Veterans Day book: Call Sign Kluso

For pilots who want to observe Veterans Day by learning about how the F-15 is flown in combat, let me recommend Call-Sign KLUSO: An American Fighter Pilot in Mr. Reagan’s Air Force by Rick Tollini.

How about those tight formations that we see when the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds perform. That’s how you go into a fight, right? Wrong! Here is how 4 F-15s are arranged to head into Iraq from Saudi Arabia at night:

The basic formation was a little bit wider than a normal daytime formation just to assist with flight path deconfliction and to reduce the workload on the wingman spending time on formation management. About 5nm between #1 (flight lead) and #3 (element lead) with the wingman on the outside of the formation, about 2–3nm away from their respective flight leads. This doubled the total width of the formation from 5nm wide to about 10nm wide. A standardized altitude deconfliction plan was also utilized based on a briefed “base” altitude for the flight lead. So, if the flight lead’s “base” altitude was 25,000 feet, then #3 might be 2,000 feet below, and the wingmen would be 1,000–2,000 feet above their respective flight leads. Any time the “base” altitude changed, the flight members would flex to the new relative deconfliction altitudes. Having the wingman slightly above their flight leads also helped with visual mutual support for the wingmen. That’s right … “visual” at night without NVGs.

If the F-15 is so great, why bother with four at a time? Why not send one to defeat the enemy?

A cold hard fact that has been forgotten and relearned, usually through misfortune, is that a single fighter jet is not an effective combat unit and is more of a liability than anything else. The enemy will grow a brave heart when they know they have a solitary American fighter pilot alone in his aircraft. Even if they should lose a pilot or jet of their own, they will attack confident of downing such a precious prize as an American fighter. If there is another supporting fighter within visual range, then the enemy will begin to lose his courage and doubt his own ability to be victorious. It’s called Mutual Support, and it is the bedrock of air combat tactics. I learned that lesson at my first COPE THUNDER, and I would never forget it.

How did our USAF heroes stay healthy without the marijuana that Maskachusetts and California say is “essential” and, from a medical point of view, super beneficial?

The other key player in this plan was Kory, our flight doc. Kory had been issued a truckload of amphetamines (specifically Dexedrine), or uppers, and the previously mentioned Restoril (downers), and he would be our acting “dealer.” All pilots at some point in our careers had been tested with both pills to insure we did not have any unusual side effects (other than the desired or expected ones), but most of us had never actually experienced using either regularly. The Restoril was to make sure that we could get to sleep quickly and soundly for the small window of opportunity we would have each day between combat missions. The Dexadrine was intended to keep us alert (and in some cases from actually falling asleep) in the cockpit.

Reminding us to “check 6” even after we vanquish the only cause of death that is now on anyone’s mind (i.e., coronaplague):

My roommate for the duration of the deployment was Capt Rory “Hoser” Draeger. Hoser was actually a young flight lead in the Dirty Dozen when I first arrived at Kadena. … I knew he was an outstanding aviator and, being from Kadena originally, he was somebody I could count on to lead some of our more difficult large-force missions. Also, we would need everybody we could get. Hoser and I were not “best friends” by any means, but we got along well together and gave each other “space” as roommates. Not too long after the war, I received news that Hoser was killed in a car accident. Apparently, he was a passenger riding with some friends when the driver lost control and went off the road. Very sad … and ironic to survive a war and be killed in a random accident.

Tollini writes about the modern rules-bound military compared to the 1980s, in which it was, according to him, more about personal responsibility:

The USMTM [a military training liaison base] in Tabuk had very nice apartments (for the residents only, not us), a great swimming pool, and its best asset … a fully stocked bar! There was supposed to be no alcohol allowed on base while we were in-country, but the USMTMs were different. They were a little piece of “America” and had immunity from local laws and customs. So when the Gorillas first arrived in Tabuk all the pilots would head to the USMTM on any given night they could, that is until General Order No. 1 (GO#1) was issued.

GO#1 would (in my opinion) become one of the worst decisions ever in the annals of military history. It was issued by General Norman Schwarzkopf (the commander of US Central Command/CENTOM) and the order stated there would be absolutely NO drinking in the Kingdom. This was hopefully to show “solidarity” with our Saudi hosts and not insult their cultural sensibilities. Even most Saudis I met who heard about this no-drinking order thought it was crazy. They really didn’t care if we drank as long as we behaved.

I now believe the long-term effect of this original GO#1 was that it tried to mandate good order and discipline via a “general order,” rather than to establish this with good leadership and respect up and down the chain of command. From then on, any chance a commanding officer had to create an appearance of “good order and discipline” quickly and easily, he would just start signing out these types of “General Orders” and absolve himself of any responsibility to actually “lead” beyond that point. It was such a crock, and the troops could see right through it. I saw it as kind of the opposite of how Opec Hess treated us that first day in Thailand. Our leadership no longer trusted us. If you think there might be a problem with behavior and leadership in today’s military, I believe the root cause goes all the way back to Stormin’ Norman’s original GO#1.

The F-15 could use a $659 ashtray ($1,727 when we adjust 1985 dollars to today’s Bidie-bucks):

It went so far that Cherry and I (and some others) would smoke in the jets while flying our DCA CAP missions. I had found that I could use these little plastic powdered-lemonade drink cups (which had a foil lid) that fit perfectly between the light control panel knobs on the right side of the F-15 cockpit. So, I had a little ashtray I could use in flight, and when I was done I would just wrap the foil cover back over the top of the cup to prevent spillage. It was perfect. We didn’t smoke when anything important was going on, but for a four- or six-plus hour mission boring holes in the sky, it was a nice “break” to look forward to every hour or so. If I ever took off without a pack of smokes and lighter in my G-suit pocket, I knew it was going to be a long and grueling flight.

After years spent in Japan, Thailand, and the Philippines:

Saudi Arabia was a strange country. I don’t mean that necessarily in a bad way, but just that it felt “strange” being there. I had been in a lot of foreign countries, but this was the first time I had felt like such a “foreigner,” like I did not belong there. The people were nice enough, and most of us even made friends with many of the Saudi pilots. But it just always felt like there was some kind of barrier, as if we were the houseguests that had impolitely overstayed our visit. Our hosts would never say anything to us, but I felt they probably really preferred it if we would leave, as soon as possible. And, frankly, I felt the same way.

From the Boeing web site (source of the above photo):

The F-15 is an affordable, low-risk solution that maintains capacity and adds capability to the U.S. Air Force while preserving the Air Superiority and Homeland Defense missions.

Given the rate of inflation in Cirrus SR22 prices, the F-15 might well be considered “affordable” soon enough!

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Philip Roth biography: faith in psychotherapy

I checked Philip Roth: The Biography out of the local branch of the Palm Beach County Library. One fascinating aspect is the faith that Americans had in psychotherapy, especially Freudian psychoanalysis, in the 1960s. After becoming a bestselling author and National Book Award winner, Roth was paying 50 percent of his income for psychotherapy (for himself, a blonde to whom he was briefly married, and a stepdaughter who came with the blonde).

How insightful were these physician-analysts?

In September 1967, … Roth experienced an ominous malaise that, Kleinschmidt explained, was a psychosomatic manifestation of envy for his friend [William Styron]. Roth denied it: he loved Styron’s novel and was delighted by its success, but Kleinschmidt stood by his diagnosis “right down to the day I nearly died from a burst appendix and peritonitis,” as Roth recalled.”

How did Roth respond to this direct evidence of psychiatry’s lack of explanatory power? By paying Kleinschmidt for an additional 10+ years of therapy.

