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  • Archive for the 'Human Behavior' Category

    Snowballs, Sleds, and Cultures, with Some Thoughts from Goethe and the Kaiser

    Posted by David Foster on 5th December 2018 (All posts by )

    A 9-year-old boy lobbied successfully to get his town’s ban on snowball fights overturned.

    Reminded me again of some comments by Goethe, circa 1828, which were the subject of a post here several years ago. He observed that when Englishmen came to town, they were invariably a hit with the local women. Indeed, when one of them came to visit, Goethe found it necessary to brace himself for the inevitable female tears upon the visitor’s departure. His friend Eckermann objected that Englishmen were not “more clever, better informed, or more excellent at heart than other people.”

    “The secret does not lie in these things, my good friend,” returned Goethe. ““Neither does it lie in birth and riches; it lies in the courage which they have to be that for which nature has made them. There is nothing vitiated or spoilt about them, there is nothing halfway or crooked; but such as they are, they are thoroughly complete men. That they are also sometimes complete fools, I allow with all my heart; but that is still something, and has still always some weight in the scale of nature.”

    Goethe goes on to contrast the upbringing of English boys with that typical in his own country:

    “In our own dear Weimar, I need only look out of the window to discover how matters stand with us. Lately, when the snow was lying upon the ground, and my neighbour’s children were trying their little sledges in the street, the police was immediately at hand, and I saw the poor little things fly as quickly as they could. Now, when the spring sun tempts them from the houses, and they would like to play with their companions before the door, I see them always constrained, as if they were not safe, and feared the approach of some despot of the police. Not a boy may crack a whip, or sing or shout; the police is immediately at hand to forbid it. This has the effect with us all of taming youth prematurely, and of driving out all originality and all wildness, so that in the end nothing remains but the Philistine.

    It’s not obvious to me why Goethe didn’t take up this issue of excessive policing with his very good friend Karl August, who as Grand Duke was pretty much the absolute ruler of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. Still, an interesting remark, given the increasing constraints on childhood in our own present culture.

    What is also very interesting is that almost a century later, former Kaiser Wilhelm II made some rather similar observations in his memoirs:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Britain, Civil Society, Education, Germany, History, Human Behavior, USA | 24 Comments »

    Coupling

    Posted by David Foster on 15th November 2018 (All posts by )

    (No, this post is not about sex…sorry. Nor is it about electrical engineering, though it might at first give that impression.)

    The often-interesting General Electric blog has an article about drones, linked to a cloud-based AI platform, which are used to inspect power lines and detect incipient problems–for example, vegetation which is threatening to encroach on the lines and short them out, or a transformer with a tendency to overheat.  The article mentions a 2003 event in which an encounter between an overgrown tree branch and a sagging power line resulted in a wide-area blackout that affected 50 million people.

    The inspection drone sounds like a very useful and productivity-improving tool: obviously, inspecting thousands of miles of power lines is nontrivial job. But the deeper issue, IMO, is the fact that one problem in one place can propagate over such a wide area and affect such a vast number of people.  Power system designers and the people who operate these systems are certainly aware of the need to minimize fault propagation:  circuit breakers and fuses, network analysis tools,  and the technologies of protective relaying were developed, by GE among others, precisely for reasons of fault localization.  But experience shows that large-scale fault propagation still sometimes does take place.

    This problem is not limited to electrical systems.  The mention of the tree-branch-caused 2003 blackout reminded me of a passage from the historian Hendrik Willem Van Loon:

    Unfortunately in the year 1914 the whole world was one large international workshop. A strike in the Argentine was apt to cause suffering in Berlin. A raise in the price of certain raw materials in London might spell disaster to tens of thousands of long-suffering Chinese coolies who had never even heard of the existence of the big city on the Thames. The invention of some obscure Privat-Dozent in a third-rate German university would often force dozens of Chilean banks to close their doors, while bad management on the part of an old commercial house in Gothenburg might deprive hundreds of little boys and girls in Australia of a chance to go to college.

    This probably overstates the interconnectedness of the global economy as it existed in 1914, but would fit our present-day global economy very well.  (The author was talking about the origins of WWI, which he blamed largely on economic interconnectedness…not correct, IMO, but the war was largely caused, or at least reached the scale that it did, because of another type of interconnectedness…in the shape of alliances.)

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Business, Capitalism, Deep Thoughts, Economics & Finance, Energy & Power Generation, Human Behavior, International Affairs, Trump, War and Peace | 18 Comments »

    The Third Place

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 8th November 2018 (All posts by )

    Saloon

    I am reading, by listening to the audio, a book called The Revolt of the Elites, which was written in 1996 but I just discovered it.

    The theme, which is quite timely, is that there are two worlds in this country; that of the elites and that of everyone else. From a review on Amazon:

    Lasch was most active in the late twentieth century yet it would seem he was seeing into the future with this book and his equally (or more) famous book, The Culture of Narcissism. In Revolt of the Elites he posits that the degeneration of Western Democracy has been caused by the abandonment by the wealthy and educated elites of their responsibilities to support culture, education, the building of public facilities, etc. in these societies. The rich and educated in Western Liberal, Capitalist, Democracies have, since the 1970s, increasingly abandoned society, keeping all of their earnings to themselves and have adopted a listless transient existence forgoing any significant commitments to community.

    He makes the point that we are no longer one nation with even the well off participating in the community. We lead separate lives.

    One example of this he calls the “Third Place,” a place where the community gets together. One place is work and another is home. The Third Place used to be a gathering place where all classes could mingle and get to know each other. In my own life it was the neighborhood tavern. My father was in the Juke Box business when I was a child and he spent quite a bit of time in taverns as that was where his business was. Two taverns that I remember quite well were owned by good friends of my father’s. One served as an answering service for service calls from other taverns. Both were neighborhood places which had many customers from nearly all classes. The very rich tended not to be there but I remember quite successful businessmen and their wives who attended parties and barbecues. The tavern would have softball teams for younger customers. One of them had a private ball field across the street that was owned by the tavern owner.

    The other tavern was not far away and among its regular customers were a wealthy heiress and her husband who had been a professional golfer. Every Sunday after Mass, there was a group that would always congregate there for an hour or two before going home. Most of the regulars did not visit each other at home, but did their socializing at the tavern.

    When I was a medical student, we visited New York City in August 1965 and the friends whose apartment where we stayed, were regular customers of the local tavern. One our one visit to the tavern, the friend pointed out all the men there without women. The wives and children were all at the “shore” for the hot month of August.

    The VFW and the Elks Club and Fraternal Order of Moose served the same purpose for many. My father was an Elk. There is a scene in the Clint Eastwood movie, “Gran Torino” that shows him socializing with the friends at the VFW. (Has it been the years since that movie ?)

