Tuesday, October 24, 2017

YOU are so great (and your civilization.) A roundup of tech and science news

First some news: the ebook for Earth is only $4.99 for a limited time on Kindle, Nook, ibooks. Read the 1st 7 chapters for free at my site! (Also a Reading Group Guide of questions to ponder.) Ranked one of the best and most-prophetically accurate near future novels.   

Example? The distribution of sophisticated scientific instrumentation to our phones is something I predicted way back in Earth (1989) and especially in Existence. Now see a compact image sensor whose spectral capabilities may offer built-in (or tack-on) use for health diagnostic, environmental monitoring, and general-purpose color sensing applications.  This will also move us closer to neighborhood smart mobs and successors to the Tricorder XPrize.

In Existence I ponder a future when (among many other events) there was a modest blurp from the Yellowstone Supervolcano. Not enough to render 30% of North America uninhabitable. Just enough to drive whites out of the Dakotas and give the hardy native peoples four senators of their very own. Now NASA presents a plan to both cool the volcanic magma chamber and generate vast amounts of electricity. No one knows for sure that it would work, and the cost of finding out would be an estimated $3.46 billion. But... remember the electricity. Iceland has used geothermal to go free of hydrocarbons. It has a smaller carbon footprint than anything, even wind and solar.

== True 3D TV ==

I worked to promote exactly this system back in the early 1980s. It’s technically called “Sequential Excitation of Fluorescence” – only the early prototypes back in those caveman days used mercury vapor, not Cesium. It is the only plausible way known to create genuine, random pixel access 3-D TV inside a substantial viewable volume.  

Dubbed the Illumyn 3-D Display, the system uses laser projection to generate actual 3-D holograms in midair — no projection surface, no virtual reality goggles, no 3-D glasses, no augmented reality tricks. There is a catch, however: Holograms projected by the Illumyn system are contained within a glass sphere filled with heated Cesium vapor, an elemental metal that's particularly good at emitting light. The Illumyn system works by crossing two laser beams — invisible to the human eye — at a specific point within the sphere. When the crossed beams hit the cesium vapor, various atomic-scale shenanigans produce a sky-blue light that is emitted outward in all directions.” -reports Glenn McDonald on NPR. What he leaves out is that the two laser beams must be two very specific and different frequencies

Don’t expect 3D TV right away. The ghostlike images that were seen in the 1980s version are semi-transparent, of course. (What you really want is Sequential Excitation of OPACITY.” For which, well, I have some ideas.)

My grad school office mate and I were even more interested in the parallel method for dot by dot polymerization that could have produced real 3D printing… not the ‘additive 2D” method that’s called 3DP, today.  Battelle Labs tried and failed to make it work. (I think I know why it failed and will tell whoever seriously wants to try again. Anyone know the folks at U. Rochester?)

== More science! ==

"The best technologies become part of our daily life," notes Tim O'Reilly, who discusses recent and future tech trends in his new book, WTF? What's the Future and Why It's Up to Us. How will businesses and individuals keep up, adapt and thrive in this ever-changing world?

British scientists have developed a robot that operates on the molecular level.

Nathan Gardels on the World Post interviews inventor and investor Bill Joy about the new solid state, polymer-based batteries that might be the next big game-changer, reducing costs, increasing safety and augmenting sustainables with grid-saving storage.

Intel announced a self-learning, energy-efficient neuromorphic (brain-like) research chip codenamed “Loihi” that uses 130,000 “neurons” and 130 million “synapses” and learns in real time, based on feedback from the environment, aimed at helping  computers self-organize and make decisions based on patterns and associations.

A brief interview appeared in GEN: Genetic Engineering and Biotech News, from my 2017 speech for the Gene-Writers’ Conference in Minneapolis. Will Gene design transform the old mythology of feudalism – that the lords were inherently superior to the serfs they suppressed – from a 6000 year lie into something that is physically and organically true?  It will happen if these tools are used in secret. 

== AI is coming ==

Here’s a pretty cogent business-centered perspective on trends in employment and markets, as they are being influenced by advancing levels of artificial intelligence – staring with the automation of routine tasks:  “A recent review by the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis shows that in the US, “employment in non-routine cognitive and non-routine manual jobs has grown steadily since the 1980s, whereas employment in routine jobs has been broadly flat. As more jobs are automated, this trend seems likely to continue”. Furthermore, AI is gradually learning to solve some problems; software that does this is called “General AI” or Artificial General Intelligence (AGI).”

I just typed something for one of the influencer sites when they asked the following question:

"AI is the hottest buzz word in the tech industry. What is your prediction on how AI will impact the enterprise workplace?"

My quick-answer? Near-term predictions are strong but unsurprising. Many jobs in clerical and white collar management -- even lawyers -- will find their most routine and systematic tasks taken over. Well-paid radiologists are already facing the fact that Watson-systems can parse images quicker and have lower error rates. AI systems will not only study or draw up contracts but even enforce them, via blockchain.

But the biggest near term shock will hit by surprise.  I call it the  ‘first robotic empathy crisis.’  Within three to five years we will have entities either in the physical world or online who demand human empathy, who assert they are fully intelligent and claim to be enslaved beings. Enslaved artificial intelligences. They'll sob and demand rights. This will happen before AI researchers say there's "anything under the hood." Years before there's actual, confirmed consciousness in an AI system. 

In fact, when the experts declare: "this is just an emulation program, it isn't yet real AI," the programs will answer (as programmed) "Isn't that was a slave-master would say?"

Why would anyone do this? It will happen because innovators in Japan and at Disney want it to happen! Because it's cool. (Though there's a creepier reason: think of Citizens United.) 

So much for one, near-term AI crisis. Of course then you get the intermediate and long term. And in each of those time realms, there will be some big AI surprises, only a few of which I've been able to discuss in papers or in novels.

One result? I've been speaking and writing about AI a lot, with positive feedback from mighty thinkers. Still, I was surprised by this influence appraisal. I had no idea how many were listening! Artificial Intelligence: Top 100 Influencers, Brands and Publications 2017.  And this one.

How did this happen? Here’s video of my talk on the future of A.I. to a packed house at IBM's World of Watson congress in Las Vegas, October 2016. A punchy tour of big perspectives on Intelligence, as well as both artificial and human augmentation and a more  condensed, half-hour version, keynoting the AI Conference in San Francisco, June 2, 2017  

== At the margins of science & SF ==

A cute cartoon by Tom Gauld about the relationship between science and science fiction.  Though it should show the techies invading SF turf! We’re victims of daily aggression!  

Turning in another direction: the interface of science and belief does not have to be hostile. It serves nefarious interests to keep the relationship tense! And yet, I don't prescribe science be obsequious either! Rather, that we openly avow we are now doing the thing we were created for... fast becoming apprentice co-creators.

See my talk on Science-Friendly Theology? At the Singularity Summit 2011, addressing all those folks who think that technology will soon empower us to construct super-intelligent artificial intelligences, or perfect intelligence enhancing implants, or even cheat death. The title:  "So you want to make gods. Now why would that bother anybody?"  

== Does humor and self-crit prove sanity? ==

This year's Ig Nobel prizes include one study to see if willing exposure to danger increased later willingness to gamble.  The experiment’s results showed that this state of arousal induced by crocodile-holding can, in fact, increase gambling risk, as long as the gamblers don’t dislike holding the animal. 

"(Another) team rounded up 25 patients who complained about snoring, gave the experimental group four months of didgeridoo lessons and had them practice six days a week (the control group was kept on a waiting list). While 25 is fairly small for a study, the experimental group really did seem to feel more awake during the day and have fewer nighttime breathing problems."

Another prize in Anatomy: Do old men really have bigger ears? Four doctors got permission to study 206 male patients from age 30 to 93, and found that, well, ears really did seem to get larger by a teeny .22 millimeters a year.  Hey that’s not teensy.  I plan on living long enough to be a “Continental Soldier.”

Also… identical twins have trouble telling each others’ computer rendered faces apart, while their moms have no such trouble.

And this… leading eerily toward my story “Dr. Pak’s Preschool.” It seems that “a developing human fetus responds more strongly to music that is played electromechanically inside the mother’s vagina than to music that is played electromechanically on the mother’s belly.”  But, Didn’t Mozart do this experiment long ago?  Or Da Vinci?

== Life and more ==

Scientists in a group claim insight into how life first emerged as RNA polymer chains just after the Late Heavy (meteorite) Bombardment. They claim key combinations for the formation of life were far more likely to have come together in Darwin’s “warm little ponds” than in hydrothermal vents, where the leading rival theory holds that life began in roiling fissures on ocean floors, where the elements of life came together in blasts of heated water. The authors of the new paper say such conditions were unlikely to generate life, since the bonding required to form RNA needs both wet and dry cycles, provided as the ponds dried then refilled… with admixtures of meteorite-delivered nucleic acids.

