January 09, 2004

Another George W. Bush-Quality Policy

Daniel W. Drezner and Gregg Easterbrook bang their heads against the wall as they consider our now Mars mission-based space program. But what did they expect? This is just another George W. Bush-quality policy, produced by the standard operating procedures of the modern Republican executive.

Posted by DeLong at January 9, 2004 03:49 PM | TrackBack

Comments

"This is just another George W. Bush-quality policy, produced by the standard operating procedures of the modern Republican executive."

Huh? Blinded by the light, aren't you?

Posted by: WallyWhirled on January 9, 2004 04:14 PM

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I can just imagine the Bush staff sitting around the oval office desperately trying to think of something or anything that they could throw out there to prove once and for all that W is a visionary leader. And this is what they came up with.

Just like JFK saying we will go to the moon! Yeah, that's the ticket!

-- written by a supporter of NASA funding.

Posted by: Alan on January 9, 2004 04:49 PM

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Better Mars than Iran.

Posted by: Leopold on January 9, 2004 05:16 PM

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He just wants to go there himself. Second term and than to Mars - let Democrats deal with the mess he made.

Posted by: Leopold on January 9, 2004 05:33 PM

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The reason #2 for going to Mars:

There is no democracy on Mars. US Goverment will not stop in its efforts to bring the democracy everywhere!

Posted by: Leopold on January 9, 2004 05:42 PM

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Daniel Drezner screams and leaps, slavering with fangs bared, at the jugular George W. Bush's Mars policy. And he successfully sinks his teeth into it and kills it! Oh wait: it was stillborn.

Ah well.

Posted by: Julian Elson on January 9, 2004 05:44 PM

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ivan writes:
> Jee, is this "fair and balanced"? I think Dan Drezner and
> Gregg Easterbrook have more then once said very good
> things about the policies of this oh so hated president.

And maybe they have, which means that when they go ballistic (heh) on a plan like this, you should definitely suspect that it is very, very poorly thought out.

But even if they were frothing-at-the-mouth Bush-haters, why shouldn't it be pointed out that the ideas being suggested here are hideously expensive, of dubious (at best) scientific value overall, and did I mention hideously expensive? You're supposed to learn from your mistakes. When you do something as expensive and useless as the ISS, your next move should be towards something that is cheap and potentially very useful. In space, that means un-manned missions that give you an opportunity to work out logistics, find out how much you can do with robots at this distance, and useful stuff like that. The Spirit probe that has landed is capable of doing interesting science and we could do dozens or hundreds of these missions for the cost of a moon base or a manned Mars mission. Or we could spend more money directly on molecular biology, nanotech, whatever you think would do the most good.

But as far as a Mars mission goes, it is not unfair or imbalanced to demand how this would be paid for, or what in the world the proposers were thinking of.

Posted by: Jonathan King on January 9, 2004 07:50 PM

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And the costs of this are not just the money. I read that other space programs (not just NASA's) will be scaled back or eliminated. This category would include unmanned planetory exploration, unmanned observation of comets asteroids and the sun, space telescopes, observation of earth from orbit. The opportunity cost of that should be included.

Posted by: jml on January 9, 2004 08:12 PM

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Even the first visit to the moon made little sense (JFK bashing anyone?) from the standpoint of scientific research. What did we learn from the moon rocks? Not much, and we could have sent a robot to scoop them up and bring them back with a lost less effort. The moon has no military significance and a permanent station on the moon has little advantage over an orbiting space station. As theatre, the race to the moon was “the right stuff” and a public relations bonanza for the US. Perhaps it was worth it for that alone, after all, we spent more on cosmetics. A manned trip to Mars is another story. It would put a lot our surplus of American scientists and engineers back to work, but the project would not survive as the costs mounted up. Nevertheless it would give a lot of people a thrill for a while. The period 1955-1964 was a thrilling time to be in science, engineering and mathematics, and the best and the brightest choose those fields at that time. Now they choose law school, and I don’t blame them. Who wants to study for ten years to be unemployed?

I would like to see a repeat of the International Geophysical Year we had in 1957-1958. A brief discussion is here: http://www.nas.edu/history/igy/. In those people could express themselves with recourse to personal insults.

Posted by: A. Zarkov on January 9, 2004 08:20 PM

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Even the first visit to the moon made little sense (JFK bashing anyone?) from the standpoint of scientific research. What did we learn from the moon rocks? Not much, and we could have sent a robot to scoop them up and bring them back with a lost less effort. The moon has no military significance and a permanent station on the moon has little advantage over an orbiting space station. As theatre, the race to the moon was “the right stuff” and a public relations bonanza for the US. Perhaps it was worth it for that alone, after all, we spent more on cosmetics. A manned trip to Mars is another story. It would put a lot our surplus of American scientists and engineers back to work, but the project would not survive as the costs mounted up. Nevertheless it would give a lot of people a thrill for a while. The period 1955-1964 was a thrilling time to be in science, engineering and mathematics, and the best and the brightest choose those fields at that time. Now they choose law school, and I don’t blame them. Who wants to study for ten years to be unemployed?

I would like to see a repeat of the International Geophysical Year we had in 1957-1958. A brief discussion is here: http://www.nas.edu/history/igy/. A fun time, in those days people could express themselves without recourse to personal insults.

Posted by: A. Zarkov on January 9, 2004 08:22 PM

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MARS OR (AR)BUST(O)!

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on January 9, 2004 08:37 PM

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I agree with the point of the post that it looks strongly like the amount of coherent space science policy here could be "fit in a matchbox without taking out the matches first," in the immortal words of Marvin the Paranoid Android.

A. Zarkov has something of a point, but the Apollo parallel here may be some idea that we should get back to the moon ahead of the Chinese (Cold War II anyone?). If that's the case, a manned space race with China doesn't sound like a good use of my (or given Bush tax policy, more probably my One-Year-Old's) tax dollars -- even the ones that will be shot into space. But if the choice is this or another war, I'm with Leopold.

There are a couple of things that could throw off Easterbrook's calculations considerably if the grand plan were smart enough to bring them into the program:
- The space elevator, whose degree of science-fictionness seems to be diminishing (and presumably could be determined for the price of one or two shuttle launches), to provide the so-far mythical reductions in cost of access to GEO.
- The proposed Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter, recast in part as a prototype fast interplanetary spacecraft. Much faster spacecraft with lots of onboard power generation capability would have obvious utility for a hypothetical manned Mars mission. (And apart from having a huge science payoff of its own, JIMO even would throw a bone to part of the Base in the space-based nuclear reactor angle.)

But then I remember where the plan is coming from...

Posted by: Tom Bozzo on January 9, 2004 08:53 PM

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I doubt they'll bang them hard enough.

Posted by: Dick Durata on January 9, 2004 09:11 PM

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The mission to mars will pay for itsself. The president's advisors assure us the planet has huge oil reserves, and the reduced gravity will make it more economical to pump to the surface.

