Civilizing barbarians

View 852 Tuesday, November 25, 2014

“Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.”

President Barack Obama, January 31, 2009

If a foreign government had imposed this system of education on the United States, we would rightfully consider it an act of war.

Glenn T. Seaborg, National Commission on Education, 1983


At least one black leader, a State Senator, has declared that we are now in a race war, blacks and their sympathizers vs. everyone else. She has no authority to declare any such thing, and she certainly does not speak for anything like a majority of African Americans, nor, I suspect, for anything like a majority of liberal intellectuals, but it is an astonishing thing to say.

We are not in a race war, but there are similarities to a barbarian invasion. We have a barbarian culture within the United States. The most common cause of death of black males is to be killed by another black male. There are other sub cultures in which homicide is common. Generally the barbarian culture does not interact with the majority of the middle class, but in so-called ghetto areas American citizens cannot avoid interactions with the barbarian culture. They live there, and they can’t avoid it.

More than forty years ago when I was a city official in the Mayor’s office, I was asked to sit in on a meeting with the precinct captain of a district that included both black middle class and some “Inner city” “ghetto” areas. The meeting consisted of the police officers and several black women who were tired of the lack of law and order in their neighborhood. The captain explained that he had no more resources: he had patrols on overtime as it was. There was nothing to be done. I offered to send some of the Metro units in. These were elite police patrols who strictly enforced the law.  I warned the ladies that if we sent them in, they would come down hard on all criminal activity they saw.  All of it.  The ladies said that was very much what they wanted.

We sent some of the elite Metro units into the neighborhood. They began enforcing the law as they had been trained: not as community police, but as strict enforcement officers looking for good arrests. This was before Wilson’s “Broken Windows” theory became widely known, but I knew Wilson, and this was in that spirit: you don’t ignore minor infractions because that leads people to think you will ignore major ones.

The experiment lasted about a month, and the ladies reported they were really surprised at how much better conditions were; but there were black leaders who claimed that the district was being overpoliced. The LA Times talked about the invasion of the police. The mayor told me to get the Metro units out of there. Things went back to where they were before I attempted to intervene.

This was forty years ago, after the Watts riots but before the later Los Angeles riots.

The cure for barbarians within the gates is to educate the barbarian children. Humans are not born civilized. They acquire civility by living in civilization, and they learn it as they grow up in it. In the United States we have had waves of immigrants from areas with entirely different cultures, some from more civilized cultures than ours, but many from less, and few in which civilization was based on freedom: American citizens act civilized because they are civilized, not from fear of apprehension and punishment. The Metro Unit wasn’t really the answer to those ladies’ complaints; it was just all I had to offer.

But the way to civilize barbarians is to do it in the schools, from the earliest grades on: enforcement of discipline, being polite, respectful deference to authority – not cringing fear, but respectful deference. But those values have to be instilled, and enforced.

I remember a song I learned as a child.

School days, school days
Dear old Golden Rule days
‘Reading and ‘riting and ‘rithmetic
Taught to the tune of the hick’ry stick

I think everyone I knew learned it. It’s a catchy tune, and it sort of described what we were doing in school. The hickory stick wasn’t much used, but it was legal for the teachers to use it. The Sisters in my first three grades had rulers which they were said to use freely (although I think I actually witnessed Sister Elizabeth Ann use hers no more than twice in the two years I was in her First/Second grade classroom). And the Three R’s were certainly what we were expected to learn. Reading and Writing and Arithmetic.

And when we moved to the country I was in a public school, again two grades to the room and about 20-25 pupils to the grade. This was out in the county in farming country, but we had the same textbooks that they had in Memphis, and we pretty well learned the same things: ostensibly reading, writing, and arithmetic. Of course reading included some real literature: no Dick and Jane, and alas no Cat in the Hat. I wish I had my Third Grade Reader. I have found the California Sixth Grade Reader, which I have edited and published as an eBook; our Tennessee Sixth Grade Reader wasn’t much different. Most of the same poems and stories.

But we were also learning to be civilized. To say “Ma’am” to the teachers, or call them Miss Dean or Mrs. Cooper and be courteous, and yes, obedient. We learned self discipline. You don’t run in the halls. You don’t hit girls (boys got away with a bit more roughhousing with each other, but you don’t hit girls). This is how civilized people live.

We were also learning that “dear old Golden Rule” as we were growing up. Explicitly, but that was just a lesson; but as a way of thinking. It was built into the stories and lessons, and the way we were expected to live.

When I was growing up the purposes of the schools was clear, and civilizing young barbarians was one of those purposes. Now this was the legally segregated South: the young barbarians I refer to were us, farm and country kids growing up in war time when adult supervision outside school was pretty rare.

It seems to have worked.

But as I understand it, that is no longer considered a purpose of the public schools, even though citizens with no children in those schools are taxed to pay for them. The teachers seem to believe – indeed many insist – that their task is not “indoctrination”, and it is not to “impose” a culture on their charges.

