Monday, January 28, 2019

The Wise Men

Averell Harriman, Dean Acheson, and George Kennan were names that I grew up with, reading daily newspapers and weekly news magazines from the late 1950s through the late 1960s. I learned of the other three men—Robert Lovett, John McCloy, and Chip Bohlen—from this careful and objective though laudatory history. Isaacson and Thomas had established impressive bibliographies of their own before this collaboration. I found it engaging and informative.

William Averell Harriman and Robert Abercrombie Lovett grew up together because Lovett’s father, Robert Scott Lovett, was the chief counsel for railroad magnate E. A. Harriman. John Jay McCloy, Jr. and George Frost Kennan grew up poor. Their hard work took them to the Ivy Leagues and thence to the halls of power. Dean Gooderham Acheson met Averell Harriman at Yale. Charles Eustis “Chip” Bohlen inherited the fine social graces of his almost wealthy family and those skills took him to the Foreign Service where he met George Kennan. It is easy to perceive the six as symbolic of, if not identical with the Establishment (page 26). The popular catch-phrase “The Establishment” was coined by John Kenneth Galbraith speaking to a convention of the Americans for Democratic Action in 1966. But the privileged collective had long before enjoyed opposition from both the left and the right, liberals and conservatives, going back to Jonathan Edwards and Andrew Jackson and forward to Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan (page 29). 
The Wise Men: Six Friends
and the World They Made 

by Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas.
Touchstone/Simon and Schuster, 1986
We may try to make the best of our opportunities. That is a two-part engagement. Many were born to inherit great  opportunities. Not many made the most of them. Starting as children and continuing through their teenage years, Harriman and Lovett accompanied their fathers on inspection tours of the railroad. (When he reached the Pacific coast E. A Harriman saw no reason to stop, and took his family to Siberia. That fact would be a trump card played more than once when Averell Harriman was the U. S. Ambassador to the USSR.) The son of an Episcopalian bishop, Dean Acheson took it upon himself in 1911 to join a Grand Truck Pacific Railway work crew in northern Canada. Before the United States entered World War I, Acheson volunteered as a Navy ensign. Meanwhile, Bob Lovett was only in his freshman year at Yale in 1914 when he enlisted. He was graduated in absentia while serving in the Army Flying Squadron. (Thirty years later, he served as a War Department expert on air forces.) After his senior year at Yale, Chip Bohlen signed on a US Steel cargo ship as crewman. Later head of the World Bank, John McCloy first met the upper classes when he worked as a chore boy at resorts. Even the four who were born to wealth knew from personal experience the relationship between money and work. 

Each had their own political preferences. Most were Republicans by birth, but adapted themselves to serve the government through the long decades of Democratic Party ascendance from 1932 to 1980. They were internationalists who saw no profit in war and only losses in surrender. They were among the first to push US foreign policy out of isolation and into alliance with the United Kingdom and France. It is no surprise that Ivy Leaguers are Anglophiles, but, in addition Chip Bohlen’s mother was from Louisiana and he visited France as a child. (On the other side of the ledger, his father’s in-laws included the Krupps of Germany.) Individually and in concert, they were early to warn the world of Stalin and the USSR, even as their Yale and Harvard classmates were still enthralled with the “ten days that shook the world.” 

But it would be just as wrong to characterize them has “hardliners” as to brand them as “appeasers” which the radical right did, from the McCarthy era through the years of the John Birch Society, the Nixon presidency, and the Reagan Revolution. As bankers and lawyers—only Bohlen and Kennan were professional diplomats--they knew how to evaluate facts, measure risks, create and analyze logical arguments. They were willing to admit their mistakes, to cut their losses, to change course to avoid a collision. They knew that the world is not run by gentlemen, and “certainly the Kremlin was not.” (Page 327.) 

On February 22, 1946, while chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Kennan sent the 8000-word “Long Telegram” to Secretary of State George Marshall. It explained fully and succinctly the nature of the USSR and its relationship with the Western democracies.  Though it is discussed at some length (pages 352-356), it is never presented in full. You can find it online:
  • The Truman Library (here) where it is an image of a typewritten transcription
  • A modern typeface transcription at the Wilson Center (here)
  • A text-accessible PDF (here) from Nevada Technical Associates among other famous speeches.