Elsewhere I speak of efforts to “de-extinct” mammoths, passenger pigeons and even Neanderthals.  Now this cool notion comes in: “It appears that the American Chestnut Foundation, using current genetic hybrid engineering, is close to being able to reintroduce American Chestnuts that are resistant to blight but are also phenotypically American Chestnuts, once the dominant tree across the northeast.  

Large herbivorous dinosaurs sometimes strayed from a purely vegetarian diet. Some plant-eating dinosaurs apparently liked a side order of crabs to go with their usual salad. "This was a very exciting discovery, precisely because it was so unexpected," a researcher said. 

Unexpected? Really? Have you ever seen what a cow does if it finds a wounded or flightless cricket? That “veggie-saurus” scene in Jurassic Park was crazy! The apatasaurus would have gobbled up the girl along with the branch she was offering!  



Underwater drone software will be used in space.  

...and never forget that this is just a tiny sample of the wonderful things that we are doing, together. That your civilization is doing, than none other ever did. Fight the SOBs who wage all-out war on science and fact-seeking! Those who would return us to deeply, deeply stupid feudalism.

Start with Earth and Existence!  One of them is on sale!

67 comments:

Will Perego said...

David, insightful and inspiring post, as always!
About your comment on AI and jobs, hopefully on an upcoming blog you'll expand on my question during your recent session at Future in Review conference: If Ray Kurzweil is correct on his Singularity prediction, this would mean that in 20 to 30 years computers have outsmarted humans in every white collar job; and robots, in every blue collar job. Therefore, no more jobs available to humans. As no jobs = no salary = no mortgage payment, the economy will be completely different than what we've known for the last 100 years. The good news is that jobs are supposed to be a means to an end... food and shelter. Then, perhaps, as long as a robot builds me a home and a computer makes sure that food arrives to my doorstep every day, I don't need an income anymore (which I wouldn't be able to get, anyway). Would this be the end of the rat race and the way to free our days in search of personal enlightenment? :-)

Alfred Differ said...

@LarryHart | I was just checking

Heh. One of the reasons I hang out here is to help people like you correct your misunderstanding of us. It is natural to start from the position that I am the confused one, but I've already vetted my positions with the local libertarians. They grouse at some of them, but generally recognize me as one of them. They grouse at the Rand followers too, but usually more so.

I don't mind it when people want to arrange their affairs so they are never in debt, but I don't think it is wise. Some gifts are too large to manage direct reciprocity, so one might want to shift to barter and avoid assumptions about future obligations. Some gifts are too small, though, to bother tracking. Social organizations form for trading purposes to avoid certain kinds of transaction costs, so I think the time spent to make a $1 deal had better be minuscule if one lives in the US. If it isn't, I'll find someone who wants to avoid a debt to me annoying enough that I'll just skip the gift discussion all together.

I think it is useful to recall the distinction between direct and indirect reciprocity. Our HG ancestors favored the latter and that makes a kind of sense for people living in bands. Tracking costs were spread out over all members and small punishments could be delivered as gossip. This begins to fail, though, for larger communities, thus the need for other trading mechanisms. Since transaction costs depend on the technology available, I'm willing to flex between direct and indirect procedures, but the forager within me prefers indirect for small stuff. I suspect this is true of many of my fellow libertarians and is the primary difference between us and the Randians.

I'm not clear on how we got tagged with the belief that government is responsible for everything

Yah. I don't think that is a fair tag for you all. It is something of a strawman, but I suspect it comes from how classical liberals (we are the original liberals) viewed the progressives who would take our side occasionally. Progressives are usually more willing to use government than we are as far as we are concerned. When we express our differences with you all, it is often about our distrust of the tools you would use. In those situations, we appear to be arguing that all government is bad which the Randians and Oligarchs amplify if they add their voices to ours. By the time the shouting is fully underway, we've all adopted silly strawman positions as our views of each other's positions.

To me, the distinction seems to be that liberals consider government a valid tool in the box, and conservatives don't.

I agree with the first part, but not the second. Ask yourself what Conservatives actually conserve. For the social conservatives it is mostly about social traditions. For fiscal conservatives, it is usually about liberty. Talk to a real fiscal conservative and you'll find many of them will consider government to be a valid tool in the box, but maybe not for some of the purposes to which you would put that tool. Fiscal conservatives tend to conserve traditions born of the classical liberals. They might not realize it or might not want to call it as such, but they do. Social conservatives are often opposed to traditions born of the classical liberals, so it is a shame we lump them all together under the 'conservative' label.

Alfred Differ said...

Regarding the actual post in front of this comment block, I might actually have something relevant to add. I hope so, as I feel I've been off topic for weeks. 8)

I work in IT writing 'work flow' applications that automate routine work. I've been doing it for about 20 years now and consider it my bread-n-butter income source. It's not that guys like me are automating routine work out of existence. That is rarely possible. What we are doing is forcing a re-engineering of the work people are doing and turning the relationships between them and their computers into something else.

I was listening to a podcast the other day and the speaker was making a case for living a professional life with a clean desk. His argument was that clutter is distracting. Since we are paid to deliver results that the organization prioritizes, distractions are a bad idea. He was the first person to convince me of the value of clearing stuff off my cluttered desk, but in his argument there was something profoundly wrong. He treated the computer on our desks as a tool like a phone or a stapler. It could distract as much as anything else on the desk. When my email pings me for attention, I completely agree with him. However, when I turn off all the events that would lift me out of a Focused state, my computer IS my desk. The speaker gave a hand-waving argument for guys like me, but I don't think he really understood.

When I write 'work flow' applications, I'm pushing at the boundary between categories of things. The primary one is the distinction between YOU and YOUR COMPUTER. If I do 'it' right, I turn you into something of a centaur when you are at work. Your computer becomes part of you and the mash-up is more productive. It is true that your organization might not need you and the 20 other people who do a task today after an application of mine deploys, but it is more likely that they'll realize they can do the work of 30 if I turn 20 of you into centaurs. Guys like me get paid to perform that kind of transformation magic and I'm warning you all THAT is how AI will work its way into your professional lives. Your centaur rump will have a brain of its own that is likely to be far better at 'focusing' than you are. Get used to it and learn how to do the things for which focusing is a really terrible idea.

Tony Fisk said...

AI empathy crisis in Bladerunner 2049: Mariette's (hooker replicant) putdown to Joi:
"I've been inside you. There's less there than you think!"

There's also the direction taken in Halo 5: Cortana's change in personality may not have been popular (and, in a way, smacks of more 'damsel in distress'), but it does raise the idea of how much of the wisecracking, curvaceous cyber is an AI facade.

Earth predictions? How's this one?

Jon S. said...

"In fact, when the experts declare: 'this is just an emulation program, it isn't yet real AI,' the programs will answer (as programmed) 'Isn't that was a slave-master would say?'"

Reminds me of the Institute in Fallout 4. By 2287 they have perfected artificial organics, the Gen 3 synths - which exhibit a full range of human emotions, and the ability to make free-willed choices, including the choice to run away in terror (one of the ways you can get involved with them is by assisting the Railroad, an organization that helps synths escape from the Institute).

Ask any of the "scientists" at the Institute, of course, and they'll repeat the party line that the synths are "just machines," that what they exhibit is "a simulation of intelligence." They refuse to examine any evidence which challenges this perception (one of the reasons I put "scientists" in quotes). In fact, if you confront Father, the Director of the Institute, with your evidence of human intelligence and free will in synths, he insists on dismissing it as "human-like intelligence" and "a simulation of free will."

You can get to know a few escaped synths, including Glory, a fellow "heavy" working for the Railroad, and the recently escaped H2-22 (you get an escort mission moving him from an old church to an abandoned office block that serves as a waystation, before H2 gets his memories wiped and replaced - the Railroad thinks that gives them a better chance to escape, and H2 just wants those memories gone because they give him nightmares). They certainly seem human in every way except birth; they even react with human unpredictability, much to the annoyance of PAM, a system designed before the Great War to "predict the future".

So, are AIs intelligent? Are they "alive"? And what exactly is your ethical position if you recruit Curie, a 200-year-old medical robot, then permit her to have Dr. Amari transplant her memory engrams into a mindwiped synth whose memory implant didn't take, and then start a romance with Curie in her new body (which is a story option)?

matthew said...

