“Please Keep This Between Us, But….”

Sarah Hoyt, a science fiction writer and a thought-provoking blogger, has a long post called the architecture of fear.  One of the things she talks about in this post is an incident from several years ago, where on a mailing list for writers she:

…dared question the insanity of a well-respected pro who said that George Bush (personally) had raised the price of stamps to ruin her (personally) in her efforts to sell used books through Amazon.

There are levels of insanity I can’t tolerate and couldn’t even while in the political closet.  So I pointed out the sheer insanity of this, the inefficiencies of the post office and probable causes for it.

The list went silent.  I figured tons of people were cussing me behind my back (this was when GB’s name was after all like invoking the devil.)

So, I shrugged, figured I’d be kicked out of the list and went for a walk.  When I came back my email was full of “Oh, thank you, for saying…”  ALL OF IT IN PRIVATE MESSAGES.   The senders ranged from raw beginners to established pros, but no one would challenge this lady’s illusions to her face.  Only me.

Sarah’s story uncannily parallels another story, this one told by long-time IBM CEO Tom Watson Jr and dating from the early 1950s.

There was a moment when I truly thought IBM was going to lose its shot at defense work because of the kind of window blinds I had in my office.

These were vertical blinds, which were not common at the time. An engineer who was in Watson’s office for a meeting made a sketch of the blinds, and inadvertently left it in his shirt pocket when he took the shirt to the dry cleaner. The laundry man thought the paper looked suspicious, and sent it to McCarthy. Pretty soon, a group of investigators came and said to the engineer, “We’ve identified this as a plan for a radar antenna, and want to hear about it. We want to be perfectly fair. But we know it is a radar antenna and the shirt it was found in belongs to you.”

The engineer explained about the vertical blinds, and the investigation team then asked to see Watson. The chief executive officer of IBM showed them the blinds and demonstrated the way they worked.

They looked them over very carefully and then left. I thought I had contained it, but I wasn’t sure, and I was scared. We were working on SAGE (the computerized air defense system–ed) and it would have been a hell of a way to lose our security clearance.

Shortly after the incident with the vertical blinds, Watson was invited to a lunch at Lehman Brothers, along with about 20 other high-ranking businesspeople. During the lunch, he mentioned his concerns about McCarthyism

Of the twenty-odd people present, I was the only one who took that position. That didn’t bother me. What bothered me was that the following week I got letters from several people who had been there, and they all had a similar message: “I didn’t want to commit myself in public, but I certainly agreed with everything you said.

(Watson’s story is from his excellent autobiography, Father, Son, & Co, which I reviewed here)

17 thoughts on ““Please Keep This Between Us, But….””

  1. It isn’t always fear. I was nearly kicked off a medical staff one time because I had complained about an anesthesiologist who I thought was criminally careless. I talked to my partner about this and then to the chief of staff of the hospital. He suggested we write letters to the surgery committee detailing our concerns and he would have all the other surgeons who had complained about the same guy write similar letters. Then we would have a meeting.

    I got a call a couple of weeks later from another surgeon and GP who was a good friend. He suggested that I had better attend this meeting because Tom and I, not the careless anesthesia guy, were to be kicked off the staff. Tom never showed up but I went and it was a very interesting experience. This was a small hospital, not our principle work place. It had a group of marginal docs, who sometimes seem to cluster together for mutual support, and they were angry that we, the big guys from up the road, would criticize a “little guy.”

    We were to be expelled for being sh*t disturbers, as best I can explain it. I went around the room and pointed out all the other guys who had complained about risky behavior by this guy. None had written letters. The final result was that nothing was done about him and we quit the staff, They had some other weak anesthetists, too, and it was a small part of our practice.

    A couple years later, they had gotten some better anesthetists and “Bill” was gone so we went back. Another year or so later I heard from the state Attorney General’s office who were looking for “Bill.” It seems he was crazy after all and had been peeing into cups, drawing it up in a syringe and injecting it into patients.

    Being the tall nail sometimes draws the hammer. Nowadays, this would probably not happen as doctors are no longer as independent as we were and everybody would keep his/her head down. That’s why administrators hate doctors. Too independent and administrators are running Obamacare.

  2. >>Being the tall nail sometimes draws the hammer.

    Being the tall nail ALWAYS draws the hammer. It’s like a law of physics.

  3. This Prof Dared to Challenge Her Students’ Views on Sex. Here’s How They Retaliated.

    Has it truly come to this? Will academics be subjected to heresy trials for daring to challenge their students’ immature, unhealthy, and increasingly dictatorial views about sex and consent?

