Dark Voyage With Alan Furst

We had the joy of reading another Alan Furst book: Dark Voyage.  The Dutch tramp freighter Noordendam goes back and forth from being itself and the Spanish Santa Rosa in the run up to the German invasion of the Soviet Union while its captain, Eric DeHaan deals with the Dutch, British, German, Soviets, and others.

Dark Voyage has the tight details of the ship, the vision of the ports (Alexandria, Tangiers, and Lisbon), with the background of a world at war.  And, of course, Furst is telling you all this in book nor.  Here is an example:

“Nobody can see the future,” Dehaan said, “But promises are sometimes kept, even by governments.”

There are interesting souls in Dark Voyage.  It doesn’t tie into an of the other Furst books so you can start with it.

APT Stoops And Conquers

We accompanied the Lady de Gloves to American Players Theatre (APT) in Spring Green, WI to the opening night of She Stoops To Conquer.  We enjoy opening nights because, among other things, it brings the other actors to the show.  After decades of going to APT (this is their 40th year and perhaps our 30th) we know many of the actors.   As Father Brown says, actors lie for a living, but it is still fun to watch actors watch actors and plays within plays.  Perhaps they are acting when they watch but they really seem to enjoy the shows.

We had a nice evening meal on the picnic tables APT provides.  The APT grounds are enjoyable so bring a picnic or buy one there.  We are arrived at the outside theatre up the hill with some trepidation.  Last week, for the first time in our experience, we were rained out.  There were clouds but, fortunately, nothing more.  Then we read the director’s (Laura Gordon) notes and she said that Tony Lumpkin was arguably one of the funniest characters in the English language.  We almost left then thinking that no actor (Josh Krause- a relative newcomer to APT) or play could live up to such ballyhoo.

We are glad we stayed.  She Stoops To Conquer is an excellent play that APT does extraordinarily well.  The play is almost three hours but the time flies because the play does.  Josh is great as Tony.  James Ridge and Sarah Day are wonderful as the Hardcastles, a bickering pair on their second marriage.  There is singing, music, and wonderful physical comedy to go along with great use of the stage and and its surroundings.  Wait for Mrs. Hardcastle (Sarah) to get lost in the woods.  There are no small parts and Jennifer Vosters proved that by enchanting us as the fiddle-playing Pimple (yup, that is her character’s name).  We’re not sure if she had a line but we enjoyed her stage presence.  One of the joys of APT is the depth of the quality.

We don’t know if it was only for opening night but “Tony Lumpkin and the Bumpkins” performed several (four?) songs outside the theatre as the patrons departed.  We watched it with one of the actors from a Lovely Sunday For Creve Coeur (review later).  She seemed to enjoy it as much as we did.  Whatever the distance, She Stoops To Conquer at APT is worth the trip.

The Tampa Bay Snowbirds

Sometimes it is hard to distinguish between rational and cynical.  The Tampa Bay Rays are considering a different model of home:

Major League Baseball’s executive council has granted the Rays permission to explore the possibility of playing a split-season schedule between the Tampa Bay area and Montreal, a move which Commissioner Rob Manfred said would aim to “preserve baseball in Tampa, but improve the economics of the club overall by playing some of their games in Montreal.”

We are currently reading Bill Nowlin’s Tom Yawkey and one of our takeaways is that many of the sportswriters of yesterday would have been sports talk radio hosts today.  They said all sorts of things from the unsourced to the crazy like the Red Sox were going to move to Burlington VT..  We put the quote in to show you that permission comes from MLB so this is a serious idea.

It looks like a rational idea.  Spring and fall in Tampa and summer in Montreal. Montreal has experience with split seasons (the answer is Puerto Rico if you don’t want to click). But there are problems with the details and a problem with not having a home.  One important detail is where will playoff games be?  If the Rays host the wild card game will it be in Montreal or Tampa.  It is only one game so it can’t be both.

The big problem is that teams need a home.  We are Red Sox fans wherever we call home.  When team move it creates animosity.  We had a relative, now deceased, that hated the Braves in Milwaukee and Atlanta because they left Boston.  We think this is a ploy for a new stadium.  It pits Montreal versus Tampa.  May the most foolish city lose and win the Rays.