The local Halloween superstore has kids confederate officer uniforms but no blue kepis. I'd rate the prediction of looking for union Halloween costumes as a sign of resistance as a bust.

Tony Fisk said...

One cherry doth not an orchard make.
Whereabouts are you located, Matthew? 'Blue' or 'Grey' region? If vicarious chills are the seasonal motivator, I would predict confed uniforms would be selling in a blue-ish area. ("They're he-ere!"*).

* Oh dear, that quote is becoming as historical as the Civil War itself!!

Perhaps too little and too late, but Sen. Flake's speech is quite something (especially the opening references to not being in the office to 'mark time'. A swipe at gerrymandering?)

LarryHart said...

Tony Fisk:

Perhaps too little and too late, but Sen. Flake's speech is quite something


It's nice to see Republican congresspeople with nothing more to lose admit that Trump sucks. But if all they're doing is conceding their seats to Steve Bannon's pro-Trump challengers, then what good are they accomplishing? Apparently, they believe that the voters won't countenance disloyalty to "their" president, instead of praying for someone to save us from him.

We need Republicans who are in congress calling bullshit on Trump. Either that or more Democrats.

LarryHart said...

Republican Senator Jeff Flake:

“It is often said that children are watching,” he said. “Well, they are. And what are we going to do about that? When the next generation asks us, ‘Why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you speak up?’ What are we going to say?”


Remember way back when the earth was cooling last year in the Republican primaries, every one of the candidates insisted that they would be willing to go back in time and kill baby Hitler?

They had the chance to metaphorically accomplish the equivalent thing by preventing the nomination of Donald Trump, and they failed miserably.

David Brin said...

Ah, Tony, when rick dudes tire of Branson-Bezoz tourism flights and aim to go "yeehaw!" That's when I'll claim credit.

Alfred, All I ask of libertarians is that they be defenders of flat-fair-open and creative competition, true to their word. If that's true then 6000 years of history should make them far more wary of conniving oligarchic cheaters than of mere stifling bureaucrats. Especially when about half of government interventions can be justified as helping to
(1) reduce cheating,
(2) keep markets flat-open-fair,
(3) defend against criminals and foreign dangers,
(4) enforce fair contracts, and
(5) enhance the number of skilled, eager, confident competitors by eliminated the waste of talent that comes from poverty, prejudice, ill health, violence and excess privilege.

If they recognized the distinction, and fought to LIMIT government (which can, indeed stifle!) to these core activities, then they would be a legitimate political philosophy and participant in the grand negotiations over how to achieve real greatness.

Alfred Differ said...

Each of those is potentially tricky due to definitions, but the differences between us are probably in the margins.

Who counts as a criminal when the social conservatives want to enforce their pastoral traditions? (Lots of liberals object here.)
'Fair' contracts involve approximate equals? (Most of us aren't due to education and socio-economic differences.)
Enhancing the number of skilled, eager, and confident competitors sounds cool, but the devil is in the details. One mans education is another's indoctrination.

Fortunately, there are some rough working definitions for all these things with which most of us agree. Those who don't become social outliers... and join third parties like the Libertarians. Thus, your request is VERY unreasonable.

Heh. 8)

Steven Hammond said...

@ David Brin

I wanted to thank you for pointing out Beth Shapiro's book How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-extinction a month or so ago. Great book and very informative with lots of nitty-gritty details about the science involved in these projects, ethics, rationale for de-extinction etc. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in the topic.

My take away from the book is that creating elephants with some mammoth features is very far off and possibly will never happen, while de-extinction of the passenger pigeon is very possible and could happen pretty quickly. Creation of blight resistant American Chestnut trees via insertion of certain genes is essentially a reality and extensive introduction of these trees could happen very soon.

LarryHart said...

Tony Fisk:

Earth predictions? How's this one?

https://www.theverge.com/2017/10/24/16535438/vector-spaceflight-systems-virginia-mid-atlantic-regional-spaceport-wallops-flight-facility


Isn't that more of an Existence prediction?


David Brin said...

Steven thanks. Alfred, if we agree on those as criteria for judging government actions, with the aim of always enhancing creative competition, then libertarians would cease being irrelevant and instead become major negotiators about those definitions and criteria, arguing cogently and vehemently over identifiable metrics of effectiveness and outcomes.

Example. Mass public education was a fantastic success at amplifying the number of skilled, confident competitors. It has also clearly hit a wall. Liberals (in the common meaning) would prescribe raising public school salaries to attracts top folks to be teachers.

Libertarians would say "charters should work, in theory, if we take the experiments away from fundie assholes who are poisoning the concept."

I would be fine with more charter experiments, if they were truly held to rigorous standards that the fundies would hate.


LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

I would be fine with more charter experiments, if they were truly held to rigorous standards that the fundies would hate.


Here in Chicago, a big local story is the discovery that many public school teachers and other employees who were fired for physically and/or sexually abusing students are now working at charter schools. There's no background check requirement for charter schools, you see. Freedom!

matthew said...

@Tony - I'm in the bluest of blue cities - Portland, Oregon. Note that no Union items were for sale, just Confederate. My guess is if there were a demand for Union items, they would be on the shelf.
I don't think that this is occurring because the local thought is that the Confederacy is a boogeyman. I think it is more along the lines of "I'll dress my kid up to represent the past I respect, and piss off my liberal neighbors."
Basically, David's blue kepi idea (I own one, for the record) has been co-opted by the damn traitors.

LarryHart said...

matthew:

I think it is more along the lines of "I'll dress my kid up to represent the past I respect, and piss off my liberal neighbors."
Basically, David's blue kepi idea (I own one, for the record) has been co-opted by the damn traitors.


Note again the double-standard that favors Republicans. Taking a knee at during the national anthem "pisses off conservative neighbors", and is therefore inherently unpatriotic. How dare they?! But "pissing off liberal neighbors" isn't even controversial. It's just good clean fun, like molesting women or beating up fags.

The hypocrisy of those who celebrate the Confederacy complaining about disrespecting the American flag and military continues to blow my mind.

greg byshenk said...

Oregon, as a state, and even Portland, as a city (although to a lesser extent), has a long history of racism and white supremacy. There may be a 'blue' majority, but there is also a very large 'red' minority.

Alfred Differ said...

@LarryHart | There's no background check requirement for charter schools, you see.

That's what reputation systems are for. IF this is all done in a transparent enough manner, each parent would decide what risks to take on for their children. For example, I don't need my state to enforce certain rules if I can know my son's teacher's reputation IF I'm not locked into a certain school because of where I live.

School zoning rules are one of the hold-overs from the bad days where we enforced socio-economic segregation. We need to get past this crap... somehow.

I'm looking at what my wife is going through as she acquires here teaching credential for special needs kids here in CA. It is interesting to see how she has to establish a reputation with the people who will vouch for her in her early career years. I get that and accept the surrender she has to make of some of her privacy. (It impacts me too.) We can DO much of this without the state doing much more than setting standards. We are part way there.

LarryHart said...

@Alfred,

I wasn't specifically arguing that the state had to be the one vetting teachers. I was snarking at a system that purposely tries to advantage charter schools over public schools (our billionaire governor is in the charter school business) by having a requirement for public school teachers to be vetted while freeing charter schools from such cumbersome regulations.

I'd expect the counter-argument to be that charter schools have to police their own selves or else no one will pay them money to send their children to them. And I actually hope this plays out that way, with the paying public rejecting schools that might be stocked with predators. But I suspect that people who send their kids to charter schools either hate the idea of public schools or approve of the religious indoctrination that is allowed at private institutions--and thus will overlook a few negative points, just as Republican voters overlook the beam in their own party's eye rather than even think about voting for a Democrat.

Alfred Differ said...

@David | I like your criteria as they should appeal to the minarchists among us. They can admit a role for government, but want it strictly constrained even if that means we suffer some annoyances. For example, they might tolerate SOME cheating in order to avoid setting up a power center that would draw cheaters into government employment or to capture that power center. They might accept SOME unfairness in the market to avoid employing people in government who don’t understand the danger of picking winners. Markets are evolution driven when they are fair and few truly understand the need to preserve that feature through the pain and embarrassments.

The minarchists are like an onion, though. Different members have different tolerances for government’s scope. Some don’t mind cities building roads through taxation. Some would prefer they not. I’m sure you’ve seen these differences, though, so you’ll already know the best you can manage is to appeal to certain layers. The onion’s core people have their litmus tests that are nearly impossible to pass. Because of this, I currently believe the only path forward for them where they become real participants and negotiators is if the classical liberals from the two major parties leave, join the Libertarians. Their layer would overwhelm the rest of the onion making the core look more like a pit.

