With Repeated Experiences We Establish “a Personal Relationship” with Technological Tools

In a philosophy course that our daughter Jenny took at Notre Dame, a reading or two suggested that repeated experience with technologies make them almost extensions of our own senses, expanding what Ed Yong (quoting others) calls our “umwelt” (which I think means the scope of the sensory world we can experience). My guess is that pilot Brian Shul (who is discussed below) experienced this after many hours piloting the SR-71 Blackbird. If this is an important phenomenon, and I think it is, then it increases even further the diversity of what Hayek called “local knowledge” and what Polanyi called “tacit knowledge.”

(p. A17) Brian Shul, a retired Air Force major who modestly described himself as “a survivor” rather than a hero after he was downed in a Vietnamese jungle, suffering near-fatal injuries, before rebounding to pilot the world’s fastest spy plane, died on May 20 [2023] in Reno, Nev.

. . .

His final assignment, before he retired in 1990 after a two-decade military career, was piloting the SR-71, the world’s highest-flying jet.

The aircraft, nicknamed the Blackbird and deployed to monitor Soviet nuclear submarines and missile sites, as well as to undertake reconnaissance missions over Libya, could soar to 85,000 feet, fly at more than three times the speed of sound and survey 100,000 square miles of the Earth’s surface in a single hour.

“To fly this jet, and fly it well, meant establishing a personal relationship with a fusion of titanium, fuel, stick and throttles,” Major Shul wrote in his book “Sled Driver: Flying the World’s Fastest Jet” (1991), invoking the detractive nickname that U-2 pilots had pinned on their faster Blackbird counterparts. “It meant feeling the airplane came alive and had a personality all her own.”

Major Shul piloted the Blackbird for 2,000 hours over four years.

. . .

The Lockheed SR-71 soared so high into the mid-stratosphere that its crew was outfitted in spacesuits, and it flew so swiftly that it could outpace missiles.

“We were the fastest guys on the block and loved reminding our fellow aviators of this fact,” Major Shul wrote.

. . .

In Vietnam, he was a foreign air adviser during the war, piloting support missions in conjunction with the Central Intelligence Agency’s Air America, which flew reconnaissance, rescue and logistical support missions for the military.

When his aircraft was attacked, he crash-landed in the jungle, where he was rescued by a Special Forces team and evacuated to Okinawa, Japan. Doctors there predicted that his burns would prove fatal.

. . .

. . . one day, while lying in bed, he heard children playing soccer and, as he remembered being their age, the radio began to play Judy Garland’s “Over the Rainbow.”

“You listen to the words to that song — it’s all about daring to dream,” Major Shul said in a speech at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California in 2016.

“I heard the words of that song for the first time that day,” he continued. “They penetrated my brain sharper than any scalpel they were using, and I could look out the window and see the other side of the rainbow and those kids, and I made a choice. I made a decision right then. I am going to try to eat the food tomorrow. I want to live. I’m going to try to survive.”

For the full obituary, see:

Sam Roberts. “Brian Shul, Fighter Pilot Who Flew World’s Fastest Plane, Dies at 75.” The New York Times (Saturday, June 3, 2023): A17.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated June 8 [sic], 2023, and has the title “Brian Shul Dies at 75; Fighter Pilot Who Flew World’s Fastest Plane.”)

The Shul autobiography quoted in a passage above is:

Shul, Brian. Sled Driver: Flying the World’s Fastest Jet. 2nd ed. Chico, CA: MACH 1, Inc., 1991. [I am not sure the year is right in this citation. Maybe it should be 1992. I have not seen a copy of the book, and citations online are inconsistent.]

The Yong book I mention at the start is:

Yong, Ed. An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms around Us. New York: Random House, 2022.

Communist China’s Restriction of Citizens’ Freedom Shows Its “Fragility”

(p. A8) HONG KONG—Prominent Pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow said she was exiling herself in Canada after getting her passport back from police in return for taking a patriotic trip to China, an exchange that sheds light on Hong Kong’s efforts to re-educate political opponents.

. . .

When Chow returned to Hong Kong, she said, she was instructed to write a letter thanking the police for the trip and enabling her to understand the great development of the motherland.

. . .

