Inequality and Education

Chaos Manor View, Thursday, November 05, 2015

Guy Fawkes Night

Remember, remember!
    The fifth of November,
    Gunpowder treason and plot;
    I know of no reason
    Why Gunpowder treason
    Should ever be forgot!


Larry and Steve were over for the day conferring on our interstellar colony novel. We also talked with Jack Cohen in England, via Skype, but the connection was bad and we kept losing it and having to call again. Of course “connection was bad” is a residue of times when you quite literally had bad connections by phone and had to call again; with the Internet that’s not a real diagnosis.

We suspect the problem was at Jack’s end, because things seemed fine here and it was before Noon; I’ve never had Internet problems before Noon, I only have the traditional problem at 1600 – doesn’t matter if it’s PDT or PST – when Time Warner, at least at my house, simply funks out, going to less than dialup speeds sometimes. You can’t do searches because you can’t find the Google server, but even if you know the exact address you’re looking for, as when you do F5 to get the site updated, it often gives the same error, can’t find server. Then for a few seconds it’s only slow, not halted, but it quickly returns to busted. The easy workaround is not to do anything requiring an Internet connection between 1600 and 1615 Pacific Time.

Anyway, I have a lot to contribute to the book, but when I try I spend so much time trying to type it in, and correcting the sentence I just typed and in correcting that forgetting the next sentence I was composing – well, it gets frustrating. In my venerable “How to Get My Job” essay written a long time ago I make the point that a writer must get so familiar with his tools that he can forget the “how” in writing and concentrate on the story or whatever it is he wants to say. He must not be thinking about “i before e except after c”, or elementary grammar rules; he needs to know his craft. Alas, since the stroke I don’t know my craft; I have to worry about how to say something as well as what to say. It’s a humbling experience; I remember from when I first had to write for a living.

Autocorrect helps. One of my more common errors is to insert a bracket (‘[‘) into words when I hit the p key. I hit the [ key at the same time; but sometimes before I hit p and sometimes after. I’m slowly teaching autocorrect to fix this. I just added “com[posing” and “comp[osing” to AutoCorrect’s dictionary so I had considerable trouble getting them into this text: you can defeat autocorrect but it takes doing, which is fine with me.

Anyway I get frustrated, and then I tend to lecture, and yesterday after a while I sort of became aware that here I was lecturing to two master writers about such things as pacing, in particular, weaving expository lumps into the text at any good opportunity so you don’t have so many lumps close together, and always introduce a character and a little backstory when you can so that if there’s coming up a big scene with many characters the readers haven’t met yet, they will have at least been introduced earlier so there aren’t so many strangers in the big plot-necessary scene, and So I woke up and apologized for lecturing.

Larry was kind enough to say we often get a lot of work done when I’m in lecture mode, so I don’t feel so bad, but still—

And of course I typed p;lot-necessary up there, and managed to get that into AutoCorrect’s dictionary.

Anyway the book’s coming along pretty well. In a slower than light universe, which we’re assuming, there are going to be inevitable problems, such as a period after they first get there of adults and infants with no ages in between. You can’t freeze children – how could they give informed consent? – and unless you have somehow built a generation ship such as Heinlein did in Universe you won’t be having children on the way (and if you did they would know nothing of living on a planet). So on Avalon we have the Earthborn and the Starborn, and a generation gap like nothing you have ever, ever seen.

And I have to get back to it shortly because I’m at least able to block out scenes, and if I get going just right I sometimes can do quite a lot of finished text.

I ought to add some of this to How to Get My Job but I probably won’t.


It’s getting late and I am going to LASFS tonight. I am reading The Great Escape by Angus Deaton, about wealth and inequality; it goes well with A Farewell to Alms in showing how remarkable the times we live in have been, compared to ten thousand years in which nobody had much of anything and most people born died before they were five years old. And most women died in childbirth if they had many children. But of course in the great escape from poverty there will be inequality.

This morning’s Wall Street Journal had “Where the New Jobs Will Come From” by Thomas Tunstall, and it’s worth reading although I have some misgivings.

Caterpillar recently announced plans to shed at least 4,000-5,000 jobs by the end of 2016, adding that the number could reach 10,000 by 2018. The company is also restructuring its operations—as it has several times in recent decades. What’s going on at Caterpillaris partly driven by a slowdown in the global economy. But it is also emblematic of fundamental changes in the economy. Many jobs cut from manufacturing in recent years are not coming back, and the ones that do will look very different.

Americans tend to think of this as very bad news, but that’s a little like thinking most of us should still be working on farms. In 1840, 70% of the workforce was employed in agriculture. By the start of the 20th century, it was 40%. In 1930 it was 20% and in 1970, 4%. Now it’s less than 2%.

He has considerable discussion of what has happened over the past twenty years, and concludes

Yes, some jobs in services will include Zumba instructors and retail sales. But many others in the future will be in cloud computing, cybersecurity, gene sequencing, big-data projects and fields that are only beginning to emerge—and today are literally unimaginable.

I don’t see that happening; even with 20 hour weeks and other artificial ways to get more people working. I may be an elitist, but I don’t think that 60% of the population can DO those jobs – and I am very sure that the current education system cannot teach most of the population to do them. I am pretty sure the current education system can’t teach half of those enrolled to do much of anything that someone would pay money to have done.

And then I read in Deaton’s book that inequality isn’t caused by the upper classes holding back the lower ones; indeed they are generous with education.

