Friday, February 24, 2017

I Quit Meetup

I sent this to CivicAction@Meetup.com and to the Austin #Resist when I received a Meetup request from them.  I also it to the organizers of the groups that I belonged to, most of them for computer users.

I am cutting my access to all of my Meetup groups and to Meetup.com as of February 28, 2017, in response to a corporate decision by Meetup to support the Resist political action collectives. 
We decided that we wanted to do more to support these efforts so we created a network of 1,000 #Resist Meetup groups with a few special characteristics.” --
https://www.meetup.com/help/article/2736376/
 While I am sympathetic to many of the social justice causes pursued by Resist, I must object to Meetup’s delivering a special value to them. My comrades on the right wing also have advanced the cause of freedom. Their methods and their successes do not grab headlines.  It is a matter of culture.
What are the politics of pasta?

As collectivists, my progressive comrades form strong groups, and groups are easy to see. They grab headlines when they grab other people’s property. But that property had to be created first. The exceptionally great wealth of America was the work of millions of individuals who mostly minded their own business, making their own lives as best they knew how by the standards they chose according to their personal values. That does not make the home pages of news media – unless it is to “doodle” in celebrating the historical birthday of a dead writer, musician, inventor, or scientist.

Meetup.com is a tool for those conservatives, libertarians, and Objectivists who advance the ethics and politics of individualism.  By creating new, no-cost platforms for one political group, Meetup.com of necessity excludes those of other political beliefs – and those groups with no political agenda. It is also a platform for millions of individuals who share personal – sometimes peculiar – interests of their own, far removed from politics. And that speaks to a fundamental problem with progressive causes.

It is critical that this be understood. Dr. Martin Luther King looked forward to a future in which each person is judged by the content of their character.  But character is an attribute of a person, not of a group. 
The Pursuit of Happiness is selfish.
Choosing not to do business with someone because they are not from your ethnic, social, gender, class, or religious group is irrational.  But freedom of association is a fundamental political right. While my collectivist comrades try to eliminate discrimination by engaging the power of the state, my friends on the right go to the root problem: lack of character.

If the owners of Meetup.com want to end social injustice, they should empower their customers who meet to build character. But that would mean creating a 1000 special groups for some religions or some philosophies in preference to others.  And there is no way to parse that, because, after all, even karate builds character.

Therefore, I will delete my Meetup account and switch to some other service or set of services, such as Google Groups, which, in fact, evolved from the age-old Usenet maillists.  Ultimately, no one needs Meetup.com. That is something to keep in mind.

Michael E. Marotta

Sunday, February 19, 2017

2017 Austin Energy Regional Science Fair

For the sixth consecutive year, I judged the middle school and high school exhibits in Behavioral Sciences in the Austin Energy Regional Science Festival. I also judged both sections of elementary school entries.  As always, it was challenging and fascinating. 
Before the show, I walked the event looking for
projects with military applications.
This year, none of the entries in Behavioral Science was advanced to the Best of Show competition. Unlike previous years, none had the best statistical summaries, and none got beyond the Internet for research citations. Nonetheless, many of the 50+ were outstanding. We judges argued over our two rounds of selections to find the best five, three of which were sent on the state level of the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.
Drones and robots are already
engaged in the the battle space.
Synesthesia, Attitudes of Foreigners Toward American Values, the emotional content of colors, how sales personnel influence buyer decisions, the difference in to-go versus in-store serving sizes, judgments of personality types based on eye color, the physiological stresses associated with lying, and gender differences in multitasking were some of the many entries.  Woody Allen famously said that 85% of success is showing up. These kids all acquired special learning and perhaps ineffable experience by carrying out their experiments, recording their results, and presenting their findings.
It gives a new meaning to "Mobile Infantry"
This was reinforced for me the day before the fair when my officemates were puzzled by an assignment to present a broad set of findings over the past year to a large floating assortment of public officials. "You need three-fold presentation boards," I said. "What are those?" they asked. After the science fair, when the tasking was discussed again, our supervisor (who was out of the office earlier) said that he bought them for his son's science fair project.

PREVIOUSLY ON NECESSARY FACTS
Where All the Children are Above Average
World Peace Through Massive Retaliation
2014 Austin Energy Science Festival
2016 Austin Energy Science Festival
Monsters of the Id
Teaching Science with Science Fiction

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

12 O'Clock High

One of my captains recommended this. “You ought to get a lot out it, even based on what you know now,” he said. I think that he meant the problem of identifying with the men you have to send into battle, their deaths taking a toll on you, your wanting to protect them from the mission even though the mission comes first. 

