Thursday, December 21, 2006

Worldchanging News: Tools for Enhancing 21st Century Citizenship

Now here is a riff on what new technologies could make the most difference?

"What needs to be done in the near future? What worldchanging tool, model or idea will you be watching (or hoping to see emerge)? What key piece of knowledge do we need? What action must we take? What do we do now?"

Tools For Enhancing 21st Century Citizenship

by David Brin (12/06)

Across the 20th Century, a growing array of problems were solved through the application of professional skill. We came to rely increasingly upon professions ranging from medical doctors to law enforcement to teachers to farmers for countless tasks that an average family used to do largely for itself. No other trend so perfectly represents the last century as this one, spanning all boundaries of politics, ideology or geography.

And yet - just as clearly - this trend cannot continue much longer. If only for demographic reasons, the as the rate of professionalization and specialization must start to fall off, exactly as we are about to face a bewildering array of new -- and rapid-onrushing -- problems.

How will we cope?

Elsewhere I speak of the 21st Century as a looming "Age of Amateurs," wherein a highly educated citizenry will be able to adeptly bring to bear countless capabilities and individual pools of knowledge, some of which may not be up to professional standards, but that can find synergy together, perhaps augmenting society's skill set, at a time of need. We saw this very thing happen at the century's dawn, on 9/11. Every important, helpful and successful action that occurred on an awful day was taken by self-mobilized citizens and amateurs. At a moment when professionalism failed at every level. (Hear a podcast on this topic.)

It is important to note what a strong role technology played in fostering citizen action on 9/11. People equipped with video cameras documented the day and provided our best post-mortem footage. People with cell phones organized the evacuation of the twin towers. Similar phones stirred and empowered the heroes who fought back and made the Legend of Flight UA 93.

In sharp contrast, the events of Hurricane Katrina showed the dark side of this transition -- a professional protector caste (crossing party and jurisdiction lines: including republicans and democrats, state, local and federal officials) whose sole ambition appeared to be to staunch any citizen-organized activity, whatsoever. Moreover, the very same technology that empowered New Yorkers and Bostonians betrayed citizens in New Orleans. Thousands who had fully-charged and operational radios in their pockets were unable to use them for communication -- either with each other or the outside world -- thanks to collapse of the cellular phone networks.

This was a travesty. But the aftermath was worse! Because, amid all the finger-pointing and blame-casting that followed Katrina, almost no attention has been paid to improving the reliability and utility of our cell networks, to assist citizen action during times of emergency. To the best of my knowledge. no high level demand has gone out - from FEMA or any other agency - for industry to address problems revealed in the devastation of America's Gulf Coast. A correction that should be both simple/cheap and useful to implement.

What do we need? We must have new ways for citizens to self-organize, both in normal life and (especially) during crises, when normal channels may collapse, or else get taken over by the authorities for their own use. All this might require is a slight change -- or set of additions -- in the programming of the sophisticated little radio communications devices that we all carry in our pockets, nowadays.

How about a simple back-up mode for text messaging? One that could use packet-switching to bypass the cell towers when they are down, and pass messages from phone to phone -- or peer-to-peer -- at least among phones that are of the same type? (GSM, TDMA, CDMA etc.) All of the needed packet-switching algorithms already exist. Moreover, this would allow a drowning city (or other catastrophe zone) to fill with tens of thousands of little spots of light, supplying information to helpers and reassurance to loved ones, anywhere in the world.

Are the cell companies afraid their towers will be bypassed when there's no emergency? What foolishness. This mode could be suppressed when a good tower is in range and become useful automatically when one is not... a notion that also happens to help solve the infamous "last mile connectivity problem." Anyway, there are dozens of ways that p2p calls could be billed. Can we at least talk about it?

The same dismal intransigence foils progress on the internet, where millions of adults use "asynchronous" communications methods, like web sites, blogs and email, but shun "synchronous" zones like chat and avatar worlds, where the interface (filled with sexy cartoon figures) seem designed to ruin any chance of useful discourse. For example, by limiting self-expression to about a sentence at a time and ignoring several dozen ways that human beings actually organize and allocate scarce attention in real life.

When somebody actually pays attention to this "real digital divide" - between the lobotomized/childish synchronous chat/avatar/myspace world and the slow-but-cogent asynchronous web/blog/download world -- we may progress toward useful online communities like rapid "smart mobs." Only first, we are going to have to learn to look at how human beings allocate attention in real life! (For more on this: http://www.holocenechat.com)

Oh, there are dozens of other technologies that will add together, like pieces in a puzzle, synergizing to help empower the magnificent citizen of tomorrow. Facial recognition systems and automatic lookups will turn every pedestrian on any street into someone who you vaguely know... a prospect that cynical pundits will decry, but that was EXACTLY how our ancestors lived, nearly all of them, throughout human history. The thing to be afraid of is asymmetries of power, not universal knowledge. The thing to protect is not your secrecy, but your ability to deter others from doing you harm.

Likewise, I assure you that we are on the verge of getting both LIE DETECTORS and reliable PERSONALITY PROFILING. And yes, if these new machines frighten you, they should! Because they may wind up being clutched and monopolized by elites, and then used against us. I am glad you're frightened. If that happens, we will surely see an era that makes Big Brother look tame.

And yet, the solution to this danger is not to "ban" such technologies! That is exactly what elites want us to do (so they can monopolize the methods in secret out of our skeptical eye). No, that reflex sees only half the story. Come on, open your mind a little farther.

What if those very same -- inevitable -- technologies wind up being used by all of sovereign citizens of an open democracy, say, fiercely applied to politicians and others who now smile and croon and insist that they deserve our trust? In other words, what if we could separate the men and women who have told little lies and admit it (and we forgive them) from those who tell the really dangerous and destructive whoppers? Those who are corrupt and/or blackmailed and/or lying through their teeth?

In that case, won't we have a better chance of making sure that Big Brother doesn't happen... ever?

Oh, it is a brave new world... We will have to be agile. Some things will be lost and others diminished. (We will have to re-define "privacy" much closer to home, or even just within it.)

On the other hand, if we don't panic, we may see the beginnings of the era of the sovereign and empowered citizen. An Age of Amateurs in which no talent is suppressed or wasted, and no problem escapes the attention of a myriad talented eyes.

=====    =====     =====


As many of you know, I have touted the beautiful and fascinating Worldchanging Book as a perfect holiday gift, expressing much of the resonant message of modernist problem solving that we once saw in the old Whole Earth Catalog.

World changing is also one of the prime modernist web sites! Indeed, I'd like to pass on a message from editor Alex Steffen, asking for a little help (in the spirit of "proxy power.") The previous riff I wrote at his request.

" Okay, here's the deal: I need to hit you up for some money. Not much, only $10, but still, your donation is critical for us, and here's why: Yahoo! is offering a $50,000 matching grant for the nonprofit which gets the largest number of donations before the end of the year using its new "charity badges." What matters is not the number of dollars, but the number of donors. Right now, you need 70 to be in the lead, but things are moving fast and we'd like 500 to be safe. We currently have three (though we just started a couple hours ago). If we're winning on Dec 31st, we think one of our major donors may step in and help us with a large donation, so we'll get the full $50K from Yahoo! $100,000 would be a major portion of our annual budget and you can help us win it."

Got it? Do it! Good.

41 comments:

Stefan Jones said...

DB, I think you need start SHOWING rather than TELLING.

In other words, write a near-future SF novel showing your ideas in action! Contrast a city or district which has it on the ball with one doing it the old way.

Make it vivid and polemic and mainstream-accessible.

No, you won't get full credit when others rip off your ideas, but they'll get implemented. :-)

* * *

IMHO, the problem with the "sovereign and empowered citizen" meme is that Americans will buy into "sovereign and empowered" and forget "citizen."

They might spend big bucks outfitting their house and cars with emergency gear, for example, but not give a thought to their neighbors, other than maybe buying guns. It's a very real cultural problem.

Mere gadgetry won't convince John and Juan to talk over what they might do as a community when the Big One hits. It won't convince people to give up some precious spare spending money to buy and put away a week's worth of food and batteries.

