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  • Archive for the 'Education' Category

    Summer Rerun: The Five-Pound Butterfly Revisited

    Posted by David Foster on 17th September 2018 (All posts by )

    Several years ago, the WSJ wrote about the tendency of many companies to do hiring based on a long string of highly-specific (and excessively-specific) requirements. One person interviewed remarked that “Companies are looking for a five-pound butterfly. Not finding them doesn’t mean there is a shortage of butterflies.”

    Since that article was written, the five-pound butterfly effect has probably gotten worse rather than better in the business world. (Until very recently–see below.)  But hunting for five-pound butterflies also seems to be increasingly affecting other areas of life, including college admissions and the search for love and marriage.

    First I’ll talk about the five-pound butterfly effect in a business context and then develop its applicability to other areas. The WSJ article mentioned a company that makes automobile bumper parts and was looking for a factory shift supervisor. They eliminated all candidates who didn’t have a BS degree, even though many had relevant experience, and also insisted on experience with the specific manufacturing software that was in use at the plant. It took six months to fill this job (during which time the position was being filled by someone who wouldn’t ultimately be chosen for it.) Another company, Wabtec, which makes components for railcars and buses, insisted on knowledge of a specific version of the computer-aided design system it uses, even though the differences between that version and the earlier version were not all that great.

    And as the article (which focused mainly on engineering jobs) didn’t mention…there were certainly talented salespeople who didn’t get hired this week because they lacked specific experience with the particular sales automation or customer resource management system being used..knowledge that they could have easily picked up during their first week or two on the job.

    As I said in my original post inspired by the WSJ article: It’s a basic reality of life that you can’t optimize everything at once. So, if you insist on a perfect fit for certain things, you are probably getting less of some other attributes–and these may be ones that matter more. I’d personally rather have a salesman who has demonstrated (for example) skill at managing the customer politics in a large and complex sale than one who has specific experience with the Snarkolator CRM system. It’s a lot easier to train for the second than for the first.

    Similarly, if a newly-hired mechanical engineer doesn’t work out, the cause will probably not be his lack of experience with the latest version of a CAD system. More likely, it will be a lack of good design intuition…or poor interpersonal skills…or an inability to integrate mechanical design with electrical and electronics aspects of the same product…or fit with the cultural style of the organization. Maybe he comes from an environment where he was closely supervised, and the new environment is more open and requires more self-starting…or vice versa. These things are not easily represented in “checklist” form, as is knowledge of a specific software package and version, but they matter a lot. The problem with increasingly long lists of requirements is that they tend to shortchange those things that cannot be easily compressed into a yes/no format, and also tend to screen out potential employees whose extreme excellence on certain criteria could well make up for their deficiencies in others.

    Moving from work to love…there are apparently a lot of single people (especially women, it seems) who have developed long checklists for prospective partners. (It’s rumored that one woman had something like 350 items on her “mandatory” list.) As in the work environment, long checklists tend to delay the search..but more important, they can shortchange the factors that matter most. If someone insists on a prospective husband who is an investment banker with a good sense of humor and cooks gourmet meals and really likes kids, then she might, if she is very lucky, eventually find someone who satisfies all these criteria to some degree…but the sense of humor might not be quite as great, and the liking for kids not quite as strong, as if she were willing to compromise on the investment banker and the gourmet meals criteria. (And, of course, there are plenty of factors that operate below the conscious level and can’t be meaningfully represented on a checklist at all.)

    (Update 9/17/18:  There are some indications that, as full employment gets closer, more employers are willing to compromise on educational requirements, and also experience requirements.)

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Blogging, Education, Human Behavior, Management, USA | 10 Comments »

    Six Hundred Million Years in K-12

    Posted by David Foster on 20th August 2018 (All posts by )

    (This post is now an August perennial, in honor of the beginning of the new school year–indeed, many kids have already been in school for 2 or 3 weeks)

    Peter Orszag, who was Obama’s budget director and is now at Lazard, thinks it would be a good idea to cut back on summer school vacations for kids, arguing that this would both improve academics and reduce obesity.

    I’m with Jeremy LottBut to look at the vast wasteland that is American public education — the poor teaching, the awful curriculum, the low standards, the anemic achievement, the institutional resistance to needed reform — and say that the real problem is summer vacation takes a special sort of mind.

    I wrote about the war on summer vacation back in 2006, after stopping at a store in Georgia on the first day of August and discovering that this was the first day of school for the local children.

    The truth is, most public K-12 schools make very poor use of the time of their students. They waste huge proportions of the millions of hours which have been entrusted to them–waste them through the mindless implementation of fads and theories, waste them through inappropriate teacher-credentialing processes, waste them through refusal to maintain high standards of performance and behavior.

    When an organization or institution proves itself to be a poor steward of the resources that have been entrusted to it, the right answer is not to give it more resources to waste.

    Orszag and similar thinkers seem to have no concept that good things can happen to children’s development outside of an institutional setting. Plenty of kids develop and pursue interests in science, literature, art, music…plus, there is plenty to be learned simply by interacting with friends in an unstructured environment.

    Would the world be better off if Steve Wozniak and Jeri Ellsworth..to name only two of many, many examples..had their noses held constantly to the school grindstone rather than having time to develop their interests in electronics?

    Lewis E Lawes, who was warden of Sing Sing prison from 1915 to 1941, wrote an interesting book titled Twenty Thousand Years in Sing Sing. The title refers to the aggregate lengths of the sentences of the men in the prison at a typical particular point in time.

    Lawes:

    Twenty-five hundred men saddled with an aggregate of twenty thousand years! Within such cycles worlds are born, die, and are reborn. That span has witnessed the evolution of the intelligence of mortal man. And we know that twenty thousand years have seen nations run their courses, perish, and give way to their successors. Twenty thousand years in my keeping. What will they evolve?

