Quotulatiousness

July 23, 2014

The Yom Kippur War of October 1973

Filed under: History, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:02

In History Today, Colin Shindler reviews a recent collection of essays on the initially successful surprise attack on Israeli forces by Egypt, Syria, and a token brigade from Jordan in early October, 1973.

During the early afternoon of October 6th, 1973 the Egyptian army crossed the Suez Canal and overran the Israeli Bar-Lev line on the eastern bank. This assault on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, was designed to reverse Israel’s conquest of the Sinai peninsula during the 1967 Six Day War.

Six hundred Syrian tanks, outnumbering Israel’s 178, also advanced to reclaim the Golan Heights and to threaten a penetration of Israel’s heartland. The mehdal (blunder) indicated a profound intelligence failure and cost 2,691 Israeli lives. Forty years on, Asaf Siniver has gathered his colleagues to dissect this war in a series of essays.

The October or Ramadan War – as it is known in Egypt – is celebrated as a holiday even though Arab losses were around 18,000. The Yom Kippur war – as it is known in Israel – is regarded more as an enforced stalemate, even though Israeli forces crossed back over the canal, encircled the Egyptian Third Army and were 60 miles from Cairo. The Syrians, too, were pushed back and the Israelis shelled the outer suburbs of Damascus. Soviet threats to involve the USSR directly in the conflict forced President Nixon to stop the Israelis in their tracks.

Yom Kippur War - Sinai front 6 October -15 October (via Wikipedia)

Yom Kippur War – Sinai front 6-15 October, 1973 (via Wikipedia)

Yom Kippur War - Sinai front 15-23 October, 1973 (via Wikipedia)

Yom Kippur War – Sinai front 15-23 October, 1973 (via Wikipedia)

Yom Kippur War - Golan Heights front (via Wikipedia)

Yom Kippur War – Golan Heights front (via Wikipedia)

QotD: The comic book business and “being relevant”

Filed under: Media, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Anyway, I should be delighted by the news that the comic’s titular “Archie” is, at last, deceased. Shot to death, even.

But while I hasten to add that I was nowhere near Riverdale when that happened, my relief is tempered.

You see, in last Wednesday’s number of the Life with Archie series, the redheaded, eternally youthful hero took a bullet for a gay politician.

Of course he did.

This scenario represents progress of a sort, in that the homosexual character isn’t the one who dies this time. The gay counterpoint to the “magical negro” is what you might call the “tragical homo,” a pop culture trope exhaustively catalogued in Vito Russo’s 1981 classic The Celluloid Closet. But we’re well into a new century, and gays have milked that Harvey dry, I guess. Time to switch it up, and make the straight guy the “lovable but doomed best friend” instead.

“The way in which Archie dies is everything that you would expect of Archie,” beams Archie’s head honcho, Jon Goldwater. “He dies heroically. He dies selflessly. He dies in the manner that epitomizes not only the best of Riverdale but the best of all of us. It’s what Archie has come to represent over the past almost 75 years.”

Which is … what, exactly? Butt sex? Political assassination? Naked, shameless pandering?

Oh, wait, I know: “Eat your spinach or else” liberal propaganda! Dummy me.

Maybe there’s a comic book industry bar bet the rest of us aren’t in on. This week alone, Captain America became a black guy and Thor got a sex change.

Kathy Shaidle, “Comic Con Job”, Taki’s Magazine, 2014-07-22.

July 22, 2014

Cooling the conservative love affair with the police

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:07

If there’s one thing that separates conservatives from libertarians, it’s the conservative worship of the police. In most conservatives’ eyes, the police are always right and should never be criticized regardless of the situation. Perhaps this is beginning to change, as A.J. Delgado calls for an end to the love affair:

Imagine if I were to tell you there is a large group of government employees, with generous salaries and ridiculously cushy retirement pensions covered by the taxpayer, who enjoy incredible job security and are rarely held accountable even for activities that would almost certainly earn the rest of us prison time. When there is proven misconduct, these government employees are merely reassigned and are rarely dismissed. The bill for any legal settlements concerning their errors? It, too, is covered by the taxpayers. Their unions are among the strongest in the country.

No, I’m not talking about public-school teachers.

I’m talking about the police.

We conservatives recoil at the former; yet routinely defend the latter — even though, unlike teachers, police officers enjoy an utter monopoly on force and can ruin — or end — one’s life in a millisecond.

For decades, conservatives have served as stalwart defenders of police forces. There have been many good reasons for this, including long memories of the post-countercultural crime wave that devastated, and in some cases destroyed, many American cities; conservatives’ penchant for law and order; and Americans’ widely shared disdain for the cops’ usual opponents. (A hippie being arrested is something people from all walks of life are usually happy to see.) Although tough-on-crime appeals have never been limited to conservative politicians or voters, conservatives instinctively (and, it turned out, correctly) understood that the way to reduce crime is to have more cops making more arrests, not more sociologists identifying more root causes. Conservatives are rightly proud to have supported police officers doing their jobs at times when progressives were on the other side.