Building a stadium is not a good economic choice for a city or state.  Really, you need a cite on this?  OK.  It does provide benefits to the folks that go to the games and the owners of the team.  It is the typical problem of concentrated benefits and dispersed costs that lead to overspending by the government.  That is why the most foolish city loses by winning the Rays.


The Bad Idea Machine

Our buddy, and the junior senator from Missouri, Josh Hawley is at it again. Lots of folks are upset about political comments on Internet giants like Facebook and he wants to put Washington in charge.   David French at NRO and Elizabeth Nolan Brown at Reason do a good job of explaining why Josh has a particularly foolish bill.  Of course you should real both of them in their entirety.  Here is David’s description:

[Josh] wants to replace common sense with a legal fiction, making Facebook responsible for user comments unless it can satisfy an extraordinary condition — it has to prove to the Federal Trade Commission [FTC] by clear and convincing evidence that it doesn’t moderate content in a manner “designed to negatively affect a political party, political candidate, or political viewpoint” and that its moderation doesn’t “disproportionately restrict or promote access to, or the availability of, information from a political party, political candidate, or political viewpoint.” [Emphasis added]

Josh’s proposal would put the Internet giants in an impossible position and make them  subject to FTC’s whims.  Do we think we will get limited government with Facebook appearing before the FTC every two year?  As you are already going to read David and Elizabeth, we shall limit our comments to conservatism and level of proof.

We want to make clear that changing the level of proof would not make the bill acceptable but the level of proof shows how poorly thought out or dishonest Josh’s bill is.  Josh says:

“Today I’ve introduced legislation to end Big Tech’s biggest sweetheart deal from government,” [Josh] tweeted Wednesday morning. “No more government protection for Big Tech’s political censorship.”

As the bold shows, Facebook will need to show clear and convincing evidence of lack of bias. It is an daunting task especially when you think about all the groups you could show bias against.  Nolo gives us four legal standards of proof in ascending order: Substantial Evidence, Preponderance of Evidence, Clear and Convincing Evidence, and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.  Josh’s choice is, according to Nolo, reserved for civil lawsuits where something more than money is at stake.  The bill is not going to reach Josh’s stated goal because Facebook will not meet that standard and that would mean much more government involvement.

And that brings us to conservatism and conservatives.  Part of political classifying is the Venn Diagram issue.  How much to folks need to overlap before you can give them a common categorization?  But it also a matter of priorities and thinking process.  There might be substantial evidence based on his positions that Josh is a conservative but his processes and priorities are clear and convincing evidence to us that he is not.  We are not voting for him in the ’24 presidential primaries that he is clearly positioning himself but we shall reserve judgement on the general election.  It will be another binary choice.

Writing, Alan Furst, And Envy

In keeping with our recent discussions, now even our titles have a list of three.  When folks talk about money, fame, trophy wives or politics (whoops four) we are generally not susceptible to envy but we are for writing.  In Red Gold, Alan Furst

Sidebar: Red Gold is another excellent book in the Night Soldier series.  If you like the world weary adults in film noir then you will love the series. In fact, the protagonist in Red Gold was, and if he lives through WWII, will be a film producer. So far, most of the series is only loosely connected so you can jump in anywhere.   End Sidebar.

has our hero Jean talking to the commie Weiss during the WWII German occupation of France and:

Weiss smiled. “It should, logically it should but the world doesn’t run on logic, it runs on the seven deadly sins and the weather.  Even so we try to do what we can.”
“And it helps,” [Jean] said, “to have machine guns”

We wish we could write just one passage like that.  Here, on the other hand is a really good article at Unherd on the Tories and Brexit by Robin Aitken.  Of course, you should read it all but here is a sample:

Why should it be imagined that younger people, who inevitably know less than their elders, are better equipped to decide the country’s future? It is only in the modern era, and particularly in western countries, that we have come to flatter and fawn over the young, not because of their shining hair, good teeth and clear skin (all very desirable) but because they supposedly have insights denied to the old.

We enjoy both Robin and Alan but only the latter causes us envy.  We felt a guilty pleasure when we noticed that Alan wrote that Jean left the truck running and later came back and started it.  Ha, we would not make that elementary mistake!  It does bring us joy that we have nine more of Alan’s Night Soldier books ahead of us.