What did he do with the other half of his money at the time? By order of the New York Family Court, he was paying it to his plaintiff (the blonde). Margaret Martinson had a father who served prison time for petty theft, according to the book. She had two children from a previous marriage that she had broken up via litigation and from which she had a compelling victim narrative to spin (according to the biographer, Roth was a sucker for women who claimed to be victims). She was intelligent and had taken a few college classes, but as predicted by The Son Also Rises, eventually reverted to her family’s overall level of success. The stepdaughter’s valuable relationship with Roth was severed on the advice of Roth’s defense lawyer (since the plaintiff would eventually accuse him of having sex with the girl in order to enhance her alimony claim). One of the topics that Roth discussed with his psychoanalyst was his desire to kill his plaintiff and thereby more than double his spending power. (One reason that Roth was angry with his plaintiff, aside from her continuing bids for increased alimony, was that she had obtained his agreement to marry via fraud. She purchased urine from a pregnant woman and turned that into a positive pregnancy test result, which induced Roth to “do the right thing.”) The topic was being discussed with the medial-psychiatric professional at a tremendous weekly cost right up to the point that the plaintiff was killed in a car accident (1968), thus putting an end to family court litigation that had lasted longer than the marriage and to alimony payments and legal fees that consumed more than half of Roth’s income (he borrowed to pay his lawyers, his plaintiff, and the platoon of shrinks).

Roth avoided remarriage, which, in those pre-child-support-formula days, was a viable wealth-preservation strategy. Roth had sex with a lot of young women, but if they’d gotten pregnant they wouldn’t have been entitled to $millions and couldn’t have made bank like Hunter Biden’s plaintiff. Where did Roth, pushing 40, find women aged 20-23? Teaching at elite universities. It turned out that young female aspiring writers at the time wanted to have sex with a National Book Award winner (and future Pulitzer winner) with connections to New Yorker, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, agents and critics. Given this alternative, they did not want to have sex with their fellow undergraduates who had (a) no money, (b) no connections, and (c) no talent. (Roth actually did help launch the careers of some of his young friends.) Far from discouraging these liaisons, the Chair of the English Department at Penn actually preferentially admitted the best-looking girls to Roth’s oversubscribed class with the idea that sexual relationships would be fostered. (The procurer is described as “gay” in the book, so it is unclear if he is an 2SLGBTQQIA+ victim to be protected or an abettor of Roth’s predatory behavior and therefore on track for cancellation.)

One of the students, Lucy Warner:

Philip Roth never had any children of his own, which is kind of a shame because it would be interesting to see how they turned out and if scribbling out novels is hereditary.

Americans of only moderately high income could live like lords in Europe in the 1960s. Whenever Roth felt like it, he could move to a European capital and live in splendid hotels or apartments. What we today think of as the good life was also much more readily available, e.g., a summer rental in the Hamptons. The writer could be the host of the Wall Streeter, not vice versa.

One area where I developed new respect for Roth is in physical perseverance. He suffered a back injury in the Army (involving a massive potato kettle in the kitchen, not enemy action!) and never recovered. Working at a typewriter was often torture for his shoulders, back, and neck, but he stuck to it until an entire bookcase of works had been produced. This refusal to quit is tough to imagine in our present-day society where almost anyone will quit in exchange for $600/week.

Roth was a passionate Democrat who died in 2018, during the rule of the hated dictator and before he could enjoy seeing Joe Biden deliver his promised victories over both coronavirus and cancer. New Yorker tapped Roth’s spleen in 2017 (Roth was 84 years old at the time):

Last week, Roth was asked, via e-mail, if it has happened here. He responded, “It is easier to comprehend the election of an imaginary President like Charles Lindbergh than an actual President like Donald Trump. Lindbergh, despite his Nazi sympathies and racist proclivities, was a great aviation hero who had displayed tremendous physical courage and aeronautical genius in crossing the Atlantic in 1927. He had character and he had substance and, along with Henry Ford, was, worldwide, the most famous American of his day. Trump is just a con artist. The relevant book about Trump’s American forebear is Herman Melville’s ‘The Confidence-Man,’ the darkly pessimistic, daringly inventive novel—Melville’s last—that could just as well have been called ‘The Art of the Scam.’ ”

Trump isn’t a Nazi, exactly, but he is inferior as a human to a guy who had, according to Roth, “Nazi sympathies and racist proclivities.”

“I was born in 1933,” he continued, “the year that F.D.R. was inaugurated. He was President until I was twelve years old. I’ve been a Roosevelt Democrat ever since. I found much that was alarming about being a citizen during the tenures of Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. But, whatever I may have seen as their limitations of character or intellect, neither was anything like as humanly impoverished as Trump is: ignorant of government, of history, of science, of philosophy, of art, incapable of expressing or recognizing subtlety or nuance, destitute of all decency, and wielding a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English.”

COVID-19 lockdown proponents can certainly thank FDR for pointing out that the Constitution’s guarantees don’t apply any time that an executive declares an “emergency” (see Korematsu v. United States, in which the Supreme Court agreed with FDR that #AbundanceOfCaution was more important than the purported rights of Japanese-Americans to own property and live outside of detention camps).

“As for how Trump threatens us, I would say that, like the anxious and fear-ridden families in my book, what is most terrifying is that he makes any and everything possible, including, of course, the nuclear catastrophe.”

In other words, Roth foresaw that there would be a military catastrophe during Trump’s administration, maybe nuclear or perhaps a peasant army would defeat our military and its puppets in a foreign capital. Do we give Roth credit for this? He was off by only seven months and even Nostradamus didn’t hit all of the dates precisely.

In the age of 77-inch OLED and streaming everything, could there ever be another Philip Roth? How many people have the patience to read serious novels? Who here has read anything by Abdulrazak Gurnah, for example, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature 2021? Which author on the current Amazon list of best-selling fiction is in the same league as Philip Roth?


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Has anyone tried a book scanning service for Kondoization or pre-move preparation?

We have a lot of books that aren’t quite important enough to pack and move from Maskachusetts to the Florida Free State, but that don’t seem ready for the dumpster. For example, some rarely used dessert cookbooks (they were great when I was a 16-year-old and could eat 6,000 calories per day! Note that Maida Heatter lived to 102, dying shortly before coronapanic.) Also, the textbooks that I was using at the same time as these dessert cookbooks. What if one day I want to look at an intro calculus text that doesn’t approach integration from a social justice point of view nor remind the reader that Taylor series were developed by a woman (if Brook Taylor identified as a “man”, why did he/she/ze/they call him/her/zir/them-self “Brook”?)?

Paging through these tomes with Adobe Scan on one’s phone would be tedious indeed. There are, however, some companies that specialize in inexpensive scanning of books. In a process that should delight Marie Kondo, the physical book is destroyed in the process (Kondo doesn’t have anything to say on the subject of digital clutter). The binding is cut so that the freed pages can be automatically fed into a scanner. seems impossibly cheap. At 300 DPI, they say that they charge $1 for every 100 pages and the price triplesfor 600 DPI. OCR is an extra $1/100 pages. As is changing the PDF file name(!). So a 400-page cookbook at 300 DPI could be only $4 (OCR it yourself if you’re an Acrobat Pro subscriber; open it up and then change the filename).

USPS has pretty low rates for shipping books (“Media Mail”). I’m wondering if it would make sense to send 50 percent of our library to the dumpster, 30 percent to a destructive book scanning service, and 20 percent to the Florida Free State where the books can serve as a background to people staring at phones.

Readers: Has anyone tried 1DollarScan or a competitor?


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Icebound: a book about the original polar explorer

If you were a school boy/girl/other in the Netherlands you would have learned about Willem Barentsz, who made three voyages to the Russian Arctic while Shakespeare was scribbling out The Comedy of Errors, Romeo and Juliet and the Merchant of Venice (1594-1597). If you weren’t, there’s a great new book: Icebound: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World, by Andrea Pitzer.

What was known?

The Greeks later determined that the farthest places from the equator where the sun is directly overhead at some point during the year sit at predictable distances north and south of the equator. As a result, along with the equator circling the Earth, they had added one line above and one below, both parallel to it. The northernmost extreme of the sun’s travels was christened the Tropic of Cancer, and the southernmost band the Tropic of Capricorn. And the ancients realized that because of the changes in the sun’s position, there should be another line of latitude closer to each pole, beyond which it would be possible to see the sun at midnight during the summer, and for sunlight to vanish entirely during part of the winter. The Greeks named the Arctic Circle for the polar constellation that should always be visible inside it—Ursa Minor, or Little Bear. The “Arctic” in Arctic Circle comes from arktikos kyklos, or “circle of the bear”—not creatures on the ground but the stars in the sky.