But it’s time for conservatives’ unconditional love affair with the police to end.

What happened to the top universities outside the Anglosphere?

Filed under: Europe, History, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:29

Steve Sailer has an interesting take on the rise of the top universities in the Anglosphere:

The reality is that the top U.S. (and British) universities have been winning the global competition for talent since the middle of the 20th Century. Look at Nobel Prizes. It wasn’t always like this. Go back to the summer of 1914 and the best research universities tended to be German, with other Continental countries in competition.

What happened to bring about Anglo-American dominance of universities?

I’m sure there are many reasons, but I want to fixate on just two. Namely, we won the Big Ones: WWI and WWII. In the postwar era, the losers, such as Germany and Austria (1918 and 1945), Italy (1943) and France (1940) smashed up their great colleges for being epitomizations of anti-democratic elitism.

The Continentals converted their famous universities to open admissions with virtually no tuition: giant lecture halls with a few thousand students taking notes or dozing.

The French government, not being stupid, kept some small, low profile, ultra-elitist Écoles to train the people who actually run France, while trashing grand old names like the Sorbonne. Piketty, for example, did his undergrad at the École normale supérieure, which is immensely prestigious in the right circles in France, but us big dumb Americans hardly know about it because it only has 600 undergrads. And few Tiger Moms in Seoul, Shanghai, or Mumbai care about it either.

For a French culture that believes itself normally superior, this is annoying.

In contrast, the winning Americans poured even more money into Harvard and Yale. When 1968 happened, only CCNY in the U.S. was dumb enough to fall for the reigning ideology rather than just give it lip service. Instead, Harvard devoted ample resources to modeling admissions and perfected a system of affirmative action for buying off complainers (see Robert Klitgaard’s 1985 book Choosing Elites) without damaging Harvard as the prime pipeline to Wall Street.

Similarly, Oxford and Cambridge survived the Socialist governments with elitist prestige largely intact, mostly because Britain, though almost ruined by the expense, was on the winning side in WW I/II. And winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.

The Erie Canal and the canal boom it created

Filed under: Economics, History, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:13

Last week, Chris Edwards posted a short article at the Cato@Liberty blog, discussing the long history of government malinvestment in infrastructure projects:

Most politicians are optimistic about the government’s ability to intervene and solve problems. That’s one reason why they run for office. Neocons, for example, have excessive faith that foreign intervention can fix the world, while liberals embrace the misguided idea that subsidies and regulations can boost the economy.

The Erie Canal was a misleading outlier: it was a major infrastructure project that actually succeeded in turning a profit, and it set off a string of copycat government initiatives … most of which quickly turned into expensive mistakes for state governments:

Chapter 3 of the book [Uncle Sam Can’t Count by Burton and Anita Folsom]looks at the orgy of state government canal building from the 1820s to the 1840s. Here is the basic story:

  • New York State funds construction of the Erie Canal, which opens in 1825.
  • The Erie Canal is a big success, which spurs canal fever across the nation and encourages other state governments to hand out subsidies. Government canal schemes are launched in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Maryland, and Illinois. There is particular excitement about subsidized “internal improvements” among Whig politicians, including Abraham Lincoln.
  • However, politicians overestimate the demand for canals in their states and underestimate the costs and difficulty of construction. They do not recognize that the Erie Canal is uniquely practical and economic as it traverses relatively flat land and connects the Great Lakes with the Atlantic.
  • Some of the state-sponsored canals are huge boondoggles and are abandoned. And other than the Erie Canal, all of the state canals sustain heavy losses, including other subsidized canals in New York.
  • After the failures, numerous states privatize their infrastructure and change their constitutions to prevent politicians from wasting further money on such schemes.

23% of US children live in poverty … except that’s not actually true

Filed under: Government, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:48

In Forbes, Tim Worstall explains why the shocking headline rate of child poverty in the US is not correct (and that’s a good thing):

The annual Kids Count, from the Annie F. Casey Foundation, is out and many are reporting that it shows that 23% of American children are living in poverty. I’m afraid that this isn’t quite true and the mistaken assumption depends on one little intricate detail of how US poverty statistics are constructed. This isn’t a snarl at Kids Count, they report the numbers impartially, it’s the interpretation that some are putting on those numbers that is in error. For the reality is that, by the way that the US measures poverty, it does a pretty good job in alleviating child poverty. The real rate of children actually living in poverty, after all the aid they get to not live in poverty, is more like 2 or 3% of US children. Which is pretty good for government work.

