June 17, 2014

We make ourselves stupid...

Sarah Hoyt:

...Look, I'm not going to consider whether or not communists can be very smart. Maybe they can. I've never met any, though.

Oh, raw IQ, sure. But people don't move and choose through raw IQ. My brother is brilliant. He's also a deeply conventional man. This mean his thoughts move only in the "approved thoughts for brilliant people" mode of the last century - that is, leftist...

We see this all around us. People locked into the thought-forms of the past. That in itself is self-imposed stupidity. But it is much worse for those people now, because the old conglomerations of beliefs simply don't work any more. They used to work moderately well,.

The Blue Model, for instance, has been the dominant paradigm of the 20th century. And it worked quite well, though I suspect it was not the best model to follow. The Republican platform for all my life has basically been that we can make the Democrat model work better than they can. People who thought outside the paradigm were "crazies and bomb-throwers." "Neanderthals." "Kooks."

But to defend the model now you have to make yourself stupid. You have to fill your brain with "road closed" signs. Same with believing in CAGW. (Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming.) Or believing in top-down management of any kind. Thinking that government (or big business) can "manage" the economy. Or that the WH can "manage" our diets. These are all crazy ideas, and you have to make yourself stupid to think them and ignore evidence to the countrary.

You have to make yourself stupid to think that people can just re-define a ten-thousand year old institution like marriage and not get ramifying unforeseen consequences. Or, more generally, to re-define anything, and expect everything else to just keep going slog the same.

Posted by John Weidner at 7:25 AM

January 24, 2014

A good put-down...

Peggy Noonan, The Sleepiness of a Hollow Legend:

Good snark, (and a great title) but wrong on a deep level...

...The poor speechwriters. They are always just a little more in touch with public sentiment than a president can be--they get to move around in the world, they know what people are saying. They have to imitate the optimism of the speeches of yore, they have to rouse. They are the ones who know what a heavy freaking lift it is, what an impossible chore. And they have to do it with idiots in the staffing process scrawling on the margins of the draft: "More applause lines!" The speechwriters know the answer is fewer applause lines, more thought, more humility and candor. Americans aren't impressed anymore by congressmen taking to their feet and cheering. They look as if they have electric buzzers on their butts that shoot them into the air when the applause line comes. "Now I have to get up and enact enthusiasm" is what they look like they're thinking. While the other party thinks "Now we have to get up too, because what he said was anodyne and patriotic and we can't not stand up for that." And they applaud, diffidently, because they don't want the folks back home--the few who are watching--to say they looked a little too enthusiastic about the guy who just cost them their insurance.

They are all enacting. They are all replicating. They're all imitating the past.

You know when we will know America is starting to come back? When some day the sergeant at arms bellows: "Mr. Speaker, the president of the United States" and the camera shows a bubble of suits and one person emerges from the pack and walks into the chamber and you're watching at home and you find yourself--against everything you know, against all the accumulated knowledge of the past--interested. It'll take you aback when you realize you're interested in what he'll say! And the members won't just be enacting, they'll be leaning forward to hear.

And the president will speak, and what he says will be pertinent to the problems of the United States of America. And thoughtful. And he'll offer ideas, and you'll think: "Hey, that sounds right."

That is when you'll know America just might come back.

Until then, as John Dickerson just put it: Barack Obama, Inaction Figure.


I don't actually agree with that "America is starting to come back" stuff. I don't think America is an organism controlled by a central processing unit in Washington. Or in New York. The important changes happen elsewhere, often in places nobody expects them to. This is more true in the Information Age by an order of magnitude.

And if we ever become a country dependent on top-down management, then we are not America anymore.

But this is dead on: "They are all enacting. They are all replicating. They're all imitating the past." When you enter a new age of the world, then every institution needs to change or die. And that change involves two necessary things. One, you must adapt to a new situation, a new way of thinking. Two, you need to remain who you are, in essence.

And the almost-invariable response is to try to do one or the other. You get liberals who want to tear everything apart and rebuild it the image of whatever impressed them when they were in their 20's. And conservatives fighting the liberals and trying to keep things "the way they're supposed to be." Both are wrong. Either response fails.

Posted by John Weidner at 7:39 AM

January 10, 2014

Communities of practice...

US bike messenger stamp 1902

As I've written before, the limiting factor in the Industrial Age was information processing. [Links] You could build a trans-continental railroad system, but you still moved information on little slips of paper. Which was painfully clumsy and inefficient. So every organization became a sort of "computer with human components." Processing information into reports and graphs; filing, collating, retrieving... boiling it down.

Colleges and the college degree was one of those mechanisms. A degree was worth having because it was a compilation of information an employer could rely on. In a rough way, you could say that an Ivy League degree would put you on a track into top management, a state college degree said you were middle-management material, and a junior college diploma meant you were a person for supervisor level jobs. (A degree worked the same way for social status. An Ivy degree said you were fitted for the elite.)

But the degree system was an awkward work-around, because there was no simple way to investigate thousands of people in detail.

The Degree Is Doomed - Michael Staton - Harvard Business Review:

...The value of paper degrees will inevitably decline when employers or other evaluators avail themselves of more efficient and holistic ways for applicants to demonstrate aptitude and skill.  Evaluative information like work samples, personal representations, peer and manager reviews, shared content, and scores and badges are creating new signals of aptitude and different types of credentials. Education-technology companies EduClipper and Pathbrite, and also general-interest platforms such as Tumblr and WordPress, are used to show online portfolios.  Brilliant has built a math-and-physics community that identifies and challenges top young talent. Knack, Pymetrics, and Kalibrr use games and other assessments that measure work-relevant aptitudes and attitudes. HireArt is a supercharged job board that allows applicants to compete in work challenges relevant to job openings.  These new platforms are measuring signals of aptitude with a level of granularity and recency never before possible.

There are sites -- notably Degreed and Accredible -- that adapt existing notions of the credential to a world of online courses and project work. But there are also entire sectors of the innovation economy that are ceasing to rely on traditional credentials and don't even bother with the skeumorph of an adapted degree.  Particularly in the Internet's native careers - design and software engineering -- communities of practice have emerged that offer signals of types and varieties that we couldn't even imagine five years ago.   Designers now show their work on Dribbble or other design posting and review sites.  Software engineers now store their code on GitHub, where other software engineers will follow them and evaluate the product of their labor.  On these sites, peers not only review each other but interact in ways that build reputations within the community. User profiles contain work samples and provide community generated indicators of status and skill.

In these fields in the innovation economy, traditional credentials are not only unnecessary but sometimes even a liability. A software CEO I spoke with recently said he avoids job candidates with advanced software engineering degrees because they represent an overinvestment in education that brings with it both higher salary demands and hubris. It's a red flag that warns that a candidate is likely to be an expensive, hard-to-work-with diva who will show no loyalty to the company.  MBAs have an even more challenged reputation in the innovation economy.  Several of the education startups I advise that directly provide programs to students -- notably Dev Bootcamp and the Fullbridge Program -- recently met with other immersive unaccredited programs to consider whether to jointly develop a new type of credential. Their conclusion: Credentials are so 20th century....

And note, when you have "communities of practice" doing the evaluating and sorting of people, this is using all the brains of the community to solve a problem. This is the opposite of top-down management.

Posted by John Weidner at 8:12 AM

October 20, 2013

Suppose your "core premise" is a steaming pile of manure?

Obamacare Website Failure Threatens Health Coverage For Millions Of Americans:

...For Obama and the Democrats who've stood behind Obamacare during four years of relentless attacks from Republicans -- including a face-off that led to a 16-day government shutdown and a threat of U.S. default -- failure of this magnitude would discredit a core premise of this presidency, that government can do big things to improve Americans' lives....

It's not just the core premise of this presidency, it's the premise of the entire Democrat party, plus a lot of "establishment Republicans." It's pure Industrial Age thinking, and it should have been dragged into the weeds and shot decades ago.

The simple fact is, that in the Information Age everything moves too fast, changes too frequently, for government regulation and control to work. By the time bureaucrats decide what a problem is and how it should be addressed, the world has moved on and it's all out-of-date. Like the big government anti-trust lawsuit against Microsoft for squooshing Netscape and other companies. Five years later the government was ready to go to court... but Netscape by then was utterly forgotten, and Microsoft was already starting to look like a lumbering dinosaur. (And by the time government is ready to subsidize Microsoft to preserve jobs in Redmond, the situation will have changed again.)

Posted by John Weidner at 7:11 PM

July 7, 2013

Pope Frank: "Throw away your iPhones"

This piece by Damien Thompson was from last month, but well, I've been busy. Meet Francis, the Chatterbox Pope:

...But did he actually say those words? The comments were taken from notes compiled afterwards by his visitors, and we can't be sure of their accuracy. Something tells me that confusion over quotes is going to be one of the leitmotifs of this pontificate. "Did the Holy Father really say that Catholics have to throw away their iPhones?" "I think he was joking, but you never know with Pope Frank."

When the former Cardinal Bergoglio was first elected, we were told that he was famous for not giving interviews to the Argentine press. To which one can only reply: who needs interviews, when he shoots from the hip all the time? Francis the Chatterbox Pope. A recipe for disaster, huh?

I don't think so. He won't undo the work of the great Benedict: it would create too much ill-feeling and, at 76, he doesn't have time. Yes, there will be gaffes, possibly so many that we stop worrying about them. But if you listen to the Pope's improvised talks, you quickly realise that his central focus never shifts.

Follow Jesus by helping the poor. Beware of the Devil, who wants you to spend all day distracting yourself with little treats. This is not earth-shattering stuff - until you try to put it into practice. Jorge Bergoglio has a gift that eludes the boring, risk-averse platitude merchants who have captured the machinery of most Catholic and Anglican dioceses. He relaxes you with his smiles and shrugging, and then tweaks your conscience so hard that you wince in pain.

Don't gossip, he tells us. That's the one that really sticks in the mind. I can't say I've followed that instruction to the letter, but every time I backslide, shall we say, I imagine Francis the Chatterbox tapping his watch and reminding me: you haven't got for ever, you know...

This is the first Information Age Pope. People used to Facebook and Twitter can process this kind of rapid-fire information flow. It's for the moment; it gets quoted and commented on in blogs and forums within minutes. Then on to the next thing.

And he's not going to "undo the work of the great Benedict." That's silly. He's just going to "route around" the stale battles between liberals and conservatives, old and new. He goes straight to the oldest idea of all, follow Jesus. Which is always the newest and freshest of ideas, if we can but see it past our ingrained ideas.

Pope Francis

Posted by John Weidner at 9:02 AM

June 22, 2013

The last thing our world needs is more schools...