    Following the same approach, the aggregate length of the terms to be spent in K-12 schools by their current students is more than 600,000,000 years. What proportion of this time is actually used productively?

    And how many of the officials who supervise and run the public schools, and the ed-school professors who influence their policies, think about this 600,000,000 years in the same serious and reflective way that Lawes thought about the 20,000 years under his supervision? Some do, of course, but a disturbing percentage of them seem to be simply going through the bureaucratic motions.

    And the politicians and officials of the Democratic Party, those who talk so much about their devotion to Education and The Children, are the last people in the world who are ever going to call them on it.

    Posted in Crime and Punishment, Education, Politics, USA | 10 Comments »

    The problem of modern socialism

    Posted by TM Lutas on 18th August 2018 (All posts by )

    This is lifted from one of many retyped responses to people who just want to engage in history-free, context-free thought experiments on whether socialism is any good. This particular one came in response to a person who was defending the USSR as a viable method of organizing society.

    “The problem is, and likely will remain for the foreseeable future, that there are wannabee genocidaires who would like to be signing the death warrants for those who resist the advance of socialism. There is no reliable test to separate those evil people from those who haven’t figured out why socialism landed on the ash heap of history and genuinely want to run through what happened, what went wrong, and why so many people died in the pursuit of this idea of implementing the labor theory of value as government policy.”

    If there is a reliable test, I certainly would love to know it. The ignorant are coming out of the US education system by the boatload. The malicious are far fewer than that, but so dangerous that they can’t be ignored.

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    Posted in Academia, Economics & Finance, Education, Philosophy | 15 Comments »

    Summer Rerun: The Age of Blather

    Posted by David Foster on 17th August 2018 (All posts by )

    Diana Senechal, guest-blogging at Joanne Jacobs, told the following story:

    I run two lunchtime literature clubs at my school. The fourth graders just finished reading A Little Princess. During our discussions, I encourage delving into the text and discussing it on its own terms. I am not a big fan of “accountable talk,” “making predictions,” “making connections,” and so forth when they assume precedence over the subject matter itself.

    One student brought up the part where Sara spends her money on hot buns for a beggar girl. “She made a self-to-self connection,” the student said. I felt sorry that students are learning such ghastly terminology, however well meant. Why are students not encouraged to say, “She understood how the girl felt” or “She felt compassion for the girl”?

    Why, indeed? It’s bad enough to impose verbiage like “self-to-self connection” on college students: to do it to a 4th grader is really unforgiveable. It adds nothing to understanding–indeed, it very likely interferes with the true understanding and appreciation of the story by creating an emotional distance.

    Strange, awkward, and unnatural verbal formulations, used ritualistically and without contributing to understanding, are becoming increasingly common in our society: although this phenomenon is arguably at its worst in education, it is by no means limited to that field. These word and phrases are not similar to the traditional jargon of a profession or trade. “Self-to-self connections” is not the same kind of thing as “amp” or even “kanban.”

    Mark Helprin, in an essay about art, writes about people who are so obsessed with their tools and techniques that they lose sight of the substance of the work:

    Modernism is by necessity obsessed with form, much like a craftsman obsessed with his tools and materials. In my climbing days we used to call people like that “equipment weenies.” These days you can see it in fly-fishing, where not a few people go out once a year with $5,000-worth of equipment to catch (maybe) $5-worth of fish. What should have been the story of the man, the stream, and the fish becomes instead a romance between the man and his tools. In this century the same thing happened in art.

    Athough Helprin is talking here about art, but the same excessive focus on methodology is visible in other areas as well.

    Who are the people who perpetrate and cling to these fake-erudite verbal formulations? I suspect that they are generally those who have an education which is extensive–in terms of total years spent in the classroom–but not deep.

    Bruce Fleming, who teaches English at the U.S. Naval Academy, has some interesting thoughts on the teaching/misteaching of literature, which are highly relevant to this topic. Excerpt:

    Literary study in the classroom nowadays offers views of the work of literature rather like the views of Mt. Fuji in Hokusai’s celebrated spring series on “100 Views of Mt. Fuji.” In each view, the mountain, while present, is frequently tiny and in a corner, viewed (in the most famous print) beyond the crest of a wave whose foam seems to make fingers at the edges, or (in another) through a hoop that a barrel-maker is shaping.

    Those are not the front-and-center shots on a postcard. They foreground the angle of the mountain, its treatment, much the way a literature professor does with a funky viewpoint that got him or her tenure. Of course the postcard shot has its own point, but in a real sense it’s more neutral than the angled treatment. It doesn’t push our noses in its approach: It defers to the object it is depicting. We’re far more conscious of the treatment of Mt. Fuji in an artsy Hokusai print than we are in a postcard shot. And that means, we’re all but compelled to see the mountain the way it’s presented, rather than being able to work on our own presentation. That’s why literary studies is intrinsically coercive.

    I think the blatherification of America is an important issue. It inhibits clear thought. It is harmful to the enjoyment of art and of literature. It is destructive of intelligent policy-making in both business and government.

    What say you? Do you agree that blatherification is happening and that it matters? Thoughts on causes and possible countermeasures?

    (links for the Helprin and Fleming quotes removed–no longer working)

    Posted in Academia, Education, Society | 6 Comments »

    You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 11th August 2018 (All posts by )

    It’s got to be drummed
    In your dear little ear
    You’ve got to be carefully taught.
    (From the musical South Pacific)

    Or not taught at all. Last week as I sat in my cosy home office contemplating things, the ebb and flow of the internet brought to me the woebegone maunderings of a (presumably) white and (arguably) somewhat credentialed Millennial, who in her search for meaning and purpose in her life wound up involved in those anti-pipeline protests near the Sioux reservation. The ukase of her lament seemed to be that she had no native culture, not in comparison with those charming and dignified tribal elders. She appeared to view them as benign, terribly exotic, definitely ‘other’ – pretty much the same lens with which the old National Geographic viewed and photographed those interesting aboriginal peoples in far distant foreign lands all these decades ago.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Society, Conservatism, Culture, Current Events, Education, History, Leftism, Media | 19 Comments »

    How intellectually rigorous is Vox Day?

