06 April 2014

Two cases

There are two interesting corporate issues currently under discussion.

First is the Hobby Lobby case, in which the owners of a corporation hold religious views that prevent them from supporting parts of what are required under Obamacare:  abortion and contraceptives.

The other is at Mozilla and the leaving of Brendan Eich due to pressure for his political donation to Proposition 8, which would define marriage as between a man and a woman.

In both cases the corporation refers to standards: The Holy Bible in the case of Hobby Lobby, and a standard of conduct at Mozilla.

I would say, up front that corporations, when held by private individuals or families, or even those held by stockholders numbering in the millions, are free to have a corporate code of standards, morals and ethics for their company.  These are voluntary associations and represent a freedom of association amongst the people: no one forces an individual to work for a company.  I would say that it would help employees, greatly, if the actual codes are published with specificity, not with generic terminology referring to 'community' or some such, but to the details of what the corporation will actually hold you to.  That can include things for the corporation, itself, that it will not do as a corporation so as to uphold the standards set down for the company by those who own it.  I don't care if it is a sole proprietorship or a huge corporation: majority rights to set standards would function scale-free.

In the case of Hobby Lobby, they made it perfectly clear that the company would be more than willing to purchase health insurance that did not contain those items that they morally cannot support.  Supporting those elements are an anathema to them and they would prefer to close the company or not provide health insurance due to it.  Thus as this involves the federal government, it is a freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of conscience from religion that is being cited, and all of those are specifically protected in the 1st Amendment.

With Mozilla there is a case of punishing Brendan Eich for his 2008 contribution to Proposition 8 in CA, where his views were no different than Barack Obama's, Hillary Clinton's or a large number of other Democratic politicians.  Eich's speech is public speech, as much as a monetary contribution is 'speech', and there are specific laws prohibiting the use of political speech to punish employees, at least at the State level in CA there are.  Thus there is an extended 1st Amendment protection to political speech.

In both cases the founders of the company have set standards that the company is to live by, and in the case of Mozilla, Brendan Eich is a co-founder of Mozilla, so he should know what it was he constructed.  The job qualifications for Eich match up closely with what nearly any high tech company would want for a CEO, and he has never discriminated against gays, lesbians or tried to prevent couples from getting health insurance.  Thus he has held in his public job, to his commitment to the company.  When not on the job he is a private citizens who is entitled to public speech as a citizen, not as a member of a company.  Thus there is a distinction between public speech as member of a corporation, and public speech as a private citizen.

Hobby Lobby does not face the same sort of public speech problem, but is facing penalty of law for holding religious views as part of how they intend to run a company.  For the owners there is a requirement that in their lives that there be continuity between their publicly expressed morality in private and the company they formed to serve the public.  I have not heard of Hobby Lobby discriminating against its employees, and the employees perfectly understand the formulation of corporation they are joining when they request to be hired by it.  As a company, Hobby Lobby does not require its employees to profess their religious beliefs, nor does it perform any coercive acts to make them conform in their private lives to the standards made by the company.

Thus in Hobby Lobby they would be fine if people still did the things they did not pay for directly: there is no coercion of its employees to toe the company line in their life outside of work.  Its employees are free individuals away from work.

Mozilla feels free to intrude on the non-company life and speech of its members, at least it does for Brendan Eich, and use protected political speech as a reason to coerce individuals under its employment.  Its employees are not free individuals away from work and may have perfectly legal and constitutionally protected activities used against them in employment.

It is strange that the one corporation, not requiring people to adhere to company standards away from work is vilified, while the other, which punishes individuals for their private expression of protected speech, is lauded.

Often the same individuals deploring Hobby Lobby for maintaining its standards and lauding Mozilla for violating its work contract based on an individual's protected speech are the same people.

And yet the issues are just the same. 

Even worse is that the 'openness' is in the case of Hobby Lobby which does not discriminate based on religion or your private activities when they employ individuals.  The one claiming to have 'openness' is the one that discriminates against mere private opinion and represents a closing of mind to opinions or even a toleration of a separate life outside of work.

28 March 2014

Methodology applied to strange case

Malaysian Flight 370 has given rise to a lot of speculation and, with the sighting of debris off the cost of Perth Australia,  hopefully the final hours of the flight will become known.  Sadly, yes, but known.  The recovery of the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder will bring the case to rest.

Over the days since its disappearance the speculation of what happened to it has had to cope will large amounts of new material, like Boeing revealing that the flight last hours longer after the disappearance of the aircraft from radar.  That was not directional data, however, and left a wide radius from the last known position of the aircraft to the point its fuel runs out (Source: WSJ).  That last point, over the South China Sea, was after one course change that was not scheduled that happened during the hand-off of Air Traffic Control zones, and Flight 370 did not properly communicate with the new ATC zone.  At that point all verbal communication was lost with the flight, as well as its transponder information, but information from the engines continued to be sent.

That was the jumping off point for speculation which immediately went to terrorism.  If it was terrorism, no group is claiming it, so that leaves an empty hole in the situation.  That was filled by the report of Lithium Ion batteries being transported on the flight, and even when stowed properly, they can cause problems in very rare instances, which includes bringing flights down with on-board fires in the cargo hold.  That defaults to the situation for Flight 370 by Occam's razor which is that the simplest explanation with the fewest assumptions is the best.

Pilots get trained in a set of skills that start from the beginning, and they are summed up by the process of actually flying an aircraft: Aviate, Navigate, Communicate.

Thus flying the aircraft and keeping it aloft takes precedence, not just during normal flight but during emergency situations.  The terse 'All right, good night' response from the pilot at the last communication point for the ATC zone he was leaving may be an indicator of something going wrong on-board that had not been properly identified.  Just after that the first course change to the South China Sea took place, deviating from the prior flight path heading into China.  The protocol of Aviate, which is fly the aircraft, comes first.  And the loss of verbal and transponder information may be an indication of either a system manual reset or the power supply to those systems going out for other causes.  The engine transmission system has its own power supply separate from those systems, and could remain intact and functional.  It would keep on doing so until the aircraft shut down or the engines ran out of fuel.