Catholic Schools Fall on Hard Times | Via Meadia:

...In the past, Catholic schools have routinely outperformed public schools on standardized tests, and they boast college admissions rates near 100 percent. Just as important for many Catholic parents, the schools have also helps parents bestow the values and culture handed down to them through the generations. Unfortunately, the decline of Catholic schools will be difficult to reverse. The NYT points to the expansion of charter schools, large tuition increases, the evaporation of cheap labor as nuns leave the teaching profession, and migration from urban environments to the suburbs and the South as important factors. None of these things are likely to change anytime soon. It's an interesting take on the decline of a long-standing American institution and the effect it could have on the marginalized communities these schools have served for years....

What Mead fails to see is that Catholic schools "worked" in a particular time and place.

The Industrial Age was a big step up in the complexity and size of human activities. But in order for these new activities to work, and to continue to grow, many factors had to be upgraded simultaneously. One of these was that workforces needed to be of higher quality. Smarter, healthier, more disciplined. The industrial world needed ever-increasing numbers of people who were literate and numerate. It needed ever-increasing numbers of managers and executives and professionals and all kinds of "white-collar" workers. And the "blue collar" workers also had to upgrade to fit with more complex organizations and machines.

This resulted in a titanic struggle to improve education. A battle that is almost invisible to us, because we take universal education for granted. And the Catholic Church was at the heart of this. Was often a leader. Both private and governmental sectors extracted increasing amounts of money from the people, and invested it in education. Which paid off! Catholic schools were a big success, in simple dollars-and-cents terms. They resulted in stronger and wealthier Catholic communities, which could support more education.

But we are now in a new age of the world. Commonly called the Information Age. (More of my thoughts on the is age here.) I think that transition happened roughly in the 1960's. And when it did, many things that had worked well in the Industrial Age started to come apart. They didn't "pay off" anymore. We are now surrounded by failing institutions, because our world has stubbornly insisted on keeping industrial age solutions going long after they became obsolete.

What the world needs now from the Catholic Church is not more education. Our world is over-supplied with education. And, I think, under-supplied with Truth! Wisdom! The Church is the original firm for that product, but we have forgotten how to live it and teach it.

Posted by John Weidner at 7:56 AM

June 5, 2013

Fire is part of the natural environment...

An image of the Powerhouse Fire in California:

...According to the CBSnews.com, "Nearly 3,000 people from some 700 homes were under evacuation orders Monday as a wildfire north of Los Angeles kept growing, feeding on old, dry brush, some of which hadn't burned in decades.

The blaze had burned about 46 square miles in the mountains and canyons of the Angeles National Forest, destroying at least six homes and damaging 15 more."...

"some of which hadn't burned in decades." That's the problem, one we already know how to solve. Fire suppression causes fuel to accumulate to the point where a fire can be like letting off tactical nukes. What should happen is that this area that is now burning should henceforth be targeted for intentional fires every 3 or 4 years. Done during cooler and wetter times. Presumably starting with carefully controlled back-fires moving outward from the inhabited areas. And these fires would not produce a devastated burned-over landscape. They would be patchy and of low intensity, with plant life quickly recovering.

But it probably won't happen. Because this would require a cultural change. A change in thinking. But people won't re-think.

The chit-chat of people in a fire-danger area should change from, "Why can't big government take care of these fires?" to "Should we burn this year? Looks like about time to me." Like so many of our problems, this is partly an issue of lingering Industrial Age thinking. We assume that a problem must be handled by a few "experts," not by the linked brain-power of the many.

Posted by John Weidner at 6:48 AM

May 22, 2013

"Old Time Religion"

Andrew C. McCarthy, No Special Counsel for the IRS Scandal | National Review Online:

...More important, pushing for one [a special counsel] sends entirely the wrong signals. It indicates that criminal culpability takes precedence over political accountability. Worse, it suggests that the evil here is the malfeasance of a few government officials. To the contrary, the problem is a perversely complex regulatory framework that gives the IRS -- which should simply collect taxes based on an easily knowable formula -- enormous discretionary power to discriminate and intimidate. That makes the IRS an un-American weapon, particularly when it is controlled by an Alinskyite will-to-power administration.

Sure, we can worry about prosecuting the weapon-wielders at some point. The urgent problem here, though, is the weapon itself. Our energy should be devoted to exposing the scandal in the light of day and shaming Washington into dismantling the IRS -- which is actually planned to swell markedly, and grow even more intrusively offensive, under Obamacare....

Among the Progressives (the original ones, not the current fakes) civil service was a kind of religion. They were passionate about getting government work out of the hands of supposedly corrupt political appointees, and into the hands of supposedly incorruptible permanent employees hired by merit and not connected to politics. Government employees were to be "civil servants," and when I was young that term still had meaning.

But they seem to have lost their faith.

When did they lose their religion? Are you astonished that I tell you that it was just at the same time as many other people were losing their various faiths? That the transition centered on the 1960's? (It was around 1963 that JFK pushed through teacher's unions.)

That was when large numbers of clergymen suddenly realized that the Civil Rights Movement was the center of their faith. Charlene left the Catholic Church in the 60's partly because a new priest in her parish thought the center of their faith should be the "farm worker's movement." (And this in a parish full of farmers.) There arose counter-revolutionaries who thought their faith was preserving the old things. Most people forgot that our faith lies in following Jesus.

When the transition to a new age happens, the ideas of the previous age suddenly seem absurd. They become meaningless. You "lose your faith" because the common expression of that faith no longer makes sense. The faith itself still make sense, but no one can tell you why in language that resonates and compels.

Wordsworth wrote, about the French Revolution, "Bliss was it in that time to be alive, but to be young was very heaven." That's exactly how young people felt in the 1960's. (I can report this to you, I was there.) "Bliss" is what you feel at first when you drop what seems like an oppressive and dreary old faith. (Later comes the hangover.) You feel like you are free, though actually you are just enslaved to popular ideas, because you have no solid ground to stand on to hold firm to eternal truths.

The 1970's and 80's should have been, but weren't, the time when every organization and faith confronted the question that change always asks. And that is, "How do we adapt and change, and yet remain the same in essence?" Which could also be expressed as, "How do we adapt, and still maintain our core mission?" Nobody did this, so we see institutions failing all around us.

Posted by John Weidner at 7:20 AM

May 17, 2013

We are driven by ideas we won't examine...

I was responding to a comment by Bisaal at my post, Do you notice a trend?, and the response grew too interesting (to me at least) to just be a comment...

This is just Utopian thinking. You still have to find economical sources of oil. Physically and industrially. There is no necessity that oil is an infinite resource.

You miss my point. It's not that we do or don't have unlimited oil, it is that mineral wealth won't be the "limiting factor" for human material progress in this new age we are in. Just as in the Industrial Age food production no longer limited growth, as it had before. Populations increased greatly, industrial cities mushroomed, but somehow everybody got fed. Not in some "utopian" way; the workers just always managed to get enough to eat to keep working.

"Isn't this some kind of gnosticism? Is external reality so irrelevant?"

There's nothing gnostic about it. Civilization always modifies the physical world, and modifications always start with the idea that something is possible. Most of the time our ideas of what is possible change slowly. Incrementally. We don't even think about our underlying ideas, we just do things.

I think that a "new age" happens when our ideas of what is possible change in a sudden radical way across much of society. And then these new possibilities start to be invented. Start to unfold. Our ideas change, then everything else changes.

I'm a "theoretician" by nature, and this is more and more my theoretical focus. Unfortunately our world does not want to know about this. We prefer to think that we are just seeing what is clearly there, and acting in obvious and "normal" ways.

I think I have important ideas to offer to the world, but no one's buying. Especially, I believe that the reason we see institutions failing all around us right now is because they have failed to transition to the new age. They are still operating with Industrial Age paradigms. Governments, schools and universities, the press, many churches, including the Catholic Church, NGO's, ideologies like liberalism... all are failing in obvious glaring ways.

In every instance you can see the same symptoms! And number one is that the core mission has been forgotten. Why would this happen? It is always because when people's thoughts change in a transition to a new age, the ideas and "ways" of the old age suddenly seem pointless and absurd. That's when all groups needed to re-think. But they mostly don't. They try to just keep doing the same things, though they no longer believe in them.

For instance there are a bunch of scandals in the news right now, all of them about failures of various federal government departments. State Dept, IRS, EPA, HHS, etc. But the underlying problem is that government has forgotten its core mission, which is to serve the people.

One of the great Industrial Age accomplishments was the creation of what we in America called "the civil service." Most people know little history now, and have no idea of the size of the change that was wrought, wresting government work out of the hands of political appointees, and giving it to apolitical "civil servants" selected by examination. Reformers dedicated their whole lives to promoting civil service. It was almost a religion.

When the new age dawned, people in government forgot all that. It seemed suddenly old-fashioned, that idea of service. That's the exact time when unions for government employees started to happen. And when the servants started thinking of themselves as masters. To the point where now it seemed perfectly normal for IRS employees to target groups that criticize government or advocate lower taxes.

Posted by John Weidner at 8:27 AM | Comments (2)

May 16, 2013

Do you notice a trend?

In stories like these? About minerals and petroleum being discovered? We were supposed to run out of [fill in the blank] right about now, according to [fill in the Malthusian lefty "environmentalist"]. Yet it isn't happening If you read Random Jottings, you get to know what's really going on...

New Wyoming Lithium Deposit - Business Insider:

...University of Wyoming researchers found the lithium while studying the idea of storing carbon dioxide underground in the Rock Springs Uplift, a geologic formation in southwest Wyoming. University of Wyoming Carbon Management Institute director Ron Surdam stated that the lithium was found in underground brine. Surdam estimated the located deposit at roughly 228,000 tons in a 25-square-mile area. Extrapolating the data, Surdam said as the uplift covered roughly 2,000 square miles, there could be up to 18 million tons of lithium there, worth up to roughly $500 billion at current market prices....

The U.S. Has Much, Much More Gas and Oil Than We Thought - NationalJournal.com:

...The United States has double the amount of oil and three times the amount of natural gas than previously thought, stored deep under the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana, according to new data the Obama administration released Tuesday.

In announcing the new data in a conference call, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell also said the administration will release within weeks draft rules to regulate hydraulic fracturing, technology that has come under scrutiny for its environmental impact but that is essential to developing all of this energy.

"These world-class formations contain even more energy-resource potential than previously understood, which is important information as we continue to reduce our nation's dependence on foreign sources of oil," Jewell said in a statement....

Here's a clue. When did the developed world stop suffering from famines? The answer to that is, as soon as it entered the Industrial Age. Agriculture had been the chief limiting factor for humans throughout all of history. Once the change in thinking that was the inward reality that was expressed outwardly in what we call industrialization happened, the problem of agriculture was essentially solved, although it took a few more decades to "work out the kinks," so to speak.