Of course it’s pretty hard to see what the system is supposed to do now: from observation a great deal of the system has become a ship which exists for the benefit of its crew, and its funding is not at all dependent on what it actually accomplishes. It’s surely not “the good old golden rule”, and from the results it’s hardly reading and ‘riting and ‘rithemetic either. It’s mostly to pay teachers, avoid any being fired for incompetence and few for anything else, and to pay for good benefits and pensions. The students are irrelevant. Yes, of course, there are dedicated teachers who hate all that, but they don’t run the system, and they aren’t paid in “released time” to be union officials. A ship which exists for the benefit of its crew.

And if the purpose of the schools is no longer to civilize young barbarians, that job is left to the parents and the churches; and we see the results of decades in which the schools are not

Dear old Golden Rule days
‘Reading and ‘riting and ‘rithmetic
Taught to the tune of the hick’ry stick

Young humans are not born civilized, and civilizations that leave the task of civilizing them to chance sow the wind.

We sow the wind. We are reaping the whirlwind.


I am told that more than 27 small businesses were destroyed by fire in Ferguson last night. I am also told that more than half of them were owned by minority owners (and I assume that minority includes Hispanic and Asian). The National Guard was present but not inserted to defend those businesses, but I do not know why they were ordered to stand down as the looting began. First there was pillage, then burning. When the barbarians come through the gates those are standard. If the Missouri State Senator is correct in pronouncing this their race war, we may see more.



Renewable energy ‘simply WON’T WORK’: Top Google engineers

Windmills, solar, tidal – all a ‘false hope’, say Stanford PhDs

By Lewis Page

Comment Two highly qualified Google engineers who have spent years studying and trying to improve renewable energy technology have stated quite bluntly that renewables will never permit the human race to cut CO2 emissions to the levels demanded by climate activists. Whatever the future holds, it is not a renewables-powered civilisation: such a thing is impossible.

Both men are Stanford PhDs, Ross Koningstein having trained in aerospace engineering and David Fork in applied physics. These aren’t guys who fiddle about with websites or data analytics or "technology" of that sort: they are real engineers who understand difficult maths and physics, and top-bracket even among that distinguished company. The duo were employed at Google on the RE<C project, which sought to enhance renewable technology to the point where it could produce energy more cheaply than coal.

RE<C was a failure, and Google closed it down after four years. Now, Koningstein and Fork have explained the conclusions they came to after a lengthy period of applying their considerable technological expertise to renewables, in an article posted at IEEE Spectrum.

The two men write:

At the start of RE<C, we had shared the attitude of many stalwart environmentalists: We felt that with steady improvements to today’s renewable energy technologies, our society could stave off catastrophic climate change. We now know that to be a false hope …

Renewable energy technologies simply won’t work; we need a fundamentally different approach.

One should note that RE<C didn’t restrict itself to conventional renewable ideas like solar PV, windfarms, tidal, hydro etc. It also looked extensively into more radical notions such as solar-thermal, geothermal, "self-assembling" wind towers and so on and so forth. There’s no get-out clause for renewables believers here.

Koningstein and Fork aren’t alone. Whenever somebody with a decent grasp of maths and physics looks into the idea of a fully renewables-powered civilised future for the human race with a reasonably open mind, they normally come to the conclusion that it simply isn’t feasible. Merely generating the relatively small proportion of our energy that we consume today in the form of electricity is already an insuperably difficult task for renewables: generating huge amounts more on top to carry out the tasks we do today using fossil-fuelled heat isn’t even vaguely plausible.

I do not know if they considered solar power satellites, which may be able to achieve the goal; I recall studies that indicate that it’s possible, although it would take a lot of SSPS systems. We will certainly have to move to some form of nuclear power in order to sustain the present population at anything like this standard of living.



Will Finland suffer the fate of Crimea and Ukraine?

James Crawford=

Fortunately, probably not. I doubt the Russians want to rule a number of intelligent and hostile people and the Finns most certainly would be hostile. Ukraine is historically part of Russia, not merely an imperial acquisition.


Rosetta and Philae 

Dear Dr Pournelle,

I’m very surprised that you have not yet celebrated the soft(ish) landing of Philae from the Rosetta probe on Comet 67P (avg. 2.6 km dia.), after a 10 year flight and over 6.4 bn km travelled. Philae has performed better than 90% of its primary mission on its main batteries, but having come to rest in the shadow of a cliff, the solar-powered secondary batteries are not adequately charging, so additional, unscheduled tests cannot be performed (this may improve as 67P moves closer to the Sun and the intensity of the light falling on Philae’s photocells increases; at present it is about 330 m km away — beyond the orbit of Mars). ESA researchers are currently analysing the data collected from Philae, and we already know that organic molecules have been detected. You can watch videos and read reports on ESA’s web site, <>.

OK, I’m a European, and I’m really, *really* proud of what this consortium of nations has achieved with this mission. I’ve never felt so excited since my parents allowed me to stay up to watch the broadcast of the US Apollo 11 Moon landing.

And now I read that ESA/Airbus will be making the primary stage of NASA’s Orion rocket. 🙂

Best regards,


You ought to be proud. It was a magnificent achievement. I probably should have commented but I have been swamped lately, and there was little I could say other than Congratulations!The final location of the probe was unfortunate, but getting onto the comet at all was wonderful.  I’m still absorbing the information.


Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.




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