[...]

However, this is not the same thing as stating that 23% of US children are living in poverty. For there’s a twist in the way that US poverty statistics are compiled.

Everyone else measures poverty as being below 60% of median equivalised household disposable income. This is a measure of relative poverty, how much less do you have than the average? The US uses a different measure, based upon historical accident really, which is a measure of absolute poverty. How may people have less than $x to live upon? There’s also a second difference. Everyone else measures poverty after the influence of the tax and the benefits system upon those incomes. The US measures only cash income (both market income and also cash from the government). It does not measure the influence of benefits that people receive in kind (ie, in goods or services) nor through the tax system. And the problem with this is that the major poverty alleviation schemes in the US are, in rough order, Medicaid, the EITC, SNAP (or food stamps) and then Section 8 housing vouchers. Three of which are goods or services in kind and the fourth comes through the tax system.

QotD: Drinking wine

Filed under: Quotations, Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Follow the advice of wine merchants, wine clubs, wine waiters, even wine journalists, but never forget that your own taste is the final judge. Like the solicitor who keeps his clientele safely under sedation by the use of fanciful legal jargon — did you know that any fool can do his own conveyancing, i.e. legally transfer property between himself and another? — so the wine snob, the so-called expert and the jealous wine merchant (there are a few) will conspire to persuade you that the subject is too mysterious for the plain man to penetrate without continuous assistance. This is, to put it politely, disingenuous flummery. It is up to you to drink what you like and can afford. You would not let a tailor tell you that a pair of trousers finishing a couple of inches below the knee actually fitted you perfectly; so, with wine, do not be told what is correct or what you are sure to like or what suits you. Specifically:

(a) Drink any wine you like with any dish. You will, in practice, perhaps find that a heavy red burgundy drowns the taste of oysters (though my wife likes claret with them), or that a light flowery hock is overpowered by a steak au poivre. But what is wrong with red wine and chicken, a light claret accompanying a Dover sole? The no-reds-with-fish superstition is widespread and ingrained, so much so that, in the film of From Russia, With Love, James Bond was able to say, in jest but without further explanation, that he ought to have spotted one of the opposition when the man broke that “rule” in the dining-car of the Orient Express. All he should reasonably have inferred was that the chap was rather independent-minded. I myself will even more happily drink a hock, a Moselle, or an Alsatian wine with my fish stems from the other fact that I am particularly fond of hocks, Moselles, and Alsatian wines. The North of England couple I once read about who shared a bottle of crème de menthe (I hope it was a half-bottle) to go with their grilled turbot should be an inspiration, if not a literal example to us all. Anyway, why not start by choosing a wine you know you like and then build your meal round it?

(b) Vintages — aargh! Most of the crap talked about wine centres on these. “The older the better” is another popular pseudo-rule. It does apply up to a point to chateau-bottled clarets, especially those known as classed growths. This is a precise technical term, not a piece of wine-snobs’ jargon, but I cannot expound it here: consult your wine merchant or wine encyclopedia. There are rich men who will drink nothing but old first-growth clarets to show their friends how well they know their wines (and how rich they are). These are likely to be wonderful wines, true, but such men are missing a lot — see below. And old wines as such are not necessarily good: they may well have gone off or always have been bad, whatever that bloody vintage chart or card may have said. Throw it away, or keep it in a drawer until you know the subject a bit and can pick up cheap the good wines of a “bad” year.

Kingsley Amis, Everyday Drinking: The Distilled Kingsley Amis, 2008.

July 21, 2014

The science of ballistics, the art of war, and the birth of the assault rifle

Filed under: History, Military, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 15:47

Defence With A “C” summarizes the tale of how we got to the current suite of modern military small arms. It’s a long story, but if you’re interested in firearms, it’s a fascinating one.

To understand why we’ve arrived where we are now with the NATO standard 5.56mm calibre round you have to go all the way back to the war of 1939-1945. Much study of this conflict would later inform decision making surrounding the adoption of the 5.56, but for now there was one major change that took place which would set the course for the future.

The German Sturmgewehr 44 is widely accepted as the worlds first true assault rifle. Combining the ability to hit targets out to around 500 yards with individual shots in a semi-automatic mode, as well as the ability to fire rapidly in fully automatic mode (almost 600 rounds per minute) the StG 44 represented a bridge between short ranged sub-machine guns and longer ranged bolt action rifles.

[...]

After the second world war the US army began conducting research to help it learn the lessons of its previous campaigns, as well as preparing it for potential future threats. As part of this effort it began to contract the services of the Operations Research Office (ORO) of the John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, for help in conducting the scientific analysis of various aspects of ground warfare.

