Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The internet in historical perspective

Tom Wheeler, former chair of the FCC:

Today, everybody talks about how much information is bombarding us. Imagine what it must have been like after the printing press when people who had been totally devoid of information had all of this information flooding them. The powers-that-be rebelled against that. Shortly after the printing press was developed, a Swiss scholar sat down and said, “I’m going to catalog all of the books that have been printed thus far.” He ended up warning of the harmful magnitude of books and how it will create nothing but chaos. Well, that’s kind of like what we’re experiencing today on the internet, isn’t it?
The railroad was the first high-speed network. From the beginning of humankind, geography and distance had defined the human experience. How far can muscle power take you in a day was a defining force. How far you can carry raw materials — whether it be coal or wheat — was a defining economic force. All of a sudden, the railroad comes by and destroys distance. It was the original death of distance. It totally reshaped economies and created the Industrial Revolution by being able to haul raw materials to a central point for mass production, and then haul the finished product back out to a connected market.

Immediately on top of the railroad came the telegraph. It became the tool by which to manage the railroad as well as manage these far-flung production capabilities. It introduced the first national news media, the first national financial markets. These two together in the middle of the 19th century created the reality that we take for granted today and are now living as a result of the internet.
From 2003

The Internet seems less important than the printing press. So much that flowed from movable type and cheap paper-- books, newspapers, magazines, pamphlets-- was new. Websites and blogs just seem like a continuation of some of these innovations.

On the other hand, the Internet is probably as important as the telegraph or telephone. They are also similar in that they represent improvements in the speed and ease of long-distance communication. But that is evidence that the Internet is not unprecedented or revolutionary as some boosters claimed. And returning to Brad DeLong's point, it suggests that technological advances do not automatically create business or social utopias. The telegraph's effect on government and business were varied. The Internet's effects will probably be the same mixed bag.

Monday, June 17, 2019

What the Victorians wrought

This is from a book review by Jacob Heilbrunn in Modern Age:

Edward Gibbon, for instance, complacently observed in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire that while 'constant and useful labor' maybe the occupation of the vulgar multitude, it was the case that the 'select few, placed by fortune above that necessity, can fill up their time by the pursuits of interest or glory, by the improvement of their estate or of their understanding, by the duties, the pleasures, and even the follies of social life.
Within a few decades Britain and the US saw an explosion of social groups devoted to self-improvement and providing the pleasures of social life even to “the vulgar multitude.’


One of the very first times Abraham Lincoln appears in the public record is as the result of a speech he gave to Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois on January 27, 1838. What interests me here is not the speech but the venue. The first cabin at the place that would become Springfield was built on the Illinois frontier in 1820. In the 1840 census, the town had a population of 2,579. Yet the people of Springfield, the young men of Springfield, were already part of the Lyceum movement.

Victorians at their best

In praise of the Victorians

The distilled essence of everything bad about true crime podcasts

When the SJWs at Crime Writers On agree with the ninjas on Reddit, you know it must be a really awful podcast

To Live and Die In L.A, The Worst True Crime Podcast Of All Time

To Live And Die In LA - NOPE.
They may well be right. It manages to combine the worst faults of the MSM and the worst features of amateur true crime podcasts: Scooby-do LARPing, vulture journalism, fruitless speculation, character assassination, solipsistic narration, and cheesy cliff-hangers. To Live and Die in LA manages to include them all.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Tyrants have always hated history and have sought to control it

The first Emperor of unified China, Qin Shi Huang (221-210 BC) sought to prevent critical comparison with previous rulers by removing all historical and philosophical texts from private hands and placing them in the imperial library
Christopher Andrew, The Secret World: A History of Intelligence

Thursday, June 06, 2019

This is what leadership looks like

As the battle raged on the Normandy beaches on D-Day, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower followed the sporadic and fragmentary reports of the fighting. He was the supreme military commander yet on that day he was largely powerless. He was responsible for the most complex operation ever mounted by any nation or coalition; on the most critical day of the war, he was largely an observer.

All through the Longest Day he carried a document in his pocket. He had written it himself in the hours after he ordered Operation OVERLORD to commence.

Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air, and the navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Credentialed, not educated

From that notorious Trumpkin William James:

Human nature is once for all so childish that every reality becomes a sham somewhere, and in the minds of President and Trustees the Ph. D. degree is in point of fact already looked upon as a mere advertising resource, a manner of throwing dust in the Public's eye.
"The Ph. D. Octopus", (1903)
He goes on to describe the drive to require the Ph. D. for college educators as "a grotesque tendency" driven by "vanity and sham".

He ends with a pointed to question:

Other nations suffer terribly from the Mandarin disease. Are we doomed to suffer like the rest?
Unfortunately, we now know that the answer was "yes".

Saturday, June 01, 2019

A mystery solved

Matt Birkbeck's A Beatuful Child is one of the most haunting true crime books I've ever read. The story that begins with a common enough crime -- a woman is killed by a hit-and-run driver in Oklahoma City in April 1990. But the police investigation soon uncovers other horrific crimes and several enduring mysteries.

The victim, known as "Tonya Hughes" at the time of her death, had lived under a series of false names for over a decade. The man who claimed to be her husband was a federal fugitive. Years earlier he had pretended to be her father when she lived under the name of "Sharon Marshall".

Franklin Delano Floyd had kidnapped her from somewhere. He had abused and exploited her and her son. And, as a final insult, he refused to reveal her real identity. so that her famility could have some closure.

Birkbeck refused to let the story end there. Even after he published A Beautiful Child in 2004 he kept searching for "Sharon Marshall"'s family.

He persisted through years of disappointment. Finally, in 2014, the painstaking work of dozens of professional and amateur investigators uncovered the truth:

"Tonya Hughes"/"Sharon Marshall" was Suzanne Marie Sevakis born in Livonia, Michigan in 1969.

Finding Sharon tells the story of that investigation. Along the way Birkbeck fills in asome of the blanks In Sevakis's short, tragic life.