    Those third places are pretty much gone. The country club and even the yacht club, where I spent a lot of time socializing, are not the same. There is an economic issue although yacht clubs are full of crew members who are not members of the club but are welcome.

    The divisiveness and tribalism we see in the elections and in the national politics are probably consequences of the lack such mixing bowls of democracy.

    Posted in Book Notes, Chicagoania, Civil Society, Culture, Human Behavior, Politics | 51 Comments »

    Nicely Put

    Posted by David Foster on 3rd November 2018 (All posts by )

    Bill Reader, at Sarah Hoyt’s blog, speaking of American democracy:

    It is also remarkable in how undramatic it was in its conception, admitting the probability that people with some flawed ideas are not flawed in all ideas—that extreme measures to silence a person because of disagreement, even totally valid disagreement over things that are an existential threat to the nation, would throw many babies out with the bathwater and render the country draconian and uncomfortable in the meanwhile.

    A very good point–someone having bad ideas, or at least ideas that we think are bad, does not mean that he doesn’t also have good ideas.

    One thing that I have noticed about “Progressives” is that their categorization engines tend to be over-aggressive:  if someone has any of the opinions/beliefs in a particular list, then it is assumed that he/she also has all other beliefs in that list.  For example, IIRC, I’ve seen commenters assail our friend Bookworm for being an Evangelical Christian, whereas actually, she is Jewish. They simply cannot grasp that there might be a Trump-supporting human who is in material ways unlike their mental model of Trump supporters (uneducated, angry, anti-sex, highly-religious Christian, etc).

    The quoted passage is from a very interesting essay that is worth reading in full.

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Leftism, Trump, USA | 9 Comments »

    Swipe Left if You Support (that other political party)

    Posted by David Foster on 16th October 2018 (All posts by )

    Four years ago, I posted But Would You Want Your Daughter to Marry One?, which showed a sharp increase in the % of parents who would be displeased if their son or daughter were to marry a supporter of the opposing party.  I was reminded of this post by the launch of a dating app called Donald Daters, intended for single supporters of President Trump.  It seems to fill a need: one early user remarked that he would meet women on other dating apps, but often on the first date, politics would come up.  “Literally didn’t matter if I had cured cancer for the whole world or if I was the best-looking man on the planet, these ladies turned into hardcore Trump-hating people and needless to say, we didn’t see each other again because it was a dealbreaker for them.”

    Another user says just a few years ago, he didn’t find that people cared so much about political opinions. “It just shocks me that people aren’t willing to listen to each other anymore,” he said. “So might as well just look for someone with the same set of ethics, morals and common sense.”  (He says he would absolutely be open to dating someone who wasn’t a Trump fan.)

    (If you’re interested in using this app yourself, you might want to wait a while–from the article, it sounds like there may be some early security issues with the product.)

    See also my related post Life in the Fully Politicized Society, continued.

    Posted in Human Behavior, Society, USA | 15 Comments »

    Humor…Machine and Human

    Posted by David Foster on 23rd September 2018 (All posts by )

    There have been some articles lately, in Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal for example, concerning efforts to give Artificial Intelligence systems something resembling a simulated sense of humor.

    Interesting research, perhaps, but at this juncture I’m less concerned above providing a sense of humor for AI systems than maintaining a sense of humor for human beings.  Several professional comedians have commented about the increasing difficulty of doing comedy in an environment of hysterical political correctness.  But even more important is the degree to which fear of denunciation and mobbing seems to be affecting personal life and workplace behavior.

    Effective organizations, at least in this country, have tended to involve a certain level of easy interaction–including kidding around–among people.  What happens when we lose this?

    I suspect that the productivity impact, although hard to measure directly, will be quite significant.  As will the impact on the happiness and mental health of individual humans.

    Posted in Business, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Leftism, Management | 9 Comments »

    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 »

    Summer Rerun: That Hideous Strength, by C S Lewis

    Posted by David Foster on 9th September 2018 (All posts by )

    That Hideous Strength, by C S Lewis

    This was the first thing Mark had been asked to do which he himself, before he did it, clearly knew to be criminal. But the moment of his consent almost escaped his notice; certainly, there was no struggle, no sense of turning a corner. There may have been a time in the world’s history when such moments fully revealed their gravity, with witches prophesying on a blasted heath or visible Rubicons to be crossed. But, for him, it all slipped past in a chatter of laughter, of that intimate laughter between fellow professionals, which of all earthly powers is strongest to make men do very bad things before they are yet, individually, very bad men.

    Mark Studdock is a young on-the-make sociologist, a professor at Bracton College, in an English town called Edgestow. He is is far more interested in university politics than in his research or teaching. and as a member of the “progressive element” at the college, he strongly supports Bracton selling a tract of property to a government-sponsored entity called NICE. The NICE is the National Institute for Coordinated Experimentation,which Lewis describes as “the first fruits of that constructive fusion between the state and the laboratory on which so many thoughtful people base their hopes of a better world.”  What excites Mark most about the NICE is this:

    The real thing is that this time we’re going to get science applied to social problems and backed by the whole force of the state, just as war has been backed by the whole force of the state in the past.  One hopes, of course, that it’ll find out more than the old freelance science did, but what’s certain is that it can do more.

    Trigger Warning: There is something in this book to offend almost everybody.  It contains things that will offend technologists and believers in human progress…social scientists…feminists…academic administrators…bioscience researchers…and surely many other categories of people.  It will probably also offend some Christians, for the way in which Christian theology is mixed with non-Christian magic. By the standards now becoming current in American universities, this book, and even this book review, should be read by no one at all.  But for those who do not accept those standards…

    The Basic Story. Mark has recently married Jane, a woman with strong literary interests and with vague plans for getting an advanced degree. She has recently started having disturbing, indeed terrifying, dreams, which suggest that she has a clairvoyant ability to see distant events in real time. Afraid that she is losing her mind, Jane seeks advice, and is told that her dreams are actually visions, they are very real, will not stop, and are of utmost importance:

    “Young lady,” said Miss Ironwood, “You do not at all realize the seriousness of this matter. The things you have seen concern something compared with which the happiness, and even the life, of you and me, is of no importance.”

    Miss Ironwood warns Jane that extremely evil people will seek to use her gift, and that she would do well–both for her own interests and those of the entire human race–to join the community of which Miss Ironwood is a part, located at a place called St Anne’s. Jane responds quite negatively to the invitation, afraid that membership in the St Anne’s group will limit her autonomy. She is not interested in the dreams’ meaning; she just wants them to go away.