Comments On Kamala

We still think Kamala will be the next president but we are more concerned about our prediction than we were a few months ago.  It seems more likely that the year will be 2024 rather than 2020 but time will tell.   Instapundit cited a Jim Geraghty post in NRO’s Corner that caught our attention.  Jim says and quotes:

The other day Wonkette offered an article with a headline that declares — cleaning it up for your sensitive eyes — “Kamala Harris Doesn’t Have To Explain Herself To Your Dumb [Tushes].”

Infuriated by headlines about a Harris speech declaring that she is defending her record as a prosecutor, Stephen Robinson writes:

Is Harris on trial here? Why is she “defending her record”? Did she lose all her cases like the prosecutor who faced off against Perry Mason each week? That guy needed to explain himself. Harris put [bad words] in prison. She imprisoned [bad words] so well she was the first woman elected district attorney of San Francisco and the first black woman to become attorney general of California. She’s the Serena Williams of law and order.

While she’s undoubtedly better than Hamilton Berger, Harris’s record is a little more complicated than that. [Emphasis added]

Jim concludes that candidates always need to defend their records.  We agree but we have concerns.  First, Stephen can’t be bothered to look up Hamilton Berger like Jim did.  Really, this is not a tweet but Stephen’s article and he can’t be bothered to type in Perry Mason prosecutor.  Go and try it.  We will wait as it won’t take long.  You won’t even need to finish typing prosecutor and you will find that Hamilton Burger has his own Wikipedia site!

Second, what is a good record for a prosecutor?  We are not convinced that Jim is right that Kamala is better than Hamilton.  Hamilton, on our small sample, never convicts the innocent or frees the guilty.  Obviously, life is more complicated than a TV drama but convictions, as Scooter Libby could tell you, might not be the best measure of a prosecutor. Evaluating teachers and prosecutors involves problems because the goals, learning and justice, are hard to measure.

Third, Jim is worried about the need to serve a strong leader demonstrated in the tone of Stephen’s article.  Instead, given the circumstances at Oberlin College, we find Jim’s parenthetical comment is more important:

(Whatever else you think of [Stephen]’s argument, he’s absolutely right when he declares, “it’s insulting to claim that black people can only have an adversarial relationship with the criminal justice system or that a black woman can’t prosecute crimes without betraying her community.”)

Kamala has a mixed heritage but we are not getting into the swamps of what is black in the quote.  The important point is that protecting communities from bad actors is a good idea even if Oberlin disagrees.

Sidebar: We have already said that convictions are not necessarily justice and we would add that police do not always act properly.  Protecting communities without harming them is a challenge and we agree with Jim that Kamala should explain how she did that.  Perhaps she has examples of convicting cops.  We just think that Stephen’s law and order message is the important one rather than the she doesn’t need to explain one.  End Sidebar.

This is the first good news we have seen about a Democrat presidential candidate.  Perhaps more is forthcoming but we are not holding our breath.

Making Public Universities Private

Richard Vetter has an interesting article at Minding the Campus with a strange start.  You should read the whole thing as vouchers for college is an interesting idea.  Near the beginning of Let’s Privatize State Colleges he categorizes colleges:

Some of them are renowned highly selective research institutions like the University of California at Berkeley or the University of Michigan, while others are relatively obscure schools with an open admissions policy. But all receive some degree of subsidization from the state government where they are physically located.

Writers love groups of three: Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and Baby Bear.  In Bonanza there is Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe.  In the Brady Bunch there is a dad with three boys marries a mom with three daughters.  When you add in the Brady’s housekeeper there are three groups of three.  Perfect.  Yet Richard has just two: Berkeley and open admissions.  It is particularly strange because the middle, what we will call comprehensives, is almost surely the majority of state college enrollment.  Here is a 2016 story for the University of Wisconsin System.  There are (rounding) 43,000 students at Madison (a Berkeley clone), 11,000 at the colleges (they have open admissions or close to it) out of 179,000.  The remaining 125,000 or 70 percent are enrolled elsewhere.  To call the 125,000 comprehensives is slightly expansive but that is what we are going with.  States will vary but comprehensives are likely a majority of enrollment nationwide.