In the Industrial Age, mineral resources were one of the biggest limiting factors. I would suggest that once we entered the Information Age, the problem of petroleum and minerals of all sorts was solved in essence. I've spent my life hearing about coming "famines" of oil and metals like Chromium, which is needed for making armor plate. But they never happened.

(Go here for more thoughts on the Info Age.)

Posted by John Weidner at 8:52 AM

April 22, 2013

Charlene recommends...

Ed Driscoll, Off the Rails: Mad Men and American Liberalism in 1968. I recommend it too.

...While the two-hour sixth season debut of Mad Men earlier this month played oddly coy about which year the series was set in, we now know that we're witnessing Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce versus 1968.

Or perhaps it's the other way around, given how the year of 1968 came close to tearing the country apart. In many ways, the events of that year shaped our current world in ways that are still playing themselves out, so it's worth exploring just how badly the nation imploded. Apologies for the length of this post, but it's merely a partial list of 1968′s horror stories....

Any regular readers of Random Jottings will be way ahead of the admirable Mr Driscoll in understanding why things went random in the 1960's. You are the Illuminati! Two major shiftings of hidden tectonic plates erupted then, giving us volcanoes and earthquakes, chain lightning and meteor showers. It rained frogs! I was there. I alone have survived to tell thee!

One eruption was nihilism. People in the West with no explicit religious faith had retained religious habits of thought. They still believed in things like objective truth, objective morality, and the possibility they themselves might obtain religious or secular faith at some point. But habits wear off. And this one wore off with a crash in the 1960's, resulting in very different thinking in a significant portion of the American people! As I've often described.

Why the 1960's? Because people were not keen on experimentation and change during the years of Depression and war. Change was sort of put on hold. By the 60's it was clear that post-war prosperity was going to last. The Cuban Missile Crisis made WW-III seem unlikely. The Baby Boomers were mostly too young to lead the 60's changes, but they were probably giving an unconscious boost to youth culture and general craziness.

Most of all, the second movement of subterranean plates give impetus to the first one. This was the dawning of a new age of the world, the Information Age. This was another change in thinking. The dominant thought-patterns of the Industrial Age melted away, and people were suddenly waking up with new ideas.

One of the old ideas was a strong bias toward stability. The Industrial Age saw a huge expansion of the size and wealth of organizations, without much expansion in the ability to process information. The solution to this problem was for organizations to become computers of a sort, computers with human components. Clerks and filing systems and hierarchical org charts and bureaucratic rationality ruled. But this meant the need for stability was paramount. The transistors in the computer need to stay put! Stability colored all thought!

Long before PC's and the Internet, improved information processing technology was undermining the ideas of the Industrial Age. More phones, more cars, better roads, more education, airlines, IBM punch-card machines, carbon-paper, photostats, teletypes. All made information-processing more robust. The reign of stability started to crumble.

And among the ideas that had been supported and preserved by that great bias towards stability were those connected with religious faith and religious habits of mind. In the Industrial Age people tended to stick with their parent's faith. Or their parent's quasi-religious habits of mind. This meant that more and more people were believing things that they really didn't quite believe anymore. Once the great cultural bias towards stability crumbled, then it was "Katie bar the door!"

Read Mr Driscoll's article, and see if these thoughts don't fit, and make sense.

Posted by John Weidner at 5:29 PM

April 6, 2013

Things we can learn from Pope Francis (and the business world)

Pope Francis

Ethan Hahn wrote and chided me on no having written anything on Pope Francis. I'm guilty, but the problem is that the perspective I want to take is rather off the world's main line of thought. People will surely think me weird. But here goes...

As I have written before, we see a multitude of failing institutions all around us, and I think this is due to their clinging to Industrial Age "mental maps" and practices when we have long since entered a new age, commonly known as the Information Age. [Link to other posts on this.] The Catholic Church is among the dysfunctional institutions. It is the great frustration of my life right now that I have utterly failed to even start any sort of conversation on this. Nobody wants to hear it.

I use examples from the world of business here because that's almost the only sector of our world that has transitioned to Information Age thinking. Our religious leaders ought to be reading business books for clues. A concept I have not managed to make popular!

Anyway, my initial impression is that the new Holy Father is very promising in this respect. I'm not saying he exactly "gets" the new age, but many things he does have the right flavor. The quotes below are from a very interesting article by John L Allen Jr, who is always worth reading. He is interviewing Cardinal Bergoglio's former press officer in Argentina...

What was Cardinal Bergoglio’s core aim in Buenos Aires?
He wanted to promote the idea of a missionary church, a church that gets out into the streets. His vision was for the church to reach out to those who have been tossed onto a sort of existential garbage heap. He was especially concerned for those about whom society didn’t seem to care, such as single mothers, the poor, the elderly, the unemployed.

In this new age you have to be FOR something. In the past an established business could just continue to exist. You could assume any Fortune 500 company would be around for the rest of your life. Levi Strauss sold blue jeans in complete stability for 100 years. Then found themselves in a world where the numbers of blue denim products probably is in the millions. No one in business expects long-term stability now, yet that remains the Catholic mind-set. I'm sure most of my fellow parishioners think what we are "for" is just continuing to exist. We just expect this to happen. Which is fatal in this age. There's just too much else going on to make an impression on minds without a clear message and non-stop marketing. Everyone in Bergoglio's diocese knew that he and his people were doing something compelling and real. (No, I'm not suggesting my parish become a slum parish. SF's problems are very different. But we desperately need to stand for something exciting.)

Concretely, how did he do that?
He was fond of saying that we already have plenty of theory about what the church should do, so let’s put it into practice. He formed a large network of people who were already working in the areas that were his priorities. For instance, he’d take a priest and move him into the shantytown areas so he could get to the schools, the soup kitchens, the churches, all of the major institutions serving the people there. He’d send the priests into these areas to be a resource for the other people who were already working there. He wasn’t interested in theory, but in concrete practice...

Successful Information Age organizations just jump in and DO things. This works because everyone can exchange information easily. The results of an experiment can be disseminated instantly to all, and all can contribute thoughts and suggestions and criticisms. Problems can be fixed on the fly.

They tend not to have experts plan everything in detail, in advance. That's too slow, the competition will race past you. Successful businesses often use the motto: "Ready. Fire. Aim." This does not mean you don't think, it means never letting thinking paralyze action.

...He used to joke that we need to learn from the model of the Evangelicals, meaning that we have to knock on doors and talk to people. He also wanted to make the church visible outside its buildings, which is why Buenos Aires developed some very interesting outdoor events. For instance, the Via Crucis procession during Holy Week moves through the entire city, going on for miles and miles. There are also lots of open-air Masses. The most important Masses here don’t take place inside the cathedral, but in the square.

Don't worry about the specifics here. See it as a different way of thinking. For one thing, an Info Age organization does not have "thick walls." My parish is like a castle, with a small door. Right now every parishioner has contact with probably thousands of people outside the castle walls. But that information can't get "inside." Most info goes through the hands of priests and staff. They couldn't possibly handle so much stuff. That's typical of an Industrial Age organization. Information processing was always a bottleneck, so they always "throttled back" the flow. Only a few people in the company dealt with the public. That sure doesn't work in business now, or anywhere else.

Where did the laity fit in to this vision?
It wasn’t just about priests doing the job. He was also concerned with getting the laity active inside these movements, and letting them take charge. Priests were just one leg of the stool, along with the religious and the laity. He felt that if you didn’t do it that way, you end up with a church that’s too focused on itself, and it shouldn’t be that way. It’s not just about what priests do, but above all the laity.

Because the Church has long been focused inwards, the position of the laity has long been odd and awkward. The job of the Church is to save the world, and that's primarily the job of the laity! Not the bishops and priests. Once the Church gets back on task, clericalism will tend to fade away. Everyone will have more than enough important work to do.

Posted by John Weidner at 8:27 PM | Comments (0)

December 10, 2012

The worst piece of design I've ever seen...

For your viewing pleasure, the old and new University of California logos...

Univ of California logos new and old

On the plus side, two of my main blogging-points are perfectly encapsulated in this. One is nihilism; the way meaning and belief have drained away from many people's lives. The new logo probably deserves a prize for having the absolute lowest amount of meaning a logo can have--a plain blue rectangle would have more profundity than this.. In fact it may possess negative meaning. That is, if you have still in your mind or soul any high and noble purpose, anything greater then yourself, staring at this graphic will tend to destroy that. If Fiat Lux--Let There Be Light--still has meaning for you, the new logo can cure you of this mental aberration. It can help make you a well-adjusted citizen of the Obama Welfare State.

The other theme is the Information Age. Specifically, that those institutions which have failed to make the transition to the new age we are in are, all of them, delusional. Crazy, in fact. What we call a university is actually an Industrial Age invention. The UC System used to be at the cutting edge of new things. Now it has become profoundly dysfunctional. It needs to be destroyed, to free up human and financial resources for the university-to-come.

UPDATE: My son says they should title it: "Fading into nothingness..."

A news story on this...

University of California introduces a modern logo - San Jose Mercury News:

...After 144 years with the same old Victorian seal, the University of California has decided to go mod.

The university's original logo -- with its open book, 1868 date stamp and "Let there be light" script -- will still be in circulation, appearing on president's letters and official university documents. But marketing materials and websites will feature a radically simple and more contemporary symbol: a little "C" nesting inside a shield-shaped "U."

"They wanted something that would reflect the innovation, the character of California -- just more modern, user-friendly," said Dianne Klein of UC's Office of the President. "That's not to take away from the gravitas of the original seal."...
Posted by John Weidner at 2:17 PM

October 21, 2012

A "modern iteration of the Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism"

This is just an odd bit of something plucked from the Internet torrent that goes pouring by my porch. Link from Instapundit. I post it because it echoes many of my thoughts. "Narcissism that results from the focus on personal gratification" sounds a lot like the nihilism that I go on about. And it is the Information Age that has unleashed it--the Industrial Age with its strong propensity for stability helped to reinforce and preserve traditional faiths and habits of mind, though they were slowly eroding all the while. Once the Info Age hit it was Katie bar the door!

Charles Hugh Smith, Narcissism, Consumerism and the End of Growth:

...In the modern iteration of the Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, the narcissism that results from the focus on personal gratification via consumption cripples the person in the workplace. Ironically, the flattening of corporate management and the demands for higher interpersonal skillsets has eroded the security provided by the strict hierarchy of previous eras.

Instead of working less and doing easier work--the implicit promise of "endless growth"-- the work is becoming more challenging and insecure even as compensation declines.