What was conjectured? That there would be an open warm-ish sea once you pushed through the initial ring of icebergs. Thus, it made sense to consider going over the top of Russia to trade with China, the world’s manufacturing superpower in the 16th century.

It is unclear how this idea persisted given that this area was moderately active with humans during the summer months, mostly Russians and Sami people engaged in fishing. Kildin Island was a meeting point and trading post and roughly the limit of non-Russian knowledge.

Any time that it is warm enough for a human to be outside trying to do anything, the polar bears are in the region and hungry. One thing that the Dutch guys never do on any of the three expeditions is run out of ammo:

Slaughter emerged as the instinctive Dutch response to the Arctic landscape, a new theater that would see the same performance again and again with every European wave of arrivals. As historical archaeologist P. J. Capelotti observed about the killing of animals in the high Arctic that accompanied modern exploration, “It’s amazing there’s anything left alive.”

I wonder if polar bears have evolved during the intervening centuries to be wary of humans. Modern tourists on pre-coronapanic visits to the Arctic don’t have nearly the same number of interactions with bear. But perhaps it is just because the polar bear population has been so severely reduced. I couldn’t find any estimate for polar bear population in the 16th century. Even today, people are just guessing at what the numbers might be (unlike coronascientists, though, the wildlife biologists admit that they’re guessing!).

Fighting with the ice pack and the bears at the same time near Nova Zembla, which they’d hoped would be the gateway to the open route to China:

The animal rose up and came for them. They had to abandon the work of turning the ship in order to fight the bear. But before they could kill it, they had to chase it into the water and onto the ice then back onto land again to catch it. After dispatching it, they returned to saving the ship. Whenever things looked bad, there was always something worse waiting to happen.

That last sentence describes the attitude of most of my Facebook friends regarding COVID-19!

Popping vitamin pills in hopes of warding off coronaplague? Maybe think twice…

They hadn’t enjoyed eating the meat from the first bear they’d killed on the voyage, almost a year before. But dwindling rations and the passage of time combined to make them look more keenly at this bear and reconsider. After gutting the animal, they dressed and cooked its liver, which had a much better flavor than the meat they’d eaten before. They were pleased with their meal, but the bear had its revenge when the men started to feel ill. Everyone fell sick, and the cause was clear. Barents and his men had poisoned themselves. Polar bear liver contains enough vitamin A to be lethal to humans. Though the crew had no more idea of the effects of too much vitamin A than they did the lack of vitamin C that caused their scurvy, both wreaked havoc on the castaways’ bodies just the same. Symptoms include drowsiness, headaches, liver damage, altered consciousness, and vomiting. The next morning, van Heemskerck picked up the pot of liver still sitting on the fire and threw its contents out in the snow. Three men soon lay near death. … By June 4—four days after they’d eaten the polar bear liver—most of the crew had recovered, but the skin of the three men who had fallen most violently ill peeled off in layers from head to toe.

I don’t want to spoil the story. Suffice it to say that an unplanned overwintering in the high Arctic will test a group’s resourcefulness. Scurvy turned out to be an even worse enemy than the climate.

Should we hoist a Stroopwafel in Barents’s memory?

Even during his life, Barents had lived a larger life than most humans. He’d been the first to publish an atlas of the Mediterranean, a survivor of nearly ten months in some of the most extreme conditions on the planet, a three-time explorer into the unknown, mapping places no European—and in some cases, perhaps no human—had ever seen. In Barents’s day, the Russians called the sea between Scandinavia and Nova Zembla the sea of Murmans, referring to the Norwegians they encountered there. But in 1853, Barents’s name would come to replace the earlier one, and the waters he sailed three times on his way east would come to be known worldwide as the Barents Sea. Four hundred years later its treacherous conditions would lead some to call it the devil’s dance floor.1

Along with making Zembla legendary, Barents and his men would themselves become famous. By 1600, less than four years after their frozen Twelfth Night feast on Nova Zembla, William Shakespeare would write his own play about the same holiday. Twelfth Night likewise tells the story of a world turned upside down on this strangest of holidays, in which the high are brought low and everything spins topsy-turvy. A not-quite-dead dead twin, cross-dressing, and a plot nested around switched identities lead to a comedy of errors with its own holiday feast at the center—and a reference to Barents. When one character earns another’s disdain, he’s told, “[Y]ou are now sailed into the north of my lady’s opinion; where you will hang like an icicle on a Dutchman’s beard.” In the space of a handful of years, the tale of Dutchmen covered in ice at the northern edge of the world would cross borders to become an international cultural touchstone.

William Barents would become less and less real over time. The gaps left by his biography, and his death, create an emptiness that makes it possible to project or reflect whatever the viewer wants to see. Yet every famous Arctic explorer who endured horrifying ordeals, every adventurer to the North whose story became a bestselling book, every voyager vowing to fill in the map for national glory, every polar adventurer whose exploits were recorded with the newest technologies—from books to telegrams to photos to radio broadcasts to phones to satellite links—has walked in the path first blazed by William Barents. In later centuries, the failure to establish habitable colonies or make successful trade missions wouldn’t count against intrepid explorers. From a monetary perspective in Barents’s era, however, his final voyage was a disaster, so much so that when his wife applied for a widow’s pension from the council of Holland, asking for support for herself and the five children her husband had left behind, she was refused.

A less-known hero from the voyage is the captain, Jacob van Heemskerck (Barents was the navigator).

Van Heemskerck later sailed to [the East Indies] as commander of the fleet and helped shepherd the new Dutch nation as it supernovaed into a vast empire. In less than a century, the goods shipped by Dutch traders would eclipse the combined total of Spain, France, England, and Portugal, with several other European powers thrown in for good measure. Just as he’d outlasted his time in the Arctic, van Heemskerck would survive his southern voyages and return home to take part in the war against Spain that would continue, at greater or lesser intensity, for another four decades. As admiral, he’d lead the Dutch navies against the Spanish fleet near Gibraltar in 1607, dying in battle after losing a leg to a cannonball.

The author closes with a testable hypothesis:

Yet, strangely enough, he was perfectly correct in his assumption. The world to which he belonged set machinery in motion that can now be slowed but not reversed. With some consistency, snow and ice surveys project that by 2040—perhaps as early as 2030—there will be no ice left at the North Pole in summer. By August 2017, the planet had changed so much that a Russian gas tanker equipped for Arctic voyages could travel for the first time without an icebreaker escort, sailing a northern route from Norway to South Korea in two-thirds the time required for the traditional route through the Suez Canal. The open polar sea Barents had forecast will soon exist every year during the hottest months. And the planet will continue to warm. This stupendous change will be the end result of a process in which Barents and his Arctic expeditions were in some ways the opening salvo. Though they returned with a dramatic tale of uninhabited lands and scientific insights, their ships still rode the wave of a tide that would unleash destruction as powerful and enduring as any force in human history. The sea free of polar ice that the Greeks had deliberated over and Barents’s own mentor had insisted was real wasn’t just a figment of their imaginations. The open polar sea that Barents had imagined, the idea for which he’d risked everything, has finally come to pass. He just sailed four hundred years too soon.

Let’s see if the scientific consensus turns out to be correct! I hope that we haven’t all been killed by variant COVID-19 by 2040 and can see if the experts were right. If the CDC lifts its no-sail order, perhaps we can have a comfortable Royal Caribbean cruise from Miami to the North Pole and back by way of Halifax (so as to qualify as an international trip).

Meanwhile… I suggest reading Icebound: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World.

From my own trip to the Arctic, made more tolerable by the presence of a French chef…


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Fordlandia: interesting facts about Henry Ford

Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City, by Greg Grandin, has some interesting facts about Henry Ford that I want to jot down.