    Posted by TM Lutas on 29th June 2018 (All posts by )

    Vox Day is an alt-right figure who is a perfect illustration of why the alt-right needs to be engaged and not just thrown into the outer darkness. He’s accomplished, influential, smart, and cruel. He claims to be interested in the truth. No matter where it leads, he wants to follow and his position is that at the end of any journey committed to the truth, you’ll end up alt-right.

    He is more correct about mainstream western society than mainstream society (left or right) is comfortable admitting. There are sacred cows aplenty in both conventional camps and people do notice them and treat those conventional pieties with the cynicism they deserve. These positions leave an opening for alternative political camps with a greater fidelity to truth. Vox Day is attempting to position the alt-right as a better-enough successor to conventional conservatism in order to reorient international politics.

    But when encountering something he is unfamiliar with, does he have the guts to actually chase it down and educate himself?

    De-russification is largely about Russia’s peripheral states attempting to get people to switch allegiances to the local nation from Russia. It’s very close to classic American melting pot politics. It also appears to be working, something that Vox Day has made claims cannot sustainably happen when talking about the future of the USA.

    So what will Vox Day do when he reads up on the subject? Will he condemn the Baltic states’ efforts and be consistent across societies? Will he reassess the chances for melting pot politics in the USA and attempt to move the alt-right to a different destination? Stay tuned. The man is unlikely to leave the subject permanently unaddressed. It’s too obvious a weak spot for his camp.

    I’m assuming, without any evidence whatsoever, that Vox Day actually is not aware of what de-russification entails. It’s the charitable thing to do. But doing so without following up is not charitable. It is merely foolish.

    Posted in Culture, Education, Politics, Russia | 13 Comments »

    The Custom of the Country

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 21st April 2018 (All posts by )

    I always had rather a soft spot in me for Barbara Bush; the exemplary old-school upper-middle-class good wife, with her triple strand of pearls, and the way that she didn’t give a damn about going prematurely white. That was the way she was, and she didn’t give two pins. Class – that’s what she had, the class of a previous generation; a class now belatedly appreciated and mourned, now that the upholders and exemplars of it are almost now gone from between us. Among my transitory friends in Korea was a security policeman who had come off the White House protection squad at the end of the senior Bush administration: he adored Barbara, who called him Timmy – possibly the only person on earth besides his mother who did so, as he was one of these six-and-a-half foot tall human hazards in traffic, who looked rather like an Irish-Anglo version of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
    So – I took brief note of her passing; yes, good to die at home, refusing anything but palliative care, among family, and those whom hold you in affection. I am certain that Timmy – wherever he is now – is riffling through his fond memories of his particular First Lady and drinking a toast to her. A good long life, well lived, a loving marriage, well-adjusted and successful children, and grandchildren; what more could a brief life on this earth offer? I also drink a toast to Barbara Bush, and convey my sincerest condolences to those who loved her, a circle which extends far beyond those of her blood family. (I wish, though, that she had not been so catty about Sarah Palin, but I guess she was just going along with the old-line Establishment GOP crowd.)

    This appears to be a simple social courtesy too much for a certain professor of … something or other at a California State University. Oh – it’s the one in Fresno. Fresno – like Bakersfield, it’s own punishment. (Yes, I am letting my latent California snobbishness show. Yes, there are places in California too infra dig for words. Fresno is one of them, although it did feature in a hilarious and all-star parody of 1980s dramas like Dynasty and Dallas. I continue.) The tweets posted by this so-called professor (of what, pray tell? Oh, dear – of English.) Couldn’t prove it through the content of her tweets, which largely appear barely literate speak for themselves – mostly a narrative of vicious ignorance and malice. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Civil Society, Current Events, Customer Service, Education, Leftism, Media, Society | 13 Comments »

    American Alpha Male Test

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 17th April 2018 (All posts by )

    (inspired by Are You an Alpha or a Beta Male? Take Our 20-Question Quiz and Find Out and the Bill of Rights)

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Anglosphere, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Diversions, Education, Law, Law Enforcement, Religion, The Press, USA | 25 Comments »

    Does Anybody Here Think This is Really a Good Idea?

    Posted by David Foster on 8th April 2018 (All posts by )

    From a community college catalog:

    STEM for Infants and Toddlers.  In this course we will discuss what STEM means and the importance of STEM exposure in the early years of a child’s development.  We will explore developmentally appropriate strategies and activities to build a foundation in STEM learning for infants and toddlers.

    Posted in Education, Human Behavior, Tech, USA | 12 Comments »

    Po nan Jwèt la: Asymétri Kache nan Lavi Chak Jou

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 16th March 2018 (All posts by )

    Taleb, Nassim N., Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life. New York City: Random House, 2018.

    NB: precisely because I regard Taleb as a national treasure and have considerable respect for his work, I am not going to pull punches here. I get to do this because I have … skin in the game, and not only in Haiti[1] (where I wrote this post over the past ten days, thus the Kreyòl Ayisyen title), but in a couple-three moderately hair-raising situations back in KC, which I will relate when appropriate. Which might be never; see Matthew 6:1-4 (cited by Taleb on page 186).