Never ascribe to malice what is adequately explained by incompetence, and indeed I agree; I doubt that there is any conspiracy to provide incompetent schools at increasingly higher costs – but that is what is happening, and most of it is due to well meant efforts to help that have pretty well destroyed the school system that let my wife and I, both without incomes, get through college working our way; indeed, the system that let us get out of high school, me in Tennessee and her in Washington state graduate with a better education than most have after graduating from community college, and with enough work skills to find ways to get people to pay us for working our way through college. I am sure there are many older readers who can understand what I mean. Younger ones are products of the current broken system and may not know just how good our school system once was – and how, at least for the competent, it was virtually free from first grade to a bachelor’s degree.

I never heard of a student loan, or at least never thought of saddling myself with debts.

And the high schools of our day were deteriorating, although not to the extent of the present ones.

If you want to know what public schools are capable of, look at The California Sixth Grade Reader which was copyrighted in 1916 and used in California public schools; compare it to the reading books now used in tenth grade. And weep.


Another time I’ll say more on what might but won’t be done. Meanwhile, understand that we sow the wind. We want to eliminate inequality. We have inadequate schools. We routinely saddle college graduates with debts they can never repay for credentials that are not worth what they had to pay for them. By 2025, and I suspect a lot earlier than that, 50% of the jobs – not just industrial but clerical and many in health and service – can be done by a robot costing no more than a year’s pay of the worker it replaced, and having a life span of at least ten years with annual operating costs of less than 1/20th of the worker. How much supervision it will need is debatable, but the robot will work three shifts as easily as one shift; the supervisor will of course not do that, but he will be able to attend to multiple machines.

Our present schools are not training people adequately for jobs “in cloud computing, cybersecurity, gene sequencing, big-data projects” and so forth. Some colleges are. Some. At very high costs.

Meanwhile we centralize and federalize the schools, give local school districts less and less control, and add more and more regulations requiring more and more administrators inevitably driving the cost of colleges, high schools, and grade schools higher and higher; it is not likely that these new bureaucrats are I creasing the quality of education, or indeed teaching anything other than compliance with more regulations.

There are ways to undo this mess, but we won’t take them. But that’s for another time.


VDH: How the widening urban-rural divide threatens America.



Roland Dobbins


The Bicentennial of George Boole, the Man Who Laid the Foundations of the Digital Age

Isaac Newton, Wikipedia tells us, “is widely recognised as one of the most influential scientists of all time and as a key figure in the scientific revolution.”  George Boole(1815-1864) was undoubtedly also one of the most influential scientists of all time, and a key figure in the digital revolution.  Both men were from Lincolnshire, England, and had Unitarian leanings, which impacted their career paths in the Anglican dominated world of their eras.
Furthermore, both made key mental breakthroughs while enjoying fresh air outdoors.

Newton’s Eureka, or Aha! Moment, was his celebrated musing on falling apples, in 1666 when he was 23, which in due course inspired his development of the theory of gravitation. Boole’s came early in 1833, when he was only 17, while walking across a field in Doncaster:

“He relates that the thought flashed upon him suddenly [], but he laid it aside for many years []. The thought however smouldered in his subconscious and became an integral part of his main ambition is life—to explain the logic of human thought [].”


Battle of Britain Quibble


In response to my aside “A quibble about WW II BoB, mind: The Luftwaffe understood just fine how to achieve air supremacy – go for the opposition’s air fields and support structure while also forcing them to come up and be atritted in the air. My read of ultimately why the Germans failed at the Channel is that the Brits (unlike everyone else to that point) had a good enough air defense that it was going to cost the Luftwaffe massive losses – on the rough order of half of their total air force – to grind the RAF into dust. German leadership (Goering) couldn’t stomach that price, backed off the proven winning approach partway, and commenced trying to find ways to win on the cheap – none of which worked.”

you wrote “Actually, Eagle started without realization by Goering that air bases were more important than airplanes; but the no one realized that fully for a long time. The Britain bombed Berlin, and Hitler ordered the Luftwaffe to waste planes and time on London, and Britain was saved.”

You state the conventional view, and while it’s not wrong, it’s incomplete. Hitler indeed ordered the switch away from directly attacking the RAF to attacking British cities on 5 September, but the RAF still might have been defeated at that point. (USAAF, after all, four years later did successfully grind down the Luftwaffe by forcing them to come up and be atritted defending against bombing raids on German urban targets.)

According to American journalist Ralph Ingersoll, who returned from Britain later that year and wrote a book about the battle, the key date was September 15th, ten days later, after which the Germans backed off the massive daylight London raids and switched largely to night attacks, thus greatly reducing their losses, but also giving up on attriting the RAF day fighter force.

Ingersoll wrote about that day “[a] majority of responsible British officers who fought through this battle believe that if Hitler and Göring had had the courage and the resources to lose 200 planes a day for the next five days, nothing could have saved London.”

Not provable either way, no, but I tend to agree. The Germans, in addition to all the other errors they’d made to that point, finally just lost their nerve.


Well, I state the conventional view among Air Force generals of my time; you may have better sources. The key shortage was fuel; most Fighter Command bases were not for maintenance and repair, but all of them needed fuel ,and fuel supply lines; of course that is a conclusion reached after the failure of the Luftwaffe, but it was, after, very effective against ground installations; and the goal was to buy a safe Channel crossing.

Air superiority is rarely attained by air to air combat, just as you don’t usually win against hornets by swatting one hornet at a time.

Whether throwing another 1000 planes into the meat grinder would have done it, I can’t say; but a massive raid on all the fuel installations they knew about would have had great effect; or so I concluded back in the days I studied that. It has been a very long time.

Stay well.








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




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