And are they gonna build this thing before or after the missile defense shield?

Posted by: Asymmetric Inflammation on January 9, 2004 10:13 PM

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Reason #3 Bush wants to go to Mars:

He heard men are from Mars and wants to have a bachelor party.

Posted by: Leopold on January 9, 2004 10:47 PM

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Reason #4 Bush wants to go to Mars:

There are millions of people in US that claim to have been abducted by Martians. And they vote!

Posted by: Leopold on January 9, 2004 10:59 PM

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This thread is real real funny.

Re. Brad's intro:

I recall reading a book on entrepreneurship in 1970s by one Richard White, I think. He was describing there in a gang of buddies developing a garage-based business selling high quality containers for alcolholic beverages. They would have the bottle made to order, through a process they could have some influence on design. So they trademarked their bottles something like this:

Five Guys "Qaulity" Bottles.

So for a moment there I read Brad's title as:

George Dubya Bush Qaulity Productions.

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"...The mission to mars will pay for itself. The president's advisors assure us the planet has huge oil reserves, and the reduced gravity will make it more economical to pump to the surface."

And once they get the Martian oil up to the Martian surface, what are they going to do with it? Put it in their pockets?

And, please, give me a break: Dubya ought to be able to get the Iraqi oil fields working before he aspires to work the Martian oil fields. And, at any rate, I understand he couldn't even work the oil fields right there in Texas!

Besides, if I were you, I would take with a grain of salt any thing any advisor of this President says.

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"...The period 1955-1964 was a thrilling time to be in science, engineering and mathematics, and the best and the brightest choose those fields at that time. Now they choose law school, and I don’t blame them. Who wants to study for ten years to be unemployed?"

How come the lawyers have a lot of work to do? Cause I understand one out of every six Americans are either suing or being sued at any one time. But for the young feller in 1950-1960s who chose to study science, sueing or being sued was perhaps the farthest thing from the mind. Such a cultural gap between two segments of of the same society! (even if there is some temporal differential in there). Culture and moral values have a lot of bearing on economic structure and performance and, once again, America needs to expand and improve its education and research sectors. Capitalists of today and yesterday don't want to go in those directions because they don't know (not yet any way, and as they have a hunch correctly, there is probably no way any way) to steal value added as generated by a work force consisting of all knowledge workers. But America has no other choice if she wants to keep any resemblance of her current status in the world.

Posted by: bulent on January 10, 2004 12:10 AM

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Actually, Mars isn't that costly or that difficult to get to. See the Mars Direct program developed by Dr. Robert Zubrin in response to the earlier NASA call for complete Mars program proposals.

Why isn't NASA behind a program that will get us to Mars on a budget Bill Gates could afford with Apollo-era technology? Because they're an R&D organization, and they're entirely focused on developing new stuff and new techniques and nothing else is either interesting nor gets funded.

NASA administrators actually made the claim recently that nuclear-electric propulsion ("ion drive" as used in Deep Space 1) is necessary for a manned Mars mission! It's not! You don't need much more than a Saturn V - or an enhanced Shuttle-derived launch system - to get there straight from the Earth's surface in a few short months (the duration of many sea voyages a few hundred years ago).

Posted by: Chris Hanson on January 10, 2004 12:11 AM

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Bulent: stealing of value added

Your statement is a bit tendencious, but it's a good point, to some extent. But I think they do know how to "steal" it, the way it was always done: bill the customer, and give X% of that to the worker. This model breaks down where the workers can render the service directly, but in many fields it requires a "critical mass" -- certain things are big enough so that only a relatively large number of collaborating people can do it. This calls for hierarchical organizations, and pronto, we have somebody who sits at the top and extracts some share.

Posted by: cm on January 10, 2004 12:29 AM

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"...You don't need much more than a Saturn V - or an enhanced Shuttle-derived launch system - to get there straight from the Earth's surface in a few short months..."

Then how come they implement this "siwngby technology" of orbiting which involves traveling around the sun on an orbit similar to earth's before being headed towards Mars?

Link to page with graphs:


http://www.isas.jaxa.jp/e/snews/2003/08_01.shtml

Posted by: bulent on January 10, 2004 12:54 AM

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cm:

It is not as simple as that:

1) How KW (knowledge worker) relates to project is different from NS (narrow skill)worker, like a security guard, NC operator, etc. NS worker is easily replaceable, like machines, and indeed they will be replaced permanently by machines. KW applies his own unique knowledge and relates to work place in ways beyond that as well. Not easily replaceable.

2) In Knowledge Economy, capital is mainly knowledge, not materials, and therefore KW himself is capital. They don't say "human capital" for nothing.

3) In Knowledge Economy, productivity is extremely extremely high and so you really don't need to take a wage paying job to stay alive and pursue knowledge work. And that increases your bargaining power in front of any "capitalist".

And I have not yet put together the whole picture.

Look at it this way: Feudal lords just did not know how to steal value added generated by wage workers in industry and commerce, and so the feudal system collapsed. Something like that is bound to happen to "capitalism" and capitalists know that and they are trying to postpone it and they don't hesitate to engage in dirty tricks to do that.

Posted by: bulent on January 10, 2004 01:21 AM

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Why not Pluto?There may be some petrol.

Posted by: Gnao on January 10, 2004 03:21 AM

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Pluto would be a Mickey Mouse project. The feudal system collapsed in england because of the Black Death.

Posted by: big al on January 10, 2004 03:56 AM

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I love the space program, including the manned space program, but Bush setting these Mars and Moon goals is incompetent. First, Bush doesn't have a record of adequately funding the government's expenses, so it's not responsible of him to add huge new questionable programs. Secondly, the goals of the current space program make far better scientific sense.

Nasa's current plan was to develop relatively inexpensive instrumental and robotic explorers to extend our space tools, technology, and scientific knowledge at the same time on a realistic (i.e, the current) budget. At the same time, Nasa's current plan was to develop the vehicles necessary to service a permanent orbiting space station in a practical, inexpensive, and efficient way. The two vehicles needed were a personnel launch vehicle which doubles as an escape vehicle, and a space truck (essentially an inexpensive to operate, large unmanned shuttle). By pursuing these logical (as opposed to hair brained) goals, we could afford to continue to develop our ability to do work in space without busting the budget and ending up with the whole program cancelled.

The space station needs to have vehicles designed to work with it as a system, both an economic system and a technological system. Over time, we would learn so much more about living in space, repairing a space habitat, handling emergencies, etc, knowledge that would provide a solid base for further exploration, while concentrating on the primary value of current space work, which is observation and interaction WITH THE EARTH.

The spinoffs are just so much better with the current plan. Robotic exploration forces innovation in artifical intelligence, sensors, mobile robotics, telecommunications, inertial guidance, actuators, visual recognition systems, and a host of technologies which have direct industrial application in the real world. The spinoffs from the ISS include not only the science done in orbit, but all the medical insight from the changes that occur in humans and animals in low gravity isolated environments. As life support research improves conditions, there is a real possibility for a lot more people to go into orbit, to do science, and eventually as tourists. Let's do Britney in orbit before a man on Mars (first things first!).

