Posts Tagged ‘The Unofficial Rules’

How to destroy education in just three steps

June 11, 2013

1.  Make educational credentials a requirement for getting a good job.

2.  Define qualification for a good job as the sole purpose of education.

3.  Blame and punish educators for the lack of good  jobs.

How to kill higher education, in five easy steps

June 11, 2013

I am grateful for my liberal arts education for how it has helped me to understand the world I live in and the culture in which I live. The kind of liberal arts education I received is being undermined. The process is described in this post.

1. DEFUND PUBLIC HIGHER EDUCATION.

2. DEPROFESSIONALIZE AND IMPOVERISH THE PROFESSORS by replacing them by marginally-employed adjuncts and video lessons.

3. MOVE IN A MANAGERIAL / ADMINISTRATIVE CLASS WHO TAKE OVER GOVERNANCE OF THE UNIVERSITY.

4. MOVE IN CORPORATE CULTURE AND CORPORATE MONEY.

5. DESTROY THE STUDENTS by raising tuition and lowering the quality of education.

I never worked in academia, but I have friends who do, and everything in this post fits what they tell me.

The Homeless Adjunct

A few years back, Paul E. Lingenfelter began his report on the defunding of public education by saying, “In 1920 H.G. Wells wrote, ‘History is becoming more and more a race between education and catastrophe.’ I think he got it right. Nothing is more important to the future of the United States and the world than the breadth and effectiveness of education, especially of higher education. I say especially higher education, but not because pre- school, elementary, and secondary education are less important. Success at every level of education obviously depends on what has gone before. But for better or worse, the quality of postsecondary education and research affects the quality and effectiveness of education at every level.”

In the last few years, conversations have been growing like gathering storm clouds about the ways in which our universities are failing. There is talk about the poor educational outcomes apparent in…

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The two-soprano rule

April 25, 2013

In judging a two-person singing contest,

never award the prize to the second soprano

having heard only the first.

via The Reality-Based Community.

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A young man’s lessons from life

February 27, 2013

A young man who posts on BlogTruth summed up some lessons that life has taught him so far.

Many never learn these lessons until much later in life, and some never learn at all.

  1. Listen at least twice as much as you speak.  Think deeply, speak softly.
  2. Don’t give advice unless asked for it.  When you give advice, tread lightly.
  3. Put yourself in others’ shoes.  See the world through others’ eyes.  Assume nothing.
  4. Adopt an iron clad policy of honesty and integrity.  Never steal.  Try not to lie, embellish or gossip.
  5. Be good to your wife and compliment her often, even when she looks like hell—especially when she looks like hell.

via BlogTruth | Observations from a student of life.

Three red flags on environmental impact

February 22, 2013
  • Beware of projects that risk permanent harm in return for short-term gains.  This is the reverse of mainstream economic thinking, which privileges present value over future value.
  • Beware of risk assessments.  An insurance actuary can accurately estimate the risk of common events, but there is no accurate way to estimate the risk of catastrophic events that rarely happen or haven’t yet happened.  It is much safer to weigh what you have to gain against what you have to lose.
  • Beware of projects that require waivers of laws.  If an environmental law, or a health and safety law, is harmful or unnecessary, it should be repealed, but if it is needful, then there shouldn’t be any exceptions.

Goodhart’s law: on not going by the numbers

January 10, 2013

Charles Goodhart was an adviser to the Bank of England in 1975.  The advice he gave then has been summarized as Goodhart’s law, which has been summarized as follows:

All economic models break down when used for policy.

Charles Goodhart

Charles Goodhart

His version

Any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed upon it for control purposes.’

Another short version

When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.

Defense Secretary Robert McNamara demanded a graph of numbers that would show whether or not the United States was winning in Vietnam.  Sure enough, the military responded with “body count” figures that showed the Viet Cong were all being killed many times over, but the United States lost the war.

I thought of Goodhart’s Law in connection with President Bush’s No Child Left Behind and President Obama’s Race to the Top programs.  Teachers and schools are judged on the basis of test results.  So the incentive is for teachers to improve, not learning, but the numbers by which learning supposedly is measured.  Dishonest teachers cheat.  Honest teachers have to take time away from teaching the material to teaching how to pass the test.

