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  • Archive for the 'Academia' Category

    The Closing of the American Mind; and worse.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 26th September 2015 (All posts by )

    Some years ago, when it came out, I read Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind. It struck me as a profound commentary on the weakening of college education and about changes in college students that I did not like and which had occurred since I was one myself.

    It seems to be getting worse now, according to this essay in Psychology Today.

    Dan Jones, past president of the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors, seems to agree with this assessment. In an interview for the Chronicle of Higher Education article, he said: “[Students] haven’t developed skills in how to soothe themselves, because their parents have solved all their problems and removed the obstacles. They don’t seem to have as much grit as previous generations.”

    In my next essay in this series I’ll examine the research evidence suggesting that so-called “helicopter parenting” really is at the core of the problem. But I don’t blame parents, or certainly not just parents. Parents are in some ways victims of larger forces in the society—victims of the continuous exhortations from “experts” about the dangers of letting kids be, victims of the increased power of the school system and the schooling mentality that says kids develop best when carefully guided and supervised by adults, and victims of increased legal and social sanctions for allowing kids into public spaces without adult accompaniment. We have become, unfortunately, a “helicopter society.”

    I think this is exceedingly dangerous and is behind the war on college age men. Some this can be seen in the hysteria of “Rape Culture” and various hoaxes perpetrated by magazines and by the Obama Administration’s Department of Education and its “Dear Colleague” letters.

    In order to assist recipients, which include school districts, colleges, and universities (hereinafter “schools” or “recipients”) in meeting these obligations, this letter1 explains that the requirements of Title IX pertaining to sexual harassment also cover sexual violence, and lays out the specific Title IX requirements applicable to sexual violence.2 Sexual violence, as that term is used in this letter, refers to physical sexual acts perpetrated against a person’s will or where a person is incapable of giving consent due to the victim’s use of drugs or alcohol. An individual also may be unable to give consent due to an intellectual or other disability. A number of different acts fall into the category of sexual violence, including rape,

    Those acts include many that an earlier generation would consider harmless and part of the normal male-female relationship.

    From one reader review of Bloom’s book written years after its publication:

    Bloom begins with the problem of liberal education at the end of the 20th century – in a world where students are taught from childhood that “values” are relative and that tolerance is the first virtue, too many students arrive at college without knowing what it means to really believe in anything. They think they are open-minded but their minds are closed to the one thing that really matters: the possibility of absolute truth, of absolute right and wrong. In explaining where we are and how we got here, Bloom presents a devastating critique of modern American education and its students, an intellectual history of the United States and its unique foundation in Enlightenment philosophy, and an assesment of the project of liberal education.

    We are well past that stage of the deterioration of American culture.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Book Notes, Civil Society, Culture, Education, Feminism, Morality and Philosphy, Society | 23 Comments »

    Secretaries of State march on for two hundred years – but we still count it in feet

    Posted by Ginny on 23rd August 2015 (All posts by )

    I’ve been reading Daniel Walker Howe’s The Political Culture of the American Whigs(1979). It slowly gave me a better understanding, since I started in a complete fog. Like his Making the American Self, here Howe chooses representative figures to give narrative, character & understanding. Just because the book is forty doesn’t mean insights don’t remain. Howe enlivens the Whigs and reminds us our parties still have more than a bit of the Whig & the Jacksonian. But, surprisingly, an anecdote used to illuminate John Quincy Adams reminds us of a spring candidacy.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Book Notes, Religion, Science | 3 Comments »

    Number Gut, Continued

    Posted by Dan from Madison on 11th August 2015 (All posts by )

    Years ago, Shannon Love did a series of posts on these pages about “number gut”. From this post:

    A number gut is an intuitive feel for the possible magnitude of a particular number that describes a particular phenomenon. A good number gut tells you if the results of some calculation are at least in the ball park.

    My number gut (or b.s. detector, in this case) went off today when I saw this story. Here is the money:

    Chicago Public Schools officials on Monday proposed a $5.7 billion operating budget for the upcoming school year…

    Holy crap that is a lot of money. There are 396,000 students in the CPS. $5.7bb / 396k = $15,447 per student. Really.

    From this article from 2014 about the most expensive private schools in Illinois, it looks like all of the students could go to Loyola Academy, and can almost all go to St. Ignatius College Prep for that kind of money.

    Just sayin’.

    Posted in Academia, Big Government, Chicagoania, Education | 15 Comments »

    Passing It On – II – The Personal – Or How the ’60s Changed Everything

    Posted by Ginny on 6th July 2015 (All posts by )

    Or, the accurate but revealing title, How Moments Lead to Life Time Prejudice, Unmoved by Research

    I loved literature classes. My general fecklessness led to reading 17th century prose on night duty at the mental hospital when I was 20, absorbing little. My choices were seldom sensible – at first I had the excuse of being 17, of hitting college when the world changed fast – but still, I matured slowly. Few I knew experimented with drugs, but we successfully screwed up our lives without them. Simply put, my judgement was lousy in men, jobs, and energy/time management. But I loved going to class (not, mind you, always doing the work – I often hadn’t read the assignment). But in the hot world of adolescence, especially in the sixties, the cool calm of walking into a classroom ordered my days, gave me a separate peace – quiet, cool and cerebral. It challenged my mind as the world outside my emotions.

