“Any bridge constructed by an engineer who believes that should have a large warning sign attached …”

Douglas Murray writes in the Times about the Pluckrose and Lindsay book that is subtitled “How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity -And Why This Harms Everybody”. And the invaluable Mick Hartley quotes Murray, at greater length than I am about to, out from behind the Times paywall:

Pluckrose and Lindsay have waded through all the core texts that I and other critics of this school have had to read. They have also contended with many less familiar ones. What they reveal is essentially a self-sustaining academic Ponzi scheme. Where good writing might once have been seen as a successful effort at rendering complex ideas understandable, researchers in these studies have become virtuosos at nothing other than making highly contestable ideas incomprehensible. Take Homi K Bhabha in full flight: “If, for a while, the ruse of desire is calculable for the uses of discipline soon the repetition of guilt, justification, pseudo-scientific theories, superstition, spurious authorities, and classifications can be seen as the desperate effort to ‘normalise’ formally the disturbance of a discourse of splitting that violates the rational, enlightened claims of its enunciatory modality.”

Nor is this rot limited to the humanities. The social justice movement has Stem in its sights too. One recent book, Engineering and Social Justice, claimed that “getting beyond views of truth as objective and absolute is the most fundamental change we need in engineering education”. Any bridge constructed by an engineer who believes that should have a large warning sign attached.

We are talking about the collapse of civilisation. This is no mere metaphor. Spouting gibberish about Shakespeare or Coronation Street is one thing. Teaching techies to do technology in a way that goes beyond its “enunciatory modality”, in plain English which does not work properly, is something else again.

When bridges start collapsing, plagues start being spread, food starts being poisoned, cars and trains start falling to pieces and killing their passengers, because of people being anti-educated in this fashion (there are plenty of other reasons why such disasters happen to do with the fact that such stuff is difficult to do), that will be the moment when civilisation reasserts itself by starting to shut down all the university departments in the grip of this insane idiocracy. And, if necessary, entire universities. Or not, in which case our civilisation really will start collapsing.

Has television rotted brains?

When I did education blogging, this was one of the opinions I acquired, that television may not exactly rot the brain, but it does, shall we say, interrupt its development:

One very specific factor, however, could have led to the stagnation of intellectual performance in the United States in the 1950s. It was then that television entered the lives of families and individuals, rearing them to some extent away from written culture. By 1958, there were 287 television sets per 1,000 inhabitants in the United States. I mentioned earlier that intensive reading before puberty made Homo sapiens more intelligent. It comes as no surprise that an abandonment of intensive reading reduces the effectiveness of the human brain.

It’s not, that is to say, just a matter of teachers getting worse.

So, does this mean that, what with all the texting that the kids do nowadays, that the kids will resume getting cleverer? To find out the answer that that being yet one more reason why I’d like to live to three hundred, instead of just for about another decade or so.

The quote is from Lineages of Modernity (pp.211-212), by Emmanuel Todd, which I am now three quarters of the way through.

Incoming from Amazon

All of these arrived today, from Chateau Samizdata, where nobody cons their way past the front door and nicks stuff:

Looking forward to reading this one especially. It has been warmly received.

The C.S. Forester one I never knew existed, until Tom Hanks made a movie based on it. I wonder how it’ll compare with The Cruel Sea. Both central figures and commanders in these books had German sounding names, Krause in the Forester, and Ericson in The Cruel Sea, I recall some German trying to make a joke about Ericson’s name. Ericson was not amused. I wonder if Krause will be subjected to similar banter. Guess: yes.

The Blitz book is because I’ve always wanted to know more about that. John Ray’s book on the Battle of Britain was a very interesting read, so this one made good sense. And I seem to recall it having been very cheap, what with it having been published a while ago.

Following the chat we had yesterday about France and its various armies, Patrick Crozier and I will be discussing the Industrial Revolution. My core text will be the book on this subject by Steve Davies, but I’d be surprised if Ridley’s book on innovation doesn’t also get several mentions in our conversation.

The education book is by this guy.

Neema Parvini is someone I’ve been noticing for a while now. That’s because he’s a classical liberal and a humanities academic. Such persons must be cherished. Also, I do love Shakespeare.

The Broadgate Tower … etcetera

The Broadgate Tower, because I like it. This particular City of London Big Thing is in a slightly different style to the more celebrated Big Things just to its south, in that it is one of those towers that is pretending to be a little clutch of separate towers. No one of these towers is that distinctive, but together they make a pleasing aggregate. (Also, the late afternoon sun can bounce off this Thing in a way that is downright spectacular, but that’s for a different posting.)

The “etcetera” bit of this posting is because although the Broadgate Tower was my officially designated destination for the afternoon, the weather was rather grim and as you will see, my photos of the Tower itself didn’t come out that well. Better were the close-up views of diverting things that I also photoed that day. My taxis-with-adverts habit had by then kicked in, and the adverts on taxis look pretty good whatever the state of the light is. And adverts in general were a source of photo-fun on that particular day, what with that part of town being so very different from the part where I live:

We start at whatever station that was that I went to to get started. Hoxton? Shoreditch High St? Don’t know? Didn’t take (but should have taken) a photo-note. Then we get several photos of the Broadgate Tower, and in among them, the real fun starts, in the form of the signs and adverts and other curiosities I encountered. I ended up in the City, where quite Big Things are reflected in other Bigger Things.

