Snarky open letter to the US Senate GOP

Posted January 13th, 2019 by russfrazierwp and filed in Opinion, Plain Ol' Snark
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Спасибо вам, товарищи сенаторы, за то, что помогли нам нейтрализовать США и демократию во всем мире.

Наши друзья криминальные олигархи находятся на пути к тотальному доминированию свободных рынков по своему выбору.

С вашим добрым бездействием американская верховенство закона подорвано, ваши государственные служащие деморализованы, а люди отговорены от голосования и участвуют в общем благе.

Мы особенно благодарны за ущерб, нанесенный вашим прекрасным национальным паркам. Приятное прикосновение!

The Usurper of Complacency: Knowledge

Posted May 5th, 2015 by russfrazierwp and filed in Opinion
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Isn’t is a great feeling? You’ve struggled at length to grasp something and then finally, “Ah-ha!” you have it nailed and you’re sure you’ve got it wrapped up inside your head, all neat and tidy. Clear, complete understanding. The feeling can happen, for example, by conquering a difficult math problem or trying to figure out how a piece of machinery works. How long does that feeling last?


The Thinker In The Gates of  Hell

The Thinker In The Gates of Hell. Source: Wikipedia

Well, if it had to do with understanding that the Earth was at the center of the universe with the sun, moon, planets and stars all rotating around it, that particular feeling lasted over 2,200 years. That is a lot of warm, comforting knowledge of complete comprehension. Never mind that it was completely wrong1)Not to conflate large scale paradigms and smaller scaled thinking.

When we have achieved that happy level of comprehension we sit back, sip on a refreshing beverage and review the rocky path to our contentment. We smile. We’re self-assured, relaxed and, admittedly, perhaps a bit smug. But we deserve to have our reward for hard work, don’t we? We need to take time to savor the moment. Yes, yes, of course….


Rest on campus

Ah, time to rest now that complete understanding has been achieved

Then after some indeterminate amount of time, we begin to go about our business, temporarily forgetting the vanquished foe of confusion. Yes, those enemies of good feelings: confusion and doubt. We don’t like them. We must drive all befuddlement and hazy murkiness away from the mind.

If a challenge to our solution appears we crush it or ignore it because it is obviously wrong. Why is it wrong? It is wrong because we already fought and won that war. Immediately after winning we were rewarded with that good, comfortable feeling of understanding, thus deepening our conviction. Now it is like an old pair of house slippers, molded perfectly to our feet, cozy and snug. So why go back and make more effort? We’ve fought the battle, we’ve had our victory, end of story.

No, not end of story. And if history is any guide, not even close to the end of story. Why?

Because our understanding of things is built on flimsy, wobbly scaffolds we call our paradigms. Those paradigms are constantly shifting, constantly moving and cannot be taken for granted nor can they be trusted. Our multiple paradigms are constantly growing, to match an increasing number of different endeavors and fields. But almost all of them are subject to alteration, vulnerable to movement and change.


A model

A model

Just like the geocentric paradigm of the cosmos which was certainly correct according to Ptolemy but later shown to be complete nonsense by Copernicus. The same paradigm changes occurred for the spontaneous generation theory, the emission theory of vision, humoral medicine and goose trees.2)Thanks to YANSS 046



Rickety building

Something’s not right here…


Paradigms – those models of reality or constructs that we base our thinking on – are interesting just for that reason. They are never really stable, but we treat them as if they were. We need stable paradigms to run our thoughts through, to formulate hypothesis around. When we are able to use a paradigm to solve a problem, we declare it as good. No need to go questioning something that works. Are they then all nothing but delusions?

Some paradigms are more obviously shaky and unstable so we naturally mock these and their adherents, being of superior intellect. Some of the business organizational paradigms (fads) that arguably exploded during the last 60 years come to mind.

When it comes to technology, we’re on only slightly firmer ground, but the paradigms still shift when we’re not looking. Sometimes it seems as though technology paradigms shift just as fast or faster than business paradigms. For example, just look at the idea of cloud computing. Before 2006 there was no Amazon cloud computing service. That is a whole new technology platform, a new paradigm for selling goods and services.