“I have never denied China’s economic development,” Chow wrote on Instagram. “But how can such a powerful country send people who fight for democracy to prison, restrict their freedom of movement, and even require them to go to mainland China and visit patriotic exhibitions in exchange for their passports? Is this not a kind of fragility.”

For the full story, see:

Elaine Yu. “Activist Flees Hong Kong After China Trip.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, December 5, 2023): A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Dec. 4, 2023, and has the title “Activist Flees Hong Kong After Re-Education Trip to China.”)

Canada’s “Onerous” and “Restrictive” Rules and Massive Cuts in Forest Service Staff Explain 2023 Summer Wildfires

(p. A10) Canada’s capacity to prevent wildfires has been shrinking for decades because of budget cuts, a loss of some of the country’s forest service staff, and onerous rules for fire prevention, turning some of its forests into a tinderbox.

. . .

People who study Canada’s response say it’s been weakened by a variety of forces, including local and national budget cuts for forests, cumbersome safeguards for fire prevention and a steep reduction in the number of forest service employees.

. . .

Some communities of Indigenous people — whom wildfires disproportionately affect because they often live in fire-prone areas — have hewed to the practice of controlled burning.

Two years ago, while a record-breaking heat wave exacerbated wildfires across British Columbia, some of the flames roared close to the Westbank First Nation, an Indigenous community in the Okanagan Valley. But years of thinning the forest and managing their land using cultural burning practices prevented the fire from causing any major damage to the community.

Across Canada, there are a handful of controlled burns each year, according to partial figures compiled by the National Forestry Database. Foresters seeking to perform them must go through a lengthy process to get approval from a province.

. . .

In some fire seasons, the duration of the approval process exceeds the narrow window when weather conditions are favorable for controlled burns.

. . .

“Essentially, you’ve handcuffed folks — foresters and silviculturists — from being able to get off successful prescribed burns because we made the rules so onerous and so restrictive” causing more wildfire fuel to be left on the forest floor, said Sarah Bros, a forester and co-owner at Merin Forest Management based in North Bay, Ontario, who has done prescribed burning.  . . .

. . . in the late 1990s , , , the Canadian Forest Service’s staff size [shrunk] from 2,200 to the 700 people it now employs.

For the full story, see:

Vjosa Isai and Ian Austen. “Cutbacks in Fire Prevention Haunt Canada.” The New York Times (Saturday, June 10, 2023): A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 9, 2023, and has the title “Canada’s Ability to Prevent Forest Fires Lags Behind the Need.”)

“People’s Experience with the D.M.V.” Teaches Them “the Government Is Plodding, Slow”

(p. B1) The film “Leave the World Behind” centers on the idea of mistrust and how easy it is for humans to lose empathy for one another when faced with a crisis. It is at once unnerving, misanthropic and bleak, and, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, it’s produced by Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company, Higher Ground.

. . .

(p. B5) While Mr. Obama was no stranger to Hollywood — since his early days of campaigning for the presidency he found a welcoming audience among the show business elite — he has found that working in this business has taken some getting used to.

“It’s ironic that the private sector is made out to be this hyper-efficient thing, and the government is plodding, slow,” he said. “I think part of it is ideological and part of it is people’s experience with the D.M.V.”

For the full story, see:

Nicole Sperling. “Reimagining Storytelling, Obama Style.” The New York Times (Friday, December 8, 2023): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Dec. 7, 2023, and has the title “Obamas’ Vision for Hollywood Company: ‘This Isn’t Like Masterpiece Theatre’.”)

Milken’s Junk Bond Innovation “Opened Up Cheaper and More Efficient Financing”

(p. A15) In “Witness to a Prosecution,” Mr. Sandler, a childhood friend who was Mr. Milken’s personal lawyer at the time, walks the reader through Mr. Milken’s 30-plus year legal odyssey, beginning in 1986 with the federal government’s investigation, followed by his indictment, plea bargain, and prison term, right through to his pardon by President Donald Trump in 2020. The author tells a convincing and concerning story of how the government targeted a largely innocent man and, when presented with proof of that innocence, refused to turn away from a bad case.

. . .