We need regional and civic leadership that is aware of such problems and is willing to address them. I mentioned here many months ago the meddling, neighborhood-yenta solution that Cuba came up with to implement disaster evacuations. That won't work here, but something would. Coming up with a solution that overcomes Americans' suspicion and isolation is the real challenge. Likely, the solution will vary from place to place.

CJ-in-Weld said...

Accurate lie detectors...

I'm a prosecuting attorney, and I've idly speculated on the implications of such technology for my job. I've thought that if I had it in me to write one science fiction story, it would be a near-future story about the introduction of the first accurate lie detectors in criminal cases. But I don't. So here's the idle speculation instead.

I suspect that allowing such devices in court cases will be bitterly fought. Foremost by criminal defense attorneys—most of their clients are guilty after all! ;). But also by all attorneys, including (sadly) some prosecutors who fear the end of their jobs! (Look at the occasional story of district attorneys who try to salvage their cases notwithstanding exonerating DNA evidence. Or look at the shameful goings-on in the Duke lacrosse team debacle.)

I myself am not so afraid for my role. I think there will be plenty of instances when two opposed parties both believe they are telling the truth, and a jury of citizens will have to sort out who has the right of it. And guilty people will refuse to take lie detector tests, I bet, so their cases will have to be tried the old-fashioned way. (I'm assuming that the right not to incriminate oneself will extend to the right not take a lie detector test, which is not a great leap of legal reasoning.)

I'm guessing that lie detectors will be of limited use in sorting out abstractions like "culpable mental states) (which must be proven as an element of a crime), such as: did the accused intend the death of the victim? Did he merely know that his actions would cause death? Or was he merely reckless or negligent as to the possibility of that outcome?

Who the hell understands these enough to have a useful opinion about them, honest or not? I think rather that these legal concepts, while precisely defined at law, are really just invitations to the jury to reach a consensus as to how bad the defendant's conduct really was. I'm not being cynical about this; I think it's the best we can do, and it's why we need juries.

However, I think lie detectors will be pretty useful in strictly factual inquiries: did the accused pull the trigger? Was the deceased charging with a knife? Is the witness in fact the secret lover of the accused? (Hasn't happened in any of my cases yet, but that would be dramatic.)

I do wonder if the passage of time can lead people to honestly believe something other than what happened. By the time an accused says "I really thought the guy I shot had a knife!" he might actually believe it, if it's important to his self-image to do so. This will be even more common with abstract things, such as "I acted reasonably in self-defense!" Will lie detectors be able to penetrate the veneer of denial humans are capable of laying on themselves?

Would lie detector technology favor the truly sociopathic, and work best against people more honest to themselves? (Obviously, I'm not up on the actual technology that's in the works—but I'm anticipating questions that will be asked in the legal system, regardless.)

In any case, I suspect there will be a long lag between when the new lie detector technology will be generally accepted in the scientific community and when it is generally accepted in the criminal courts. The same thing was true of DNA evidence, and will be be even more so about a technology that gets at the whole raison d'etre of a trial, and threatens the security of lawyers and judges!

However, practical lie detectors will affect the criminal justice system even before the appellate courts bend on the admissibility issue, because they will become useful investigative tools whether they are allowed in a trial or not. Police (and DA's offices) already use the primitive kind of lie detectors already available to tip the balance whether to pursue weak cases; surely reliable lie detectors will be even more useful, even in (apparently) strong cases.

And if knowledge of accurate lie detector technology becomes common knowledge, jurors will just know that if they are being brought in to hear a case, it's because somebody refused to take or failed to pass a lie detector test! So it is important that people developing this technology do not oversell it too early....

Pat Mathews said...

Foolproof personality testing would have one result in my experience. "Sorry! You're the wrong type! (An introvert, Not a Team Player, whatever else is favored by managers and HR types). We don't want you."

Anonymous said...

Here's one that many would undoubtedly agree on: a fully-integrated high-speed internet infrastructure allowing for large-scale video conferencing and the like, much like what's currently available in say Korea or Japan.

The Telecoms betrayed us already with increased fees in exchange to upgrade our systems. They pocketed the fees and claimed them as profits... and now are trying to double-bill websites themselves with the demise of "Net Neutrality" (ie, charge companies extra to utilize high-speed lines), and even are struggling tooth-and-nail against towns and cities from setting up private high-speed networks.

Imagine a society in which high-speed internet (at speeds significantly faster than current cable in the U.S.) cost no more than dial-up... and indeed might be cheaper. Imagine being able to go to town meetings from your home and being able to participate. Imagine how people could actually participate in politics again with ease and reliability...

If I believed in conspiracy theories I'd see this as a reason why this will not come about: politicians and telecoms don't want people to be able to easily and quickly participate in politics. But no, I see it on a much simpler level: greed (from the Cable and Telecoms). Now if our politicians would only get their heads out of their asses, they'd perhaps be able to force the telecoms to do what they promised... but I doubt that will happen anytime soon. If there's anything we can rely on the government for, it's incompetance.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

False Data said...

While it's true that U.S. cell providers strongly influence the features in the phones, I suspect a greater limit on phone-to-phone relaying is power consumption. It takes more power to transmit than to receive. That's one reason your phone has long standby time but short talk time. Asking a phone to relay messages is similar to asking it to stay in "talk" mode. It might not be quite as bad, for instance the average distance to a relay point might be less than the average distance to a cell tower, allowing lower transmit power, but you still might wind up with the pools of light fading after several hours.

In any case, the One Laptop Per Child project is developing very interesting, and potentially revolutionary, technology in this area. Also, upcoming technologies like Smart Grids could allow some houses to continue to have power, at least during the day, even with the main grid down.

Stefan Jones said...

Thanks for the link to "Smart Grid." I'm glad there are people working on concepts like that.

I don't think it would be asking too much for all new houses to have a minimal solar backup system. Enough to run the refrigerator, a few lights, and a water pump. With a reverse billing system to feed watts into the grid during the day...

Taran Rampersad said...

"I don't think it would be asking too much for all new houses to have a minimal solar backup system. Enough to run the refrigerator, a few lights, and a water pump. With a reverse billing system to feed watts into the grid during the day..."

Umm. They still have that in Wisconsin in some places. Since the 1970s.

As far as the WorldChanging book... well, sure, I guess. Seems to me WorldChanging.com has become to corporate, but that's just my opinion. Sort of like the CBGBs of progressive sites.

Anonymous said...

False Delta,
How about an emergency cellular transmitter / receiver capable of text messaging and GPS locating powered by a hand crank. I would buy two one for my car and one for my home. (Just like I have flash lights and radios now.)

In an emergency we could each maintain the power for a small part of the system.

occam's comic

Anonymous said...

The hand crank and power consumption caveats are interesting here. So is Brin's suggestion that direct messaging to nearby phones be disabled by the presence of a cell tower, or billed somehow.

This smacks of favoring greedy and extortionate forms of "capitalism" over the small guy I'm afraid. I don't see any way to justify charging for messages that don't go over your infrastructure, or forbidding nonuse of your infrastructure whenever it's available. Consider this: is a phone company justified charging people for the privilege of talking face to face on the grounds that "otherwise it might undercut our phone service profits"? Is it justified if it requires people always to use a phone to communicate if there's one within reach, even if the person they want to talk to is right there with them? I don't think so. A person making a "p2p" call or sending a "p2p" message is using their own handset and their own battery (or hand crank?) power to do so, and the message's sending isn't costing the phone company anything since it doesn't involve them or their resources at all.

The only argument I can imagine for this scenario is the same bogus one used to shove the concept of so-called "intellectual property" down our throats. And the only thing such regulations or payment schemes actually do is empower incumbents to suppress competition and engage in rent-seeking to the detriment of everyone else.

If another Katrina happened, the last thing we'd need is phone companies circling like vultures and lining their pockets by charging people for the privilege of actually trying to survive and organize a response to the disaster, despite their doing so without using company resources or causing the company to accrue any expenses.