If there is any personality that is unsuited for the "New Normal" workplace, it is the narcissistic consumer--the very type of person that our consumption-dependent economy creates, nurtures and demands. That is the new Cultural Contradiction of Capitalism.

"Personal gratification" is the driver of narcissism and consumerism, which are two sides of the same coin. Consumerist marketing glorifies the "projected self" as the "true self," encouraging self-absorption even as it erodes authentic identity, self-esteem and the resilience which enables emotional growth--the essential characteristic of adulthood.

Personal gratification is of a piece with self-absorption, fragile self-esteem and an identity that is overly dependent on consumerist signifiers and the approval of others.

No wonder Japan's "lost generations" are lost: not only are expectations of secure, high-income jobs diminished, the work is more demanding and the security and pay are too low to support the consumerist lifestyle that society has implicitly promised everyone who goes to college and works hard as a birthright....

And this piece is perfectly appropriate as one of my Sunday thingies. Jesus taught that that "focus on personal gratification " was exactly the wrong path to take. And in the Information Age it's going to be ten times as bad. Because navigation is at least ten times as difficult. To try to guide yourself while looking at yourself is folly. If you fill your "self" with consumer rubbish.... Oh brother.

...Anyone who thinks he already has it all, so he can take what he wants and center everything on himself, is depriving himself of giving what he otherwise could. Man is not there to make himself, but to respond to demands made upon him. We all stand in a great arena of history, and are dependent on each other. A man ought not, therefore, just to figure out what he would like, but to ask what he can do and how he can help. Then he will see that fulfillment does not lie in comfort, ease, and following ones inclinations, but precisely in allowing demands to be made upon you, in taking the harder path. Everything else turns out somehow boring anyway. Only the man who "risks the fire", who recognizes a calling within himself, a vocation, an ideal he must satisfy, who takes on real responsibility, will find fulfillment. As we have said, it is not in taking, not on the path of comfort, that we become rich, but only in giving.
-- Josef Cardinal Ratzinger
Posted by John Weidner at 1:58 PM

September 29, 2012

A long-ago way of thinking...

Bruce Charlton's Miscellany: Human capability peaked before 1975 and has since declined: (Thanks to Ed Driscoll.)

...I suspect that human capability reached its peak or plateau around 1965-75 – at the time of the Apollo moon landings – and has been declining ever since.

This may sound bizarre or just plain false, but the argument is simple. That landing of men on the moon and bringing them back alive was the supreme achievement of human capability, the most difficult problem ever solved by humans. 40 years ago we could do it – repeatedly – but since then we have *not* been to the moon, and I suggest the real reason we have not been to the moon since 1972 is that we cannot any longer do it. Humans have lost the capability.

Of course, the standard line is that humans stopped going to the moon only because we no longer *wanted* to go to the moon, or could not afford to, or something…– but I am suggesting that all this is BS, merely excuses for not doing something which we *cannot* do. ...

Apollo was the culmination of the Industrial Age. It happened during the 60's, which was exactly when a new age of the world was beginning, the Information Age. It is my theory that this had nothing to do with personal computers or the Internet, which were still in the future. Rather, it was a change in how people thought. (Link to my Info Age pieces, if you are curious.)

And what Apollo was mostly about was not technology or space exploration. It was about, "The whole nation pulls together." As in fighting a war. Which was the purpose; uniting us in the Cold War.

It worked at first. I was there. I remember us all swooning over the pictures of the first Mercury astronauts in Life Magazine. The Americans who didn't "pull together and feel the required emotions could probably fit in a football stadium. That was the real "success" of Apollo. That's what the big deal was. The technology was superb, but it was not "off the charts." It was intellectually comparable to the Manhattan project, the development of jet aircraft, or the creation of digital computers. (I'd say the first Plutonium bomb was a much bigger technological "reach." Maybe the biggest one ever.)

Apollo seems stupendous because it fits our mental picture of what a big project should be. Everyone moving together under the leadership of wise big government.

At the same time it was, on its own terms, a colossal failure. By the time we actually walked on the Moon, a large portion of Americans had begun thinking in a different way. They simply did not function in the group-mind fashion of ten years before. We did not pull together as a nation, and we were less interested in vicarious experiences by a few "official" explorers. After the first flights we lost interest in the Moon. Big top-down-management projects no longer seemed to make sense. Actually, they literally did not make sense, because people had changed. They were fragmenting and inventing wild new things and thoughts at such a pace that managing them top-down was like organizing cats. Nothing like Apollo has happened since, because such things don't work in the Information Age. (For the same reasons I predict confidently that CFPB and Obama-care will fail.)

The thing that was supposed to be the next Apollo, the Space Shuttle, was a mess. A clunker. It should never have been built. And it's real problem was spiritual--we didn't know what we wanted to do in space, and the Shuttle expressed our incoherence, The "magic" didn't happen. NASA kept pulling stunts to make the Shuttle exciting and "relevant," such as sending a teacher into space. Trying to re-capture the "astronaut magic." And failing every time. What America should have done was use subsidies to stimulate private space development; to turn loose individual genius, rather than collectivist genius. Which is starting to happen now. If there were some way to measure such things, I'd guess that a random year of Silicon Valley is as big a technological accomplishment as the whole Moon program. But people like Mr Charlton can't "see" it. It doesn't fit their template.

We will go back to the moon. But never as an Apollo-style government program. Rather, when cost-to-orbit shrinks to a certain point, we will see an explosion of private space happenings, which will result in thousands of people simply living in space. In orbit. And those people will start doing stuff. Starting businesses, businesses such as going to the Moon and shooting back materials to build more orbital stuff. They won't be wearing white space suits, and planting flags and gazing soulfully up to the stars. They will be more like a scruffy infestation of gold-rush miners.

(The book to read is Vacuum Flowers, by the supremely talented Michael Swanwick. Alas, he is infected with the nihilism common to our age, and like so many SF writers of my generation, writes beautifully but has nothing to say. But the kooky rabble inhabiting his space habitats are a valuable corrective to all those fantasy pictures of noble NASA explorers in their white space-suits.)

Posted by John Weidner at 3:44 PM | Comments (5)

September 15, 2012

What is the thing in its essence?

Walter Russell Mead, University of Virginia: Only the Beginning:

...In an ideal world, university professors and other intellectuals would have been thinking about these problems for many years. They would be the pioneers in innovation and experiment. Unfortunately, we don't live in an ideal world. The intellectual establishment is fully on the defensive. It is circling the wagons. It instinctively identifies attacks on the existing model with the worst kind of populist ignorance and bigotry. Nobody is angrier, nastier or more self-righteous than an intellectual whose livelihood is under threat.

The bureaucracy will join the faculty senate in fighting change. All those vice provosts for diversity and assistant deans for various forms of student services are sure that their services are essential -- or at least they are sure that they want to keep their jobs. The stripped down, leaner, New Model U will have much less room for baggage and ballast than the stately, well funded cruise ships of old.

What we see at UVA this month is just a foretaste of the storm that is coming -- a few early raindrops and gusts of wind before the real storm hits. The country needs more education than the current system can affordably supply, and the pressure on the educational system will not abate until this problem is resolved....

Sorry, but I don't think the universities can be saved. There's just too much legacy baggage. Most of the things modern colleges and universities do started in the Industrial Age, and are simply obsolete. Mostly the Industrial Age universities were about the need to put a bunch of things in the same place. Scholars, apprentice scholars, undergrads, buildings, libraries, dorms, journals, labs, conferences, accounting and book-keeping and record-keeping. All concentrated in one exciting place. The defining problem of the Industrial Age was handling information. Putting things in physical proximity was a solution.

So now, in the Information Age, how many of those things need to be heaped-up in one spot to work? Not many. Most of them can happen online, or be dispersed to various locations. Why can't a college have no physical location? No community? Or maybe there won't even be anything like a college, just a universe of online classes to chose from, and some sort of accreditation service that employers can trust.

So, the question is, is there something real and essential to universities that still works? That still provides value? That might be the core of a new sort of university?

I'd love to work on that problem. I'm full of dreamish ideas. As a solver of practical problems I'm pretty much worthless. But as a dreamer I have a big advantage over other people, in that I am perfectly willing to just toss everything currently accepted overboard, and start afresh. That don't bother me at all.

Posted by John Weidner at 6:24 PM

August 26, 2012

There's always one thing that gets overlooked...

This is an interesting piece by Elizabeth Scalia, "Old-Fashioned" Sisters, "Newfangled" Nuns, Numbers and Habits :

("Habits" meaning the uniforms worn by religious.)

...The idea was that in order to sustain their ministries, which were arduous, the sisters needed the stability of a place to live and opportunities for both individual and communal spiritual respite. The taking of vows further stabilized the communities -- they knew who would be in their numbers, what their gifts were and where they might best be of use to work -- and female apostolic orders flourished, particularly in the 19th centuries until midway through the 20th century, when the post-war church seemed to be abundantly rich in vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

The social and sexual upheaval of the 1960′s, combined with a Second Vatican Council that meant to open the windows of the church for a bit of fresh air and encountered quite a whirlwind, brought changes to the contemplative/active model. As career opportunities widened, and artificial contraception "freed" them, the numbers of women considering the religious life dropped. ** Religious women read the Council documents, specifically Gaudium et spes and Lumen gentium and found within them a call for further evolution and definition of the religious life, one that involved -- among other things -- a broader involvement with the People of God, and a return to the roots of their charisms....

"particularly in the 19th centuries until midway through the 20th century." That's exactly the Industrial Age. You can't think about these things clearly unless you realize that part of those abundant vocations and their decline were phenomena of their times. Having a life-long "vocation" was very typical of the Industrial Age. A common story when I was young was about the person who had worked his whole life for an organization or company, and was now being given a retirement testimonial dinner. That was what people thought of as a normal life.

I've written about this before, so I won't explain again why this was. You can read it here. And here.

Posted by John Weidner at 9:44 AM

August 8, 2012

A Hericlitean world, where all is in flux...

A friend sent this... The Nation Is Losing Its Toolbox - Slashdot:

Hugh Pickens writes
"Louis Uchitelle writes that in Aisle 34 of Home Depot is precut vinyl flooring, the glue already in place. In Aisle 26 are prefab windows, and if you don't want to be your own handyman, head to Aisle 23 or Aisle 35, where a help desk will arrange for an installer, as mastering tools and working with one's hands recede as American cultural values. 'At a time when the American factory seems to be a shrinking presence, and when good manufacturing jobs have vanished, perhaps never to return, there is something deeply troubling about this dilution of American craftsmanship,' writes Uchitelle.