    Getting this out of the way—buy this book, read it, and recommend it to others. I say this very much irrespective of what might be called the Manifold-Taleb delta, which is not altogether trivial, as I will explain in some detail—again, as a sign of respect—below. Immediately below, in fact.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Bioethics, Book Notes, Capitalism, Ebola, Education, Entrepreneurship, Environment, History, Human Behavior, Islam, Japan, Libertarianism, Miscellaneous, National Security, Political Philosophy, Russia, Space, Systems Analysis, Terrorism | 17 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading

    Posted by David Foster on 4th January 2018 (All posts by )

    Cold Spring Shops:  Losing the Intellectual Tradition.  He cites Joy Pullman, who in turn quotes Hillsdale College president Larry Arnn:

    We’re living in a time as if some blight has come across the earth. Something fantastic, something deep, something old, something elevated, something high is basically being obliterated.

    Also from Cold Spring Shops:  Collaboration creates mediocrity.  I would rephrase this to say that collaboration can create mediocrity, especially when used as an unthinking buzzword and deployed as a pseudo-religion…after all, the purpose of basically all organizations is to allow people to collaborate, in various ways, to do what they could not do individually.  But shallow thoughts about collaboration and de-leveling and de-siloing and de-hierarchicalization are indeed in many cases detracting from the serious work that needs to be done on organizational design.

    At Politico: The secret backstory of how Obama let Hezbollah off the hook.  See also a response to this story from The DiploMad.

    Related, from Roger Simon:  Iran protests expose mainstream media as reationary, not liberal.

    Three from Sarah Hoyt:

    Childhood memories:  The things that stay

    The importance of feedback:  Breaking the Gears

    Of course they do:  When the Left bullies, they pose as anti-bullies

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    Posted in Academia, Business, Crime and Punishment, Education, Leftism, Management, Media, Terrorism | 12 Comments »

    I Am a Barbarian

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 23rd December 2017 (All posts by )

    Scott, James C. Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017.

    Scott has hit another metaphorical grand slam with this one, a worthily disconcerting follow-on to his earlier work. I have previously read (in order of publication, rather than the order in which I encountered them) The Moral Economy of the Peasant, Seeing Like a State, and Two Cheers for Anarchism, and found them congenial. Scott is particularly good at encouraging a non-elite viewpoint deeply skeptical of State power, and in Against the Grain he applies this to the earliest civilizations. Turns out they loom large in our imagination due to the a posteriori distribution of monumental ruins and written records—structures that were often built by slaves and records created almost entirely to facilitate heavy taxation and conscription. Outside of “civilization” were the “barbarians,” who turn out to have simply been those who evaded control by the North Koreas and Venezuelas of their time, rather than the untutored and truculent caricatures of the “civilized” histories.

    By these criteria, the United States of America is predominately a barbarian nation. In the order given above:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Americas, Anglosphere, Big Government, Book Notes, Civil Society, Crony Capitalism, Culture, Current Events, Education, Entrepreneurship, History, Immigration, International Affairs, Latin America, Law Enforcement, Libertarianism, Markets and Trading, Military Affairs, National Security, North America, Political Philosophy, Politics, Society, Systems Analysis, Tradeoffs, Transportation, USA | 7 Comments »

    The Education Bubble.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 30th November 2017 (All posts by )

    It is a very long time since I graduated from college. I have been teaching medical students for 15 years until I finally retired two years ago.

    My five children have all attended college and all but one have graduated. Three have advanced degrees.

    The most recent graduate, my youngest daughter, was taught some untruths at the University of Arizona a few years ago.

    For example, she was taught, in her “US History Since 1877” course that “The Silent Majority” consisted of white people who refused to accept the 1964 Civil Rights Act. That was in her final exam review study guide. There was no mention of Nixon or the Vietnam War.

    My theory is that university faculties when I attended were mostly World War II veterans or older and I could never sense the political affiliation of any of them. During the Vietnam War, colleges became refuges for anti-war students who stayed in grad school to avoid the draft. Since they were mostly strongly leftist in sympathy, they have perpetuated the leftist bias in faculty by recruiting similar students and by rejecting those who hold more conservative views.

    As evidence I offer Steve Hayward’s report on hiring practices today.

    Here is the announcement.

    Evidence of ability for excellence in teaching and research grounded in political theory and focusing on topics central to the discipline at large: e.g., ancient, modern, and contemporary theories; democratic theory; critical race theory; immigration; the carceral state; postcolonial theory; identity; hybridity; intersectionality; queer theory; deconstruction’s focus on alterity; globalization, and neoliberalism.

    Read the rest of this entry »

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    Posted in Academia, Education, Leftism | 15 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading

    Posted by David Foster on 15th November 2017 (All posts by )

    A law professor writes about undoing the dis-education of Millenials.

    Small liberal arts colleges:  self-destruction via runaway administration.

    Ammo Grrrll doesn’t share the obsession about ‘people who look like me’.

    Are we living in the dystopia that Young Adult fiction warns us about?

    The Assistant Village Idiot has some thoughts about local aristocracy and the nationalization of culture.

    Bolshevism and Militant Islam.  Some thoughts about historical parallels from Niall Ferguson, with comments by Stuart Schneiderman.

    The current Senate tax bill draft contains some very bad ideas about taxation of employee stock options and restricted stock grants.

    Posted in Business, Economics & Finance, Education, History, Islam, Leftism, Russia, Society | 3 Comments »

    Summer Rerun: Attack of the Robot Bureaucrats

    Posted by David Foster on 20th September 2017 (All posts by )

    (rerun inspired by this story)

    Via Bookworm, here is a truly appalling story from Minnesota. When the fire alarm went off at Como Park High School, a 14-year-old girl was rousted out of the swimming pool, and–dripping wet and wearing only a swimsuit–directed to go stand outside were the temperature was sub-zero and the wind chill made it much worse. Then, she was not allowed to take refuge in one of the many cars in the parking lotbecause of a school policy forbidding students from sitting in a faculty member’s car. As Bookworm notes:

    Even the lowest intelligence can figure out that the rule’s purpose is to prevent teachers from engaging sexually with children.  The likelihood of a covert sexual contact happening between Kayona and a teacherunder the actual circumstances is ludicrous.  The faculty cars were in full view of the entire school.  There was no chance of illicit sexual congress.