What I want to see from our space program is a solidly functioning space station and well designed vehicles to service it economically, and an increasing number of robotic probes doing real exploration of the nearer planets. Why can't we have a fun and practical goal, like a probe that can land on the moon, drill a deep core sample, and fly it back to earth for geologists to examine? Let's conquer the step of a robotic probe that can land and come back. There is so much development that can be pursued affordably in our current space program, but Bush has to stick his nose in there and set up incompetent demands he won't even levy the taxes to fund. It's just sad.

If Bush wants do do something dramatic, let him fund a replacement for the shuttle Columbia, so the real space program can function now as it was designed to do, and fund the development of the vehicles to service the ISS. But no, it's just like Bush cancelling funding for hybrid cars, and covering it up by shooting off his mouth about the "hydrogen economy."

Watch out because Bush's real agenda will probably be to cancel funding for the actual NASA development programs like robotic probes and the ISS service vehicles, and cover it up with talk about something big he won't actually fund.

Posted by: wild-heart on January 10, 2004 04:15 AM

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Glad to see Z mentioning the "fun years of 1952" and Bulent, one of our elders, I guess quietly agreeing.
(Ahh..the good old days!! And where were you in '52? Busy working in that special field where the critical mass hadn't allowed any stealing of added value? Or was that the pre-knowledge era?)

Bulent- Thanks for getting the record straightened out on how to get to Mars--not all of us take Physics and some of us really do figure it Is just like going to the grocery store.

Posted by: calmo on January 10, 2004 05:22 AM

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They must have had one hell of a big bong in the Oval Office when they came up with this one...

Posted by: Scot Johnson on January 10, 2004 05:22 AM

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Bulent: knowledge workers

I'm not buying it. Whom do you include in "knowledge workers"? Engineers? Don't underestimate how many of them are available, and how many are needed.

Knowledge workers tend to cluster (despite internet and remote access), which drives the cost of living in those communities up until some equilibrium is reached (assuming they get higher than average incomes).

And also don't overestimate productivity, or any superior positions you can get by being highly productive. Others of similar level of competence and background can do the same, and there is usually enough competition.

Regarding the feudal system and manufacturing workers, (rural) lords conducted their exploitation typically based on peasants/serfs working on their land, and the growing industry was outside their domain (their land), and they couldn't control it. Also in those times they had precious metal currencies and a rather rudimentary banking and financial system, which makes a difference. Today it's "money rules the world".

As I said, even for knowledge work some things are too big for individuals, and many products require ongoing development and support, which is only feasible in a large organization with funds that can be invested. The owners of those funds will then have a strong say about terms & conditions.

Maybe that's entirely beside the point, it depends on what you mean by knowledge work.

Posted by: cm on January 10, 2004 05:37 AM

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I wasn't even born in 1952!!!!!
**I was born in 1953/:)**

"Thanks for getting the record straightened out on how to get to Mars..."

Don't mention it. I myself thought until a few months ago that you just went chuf-chuf at the tip of a rocket all the way to the Mars like they picture it in these comics.

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I'm trying to figure out what " big bong" is all I got so far on Google is links to "Big Bong Burger Bars" and I didn't see the page yet... later...

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Oh, Big Al:

So the North would not win the Civil War if the South did not suffer Black Death?

Posted by: bulent on January 10, 2004 05:50 AM

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cm writes:

"...Regarding the feudal system and manufacturing workers, (rural) lords conducted their exploitation typically based on peasants/serfs working on their land, and the growing industry was outside their domain (their land), and they couldn't control it. Also in those times they had precious metal currencies and a rather rudimentary banking and financial system, which makes a difference. Today it's "money rules the world"...."

Beautiful! Right! That was Act I. I mean Industrial Revolution. Productivity made it both possible and inevitable. But productivity did not stop increasing. So comin up is Act II.

I don't know yet how Act II is going to play itself out -- I haven't written the manuscript yet, I'm too lazy! ;)

Who is a knowledge worker? Hmm. Let us say, on a tentative basis, that he is the guy who doubles as an agent of Competitive Intelligence and has some unique accumulation of knowledge in his brains that keeps growing and that he could not transfer to others in any efficient way even if he wanted to. (They call it "intrinsic knowledge" or what?)

Jack Nickolson is a knowledge worker. A painter is a knowledge worker. A good medical doctor is a knowldge worker. A good lawyer is a knowledge worker.

But all that's not too important next to this:

The thing is that, as productivity increases, a point will come when there won't be ANY BLUE COLLAR workers or ANY WHITE COLLAR workers, off the backs whom the capitalists are able to derive their political power. Once their constituency (sp?) and therefore the base of their political power is gone, they will be gone as species as well.

Why do you think the South at the time of American Civil War would just not let go of the slaves?

And why do you think the North wanted to do away with slavery?

Posted by: Bulent Sayin on January 10, 2004 06:14 AM

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anne applebaum calls it a mission to nowhere...

http://www.plastic.com/article.html;sid=04/01/06/04433679#50

Mars, as a certain pop star once put it, isn't the kind of place where you'd want to raise your kids. Nor is it the kind of place anybody is ever going to visit, as some of the NASA scientists know perfectly well. Even leaving aside the cold, the lack of atmosphere and the absence of water, there's the deadly radiation. If the average person on Earth absorbs about 350 millirems of radiation every year, an astronaut traveling to Mars would absorb about 130,000 millirems of a particularly virulent form of radiation that would probably destroy every cell in his body. "Space is not 'Star Trek,'" said one NASA scientist, "but the public certainly doesn't understand that."

No, the public does not understand that. And no, not all scientists, or all politicians, are trying terribly hard to explain it either. Too often, rational descriptions of the inhuman, even anti-human living conditions in space give way to public hints that more manned space travel is just around the corner, that a manned Mars mission is next, that there is some grand philosophical reason to keep sending human beings away from the only planet where human life is possible. [...]

Crowded out of the news this week was the small fact that the troubled international space station, which is itself accessible only by the troubled space shuttle, has sprung a leak. Also somehow played down is the fact that the search for "life" on Mars — proof, as the enthusiasts have it, that we are "not alone" in the universe — is not a search for sentient beings but rather a search for evidence that billions of years ago there might possibly have been a few microbes. It's hard to see how that sort of information is going to heal our cosmic loneliness, let alone lead to the construction of condo units on Mars.

[...S]pace exploration isn't treated the way other purely academic pursuits are treated. For one, the scientists doing it have perverse incentives. Their most dangerous missions — the ones involving human beings — produce the fewest research results, yet receive the most attention, applause and funding. Their most productive missions — the ones involving robots — inspire interest largely because the public illogically believes they will lead to more manned space travel.