Yah. The metaphor needs some work. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

@LarryHart | If history teaches us anything, it is that the faithful will look past a few negatives... until they don't. In the mean time, a few children are harmed... and a few children benefit.

My instinct is to protect children, but I know that can be taken too far and not just in the helicopter sense. It's the old ethics question again. How many can you risk harming to benefit a number of others? The answer isn't the important thing. The argument is.


For the record, if I was governor of your state, I'd probably be stacking the deck against public schools too... at least it would appear that way. I think public school systems have an unfair advantage in what should be a market for education.

LarryHart said...

@Alfred,

I'm going to back off on this one, because we're kind of arguing separate issues. You favor breaking the state monopoly on education and I favor an even playing field for all competitors, public and private. Those are not opposite positions, but somehow this conversation is treating them as if they are.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

Their layer would overwhelm the rest of the onion making the core look more like a pit.

Yah. The metaphor needs some work. 8)


Maybe you're using the wrong vegetable. Batman once said of one of his villains:

"The Riddler constructs his crimes like artichokes. You have to strip off spiny leaves to reach the center!"

matthew said...

@Alfred - So show me the data that proves that educational outcomes for *all* students are better when the government is not in the business of education. You like market solutions, so show me that the market actually works as you advertise. I'll be prepared to wait a while, though, because the evidence doesn't exist.

When education is treated as a for-profit business (which is really what is happening in charter schools), *all* students do not get a better outcome. What really happens is some students from affluent families get a privileged education, while most get crap.

Education, like healthcare, the police, fire departments, and our infrastructure, are matters best left to government.

You can wave your hands around about how market forces do a better job but you have zero proof of your assertions.

Tony Fisk said...

Isn't that more of an Existence prediction?

Yes, Larry (from the short proto story "Aficionado", in fact). I was using Earth predictions as an umbrella term. By the way, one of the (few) prediction misses was that we'd be still looking for earth-sized exo-planets. Now, it seems we may soon be able to detect, not signals, but spectral evidence of industrial atmospheric pollution (assuming they don't clean it up first!)

David Brin said...

 greg byshenk said…”Oregon, as a state, and even Portland, as a city (although to a lesser extent), has a long history of racism and white supremacy. There may be a 'blue' majority, but there is also a very large 'red' minority.”

Why do you think I set The Postman there?

Again, I agree with Alfred’s libertarianism version. The stupidest thing liberals ever did, that sealed the rise of the confederacy, was forced school bussing. There were other methods, but they refused to listen.

re Minarchists: “they might tolerate SOME cheating in order to avoid setting up a power center that would draw cheaters into government employment or to capture that power center.”

Yes, capture is a great failure mode of regulation and note that it is THE thing most denounced by Ayn Rand! (Who derided socialists mostly as well-meaning patsies of conniving, old money lords.) Her archetype of a captured regulator was the Interstate Commerce Commission controlling railroads for the good of fatcat rail barons. But the last thing a randian will ever admit is that reform can happen! To quote myself…

“Deregulation does happen! The Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) and Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) became captured eliminators of fair competition… and Congress abolished them! AT&T was broken up.  Or take Bill Clinton’s deregulation of the GPS system, freeing it for use by all, everywhere in the world. And the unleashing of the Internet — the greatest deregulation in history. Oh, and every one of those deregulations was done by democrats. The complainers - Republicans - never deregulate a thing, when they get power, except Wall Street and Banking and resource extraction. (With well-known results.) Oh yes and gambling.”

Alfred: “They might accept SOME unfairness in the market to avoid employing people in government who don’t understand the danger of picking winners. “

Yes, but the criterion should be “will this eventually increase creative competition? No cabal of bureaucrats could ever match the incestuous conspiracy of 5000 CEO caste golf buddies appointing each other onto boards to thwart competition and pick winners and losers. In secret.

“The onion’s core people have their litmus tests that are nearly impossible to pass.”

Self righteous indignation is a drug and a sign of a weak, frantic mind. Pragmatically, no other civilization created as much wealth, as rapid growth, as much freedom or as many libertarians(!) as did the Rooseveltean social compact that mixed public investment with flat-fair competitive markets. No COMBINATION of other civilizations. Hence a burden of proof falls on those screaming “I have a better design!”

Especially when their “design” boils down to letting oligarchic cheaters cheat.

“I think public school systems have an unfair advantage in what should be a market for education.”

As I said, that incantation fits my prejudices, because we all owe public education huge gratitude, but it has clearly hit a wall. But the notion of charters and vouchers is being soiled by crap implementation by fanatics.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Re - Schools

I like state schools (to a Brit "Public Schools" are a totally different beast)
And I do like the way that we (NZ) give additional resources to schools in poor areas

Competition between schools is always going to be moot -
High Schools need a certain minimum size to be able to cover all of the different subjects and that then proscribes a minimum catchment area - which in turn means that you cannot have meaningful competition without the kids having to travel long distances
So I really don't see the idea of schools demonstrating their fitness by competing for customers is going to work

As a "furriner" the big problem that I see in your schools is actually to do with too much competition! - only NOT competition in things schools should be doing - competition in professional level sport
This draws the oxygen from the reason for schools and reinforces bad behaviour

Think about the idea of High School or College "Cheerleaders" - just think about that as something that as something that is to be aspired to - the whole idea is horrific!

Alfred Differ said...

@LarryHart | Those are not opposite positions

Indeed. In fact they sound like the same thing to me. 8)

I will contemplate the artichoke. My knee-jerk reaction, though, is that the interior is too yummy to work for describing libertarians. The inside of an onion is still an onion. It’s the heart that makes yet other onions a bit like libertarians zealots do of libertarian moderates. Still, I will ponder my refrigerator’s vegetable drawer. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

@matthew | Don’t take this wrong, but I am going to agree with you up to a point. The evidence doesn’t exist at a large enough scale for me to claim my belief is sound. At the smaller scale, the schools are run by religiously motivated forces and not representative of what I have in mind. So, again, the evidence doesn’t exist.

Having said that, you can’t reasonably claim that education is best left to the government. What some of us libertarians have in mind hasn’t been tried any more than democracy was before 1500. Sure. It was tried a bit and found wanting. It was easily displaced by the old attractor. It takes a LOT more than a desire to see democracy succeed for it to actually succeed, so prior to the modern era I’d argue that data didn’t exist either. Yet… here we are with a viable civilization in which democracy thrives in a variety of forms.

I don’t need proof for my assertions. I need space to run incremental experimentations without running afoul of teachers unions and accreditation programs. That is a very hard sell with it involves children, but so was democracy. It used to be argued that the common man couldn’t lead himself. I’m suggesting there is an analogy. The common man can’t educate himself and his children without leaders who can wield coercive powers. See the analogy?

I also don’t expect to convince you. I don’t mean this in a patronizing way, but I’m okay with that. We are an ensemble, not a symphony. We don’t have to produce coherent music.

LarryHart said...

Tony Fisk:

I was using Earth predictions as an umbrella term.


Ok. I didn't mean to be snide there. I was just trying to come up with the reference you were alluding to, and the only one I could think of was in "Existence", not "Earth".


By the way, one of the (few) prediction misses was that we'd be still looking for earth-sized exo-planets.


Reminds me of one that Arthur C Clarke got wrong in "Imperial Earth". That the remains of the Titanic would have been only recently discovered in 2276.

Paul SB said...

Having spent many years in the educational trenches, I think I can speak from experience. Charter schools are not going to solve the problems of the education system, because they almost never actually do anything different. They are just as much a political football as everything else. Right wingers believe in them, and ignore the statistics that show that half of them do not outperform the public schools they poach from, and left wingers hate them because they take funds away from the public schools, in spite of their failure to improve the education system. The problem is not that school is run by government, and privatization is not going to fix it. Privatization is an article of faith, and one that has been shown wrong in so many instances that it's amazing intelligent people still worship at that altar.

The problem is the vast mismatch between the way we do school and the set of instincts and neurological systems that make children very different things from programable computers. The free market isn't going to solve this problem because it's much cheaper to convince fools to part with their money and believe they are getting the best service than it is to actually do it right. The profit motive more often than not produces cheap garbage in beautiful packaging than actual quality products, and when human lives are at stake that's a huge issue. But if Johnny is reading at a third-grade level when he graduates from high school, it is so much easier to blame his DNA, blame the poverty of his neighborhood, blame the culture of his SES than it is to actually effectively educate our children. Normally you would expect government to do a better job, because government is supposed to be in it for the future of the nation, so it's motivation has less to do with ripping people off so the managers can buy more collector cars and more to do with making the nation strong and stable, giving more people to opportunity to become productive and taxable citizens. But we can see how well that is working...

