The Bloodless Corpse

I knew that he was dead, tucked into a fetal position, stuffed under the instructor’s station at the front of room LAS 327.  I saw the tiny gray holes.  My spine chilled.  I left the room to call dispatch.  Later, the other patrollers in Safety thought I got out of the room because of the body, but it wasn’t that.  I knew that there was a vampire on campus. 
The medical examiner did not report the wounds – most likely for the same reason I did not mention them in my incident report.  The cause of death remained open. 
The school turned edgy, even in the daytime.  At night, people hurried to their cars in groups.
The sheriff lent us two deputies “to re-establish a sense of safety.”  Each walked halls during the day, and cruised the parking lots from 5:00 PM until 10:30 PM.  Our own patrols changed to a buddy system – at least in theory.  Typically, we hit the doors, split up, made our checklists, and met on the way out.  Some of the patrollers did not like it.  Long used to being on their own, they would take off and meet up a couple of buildings later.  It was all right with me.  I take a lot in stride at my age.  Campus safety patrol was the second job in the fourth career in 35 years.  The student’s death was hard– he looked like a nice kid – but I was not shocked or grossed out.
What kept me awake was the vampire.  A man who does not believe in God cannot believe in the Devil.  I argued with myself, but no sophistry could contradict the observation.  That immutable empirical fact demanded its own logic.
After two weeks, campus life settled into a surreal imitation of itself.  Until someone was arrested and charged, we all waited for the next one.
When I saw her on the east third floor of the Gunder Myran building, everything about her said “victim” – shoulders slightly dropped and pulled in, head down watching her shoes, backpack too heavy with books.  And she was being followed by Death.  The smell was not the pain of fetal pigs and dissected rats from the biology labs, or even cadavers from the biology core.  But it was.  It was in the air.  “Miss!” I called. “Miss!”  When she turned around, I knew that Death was inside her.  Her reptile stare lacked even the pleasure of a meal.  I wanted to be hers.  She was twenty feet away when I whispered, “Take me.” 
She flew to me in a stride, gripped me to her, her talons in my back, her hand grabbing my hair, pulling my head to bare my neck.  My hand leapt to my shirt pocket, yanked out the pencil and stabbed it into her heart, pressing the shaft home, my hand flat against her cold breast. 
Her eyes lit up with shock, then horror, … disbelief … hatred – and then release.  She died in my arms.  There was no blood.

She’s Such a Geek!

She’s Such a Geek! Women Write About Science, Technology, & Other Nerdy Stuff, edited by Annalee Newitz and Charlie Anders (Seal Press, Avalon Publishing, 2006) delivers 24 autobiographical vignettes about growing up, working, and living as a female noted for, and often defined by, her relationship to one or more STEM studies: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.  The editors (who also contributed) selected these stories from among 200 entries.

Yet within each of these 24 narratives are many more commonalities and differences, any of which could be used to draw thin conclusions or question broad generalizations.  That, to me, is the ultimate lesson here: statistics about populations hide the realities of individuals.

I previewed this a couple of weeks ago. Read full review here.


The 1% are the Atlases

The disappearance of the middle class is a direct consequence of failed economic policies enforced by bad laws.  Regulations (first) and taxes (second) destroyed the manufacturing industries. Desperate for productivity, firms seek and reward the best managers.  But they cannot work miracles.

 America moved forward on information technology.  Computering is wholly unregulated, though the incomes are taxed.  But computers are only one sector.  Genetics is stalled.  Spaceflight is marginal.  Robotics is stuck.

 Just like physics, to the extent that economics actually describes reality, the facts cannot be evaded without consequence.  Machinery needs motive power. Engines need fuel.  Friction must be reduced and worn parts must be replaced by preventive maintenance.  Most of all, no engine design solves all problems.  Therefore, innovation and invention – innovators and inventors – are the prime movers.  To pretend otherwise is to beg for disaster, which is where we are headed.