'Craftsmanship is, if not a birthright, then a vital ingredient of the American self-image as a can-do, inventive, we-can-make-anything people.' Mass layoffs and plant closings have drawn plenty of headlines and public debate over the years, and they still occasionally do. But the damage to skill and craftsmanship -- what's needed to build a complex airliner or a tractor, or for a worker to move up from assembler to machinist to supervisor -- has gone largely unnoticed. 'In an earlier generation, we lost our connection to the land, and now we are losing our connection to the machinery we depend on,' says Michael Hout. 'People who work with their hands are doing things today that we call service jobs, in restaurants and laundries, or in medical technology and the like.' The damage to American craftsmanship seems to parallel the precipitous slide in manufacturing employment. And manufacturing's shrinking presence helps explain the decline in craftsmanship, if only because many of the nation's assembly line workers were skilled in craft work. 'Young people grow up without developing the skills to fix things around the house,' says Richard T. Curtin. 'They know about computers, of course, but they don't know how to build them.'"...

Well, I agree with these things. And I'm a privileged person, because I have a both connection with the land, having grown up in a horticultural family. And with machines and tools--I work with them every day. I'm in a sense far "richer" that the average American, just in being able to prune our trees with confidence, and build my own furniture. (Alas, time seems to shrink and shrink, and finding enough time to do those things is a grief.)

But what strikes me about this piece is how unreflective it is. It assumes that there is this solid stable mountain called "America," any pebbles falling from which must be noted with alarm. It doesn't seem to cross the writer's mind that everything in America could be changing, including the very words and concepts the author is thinking with. That we are now in a Hericlitean world where all is change... that the mountain is made of Jello... this doesn't seem to be on the radar.

The "Information Age" happened because of a change in how people thought. (I write about America, because that is what I have a feel for. But the same changes happened across the developed world.) It started before most people had even touched digital technology. It emerged in the 60's, approximately, though the tectonic plates had been moving below the surface throughout the 20th century. And it was a matter of people waking up one day with a new outlook. Suddenly the Industrial Age focus on stability seemed like a childish dream. They hardly knew that their own thoughts had morphed, because the old ideas suddenly seemed wispy, and the new ones were compellingly obvious!

This is, I think, "my question." My issue, my obsession. How do we deal with change, when everything is changing? Including the minds that might want to discuss the question of change? Alas, no one is interested. But I continue to mention this in a desultory way, because it would not be surprising if our current state of denial breaks down. And then perhaps people will start Googling "Information Age" and "change" and perhaps discover my musings...

Posted by John Weidner at 8:17 AM

June 28, 2012

Regarding the Supreme Court decision...

It's so frustrating to me, because, at least in one aspect, I think I see this issue of the "Affordable Care Act" more clearly than anybody else is doing. But I've never managed to arouse the least interest in this.

And that is, that the ACA is an Industrial Age solution to our health care problems. That's how things worked in the late Industrial Age—think 1940's. Big slow-changing organizations were organized into interlocking convoys by government. A great achievement of the Roosevelt/Truman years was making the unions into peaceful members of the convoys.

And it worked fairly well. But that stuff doesn't work in the Information Age. Nothing is stable anymore. Government as ring master assembling a parade of docile slow-moving elephants has turned into government organizing a parade of thousands of monkeys. It doesn't matter how many bureaucrats are cracking whips. It doesn't matter how many rules and taxes are promulgated. Making an orderly parade out of thousands of scampering mischievous monkeys is an insane idea.

It is literally insane. It will fail even if both parties try to make it work.

And I'm like Cassandra, with the gift to see into the future, and the curse of never being listened to.

UPDATE; This picture is too perfect! Found here.

Circus elephants parade capitol hill

UPDATE: Best comment I've seen, from InstaPundit: Reader Barry Johnson emails, cruelly: "Second look at Harriet Miers?" Yeah, baby. I want to spit now thinking about all those pomposos who said we can't possibly have a Supreme Courtt justice who is not a high-powered scholard type.

Posted by John Weidner at 8:35 AM

June 2, 2012

Socialistic Republicans may find it hard to reverse Obama's free-market policy...

Credit where it's due, Obama has gotten one thing right.

SpaceX Dragon returns to Earth:

...Musk, the billionaire behind PayPal and Tesla Motors, aims to launch the next supply mission in September under a steady contract with NASA, and insists astronauts can be riding Dragons to and from the space station in as little as three or four years. The next version of the Dragon, for crews, will land on terra firma with "helicopter precision" from propulsive thrusters, he noted. Initial testing is planned for later this year.

President Barack Obama is leading this charge to commercial spaceflight. He wants routine orbital flights turned over to private business so the space agency can work on getting astronauts to asteroids and Mars. Toward that effort, NASA has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in seed money to vying companies.

NASA astronauts are now forced to hitch rides on Russian rockets from Kazakhstan, an expensive and embarrassing outsourcing, especially after a half-century of manned launches from U.S. soil. It will be up to SpaceX or another U.S. enterprise to pick up the reins. Several companies are jockeying for first place....

One of the tortures for us conservatives for all my life has been the need to work within the Republican Party. Nice chaps and all, but trapped in the Blue Model. This during decades when we sensed a need to get beyond that, to start working with the new Information Age world that was emerging. This wasn't really conscious, mind you. But I'm theorizin' that this was what was happening under the surface. What we call "conservatism" is very much a new product of the new age. As Rick Pearlstein put it, "the most successful youth movement of the 60's was Youth for Goldwater."

And there is hardly any area where Republican obtuseness shows better than in their support of the "State Socialist" model of space exploitation. Giant companies symbiotically joined with giant bureaucracies. Well, the failures of the Space Shuttle program have taught us a lesson about how well that works. And if it's Obama who get it, rather than the supposed party of free markets, well, more power to him.

(This picture has nothing to do with SpaceX; it's the old Delta Clipper. Symbol to me of lost opportunities and squandered decades.)

From the memoirs of Fanny Kemble...

...While we were acting at Liverpool an experimental trip was proposed upon the line of railway which was being constructed between Liverpool and Manchester, the first mesh of that amazing iron net which now covers the whole surface of England and all the civilized portions of the earth. The Liverpool merchants, whose far-sighted self-interest prompted them to wise liberality, had accepted the risk of George Stephenson's magnificent experiment, which the committee of inquiry of the House of Commons had rejected for the government. These men, of less intellectual culture than the Parliament members, had the adventurous imagination proper to great speculators, which is the poetry of the counting-house and wharf, and were better able to receive the enthusiastic infection of the great projector's sanguine hope that the Westminster committee...[Thanks to David Foster at Chicagoboyz]
Posted by John Weidner at 9:12 AM

April 30, 2012

The "Peace Studies" malarky should be the tip-off...

Walter Russell Mead, Europe's Jew Hatred Isn't Just On The Fringe:

...Not so, alas. Norway's Johan Galtung is no ordinary professor of sociology. Known worldwide as the "father of peace studies," Galtung is famous for his work on the peaceful resolution of conflict. He is the founder of the Peace Research Institute in Oslo and the Journal of Peace Research, the recipient of numerous awards, accolades, and honorary degrees and professorships, as well as a hugely prolific writer on issues of peace and conflict. His Wikipedia entry calls him the "principal founder of the discipline of peace and conflict studies," a discipline offered at universities around the world. He lived through the German occupation of Norway during WWII and saw his father arrested by the Nazis.

Galtung has long been a respected and influential member of the European academy. He is no immigrant from the Middle East and is not identified with any fringe political movements. He is as establishment as they come.

And he is also a vicious and hate-spewing anti-Semite.

In remarks at the University of Oslo and a follow-up email exchange with the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, Galtung betrayed his true feelings on Jews.

He hinted at links between Anders Behring Breivik's attack on civilians in Norway and Mossad, Israel's intelligence agency. He suggested there was some truth behind the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. He said that Jews share some of the blame for what happened at Auschwitz -- they had provoked the poor Germans under the Weimar Republic. He suggested that Jews control the American media and academic establishments. The list goes on and on -- the kind of remarks that haters call "common sense" and "daring to tell the truth" but that sane people see as hatred, error and bile....

What fascinates me is that Mead, an intellectual giant, has no explanation for this. He doesn't even make a stab at one. And I, a mere pygmy, have the answer. (OK, OK, I think I have the answer.) He should read RJ.

To boil it down, probably too far, the conventional view is that religious faith in the West has been declining over many centuries. I don't think that is true. Rather, overt Christian and Jewish worship has been declining. BUT, people remained "religious," because they retained many of the habits of thought that derived from faith. They continued to believe in objective truth, for instance. And in objective morality. And many traditional Christian moral beliefs. (They thought divorce and abortion were wrong. And that it is admirable to be a "good Samaritan.") They retained the idea that they might join some cause or truth, even if they had not yet done so. These are all things that are bigger than the "self." All are holdovers from Jewish and Christian faith.

But, habits wear off. These wore off, for many people, around the middle of the 20th century. (Yes, it ties in with the book I'm writing on the transition to the Information Age. They are inter-connected. I'll resist the temptation to go into that now.)

The result was nihilism. That is, as I define it, the lack of any cause or belief bigger than ones self. Maybe for 20%, or 30% of Americans. And for even bigger percentages in Europe. This change in thinking was HUGE! And its effects are seen all around us.

For instance, most of those people assumed disguises, to cover their spiritual nakedness. The most popular one was "liberal." Followed by "pacifist." That's where the "Peace Studies" baloney comes from. Galtung has never accomplished anything in actually promoting peace. But no one cares. The point is, war is vastly offensive to the nihilist.

Why? Because what he hates is belief. And war symbolizes belief, belief that there is something worth fighting for. Even dying for.

I predict, even without knowing anything about him, that Galtung also hates or sneers at America, armed citizens, war (even against the worst tyrants), Israel, Western Civilization, traditional morality, and traditional art and architecture. And most of all, he hates Jews. All symbolize (and I think people mostly react to symbols, not conscious thought) belief in something greater than the self. All are symbolically God.

(I can explain all these points in much greater detail, if anyone cares. Or there are other posts here.)


Posted by John Weidner at 8:41 PM

April 10, 2012

Old and moldy...

By Michael Barone, RealClearPolitics - Can Romney Show Voters That Obama Is Out of Date?:

...There is a huge tension between the personalize-your-own-world ethos of the iPod/Facebook generation and the command-and-control, mid-20th-century welfare state programs of the Obama Democrats.

The young are stuck with disproportionate insurance premiums by Obamacare and with student loan debt that can't be discharged in bankruptcy. Some hope. Some change.

Romney needs to make the case that current policy -- what Obama has fallen back on -- is leading to a crash in which government will fail to keep its promises.

He needs to argue that his "opportunity society" means vibrant economic growth that can provide, in ways that can't be precisely predicted, opportunities in which young people can find work that draws on their special talents and interests.