Ford was 50 years old when he put together the Model T with the assembly line and began his ascent into legend:

SUCCESS CAME LATE to Ford. Born on a Michigan farm in 1863, he was forty years old when he founded the Ford Motor Company in Detroit, forty-five when he introduced the Model T, and fifty when he put assembly line production into place and began to pay workers a wage high enough to let them buy the product they themselves made. So while he came of age during the early stages of the Industrial Revolution, the America he lived in for the first half of his life was still mostly rural, and the changes he helped set in motion came stunningly fast. Ford didn’t invent the assembly line. He claimed he got the idea of having workers remain at one location and perform a single task from the “disassembly lines” found in Chicago’s and Cincinnati’s slaughterhouses, where butchers hacked off parts as pig and cow carcasses passed in front of them on conveyor hooks. Nor did he conceive the other central idea of modern mass production, that is, making parts as identical as possible to one another so that they would be interchangeable. But Ford did fuse these two ideas together as never before, perfecting the idea of a factory as a complex system of ever more integrated subassembly processes. Most of this innovation took place in Ford’s new Highland Park plant, opened in 1910 and designed by the architect Albert Kahn, who prior to his work with Ford had been associated with the anti–mass production arts and crafts movement.

Ford gave a tremendous amount of work to Kahn, a member of the Jewish tribe that Ford would come to blame for many of the world’s problems. If he didn’t mind Jewish workers, he did object to unionized workers, referring to unions as “the worst thing that ever struck the earth.”

It is difficult to conceive of how much vertical integration Ford achieved in the 1920s:

Ford moved forward with the construction of a new factory complex, which he built along the Rouge River, in the county of Dearborn, near where he was born. When it was finished, the River Rouge would be the largest, most synchronized industrial plant in the world: sixteen million square feet of floor space, ninety-three buildings, close to a hundred thousand workers, a dredged deepwater port, and the world’s largest steel foundry. Ford barges, trucks, and freight trains brought silica and limestone, coal and iron ore, wood and coal, brass, bronze, copper, and aluminum from Ford forests and mines in Michigan, Kentucky, and West Virginia to the Rouge’s gates and piers, and everything was organized to achieve maximum efficiency in receiving the material and getting it to the complex’s power plants, blast ovens, furnaces, mills, rollers, forges, saws, and presses, to be transformed into electricity, steel, glass, cement, and lumber.

Is it an original idea that we Americans with our superior technology and ideas can improve countries south of the border so much that nobody will want to migrate up here and begin living in means-tested public housing, subscribing to Medicaid, and shopping for food via EBT?

It was technology, production, and commerce that made history, and it would be not gunboats or marines that would tame the world but his car. “In Mexico villages fight one another,” Ford said, but “if we could give every man in those villages an automobile, let him travel from his home town to the other town, and permit him to find out that his neighbors at heart were his friends, rather than his enemies, Mexico would be pacified for all time.”

Compare to “The imperative to address the root causes of migration from Central America” (Brookings, 2021), “VP Harris To Work With Central American Countries To Address Root Causes Of Migration” (NPR, 2021), and “How to address the causes of the migration crisis, according to experts” (Vox, 2019).

Ford had a grand idea for upgrading life in one of the most benighted parts of the U.S.:

… Ford made a bid to realize his industrial pastoralism on a large scale in a depressed river valley—not in the Amazon but in Muscle Shoals, along a stretch of the Tennessee River in northwestern Alabama.

He also said he planned to establish a seventy-five-mile-long city, as thin as Manhattan but five and a half times its length. Other chaotic, unplanned cities grew in sprawls, in a “great circle” that trapped residents, never giving them a chance to “get a smell of the country air or see a green leaf.” Those who lived in Ford’s river metropolis, in contrast, would never be more than a mile from rolling hills and farmlands.

Frank Lloyd Wright remarked that Ford’s valley city, imagined above in an illustration published in Scientific American in 1922, was “one of the best things” he had ever heard of. Ford was “going to split up the big factory,” Wright said. “He was going to give every man a few acres of ground for his own.”

(Instead, of course, the U.S. became more urbanized as the population grew from 106 million (1920) to 330 million (today) and a median-earning worker cannot afford an apartment, much less “a few acres of ground” anywhere near a job.).

Extreme climate events are new?

A week earlier [in 1928], he and Edsel had taken the Ormoc out on a trial run down the Rouge River into Lake Erie. But now, a heat wave had settled over lower Michigan, killing scores of people. Defying the Amazon’s dry season from a world away was one thing. Suffering Detroit’s humidity in the flesh was another, so Ford escaped the city by taking off on one of his road trips.

Ford was an early enthusiast for aviation, having first flown in 1927 (including some stick time), according to the author (the Henry Ford Museum page on aviation shows that he began working to build airplanes, however, in 1924 (giving up in 1933)).

Aviation pioneers failed to predict the military uses of aircraft:

The disappointment of Alberto Santos-Dumont’s life was not that he didn’t get credit for inventing flight, though he did resent that the Wright brothers won all the acclaim. His real heartbreak was that he lived long enough to see the machine he helped develop be used as an instrument of death. Santos-Dumont wasn’t an ideological pacifist like Henry Ford, but he did hope that airplanes would knit humanity closer together in a new peaceful community, just as Ford had believed that his car, along with other modern machinery, could bring about a warless world and a global “parliament of man.” Both were of course proven wrong by World War I, which broke the conceit of many like Ford and Santos-Dumont that technology alone would usher in a new, higher stage of civilization. “I use a knife to slice gruyere,” Santos-Dumont said when war broke out in Europe, “but it can also be used to stab someone. I was a fool to be thinking only of the cheese.”

Ford dealt erratically with the fact that, after all his high-handed opposition to World War I, he turned his factories over to war production. He continued to speak out provocatively against war, maintaining his position that soldiers were murderers and quoting Tennyson’s “Locksley Hall” to the end of his days. Yet Ford’s faith in America as a revitalizing force in the world led him to say that he would support another war to do away with militarism. “I want the United States to clean it all up,” he said. No wonder the Topeka Daily Capital said that Ford put the “fist in pacifist.”

Orville Wright, for his part, predicted after World War I that the airplane had made war so terrible that no country would start a future war. The author reminds us of the 1932 war between Bolivia and Paraguay over non-existent oil that killed nearly 200,000 people. Airplanes were used on both sides.

Even the smartest best-connected people failed to predict that the Great Depression would last far longer than any previous economic downturn.

Ford at first restrained himself from using the crash to scold Wall Street and lash out at the money interests. He instead responded in a way many deemed responsible, preaching his gospel of consumer spending as a way out of the downturn. To back it up, he pledged that not only would he continue production at the Rouge full bore but he would raise his daily minimum wage from $6 to $7 a day. Ford seemed well positioned to lead the recovery: he himself had little invested in stocks, so his personal fortune was untouched, and his company, unlike General Motors, whose share price plummeted, wasn’t publicly traded. Yet demand for the new Model A gradually slowed, and inventories backed up. Ford lowered its price, taking the difference out of dealers’ commissions. But by the end of 1930, there was no margin left for any more reductions. The company quietly began to cut production and to buy more and more parts from outside low-wage suppliers—thus beginning the erosion of the fearsome self-sufficiency of the Ford Motor Company. By early 1931, the company had slashed the number of weekly hours of most workers, rendering meaningless Ford’s vaunted Seven Dollar Day. Later that year, the company officially reduced that as well. And then in August the assembly line ground to a halt—Ford had more cars than customers to buy them. Just four years after its introduction in late 1927, the Model A, which Ford had hoped would have as long a run as the T, was history.

The author reminds us that the solution to any economic problem is bigger government!

Of course, his exhortations to self-reliance and patronage of village industries had as little chance of solving the problems revealed by the Great Depression as Fordlandia managers had of taming the Amazon. Yet Ford never relented in his condemnation of the New Deal’s solution to the crisis: the promotion of unionism, government regulation of industry, and establishment of federal relief. Specifically, Ford refused to warm to Roosevelt and his New Dealers.

(See The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression, by a WSJ reporter, for the opposite perspective! Amity Shlaes says that FDR and bigger government are precisely what dragged out the Great Depression until World War II.)

How new is the idea of using distilleries to make hand sanitizer and/or making fuel in a way that is carbon-neutral?

[in the 1930s] Ford lobbied for Prohibition, saying that Detroit’s distilleries could be converted to make biofuels.

How new is the inability of a typical American worker to afford the kind of housing that he/she/ze/they thinks he/she/ze/they is entitled to?