And any concern of lost profits (not that any business is entitled to profit; it should have to take its chances in the market!) is moot anyway. Using a cell tower is likely to be less expensive when one is available because the p2p-mode would be heavy on battery consumption, and battery power is itself expensive, damned expensive. Free the market from monopolistic rent-seeking and a natural diverse ecology of solutions would emerge with variously priced options of varying convenience. Tower calls: expensive but reliable when there's a tower in range, quick, high quality, and routed easily. P2P calls with batteries: probably also expensive, and less reliable routing and signal strength. Sound is fuzzy and drops out occasionally, particularly depending on location, much more so than with routing via a vertically elevated tower. P2P calls, bio-powered: cheap but requires actually exercising while you call. :)

Incidentally, does anyone remember self-winding watches? Why aren't there watches that use motion changes to recharge their batteries, and cell phones and suchlike likewise? Is there intentional suppression of such technology by someone who currently profits when battery charging is done from a wall plug? I wonder.

Prime said...

You have some good ideas, as usual, Brin, but in this instance I think you're failing to account for the dynamic nature of technology. As soon as we get lie-detectors and personality-mappers, we'll get lie-detector-beaters and false-personality-transmitters. One (temporary) negative side effect will be over-reliance on the the former devices in ignorance of the latter, just as with GPS directional devices today.

But, just as in any war, defense and offense will pendulum back and forth. The people with the *best* tech will always be those with the most money.

Stefan Jones said...

RE self-winding watches:

I think they were practical because of a happy match between power required by the watch and the power imparted by a swinging arm. The "conversion" was more or less direct, by a clever clockwork mechanism.

A "self-winding" cell phone would require that physical motion be turned into electricity. Probably do-able, but I suspect that the juice from a generator run by natural motion wouldn't be enough to significantly help run a cell phone.

A crank-charged phone, on the other hand, might be more practical.

SpeakerToManagers said...

"Incidentally, does anyone remember self-winding watches? Why aren't there watches that use motion changes to recharge their batteries, and cell phones and suchlike likewise? Is there intentional suppression of such technology by someone who currently profits when battery charging is done from a wall plug? I wonder."

I doubt there's a conspiracy; these days the parts of a cheap watch are very cheap; it would take a large-scale manufacturing and marketing investment for any new design to succeed over market inertia and higher price. The extant manufacturers aren't motivated to do this (what you might call the "tragedy of the mature market"), and the initial investment is a barrier against all but the least risk-averse investors (never a common breed to begin with; really scarce in the last few years).

On the other hand is the point that we're generating vast amounts of toxic waste with the millions of batteries we dispose of every year. Using rechargeable batteries helps that, but there's still a lot of inertia there. I recently went to work for a small company with a relatively old (and conservative) workforce. I went to the supply room to get batteries to run my wireless keyboard and mouse and was handed regular disposables. When I suggested to the Engineering admin aide that we should use rechargeables, she simply blew the suggestion off as silly, without even giving a logical reason. And, these days, millions of cheap watches are sold with no way to change the battery; you throw the whole thing away in a year or two when the power runs out.

We still live in a society that largely values "convenience" over long-term quality of life; changes often need to be cast in terms that convince people their comfort or safety is at risk in the short-term in order to get results for the long-term. This is the cause of much of what looks like conspiracy: inertia and short-term thinking. World-changing, I think, is dependent on finding ways around these obstacles.

Rob Perkins said...

I suppose a little perspective/reflection might be in order.

As I think about the tsunami from two years ago, and about Katrina, and about the fact that most of our ancestors lived in small town/village/hollow settlements where there was no privacy in the way a city dweller can get it...

It occurs to me that all our discussions about the failures in the aftermaths of those two natural disasters are from the perspective of large wealthy empires.

From a historical perspective, about as many people died in the tsunami as might have died centuries ago, but the disaster response from the rest of the world was historically unprecedented, since the technologies required to make global efforts possible at all didn't even exist 200 years ago. Further, the social concepts required to raise sympathies for those people (Red Cross/Crescent, Doctors without borders, etc.) just didn't exist.

Also, the total wealth of the world was not nearly as high as it is now.

And in the case of Katrina, before the establishment of the United States, the region had known no society that could have rallied an effort even as anemic as the one we call a "failure".

Now, I don't excuse the failures in disaster response in either case. The governments of Louisiana and the U.S. had both collected far and away enough tax revenue, and possessed enough expertise to have done far better. David's points are cogent and vital.

But seen from the lens of history, even what was done which was far lower than our expectations was far more than would have ever been possible, in an earlier age. I don't doubt that the victims of 'Frisco's last Big One would stand in awe.

And I love the idea of out-of-network peer seeking cell phones as text messaging devices. The FCC should propose a protocol, then castigate cell providers for not implementing it. Then 250-odd congresscritters ought to outright require it. I've already got the program half-written in my head...

Elyandarin said...

Having wind-up cell phones might be a tad unwieldy, I think.
On the other hand, the guys over at FreePlay.net sell crankable cell phone rechargers for about $50.

Rob Perkins said...

Regarding some of the technical details making p2p phones difficult, while it's true that transmitting costs more energy than passive receiving, it's also true that current technology, when a phone is switched on, is constant transmission, which shouldn't have to be considered in an emergency situation.

Instead, just limit the devices to text messages. Most of the time the devices would simply be idle, and the only transmission would be a short burst with a text message.

And... organize a cadre of teenagers, through boy/girl scouts, boys/girls clubs, other orgs like that, to relay the messages. They're the ones with the fast thumbs on those infernal phone keyboards...

Global said...

Nicely said! Good ideas!
If enough people read your post (rather, enough of the RIGHT kind of people), changes may start happening...
Write on...

TomC said...

Why not require a "civil defense mode" for all cellphones? And require cell operators to provide generator backed civil defense mode service, able to last at least a week without human intervention to provide fuel.

In a disaster situation, your phone would display a message to the effect that there is a disaster situation. Local authorities could transmit instructions and general advice.

In "CivDef" mode, the cellphone would direct people who want to communicate to select on-screen options - including "911 - Need Help Now", "Need Help Soon", "Please notify [specified number] that I am safe", and "Request Cell Call time"

The emergency cell network would poll all the phones and provide priority services. Emergency workers could call those who "Need help", because cell users would not be able to swamp the network with non-essential calls.

And if you requested it, once bandwidth is available, your phone would ring, and a machine would announce "You have cell service for the next 15 minutes."

Cell networks would need to be designed to detect lost cells, reallocate frequencies among adjacent cells, and increase range to cover as much area as possible - all without human intervention.

Maybe even make the CivDef network able to organize citizens to help out. It could call nearby phones asking for someone to come put gas in a cell tower generator that's running low. It could locate cellphones asking for help, and notify other cellphones nearby - "Someone desperately needs help about 50 yards west of you - press 1 if will you attempt to help, or 2 for no."

Stefan Jones said...

Great stuff!

Reminds me a bit of:

Warren Ellis's "concept better than execution" graphic novel series called "Global Frequency."

Experts of many stripes sign up to be crisis specialists. If they're near the site of a problem, their special Global phone rings and off they go.

David Brin said...

CJ raises interesting points re lie detectors. Of course self-deceiving people (and we all are, to some degree) will defeat many forms of lie detection, though not all. For example, Iris and pupil tracking, during the time when a picture is presented, but before it is consciously recognized, can clearly tell if you recognize the person portrayed, at an unconscious level. Hence making it hard to claim “I’ve never seen her before.”

“Would lie detector technology favor the truly sociopathic, and work best against people more honest to themselves?” Well, it would likely be combined with personality profiling.

Point is, if we all had these detectors, would it improve our control over politicians and public servants? Would it deter top people from seeking office? Or would it force us all to be more tolerant of normal human failings and little gray areas, knowing that we might be asked about ours?

