28 January 2007

What's Wrong With Vocational School?

Brilliant look at education policy by think-tanker Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute (http://www.opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=110009535).

What's Wrong With Vocational School?
Too many Americans are going to college.
Charles Murray
Wednesday, January 17, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST

...Today I turn to the upper half, people with IQs of 100 or higher. Today's simple truth is that far too many of them are going to four-year colleges.

Begin with those barely into the top half, those with average intelligence. To have an IQ of 100 means that a tough high-school course pushes you about as far as your academic talents will take you. If you are average in math ability, you may struggle with algebra and probably fail a calculus course. If you are average in verbal skills, you often misinterpret complex text and make errors in logic.

These are not devastating shortcomings. You are smart enough to engage in any
of hundreds of occupations. You can acquire more knowledge if it is presented in
a format commensurate with your intellectual skills. But a genuine college education in the arts and sciences begins where your skills leave off.

... If you want to do well, you should have an IQ of 115 or higher. Put another way, it makes sense for only about 15% of the population, ...

...They are in college to improve their chances of making a good living. What
they really need is vocational training. But nobody will say so, because "vocational training" is second class. "College" is first class.

Large numbers of those who are intellectually qualified for college also do not yearn for four years of college-level courses. They go to college because their parents are paying for it and college is what children of their social class are supposed to do after they finish high school. They may have the ability to understand the material in Economics 1 but they do not want to. They, too, need to learn to make a living--and would do better in vocational training.

Combine those who are unqualified with those who are qualified but not interested, and some large proportion of students on today's college campuses--probably a majority of them--are looking for something that the four-year college was not designed to provide...

...But a bachelor's degree in a field such as sociology, psychology, economics, history or literature certifies nothing. It is a screening device for employers. The college you got into says a lot about your ability, and that you stuck it out for four years says something about your perseverance. But the degree itself does not qualify the graduate for anything.

There are better, faster and more efficient ways for young people to acquire
credentials to provide to employers.


A reality about the job market must eventually begin to affect the valuation of a college education: The spread of wealth at the top of American society has created an explosive increase in the demand for craftsmen. Finding a good lawyer or physician is easy. Finding a good carpenter, painter, electrician, plumber, glazier, mason--the list goes on and on--is difficult, and it is a seller's market. Journeymen craftsmen routinely make incomes in the top half of the income distribution while master craftsmen can make six figures. ...And the craftsman's job provides wonderful intrinsic rewards that come from mastery of a challenging skill that produces tangible results. How many white-collar jobs provide nearly as much satisfaction?

Even if forgoing college becomes economically attractive, the social cachet of a college degree remains. That will erode only when large numbers of high-status, high-income people do not have a college degree and don't care. The information technology industry is in the process of creating that class...A college education need be no more important for many high-tech occupations than it is for NBA basketball players or cabinetmakers. Walk into Microsoft or Google with evidence that you are a brilliant hacker, and the job interviewer is not going to fret if you lack a college transcript. The ability to present an employer with evidence that you are good at something, without benefit of a college degree, will continue to increase, and so will the number of skills to which that evidence can be attached. Every time that happens, the false premium attached to the college degree will diminish...


Indiana Jones

I think Raiders of the Lost Ark should have been called Ark and Archeology.

Divide and Conquer: my response

When you play a first person shooter game like Doom, you will find after a while that the baddies behave predictably. You learn that they have a blind spot here, or forget to patrol there. Usually they don't bother investigating shooting and other noises just down the corridor, let alone go on the alert.

A death match however, where you play the same game but against other humans, is infinitely more difficult. I say infinitely, but there is inevitably a winner: one person/team is better (or luckier) than the other.

Geopolitics (and all politics) is like this, except that in real life there are no victory conditions. There is no victory, there is no end point, there is only continuous jostling. The only possible exception to this is that there may be periodic points of exhaustion, where fatigue is so great that peace follows, rather like the point where your arm is so tired you literally cannot lift your sword.

We, and the American public in particular, have been spoiled by the Second World War. The Second World War ended conclusively. One side was clearly defeated, another clearly victorious. (In fact, WWII was a defeat for most of the victors as well, but that's the topic for another essay. The USA was one of the two powers for whom it was both a technical and practical victory.) And it was all over in a few years. This unusual event laid the foundation for unrealistic expectations of war held by the American public to this day.

(Interestingly enough it was these unrealistic expectations that led to the US's technical defeat (really a victory) in the Vietnam Conflict. The American public has become like the girl who thinks that marriage is all sunshine and orange blossoms and is disappointed to discover that it consists mostly of cleaning.)

How is this relevant to Iraq?

The point is this: It is impossible to set an enormous goal, such as creating a functional democratic state along the lines of Germany or Japan in Iraq, create a plan, and follow the plan through to its successful conclusion. The actual outcome will be governed by events and the input of other actors. These other actors will be guided by their interests, their perceptions of their interests, the actions of other players and their own internal players, your actions, their interpretation of your actions, your diplomacy, etc. etc. etc. A democratic Iraq was merely the best possible outcome among many possible outcomes when the US upset the status quo, threw the dice in the air and invaded Iraq.

