Busted flat

“The U.S. soldiers who fought in World War II had the great Depression as their defining experience. Men aged twenty-one in 1941 were nine when the depression began and, regardless of locale, had been through a soul-searching experience along with their families. This period was marked by a dramatic fall in the value of stocks; hundreds of thousands of businesses failed; millions of savings accounts were lost; wages fell an average of 60 percent; and unemployment rose from 9 to 25 percent, which left fifteen million people without jobs. Professional people often took laboring jobs in mills, if they could find them. Or they went door to door trying to sell life insurance for which the insured paid twenty-five cents a week, provided the agent came to the door every week to collect the twenty-five cents. Medical doctors and lawyers were scrounging for ‘nickels and dimes,’ the majority of them barely making a living. Engineers could not find jobs. Occasionally they would be hired, work a few months, then be laid off. Farmers were ‘dirt-poor.’ Salespeople in department stores waited all day for customers who often did not show up. One store had only Ph.D.’s as salespersons. They often worked on commission and frequently had to ask the boss for an advance so they could eat. For those unskilled and undereducated, it was a disaster, as they found the labor-intensive positions they once had filled by those more knowledgeable. Many breadwinners lost faith in themselves and in their government. Because of the widespread poverty, many of those coming of age had dropped out of school to help feed their families. Those who had finished high school and even those who went on to college scrabbled for any work. Many of those who could not find jobs enrolled in the Civilian Conservation Corps for a dollar a day plus room and board or received jobs through the Works Progress Administration, both products of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.” – Robert Sterling Rush, Hell in Hürtgen Forest

The man who fell to art

“The most interesting thing for an artist is to pick through the debris of a culture, to look at what’s been forgotten or not really taken seriously. Once something is categorized and accepted, it becomes part of the tyranny of the mainstream, and it loses its potency.” – David Bowie (interviewed by Michael Kimmelman in The New York Times)

Pricey little fubar, too

“The invasion of Iraq was initially portrayed as a response to threats to American security. When these were exposed as nonexistent (indeed, fabricated), a new marketing strategy, ‘democracy promotion,’ was devised by the government and eagerly swallowed by a docile intelligentsia. Meanwhile, the occupying forces moved immediately to accomplish the invasion’s real goals: construction of permanent bases for future Middle East military interventions; exploitation of Iraq’s energy resources; and conversion of the country into a wholly unregulated investors’ paradise. It was a perfectly plausible, entirely cold-blooded imperialist project, though unexpectedly, it failed.” – George Scialabba, “Only Words”

If I was a carpenter . . .

“Pinned down by the shelling, TF 2 suffered twenty-three casualties during the course of the day [August 11, 1944]. . . . The Americans were desperate enough to ask the local civilians for volunteers willing to go aloft to pinpoint the hidden German batteries. A carpenter from St.-Barthelemy, Victor Guerinel, answered the call. Guerinel, who had secretly wanted to be a pilot for most of his adult life, was overjoyed by the fact that he was finally going to do battle from the air. He was transported by jeep to le Mesnil Rainfray, where he boarded an L-4 artillery observation plane. Flying over the ridges overlooking the beleaguered troops of TF 2, Guerinal spotted eight hidden artillery positions by identifying irregularities in the terrain. As the location of each German battery was confirmed, American artillery began engaging them. . . . Thanks to the courage of the intrepid thirty-nine-year-old Frenchman, the Americans at le Mesnil Tove lost significantly fewer men to incoming shells than during the previous two days.” – Mark J. Reardon, Victory at Mortain

Harder to burn than thatch

“The flame spread rating of a piece of kiln-dried spruce might be twice that of red oak, but it is exceedingly difficult to ignite, say, a 2 x 4 with anything short of a large fire. Just try lighting a piece of timber with a blowtorch; it goes out when the flame is removed.” – John J. Lentini, Scientific Protocols for Fire Investigation, Second Edition

Tamping down, spinning up

“The speed and completeness of the German victory in western Europe in 1940 resulted in the absence of any significant plans for resistance to occupation. Shocked by military defeat and cowed by the full weight of the Nazis’ well-honed forces of repression, opposition to German rule was initially unco-ordinated and small scale. Instead, large sections of the population sought to conform to the new status quo and endeavored to recreate a form of pre-war normality. In contrast, the Nazi parties of the newly conquered countries anticipated that the new conditions would enable them to seize power. But even trusted leaders such as Quisling in Norway and Mussert in Holland were allowed by the German occupiers to exercise only limited political control. Nevertheless, the rewards of outright collaboration proved too strong for many to resist, with hundreds of thousands volunteering to work for the occupying forces. Consciences were salved to a great extent by Germany’s attack upon the Soviet Union in 1941, and for those who enlisted in the Waffen-SS collaboration became less of a betrayal of nationalist ideals and was elevated to the level of a ‘crusade’ against Communism.” – “Resistance in Western Europe, 1940-1945,” The Times Atlas of the Second World War, ed. John Keegan