Scientific paradigms move a bit slower, as they themselves are built upon paradigms of empirical knowledge. And here is where the nonsense is supposed to stop. Testing assumptions through reproducible experimentation is part of the foundation of the scientific method.


Experimental beakers

Scientific methodology at work

What is it about these models we are so fond of creating that make us start treating them as if they were sacrosanct? Is it because if we start to pick at them, to examine their weaknesses and point out their flaws, our hard work begins to vanish and evaporate, like rainwater rising from a hot pavement as mist?

Every new technology paradigm that comes along seems as if it’s accompanied by a midwife announcing a new baby. A bundle of joy to be admired and adored. Why? Because it’s new. The especially good ones have a pedigree, as well, because they’ve been fathered by academic superstars or industrial demigods.

If this topic interests you, consider learning about the work of Thomas Kuhn and Michael Polanyi.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Not to conflate large scale paradigms and smaller scaled thinking
2. Thanks to YANSS 046

The firing of Tom O’Brian

Posted December 3rd, 2012 by russfrazierwp and filed in Bitter lametations, Opinion
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Tom O’Brian, the head football coach of North Carolina State University (NCSU) was fired by the Athletic Director (AD), Debbie Yow, on November 26. She wants NCSU to be in the top 25 perennially, and she wants a dominant program in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).

When I first heard of this I went, “What? They were getting better. He’s gotten us to bowl games 3 years in a row. We didn’t cheat like UNC to get there, either. He’s gotten past the worst years of debilitating injuries and now it seems the bench is deeper. It looks like he has some sort of good quarterback supply channel going.”

But the big money has taken over the ACC just like the other college conferences and Debbie Yow seems to have a sort of manic gleam in her eyes. “Uh-oh,” I say.

You think I’m a killjoy, a spoilsport, a plodding naysayer? I won’t go into the whole “filling seats with fannies” thing. But let me address one thing I think I understand fairly well. That is the issue of what Tom O’Brian was trying to do versus what Debbie Yow thinks she wants. It is the fact that Tom O’Brian was trying to create a system and the AD does not want a System so much as a Savior.

Football stadium

A football stadium. Hey, not enough fannies in those seats!

One of the popular myths in organizations that include corporations and government as well as in academia is the idea that if we only had the right people we could excel and achieve greatness. It’s the idea that our destiny is determined by Christ-like demigods with powers and abilities that transcend the mortal powers and abilities the vast majority of us were born with. Do you see the logical flaw in this thinking? If we were all so dependent on these special people to succeed, then that means that poorly performing organizations fail because their leaders aren’t special enough. Never mind the nebulous, non-quantifiable and ever-shifting qualities that gifted people possess. If that reasoning were sound, it means that merely possessing the quality of superiority is enough. Think about that. The mere possession of the quality of superiority.

Now, let’s do a little thought experiment. We are going to pick some failed organizations and say they failed because they lacked especially talented people.

Big companies fail. How about Lehman Brothers in September 2008? The fourth largest investment bank in the US. No special people, that’s what went wrong there. Don’t bother with arguing that a combination of a lack of regulation and systemic greed did them in.

What about whole countries that have never achieved greatness? Lack of brilliant people. That must mean that the demigod gene simply is absent in places like Sub-Saharan Africa. Except for South Africa where greatness has been achieved, no doubt due to the special genes brought there by the Dutch immigrants.

How about the Soviet Union? The entire system of government failed. Why? They didn’t have any accomplished and talented people in the Communist Party. The same goes for Egypt, Syria and Libya – they lacked special winner demigods to save them.

Oh, and here’s another thing to think about regarding those examples. They must have had superior people during their creation phase, but lost them along the way at some point. Otherwise, the special people logic does not work.

The entire idea of special, gifted people being the key to organizational success is false, and, as I point out above, leads to even worse conclusions that include racism and bigotry. And the use of past performance as a predictor of future performance is like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Tom O’Brian was wise enough to know that he would not be at NCSU forever, that he might even get hit by a bus one day and suddenly be unavailable to coach. That’s why a system of management is important, so the remaining people have a template, an established plan that works consistently for their organization. I’m not sure, but I’d bet the Marine Corps had something to do with that mindset.

In nations, this is known as institutional maturity. It takes time, effort, thoughtful debate, and maintenance.