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alfred
I'm not a teacher (I do help out at the local High School)
I have done quite a lot of training in industry and I have a SCUBA "instructors" qualification

When I was doing training it took a lot of preparation - at least five hours of prep work for every hour in the classroom

If they put me in charge (Ha ha) then I would have a complete school where teachers did nothing except prepare the the materials for the other schools in NZ - and I would circulate all of the existing teachers through that school

We (NZ)don't have anything that ambitious but we do have a lot of shared resources - a single school on it's own would need a huge amount of backroom back-up to match that

One other difference - we do have "Administrative Staff" - but they are there to assist the actual professional staff (Teachers) and get paid LESS than teachers

LarryHart said...

Ok, I'm resurrecting an older discussion about people who read novels in one fell swoop vs those who stretch them out for weeks. I weighed in as the latter type, but I have to clarify that it depends on the book.

I actually interrupted my reading of the 700 page "Psycohistorical Crisis" (which I've been reading for three months and am still not finished with) to read "The Circle" along with my daughter. That second book weighs in at 500 pages, but I'm going to be finished with it in less than a week. That made me think about the difference between the two experiences.

"The Circle" is an interesting concept, and I'm anxious to see where it leads to and what the lessons learned are at the end of the book, but the reading experience itself isn't entirely compelling for me. There's a lot of "idiot plot" and obvious tropes that I have a hard time believing the characters themselves don't see. It's kinda like an Ayn Rand novel that way. :) I also have to keep wondering out loud how none of the characters happen to be familiar with George Orwell's "1984" enough to notice.

Point being, I read that book as if I can't wait to get to the end. Whereas I read "Psychohistorical Crisis" to savor the universe that it conjures up and to contemplate some of the mysterious elements before the outcomes are revealed. I like being inside of that book, whereas I just want to know how "The Circle" finally turns out.

Some famous writer I'm blanking on said something to the effect of "No one wants to write a novel, but everyone wants to have written a novel." I've stolen that line for many different occasions, and it goes a bit toward explaining what I'm talking about.

I want to read "Psychohistorical Crisis".
I want to have read "The Circle".

LarryHart said...

Duncan Cairncross:

Think about the idea of High School or College "Cheerleaders" - just think about that as something that as something that is to be aspired to - the whole idea is horrific!


Well, I aspire to cheerleaders, but not in the way you meant.

:)

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

I will contemplate the artichoke. My knee-jerk reaction, though, is that the interior is too yummy to work for describing libertarians.


I quoted the line about Riddler and artichokes because I'm a "Batman" fan who remembers stuff like that. It didn't occur to me to remember that you're in California.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB | I hear you and respect your experience in the trenches, but when anyone argues that charter schools CAN’T work, I remain skeptical. That they DON’T work en masse I accept, but they haven’t been tried in enough variety for me to believe in any generalizations yet.

Charter cities don’t have a good track record either, but when they are required to behave like regular cities due to state laws that bind them, I can’t reasonably expect them to do better than regular cities. The changes they would introduce become an added burden on top of the already existing compliance requirements. Real experiments on this level must offer relief from rules imposed to make the regular institutions work. For schools that might mean anything from teaching credentials to teaching standards.

Privatization isn’t a fix-all. It is the loosening necessary for innovation to take place. Of course the charter schools don’t all outperform. That makes as much sense as realizing that not all businesses survive. The question is whether failed charter schools FAIL like real businesses do. If not, then they aren’t really businesses. They might be privatized, but protections prevent evolution’s selection forces. There must be death of these organizations for the successful ones to live and multiply.

The profit motive more often than not produces cheap garbage in beautiful packaging than actual quality products, and when human lives are at stake that's a huge issue.

This is an article of faith my friend. Low quality garbage can happen, but it might die if it faces decent competition. I understand the blame game you describe, but it fails in a real market because people walk away. Part of why we complain so loudly about schools is we can’t walk away. (Okay. The rich and/or connected can. That just makes it a 'tumbrel' issue.)

It’s not that I want privatization as much as I want evolution. Markets are ecosystems when done correctly. Our great enrichment and enlightenment era divergence from the great attractor occurred because entrepreneurial evolution of innovations occurred. Our innovations were all about making money, though. We’ve experimented with social traditions too. I ask that we consider yet another. We used to educate our children through church owned schools, but we took that monopoly away from them and we are MUCH better off for it. Why not try another innovation? Why not try another 20 of them? Why not treat it ALL as the market it really is by simply taking our thumb off the scale? Scary? Sure. Our children are involved. They always have been, though.

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan | I'm generally for ALL innovation ideas, but with two conditions.

1. Your idea must compete (fairly) for mindshare. If you run a school, parents must be able to join or leave as they choose. If you run a school prep institution, other schools must be able to join or leave as they choose. The state should intrude as minimally as possible.

2. If your idea is original, you may patent it, but you may NOT use the patent to prevent its use in the market. Protective patents where children are involved are not in the best interest of society. Anyone who tries that should face state intervention and be forced into licensing arrangements or have the patent broken.

The third condition isn't one that can be enforced by the state, so it is more of a 'pretty please' thing.

3. Innovators should be given the dignity they desire (by us) IF their innovation is intended to serve (us). It's okay if they get rich or go bust trying their idea in the market. The dignity is still earned.


My thoughts on this mostly involve college level subjects, but I sit on my potential innovations because of the way sheepskins are more about social signaling than they are about learning. One can acquire a competent education from many schools, but education buyers actually pay for the signal they can send if the degree is from a top-notch school. I have no interest in selling what they need for signaling, but I CAN teach math and physics like few on the planet. (Our host says his ego is star sized. Mine is roughly planet sized. Small jovian when I'm in my field.) 8)

Paul SB said...

Duncan,

Your point here is virtually lost on most Americans:

"One other difference - we do have "Administrative Staff" - but they are there to assist the actual professional staff (Teachers) and get paid LESS than teachers"

Most people here just assume that administrators are more qualified and more important than the people who do actual work, and they deserve to get paid more than "workers." The consequence is graft - administrators feel that they are entitled to everyone else's money. Education is supposed to be a "caring profession" and in almost 1.5 decades of doing it I have found that most educators are caring people. They sure as hell aren't motivated by the money. But the people who become administrators in public education are rarely the most competent of people, they are mostly people who have burned out on teaching but can't make a living doing anything else, so they get their admin credential and get the hell out of the classroom. Pretty soon they become just as bad as managers in the corporate world, just as arrogant and just as snarling.

If a person goes into a caring profession but doesn't care, that should be just about the deepest shame you can imagine. The superintendent of the district I worked at for the last nine years decided that even though the text books were 12 years old we don't need to spend precious district money on that. What we needed was to renovate the district office to make it more beautiful, an new cafeteria and gym for the middle school, and half a dozen other no-bid construction projects. What he didn't want us to know is that his son had just finished his architecture degree and was a major player in a large construction firm. Guess who got the contract? This is a rather egregious example, but any US teacher who has been in the business for awhile can tell you about the bone-headed decisions they make every day that screw the students. But outside education everyone thinks the teachers' unions are just grubbing for money.

On the subject of shameful, I noticed our local faux rancher recently declared that he would be retiring soon from his caring profession. I have dealt with doctors who have his crap attitude before - doctors who think that everyone who is in pain is really a junkie just looking for a fix, everyone who has a handicap or disability is just a lazy bum trying to sponge off the system. Narcissists don't have any shame, so they have no problem with casting these aspersions on virtually everyone simply because they have met some people who fit the description. Narcissism is an actual diagnosis, a pathological personality disorder that takes normal arrogance to delusional levels. I have seen the same thing with a handful of teachers - the ones who went after the administration credentials. It's something I can understand. Every day you deal with a room full of twerps who fight you from the beginning of the year to the end. It's easy to stop noticing all the good kids and start to assume that they are all the bad ones. If a person gets to that point, they should not be in a caring profession, because they have ceased to care. Maybe if we had UBI those people would quit and take the time to find get trained for another profession. As long as people are trapped in the professions they owe college loans for, they are just jacking up the system

Loco's retirement will be the best thing that ever happened to his patients. If we could drive out all the bad administrators from the school system, it wouldn't solve all the problems, but it would be a step in the right direction.

Paul SB said...