For me, the first thing that resonated was when the flight commander was told that the warning had just been issued and that new orders will be there soon.  WARNO… OPORD… FRAGO… is the battle rhythm, even for those of us who are not issued weapons because we provide community care.

A Fragment amends an Operations Order. Operations Orders have five sections. (When it is one page – at the insistence of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower – those are five paragraphs.) Situation; Mission; Execution; Sustainment; Command and Control. 

The consequential lesson here was the importance of discipline to morale. In the movie, BG Frank Savage (Gregory Peck) arrives at the 918th Bomb Group by busting a sergeant down to private for failing to challenge him at the gate and failing to salute. In real life, the most politically liberal staff officer in my group insisted that as a petty officer second class (E-5), when talking to a staff sergeant (E-6), I should be at parade rest. She said that she saw it stateside and she saw it in theater: you do not build morale by being lax; the tightest groups, the ones with the strongest esprit, were the ones with the best discipline.

After watching We Were Soldiers, I read the book by Hal Moore.  (Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore just passed on February 10.)  That book was different from that movie.  (See my review here.)  In this case, the authors of the novel, Bernie Lay, Jr., and Sy Bartlett, wrote the screenplay.  Unfortunately, the book is not available at my local university or city libraries.

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Monday, February 13, 2017

World War II Sweetheart Dinner and Dance (2017)

The Texas Military Forces Museum hosted a Valentine's Day party Saturday evening, February 11, 2017.  Period dress was encouraged, though not required. About a dozen men and a couple of women were in uniform.  About 15 or 20 women were in 1940s dresses and hair-dos. The evening was highlighted by a silent auction with an array of period artifacts and other interesting items. The 20-piece swing band was fronted by The Memphis Belles. It was an opportunity to relive a moment of the Greatest Generation. 

The Band

The Memphis Belles

Don't sit under the apple tree with anyone else but me ...

The Lieutenant and I were both 4th Army.
They were a training group at Fort Sam Houston.
My other sleeve was for
2nd Infantry Division ("Second to None")
which developed new techniques and tactics
at Fort Sam and Camp Bullis.
I bought my uniform at The Quonset Hut because the owner, Ed Hall, works closely with the Museum. Ed made me a deal, pointed out my uniform with oak leaves and other authentic brass, and gave me background on my units. The ribbons are my own:  Adjutant General's Individual Service Award, Humanitarian Service Award; Leadership (2), Physical Fitness, and Basic Training.

ALSO ON NECESSARY FACTS
Short Snorters  
A Successful Imitation of Alan Turing  
Peace is More Powerful  
The Fourth Star  

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Romantic Realism

Romantic Realism is a school of aesthetics that developed as a consequence of the works of Ayn Rand. Rand saw herself (paraphrasing) as "the last of the Romantics or the first of their return."  The label Romantic Realism appears nowhere in Ayn Rand's  The Romantic Manifesto (1969). However, many of the artists who create these modern expressions of heroic values found validation in Rand's works. Quent Cordair Fine Art Galleries of Napa, California, sells their sculptures and paintings. (One artist not in their sales group, but in that style, is Michael Newberry.) 

