Saturday, June 17, 2017
The map is not the territory.
Electricity has become a luxury good in Germany.
All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.
Constitution of the United States. Article One, Section One
I don’t usually begin with these daybook entries with an obituary, but this one has me feeling my age.
David Fromkin, Professor and Author on Mideast, Dies at 84
David Fromkin, a nonacademic historian whose definitive book on the Middle East warned the West against nation-building by partitioning antagonistic religious groups behind arbitrary boundaries, died on Sunday in Manhattan. He was 84.
The cause was heart failure, his nephew Daniel Soyer said.
Professor Fromkin, a lawyer and investor, became a published author only in his 40s and a professor in his 60s.
His seminal book on the Middle East, “A Peace to End All Peace” (1989), traced the roots of conflict in the region to the creation of unsustainable nations there through artificial mapmaking by European diplomats in the early 1920s, after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I.
He concluded that those self-serving cartographers had grossly underestimated the indigenous population’s enduring faith in Islam as the foundation of everyday life, politics and government, and that they had failed to account for the Middle East’s lingering resentment of Western imperialism. [snip]
The rest of the well written Times obituary is well worth reading for those not familiar with Fromkin’s work. I had not seen the actual obituaries – Monday 12 June was my skin cancer operation and I saw little of last week, or of much else including sleep for that matter – so I was alerted to this depressing fact by a review in today’s Wall Street Journal.
The Great War’s Great Historian Appreciated the Good Life
David Fromkin’s ‘A Peace to End All Peace’ was a masterpiece. But I wish I’d eaten at his restaurant.
The historian David Fromkin died last Sunday, a couple of months shy of his 85th birthday. I first met him over lunch in 1986, when he was working on the book that would be his magnum opus, “A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East.” That book, about how France and Britain endeavored to impose a new political dispensation on the Middle East in the aftermath of World War I, was published in 1989, to near universal commendation.
All of Fromkin’s signature virtues were on display in “A Peace to End All Peace.” It was the product of prodigious but lightly worn research. It was politically canny about the realities of power (Fromkin had been a student of Hans Morgenthau at the University of Chicago). And it was beautifully written. It is worth stressing this last point. He commanded a light, allegro prose, spare but deeply evocative, clear as an Alpine spring.
“A Peace to End All Peace” was also shot through with a recurring leitmotif typical of Fromkin, at once nostalgic and admonitory. The nostalgia focused on the lost sense of innocence and amplitude that marked the decade before the outbreak of war in the summer of 1914— “Europe’s Last Summer,” as he put it in the title of his 2004 book about who started the Great War. (Spoiler: there were really two wars. One was started by the Hapsburg Empire when it attacked Serbia, the other by the Germans.)
The innocence had to do with the political easiness of the time. The opening decade of the 20th century was a time of apogees and consummations. There was a shared sense, Fromkin wrote in his book “The Independence of Nations” (1981), that Europe, finally, at last, had become civilized. Sweetness and light reigned, and would reign, forever. He quotes the historian A.J.P. Taylor: “Until August 1914, a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state.. . . He could live where he liked and as he liked. He had no official number or identity card.” For the most part, there were no passports. One didn’t even need a business card when traveling. A personal card would do. This was an age before the income tax, before exchange controls and customs barriers. In many ways, Fromkin notes, there was more globalization than there is now.
Edward Gibbon, FRS, rejoiced in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776) that European Civilization had finally prevailed over the barbarians to the East and South. The Turks had been repulsed in 1529 in a very near thing, again in a closely fought naval engagement in 1571, and once and for all in 1683 in a battle that wasn’t even close. Frederick the Great had said that “the peasants in the field and the burghers in the towns should neither know nor care when the Prussian state was at war”, and this was a sort of ideal for all civilized monarchs and leaders; and since military technology had made it certain that only the West could destroy the West — England would lose America, but to Europeans, not Native Americans – Western Civilization was safe after millennia of barbarians and centuries of Moslems.
