The German Russian War

In the United States, mass production produced consumer products.  In Hitler’s Germany it produced military power.  Hitler hid this build-up brilliantly, with a pervasive dual use strategy, and he successfully used anti-communism to camouflage to the British establishment his intentions in Europe. In a short six years time, the United States had cars, and Hitler had tanks.  Hitler had built the Wehrmacht, a monstrous, world conquering war machine.

He lost no time putting it to use.  He made a deal with Russia and they split Poland, and then he took western Europe almost without a fight.  His mechanized divisions took territory with menacing speed. Blitzkrieg.

After France fell, Hitler paused.  What to do about Britain?  Hitler had not thought that Churchill would return to power.  He had expected Britain to acknowledge his hold on Europe.  Churchill of course did not oblige.  Only the United States or Russia could possibly amass the power to unseat him in Europe. A neutralized Britain, depriving the United States of a base from which to retake Europe, would neutralize the United States, at least for awhile.  But an alliance of the United States with Russia was also a real threat. Conquering Russia would remove that threat, and make Britain a side concern, and give Germany lebensraum.  Hitler made his fateful choice.

Four out of every five Germans killed in action in World War II died on the Eastern Front.”  Max Hastings, A Very Chilly Victory, New York Review of Books, August 13, 2009.

World War II was largely a German Russian War.  The United States lost  300,000 lives, Britain 400,000 lives, Germany 6 million, and Russia . . . . 27 million. In the battle for Stalingrad alone, the Russians lost 500,000, the Germans, 200,000.  In the largest conventional battle ever fought, the battle of Kursk, a battlefield as large as Belgium, the Russians lost 300,000.  In this battle, there were three times the number of tanks facing off as there were in the great Allied/German tank battle of El Alamein.  In the Battle for Berlin, with victory all but certain, Russia still lost 80,000 lives, 25,000 within the city limits.

The United States and Britain faced 30 German divisions on D-Day, the Russians . . . . . . 160.

It is frightening what it took to defeat the German war machine.  Victory over Soviet Russia would have made Germany invincible in Europe for a very long time. Hitler ordered complete ruthlessness. The Wehrmacht took 3 million prisoners in the first 7 months of the war with Russia, and deliberately starved them to death. Only a Stalin, a cold, evil leader with iron clad control, a leader willing to sacrifice any number of his own people, shoot any number of his own soldiers, enslave, deport, or murder anyone in his way could triumph over the vicious Wehrmacht.  Under pressure, Hitler was impetuous, prone to snap judgment and blind arrogance. He proved no match for the careful, methodic, detail analyzing Stalin.  The stress of war made Hitler blunder, it made Stalin competent.

Even when the US Army was fully mobilized in 1944-1945, it never became large enough to face the full weight of the Wehrmacht”.

Do not Teach

The more you can know, the more you can learn”   E. D Hirsch, Jr.

American public education have declined progressively, and undeniably, despite the massive funding of the academic education establishment. This decline is so broad and profound as to be near unbelievable.

For E. D. Hirsch, Jr. the chief cause of this, amazingly so, is the driving academic theory of education that has come to prevail: the theory known as ‘constructivism‘. Developed from the ideas of Rousseau, and John Dewey, and the philosophical school of Pragmatism, this theory, in essence, concludes that education should not teach. Rather, education should facilitate. A child’s natural development, self-esteem, and skills are to be nudged, but specific content, memory, practice, and factual learning are not to be emphasized. Independent exploration is preferable to directed learning. A teacher is to help students ‘learn how to learn’ rather than prescribe what to learn. There is to be no standard curriculum.  There is to be no instruction. Casual reading will teach reading just as well as serious reading. Skills will develop independent of content.

E.D. Hirsch explains how this isn’t so. “Literacy requires the early and continued transmission of specific information”. One learns the use and meaning of words and ideas by matching real thoughts and real ideas with real meanings and with real words. Learning is the actual incremental mastering of real and specific content.

“Factual knowledge that is found in books is key to reading comprehension”.