If a pilot has a bad situation and is keeping the plane flying as a priority, then that pilot is determining if the plane can continue flying.  With an in-flight emergency being handled a pilot can then change the course, again.  That follows Occam's razor.  What does not follow is the pilot then succumbing to the situation right after that.  The question of it being reasonable that a pilot could misjudge his own capability to the point of not realizing how bad the situation had become after, perhaps, 5 to 10 minutes of dealing with it, is startling.  Human error does occur, yes, and cannot be discounted and may even be the case for Flight 370.  If so that is unfortunate.  That last flight change, to wind up in the Indian Ocean means that there was some capacity to not only Aviate but Navigate.

The South China Sea is a region of shipping that is heavily trafficked, what with Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia nearby, and destinations of Japan and China to the east and India and the Middle East to the west.  A pilot having any doubt about his viability as a pilot has a perfectly satisfactory option of ditching in the South China Sea.  It may seem heroic to try and not to succumb to fumes from a smoldering fire, but to Navigate and think you can do that and not know for a certainty means you have had time to address the situation.  While ditching may be a bad option, it is less worse than calculating your ability to Navigate while having a heavily trafficked area to ditch in.  It is not just the pilot's life, but that of everyone on board that is at stake.

There are circumstance where, perhaps, the ability to control engine speed has been taken out by a fire, leaving the jets to continue on without changes.  A crash into the sea is not a good way to ditch an aircraft, true, and if you cannot have that under your control then you have few options left as a pilot as you no longer control the airspeed of the plane.  That is a serious problem when it comes to Aviate.  There are options of what to do next, but they start to fall in the realm of changing angle of attack, changing elevation and trying to stall the engines out.  A bad situation but better than crashing into terrain or water at speed.

Thus, by Occam's razor, we get in-flight emergency and then gross misjudgment of the situation.

Is there another way to explain this scenario?

Of course: The Joker scenario.

Someone on-board planned to use the aircraft to give a wild suicide ride, and then crash the aircraft.  Some people do just want to see the world burn.  This is a viable option and requires little else beyond madness, which is just as likely as an emergency, a veteran pilot making gross misjudgments  and then succumbing to a situation he thought he could handle.  Even though a viable option, it is one that requires the intent of a man or woman gone mad to do it.  Thus it is less likely than the one by Occam's razor.

At this point it is possible to say that Occam's razor has resulted in a non-simple explanation that requires some types of problems coming together in a single instance that is unlikely.  If this razor is not cutting to a solution, is there another?

Yes, there is, and anyone examining military history will know it pretty well.  A main attribute for this goes to Napoleon, but it has shown up in various forms from various individuals over time. It is Hanlon's razor:  Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

For this instance is stupidity indicated?

Piloting an aircraft and making navigational changes indicates some level of gross competence and skill in these tasks.  These are not stupid acts, but ones with intent behind them.  Their results may be stupid and dumbfounding, yes, but they are done with competence, reason and foresight: they are not acts of a stupid individual.  Deranged, maybe, but not stupid.

When you cross of stupidity with Hanlon's razor you are left with: malice.

With malice you now have a crime of intent.  There is a methodology to examining criminal cases, and while the well known Method, Motive and Opportunity tend to come to mind first, they assume you know who is doing it.  Without who you do not get to MMO.  From that you step back to the 5 W's and 1 H:

Who

What

Where

Why

When

How

For Flight 370 we can definitively say What, Where and When up to the point of the second course change.  In fact that goes all the way back to the first course change, as they are the same thing: the aircraft losing contact and changing course between ATCs.

That leaves us with Who, Why and How.

A smoldering fire from cargo may not be by malice, but fills in each of those: the shipper, the cargo and a rare instance of fire.  Mind you the shipping container was rated for fire containment, but that could have failed.  The flight crew is just trying to deal with the situation in this instance, and are not active participants in the problem save for being unable to deal with it.

Going Joker answers these, also: an experienced or even novice pilot with some ability to fly the aircraft, they were deranged and took it over by some means.  Not pleasant to think about, but can't be discounted.

Terrorism?  This is two pronged as it may or may not involve active flight crew participation.  This broadly includes large scale criminal organizations, terror organizations or hostile governments doing something covertly.

Without participation you get a hostile take-over of the aircraft.  This would mean the debris in the Indian Ocean is from something else if the take-over was successful and the plane went on to a destination unknown.  Now isn't that a frightening prospect?  A large cargo vessel goes down and no one notices it.

Still remaining on the hostile takeover fork, it is possible that the take-over went seriously awry.  That can get the flight to the Indian Ocean.  It can also get it crashing into a mountainside or under triple canopy jungle or in some other waterway.  That could leave the debris from Flight 370 in the Indian Ocean or, again with the horror of finding a ship went down without notice.

On this fork the How is a terror take-over.  The Who would be unknown as would the Why.

With the crew or even just a single member of it, taking the aircraft over, you get the same bifurcation as with the hostile take-over and with the same results, save that How is the member of the crew, Who is the organization behind him/her, and Why is unknown.

There are, perhaps, only a couple of organizations and maybe one government that might try this.  None of them are China since they are the destination of the flight and it would be most easy to redirect a flight to a secure airfield and seize it, and it might be days or even weeks until someone noticed as this is China, after all, a big place with a tight lipped government.  With that said, with so many passengers being Chinese Nationals, any organization attempting to seize the flight would also know that they would get the wrath of China.  Possibly a nuclear tipped wrath, at that.

Who would tempt that?

Criminal organizations can get what they need much more cheaply, and there is little indication of individuals worth kidnapping for any reason.  It is cheaper and easier to kidnap the poor, those remotely located or the unwary for nefarious reasons than it is to take a plane full of people and do... well... what, anyway?  No good reason comes to mind, so while Method and Opportunity can be filled in, Motive or Why gets these types of organizations scratched off the list.