    But the whole nature of bureaucratic rules, of course, is to forbid human judgment based on actual context.

    Fortunately for Kayona, her fellow students hadn’t had human decency ground out of them by rules: “…fellow students, however, demonstrated a grasp of civilized behavior. Students huddled around her and some frigid classmates [sic], giving her a sweatshirt to put around her feet. A teacher coughed up a jacket.” As the children were keeping Kayona alive, the teachers were workingtheir way through the bureaucracy.  After a freezing ten minutes, an administrator finally gave permission for the soaking wet, freezing Kayla to set in a car in full view of everybody.

    As Bookworm notes, this sort of thing is becoming increasingly common. In England in 2009, for example, a man with a broken back lay in 6 inches of water, but paramedics refused to rescue him because they weren’t trained for water rescues. Dozens of similar examples could easily be dredged up.

    The behavior of these bureaucrats is very similar to the behavior of a computer program confronted by a situation for which its designers did not explicitly provide. Sometimes the results will be useless, sometimes they will be humorous, often they will be harmful or outright disastrous.

    Last year in Sweden, there was rampant rioting that included the torching of many cars.  The government of Sweden didn’t do a very good job of protecting its citizens and their property from this outbreak of barbarism. Government agents did, however, fulfill their duty of issuing parking tickets…to burned-out cars. Link with picture.  In my post The Reductio as Absurdum of Bureaucratic Liberalism, I said…

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Education, Germany, History, Human Behavior, Management, Video | 11 Comments »

    Dangerous Math Teachers

    Posted by TM Lutas on 17th September 2017 (All posts by )

    The proposition that logic is a universal, is unitary, used to be something of a consensus position. The idea of universal logic was (and remains) very useful. It meant that one could, without any other shared beliefs, have some sort of conversation with anybody and, if constructed correctly, the conversation would progress and lead somewhere.

    Communism does not believe in the universality of logic. This is why communism keeps coming back. Logical refutations have no effect because they are constructed with bourgeois logic, something that a priori is rejected by communists as an improper lens for examining communism.

    If you don’t care about truth per se and want an indestructible ideology, this weeble like characteristic of not accepting logical refutation is very attractive. This is why ideologies that have no particular opinion on economic class or the proper way to distribute goods and services fall into the communist orbit. Their defects need to be papered over and the communists provide the only available cure for pesky objective, logical examination and refutation.

    In a communist country, teaching logic is both a dangerous act and a necessary act. Without any logic at all society collapses. With a well taught, well formed mind schooled in logic, communism is rejected, which means a trip to reeducation or worse.

    Yet throughout the communist period, math teachers went and taught their lessons including the concepts of logic and how to apply it to students. Philosophically, they were behind enemy lines and entirely within the power of their enemies while they openly taught a major building intellectual concept that doomed the State.

    This is bravery, and almost entirely unrecognized.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Education, Leftism, Political Philosophy, Systems Analysis | 26 Comments »

    Summer Rerun: Six Hundred Million Years in K-12

    Posted by David Foster on 25th August 2017 (All posts by )

    (Millions of kids are already headed back to school, making it an appropriate time to again rerun this post)

    Peter Orszag, who was Obama’s budget director, thinks it would be a good idea to cut back on summer school vacations for kids, arguing that this would both improve academics and reduce obesity.

    I’m with Jeremy Lott:  But to look at the vast wasteland that is American public education–the poor teaching, the awful curriculum, the low standards, the anemic achievement, the institutional resistance to needed reform and say that the real problem is summer vacation takes a special sort of mind.

    I wrote about the war on summer vacation back in 2006, after stopping at a store in Georgia on the first day of August and discovering that this was the first day of school for the local children. My analysis:

    The truth is, most public K-12 schools make very poor use of the time of their students. They waste huge proportions of the millions of hours which have been entrusted to them…waste them through the mindless implementation of fads and theories, waste them through inappropriate teacher-credentialing processes, waste them through refusal to maintain high standards of performance and behavior.

    When an organization or institution proves itself to be a poor steward of the resources that have been entrusted to it, the right answer is not to give it more resources to waste.

    Orszag and similar thinkers seem to have no concept that good things can happen to children’s development outside of an institutional setting. Plenty of kids develop and pursue interests in science, literature, art, music…plus, there is plenty to be learned simply by interacting with friends in an unstructured environment.

    Would the world be better off if Steve Wozniak and Jerri Ellsworth..to name only two of many, many examples..had their noses held constantly to the school grindstone rather than having time to develop their interests in electronics?

    Lewis E Lawes, who was warden of Sing Sing prison from 1915 to 1941, wrote an interesting book titled Twenty Thousand Years in Sing Sing. The title refers to the aggregate lengths of the sentences of the men in the prison at a typical particular point in time.

    Lawes:

    Twenty-five hundred men saddled with an aggregate of twenty thousand years! Within such cycles worlds are born, die, and are reborn. That span has witnessed the evolution of the intelligence of mortal man. And we know that twenty thousand years have seen nations run their courses, perish, and give way to their successors. Twenty thousand years in my keeping. What will they evolve?

    Following the same approach, the aggregate length of the terms to be spent in K-12 schools by their current students is more than 600,000,000 years. What proportion of this time is actually used productively?

    And how many of the officials who supervise and run the public schools, and the ed-school professors who influence their policies, think about this 600,000,000 years in the same serious and reflective way that Lawes thought about the 20,000 years under his supervision? Some do, of course, but a disturbing percentage of them seem to be simply going through the bureaucratic motions.

    And the politicians and officials of the Democratic Party are the last people in the world who are ever going to call them on it.