    That’s why I keep distance. My friend describes my teaching as cool – well, yes. I address students by their last names. I’m not their friend nor entertainer; I don’t want to offer me but the work – deep and textured and lovely. That’s where our eyes focus – on the text. So, that old model persists. Harvey Mansfield’s address notes that formality has its place, signals respect.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Education, Lit Crit, Personal Narrative, Society | 10 Comments »

    Passing It On – I – The Pedagogical

    Posted by Ginny on 2nd July 2015 (All posts by )

    Some comments here criticized lectures. I doubt that medium is as central as the comments imply. Few who teach skills depend only or even mainly on lectures. Lecturing itself has been marginalized. The passion for “critical thinking” is a theoretic good, but, naturally, pedagogical studies emphasize method over content, new & theoretical over traditional. But, I would argue, lectures are designed to clarify content & connections, to model critical thinking. They are useful. (I’m not getting into content – the understandable complaints about that are topics for another day.)

    Not surprisingly, my defense is defensive. I lectured. Apparently I conveyed passion but could also elicit boredom. For some, that love made a bad class bearable, for others, it was meaningful. Most bubbled in positive but not extraordinary evaluations. Probably some felt I was nattering on, then socked it to them on the test. And lectures let minds drift. But I lectured.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Customer Service, Education, Lit Crit | 10 Comments »

    Theme: The Fully Politicized Society

    Posted by David Foster on 10th June 2015 (All posts by )

    Sgt Mom recently posted about the “Sad Puppies” affair:  basically, it seems that the science-fiction publishing industry and its leading association and award structure have become highly politicized in the name of “progressivism”…in reaction, a contrarian movement arose called the “Sad Puppies”  (there are also “Rabid Puppies”)…and these groups have been vitriolically attacked by some prominent members of the SF publishing establishment.

    It strikes me that this would be a good time to update and repost my earlier Theme roundup of posts on the general topic of politicization.

    A very funny post about a very serious topic.  Sarah Hoyt, herself a science fiction writers, tells of (and illustrates) some of her own experiences with the Science Fiction Writers Association.

    What kind of things do you think they talk about at a convention of the National Art Education Association?  Best ways to teach perspective and watercoloring techniques?  How to explain Expressionism and Impressionism? Not these days.

    “Political correctness” has become a serious threat to American society

    What makes people want to live in a politicized society, and what is day-t0-day life like once the complete politicization has been accomplished?  In this post, I cite some thoughts from Sebastian Haffner, who came of age in Germany when the Nazi movement was casting its spell, and a vivid fictional passage from Ayn Rand, who grew up in the early Soviet Union.

    Gleichschaltung.  A word much favored by the Nazis, it means “coordination,” “making the same,” “bringing into line”…especially, in Nazi usage, “forcible coordination.”  The orientation toward Gleichschaltung is very apparent in today’s “progressive” movement and today’s Democratic Party.

    Prestigious Physics Professor Protests Politicization. Harold Brown, professor emeritus at the University of California Santa Barbara, explains the reasons for his resignation from the American Physical Society.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Big Government, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Current Events, Germany, History, Political Philosophy, Russia, USA | 19 Comments »

    Fear of Heresy Accusations, Then and Now

    Posted by David Foster on 3rd June 2015 (All posts by )

    I’m currently reading The Edge of the World: A Cultural History of the North Sea and the Transformation of Europe.  There’s an interesting section on the 7th-century monk Bede, a thoughtful scholar who wrote the first history of England.  A couple of centuries later, he would be known as the Venerable Bede, a Doctor of the Church…but back when he was just another monk:

    He once heard that he had been accused of heresy by someone who was having dinner with a bishop.  He was aghast, he told his friend Plegwin, he went white.

    Sure glad people don’t have to worry about things like that these days…but actually, this passage reminded me of something I read in the WSJ a few days ago.  It’s an excerpt from an article by Laura Kipnis, a feminist professor who–because of something she wrote in February–has been attacked by feminist students who tried to use Federal Title IX mechanisms to shut her down.  She was cleared of the charges against her, but says:

    After the essay appeared, I was deluged with emails from professors applauding what I’d written because they were too frightened to say such things publicly themselves. My inbox became a clearinghouse for reports about student accusations and sensitivities, and the collective terror of sparking them, especially when it comes to the dreaded subject of trigger warnings, since pretty much anything might be a “trigger” to someone, given the new climate of emotional peril on campuses. . . .

    A tenured professor on my campus wrote about lying awake at night worrying that some stray remark of hers might lead to student complaints, social-media campaigns, eventual job loss, and her being unable to support her child. I’d thought she was exaggerating, but that was before I learned about the Title IX complaints against me.

    Posted in Academia, Book Notes, Britain, Christianity, Civil Liberties, USA | 13 Comments »

    Haiti – Then and Now

    Posted by Ginny on 3rd June 2015 (All posts by )

    In freshman composition, I often devoted part of a class to short essays. The arguments I chose for focus interested me – probably more than my students. One was to write an essay prompted by an axiom or song lyric. Generally it may not have worked in terms of academic writing, but writing is writing. and a few years ago, one student responded to this Proverb:

    “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” Proverbs 25:28
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Book Notes, Human Behavior, Obama | 8 Comments »

    College Students Who Can’t Stand Challenge

    Posted by David Foster on 6th May 2015 (All posts by )

    A “safe space” at Brown University:

    The safe space, Ms. Byron explained, was intended to give people who might find comments “troubling” or “triggering,” a place to recuperate. The room was equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma. Emma Hall, a junior, rape survivor and “sexual assault peer educator” who helped set up the room and worked in it during the debate, estimates that a couple of dozen people used it. At one point she went to the lecture hall — it was packed — but after a while, she had to return to the safe space. “I was feeling bombarded by a lot of viewpoints that really go against my dearly and closely held beliefs,” Ms. Hall said.

    and at the University of Chicago:

    A few weeks ago, Zineb El Rhazoui, a journalist at Charlie Hebdo, spoke at the University of Chicago, protected by the security guards she has traveled with since supporters of the Islamic State issued death threats against her. During the question-and-answer period, a Muslim student stood up to object to the newspaper’s apparent disrespect for Muslims and to express her dislike of the phrase “I am Charlie.”