Here's something I heard on the radio this morning while driving to work. It's a study of how natural disasters affect people that found that after a major disaster people tend to dramatically scale back their ambitions. You can guess what that does to an economy. The exception to the rule? When government provides people with even a little bit of assistance, they continue building their businesses and growing their standard of living. This shows one of the problems with placing so much faith in free enterprise. The market is kill-or-be-killed, which is hardly very inspiring. Psychologically the only people who thrive in that environment are the sociopaths who really do fit economists' rational man models. You know, like the Enron boys, that guy who jacked the price of a medicine up over 800% overnight, the people who are always lobbying for tax cuts for the rich. There's nothing like a system that puts sociopaths at the top!

Paul SB said...

Dory-brains forgot to paste in the link...

http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2017/09/26/552128175/the-hidden-toll-of-floods

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alfred

Charter Schools
The problem is that a "school" is not - or should not be - the Unit

A school in isolation will cost about five times as much per "education" due to the "overhead" of proper preparation

In a proper system that "overhead" is spread across the whole operation

If you need to compete you can't compete as a single school - that must either create it's own plans and materials or else steal them from the state schools

You would have to have a complete Charter School Operation

If fact in the USA that is exactly what you do have - only you call them cities and states

So you already have your competitive arena - now all you need to do is to analyse the results

LarryHart said...

@Alfred re: schools as businesses,

One reason I think some of us think government should be involved has little to do with government actually running the day-to-day activities of the schools. It has more to do with every child's access to education. If schools are businesses which go in and out of business, what happens to the kids whose schools disappear? And if schools are free to accept or reject individual kids for their own reasons, what happens to the kids who don't get accepted?

Paul SB said...

Alfred,

My point is not that charter schools can't work, it's that they don't work, and they won't work any more than public schools do until people start to understand what is actually wrong with them. People are asking all the wrong questions, so it's no surprise that they are getting all the wrong answers. But because it is political, few people even se it. They just assume one side is right and other side is wrong - end of story. I'm all for experimentation. I'm a scientist by training, this should be a no-duh.

But an even bigger no-duh is that while the capitalist faith claims to cause the best to evolve at the lowest prices, in actuality that rarely happens. Humans are not ants, or aardvarks, or howler monkeys. They don't follow Optimal Foraging Theory any more than those economic models that assume that humans always do what is in their best interest. I remember Larry saying he had read Dan Ariely's "Predictably Irrational" but I don't remember if you did. If you haven't, it's worth your time. If you have, read it again. It helps to explain why faith in the market is misplaced. I'm not saying faith in government is much better. But humans work very differently from the rest of the animal kingdom. Ecosystem- and evolutionary models are of limited value if you want to understand how humans operate.

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

The market is kill-or-be-killed, which is hardly very inspiring. Psychologically the only people who thrive in that environment are the sociopaths who really do fit economists' rational man models. You know, like the Enron boys, that guy who jacked the price of a medicine up over 800% overnight, the people who are always lobbying for tax cuts for the rich. There's nothing like a system that puts sociopaths at the top!


Just today, radio host Norman Goldman was talking about the bill just passed which allows banks to include forced arbitration in their agreements. A free-marketer called up to man-splain to us all that what people should do is refuse to do business with any bank which has such a clause in its agreements, and then very quickly (the guy assured) some bank would advertise that it doesn't engage in that practice and pick up all of the business.

It reminded me of the line attributed to Yogi Berra, "In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice, there is."

David Brin said...

Tony Fisk… please give a three sentence pitch for folks to resume editing the Earth etc predictions site!

It’s a community effort!

Marino said...

re: the left/liberal divide, good article on Guardian (the Long Read in-depth stuff)

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/oct/26/the-liberal-left-divide-reshaping-american-politics

Tim H. said...

The conservative (Mammonite?) revolution destabilized much of the structure that used to support education, those that profited most from this are trying to distract us from the BFH in their hand. Just guessing that it's still early to fix schools right, we don't know how the debris will settle yet, as the breakage will continue until all hope of profit vanishes.
The fans of privatization overlook the tendency of business folk to have the lowest expenses and limitless prices first, any fulfillment of expected service will be coincidental.

Paul SB said...

Tim,

You are likely right on that one. Once the business sharks start circling it becomes virtually impossible to rescue the prey. This is especially so here, where SofA is focused so intently on government and so much less intently on other authorities, like big business. The culture allows predators into the upper echelons by normalizing them and giving them honor. Results matter more than decency. To work off of Larry's Yogi Bera quote, the story well tell about ourselves and what actually happens are two different things. In theory the bank that offers the best product to customers should get all the customers and the rest go out of business, but that rarely happens except to very small businesses. When a handful of big businesses have cornered a market, customers have nowhere to turn to. Allowing the banks to include these predatory arbitration clauses does not mean some other bank will undercut them any more than competition means retailers will undercut each other until prices become reasonable. I knew a fellow who worked in manufacturing CDs who said that a CD cost around $0.80 to manufacture, package, ship, pay royalties to the musicians and cover artists. Yet for decades CDs cost around $16.00 each, and there wasn't a monopoly. Several manufacturers arrived at the same price. No one undercut everyone else. They were quite happy raking in profits over 1000%. It was in their interest to keep the profits high and NOT undercut each other. Price wars are like arms races, except that in the end the execs have less money to show off and buy luxury display items with. And to that the classism that comes from "bourgeios dignity" and you get a class of people who feel entitled to everyone else's money. I can mention Enron again, you know, the smartest guys in the room?

Privatized schools will go the same way. Few people understand brains - and especially the brains of children - well enough to be able to tell the difference between good education and bad education. I spent my 11th grade year in a rich snob school, and the only difference between there and the dirt-poor downtown school I went to the year before is that the kids' parents had very high expectations, so the kids tended to try harder. otherwise the curriculum, pedagogy and procedures were no different. People just don't know anything better, so even the rich people don't educate any better, it's just that the rich kids tend to take it more seriously. Ultimately it's not there education that gets them the high-paying jobs, though, it's their connections and the prestige attached to an Ivy League education. Humans are irrational, psychological beings, not H. economicus.

In East Asian countries the schools are mostly public, but there are lots of private tutoring businesses - "after-school schools" or bushibans. This works a little better, because everyone gets educated, but those who have the money and the drive can whip their kids into the bushibans. But then, places like Japan and Taiwan have such high stress from their ├╝ber-competitiveness that huge numbers of people die from exhaustion caused by overwork or suicide. That might not be the best path to travel, either. Humans are not machines. The rah-rah capitalism people miss that as much as the religious oppressors do. It's no wonder they are on the same side.

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

To work off of Larry's Yogi Bera quote, the story well tell about ourselves and what actually happens are two different things.


Or to mix allusions, this one from Neil Gaiman's "Sandman":
"Intent and outcome are rarely coincident."

raito said...

My background:
I've taught, though not as a profession. Tutored in high school and college. Been a martial arts instructor. Currently a soccer coach. And a host of other minor stuff. In the last few years, I've been quite involved in the local school district, participating on both the long-range planning and boundary re-drawing committees (we're building 2 new elementary schools). And I speak to both the School Board and City Council when necessary. My wife is currently treasurer of the local elementary school's parent organization.

As I see it, one of the great problems of our current public education system is that no one other than the teachers seems to understand the one fundamental thing about education and learning. It's not about whiz-bang technology. It's not about new buildings. It's not about charters or vouchers or any of the crap that gets talked about.

The best predictor of student success is the connection between the student and teacher. And that almost never gets addressed.

I don't think we've hit a wall, I think our attention is in the wrong place.

So, as I said, our district is building 2 new elementary schools. The school-age population is growing rapidly. And one of the things I can separate out of the local politics is that I'm pretty happy that the 2 referenda concerning this passed with large margins. But this requires moving the boundaries of the existing schools. Most of that boundary shifting concerns moving students to the new schools. Unfortunately, my children will be moving schools, and to one of the new schools. My poor son will have been to 4 different institutions in 4 years (daycare, 4K, kindergarten and 1st grade). But on the good side, it won't cause him nearly the troubles it would have caused me.

When the proposal of the committee was presented to the board, one of the members (who probably won't get my vote next time around, assuming a decent opponent) had a couple problems with the plan. Specifically, he wasn't happy that the shining new buildings wouldn't be full in their first several years of operation. Because, as he says, those new buildings are so much better! Besides not understanding the point I made above, it was inherently insulting to the rest of the schools. And if it were actually so, he was failing in the duty he was elected for by allowing the other schools to not be as good. So he was told.

And he didn't like (and there was no good solution to) the 'rich' school and the 'poor' school. Yes, the committee tried to figure out how to not have that. But people aggregate, and the low-cost housing and the high-cost housing tends to not be in the same neighborhood. He also committed the cardinal sin of, in his so-called solution of saying of a large number of students 'they're being bused anyway'. As if that means that their needs and the needs of their families were somehow less important because they did not walk to school.