Launching the invasion or not launching the invasion was more or less completely within the power of the US. Everything that followed has only partially been in their hands.

This does not make America's adventure in Iraq a failure. In fact, as Luttwak pointed out, just the opposite. At least at the moment (because now is not the end point) it has been a success by any sensible measure. Just because the best possible outcome has not been achieved yet does not make it a failure. Just because there were no WMDs does not mean it was a failure.

What America has now is options. America is in a position to do almost anything. They are in a position where everyone needs them. They don't really have to do anything; they are almost like an "army in being": there sheer presence has an influence on events.

What is needed now is for the American public to have no opinion on Iraq, just to ignore it. What the US and the world doesn't need is for them to repeat their snatching of defeat from the jaws of victory after Tet 68.

Luttwak on Iraq: Divide and Conquer

Ever since being handed a copy of Coup d'Etat: A Practical Handbook, I have loved Luttwak, who, with the brilliant originality of an autodidact, consistently succeeds in coming out of left field.

His thesis is that America has accidentally achieved its war aims (whether these were secondary aims or not, these should have been and probably were its central, realpolitik aims).

When the Bush administration came into office, only Egypt and Jordan were
functioning allies of the U.S. Iran and Iraq were already declared enemies,
Syria was hostile, and even its supposed friends in the Arabian peninsula were
so disinclined to help that none did anything to oppose al Qaeda. Some actively
helped it, while others knowingly allowed private funds to reach the terrorists
whose declared aim was to kill Americans.

The Iraq war has indeed brought into existence a New Middle East, in which Arab Sunnis can no longer gleefully disregard American interests because they need help against the looming threat of Shiite supremacy, while in Iraq at the core of the Arab world, the Shia are allied with the U.S. What past imperial statesmen strove to achieve with much cunning and cynicism, the Bush administration has brought about accidentally. But the result is exactly the same.


26 January 2007

How to defeat the time bandits

Interesting and apparently useful article on time management.

How to defeat the time bandits
Getting organised has created an industry based on the relentless drive for more productivity.
Fran Molloy


Scottish sci-fi writer Charlie Stross recently claimed that he reads more while scanning his morning bookmarks than most 18th-century readers would have got through in a year. And time-management expert Hugh Kearns, a mental health lecturer who heads the Flinders University staff development unit, says technology is making us work harder, not smarter.
"The irony is that all this technology that we thought would lead to more leisure time has actually given us less," Mr Kearns says.


The number one offender? Email.


Mr Kearns' research led him to interesting findings. "We actually sabotage ourselves sometimes by procrastination and perfectionism and overcommitting. We procrastinate - putting off the difficult things in favour of the short-term distraction," he says.

In 20 years, he has found time-management problems haven't changed much.

Interruptions remain the biggest thief of time in the workplace, although the method of interruption (email rather than phone calls and an overflowing in-tray) has changed.

There are only a few basic principles, he says. "You need to be absolutely rock-solid on what you need to get done today or in the next hour."

Mr Kearns suggests putting aside specific times for answering email. "Switch off the alerts so you don't attend to an email every time it goes 'bing'," he says. "Then when you do open a message, deal with it straight away."


Productivity expert Des Paroz recommends a time-management system called Getting Things Done, which reinforces the need to set aside time to deal with emails and phone calls.
Developed by Californian management consultant David Allen, the system is explained in his bestseller, Getting Things Done.


"Much of the stress that people feel doesn't come from having too much to do," he says. "It comes from not finishing what they've started."

Mr Allen believes the key to being more productive is to free your mind to concentrate on carrying out the next task needed to complete the project.


But choosing from myriad organising tools available can be confusing and time-consuming. If you want to organise your life online, the trick is to choose one or two options - make sure they are versatile sites with plenty of flexibility - and use them effectively, Ms Oliver says.


Getting help on the web

Inbox blues


"Google calendar and Gmail are very good," Mr Paroz says. "For most people, email is probably one of the biggest productivity drains, yet it doesn't have to be that hard.


But most of these organising resources demand an investment of many hours to learn. And, paradoxically, the overwhelming range of online choices has left many users frozen with indecision.

The web is in such a state of flux that many are afraid to commit to a single online organising suite for fear of choosing the wrong one.



23 January 2007

Australia's Nuclear Industry

I think Australia should not export uranium.

Instead, Australia should be exporting a nuclear industry.

Australia has not faced up the the uranium question, and as a result of doing nothing has ended up exporting uranium in a grossly irresponsible way.

Australia could export uranium to evil countries such as China (more accurately: countries with evil governments) in a safe, responsible way if it did it like the following:

Build and run nuclear power stations in foreign countries.