Pat suggests that personality testing would be used to discriminate. Funny, taht seems to ALWAYS be the fear. E.g. genetic testing, as portrayed in the great film GATTACA. And yes, it will take a mature civilization to cope. One that has been teaching itself, gradually, not to judge people on the basis of their group, if they ask to be judged by some other standard, instead. (Notice how I worded that. 90% of people may appreciate it if these tests help a childhood guidance counselor to guide them toward lessons in some area of hidden talent or toward jobs that seem to suit our type. The MORAL quandary arises when someone says: “I want to try out for that other thing, over there. So judge me according to the task, not preconceptions of my group.” That is all, in fact, that reasonable feminist, civil rights activists etc, have demanded, from the very start.

False Data - you missed the part of my essay that said the P2P relay system would be all about brief TEXT messages. These would not require much use of phone power to pass along. Indeed, very little more than idle mode.

Yes, the $100 laptop is revolutionary.

I also suggested at the CIA, back in 99, that they develop a “Volksradio” cheap phone based on p2p that could be super-massively produced and dropped into lands like Saddam’s Iraq, a profoundly destabilizing attack that has very few moral drawbacks. It is hard to call it an attack or war crime when you simply gave away free phones!

David Brin said...

I would normally wait before another political missive, but Russ Daggatt points out that many of us will soon be spending holidays with relatives and friends who are of the - shall we say - “troglodyte” political persuasion.

I have long offered arguments and jiu jitsu moves to use in such situations. Above all, hit em with the destruction of US military readiness and ask them what they would have said, if it had fallen to Pearl Harbor levels under Bill Clinton.

Also ask: “Whatever happened to your argument that we “lost the Vietnam war” because of ‘dopey meddling in military matters by amateur generals and politicians with no actualy military experience.” Hmmmmm... I wonder why we don’t hear that one, anymore!

They can writhe away from any one blow, so show a pattern... skyrocketing deficits and 8-figure bonuses for Halliburton execs. Ask if they are SO certain that monsters can ONLY arise on the left? You don’t have to raise the theory about the “r’oil house” unless you think (a) they might be entertained, or (b) their paranoia is suitably ripe!

Anyway, Daggatt suggests using very clear contrasts. For example: You may recall that two-months ago, prior to the elections, President Bush insisted:

“Absolutely, we’re winning.”
George W. Bush Oct 26

“We’re not winning, we’re not losing.”
George W. Bush December 19

Ah, but appearing on FOX News’s Hannity show, Tom DeLay starts by blaming “the will of the American People” for stopping our military from winning in Iraq. I am sure some of you saw Stephen Colbert’s great response to DeLay:

"Well said, Congressman. American people: you are losing this war! Now, I don't like to say that. I wish there was someone else to blame…The President, the Vice President, Congress, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Paul Bremer, George Tenet, Colin Powell, Tommy Franks, Paul Wolfowitz, Bill Kristol… if only they had made one mistake! Some way we could pin this thing on them. …

“American people, you should be ashamed! The president went and bit off a big piece of the Middle East and, like an eagle, brought it back to the nest and he's regurgitating it back into your mouths! Why won’t you swallow?!!

“When history looks back at the actions of this president and the decisions he made regarding this war, you will go down as the most incompetent American people of all time."


Daggatt continues: Of course, one way to ensure that we are “winning” is to redefine what it means to “win.” You may think this war was about “preempting” the “imminent threat” posed by “Saddam’s WMD”. But you would be wrong. Just as you would if you thought this was about spreading Democracy to the Middle East . Not. According to GWB, the “ultimate victory in Iraq ” is: “[an Iraqi] government that can sustain itself, govern itself, and defend itself.”

Um... if our standards have sunk that low... um... wasn’t that what existed under Saddam?

Mind you I have long wanted to off Saddam! Especially after Bush Sr + Cheney + Rummy utterly knifed the Iraqi people and shamed us all in the great Betrayal of 1991 (us THAT on your brother in law!) Still...

More on the war against the US Officer Corps:Army Gen. John Abizaid, Bush's top Middle East commander and a leading skeptic of a so-called surge, has announced his retirement. … Abizaid's announcement amid that debate could shift the dynamics. … Abizaid has been a forceful voice of doubt about the utility of a surge, and his imminent departure could make it easier for the White House to shift direction.

Also: The option of a major “surge” in troop strength is gaining ground as part of a White House strategy review, senior administration officials said Friday.... a major departure from the current strategy advocated by Gen. George W. Casey Jr., which has stressed stepping up the training of Iraqi forces and handing off to them as soon as possible. Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said today that badly overstretched American forces in Iraq were losing the war there, and that a temporary increase in troop levels probably would not help.

Again Daggatt: t’s midly amusing to contrast the 11% support for sending more troops to Iraq with some other political positions that are generally considered outside the mainstream:
Support for gay marriage - 34%:
Support for legalizing Marijuana - 34%:
Support for strict gun controll: - 54%:
Three times as many people support gay marriage and legalizing marijuana as support escalating the Iraq war.

It is really worth taking the time (10 minutes or so) to check out from MSNBC’s Scarborough Country. Scarborough is a former Republican member of Congress who supported Bush in both 2000 and 2004 and has strongly supported the Iraq war. But he now believes that Bush is delusional and out of control. Among other things, he notes that if Clinton was president and was ignoring our top military commanders, Republicans in Congress would have impeached him (but, of course, they impeached him anyway).

Bush may force this country to confront the question, “What does the country do if the president is basically crazy and ignores the will of the American People, a bipartisan commission and his senior military leadership, and insists on escalating a failed military adventure in Iraq ?”


As some of you know, I think Daggatt is under-rating the danger. By a wide margin. Let me ask you this. Could you imagine a cheap thriller, set in the here and now, in which the “surge” was actually a trap? A chance to use up the very last of our rested forces, leaving us with none at all, before some surprise is sprung? Oh, don’t fret, this is just a sci fi author speaking.

Ah, but “[B]ecause of Don Rumsfeld’s determination and leadership, America has the best equipped, the best trained, and most experienced armed forces in the history of the world.” - George W. Bush

“When history looks back at the actions of this president and the decisions he made regarding this war, you will go down as the most incompetent American people of all time."


Daggatt continues: Of course, one way to ensure that we are “winning” is to redefine what it means to “win.” You may think this war was about “preempting” the “imminent threat” posed by “Saddam’s WMD”. But you would be wrong. Just as you would if you thought this was about spreading Democracy to the Middle East . Not. According to GWB, the “ultimate victory in Iraq ” is: “[an Iraqi] government that can sustain itself, govern itself, and defend itself.”

Um... if our standards have sunk that low... um... wasn’t that what existed under Saddam?

Mind you I have long wanted to off Saddam! Especially after Bush Sr + Cheney + Rummy utterly knifed the Iraqi people and shamed us all in the great Betrayal of 1991 (us THAT on your brother in law!) Still...

More on the war against the US Officer Corps:Army Gen. John Abizaid, Bush's top Middle East commander and a leading skeptic of a so-called surge, has announced his retirement. … Abizaid's announcement amid that debate could shift the dynamics. … Abizaid has been a forceful voice of doubt about the utility of a surge, and his imminent departure could make it easier for the White House to shift direction.

Also: The option of a major “surge” in troop strength is gaining ground as part of a White House strategy review, senior administration officials said Friday.... a major departure from the current strategy advocated by Gen. George W. Casey Jr., which has stressed stepping up the training of Iraqi forces and handing off to them as soon as possible. Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said today that badly overstretched American forces in Iraq were losing the war there, and that a temporary increase in troop levels probably would not help.

Again Daggatt: t’s midly amusing to contrast the 11% support for sending more troops to Iraq with some other political positions that are generally considered outside the mainstream:
Support for gay marriage - 34%:
Support for legalizing Marijuana - 34%:
Support for strict gun controll: - 54%:

Three times as many people support gay marriage and legalizing marijuana as support escalating the Iraq war.

It is really worth taking the time (10 minutes or so) to check out from MSNBC’s Scarborough Country. Scarborough is a former Republican member of Congress who supported Bush in both 2000 and 2004 and has strongly supported the Iraq war. But he now believes that Bush is delusional and out of control. Among other things, he notes that if Clinton was president and was ignoring our top military commanders, Republicans in Congress would have impeached him (but, of course, they impeached him anyway).