Of the Nations that might try this, possibly only the Magic Kingdom of Mr. Kim might be insane enough to do something like this.  However power hungry and egotistical the ruler is, however, he isn't crazy and not a Joker type.  At least so far as we can puzzle out.  Besides the Motive or Why leaves a gaping hole in the idea of NoKo being behind this.

Terrorists usually don't take an aircraft and do nothing with it, claim no responsibility and generally remain silent about it.  They might buy an aircraft, as bin Laden did in the early '90s in Africa, but hijack one and claim nothing and do nothing with it?  Unless there was something like new bioweapons in with the people or cargo, the rationale even behind the most fantasy based of organizations remains out of the realm of possibility.  The Why part remains unanswered.

Anything left?

A death cult.  AUM once operated in the USSR/Russia and was able to brainwash some KGB/FSB agents before the group dispersed.  Note most went back to Japan, but not all of them did.  AUM had this wonderful idea of liberating people's souls to a better life by killing them now.  In fact that was such a good act in their line of reasoning at the time, that mass-murder was a really great idea.  After being brainwashed with drug, sex and rock'n'roll, the followers had to be convinced that as enlightened individuals they had to save themselves to continue on with the good work.  They might not leave any notes, any causation and generally not want to attract attention to themselves carrying on the good works.  Tends to get people put in jail and deprogrammed, and then put on trial.  So a death cult could fill in Who, Why and How is via the terrorism paths.  Do note that AUM had many competent individuals within its organization and the entire operation ran a chain of computer repair stores in Japan which was their main money-maker for the founder of the cult.  The founder has reformed, of course, but the individuals who were once with it and disappeared when it dispersed, are probably not reformed.

In general the simplest explanation remains the best, and I'm expecting that the debris is from Flight 370.

If it isn't, and its not just something dropped off by a dead circulation spot in the Indian Ocean like the large debris field in the northern Pacific, then things turn nasty.  Perhaps incompetent and nasty.  Or competent and nasty.  And do note that debris is yielded from multiple possible paths, as well.  Only the in-flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder can finally dispel the speculative paths and leave us with what is left.

Evidence is needed to sort this out and remove the suppositional and to fill in the blanks. 

26 February 2014

Disruptive technology

What is disruptive technology?  It is technology that brings in a change to our understanding of what is fundamental to a system.  Computers changed how businesses processed information which meant that whole categories of workers were put out of jobs.  Rooms that used to be filled with accountants were downsized.  Similarly rooms full of draftsmen and architects got pared down, as did rooms of engineers to design everything from squeeze bottles to jet aircraft.  Computers disrupted business in ways large and small, and that intruded on our lives and our lives slowly began to change, as well.  Connecting computers to a network and having them internetworked was meant, way back when, to be a way to have computers split processes amongst them as they were few and expensive and idle time was money lost.  Instead the internetworked systems allowed people to contact each other across all the networks in a way that enabled human intelligence to be shared and increased.  E-mail was the first real disruptive technology of networks, and then, later, would come the ability to browse from site to site with information put up in a flat network system with agreed-upon means to display information.  The Internet with World Wide Web came into being and the compelling way it changed lives was through interaction of people to do many things that they could have never done before.  People who would never dream of publishing anything soon had blogs and realized that there was readership available with people desperate for something interesting to read.  Videos also were shared when bandwidth increased, and that also changed our view of each other and the world.  And commerce moved onto a global stage accessible by anyone with a computer connected to a network, and competition became global at a retail level.

Our world changed.

Yet the seasons still come and go, the Earth orbits the sun and the Moon orbits the Earth.  That world did not change as it is Nature and beyond our reach to change, as its laws are required to allow us to be here.

Today we see the last gasp of governments trying to regain control of people in ways large and small, from the Transnational Left and Right we see the disruption of societies as governments and companies try to liquidate what it means to be a citizen of a Nation.  Across much of Europe the attempt to socialize health care has resulted in the horrors of the British system and people left to die of thirst, to the lax attitude of physicians all taking their holiday on the hottest days of the year so that hospitals cannot treat those with heat stroke, to the much admired German system that can't seem to ask its own people if they actually like having to wander from doctor to doctor to get seen on a timely basis and never have continuity of care from a physician that knows them.  These systems have tremendous overhead and lacks big, small and always at the cost of actual health provisioning in a way people prefer.  Bureaucrats run these systems and they are run for the interest of the governments involved, not the people.  Control over personal health is one of the fastest ways a tyrannical system can find and eliminate opposition as it finds out just who has what, and then figure out how to deny opponents actual health services.  With such a whip the political class finds ways to dole out a bit here and there to get re-elected, all in the knowledge that the people are afraid of government as it has taken over the health care system.

This is an antiquated way of doing things, with large lab systems taking lots of time running costly tests at high overhead with may companies and levels of bureaucracy which now must be sustained by the individuals actually using the system.  Put in a few levels of bureaucracy and the actual cost of provisioning health care goes up, timeliness and quality of care goes down.  Computers have not made inroads to anything but forms processing so that forms get ignored on a more timely basis by bureaucrats playing solitaire on their systems instead of just hanging out at the water cooler instead of doing their jobs.  They do that, too.  Computers increase inefficiency as well as efficiency and provide many ways to goof off that could not have been conceived of just 30 years ago.  Health care has resisted disruption from the inside as the insiders have a vested interest in keeping a high overhead, high cost system going: it provides control and makes money for them, and grants those running it much power over others.