    Posted in Big Government, Civil Society, Education, USA | 32 Comments »

    Summer Rerun: Jousting with a Phantom

    Posted by David Foster on 19th July 2017 (All posts by )

    (Victor Davis Hanson’s recent piece, The Fifth American War, reminded me of this post.  I think it is crucially important to understand that many of those calling for ‘equality’ do not themselves have any interest in being merely equal, any more than Napoleon the Pig did in Orwell’s novel ‘Animal Farm’)

    Those people who call themselves “progressives” are talking a lot about equality and inequality these days. And conservatives/libertarians, in response, attempt to explain why “equality of outcomes” is infeasible and unwise.

    To a substantial degree, though, they/we are jousting with a phantom. Because leading “progressives” don’t really believe in anything resembling equality—indeed, quite the contrary.

    Consider, for example: Many people in “progressive” leadership positions are graduates of the Harvard Law School. Do you think these people want to see a society in which the career, status, and income prospects for an HLS grad are no better than those for a graduate of a lesser-known, lower-status (but still very good) law school? C’mon.

    Quite a few “progressive” leaders are members of prominent families. Do you think Teddy Kennedy would have liked to see an environment in which he and certain other members of his family would have had to answer for their actions in the criminal courts in the same way that ordinary individuals would, without benefit from connections, media influence, and expensive lawyers?

    The prevalence of “progressivism” among tenured professors is quite high. How many of these professors would be eager to agree to employment conditions in which their job security and employee benefits were no better than those enjoyed by average Americans? How many of them would take a salary cut in order to provide higher incomes for the poorly-paid adjunct professors at their universities? How many would like to see PhD requirements eliminated so that a wider pool of talented and knowledgeable individuals can participate in university teaching?

    There are a lot of “progressives” among the graduates of Ivy League universities. How many of them would be in favor of legally eliminating alumni preferences and the influence of “contributions” and have their children considered for admission–or not–on the same basis as everyone else’s kids? Yet an alumni preference is an intergenerational asset in the same way that a small businessman’s store or factory is.

    The reality is that “progressivism” is not in any way about equality, it is rather about shifting the distribution of power and wealth in a way that benefits those with certain kinds of educational credentials and certain kinds of connections. And remember, power and connections are always transmutable into wealth. Sometimes that wealth is directly dollar-denominated, as in the millions of dollars that former president Bill Clinton has been paid in speaking fees, or the money made by a former government official who leverages his contacts into an executive job with a “green” energy company–even though he may have minimal knowledge of either energy or business. And sometimes the wealth takes the form of in-kind benefits, like a university president’s mansion. (Those who lived in the old Soviet Union and Eastern Europe can tell you all about in-kind benefits for nominally low-paid officials.) And, almost always, today’s “progressivism” is about the transfer of power from individuals to credentialed “experts” who will coerce or “nudge” people to do with those experts have decided would be best.

    To a very substantial extent, the talk about “equality” is a smokescreen, conscious or unconscious, behind which “progressives” pursue their own economic, status, and ego agendas.

    Writing in 1969, Peter Drucker–who was born in Austria and had lived in several European countries–wrote about what he saw as a key American economic advantage: the much less-dominant role played by “elite” educational institutions:

    One thing it (modern society) cannot afford in education is the “elite institution” which has a monopoly on social standing, on prestige, and on the command positions in society and economy. Oxford and Cambridge are important reasons for the English brain drain. A main reason for the technology gap is the Grande Ecole such as the Ecole Polytechnique or the Ecole Normale. These elite institutions may do a magnificent job of education, but only their graduates normally get into the command positions. Only their faculties “matter.” This restricts and impoverishes the whole society…The Harvard Law School might like to be a Grande Ecole and to claim for its graduates a preferential position. But American society has never been willing to accept this claim…
It is almost impossible to explain to a European that the strength of American higher education lies in this absence of schools for leaders and schools for followers.

    The “unwillingness of American society to accept this claim”…the claim of elite education as the primary gateway to power and wealth…has been greatly undercut since Drucker wrote. And “progressives” have been among the main under-cutters and the leading advocates for further movement in that direction.

    Related: Paying higher taxes can be very profitable.

    Posted in Academia, Civil Society, Education, Political Philosophy, USA | 19 Comments »

    “Full transcript: Defense Secretary James Mattis’ interview with The Islander”

    Posted by Jonathan on 19th July 2017 (All posts by )

    Secretary Mattis responds to an interview request from a high-school student. The interview is worth reading and more informative than much of what appears in the adult press.

    (via Lex)

    Posted in Education, Europe, International Affairs, Media, Middle East, Military Affairs, National Security, Terrorism, Trump, War and Peace | 5 Comments »

    Another Long Hot Summer in the Making

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 31st May 2017 (All posts by )

    Just when I start to think that the fans of Hillary Clinton and her minions in the national establishment are calming the heck down, after the unexpected shellacking at the polls by Donald Trump of Her Inevitableness, the Dowager Empress of Chappaqua … nope, the insane is being cranked up to twelve – that is two more above ten. (Obligatory Spinal Tap reference there.) And the inmates of certain college campi are running the insanity all the way up to thirteen or fourteen, as witness the furious activists at Evergreen University, in Olympia, Washington State. They are bent out of shape over the usual crap that student activists are usually bent out of shape over – but in this case, the frosting on the cake is a video of a raucous demonstration by student activists making their demands, and generally acting like spoiled three-year-olds throwing a screaming tantrum. The video is linked here -And the students take? “We demand that the video created for Day of Absence and Day of Presence that was stolen by white supremacists and edited to expose and ridicule the students and staff be taken down by the administration by this Friday.” Sorry, kids – the internet is forever. Don’t want to be ridiculed by strangers who don’t give a damn for your sensitive little egos? Don’t do ridiculous things.