Worse, there is always the risk that yet another politician will seize on the idea of "sending a man to Mars," or "building a permanent manned station on the moon" as a way of sounding far-sighted or futuristic or even patriotic. President Bush is allegedly considering a new expansion of manned space travel. The Chinese are embarking on their own manned space program, since sending a man to the moon is de rigueur for would-be superpowers. The result, inevitably, will be billions of misspent dollars, more lethal crashes — and a lot more misguided rhetoric about the "inspiration of discovery," as if discoveries can only be made with human hands.

and bruce sterling weighs in...

http://boingboing.net/2004_01_01_archive.html#107357767583280159

I'll believe in people settling Mars at about the same time I see people setting the Gobi Desert. The Gobi Desert is about a thousand times as hospitable as Mars and five hundred times cheaper and easier to reach. Nobody ever writes "Gobi Desert Opera" because, well, it's just kind of plonkingly obvious that there's no good reason to go there and live. It's ugly, it's inhospitable and there's no way to make it pay. Mars is just the same, really. We just romanticize it because it's so hard to reach.

On the other hand, there might really be some way to make living in the Gobi Desert pay. And if that were the case, and you really had communities making a nice cheerful go of daily life on arid, freezing, barren rock and sand, then a cultural transfer to Mars might make a certain sense.

If there were a society with enough technical power to terraform Mars, they would certainly do it. On the other hand. by the time they got around to messing with Mars, they would have been using all that power to transform *themselves.* So by the time they got there and started rebuilding the Martian atmosphere wholesale, they wouldn't look or act a whole lot like Hollywood extras.

Posted by: drk on January 10, 2004 06:50 AM

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Bulent Sayin sez: "The thing is that, as productivity increases, a point will come when there won't be ANY BLUE COLLAR workers or ANY WHITE COLLAR workers, off the backs whom the capitalists are able to derive their political power. Once their constituency (sp?) and therefore the base of their political power is gone, they will be gone as species as well."

i don't really see a problem until there's armed rebellion. the power is always with the people, it's only in the illusions they muster and manage to harbor are they pacified or dangerous.

as for income mobility william gates (bill's father) and warren buffett have both come out in favor of the death née estate tax to perpetuate the illusion, whereas public school indoctrination appears to be failing in that regard, viz equality of opportunity and/or job (re)training.

for a convincing look at social stratification see here:

http://t0.or.at/bobblack/futuwork.htm

remember for the system of control to work through the machinery of the law, the propagation of its flaws must be minimized, with money as the sink:

http://www.macroknow.com/ww3-6.htm#P1-1%20THE%20ORIGIN%20OF%20CAPITALIST%20SELECTION

Posted by: drk on January 10, 2004 07:02 AM

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There could be more than one explanation for this. 1) Bush just found out the Chinese are very serious about a moonbase. 2)He hasn't yet shovelled enough out of the Treasury into the coffers of his really big contributors with the Star Wars Missile Defense thing. 3)Doug Feith's Intelligence apparatus inside the Pentagon has discovered life in our solar system, and we are in imminent danger of being attacked by extra-terrestrials with alien WMD (which will probably launch from their home planet the first Monday in November.)

Posted by: bcinaz on January 10, 2004 07:11 AM

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There could be more than one explanation for this. 1) Bush just found out the Chinese are very serious about a moonbase. 2)He hasn't yet shovelled enough out of the Treasury into the coffers of his really big contributors with the Star Wars Missile Defense thing. 3)Doug Feith's Intelligence apparatus inside the Pentagon has discovered life in our solar system, and we are in imminent danger of being attacked by extra-terrestrials with alien WMD (which will probably launch from their home planet the first Monday in November.)

Posted by: bcinaz on January 10, 2004 07:11 AM

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"...Their most dangerous missions — the ones involving human beings — produce the fewest research results, yet receive the most attention, applause and funding...."

That reminds me of the Roman arenas -- gladiators... and I understand from the related movie that Apollo 13 mission could not beat the baseball championship

"...there is always the risk that yet another politician will seize on the idea of "sending a man to Mars," or "building a permanent manned station on the moon" as a way of sounding far-sighted or futuristic or even patriotic...."

Yes the public needs to be on guard, better informed.

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Checked in to links bobblack and macroknow above. Concerning first; I don't take J. Rifkin seriously, for he just can't imagine work beyond manuf. And, I take this statement now on that boblock page:


"...the commodities so abundantly produced in an almost workerless economy have to be sold, but in order to be sold, they must be bought, and in order for them to be bought, consumers require the money to pay for them. They get most of that money as wages for working.... "

This arrangement did not exist before the Industrial Revolution. It doesn not necessarily have to exist after, uhm, the next revolution either.

And all that alpha beta stuff on bobblack page does not tell me much either.

I prefer to think towards a virtualy 100 percent knowledge worker society with all work places operating like university campuses.

The other page, macroknow, just baffled me and I won't look at it again until later.


Posted by: bulent on January 10, 2004 07:44 AM

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How could you possibly expect any new Republican policy initiative to be motivated by anything more than a desire to provide another campaign contributor with a siphon on the treasury?

Posted by: BobNJ on January 10, 2004 07:55 AM

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The thing I find most amusing about the Mars proposal is seeing it described as a "jobs machine." Let's assume Gregg Easterbrook is right, that this adventure will cost about $1 trillion. Spending that $1 trillion will create jobs in the aerospace and related industries. Now let's assume we decide NOT to go to Mars. Will that $1 trillion not be spent? Either by the feds or by businesses and households? So will it not, anyway, create jobs, just not in aerospace? Sounds to me like no net job creation from that particular $1 trillion...

Posted by: Donald A. Coffin on January 10, 2004 08:22 AM

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Before saying anything, I have to ask myself how would I react if this were proposed by another president. I would still say that a manned mission to Mars is dumb idea and a waste of money with present technology. (In the unlikely event it happens, I'll be watching eagerly of course.) For the cost of a manned mission, you could send so many unmanned probes that the redundancy would make the high failure rate less of disaster. I believe that humans will some day walk on Mars, but Mars isn't going away any time soon so there's no hurry.

One comment got it right. Even if Bush is serious, his track record has been poor on funding non-military policy. Let's first see if that $15 billion ever arrives for African AIDS (http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/N06305606.htm)

I'm divided between two theories of where this policy came from. My charitable view is that Bush was looking at the striking color photos from the Spirit probe and just let himself get carried away with an dumb idea before his advisers could stop him. My cynical view is that he knows it won't happen and is counting on Congress to take the blame while he takes credit for the vision.

Another thing that leaps to mind is that as far as I know Bush is still committed to missile defense. Isn't it enough to have ONE technological boondoggle that will bankrupt the country and very possibly never work at all? Is Bush really proposing that we work on two simultaneously?

Posted by: Paul Callahan on January 10, 2004 08:53 AM

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"...The thing I find most amusing about the Mars proposal is seeing it described as a "jobs machine."..."

Jobs machine!!??

Somebody is getting badly cheated here, but I'm not sure who. It could very well be Mr. Bush himself.