    That seems to be the case for Laura Kipnis, an author and professor of media studies at NU. Her column for The Chronicle documented the cultural and administrative changes made at NU in recent years, ostensibly for the purpose of combatting sexism. Kipnis is not a fan of the changes, which she claims are anti-feminist, infantilizing, and contributing to a culture of fear:

    The feminism I identified with as a student stressed independence and resilience. In the intervening years, the climate of sanctimony about student vulnerability has grown too thick to penetrate; no one dares question it lest you’re labeled antifeminist. Or worse, a sex criminal. I asked someone on our Faculty Senate if there’d been any pushback when the administration presented the new consensual-relations policy (though by then it was a fait accompli—the senate’s role was “advisory”).

    “I don’t quite know how to characterize the willingness of my supposed feminist colleagues to hand over the rights of faculty—women as well as men—to administrators and attorneys in the name of protection from unwanted sexual advances,” he said. “I suppose the word would be ‘zeal.’” His own view was that the existing sexual-harassment policy already protected students from coercion and a hostile environment; the new rules infantilized students and presumed the guilt of professors. When I asked if I could quote him, he begged for anonymity, fearing vilification from his colleagues.

    Crucifying offenders in the quad can’t be far behind. Or ovens. Take your pick. The Left never changes, do they?


  4. Michael,I’d hire Glenn Reynolds to defend me if I were put in a position like that professor. And I’d sue for enough money to make us both filthy rich and part of the settlement would be the firing of the administrators who did this to me. They will not stop until it is made too painful to continue.

  5. I have invited people to blog meet-ups who felt unable to come because they feared being identified with the Wrong Side…..IIRC, all the people who have responded this way so far have been academics. But it seems that today the war on free thought has oozed out of academia and the media industry into the broader society.

  6. Only the few are willing to “Live Free or Die”. The powers-that-be call them terrorists or in 1950-speak “Commies” and shoot them for resisting arrest. Of course in the 50s the commies really were commies. Today they control our schools and universities, our newspapers and broadcast media, our movies and …
    They control the regulatory agencies and use that power to outlaw capitalism. We are living in the totalitarian state and our schools and MSM teach that Reagan was the worst president and Obama is the best (followed by JFK/Carter/FDR/Wilson/Clinton.

  7. We are living in the totalitarian state and our schools and MSM teach that Reagan was the worst president…

    My niece had a history book in high school with a chapter on 20th century presidents. It went from Carter to Clinton. Reagan and Bush Sr. were not mentioned. Airbrushed from history.

    Yes, the commies control the schools and The Deep State. And we are absolutely becoming a totalitarian police state. Everything in service to The Party, eh comrade?

  8. Most people are more concerned with getting approval from their group than rocking the boat. It takes an individual who doesn’t care – or more accurately, isn’t afraid to weather perceived reactions – to change things.

    Interesting story about Watson.

    Mike some years ago in town we had a couple of interesting malpractice suits against doctors. What struck me is that for years the nurses in the OR and others said nothing.

  9. “What struck me is that for years the nurses in the OR and others said nothing.”

    Nurses are usually the best source of info on who is a good/bad doctor but they may not want to be quoted.

    Nurses these days, especially older nurses who know what’s what, are very worried about job security. They are expensive and administrators consider them all interchangeable.

    My old surgical group which ran the local trauma center since I founded it in 1979 was fired last summer by the administrator. There is some dispute about why but the hospital hired a surgical group (4 women) from another area who no one knew, to run the trauma center. I’m hearing stories about problems and now two of the former group’s members are taking call again. I guess there was a lot of turnover in the new bunch.

    Two versions of why the group was fired. One is that they wanted too much money (As told by a former competing surgeon) and the other that the hospital wanted to buy the group and they said no. Thirty five years experience meant nothing.

  10. The person who identifies a problem is often treated as the creator of it. Most of us have seen situations where Everyone Knew, but no one wanted the potential fallout. I had one at work for years, and it changed my personality forever, though I hope only slightly. A social worker who supervised others was insane. Diagnosable. It was not secret, it was well-known. Between the people who just wanted no trouble, a powerful administrator who felt sorry for her, and the usual departmental defensive that allowed no criticism from outsiders, she abused people for years.

    I think this is common human behavior, and likely always has been.

  11. Kipnis is not a fan of the changes, which she claims are anti-feminist, infantilizing, and contributing to a culture of fear:

    There’s always someone who wants to stop the Nazi/Communist/Feminist revolution before it reaches its natural, absurd end, believing that enough harm has been done. Names of similar “victims” should be easily recalled from the French, Russian, German, and Chinese socialist revolutions.