The 18th Century would see destruction that rivaled the Thirty Years War, but that evidence was ignored: until the Great War, The War to End All War, put paid to that notion. Fromkin’s Peace to End All Peace warned against the arrogance of the West.
I met David Fromkin only once. I am not even sure where it was. It was a small semi-formal meeting to discuss foreign policy. Fromkin and I were adherents of Hans Morgenthau’s realism school. I am sure nothing ever came of that meeting, and I doubt I thought of Fromkin until many years later when George H. W. Bush involved the United States in Military operations in the Near East. I was not surprised to discover that Fromkin, like me, was opposed to sending in our army.
Gibbon was clearly mistaken. Western Civilization is not safe from barbarians and Muslims. We really never were.
Wealthy republics historically have had short lives. Venice, until Napoleon, and the United States are exceptions. Wealthy republics have wealth, and appear to be weak and indecisive; The temptation is always great.
It is always a temptation to an armed and agile nation
To call upon a neighbour and to say: –
“We invaded you last night–we are quite prepared to fight,
Unless you pay us cash to go away.”
And that is called asking for Dane-geld,
And the people who ask it explain
That you’ve only to pay ‘em the Dane-geld
And then you’ll get rid of the Dane!
It is always a temptation for a rich and lazy nation,
To puff and look important and to say: –
“Though we know we should defeat you, we have not the time to meet you.
We will therefore pay you cash to go away.”
And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
But we’ve proved it again and again,
That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
You never get rid of the Dane.
It is wrong to put temptation in the path of any nation,
For fear they should succumb and go astray;
So when you are requested to pay up or be molested,
You will find it better policy to say: –
“We never pay any-one Dane-geld,
No matter how trifling the cost;
For the end of that game is oppression and shame,
And the nation that pays it is lost!”
We used to say that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. That is true, but it is only a necessary, not a sufficient, condition. Some form of internal unity—enough citizens devoted to preservation of the Republic—must also exist. In view of the latest news, it is depressing to contemplate this.
Fromkin was a Scoop Jackson Democrat. We were on opposite sides on domestic politics, but united in preserving the United States against Soviet Communism. We were the same age –he was one year older than me. I didn’t know him, but I respected and admired him; in our only meeting he was polite, and devoted to rational discussion. There are few like him remaining.
Amazon has bought Whole Foods, surprising everyone. Jeff Bezos now owns the Washington Post, a successful space ship development, and an upper middle class food store chain. I used to say Whole Foods is a way of life, and I was only half fooling.
Holman Jenkins has an analysis in today’s Wall Street Journal that makes as much sense as anything else I have seen:
Amazon Will Free You From the Minivan
With his Whole Foods purchase, Jeff Bezos takes aim at groceries—and car ownership.
Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.
Amazon’s announcement on Friday that it is purchasing the Whole Foods grocery chain was puzzling to analysts; to the grocery industry it was unalloyed lousy news. Share prices of food retailers from Kroger and Costco to Wal-Mart dropped sharply in the moments after the news broke.
But maybe it’s the car industry and its frenemy Uber that should really be worried. Some see the deal as evidence of Amazon’s craving for a brick-and-mortar presence, but the fattest bogey out there is getting grocery customers out of their cars and in front of their laptops.
The average American makes 1.5 trips to the grocery store a week, spending an average 53 hours a year roaming the aisles. A British survey that studied in detail the reasons for car ownership—and second- and third-car ownership—found high on the list was the need to haul otherwise unmanageable grocery loads from store to home. Some 65% said grocery shopping would be “quite” or “very” difficult without a car.