Posted by: bulent on January 10, 2004 09:02 AM

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From "Rebuilding America's Defenses" by the Project for the New American Century, Sept. 2000:

"CONTROL THE NEW “INTERNATIONAL COMMONS” OF SPACE AND “CYBERSPACE,” and pave the way for the creation of a new military service – U.S. Space Forces – with the mission of space control." p.12

"Space is already inextricably linked to military operations on land, on the sea, and in the air. The report of the National Defense Panel agreed: 'Unrestricted use of space has become a major strategic interest of the United States.'" p.66

And so on.

Posted by: Lee A. on January 10, 2004 09:06 AM

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Apparently the Mars mission can be done for $50 billion over 10 years. Much more manageable than Easterbrook's estimate. Still, Bush's pattern of finding new ways to spend money is disturbing.

http://www.spaceexplorationact.org/aboutbill.php

Posted by: Paul Falstad on January 10, 2004 09:10 AM

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On the missile defence: the goal is not to defend the population against the nuclear attack. Nothing will help in the (extremely unlikely) case of Russia going crazy and launching all-out nuclear attack. A single nuclear missile is about the least-probable attack US is going to face. At some point the coalition in US Goverment and Congress that keeps this pork barrel rolling will dissolve, it will be called success and put to rest. Have patience - and write your legislator.

Posted by: Leopold on January 10, 2004 09:56 AM

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Bulent we do not have a shortage of educated people, we have a surplus, especially in the technical fields. Lawyers do better than engineers for a number of reasons. First they are licensed. You can’t practice law and bill people without first passing the bar exam. Generally you can’t take the bar exam without attending a US law school. The top tier law schools like Yale, Columbia, and NYU each get more than 8,500 applicants for approximately 300 places. So supply is very limited at the top. Second: lawyers are backed up by a powerful lobbying organization that looks out for their interests. Third experience helps, the lawyer with 30 years of experience can bill higher than one with 10.

Contrast this with (say) electrical engineering. The IEEE does everything it can to increase the supply of engineers. They are aligned with industry and academia. Industry wants the supply large to suppress labor costs while academia wants more a more customers (students) to buy their services. Generally you don’t need a license to work as an engineer. True there are licensed professional engineers, but few employers require a license and usually one guy in the office with a license signs off for everybody when the law requires something be done by a licensed professional engineer. The supply keeps expanding. A foreigner with only a bachelor’s from a university in his home country can work in the US under the H1b/L1 visa program. China and India have large populations. They can supply all the engineers, physicists, mathematicians, chemists, computer scientists we will ever need in the US. Finally experience past about ten years hurts the engineer or physicist. The attitude of most employers is: “younger is better,” where “young,” means under 35. They believe the younger engineer has more up-to-date skills, the younger engineer is cheaper and more submissive. And finally the technical brain rots with age (except for managers).

We don’t need to send more people to college in the US; we need to send less because domestic demand is too low. The reverse is true for India and China, and they know this.

Posted by: A. Zarkov on January 10, 2004 10:51 AM

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"...We don’t need to send more people to college in the US; we need to send less because domestic demand is too low...."

No, no, that's not what I mean by "expanding higher education".

What I mean by expanding higher ed in US is to make (about) 15 years of mandatory education. Making it a rule that every US citizen would get at least a taste of Harvard style arts and science education. And then engineers as well would have gone through an education like MDs and lawyers. It would take -- I guess -- six years or more to become an engineer for a young guy or gal then, and s/he'd become a "scientist-engineer", with a good taste for arts, languages, and philosophy.

I'm sorry, A. Zarkov, but US response to increasing number of higher ed graduates in other countries and ever increasing productivity every where on earth simply cannot be decreasing the number of Americans who go to college -- it just doesn't make sense. That would be a completely self-defeating strategy; it would lead to further deterioration in US (and that won't be good for global stability, if you ask me why deterioration in US is of any concern to me outside of basic human goodwill).

Posted by: Bulent Sayin on January 10, 2004 12:02 PM

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I agree that the humanities are important, and doctors, lawyers and engineers could certainly benefit from exposure to them. But we can do it in 12 years, especially if we increase the number days of attendance from 180 to something over 200. It makes no sense to give people highly specialized training in (say) physics when there is little opportunity to realize a career in the subject the studied. For example, circa 1970 the US graduated about 900 PhDs in theoretical high-energy physics, a very specialized subject. At that time there were career positions for about a 10 of these people. The rest became post-docs or switched into another technical field that used at least some of their skills. I knew a number of them and they made no use of (say) quantum electrodynamics (QED theory) in their later pursuits.

Today in many cases we have make-believe college with grade inflation. Students study Star Trek and party a lot. It a sobering fact that in a survey of Harvard seniors, most could not explain what causes the winter season to be colder than the summer. When my daughter was a student at an Ivy League school I used to read her course catalog, and yes I did see courses on “Star Trek.” The serious students do ok, but unfortunately they are in a minority. I interview new graduates from time to time, usually PhDs, and I am sometimes stunned at what they don’t know. Some are very good, but again a minority. Most of the time when I ask a graduating senior what book he is using for a particular course, he can’t tell me. “It’s got a green cover.”

You’re right increasing productivity means we can do more with fewer people. I have no answer for this problem. But I do know it makes little sense to have hordes of agriculture majors when ½ percent of the population can produce food for the other 99.5%.

Posted by: A. Zarkov on January 10, 2004 01:46 PM

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"...You’re right increasing productivity means we can do more with fewer people. I have no answer for this problem...."


It is not a problem. It is a blessing.

1/2 percent of population producing enough foodstuff to feed the nation means one who works for one year produces more than enough foodstuff that would last throughout his life time. And that's patently good. It makes for a rich nation.

Posted by: Bulent Sayin on January 10, 2004 02:28 PM

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Maybe Saddam "gathering threat" Huessin hid his WMD, biological and chemical weapons, and his Al Queda membership card on Mars. That might explain it, no?


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Posted by: Hank Essay on January 10, 2004 02:51 PM

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A. Zarkov: "They believe the younger engineer has more up-to-date skills, the younger engineer is cheaper and more submissive. And finally the technical brain rots with age (except for managers)."

Yes to the first part (although it's incomplete). But I take strong exception with the second -- whether your skills "rot" depends on what kind of work you do. If you exercise only a small part of your skill set, then of course the other part will rot. This applies to any skills, physical and well as mental.

But there is a more subtle and little regarded factor that is workplace-related -- burnout. With time (and thus progressing age) people get more and more burnt out, especially in high-pressure jobs with short deadlines, irregular work schedules, and job insecurity, and maybe a low degree of continuity -- having to work on too many things, too short product cycles, too little opportunity to properly finish jobs, especially in the software field. Not their skills is what is rotting, but their motivation and interest in their career. It is scary how much disillusionment I have found in older coworkers.

"We don't need to send more people to college in the US; we need to send less because domestic demand is too low. The reverse is true for India and China, and they know this."

