Too Much of a Good Thing

In most of life, less really is more. That’s a lesson my long-winded self needs to take to heart.

A lot of systems in our culture work against people who attempt to apply that maxim in their lives, though. As a graduate student in Physical Chemistry, I watched the publish-or-perish system in action, and it definitely encourages quantity over quality. That’s one reason I ran from Academia straight into the arms of Industry (although the money and relative lack of pathological personalities didn’t hurt, either).

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Celling Out

I wanted to comment on Mitch’s Over Celling post, specifically Jonathan’s last comment, but the comment mushroomed, so I’ll turn it into a post. There is a very interesting report from the NHTSA and a group of VA Tech academics that put cameras in cars, recording the behavior (and consequences of that behavior) of 241 drivers over the course of a year. The consequences were grouped into the categories crashes, near-crashes, and “incidents” They take quite a bit of space to define “incident”, so if you’re interested, go take a gander at the report itself. If you look at this data, especially Figure 11-9 on page 293, I think the conclusion is pretty inescapable that cell phones are a major contributing factor to vehicle accidents.

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The Right Advice

David Foster had an interesting piece up a couple of weeks ago on organizations, using Moltke’s refusal in August 1914 to turn around the troops on the Western Front to attack the East as an example. Moltke was adamant that the plans in place were at the time irreversible, but the German military railway expert later claimed that he could have turned things around. Whether or not the post-hoc analysis was correct, the actual expert, of course, never got to speak with the Kaiser.

This points to one of the problems of organizations as they ossify – that information gets filtered by each layer in the hierarchy as it passes up a silo. Each layer of spin holds the possibility of not so much adding perspective as simply moving the information content further from reality, and in some organizations any resemblance between actual observations and the information contained in top management briefings is purely coincidental. CW’s NoSuchBlog had a nice post up about that same phenomenon at work in the CIA:

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Russia: West or East?

I’m still not convinced by Lex’s arguments that Russia is not a dialect of Western Civilization, and when I get the time, I’ll dig more into that. However, I did want to make some of his case for him, from a quote in the article that he linked to. I disagree with much of that article because I think it focuses on a Russia that has not been in existence for hundreds of years, and projects that vanished Russia on the modern Russian consciousness. Most specifically, the claim that Russians do not see or emphasize individuals is flat wrong, in my opinion. However, I have the pathological need of the scientist to try to poke holes in my own arguments: there is much in that article that is correct, and can be used to bolster the argument that Russia is a separate civilization from the West. For example:

The masses remained traditional: they were unable to defer gratification, they were indifferent to fraud and the notion of contract, they had a short time horizon, had little or no drive or motivation for achievement, and did not know what entrepreneurship was.

sarcasm Sounds like France. /sarcasm

Seriously, an older friend of mine in a city near the site of the great tank battle of Kursk was an engineer. He and I were engaged in a slightly tipsy philosophical conversation (was there any other kind in the late USSR?) back in 1989. He said that the taint of serfdom still permeated the Russian soul, and most of his countrymen were still slaves at heart. I wholly disagreed with him at the time. I only partially disagree with him now. Who knows, I may wholly agree with him when I get to be as old as he was then (he is much older – and wiser – than me).

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