“Marxist dogma, rendered even more truculent and intolerant by Lenin’s interpretation, became a perfect vehicle for sense of insecurity with which Bolsheviks, even more than previous Russian rulers, were afflicted. In this dogma, with its basic altruism of purpose, they found justification for their instinctive fear of outside world, for the dictatorship without which they did not know how to rule, for cruelties they did not dare not to inflict, for sacrifices they felt bound to demand. In the name of Marxism they sacrificed every single ethical value in their methods and tactics. Today they cannot dispense with it. It is fig leaf of their moral and intellectual respectability. Without it they would stand before history, at best, as only the last of that long succession of cruel and wasteful Russian rulers who have relentlessly forced country on to ever new heights of military power in order to guarantee external security of their internally weak regimes.” – The Long Telegram by George Kennan.

Successful in arguing for an immediate and full response in 1950 to North Korean aggression and its support from China, they nonetheless were less enthralled with McArthur’s posturing. Their experience in 1951 informed their opinions in 1965 when they pushed Pres. Johnson to increase US military action in Indo-China. But quickly, by 1966, they foresaw the inevitable American defeat ten years later. For that, they were vilified as defeatists. 

Yet, they continued to serve. Dean Acheson hated Richard Nixon, but honored the office of the Presidency as so few in that administration did. Acheson responded to President Nixon’s requests for advice and counsel. But Acheson had had the same relationship with President Roosevelt 40 years earlier. 

The choice of these six men as paradigms for the Establishment may be arbitrary. In their work, they formed friendships, alliances, and animosities with others of equal influence such as James Forrestal, Robert Oppenheimer, Lucius Clay, Harry Hopkins, and Paul Nitze. Their proteges included Henry Kissinger, Dean Rusk, and Robert McNamara who themselves were connected to still others, even to John Kenneth Galbraith. Thus, they were the Establishment and “the Architects of the American Century.” 


Sunday, January 20, 2019

Coffee at the Co-op: Tradition and Novelty

Traditional Marxism teaches that capitalist firms attempt to drive each other out of business by seizing markets. On the other hand, the Austrians point out that seldom are any two products identical to consumers. One of the best things about weekend shopping at the Wheatsville Co-op is meeting the vendors. Most are local. All are aligned to health, nutrition, and sustainable economics. This weekend, I met two coffee vendors. 

Catherine from Four Sigmatic with a Lion's Mane Mushroom
and Cory from Third Coast Coffee with (what else?) coffee.
"As a founding member of Cooperative Coffees, Third Coast Coffee directly imports coffee from small farmer cooperatives throughout Central and South America, Africa, Asia and Indonesia. We have gained mutually beneficial, long term relationships with our producer partners in the sixteen years of Cooperative Coffees' existence. Third Coast makes year-long commitments for our green coffee to ensure a reliable and steady supply of many varieties that we offer. 

"All of our coffees are certified Fair Trade and organically grown. The one exception is Colombian coffee from Fondo Paez, which is Fair Trade transitional, grown using organic methods and in the process of acquiring organic certification.

"We control each roast by hand, eye, and nose. Our roasting machines are lovingly maintained 12 kilo drum roasters, each designed and built by Diedrich Manufacturing in Sandpoint, ID. Constant care and attention keeps them reliable. We follow rigorous protocol, including set batch sizes for all roasts that guarantees the results we seek.

"We make drinking mushrooms (yes, we said drinking mushrooms) delicious and easy-to-do with our wide variety of superfood (and super-good-for-you) beverages. From Mushroom Coffees, to Matchas to Hot Cacao and multi-mushroom Blends… we have it all.

"We’re obsessed with the everyday magic of mushrooms like reishi, chaga, cordyceps and lion’s mane — Helping you relax, be well, energize and support productivity. Enter your email for healthy recipes, tips and tricks, and learn more about the benefits of these amazing superfoods."