After reading Mr. Sandler’s account, I no longer believe in Mr. Milken’s guilt, and neither should you. The author argues that most of what we know about Mr. Milken’s misdeeds is grossly exaggerated, if not downright wrong. What the government was able to prove in the court of law, as opposed to the court of public opinion, were mere regulatory infractions: “aiding and abetting” a client’s failure to file an accurate stock-ownership form with the SEC, a violation of broker-dealer reporting requirements, assisting with the filing of a false tax return. There was no insider-trading charge involving Mr. Boesky or anyone else, because the feds couldn’t prove one.

. . .

When you digest the reality of the case against Mr. Milken, you find that much of it was nonsense. As Mr. Sandler puts it: “The nature of prosecution and the technicality and uniqueness of the regulatory violations . . . certainly never would have been pursued had Michael not been so successful in disrupting the traditional way business was done on Wall Street.”

. . .

The junk-bond market he helped create has opened up cheaper and more efficient financing to many more companies than it ever destroyed. What started as a $10 billion market is now standing at around $1.4 trillion.

For the full review, see:

Charles Gasparino. “The Milken Story Revisited.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Dec. 18, 2023): A15.

(Note: ellipses between paragraphs added, ellipsis internal to penultimate quoted paragraph in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date December 17, 2023, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Witness to a Prosecution’ Review: The Milken Story Revisited.”)

The book under review is:

Sandler, Richard V. Witness to a Prosecution: The Myth of Michael Milken. ForbesBooks: Charleston, South Carolina, 2023.

Rob Reiner Says Today “All in the Family” Scripts “Would Get Cancelled”

(p. C4 ) Reflecting on Norman Lear’s death, Rob Reiner was understandably heartbroken on Wednesday [Dec. 6, 2023].

. . .

Reiner won two Emmy Awards for playing the liberal son-in-law, Michael, of the close-minded racist Archie Bunker on Lear’s most famous sitcom, “All in the Family,” which ran from 1971 to 1979 on CBS.

. . .

No matter the issue that “All in the Family” dealt with on any given week — and it tackled thorny topics that would be considered contentious today: abortion, racism, gun rights — that issue would became water cooler talk the next morning. “You don’t have those kinds of communal experiences where you can talk to people,” Reiner said.

“The country either sided with Archie or sided with Mike, and that made for great discussions,” he continued. Lear “definitely tapped into something that nobody had ever done before or even since.”

Lear, who was 101 years old, drew inspiration from his favorite play: George Bernard Shaw’s “Major Barbara.” If you did not know that Shaw was a liberal, Reiner said, “you’d go to the play and you’d come away with the equal pro-war/antiwar — you’d come away with equal arguments on both sides, and it was made to spawn discussion.” And that’s what Lear wanted to do. “So he presented both sides. Archie had his side. And the character I played had my side, and we went at each other,” Reiner added.

That approach would likely never gain ground today, Reiner said. “He put a racist out there and the way racists really talk. And now, if you said things like that, you would get canceled.”

Lear would stir the pot. “He would ask us to look into ourselves and what did we think, what were our feelings about this. And we poured it into the show. So it made the show better. And he did that with everything he did. Fearless.”

For the full story, see:

Maya Salam. “Rob Reiner Recalls a Man Who Loved America.” The New York Times (Saturday, December 9, 2023): C4.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 6, 2023, and has the title “Rob Reiner Remembers Norman Lear: We’ve Lost ‘a Real Champion of America’.”)

If You Are Pained to Wait Over Two Years for Socialist Surgery in Britain, Seek Timely Free Market Surgery in Lithuania

(p. 4) For David Haselgrove, it was a battle each day to get out of bed, then another struggle to put on his socks. Stairs were often impossible, and the pain made him tetchy and difficult to live with.

But when he sought medical help for his arthritis, Mr. Haselgrove was told the wait for a specialist consultation was more than two years. It might be another two years before surgery.

“If I wasn’t the person I am, I would have been losing the will to live because the pain takes over your life,” said Mr. Haselgrove, 71, who is now fully mobile after a successful hip replacement.

His recovery has nothing to do with Britain’s National Health Service.

Instead, Mr. Haselgrove, who ran several small businesses during his working life, flew to a clinic in Lithuania to have surgery, becoming one of a growing number of Britons who have dipped into their own pockets to pay for procedures to which they are entitled free on the N.H.S.

. . .