Thus, alas, youth today are going to school, but are not, in fact, being taught.  Knowledge testing documents this all too clearly. We are falling behind much of the rest of the world. Well-dressed thirty year olds think France won the Civil War

The very advantage of effective culture has been for teaching future generations the hard-earned knowledge they would otherwise have to learn at unnecessary repeat cost. Our constructivist education specifically and quite purposely refuses to provide this advantage.

There is disguised politics here, for there is the belief that directed learning and a prescribed curriculum perpetuate social and political inequality. Not for nothing did John Dewey and others see education as a way to bypass politics to effect change. Bill Ayers, the Weatherman radical, is a Professor of Education.

One can be forgiven for noticing that those whose job is to teach embrace a theory that says they shouldn’t teach.

How do we tell the working class and middle class that their taxes pay for a philosophy of teaching that says to . . . not teach?

Nietzsche Madness

Acknowledgement of the death of God is a bomb that blows up many things, not just oppressive traditionalism, but also values like compassion and the equality of human dignity on which support for a tolerant liberal political order is based. This then is the Nietzschean dead end from which Western philosophy has still not emerged.”   Francis Fukayama, New York Times Review of Books, April 11, 2010.

Friedrich Nietzsche was a savant intellectual, a genius learner, a tenured Classics professor by age 24, a prodigy of learning what is already known.

One thinks of Joseph Knecht, the character who plays the Glass Bead Game in the Hermann Hesse sci-fi novel about academia: Magister Ludi. In this book, a game is played by special minds in which all forms of art and knowledge are codified into a form of a musical/logical/lexical informatic with which the players competitively uncover new syntheses of insight.  Hesse may have had Nietzsche in mind. Nietzsche was an academic philosopher, his entire life was reading, writing and thinking. He never married or had children. He came to believe that humans should be ruled by . . . . academic philosophers. For Nietzsche, an individual’s philosophical journey was to be his and everyone’s God. He wrote theatrically, with anger, condemnation, and provocation, if not hysteria.

Nietzsche scorned utilitarian and bourgeois morality. He saw human nature as Darwinian. He loved to describe the ‘will to power’ hidden in the actions of history, a motivation he found to be greater than survival. Thinking Men take us to something greater, he says, do not resist this. The strong should triumph. Exceptional people (like him) should flourish. Good versus evil is the rationalization of the weak. The notion of universal objective truth will be found wrong, and man will come to name his own truth. God is dead, and the Ubermensch, the Superman, will arise.

Nietzsche himself was continually sickly, and suffered increasing mental imbalance. His final breakdown is reported to have occurred after he witnessed the whipping of a horse.  He supposedly then ran to the horse to try to protect it, throwing his arms around its neck, and then collapsed into incoherence.

Mania with psychosis is strongly suggested. His writing and thought is megalomaniacal, racing, and grandiose. He came to see inorganic matter as having ‘motivation’. Thinking has magical power, intuition is supernatural.

In Nietzschean thought there are the inklings of Freudianism, fascism, communism, post modernism, and evolutionary psychology. He provides flamboyant cover for academic chauvinism and condescension, for intellectual elitism, for the cult of the Great Leader.

Academics love him to this day. For Cornel West, and many others, Neitzsche’s works are the most treasured. For those that gravitate to deconstruction, always parsing to uncover and reject what is wrong, Nietzsche invites them along, into tangles of creativity and corruption, idealism and nihilism. We have Francis Fukayama’s dead end.

The Strange Case of Elian Gonzalez

It has been ten years since the strange episode of Elian Gonzalez. His mother risked and lost her life bringing him to the U.S. on a small boat from Cuba. Castro demanded his return and President Clinton complied. The boy was ‘repatriated’ at the gun point of US Marshals. “The boy should be with his father”, Clinton said. Now, Elian is 16 years, old, a member of the Young Communist Union of Cuba. He attends military school. A museum about him in his home town has his statue with a raised, clenched fist. His birthday has been celebrated personally with Fidel, and his father has become a member of the Cuban National Assembly. The Cuban State Security set up a ‘monitoring station’ next door to his home.