Then he turned to Fordlandia’s housing crisis. The plantation’s original plans from 1928 called for the building of four hundred two-room houses “per Ford Motor Co. drawings,” at a cost of $1,500 each—clearly insufficient for the thousands of workers and their families who had come to the settlement. In truth, this failure to address workers’ housing needs was not that different from what was happening in Michigan. Despite his famed paternalism and acquisition of towns like Pequaming, Ford, except for a small experimental community of 250 homes, largely tried to avoid providing houses for his Dearborn and Detroit workers, believing his high wages would be enough to create prosperous neighborhoods. He steadfastly ignored the city’s mounting housing problems, which had dogged the automobile industry since the beginning of its expansion. Workers lived in overcrowded slums, flophouses, and tenements, most without decent plumbing, electricity, or heat, with African Americans consigned to the worst of the lot.

With a touch more focus on those who identified as “women” or

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Book review: Fordlandia

Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City, by Greg Grandin, is on an always-timely subject: grand plans of rich scientists and technocrats encountering nature and human nature.

The subject of the book is Henry Ford’s attempt to bring the benefits of American management to rubber cultivation in the Brazilian Amazon. The resulting town, Fordlandia, still exists, possibly home to as many as 3,000 people. The endeavor was begun in 1928 based on a foundation of false premises, the worst of which was that rubber prices would rise dramatically. There was a lot of enthusiasm for the idea, though, even beyond Ford’s offices:

“If the machine, the tractor, can open a breach in the great green wall of the Amazon jungle, if Ford plants millions of rubber trees where there used to be nothing but jungle solitude,” wrote a German daily, “then the romantic history of rubber will have a new chapter. A new and titanic fight between nature and modern man is beginning.” One Brazilian writer predicted that Ford would finally fulfill the prophecy of Alexander von Humboldt, the Prussian naturalist who over a century earlier said that the Amazon was destined to become the “world’s granary.”

Time reported that Ford intended to increase its rubber planting every year “until the whole jungle is industrialized,” cheered on by the forest’s inhabitants: “soon boa constrictors will slip down into the jungle centers; monkeys will set up a great chattering. Black Indians armed with heavy blades will slash down their one-time haunts to make way for future windshield wipers, floor mats, balloon tires.” Ford was bringing “white man’s magic” to the wilderness, the Washington Post wrote, intending to cultivate not only “rubber but the rubber gatherers as well.”

(Humboldt was a genius, but we can’t win them all! See Humboldt Biography: Climate Change Alarmism Not New.)

The city that Ford built was 18 hours by boat, both then and now, from urban civilization.

Why cultivate rubber in the Amazon? The European colonial powers took the rubber tree seeds and set up plantations in Asia, far away from the pests that had evolved along with the trees in the Amazon. Africa was another possibility, in terms of climate, but Ford rejected this idea:

Latex, thought Liebold, the American-born son of German Lutheran parents, should be cultivated “where the people themselves have reached a higher state of civilization.” Ford’s secretary decided that this ruled out Liberia, a country “composed entirely of Negroes whose mentality and intellectual possibilities are quite low.” “Rubber should be grown where it originated,” Liebold concluded. And that meant the Amazon.

How was it done before in the Amazon?

Hevea brasiliensis can grow as high as a hundred feet, standing straight with an average girth, at breast height, of about one meter in diameter. It’s an old species, and during its millennia-long history there likewise evolved an army of insects and fungi that feed off its leaves, as well as mammals that eat its seeds. In its native habitats of Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador, it best grows wild, just a few trees per acre, far enough apart to keep bugs and blight at bay; would-be planters soon learned that the cultivation of large numbers of rubber trees in close proximity greatly increased the population of rubber’s predators. The extraction and processing of latex, therefore, was based not on developing large plantations or investing in infrastructure but rather on a cumbersome and often violent system of peonage, in which tappers were compelled to spread out through the jungle and collect sap.

Tappers, known as seringueiros, lived scattered along the river, sometimes with their families but often alone, with their huts located at the head of one or two looped rubber trails that ran a few miles, connecting between a hundred and two hundred trees. In the morning, starting before sunrise, when the latex flowed freest through the thin vessels that run up the tree’s bark, the tapper would make his first round, slashing each Hevea with diagonal cuts and then placing tin cans or cups to catch the falling sap. After lunch, and a nap to escape the worst of the heat, the seringueiro made a second round to collect the latex. Back at his hut, he smoked it on a spit over an earthenware oven fired by dampened palm nuts, which produced a toxic smoke that took its toll on tapper lungs, until it formed a black ball of rubber, weighing between seventy and ninety pounds. He then brought the ball to a trading post, handing it over to a merchant either as rent for the trails or to pay off goods purchased on credit.

Americans in the 1920s didn’t have access to as much #Science as we do so they failed to realize that being isolated in an apartment for a year or more is actually the best possible thing for a human …

The workers went months without seeing other human beings, [Carl D. LaRue, a botanist from U. Michigan] said. “The loneliness is appalling.”

Transitioning these lonely natives to the American system would turn them into good Americans:

With a surety of purpose and incuriosity about the world that seems all too familiar, Ford deliberately rejected expert advice and set out to turn the Amazon into the Midwest of his imagination. “What the people of the interior of Brazil need,” he declared at the outset of the project, “is to have their economic life stabilized by fair returns for their labor paid in cash and their mode of living brought up to modern standards in sanitation and in prevention and cure of disease.”

This was a twist on an idea dating back at least to 1850, when Matthew Fontaine Maury, one of the greatest American scientists of his day, proposed transporting the southern plantation economy to the Amazon:

The question Maury asked was whether the Amazon would “be peopled with an imbecile and an indolent people or by a go ahead race that has the energy and enterprise equal to subdue the forest and to develop and bring forth the vast resources that lie hidden there.”

As it turned out, even back in Michigan, Ford had to go to extraordinary lengths to control worker behavior:

But high wages alone were not enough to ensure either factory-floor efficiency or individual responsibility. A better salary could just lead to quicker dissipation through gambling, drinking, and whoring. There was no shortage of temptations in iniquitous Detroit. There were more brothels in the city than churches, and workers often lived crowded in fetid slums, in flophouses that fronted for gambling halls, bars, and opium dens. So Ford conditioned his Five Dollar Day plan with the obligation that workers live a wholesome life.

And to make sure they did, the carmaker dispatched inspectors from his Sociological Department to probe into the most intimate corners of Ford workers’ lives, including their sex lives. Denounced as a system of paternal surveillance as often as it was lauded as a program of civic reform, by 1919 the Sociological Department employed hundreds of agents who spread out over Dearborn and Detroit asking questions, taking notes, and writing up personnel reports. They wanted to know if workers had insurance and how they spent their money and free time. Did they have a bank account? How much debt did they carry? How many times were they married? Did they send money home to the old country? Sociological men came around not just once but two, three, or four times interviewing family members, friends, and landlords to make sure previous reports of probity were accurate. They of course discouraged drinking, smoking, and gambling and encouraged saving, clean living habits, keeping flies off food, maintaining an orderly house, backyard, and front porch, and sleeping in beds. They also frowned on the taking in of boarders since, “next to liquor, dissension in the home is due to people other than the family being there.”

(Henry Ford never imagined groups of unrelated roommates being locked into their apartments for a year or two by state governors!)

Immigrants received additional training:

And though ecumenical in his hiring practices, Ford still charged his Sociological Department with Americanizing immigrants, conditioning ongoing employment on their attending English and civic classes. These courses were intentionally mixed by race and country so as to “impress upon these men that they are, or should be, Americans, and that former racial, national, and linguistic differences are to be forgotten.” Commencement from the Ford school had the graduating workers, regaled in their native dress, singing their national songs and dancing their folk dances and climbing up a ladder to enter a large papier-mâché “melting pot.” On the stage’s backdrop was painted an immigrant steamship, and as Ford teachers stirred the pot with long ladles the new amalgamated Americans emerged in “derby hats, coats, pants, vests, stiff collars, polka-dot ties,” singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The Fordlandia project was predicated on a sweetheart import/export tax deal with the Brazilian government that was repudiated by later-elected politicians. Even if the core agricultural ideas had panned out, the world market for rubber and the tax environment in Brazil would likely have caused the project to fail. The local labor force also did not respond as Ford had hoped.