    Ridiculous things like … oh, I don’t know – pose for an elaborate video shoot with a blood-soaked fake head of Donald Trump, especially if you are a pathetically unfunny failed comedian like Kathy Griffin. In whom, like the Kardashians, I am fabulously disinterested but such is theirs and Kathy Griffin’s unseemly lust for public attention that I can’t help knowing about them anyway, much as I would wish otherwise. At this point, it looks like this tasteless stunt as cost Ms Griffin a gig with CNN on New Years Eve – story here. I imagine that the suits at CNN are counting up the numbers and calculating how many more viewers they can lose if they really put their backs into it.

    And speaking of media figures taking their lumps – last week we had the interesting spectacle of one Greg Gianforte, running for a congressional seat in Montana, charged with roughing up a reporter for England’s Guardian newspaper. Gianforte won the contest anyway, leading observers like myself to wonder if he did any damage to his campaign at all. After all – who hasn’t wanted to slap the cr*p out of a rude and obstreperous reporter now and again? This could get very popular, if incorporated onto White House press briefings. Sean Spicer could draw a name from a hat at the start of every briefing, and punch out the selected reporter. We could call it “Beat the Press.”

    And finally – the latest to surface in the cacophony of crazy is the demand by a group calling themselves “Texas Antifa” to remove a prominent statue of Sam Houston from Houston’s Herman Park, on the grounds that Houston was a slave owner. Doubtless, Texas Antifa is trying to hop aboard the movement to banish statues of Confederate leaders and soldiers from public spaces across the old South and garner some of that sweet, creamy media attention … either that, or someone – either on the right or left – is doing an epic troll. While Sam Houston did own slaves (about a dozen, some of whom were purchased so as to keep a family together, or so sayeth one of the biographies I have read) he was emphatically against the expansion of slavery to the Western territories, against secession from the United States and resigned his office as governor rather than take an oath of allegiance to the Confederacy. In any case, Texas Antifa has called for a rally on June 10th. At the very least, this event may draw more supporters of keeping the statue where it has been since 1925. I’m no particular judge of prog-speak: Texas Antifa’s Book of Face page is here. Read for yourself and decide – for realsies lefty, stark raving nuts, or clever parody?
    Discuss, if you can bear it.

    Posted in Civil Society, Current Events, Education, History, Leftism, North America, Politics | 34 Comments »

    Intimidation, Conformity, and Cowardice in American Academia

    Posted by David Foster on 11th May 2017 (All posts by )

    I have previously mentioned an incident described in the memoirs of Tom Watson Jr, longtime CEO of IBM.

    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 Senator 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.”

    I was reminded of this story once again by the current academic ragestorm involving the work of Professor Rebecca Tuvel.  And, just as with Watson’s experience during the McCarthy era, what is particularly disturbing is that there are apparently a lot of people who don’t like what has been happening…but are afraid to say so.

    And who is Professor Tuvel and what is the ragestorm about, you may ask?  Tuvel is an assistant professor of philosophy at Memphis College; you can see her teaching and research interests at the link.  Recently she published an article entitled “In Defense of Transracialism” in Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy.  A writer at Inside Higher Ed summarizes:

    The article explores whether there might be parallels between being transgender and being transracial, focusing specifically on the well-known case of Rachel Dolezal, who is white but presented herself as black for many years.

    Tuvel’s argument is that the very same reasons that might justify an individual’s decision to change sexes could also be used to justify an individual’s decision to change races — so if one is committed to the acceptability of the former (as Tuvel herself is), then one would be committed to the acceptability of the latter.

    And then the ragestorm broke:

    Shortly after the paper was published in the spring 2017 edition of Hypatia, an open letter with signatures but no author appeared on the internet soliciting further signatures. The letter called for Tuvel’s paper to be retracted by the journal, stating that “its continued availability causes further harm.”

    This open letter is now closed to further signatures and has been sent to the editor of Hypatia. While the open letter was still circulating, a statement appeared on the Hypatia website repudiating the article and making multiple references to the harms caused by the article’s publication. The statement has no signatures but is credited to “A majority of the Hypatia board of associate editors.”

    “The harms caused by the article’s publication” sounds like an argument that would have been made by the Inquisition in support of burning someone at the stake for unauthorized theological writing, or the arguments that were frequently made by Nazi and Soviet courts when calling for the execution of those who had disseminated forbidden political and social views.

    A recent New York Magazine article, This is what a modern-day witch hunt looks like,  argues that many of the assertions by Tuvel’s ‘critics’ (way too mild a word in this context) are based on a mischaracterization of what she actually wrote.  And this piece asserts that the over-the-top reaction has caused serious damage to Tuvel’s career…”How can Prof. Tuvel, for example, now use this repudiated but allegedly peer-reviewed article as part of her tenure process?   Indeed, how can her department or college support her for tenure when she has been so vilified as a scholar and professional by people who work in her fields?”…and suggests that these attacks may rise to the level of defamation in the legal sense.

    My main concern here is not whether Tuvel’s work is good or bad (read it for yourself here, if you’re so inclined, not sure how much longer it will stay up before the bit-burners get it)…indeed, I question the value of the whole subdiscipline encompassing this work and that of many of its critics), but the vitriolic tone of the attacks which in my view clearly inhibit intellectual exploration and and the ability to freely and (individually or collectively) play with ideas…which things are supposed to be primary reasons for the existence of academia…in favor of the dead hand of conformity.  And what is particularly disturbing…and closely echoes Tom Watson’s experiences during the McCarthy era…is this:

    Read the rest of this entry »

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    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Education, Leftism, Philosophy | 28 Comments »

    Bad Stewards

    Posted by David Foster on 26th April 2017 (All posts by )

    Yesterday’s WSJ – Parents are Drowning in College-Loan Debt:

    Millions of U.S. parents have taken out loans from the government to help their children pay for college. Now a crushing bill is coming due. Hundreds of thousands have tumbled into delinquency and default. In the process, many have delayed retirement, put off health expenses and lost portions of Social Security checks and tax refunds to their lender, the federal government…“This credit is being extended on terms that specifically, willfully ignore their ability to repay,” says Toby Merrill of Harvard Law School’s Legal Services Center. “You can’t avoid that we’re targeting high-cost, high-dollar-amount loans to people who we know can’t afford to repay them.”