Bryan Larsen at Quent Cordair Galleries
Perhaps the best known realist painter was Norman Rockwell. The problem with his realism is that the themes are from the naturalist school: quaint, commonplace, everyday. Some of his works do step outside of the village life typified by Thornton Wilder's Our Town. Perhaps his best was "Freedom of Speech" one of the Four Freedoms series that he created as propaganda for America's efforts in World War II. But that was an exception.
Tamara BonĂȘt at Quent Cordair Fine Art
Aesthetic romanticism was launched by the French school of the 19th century: Gericault, Delacroix, and Rodin. It was expressed best by the Academic schools (France, America, Britain) of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. William-Adolphe Bouguereau's realistic myths typify that. But they were submerged by later critics and theorists who promoted Impressionism, Expressionism, Abstract Expressionism, Cubism, Dada, and stuff even worse. The reason (or excuse) that I learned in an art history class in college was that the invention of the photographic camera made realism unnecessary. So, artists sought new modes.
Quent Cordair at Quent Cordair Fine Art
Of course, it is impossible to get a snapshot of a successful Icarus descending. And even mundane images of shepherdesses or mourners would have to be staged, lit, shot, and developed, each step an artist's choice of values.
Karl Jensen at Quent Cordair Fine Art
That is the essence of aesthetics, according to Ayn Rand: "Art is a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist's metaphysical value-judgments."  And that is where Bouguereau failed: his people are often sad and wistful, the girls often vacuous. None of his figures are positively assertive. The best are enraptured with passion, but it is passive pleasure given by others in adoration.
Pursuit by Michael Newberry at
http://www.michaelnewberry.com/
Romantic Realism takes the style of  the Academic school and empowers it with the internal engine of motivation.
"Quent Cordair Fine Art was established by artist Quent Cordair in 1996. As a premier provider of contemporary Romantic Realism in painting, sculpture and drawing, QCFA has grown to serve an international clientele of private and corporate collectors.
"Romantic Realism, the movement which renews the high esthetic standards and techniques of pre-20th century ateliers, brings a rebirth of comprehensibility, beauty, romanticism and stylization to contemporary subject matter. The gallery's collection emphasizes themes which celebrate the moments of happiness, joy and success possible to Man on earth.
"Subject matter includes figurative, narrative, allegorical, still lifes, seascapes and landscapes. Award-winning painters and sculptors of international renown are represented, as well as emerging artists of unique vision and accomplishment. Commissions are available for portraiture, murals, garden and architectural projects.
"QCFA's extensive website serves as an invaluable resource for private collectors, interior designers and landscape designers. For additional information, please call (707) 255-2242." -- http://cordair.com/
ALSO ON NECESSARY FACTS
Art as Ordered Narrative  
The Art of Finance 
Art & Copy 
Money is Speech 

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Postmodernism

On The Federalist blog is a recent essay identifying Pres. Donald Trump as an anti-postmodernist. (“Donald Trump is the First President to Turn Postmodernism Against Itself” by David Ernst, January 23, 2017, here .)  As interesting as it was, I have a different understanding of the anti-hero.

(This is based on my post on this subject at Rebirth of Reason here. )

Earlier on RoR, I suggested that The Thomas Crowne Affair from 1968 portrayed an anti-hero. Played by Steve McQueen, Thomas Crowne lost interest in his orchestrated heist. I contrasted that with the 1999 remake where the screenplay gave Pierce Brosnan’s Thomas Crowne a heroic stance.  See RoR here.)  There, I also pointed to Confessions of Felix Krull Confidence Man by Thomas Mann (Bekenntnisse des Hochstaplers Felix Krull, which I read in a high school German class).  It is not that the anti-hero has bad values, but that he has none

Writing for The Federalist blog, David Ernst pointed to Tony Soprano as an example of the anti-hero.  (We tried the first episode of The Sopranos, and as much as I liked the ending, it was not compelling.) But I get the point from other stories in the genre such as Goodfellas and The Godfather. In the movie version of The Godfather, at Sonny's wedding, Michael's wife Kay Adams is taken aback by the gangsters around her.  "My father is just a powerful man, like a governor or a senator," Michael says.  "Governors and senators don't have people killed!" she protests.  "You're naive, Kay," he replies.  But if the dons did not care, if they put their men into losing battles just for the fun of it, if they walked away from a deal with all the money on the table because money means nothing, they would anti-heroes. In fact, Michael Corleone is a hero in the romantic sense. (As a side note, under Don Vito, the family never dealt in drugs. He found them immoral. Sonny took the family into drugs by disobeying his father; and his own lack of judgment, his lack of values, got him killed.)

Donald Trump does have values. He is not only not an Objectivist in any sense of the word, his values apparently are not even objective. (Your life is an absolute value. Your career is an objective value. You can choose from many, but to be good for you, your career must meet the absolute standard of promoting your life. In a discussion with her attorney, Henry Mark Holzer, on legal theory, Ayn Rand pointed out that Roman Law was objective. It was not primarily or even necessarily concerned with individual rights. But it was publicly posted for all to know, and it was uniformly enforced. For Rand, the evils in a dictatorship were reflected in arbitrary enforcement of secret laws.) 

The Federal article by David Ernst does make an interesting point, though. When Donald Trump gave money to Democrat Party candidates, no one complained.  My point here is that Donald Trump contributed to the party that buttered his bread. If he tossed contributions to any party, willy-nilly, that would have been anti-heroic.