    Mark, on the other hand, responds enthusiastically when he is invited to take a position at the NICE, temporarily located at an old manor called Belbury.  One of the first people he meets there is the Head of the Institutional Police, a woman named Miss Hardcastle (picture Janet Napolitano), nicknamed the Fairy, who explains to Mark her theory of crime and punishment:

    “Here in the Institute, we’re backing the crusade against Red Tape.”  Mark gathered that, for the Fairy, the police side of the Institute was the really important side…In general, they had already popularized in the press the idea that the Institute should be allowed to experiment pretty largely in the hope of discovering how far humane, remedial treatment could be substituted for the old notion of “retributive” or “vindictive” punishment…The Fairy pointed out that what had hampered every English police force up to date was precisely the idea of deserved punishment. For desert was always finite; you could do so much to the criminal and no more. Remedial treatment, on the other hand, need have no fixed limit; it could go on till it had effected a cure, and those who were carrying it out would decide when that was.  And if cure were humane and desirable, how much more prevention?  Soon anyone who had ever been in the hands of the police at all would come under the control of the NICE; in the end, every citizen.

    Another person Mark meets in his first days at Belbury is the acclaimed chemist William Hingest…who has also come down to investigate the possibility of a job at Belbury, has decided against it, and strongly advises Mark to do likewise:

    “I came down here because I thought it had something to do with science. Now that I find it’s something more like a political conspiracy, I shall go home. I’m too old for that kind of thing, and if I wanted to join a conspiracy, this one wouldn’t be my choice.”

    “You mean, I suppose, that the element of social planning doesn’t appeal to you? I can quite understand that it doesn’t fit in with your work as it does with sciences like Sociology, but–“

    “There are no sciences like Sociology. And if I found chemistry beginning to fit in with a secret police run by a middle-aged virago who doesn’t wear corsets and a scheme for taking away his farm and his shop and his children from every Englishman, I’d let chemistry go to the devil and take up gardening again…I happen to believe that you can’t study men, you can only get to know them, which is quite a different thing. Because you study them, you want to make the lower orders govern the country and listen to classical music, which is balderdash. You also want to take away from them everything that makes life worth living and not only from them but from everyone except a parcel of prigs and professors.”

    Nevertheless, Mark decides to remain at Belbury, and is drawn ever-deeper into its activities–which, as only those in the innermost circles of that organization realize, are not only consistent with the goals of the 20th-century totalitarianisms, but go considerably beyond them.  The NICE seeks to establish a junction between the powers of modern science and those of ancient magic, accessing the latter by awakening the medieval wizard Merlin and using him for their purposes.  At the same time, Jane–despite her reservations–becomes increasingly involved  with the company at St Anne’s and is entranced with its leader, a Mr Fisher-King. (His name comes from the Wounded King in Arthurian legend.)  The St Anne’s group is aware of the truth about NICE and its ultimate goals, and exists for the primary purpose of opposing and, hopefully, destroying that organization.

    I will not here describe the war between the forces of Belbury and those of St Anne’s (in order to avoid spoilers), but will instead comment on the characters of some of the protagonists and some philosophically-significant events in the novel, with appropriate excerpts. Hopefully this will be enough to give a sense of the worldview that Lewis is presenting in this book.

    Mark Studdock. His character is largely defined by his strong desire to be a member of the Inner Circle, whatever that inner circle may be in a particular context.  The passage at the start of this review where Mark agrees to engage in criminal activity on Belbury’s behalf is proceeded by this:

    After a few evenings Mark ventured to walk into the library on his own; a little uncertain of his reception, yet afraid that if he did not soon assert his right to the entree this modesty might damage him. He knew that the error in either direction is equally fatal.

    It was a success. Before he had closed the door behind him all had turned with welcoming faces and Filostrato had said “Ecco ” and the Fairy, “Here’s the very man.” A glow of pleasure passed over Mark’s whole body.

    That “glow of pleasure” at being accepted by the Belbury’s Inner Circle (what Mark then thinks is Belbury’s Inner Circle) is strong enough to overcome any moral qualms on Mark’s part about the actions he is being requested to perform.  Lewis has written a great deal elsewhere about the lust for the Inner Circle, which in his view never leads to satisfaction but only to a longing for membership in another, still-more-inner circle. In That Hideous Strength, there are concentric Inner Circles at Belbury, which Mark does penetrate–and each is more sinister than the last.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Anglosphere, Arts & Letters, Bioethics, Book Notes, Britain, Christianity, Civil Society, Conservatism, Crime and Punishment, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Leftism, Morality and Philosphy, Political Philosophy | 5 Comments »

    Community

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 2nd September 2018 (All posts by )

    There was a bit of excitement a couple of weeks ago in the suburb where I have lived since the spring of 1995. I should make it clear that this is a working-class to middle-class suburb on the north-eastern fringe of San Antonio, a city which has pretensions to being Democrat-run and a smidge on the libby-lefty side. After all, this place did spawn Julian Castro, of whom I am convinced there is a picture in that Great Universal Dictionary in the sky next to the definition of that German word which means “a face in need of a good punching”. San Antonio may be well stocked with representatives of the lunatic left, but we are pretty far from being Austin, and the fact that one cannot throw a rock in this place without hitting at least four retired colonels and a dozen retired senior NCOs (Army and Air Force, primarily) – well, that keeps a ration of sanity in play. I’ve only spotted two signs for Beto “Blotto” O’Rourke lately, for whatever that counts for. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Society, Crime and Punishment, Current Events, Human Behavior, Immigration, Personal Narrative, Texas | 11 Comments »

    Summer Rerun: Catalist, “The 480”, and The Real 480

    Posted by David Foster on 30th August 2018 (All posts by )

    There was much discussion in 2014 of Catalist, a database system being used by the Democratic Party to optimally target their electioneering efforts…see Jonathan’s post here.  I’m reminded of Eugene Burdick’s 1964 novel, The 480.  The book’s premise is that a group within the Republican party acquires the services of a computing company called  Simulation Enterprises, intending to apply the latest technology and social sciences research in order to get their candidate elected.  These party insiders have been inspired by the earlier work of the 1960 Kennedy campaign with a company called Simulmatics.

    Simulmatics was a real company.  It was founded by MIT professor Ithiel de Sola Pool, a pioneer in the application of computer technology to social science research. Data from 130,000 interviews was categorized into 480 demographic groups, and an IBM 704 computer was used to process this data and predict the likely effects of various alternative political tactics.  One question the company was asked to address by the 1960 Democratic campaign, in the person of Robert F Kennedy, was:  How best to deal with religion?  There was considerable concern among some parts of the electorate about the prospect of choosing a Catholic as President.  Would the JFK campaign do better by minimizing attention to this issue, or would they do better by addressing it directly and condemning as bigots those who would let Kennedy’s faith affect their vote?