    We already knew, of course, that many former students are suffering under the burden of their student loans for years and decades, and that the problem is so common and so severe that it is impacting major purchases of things like houses and cars, and probably also marriages and business formations. The article indicates that in many cases the exploding costs of higher education are devastating their parents as well.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Education | 13 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading

    Posted by David Foster on 7th April 2017 (All posts by )

    Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan is, IMO, one of the more thoughtful of the financial industry CEO’s.  In his annual letter to shareholders, he devotes considerable space to the current situation of the United States–our assets, our problems, and potential paths for improvement.  The public policy section of the letter starts on page 32.

    My view of several issues is different from Mr Dimon’s, but I think the letter is well worth reading and thinking about.

    (Disclosure:  I’m a JPM investor)

    Posted in Business, Capitalism, Economics & Finance, Education, Entrepreneurship, Immigration, USA | 13 Comments »

    The Riot at Middlebury College and Academic Life.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 1st April 2017 (All posts by )

    Recently, Charles Murray, author of the book, “The Bell Curve,” a study of intelligence in the population, was invited to speak at Middlebury college, a liberal arts college in Vermont. His attempt to speak was interrupted by a riot which injured a professor at the college.

    Inside Higher Ed’s story on the event explains that college officials admonished the students prior to the talk that they could protest but not disrupt Murray’s talk, which was to be about the way white America is coming apart—the title of his latest book—along class lines. Unfortunately, that admonition did no good. “As soon as Murray took the stage,” we read, “students stood up, turned their backs to him and started various chants that were loud enough and in unison such that he could not talk over them.

    The confrontation continued after he had left the stage and attempted to move to another location.

    And then matters turned worse. Fearing that there might be a raucous, disruptive mob instead of an audience of students willing to listen and consider Murray’s arguments, school administrators had set up a contingency plan. Once it became clear that the mob had killed the lecture, they moved to another location where Murray would give his talk, which would be live-streamed to students.

    Sadly, that location was soon beset by the mob, with banging on windows and pulling of fire alarms. Murray and Professor Allison Stanger, who was the moderator for the talk, tried their best to continue a rational discussion.

    Finally, Murray, Professor Stanger, and a few others tried to leave campus.

    Mayhem resulted when Professor Stanger, who had been willing to state her agreement that Murray should not have been invited, was injured.

    Why did this happen ? Tribalism ?

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Civil Society, Education, Leftism, Politics, Trump | 12 Comments »

    Economic Growth and the Spirit of Debate

    Posted by David Foster on 22nd March 2017 (All posts by )

    Writing in the WSJ, Naftali Bennett takes on the question of what is the “secret educational ingredient” that accounts for Israel’s dramatic economic success.  While agreeing with others that good schools are a part of it, he also assigns credit to “a parallel education system that operates alongside the formal one.  This is where our children learn to become entrepreneurs.”

    And what are the components of this parallel education system?  He identifies three of them.  First, there is “our heritage of debate”…the study of the Talmud. “The meaning of complex texts is debated by students in hevruta–pairs–with a teacher offering occasional guidance..Since the Talmud is one of the most complex legal codes ever gathered, the idea of a verdict is almost irrelevant to those studying.  Students engage in debate for the sake of debate.  They analyze issues from all directions, finding different solutions.  Multiple answers to a single question are common.”

    Bennett identifies the second component of the parallel education system as the collection of youth organizations:  “Teenagers work closely with younger children; they lead groups on excursions  and hikes, develop informal curricula, and are responsible for those in their care.  As an 11th-grade student , I took fifth-graders on an overnight hike in the mountains.  Being given responsibilities at a young age helped shape me into who I am today.”

    The third component is the army:  “Consider a hypothetical 19-year-old soldier in the intelligence corps, analyzing aerial photographs or intercepted communications.  She must decide if the material in front of her indicates an impending attack or not.  This isn’t a rare occurrence. Thousands of Israeli soldiers experience it daily.”

    Just a couple of hours after reading the Bennett piece, I encountered this story about Wellesley College:

    In an email to fellow faculty yesterday afternoon, a committee of Wellesley College professors made several startling recommendations about how they think future campus speakers should be chosen. If implemented, the proposals by the faculty Commission for Ethnicity, Race, and Equity would have a profound impact on the quality and quantity of voices Wellesley students would be permitted to hear.

    FIRE has obtained the email, sent by one of the signatories to a faculty listserv, and republished it in full below.

    While paying lip service to free speech, the email is remarkable in its contempt for free and open dialogue on campus. Asserting that controversial speakers “impose on the liberty of students, staff, and faculty at Wellesley,” the committee members lament the fact that such speakers negatively impact students by forcing them to “invest time and energy in rebutting the speakers’ arguments.” 

    And here we thought learning to effectively challenge views with which one disagreed was an important part of the educational process!

    Meanwhile, at the University of Arizona, students who feel offended are being told to say “ouch”…and the student who made the supposedly-hurtful comment is supposed to respond with “oops.”  And these two universities are far from the only ones adopting such policies.

    So if a key part of Israel’s economic success is the training of kids in the skills and attitudes of debate…it would appear that many if not most American universities are doing the exact opposite.

    Posted in Academia, Civil Society, Education, Israel, USA | 14 Comments »