There’s even a bridge, of a sort that I really like, one that joins two buildings across a narrow street. It’s a double-decker bridge, which I particularly enjoy.

Today’s weather is rather grim. However, these photos were all photoed on July 27th 2015, exactly five years ago to the day. The weather was, as already stated, rather grim on that day also. But, I hope you agree that I worked around it okay.

Food and drink makes it into the categories list because of the bottle tops, which adorn a pub and which add up to a male figure, in the manner of a Gormley project. But: not. Also, one of the taxis says to just eat.

Paul Graham on how and why universities are in decline

I like this, by Paul Graham, and I especially like, towards the end of this, this:

On the other hand, perhaps the decline in the spirit of free inquiry within universities is as much the symptom of the departure of the independent-minded as the cause. People who would have become professors 50 years ago have other options now. Now they can become quants or start startups. You have to be independent-minded to succeed at either of those. If these people had been professors, they’d have put up a stiffer resistance on behalf of academic freedom. So perhaps the picture of the independent-minded fleeing declining universities is too gloomy. Perhaps the universities are declining because so many have already left.

Got to this via this tweet. Would probably have found my way there anyway, soon enough, because I like Paul Graham’s stuff whenever I have read it. But, thank you to Claire Lehmann anyway.

In countries arriving at modernity, being a teacher is a very desirable job compared to the alternatives. In countries that have arrived at modernity, being a teacher is not so desirable. I believe this is not mentioned enough in modern arguments about education. The thing is, this change, from teaching being very high status, to teaching becoming not so high status, is nobody’s fault, which makes it an unappealing subject for political polemicists. Also, politicians are terrified of saying that teachers are rubbish.

So, as is so often the case, this is a problem that will be quietly solved, not by politicians changing anything, but by mere people, quietly making alternative arrangements.

Getting out more

Today I got out more. Meaning, I got out. The plan was to take a photo, and show it here, only hours later, instead of my usual average these days of about five years.

I started by putting out the rubbish, in the yard that my kitchen window looks out over. And already I got two photos I liked, of the little urban garden someone has created down there, and from looking upwards:

Yes, also lots of bikes. Courtyards are good places to store them fairly safely.

And here are four diverting things I saw on my walking about. Some big hair, and three educational mugs with national flags, times tables, and the periodic chart of the elements:

Then I did some shopping, staggered home with far too much stuff, in particular far too many chocolate biscuits, and am now knackered.

Katharine Birbalsingh on the racism of David Starkey and on the nation state as an antidote to racial tribalism

I’m about half way through watching this “interview” on YouTube, done by the two Triggernometry guys (don’t yet know their names) with Katharine Birbalsingh, the quotes being because it doesn’t take much in the way of questioning to get Katharine Birbalsingh onto her soapbox and orating with no further provocation or prompting.

Birbalsingh was explaining that, and exactly how and to what extent, David Starkey is a racist. She quite likes Starkey, agrees with him about a lot of things, agrees that of course he’s not nearly as bad as Hitler, but somewhat worse that then a little old lady walking along the street who is scared when a bunch of black kids comes towards her. That’s her attitude towards him.

I’m only about half way through the whole thing, which lasts a bit more than an hour. But already (around 22 minutes in), one of the Triggernometry guys has put the defence of Starkey which I have been thinking myself. Which is: That Starkey talked about “damn blacks” not because he really thinks blacks should be damned, but because of the vehemence with which he disagreed with the argument he was denouncing, which equates slavery with genocide. I too have been thinking that Starkey made a serious error in using this phrase, but that he wasn’t sounding racist on purpose, he was just getting a bit carried away. (There is often a strong overlap between slavery and genocide. In Hitler’s Germany many thousands of slaves were deliberately worked to death, and killed if they stopped working, for whatever reason. I am sure similar things could be said of the slave trade. Nevertheless, the two concepts are clearly distinguishable.)

Birbalsingh had already said that Starkey actually has a lot of previous in saying things in a decidedly racist manner, and of generally making “mistakes” of this sort. He’s a smart guy. Had he wanted to phrase things more politely, make certain distinctions subtly instead of crassly, he could easily have taken the trouble to acquire this habit. He hasn’t. And that’s because he hasn’t thought that he needed to. In short, he is racist. She doesn’t want Starkey “cancelled”, but she wants him knocked down in the world to the tune of a peg or two.

Birbalsingh was very clear that being rather racist, like Starkey, is not the same as being Hitler. There’s a continuum of racism, a spectrum, with that scared little old lady at one end and Hitler at the other. I strongly agree with that point. (I actually think she was being a little unfair to the little old lady. That kind of racism is, for all sorts of reasons, often very rational, even as it may often be experienced as very insulting to those on the receiving end of it.)