In the U.S., an even more suburban and exurban society, the same is undoubtedly true. Trips to the grocery store are second only to physically transporting oneself to school or work as a reason for car ownership, and not as easily replaced. Traveling to school or work, after all, usually doesn’t involve dragging along 70 pounds of irregular small items in awkward bundles. [snip]
I have never lived in Manhattan, where no one seems to have a car, but I have often wondered about this. I guess the answer is that childless families eat out a lot – keeping a car is expensive, you can eat out a lot on what that would cost. The suburbs are another matter. One car, even two, become a necessity. But I have noticed that while I have two cars – I should give one away – neither of us drives. We still use them, but a son or a friend drives us in one. I can drive, but I prefer not to; I have read too many accounts of octogenarians losing control and causing mischief or even fatal accidents. And even with the house full of people I find that it’s a lot simpler to order from Amazon. With a Prime account it generally costs no more, although it does encourage thinking a couple of days ahead.
And once you’re in the habit of ordering from Amazon, you order more and more.
[snip] Not that Mr. Bezos’s ambition is to substitute home delivery for outside shopping. His ambition is oriented toward accelerating consumer gratification however possible. If that means delivering an item to you wherever you might be by drone, he’s game. If it means setting up kiosks and lockers so you can grab in an hour what otherwise Amazon would have to ship you overnight, fine.
So what if some of this is uneconomic and effectively a loss leader? So what if free shipping encourages people to order inefficiently small numbers of items at a time? So what if lowering barriers to gratification engenders a higher-than-average incidence of buyer’s remorse and elevated product returns?
As every Amazon Prime subscriber discovers, even with these higher costs, the great genius of Amazon’s business model is to encourage us to buy more stuff and, gradually, relinquish the habit of using the web as a tool of remorseless price equalization.
Mr. Bezos figured out early that the great untapped gold mine of Amazon’s business model, “price discrimination,” would have to remain untapped. Price discrimination means using various methods to coax out of each customer the highest price he or she would be willing to pay for a given item. It’s a common and even efficient practice defended by economists elsewhere in the economy, but Amazon customers have made it clear their trust would dissolve if Amazon used its copious personal information to turn its logic on them.
In every other way, however, the Amazon promise to shareholders is founded on softening customer resistance to buying stuff without carefully comparing prices. Don’t kid yourself about this. You’re ordering sparkplugs? What a pain to get up and walk five feet to see if the cat food is running out. Just order more. Is the price on Amazon.com really a bargain even with free shipping? I guess I could Google for a comparison but why bother? [snip]
Whole Foods has always been a way of life. Whole Foods with Amazon may become so for a lot more people. Jay Leno will continue to collect cars, but combine Amazon/Whole Foods for groceries with Uber for medical and social calls, and the effect on – I was going to say Detroit, which shows my age – the auto industry may be as profound as the effect on supermarkets.
From today’s Wall Street Journal editorial:
That didn’t take long. Barely a week after James Comey admitted leaking a memo to tee up a special counsel against Donald Trump, multiple news reports based on leaks confirm that special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating the President for obstruction of justice. You don’t have to be a Trump partisan to have concerns about where all of this headed. [Snip]
[snip] There are nonetheless good reasons to raise questions about Mr. Mueller’s investigation, and those concerns are growing as we learn more about his close ties to Mr. Comey, some of his previous behavior, and the people he has hired for his special counsel staff. The country needs a fair investigation of the facts, not a vendetta to take down Mr. Trump or vindicate the tribe of career prosecutors and FBI agents to which Messrs. Mueller and Comey belong.
Start with the fact that Mr. Comey told the Senate last week that he asked a buddy to leak his memo about Mr. Trump specifically “because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel.” Did Mr. Comey then suggest Mr. Mueller’s name to Mr. Rosenstein? He certainly praised Mr. Mueller to the skies at his Senate hearing.
The two former FBI directors are long-time friends who share a similar personal righteousness. Mr. Mueller, then running the FBI, joined Mr. Comey, then Deputy Attorney General, in threatening to resign in 2004 over George W. Bush’s antiterror wiretaps.