Demand for college-educated people is not independent from the profile of college educations. Businesses show an effect similar to "discouraged workers" -- if it's too hard to find people of certain skill sets, they may stop looking (or look elsewhere).

But one thing with education that worries me more is that apparently it is becoming more shallow. Anecdotal example: I had the opportunity to use various math schoolbooks from let's say 1975-85 in grades 9-12. What I saw was how the curriculum was shifted out to higher grades over time, and higher topics like integral calculus or trigonometry finally became optional (in grade 12), effectively being shifted into college. My father managed to keep his school textbooks, and I saw that his 8-year elementary school curriculum covered mostly as much as my 10-year one. He went to school right after WWII.

Also anecdotally, I heard friends and businesses back in Germany complain about the declining "quality" -- i.e. breadth and robustness of academic skills -- of elementary, high school, and college graduates. I'm sure it is similar in the US. Perhaps India & China are not yet susceptible to this problem, or maybe they just produce so many graduates that large numbers of high-caliber people can be found.

Generally higher skill levels are preferrable -- low-skill jobs are easier to mechanize and automate. They will and should be automated. If the skill level of the population is not raised, you will only end up with larger numbers of effectively unemployable people later. These people will lose their existing jobs no matter what, and their education level will determine whether they can contribute to society in other ways or not.

One way to keep skill levels from rising is to raise the barrier to higher education, e.g. by high tution fees or cutting of education subsidies ("investment").

Posted by: cm on January 10, 2004 03:06 PM

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I think the academic requirements in HS also differ depending on where you go to school. A friend and I (both of us attended public schools in Westchester, LI or NYC) noticed our cirriculums were at least a year ahead of those of public schools in CA or OR. Since she's probably 15 years older then me suggests that some differences are geographic, not time based. However, I did notice that both my of my parents learned much more "practical" chemistry then I did (both also had classes on Saturday mornings), i.e., learned more about how stuff works thatyou run into fairly frequently as opposed to learning a simplified version of quantum mechanics in first year college chem. Regarding the exposure of science majors to the humanities--it would seem that the writer wishes to return to a European style of education from the late 1800's and early 1900's--nothing wrong with that--I actually agree, it's just that it's not a new idea. Given control over pre-college schooling--I'd probably push hard for mandatory foreign languages from 2nd grade on, some art and music and a much much better education in the sciences, math and history. It'd be nice if people learned some applied science--might make it more interesting. If, for instance, kids got a good grounding in basic geology you might see fewer adults insisting upon building houses on an erosional coastline and then whining about having to riprap, etc. (or wanting taxpayer compensation when the house slides onto the beach or into the ocean) with absolutely no understanding about how riprap or other protective structures effect he beach and sand transport. However, I also wonder about people who are not academically oriented. It's nice to say, oh well, with progress only X number of people are needed to grow food for all. But what about the people who want to do so? I've known several organic small farmers, specialty nursery owners and given the definition, they'd fall into the category of possessing intrinsic knowledge (gee, just like Jack Nicholson). People who raise and train horses, etc. And they didn't go to college to learn. Some people like to work outside. Some people think that logging using horses (instead of machinery) is a safer, more sustainable and in the long run, more efficient way to log, especially selective cutting. It may not have been intentional but it seemed as though the model proposed assumed (and prefers) a suburban/urban environment and that the only worthwhile learning/knowledge is an industrialized type. If so, the model is too limited or incomplete. As for lawyers, not all lawyers are making good money, there are quite a few unemployed lawyers, lawyers who never practice law and lawyers who quit the practice of law after several years. A relatively high number of lawyers (and MDs) have substance abuse problems. Although I've often wondered if MBA types (such as Bush) have a similarly high % it's just that no one bothers to keep track.

Posted by: shogg on January 10, 2004 08:34 PM

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shogg: I used to go to school on Saturdays as well. The curriculum was the same in the whole state, and my father whom I cited went to school in the same place, only some 30 years earlier.

Regarding Humanities, you get some good measure of that up to grade 12 (at least in Germany) -- history, music, painting, literature, and some non-performing arts stuff and art history. I'm of the opinion it is useful, although from then on (college) it should be left to everybody whether they want to go more into it. We had to take one mandatory philosophy course in college as part of the Comp.Sci. curriculum, which was also useful, but that was that.

Foreign languages in grade 2? Give me a break! By that time kids have hardly mastered their own language. Grades 4/5, OK.

Regarding allocation of higher education subjects: In a free society that does not (explicitly) impose education quotas it is hard to steer. Some subjects are not very glamorous, or don't have a high profile. Good counseling can help, as well as giving subsidies for less subscribed majors, perhaps by grants from interested industry consortia or science/art foundations.

Posted by: cm on January 10, 2004 09:48 PM

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Cm, I don’t subscribe to the idea that the technical brain “rots” with age, far from it. I’m merely trying to point out technical employers hold that prejudice. The mind like a muscle must be used regularly to keep it fit. The mathematician Erdos was proving theorems and publishing papers into his eighties. Incidentally he claims to have been on “speed” a lot of the time, as well as caffeine. “A mathematician is a machine that converts coffee into theorems.”

Shogg what you say about the geographical difference in public schools is certainly true. As far back as 40 years California High Schools were significantly behind those in New York City and State. There is also a time factor. A lot of very good public school teachers in the 1950s had gone into teaching because of the Great Depression and stayed after the economy recovered. Now all those people are gone, replaced by a new generation more likely to agree with the dictum: “Teach students, not subjects.” In other words, mastery of the subject should take second place to teaching technique. Another problem was curriculum “reform.” For example the so-called “new math” introduced in the 1960s wrecked mathematics education in elementary school for a while by introducing advanced concepts (that the teacher really didn’t understand) before students were ready for them. An old book by Henry Mullish called “Why Johnnie Can’t Add” gives the details behind this fiasco. It’s similar to your chemistry example, giving water-down quantum mechanics in place of practical chemistry.

Posted by: A. Zarkov on January 10, 2004 10:00 PM

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It was enscribed above:

Foreign languages in grade 2? Give me a break! By that time kids have hardly mastered their own language. Grades 4/5, OK.

No. For learning languages, earlier is better. Start at 7 and keep it up, and you'll learn a language. Remember, there are lots of bilingual (or multi-lingual) places where children start learning other languages essentially at birth. When they grow up they're fluent in all of them.

Posted by: Jonathan Goldberg on January 10, 2004 10:33 PM

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If I'm not mistaken, The German Constitution guarantees a university seat to any German qualified and willing, no?

Posted by: bulent on January 10, 2004 11:53 PM

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Jonathan: foreign languages in grade 2

You are right about bilinguals. However there is a fundamental difference how children learn their language(s) after birth and in school. Bilingual people are usually embedded in environments where they are constantly or regularly exposed to both languages in their daily life, typically in a family or neighborhood context, and are forced to use them for essential purposes. This is an important aspect. A school environment is fundamentally different, people being forced to practice one hour or so every few days. That's by far not the same thing. So much for my layman's opinion.