Awesome Austin Foods at the Wheatsville Co-op. 
Tofurky for Paleolithic Vegetarians 
The Hat Creek Pickle Company 
Fond Bone Broth 
Hot Dang Vegie Burger Mix
Sunday at the Co-op

Saturday, January 19, 2019

The Atlatl

The throwing stick was invented about 30,000 years ago. It extends the arm giving force (as range and speed) to a spear. Used widely across North and South America, it also is known from Europe, but more widely throughout Indonesia and Australia. The Aborigines call it the woomera and it can be the core of a “Swiss Army Knife” that serves many purposes.  
A Dog named “Moose” and his Mistress with Atlatl
The distribution of the atlatl opens discussions that can lead down intellectual rabbit holes into speculative wonderlands. It was not well-known across all of Europe and finds are centered in France. The bow-and-arrow became the dominant distance weapon in the Old World, though the atlatl continued alongside it in America. The bow was not imported to or invented in Australia. 

The word atlatl comes directly from the language of the Aztecs, Nahuatl. Nouns end in (a)tl. Cocoa is xocolatl. The jaguar is the ocelotl. The dog is the coyototl. And, yes, out there, where the gods came from is the Atlantic ocean. Make of it what you will, because the distribution of the spear thrower seems to be from West to East, across the Pacific to the Americas. The truth may be that like cotton the atlatl was imported to the Old World from the New in prehistoric times.


Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Night of January 16th

Telling someone that you enjoy reading the works of Ayn Rand is different from admitting that your opinions are informed by Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus or that you relax with William Faulkner. I recently worked with a team of a dozen technical writers. In fact, I was the only true technical writer on the team. The core group held MAs in technical writing from Texas State, but they were doing it just because it was a job that paid well. Another was a kindergarten teacher. Probably the most talented member of the team was an unpublished novelist. Of course, we talked about writing and literature. One of my colleagues said that he does not like Ayn Rand. “What have you read?” Nothing, he admitted, correcting himself to say, “I find that I don’t like the people who like Ayn Rand.” Up to that point, I thought that we had been getting along quite well.  Apparently not…

When Gerald Ford became President, I heard a radio program (NPR most likely), on which the interviewer asked the expert what Ford would bring to the Oval Office. The expert replied that from his long service in the House of Representatives where he had been elected Speaker, Ford learned that “to get along, you have to go along.” That advice has served me well these past 40 years. I am not much for getting along or going along, but I understand those who do. 

My primary motivation is at the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy: self-actualization. That being as it may, I am not a recluse. I do not live in a cave in a forest. For me, the rewards in city life come from the anonymity of the division of labor: when you need a plumber, you don’t care who his cousin his, you just want the water line fixed. It may seem paradoxical, but the marketplace deeply engrains the personal ethics and moral behavior that makes socialization possible in the first place, and ultimately rewarding on all levels, physical, emotional, and spiritual. 

On the other hand, around the world most cultures are “high context” societies where who your cousin is makes a big difference. Spain, Sicily, Greece, Iraq, Iran, the Philippines... The “low context” societies are the advanced, industrial and now post-industrial, information-age leaders: the USA, Australia, NZ, and Canada, the UK especially the English, Scandinavia and Finland, Germany, Switzerland, and (oddly, perhaps) Israel. 

"The Weirdest People in the World?" is a paper published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, (2010), available online from the authors hereThese mainstream psychologists sought to demonstrate that most of the research being carried out to find “human nature” is flawed because the test subjects are usually university students or their children. They sent a dozen teams to non-industrialized locales to interview people by carrying out a variety of standard psychological games from simple optical illusions to more complex interactions such as Dictator and Ultimatum. Among their many findings was that the degree of market integration predicts how deeply individuals internalize their sense of fairness. Basically, we share because we want to. Other people share—when they do, which they might not at all—because they have to. 