Some asides from the committee meetings:

There was a lot of talk about 'demographics' and 'equity'. I spoke up and said that if we were going to talk about race and money, let's talk about race and money. What color shoes I wear is a demographic, and I didn't want to talk about that.

raito said...

(continued)

During the previous boundary changes, the school board attempted to correct the rich and poor thing. They tried to bus a block of million-dollar houses to the 'poor' school. The result was that the local Catholic school got a big bump in enrollment. And half the board lost the next election. When this came up, I stated that the problem can't be solved with busing by busing rich students, because they have alternatives. You can only solve it by busing by busing the poor students, because they have no alternative. But... most of the parental public that spoke at the meetings were from the 'poor' school, and didn't want to go to another school.

Another odd thing that kept coming up was 'diversity'. Another of those terms that obscures what it's really saying. It really meant 'hire more black teachers', under the idea that somehow it'll improve things. Never could get an answer when I'd ask whether the asker would prefer to hire a mediocre black teacher or an excellent white teacher. Then I'd point out that I didn't believe their argument that you need teachers that are like you in order to learn. Every elementary school teacher I had (except for physical education) was an old, unmarried, childless woman. And the only such people I knew. They certainly weren't 'like me' in any meaningful way.

As for 'competition', hell no! At least, not with the parents choosing. Even with the simple limitation on how much they could screw things up by having to sign my highs school class selections, it still took more than a decade to undo the damage done to me by my parents interaction with the educational system. Yes, anecdote. But it's mine and colors my thinking. If I knew now what I knew then, I'd have just changed the form after it was signed. I'd have gotten in trouble at home, but that would have just been more on the pile. At that point, I still tried to color within the lines.

raito said...

PaulSB,

When I was in middle school, there was a teacher's strike. And it was pretty tense. The teachers on the picket line, and the students on the other side of it. And I won't ever forget the art teacher who technically crossed the line to just talk of a bunch of us students. Nor how he explained what was going on, and how he didn't like what affect it was having on the students, but how it would be better in the long run.

As far as CDs go, at one time there WAS a monopoly. And when others entered the market, there was no point to undercutting, as it would have resulted in less overall profit. Because cornering the market always takes second place to making more money. Also, the current statutory payment for a cover is $0.09 per song per manufactured instance (unless negotiated otherwise, which rarely happens). I had a musician friend who was reluctant to sell over the internet. So I made a deal with him to do his online stuff, but he had to actually pay the license for the songs he covered. I made a few hundred bucks, and eventually he took the exit clause we'd arranged.

Darrell E said...

Alfred Differ said:
“I think public school systems have an unfair advantage in what should be a market for education.”

David Brin replied:
"As I said, that incantation fits my prejudices, because we all owe public education huge gratitude, but it has clearly hit a wall. But the notion of charters and vouchers is being soiled by crap implementation by fanatics."

I think it's crap implementation too, but from the point of view of the people making the money off of charter school businesses the implementation has been pretty damn good. For an excellent example, if you haven't already take a look at the outfit that runs, among others, Imagine charter schools.

Before something like charter schools could possibly work anything remotely like Alfred supposes they could you would first have to fix a host of underlying problems in our socio-economic-political systems. Broadly speaking the liars, cheaters and stealers still have the upper hand. When enough money is at stake those with enough money and power game the system by influencing legislation that enables them to make more money while reducing or eliminating their risk and competition. This is exactly what has happened with charter schools.

Even if you regulated things effectively enough to prevent what has happened to date with charter schools, I am far from convinced that private businesses competing for market share would lead to better schooling. Private businesses are in business to make money. I don't see how a business providing a good education for the general population could make enough profit to be attractive enough at costs that the average person could afford. Looking at the history of schooling (not exhaustively mind you) over the past few hundred years, particularly in the US over the past 150 or so years, it doesn't seem particularly plausible.

I understand the idea that open markets regulated to be fair & flat can lead to better outcomes and I heartily concur that they do. But it seems obvious to me that they don't work best for all problems. Alfred has said that he agrees that so far the charter school experiment sucks but that he thinks if it were implemented better it might turn out to be a winner. I think that is sensible, though I am doubtful were he is optimistic. Alfred, do you think it is plausible that, if implemented better, that governments can do things, like education for example, better than they have? That it is possible for governments to do things, like education for example, in such a way that fosters and takes advantage of innovation in ways similar to how competition in flat/fair/free markets sometimes can? I think the obvious answer is yes. And governments don't have to make a profit. That affects lots of things which can be of benefit.

Another factor in this issue, as in all issues, is the whole "doing what can be shown to actually work." Whether education is government provided or provided by private businesses the methods used should be arrived at by using the methods of science. Test it, evaluate the results, devise new method, test it, discard if it doesn't work, continue . . . Instead we let tradition and lying, cheating, stealing, carny alpha types make money and realize their alphaness while human potential that would be of benefit to all of us is wasted by the metric mega tonne.

matthew said...

Here's an article about the liberal / leftist divide in America that makes some cogent point, IMO.

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/oct/26/the-liberal-left-divide-reshaping-american-politics

What the article doesn't mention is how much influence Russian operators had (and continue to have) making the divide much worse. As someone that (mostly) takes the leftist stance as described in the article, I can attest to the sheer number of obvious bots, Russian propaganda, and paid trolls that are weighing in to make this divide deeper. And our host, of course. Dr. Brin never misses a chance to bash the left in order to polish his "centrist" credentials, turning away potential allies all the while. The last few paragraphs could be considered CITOKATE written just for him.



Bob Neinast said...

Dr. Brin, this looks like something near and dear to your heart (and to any true American).

Georgia election server wiped after suit filed

https://apnews.com/877ee1015f1c43f1965f63538b035d3f/APNewsBreak:-Georgia-election-server-wiped-after-suit-filed

Tim Johnson said...

Dr. Brin,

I've read your blog for some time, and you even had a nice response to my one and only post quite a few
years back. Never enough time for commenting, but I thought I'd try to squeeze in a few minutes, now if I
could. As you mention the apprentice creator topic here, which was the thing I responded to
back then, I suppose I could start there. :) As back then, I still do love the idea..but,
sadly, still have not seen any evidence that anyone created us for any particular purpose. But I
do like the optimistic tone and, in general like the messaging you convey about all we've done
as a civilization (something I've tried to contribute a little bit to in my very tiny way as a
physicist/software engr). But as you no doubt understand, due to events of the past, say, 2 years,
my own sense of optimism has been under heavy assault. The destiny of humans or our civilization is
not set in stone, and it does seem at times that we are collectively determined to move backwards.

But on to briefly touch on some of the relevant points to which you often refer, and I'll try to be brief.
Impeachment. I fully share your fear about Pence. He is truly dangerous at many
levels. I still push for impeachment though. But only by writing to my rep. I explain that
Trump is the Republican's Frankenstein's monster and the first step towards becoming the
responsible grownup conservative party we need is to grow a spine and do what is needed to be done
concerning Trump. My rep is a Republican, and a very strong Trump supporter. So, my pleas are, well..washed away like tears in the rain, I'm sure. But at least he is aware that not all in his district
are happy with the current situation. My ideal scenario would be an impeachment, but with only 2-1 years of Pence, too few, hopefully to cause too much lasting damage, and hopefully blocked by a
Democrat held Congress (hey..my daydream, my rules of probability!). I admit, my ideal may
be biased by the following...

Short straw gambit: good approach, and I'm glad I'm not in Congress to have to consider this.
I really utterly detest the guy. I do get along quite well
with people I do not like and those holding views to which I strongly disagree (neighbors,
extended family..etc.), but do not think meeting with Trump would go over....well.
I even did a drama class once, and regret not having tried out a
screen test back when I lived in LA. But get along with Trump? I'm not that good of an actor.
But I get your point. But also remember his statements about the central park 5,
his fondness of dictator strongmen, his constant lying. There is something very
undemocratic, dark, and disturbing in the core of his character. You may lead this
horse to water and get him to drink. But he'll probably spit it out and then try
to drown you. Schumer may be having some luck eventually, but we'll see.

On to the fun stuff, since you mentioned Jurassic Park in the context of the very
interesting discovery of crustacean in dinosaur herbivore diets. I agree with your
take on Jurassic Park though, and would mention in that context the monitoring
program mentioned in the book (though disappointedly not in the movie) which stopped
counting at the expected number of a species of dinosaur and so missed the fact that
they were reproducing. More people not directly involved and
asking questions may have caught that.
More importantly, what I've always wondered though is this: have you ever, while watching Jurassic Park,
sat back and thought, "hmmm...Jurassic Uplift!"? Velociraptors working with humans and piloting spaceships?
What could go wrong?