Yet automation and miniaturization are coming to the health care system, but this isn't coming from the decaying inside-out.  No this is coming from the outside, from people who don't much care for the inefficient, high overhead and centralized control realms that are the tyrannical features of government controlled health care.  Disruptive technology threatens the apple cart by putting power back in the hands of individuals who are able to walk away from aspects of the system to save money and empower those doing the liberation.  The place to start isn't with the 3D printing of organs... well, that is a pretty good place, actually, but to disrupt the entire system requires hitting at its underpinnings and that is with blood tests.  The things you have to get done to yield some information about what is going on with your body.  I've had so many of them it isn't funny, and if you have ever seen a nurse walk into a room with a full rack of vials to test your blood then you have some understanding of just how important the tests are.  Due to my health I've had up to 35 taken at a single draw, and there are people who have many more than that taken just to try and identify what is going on in their bodies.

From Instapundit I read, today, about a woman who, at age 19, started a company after dropping out of Stanford University and used her tuition money to put into the company (Article at Wired).  She is afraid of needles and thought that there must be a better way to do blood testing.  Now at 30, Elizabeth Holmes' company, Theranos, is featuring a 30 test service at Walgreens in Palo Alto, CA.  The blood sample is a miniscule amount that fits into a half inch collection vial.  Results for their tests are in 4 hours.  The company posts the costs of its tests on its website and they are a fraction of the cost of going to a traditional lab.  Their goal is to run thousands of tests via a single sample, and to have that sample available so that if a doctor wants secondary tests done on it they can be performed without the need for a re-draw.

Do they test for bacteria and viruses? Yes.  Instead of culturing blood, and risking contamination, they do a DNA screening to see if known viruses or bacteria are present and at what levels.  That is days of specialized culturing thrown out the door and the most definitive way to find a pathogen, via its DNA, put in its place. At some point my guess is that they will be able to give you your entire genome so that physicians can quickly see what medical conditions you might be susceptible to via your genetic profile.  The cost of a full genomic work up has been dropping drastically, and making it an everyday test done in hours, not days, would begin to change the course of medicine as diseases can be cross-referenced with genetic background and statistical results derived from it.

Even with Moore's Law slowing due to the fact that physics at the atomic level limits the size of processors, the ability to multiply what a processor does increases computing power per die for production.  Once some of this technology goes off patent, or once competition with alternative and faster ways gets into play, the cost of the tests will go down, the rate to get results will speed up and the size of the sample will decrease.  Give it two cycles of Moore's Law and the microengineering to get a 'lab on a chip' and you will begin to see the first generation of full spectrum blood sampling devices as something that becomes available in nearly every store.  Put in a few more cycles of Moore's Law and that then becomes a device you buy to add to your cellphone.  Cross that with the X-Prize for a non-invasive tricorder and you have Dr. McCoy's minimal test tricorder.

Time for something like this to get off the drawing board?  Less than a decade.

What is the basis for Larry Niven's device in the Known Space stories called an Autodoc (a capsule you rest in that does full medical procedures from a simple blood test and manicure to setting bones and treating cancer, or replacing organs or limbs)?  A full spectrum blood test.  As results are processed faster and cross-indexed with diseases, pathogens, and genetic background plus having a 360 degree body scan to see what is wrong with you, then the basis for the Autodoc appears.  The blood test is key as it is the basis of so much of modern medicine that it isn't funny.  As of today the first piece of the Autodoc is being worked on, although not as an Autodoc but as a way to get small blood samples to yield up information that used to take racks of vials to get.

This sort of technology is no longer a question of 'if' but of 'when' and 'how soon will it get here'.

Our health care system is on the verge of disappearing as we know it, with its high overhead bureaucracy, within 20 years.  Possibly within 10.

What will you do when you are given the freedom of having all of that medical knowledge on the cheap about yourself and then able to have a doctor step you through the beginning of understanding just what is in your body and how you can deal with it effectively?  Why would you want 'insurance' when you are in control of your medical life in an absolute way that is at once low cost and easy to do?  The power to control you begins to evaporate with low cost, effective blood testing that breaks the old system at its foundations.  How long will it take to do simple genomic cross-indexing of inherited conditions?  I'm guessing less than a decade, but certainly in that 20 year time horizon.

And what happens when governments try to take this away from stores, doctors and you?

That is an obvious power grab directly against you, the individual, to put a bureaucrat in control of your life and death.  Yet it will be cheap and easy to snub these control monsters.  Will you dare to be free of them?

This is just one disruptive technology.  Others are here and just being perfected.  Still more are coming from the horizon at a high rate of speed.  If you want to know why those wishing to dissolve your personality, your bonds to your country and your fellow citizens, are so desperate it is this: the future is arriving far faster than it can ever be controlled.  Governments are ill suited to coping and understanding what this means.  Individuals, however, are very able to do so as they do not have the burdens of collective stupidity and bureaucracy to hamper them.  And those who will benefit most are the poor, who do not need this controlled for them to get a good price as it already comes with a low price tag.  What happens when the poor are set free of the clutches of those wishing to control them?  Will they quake in fear of freedom or just shake their head at those who seek control and let them know that their day is over?

Change is here, but it isn't the one that the controllers hoped for.  Quite the opposite as this kind of change is their deadly enemy.

Welcome to the future.

I embrace it with open arms while those who seek control yell in fear of it.

Oh, happy day.

03 February 2014

One interesting stat from early modern England

This is one of those times where a single statistic can open up a wealth of insight, and yet it does not come from our present but our past.  This one is coming from the Open Yale courses, which are freely available for viewing and have some of the most interesting professors that can have a wealth of information.  The stat comes from the HIST 251: Early Modern England which covers the time period of the late 16th century to the early 18th century and is presented by Professor Keith E. Wrightson.  To understand the transformation of England during this period it is necessary to see where it started from circa Henry VII, just before all the major changes in England took place.  I've been watching these with my lady and our side conversations tend to make the simple presentation quite long as it is necessary to pause the presentation so we can discuss material.  Thus the insight comes from that discussion.