Less well known is how Mr. Mueller resisted direction from the White House in 2006 after he sent agents with a warrant to search then Democratic Rep. William Jefferson’s congressional office on a Saturday night without seeking legislative-branch permission. The unprecedented raid failed to distinguish between documents relevant to corruption and those that were part of legislative deliberation. GOP Speaker Dennis Hastert rightly objected to this as an executive violation of the separation of powers and took his concerns to Mr. Bush.
The President asked his chief of staff, Joshua Bolten, to ask Mr. Mueller to return the Jefferson documents that he could seek again through regular channels, but the FBI chief refused. [snip]
[snip] We relate all this because it shows how Mr. Mueller let his prosecutorial willfulness interfere with proper constitutional and executive-branch procedure. This showed bad judgment. He shares this habit with Mr. Comey. [snip]
Witch hunters generally find witches.
The CRISPR technique is certainly a breakthrough, possibly equal to the transistor in importance. As you point out, there are significant regulatory hurdles to overcome, at least in Western nations.
Ten or so years ago, several researchers that were active in looking for treatments for muscular dystrophy wrote an article for Scientific American on treatments for MD that used viruses to alter the genes in muscles. It was a very hit-or-miss method as it was hard to get a virus that would only target the cells you wanted to alter without bad side effects. They did make a bold prediction that stuck with me. They said that given the state of the art at that time, the 2008 Olympics would be the last one where we could be sure that none of the athletes had been genetically altered.
I can think of at least one major nation with a bad record on human rights that would proceed quickly to human experiments if they believed that it would be in their national interest. Winning Olympic medals was of such national importance to East Germany that they did life-shortening and life-threatening drug treatments to their athletes. Can the anti-doping agencies keep up with technology? Can our ethics?
I’ve told my daughter, now pursuing a biochemistry degree, that the 20th century was the Physics century. Using the tools developed in the 20th, the 21st century will be the Biology century.
I would assume North Korea is already developing this technology. And I would assume Edgewood Arsenal is investigating as well. Be afraid.
Besides Beyond This Horizon, I think this would open the door to the Sauron Supermen that somebody or other wrote about 🙂
Be Well ( and please finish Mamelukes soon as I’m getting to the age where I have to worry about me dying before I can read it! )
Let us remake man in our own image.
It’s an ancient desire, reflected in your comments on 6/16/2017 about the developing science of gene splicing and its possible role in remaking ourselves according to a new image.
The eugenics movement in the early 20th century had the same goal, scientifically based on Darwinian speculations about the “perfectibility” of man. Tens of thousands were forcibly sterilized in the U. S. In the more highly educated nation of Germany, with its emphasis on social engineering, millions were killed as part of the remaking of man in a more perfect image.
A few questions jumped immediately into my mind:
Who will choose the image in which we are to be remade?
Who will define perfection?
Who will choose the image makers?
Whose ends will be served in our remaking?
To whom will the image remakers be responsible?
I’m sure I’ve read lots of science fiction over the past 3/4 of a century that deal with these questions, as well as an increasing amount of moral philosophy.
Initially I’m reminded of C. S. Lewis writing in “The Abolition of Man”:
“Man’s conquest of Nature turns out, in the moment of its consummation, to be Nature’s conquest of Man.”
It’s a short book, just 42 pages in the PDF format I downloaded from
but somehow stretched to 121 pages in the paperback edition I bought in 1962.
Of course, for just $8 you can by it new in paper from Amazon.
Perhaps a few more quotes will motivate your readers who don’t know the book to take a look at it.
“Man’s conquest of Nature, if the dreams of some scientific planners are realized, means the rule of a few hundreds of men over billions upon billions of men. There neither is nor can be any simple increase of power on Man’s side. Each new power won by man is a power over man as well.”
“For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means, as we have seen, the power of some men to make other men what they please.”
“But the man-moulders of the new age will be armed with the powers of an omnicompetent state and an irresistible scientific technique: we shall get at last a race of conditioners who really can cut out all posterity in what shape they please.”