On the other hand, I used to be bilingual until about age 3 when my mother became concerned that I would not learn my primary language properly and stopped it. In hindsight I regret it, but having had the second language exposure helped me afterwards. But I also knew a guy who was exposed longer, and had minor problems with both languages, to the extent that he did have good mastery of both, but not excellent mastery of either.

Posted by: cm on January 11, 2004 01:51 AM

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Bulent: constitution

You wish. I'm not an expert in constitutional law, but the free access to higher education may derive from some statement about freedom of the individual and freedom of teaching.

As for practical matters, enrollment at public universities is largely unrestricted, and most majors don't have entrance tests (but you can be flunked for repeated non-performance in the middle). Some critical majors like medicine have restrictions intended to uphold some measure of quality, mostly in the form of restricting the number of places with waiting lists.

The general underlying principle is that nobody should be excluded from higher education to avoid the (re-)formation of closed elites.

Having said that, while you can enroll, making a living is a different matter. Student loans are restricted in various ways, including only number of majors, by duration, age, parent's and own income, etc. So if that does not help you, you need to find some part-time job, which many people do anyway to prop up their income beyond basic subsistence.

Posted by: cm on January 11, 2004 02:12 AM

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cm:
>But one thing with education that worries me more is that apparently it is becoming more shallow. Anecdotal example: I had the opportunity to use various math schoolbooks from let's say 1975-85 in grades 9-12. What I saw was how the curriculum was shifted out to higher grades over time, and higher topics like integral calculus or trigonometry finally became optional (in grade 12), effectively being shifted into college. My father managed to keep his school textbooks, and I saw that his 8-year elementary school curriculum covered mostly as much as my 10-year one. He went to school right after WWII.

May I ask how the number of topics covered in a given year's coverage of a subject compared between the two sets of textbooks? During a brief stint teaching in a Boston-area public school, I was appalled by the number of topics that appeared in a year's worth of "Geometry" or "Algebra II" that were covered so briefly that they practically become devoid of engaging actual mathematical thinking. (Among other things, the distance formula--for Euclidean two-space, I suppose I should add--appeared before the Pythagorean Theorem, as something "just to memorize," without justification.) The contrast with the geometry text I had in high school less than 10 years ago was embarrassing, even if the axiom-theorem-proof paradigm was not exciting to most of my classmates.

A. Zarkov:
>...replaced by a new generation more likely to agree with the dictum: ?Teach students, not subjects.? In other words, mastery of the subject should take second place to teaching technique.

This I've seen firsthand; I recently had the dubious fortune of tutoring for a middle-school teacher in a summer school setting, and not only did she lack a math or related degree (although that wouldn't *automatically* be a cause for concern), she was attempting to teach solving linear equations (one variable) by coming in with a sheet full of examples such as "3 = -3" or "7 = -7" (which isn't true in any number system these high schoolers werre likely to see soon). (This was inspired, apparently, by "3x + 3 = 9" -> "3x = 9-3"...)

But where *do* you find enough qualified teachers who have the necessary content-area knowledge? Although I headed toward public-school teaching (currently sidelined by arrival of daughter), the other math majors I spoke to during university thought I was frankly crazy to "waste" a B.A. in math on teaching below the university level. And if the math majors won't teach math, who then? And I imagine this problem shows up a lot in other fields as well.

--apologies if these are minor and overly anecdotal contributions to a thread I have found illuminating.

Posted by: yhl on January 11, 2004 05:29 AM

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Well, look, let us look at all this from still a different point of view:

America did alot of investment in education at the outset of the Republic, and then followed with other wawes of investment in educaiton, the GI Bill, for example, and there is an excllent R&D infrastructure.

America did an excellent job investing in agro and manuf and service sector equipment, organizaiton, and human capital, especially in terms of managerial ability and technical competence.

America did an excellent job investing in defense hardware and software.

America did an excellent job of inesvting in transport and communicaitons infrattsructure (pgfff forgive spell)

America did an excelent job of investing in urban infratsructure

Now is the time to revisit the matter of human capital again in a major way -- and I say "human capital", not "human resources", eh?.

Expand pre-school and higher education and improve primary-secondary educaiton.

That ought to be number one item in Democratic Presidential agenda.

Posted by: Bulent Sayin on January 11, 2004 08:07 AM

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According to Henry Mullish here’s what happens when public school teachers try to teach the “new math.” Teacher asks class: “Class why does 4 times 3 equal 3 times 4?” Teacher later gives answer: “Because multiplication is commutative.” If you think about this answer for a moment you will realize it is wrong and demonstrates a lack of understanding on the part of the teacher of mathematics. To illustrate the commutative property teacher uses the example of putting your socks on before you put your shoes on. This gives the impression to the students that the commutative property is something trivial. Grade school students don’t know about things like matrices where multiplication is not commutative. It’s a mistake to introduce this more advanced concept into the curriculum at too early a stage.

The WSJ had an article on a mathematics teacher in the New York City public school system who was an immigrant from Communist Hungry. He was very successful-- at last the students had a real mathematician to teach them mathematics. But a suburban school district close to NYC offered to double this salary, and (reluctantly) he took it. NYC refused to alter its rigid salary rules, which mandate that all subjects be paid equally. Remember, “we teach students not subjects.” Ironically the Communist Hungarians did pay him more because he was mathematics teacher. So in a sense NYC was more communistic than the Communists.

Posted by: A. Zarkov on January 11, 2004 10:53 AM

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yhl: curricula

I don't have the books here, but if distant memory serves me well, my impression at the time was that the post-WWII versions were more "practically" oriented, whereas mine attempted more of a modern theoretical foundation (and the foundations of the sciences may well have changed in 30 years), but in such an abridged way (necessarily) that the value that you get out of it is perhaps mostly that deepening a subject is easier when you have heard and internalized some basic stuff, even in an abridged form, before, which is perhaps as much as you can hope for.

Re teacher qualification/motiviation, this has perhaps even more impact than small differences in curricula, but both things are probably related, both come out of underappreciation, underfunding, and negligence of education. Let me give you some anecdotal stuff again, and sorry, this is bound to be lengthy.

I'm coming from East Germany, which had a totalitarian regime (well, to a large extent). Yet there was a large focus on the quality of at least the scientific/technical education. (Let's not talk about history and civics. They had some value, but were heavily ideologically biased.) Two other factors that were present were that teachers were well-regarded and commanded a good social prestige, and that they had leverage to bring misbehaving kids in line, enforce more learning efforts where performance was lacking, and enforce timely attendance quite strictly (oh boy!). (And I'm talking mostly about elementary and highschool teachers here.) But strictly no beatings; any physical violence, (strong) verbal abuse, or systematically harassing individuals, and they got into big big trouble.

