Blog

November 2016

Viewing posts from November , 2016

Disaster By Design

This very article began with my opening a text file, like so:

bi nidotrt

Wait, that’s not right! I looked at the keyboard, and realized that one hand was one key too far to the right. I reset my hands, and typed

vi misorder

… and here I am. Why invent the word “misorder” to refer to my topic, rather than use “disorder”? Because “disorder” presumes a correct order, and difficulty arises from failure to follow that “correct” order. But there are times when the desired “order” is itself the problem.

Experienced coders and engineers know that following a bad plan will lead to bad outcomes. It is not enough to “use a map” to find one’s way from Los Angeles to New York City, when one’s map of choice happens to be Giovanni Schiaparelli’s map of the canals of Mars.

Our schools do badly because their map, their plan of order, has very little to do with the 30 or so children in our particular class.

The plan of order, the curriculum, may be based on putatively excellent research – about the behavior of other children, placed in similar kinds of Day Prisons, asked to cope with a similar kind of enforced “order” to reach similar externally-imposed goals.

However, experienced scientists know that it is important to ask the right questions. A generation of astronomers devoted themselves to drawing detailed pictures of the “canals of Mars,” before realizing that these canals were not reflective of the actual terrain.

Much research of human beings tends to focus on aggregates and averages. But humans come in various shapes and sizes; they have various skills and weaknesses; they do not all travel the same road at the same pace at the same age. One would not issue the same size of clothing to every first-grader; it could come up short on some, and sag on others. Why, then, must they read from the same page of the same primers? Why do the same single-digit addition, from the same page of the same textbook?

If we are all compelled to be “on the same page,” it soon becomes evident that some students are quite beyond that point. They may already be reading Harry Potter fluently, and we are providing See Dick Run, and other vapid texts. They may already be comfortable with binary arithmetic and exponentiation, and they’re forced to plod through single-digit addition and subtraction. And there are other students who need a great deal of help just to “keep up with class.”

Imagine instead, an outing at a large game emporium. You could usher the children through, saying “now we do Dance Dance Revolution. Now we do the boxing game. Now we do this, followed by that.”

Or, you could simply give each a fistful of tokens, turn them loose, and watch as they dance, box, drive cars, and fly to the stars.

In a school environment, this kind of freedom might look something like Democratic Free Schools, but perhaps with less organization imposed from without, and more self-organization.

Schools as we know them have imposed a plan of order which was adopted from the military; from the Prussian military, to be precise. Today’s educational plans are like those drawn up by elderly generals: fighting the wars of centuries past, not the war of today.

But if a teacher has 30 students – or perhaps 150 students, in multiple classes – it’s easy to miss these details. Too much happens, in too many places. Who is competent enough to read 30 faces at once, to distinguish the joy of learning from the tears of having a lesson sail over one’s head, or the boredom of yet another wasted day?

The assignment to impose order, as undertaken by most teachers, is inherently impossible – and it would be bad for the children if it were possible. It won’t be solved by “working harder,” it won’t be solved by issuing more tests. It requires that one put away the flawed plan of order, rethink what is going on, ask “what do real children actually want?” – and listening and adapting.


Handwriting On The Wall

This famous phrase refers to a story told in Daniel 5:1-30. The actual phrase was “mene, mene, tekel, parsin” – all three of those words referring to units of currency. In those days, a unit of currency was a specific weight of metal just as, for a time in America, the ratio of dollars to gold was $20.67 to one ounce of gold. When the King is told that “you have been weighed in the scale and found wanting”, this refers to a common practice used to test the soundness of a coin: put it in a scale and compare it to a standard.

Throughout history, great empires have debased their currency, clipping coins and adulterating them in order to cheat the people. Nowadays, the Federal Reserve performs this same service for America – with much the same results: higher prices, redistribution from the rest of us to the 1%, increased centralization of power and increased dissatisfaction of the rest of us, and the famous boom/bust cycles.

http://mises.org/library/reformulation-austrian-business-cycle-theory-light-financial-crisis-0


A Country is not a House.

Any time we have a discussion of borders, and who should be able to cross these lines, somebody will say something like “You advocate open borders? I will break your locks, enter your home, and sleep with your daughter.”

A country is not a house. A much more realistic analogy, if you wish to compare political borders with some kind of privately-owned property, is a shopping mall. Are there border guards around a shopping mall? Unlikely. Does the shopping mall have a border? Yes.

Can you enter the “employee only” sections, or the manager’s offices, at will? No.

Security controls are applied where needed, at specific points. If the shopping mall is part of a “mixed use” complex, with apartments and offices, there will be varying sorts of access controls, depending on specific needs. If shopping malls were organized like prison complexes, few would shop there.