    Ms. El Rhazoui replied, somewhat irritably, “Being Charlie Hebdo means to die because of a drawing,” and not everyone has the guts to do that (although she didn’t use the word guts). She lives under constant threat, Ms. El Rhazoui said. The student answered that she felt threatened, too.

    A few days later, a guest editorialist in the student newspaper took Ms. El Rhazoui to task. She had failed to ensure “that others felt safe enough to express dissenting opinions.” Ms. El Rhazoui’s “relative position of power,” the writer continued, had granted her a “free pass to make condescending attacks on a member of the university.”

    Why do so many college students choose to “self-infantilize?”  Judith Shulevitz, author of the above-linked NYT article, quotes Eric Posner:

    Perhaps overprogrammed children engineered to the specifications of college admissions offices no longer experience the risks and challenges that breed maturity.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Human Behavior, Leftism | 31 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

    Posted by David Foster on 13th April 2015 (All posts by )

    Peter Thiel is interviewed by Tyler Cowen, in a conversation that ranges from why there is stagnation “in the world of atoms and not of bits” to the dangers of conformity to what he looks for when choosing people to why company names matter.

    Evaporative cooling of group beliefs.  Why a group’s beliefs tend to become stronger rather than weaker when strong evidence against those beliefs makes its appearance.

    More academic insanity:  the language police at the University of Michigan.

    Why Sam Sinai became a computer scientist instead of a doctor

    A National Archives official, in an e-mail comment that the people were not supposed to see:   “We live in constant fear of upsetting the White House”

    Why a pact with Iran throws Arab liberals under the bus  (“liberals” used here in the archaic and largely obsolete sense of “people who believe in liberty”)

    Garry Trudeau  (he wrote a cartoon called Doonesbury–is it really still being published?) gives his thoughts on the Charlie Hebdo murders perpetrated in the name of Islam–by accusing the cartoonists of “hate speech” and denouncing “free speech absolutism.”

    The secret Republicans of Silicon Valley

    Baseball, the stock market, and the dangers of following the herd

    Antoine de St-Exupery’s original watercolors  for The Little Prince

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Business, Civil Liberties, Human Behavior, Islam, Markets and Trading, Society, Sports, Tech, USA | 12 Comments »

    The Question at Hand

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 3rd March 2015 (All posts by )

    I read of this particular school-administered survey the other morning on one of the news websites which form my morning reading, in lieu of the local newspaper – which I gave up some years ago upon realizing two things; practically every non-local story they printed I had already read on-line through various sources some days before appearing on the (rapidly diminishing) pages of the San Antonio Express News, and when it came to opinion columnists and cartoonists, most of the local offerings were … pathetic. Seriously – when I could read the best and most incisive opinion bloggers like Wretchard at Belmont Club and Victor Davis Hanson – why would I bother to read a dead-tree version of whatever lame establishment national columnist had offered a cheap rate to the SA Express-News?
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Big Government, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Customer Service | 9 Comments »

    Fishing Only in the Heavily-Fished Pools

    Posted by David Foster on 8th February 2015 (All posts by )

    …probably won’t lead to great results.

    Virginia Postrel  notes that “elite investment banks, law firms and management consulting firms often hire almost exclusively from a handful of schools,” citing  research by sociologist Lauren Rivera:  “So-called ‘public Ivies’ such as University of Michigan and Berkeley were not considered elite or even prestigious.”

    Virginia argues that “If everyone you interview comes from the same few schools, the same social networks, the same previous employers or the same geographic regions, you aren’t really fighting for talent.”

    What she is saying here is similar to my point in the recent post  “Top-tier university graduates only.”

    Of course, for the industries Virginia mentions–law, investment banking, management consulting–people are being hired not only for their ability to do the job, but also for the advertising value of their credentials in attracting potential business.

    Posted in Academia, Business, Management, Society | 2 Comments »

    Mike Lotus Spoke to the University of Chicago Law School Federalist Society Student Chapter on February 3, 2015 About “America 3.0 and the Future of the Legal Profession”

    Posted by Lexington Green on 5th February 2015 (All posts by )

    UChicago law school

    Huge thanks to the University of Chicago Law School Federalist Society Student Chapter on Tuesday, who invited me to speak to their group on February 3, 2015. I previously spoke at the Booth School of Business, which was also a thrill. I am most grateful for the opportunity to speak at the University of Chicago, my undergraduate alma mater.

    The event was well-attended. I attribute this in part to the drawing power of the free buffet of Indian food, and not exclusively to the appeal of the speaker. The students were attentive and asked good questions. I understand that audio of the talk will be available at some point. I will post a link when it is available.

    My topic was “America 3.0 and the Future of the Legal Profession”.

    First I spoke about some of the themes from America 3.0: Rebooting American Prosperity in the 21st Century, Why America’s Greatest Days are Yet to Come, which I coauthored with James C. Bennett. I discussed the cultural foundations of American prosperity and freedom, the role of our legal profession in American history, in particular in adapting to technological changes, I then discussed some of the major technological changes which are now sweeping our nation and the world. I said that some of them will be general purpose technologies which will cause changes on the scale of the steam engine, railroads or computing itself.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, America 3.0, Book Notes, Chicagoania, Economics & Finance, Education, Entrepreneurship, Law, Personal Narrative, Politics, Quotations, Society, Tech, USA | Comments Off on Mike Lotus Spoke to the University of Chicago Law School Federalist Society Student Chapter on February 3, 2015 About “America 3.0 and the Future of the Legal Profession”

    Political Correctness

    Posted by David Foster on 1st February 2015 (All posts by )

    …not just an irritant anymore, but now a serious threat to American society.