Certain facts have emerged. Elians’ father called relatives in Miami to tell them that Elian and his mother were on their way. Janet Reno suppressed aspects of a report by court-appointed US judges who presided over the hearings in which Elian’s american relatives opposed his return. Elian’s grandmothers from Cuba covertly signaled to the Judge panel that they were under scrutiny by the Castro government and unable to speak candidly. Elian’s father was allowed to visit the US, his other children were not. He was under constant Cuban escort while in the United States.

And so a sitting President of the United States assisted an anti-american dictator in the forced repatriation of an escapee from a communist dictatorship to the United States. The President did this with force of arms, delivering not only the boy, but also a giant PR coup for the dictator, a leader who regularly proclaims himself an enemy of the United States. The President, with this action, essentially declared to the world his view that a nation without civil liberties, without independent judiciary, without freedom of speech or association, without democratic elections, a nation ruled by a secret police, is as good a place to raise a young boy as is the United States, a young boy whose mother gave her life to bring him here.

We are asked to believe that the father truly wanted his son in Cuba rather than in the United States. We are asked to ignore the mother’s heroic efforts to get him here. We are asked to assume there was no coercion from the Castro government.”

As Scott was a slave when taken into the state of Illinois by his owner, and was there held as such, and brought back in that character, his status, as free or slave, depended on the laws of Missouri, and not of Illinois.”  Supreme Court Case: Dred Scott vs. John F. A Sanford, March 6, 1857.

Did Elian Gonzalez determine the results of the 2000 presidential election?  Al Gore was running a close race for the Presidency. Florida would be crucial. How would a Gore victory affect Hillary Clinton’s political future?  The Florida Cuban community was enraged by Clinton’s actions. Gore, over a barrel, at first approved the decision to return Elian, but then disavowed it. He lost Florida by an extremely narrow margin, and then the election, despite winning the popular vote.

Neil Young

There was a time when rock-and-roll fostered truly original, creative art. Young people from nowhere, like Neil Young, with a talent for guitar, an honest voice, and a gift for ballad phrases and melodies, wrote and recorded great songs, not knowing really how or why. They expressed the angst of nobody-ness, and in turn achieved somebody-ness, even became rich, and it all added dimension to their art. They were too unsophisticated to be inauthentic, too inspired to be contrived. They could express the Everyman soul of doubt and insecurity. Unsure and yet on the big stage, they were drawn to the comfort of drugs and learned the despair of getting hooked. They lived and learned fast.

My life is changing In so many ways

I don’t know who to trust anymore

There’s a shadow running thru my days

Like a beggar going from door to door”

A Man Needs A Maid

Neil Young was born in Canada, grew up with a divorced mother, was a high school drop out. He was ungainly and quizzical, with a druid-like countenance.  He had a peculiar falsetto voice, and a unique strumming style of guitar, pushing and pulling at the chords and notes, and he wrote songs.

The Needle and the Damage Done is one of his best songs. Written in the news of a fellow band member who has died of a heroin overdose, the song captures the haunting, sad consciousness of giving yourself away to getting high, the utter domesday of that path.  One senses the despair of the frightening ease in which drugs help you do the very worst, feeling alright as you do, but also horrified, and unable to stop at the same time, like leaning over and falling off a cliff. With drugs you debase yourself without feeling like you care, even though you do, and there is no lonelier feeling. You give yourself away. This song is the lonely howl of that wolf.

The song doesn’t really begin and doesn’t really end. The chords are simple, and they climb and descend, and the rhythm repeats and backtracks, like addiction itself, like trying to walk home, intoxicated.  The singing and the guitar come together and separate and come together again with a fine craft.

This isn’t a song written by a song writer trying to write a song. This is a song that comes to an artist ready with the skills to put down, all at once, words and music together, as he feels it.  Neil Young, and others like him, somehow got there.

“I sing the song because I love the man

I know that some of you don’t understand

I’ve seen the needle and the damage done

A little part of it in everyone

But every junkie’s like a setting sun”

The Strangest Man

The Strangest Man, by Graham Farmelo

This biography of Paul Dirac, the Nobel winning British physicist who pioneered quantum mechanics, is foremost a mental biography. It is the story of an intuitive, mathematical mind that, using abstract thinking alone, correctly predicted the existence of anti-matter. He did no experiments.