Bush may force this country to confront the question, “What does the country do if the president is basically crazy and ignores the will of the American People, a bipartisan commission and his senior military leadership, and insists on escalating a failed military adventure in Iraq ?”


As some of you know, I think Daggatt is under-rating the danger. By a wide margin. Let me ask you this. Could you imagine a cheap thriller, set in the here and now, in which the “surge” was actually a trap? A chance to use up the very last of our rested forces, leaving us with none at all, before some surprise is sprung? Oh, don’t fret, this is just a sci fi author speaking.

Ah, but “[B]ecause of Don Rumsfeld’s determination and leadership, America has the best equipped, the best trained, and most experienced armed forces in the history of the world.” - George W. Bush

Stefan Jones said...

Stories like this . . .

Saudi Princess to be deported for exploiting servants.

. . . are enough reason to wean ourselves off of the greasy black goo as soon as we can.

Anonymous said...

Predictions... hmm.

A new wave of terrorism will strike, one meant to hit as many people as possible. Large-scale DOS attacks will happen across the U.S. and Europe (and perhaps Asia as well) as American-hating fanatics decide to wage war on us without risking their own lives. In the midst of these attacks there will be attempts to hack into various banks, corporations, and other organizations to steal finances, destroy records, and basically cause as much trouble as possible.

(I don't know, this one might already have come to pass) Spam e-mail will start utilizing a new breed of computer virus to help them find new "customers". These viruses will have a set series of steps they will do: send out an e-mail with the address book of the infected computer. Once this has been done, the virus will delete itself without causing any other actions on the computer. The virus will strike at the wee hours of the morning when most people aren't awake, and send out e-mails to other people with a quick note saying "Just wanted to see how you were doing" and in doing so infect those computers with viruses as well.

An intelligent and thoughtful person will be elected president (yes, this is going into the realm of true science fiction/fantasy here). This person will actually listen to what fiction writers/scifi writers have to say, look into these scenarios, and attempt to impliment policies in his/her government that utilizes these ideas effectively. Despite the effectiveness of these ideas this politician will be voted out of office after one term and most of the policies abandoned. Later another politician will pick up these policies again, claim them to be his own, and claim full responsibility for their effectiveness. ;)

Rob H.

David Brin said...

http://www.futurepundit.com/archives/003240.html

Political Particans presented damaging news about their own side react with emotional parts of the brain, not those assigned to reason. Each time you manage to ignore an outrage perpetrated by the side you're partisan to, you get a strong mental reward. Rational thought is shut down during the process.

Of course I had heard of this. People responding to my “Indignation Addiction” article keep sending me the link. And of course it explains a lot of our life experience, trying to explain to bullheaded partisans why they ought to shift a bit, when every incremental piece of evidence that you present only makes them emotionally more resistant and loyal to their side...

...until a threshhold of "I've had enough" is reached. I saw this during Watergate as one decent Republican after another finally had it with Richard Nixon. And yet, somewhere inside, I now realize that they nursed a pool of deep resentment over having to go through that. A hatred of the other side that later was exploited and stoked to become "culture war."

Likewise, in this case, if the nation does savagely reject the Bushites, will is simmer and fester down deep, only to boil outward even stronger, down the road? These are seeds that will be sown, if the "impeachment" side of the progressive coalition gets its way. Instead of the Truth & Reconciliation side.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Brin averred:

"Across the 20th Century, a growing array of problems were solved through the application of professional skill. We came to rely increasingly upon professions ranging from medical doctors to law enforcement to teachers to farmers for countless tasks that an average family used to do largely for itself."

Right off we've got a problem because the available evidence contradicts part of Dr. Brin's claim.

The professionalization of some professions has had a measurable positive impact. Farming offers the most obvious example. Yields per hectare have grown exponentially courtesy of current agribusiness. Today's profesional farmer uses a GPS on the tractor when sowing seeds and delivering fertilizer to determine the most and least fertile parts of each field.

There is, however, a downside to agribusiness farming -- namely, the fact that we've created monoculture crops. Read "No Blade Of Grass" by John Christopher (1956) to see a possible end result of that trend. (Not probable, mind you, just possible.) The extreme reliance on petroleum-intensive hi-tech agriculture may also come back to bite us in the ass as we pass over the hump in our era of Peak Oil.

As far as teachers and police go, however, professionalization has been an unqualified disaster. I could quote you stats all day long, from the plummeting price of hard drugs to the skyrocketing American prison population to entire neighborhoods collapsing into underclass squalor to ever-growing cohorts of children graduating from schools unable to read or write.

But instead of throwing dry stats at you, I'd strongly suggest you watch seasons 1 and 3 of the HBO show The Wire (you can rent the DVDs via Netflix or your local video rental store) for a direct
look at the result of professionalization of law enforcement, and season 4 of The Wire for a detailed look at the professionalization of education.

The writers of that HBO show, by the way, are professional police officers and professional teachers and professional crime reporters, so this stuff is taken from real life. The Wire is basically contemporary inner urban demographics and stats made palpable. And it's devastating.

Professionalizing law enforcement results in ever more sophisticated methods of "juking the stats." Police with bachelors' and master' degrees in law, or with juris doctors degrees from law schools, figure out ways to use spreadsheets to kick down felony attempted sexual assault to misdemeanor harrassment, or felony burglary to misdemeanor petty theft, in order to get the crime stats down where the politicians demand 'em for re-election. If the demand for a lower crime becomes intense enough, the police classify obvious murders as "death by misadventure" or kick cases across the county line to another jurisdiction...or, unbelievably, simply shut down ongoing investigations that would uncover too much crime (!) It's logcal, in a perverse professional way -- if the investigation gets sh*tcanned, no drug arrests are made, and, presto! Change-o! Drug crimes drop!

We see the same counterproductive craziness running rampant in education, where superb teachers are forced to "teach to the test" -- with the result that only standardized test numbers matter, and the students don't actually learn skills other than standardized test-taking. Bored classes, kids dropping out to deal drugs, burned-out teachers. And it keeps getting worse, not better, as the demand for good stats grows ever more strident.

Professionalization in law enforcement and education equates to meaningless stats. Since clever people can always "juke the stats," that's what everyone in LEO and K-12 education does when their promotions are on the line. The result is that crime and illiteracy and innumeracy keep getting worse, while the stats keep getting better. At the present time, the disconnect twixt stats and reality has reached a rupture point, courtesy of not only the infamous Flynn Effect, but the even more pernicious effect in which the older a person is, the better s/he tends to do on an IQ test!

http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0305-4985%28199806%2924%3A2%3C225%3A%27IMIRA%3E2.0.CO%3B2-Z&size=LARGE

The current inhabitant of the White House offers a superb example of the end result of professionalizing education, and it ain't pretty. Nor is he alone. Dan Quayle offers another excellent example. In fact, if you asked most Yale grads to slap together a subject and a verb and an object, you probably still wouldn't get a coherent sentence from more than 10% of 'em.

As always, satire rushes in where angels fear to tread:
http://www.plainlanguage.gov/examples/humor/writegood.cfm

The preponderance of the available evidence shows that the one-room schoolhouse along with home schooling remains the best way to educate children. Likewise, all the available evidence suggests that the beat cop who knows people in the neighborhood and walks the streets regularly offers the best law enforcement strategy. Yes, with game theory and statistical crime prediction and demographic analysis and DNA profiles, a beat cop still whips the pants off any other method. So much for CSI.

The one room schoolhouse is not a new invention. The beat cop who walks the streets goes way back. Neither of these tasks involves professionalism. In fact, the more "professional" the teacher or the cop, the less effective.

Many fields of course require professionalism, and at a high level. Medicine, mechanical engineering, architecture, nursing (especially with the rise of the RN, an exciting and extremely effective development), accounting and many other jobs have clearly benefited from professionalization.