Ship fuel rods to the reactors, ship spent fuel rods back to Australia, store the spent fuel in bunkers in mountains in central Australia.

We should be focussing on high-value aspects: Running the entire industry worldwide.

We will also be keeping control of the uranium. According to Tim Flannery, in future, we will be able to extract more energy from spent fuel rods [citation needed].

For an interesting related discussion, see: www.abc.com/rn/nationalinterest and click on "Climate Change".

20 January 2007

Quote of the Day

"Power is latent violence"

- Walter Burckert

(Full quote: "Power is latent violence, which must have been manifested at least in some mythological once-upon-a-time. Superiority is guaranteed only by defeated inferiors...")

16 January 2007

China: Not All It's Cracked Up to Be and Cracking Up

The Writing on the Wall
Will Hutton

Interesting review of book on the fragility of China: it seems it is not the monolithic monster of our imaginations (although I suspect it would like to be).

Interestingly, Stratfor sometimes discusses the financial house of cards that is China. It even predicted - in a what-the-heck-I'll-take-a-punt kind of way - back in 2005 or 2006 that China would fall apart in the next decade.


The truth is that China is not the socialist market economy the party describes, nor moving towards capitalism as the western consensus believes. Rather it is frozen in a structure that I describe as Leninist corporatism - and which is unstable, monumentally inefficient, dependent upon the expropriation of peasant savings on a grand scale, colossally unequal and ultimately unsustainable. It is Leninist in that the party still follows Lenin's dictum of being the vanguard, monopoly political driver and controller of the economy and society. And it is corporatist because the framework for all economic activity in China is one of central management and coordination from which no economic actor, however humble, can opt out.

[Emphasis added.]


Thanks to Doctor Thomas for the tip.

How to Find a Training Course

It's hard finding the right training course.

There's so many out there, they all claim to be the best in their field, you're not really sure what qualifications you need, there appears to be some kind of a government sponsored system or regime but you don't know how it works.


What will this course qualify me to do?

How much does it cost?

How much do the text books cost?

What other support, especially post course support, do you provide?

What financial support (eg. government subsidies) can I get?

15 January 2007

Water and Agriculture in Australia

According to Ross Young, Executive Director of the Water Services Association of Australia, 66% of all water supply in Australia is used in agriculture.

Yet, Jared Diamond, in Collapse, questions whether Australia should be in the business of agriculture at all.

The agricultural industries of grapes (both for fresh consumption and wine), vegetables and fruit make up about 50% of the agricultural value-added, yet consume only just over 10% of Australia's water.

This makes sense - wine can be flogged to wealthy Asians and Europeans at a decent price, but commodities like rice and cotton are marginal.

I propose that agriculture should be continued for domestic consumption only, apart from the 3 mentioned above.

*The National Interest; Presented by Peter Mares; interview with Ross Young, Executive Director of the Water Services Association of Australia; Sunday 14 January 2007

Efficient Specialisation v Robust Autonomy

Although he never quite goes there, Jared Diamond in Collapse (see review above) implies that specialisation can lead to a society's collapse. The collapse of friendly trade, either through the collapse, hostility or isolation (e.g. icebergs preventing ship visits) of a previously friendly trade partner is one of the factors that can lead to the collapse of a society.

Quite simply and obviously, the more dependant the society is on foreign trade, the more vulnerable it is to a collapse in that trade.

Trade comes about through specialisation. I make spears, you hunt, I swap my spears for your meat.

Specialisation is efficient. Comparative advantage.

Autonomy - autarky - is robust but inefficient.

This is why I'd like to see every household with a a vegie patch, with solar power, and collecting rainwater off its roof - it is perhaps inefficient, but it makes society less vulnerable to terrorism and natural disasters.

This is why it is in the United States' interest to bring countries such as China into the world trade system (aka the Pax Americana).

It is not only because democracies or countries with McDonalds don't go to war with each other.

Rather, it is because or partly because America controls the high seas. In other words, America is in a position to disrupt any country's trade.

So any country that has been brought into the US-centred world trade system and is trading on its comparative advantage(s) has everything to lose by annoying the US.

I am told that Stalin had a similar system - e.g. radios were assembled in one republic from parts manufactured in other republics, meaning that one area of the USSR could not secede because it was not industrially self-sufficient.

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive

Collapse, by the eminent Jared Diamond, is a very important book that you should read.

It studies the factors that cause societies to collapse, looking at examples from the past, including Easter Island and the Greenland Norse.

His thesis is that while many of the factors are outside the control of the society in question, e.g. the collapse of a major trading partner or global cooling, it is still not (or not always) inevitable that the society will collapse, but rather it the choices that a society makes in meeting such threats that will determine its fate.

The question then is: What choices will we make?

Read this book ASAP.

13 January 2007

Kaiser funded October Revolution

Well, what an example of blowback!

It turns out that the Germans funded Lenin via a dodgy revolutionary called Alexander Parvus.