Obama's policies, in contrast, treat individuals as just one cog in a very large machine, designed by supposed experts who don't seem to know what they're doing (see Obamacare, Solyndra). Their supposedly cutting-edge technology (electric cars, passenger rail) is more than a century old.

Romney, potentially strong with the affluent, needs to figure out how to get through to the young. ...

The whole idea of "design by experts" is SO Industrial Age. As is having government acting as the ringmaster of the circus. Did you ever see the movie Dumbo? Remember the Ringmaster cracking his whip while the parade of elephants marches along in a stately line? That's what the Industrial Age was like.

For our time, try to imagine the Ringmaster trying to discipline 10,000 cats...

Posted by John Weidner at 12:20 PM | Comments (10)

April 3, 2012

I bet I could do a better job myself...

From Daniel Jalkut, of Red Sweater Software. (I'm writing this post on his excellent blogging client, MarsEdit.) Red Sweater Blog – The End Of Advertising:

...In the history of the world so far, there has been considerable opportunity for advertisers to misguide customers, and to lure their money toward products or services that can be framed as perfect for them, even when they are not. That’s the art and the holy grail of advertising. [I don't agree that advertising is aimed at misleading. That's reflexive lefty malarky. But it is usually poorly designed, truth-wise.] But going forward, technology will offer customers and companies the tools to connect effortlessly, optimizing for compatibility without the help of the bogus, outdated advertising system.

Most of us base purchasing decisions on vague hunches derived from a mix of advertising influences, word-of-mouth, and the relative trendiness of a product. But more and more as customers we are cutting out the advertising middle-man, in favor of systems based on education and trust. Amazon is a good example of this. With the notable exception of their Kindle line of products, they have little concern about which products their customers buy. It only matters that they buy things, and that they buy things often. They provide detailed product information, and allow honest, often scathing reviews. The goal is for customers to make self-serving decisions. In this case, defying the advertisers’ best interests is in Amazon’s best interest as well.

Extrapolate the technology-assisted consumption process out over the next 10, 50, 100 years, and I have a hard time imagining a meaningful role for conventional advertising. If I search Google for “lawnmower,” it’s not interesting that some tractor company has paid Google for the privilege of putting their brand’s information at the top of the list. At some point in the future, customers will assume that companies who choose to advertise conventionally are afraid of the outcome when consulting various self-empowering resources. Where am I more likely to search for “lawnmower?” If I want to know what a lawnmower is, Google. If I want to know which lawnmower to buy? Amazon, or another site that strives to empower customers, not advertisers.

I do worry about what happens to some of our beloved, advertising-driven services. We’ve all grown accustomed to the subsidization of news reporting and analysis. In recent decades, advertising has crept further into our lives, even subsidizing municipal infrastructures such as public transit. What impact will the end of advertising have on these important services?

In the old world, technology for connecting customers directly to companies did not exist, so companies were satisfied in buying advertising. It is tool that serves to expose customers to the concept of a product, and to crudely attempt to educate them about the suitability of the product for their purposes.

In the new world, mass-exposure will be replaced by social networking, and education will be not only replaced by, but massively bolstered by trusted systems such as Amazon’s review database, Consumer Reports, and other much better stuff that is presumably coming in the future. Presumably? It has to be coming, and it has to be better, because everything’s riding on it....

Me, I don't think advertising is dying. Or, rather, I think it doesn't have to die. It needs to be re-invented. This is a subject that bugs me a lot, because I'm frequently frustrated by advertising that doesn't give me what I need to know. I have often been in the position of having a need, and having money to spend to satisfy the need...... and not being able to find the information I need to make a purchase.

Problem is, most products are usually advertised as being, as Mary Poppins put it, "practically perfect in every way." Of course that's absurd. Most products are good within some particular niche. My chain saw gets used once or twice a year. So I don't want a super chainsaw. I bought the inexpensive consumer-grade saw that merely does an adequate job, and would die if used daily.

But no ad will tell you that. It's taboo. Maybe I'm crazy, but I think I'd react very positively to an ad that said that "Product X will do A, B and, in a pinch, C. But it's NOT designed to do E, F, or G. We think X is a good compromise between affordability and number of features."

If you find a good review of an intended purchase, you are delighted. Right? The reviewer gives you pluses and minuses. He tells you what the product feels like. It's charms and its warts. SO, tell me, brothers and sisters, why can't ads be written in the same way???

I've been asking that question for a long time, and I never get an answer. (And yes, of course there are products that need to be sold by the sizzle, not the quality of the steak. You don't sell perfume or soda pop or wedding dresses with plusses and minuses. But still, there are tons of things where what I want is just some simple information. Some straight talk.

Much of the problem, I think, is that an advertising agency is an Industrial Age organization. Much like a newspaper. The idea of a "reporter" was always flawed, because in most cases the guy can't know enough about whatever situation he's reporting on at the moment. We used to have to rely on reporters, but now, if, say, a legal issue is in the news I can read the blogs of a multitude of law professors. How many reporters can compete on that playing field? Most reporters just look like fools.

It's the same with advertising. Suppose you hire a advertising agency to sell a Vertical Panel Saw to me. That's crazy, because I, a cabinetmaker, know more about the subject than 99.9% of advertising people. They will just write up some puffery and pretty pictures—because they don't know enough.

If you hired me to write that ad, I would go to real shops that use those tools, and interview them. And then I'd write ads that are like mini-articles, where real people talk about the plusses—and yes, the minuses—of machines they work with every day. About the gritty reality of using them. I bet people would just eat that up.

Posted by John Weidner at 10:45 PM | Comments (5)

March 24, 2012

An old idea. Older than you think...

The Federalist Solution - Jonah Goldberg - National Review Online:

...But what if the real compromise isn't in forcing the Left and the Right to heel? What if instead the solution is to disempower the national elites who think they've got the answers to everything?

Federalism — the process whereby you push most political questions to the lowest democratic level possible — has been ripe on the right for years now. It even had a champion in Texas governor Rick Perry, and Ron Paul still carries that torch.

The main advantage of federalism is more fundamental than the "laboratories of democracy" idea. Federalism is simply the best political system ever conceived of for maximizing human happiness. A one-size-fits-all policy imposed at the national level has the potential to make very large numbers of citizens unhappy, even if it was arrived at democratically. In a pure democracy, I always say, 51 percent of the people can vote to pee in the cornflakes of 49 percent of the people.

Pushing government decisions down to the lowest democratic level possible — while protecting basic civil rights — guarantees that more people will have a say in how they live their lives. Not only does that mean more people will be happy, but the moral legitimacy of political decisions will be greater.

The problem for conservative and libertarian federalists is that whenever we talk about federalism, the Left hears "states' rights" — which is then immediately, and unfairly, translated into, "Bring back Bull Connor."

But that may be changing. In an essay for the spring issue of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, Yale law professor Heather K. Gerken offers the case for "A New Progressive Federalism."...

If Federalism makes a comeback, it will be because it fits the Information Age much better than it did the Industrial Age. Top-down management by government doesn't work well any more. Actually, management in general works poorly now. Management used to mean something like the Ringmaster in the Disney movie Dumbo directing a parade of slow-moving docile elephants. Now it is like the Ringmaster racking his whip over a thousand scampering cats.

And Federalism is actually an instance of the old Catholic doctrine called Subsidiarity. Which holds that all power should be pushed as far down as possible. That is, we should not only be pushing as much decision-making to the states as possible—that's what the Constitution did until it was subverted—but also pushing power down from the states to the cities and counties. And as much of that as possible should be given to voluntary groups and churches. And, whenever possible, decisions should be made by individuals and families.

Posted by John Weidner at 8:57 AM

March 18, 2012

Adherence to Mission...

I'm accumulating bits and pieces of what I hope will be a book someday. (Concerning the transition from the Industrial Age to the Information Age. Which I believe was a profound change in thinking, that arose before PC's and the Internet.) Many of them I'm just retrieving out of this blog, since Random Jottings is a big messy closet stuffed with odds and ends that interest me, and now I find that a lot of them are useful for the new project. To my surprise I've sort of been writing a book for ten years without realizing it!

But also, things I'm collecting now for the book may be worth putting into the blog. This one is from Six Days in June, by Eric Hammel, which I read years ago. It's a great book about the Six-Day War in 1967, and the history that led up to that stunning victory. Here are some quotes. I'm sure you will see what I'm getting at...

NOTE: Zahal is the Hebrew acronym for the Israeli Defense Forces. And the emphasis on speedy decisive victory is not some kind of blood-thirstiness, but is based upon the reality that Israel is a tiny country surrounded by much larger enemies. She has no room for maneuver or retreats, and lacks the resources for a long war.

The simplest definition of Adherence to Mission is that higher headquarters establishes a goal in broad terms and the unit charged with achieving the goal may do so by any means at hand. This very definition runs exactly counter to the conventional wisdom pounded between the ears of the soldiers of virtually every military force in the world. Only Zahal actively inculcates its leaders—indeed, every single one of its soldiers—with the dictum of Adherence to Mission.

Most wars fought by most modern armies—whether offensive or defensive—begin with a strategic statement from the government that is illuminated with a carefully drawn operational plan. This carefully drawn plan is known as a sequential plan, for each phase is dependent upon the successful completion of the previous phase...

...When the basic fact that war is chaos and the fog is most penetrable at the point of contact were recognized, analyzed, and institutionalized after the 1956 war, Zahal achieved the ultimate hallmark of its war-making potential.The Israelis came up with an operational doctrine based upon their own actual experience with cumulative warfare. They would intentionally allow for tactical and operational plans governing movement toward the final objective to be made on the fly by the man on the spot: Adherence to Mission...

...While all the reasons for the old method remain essentially true—senior commanders usually do have more experience and higher headquarters usually do have access to more information and broader vistas—the Israeli drive for decisive battlefield dominance—and strategic victory in the shortest possible time—cannot tolerate the time lost in passing information up the chain of command and waiting for instructions to come back down the chain...

...Far from attempting to control the chaos of the battlefield, Adherence to Mission was the first attempt by any of the world's armies to accept and exploit that chaos—virttually to employ chaos as an ally. Israeli soldiers of all ranks are taught that chaos and confusion are inevitable and that their accumulation will inevitably lead to opportunities that cannot possibly be foreseen in any sequential plan and might not be noticed by higher authority. The object of Adherence to Mission is to get every soldier at every level to recognize—and then exploit on his own authority—opportunities that are occurring right before his eyes...

M3 Halftracks, Sinai, Six Day War
(The picture is of Israeli forces in Sinai during the Six Day War. I have a fondness for the M-3 half-tracks, a great American machine. A friend who knows more than I wrote that they were designed to last only for 1,000 miles—from Normandy to Berlin. But there are many of them still running.)