In the mid- to late-16th century there was a relatively stable social stratification that has the Nobility at the top, the Gentry of landed estates and 'gentle birth' next, then the Yeomen class who were not of 'gentle birth' and tended to be well considered in towns and cities running trades and businesses (as well as some farms which was necessary for the era, the Craftsmen and those earning a living via craft work, and then gradations through the poor end of the spectrum which ends in Unskilled Labor.  The Clergy are considered separate (remember pre-Henry VIII) and while they can have power, it is not by lineage (as in the Nobility and Gentry) but by appointment to position (such as Bishop or Arch Bishop) by the Pope.  Literacy was low outside of those who could afford such education or that required it for daily operation (like the Clergy).  Schooling was done at home and as soon as children could contribute in any way to a household, they did so via work, first at home and then, if coming from a poorer family, by paying a Master Craftsman to take on a boy as an apprentice or by going to a household to work in any of a variety of tasks for a one year term.

This society can be characterized as stratified and one in which survival at all but the upper ranks of society is a constant pre-occupation.  Mercantile capitalism tends to fall in to the Yeomanry and Craftsman realms of society, and while the Yeomanry were socially limited they could earn quite a lot of money and purchase land from plying business trades.  Across all strata of the non-Clergy is one particularly interesting phenomena and the statistic of interest: marriage tended to be put off until the early- to mid- 20's.  This was done because establishing a new household is a costly affair (even for the rich) and must be done with much due consideration.  At the upper ranks of society choices in one's class were limited, and matches between young men and women could take time but also required agreement between families.  Sliding down into the Gentry, Yeomanry and Craftsman realms of society, men and women had a bit more in the way of choices and leeway, but parental and family consent made marriage a multi-lateral agreement in which any single party could hold a veto.  This sort of concern lessened going down to the lowest levels of society, where there was a lot more freedom for couples, agreement tended to be limited to parents, but start-up costs of a new household was high in proportion to the income of the poor.

From that this society can be said to have a high overhead cost of maintenance to it: it costs a lot of time as well as funds to get a household going.  Child birth, statistically, would happen within 18 months of marriage and then be a cyclic affair every 2 or 3 years of the woman's childbearing years.  Added to this was the high rate of infant mortality, endemic diseases, pandemics of plague, plus the normal assort of death by accidents, and life expectancy, while better than in Neolithic times, tended to be in the mid-30's with rare individuals surviving past 60.

Why is this interesting?

My lady was startled because of the American experience with families up to the early 20th century: large families with marriage happening in the late Teens.  Many marriage laws for what society would consider 'children' today included age of consent down to 12 in some States.

There are important changes by the start of the 19th century for Americans, but the life expectancy had not increased much over the 16th century, and while the Industrial Revolution would begin to transform America after the 1820's, American family size continued to be large even with advances in medicine, public sanitation and better diet.  Taking these factors into consideration, there is one other major factor that is encountered in the US that sets it apart from its Early Modern English forbearers in the 16th century: it is a society of not much in the way of 'classes' and it is one with a low overhead for maintenance.

The first is relatively self-explanatory, and while there were major land and slave holders in the Southern States (an equivalent of the Gentry class circa 16th century England)  and huge differences between those living in cities and those in rural areas, these are not largely different from the share-cropper system and differences between city and rural folk of the 16th century.  Without the rest of the class structure to burden the system and plenty of wilderness to settle in what happened is that the Americans of the early 19th century gained a definition that stuck until the early 20th century: a Frontier Culture.

By now, of course, this has interrupted all viewing of the course as this is a vital topic but approached in an oblique way.  There are large differences between a 'Settled' culture and a 'Frontier' culture, most of which revolve around the cost of maintenance of the infrastructure necessary to sustain the culture.  It is difficult to think of Early Modern England as a 'settled culture' but it has natural geographic limits to it, even when you consider Great Britain or the UK as a whole: these are islands and have definite boundaries and no frontiers.  Once an island has undergone initial exploration and settling, that is it for new resources and to get claimed land one must purchase it, which requires capital.  If you live in a town or city you can rent space, of course, but in the villages and household settings to have a new household requires land either by purchase or lease, and then a home on it.  There are many records in England from the late 16th century onwards, which allows us to glimpse a bit of everyday life via the records of deaths and coroner's inquests.  Prof. Wrightson recounts the death of one young woman who was working as a servant in a household who, at her death, had a total of 3 Pounds, 3 cows, and a chest containing items of clothing, bedding, bowl, spoon and the like.  Indeed an average of all deaths can actually yield that individuals owned perhaps as many as 25 to 35 items, total upon death.  The savings of a young woman was that of hoping to find a husband, marry, and establish a household amongst the poorer ranks of society.  She was already bringing something to the table for a marriage: she was gathering necessary overhead capital and goods for the start of a future household.

This is a stark contrast to the American Frontier experience that included clearing land, marrying early, and settling that cleared land for little to no overhead cost beyond sweat equity.  Raw materials were readily available, land was anywhere from free to cheap (compared to Early Modern England, at least), and the idea of 'go forth and multiply' was something that was held near and dear to the heart in reverence to God.

What is the condition of America today?

Settled.

It has a high overhead cost of maintenance to start a household.  Even with politicians distorting lending markets no end, the cost of starting a household is high.  Those that learn the Trades in America, today, actually have a low overhead cost from education: there is less burden on them and a trade craft repays the cost of education in it quickly.  A distorted market in 'Higher Education' arising from the 'good deed'  in the GI Bill post-WWII flooded colleges and universities with people which then changed the requirements in the marketplace for what is a 'minimum necessary education'.  That 'Higher Education' no longer repays itself and is a debt burden to those who go through such education and have no useful job skills at the end of it.  It is a high cost that must be paid down before starting a family.  The result?  The age of marriage has increased, couples expect both parties to bring something to the new household, children are put off for a period of time after marriage, on average and yes there are exceptions to this just as there were in Early Modern England of the 16th century.