Investment in buildings and equipment, including in vital diagnostic tools such as CT and M.R.I. scanners, has significantly lagged medical systems in other advanced economies, according to the King’s Fund, a health-focused think tank.

That contributed to a backlog of 4.6 million procedures even before the pandemic, a number that swelled to six million as planned procedures made way for emergency care during the Covid crisis. The line for treatment has only grown since. It is now about 7.7 million procedures, representing about a 10th of the population. Thousands have waited more than two years, often in pain.

Little wonder, then, that many Britons who can afford to pay to cut the line are doing so, while some of more limited means are dipping into savings or taking on debt. Yet that trend, some critics say, could undermine a health care system that has been a bedrock of British life for three-quarters of a century.

Private medical insurance is costly in Britain, and taxable when offered as a benefit by employers, so the shift is most visible when people pay for operations and other medical help out of pocket.

According to the Private Healthcare Information Network, which publishes data on the sector, there were about 50,000 “self-pay” medical admissions in a typical quarter before the pandemic. That figure is now steadily substantially higher; in the first quarter of this year, it was 71,000, close to a record.

That does not include patients who go overseas, like Mr. Haselgrove. At 7,000 euros, about $7,500, a hip replacement at the Nord Clinic in Lithuania was significantly cheaper than it would have been in a private hospital in Britain.

. . .

Britain is chronically short of health workers, with over 100,000 N.H.S. positions vacant.

. . .

. . . the deepest risk of the rise in self-pay patients, according to Chris Thomas, principal health fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research, a progressive think tank, is not to the health service’s operations, but to its political underpinnings.

The British health system, he said, is built around the idea of “universalizing the best” — creating a system “as good for a rich person” as for a poor one, Mr. Thomas said.

If wealthier people increasingly opt out, Mr. Thomas said, the N.H.S. will become a second-class system for those who cannot afford to do so, resulting in “a slow erosion of support.”

For the full story, see:

Stephen Castle. “Long Wait Lists Threaten U.K. Promise of Free Care.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, December 10, 2023): 4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 9, 2023, and has the title “Britons Love the N.H.S. Some Will Also Pay to Avoid It.”)

Ivy League Presidents Who Cancel Conservative Speech, Are Fine with Speech that Praises Genocide Against Jews

(p. A22) The presidents of Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania testified before a House committee on Tuesday [Dec. 5, 2023] about the state of antisemitism on their campuses. It did not go well for them.

. . .

If they are seriously committed to free speech — as I believe they should be — then that has to go for all controversial views, including when it comes to incendiary issues about race and gender, as well as when it comes to hiring or recruiting an ideologically diverse faculty and student body. If, on the other hand, they want to continue to forbid and punish speech they find offensive, then the rule must apply for all offensive speech, including calls to wipe out Israel or support homicidal resistance.

If Tuesday’s hearing made anything clear, it’s that the time for having it both ways, at the expense of Jews, must come to an end now.

For the full commentary, see:

Bret Stephens. “Campus Antisemitism, Free Speech and Double Standards.” The New York Times (Saturday, December 9, 2023): A22.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 8, 2023, and has the same title as the print version.)

British Colonial Authorities in India “Eased Out” Vaccine Innovator

(p. 19) The story of Waldemar Mordechai Wolff Haffkine, little told in the West beyond the world of bacteriology and within the annals of Judaica, is thrilling in its nobility and verve, and it might have better served Schama’s purpose had he devoted the entire book to the tale of a man he so clearly adores.

. . .

He was born in Odessa in 1860, and as a teenager was set to defending his community from the endless Russian pogroms. In time he moved to Switzerland and then to France, where he trained at the Pasteur Institute and, after studying paramecium, threw his energies into the scourge of cholera. He treated himself with an experimental vaccine and took off to India in 1893 to see how it worked.

That it did, brilliantly, and by today’s reckoning his invention saved millions. His more remarkable eventual success came five years later with a vaccine for eradicating bubonic plague.

Schama — by his own admission no biologist — describes the painstaking method of making a plague vaccine with enthralling technical precision. He writes of the gentle and respectful means of extracting the noxious fluids from the swollen buboes that dangled in the intimate parts of the infected and the dying; of the subsequent culturation process, in ghee-covered flasks of goat broth — no cow or pig could be used, since the vaccines would be given to Hindu and Muslim alike — and then of the nurturing of the resulting silky threads that held the trove of bacilli, ready to be injected.