A general principle will be that if somebody invites person X, that person will be admitted, unless there is a specific objection to that particular person. For instance, if person X were a known murderer or shoplifter, that person X might be barred.

This principle is not even remotely consistent with the controls proposed by those who insist on sealing the borders, building walls, and so forth. Existing law preempts the right to travel; it denies the right of you or me to invite friends, employees, tenants, spouses, or anyone else to visit, work, or live with us. It arrogates those decisions unto itself. Whatever may be said about such policies, they are not libertarian; they are not consistent with a free country.


Please Don’t Feed Outrage Pr0n

A certain category of the “news” which clutters our feeds is so fake, the headlines stink of fraud. I refer to headlines of the form <horrible thing> done to <sweet things> by <enemies du jour.>

These articles are merely poison to the mind. Often, the story is a complete fraud, from start to finish. Other times, it was intended as a spoof. Still others, a picture of one thing has been given a new and false label.

Always, they are written to tug at your heart strings. Oh, those poor babies. Those poor Christians. Those poor LGBT. Those poor polar bears. Something terrible is done. I must signal my heartbreak, my outrage, my patriotism, my virtue. A classic example – but one of myriads – is the hoax about babies being thrown out of incubators – was repeated ad nauseam by mainstream news.

Before you repost such outrage pr0n, why not use those powerful search engines? Better yet, use your own powerful brain to search out evidence, for and against.

For and against. If you don’t look for and weigh both, you are not doing research; you are simply feeding your confirmation bias.

Does this take time? Yes. If that’s too much of an investment, there is a shortcut.

Don’t feed the concern trolls. Just scroll to the next.


Fake News Shouldn’t Fake Us Out

Trusting a news source – any news source – should be categorized as a mental weakness.

Michael Crichton once wrote about this problem:

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.”

In my own experience, whenever I have expertise in the field being covered, I find the “news” reports to be of dubious, even negative quality.You’ve had similar experiences. It stretches credulity to believe that the news of other fields is not similarly lacking.

Even well-intentioned journalists are seldom expert on all the matters which they cover. And when they don’t know what they’re talking about, they turn to “experts,” who often have vested interests – often as propagandists for one agency or another.

We should be especially wary when the “experts” are politicians, the one category of people who seem to have cleverly immunized themselves from any penalty for lying.

We each need to build our own “shock proof crap detectors.” This requires a healthy skepticism, a willingness to do research and thinking. It is not enough that a “fact” is reported many times – if you look closely, you’ll find that many of the “reports” are word-for-word copies of each other. If the matter is taken from a scientific or engineering report, I always try to find and read the original. If it deals with economics, I study the root ideas of economics.

Truth is often difficult to discern, but the sanity saved may be your own.


Sealed Borders Are Not Gated Communities

“A sealed border is like a gated community” if and only if that gated community is a fortress owned by an autocratic tyrant.

In the world in which we actually live, one may enter most gated communities if invited by ONE resident. I’ve been to parties which were hosted in gated communities. Say to the guard “I am here for X’s party,” and you are admitted.

Try that at the border: “I am here because I accepted a job offer from X.” or “I have agreed to marry Y” or “I have an arrangement to rent from Z.” The decision has been taken from you and X,Y, Z who would very much like to have you, and handed to some bureaucrats.


Firearms and Peace

Author Carlisle E. Moody studied the history of personal violence in Europe, and came to a surprising conclusion.
Personal violence has declined substantially in Europe from 1200-2010. The conventional wisdom is that the state’s monopoly on violence is the cause of this happy result. I find some evidence that does not support this hypothesis. I suggest an alternative hypothesis that could explain at least some of the reduction in violence, namely that the invention and proliferation of compact, concealable, ready-to-use firearms caused potential assailants to recalculate the probability of a successful assault and seek alternatives to violence. I use structural change models to test this hypothesis and find breakpoints consistent with the invention of certain firearms.

Firearms and Peace

Author Carlisle E. Moody studied the history of personal violence in Europe, and came to a surprising conclusion.
Personal violence has declined substantially in Europe from 1200-2010. The conventional wisdom is that the state’s monopoly on violence is the cause of this happy result. I find some evidence that does not support this hypothesis. I suggest an alternative hypothesis that could explain at least some of the reduction in violence, namely that the invention and proliferation of compact, concealable, ready-to-use firearms caused potential assailants to recalculate the probability of a successful assault and seek alternatives to violence. I use structural change models to test this hypothesis and find breakpoints consistent with the invention of certain firearms.

A Call To War

There should be a war on Christmas! Already it encroaches on Thanksgiving, Halloween will follow, and next thing you know, Santa’s Elves will be marching on Labor Day, denouncing Santa!