At the lowest end of the economic spectrum there is a payment of funds from tax receipts (or in added debt) to the poor to 'care for women and children' who happen to have children out of wedlock.  Women get payments based on number of children and husbands are no longer required to get support: government has taken on that role.  The result is a liquidation of the once solid poor family structure that was purposefully uprooted during the 'Urban Renewal' that started with the Truman Administration and the movement of poor families from homes they owned to tenements they rented from under the 'Great Society' programs.  Add in payments based on childbirth to women who are not required to be married and have a stable family situation, and you liquidate the foundations of the stable culture that was once a part of the urban landscape prior to the 1950's.  Although a Nation in which by any objective standard pre-1940 there is no poverty, at all, we still have the strange belief that the poor are a condition of poverty.  And yet the poor are always with us, as being poor is part of the condition of individuals within mankind. 

Poverty, as such, was transitional in America where anyone could aspire to be a 'rags to riches' story and maybe end up in the Middle Class or at least better off than one's parents in material goods and security.  What there also used to be was no support system for the rich who failed: you could go from rags to riches to rags and cycle back and forth between them.  The establishment of regulatory regimes to allow failing concerns to remain open (and even get direct government help via taxpayer funds) means that those who make poor decisions under those regulatory regimes no longer fail and they no longer succeed, either.  They become zombie concerns depending on the lifeblood of taxpayer funds and supported regulatory regimes to survive and exist.  Any comparisons between this and later English companies supported by the Crown and later found to be bankrupt is purely coincidental with the Modern England.  In the Early Modern England there was too much upheaval to allow for such things.

Thus there are similarities of type between the US of 2014 and mid- to late-16th century England, but not of kind.  There are entirely different sets of overhead concerns for starting a household, and yet they arise for the same reason of being in a settled and geographically limited society.  The Old West in America is just that: the historical Old West.  And while there are still unsettled lands in the US, no one can rightly call them a Frontier in the expansive way of the early 19th century.  Yes Alaska is still nasty, has a low population level and if you can gather the overhead costs to establish yourself there, it has a frontier-like feel to it.  Social stratification becomes more apparent in the modern US but not due to the gentleness of birth but the connectedness to corrupt government and those that serve and service its corruption.  Just as in Early Modern England this is not a stable situation.

The result in Early Modern England was the Industrial Revolution and the great colonization effort that spanned the globe.

America, today, is at the cusp of a similar sort of transformation, as well.  It is not a dour and bleak totalitarian one, that is if we don't work to counter it.  No, it is one that also had an antecedent in Early Modern England: a New Frontier.

America has tested its endless expanse and now is home to many private concerns that dream big dreams of endless expanses of territory and wealth to be made.  It can't be made just by the rich or even with robotic systems, as those are fragile to this new and hostile wilderness.  And in this wilderness children will learn from the earliest of ages how to survive, what to do and not to do, and the rest of 'education' as we know it will be geared to those concerns first and foremost.

What happened when the English had access to new territories?  Some people were banished to them.  Others fled to them because of the freedom they offered for a new life at great risk.  They were Frontiers.  No social stratification.  Relatively low cost of overhead compared to what was left behind. Great and terrible risk to eke out a new life together with those who also decided that this was better than being settled.  Vast populations from Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Poland, Scandinavia, Spain, Italy... they followed when the cost of transportation to the Frontier was cheap enough to escape the settled lands of their old homes.

As I've said before and say again: there isn't anything so wrong with America that a New Frontier will not cure.

Freedom and Independence will beckon to us, to all mankind.

No one from the time of Henry VII could have seen the rapid changes that would follow his death.

And we can compress those massive changes of centuries down to decades, and no totalitarian power will be able to stop it once the flood gates open.

All we must do is curtail the grasp of tyranny in the present, hold it off by all means possible, and a New Frontier will open to us.  Like Early Modern England seemed a strange place to look for such transformation in its stratified ways and settled lands, so, too, does America look like a strange place to expect the push for a New Frontier.  Yet Early Modern England was pre-adapted to such things by its history and America, along with a few other Nations, is pre-adapted to Frontier culture by its cultural heritage. 

It is easy to fight tyranny in space: open an airlock.  Nature plays no favorites, but you can.

08 January 2014

Why modern education isn't

Now open your books, class...

Laurentius_de_Voltolina_001Image Courtesy: Wikipedia

That is a picture of a late 14th century classroom at the University of Bologna.

353px-Meeting_of_doctors_at_the_university_of_Paris

Image Courtesy: medievalists.net

That is a meeting at the University of Paris in the Middle Ages.

University of Binghamton_newlanding

Image Courtesy: SUNY at Binghamton

And here is a modern counter-part, circa early 21st century, Binghamton, NY.

What made the University in its modern form?

Books.

Lack, thereof.

The modern university of having a teacher or professor or doctor or priest sitting in a central position of power and students looking to that individual for wisdom was necessary back in 1350 as moveable type hadn't been invented yet.  Books were scarce, rarely printed, and quite often hand copied.  Thus the best way to disseminate knowledge was to have someone who had time to read lots of books on a subject teach students from a curriculum that was dutifully, or not so dutifully, copied down in the form of notes.  If you had to really know what was in the book you could go to the library and, if you were lucky, they actually had a copy of it available.  Getting to read it was a matter of bureaucracy.

Even with moveable type books were still expensive but at least somewhat available... in the library... to read.

The availability of books for private libraries and at home did take a while to get into gear, and was mostly something for the rich and well off up to the late 19th century to early 20th century, where books were still cherished in poor families.  By the post-WWII era, books were readily available as forms of modern printing and the cost/benefit ratio of long press runs took over, and soon you had salesmen hawking the Encyclopedia Britannica in the new suburban neighborhoods.  It wasn't alone, of course, and the book store, once something that only those with a scholarly or Bohemian lifestyle went to, were soon in strip malls.

Yet the entire educational system still depended on 'experts' to present pre-digested 'material' for students to copy down.  Mind you mass-media was now available and out in semi-rural Western NY, out in pine tree and cow country, our black and white TV got Sunrise Semester where, in the early, pre-dawn hours, one could tune in to a course being presented on TV for that semester and do course-work by mail.