That said, many highly technical fields like computer "science" (not a science at all, alas...at least, not yet) have not benefitted from professionalization at all. Want proof? 50% of all big programming jobs get abandoned before completion. That's not what we expect of a professional. Do 50% of all surgical operations get abandoned before completion? Do 50% of all airline flights end with the pilot bailing out in midair? I don't think so.

Moreover, with particle physics sliding into the porcelain facility courtesy of inherently untestable "theories" like string theory, it's arguable whether fields like physics have really benefitted from professionalization. As for economics, I take it as read that everyone recognizes the disastrous effect professionalization has had on that field. One need only examine the work product of the two Nobel laureates for economics at Long Term Capital Management to recognize that the professionaliation of economics and finance has merely acted as an amplifier for gross incompetence and hubris. LTCM managed to lose a trillion dollars. That's impressive. The average schmuck can't do that. You need not only a PhD in economics to accomplish that kind of milestone, you need a Nobel Prize to screw things up that badly. Ordinary people aren't capable of f%#&ing up so irretreviably.

So the point is that professionalization has proven a distinctly mixed blessing. In some fields, notably nursing and medicine and architecture and mechanical and electrical engineering, it has made possible quantum leaps (literally, in electrical engineering). But professionalization has arguably all but wrecked other fields like K-12 education, law enforcement, and high finance. In each case professionalization damaged the field in question by giving practitioners the expertise and sophistication to "juke the stats" and in effect Enronize the profession. Anyone today who trusts a standardized school test score or a crime statistic or a corporate finance report as an even remotely accurate picture of reality is a complete fool. Once upon a time, prior to the professionalization of education and law enforcement, that was not the case. We did not used to have 25% of K-12 school children getting dosed with ritalin. (Because "education professionals" did not recognize the mythical "disorders" these kids allegedly suffer from.) We did not used to have law enforcement officials arresting 17-year-olds and getting them sentenced to 10 years in prison without parole for having oral sex with 15-year-olds. (Because beat cops knew better.) We did not used to need metal detectors in schools, nor did we feel the requirement for mandatory minimum sentencing in a wide range of crimes. (Because judges and pols used common sense instead of "professionalism," meaning cold numbers and vacuous stats.) All these degradations are the result of professionalization, and by any reasonable standard it is professionalization that has wrecked a wide range of professions.

I'll let Freeman Dyson have the last word. Dyson has lamented the "creeping credentialism" of modern life. The problem with credentialism is that it marginalizes substantive ability in favor of numbers vomited out by standardized tests, which, as we all know, can be endlessly diddled and fiddled. By removing human judgment from qualifications and susbtituting pseudoscientific numerology like the SAT / GRE (a proxy for Spearman's g, which as we have seen has huge problems due to the Flynn Effect et al.), professionalization systematically misallocates human recources. You get people who are very good at "getting the right numbers" but not good at much else. Like, oh, say...Bill Clinton. Or the 109th Congress. They all hit their numbers. What else did they accomplish? And what chance woulda failed haberdasher like Harry Truman have today?

American society leaped forward when we educated scruffy ragamuffin poor kids over the appalled shrieks of the professionals, and America leaped forward yet again when women got the vote despite the hue and cry from genteel professions. Once again, American society made a huge advance courtesy of the G.I. Bill, which the dean of Harvard ridiculed for turning Harvard into "hobo junction." We made another huge advance when blacks got the civil rights act. Time and again, America has found new ways of using previously wasted human resources by enfranchising the poor, women, minorities, you name it.

Now professionalization in all too many fields (not all, but many) works hard to disenfranchise anyone who isn't good as "juking the stats" and "hitting the numbers."

Isn't it a shame to make a 180 degree about-face and march backward into the past?

SpeakerToManagers said...

There's nothing new about professionalization, it was the curse of medicine for a very long time, as doctors were required to have credentials from schools which stuffed their heads with information that often had no pragmatic basis at all. This still happens; it's only in the last 20 years that respectable cardiologists have been willing to admit that women have heart attacks too. When I have a little more time, and feel a little more savage, I'll post some of my observations of medical education from 4 years on staff at a medical school.

Likewise, the sheer incompetence of the average corporate executive over the last century or so can be largely laid to the influence of the notion that management is a separate profession that doesn't require knowledge of the processes being managed.

That said, many highly technical fields like computer "science" (not a science at all, alas...at least, not yet) have not benefitted from professionalization at all.

This is an area I'm very familiar with: I've been working as a software engineer (not a computer scientist, even when I was doing research) for more than 25 years, and as a digital systems engineer before that. Getting programmers to study engineering was a truly good thing; for the first time they started to think about requirements, design, and testing as important parts of a discipline rather than irritating constraints to be hurried through so you can get on with the coding.

What's caused the trouble with programming in the last 10 years is not that students were urged to be professionals, but that they (and to some extent their future employers) demanded they be trained in "relevant" computer languages and techniques. This resulted in software education becoming vocational. A recent graduate will be proficient in one language, or perhaps two, but will not have learned much, if anything, about the theory of languages, and when using a particular one would be effective. And as we all know, if all you have is hammer, everything looks like a thumb. Example: One of my colleagues was recently asked to help a company he was contracting with to interview some experienced programmers to be hired to maintain the software he'd written; the two best candidates had years of experience and no understanding of what they were doing at all.

So, no, professionalization is not a new phenomenon, and it's not, by a long chalk, the sole cause of the problems we see today in many of the professions.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous wrote:

http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0305-4985%28199806%2924%3A2%3C225%3A%27IMIRA%3E2.0.CO%3B2-Z&size=LARGE

Oops. That link seems to be to something you need special authorization to access. It may be something at your work or university or whatever that isn't available to the general public. In any event, the link, as posted, is worthless to the rest of us reading this blog.

Don Quijote said...

Likewise, in this case, if the nation does savagely reject the Bushites, will is simmer and fester down deep, only to boil outward even stronger, down the road?

If it does, tough cookies...

The dollar is down ~ 20% against major foreign currencies, we have lost over 2 million manufacturing jobs, we have lost at least half a million IT jobs, we have trade deficits that are breaking all records, Federal budget deficits that make Reagan look like a fiscal hawk, Poverty rates shooting up,Bankrupcy rates shooting up, a record amount of people without health insurance, all time records of illegal immigration (Not that I blame the people swimming across the Rio Grande considering what was done to their economy by NAFTA), two wars being lost (Iraq, Afghanistan both pointless & illegal), Osama still at large.

And these are just the highlights.

The Bush administration has been an unmitigated disaster for the USA, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and most of the world.

These are seeds that will be sown, if the "impeachment" side of the progressive coalition gets its way. Instead of the Truth & Reconciliation side.

We have had the "Truth & Reconciliation" in the 80's (Iran-Contra) and what did we get out of it? Nothing!!! No actually worse than nothing, people who know that you can bully the opposition into subservience, and that have no problems doing it.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I needed to chime in when you mentioned "teaching to the test".

You see, this is a fallacy, and the failure of the Shrub's "No Child Left Behind" initiative is partly due to... teacher sabotage.

Teachers are a sometimes arrogant and very stubborn lot. They don't like being told what to do. They often after a few years get into a set pattern and stick by that learned pattern no matter what. We're talking about people forced to treat children as a production-line product. Insert English here, Math there, History over there, Science here, and spit out an educated and intelligent young adult. Some teachers are forced to deal with hundreds of different children each day, though attempts to reduce classroom size has brought that number down to a mere hundred or so. Thus in order to deal with the situation and not just burn out like a carbon-based meteor in the atmosphere, teachers create rote patterns and stick by them so they don't have quite as much work. (Note: not all teachers do. But a lot of them have, at least in the past.)

Suddenly this arrogant, ill-taught sunday-warrior comes up and says (like so many parents and parent-groups and other people who often don't have much of an idea of how much work it is to teach) sticks his nose in and says "you have to do it this way, and everything will be fixed. Trust me. I know better than you." And he passes laws to force this opinion on the teachers.

The teachers screamed in anger. How dare this inept bully demand they change what they do, force them to do so much more work when they are overworked already (and trust me, teachers are overworked and even having summers off isn't a vacation as often teachers are working summers to make ends meet or taking required college courses to meet other requirements to keep their job, often out of their own pockets).

