Mail 762 Wednesday, February 13, 2013
overvaluing abstract thought
Dear Dr. Pournelle:
I certainly see your point about intellectuals overvaluing abstract thought; I’ve learned over the course of my life how many things there are that being intelligent and analytical doesn’t help me do. But there are other cases of overvaluing one specific human ability.
When the large publishing firm I used to work for let me go, about a decade ago (in the course of changing from in-house copy editing to outsourcing the function to India), they very generously sent me to training on job searching. One of the things we discussed there was "career anchors," or the different sorts of things that people primarily want from their work. One of the recognized career anchors was Managerial Competence, or the drive to make decisions for an organization, supervise other people, and in general be a high-level administrator. Another was Technical Competence, or the drive to do actual challenging work, about which they noted that Technical Competence people view managing other people as an inconvenient chore that has to be dealt with to get real work done. That resonated with me, as I had systematically avoided becoming a manager in favor of becoming a more highly skilled copy editor. But I noticed that the reward structure of my corporation, and I believe of a lot of corporations, was organized around the reward for successful work being promotion to management. Now, this theory of different work motivations seems not to be an arcane secret—it’s the sort of thing that’s taught in workshops!—so I expect a lot of corporate managers have actually encountered it; and yet this hasn’t changed the corporate culture of becoming a manager being what all the cool kids are doing, perhaps because corporations are, obviously, run by managers who themselves have Managerial Competence as their career anchors.
(You can find a sketch of this at http://changingminds.org/explanations/values/career_anchors.htm , if you’re curious.)
More recently, a friend who still works there told me about one of the firm’s stakeholder meetings at which a local manager expressed the opinion that anyone who wasn’t trying to become a manager, and just wanted to do their work, was an undesirable employee who ought to be eased out in favor of people with more goals. This led to one of the general managers explaining that, to the contrary, those people were an invaluable resource for the corporation, which depended on them to actually maintain its functioning and preserve necessary knowledge. I have to say I think that was a good sign. The idea that management is the only thing that has value, and that a good manager can make gold out of straw, strikes me as a dangerous illusion. And it’s akin, in some ways, to the illusion that abstract reasoning ability is the only thing that has value—not least in that government officials are subject to it (though it may be one that Republicans suffer from more often than Democrats).
(Interestingly, Ayn Rand wrote in her journals that it was an illusion that her heroine, Dagny Taggart, was suffering from. . . .)
William H. Stoddard
In the old dirty blue shirt army in the west after the Civil War, when it was the mission of the army to build roads into the new frontier and protect the early settlers – see James Warner Bellah’s stories of Captain Brittles, and Kirby York, and the days of the one-troop post where a man might be a captain until he retired or died in the saddle – in those days we did not build the Peter Principle into the military. You promoted a man until he was doing the right job and doing it well, and you left him alone to do it. You had to because there wasn’t money to do a lot less. One year the Congress forgot to appropriate money for the army of the west, and the officers and he locals they were protecting scraped by on donations and requisitions and meals paid out of the officers pockets until Congress woke up and took notice,
Lots of military forces have had professional privates: men who would fight, and obey orders, and develop skills, but who wanted no responsibility, not even for choosing their missions. A number of those survived World War II and came to Korea, called up in the desperate need to have an overseas army again after we dismantled it,
A stable work force with companies making steady but not spectacular profits, steady employment – there are fare worse economies than one which provides goods and services, good workmanship at fair prices. Of course they can’t stand competition from bottom feeders.
The United States desperately needs honorable and useful employment at least the top half of the bottom half of the work force. A republic will not survive making a large part of its population voters who make no contribution to the polity other than vote and provide progeny.
‘Is this any way to run a bank — let alone a global financial system?’
Worth reading but beware optimizing on the wrong variables.
Salting of Carthage
A while back you wondered whether the Romans actually "salted" Carthage after they destroyed the city. My understanding is that this is a myth. First off, salt was a very precious commodity in ancient times and in fact, the Romans actually paid their legionnaires in salt, a practice from which we get our word "salary." So, I doubt very much that they would waste something so precious in salting the ground.
The second thing to remember is that afterwards, the Romans actually established a fairly large resort on the ruins of Carthage, the ruins [of the resort]of which still stand, more or less. Its a popular tourist stop and I have pictures somewhere.