“Crime in the city” is an easy topic of casual conversation. But the gangs of New York came from high context societies. The best narrative I know about crime in the city is the movie Family Business. Sean Connery plays Jessie McMullen who married an Italian. Their son, Vito, was played by Dustin Hoffman. Vito married a Jewish girl. Matthew Broderick played their son, Adam. Ethnic cleansing is impossible in the city. Gang wars in the city (these days, usually over drug markets) are carried out by Hispanic and African-American high context cultures. As they say, “It takes a village…” 

The Night of January 16th is a crime drama. It centers on a global financial fraud and includes a street hoodlum. What made the play popular was that the jury was drawn from the audience. Rand wrote two endings for the final act. A bad adaptation was created for the big screen, directed by William Clemens with a screenplay by Delmer Daves, Robert Pirosh, and Eve Greene.
“Though Rand was years away from articulating her own ideal, she had since childhood admired the individual who acts on his own judgments, defying social pressure. Thus the main characters in Night of January 16th are bold egoists who unapologetically seek the world’s rewards and pleasures for themselves.“Notably, however, this play’s heroes don’t embody Rand’s moral philosophy. ‘I do not think, nor did I think it when I wrote this play, that a swindler is a heroic character or that a respectable banker is a villain,’ she writes. ‘But for the purpose of dramatizing the conflict of independence versus conformity, a criminal — a social outcast — can be an eloquent symbol.’”  -- here.   
The screen adaptation mangled the plot. Names were changed for no apparent reason. Elements were added that sidetracked the integration of actions and motives which is an essential element of Ayn Rand's fiction.
“The story revolves around three people; Tycoon Bjorn Faulkner, who is being called upon by his board of directors to explain a missing $20,000,000; Kit Lane, his secretary who also has a personal interest; and Steve Van Ruyle, a sailor who has inherited a position on Faulkner's board of directors. Faulkner is (presumably) murdered, and Kit is falsely accused of the murder. Steve assumes the job of clearing her name.” --  “Van Ruyle attempts to prove Lane's innocence with fake evidence, but his ruse is discovered. The two flee with evidence from Faulkner's apartment, which they use to track down the mysterious Haraba. They trace him to a hotel in Havana, Cuba, where they discover that "Haraba" is a pseudonym being used by Faulkner, who has faked his own death. When Faulkner takes Lane captive, Van Ruyle rushes with police to Faulkner's room to rescue her. Faulkner is arrested, and Van Ruyle and Lane decide to get married.” – Wikipedia.
Ludwig Wittgenstein denied the validity of his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. He wrote it in the trenches while in the Austrian army. His military service did not protect him when the Nazis took over. He was forced to liquidate his family inheritance into gold and deliver it to the government in return for permission to emigrate to the UK. While in England, he worked out a different set of problems and solutions. He was accused of attacking Karl Popper with a fireplace poker. It is irrelevant today that both men were closet homosexuals. 

But is possible to discuss Wittgenstein’s metaphysics and epistemology or Karl Popper’s The Open Society and Its Enemies, without having to answer for all of their philosophical errors or lifestyle foibles. Not so with Ayn Rand. She is a lightening rod. It was from a Theodore Sturgeon story that I learned that I am not the only one who falls in love where the lightening strikes.


Saturday, January 5, 2019

Book Review: The Second World Wars by Victor Davis Hanson

This book was a pleasant surprise and a disappointment. The premise offers an original context for understanding the events of the 1930s and 1940s. Not much else in this large book was new. 

Although he is a nationally renowned conservative commentator and college professor, I did not know of Victor Davis Hanson before this. I was surfing YouTube watching something else historical and the automatic offerings along the right showed “The Second World Wars.” The title was interesting. So, I watched it. The presentation was from Book TV (view here).  
  The lecture was delivered at the National Review Institute. In fact, Hanson has delivered nearly the same talk several times. The presentations are excellent summaries of his 600+ page book.  But the book can be considered and evaluated more carefully.
The Second World Wars:
How the First Global Conflict was Fought and Won 

by Victor Davis Hanson (Basic Books, 2017).

The premise is compelling. During the 1930s and into the 1940s, several different wars were fought by a dozen different belligerents. It was not until the summer of 1941 that the three Allied superpowers aligned against the three fascist aggressors. Note, of course, that among the Allies was the USSR, which had joined with Germany in attacking Poland, as well as carrying out a different war against Finland. The USSR also rolled over the three very small Baltic states. At the same time up to 1939 the USSR had engaged in border skirmishes with Japanese occupation forces in Manchuria and Mongolia. The conclusion of those hostilities put Russia and Japan into a neutral situation in the Pacific. That allowed US Lend-Lease materials to flow into the USSR on Russian flagged freighters that were not intercepted or harassed by the Japanese Imperial fleet–even though those supplies would be used by the USSR against Germany, which was nominally allied with Japan. 