    Jonathan Chait tells the story of Omar Mahmood, a student at the University of Michigan, who dared to publish a column satirizing (rather gently, I think) those people who go around being offended at everything.  He has been demonized, was fired from his job at the Michigan Daily, and his apartment was vandalized.  Chait notes that  at a growing number of campuses, professors attach “trigger warnings” to texts that may upset the oh-so-sensitive students…and that the insistence on “protecting” people from ideas that may upset them has resulted in movements to ban speakers such as Condi Rice (Rutgers), Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Brandeis), and IMF director Christine Lagarde (Smith).

    Stuart Schneiderman describes how Political Correctness can influence national politics, noting that “When Obama became president, political debate was no longer about ideas. In social media and universities those who opposed Obama were slandered and defamed…Now, with the candidacy of Hillary Clinton looming, the debate will no longer concern Mrs. Clinton’s thin resume and  barely visible accomplishments, but about the sexism of those who oppose her.”

    And here is Frederik deBoer, a self-defined leftist (who does not much like Jonathan Chait), writing about the ways he has seen Political Correctness at work and the impact it has had on individuals:

    I have seen, with my own two eyes, a 19-year-old white woman—smart, well-meaning, passionate—literally run crying from a classroom because she was so ruthlessly brow-beaten for using the word “disabled.” Not repeatedly. Not with malice. Not because of privilege. She used the word once and was excoriated for it. She never came back. I watched that happen.

    I have seen, with my own two eyes, a 20-year-old black man, a track athlete who tried to fit organizing meetings around classes and his ridiculous practice schedule (for which he received a scholarship worth a quarter of tuition), be told not to return to those meetings because he said he thought there were such a thing as innate gender differences. He wasn’t a homophobe, or transphobic, or a misogynist. It turns out that 20-year-olds from rural South Carolina aren’t born with an innate understanding of the intersectionality playbook. But those were the terms deployed against him, those and worse. So that was it; he was gone.

    I have seen, with my own two eyes, a 33-year-old Hispanic man, an Iraq war veteran who had served three tours and had become an outspoken critic of our presence there, be lectured about patriarchy by an affluent 22-year-old white liberal arts college student, because he had said that other vets have to “man up” and speak out about the war. Because apparently we have to pretend that we don’t know how metaphorical language works or else we’re bad people. I watched his eyes glaze over as this woman with $300 shoes berated him. I saw that. Myself.

    Frederik deBoer, writer of the above, objects to this kind of Political Correctness at least in part because it drives people out of leftist politics.  He says “I want a left that can win, and there’s no way I can have that when the actually-existing left sheds potential allies at an impossible rate. But the prohibition against ever telling anyone to be friendlier and more forgiving is so powerful and calcified it’s a permanent feature of today’s progressivism.”

    (Some of us think that the control of speech is an inherent feature of  ideologies of the type represented by today’s “progressivism.”)

    And here are a bunch of idiotic “Social Justice Warriors” (ie, aggressive wielders of the Political Correctness sabre) raging on Twitter about the US Army’s use of the term “chink”…in the context of a discussion of Special Operations, the specific sentence which resulted in so much fury being “Chinks in special ops’ digital and physical armor pose challenges, experts  say.”

    I’m reminded of something I read many years ago: a university professor came under virulent attack by a group of radical feminists because he had used the term “bang for the buck.”  This phrase originated, of course, in the field of weapons systems procurement and refers to getting the most military capability for the money.  But the attackers decided that the term referred to some kind of discount prostitution business and hence that its use was “degrading to women.”

    It has long been said that American universities are “islands of tyranny in a sea of freedom.”  But it was inevitable that the habits of groupthink and submission to the loudest voices that were inculcated in these institutions would seep out into the broader society and begin to poison political dialog in many contexts–and this process is now well underway.

    Tying this post to my last post, Conformity Kills:  if a person spends his college years learning to carefully avoid speaking his mind on all matter of politics, social organization, human nature, relationships between the sexes, and many other subjects–what are the chances that he will be willing to speak him mind in a career context where the stakes are high–even if those stakes involve matters of life and death?

    Posted in Academia, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, USA | 10 Comments »

    Conformity Kills

    Posted by David Foster on 31st January 2015 (All posts by )

    (Last Wednesday was chosen by NASA as a Day of Remembrance for the astronauts lost in the 1967 Apollo fire, the 1986 Challenger explosion, and the 2003 crash of the shuttle Columbia.  The occasion reminded me of my 2003 post which appears below, with the links fixed.)

    What does a space shuttle disaster have to do with the current troubling situation in the teaching of the humanities? Strange as it may seem, I believe that there is a connection.

    Most observers believe that the Columbia disaster was caused, to a substantial degree, by the unwillingness of key individuals to speak up forcefully enough about their safety concerns. This is often phrased as a “culture issue” or a “climate issue”–but, however you phrase it, it seems that a significant number of people didn’t raise their concerns–or at least didn’t raise them forcefully enough–because of worries about the implications for their own careers. (This also seems to have been a key factor in the earlier Challenger disaster.)

    And in today’s university humanities departments, there are many senior professors who understand that much of what is now being taught is nonsense, and who are heartsick about the “posturing and lies.” But, as Erin O’Connor says: “…an older generation of “dinosaurs” looks on, seeing it all, and saying nothing. They do this to minimize the open displays of contempt for their traditional ways that they have learned to expect as their due.”