On October 1st, 1948, the ORO began Project ALCLAD, a study into the means of protecting soldiers from the “casualty producing hazards of warfare“. In order to determine how best to protect soldiers from harm, it was first necessary to investigate the major causes of casualties in war.

After studying large quantities of combat and casualty reports, ALCLAD concluded that first and foremost the main danger to combat soldiers was from high explosive weapons such as artillery shells, fragments from which accounted for the vast majority of combat casualties. It also determined that casualties inflicted by small arms fire were essentially random.

Allied troops in WW2 had been generally armed with full-sized bolt action rifles (while US troops were being issued the M1 Garand), optimized to be accurate out to 600 yards or more, yet most actual combat was at much shorter ranges than that. Accuracy is directly affected by the stress, tension, distraction, and all-around confusion of the battlefield: even at such short ranges, riflemen required many shots to be expended in hopes of inflicting a hit on an enemy. The ORO ran a series of tests to simulate battle conditions for both expert and ordinary riflemen and found some unexpected results:

A number of significant conclusions were thus drawn from these tests. Firstly, that accuracy — even for prone riflemen, some of them expert shots, shooting at large static targets — was poor beyond ranges of about 250 yards. Secondly, that under simulated conditions of combat shooting an expert level marksman was no more accurate than a regular shot. And finally that the capabilities of the individual shooters were far below the potential of the rifle itself.

This in turn — along with the analysis of missed shots caught by a screen behind the targets — led to three further conclusions.

First, that any effort to try and make the infantry’s general purpose weapon more accurate (such as expensive barrels) was largely a waste of time and money. The weapon was, and probably always would be, inherently capable of shooting much tighter groups than the human behind it.

Second, that there was a practical limit to the value of marksmanship training for regular infantry soldiers. Beyond a certain basic level of training any additional hours were of limited value*, and the number of hours required to achieve a high level of proficiency would be prohibitive. This was particularly of interest for planning in the event of another mass mobilisation for war.

NASA’s “random mode”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, History, Space, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:55

Robert Zubrin identifies two different modes of operation practiced by NASA since 1961:

Over the course of its life, NASA has employed two distinct modes of operation. The first prevailed during the period from 1961 to 1973, and may therefore be called the Apollo Mode. The second, prevailing since 1974, may usefully be called the Random Mode.

In the Apollo Mode, business is conducted as follows. First, a destination for human space flight is chosen. Then a plan is developed to achieve the objective. Following this, technologies and designs are developed to implement the plan. These designs are then built, after which the mission is flown.

The Random Mode operates entirely differently. In this mode, technologies and hardware elements are developed in accord with the wishes of various technical communities. These projects are then justified by arguments that they might prove useful at some time in the future when grand flight projects are once again initiated.

Contrasting these two approaches, we see that the Apollo Mode is destination-driven, while the Random Mode pretends to be technology-driven but is actually constituency-driven. In the Apollo Mode, technology development is done for mission-directed reasons. In the Random Mode, projects are undertaken on behalf of various internal and external technical-community pressure groups and then defended using rationales (not reasons). In the Apollo Mode, the space agency’s efforts are focused and directed. In the Random Mode, NASA’s efforts are scatterbrained and entropic.

Imagine two couples, each planning to build their own house. The first couple decides what kind of house they want, hires an architect to design it in detail, then acquires the appropriate materials to build it. That is the Apollo Mode. The second couple canvasses their neighbors each month for different spare house-parts they would like to sell, and buys them all, hoping to eventually accumulate enough stuff to build a house. When their relatives inquire as to why they are accumulating so much junk, they hire an architect to compose a house design that employs all the miscellaneous items they have purchased. The house is never built, but an adequate excuse is generated to justify each purchase, thereby avoiding embarrassment. That is the Random Mode.

NASA had an overriding mission from 1961 to 1974: the moon program. Almost all of its resources were devoted to that goal, and it was achieved. Then bureausclerosis set in, politics took over, and we left the moon (so far, for good). If the future of mankind is in space, it’s unlikely that NASA will be a significant part of that future (unless you count its role in working to hold back private enterprise from getting involved on NASA’s “turf” (can I call it “astroturf” in this context?)).

The retreat of civil society and the advance of the nanny state

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:27

In The Week, Michael Brendan Dougherty wonders why so many parents are being arrested these days for letting their children do things that used to be utterly normal:

Last month, when the first wave of these stories came out, I suggested it was a problem of helicopter parents enforcing their notions of parenthood on others. But the number and variety of such incidents suggest that something more is at work. The communities that are happy to watch the kids in the neighborhood, and help parents with an extra set of eyes and a few caramels, are just gone. We’re arresting parents because civil society is retreating from children altogether.