On the matter of post-modernism, Objectivish writers have been cogent and incisive in pointing out that despite their protests of innocence, the postmodernists are not "value free." They are solidly ethno-centric. I refer to Explaining Postmodernism by Stephen Hicks reviewed on RoR . I did not read this book.  But I did have a graduate class in postmodernist theory; and later, here in Austin, at the local Ayn Rand Meet-Up, one of the others at our table, who did read it, spoke well to the truth.  

In my class (criminology theory), my classmates were going on and on about cultural relativism and all cultures being equal and all that.  So, I brought up the then-current investigation of insurance wholesalers by Eliot Spitzer, and the Bernie Madoff scandal.  "They just cheated other rich people. And it's the rules of their own game.  So why do you care? Don't they have a right to capitalist culture?"  Of course, no one had anything to say...

Postmodernists are not cultural relativists.  Postmodernism is an assault on reality, reason, and integrity in order to dominate anyone and everyone by the destruction of other people's values in order to impose their own rule.

De-construction (so-called) can be a valid intellectual tool -- if your goal is to understand how something is constructed. But "de-contruction" is an anti-concept. The concept is analysis.  Ayn Rand was excellent at "taking apart" the intellectual framework of modern politics, showing that collectivism rests on altruism which rests on mysticism. But her point was not to demonstrate that all ideas are meaningless mutterings taught by your local subjective culture. And it was not her goal to impose her own rule to fill the vacuum.

I have had a hard time getting people Galt's Gulch Online to understand why Ayn Rand valued the liberals of her time. She admired Adlai Stevenson, but disagreed completely with his politics. The liberals of that earlier time offered an intellectual approach to politics: they identified problems and offered solutions based on a theory of human action. She disagreed with all of the particulars.  But she also vehemently opposed the "me-too" traditional conservatives who had no ideas except to keep whatever it was we seem to have inherited from the past.  The liberals and progressives of the previous century were wrong in many particulars, but were right in their approach. When the conservatives of Europe wanted to ban comic books, Eleanor Roosevelt spoke up for freedom of the press.

That is a conflict of values, on both sides. The postmodernist anti-hero has no values because those who preach postmodernism want to impose their own rule for no other reason except to rule. Power is an end in itself. All of that was explained well in Ayn Rand's fiction and non-fiction. The most dramatic statement I know on that point is found in George Orwell’s 1984: “Imagine a boot stepping on a man’s face – forever.”  That is the goal of postmodernism.

PREVIOUSLY ON NECESSARY FACTS

Sunday, January 22, 2017

War is Good for Absolutely Nothin’

One person can make a difference. Whether that is for good or bad depends on much that is outside the control of that significant mover and shaker. In the cinema version of Charlie Wilson’s War, Gust Avrakotos tells the parable of the Zen master who at each turn of events deflects the popular wisdom with “We shall see.”  In other words, external events can bring unintended consequences to your choices. That is the truth brought forward by these two books. Charlie Wilson’s War is about Afghanistan, and Bright Shining Lie is about Vietnam. 
  • Book Review: Charlie Wilson’s War: the Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History by George Crile, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2003.
  • Book Review: Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam by Neil Sheehan, Vintage Books, 1988. (Material here is from a review first published as a class paper for HIST 586: The U.S. in World Politics, Dr. Kathleen Chamberlain, Eastern Michigan University, Fall 2009.) 

The foundation of each narrative is the nature of the complex person whose work was unperceived at the time. Not all of the damaged souls in our social world are capable of great feats. Not all of those who move the world or shake it wrestle with internal demons. Often they do. Perhaps that internal energy is the secret motor that powers achievement, certainly for them, forcing other people to give way or to follow, but always to succumb to the irresistible force of highly motivated charisma.

Charlie Wilson (1933-2010) was a Congressman from East Texas whose conservative and Baptist constituents repeatedly re-elected an alcoholic womanizing liberal. Fired up by a story about the mujahidin who fought against the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan, Wilson made their fight his crusade, turning a $5 million dollar stream of 100-year old rifles into a $500 billion Noahtic flood that included Stinger missiles, cryptologic radios, satellite reconnaissance, Tennessee mules, and the uniting of Israel and Saudi Arabia in a common cause under the control of Pakistan.