The aim is evidence-based policy.  The result is policy-based evidence.

As Cory Doctorow explained on Boing Boing:

Once you start measuring GDP as a way of gauging social welfare, people will start to figure out ways to make GDP go up without improving social welfare (say, by swapping dirty financial derivatives).  Once Google starts measuring inbound links as a way of evaluating the importance of web-pages, people will figure out how to increase the inbound links to unimportant pages (splogging, blogspam).  And once you measure fat or calorie content as a proxy for the healthfulness of food, manufacturers will figure out how to decrease fat and calories without making the food more healthful (reducing fat by adding sugar, reducing calories by adding poisonous artificial sweeteners).

The prime example of Goodhart’s Law in action is Soviet economic planning.  Factories were evaluated on the basis of measured output, irrespective of the usefulness of what was produced.  Machinery factories were actually judged on the total weight of the machinery they produced.  That is why there is no substitute for free markets and the workings of supply and demand.  But large corporations often operate like mini-Soviet Unions until reality catches up with them.

W. Edwards Deming, who was possibly the world’s greatest exponent of using statistics to improvement business performance, objected to judging either managers or workers based on numerical goals.  Understand and improve the process, and the numbers will improve, he said, but trying to improve the numbers without understanding the process is an exercise in futility.

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Pollard’s Laws

October 17, 2012

Pollard’s Law of Human Behaviour: We do what we must (our personal, unavoidable imperatives of the moment), then we do what’s easy, and then we do what’s fun.  There is never time left for things that are merely important.

Pollard’s Law of Complexity: Things are the way they are for a reason. If you want to change something, it helps to know that reason. If that reason is complex, success at changing it is unlikely, and adapting to it is probably a better strategy.

Pollard’s Laws are from an essay entitled Why We Cannot Save The World by Dave Pollard.  If you read the essay, you’ll see he is extremely pessimistic about the near-term future.   I hope he’s wrong, but he may be right.   By his account of his life story, he has earned the right to his pessimism.

He is right to say that trying to understand the world, and to share your understanding, is a worthwhile effort.  As Bertrand Russell once said, half the useful work that is done in the world consists of trying to  undo the harmful work.  And he is right to say that pessimism about the world is no excuse for failing to enjoy and feel grateful for life’s blessings.

Zadie Smith’s 10 rules for writing fiction

September 22, 2012
  1. When still a child, make sure you read a lot of books.  Spend more time doing this than anything else.
  2. Zadie Smith

    When an adult, try to read your own work as a stranger would read it, or even better, as an enemy would.

  3. Don’t romanticize your “vocation” . You can either write good sentences or you can’t.  There is no “writer’s lifestyle”.  All that matters is what you leave on the page.
  4. Avoid your weaknesses.  But do this without telling yourself that the things you can’t do aren’t worth doing.  Don’t mask self-doubt with contempt.
  5. Leave a decent space of time between writing something and editing it.
  6. Avoid cliques, gangs, groups.  The presence of a crowd won’t make your writing any better than it is.
  7. Work on a computer that is disconnected from the ­internet.
  8. Protect the time and space in which you write.  Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.
  9. Don’t confuse honors with achievement.
  10. Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand — but tell it.  Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never ­being satisfied.

The Guardian of London, inspired by Elmore Leonard’s 10 rules for writing fiction, asked 28 other fiction writers, including Zadie Smith, for their own rules.

Click on Ten rules for writing fiction and Ten rules for writing fiction (part two) for all their replies, plus Elmore Leonard’s rules.

Click on Kurt Vonnegut’s eight rules for writing fiction and Henry Miller’s 11 commandments for writers for more rules.

I spent 40 years in which I wrote nearly every working day, and got paid for it, and, in retirement, I still feel the urge to write.  Hence this blog.  But I doubt if I ever had the ability, and I am sure I never had the commitment, to be a Zadie Smith, Elmore Leonard, Kurt Vonnegut or Henry Miller.

Murphy’s law in theory and practice

September 6, 2012

As Mark Sackler wrote on his Millennium Conjectures web log, Murphy’s Law is the only law that works better in practice than it does in theory.