The author chronicles Dirac’s social behavior, his impact on others, his emotional blindness, his insistence on mathematical and theoretic purity.  Farmelo makes the case that Paul Dirac had Asperger syndrome, a form of autism.  He was mathematically brilliant, but lacked social intelligence –  the ability to ‘read’ other people as the complex emotional beings that they are, which is the hallmark of Asperger syndrome.  Weak social intelligence can seem like callousness.  Dirac’s lack of personal connection seemed to be on purpose, and people were offended and would think him mean. When someone like Dirac is also known to be very smart, what else can explain his manner? Dirac just did not give the personal regard that people seek. He did marry and have children, but his wife came to be very frustrated, and his children did not fare well. He loved watching Cher, but had no other interest in music.

People like Dirac can seem to be like sociopaths, but poor social intelligence is not sociopathy.  Sociopaths often have a very strong social intelligence, indeed a powerful ability to understand what others are feeling, what others want. This is what makes them often skillful manipulators. Their lack of empathy allows them to avoid guilt as they use others. They can convey warmth and concern, all the while acting viciously.

This was not Dirac.  He could eventually understand people, after using deliberate and careful perception, logic and analysis.  And when he did, he could be caring and loyal.

His contributions to physics were substantial.  He solved many of the important issues of early quantum mechanics, and won a Nobel Prize, but his later years were not very productive. He insisted on abstract mathematical beauty and was unable or unwilling to engage the rough promise of new experimental results.

Social intelligence uses a great amount of mental capacity, and may be the chief reason our brain’s evolved so large.  Weak social mentation can liberate other mental talents, free up ‘disc space’ for other types of mentation, such as visual or spatial thinking.  This is the story of the savant, of people like Dirac.

Dirac was lucky to arrive in Niels Bohr’s time. Bohr’s genius was leadership.  He had a great managerial intelligence, even though he was a clumsy speaker and writer. He and his loving and intelligent wife fostered an intensely supportive environment for gifted and varied personalities, some with social intelligence and empathy, and some without, Nobel minds like Schroedinger, Einstein, Pauli, Dirac, and Heisenberg. Even Bohr’s son would eventually win a Nobel Prize.

Under Bohr, these great minds unravelled, in a short few years, the mysteries of chemistry and nuclear forces and brought human knowledge to the very edge of what is knowable, a place we have yet to surpass.

What is Information?

“In the beginning was the Word”, The Gospel according to John  1.1

Energy has been our most powerful explanatory concept, explaining events in the physical world more comprehensively than any other entity . . . so far.  Leave aside what energy actually is, it is a derived concept, known only by its effects.  No one has actually ever seen energy.

There are other ‘fundamentals’. There is entropy, order, information, and intelligence.  They are all different and yet all related, to energy and to each other.   Somehow they create the cosmos, everything we see and know.  We feel a call for some kind of synthesis.   Information may be the key.

We learn from the early studies of heat energy by Ludwig E. Boltzmann, and his laws of thermodynamics, that not all energy is the same, there is useful energy and there is unuseful energy. Useful energy is creative energy, it can do something, it can perform work.  In the process of doing something, useful energy somehow becomes stagnant, unuseful energy.  This flow from creative to stagnant energy,  from useful energy to unuseful energy, creates our known world.  The difference between useful and unuseful energy is mysterious.  It seems to be information.  Useful energy has information.  Useful energy may be information.

Entropy is a measure of non-useful energy.  High entropy has disorder, low entropy has order. Order is pattern in space and time.  Order has non-randomness.  Non-randomness is information. Low entropy has order and information.  Order and information have useful energy.

There is a paradox about information.  It takes more information to describe something that is more random and has less order, something that contains less information. Something containing more information takes less information to describe.  In some mysterious way, information denotes an efficiency quality. Quality information has more power, more effectiveness, it has more meaning. Quality information has order and pattern, but other also attributes such as symmetry, balance, rhythm. It is aesthetic. Quality information has truth and beauty.  It is artistic.

Even more mysteriously, Quality information creates agency.  The robust interactions of information contained in useful energy is intelligence, which becomes life in evolutionary adaptation in the dimension of time, and becomes consciousness in the perception of time itself.