    Simulmatics concluded that “Kennedy today has lost the bulk of the votes he would lose if the election campaign were to be embittered by the issue of anti-Catholicism.  The simulation shows that there has already been a serious defection from Kennedy by Protestant voters. Under these circumstances, it makes no sense to brush the religious issue under the rug.  Kennedy has already suffered the disadvantages of the issue even though it is not embittered now–and without receiving compensating advantages inherent in it.”  Quantitatively, the study predicted that Kennedy’s direct addressing of the religion issue would move eleven states, totaling 122 electoral votes, away from the Kennedy camp–but would pull six states, worth 132 electoral votes, into the Democratic column.

    It is not clear how much this study influenced actual campaign decision-making…but less than three weeks after RFK received the Simulmatics report, JFK talked about faith before a gathering of ministers in Houston.  “I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end,”  Kennedy said,  “where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind.” (Burdick’s novel also suggests that the Kennedy campaign used Simulmatics to assess the effects of a more-forthright posture on civil rights by the campaign, and furthermore to analyze Kennedy’s optimal personality projection during the debates–I don’t know if these assertions are historically correct, but the religion analysis clearly was indeed performed.)

    Considerable excitement was generated when, after the election, the Simulmatics project became publicly known.  A Harper’s Magazine article referred to to the Simulmatics computer as “the people machine,” and quoted Dr Harold Lasswell of Yale as saying, “This is the A-bomb of the social sciences.  The breakthrough here is comparable to what happened at Stagg Field.”  But Pierre Salinger, speaking for the Kennedy campaign, asserted that “We did not use the machine.”  (Salinger’s statement is called out as a lie in the recent book, The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns.)

    In Burdick’s novel, the prospective Republican candidate is John Thatch, head of an international engineering and construction company.  Thatch has achieved popular renown after courageously defusing a confrontation between Indians and Pakistanis over a bridge his company was building, thereby averting a probable war.  Something about Thatch’s personality has struck the public imagination, and–despite his lack of political experience–he looks to be an attractive candidate.  But initially, the Republicans see little hope of defeating the incumbent Kennedy–“the incumbent is surrounded by over four years of honorific words and rituals,” a psychologist explains.  “He seems as though he ought to be President.  He assumes the mantle.”  This outlook is deeply disturbing to a Republican senior statesman named Bookbinder, who strongly believes that defacto 8-year terms are bad for the country…but if it is true that Kennedy is unbeatable, then the best the Republicans can hope to do is lose as well as possible.  Things change when Kennedy is assassinated and the election becomes a real contest.

    Bookbinder and Levi, another Republican senior statesman, are introduced to Simulation Enterprises by a young lawyer named Madison (Mad) Curver and his psychologist associate (quoted above), a woman named Dr Devlin.  Mad and Dr Devlin explain that what Sim Enterprises does is different from the work done by garden-variety pollsters like the one they have just met, Dr Cotter:

    “The pollster taps only a small fragment of the subject’s mind, attention, background, family influence, and habits.  The Simulations thing, just because it can consider thousands of elements influencing the subject, even things he may not know himself, gets much better results.”

    “And one further thing, Book,” Mad said.  “Simulations Enterprises can predict what people will do in a situation which they have never heard of before.  That was the whole point of the UN in the Midwest example.  No one has gone out there and asked them to vote on whether we should get out of the UN, but Dev outlined a procedure by which you can predict how they will react…if they ever do have to vote on it.

    Again Bookbinder had the sharp sense of unreality.  Unreal people were being asked invented questions and a result came out on green, white-lined paper…and when you got around to the real people six months later with the real question they would act the way the computer had said they would.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Advertising, Book Notes, Elections, History, Human Behavior, Politics, Polls, Predictions, Tech, USA | 18 Comments »

    The Age of Magical Thinking

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 18th August 2018 (All posts by )

    A couple of different blogs that I follow have linked to one or more of these essays in recent days. Not being mystically-inclined, I don’t know about the magic-working aspects, but I think the sociological observations are spot on. Herewith for your consideration – The Kek Wars, from the Ecosophia blog.

    Part One: Aristocracy and Its Discontents

    Part Two: In the Shadow of the Cathedral

    Part Three: Triumph of the Frog God

    Part Four: What Moves in Darkness

    Your thoughts?

    Posted in Blogging, Civil Society, Conservatism, Deep Thoughts, Diversions, Human Behavior, Leftism, Miscellaneous | 10 Comments »

    William James Sidis

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 9th August 2018 (All posts by )

    I did a series on Billy Sidis 6-7 years ago which might please this group. I am posting the first essay, and linking to the others, partly because the comments under some of them were also interesting. In particular the argument with the person who insisted that my takedown of the “1867 Harvard Entrance Exam,” that circulates on the internet from time to time, was invalid brought in some rousing discussion. Please comment on any of those here rather than there, as only I will see your ideas otherwise.

    I think the story of Billy Sidis, the purported prodigy with the highest IQ (250-300) ever known, is mostly fraudulent.

    I first read about William James Sidis in the pages of Gift of Fire in the late 80’s. GoF was the journal of the Prometheus Society, a discussion group for those with measured IQ over 164. Amy Wallace’s book on Sidis, The Prodigy, had just come out, and Grady Towers took the opportunity to bring us up to speed on the early 20th C brilliant but eccentric child. That essay, “The Outsiders,” is perhaps the best known of the articles to come out of the High-IQ societies. Its primary topic is the increasing difficulty of adjustment individuals experience the further from norm they are. Terman’s studies in the 40’s of gifted individuals showed that those above 140 IQ were better adapted than average. Grady looked harder at the data and decided that those from 140-150 were better adjusted than average, but beyond that things steadily worsened. The greater frequency of those from 140-150 masked the data of the few from say, 170-180.

    It was perhaps inevitable that Grady would gravitate to the subject of Sidis. Grady qualified for the next society up, the Mega Society, for those with one-in-a-million IQ, cutoff 176. He had been a prodigy himself, almost completing a PhD in Anthropology at age 20, but by the time I knew him (via journal and correspondence), he was usually homeless, working odd jobs across the Southwest, writing on borrowed typewriters and sending mathematical proofs – usually number theory – to whoever would have them. He was murdered horribly in 2000 while working as a security guard. I liked corresponding with him.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Biography, Book Notes, Human Behavior | 15 Comments »

    The Dogs Don’t Like It

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 4th August 2018 (All posts by )

    The title of this post is the punchline to an old, old story about the limits of advertising; a story which may or may not be based on fact. The story goes that a big food-manufacturing conglomerate came up with a brand new formulation for dog food, and advertised it with a huge, costly campaign: print ads, TV commercials, product placement in movies, TV shows, county fairs, giveaways and sponsorships; the whole ball of wax … and the product cratered. The CEO of the company is irate and demands answers from anyone who can give him a reason why. Didn’t they do everything possible to make their dog food brand the market leader? Image everyone at that meeting looking nervously at each other at this point – because they have done everything possible … except for one small thing. Finally, someone gets up sufficient nerve to answer. “But the dogs don’t like it.” Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Advertising, Business, Civil Society, Conservatism, Culture, Current Events, Customer Service, Human Behavior, Media, Politics, Trump | 13 Comments »

    Too Pessimistic

    Posted by Jonathan on 1st August 2018 (All posts by )

    The Origins of Our Second Civil War by Victor Davis Hanson.