Fool me once, shame on you

“So thoroughly did the Soviet and Chinese Communists betray the ideals in whose name they seized power, and so ruthlessly did they silence nearly everyone who protested that betrayal, that the ideals themselves are in danger of being forgotten. But many of the wisest and bravest men and women of the 20th century began by embracing Communism, and some of the century’s best political writing was occasioned by their efforts later in life to understand what, if anything, of that youthful commitment remained valid. The original allegiance of these ex-Communists was not to a party or ideology but to ordinary working people. Facing the harsh, sometimes lethal conditions of early industrialism, workers gradually organized themselves, usually against ferocious opposition from above.” – George Scialabba, “Bitter Spring”

Why it may be so

“A hypothesis is important if it ‘explains’ much by little, that is, if it abstracts the common and crucial elements from the mass of complex and detailed circumstances surrounding the phenomena to be explained and permits valid predictions on the basis of them alone. To be important, therefore, a hypothesis must be descriptively false in its assumptions; it takes account of, and accounts for, none of the many other attendant circumstances, since its very success shows them to be irrelevant for the phenomena to be explained. To put this point less paradoxically, the relevant question to ask about the ‘assumptions’ of a theory is not whether they are descriptively ‘realistic,’ for they never are, but whether they are sufficiently good approximations for the purpose in hand. And this question can be answered only by seeing whether the theory works, which means whether it yields sufficiently accurate predictions.” – Milton Friedman, “The Methodology of Positive Economics”

Pin the tail on the theory

“The choice among alternative hypotheses equally consistent with the available evidence must to some extent be arbitrary, though there is general agreement that relevant considerations are suggested by the criteria ‘simplicity’ and ‘fruitfulness,’ themselves notions that defy completely objective specification. A theory is ‘simpler’ the less the initial knowledge needed to make a prediction within a given field of phenomena; it is more ‘fruitful’ the more precise the resulting prediction, the wider the area within which the theory yields predictions, and the more additional lines for further research it suggests. Logical completeness and consistency are relevant but play a subsidiary role; their function is to assure that the hypothesis says what it is intended to say and does so alike for all users—they play the same role here as checks for arithmetical accuracy do in statistical computations.” – Milton Friedman, “The Methodology of Positive Economics”

There is no proof in any pudding

“The only relevant test of the validity of a hypothesis is comparison of its predictions with experience. The hypothesis is rejected if its predictions are contradicted (‘frequently’ or more often than predictions from an alternative hypothesis); it is accepted if its predictions are not contradicted; great confidence is attached to it if it has survived many opportunities for contradiction. Factual evidence can never ‘prove’ a hypothesis; it can only fail to disprove it, which is what we generally mean when we say, somewhat inexactly, that the hypothesis has been ‘confirmed’ by experience. To avoid confusion, it should perhaps be noted explicitly that the ‘predictions’ by which the validity of a hypothesis is tested need not be about phenomena that have not yet occurred, that is, need not be forecasts of future events; they may be about phenomena that have occurred but observations on which have not yet been made or are not known to the person making the prediction.” – Milton Friedman, “The Methodology of Positive Economics” (emphasis in original)

The there there

“Viewed as a language, theory has no substantive content; it is a set of tautologies. Its function is to serve as a filing system for organizing empirical material and facilitating our understanding of it; and the criteria by which it is to be judged are those appropriate to a filing system. Are, the categories clearly and precisely defined? Are they exhaustive? Do we know where to file each individual item, or is there considerable ambiguity? Is the system of headings and subheadings so designed that we can quickly find an item we want, or must we hunt from place to place? Are the items we shall want to consider jointly filed together? Does the filing system avoid elaborate cross-references? The answers to these questions depend partly on logical, partly on factual, considerations. The canons of formal logic alone can show whether a particular language is complete and consistent, that is, whether propositions in the language are ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ Factual evidence alone can show whether the categories of the ‘analytical filing system’ have a meaningful empirical counterpart, that is, whether they are useful in analyzing a particular class of concrete problems.” – Milton Friedman, “The Methodology of Positive Economics”

One dollar, one vote

“Who controls the American government? In a weak, formal sense, the people control the government, by voting. But that’s a very weak sense. In a strong sense, business controls the government: by financing parties and candidates, by controlling news media, by shaping public opinion, and ultimately, if all else fails, by moving capital out of the country.” – George Scialabba, “What Is American Foreign Policy About?”