    Now, here is an interesting point. There are very few people in American who have more job security than a civil servant or a university tenured professor. But this security seems to have little payoff when it’s time to speak up about something important and truly controversial. Perhaps jobs that offer high security tend to attract people who are not risk-takers. Or perhaps concerns about being liked by one’s peers trump job-security issues per se. In any event, it does not seem that systems with a high degree of employee protection really yield the expected benefits in terms of outspoken employee behavior.

    I’m sure there are some NASA employees who had and have the courage to speak out, just as I am sure that such courage exists among some senior professors of the humanities. But it seems that such people are too few in number, at both institutions, to make a real difference.

    No set of organizational policies, however well-designed, can substitute for human character. It takes many virtues, including the virtue of courage, to make an organization perform effectively. That’s true whether the organization is a university, a corporation, or a government agency.


    Posted in Academia, Human Behavior, Management, Space, Tech | 4 Comments »

    “Top-Tier University Graduates Only”

    Posted by David Foster on 28th January 2015 (All posts by )

    Here’s a LinkedIn post from a young woman who doesn’t like the way certain companies are specifying “degree from a top-tier university required” in certain of their job postings. I think she makes some good points.

    From the standpoint of the individual company or other organization, absolutely requiring a degree from a “top-tier university” (whatever the individual’s other experience and capabilities) reduces the size of the talent pool and quite likely increases costs without commensurate benefit. From the standpoint of the overall society, this practice wastes human resources and creates damaging inhibitors to social mobility. (And in most cases, “top-tier university” is defined based only on the perception of that university’s “brand”…very few HR organizations or hiring managers conduct serious research on the actual quality of different universities from an educational perspective…and the perceived quality may be years or even decades out of date.)

    I think we as a society have delegated far too much influence to the admissions officers of various Ivy League universities, and also to whoever constructs the metrics for the US News & World Report college ratings. When discussing “inequality” and declining social mobility..and less-than-stellar economic growth…the role of credentialism in all these things needs to be seriously considered.

    Related: the five-pound butterfly revisited

    Posted in Academia, Business, Education, Human Behavior, Management | 30 Comments »

    Nature and Nurture.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 21st January 2015 (All posts by )

    I have long been a fan of Steven Pinker’s books.

    I have read many of them, beginning probably with his books on speech as he is a linguist first. This was probably the first as I was intrigued by his theories about irregular verbs and how children learn language.

    He points out, for example, how normal construction in archaic forms such as “Wend, went and wended” have become “Go, went, gone.”

    The child makes an error he or she may not understand that “Goed” is not a used form for past tense, whereas “Wend” is an archaic form whose past tense has been substituted. The child is using language rules but they don’t account for irregular verbs. He continues with this thought in The Language Instinct, which came later. Here he makes explicit that this is how the mind works. One review on Amazon makes the point:

    For the educated layperson, this book is the most fascinating and engaging introduction to linguistics I have come across. I know some college students who had received xeroxed handouts of one chapter from this book, and these were students who were just bored of reading handouts week after week… but after reading just a few paragraphs from The Language Instinct, they were hooked, fascinated, and really wanted to read the whole book (and did). I wish I had come across such a book years ago…

    Now, this is interesting but Pinker has gotten into politics inadvertently by emphasizing the role of genetics in language and behavior. I read The Blank Slate when it came out ten years ago and loved it.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Architecture, Book Notes, Civil Society, Education, Human Behavior, Leftism, Philosophy, Science | 11 Comments »

    Is American Entrepreneurship in Decline?

    Posted by David Foster on 19th January 2015 (All posts by )

    Jim Clifton, who is Chairman & CEO of Gallup, presents data showing that creation of new businesses has fallen considerably over a long-term trend running from 1977 to the present, and that for the last several years, the number of firms created has actually fallen below the number of firms closing.


    And furthermore:

    The U.S. now ranks not first, not second, not third, but 12th among developed nations in terms of business startup activity. Countries such as Hungary, Denmark, Finland, New Zealand, Sweden, Israel and Italy all have higher startup rates than America does.

    Read the whole thing.

    These numbers and trends seem somewhat counterintuitive to me. I see a lot of startups looking for angel funding, and quite a few of them getting it. There is a lot of public interest in entrepreneurship, as evidenced by the success of TV programs such as “Shark Tank”, and even universities are attempting to capitalize on the interest in entrepreneurship by offering courses and programs on the topic.

    I suspect that much of the decline in business creation is among people who don’t have a lot of formal education–many of them immigrants–and who in former years would have started businesses but are now inhibited by inability to navigate the dense thicket of regulations and pay the substantial costs involved in doing so. OTOH, I also suspect that quite a few of these people have actually created businesses, in fields such as home maintenance or home day-care, and are doing so off-the-books in ways that don’t get counted in the formal statistics.

    Among those who do have college degrees–and especially among those who have spent six, eight, or more years in college classrooms–student loan debt, much of it incurred on behalf of degrees having little or no economic or serious intellectual value, surely also acts as an inhibitor to business creation.

    Posted in Academia, Business, Economics & Finance, Education, Entrepreneurship, USA | 5 Comments »

    Book Reviews – 2014 Summary

    Posted by David Foster on 12th January 2015 (All posts by )

    Last year I reviewed quite a few books, including several that IMO are extremely important and well-written.  Here’s the list:

    The Caine Mutiny.  The movie, which just about everyone has seen, is very good.  The book is even better.  I cited the 1952 Commentary review, which has interesting thoughts on intellectuals and the responsibilities of power.