    The first half of this VDH piece seems over-the-top. Would the intermarriage and cultural assimilation that he cites in his next-to-last paragraph be happening if the situation were as bad as he thinks? Or is the country mostly culturally sound but burdened with dysfunctional elites dominating politics, big business, the universities and the media.

    This part is good:

    Again, Obama most unfortunately redefined race as a white-versus-nonwhite binary, in an attempt to build a new coalition of progressives, on the unspoken assumption that the clingers were destined to slow irrelevance and with them their retrograde and obstructionist ideas. In other words, the Left could win most presidential elections of the future, as Obama did, by writing off the interior and hyping identity politics on the two coasts.
     
    The Obama administration hinged on leveraging these sociocultural, political, and economic schisms even further. The split pitted constitutionalism and American exceptionalism and tradition on the one side versus globalist ecumenicalism and citizenry of the world on the other. Of course, older divides — big government, high taxes, redistributionist social-welfare schemes, and mandated equality of result versus limited government, low taxes, free-market individualism, and equality of opportunity — were replayed, but sharpened in these new racial, cultural, and economic landscapes.

    The rest of the piece is also good and points out how the country’s situation might improve. “A steady 3 to 4 percent growth in annual GDP” doesn’t seem very far from where we are. University reform seems likely as the public increasingly catches on to the corruption and excessive costs of higher education. Race relations seem to improve when not politicized. Spiritual and religious reawakenings happen every few generations.

    Keyboard trash talk and dark speculations about violence and civil war are not the same as actual violence. They might even be safety valves to release transient passions, cautionary tales, for everyone outside of a tiny lunatic minority. (The lunatic minority who are spurred to action by online/media hype are a serious problem, but not mainly a political one except as regards public and hence political unwillingness to force treatment on recalcitrant individuals with severe mental-health issues.)

    Today’s political violence is a problem but not one at the level of 1968 much less 1861. Almost all of the action now is in the political realm. There is little reason to expect an intractable impasse on a fundamental issue as in 1850-60 over slavery. There is no substantial constituency favoring civil war as there was in 1861. The modern federal government is huge, profligate and obnoxious, but risk-averse deep-state bureaucrats and crony-capitalist opportunists aren’t going to take physical risks to defend the status quo. The political process still responds to public concerns about governmental overreach, which is probably a large part of why Trump was elected. There is also enough collective memory of the last civil war and its awfulness to discourage enthusiasm for a replay from anyone who is sane.

    None of this is to say dire predictions won’t come to pass, but that’s not the way to bet. The country has been through harder times and surmounted them through politics rather than violence. My money’s on the basic soundness of our culture and political system this time as well.

    Posted in America 3.0, Culture, Current Events, History, Human Behavior, Obama, Politics, Rhetoric, Trump, USA | 23 Comments »

    On Trusting Experts…and Which Experts to Trust

    Posted by David Foster on 30th July 2018 (All posts by )

    August 1, 1914. As Europe moved inexorably toward catastrophe, Kaiser Wilhelm II was getting cold feet at the prospect of a two-front war. When a telegram arrived suggesting that the war might be contained to a Germany-vs-Russia conflict, the Kaiser jumped at the opportunity.

    The telegram was from Prince Lichnowsky, the German ambassador in London, reporting on a conversation with the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey. As Lichnowsky interpreted Grey’s remarks, England would stay neutral–and also guarantee France’s neutrality–if Germany would confine herself to attacking Russia and would promise not to attack France. (Which was a misinterpretation–but more on that later.)

    Immediately, the Kaiser called in General von Moltke, the Chief of Staff, and gave him his new marching orders: turn around the troops destined for the attack in the west, and redirect them to the eastern front. Barbara Tuchman writes of Moltke’s reaction.

    Aghast at the thought of his marvelous mobilization wrenched into reverse, Moltke refused point-blank. For ten years, first as assistant to Schlieffen, then as his successor, Moltke’s job had been planning for this day, The Day, Der Tag, for which all Germany’s energies were gathered, on which the march to final mastery of Europe would begin. It weighed upon him with an oppressive, almost unbearable responsibility…Now, on the climactic night of August 1, Moltke was in no mood for any more of the Kaiser’s meddling with serious military matters, or with medling of any kind of the fixed arrangements. To turn around the deployment of a million men from west to east at the very moment of departure would have taken a more iron nerve than Moltke disposed of. He saw a vision of the deployment crumbling apart in confusion, supplies here, soldiers there, ammunation lost in the midle, companies without officers, divisions without staffs, and those 11,000 trains, each exquisitely scheduled to click over specified tacks at specified intervals of ten minutes, tangled in a grotesque ruin of the most perfectly planned military movement in history.

    “Your majesty,” Moltke said to him now, “it cannot be done. The deployment of millions cannot be improvised…Those arrangements took a whole year of intricate labor to complete…and once settled, it cannot be altered.”

    “Your uncle would have given me a different answer,” the Kaiser said to him bitterly.

    It was not until after the war that General von Staab–Chief of the Railway Division and the man who would have actually been responsible for the logistics of the redirection–learned about this interchange between Moltke and the Kaiser. Incensed by the implied insult to the capabilities of his bureau, he wrote a book, including pages of detailed charts and graphs, proving that it could have been done.

    So, what happened here? The Kaiser trusted his military expert, von Moltke–but the real expert in railway operations (and this was substantially a railway question)–disagreed. At the time of decision-making, von Staab’s personal opinion was never even solicited.

    Clearly, what the Kaiser should have said when faced with Moltke’s opposition was “Tell von Staab to get his ass in here, and let’s talk about it.” (Or however a German Emperor would have phrased that thought.) Indeed, there was particular reason to do this, given that the Kaiser evidently had some serious concerns about Moltke–as evidenced by his passive-aggressive “your uncle would have given me a different answer” comment.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Britain, Germany, History, Human Behavior, Management, Military Affairs, War and Peace | 17 Comments »

    Rickover

    Posted by David Foster on 26th July 2018 (All posts by )

    Recently watched an excellent documentary on Admiral Hyman Rickover, creator of the nuclear Navy. There’s quite a lot in the documentary that is relevant to today’s issues and concerns, for example:  circa 1972, the CIA had assured the Navy that the top speed of Russian attack subs was about 22 knots.  Rickover suspected that they were wrong, and he directed a carrier which was being shadowed by a Russian sub to gradually increase speed.  When it reached 30 knots, the shadowing sub was still there.