Posted by John Weidner at 11:00 PM

March 10, 2012

What do I mean by "Information Age?"

The more I think about this, the more I realize that I lack a clear short statement of what I mean by the term "Information Age". It's in my head, but not down on electronic paper.

And I'm also realizing that other people are using the words in a different way. Here's Wikipedia...

The Information Age, also commonly known as the Computer Age or Digital Age, is an idea that the current age will be characterized by the ability of individuals to transfer information freely, and to have instant access to information that would have been difficult or impossible to find previously. The idea is linked to the concept of a digital age or digital revolution, and carries the ramifications of a shift from traditional industry that the industrial revolution brought through industrialization, to an economy based on the manipulation of information, i.e., an information society.

The Information Age formed by capitalizing on the computer microminiaturization advances, with a transition spanning from the advent of the personal computer in the late 1970s to the internet's reaching a critical mass in the early 1990s, and the adoption of such technology by the public in the two decades after 1990. Bringing about a fast evolution of technology in daily life, as well as of educational life style, the Information Age has allowed rapid global communications and networking to shape modern society.

Well, that's good stuff, worth reading. But I don't think it quite hits the target. The change in the world was deeper than just the coming of computers and the Internet. I suspect things were changing, in quiet, little-noticed ways, for many decades before computers. And that the 1960's was the decade when many rumbles and tremors deep underground turned into earthquakes and volcanos— well before computers had much impact on the lives ordinary people.

I'm groping a bit here, so feel free to criticize or give me suggestions. But I'm thinking that the "Information Age" began when people's view of life began to change as information began to move horizontally in quantity. In the Industrial Age, the technology to move and digest information was under-developed. Mostly it was words on pieces of paper. So information had to be moved in pre-set channels, or "brokered" by agencies that gathered it and distributed it. And this meant that information moved vertically. For instance, from retail store to regional office to headquarters to the bosses. And back down.

It was the same with the "brokers." Newspapers for instance. Information moved up from reporter to re-write man to copy editor to editor... then down to printers and distributors (newsboys and news-stands) and then down to consumers. When I was young it was almost unheard of for the newspaper reader to contact the reporter of a story--that is, to move information horizontally.

Many 20th century developments tended to make it easier to go horizontal. Telephones increasingly made it easy to cut right into some big organization, if you just had the right phone number. Automobiles and better roads had a similar effect—they let you just personally GO somewhere, and get to the heart of something. Radio was a very direct and immediate form of entertainment—you were listening to Jack Benny live, in real time. All these things were working on people's minds, suggesting new possibilities, well before they resulted in the overt changes that marked a new age.

By the way, a common cliché is that getting information from the Internet is like "drinking from a fire hydrant." But this misses the real point of interest, which is that we DO drink from the hydrant, and we do so pretty well. I bet I take in 40 times as much information as I did when I was young, and don't even think it's a big deal. I browse scores of blogs and web-sites a day. Imagine that amount of information arriving as mail! Or imagine burrowing through newspapers and magazines to pick out the bits you want.

A minor frustration is that I don't have an image to accompany my scribbles. (I like this one, by photographer Graeme Nicol, on Flickr. It kinda captures my idea, but it's perhaps a bit bewildering to the eye for many people.) I need something like my little climate icons, but I can't imagine what might work...

For lack of something better, here's a piece by Jules Guerin, done (I think) for Metropolitan Magazine, 1905. It sort of expresses my mental picture, of industrial progress mounting higher and higher, until finally reaching some critical mass that initiates a new age of the world...

Posted by John Weidner at 2:55 PM

Additional thought on the previous post...

...The Catholic way is not a life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, for their own sake. But a realization that the abundant life comes through death to self, true liberty comes through slavery to Christ and true happiness is really something called blessedness... ( -- Fr. Dwight Longenecker, quoted in my previous post.)

This makes me think that it was a big mistake on the part of the Founders to change the formula in the Declaration of Independence from its original draft, which was: "Life, liberty and property." "The pursuit of happiness" implies things that are outside the preview of government, and muddies the issue of what "rights" really are.

It occurs to me that this is also is an issue concerning the Information Age, which is my current obsession. Before the current era the "pursuit of happiness" would have implied much less extravagant things to most people than it does now. Back when it mostly meant having a family and a job and enough to get by on, it would not have looked like something that is the opposite of Christianity.

Posted by John Weidner at 10:41 AM | Comments (0)

Good stuff from Fr. Dwight, but obscured with some Industrial Age assumptions...

Lent, Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Blessedness:

...But these are only the superficial problems. The real crisis in the American Catholic Church is a crisis of dissent, lack of faith and courage.

To put it simply, for the last fifty years the majority of American Catholics have been more American than Catholic. That is to say, they have bought into the American Dream big time. They have swallowed the lie that life is only about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness--especially happiness. In fact they are now so stuck on the pursuit of happiness that they are willing to sacrifice the life and the liberty to get it.

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness may be a noble political ideal it is pretty shallow as a goal for the spiritual life.

The Catholic way is not a life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, for their own sake. But a realization that the abundant life comes through death to self, true liberty comes through slavery to Christ and true happiness is really something called blessedness.

All of this is lost on the majority of Americans, and sadly on the majority of American Catholics. (That's why the voting record of 'Catholics' is the same as the general population) We have substituted Broadway for the Way of the Cross; entertainment for the sacred liturgy, sentimentality for the Truth of the Gospel, the Promises of God for promiscuity, and  "liberty" for license.

This is the crisis of the American Catholic Church. Why are Catholic schools closing? Because they cost too much to run. Why do they cost too much to run? Because the old teaching orders don't have any sisters and brothers to run them, so we have to pay lay people the going rate. Why don't we have any teaching sisters and brothers? Because we've told a whole generation of Catholics that they can be "just as holy" as lay people living in the suburbs with 2.5 children in a trophy house....

"Why do they cost too much to run? Because the old teaching orders don't have any sisters and brothers to run them, so we have to pay lay people the going rate..." The problem with this statement is that the the teaching orders and nursing orders were products of the Industrial Age.
Stop and note the picture on the right. What does it make you think of? Hmm? It is in fact purely secular; a Red Cross nurse of the time of WWI. (Suzanne Larsson, painted by her father the great Swedish artist Carl Larsson.)

Those orders and their tasks were mostly inventions from the time of Queen Victoria! Mass education and universally available hospital treatment are 19th century innovations, created by both the Church and by secular institutions at exactly the same time. And both the church and the secular world staffed these burgeoning new institutions with large numbers of women, women who typically lived lives dedicated to service, usually with some degree of poverty and chastity. There were additional men too, but the big difference from all the past was the large-scale utilization of educated women as staff. The Church existed for 18 centuries with female religious being far fewer than male. That flipped around the beginning of the 20th century. Now we may be reverting to the mean.

And all the "orders" broke down at exactly the same time, in the 1960's. My father was on the board of trustees of a hospital when I was young. And, some time around the early 60’s, they were having trouble with some very unhappy nurses. He told me that the board had realized with a bit of shock that they were paying their nurses less than their janitors! That was the old model, and it wasn’t going to work anymore.

The timing? I don’t remember precisely, but it was roughly the same time as the Vatican Council. And simultaneous with that, the teaching profession was changing drastically. Men were entering in ever larger numbers, and expecting living wages. That was the time of the unwise decisions to have a Department of Education, and to allow teacher’s unions. But even without those, the days of the "spinster schoolmarm" were over.

I constantly see Catholics assuming that Catholic life and practice must include schools and hospitals. (And all sorts of other ponderous encrusted organizations.) No one stops to wonder if this is true. I'm pretty sure it is not true any more. And that we need to discover new ways of being Christians in the Information Age. (I'm actually thinking of writing a book about this, about the Information Age and the need to re-invent all sorts of institutions to fit the new world we are in. It's the one thing I'm thinking about that is not being well-covered by much better minds than mine. But finding the needed time is a daunting obstacle.)

Posted by John Weidner at 9:19 AM | Comments (2)

February 18, 2012

It doesn't scale in a linear fashion...

Richard Fernandez, The Life of Ants:

...The costs of running a society by detailed regulation do not scale in a linear fashion. Adding a single little thing requires committees to coordinate between committees; oversight and review functions; evaluation units and managers to manage everything. And that doesn't even count the cost of politically selling and defending each and every new mandate...

There's another thing that amplifies this. Running anything by "detailed regulation" is Industrial Age practice. We are now deep in the Information Age, and those who are hip to it can use much more effective management techniques. We are the Dinosaurs, they are the Thecodonts. They will be out-competed!

One of the earliest examples of the emergence of a new age was the Israeli victory in the Six-Day War, in 1967. We tend to take this sort of Israeli (and American) prowess for granted, but it was something that had never been seen before in history. Israel defeated three nations, with three armies, ten times her numbers, and with weapons of equal quality, in less than a week!

How did they do it? Israel had developed a new way of managing war. If division commander gave a task to one of his brigades, it was not accompanied with any sort of plan. The brigade was free to do the job however he thought best. The only proviso was that he had to keep headquarters informed about what was going on. Likewise, the Brigade would give its battalion commanders only general objectives, and they would make their own detailed plans. And so on down the line.

So they were harnessing the brainpower of far more people, and particularly, people who were much more motivated to succeed than staff drones. We see this kind of thing often now in successful young firms. (If you are hired by Dropbox, here in SF, YOU get to decide what you will work on! Wouldn't you give your best in such a situation?)

Israeli Dodge Power Wagon, during Six Day War period
(I have no special reason for putting this picture in, except for a love of the old Dodge Power Wagons. This one is Israeli, about the time of the Six-Day War. I think I got the pic here.)

Posted by John Weidner at 6:51 PM

December 17, 2011

Now for what's wrong with Stiglitz's article...

Joseph Stiglitz: "A Banking System is Supposed to Serve Society, Not the Other Way Around":

In my previous post I praised the insight in this article on the underlying cause of the Great Depression, that due to advances in agriculture we had far too many people on the farm, and needed to move a lot of them to manufacturing. And that, analogously, we now have too many people in manufacturing, and need to move them to services. I think there's a lot of truth in that.

However the author's prescriptions, his fixes, are beyond stupid. So I'm going to indulge myself in a bit of fisking.