Sidebar: The University of Wisconsin Milwaukee has 26,000 students and doesn’t fit as a comprehensive because it has a significant doctoral program but it is not, sorry, Berkeley.  The Carnegie classification is much more detailed. Check the numbers at the link.  There are 130 doctoral schools with very high research and 741 masters degree schools which is the traditional definition of a comprehensive.   We will use the term comprehensive to include these second tier research programs and some schools without a masters program.  We know there are more categories.  End Sidebar.

The comprehensives, as defined in the sidebar, are the biggest group of students.  Richard is not just talking about Berkeley.  Richard has a neat idea: Let’s give money to needy and/or accomplished individuals rather than schools.  He says:

Why don’t we provide vouchers for college attendance like some states do for students going to K-12 schools? The aid could be more explicitly targeted to kids who are either relatively poor or who excel academically.

We like vouchers for K-12 but are not supportive of Richard’s proposal for three (there is that number again) reasons: gamesmanship, lack of confidence in the state, and it is not a priority.  First, there is the opportunity for gamesmanship.  Do 529 accounts count? Is your parents’ income and assets considered if you go into the armed forces and then return to school?  The current system has enough of these challenges.  Making the potential returns bigger will only exacerbate the current challenges.

Second, we are expecting each state to come up with and adjust a system that prevents gamesmanship and deals with grad students, veterans, varying programs, and finances.  For example, 150 credits are required to sit for the CPA exam in most states.  Do you get five years in accounting but four years in finance?  We are not confident that the state will make things better.  Colleges have employee contracts that are set up before enrollment.  Under Richard’s system when a college does not reach enrollment targets there will be a big financial problem.  What will be the state’s plan for short-term versus long-term financial problems.  Will contracts be honored?

Third, and most importantly, state college vouchers should not be a priority for conservatives.  The reason vouchers for K-12 are a priority is to encourage competition.  Comprehensives are already intensely competitive within state and sometimes among states and they often have a program or two where they compete with the flagship school(s).  The flagship schools compete among states.  There is lots of overlap in the Wisconsin (Madison) and Minnesota application pools.  College vouchers might increase competition but there is already intense competition.

If we are going to spend our time on education we need to worry about (of course, three things) K-12 vouchers, union issues, and free speech, especially in college.  Vouchers for colleges is a fun topic to kick around among  conservatives (why not allow students to use them at private schools?) but it shouldn’t be a priority.


Paul McCartney In Madison

We accompanied the Lady de Gloves, our sister, and a friend to see Paul McCartney at the Kohl Center in Madison.  Wow! it was worth the trip.  Paul gave a three hour tour (just like Gilligan) of 38 songs from the Beatles, Wings, and his solo work.  You need to see him before this musical treasure is gone.

Paul’s voice is not the instrument it once was but he is still a joy to listen to.  What make it a great show is the songs, the organization, his presence, and his musical skills.  Paul is onstage for all three hours playing a variety of guitars, keyboards, and a (baby?) grand piano.  It makes three hours fly by.

Paul is a star and he knows it because he can still connect to us. At one point amidst all the applause he says (approximately) I think I’ll take a second to drink it all in.  It wasn’t a talk-fest like some concerts (Donovan) we have been to but he did have some great stories.  The one we liked was very brief and concerned writing Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite and the relationship we saw with expertise.  Paul related, as many knew, that a substantial part of the lyrics came from a poster of John’s.  Paul made a self-depreciating comment something like, “After that there wasn’t much to writing it.”  Of course there was much to it.  The first step was to see the germ of the song on the poster.  The second step was to flesh it out.  Several steps later there is a song worth including on Sgt. Pepper.

The organization of the show starts with the brass section showing up in the third (?) song in the audience in about section 105.  Shortly after they closed off part of the stage to do some of the older Beatles songs as a small group.  Later, Paul did a couple of solos on a cube that rose up (15 feet?) from the stage.  The pyrotechnics in Live And Let Die scared the bejeezus out of us.  The video content was interesting.  We especially liked the tribute to George.