"Teach to the Test" is in fact a load of bullshit. What has happened is a curriculum shift with requirements of knowledge before children are allowed to move on, and with consequences being placed on the schools' shoulders. A flexible teacher can take the requirements of the tests and impliment them without making a big deal of it. Most of what is required on these tests is standard fare for students in any case!

Through a combination of arrogance, passive-aggressive resistance, and stubbornness, teachers are working to sabotage the "No Child Left Behind" initiative and then point their fingers at the law and say "this is what's wrong, this is what is causing kids to drop out of school and stop trying." But kids? They're smart. They know when a teacher doesn't want to teach something. So they don't try. They goof off. They start misbehaving. They act like it doesn't matter.

What's worse is that in order to come to compliance... states set the standards. Those standardized tests? Well if kids aren't passing it... then states can lower the bar and instead of having say 70% be passing, change it to 20%. And states have done this.

And the truth is? NCLB is a bandaid on a gaping chest wound. There is one thing that works best to educating our children. That is to start young. Mandatory paid pre-school and kindergarten. If children are not taught fluency in reading, writing, and math by the end of 2nd grade, then they will often be playing "catch up" for the next nine years of school. It is from this core of underperforming students that many of our troublemakers and problem students come from.

It is from this core of ill-taught children that our criminal class arises. The vast majority of criminals in jail today did not graduate from high school, do not read and write at even a 9th grade level, and were often the very problem-students who caused so much disruption in schools back when they did go there.

It costs more to house and feed (and theoretically rehabilitate) an adult prisoner than it does to pay for a child's preschool teaching. Yet you hear political groups screaming bloody murder when you try to bring something like this into being. People and politicians want immediate results. They don't think of the long term. They don't care about other people's kids. If you say "teach these kids now and in ten, twenty years we'll see a vast reduction in crime" they'll say "bullshit. We want results now. And you're taking our money and spending it on their kids. This is MY tax dollar here, it should pay for MY kids. Let the poor pay for their own schools."

You know... it's a miracle sometimes we've not had this country fragment and fall apart into disparate pieces.

Anonymous said...

Er, that was me. Sorry for not signing that post... and for sounding inarticulate in places. Shows me to post before having my morning coffee... ;)

Rob H.

Rob Perkins said...

but that they (and to some extent their future employers) demanded they be trained in "relevant" computer languages and techniques. This resulted in software education becoming vocational. A recent graduate will be proficient in one language, or perhaps two,

Invariably, that one language will be "C++". Many people love C++. It gives them control over all the parts of a running process and carries with it a feature that lets a programmer morph the language into his own private set of macros.

It's a lexical nightmare. It's also a syntactical nightmare. At one point (I don't know if it's any longer possible with the modern compilers) it was possible to do this:

#define + -

or something like this (I know I'm getting the details wrong):

myspecialintclass operator+(a,b) {

return (myspecialintclass)(int)a-(int)b;

}

And thereby reverse the meaning of every line of code using math.

Now, only an idiot programmer would actually *do* that, but the "flexibility" of the language permits whole categories of interaction and classification bugs which simply aren't possible in languages like Object Pascal, which I think is now well and truly dead.

Visual Basic, the other language in widespread use, is better in at least the respect that it isn't possible to program the keywords away or reverse the meaning of math. But it suffers in other ways.

I could go on for a long long long time about this. It dovetails with David's lament that professional educators are not teaching using computers as simple computation tools for studies in physics, or geometry, or simple concepts in computing.

But let me offer, also, a note of comfort about teaching. At least in my area, the professionalism of teachers doesn't run rampant: they take their marching orders from a decently compassionate State Superintendent, and combine that with an equally, if not more compassionate School Board, and the result is very positive. I know that's not the case for the biggest inner-citiest districts, but their education offering combined with my good attention to what my kids are learning has resulted in a system which serves them well. So far. The district also offers home school supplemental courses and distance learning, and a full spate of vocational training opportunities.

So, it's not *all* bad...

alan said...

Hey David Brin --

Looks like you got another prediction point:

the British gov't is apparently looking into the feasability of a "probationer" pre-criminal tracking system.

alan said...

http://www.economist.com/opinion/displaystory.cfm?story_id=8453850

(there's the link)

Doug S. said...

As I've said before:

If "teach to the test" is bad, fix the d*mn tests until they actually test what you want students to learn! They might be more difficult to give and to grade, but I believe that it would be worth it.

Also, one reason that programming projects fail so often is that programming is really, really hard. The practice of programming has far more in common with writing novels than it does with, say, building cars. Imagine getting 50 people together to write a 10 million word novel, and you have the average large programming project.

By the way: my own personal definition of programming reads like this:

"Programming is the art of figuring out what you want done so precisely that even a machine can do it."

The implications of this definition are left as an exercise for the reader.

Hawker Hurricane said...

David, Don Q is right about this: the willingness of the Democrats to "Live and Let Live" in 1993 irt Iran/Contra resulted in the same people who were guilty of TREASON and lesser crimes get into positions of power in the current administration.

A 'truth' commission, looking into all the possible crimes, and then prosecuting the actual found crimes (if any), up to and including Impeachment of the President for High Crimes and Misdemeanors should not be off the table.
No, I don't want a replay of the 1990's witch hunt, where the goal was impeachment first, reasons for impeachment second; what I want is a serious investigation into the actions of the Bush Administration, and prosecution where warranted.

And the evidence has to be SOLID; no 'he said/she said' 'depends on what you mean by is' weaseling that can be spun, but actual solid lawbreaking (of U.S. laws!). This is not South Africa, where a solid percentage of the population was involved in crimes (so many that they couldn't prosecute without destroying the country), this is a case where (if there is a crime) it was a small group right at the top. But the evidence must be so solid that even the "25%rs" would be convinced.

Citizen James said...

Wow, a lot of stuff to chew on in this thread.

I was originally going to ask about the 'reliable' lie detectors, though you answered at least one of my questions. The main problems with the current set of polygraphs is that they only measure a stress response (which is useless if a person has no moral qualms about lying - such as many people with antisocial personality disorder; an also unfair to someone who is sensitive to leading questions...), as well as the problem with the fallibility of human memory. From what I remember from my cognitive psychology class last year, people will often automatically fill in the details when there are gaps in their memories. Those fillers then become the new 'memories'. One article on memory distortion
an experiment in memory distortion

The facial recognition response seems like it might have potential, however.

On the Science fiction front, I seem to recall seeing a book called "The truth machine" several years back based on the premise of a foolproof lie detector. Didn't have the money for it at the time, and then forgot about it.

On to the subject of teaching. As a teacher in training I do have strong opinions on the subject, so I will try (with or without some degree of success) to overcome my desire to rail blindly against criticisms of the profession in what would doubtlessly be a major (and highly satisfying) indignation high.

Frankly, I think part of teaching is the profession of helping people to become talented amateurs in a variety of subjects, and open the door for them to be able to both expand their knowledge on areas of interest, and prepare for the professional development for whatever career they choose to pursue.

The area where I find danger/indignation is in the so-called "math wars". Here in California, we have a (chapter 4) which essentially declares learning math unnatural, and focuses on procedural learning, treating math as some sort of sorcery, in which mere mortals may be able to go through the motions of vital incantations/computations, but only the high priests/nobility are able to truly 'comprehend' it's stark beauty.

On the other side you have the
, who hold the view that everyone can be numerate. There may still be some advanced branches which are accessible to an elite few - simply because of the amount of dedication (and certain degree of intellect) it takes to build up the body of knowledge required for the more esoteric fields such as knot theory. However they (and I as well, I make no secret of where my biases fall)consider the basics to be comprehensible to anyone of at least average or so intelligence.

Both these groups consist of a group of professionals. The difference is that one group believes that professionals and amateurs can work together, and the other sees the unknowledgeable as peons to be trained, with a few talented stars to be selected for the high priesthood to look down upon the mere mortals.