Notwithstanding Haffkine’s immense contribution to India’s public health, the British colonial authorities, haughty and racist by turn, eventually wearied of the man. Their own means of dealing with infection had, after all, relied on brawn and bombast — the wholesale destruction of villages, the eviction of natives, the smothering of everything with lime and carbolic acid. Such schemes had generally failed, and it irritated the burra sahibs that a foreigner, and moreover a keen adherent to an alien belief, could succeed where they had not.

And so Haffkine was eased out, first from his Calcutta laboratory across to Bombay, and then out of the empire’s crown jewel altogether. He later went to Lausanne, where he would spend his final years.

For the full review, see:

Simon Winchester. “The Vaccinator.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, November 5, 2023): 19.

(Note: ellipsis added. In the original only the words “burra sahibs” are in italics.)

(Note: the online version of the review was updated Oct. 28, 2023, and has the title “Not All Heroes Wear Capes. Some Prefer Lab Coats.”)

The book under review is:

Schama, Simon. Foreign Bodies: Pandemics, Vaccines, and the Health of Nations. New York: Ecco Press, 2023.

End Double Standards by Consistently Protecting Free Speech

(p. 5) On Wednesday [Dec. 6, 2023], a dear friend emailed me a viral clip from the House hearing on campus antisemitism in which three elite university presidents refuse to say, under questioning by Representative Elise Stefanik, a New York Republican, that calling for the genocide of Jews violates school policies on bullying and harassment. “My God, have you seen this?” wrote my friend, a staunch liberal. “I can’t believe I find myself agreeing with Elise Stefanik on anything, but I do here.”

If I’d seen only that excerpt from the hearing, which has now led to denunciations of the college leaders by the White House and the Democratic governor of Pennsylvania, among many others, I might have felt the same way. All three presidents — Claudine Gay of Harvard, Sally Kornbluth of M.I.T. and Elizabeth Magill of the University of Pennsylvania — acquitted themselves poorly, appearing morally obtuse and coldly legalistic. It was a moment that seemed to confirm many people’s worst fears about academia’s tolerance for hatred of Jews.

. . .

. . . it seems to me that it is precisely when people are legitimately scared and outraged that we’re most vulnerable to a repressive response leading to harmful unintended consequences. That’s a lesson of Sept. 11 but also of much of the last decade, when the policing of speech in academia escalated in ways that are now coming back to bite the left.

. . .

. . . clearly, at many universities, the defense of free speech has been inconsistent. Some elite schools now cloaking themselves in the mantle of the First Amendment to ward off charges of coddling antisemites have, in the past, privileged community sensitivity over unbridled expression. So when university administrators say, as Gay did, “We embrace a commitment to free expression, even of views that are objectionable, offensive, hateful,” many in the Jewish community see a galling double standard.

But as the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, a libertarian-leaning civil liberties group, said in a statement about the hearings, “Double standards are frustrating, but we should address them by demanding free speech be protected consistently — not by expanding the calls for censorship.” Unfortunately, that is not what’s happening.

For the full commentary, see:

Michelle Goldberg. “University Presidents Walked Into a Trap.” The New York Times, SundayOpinion Section (Sunday, December 10, 2023): 5.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 7, 2023, and has the title “At a Hearing on Israel, University Presidents Walked Into a Trap.”)

Most Israelis Will Have No Place to Go If Israel is Destroyed

The video clip above is embedded through YouTube’s “share” feature. It is a clip of the EconTalk episode posted on Mon., Dec. 18, 2023. Host Russell Roberts interviews Haviv Rettig Gur on “An Extraordinary Introduction to the Birth of Israel and the Arab-Israeli Conflict.”

As the title claims, the interview really is “extraordinary.” I realize now that when I have thought about Israelis, I have always thought about the Israelis I have known–the ones I have run into at universities in the United States. Haviv showed me that these are the exceptions, that the vast majority of Israelis have no place to go if Hamas succeeds at destroying Israel. I bet the attitudes of many Americans toward what happened on October 7 would be different if they understood this, so I hope this interview is widely viewed.