    To the Last Salute.  Captain von Trapp, best known as the father in “The Sound of Music,” wrote this memoir of his service as an Austrian submarine commander in the First World War–Austria of course being one of the Central Powers and hence an enemy to Britain, France, and the United States.  An interesting and pretty well-written book, and a useful reminder that there are enemies, and then there are enemies.

    That Hideous Strength.  An important and intriguing novel by C S Lewis. As I said in the review, there is something in this book to offend almost everybody.  So, by the standards now becoming current in most American universities, the book–and even my review of it–should by read by no one at all.

    The Cruel Coast.  A German submarine, damaged after an encounter with a British destroyer, puts in at a remote Irish island for repairs.  Most of the islanders, with inherited anti-British attitudes, tend toward sympathy with the German:  one woman, though, has a clearer understanding of the real issues in the war.

    Nice Work.  At Chicago Boyz, we’ve often discussed the shortage of novels that deal realistically with work.  This is such a novel: an expert in 19th-century British industrial novels–who is a professor, a feminist, and a deconstructionist–finds herself in an actual factory.  Very well done.

    Menace in Europe.  Now more than ever, Claire Berlinski’s analysis of the problems in today’s Europe needs to be widely read.

    A Time of Gifts.  In late 1933, Patrick Fermor–then 18 years old–undertook to travel from the Holland to Istanbul, on foot. The story of his journey is told in three books, of which this is the first.  This is not just travel writing, it is the record of what was still to a considerable extent the Old Europe–with horsedrawn wagons, woodcutters, barons and castles, Gypsies and Jews in considerable numbers–shortly before it was to largely disappear.

    The Year of the French.  The writer, commentator, and former soldier Ralph Peters calls this book “the finest historical novel written in English, at least in the twentieth century.”

    Posted in Academia, Biography, Book Notes, Britain, Business, Christianity, Deep Thoughts, Europe, Germany, Ireland, Islam, Management, Morality and Philosphy, Philosophy, Terrorism | 7 Comments »

    Today’s Israel-Bashers

    Posted by David Foster on 4th January 2015 (All posts by )

    UAW Local 2865 (that’s UAW as in “United Auto Workers”) has voted to join the movement to boycott Israel.

    So, what kind of work do the members of UAW Local 2865 do, would you imagine? Do they work the line in an auto assembly plant? Are they involved in making components such as brake shoes or camshafts? Do they pack and ship spare parts in a distribution center?

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Israel, Leftism, Unions | 6 Comments »

    Clowns, Fools, and Generally Unpleasant People of the Week

    Posted by David Foster on 21st December 2014 (All posts by )

    1) If a report in The Chronicle of Higher Education (excerpted here)  is correct, then Rensselaer Polytechnic president Shirley Jackson seems a little…imperious…in her approach to her job.

    Having created the very model of an undemocratic, corporate university, President Jackson is appropriately imperious. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, she has a series of rules that are clear to everyone. These include: 1) Only she is authorized to set the temperature in conference rooms; 2) Cabinet members all rise when she enters the room; 3) If food is served at a meeting, vice presidents clear her plate; and 4) She is always to be publicly introduced as “The Honorable Shirley Ann Jackson.” Falling into rages on occasion, she publicly abuses her staff and frequently remarks: “You know, I could fire you all.” In 2011, RPI’s Student Senate passed a resolution criticizing her “abrasive style,” “top-down leadership,” and the climate of “fear” she had instilled among administrators and staff. It even called upon RPI’s board of trustees to consider Jackson’s removal from office. But, once again, the board merely rallied in her defense.

    2) Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri, blocked the nomination of Lt General Susan Helms to head the Air Force Space Command, leading to Helms’ subsequent retirement from the service. McCaskill assailed Helms’ 2012 decision to grant clemency to an officer serving at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., who had been convicted of aggravated sexual assault.

    Helms used her judgment and her command authority to prevent what she apparently viewed as an injustice, based on her review of evidence in the case.  McCaskill said that the clemency decision “sent a damaging message to survivors of sexual assault who are seeking justice in the military justice system.”  Apparently, McCaskill cares much more about “sending messages” than about justice to individuals. The message that she has sent to all American military commanders is this:  Do not ever extend clemency in a matter where an individual has been accused of an offense which is of particular concern to the Democratic Party, or your career will be immediately destroyed.

    If a governor pardons someone accused of witchcraft, then the governor himself must be a witch.  That seems to be the level of McCaskill’s thinking here.

    Much more about the case at this link.

    3) Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a very courageous woman who was raised as a Muslim and has been attempting, in the face of many threats, to warn the western world about the danger of Islamic extremism.  At an event in Washington, Joe Biden informed her that “ISIS had nothing to do with Islam.”  Hirsi Ali disagreed.  To which Slow Joe responded “Let me tell you one or two things about Islam.”

    4) Speaking of  Muslims…Omar Mahmood, a Muslim conservative who is a student at the University of Michigan, wrote a satire on political correctness, mocking the current vogue for claiming “microaggressions.”  He was denounced by students of  the “progressive” persuasion…”people attacked his dorm room door, egging it and leaving copies of his satirical article with notes on the backs including “Shut the f— up!” and “You scum embarrass us” and “DO YOU EVEN GO HERE?! LEAVE!!” along with various others, including an image of a creature with horns and another one of him with his eyes crossed out.”  Mahmood was also fired from the student newspaper.  He says that “the political environment on campus is radically left-wing and intolerant,” noting that:

    “Almost all student clubs have ‘social justice’ wings… some use violent rhetoric, shameless rhetoric, to promote their ideology, and call it ‘liberation.’ They call it ‘tolerance’ and ‘equality’ and ‘creating a safe space’ — which is all very ironic.”

