russell Kirk. There’s no single Conservative Manifesto or one conservative ideal, so Kirk set out to list six basic assumptions that generally reflect the values of Conservatives

    “Belief that a divine intent rules society as well as conscience, forging an eternal chain of right and duty which links great and obscure, living and dead. Political problems, at bottom, are religious and moral problems.
     
    “Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of traditional life, as distinguished from the narrowing uniformity and equalitarianism and utilitarian aims of most radical systems.
     
    “Conviction that the only true equality is moral equality, that all attempts to extend equality to economics and politics, if enforced by positive legislation, lead to despair, and that civilized society requires order and classes.
     
    “Persuasion that property and freedom are inseparably connected, and that economic leveling is not economic progress.
     
    “Faith in what conservatives call ‘prescription’—the accumulation of ‘traditions and sound prejudice,’ i.e., common sense.
     
    “Recognition that change and reform are not the same things, and that ‘innovation is a devouring conflagration more often than it is a torch of progress.’”

    These canons are balancing and reconciling innovation with prudent permanence. We defer to these traditional values and methods that are the elemental building blocks of common sense because, in the swirling convolutions of our complex system, these customs have passed the test of time.

    Surviving the proving grounds of generations takes precedence over the latest lobbyist driven state mandates. The same can probably be said for much of the layers and encumbrances of modern society piled on for many reasons long since forgotten or obsolete. This is why the minimum state is the best option, but only with its guard still up.

    This is the real emphasis of Traditional Conservatives and their modern scions Minarchists. Reagan possessed this balance and used it to skillfully helm the ship of state through the rough seas of the 20th century.

    This is why Ronald Reagan was a Conservative, and his legacy is Minarchism.

     

    Posted in Book Notes, Civil Society, Conservatism, Libertarianism, Political Philosophy, Society | 5 Comments »

    The Wreck of the Sara G

    Posted by Jonathan on March 16th, 2015 (All posts by )

    I recently visited this restaurant in Key Largo and recommend it.

    The restaurant is decorated with odd nautical paraphernalia. One of the prominent exhibits looked familiar. It turned out to be the Sara G that was rowed almost all of the way across the Atlantic in the ill-fated Atlantic Odyssey challenge of 2012.

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    Posted in Diversions, Photos | 6 Comments »

    The Game “Doom” and Its Historical Importance

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on March 14th, 2015 (All posts by )

    The game “Doom” came out for PCs in the early 1990s. Playing that game was a formative experience for me and its contribution to computers and gaming is very under-rated.

    I recently picked up a copy of the game on my iPad. I immediately was re-immersed in the game, remembering the maps, the monsters, the tactics, and sweating and jerking in my chair as I tried to get through the levels alive.

    Doom was created by Id Software, and it was one of the most successful “first person” shooters. To some extent they invented the genre; their first game was Castle Wolfenstein which was a remake (far superior) of a top-down view game that I used to play on my old Apple II. That (ancient) game was famous for having the characters’ talk – I remember that they would yell “Schweindhund” when you shot the German guards.

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    Posted in Personal Narrative, Tech | 7 Comments »

    Amnesty and our Future.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on March 14th, 2015 (All posts by )

    I came across an excellent long post at Bookworm this morning. I have been very aware of the growing presence of illegal aliens in California for the past 40 years. Not far from my home you can see some of it as Hispanic men gather at street corners looking for day labor.

    j and l

    Two such corners are at Jeronimo and Los Alisos in Mission Viejo. Another is a half mile away at a U-Haul yard where people rent trucks and trailers. Every morning you will see 50 to 60 men standing on the corner and running over to any car that seems to be slowing down or stopping.

    Anyway, here are a few reflections on what is happening.

    The communists’ big moment came in 1995 when no one was looking. That was the year that the Democratic Socialists of America, a communist group, put one of their own — John Sweeney — in as head of the AFL-CIO. Overnight, the AFL-CIO, an organization that was once ferociously anti-communist and that opposed amnesty because it would hurt working Americans, turned into a pro-communist, pro-amnesty group.

    More than that, through the AFL-CIO, communists suddenly owned Congress. After all, unions (headed by the SEIU, which outspends the next two donor organizations which are also Leftist) are the largest contributors to Democrat politicians.

    Ok, Ok I know that communists are an old story. Still, what we see in this country is Socialism gaining adherents among the young and poorly educated and among the rich who consider themselves immune to its ill effects.

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    Posted in Big Government, Conservatism, Elections, Immigration, Leftism, Obama, Politics, Tea Party | 17 Comments »

    Early American Jet Development

    Posted by David Foster on March 11th, 2015 (All posts by )

    Here’s a fun video about early American jet engine development, made in 1952 and recently found in the archives and posted on the GE blog.

    The Jet Race and the Second World War is a useful source on the early days of the turbojet revolution.  The concept of the jet was developed independently in Britain (by Frank Whittle) and in Germany (by Hans von Ohain.)  US Army Air Corps chief of staff Henry “Hap” Arnold championed bringing this technology to the United States, promising the Brits that absolute secrecy would be maintained.  GE was chosen for the US production contract, largely because of its experience with turbosuperchargers, which in turn had benefited from its work with marine and powerplant turbines.  There had been a US research project on possible turbine applications in aviation, but it was focused on turboprops and ducted fans rather than pure jets.  (Interestingly, Arnold chose to exclude the piston engine manufacturers from this work, being concerned about possible conflicts of interest.)

    Bell Aircraft was chosen to design and build the airplane which was to be mated with the first American-built jet engine:  it was called the XP-59 Airacomet, and GE’s engine (a derivative of the Whittle W2B) was called the I-A.  The prototype Airacomet was delivered to the test field via steam train (with the engine being kept in constant rotation at low speed because of concerns about vibration damaging the bearings), and first flew in October 1942.  The Army Air Corps ordered 80 of them, but only 30 were delivered, with the balance of the production contract being cancelled because of somewhat disappointing performance and the incipient availability of better engines and airframes.

    Meanwhile, the British had proceeded with development of their first jet fighter, the Gloster Meteor, powered by Rolls Royce Welland engines.  The Meteor did not see any air-to-air combat during WWII, but it was used with success against German V-1 buzz bombs (“cruise missiles,” as we would now call them) and also ground attack and airfield defense missions during the last stages of the war in Europe.  It would later serve in the Korean War with the Royal Australian Air Force.

    The Planes of Fame Air Museum has a P-59 Airacomet and is restoring it to flying condition.

     

    Posted in Aviation, Book Notes, Britain, History, Military Affairs, Tech | 16 Comments »