Rather than a midwestern city of virtue springing from the Amazon green, local merchants set up thatched bordellos, bars, and gambling houses, turning Fordlandia into a rain forest boomtown.

Similarly, when Oxholm did manage to shut down a few bordellos and bars, the proprietors simply set up shop on an island just off Fordlandia’s banks, building their brothels on stilts because the island was half wetlands and prone to floods. It was ironically dubbed the “Island of Innocence” since, as Eimar Franco put it, “no one on it was innocent.”

He also had to deal with the employees who had contracted venereal diseases, running at a rate of about nine a month, in the camp’s bordellos.

Once the workers got hold of cash wages, assuming that they didn’t spend it all in the bars and bordellos, they didn’t want to stay on the plantation after they’d earned enough to support themselves and/or their families for a year. The labor force ultimately riots and destroys most of the town, until eventually the Brazilian military shows up.

Why could drive folks in the verdant jungle to a mostly peaceful protest?

Metal roofs lined with asbestos, chosen by Ford engineers to repel the sun’s rays, in fact kept heat in. The “workers’ houses were hotter than the gates of hell,” recalled a priest who ministered in Fordlandia, “because some faraway engineer decided that a metal roof was better than something more traditional like thatch.” They were “galvanized iron bake ovens,” said Carl LaRue, commenting on Fordlandia’s foibles years later. “It is incredible that anyone should build a house like that in the tropics.”

As in the U.S. today, once babies showed up the parents looked for someone else to pay for their care:

Hundreds of babies were born each year in Fordlandia, creating a whole new set of problems for its managers. Amazon residents were used to giving birth at home under the care of a midwife. Ford doctors frowned on the practice, yet did not want to tie up hospital beds for obstetrics. So they didn’t push the issue until a woman died in childbirth in late 1931. From then on, medical and sanitation squads added a new responsibility to their ever growing list, as they checked women for pregnancy and made sure no illicit midwifery was taking place.

Once born, children needed care. Dr. McClure had hopes that Dearborn chemists would soon find a “satisfactory substitute for cow’s milk with soy bean milk” that could be used to feed infants and toddlers. But until then, Fordlandia’s hospital distributed Borden’s Klim, a powdered whole milk, to new mothers. The staff quickly learned that utensils had to be provided as

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Military aviation enthusiast book: Just Another Day in Vietnam

Just Another Day in Vietnam, by Keith Nightingale, a retired colonel who was there, is mostly about ground combat in the Vietnam War, 1967. However, I recommend it to anyone interested in aviation because the book explains the critical role played by the L-19 pilots, who would orbit for hours over a battlefield and were the only ones who could see enough to coordinate artillery and bombing runs that meant the difference between life and death. The book also will give you an appreciation for the importance of fighter-bombers and B-52s and a reminder that, without GPS, these machines all become useless in cloudy/foggy/rainy weather.

One thing that I got from the book was a vivid impression of the incredible physical discomfort of being a soldier in Vietnam. The heat, the humidity, the baking sun, and the bugs described will make you glad that you can sit in an air-conditioned apartment for a few years (depending on your governor’s orders/whim).

Separately, I think this is a great time to read about Vietnam. Before coronapanic, Americans were afraid to get into little piston-powered Cessnas and fly out to get a $300 hamburger, even if emergency landing fields and highways were available all along the route. Imagine the courage required to fly that unarmored mostly-unarmed (a few rockets and machine guns still qualify as “mostly peaceful” under current standards, right?) for hours over a jungle that offered no suitable cleared spaces in which to land and over a heavily armed enemy.

Also, as a Facebook hero previously noted

Of course, we can’t actually do this reassessment because doing so would admit that the last year was madness. The lockdowns are like Vietnam, the political and media establishment have so much invested in them, only a gradual drawdown will be permitted, regardless of the “science.”

(see Lockdown is our Vietnam War so it will end gradually?)

I think the Facebooker was on the right track. Let me repeat a comment that I made on We ran but could not hide: U.S. deaths in 2020 were 16 percent higher than in 2019, regarding how a majority of Americans could support lockdowns and masks despite the U.S. and other masked-and-shut nations having higher death rates than unmasked-and-open nations, e.g., Sweden.

I don’t think it is unprecedented. With a little perspective we can see that our war in Vietnam was a monumentally bad idea. Yet at the beginning of 1967 only 32 percent of Americans thought that we’d made a mistake by sending troops there. (the Gulf of Tonkin fraud perpetrated on the American people was in 1964 and we could say that the direct involvement of U.S. troops started then). By the fall of 1968, a majority of Americans thought our entry into the war was a mistake, but even at the bitter end 40 percent of Americans still thought it was a good idea!

“According to the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association, a total of 11,846 helicopters were shot down or crashed during the war, resulting in nearly 5,000 American pilots and crew killed.” (source) Imagine the collective madness of a nation that just kept buying jet-powered helicopters and sending them to the other side of the planet to be destroyed, along with young American lives (far more American life-years lost to the Vietnam War than coronaplague due to the young average age of the 50,000+ American soldiers who were killed). For comparison, the debacle that we know as the Iraq War consumed only about 124 helicopters.

(Not everyone American was swept up in this madness. See “‘I Ain’t Got No Quarrel With Them Vietcong’” (NYT, 2017) regarding Muhammad Ali, imprisoned for refusing to go.)

Just Another Day in Vietnam will remind you just how crazy ordinary people can get in the service of helping a comfortable politician achieve his/her/zir/their desired level of power. And there is a lot of good detail about aviation!

(Nit: the author sometimes seems to mix up the collective and the cyclic pitch controls on a helicopter. Collective controls climb/descent; cyclic controls pitch (airspeed) and bank. The throttle is in the pilot’s left hand on the collective (more of an on/off twist switch in a turbine helicopter). See the helicopter lecture (streaming free) from our MIT ground school for more.)


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Bitcoin has plenty of runway if we look back to the 1960s and 70s and the Great Society

When the U.S. was founded, minimum voting age was 21. A man might start work at age 13 or 14 and therefore a voter would be someone who’d worked for 8 years and who would experience higher taxes and a bigger government as a requirement to work longer hours. Since 1972, however, the 26th Amendment has ensured that 18-year-olds can vote and an 18-year-old may not begin working full time for 10 years (or ever, if he/she/ze/they has figured out that welfare yields a similar spending power). The majority of voters either work for the government or don’t work at all (too young, too old, in “means-tested” living (not “welfare” since it is only housing, health insurance, food, and smartphone that are received rather than cash), collecting alimony or child support from a defendant worker, married to a worker). So the big surprise is that this majority hasn’t voted itself a vastly larger government to be paid for by private sector suckers who will have to work longer hours.

(Imagine how different our government would be if, except for the disabled, 8 years of full-time work history was a requirement to vote!)

There have been three major episodes in U.S. history when the voters hungry for more government benefits prevailed over the beasts of burden (folks for whom the main consequence of bigger government will be longer hours). One was in 1930s (FDR and the New Deal). One was in the 1960s (Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, though arguably started by JFK). One was in November 2020. If we think that Episode 3 will be a lot like Episode 2, it is worth reading Great Society: A New History a 2019 book by Wall Street Journal reporter turned economic historian Amity Shlaes. I’m just digging into this, but the author seems to have anticipated our current situation (Episode 3). She looks at what happened to last the time that the U.S. decided to “go big” on addressing inequality. The economic and stock market stagnated while the dollar fell and gold surged. If Shlaes is right, every Federal spending initiative is great news for Bitcoin investors.

Some excerpts:

As Stalin was said to have joked, America was the only country in the world that could afford communism.

In a recent book the author had itemized the kinds of reform America needed. Laws that backed up organized labor so it might represent a greater portion of the American workforce, including black Americans or immigrants from Mexico. Higher minimum wages—the current levels were a cruel joke. Minimum wages that covered more workers, even those who did not work in an office or full-time. A dramatic change in the training of bigoted policemen in the big cities. A reinvigoration of the poor so that they became a force in political life. America was a country made of classes, the author thought; it just didn’t know it. The money was simply in the wrong hands. The writer wanted a tax system that captured the elusive wealth of the superrich. The moment had come to level incomes in a systematic fashion. Poverty was the obvious lunch theme. Just days before, the president had tapped the author’s host to lead a new campaign against poverty. In his State of the Union address, the president had told the country he wanted not only to alleviate suffering but to actually “cure poverty.” No American leader had ever taken on poverty in this way before.