Lewis explores these issues in relation to education as implemented by the men who will condition us to their desires in the absence of any transcendent or shared value system to which we all might be subject.
Perhaps you’ll explore these issues in your blog. It would be a pleasant distraction from America’s burgeoning shooting war. It is well occasionally to take our minds off those in The Resistance who, like James Hodgkinson and James Devine, are now hunting Republicans.
Indeed. I welcome discussion.
For the record, Galton’s (Sir Francis Galton, FRS was an English Victorian statistician, progressive, polymath, sociologist, psychologist, anthropologist, eugenicist, tropical explorer, …) Eugenics consisted of encouraging bright students to marry earlier, thus increasing the number of bright people. It was obvious that the less than bright were outbreeding the intellectual, who could not afford to marry while at University. It remains a matter of concern.
I used The Abolition of Man as required reading for several of my classes in Technology and Civilization back when I was in the professor business; Marvin Minsky and Dick Feynman tried to get me a faculty position at Cal Tech to give a Technology and Civilization senior seminar, but nothing came of it. But that’s another story. I certainly recommend Lewis to anyone contemplating this question.
Our experience has been that if something can be done, someone will attempt it. Genesis 11 shows this is not a recent notion.
This Altercation in Texas Exposes the Heart of Fake News
Merrie Spaeth / June 09, 2017 /
“Fake news” has become a widespread accusation, but what does it actually mean?
Is it something that’s been invented out of whole cloth, like H.G. Wells’ planetary invaders?
Different definitions abound, but I submit that fake news, at its core, is reporting in which the journalist selectively chooses and ignores facts, and interprets or paraphrases those facts to reach an unwarranted conclusion that conveniently validates his own views.
It goes to the heart of how many reporters see their job these days. [snip]
She gives an excellent example: what was reported and what really happened as migrants invaded the floor of the Texas legislature.
This didn’t seem to get any national airplay.
Subj: Fort Collins man suspected in Munich police shooting, German authorities say – The Denver Post
First I heard.
further thoughts on loyalty
Dear Mr. Pournelle,
An example comes to mind. You remember 60’s Chicago, and the Democratic machine. I learned then about the corruptions of power. Consider a proposal that the Chief of Police *ought to be* personally loyal to Mayor Daley, and *ought to* be ready to suppress any investigation into possible misconduct by City Hall. I just don’t think any executive should be given that kind of free pass. While I agree that law enforcement cannot itself be above the law, I also think we need police and prosecutors who are prepared to go after *any* official. Their primary loyalty must be, not to an executive, but to their oath of office.
Allan E. Johnson
Officers must be loyal to their superiors, but neither the junior lieutenant nor his captain imagines that he will obediently obey any order; surely you can understand that? Do you really imagine that Mr. Trump does not? But to continue to hold a post of power and responsibility while planning to drag your feet and do everything legal you can do to hinder the application of a superior’s policies is not loyalty and pretending that it is is a despicable action.
Jerry, this showed up in my Facebook feed. I thought you might like to see it.
Best wishes for you and the Mrs. both,
Old-School Technical College Physics Curmudgeon
Actually, it was 1958 or 1959, before Apollo, and there were others involved. I wasn’t the team leader. We were working on air-launched cruise missile weapons systems and I speculated on using orbital systems – say an 18 foot pole of tungsten steel. Cob Beum and Robert Zieke were also involved in the study. Of course I used the Thor concept in many stories after I got out of the.aerospace industry.
C. Northcote Parkinson available from archive.org
FYI, C. Northcote Parkinson’s _Evolution of Political Thought_ is available on archive.org at https://archive.org/details/evolutionofpolit00park . I’ve attached a copy of the .pdf file; also available in kindle, epub, text formats.
As an aside, archive.org is a wonderful source for these sorts of classic texts. Between it and Gutenberg.org, we all have a free library that would be the envy of most 19th-20th century scholars.
Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.