Timothy Carney, a columnist for The Washington Examiner and a father of five, attributes it to a decline of “neighborliness.” And that’s certainly true. People see a kid, imagine a bad thing could happen to them, and then think they should call the cops. Whereas “neighborly adults look after other adults’ kids when the parents are unavailable.”

Gracy Olmstead, in a very smart article for The American Conservative, says that all of this waning of society and waxing of the state was predicted by communitarian libertarian Robert Nisbet:

    Nisbet predicted that, in a society without strong private associations, the State would take their place — assuming the role of the church, the schoolroom, and the family, asserting a “primacy of claim” upon our children. “It is hard to overlook the fact,” he wrote, “that the State and politics have become suffused by qualities formerly inherent only in the family or the church.” In this world, the term “nanny state” takes on a very literal meaning.

[...]

But today those communities seem rarer, and so, too, those shared premises about how kids should behave. More than that, there’s a fear of taking responsibility for kids in the neighborhood. Deliver a short report on a child’s behavior and his parents may snap back, “Don’t tell me how to parent my child.” A neighbor’s interest may seem invasive or even creepy. Lacking church or community, bystanders in a neighborhood refer their concern about a suboptimal parental situation (one they usually know little about because they are not very neighborly) to the only other institution empowered to look out for the welfare of children: the state.

Update: Scott Greenfield on the whole “see something, say something (to the authorities)” situation with parents and children.

[...] the most fundamental cause for some people to feel empowered to rat out a parent [is] because they just aren’t managing their children the way I think they should!!!

Everything that fails to comport with the way the most sensitive soul in the neighborhood feels it should must now be a crime. Do it for the children. Do it for the women. Do it for … just do it.

Parents always question other parents’ parenting skills and choices. We naturally believe with all our heart and soul that whatever choices we made were better than theirs, whoever they may be. This is human nature, given our own belief that we are right and anyone who disagrees with us is wrong. Conversely, everyone who agrees is brilliant, confirming that we, too, are both right and brilliant. These thoughts are nothing new.

But the problem in Douthat’s parade of bad parenting isn’t merely some prissy busybody’s decision that some parent has inadequately bubble-wrapped their kid. The problem is that they conflate their parenting choices with righteousness, such that anyone who doesn’t share their sensibilities has committed a crime. It’s a crime to neglect your child, with neglect defined as doing anything less than providing absolute safety and comfort to children as the most delicate flower perceives it.

[...]

Years ago, there was a saying in the parent’s handbook, “spare the rod and spoil the child.” Today, that’s Endangering the Welfare of a Child in the First Degree. This isn’t to suggest that beating kids is a great method of child rearing, but to remind all the self-righteous that their beloved nanny used to beat their mother to a pulp when she misbehaved. Are you ready to lock granny up? If not, what moral authority do you have to call the cops on someone else, whose crime is not meeting your expectations of safe enough?

The criminal law is not a child-rearing tool. If you spent a few seconds thinking beyond your overly passionate feelings, you might consider whether a child would do better to be reared by a loving parent who isn’t inclined to keep them locked in protective custody throughout the formative years, than as a ward of the state. How does turning a parent into a criminal, losing a job, perhaps even a home, make a child’s life better?

A few mitigating words for the late Senator Proxmire

Filed under: Government, History, Politics, Space, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:35

Many of you won’t even remember the heyday of Senator William Proxmire’s Golden Fleece awards: his personal choices for the worst public spending boondoggles each year. Most space enthusiasts remember him for his adamant opposition to NASA (for which he could never possibly be forgiven). As an early supporter of the space program, I thought Proxmire was a terrible man and that we’ve have had a much bigger, better space program without him. He left the senate in 1989 and died in 2005, so I’d almost completely forgotten about him until I saw this article in the latest Libertarian Enterprise by Jeff Fullerton:

The things I discover while googling for things. Such as in my efforts to substantiate that Senator Proxmire quote: Not a penny for this nutty fantasy for my previous article. Found an online version of the newsletter of the old L5 Society [PDF]; a space colony advocate group that was around back in the late 70s. Which was sort of a trip down Memory Lane. Remember seeing them on Phil Donahue’s show circa 1980. It’s kind of sad when you look at something like this on the boulevard of broken dreams. But also at times amusing.

Darth Proxmire?

The man space enthusiasts loved to hate like J.R. from Dallas! He was definitely the sort of villain that could grow on you!