Mostly the enforcement worked through the parents, by requiring countersigning of diary entries, house visits, exposure at parent meetings, writing letters to the parents' employers, etc. Then there was the escalation mechanism of recorded warnings, and three-strikes like removal from the school, or the disgrace of being put in a special facility for hard cases. Academic non-performance was a considerable stigma and social embarrassment for both kids and parents, so with people who cared about their reputation, i.e. most, it usually worked quite well.

Now this thing works in a totalitarian state and _its_ understanding of the individual, but not in a free society. If now teachers give students a "hard time", i.e. push them to study, chide them for misbehavior, agressively work with the parents, harassment suits will be on the table very quickly. (And I suspect it will be mostly the parents of the problem kids who are prone to suits. If a kid of somebody who takes proper care of their kids shows a problem, they will most likely cooperate and not sue the school. This also goes in line with the attitude that it's the school's job to educate kids, not the parents'. Hey, why are we paying those taxes?) When teachers are thus stripped of enforcement powers, it immediately leads to going the path of least resistance -- leave misbehaving, apathic, or disinterested kids alone or let them play so they don't disturb the class, and work with the interested ones. The removal mechanism is still there, but the threshold of threatening its use is probably much higher.

Also there was another, counteracting phenomenon -- the Eastern bloc was in steady social decline, as by the construction of the societies they had little to offer their people: little freedom of even moving around, a living standard not very much above subsistence for most working people, and most importantly, no performance incentives -- they tried to introduce those, but it was way too late, and no incentives to innovate (other than some great speech, certificate of appreciation, and maybe a monetary reward that you can go spend in some empty store, and most likely the speech would associate you with the party line, which most people would rather avoid to not smudge their image). In other words, going the extra mile made little difference (other than for your own ego and like-minded peer appreciation), and was often even counterproductive (if you don't go shopping during work hours, when stores get their deliveries, you will have to buy the stuff that others didn't want when you come from work, and don't forget to give those sales clerks their "coffee money" and remind them to put back some of the good stuff for you tomorrow). And your coworkers may view you unfavorably -- they guy "ruins" our work standards. So the worst part of the decline was perhaps not the material part, but this frustration that it essentially doesn't matter whether you perform in your job (or other social function) or not, and that you are stupid if you make the extra effort, as you can expect the same mediocre lifestyle in your future.

Of course this process didn't stop before the teachers, it was pervasive. Also for some reason the prestige of teachers went down. Well, not exactly the prestige (although: "he who is capable creates, he who is uncapable teaches"), but the image of the frustration of having to put up with (increasingly?) unruly and disinterested children for too little gain (in material terms as well as job satisfaction).

I can see (or at least imagine based on what I see) different although similar mechanisms at work in the whole Western world including the US. Negligence of education, low prestige (and in the US income?) of teachers, lowering of academic standards in an attempt to pacify discriminated population groups or perhaps the whole population (we won't give them a good public school, but let's lower college entrance tests, it costs less, and they get what they want, don't they?).

The social feedback loops operate with long delays -- neglecting education today will show its effect only slowly in up to 20 years, and even then you may mask it for some time by getting experienced old school people to work longer (pushing out retirement age, anybody?) or by importing foreign labor (not necessarily a bad thing if done properly, I got here in the same way), or by productivity increases _maintaining_ (overall) living standards instead of significantly _increasing_ them. And in the US, and to a similar if not slightly lesser but converging extent, social achievement and prestige is largely defined in terms of income and material gain (how respected is your neighborhood, what car do you drive, where do you shop, what do you do for a living), which is not necessarily the most proper definition of a living standard.

Regarding the India/China discussion, I can suspect that they are either behind on the curve what regards education, or perhaps they have culturally or historically a different view of education. Looks like they are valuing education much more than the Western world, but maybe it's just appearance.

What do you think?

Posted by: cm on January 11, 2004 02:27 PM

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Bulent Sayin:
>Now is the time to revisit the matter of human capital again in a major way -- and I say "human capital", not "human resources", eh?.

I think cm is dead-on with respect to the time-delay of such development. Which is unfortunate.

A. Zarkov:
>According to Henry Mullish here?s what happens when public school teachers try to teach the ?new math.? Teacher asks class: ?Class why does 4 times 3 equal 3 times 4?? Teacher later gives answer: ?Because multiplication is commutative.?
...
It?s a mistake to introduce this more advanced concept into the curriculum at too early a stage.

yhl:
...not to mention having teachers who don't understand the significance anyway trying to impart it to students whose stage of mathematical development is not quite there. When I saw the definition of a field in 10th grade I can't say that I saw the point, either; that didn't come until I hit abstract algebra some years later, the teacher never explained it satisfactorily, and most of my classmates could have cared less.

cf. Liping Ma's depressing but nonaccusatory comparison of Chinese and U.S. elementary math teachers, their knowledge, and methods in Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics. (As a tangent, I about had apoplexy when a U.S. teacher who didn't know how to find the area of a rectangle was cited.)

cm:
>I can see (or at least imagine based on what I see) different although similar mechanisms at work in the whole Western world including the US. Negligence of education, low prestige (and in the US income?) of teachers, lowering of academic standards in an attempt to pacify discriminated population groups or perhaps the whole population (we won't give them a good public school, but let's lower college entrance tests, it costs less, and they get what they want, don't they?).

--and then, of course, it just pushes the problem into the colleges. I was appalled at the number of freshmen who came into my university without knowing how to construct the most basic essay, or what a "thesis" was, when I peer-tutored writing. (Er, before anyone points out the inconsistency of a math major tutoring writing, I *entered* as a prospective medieval studies/history student, and did a 180, or pi if one prefers radians...) And in a good number of cases I encountered, they were earnest students (or they wouldn't've come for voluntary tutoring?) who had not been exposed to those skills, or only ineffectually so.

I'm also worried by the increased cramming of more topics into, say, the math curriculum, where it doesn't matter that 80% of students fail to understand or "master" 80% of the material shoved in there as long as it looks good on the curriculum. I was expected to "cover" matrix inverses and determinants (up to 3x3) in about 2-3 days with ill-prepared students in a Boston-area public school; ill-prepared, as in many of them had trouble with linear equations, period, let alone systems thereof.

cm:
>Regarding the India/China discussion, I can suspect that they are either behind on the curve what regards education, or perhaps they have culturally or historically a different view of education. Looks like they are valuing education much more than the Western world, but maybe it's just appearance.

I'm not sufficiently informed about either, but S. Korea got most of its (often screwy) Confucian paradigm from China, and education is valued in S. Korea to the point of pathology. I'm remembering a Korean-American classmate (albeit at an international school, not the Korean system proper) who'd be scolded by his mom for coming back with a 95% on a calculus test, and this was typical. Given the contrast in school cultures, though, I'd almost rather see the neurotic overachievers than the kinds of kids who think school is a waste and express it by threatening to throw desks, etc. Not sure how you could inculcate a similar culture-shift in the way education and (competent?) teachers are valued in the U.S., however.

Posted by: yhl on January 12, 2004 02:16 AM

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