    Which provides one more interesting data point at a time when we are being lectured about the need to treat the conclusions of the “intelligence community” with reverence.

    In a 1974 speech, Rickover told of an ancient people called the Locrians:

    These people gave freedom of speech to all citizens. At public meetings anyone could stand up and argue for changes in law or custom, on one condition. A rope was placed around his neck before he began to speak and, if what he said did not meet with public approval, he was forthwith hanged. That, no doubt, prevented disturbing the even tenor of familiar customs and ways of life.

    I have encountered some in the Navy who look with nostalgia on this ancient custom.  But we must face the stark fact that an uncriticized society cannot long endure.

    Quite a few organizations in America today are following in the footsteps of the Locrians–the universities, especially, but also certain Silicon Valley companies.  And not only them.

    I learned of this documentary about the same time I read about a professor who was disturbed that Hispanic students that she interviewed credited their success to their own hard work and self-reliance rather than to affirmative action.

    Rickover was Jewish, and he entered the Navy at a time when Jews were not common in that service…and the negative attitudes toward Jews which were prevalent in the society at large were also quite common in the Navy, perhaps even stronger there than outside.  (The Academy yearbook pages for both Rickover and the only other Jewish midshipman in his class were conveniently perforated for easy removal.)

    And I wondered:  If Rickover had been influenced by professors and others endlessly and excessively beating the Victimhood drum, would he have been able to achieve the success and the great accomplishments that he did?  Or would he have just folded up and concluded that it was hopeless, that Jews had no chance in the Navy?

    Well, probably not Rickover–he was an extraordinarily tough and resilient man.  But there probably are a lot of people who have high potential, though maybe not on the Rickover level, and who are being inhibited and will be inhibited in achieving that potential due in substantial part to such preaching.

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    Posted in Human Behavior, Immigration, Judaism, Military Affairs, Science, Tech, USA, War and Peace | 10 Comments »

    Rerun: The Dream(liner) and the Nightmare (of Social Toxicity)

    Posted by David Foster on 22nd July 2018 (All posts by )

    The FAA has issued an Emergency Airworthiness Directive against the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. The AD requires that the battery system be reviewed and modified as necessary to eliminate the danger of fires such as those that have recently occurred on these aircraft. The changes needed could presumably involve manufacturing processes, sourcing of components, electrical-system design, or some combination of these things.

    The FAA’s action here seems to me like simple and reasonable prudence. It is not uncommon for new aircraft types to encounter problems during their early operational days, and the 787 is an innovative plane in many ways, especially in the use of electrical means to replace functions traditionally done by hydraulic systems and by engine bleed air.  There may well turn out to be simple fixes that can be quickly implemented to resolve the issue; on the other hand it’s possible that the fix will involve signficant redesign and will cost Boeing and the airlines considerable money. Purely as speculation, I’d guess that the worst-case result for the study required by the AD would be the mandated replacement of the plane’s lithium-ion batteries with conventional aircraft batteries, at some sacrifice in the plane’s useful load and some redesign both of the relevant control systems and of some interior spaces.

    But the purpose of this post is not to talk about 787 technical issues, as much fun as that might be.

    After clicking on the Yahoo report about the AD issuance yesterday, I took a look at some of the comments, and a depressing experience it was. Here are some samples:

    Makes you wonder if Boeing did not have the FAA inspectors in their back pocket while certifying this airplane “air worthy”? Maybe a few bucks went along stuffing their respective back pockets as well. Good example of certifying government agencies working too close with the manufacturer.

    For the FAA to say it’s safe and then ground the planes, all credibility and trust in competence is out the window.

    Were they just going to wait until the costs of wrongful death lawsuits surpassed the cost of fixing the problem?

    They do lots of testing but just like windows they release it to the public and then we will fix all bugs in the system

    Parts made in China

    #$%$ batteries made in China and a world-class American airplane manufacturer fell for their cr@p product. Do you think that perhaps Chinese agents were behind deliberately sabotaging our country’s product?

    Dream gone bad. Overseas outscourced components on the cheap, assembled by redneck scabs in South Carolina.

    Just one more example of the FINE work being produced by wonderful, hardworking and dedicated union workers.

    Just more retaliation from Obama for the move to non- union South Carolina.

    no one care anymore all the factory workers just go to work to try to make $$$$$ and this it is hard too the pride in making or to build something does not exist anymore!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Too bad the GOP helped rich buddies ship all the manufacturing jobs to china? Expertise comes with manufacturing. Burger jobs make poor planes?

    Read through several pages of comments like these, and the overwhelming overall impression is one of social toxicity…of people glaring furiously at one another, quick to assume that anything to goes wrong in any aspect of life is due to either malice or incompetence or both. It is a picture of generalized resentment and distrust, coupled with entitled ignorance.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, Big Government, Civil Society, Human Behavior, Tech, USA | 7 Comments »

    Are Professors Undercutting Women in STEM?

    Posted by David Foster on 15th July 2018 (All posts by )

    …and, if so, which professors?

    It has often been asserted that (male) professors in engineering, math, computer science, etc are causing a shortage of women in STEM by projecting the attitude that women are unwelcome in their fields.  I’ve always thought this seemed rather unlikely as a common thing–though no doubt it happens in some  cases–if the assertion is meant to apply to the events of the last 20 years or so.

    Comes now Barbara Oakley, herself a professor of engineering:

    Professors have profound influence over students’ career choices. I’m sometimes flabbergasted at the level of bias and antagonism toward STEM from professors outside scientific fields. I’ve heard it all: STEM is only for those who enjoy “rote” work. Engineering is not creative. There’s only one right answer. You’ll live your life in a cubicle. It’s dehumanizing. You’ll never talk to anyone. And, of course, it’s sexist. All this from professors whose only substantive experience with STEM is a forced march through a single statistics course in college, if that.

    My colleagues in the humanities unthinkingly malign STEM in front of me. Their bias has become so deeply ingrained that they don’t think twice. My students tell me it’s worse when I’m not around.