Even more persuasive is Hanson’s accounting of industrial capacity. With clear 20-20 hindsight, Hanson demonstrates conclusively that the Axis lacked the ability to win. Hanson is not alone in that assessment. Dwight D. Eisenhower earned the equivalent of a master’s degree in military industrial management. The numbers were real. As long as the Allies maintained the will to fight, victory was assured. It was only a matter of time.

And cost. Hanson adds up the human toll. Unlike most other wars, the nominal winners suffered more than the obvious losers. About 80% of the casualties were not Axis citizens. And while not unique, it remains remarkable that only fraction of the 60 to 80 million dead were military combatants. 

All of that is worth remembering.

Most of the book consists of re-arrangements of known facts. In two of his lectures, Hanson says that his editor at Basic Books challenged him to come up with something new in a field that already offered 7,000 titles. Hanson organizes World War II into Ideas, Air, Water, Earth, Fire, and People before concluding with “Ends: Why and What Did the Allies Win?” With retrospective clairvoyance Hanson questions and perhaps disproves several articles of dogma asserted by military historians. Among those is the doctrine of air power. We do not live in the air. We live on land. And the only purpose of superiority in air power is to enable the conflict on land. The same is true of sea power. That said, the fact remains that without those, the Axis could not prosecute its land wars. The Axis had about a dozen aircraft carriers while the Allies floated ten times that number. The same applies to aircraft, the Axis lacking four-engine bombers and flocks of fighters to support them. On the ground, the Allies rolled out thousands of tanks and other artillery. We could because the United States of America alone far surpassed the industrial capacity of the Axis. In fact, says Hanson, the USA could have defeated Germany, Japan, Italy, the UK and the USSR combined. Unfortunately, he never identifies why. Hanson never refers to capitalism, free enterprise, or rights. As a conservative, Prof. Victor Davis Hanson is a traditionalist, not a libertarian. He fails to connect the material prosperity of a society with the right of the individual to the pursuit of their own happiness. 


Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Neutron Irradiated Dimes

Today you can get rocks, fossils, gems, meteorites, astronaut ice cream, gyroscopes, and magnets at any museum store. Irradiated dimes were sold at Oak Ridge National Laboratory from 1949 to 1967. They speak from the heart of the atomic age. On the one hand, Oak Ridge was a secret town that officially did not exist. On the other hand, the actual use of the atomic bomb proved impossible to miss. 