Rather than being just incidental, information may be integral to the Universe, creator even of matter, IT FROM BIT, in the famous words of the physicist John Wheeler, collaborator of Einstein and Bohr,  discoverer of the black hole.

” IT FROM BIT symbolizes the idea that every item of the phsyical world has at bottom – at a very deep bottom, in most instances – an immaterial source and explanation;  that what we call reality arises in the last analysis from the posing of yes-no questions and the registering of equipment-evoked responses; in short, that all things physical are information-theoretic in origin and this in a participatory universe”. John Wheeler

The computer revolution may be more profound than we even think.

Leonardo from Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci, The flights of the Mind, Charles Nicholl, Penguin Books, 2005.

During his lifetime, Leonardo da Vinci was not considered the greatest visual artist of all time.  No, his personal lot was difficult, and endlessly trying.   He was an illegitimate son, a homosexual, a genius without peer, and always dependent for financial support on petty, vain, narrow-minded, and falsely pious rich men of medieval Italy.  He suffered fools continually.

A genius can’t really know what non-genius is like, and so life is puzzling, other people are baffling. The genius feels oppressively different and lonely and can be driven to seek expression, if not in this life, then for in the future.   This is how it was for Leonardo.  His work speaks to us 500 years later. His genius was visual, as Mozart’s was sound, his creativity futuristic, astonishing the world to this day.

“My advice is not to trouble yourself with words unless you are speaking to the blind.”

Three paintings:  The Lady with an Ermine, La Belle Ferronniere, and Mona Lisa are exquisite masterpieces. Leonardo presents his subjects radiant, unposed, mysteriously bemused, elegant, and subtly but powerfully defiant. We look at them, and they look at us.  We sense that they are unmistakenly people, individuals with thoughts, and hurts, and hopes, individuals who have a story.  There is a feeling of intrigue, something has happened. Leonardo doesn’t just capture pose, and clothing, and expression, he captures mentation, one can feel them thinking.  And they have dignity. Leonardo feels for them, and wants us see and feel for them also.  They are prisoners of sorts, sexual prisoners, sold into marriage by their families, to rich, older men.  They are confined – perhaps like him – by sexuality, the circumstances of the times, by the mediocrity of the powerful.  And so, too, with his Jesus. In The Last Supper, his Jesus is a person, not an icon.  This Jesus has resignation, disappointment, regrets, friends, and human needs, and is resigned to being misunderstood.

Leonardo’s paintings are astonishingly few. Late in life he regrets this, yet one senses that an element of purpose limited his output.  A subtle protest, perhaps, as if he felt it a blasphemy to give his artistic gifts over to the despicable, undeserving wealthy.  He was most proud of his work on medical illustrations, created from laborious dissections of human cadavers, carried out in the hospitals full of the unpretentious, common humanity.  He hoped to aid medical knowledge and treatment. This was his way to contribute his talents to the deserving.

Leonardo sensed the mystical in visual experience.

“Observe the flame of a candle and consider its beauty.  Blink your eye and look at it again.  What you see now was not there before, and what was there before is not there now.  Who is it who rekindles this flame which is always dying?”

Hayek’s Information

The economy has number. The term “economy” is singular, but its properties emerge from a collection of things which are numerous and diverse.  And it is important that the definition is always tied to its disparate components. When we create statistical aggregates to describe the economy, we lose information, we change the concept into something that is not real.  The economy is not singular.  It is a group, a set, of people, transactions, and ideas.  And the individual distinctness of its components, though unseen by the analyzing scholar, is precisely the quality that matters.

This is Friedrich Hayek’s insight in his famous essay, The Use of Knowledge in Society.

There are two kinds of “knowledge”.  There is the scientist’s knowledge, which seeks to understand the economy comprehensively, and the knowledge of the individual agent, who is uniquely aware of his own circumstances.  The individual’s knowledge is the disparate element, and the scientist’s knowledge is the conjectural, theoretic attempt to understand a complex system as a singular object.