    She also argues that the differing patterns of math vs verbal skills in men and women tends to make women more susceptible to the anti-STEM shots taken by the professors of which she is speaking:

    Many studies, including a critical review by Elizabeth Spelke in American Psychologist, have shown that on average men and women have the same abilities in math and science. But as Mr. Reges notes, women tend to do better than men verbally—a consequence of early developmental advantages…Consider a student who gets an A in every subject. Let’s call her Nadine. She’s the type of student who could excel in whatever she chooses. Her engineering professors might be telling her that an electrical engineering degree is a great career choice that will open doors and pay well. But her non-STEM professors may be telling her something completely different: “You won’t use your fantastic writing skills. And besides, you’ll just sit in a cubicle crunching numbers.” Nadine can begin to feel she’s untrue to her full set of talents if she picks engineering. So Nadine jumps the STEM ship.

    Only anecdotal evidence is presented; still, given the level of bitterness that seems to pervade today’s academia, the STEM-slamming behavior that Oakley describes doesn’t seem all that unlikely.

    Thoughts?

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Human Behavior, Science, Tech | 10 Comments »

    Conformity, Cruelty, and Political Activism

    Posted by David Foster on 10th July 2018 (All posts by )

    John Dos Passos was an American writer.  In his younger years, he was a man of the Left, and, like many leftists and some others he was very involved with the Sacco and Vanzetti case.

    But he was more than a little disturbed by some of those that shared his viewpoint.  Describing one protest he had attended, he wrote:

    From sometime during this spring of 1926 of from the winter before a recollection keeps rising to the surface. The protest meeting is over and I’m standing on a set of steps looking into the faces of the people coming out of the hall. I’m frightened by the tense righteousness of the faces. Eyes like a row of rifles aimed by a firing squad. Chins thrust forward into the icy night. It’s almost in marching step that they stride out into the street. It’s the women I remember most, their eyes searching out evil through narrowed lids. There’s something threatening about this unanimity of protest. They are so sure they are right.

    I agree with their protest:  I too was horrified by this outrage.  I’m not one either to stand by and see injustice done.  But do I agree enough?  A chill goes down by spine..Whenever I remember the little scene I tend to turn it over in my mind.  Why did my hackles rise at the sight of the faces of these good people coming out of the hall? 

    Was it a glimpse of the forming of a new class conformity that like all class conformities was bent on riding the rest of us?

    Quoting Dos Passos and connecting his observations to our own time, Jay Nordlinger wrote:

    I know these people. I saw them in Ann Arbor. I saw them in many other places afterward.  Today, you can see them on campuses as “SJWs”: “social-justice warriors.” You can see them wherever there is arrogant, intolerant extremism (no matter which direction it’s coming from).

    The thing that frightened Dos Passos in the attitude of these protestors–who were, remember, his allies–is in my opinion quite similar to the thing that is so disturbing about so many of today’s “progressive” protestors.  Dos (as he was called) was entirely correct to be disturbed by what he saw, but I don’t think he diagnosed it quite correctly.  Though he refers to the protestors he observed as “those good people,” quite likely many of them weren’t good people at all–even if they were right about their cause–but were rather engaging in the not-good-at-all pleasure of conformity and the enforcement thereof, and would given half a chance have gone all the way to the even-worse pleasure of bullying.

    Whether or not this view of the protestors’ motivations is a fair one–and I am simply layering the explanation that seems to make sense to me on top of Dos’s description of his own subjective reactions–the spirt of conformity certainly drives a great deal of political and other wickedness.  I remember a German man who was interviewed near the beginning of the TV series The World at War.  Although he was anti-Nazi, he described the emotional pull he felt when viewing Party rallies–a strong desire to be part of such a cohesive and comitted group.

    Read the rest of this entry »

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    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Book Notes, History, Human Behavior, Leftism, USA | 16 Comments »

    On Public Display of MAGA

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 7th July 2018 (All posts by )

    San Antonio, the town that I am pleased to say is my place of residence, made the national and international news this week – and not in a good way. My particular quadrant of suburban San Antonio was the scene of the now-notorious MAGA-hat-stealing-and-drink-throwing-incident. (A good selection of the resulting headlines are here )
    The Whattaburger outlet where this took place is about two and a half miles from my house, adjacent to a brand-new Walmart, and the bank branch I used to do business with, and around the corner from the bank branch that I now do business with. The arrested-and-released-on-bail Kino Jimenez lives in another outlaying suburb – apparently with his mother. He also seems to have committed a series of prior offenses; not exactly an upright citizen, it appears, and one with extraordinarily poor impulse control. Looking at the video of this incident – and keeping in mind that nothing good happens at 2 AM – I see a rather thuggish Hispanic guy getting his jollies picking on a couple of weedy Anglo teenagers in an all-but-empty-restaurant in the wee hours. I’d venture a guess that if it hadn’t been the MAGA hat, it would likely have been something else. Bullies always find an easy target, and a ready justification for their thuggish impulses. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Society, Conservatism, Crime and Punishment, Current Events, Human Behavior, Leftism, Society, Texas, Trump | 33 Comments »

    Summer Rerun: Nice Work, by David Lodge

    Posted by David Foster on 7th July 2018 (All posts by )

    Nice Work by David Lodge

    What happens when an expert on 19th-century British industrial novels—who is a professor, a feminist, and a deconstructionist–finds herself in an actual factory?

    This not being a time-travel novel, the factory is a contemporary one for the book’s setting in mid-1980s Britain.  It is a metalworking plant called Pringle’s, run by managing director Vic Wilcox.  Vic is not thrilled when his boss  (Pringle’s is owned by a conglomerate) suggests that he participate in something called the “shadow” program, designed to make academics and businesspeople better-acquainted with one another, but he goes along with the request.

    Robyn Penrose, literature professor at a nearby university, is also not thrilled about her nomination to participate in the program, but she is concerned about her job in an era of reduced university funding, and also thinks she had better do as asked.  The way the program works is that Robyn will be Vic’s “shadow,”  joining him at the plant every Wednesday, sitting in on his regular activities, and learning just a bit about what is involved in managing a business.

    Vic is a self-made man, not well-educated and with few interests outside work.  He is acutely aware of the danger that faces Pringle’s under the current economic climate, and is resolved that his factory will not join the long list of those that have been tossed on the scrapheap.

    There is nothing quite so forlorn as a closed factory–Vic Wilcox knows, having supervised a shutdown himself in his time.  A factory is sustained by the energy of its own functioning, the throb and whine of machinery, the unceasing motion of assembly lines, the ebb and flow of workers changing shifts, the hiss of airbrakes and the growl of diesel engines from wagons delivering raw materials at one gate, taking away finished goods at the other.  When you put a stop to all that, when the place is silent and empty, all that is left is a large, ramshackle shed–cold, filthy and depressing.  Well, that won’t happen at Pringle’s, hopefully, as they say.  Hopefully.