Amazing!

Revolutionary!

It went nowhere, of course, as those big palaces of learning had political clout, alumni, professors and buildings, all of which needed grease of the monetary variety to function.  And if you didn't like the public schools, well, you just weren't 'modern'.

For that you have to go back to late 15th and early 16th century and Martin Luther who wanted everyone to learn to read so they could read the Bible on their own.  In their own language.  This concept was expanded upon by Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746-1827) and the web site dedicated to his contribution gives a list of the things he wanted put in place for what we would call 'Primary Education':

Pestalozzi’s approach has had massive influence on education, for example, his influence, as well as his relevance to education today, is clear in the importance now put on:

  • The interests and needs of the child
  • A child-centred rather than teacher-centred approach to teaching
  • Active rather than passive participation in the learning experience
    The freedom of the child based on his or her natural development balanced with the self-discipline to function well as an individual and in society
  • The child having direct experience of the world and the use of natural objects in teaching
  • The use of the senses in training pupils in observation and judgement
  • Cooperation between the school and the home and between parents and teachers
    The importance of an all-round education – an education of the head, the heart and the hands, but which is led by the heart
  • The use of systemised subjects of instruction, which are also carefully graduated and illustrated
  • Learning which is cross-curricular and includes a varied school life
  • Education which puts emphasis on how things are taught as well as what is taught
  • Authority based on love, not fear
  • Teacher training

Pestalozzi’s influence over the spirit, the methods and the theory of education has continued into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and most of his principles have been assimilated into the modern system of education.

And by 1900 you got schools that look like this...

bpk 20.012.125

Photo Courtesy: GHDI

Oh, wait, that is a factory at AEG in Germany at the turn of last century!  So sorry!

tiered-classroom

Photo Courtesy: 1900s.uk.org

There you go!  Rank upon rank of students at desks all doing the same tasks... I mean that is so different from an industrial facility, isn't it?  And that is so very different than the University!  I mean, you have... individual desks, no wait, that was there in Bologna... students writing notes on the topic, no wait, they were doing that in Bologna, too.  Hmmm...are we sure the production line wasn't invented in Bologna?

At least today is so different!

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Photo Courtesy: LA Childhood Education Examiner

I mean here the students can also push their desks together!  And learn the same thing... at their desks... at the same time...

Growing up with this sort of system, I never realized just how antiquated it was, even while I was just auditing college courses on Sunrise Semester.  When I was 6? 7 perhaps?  Definitely less than 10 years old.  The New Media of that era of the late 1960's to early 1970's was television, a one to many media that should function very well as an immediate replacement for that 14th century institution known as the 'Educational System', with bells and whistles like Kindergarten added in by the Germans.

And yet the US came into the late 19th and early 2oth century with a different sort of teaching environment.

oldsch

Photo Courtesy: Will County News blog

That is a one room schoolhouse, a place where children of both genders and different ages all learn in the same environment.  By the time of that image in 1938 there was some segregation by age.

One-Room Schoolhouse

Photo Courtesy: education14 blog

Yet a generation prior to that, this was not the case.  That idea of systematized learning also meant segregation not just by subject, but by age, and the requirement for specialized teachers not only by subject but by age range.  The education profession was turning into a reflection of the work environment, to some degree, but was also becoming a sort of guild system which had decided that further employment of its system required further specialization.  And yet the topics involved for reading, writing, math and even basic history, are ones that are amenable to distinction within a heterogeneous but delimited age range, say 6 to 18 years old. 

In a one room schoolhouse such instruction was mandatory due to the variety of ages coming to the school and the limited time to teach a subject.  Thus a subject was taught as a multi-level form of instruction in which basic facts could be provided and expanded upon in a fashion to suit the learning capacities not just by age but by individual.  This gave children a wider exposure to a given subject and a chance to pick up advanced learning at a young age.  Older students get a refresher and some new material, while younger students get more than they can handle so they have to learn just what it is that they will have to handle.  Simultaneously and in different subjects all by one individual leading the students.

That is teaching.

Talking on a single subject and having student writing down notes, that is instruction, and a largely passive affair.  This has been the case since the start of the modern University as seen in places like Bologna and what we have to day is an relic form of institution trapped in the old system that was driven by a lack of ready material in the form of ink printed on paper and bound into codices.

Today the world does not have a problem of ready material availability and, in the advanced post-industrial revolution Nations, a lack of access to them.  Quite the contrary the classical works are now available, by and large, for free via digital means which should be a great boon to education across all of mankind.  Yet the classification by subject and learning level for a cohort of homogeneous age students is not compatible with this ready availability.  Indeed no instructor in any subject, save for a few of the actual hard sciences, can be said to have any idea of the extent of their subject or be so well versed in it as to encompass its modern size. 

It is true that subjects that start in the Ancient Classical period and going through the Reformation, Peace of Westphalia, Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment era of the 19th century are relatively staid historical subjects.  These subjects serve as the basis for all later education in ALL FIELDS from views on religion and morality through what Nations are through economics through the hard sciences and into the requirement of personal ethics that upholds a given moral code and structure for the basis of individual freedom.  And here is the solution to basic education in these areas: record them at multiple current schools, digitize the lectures, hyperlink ideas together via topic, and formulate a program of self-instruction on them by individuals with actual written tests without access to anything but written source materials in hard copy format to demonstrate individual knowledge and fluency on topics.  This would be a self-paced, age independent system so that individuals could learn at the pace they wished to learn at and only if they see a requirement for demonstration of such knowledge need they ever be tested on it.

Getting to 20th century topics would also require such fluency and background, but the educational materials for them would not be limited by any means.  Demonstration of knowledge of the basis for these ideas and how they came to be is a touchstone demonstration of knowledge.  Just as being able to master the tools and concepts of welding, machining, and creation of materials via additive processes, there is a requirement that someone who actually knows how to do these things certifies that a student also knows them so, too, would the requirement for understanding economics, morality, the moral basis for ethics, physics, chemistry, biology, or any other subject useful for a career require the demonstration of being able to think independently without aid of any device save hard copy source material and marginal notes. 