Finally, having recently read Richard Miles book, "Carthage Must be Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization" which is a history of Carthage and its conflict with Rome which. Mills describes the Carthage final destruction (razed to the ground, its the survivors sold into slavery), and mentions the Romans cursed the grounds, he makes no direct mention of the ground being sown with salt.
The Romans ritually sowed salt on the ground of an enemy it wished to humiliate or obliterate. This is well recorded. But it was a ritual. They didn’t use tons,
Photon drive flaw
It might be a flaw in Mote, but it was a slight flaw. Your portrayal of McArthur’s intercept of the Motie lightsail conforms to my calculation of what the Delta Vee of a fusion rocket with a reasonable mass ratio might be. Of course the power density of a fusion rocket that is capable of boosting at 6 gees is nothing short of astonishing.
Those pesky belters with their torch ships cause all types of problems.
Re. the horsemeat burgers issue
As far as I can tell, the issue is not whether one eats horsemeat – or donkey, which is probably extremely similar. That is a cultural issue; Brits eat it much less than other Europeans do. The issue is twofold. First of all, the issue of knowing what you are eating; if one is buying beefburgers it is reasonable to expect that the meat in them is beef and only beef – unless, of course, they have on the packaging in reasonably large type a statement that they may contain small amounts of other meats. The other point is that the horsemeat in question might be contaminated with amounts of a veterinary painkiller, commonly used on horses, large enough to cause harm to humans who eat it.
Further to that, there is also another question. If your suppliers are unscrupulous enough to put bits of a completely different animal into the meat they are selling you, how can you be sure that there aren’t other things in it as well? E. coli, listeria, salmonella, Clostridium botulinum…
Of course I do not disagree. I have always thought that enforcing a reasonable amount of truth in advertising was all the power the government needed for foods and drugs. I don’t mind if they sell snake biles so long as the jar contains actual biles of actual snakes. I don’t even mind if the government requires to you stamp your snake oil “The US government thinks this stuff is more likely to kill you than do you any good, and you’re crazy to buy it.” I do mind if they jail you for selling it after that warning and it really does contain snake biles.
Enforce a measure of truth about the stuff.
Spengler on the Decline of Islam and the Strategic Import
Spengler has a very interesting article recapping his thoughts in reply to David Ignatius of the WaPo.
David Ignatius, A Demographic Shift in the Muslim World, Washington Post, 2/8/13,
Spengler’s money quote:
"But it does not seem likely that the foreign policy establishment, once having noticed the demographic elephant in the parlor, will draw the obvious inference: a society that suddenly stops having children suffers from cultural despair. The same cultural despair that curtains off the future for families afflicts policymakers. Cultural pessimism is a great motivation for strategic adventures. A nation that fears that it may have no future may be willing to risk everything on the roll of a dice. Iran has one last big generation of military age men, the ones who were born in the early 1980s before the great weapons. Nothing but the use of force would stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, with dreadful consequences. With Iran on the verge of building a nuclear bomb, we have hit crunch-time. Will the foreign policy establishment connect the dots in time?"
Spengler (David P. Goldman), Fertility, Faith, and the Decline of Islam: Strategic Implications, PJ Media, 2/11/13,
I hope Spengler’s concerns do not come to fruition. If they do not, things look like they might straighten out for us in the sense that the jihadist movement may fizzle out during the gentrification of the Muslim population as it continues to play with "cultural weapons of mass destruction."
But as you note we will be playing with them too! <http://www.jerrypournelle.com/chaosmanor/?m=20130102>
I suppose I expect way too much in hoping to see the jihadist movement fizzle out in my lifetime. But then I have seen the end of the 70 years war and the Moon landing; pretty darn good for a lifetime. But I had hoped to be on the Moon doing research….
Regards, Charles Adams, Bellevue, NE
Eventually the cultural weapons of mass destruction will depopulate Iran, and other youthful Muslim communities, But they have to be employed. And we have to endure while they do their work.
RE: Defense Dept software tracks you thru social media buffy willow
One more reason to avoid social media like a social disease.
Considering we can’t even write a program to reliably predict DVD tastes from many thousands of input ratings (i.e. Netflix’s recommendations system is bloody awful), I do not have high hope for the accuracy of this. Of course the Gummint, having paid millions for it and its implementation will doubtless use is as 100% rationale for droning your home.