    The students who reacted to Mahmood’s satire in this way are not worthy of being university students, or for that matter American citizens, and the administrators of this university should be ashamed of themselves for allowing such a climate to develop.  They won’t be, though.

    Posted in Academia, Civil Liberties, Islam, Law, Leftism, Military Affairs | 13 Comments »

    A Critique of Credentialism, circa 1500

    Posted by David Foster on 18th December 2014 (All posts by )

    …from Leonardo da Vinci.

    Leonardo did not attend a university to study the liberal arts, and apparently some of his contemporaries disrespected him considerably because of this omission.  His response:

    Because I am not a literary man some presumptuous persons will think that they may reasonably blame me by arguing that I am an unlettered man.  Foolish men!…They will say that because I have no letters I cannot express well what I want to treat of…They go about puffed up and pompous, dressed and decorated with the fruits not of their own labours but those of others, and they will not allow me my own.  And if they despise me, an inventor, how much more could they–who are not inventors but trumpeters and declaimers of the works of others–be blamed.

    (The quote is from Jean Gimpel’s book The Medieval Machine)

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Education, History, Lit Crit | 5 Comments »

    Rape Culture

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 14th December 2014 (All posts by )

    The country is going through one of the increasingly common episodes of hysteria in modern times. In the 17th century, there was the period of The Salem Witch Trials.

    From June through September of 1692, nineteen men and women, all having been convicted of witchcraft, were carted to Gallows Hill, a barren slope near Salem Village, for hanging. Another man of over eighty years was pressed to death under heavy stones for refusing to submit to a trial on witchcraft charges. Hundreds of others faced accusations of witchcraft; dozens languished in jail for months without trials until the hysteria that swept through Puritan Massachusetts subsided.

    The episode was begun by what sounds like hysterical symptoms occurring in the daughter of the new minister. Before it was over, a number of people of the village of Salem had been accused of witchcraft and 19 were executed and five others had died.


    Suspected witches were examined for certain marks, called “witch marks,” where witches’ “familiars” could nurse. The hysteria ended as quickly as it began. By the end of 1692, it was over and all surviving accused were released.

    The period of the hearings in America after World War II, in which many were accused of being communists, the so-called “McCarthy period,” is often compared to this era and a left wing playwright, Arthur Miller, wrote a play called “The Crucible,” which made the connection between the Salem trials and Senator McCarthy’s accusations the theme.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Big Government, Civil Liberties, Crime and Punishment, Current Events, Education, Feminism, Leftism, Military Affairs, Politics, The Press | 20 Comments »

    Don’t Panic: A Continuing Series – The Enemy Within

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 28th November 2014 (All posts by )

    And yet there are signals of personal defeat which are like red lamps on broken roads, to these we must pay heed. I grew anxious when a man’s speech began to betray him; when he was full of windy talk of what the Boche had done in the new sector the battalion was taking over, of some new gas. It was always about something which was going to happen; the wretched fellow must have known the mess would muzzle him if it could, but he seemed driven by some inner force to chatter incessantly of every calamity that could conceivably come to pass. It was as if he had come to terms with the devil himself, that if he could make others as windy, his life would be spared. How full of apprehension the fellow was; death came to him daily in a hundred shapes. This was fear in its infancy. It was a bad sign, for when a man talked like that, his self-respect was going, and the battle was already half lost. It was just a matter of time. Such a man did the battalion no good for the disease was infectious; I was glad to get him away.

    – Lord Moran, The Anatomy of Courage

    [Readers needing background may refer to the earlier members of this series, Don’t Panic: Against the Spirit of the Age; Don’t Panic: A Continuing Series; Don’t Panic: A Continuing Series – Ebola or Black Heva?; and Don’t Panic: A Continuing Series – Ebola Realities and the True Test.]

    Not everyone is helpful in what Strauss and Howe call a Crisis Era. This is not a matter of ability or resources, but of attitude. I have recently encountered numerous highly intelligent, capable, and often firmly upper-middle class men who at the slightest provocation vehemently insist that the United States is doomed. This year alone, they have predicted at least three of the last zero national calamities. Repeatedly failed scenarios make no impression on them. Some of these people are actually planning to run and hide somewhere. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Conservatism, Current Events, Environment, History, Human Behavior, Immigration, International Affairs, Leftism, Middle East, Military Affairs, National Security, Predictions, Quotations, Society, Terrorism, USA, War and Peace | 7 Comments »

    Narratives, Scenarios, and Strategies

    Posted by Grurray on 22nd November 2014 (All posts by )

    “Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful”

    -George E.P. Box

    Models, predictions, and forecasts are always wrong, or, more accurately, they’re never completely right. That’s obvious since the map can never truly be the territory. Some are better than others, but no matter how hard we try and how much information that we gather, we’ll never construct a representation of reality better than the real thing. That being the case, forecasts therefore reveal more about ourselves and our present state of mind than anything about the future.

    The Research Feature in the fall issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review, “Beyond Forecasting: Creating New Strategic Narratives” (link here – requires a one time registration – or purchase Kindle article here for a few dollars), concerns a certain type of forecasting called scenario planning. The authors studied a tech company that was being hit hard during the 2001 economic crash and needed to find new strategies to navigate the rough seas ahead.

    Their research revealed that

    “future projections are intimately tied to interpretations of the past and the present. Strategy making amid volatility thus involves constructing and reconstructing strategic narratives that reimagine the past and present in ways that allow the organization to explore multiple possible futures.”

    These explorations of possible futures, more commonly referred to as scenarios, are stories intended to describe possible futures, identify some significant events, main actors, and motivations, and convey how the world functions.