What we call “Oak Ridge” today (ZIP Codes 37830 and 37831) was built by the federal government as part of the Manhattan Project. The under-developed area of eastern Tennessee had small farming towns—Edgemoor, Elza, and Robertsville, among others—but was largely uninhabited. The purpose of the new city, which grew to 75,000, was to separate fissionable uranium (U 235) from the other isotopes, mostly U 238. It also produced plutonium. In addition, the site manufactured other isotopes that have industrial and medical uses such as antimony (Sb 124). 
Case legends on irradiated dimes.
(in black)
(in blue)
Not shown: 
(May be the earliest variety.)
The town was finally opened on March 19, 1949. The American Museum of Atomic Energy began the same year. It was re-dedicated as the American Museum of Science and Energy in 1978.  
UCNC is the Union Carbide Nuclear Company. 
The Union Carbide Corporation Nuclear Division operated 
the Y-12 separation plant at ORNL.  
The division apparently used the two names at different times. 
UCNC also operated a uranium mine in Emery County, Utah. 
See Western Mining History here.
This quote is most likely from a 1954 ORNL press release:
"One of the most popular exhibits in the American Museum of Atomic Energy is a “dime irradiator.” To date, more than 250,000 dimes have been irradiated, encased in plastic and returned to their owners as souvenirs. The irradiator works as follows: A mixture of radioactive antimony and beryllium is enclosed in a lead container. Gamma rays from the antimony are absorbed by the beryllium atoms and a neutron is expelled by the beryllium atom in the process.            
“These neutrons, having no electrical charge, penetrate silver atoms in the dime. Instead of remaining normal silver-109, they become radioactive silver-110. After irradiation, the dime is dropped out through a slot in the lead container and rests momentarily before a Geiger tube so that its radioactivity may be demonstrated. It is then encased in the souvenir container. Radioactive silver, with a half-life of 22 seconds, decays rapidly to cadmium-110 (In 22 seconds, half of the radioactivity in each dime is gone, in another 22 seconds half the remainder goes, and so on until all the silver-110 has become cadmium).  Only an exceedingly minute fraction of the silver atoms have been made radioactive." From “Irradiated Dimes - American Museum of Atomic Energy and New York World's Fair (1950s, 1960s)” At Oak Ridge Associated Universities website here. (ORAU operates the AMSE.)
Some typical eBay prices of the moment.
 The press release cites a figure of 250,000 dimes given out. By the time the program ended, the figure was close to 1,000,000. This summary from 9 November 2013 by CoinTalk user mrweaseluv was based on an article that I wrote for Coin World. (I visited ORNL twice in September 1999 to interview people and tour the museum and the city.). 
“A beryllium case was placed over small lump of [radioactive] antimony [Sb 124]. The antimony gave off gamma rays that excited the beryllium which emitted neutrons that struck the dimes. The half-life was 24.6 seconds. Some of the Ag-109 atoms became Ag-110. Giving off an electron, the Ag-110 became Cadmium (Cd-110), which is stable. Another 51.82% of the silver atoms became Ag-107, the remaining 41.18 of the silver remained Ag-109. Of the remaining 5% was comprised of other isotopes, the most stable of which is Ag-108 which remains radioactive for five years, though the amount in a dime is statistically unimportant at the human level. Dimes are also made of copper. Cu-63 and Cu-65 represent almost 69.17% and almost 30.83% of the mass and are stable. When they absorb a neutron, they become zinc. The remaining fraction of a percent is Cu-67 which is radioactive for two-and-half days. Only silver dimes could be used. When the government switched to cupro-nickel, it was only a matter of time before silver dimes became scarce. The program was discontinued in 1967. Ni-63 remains radioactive for 92 years, decaying much quicker than Ni-59 which has a half-life of 80,000 years.”  (Cited from CoinTalk dot com here. )
See also: 
By Pascal Brock, Harold Levi, Bruce Perdue, Ken Berger, 
The following is taken from the TAMS Journal, Vol.14, No. 1, February 1974.
“The Neutron Irradiated Dime, Atomic Energy Commission, New York World's Fair, 1964-1965” by Stephen P. Alpert, TAMS # 2134.
The E-Sylum: Volume 14, Number 52, December 18, 2011, Article 10

“Antimony-124 is used together with beryllium in neutron sources; the gamma rays emitted by antimony-124 initiate the photodisintegration of beryllium. The emitted neutrons have an average energy of 24 keV. Natural antimony is used in startup neutron sources.”

“Gamma rays are ionizing radiation and are thus biologically hazardous. Due to their high penetration power, they can damage bone marrow and internal organs. Unlike alpha and beta rays, they pass easily through the body and thus pose a formidable radiation protection challenge, requiring shielding made from dense materials such as lead or concrete.”

“The decay scheme is rather complex, as it includes more than 25 β− transitions and about 70 γ transitions with energies spread between 148 keV and 2807 keV. However, only about a tenth of them have probabilities greater than 1 %.”
124Sb – Activity measurement and determination of photon emission intensities Part A – COMMISSARIAT A L'ENERGIE ATOMIQUE ISSN 0429 3460

Title: A Study of the Nuclear Radiations from Antimony and Arsenic
Authors: Mitchell, Allan C.; Langer, Lawrence M.; McDaniel, Paul W.
Publication: Physical Review, vol. 57, Issue 12, pp. 1107-1117
Publication Date: 06/1940

 I find that date revealing. We have a poor sense of history or at least I do. Obviously, research into the physics and chemistry of radiation had been continuing for almost 50 years. But we too easily see Hiroshima and Nagasaki as the dawn of the Atomic Age. In fact, Wilhelm Röntgen announced x-rays in 1895, and by 1906 they found medical applications. Admittedly, the first decade was a period of uneven and sometimes tragic results.