Paving the road to hell

“In an actively cruel and stigmatizing society, those who ‘ally’ themselves with a marginalized or oppressed demographic often give themselves an uncritical pass. Too often, good intentions alone are assumed by ‘allies’ to be enough to help the other, and that this well-wishing is praiseworthy.” – Jake Jackson, “ ‘Allies’ of Depression: Epistemic Injustice, Stigmatizing Attitudes, and the Need for Empathy”

These days we have a pill for that

“In 1865, when Bruckner was nearly forty, he first hear Wagner’s music in Linz. He was overwhelmed. The experience fueled his own need to compose. His latent genius began to ripen, and he composed the D minor mass, an orchestral overture in G minor, and several choruses for male voices. Most important, he began sketching his first symphony, which would be performed at Linz in 1868. Johann Herbeck, an influential Viennese conductor, recognized Bruckner’s promise and helped him obtain a position teaching organ and theory at the Vienna Conservatory. Bruckner had at last fulfilled his long-standing dream of living in the Austrian capital. Alas, he did not fit in very well in these sophisticated circles. A thick, provincial dialect, atrocious manners, and ill-fitting peasant clothes hampered the acutely shy Bruckner. His head seemed too large for his meager body, and his bulging eyes held a disturbing and vacant stare. His poverty and general awkwardness were compounded by an unfortunate and desperate propensity for falling hopelessly in love with teenage girls. Many thought him to be a bungling fool. Poor Bruckner was lonely and miserable—he never married and had no personal life. But music and his unshakable religious faith sustained and nourished him.” – David Dubal, The Essential Canon of Classical Music

Come promise with me

“The idea that the individual’s autonomy and authenticity can decisively and irrefragably be secured simply by insisting on the point that her motivations really are her own motivations is what Soviet theorists used to called naïve or even bourgeois individualism; it is the one-person-case analogue of the idea, in political theory, that the party that gains a majority in a fairly-conducted election is necessarily in possession of an unchallengeable mandate to govern. But the Sioux Nation do not lose their ancestral rights in Minnesota the moment they are outnumbered by white settlers there; and just because reasons are internal for me, it does not immediately follow that they are authentically mine.” – Sophie-Grace Chappell, “Rôles and Reasons” (emphasis in original)

Free to be unfree

“My being non-alienated cannot be the same thing as what I would naturally do, not at least if what I would naturally do is supposed to mean what I would do anyway. ‘What I would do anyway’ is an incomplete phrase, and therefore, one without determinate sense. ‘Anyway’ means ‘in the absence of preventing factors or influences’, so the sense of ‘what I would do anyway’ depends on which factors or influences we are supposing to be absent. But it is just incoherent to suppose that all factors and influences could be absent; since something like this supposition is nonetheless resiliently an ingredient, albeit often a covert ingredient, of all sorts of thinking about autonomy, freedom, and the voluntary, we might call that supposition ‘the fantasy of freedom an sich’. For the supposition is indeed a fantasy: necessarily and universally, human action always pushes against some resistance. Moreover, it always pushes against some particular resistance: there is no more resistance an sich than there is freedom an sich. In the absence of either, then, there is no such thing as the pure and ahistorical state of unalienated nature, either.” – Sophie-Grace Chappell, “Rôles and Reasons” (footnote omitted; emphases in original)

And that’s the reason

“To understand a practice is to come to grasp the reasons that that practice gives you—reasons that are not intelligible from outside the practice. Induction into the rôle of participant in the practice entails induction into the reasons characteristic and definitive of the practice. So by adopting the rôle I learn—and before that, commit myself to learn—to have the reasons. Not necessarily quickly or easily, either; induction into a practice can be, indeed usually is, hard work. By such induction I ‘systematically extend’ my own capacities to achieve the various kinds of excellence; and that means, too, that I systematically extend my own repertoire of reasons.” – Sophie-Grace Chappell, “Rôles and Reasons” (emphasis in original)