    The authors note that constructing forecasts based on these methods usually doesn’t work very well because the future is uncertain and often unfolds in a way that is very different from current trajectories. The current paths are comfortable and familiar, so they are difficult to deviate from. Constructing scenarios of the future actually first requires constructing paths that connect the past, present, and future. The narratives are those paths.

    ”In comparing strategy projects within CommCorp, we found that the more work managers do to create novel strategic narratives, the more likely they are to explore alternatives that break with the status quo. In other words, to get to an alternative future, you have to create a story about the past that connects to it.”

    Predicting, prognosticating, and prophesying have been around since time immemorial. The modern version of strategic scenario planning can be attributed to Herman Kahn at the Hudson Institute and his “thinking the unthinkable” about nuclear war by taking into account non-linear, disruptive changes that lead to an uncertain future. The first to bring scenarios into the business world was the pioneering strategy guru Pierre Wack at Shell Oil who coined the term. Wack was a colorful and imaginative individual who took Kahn’s insights and repurposed them to affect the quality of judgment rather than quality of predictions.

    Among the many books, case studies, and articles on the Shell planning department, I just completed The Essence of Scenarios: Learning from the Shell Experience, a history of the scenario group culled from interviews of former members. Pierre Wack helped found it and headed it throughout the 1970s. The book concerns the entire history from then until the present, but it devotes a large part to Wack’s work and legacy.

    In contrast to Kahn’s theories, Wack was less concerned about decoding uncertainty or getting predictions right and more concerned with making future uncertainty more relevant to the present situation.

    “Wack was interested in scenarios as a way to ‘see’ the present situation more clearly, rather than as a basis for knowing about the future. The value of the scenarios is not in better forecasting what ‘the’ future will be, but in encouraging already smart people to learn by ‘seeing’ the present situation afresh, from the perspective offered by plausible, alternative futures , in a process that Wack termed ‘disciplined imagination’.”

    With an emphasis on present adaptation instead of future clarity, their first attempts happened to be nicely prescient. Their November 1971 scenarios covering “Producer Government Take/World Economic Development” and their January 1973 scenarios for “Impending Energy Scarcity” presented different tracks for oil prices including: a low slow growth scenario based on the continuation of past agreements with producer countries, a track that the corporate leadership expected; and a high price growth scenario which factored into concerns that producer countries were reaching limits to how much more capital inflows they could absorb.

    These scenarios involved explorations for prices through the late ’70s into the early ’80s. It’s important to keep in mind that, in keeping with the notion that they weren’t meant to be exact predictions, the high price track scenario still ended up being off by a factor of 20 as oil embargoes and inflation pushed prices higher than anyone could have imagined. Despite the fuzziness of the numbers, however, presenting a possible future far off from what was expected shifted thinking outside the company’s comfort zone.

    There was some initial skepticism from top executives, but the scenario planning helped the company to think differently and conditioned them to adjust in flexible ways that they wouldn’t have considered previously. Consideration of the high price track eventually led to Shell investing in nuclear and coal which helped offset the political turmoil and price shock that would arrive in the mid ’70s.

    “In October 1973, the first oil crisis began to unfold, and the entire organization became aware of the possibilities that scenarios offered. The 1973 scenarios report had provided a new frame of reference – the mindset of the oil producer countries. This new frame was significantly different from the usual analytical frame – the mindset of an oil company. The scenarios had enabled Shell executives to rehearse the future as a thought experiment rather than a crisis exercise. When the crisis actually occurred, Shell was able to collectively re-interpret the turbulent situation and to respond much faster than its competitors.”

    In order to be taken seriously, the Shell scenario team had to relate to top management how the oil producers’ situation related to their own situation.

    “In September 1972, Wack gave what those present remember as a three-hour, enthralling performance that was based on an image of the six scenarios as a river forking into two streams, each of which divided into three tributaries. The insight about hither oil prices and possible energy crisis… were integrated into one of these scenarios.”

    This technique demonstrated the narrative of how the high price scenario was linked to Shell’s operations and how it could have sprung forth from Shell’s past. The key was teasing out the culture, values, and qualities of the past that could make that future plausible.

    Similar re-interpretations of the past are what the MIT researchers found were most successful for their tech company. It wasn’t that they provided better predictions, but it helped provide a unifying vision and get everyone to buy into course changes that didn’t seem to fit before.

    “the crash in the market for its existing products had forced everyone at CommCorp to reevaluate the company’s historical strategic trajectory. This questioning enabled one manager to reinterpret CommCorp’s history, not only as a provider of big-ticket hardware for the backbone of the Internet but also as a provider of communications technologies across the whole network. By seeing the company as all about “communications,” the manager was able to propose a project for improving access at the “last mile” of the network. This reinterpretation made a radical shift in a future vision possible: CommCorp could provide small-ticket, standardized products as well as customized, high-end technologies.

    The narratives and scenarios became a way to define the company as it was today and illustrate a more coherent organizational structure. This is possible because of the rich potential of examining the past.

    “strategy making is not about getting the ‘right’ narrative. It’s about getting a narrative that is good enough for now, so that the organization can move forward and take action in uncertain times. This recognizes that strategy will in some ways always be evolving and “emergent.”

    Everyone loves to try to make predictions, but the real value lies in re-evaluating the past and restructuring past trajectories to provide for a launching point to navigate into the future. This “re-programming” the past is the way to deal with an uncertain future. Instead of forecasting futures that merely extrapolate from the status quo or futilely fighting future models that conflict with conventional mental maps, the use of narratives, scenarios, and strategies provides ways to create stronger and more harmonious models of the present.

    Posted in Academia, Book Notes, Deep Thoughts, Economics & Finance, Energy & Power Generation, Entrepreneurship, Management, Predictions | 16 Comments »