(oops, I think I'm in rant mode now. :) ). 'nuff said.

citizen James said...

Argh. Missed a close link tag.

Sorry about that everyone.

Hawker Hurricane said...

Science Fiction and lie detection:
H. Beam Piper's "Little Fuzzy" had a lie detector used in courtroom scenes. It essentially had the same U.S. court system, but all statements 'under oath' were made while connected to a 100% perfect lie detector. It would detect a statement that you knew was false by flashing red, and a true statement flashed blue... questionable statements were purple. OF course, if you believed something was true (Elvis shot Kennedy!) it would record it as a true statement since you 'knew' it was true.

David Brin said...

Alan, can we have a reference for the British “probationer” program?
I do urge that folks write up these events and post them at: http://www.technovelgy.com/

Typically, Don conflates like mad. Dig it, the dollar going down is EXACTLY the corrective force that restores US export & industry when the task of uplift by-trade-deficit pauses... as it did for two brief years under Reagan, when the dollar plummeted and suddenly (fantastically quick) we were exporting steel and cars again. Briefly.

Both of our anonymous posters were entertaining and articulate. Unfortunately, in one case, the longest poster utterly missed several points:

1) He implies that my topmost post is in praise of professionalization as a universal trend. In fact, I have spoken often about the problems of guild calcification that accompany credentialism. Indeed, I have spoken also about the drawbacks of standardized testing, which does a very good job of spotting below-average problems that can be addressed with average methodologies... but can be actively harmful when it comes to encouraging creative solution-innovation at the high ends of the scale.

Drop in at:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000BY2PRQ

There I contrast the events of 9/11 with Hurricane Katrina, where the one common behavior of ALL members of the Professional Protective Caste was to quash citizen action. Step back and note what (overall) I am trying to say!
Indeed, my role in pushing a coming Age of Amateurs would seem to be the solution, and far more helpful than Anonymous’s ungrateful carping.

2) And I do mean ungrateful! Yes, every complaint that anonymous mentions has some validity worth close attention... except all that nonsense about one room school houses, of course, which is the sheerest nostalgist baloney hooey imaginable!

Still, the overall message given by anonymous is that there should be no general standards of accountability. No medical school exams or bar exams or universally applicable minimal standards. And that is drivel, sorry.

Here is the difference between us. I see a trend that helped civilized humanity to rise above rural squalor into urban luxury, allowing millions of people to concentrate on becoming extremely good at specialties, while relying on a myriad OTHER specialists to cover all the other bases. It is a fundamental human trend, not just a recent one, and it has been involved in every civilization advance since we started chipping flint!

It accelerated profoundly in the 20th century precisely BECAUSE our big schools became so good at producing huge, unprecedented numbers of high school and then college graduates! This vast expansion of free time and education fed on itself and resulted in the professionalization trend that spanned an entire century. And it was good.

Yes, let’s criticize today’s police for the lack of scrutiny that lets them commit pervasive professional cheats. The solution to that is ANOTHER step in education and citizen power. It is NOT turning around and going back to earlier styles of policing, which generally meant agglomerations of ill education thugs! While anonymous arm-waves generalities about poor accounting practices, I could tell you all stories from my dad’s time as a gangland journalist in 1930s Chicago...

...and let me tell you, things are better now!

And they will get better as the same trends that spurred professional specialization take us to the NEXT step! An era in which a large number of people are SO well-educated and have so much access to instant knowledge that generalists will become more of a force again.

Or people who are specialists in one field but well-informed (and outspoken) aficionados in several others. Able to step in - during a crisis - to help the specialist corps, or else ready with constructive criticism when the pros fall down on the job.

It is part of an ongoing process of solution-generation, followed by discovery of new problems that are generated by your solutions! Civilization is a feedback system in which we must constantly keep correcting our course corrections... and hence only transparency and agility will empower us to do it right. Never rigid dogmas.

Note the difference in tone. Both the nostalgist and the modernist can see the same problem. They can note the very same bad trends. Only the nostalgist’s answer is to vaguely wish we would reject today’s solutions and go backward.

The modernist is grateful to earlier solutions! But knows the next step is to keep solving problems by moving forward.

Lenny Zimmermann said...

To some extent I think all of this hinges upon how one defines "professionalization". After all, if we go by the dictionary definition we are simply referring to "professionals" as someone who gets paid to do a certain type of job, thereby making them a "professional" at whatever that job is.

I think we are mostly looking at it here in terms of higher-levels of eduction (college degrees) and certifications (at least in terms of my own field, Information Technology). And, indeed, that is a mixed blessing.

See, to me, I may very well get paid as an IT professional, but I have no degrees and refuse to get certifications (unless my employer insists and pays for them!) Mainly because I find that the educational institutions today simply do no teach the skills needed, and therefore the "professionals" they churn out are often very lacking in the truly important skills they need. For my field that would NOT be teaching a particular computer language or Operating System or how to use any particular program or piece of hardware, but rather teaching instead logical deduction, reasoning skills, troubleshooting skills and researching skills.

The true skills of this field are more often learned an embraced in the exact opposite way we think of for a classroom subject, meaning that many folks often learn the skills of this field as amateurs, by playing on their own, by finding out the basics on the job, whereas the classroom only teaches the very specifics that should, instead, be learned on the job. Consequently hiring agents, who rarely know anything about IT themselves, think they must look for specific certifications of specific knowledge sets (knowledge of a particular program, for example) as opposed to looking for the true generalist they will need. I believe another poster alluded to this when speaking of programmers knowing a particular language, but not understanding nearly as well the concepts of programming that would allow them to quickly pick up and program in any language. (Also another reason why I feel that the tests for this field are ridiculously useless since they test for memorization, which in an ever-changing field like this one is practically a useless skill, whereas at least an open book test would better test for researching skill... but I digress... as usual ;))

At any rate I don't think profesionalization itself is either a negative or a positive, per se (at least if we view it as some form of higher education) but rather I find it too broad of a definition in any case to be particularly useful in defining the skills of the individual in some cases. However when discussing certain fields either those forms of higher education are required (Doctor, Lawyer, Teachers in most states) or some other form of specific mandate is required (meaning, Law Enforcement, for example, is a monopoly held by the state, granted by us, on the use of force to, supposedly, protect the rights of the individual, speaking in general terms.) I think it is in relation to those particular professions that we see the primary focus of where the failures occurred here with Katrina. Primarily in that it was those same folks who held their own professions too highly over the very people they were supposedly using their skills to help. Such as Law Enforcement actually preventing citizens from entering the area (usually on the nebulous assertion that they'd "just have to rescue that rescuer.")

In that sense, where professionalism becomes an excuse for exclusion of the "amateur", I think we see a strong assertion that professionalization becomes a bane instead of a boon. It's great to have educated people who are regularly paid to and well understand a particular task, but that should never exclude others who are not so regularly paid to constantly perform some task from being allowed to use their skills in whatever way they may best be utilized.

I would also like to remark on Stefan Jones' conclusion that the problem with the "sovereign and empowered citizen" meme is that Americans will buy into "sovereign and empowered" and forget "citizen." I would have to greatly disagree with that sentiment. It's a common one, to be sure, that somehow Americans don't know their neighbors and wouldn't help them because of that, etc. However I think the reactions of New Yorkers and Americans everywhere to help out however they could during 9/11 should disprove that theory on its own. I don't think Americans have ever forgotten they were citizens. Indeed I found a common thread amongst my fellow evacuees during Katrina that we were all so outraged about not being let back to our homes because many of us knew we had supplies there and wanted desperately to make sure that our neighbors (not just the people next door or across the street, but our extended neighbors in even the nearby Parishes as well) were not in need of help, or those supplies or anything else that we might be able to do for them. I can't say as I've met too many people who didn't share that same sentiment. Besides recent studies show that suburbanites are far more communal than common sentiment would have us believe. (http://www.socsci.uci.edu/~jkbrueck/socinteract.pdf)

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I want to riff upon some common drug-highs that most people partake-of. One is the alluring condition of despising our pitiably stupid neighbors.

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