The Two-Soprano Rule

August 19, 2012

As the judge in a singing contest,

never award the prize to the second soprano

having heard only the first.

via The Reality-Based Community.

Bertrand Russell’s maxims for paranoids

June 3, 2012

1.  Remember that your motives are not always as altruistic as they seem to yourself.

2. Don’t overestimate your own merits.

3.  Don’t expect others to take as much interest in you as you do yourself.

4.  Don’t imagine that most other people give enough thought to you to have any desire to persecute you.

These maxims are from Bertrand Russell’s The Conquest of Happiness.

Click on Bertrand Russell Bulletin for information about Bertrand Russell and the Bertrand Russell Society.

Click on Russell Texts Online for writings by Bertrand Russell.

Click on Bertrand Russell Facebook for more about Russell.

Click on Schedule of Greater Rochester Russell Set for Russell-related talks and discussions in Rochester, N.Y.

Benefits of the unexamined life

May 31, 2012

Socrates is supposed to have said that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

But Martin Cohen, commenting on a Marginal Revolution post, disagreed.

1.  You don’t have to waste time and energy listening to those others you know are wrong.

2.  You can make use of the dynamic duo of “It’s not my fault” and “It’s not my problem”.

3.  You can get from here to there much faster if you ignore the “Warning – thin ice!” signs.

4.  You will be supported in so many ways by the others living in the fact-free zone.

5.  It’s much easier if you think of those things you are climbing over as minor obstacles rather than people.

6.  It’s so much fun to creatively decorate those walls that surround you.

7.  Focusing on your own well-being takes all your energy, anyway.

8.  Finally, if you’re screaming inside, you don’t have to listen.

Click on Marginal Revolution and scroll down for Cohen’s comment in context.  The comment is on a thread discussing Bertrand Russell’s Ten Commandments for Teachers.

The “Cui Bono?” rule

March 18, 2012

American Extremists - I think we're all cui bonos on this bus

Click on American Extremists for more.

Victor Lustig’s 10 commandments for con men

March 6, 2012

Victor Lustig, born in 1890, was one of the world’s most renowned con men.  In 1925, he posed as a French government official, took five businessmen on a tour of the Eiffel Tower and sold it to one of them as scrap metal.  This scam worked so well he did it a second time.  He once tricked Al Capone out of $5,000.  He had 25 aliases, spoke five languages and, by the 1930s, was wanted by 45 law enforcement agencies worldwide.

The following was his advice to aspiring con men.

  • Be a patient listener (it is this, not fast talking, that gets a con-man his coups).

    Victor Lustig

  • Never look bored.
  • Wait for the other person to reveal any political opinions, then agree with them.
  • Let the other person reveal religious views, then have the same ones.
  • Hint at sex talk, but don’t follow it up unless the other fellow shows a strong interest.
  • Never discuss illness, unless some special concern is shown.
  • Never pry into a person’s personal circumstances (they’ll tell you all eventually).
  • Never boast. Just let your importance be quietly obvious.
  • Never be untidy.
  • Never get drunk.

Click on The World’s Greatest Con Artists: Victor Lustig for more about his career.

Click on Victor Lustig wiki for his Wikipedia biography.

Hat tip to Lists of Note.

Henry Miller’s 11 Commandments for writing

February 26, 2012
  • 1.  Work on one thing at a time until finished.
  • 2.  Start no more new books, add no more new material to “Black Spring.”
  • 3.  Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
  • 4.  Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
  • 5.  When you can’t create you can work.
  • 6.  Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
  • 7.  Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
  • 8.  Don’t be a draught-horse!  Work with pleasure only.
  • 9.  Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it next day.  Concentrate.  Narrow down. Exclude.
  • 10.  Forget the books you want to write.  Think only of the book you are writing.
  • 11.  Write first and always.  Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.

Click on Lists of Note for more lists.

Click on The Reality of Henry Miller for an appreciation of Henry Miller by Kenneth Rexroth.

Click on Henry Miller wiki for his Wikipedia biography.

Click on Kurt Vonnegut’s eight rules for writing fiction for another writer’s rules.

Campbell’s law

April 10, 2011

The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is supposed to monitor.

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