The name Proxmire sounds Germanic — but he was no Werner Von Braun — his mindset was typical for the down to Earth culture of the Midlands and being a Wisconsin democrat, he surely had solid connections in Madison — the regional snake pit of Progressivism. Yet he was a conservative democrat — as in fiscal conservative being he gave his “Golden Fleece Awards” to many federal projects that really were an atrocious waste of tax dollars. His disdain for the space program may have stemmed in part from populist disdain for technology — I remember SF writers like Ben Bova and others calling him a Luddite — and that sort of thing was politically fashionable in those days (often referred to as a knee-jerk reaction) so part of his reason for jumping onto the anti-space bandwagon may have been a political calculation. Some of it was probably born of a zero sum mentality that was also vogue at the time. A few space advocates wrote funny editorials about converting Proxmire to supporting space exploration and colonization by finding a way to turn butter into rocket fuel — being that the Senator’s primary constituency were Wisconsin dairy farmers!

[...]

As for William Proxmire — I can’t be too hard on him anymore. Especially when you consider all that NASA has done to thwart any hope of establishing human settlements beyond Earth. At best a lack of vision being the space agency had long ago lost its mojo and is nothing like it was in its early days when could actually meet the challenge of JFK’s vision of putting boots on the moon in a decade — as opposed to shrugging and saying “maybe in three decades”? At best they are slow walking because NASA is much like the establishment of the Republican Party that sometimes talks “small government” but is in no hurry to deliver on it. And worst of all — NASA seems to have an ideological agenda aimed at preventing the colonization of space deeply entrenched within the bureaucracy and the story is the same within most other federal agencies and institutions.

Wikipedia (not traditionally staffed by fans of small government) has this to say about Proxmire’s legislative career:

He was an early, outspoken critic of the Vietnam War. He frequently criticized Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon for their conduct of the war and foreign policy decisions. He used his seat on the Senate Armed Services Committee to spotlight wasteful military spending and was instrumental in stopping frequent military pork barrel projects. His Golden Fleece Award was created to focus media attention on projects he felt were self-serving and wasted taxpayer dollars. He was also head of the campaign to cancel the American supersonic transport. Despite his support of budgetary restraint in other areas, he normally sided with dairy interests and was a proponent of dairy price supports.

[...]

Proxmire was famous for issuing his Golden Fleece Award, which identified what he considered wasteful government spending, between 1975 and 1988. The first was awarded in 1975 to the National Science Foundation, for funding an $84,000 study on why people fall in love. Other Golden Fleece awards over the years were “awarded” to the Justice Department for conducting a study on why prisoners wanted to get out of jail, the National Institute of Mental Health to study a Peruvian brothel (“The researchers said they made repeated visits in the interests of accuracy,” reported the New York Times), and the Federal Aviation Administration, for studying “the physical measurements of 432 airline stewardesses, paying special attention to the ‘length of the buttocks.’” Proxmire stopped numerous science and academic projects which were, in his opinion, of dubious value.

Proxmire’s critics claimed that some of his awards went to basic science projects that led to important breakthroughs, such as the Aspen Movie Map (though the Aspen Movie Map project did not receive the award). For example, Proxmire was criticized in 1987 for the Aspen Movie Map incident by author Stewart Brand, who accused Proxmire of recklessly attacking legitimate research for the crass purpose of furthering his own political career, with gross indifference as to whether his assertions were true or false as well as the long-term effects on American science and technology policy. Proxmire later apologized for several of those, including SETI.

[...]

Proxmire earned the unending enmity of space advocates and science fiction fandom for his opposition to space colonization, ultimately eliminating spending on said research from NASA’s budget. In response to a segment about space colonies run by the CBS program 60 Minutes, Proxmire stated that; “it’s the best argument yet for chopping NASA’s funding to the bone …. I say not a penny for this nutty fantasy”. Arthur C. Clarke and Larry Niven retaliated by writing the award-winning stories Death and the Senator, Fallen Angels, and The Return of William Proxmire. In a number of circles his name has become a verb, meaning to unfairly obstruct scientific research for political gain, as in “the project has been proxmired”.

QotD: Algis Budrys on Hitler’s impact on audiences

Filed under: Europe, History, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 06:56

Algirdas Jonas Budrys was born in 1931 in Lithuania, but he didn’t stay there long. His father was an official in Lithuania’s diplomatic corps and while A J was still small the family was posted to Konigsberg in the German province of East Prussia. A J, who had just about got a good handle on the Lithuanian language, began to learn German. His adult memories of East Prussia — which, like the rest of Germany, had been Nazified with the accession of Adolf Hitler a few years earlier — were troublesome.

He particularly recalled Hitler himself parading right past the Budrys apartment when he was five, he told Mark Williams in an interview shortly before he died. “After the Hitlerjugend walked through, Hitler came by in an open black Mercedes with his arm propped up.” The crowds made “indescribable” sounds. Men lost control of their bowels and had to race for the bushes or writhed and rolled on the ground.