As Hayek explains:

The sort of knowledge with which I have been concerned is knowledge of the kind which by its nature cannot enter into statistics and therefore cannot be conveyed to any central authority in statistical form.  The statistics which such a central authority would have to use would have to be arrived at precisely by abstracting from minor differences between the things, by lumping together, as resources of one kind, items which differ as regards location, quality, and other particulars, in a way which may never be very significant for the specific decision.

When Hayek uses the word “knowledge”, in today’s vernacular he means “information”.  We know that useful information is condensed, coded, and patterned.  The problem of economic coordination is the problem of transforming information for exchange.  And it is the system of price setting, by the natural mechanism of supply and demand, that achieves this end.

It is more than a metaphor to describe the price system as…a system of telecommunications which enables individual producers to watch merely the movement of a few pointers, as an engineer might watch the hands of a few dials, in order to adjust to changes of which they may never know more than is reflected in the price movement.

Thus, the interactions of numerous, disparate, autonomous individuals create economies by responding to supply and demand, communicating with price.  Information is exchanged, but the diverse elements of the economic system are preserved.

Recall that Margaret Thatcher famously said:  “there is no such thing as society”.  Hayek tells us why.  She was concerned that being oriented to  “society” can lead to ignoring citizens.

Hayek’s reasoning shows how aggregated information (the knowledge of the societal planner) doesn’t have relevance to any individual citizen.  The prudent policy maker doesn’t work on “society”, but on the liberty, safety, and opportunity of the individual.


His was a low-slung, smallish figure, neither markedly stout nor thin, inclining, if anything, to the latter. The square-cut tunic seemed always a bit too large for him: one sensed an effort to compensate for the slightness of stature. Yet there was also a composed, collected strength, and a certain rough handsomeness, in his features. The teeth were discolored, the mustache scrawny, coarse, and streaked. This, together with the pocked face and yellow eyes, gave him the aspect of an old battle-scarred tiger. In manner – with us simple, quiet, unassuming. There was no striving for effect. His words were few. They generally sounded reasonable and sensible: indeed they often were. An unforewarned visitor would never have guessed what depths of calculation, ambition, love of power, jealousy, cruelty, and sly vindictiveness lurked behind this unpretentious facade.” George Kennan

Imagine Hitler ruling for 30 years, that was Stalin. An intellectual psychopath, Stalin recognized Leninism/Bolshevism for what it was, intellectual justification for brutality, theft, repression, and power. Promoting the destruction of all the social institutions that served to keep the people precariously bound in some element of civil reciprocity was cat nip to the bank robber he was, and the murderer he became.

His feral cunning, callousness, and Machiavellian malevolence brought him from poverty in Georgia to absolute ruler of the largest victorious army in history, and the conquest of much of the Eurasian continent.

Some say that Hitler had difficulty murdering those he had known well. Not so Stalin.  He had the cherished wife of his personal valet of some many years, Poskrebyshev, taken and executed. They had a young son, who Stalin would sit on his lap, like a grandpa. The loved wife of Foreign Minister Vaicheslav Molotov, one of the signers of the death sentence for 21,000 Polish officers held at Katyn forest, and Stalin’s closest comrade in rule for thirty years, was imprisoned for ‘disloyalty’. (Molotov ‘abstained’ on the vote in the Politburo about her arrest, and then later apologized to Stalin about his ‘error’ in judgment and never again raised the issue of her case) Mrs. Molotov was eventually released – four years later – after Stalin’s death. Molotov never acknowledged that Stalin may have intended her harm. Anastos Mikoyan, another lifelong comrade, (also a signer of the Katyn death sentence), the USSR representative at JFK’s funeral, saw his two sons imprisoned, also only released after Stalin’s death. Genrikh Iagoda, Stalin’s early NKVD secret police chief, was ‘tried’ and then shot, as were his wife, and his sister. Another sister, and both parents, perished in the Gulag.

Stalin’s chief rivals for power, Zinoviev, Kamenov, Bukharin, and Trotsky were all executed for false crimes confessed under torture. Many of their wives, children, and parents were also executed, including a teenage son of Kamenov.  For many Bolshevik comrades, their real crime, a monstrous crime against humanity, a crime indeed justifiably punishable by death, was their failure, themselves, to bring to trial and to execute Joseph Stalin.