 On the nearly-free enterprise blog, OrgTheory, from almost-rational sociologists, is a current topic spinning nonsense about the “income gap” caused by the salaries of top managers.  Idiocy is easy to find, for instance, at Huffington Post (which, in fact, delivers the marketable facts of your session to its parent AOL, a ironic and just consequence, like profits on Che Guevara t-shirts).  I single out OrgTheory because they usually exemplify good thinking about new ideas in sociology.  But sociology never shrugged off its Marxist chains.  So, sociologists labor under a burden of false assumptions and wrongful conclusions.

 The problem is not that top salaries have increased, but that the middle class has disappeared into the working poor. They were crushed by the regulations and taxes that destroyed the businesses that employed them – and made impossible other new firms offering inventions, innovations, creations, and developments which never happened. 

 The Congressional Budget Office statistics are unarguable. 

The top quintile earns 50% of the income and pays nearly 70% of the taxes.  The broad middle class – 60% of the workers in quintiles 2, 3, and 4 – earn only 45% of the gross income and pay only 33% of the taxes., with the 4th quintile accounting for more than the lower two. The top 1% earns 15% of all incomes and pays almost 30% (28.9%) of all federal taxes.  The richest carry twice their fair share.

 We are killing the geese that lay the golden eggs.

 The rich have proved that they are accomplished at creating and managing wealth.  We know that the government is neither.  The government does not create wealth. The government does not manage wealth.  Those are not its purposes.  If it has any function at all, government is defensive and remediatory: we look to power for justice and protection.  Even “infrastructure” is not its purpose.  President Obama pointed to highways when he told innovators and creators, “you did not build that.”  But like Bastiat’s broken window, the highways only visible events that mask the unseen. 

 When the highways were built, cell phones and the internet were possible.  But AT&T was the “Ma Bell” monopoly.  Car phones were exotic luxuries; even answering machines were rare.  Private highways – the Lincoln Highway; the Dixie Highway – were created; tollroads and turnpikes did exist.  Taxways called “freeways” prevented innovation in public transportation.  The construction of the superhighways – and the support they gave to the automotive industry – actually derailed innovation and invention by draining capital into less productive channels.

 The American government invested monumental resources in a cold war against a hollow empire that never knew a successful harvest.  Every jet fighter, bomber, missile, and submarine represented one more utopian promise from 1900 never to be fulfilled.  Public education Kindergarten through College still consists of one person lecturing to a passive array of listeners – and we wonder why it failed.

 We speak of “cancer” the way 19th century people did of “miasma” and “consumption.” Meanwhile latter age neo-primitives protest for laws against genetically-modified plants and animals. We do not fly to work in personal aircars, vacation on the Moon, or transship freight from highspeed rail to dirigible airships.  The missing innovations were the unseens of Bastiat’s unbroken windows. 

Image of Atlas Shrugged Part 2 Movie Poster From the vantage point of the Wright Brothers, Robert Goddard, Thomas Edison and Nicola Tesla – or Jules Verne and H. G. Wells – we should be colonizing the asteroids by now, enjoying median IQs of 150, and inventing new art forms for 3-D displays.  Instead, we still wear colored glasses like they did in 1955 to watch remakes of 1955 cinemas, because engines of innovation and invention were stopped by the sands and sugars of regulation and taxation.

 The wealth of the 1% came from the computer revolution.  It was the only sector of the economy not regulated because its very nature literally mystified the legislators.  They could not regulate what they could not understand, gratefully.  With Moore’s law racing ahead of all the other laws, computering is the only train on the track.

 Make no mistake: it was not Al Gore or even his science advisor Dr. Michael Nelson who built the Internet.  It was hackers and hobbyists who built the first consumer modems and wrote the cyclic redundancy check programs for them to let ordinary people in their homes use the voice-grade landlines while the government-backed AT&T Bell monopoly wanted to charge “business rates” for data grade lines.  As BBSes were spreading, local Bell operating companies were lobbying for laws against them, seeking government-sanctioned permission to offer the only dial-up information services.  That did not happen.  They did not build that.  And we have some thin blanket of prosperity against the chill of regulation and taxation.