Fred Pohl, “A J”, The Way The Future Blogs, 2010-07-26

July 20, 2014

Diplomacy – “the game that ruins friendships”

Filed under: Gaming — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:19

David Hill learns a very hard lesson about trusting English promises:

Diplomacy board

It was the summer of 1909. I was on the south coast of Spain. I remember it well because the season was almost over. Peace was within reach, I felt. There had been a vote to end the war, and the English had told me to support it. But the vote needed to be unanimous to pass, and it failed. The Russian, the Italian, they thought the English voted against it and that I had been lied to. Why should I believe them? The English and I had worked together against all of them for years now. Of course they’d want to sow distrust between us. Now time was ticking. I desperately wanted peace. I wasn’t sure my country would survive another couple of years, with or without England’s help. There wouldn’t be another vote until after the fall.

“Will you support my army in Spain this fall?” I asked.

“Nah. That ain’t happenin’,” the Englishman replied. A wave of dread came over me. He intended to betray me.

“How could you do this to me? After everything I’ve done for you.”

“I guess I’m just a hard muthafucka like that.”

And with that he walked away, leaving me standing in the hallway, mouth agape. He rejoined the other players at the board, who all stared at me, fury in their eyes. We told you so.

I used to spend a lot of time playing Diplomacy, but as I didn’t have enough real-life friends to want to lose a lot of them over a boardgame, I played postal Diplomacy (I even co-published a ‘zine for a while).

If you’ve ever heard of Diplomacy, chances are you know it as “the game that ruins friendships.” It’s also likely you’ve never finished an entire game. That’s because Diplomacy requires seven players and seven or eight hours to complete. Games played by postal mail, the way most played for the first 30 years of its existence, could take longer than a year to finish. Despite this, Diplomacy is one of the most popular strategic board games in history. Since its invention in 1954 by Harvard grad Allan B. Calhamer, Diplomacy has sold over 300,000 copies and was inducted into Games Magazine’s hall of fame alongside Monopoly, Clue, and Scrabble.

The game is incredibly simple. The game board is a map of 1914 Europe divided into 19 sea regions and 56 land regions, 34 of which contain what are known as “supply centers.” Each player plays as a major power (Austria-Hungary, Turkey, Italy, England, France, Russia, Germany) with three pieces on the board (four for Russia) known as “home supply centers.” Each piece can move one space at a time, and each piece has equal strength. When two pieces try to move to the same space, neither moves. If two pieces move to the same space but one of those pieces has “support” from a third piece, the piece with support will win the standoff and take the space. The goal is to control 18 supply centers, which rarely happens. What’s more common is for two or more players to agree to end the game in a draw. Aside from a few other special situations, that’s pretty much it for rules.

There are two things that make Diplomacy so unique and challenging. The first is that, unlike in most board games, players don’t take turns moving. Everyone writes down their moves and puts them in a box. The moves are then read aloud, every piece on the board moving simultaneously. The second is that prior to each move the players are given time to negotiate with each other, as a group or privately. The result is something like a cross between Risk, poker, and Survivor — with no dice or cards or cameras. There’s no element of luck. The only variable factor in the game is each player’s ability to convince others to do what they want. The core game mechanic, then, is negotiation. This is both what draws and repels people to Diplomacy in equal force; because when it comes to those negotiations, anything goes. And anything usually does.

Apollo 11 moon landing anniversary

Filed under: History, Space, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:42

The first men walked on the moon on this day in 1969:

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, lunar module pilot, stands on the surface of the moon near the leg of the lunar module, Eagle, during the Apollo 11 moonwalk. Astronaut Neil Armstrong, mission commander, took this photograph with a 70mm lunar surface camera. While Armstrong and Aldrin descended in the lunar module to explore the Sea of Tranquility, astronaut Michael Collins, command module pilot, remained in lunar orbit with the Command and Service Module, Columbia. *This is the actual photograph as exposed on the moon by Armstrong. He held the camera slightly rotated so that the camera frame did not include the top of Aldrin's portable life support system ("backpack"). A communications antenna mounted on top of the backpack is also cut off in this picture. When the image was released to the public, it was rotated clockwise to restore the astronaut to vertical for a more harmonious composition, and a black area was added above his head to recreate the missing black lunar "sky". The edited version is the one most commonly reproduced and known to the public, but the original version, above, is the authentic exposure.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, lunar module pilot, stands on the surface of the moon near the leg of the lunar module, Eagle, during the Apollo 11 moonwalk. Astronaut Neil Armstrong, mission commander, took this photograph with a 70mm lunar surface camera. While Armstrong and Aldrin descended in the lunar module to explore the Sea of Tranquility, astronaut Michael Collins, command module pilot, remained in lunar orbit with the Command and Service Module, Columbia. *This is the actual photograph as exposed on the moon by Armstrong. He held the camera slightly rotated so that the camera frame did not include the top of Aldrin’s portable life support system (“backpack”). A communications antenna mounted on top of the backpack is also cut off in this picture. When the image was released to the public, it was rotated clockwise to restore the astronaut to vertical for a more harmonious composition, and a black area was added above his head to recreate the missing black lunar “sky”. The edited version is the one most commonly reproduced and known to the public, but the original version, above, is the authentic exposure.