...The private sector by itself won't, and can't, undertake structural transformation of the magnitude needed—even if the Fed were to keep interest rates at zero for years to come. [We don't know that, because the private sector is tied down, like Gulliver, by a thousand threads of regulation and uncertainty.] The only way it will happen is through a government stimulus designed not to preserve the old economy but to focus instead on creating a new one. [This is insane dreaming, because government is currently obsessed with preserving the old economy. And it is unlikely that any government, Rep or Dem, could be visionary enough to not put its efforts into the known and familiar.] We have to transition out of manufacturing and into services that people want—into productive activities that increase living standards, not those that increase risk and inequality. [That's so vague as to be platitudinous.] To that end, there are many high-return investments we can make. Education is a crucial one [The current world of education is utterly poisoned with statist and reactionary thinking. Pouring more money into it will make things much worse.]—a highly educated population is a fundamental driver of economic growth. [This guy should be reading Goldman's book, How Civilizations Die.. In most parts of the globe increasing education has been accompanied by catastrophic declines in birthrates. (Not catastrophic in America, so far, but bad.) We are educating people to nihilism. Civilizational suicide.]

Support is needed for basic research. Government investment in earlier decades—for instance, to develop the Internet and biotechnology—helped fuel economic growth. [No, government did NOT develop the Internet. (See my post here.) Most government-directed research is ineffective.] Without investment in basic research, what will fuel the next spurt of innovation? [Hey, wait a minute? I thought this was about moving people from manufacturing to services? But this is just the usual Big-Government-Liberal laundry-list.] Meanwhile, the states could certainly use federal help in closing budget shortfalls. [Clueless. Governments aren't suffering "budget shortfalls." They have gone INSANE. All the Blue states and cities have made promises they can't possibly keep, even if the entire Federal treasury is handed over to them. They are bankrupt. They must die in their present form.] Long-term economic growth at our current rates of resource consumption is impossible, so funding research, skilled technicians, and initiatives for cleaner and more efficient energy production will not only help us out of the recession but also build a robust economy for decades. [Green bullshit. All untrue. And the smart money has already realized it!] Finally, our decaying infrastructure, from roads and railroads to levees and power plants, is a prime target for profitable investment....

There's more, but you get the idea. This is so pathetic, because the Mr Stiglitz has had one sterling insight, and yet is unable to imagine (or maybe endure) the possibility that a lot of other things he's been taught are wrong. He is utterly stuck in Industrial Age thinking, and is seemingly unaware that we are in the Information Age. Where things work very differently. He is trapped in the thinking of the Blue Model.

There is another underlying cause of our present problems. That is, that while the private sector has been brutally wrenched into the Information Age, government and quasi-governmental institutions are still working on an Industrial Age paradigm. They have become disconnected with reality, and that's another way of saying, crazy. All around us we see governments and schools and hospitals and NGO's that are dysfunctional. That are bloated and sclerotic. That are stuck in the ideas of the past.

I guess universities are part of the "service sector," but we should be moving people OUT of them, because they have become horrible drags on our world. The UC system and the Calif State University System now have more administrators than faculty. That's not just bad management, it is insane! And I doubt that even Stiglitz is arguing that they are producing graduates ready to do great things for our economy.

Poor Mr Stiglitz can only offer us the usual tired lefty list of desiderata. How will building bridges move people into the service sector? Huh? Levees? Or pouring money into bankrupt local governments? (Well, we've been doing that. With no results.) Stiglitz considers WWII to have been a "Keynsian stimulus." That just renders the concept meaningless. And he has no clue as to what a new "WWII" might be. Nor can he tell us what IS the "basic research" that might help here. He has nothing to offer. He should be reading Random Jottings!

Actually, things in the Information Age morph and change so rapidly that the whole concept of experts deciding what must be done has become an absurdity. In a mere decade or so Blockbuster invented a new way of distributing video, and then was blitzed when Netflix came up with a better way, and now Netflix is floundering in the new world of direct downloads and YouTube. SO, imagine that government had wanted to "stimulate" video distribution! Imagine bureaucrats intervening, or writing regulations to improve all this! Ugh! We'd just now be asking for comments on drafting protocols to prepare to subsidize basic research in VHS tape technology.

Clue-bat to Mr S. We need to be moving towards systems that are self-regulating. I can give some hints if anyone is interested.

Posted by John Weidner at 12:54 PM

December 8, 2011

"The oldest battle in our political history"

Walter Russell Mead, The Age of Hamilton:

...As we gear up for 2012 and beyond, American attention is increasingly returning to the oldest battle in our political history: the battle between the Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians that split George Washington's cabinet down the middle and established our first party system.

That fight was essentially over three things that divide us intensely today: the role of the federal government, the nature of the credit system, and the future of the social hierarchy.  Alexander Hamilton favored a strong federal government at home and abroad, a centralized credit system similar to the British one with a Bank of the United States acting as our central bank, and believed that the best educated and most widely experienced people in the United States constituted a natural aristocracy and should play the leading role in our politics.

Thomas Jefferson disagreed with virtually everything Hamilton believed.  He wanted a weak federal government, detested Hamilton's banking system, and feared that the alliance of a social elite with a powerful government and a strong central bank would turn the US into a European-style aristocratic or monarchical society.

Bipartisan Establishment, meet Mr. Tea Party. The disagreement between these two men continued to reverberate down the years.  John Quincy Adams, Nicholas Biddle, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and Abraham Lincoln sided with Hamilton up through the Civil War.  Presidents Madison and Monroe followed Jefferson, more or less; so in his own irascible way did Andrew Jackson.  The Southern Confederacy tried to write Hamilton out of the constitution when it modified the Philadelphia document to serve the rebel government....

My off-the-top-of-my-head response is that I think the Information Age is going to trend more Jeffersonian. Industrial Age organizations were characterized by top-down management by "the few," because they needed these to manage the flow of information, which was done mostly by moving pieces of paper around. The Information Age will be characterized by smaller, more informal organizations, and by more opportunities for outsiders to route around elites.

And credit systems will probably not be controlled centrally, just because they have already become too complex and protean to be even understood by any central control. My suggestion is that the only regulation be the requirement that a certain percentage of all financial instruments be held by the people and companies that issue them. That would make them self-regulating.

Posted by John Weidner at 9:43 AM | Comments (0)

December 5, 2011

"The longer it takes for the blowup to occur, the worse the resulting harm..."

Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Mark Blyth, The Black Swan of Cairo— Foreign Affairs:

Why is surprise the permanent condition of the U.S. political and economic elite? In 2007-8, when the global financial system imploded, the cry that no one could have seen this coming was heard everywhere, despite the existence of numerous analyses showing that a crisis was unavoidable. It is no surprise that one hears precisely the same response today regarding the current turmoil in the Middle East. The critical issue in both cases is the artificial suppression of volatility -- the ups and downs of life -- in the name of stability. It is both misguided and dangerous to push unobserved risks further into the statistical tails of the probability distribution of outcomes and allow these high-impact, low-probability "tail risks" to disappear from policymakers' fields of observation. What the world is witnessing in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya is simply what happens when highly constrained systems explode.

Complex systems that have artificially suppressed volatility tend to become extremely fragile, while at the same time exhibiting no visible risks. In fact, they tend to be too calm and exhibit minimal variability as silent risks accumulate beneath the surface. Although the stated intention of political leaders and economic policymakers is to stabilize the system by inhibiting fluctuations, the result tends to be the opposite. These artificially constrained systems become prone to "Black Swans" -- that is, they become extremely vulnerable to large-scale events that lie far from the statistical norm and were largely unpredictable to a given set of observers.

Such environments eventually experience massive blowups, catching everyone off-guard and undoing years of stability or, in some cases, ending up far worse than they were in their initial volatile state. Indeed, the longer it takes for the blowup to occur, the worse the resulting harm in both economic and political systems....
So how can systems be robust in the Information Age? If you follow the author's point that "suppressed volatility" leads to fragility, then where do we see volatility unfettered? Un-suppressed? One place is in the world of business. (Not including the financial sector, which I'm not sure is really "business" anyway.)

In America one can start a business, flare up into the sky like a rocket, and then plummet to the earth and crash and burn—all within a single decade. This, paradoxically, has created a business world that is profoundly stable. How so? Because everything is tested and hammered on all the time. Iron pyrites can't pass as gold for very long. Scams are soon exposed. Individual businesses fail constantly, but the realm of business just grows stronger.

The challenge of the new age we are in is to give other realms the same stability. Above all the realm of government, which we now see failing catastrophically all around us.

Posted by John Weidner at 10:42 PM | Comments (0)

November 20, 2011

A cautionary tale...

Most of my projects are doomed to failure... I'm not even on the same wavelength as everybody else. Heck I might as well be speaking Martian. But I keep trying.

One project most close to my heart is to try to wake up my parish (and eventually all the other Catholics too) to the need to adjust to the new era we have entered. We have left the Industrial Age, and entered the Information Age. We need to adapt and change. Most likely we will not do so. Instead we will crash and burn, and our grandchildren will cobble together new structures from the tumbled stones of the ruins.

Such a waste.

This is a cautionary tale I'll be circulating; a story of a certain institution that could not SEE that times had changed...

Papal states map 1870Have you heard of the Papal States? Did you know that the Pope was once a sovereign prince, the ruler of a large part of central Italy? With his own army and police and castles and taxes? (Firearms collectors place high value on the rare M1868 Papal States Remington rifle, known as the... Pontificio!) The Papal States made sense in the Agricultural Age, when power and wealth flowed from land, and the idea of great lord without a landed patrimony was almost unthinkable. Land was the only reliable investment. The Pope had lands of his own from the Sixth to the Nineteenth centuries. And no one seems to have minded much 

With the coming of the Industrial Revolution the Papal States were doomed. Their reason for existing evaporated, because the income and strength derived from land and peasants became trivial compared to what the Holy See could raise from donations from the industrially developed world. And the new geo-political organizing principle was the nation state, not the feudal territories of princes. The very concept of a "prince" had become obsolete, though many still held such titles.
The Papal States were violently seized from the Pope by the emerging nation of Italy in 1861 and 1870. (Before the mid-19th century Italy had been a collection of city-states, not a nation.) At the time this seemed like the end of the world to many Catholics.

Thousands of Catholic men from around the globe volunteered for the Papal forces, and fought in small but serious battles against Garibaldi's Redshirts. When the Italian Army finally marched into Rome in 1870, this seemed to most Catholics outrageous and unforgivable. Bitterness and intransigence were the order of the day. No pope spoke in St Peter's Square for 46 years, because it was under the control of the Italian Army. The situation was not fully resolved until 1926.

Few people then imagined that the influence of the Pope in the world would greatly increase with the loss of his territories. And yet it was true. The loss of the states was a blessing in disguise, and no one today would want the Pope to be a territorial magnate.

The lesson: The Church in the 19th century poured large amounts of her treasure and energy into defending things that were, in reality, already dead. More importantly, she was slow to see many of the new opportunities and possibilities of the 19th century and the industrializing world.
Posted by John Weidner at 7:05 PM | Comments (0)