On the Starkey matter, I found Katharine Birbalsingh rather persuasive. She changed my mind about Starkey. I now entertain the possibility that Starkey is indeed, and has long been, somewhat racist, in just the way she described. Which is only appropriate, because Birbalsingh prides herself on her ability to persuade people to change their thinking.

She also put one of the strongest cases I have yet heard for the Nation State. I’m a libertarian of the sort for whom the state is typically the enemy. “The state is not your friend”, and so on. She said that by inculcating a sense of Britishness into all her pupils, of all colours, she makes it far less likely that they will divide into racial tribes, including some racial tribes who consequently feel deeply unwelcome in what ought to be their own country, and which geographically and legally is their own country. My thing is: state/liberty, choose one. Hers: nation state/racial tribalism, choose one. Hers is a good point, I think. I’ve surely heard this argument before, in various forms. For some reason, her way of putting it really hit home.

Now I’m going to go back and listen to the rest of it.

First photos with the FZ150

I can still remember the Great Leap Forward that the Panasonic Lumix FZ150 “bridge” camera was. For me if not for all of photoer-kind. For me, the best “bridge camera” I could have was my perfect camera. Tons of zoom, but no faffing about with different lenses to at once capture whatever scene presented itself to me, near or far.

I went rootling through the photo-archives looking for some early photos I photoed with this wondrous new contrivance, looking at the first photo-expeditions I embarked upon, along the River, to the Victoria Docks, or just to Westminster Abbey and Bridge, to photo my fellow photoers, to pick out some photos that brought back the shock of pleasurable surprise I had when I first got my hands on it.

But then I realised I was looking in the wrong place. What I needed to see were not merely some “early” photos, photoed days or even weeks after I got this super-camera. What I wanted to see were the absolute first photos I took with this camera, on January 26th 2012.

And the very first one of all was this:

That scene, of my kitchen window and surroundings as seen from my swivel chair around which most of my life revolves, if you get my meaning. (It’s the chair that does the actual revolving.) I am happy to report that the big grey Thing, bottom left, which was for making ice, has been replaced by a slightly bigger black box, which also makes ice, and also looks after food of many other sorts, including in particular ice cream. Otherwise, nothing has changed.

On each side of the window are CD shelves, and the next few photos I photoed were all close-ups of CDs, edge on:

That was when it hit me, and I believe I can still remember this glorious moment. This was the camera I had been waiting for, all my life. The key point was not just that these were successful photos of distant details. I can tell from the numbering of these photos in the archive that there were no failures. None. All of my first dozen or so photos with this new camera came out fine, even the one of my pop music department, which was where it still is, way off to the left and way up near the ceiling.

Only the following day did I photo anything beyond my front door.

The first outdoor photo I photoed with my new FZ150 was this, dated January 27th, i.e. the following day, just before it got dark:

That’s looking across Vincent Square at the building activity in and around Victoria Street, which has been pretty much continuous, one place or another, for the last decade. Mmmmmm, cranes.

Since then, I have upgraded to the Panasonic Lumix FZ200 and then to the FZ330. But they are both really just the FZ150 with frills added. If my current camera, the FZ330 were to be snatched away from me, and I was given another FZ150 and told that this would be my last camera, I’d not be that bothered. Were I told that I would have to go back to the crappy camera I had before the FZ150, that would be a disaster. Soon after acquiring this FZ150, I wrote about it at some length for Samizdata. This confirms what, up until re-reading that, I had merely remembered. The FZ150 really was a huge step forward.

Hurrah for capitalism. It really is ridiculous that the world’s schools are now cranking out a whole new generation of nitwits, an appallingly significant proportion of whom seem genuinely to want to put a stop to this glorious process.

Robot dog progress

Researchers publish open-source, lower cost design for 3D printed robot dog.

What are the future applications of of such a “dog”? Some rather unconvincing tasks are mentioned in the above report, like hanging about in a forest “monitoring” animals. But that sounds like green-friendly make-work to me.

Warfare in complicated terrain does seem like an obvious application. Exploring Mars, in other words, and then fighting other robots for the control of Mars. And meanwhile filming it all, for entertainment purposes?

Airplanes flew for quite a long time before they found a major use for them, which was to spy on opposing armies and to make big guns cleverer, and then to fight and kill other airplanes. Then came high tech sport, in the form of air races, which was really just research and development for better and faster war planes.

Around then, also, very tentatively, airplanes began to deliver letters. And then, airplanes began to deliver people, which was to say very rich people. Eventually, half a century after they first flew, airplanes became part of the good life for regular humans.

Robot dogs look like they might follow a similar path. As of now, robot dogs are the robot equivalent of the useless and clumsy contraptions that airplanes were in the nineteen-noughts, good only for lunatics in goggles to play with.

Comments of how these weird creatures might actually make themselves useful, more quickly and less destructively than my grumpy pessimism just said, would be most welcome.

For starters, if these things are ever going to be liked by humans, they’re going to need heads, heads that are more than merely decorative which gather and transmit information. Then, maybe (and I seem to recall speculating along these lines at my long-lost Education Blog): child minding? A combination of such robot-human interaction and transport? Like a sort of super-intelligent horse?