And there are great songs even without playing Yesterday!  We could list a half dozen songs he should have added.  Paul is still the popular rocker he was with the Beatles so his library is 50 plus years of joy.  Sure there was a song about bullying and another about segregation (Blackbird) but it was not a woke show.  It was fun.  It was great fun.  You should see Paul while you still can.


WWII Alternative History

Robert Tombs at Unherd has a nice piece celebrating the Tommies and their contribution to the allied victory on D-Day and in WWII.  We agree when Robert says:

What is the reality? Britain, and of course the Empire, continued to make immense economic and military efforts throughout the war: an unparalleled level of civilian mobilization, as well as more than five million in the armed forces by 1945 serving from Denmark to China.


Recent historical analysis asserts that the Second World War was fundamentally won in the air and at sea, where Britain played a leading, and perhaps predominant, role from 1939 to 1945.

What we don’t agree is what was the likely alternative if D-Day failed.   Robert says that if D-Day had failed then:

The Wehrmacht would have been able to reinforce the Eastern Front, and perhaps made Stalin contemplate (not for the first time) a separate peace, leaving the Nazis dominant in Europe. The Holocaust was still extending its merciless grip to the surviving Jewish populations of Hungary, France, Holland, and Italy. The world would have faced an indefinite prolongation of a global war in which thousands were dying daily. To end the agony, the first atom bombs would probably have been dropped on Germany.

We agree on the Holocaust as the Soviets were no help in stopping that.  But the rest seems highly unlikely.  In June 1944 the Soviets were advancing on Germany like Germany did in the other direction in 1941 [from Laurence Rees, War Of The Century: When Hitler Fought Stalin].  The Stalin and the Soviets had every reason to continue their advance and no reason to stop.  And, as Robert describes, British  [and American] bombing was having an enormous impact on Germany’s ability to fight the Soviets.  Nazi domination of Europe was no longer possible.  The issue was Soviet domination or a balance between the Soviets and other allies.  There are lots of possibilities but the real nightmare scenario of a failed D-Day 75 years ago is that the Iron Curtain would reach to the British Channel.


Enough Philosophy!!!

Michael R. Strain, an AEI guy writing on The Corner at NRO has a great post on philosophical debates.  Michael is talking about conservatism debates but we have seen it in numerous academic situations.  We had a colleague who was sincerely convinced that if we came to an agreement on principles that every other issue could be resolved from those principles.  Our accounting/economics background lets us play the principles game but we realize that the practical needs more than principles.  Michael seems cut from the same cloth.  Perhaps we can make him an honorary accountant. Oh, and we think of that as a great honor for an economist.

Do read all of Michael’s post.  We have a long quote below because we need it for our discussion of conservatism.  Michael starts out:

Rich’s post this morning, which builds off Matthew Continetti’s excellent column, addresses a feature of the intra-conservative debate that has been on my mind for quite some time: The emphasis on doctrinal discussion above specifics.

Rich’s post is forward looking. He accurately observes: “The questions, What and How? almost never appear, i.e., what policies are we talking about and how are we going to achieve them?”

There is a backward-looking component to this as well. I commonly come across some variant of the following: “I’m a free trader. I just think trade should be put in its proper place. It isn’t more important than family and community.” But what, specifically, does that mean? [f we are honest it means the speaker is not a free trader.]  Was the president right not to enter TPP? Should the United States not have formed NAFTA? Should we have actively tried to keep China out of the global trading system?

In his first paragraph we think Michael is being kind about the contributions of Rich and Matthew but kindness is a good thing.  The conclusion is exactly right because doctrinal discussions don’t lead to specifics.  They can be useful but we need both doctrine and specifics.

The second paragraph is exactly right except he (or Rich) leaves out priorities.  We would end the last sentence in the second paragraph with “rather than others.”

The third paragraph shows how folks defeat proposals that they do not agree with or are not their priorities.  The bold phrases can be rearranged so that the first two are something specific like free speech, lower taxes, or entitlement reform.  You could change the third one to any meaningless generality or keep it the same.

Rather than dissing David French let’s find some specific proposal that we can support.  The Donald and the Democrats may make passage problematical but we need to get specific on a good proposal.  It could be health care but we can’t find Avik Roy’s proposal.  If we don’t like it then Michael tells us how to answer.