The focus of the author’s book was the cycle of poverty in one region, Appalachia. The man had also seen poverty in the city where he grew up, St. Louis. In St. Louis the poverty was in part caused by government plans gone wrong, as in the case of the bulldozing of streets people loved in the name of moving them into public housing slums they didn’t love. America, the author thought, should invest billions to abolish poverty. It was incredible that America knew so much about poverty and had done so little. The state governments could not do this work. State governments were beholden to retrograde conservative legislatures. For systemic change, the author had come to believe, there was “no place to look except toward the federal government.”

Still, as he sat in the makeshift offices, the author kept returning to what he saw as the problem behind the problem, American capitalism. He and his friend took to concluding their memos with a half-serious line: “Of course, there is no real solution to the problem of poverty until we abolish the capitalist system.”3 At one point the author stopped censoring himself and wrote a few lines of what he actually felt: “that the abolition of poverty would require a basic change in how resources are allocated.” The boss actually took this bold call for redistribution to the president, who, the boss reported, proved remarkably friendly. The boss said that the president, a Roosevelt fan, told him that if serious economic redistribution was necessary to realize the long-delayed completion of the New Deal, then redistribution might be worth it.

The president being pitched on what today we might call transferism was Lyndon Johnson and the year was 1964. The author was Michael Harrington, whom Wikipedia describes as a “democratic socialist.”

The economic boom that had preceded JFK’s election gave Americans the confidence that anything was affordable. (I’ve seen this among quite a few folks in my parents’ social circle. Born in the 1930s, they don’t agree with Margaret Thatcher that it is possible to run out of other people’s money. They imagine the U.S. to be so wealthy that no spending proposal could ever exceed Americans’ ability to pay.)

Most Americans shared something else with Harrington: confidence. In the 1930s, the New Deal had failed to reduce unemployment. The prolonged periods of joblessness were what had made the Depression “Great.” But the memory of the New Deal failure had faded just enough that younger people liked the sound of the term. And memories of more recent success fueled Americans’ current ambition. Many men were veterans. They had been among the victorious forces that rolled across Europe and occupied Japan at the end of World War II. Compared with overcoming a Great Depression, or conquering Europe and Japan, eliminating poverty or racial discrimination had to be easy. American society was already so good. To take it to great would be a mere “mopping up action,” as Norman Podhoretz, who had served in Europe, would put it.

First came a campaign, led by President John F. Kennedy, to rehabilitate troubled youth. Soon after, President Johnson led the passage of series of federal civil rights laws. Around the same time came Johnson’s War on Poverty. Next were Johnson’s national housing drive and his health care drive. Richard Nixon followed up with a guaranteed-income campaign and an environmental drive.

When government accomplishes little, how do you persuade the public that enormous achievements are occurring?

Ambitious reforms needed time to succeed. It would be a shame if a project aborted because early results didn’t look good. So, for display purposes, presidents emphasized inputs, not outputs. Congress, too, as the Hoover Institution’s John Cogan has put it, “measured success by labels and dollars attached to legislation”—not by results. The political success of a project mattered more than empirical success. Occasionally, the effort got a new name. The “New Frontier” of Kennedy became Johnson’s “Great Society,” which became the “Great Nation,” and then the “Just and Abundant Society” of Richard Nixon.

We hear a lot about the various $2 trillion spending plans, but we never see a New York Times article on what Americans actually got from the preceding $2 trillion spending program. (exception?)

How did the dreams of the 1960s play out?

… by 1971, for the first time, federal spending on what we now call entitlements—benefits for the aged, the poor, and the unemployed, along with other social programs—outpaced spending on defense.

In 1966, the [Dow Jones Industrial Average] moved tantalizingly close to the 1,000 line, a landmark. Soon after, however, the index stalled, and stayed stuck below the 1,000 line, year in, year out. By the end of the decade, inflation, always present, was expanding to alarming levels. The same period brought another alarm, this time from abroad. Foreign governments started to turn more of their dollars in for gold from the United States’ coffers. The U.S. papers went into denial, quoting a Yale professor, Robert Triffin, who argued that the withdrawals were the result of crossed incentives in the international monetary arrangement, a technical, rectifiable flaw. What came to be known as the Triffin dilemma provided a convenient explanation for the mysterious outflows.

The 1971 run on American gold also, however, reflected foreigners’ insight. Outsiders knew a tipping point when they saw one. America had moved closer to Michael Harrington’s socialism than even Harrington understood. The United States had locked itself into social spending promises that might never be outgrown. Today, interest in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies serves as a measure of markets’ and individuals’ distrust of the U.S. dollar. In those days there was no Bitcoin, but gold played a similar role. The dollar was the common stock of America, and foreigners used gold to short it.

The disastrous performance of the U.S. economy in the following years proved the foreigners’ 1971 wager correct. To pay for its Great Society commitments, the U.S. government in the next decade found itself forced to set taxes so high that it further suppressed the commercialization of innovation.

Eventually the market bounces back, right?

The Dow flirted with the 1,000 level throughout the decade, but did not cross the line definitively until 1982, an astonishingly long period to stagnate, nearly a generation.

You just had to wait from 1966 to 1982 to sell a stock for more than you’d paid… in nominal dollars. Shlaes fails to point out that you’d need $3 in June 1982 to have the same spending power as $1 in 1966. On an inflation-adjusted basis (chart), the DJIA didn’t exceed its 1966 high until 1996, i.e., 30 years later.

What about all the great stuff that happened in the 1960s? Going to war in Vietnam was a terrible decision, of course, but continuing Eisenhower’s work in desegregation wasn’t, surely. The author says “Well…”:

The early civil rights laws, as important as they were, set a precedent for federal supremacy over states to an extent some of the Constitution’s authors would have likened to tyranny. The later civil rights laws, with their emphasis on group rights, pitted Americans against one another. Both Johnson and Nixon conducted domestic policy as if they were domestic commanders in chief.

Already I can see some stuff that seems wrong or at least not supported.

For today, the contest between capitalism and socialism is on again. Markets do promise strong growth; we do live in a creative society, the most creative in the world, creative enough to lift the nation to new heights. Yet new, progressive proposals bearing a strong resemblance to those of Michael Harrington’s and his peers’, from redistribution via taxation to student debt relief to a universal guaranteed income, are sought yet again. Once again, many Americans rate socialism as the generous philosophy. But the results of our socialism were not generous. May this book serve as a cautionary tale of lovable people who, despite themselves, hurt those they loved. Nothing is new. It is just forgotten.

How does the author know that the U.S. is “the most creative in the world”? Why isn’t it equally plausible that our wealth was built on stealing a huge chunk of land from the Native Americans rather than on some sort of unique creativity? If it was the land that made us comparatively rich, combined with the wars and Communism consuming our competitors in the 20th century, then we aren’t guaranteed to get richer going forward. Taking the long view, it is the Chinese and Europeans who have

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Will the Islamic world preserve our forbidden manuscripts?

I managed to find a copy of McElligot’s Pool, one of the not-banned Dr. Seuss works that the publisher has shredded and that is forbidden to sell on eBay:

Avert your eyes from the hateful language (“Eskimo”) and note from the stamp that this book was preserved in the library of the Cairo American College. Although PDFs are being preserved by the Russian-created Library Genesis, perhaps libraries in Islamic nations will be instrumental in preserving hardcopies. As noted in “Who preserved Greek literature?”, Islamic libraries were important for preserving some analogously specialized ancient texts:

  • The history of medicine and mathematics. For these areas, Syriac and Arabic versions can be very important. In some cases — though still a minority — they are the only surviving versions of ancient texts.
  • Some non-canonical Jewish and Christian writings. Many were written originally in Hebrew or Aramaic, but some like the Ladder of Jacob appear to have been written originally in Greek, and now survive only in translations into Slavonic, Coptic, Ethiopic, Armenian, or Georgian.
  • Some individual literary and historiographical texts…
  • Ancient scholarly commentaries on scientific works, and fragments of certain lost authors.

