This is a slide from a John Kay talk. It is a few years old but the message resonates more than ever.
There are two gangs of people you tend to see loitering in or close to hospitals. Groups of smokers (staff or patients) trying to find a safe-space close to, but outwith, the official perimeter. And medical students, forlornly waiting for the teacher to arrive.
No, this is not the advice about getting 500 words in by sunrise, but rather a fun Lunch with the FT column.
FT: By the time I sit down with Richard Flanagan, he is armed with a glass of champagne. Technically speaking, it is a sparkling white wine from a vineyard in Tasmania, the remote Australian island state that the Booker Prize-winning novelist has lived in for all but three and a bit years of his life. Everyone calls it champagne in Australia but either way, Flanagan is not just drinking it but knocking back hefty swigs of the stuff.
“I’ve also got an Armagnac, just to help me along,” he says.
FT: I laugh uncertainly. Each to his own and all that, but it is barely 7 o’clock in the morning in Hobart and I had been expecting to see him with at least a slice of toast.
Whether it is the booze or not, Oxford doesn’t come out of it too well.
“Well,” he says, staring into the distance for so long that I think my screen must have frozen. “What can I say?” he eventually says, 28 long seconds later. “I found it a place of sublime emptiness.”
FT: He was, he says, surrounded by people from whom he felt utterly alienated. One don told him Australia had no culture. Another routinely addressed him as “Convict”. The whole place left him cold.
“These were people who thought women were slime. These were people who thought black people were apes. These were people who didn’t think they were the master race, they knew it.” Another pause. “I went from a universe of wonder to a storied place and I discovered to my astonishment it was small,” he says. “Oxford above all else is a bit dull.”
On his books not been viewed favourably closer to home, in Australia, and his decision to not enter them for the Miles Franklin Award, one of Australia’s oldest and most important literary prizes.
“I just decided I wouldn’t enter it any more,” he says quietly. “Prizes need writers but writers don’t need prizes.” [emphasis added]
From a review of Madeleine Bunting’s Labour of Love in the FT.
Bunting deplores the marketisation of care, in which looking after others is reduced to a commodity requiring specific outputs. (I was reminded of the nurse who, within minutes of my mother’s death, handed us a feedback form on which we were apparently to rate her handling of my mother’s closing moments.)
Other changes are required to end the gobbledygook that plagued the previous regime. We will no longer have a “human resources” department: our employees are people, not resources. That section has been renamed personnel.
A few years back I read how the hospital I worked in considered FY1 doctors ward resources. They would not work for and learn from a particular group of more senior doctors (this after all is supposed to be an apprentice system) but be a generic utility for whatever patients were placed on that ward. At once, all we know about learning, security and safety was thrown out the window. As one of my colleagues told me, based on his experience of having to treat a senior hospital manager, many know next to nothing of how medicine works. This form of competence inversion is known as Putt’s law.
“Technology is dominated by two types of people, those who understand what they do not manage and those who manage what they do not understand.” Putt’s Corollary: “Every technical hierarchy, in time, develops a competence inversion.” with incompetence being “flushed out of the lower levels” of a technocratic hierarchy, ensuring that technically competent people remain directly in charge of the actual technology while those without technical competence move into management…”
The Christmas Economist was in fine form — at least, better than the state the UK finds itself in.
Today almost everything is the opposite of what it pretends to be. Companies claim that they are devoted to advancing gay rights, promoting multiculturalism or uniting the world in a Kumbaya sing-along, when they are in fact singlemindedly maximising profits. Chief executives claim that they are ever-so-humble “team leaders”—in homage to another great Dickens invention, the unctuous Uriah Heep—when they are actually creaming off an unprecedented share of corporate cash. Private schools such as Eton claim that they are in the business of promoting “diversity” and “inclusivity” even as they charge £42,000 a year. Future historians seeking to sum up our era may well call it “the age of humbug”…
Whether the purveyors of this sanctimonious guff actually believe it, or whether it is cynical doublespeak, is immaterial. Either way, spin doctors, sycophants and so-called thought leaders pump noxious quantities of it into the atmosphere. The nation is in desperate need of a modern-day Dickens to clear the air. Until one emerges, Britons should repeat his great creation’s Christmas mantra in every season: “Bah, humbug!”