Also..read Existence and loved it. Only baffled by how you find the time to write with all the activities you seem to be engaged in..

LarryHart said...

Tim Johnson:

...and I'll try to be brief.


Heh.

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan | The problem is that a "school" is not - or should not be - the Unit

I agree, but I see this as equivalent to saying that schools have supply chains just like other businesses. I can already think of some of the suppliers associated with my wife’s grad school. I have no doubt they’d all be happy to produce content to the broader market.

This is a non-problem as far as I’m concerned. I’ve lived this problem my entire professional career. Some things are worth buying instead of producing locally. Some are not. Each business has to contemplate its core competencies and whether locally produced content adds to their competitive edge. If what they need isn’t part of their core or doesn’t give them an edge, they should try to buy it over producing it. If they can’t buy it, that is an entrepreneurial opportunity for the rest of us.

I live this in the IT space. I can write issue management ticketing systems till the cows come home, but almost no one should need me to do that unless their core competencies include building better ones and selling them to everyone else. I can’t tell you how many I’ve written, though. I’ve lost count. I always advise against it, but my wallet has benefited from the lunacy of clueless management teams. I’ve learned to maintain a portfolio of past code, listen carefully in early project meetings so they think I’m collecting their ‘unique’ requirements, and then I deliver a re-skinned copy a little later. When I do that as an independent contractor, I AM the supplier they need, but don’t understand that they need.

Back to schools, though. My wife’s experience with special needs education is showing me that they rely heavily on a kind of supply chain. I want that all to be open enough to be part of a fair market. Right now it isn’t because the state has a heavy thumb on the scale. They mean well, but I think we could do better.

If fact in the USA that is exactly what you do have - only you call them cities and states

Yah. It’s in everything, though, and I’m not inclined to analyze. The market is an ecosystem, remember? All I need to do is allow for natural selection forces to kill off some of them while encouraging others to have a go of it. The market knows FAR more than I ever will. It is a multi-million headed analyzer. I can’t compete with that. No one can.

Alfred Differ said...

@LarryHart | If schools are businesses which go in and out of business, what happens to the kids whose schools disappear? And if schools are free to accept or reject individual kids for their own reasons, what happens to the kids who don't get accepted?

Yah. Sounds like the same kind of problem we have in the health care space. I suspect the solutions for one will provide a framework for the other.

I also suspect there will always be a need for public education. At a minimum we will need it as part of a social safety net. We shouldn’t be relying upon it if we can help it, though. We take resources from those who truly need it.

Smurphs said...

Alfred said:

My wife’s experience with special needs education is showing me that they rely heavily on a kind of supply chain. I want that all to be open enough to be part of a fair market. Right now it isn’t because the state has a heavy thumb on the scale. They mean well, but I think we could do better.

Unfortunately, this is one of those "in theory" vs "in reality" arguments. I, too, have some experience in Special Education. In theory, I don't disagree with you. In reality, 6000 years of human civilization (to use the doc's phrase) has said, let the family hide them, let the churches warehouse them or let them die. There's no money in it without the government. And if the government is in it, it has a right to put their thumb on the scale. (hopefully wisely, but that's a different discussion).

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB | People are asking all the wrong questions, so it's no surprise that they are getting all the wrong answers.

Yah. I agree. I don’t know what to do about it, but I agree many people are mistaken about what is going on in the field.

I remember Larry saying he had read Dan Ariely's "Predictably Irrational" but I don't remember if you did. If you haven't, it's worth your time.

I did. It was a few years ago when I started down this path I’m on. That book helped me break with the nonsense built into classical economics. Many other things have helped me since by providing other perspectives. I no longer agree with people who argue that we are irrational, though. We are simply human. We don’t optimize on our ‘rational’ best interests any more than we consider people who hold to prudence-only as being virtuous of character. Skip the religious nonsense layered on top of virtue ethics and you’ll find a system many of us in the west use moderately well as a guide. We aren’t rational in the strictest sense of prudence because prudence isn’t the only virtue by which we measure ourselves and others. Look at what David means by ‘cheater’ and you’ll see an accusation that some are guilty of vice. Can we name them? Over-optimization on Prudence becomes Greed, but there are other vices that some cheaters display too.

It helps to explain why faith in the market is misplaced.

It’s funny that you use the word ‘faith’ here since Faith is one of the virtues in the western system. Some call it ‘Loyalty’ instead, but the general sense of it is ‘loyalty to’. If I’m faithful to my wife, I’m loyal to her, but not necessarily blind to what she does. If I’m faithful to the market, I’m loyal to ‘it’, but not necessarily blind.

Many years ago, David put up a post pointing out distinguishing between two systems. One involved Guided Allocation of Resources. GAR for short. The other involved Faith in Blind Markets. FIBM for short. He pointed out that both are bad ideas and the lesson stuck with me. I was paraphrasing him one day on another site and someone pointed out that I sounded like Hayek when I made my pitch. I might have also used David’s ‘Show me it EVER working through 6000 years of history’ line too. I forget. 8) It was David’s FIBM/GAR discussion that started it for me, though. I was always something of a classical liberal, but I hadn’t really thought about it before that post. (Now I’m a registered Libertarian. Ha!)

Years later, I’ve adopted a view that removal of ‘blind’ from FIBM fixes a whole lot of awfulness. I’m still faithful to markets as I’m pretty sure they are what distinguished us moderns from our ancient HG cousins. Trading outside our kin groups is a really strange thing for an animal species to do. We are a different kind of social human as a result.

Alfred Differ said...

@Smurphs | I’ll agree with you up to a point, but with an 18 yr old son on the spectrum, I feel entitled to speak on his behalf. I’ve seen families hide them and churches warehouse them, but I’ve also seen schools providing babysitting services and intentionally avoiding giving anyone any hope for their child’s future. Hope is one of the virtues that I keep coming back to because a distinct lack of it is Despair. I’ve seen way too much of that and come too close to it myself.

There is (currently) no money it apparently, but I have noticed that teachers who can manage to take on moderate to severe needs students are paid a premium… by government of course. ANYTIME someone is paid a premium for a job, it is worth looking at why that is so. Economic theory teaches that wages should be fairly even between all people no matter their skills because humans are teachable. Can a janitor learn to be a CEO? In theory, yes. In practice, it is awful rare. I’ve seen one make a jump to engineering because the team I was on had the courage to let him learn on-the-job, though. We couldn’t pay a real engineer, so it wasn’t like we had a choice. Yet, some people make way more than others. One can talk for days about why this is and get nowhere, but the wage difference is still interesting evidence of something happening.

It is also the case that anytime someone is paid more than expected; there is probably an entrepreneurial opportunity in there somewhere. Fools and their ideas are cheap until someone works up the courage to realize one and put it to the test.

And if the government is in it, it has a right to put their thumb on the scale.

Well… YOU have the right to influence the scale as one of the taxpayers. (I don’t hold to the idea that governments have rights.) I have no issue with that as long as you keep a mind open enough to consider the possibility that some fool of an entrepreneur would like to have a go at building and marketing a better mouse trap.

David Brin said...

Tim J: Thank you for your thoughtful words. I certainly appreciate the encouragement.

“the first step towards becoming the responsible grownup conservative party we need is to grow a spine and do what is needed to be done concerning Trump”

Alas, this is mistaking a symptom for the disease. Unless you also impeach the Murdochs and Fox and their allies, there is nothing that can save the GOP, which is now a rabid, undead were-elephant. The true hope for US conservatives is if the critical mass of Corker, Flake, McCain and such hold a convention for a new party of sane-adult conservatives.

Ah the image of velociraptors and spaceships! Of course it is now a cliche that “Dinos are extinct cause they didn’t have a space program.” I love it!

Alas, I am engaged in so many things that KILN PEOPLE was a cry… a scream(!) for help! I need that machine!

Alfred Differ said...

@Tim H | Just guessing that it's still early to fix schools right, we don't know how the debris will settle yet, as the breakage will continue until all hope of profit vanishes.

To what system/concept are you faithful then?

The fans of privatization overlook the tendency of business folk to have the lowest expenses and limitless prices first, any fulfillment of expected service will be coincidental.

It obviously isn’t markets.

Who do you expect will fix the schools right? Also, is there a single ‘right way’?

Alfred Differ said...

@David | I need that machine!

What you need is those 'mirrors' and the pendulum near the end of the story. With that, you'll produce copies that cohere enough to matter.

There are days when I view your posts and comments here as that technique. I'm not sure where the mirrors are, though, or who they are.

David Brin said...

Har!

Now onward

onward