I didn’t realize that almost all the Apollo 11 photographs of astronauts are of Buzz Aldrin. For some reason, Neil Armstrong appears in only a few of them, and The Atlantic‘s Rebecca Rosen wonders why:

Bootprint in lunar dust created and photographed by Buzz Aldrin for the boot penetration (soil mechanics) task during the Apollo 11 moon walk.

Bootprint in lunar dust created and photographed by Buzz Aldrin for the boot penetration (soil mechanics) task during the Apollo 11 moon walk.

If there is one thing everybody knows about Neil Armstrong, it is this: “One small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” This quotation, in my mind at least, appears illustrated, conjuring the image above of an imprint left by a human boot upon the dusty lunar surface.

Except that’s not the first step, nor was it left by Armstrong. It’s a footprint made by Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon.

[...]

The explanation for this paucity is murky at best, prone to the uncharitable reading that Aldrin was getting “Armstrong back by taking no photographs of him on the Moon” in retribution for Armstrong getting the honor of first to set foot on the lunar surface.

But this is speculation at best. Aldrin, at least, has always said that the lapse was inadvertant, the result of Armstrong carrying the camera most of the time, a picture of Armstrong not appearing on the bucket list of things to do while on the moon, and Armstrong never stopping to ask for one. According to Aldrin, he was about to take a picture of Armstrong at the flag ceremony when President Nixon called, distracting them from the task.

[...]

Later, Aldrin expressed regret about the oversight. “When I got back and someone said, ‘There’s not any of Neil,’ I thought, ‘What in the hell can I do now?’ I felt so bad about that. And then to have somebody say that might have been intentional…. How do you come up with a nonconfrontational argument against that? I mean, that was just such a divisive observation, and Neil and I were never in the least divisive. We really were intimidated by the situation we found ourselves in on the Moon, hesitant and with an unclear idea of what to do next.”

Hansen’s book includes a handful of divergent opinions from different NASA administrators, theorizing as to how this, what Hansen calls “one of the minor tragedies of Apollo 11,” could have happened. Was it mere oversight or petty payback? Men sticking close to the plan or men sticking too close to the plan?

H/T to Colby Cosh:

Culture, political correctness, and social change

Filed under: Politics, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:11

This week’s Goldberg File email newsletter included an interesting discussion of the power of political correctness and how society continues to change:

What is commonly called “political correctness” doesn’t get the respect it deserves on the right. Sure, in the herstory of political correctness there have been womyn and cis-men who have taken their seminal ovulal ideas too far, but we should not render ourselves visually challenged to the fact that something more fundawomyntal is at work here.

Political correctness can actually be seen as an example of Hayekian spontaneous order. Society has changed, because society always changes. But modern American society has changed a lot. In a relatively short period of time, legal and cultural equality has expanded — albeit not uniformly or perfectly — to blacks, women, and gays. We are a more heterodox society in almost every way. As a result, many of our customs, norms, and terms no longer line up neatly with lived-reality. Remember customs emerge as intangible tools to solve real needs. When the real needs change, the customs must either adapt or die.

Many conservatives think political correctness forced Christianity and traditional morality to recede from public life. That is surely part of the story. But another part of the story is that political correctness emerged because Christianity and traditional morality receded. Something had to fill the void.

I wish more conservatives recognized that at least some of what passes for political correctness is an attempt to create new manners and mores for the places in life where the old ones no longer work too well. You can call it “political correctness” that Americans stopped calling black people “negroes.” But that wouldn’t make the change wrong or even objectionable. You might think it’s regrettable that homosexuality has become mainstreamed and largely de-stigmatized. But your regret doesn’t change the fact that it has happened. And well-mannered people still need to know how to show respect to people.

[...]

Now, I don’t actually think Christianity is necessarily inadequate to the task of keeping up with the changes of contemporary society. (The pagan Roman civilization Christianity emerged from was certainly less hospitable to Christianity than America today is. You could look it up.) But Christianity, like other religions, still needs to adapt to changing times and the evolving expectations of the people. I’m nothing like an expert on such things, but it seems to me that most churches and denominations understand this. Some respond more successfully than others. But it’s hardly as if they are oblivious to the challenge of “relevance.”

My concern here is more about mainstream conservatism. I think much of what the Left offers in terms of culture creation is utter crap. But they are at least in the business of culture creation.

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