“Harvard sees me as a dollar sign, and not a person,” wrote one student on a petition currently circulating. The university did not respond to requests to comment. (link)
“With a significantly reduced value proposition, you should not be surprised that people will ask for lower fees,” said Andreas Schleicher, director for education and skills at the OECD. “In the long run, the unbundling of educational content, delivery and accreditation through digitalisation will make that inevitable anyway.”
I am no fan of much of what Andreas Schleicher says about education, and the above views have been circulating since at least the mid-1990s. I have been sceptical, and would add many caveats. Now I think I may have been too cautious, and have underestimated how fast the political landscape may change. If he and others turn out to be right, the traditional universities have only themselves to blame. The lower piece of bread of the educational sandwich may well be swallowed whole, but much of the filling is going to go, too. For the record, at least with respect to medicine and some other professional domains, the unbundling existed in the past, and it is not hard to reimagine how things could change back. Possibly for the better, even without the emetic that is Covid.
Beautiful and moving video about the child forger Adolfo Kaminsky (via the NYT).
There is something either falling in the gaps between the sentences or being cloaked by the definitions (eg Scheme) used, but that is not the natural way for a civil servant to make such a “clarification”
That wording has been negotiated to the point of strangulation
— David Allen Green (@davidallengreen) April 21, 2020
This is from the Guardian. The background is serious allergic reactions to food components, and allowing accessible information about what purchased food contains. In her phrase, ‘high-profile casualties on the high street’ she is referring to businesses; I am sure others may have read it differently.
But Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of UKHospitality, said a law change could have a serious impact on the viability of some of the 100,000 restaurants her organisation represents. “Hospitality and particularly high street restaurants are under intense cost pressures and are struggling,” she said. We’ve had a number of high-profile casualties on the high street. Those businesses operate on tight net profit margins. And there’s no doubt some would not be able to cope with any significant change in their cost structure.”
(BTW: she thinks ‘training’ is the solution. Training and education are offered as the answer to everything…”education, education, education”. If only.)
In July 1972, my wife Maureen and I jumped in a Mini Traveller and left England heading east. I’d just graduated from London Business School with an MBA, and the plan was we’d travel as far as that £65 car would carry us. Times change; these days MBA graduates emerge with a backpack full of debts and need to start earning fast to pay them off. Our backpacks contained some clothes, but they were mainly stuffed with dreams. That dirt-cheap car carried us all the way to Afghanistan.
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Well, a new word for me. Nice turn of phrase from Alun Wyn Jones about the decision to allow the opposition to decide on whether the roof is open or closed at
Cardiff Arms Park, Millennium Stadium, Principality stadium.
“I don’t know,” he said. “That’s for the alickadoos, isn’t it? I don’t wear a shirt and tie long enough to make those decisions.”
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Bluntly, the main motive for replacing the teaching grant by loans is an accounting trick. There is an apparent decline in public spending, but at the cost of distorting higher education policy … Thus the changes look like a dodgy [Private] Finance Initiative” – Barr, 2012
Well written piece on the loan scandal in Wonkhe by Nicholas Barr. In the language of the laymen, the government is fiddling the books, and dumping the costs on future taxpayers. It fiddles because it wants to mislead, for gain.
He goes on:
higher education finance has elements of a bubble. If I were a Vice-Chancellor, this aspect would give me sleepless nights.
Guarded language — fair enough — but it is not just a financial bubble. Let us just see how this year pans out.
“In 1968, each candidate could be heard without interruption on network news for 42.3 seconds. By 2000, the length of a sound bite was 7 seconds.” Lawrence Freedman, Strategy: a history. (via John Naughton)
COWEN: Your works are, in scholarly circles, very highly respected. Hardly anyone, if anyone, knows more about the history of the New World than you do, as illustrated in your books, 1491 and 1493. The breadth and also depth of your knowledge of the environment and history of environmental movements in your new book, The Wizard and the Prophet, again seems virtually without parallel. So I would ask, what is the Charles C. Mann production function? How do you get this stuff done? What is it you know about being productive in your path? I’m not saying you would tell other people to do exactly what you did, but what’s your insight into how you’ve become Charles C. Mann? What’s your production function? What’s the secret?