"There is nothing more terrifying than stupidity in action." – Chuck Taylor
I generally don’t have social media accounts
I got your job — sort of
I used to follow your columns in Byte back in the day (before way too much day job work and 3 kids ). I never dreamed that I would actually end up writing for money. Although it isn’t my day job, it most certainly is my night/weekend job that is helping put my sons through Texas A&M.
I read your article on How to Get My Job since my oldest son has finished the first of several books in the Fantasy genre. I pointed him at your article as well as the Heinlein piece. It was timely since he is actually taking a creative writing class this semester. It will help him calibrate his expectations of the class. You are absolutely correct about needing to know how to write correctly as well as having the talent for the thoughts. My son has his biggest struggle with grammar and spelling. Your advice to write a lot has helped him in that regard.
I was interested in your thoughts to see if any of your advice would have helped me along the way. It would have, but I discovered many of your thoughts independently.
I started down the path of becoming reacquainted with your writing because I adopted your REAL SOON NOW expression many years ago. I used it recently and it reminded me to go to the Web and search for you.
I hope all is well with you these days.
Apparently I have helped several people get my job. http://www.jerrypournelle.com/slowchange/myjob.html is still good advice to be read, but it does need revision in the light of the new market structure. Still, the basis advice is sound.
On the EBook Antitrust Settlement
Back in April, you mentioned the DOJ antitrust lawsuit against Apple et al. regarding ebook prices at <http://www.jerrypournelle.com/chaosmanor/?p=6814>.
I’ve just read <http://www.tor.com/blogs/2013/02/a-message-from-john-sargent>
and thought you’d find it… interesting, I suppose—and disturbing, and in about equal parts. Remind me again what the ‘J’ in “DOJ” is supposed to stand for?
Congress does not understand the new commerce, nor will it for a while. Perhaps a common law will develop.
Subject: Gun Free Zone
How simple is this? This is the ANSWER!!! Amazing.
Why didn’t someone think of this before? It will work. I can see absolutely NO reason that it won’t cut down on gun violence.
REMEMBER-It only works if you have the sign.
Measuring the efficacy of the US educational system
Over the past few days you and several of your correspondents have been discussing the need to ‘measure’ the results of various government programs, with much of the commentary being focused on the educational system. The consensus is that it is hopelessly ineffective.
Remember, efficacy is to be measured against objectives.
When I was a mere lad in grade school in the late 40′s/early 50′s, one of the ‘facts’ that I had to learn was that a gentleman named John Dewey was ‘The Father of American Education’. So I learned it.
Dewey was the ‘father’ because he and his supporters were the ones who pushed for mandatory universal public education. And succeeded in getting it implemented to the point that the mere suggestion that it has not been the best of ideas and suffers, if at all, only from a lack of funds ends all discussion. Mandatory public education, run by the state, is sacrosanct. As anyone who has ever questioned the budget of a local school board will quickly learn.
What WASN’T widely publicized in my classes was the reason that Dewey and his crew were so enthusiastic in their drive to make schools schools publicly funded and, more importantly, mandatory. I. e: what are the objectives of public education that our results should be measured against?
The primary objectives, based on writing in the early stages, was to indoctrinate the students with socialism and loyalty to the state and to reinforce the principle that the commands of the state were unquestionable. In other words, using the terms of the current idol of the education establishment, Mao, they were to be ‘re-education centers’. If it were necessary to impart a fact or two to keep the money flowing to socialist causes and maintain control of our children during their formative years, so be it, but ‘educating’ the students, as it is traditionally understood, was NEVER the primary objective.
With the true objective in mind, I think the most steely-eyed and hard-nosed evaluators of the education system could ‘measure’ the results achieved, especially among the ‘best and brightest’ who move on from high school through our institutions of higher learning, and declare that the educational system has been wildly successful. Its product is socialist (Democratic–but I repeat myself) to the point where non-socialists on some college campuses must conceal their true feelings under threat of physical violence. Do you think, for example, that a non-socialist has ANY chance of graduating from a prestigious journalism school in the top half of of his class? More importantly, it has effectively reduced the possibility of re-establishing our former Constitutional Republic to zero. See the results of our recent election after the electorate had the chance to observe the Obamunists in action for four years. The more ‘educated’ the electoral subset, the stronger its support for Obama and his policies.
So yeah, the mandatory public education system has been extremely successful in achieving the objective for which it was established. It can only be viewed as unsuccessful when compared against the Potemkin objective of imparting proficiency in what may loosely be described as ‘The 3R’s’.
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