These are mental tools that have direct applicability and requirements of mastery to them which can be tested in an age heterogeneous environment where there is no limit to re-taking such tests (albeit a small fee might be involved) and that could be sent to any three individuals with certified mastery of such knowledge up to that level,  and graded separately.  This would give the person seeking education feedback from three individuals with varying background and insights, and while passing an exam faults and flaws in everything from syntax to logic structure, along with historical accuracy would be given.  For the topical sciences the divorce of the hard sciences from the rest of post-Enlightenment topics would only come at the specialization level after demonstrating a knowledge of the basis for a given topical science and ability to do lab work in them, both held in equal proportion as science is as much about understanding a topic as testing it via lab experimentation.  Thus the basis for the sciences and their connections to the each other and to the world they worked in, historically, would be a major factor in understanding the place of the sciences in everyday life and have a requirement that anyone wishing to understand that place must also understand the method of experimentation and the moral and ethical basis for it.

Such testing isn't just written on many topics, but is also conversational: being able to demonstrate an immediate ability to reason through new topics on the spur of the moment is something we only do at the Graduate School level for individual topics, but are something that form each of us as individuals in our lives.  Being able to hold a discussion on, say, the basis for the Nation and what the function of a State is will vary across periods from Ancient Classical all the way to the modern age, but the groundwork for that reasoning is one that is historical and requires historical knowledge to make an informed decision.  Just as modern understanding of quantum theory rests on electromagnetic theory, and that, in turn, has links forward to relativity and backwards to Newtonian physics, the ability to discuss that as a topic in its modern realm requires a basis of understanding of its history and why the questions we ask today come about.  In attempting to divorce history from our modern lives, to seek to disconnect the modern State from our historical and cultural understanding of it, is a disservice to all men just as trying to disconnect biology and human experimentation from morality and the duty of citizens to practice their ethics on a known moral code in service to their fellow man both lead to ruin of not just Nations and societies, but mass slaughter of individuals.  Without a historical understanding of the present, the future is one of horror.  A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but none is fatal.

If we are to take James Burke of Connections fame to heart then the basis for understanding our role as individuals in a complex world is to understand the basis for how our complex world came about.  Education, then, is no longer something limited by age, by class, by gender or by any other category we impose on humanity: it is for everyone at all ages at all times of their lives from the moment that cognitive thought first starts to the last thoughts of those at the end of their lives.  Fluency in the range of topics to address the modern world should have, however, no requirement that people learn them via an enforced educational system that relied on a lack of source material availability to require such things as Universities and, later, schools.  Jobs have requirements to them, and learning the basics of reading, writing, logic, basic four function mathematics, reasoning, syntax, spelling at a fluency and daily use level may have some age determinants in them, but even those can be highly automated via pre-recorded instruction that would serve as the basis for entry to taking further examinations to demonstrate skill and mastery of a topic later.  Many jobs, however, have only the need for basic mastery of material to them and while some might class these jobs as 'low' they are only low in their demonstrated skill requirement: people hauling trash make a good living doing so and those paid a pittance for doing manual labor for farming can still get a good life from doing so.

The entrance to higher capability in any field is a demonstrated ability to master topics and expand mental capacity so as to properly understand how a given area of knowledge fits in with all other areas of knowledge to create a complex web of knowledge that goes back and forth in history.  A concentration in a given topic can go far with just a little auxiliary knowledge in broader topic ranges, right up to the point where you question the morality of research and the ethics of doing certain kinds of research, at which point all those minor entrances into the other topics that allowed for a concentration in a given field must come into play and an individual put in the time and effort to learn what the moral basis for society and freedom are, and what their ethical obligation is to such a society actually is. 

All bureaucrats should have this as part of their essential 'must know' category of knowledge as it is the functionaries of the State that perform acts upon their fellow man and that can, indeed in our era must, contain a full and broad understanding of what society is, where our source of freedom and rights come from and the obligation of the individual in service to the State to not perform acts of immorality upon others as an ethical obligation to themselves, their society, their fellow man and the State they have created.

There is no Royal Road to education.

Our current formulation has run into the 21st century which is now set to sweep away all systems based on limitation of access to materials be they mental or durable goods, and bring a new age of humankind into being based on what we know of ourselves to be as individuals in Nature who are obligated to its laws and as individuals granted access to a moral code that seeks to engender liberty for each man without coercion upon him to think like anyone else.  You cannot get that through the University system, the current education system, or the current systems supporting them which are now failing in this modern era and have been failing ever since the first one-to-many forms of broadcast became available.  Our society upgraded the tools it has to learn but has not applied them for the utility of each individual.  That era is now ending not from the top-down, but from the bottom-up. 

I have already seen schools built in the post-WWII era turned into office space after being sold by their districts.  And I've seen entire cities crumbling because a way of life that was thought to be perpetual was so rooted in place that it required vast amounts of revenue to keep a dead way of life going as a veneer on the physical plant of the city itself.  The answer is not to throw more money into these institutions which have failed in critical ways to adapt and adopt to the 20th century, not to speak of the 19th and 18th century.  They were not even appropriate to the 20th century to say nothing of the 21st.  It is time we change our view of education from the warehousing of pre-teen and teenagers to the development of knowledge and skills that can be demonstrated by each and every individual if that is their desire.  Education must no longer be enclosed by brick walls and attempted to be walled off within our minds to institutions, but opened up as a conception that is held by each of us who are eternally students and, in our turn, practitioners of those things we sought to embed in mere material structures.  That, of course, will shake us all up as to what it means to have a job, when it is appropriate to have a job and how betterment of oneself is in one's own hands and not enforced by a bureaucracy that, in seeking to do 'good', walls us off from the eternal good of self-education and reasoning.