    Robyn and Vic dislike each other on first meeting:  Vic sees Robyn’s profession as useless, which Robyn sees Vic’s managerial role as brutal and greedy.  She is appalled by what she sees in her first tour of the factory..especially the foundry:

    They crossed another yard, where hulks of obsolete machinery crouched, bleeding rust into their blankets of snow, and entered a large building with a high vaulted roof hidden in gloom.  This space rang with the most barbaric noise Robyn had ever experienced…The floor was covered with a black substance that looked like soot, but grated under the soles of her boots like sand.  The air reeked with a sulphurous, resinous smell, and a fine drizzle of black dust fell on their heads from the roof.  Here and there the open doors of furnaces glowed a dangerous red, and in the far corner of the building what looked like a stream of molten lave trickled down a curved channel from roof to floor…It was the most terrible place she had ever been in her life.  To say that to herself restored the original meaning of the word “terrible”:  it provoked terror, even a kind of awe.  To think of being that man, wrestling with the heavy awkward lumps of metal in that maelstrom of heat, dust and stench, deafened by the unspeakable noise of the vibrating grid, working like that for hour after hour, day after day….That he was black seemed the final indignity:  her heart swelled with the recognition of the spectacle’s powerful symbolism.

    But still:

    The situation was so bizarre, so totally unlike her usual environment, that there was a kind of exhilaration to be found in it…She thought of what her colleagues and students might be doing this Wednesday morning–earnestly discussing the poetry of John Donne or the novels of Jane Austen or the nature of modernism, in centrally heated, carpeted rooms…Penny Black would be feeding more statistics on wife-beating in the West Midlands into her data-base, and Robyn’s mother would be giving a coffee morning for some charitable cause…What would they all think if they could see her now?

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Book Notes, Britain, Business, Human Behavior, Management | 1 Comment »

    Wayfinding

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 4th July 2018 (All posts by )

    I wrote the series, years ago, mostly in 2011, and refer to it from time-to-time.  I still think about it a lot and find the subject fascinating. One of the early entries is a good introduction:

    The Tourist asked: Old-timer, can you tell me how to get to St. Johnsbury from here?

    Eben Jenkins thought a bit, raised one hand and started to gesture up the Mountain Road. Thinking better of it, he stroked his chin and then pointed back down the River Road and almost spoke. He caught himself, looked the other way – up the River Road, and his eyes took on a faraway look. “Young fellah, you can’t get theah from heah.”

    Some overview, before putting you on to some of the research.

    Wayfinding is a subtopic under spatial memory. Though wayfinding can involve different scales of routes to follow, these are not vastly different scales. They are human sized, and involve moving a human-sized body, or objects only slightly smaller or larger. This is what human beings have navigated in for millennia. We now scale up to spatial relationships a million X larger or million X smaller, but these are recently learned. Like the Fahrenheit Scale that works best in the nice, human-living numbers 0-100, wayfinding is the understanding of movement from room-to-room, of walks in The Shire. Longer journeys of even ten miles begin to require a greater level of abstraction. This is landmark navigation, we have a hundred brain mechanisms we are unaware of helping us out, it is what we are built for, and it is far superior on the human scale. Even switching between scales at this level is not that hard. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Human Behavior | 17 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading

    Posted by David Foster on 1st July 2018 (All posts by )

    A thoughtful post about walls and freedom:

    A city without walls was not a city. Anyone could march in and take over, give commands, and force the residents to obey. Without being able to defend yourself, you could not be counted among the free peoples. You were dependent on the good graces of someone else, be it a noble, a bishop, or hired soldiers. Walls meant the ability to defend your rights and liberties, to keep out unwanted people and protect what was good and valuable.

    Sultan Knish writes about Cybersecurity and Russia:

    “Why the hell are we standing down?”  That was the question that the White House’s cybersecurity coordinator was asked after Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, issued a stand down order on Russia.

    Tolerance for ambiguity as a key factor in career success:

    Too many recent graduates, however, approach their job descriptions the way they did a syllabus in college—as a recipe for winning in a career. They want concrete, well-defined tasks, as if they were preparing for an exam in college. “Excelling at any job is about doing the things you weren’t asked to do,” said Mary Egan, founder of Gathered Table, a Seattle-based start-up and former senior vice president for strategy and corporate development at Starbucks. “This generation is not as comfortable with figuring out what to do.”

    Information and Gossip:

    Now, it so happens that at no point in history, except during the postwar period, did people receive news without being conveyors of news. That nuclear family, where people — pop, mom, 2.2 kids, one dog — are watching TV, receiving information and not transmitting.

    Is loneliness fueling the rise of political polarization?

    Many individuals no longer have the communal and social connections they once had, such as religion, ethnic culture, and family. The only connection many have left is their political party, and that forms their identity. And because of the closeness this has to their identity, they become more tribal and defensive when that party is attacked.

    The lifecycles of large corporations

    Posted in Business, Economics & Finance, History, Human Behavior, Management, Politics | 15 Comments »

    A Most Unusual Protest Song

    Posted by David Foster on 5th June 2018 (All posts by )

    …from the 1960s.

    P F Sloan, When the Wind Changes

    Posted in Europe, History, Human Behavior, Music, Russia, USA, Video | 8 Comments »

    Memorial Day and the Deprecation of Freedom

    Posted by David Foster on 28th May 2018 (All posts by )

    On Memorial Day, we pause to reflect on those who died to protect our freedom.  But today I have to wonder:  In this year 2018, what proportion of Americans seriously value freedom?

    Recently I encountered a meme on Facebook that went something like this:

    Keep telling yourself that America is the land of the free while the rest of the developed world enjoys universal healthcare, free college, paid maternity leave, and a ton more vacation time than any of us get.

    Nothing there about free speech, freedom of religion, or even freedom to pursue one’s chosen career.  How many people think this way?  I’m afraid it’s a nontrivial number and a growing one.

    I don’t think I even need to post a lot of links in order to demonstrate that individual freedom is being devalued by many in America today:  the evidence is too well known.  There are surveys showing that large numbers of college students view ‘avoiding offense’ as more important than free speech.  There are on-line mob attacks, and sometimes physical-world mob attacks, against those with dissident views.  College students who do hold such dissident views often feel they must keep those views to themselves, and this is increasingly true in the business world as well.  Americans have become tolerant of bullying bureaucrats and of virtually unlimited discretion on the part of prosecutors.  There is surprisingly little concern about the shadow thrown on free speech by the murderous threats (and sometimes actions) of radical Islamists:  draw a cartoon that offends them, and you may have to go into hiding.

    So my question for today is:  What factors are driving the devaluation of freedom in America today, and what can be done about it?

    Posted in Big Government, Civil Liberties, Crime and Punishment, Human Behavior, Leftism, USA | 27 Comments »