The phrase “bright shining lie” comes from Vann’s own description of the press conferences for which he coached Gen. Huynh Van Cao to give optimistic projections for victory. While working for the RAND Corporation, Vann’s close friend, Daniel Ellsberg, discovered that for the first fifteen years of the Cold War, the USSR lacked the hardware for significant intercontinental strikes, raising questions about the origins of the Cold War. Another lie was that Vann’s military career was thwarted by his outspoken advocacy of his own cogent analyses, when, in truth, it was blocked by a charge of statutory rape, the outcome of just one of many infidelities. Thus, John Paul Vann is a symbol for America, outwardly heroic, but factually corrupt, nicely navigating the gray shades of ethics to maintain a towering jackstraw jumble of lies. Vann’s eight years “in country” were so important to the effort in Vietnam that he eventually was given immense military latitude, technically a civilian but with the trappings of a major general, another living lie, reflective of America’s ambiguous status in the war.


Like America, John Paul Vann was self-made. Illegitimate and poor, the son of an alcoholic floozy, Vann took the family name of the man who was his actual father years ahead of the formal adoption.  

The author admits early on that Vann had a detachment of mind that let him criticize his own assumptions. This gave him an intellectual edge over men too easily convinced by their own wishes. However, later Sheehan shows Vann caught in his own web – calling for air strikes, propping up corrupt officials, excusing the very policies he earlier opposed – but Sheehan never shows the transition, if there was one.

In fact, Sheehan says very little about the direct work that Vann did which Vann himself considered fundamental to the war effort. We never see Vann meeting with villagers, meeting with frontline military. We do know of his arguments with the top brass, but we never see the dialectic within his own mind.  In Charlie Wilson’s War, we do. 

A producer for Sixty Minutes, Crile invested years of continuous effort, interviewing the people in the story, constructing a coherent narrative of external events and internal thoughts.  The author takes us with Wilson into the Pakistan-Afghanistan borderlands, first to see the problem, soon to donate his own blood to the medical efforts (several times), and eventually to travel into Afghanistan on horseback, dressed as a local, to receive the thanks and praise of the mujahidin. We also hear the private reflections of the Congressman, the CIA chiefs (and their “Indians”), the Congressional leaders, even the President of Pakistan and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, among very many others. 


As books go, I found Charlie Wilson’s War to be a pleasure to read. Whether Crile is a true master of good English or had good editors or both, I found none of the many little annoyances that plague modern literature. Better than the lack of negatives, Crile’s history is positively compelling, hard to set aside, always to be anticipated as a reward. I do have a quibble: he refers to the USSR and its soldiers as “the Soviets.” It is common and convenient, but wrong. I learned to avoid that mistake in 2008 from Dr. Pamela Graves (a good Marxist) when taking HIST 456: Modern Europe 1945-Present.

Ultimately, both Vann and Wilson failed. The government of South Vietnam was incapable of prosecuting the war because it was incapable of earning the trust of its populace.  Just as bad for us was the victory we brought to the mujahidin, and our consequential involvement there and in Iraq, and now in Syria.

Ayn Rand pointed out repeatedly that US foreign policy in opposition to the USSR was doomed to fail as long as our government failed (refused) to acknowledge that America’s moral superiority is built on reason, individualism, and capitalism. All through those decades, our government yielded the moral high ground to the USSR, which claimed scientific history, altruism, and collectivism, all of which our own government did not contradict, but in fact endorsed.  Therefore, we failed in Vietnam. And the successful defeat of the USSR in Afghanistan only brought us Abrahamic co-religionists who destroyed the World Trade Center – and who now carry out acts of horror in offices, shopping malls, and airports. 

In the 1960s and 70s, the USA and the USSR competed in Afghanistan by building roads, hospitals, and schools.  Modernism never was strong in Afghanistan. Its reformist monarch Amanullah Khan and the liberal nationalist intellectual Marmud Tarzi had their zenith in the 1920s.  Yet, whatever its many flaws, the one thing that Russian socialism had to offer was modernism founded on public education for everyone.  But the USSR abandoned that path in Afghanistan, resorting to brute force against an enemy that lived for it – and believed that brutality toward one’s Earthly enemy is the path to heaven.  That the USSR pushed an officially atheistic secular humanism only guaranteed an irreconcilable conflict. If the USA had kept to its earlier course in Afghanistan, investing in infrastructure and education, rather than arming the resistance, it is difficult to imagine an alternate history worse than the real one.

Previously on Necessary Facts