(The same article notes that the typical Greek text was preserved in Greek by monasteries in what we call the Byzantine Empire.)

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Book review: Ferry Pilot

FERRY PILOT: Nine Lives Over the North Atlantic, by Kerry McCauley, is about taking transoceanic trips in planes that were engineered for $50 hamburger missions (now $500 thanks to the inflation that the government tells us does not exist…). These planes might have only one piston engine, one alternator, one battery, one attitude indicator, etc. In other words, many single points of failure and each point reasonably likely to fail during a 10-hour leg.

The book opens by quoting Marco Polo: “An adventure is misery and discomfort, relived in the safety of reminiscence.”

Icing is a persistent enemy:

The turbulence started almost immediately. I tightened my seat belt and concentrated on the instruments in a futile attempt to keep the plane on its assigned heading and altitude. Shortly after entering the clouds, a frosty haze of ice started building up on the windshield. I looked out the side window and I saw that a layer of rime ice was building up on the leading edge of the wings and the landing gear. Picking up ice really got my attention because encountering icing conditions in a small plane like the Cessna 182 is considered an emergency situation because the anti-ice systems are almost nonexistent. They consisted of a heated pitot tube to keep the flight instruments functioning and a windshield defroster that will do next to nothing in heavy ice. I wondered if I could open the side window and scrape at it with my fingernails if the ice got too thick. As ice accumulates on the leading edge of the wings, the airflow gets disturbed, reducing their ability to produce lift. Add to that the increased weight of the ice itself accumulating on the exposed sections of the airframe and it doesn’t take long before the plane is going down, whether you like it or not. And if your windshield is still iced over when you break out of the clouds then you won’t be able to see anything as you try to pick out a place to crash. I don’t know, maybe it’s less scary that way. As I penetrated deeper into the clouds the layer of ice continued to build. Normally, the correct response to flying into icing conditions would be to immediately turn around. But I decided to keep going. I figured if the ice got too bad I could just descend to the warmer air over the Mediterranean where the ice would melt quickly. (Okay, “should” melt quickly.) It was a plan. Not a great plan, but a plan.

After being in icing conditions for fifteen or twenty minutes the wings had picked up about two inches of bumpy rime ice. The 182 had been slowed by twenty-five knots, but so far I was able to hold altitude. Suddenly, there was a sharp BANG from the front of the plane followed by intense vibration. … After landing I inspected the front of the aircraft and discovered the source of the vibration. The cone-shaped spinner attached to the propeller had a two-inch strip of metal missing around the edge of the propeller. The damage was probably caused by ice building up unevenly on the spinner, causing an imbalance. When it finally let go, it took some metal with it. I felt bad about the damage.

Flying over the maximum design weight is conventional.

At 25 percent over maximum gross weight, the heavy Cessna didn’t exactly leap into the muggy night air.

A night flight over the Sahara Desert doesn’t go as planned due to the failure of the single alternator:

I trimmed up the plane, engaged the autopilot, made a few navigation notes, then took out a Tom Clancy novel and tried to get comfortable. I was feeling fat, dumb and happy. A condition that lasted for about three hours. I was just starting to get into the groove of an all night flight when out of the corner of my eye I saw an ominous red light wink on. Curious, I leaned forward and read the words LOW VOLTAGE under the glaring red light burning on the instrument panel.

I pulled back on the yoke, climbing for a better look, and there laid out in front of me was what I’d been praying for all night, the city of Abidjan. I yelled out in joy at my luck. I’d flown 1800 miles over Africa, at night, with no electrical power and still managed to somehow find my way.

(Our hero author had been reduced to using dead reckoning, a compass heading, and a flashlight to see the attitude indicator (“artificial horizon”) for hour after hour.)

He ends up having to fly through a lot of thunderstorms, either because he’s already three-quarters across the Atlantic Ocean or because he’s over some African nations without good aviation infrastructures (GPS was new at the time that he was doing his flying and the Africans did not operate their VORs consistently).

“In reference to flying through thunderstorms; “A pilot may earn his full pay for that year in less than two minutes. At the time of incident he would gladly return the entire amount for the privilege of being elsewhere.” – Ernest K. Gann

My mood darkened as I stared out at the impressive light show laid out in front of me. I didn’t bother looking at the map for an escape path. I needed to go east and the storms were in my way. As I approached the storm wall I felt tiny and insignificant, like an ant at the base of a skyscraper. The boiling mass of dark gray towered above me, topping out at 40,000 … feet? … 50? … higher? The tops didn’t matter to me. I was heading for the middle. Tightening my seat belt I studied the flashing clouds, looking for a weakness. Not seeing any breaks in the wall I picked an area with the least amount of flashes, kicked off the autopilot and dove in. Strong turbulence slammed into the plane as soon as I penetrated the cloud wall, tossing me around like a rag doll. A strong downdraft made it feel like a trapdoor had opened beneath me. The little Cessna lost a thousand feet of altitude in just seconds. Loose items floated around the cockpit as I shoved the throttle to the stops and hauled back on the yoke trying to arrest the uncontrolled descent. In spite of my efforts I was still going down at fifteen hundred feet per minute. Then just as suddenly, an updraft grabbed the plane and pushed me down in the seat as the altimeter spun back the other way. This cycle repeated several times while lightning flashed around me like a crazy strobe light show. The sound in the cockpit was deafening as heavy rain pelted the windshield and airframe. I slowed my airspeed down as much as possible to prevent structural damage. (The words “in-flight breakup” echoed in my mind.) Holding a heading was impossible. Suddenly, I burst out of the clouds and found myself in clear air with massive thunderheads towered above me on all sides. The difference was incredible. One minute I was desperately fighting for control of the plane in severe turbulence, the next minute the air was smooth as glass.

Understanding systems is critical. When he can’t transfer fuel from the ferry tank that has replaced the back seats, he is able to figure out the problem and move 90 gallons of 100LL with lung power.

The owner was colorful:

On the leg from Bangor to Goose Bay, I heard two Canadian pilots from Quebec speaking French on the frequency Pete and I were using. The Canadian pilots were having a nice long conversation that was, I have to admit, kind of annoying. I knew if they were bugging me they had to be driving Pete crazy. One of the first things I learned about Pete was that there was a long list of things he hated: the FAA, customs officials, female pilots, stupid people, and, strangely enough for the owner of an international ferry company, foreigners, especially the French. … “Hey, why don’t you two learn to speak English?” Pete said over the radio. “FUCK YOU!” One of the French speaking pilots replied. Without missing a beat Pete replied, “Good! You’re learning!”

He describes the famous NDB approach to Narsarsuaq, Greenland:

The minimums:

Not for the faint of heart! (The GPS-based procedure is easier, but still gets one down only to 1700′ over the airport; a standard instrument approach at a flatland airport goes down to 200′ above the runway.)

Even though this was my tenth trip to Narsarsuaq, and Pete’s umpteenth, we were still slightly unsure if we’d picked the correct fjord until we saw the familiar sunken ship halfway in that marks the correct path.


After checking in to the Hotel Narsarsuaq, with its huge Polar Bear statue in the lobby, we headed to the Blue Ice Café for dinner. The food was fantastic and seeing that we were only flying about four hours to Iceland the next day, Pete and I decided to stick around and shoot a few games of pool. Meanwhile, the bar started filling up with local Inuit men and women. About ten o’clock the party started to get a little rowdy, and the Danish workers who were in the bar got up and left. The two airport employees we were talking to told us that they never stayed at the bar very late because the Eskimos who frequent the bar had a tendency to get roaring drunk, and fights broke out almost every night.

I can recommend FERRY PILOT: Nine Lives Over the North Atlantic to anyone who flies little planes (and the book is included for Kindle Unlimited subscribers). If you’re a Cirrus pilot you’ll gain a better appreciation for the redundancy that we do have: two alternators, two batteries, two or three attitude sources, a parachute.


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