    I don’t care.I have little sympathy for the halfway-to-hell types.

    The feminism I identified with as a student stressed independence and resilience

    Terrible to have one’s delusions ripped away. Better to keep silent.

  12. ” A social worker who supervised others was insane.”

    A gay doctor friend of mine was ill with AIDS back in the years when it was not treatable. He had developed AIDS dementia and was having increasing trouble with surgical complications (He was a urologist) and nobody wanted to say anything because of the hysteria about AIDS in California then. Finally he had a bad case where there was a lot of bleeding after a TURP surgery. He seemed not to know what to do. Finally, the anesthesiologist did complain and he gave up his surgical privileges.

    These days, the lesbian OR nurses spend the day bragging about their sexual exploits and the other nurses are afraid to say anything. They are drifting away to other jobs and the lesbian quotient is rising.

  13. I found this whole issue interesting and saddening. It shows, essentially, how liberals have infiltrated a historically fairly conservative group — Nerds and SF types — and subverted their preferred fiction to produce and reward mostly dreck masquerading as SF. And, when challenged, go into full-on character assassination mode to attack and devalue the opposition. Truth? Who needs that when you can make up all kinds of scurrilous lies and calumnies and spread them around using a whisper campaign? Sooooo much easier…

    You can argue all you want with that assertion — that SF is inherently conservative — but engineering types generally ARE conservative, and the central base of SF is, at its heart, always engineers and variants thereof (i.e., programmers, for example)

    I also found THIS article interesting. This is clearly not the first time others have set to challenge the hegemony in the artistic world of a small clique of self-appointed gatekeepers about what is “right and proper” in a field of art.

    It’s a nice little 1988 American Heritage “history of art” piece about George Luks, one of the members of The Eight (akin to the Sad Puppy people) , The Ashcan School, who challenged the imprimatur of the “National Academy of Design”:

    Today Luks is chiefly remembered as one of The Eight, unconventional painters who effectively broke the stranglehold on American taste in art exerted for decades by custodians of the genteel tradition in the ranks of the National Academy of Design.

    Sound familiar?

    I find reading old issues of AH both interesting and amusing. Not only are you reading an informative article about history, but you’re also getting a window into the worldview of 20,30,40 or more years ago, as you observe inherent assumptions built-into the article. Nowhere is this more telling than 80s articles about the history of the USSR and the Cold War … they had no idea at all that the USSR had only a short while to live. 90s articles about the post-breakup and the “what now” are equally interesting.

  14. IGB…many engineers, programmers, etc are intellectually vulnerable because of their lack of anything that could be regarded as a liberal arts education. I think this was much less true, say, 30 years ago…someone with an EE degree or a CS degree could reasonably be expected to have had several worthwhile classes in history, philosophy, literature, etc. Now, unless he has a strong personal interest in such things, not so much.

    Friedrich Meinecke, in his book on what happened in Germany, said there had been many people with fine technical educations but not much exposure to these broader topics…and when, at the age of 40 or so, they got interested in public affairs, their thinking often veered to the bizarre.

  15. I cannot speak heavily for engineers, but they still tend to be rational in their thought processes, and have a strong grip on reality. This is impossible to do and still continue to be a liberal. Particularly a Postmodern Liberal. So you’d have to manage to get some stats to convince me, and I suspect you’d be surprised, not me…

    As to programmers, they still run uniformly towards libertarianism. I have my own opinions as to why, but the people I work with are typically half my age — and they still tend to be doubtful when it comes to the “gummint” solution to anything.

  16. IGB…my data is merely anecdotal. I know people who I know to be good engineers/programmers, and in some cases quite successful businesspeople, who while not accepting the full Leftist worldview, have adopted significant parts of it. And it seems that Silicon Valley political contributions slant pretty Democratic…a high % of people who have significant $$$ in SV started their careers doing engineering and/or programming, although they might not have directly done such work recently.

    OTOH, I dug out this old post, in which Jim Miller (in comments) cites a David Brooks analysis of the 2004 campaign said to show that “Numbers People” tended to support Bush, whereas “Word People” tended to support Kerry.

    Although I don’t think it’s always that easy to categorize Word People versus Numbers People….an engineering department manager will need to be conversant with numerical thinking for both engineering and budget-management reasons, but also may spent 70% of his time giving presentations, listening to presentations, politicking to get good things done or keep bad things from happening, etc.

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