Atlas Shrugged, Part 2 will be out this week. 


You Only Have to be Better to be Equal

Book cover "She's Such a Geek" by Newitz and Anders. Girl dressed like steam punk science fiction adventurer
She’s Such a Geek: Women Write about Science, Technology, and other Nerdy Stuff, by Annalee Newitz and Charlie Anders, eds., (Seal Press, 2006) is an anthology of autobiographical vignettes. In each, you meet a woman. Some are introduced as girls. One enters when she was a man. Overall, each found fun, validation, achievement, intellectual challenge and social challenge in her attraction for science, technology, engineering or mathematics. Generalizations are not easy.

As I wrote on Prof. Mark Perry’s blog, Carpe Diem, about the disparity in SAT scores between boys and girls, “Statistics hide individuals.” The average scores of millions (1.4 the last session) says nothing about this her or that him.

These are 24 insightful essays from a field of over 200 entries. As a guy myself, I do not get much chance to spend all the time I want with two dozen female nerds. This is highly recommended.

Over on Prof. Mark Perry’s blog, Carpe Diem (now with the American Enterprise Institute) are numbers about the huge gender gap in the SATs, the Scholastic Aptitude Tests that figure so largely in college admissions. The reality of the gap is unarguable. So are the social policy implications. On the almost-free market blog, OrgTheory, is a link about gender bias in science research hiring. Even women who head labs preferentially hire and pay men in excess of women with equal qualifications.

The full depth and breadth of prejudices active in our society is astonishing and disappointing. While Asians tend to score higher on SATs than Caucasians, they need to: the averages are that an Asian needs to be 140 points higher to get into the same college program as a non-Asian. The fear is that we will have “too many” in college, as 100 years ago Ivy League WASPS worried about having too many Jews and limited their enrollment, despite their qualifications.
After California forbade state universities to consider race in admissions, the percentage of Asian students at the University of California at Berkeley rose from 37 percent to 44 percent. At the California Institute of Technology, which similarly doesn’t look at race, more than one-third of students are Asian.

Asian-American students who enrolled at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina in 2001 and 2002 scored 1457 out of 1600 on the math and reading portion of the SAT, compared to 1416 for whites, 1347 for Hispanics and 1275 for blacks, according to a 2011 study co-authored by Duke economist Peter Arcidiacono. Read here: Asians are the New Jews.

Incidentally, SAT scores are at a 40-year low. (Washington Post here.) But do not blame public education. Soviet agriculture almost worked. Maybe this experiment just needs to run a little longer, too…

The widest policy implication is that our culture is collectivized to the point where individual achievement is difficult to perceive. Should we adopt numbers in place of names?

September 2012 Posts

Documentation is Specification

 Good software design begins with documentation.  Write the user manual first.  This is an old problem.  In Computer Power and Human Reason: from Judgment to Calculation (1976), Joseph Weizenbaum warned of hackers whom he compared to compulsive gamblers.  Driven by the superstition that one more patch will fix their problems, they stay up late, bleary-eyed and disheveled, working ever more frantically on a program they began without any reference to the substantive literature in the field in which they claim to be working.

 “Three centuries ago science was transformed by the dramatic new idea that rules based on mathematical equations could be used to describe the natural world.  My purpose in this book is to initiate another such transformation, and to introduce a new kind of science that is based on the much more general types of rules that can be embodied in simple computer programs.”

 Humans generally have two modes of perception.  System 1 is intuitive and it tells us all about a person and their immediate context relative to us by looking at their face.  You know when someone is happy, sad, angry, puzzled.  System 2 is effortful and computational; it informs us of our choices for agency by engaging mental concentration.  This book is about the very many errors caused by confusing the two modes.  For example when statisticians intuitively assess statistical data, they are predictably wrong.