MANN: [laughs] Well, I don’t go to meetings. And unfortunately, academia is replete with meetings. One of the reasons for living in Amherst is that they don’t request me to come and talk to people. So there’s a huge amount of the overhead of, say, an academic job, that I’m very lucky not to have to do.
The other thing is that, because I live near a university, I’m able to use the University of Massachusetts Library. And there’s a bunch of colleges and universities around here, good libraries, a wonderful thing, and they’re kind enough to let me use it even though I’m like a parasite.
The second thing is the wonderful tradition of scholars in which, if somebody with a plausible interest in what they’re doing calls them up or writes to them, nine times out of ten, they’re very happy to talk to you about what they’re interested in. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to this tradition. People will talk to me for hours; it gains them nothing. I try to make it pleasant for them, but frankly, it’s sort of nuts, but they’re willing to do this.
Then the third thing is that I am able to sit down and read a lot of stuff, and my secret weapon is that I can read.
Paul Romer and William Nordhaus, were awarded this year’s ‘Nobel’ for economics. I first came across Romer in the David Marsh book, Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations. Since then I have read quite a bit of Romer’s more public work. Nordhaus pens great articles for the New Your Review of Books, too.
The FT writes of Romer:
One of his first big contributions was to show that “ideas” were the missing ingredient of economic growth, contributing as much as the traditional inputs of labour, skills and physical capital — and that this could help explain the big variation in growth and living standards between otherwise similar countries.
He went on to show that rules, or policy interventions — around patent law, competition law or subsidies for research and development — are vital to encourage actors in a market economy to produce the ideas needed to drive long-run growth.
The second paragraph is something I failed to fully appreciate before middle age.
But Romer has also said some very sensible things in this context about higher education (as readers of my web pages will know).
“In the old model, a teacher had to be so engaging that he inspired students to put in the effort that is necessary for learning,” Romer explains. “The problem is that that is not a scalable model [emphasis mine]. There simply aren’t enough inspiring teachers and inspirable students.”
“What we have right now is a reputational model for universities rather than an outcome model,” Romer says. “The presidents at the elite institutions know that if the competition were to be based on some credible measure of output or value added, they would lose.”
For me the key issue here is ‘scalability’ (first para). I wrote at that time:”Romer’s solution, a company he founded called Aplia is, I think, the direction we should be going in.”
I think there is a lot more that needs to be said about this. We are living though a world of massive expansion in higher education, driven by institutions that have failed to get to grips with the fundamentals that underpin their own value proposition.
Points on a distribution, make for fun numbers.
Fifty years ago Japan had just 327 centenarians; in 2017 it had 67,824, and the largest per capita ratio of them in the world.
There are some interesting memes for our time in this FT podcast: 1968: The Year that Music Changed. Fifty years ago. What moved me most was the link (27:30 in) to the YouTube speech from Bobby Kennedy, where he told an audience — who were still unaware — that Martin Luther King has just been assassinated, making use of the following lines of Aeschylus.
“Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”
I am not certain what other people of my age say in answer to the question, “Where were you when JFK died?” I have no memory for Dallas. But I do remember where I was in Cardiff, when my Irish mother picking me up to drive me somewhere, told me that Bobby Kennedy had just been assassinated. And I was expected to know why this was important, and why it was important to her. And just go compare with what we see now across the pond, drifting.
Fintan O’Toole in the Irish Times writes
what you are left with is just this – a country that has gone to enormous trouble to humiliate itself.
You can guess the context. (Via he who swims off Penglas in West Cork)
It’s curious, the question that comes up without fail, when I’m asked what I do for a day job – how can you defend somebody you know is guilty? But I’ve never once been asked by anyone – how can you prosecute someone you think is innocent?”
But outside in Times Square, the LED news tickers were telling a different story. On Tuesday, Gibson Brands, Inc – with the biggest product line in the guitar business – filed for bankruptcy, succumbing to an estimated $500m debt load and a failed reinvention in 2014 as a “lifestyle brand”.
Now I know things are really bad.
Troubles in the land of the six-string are not restricted to Gibson. Ten years post-recession, the guitar industry in the US continues to bob, with the 2,633,000 units sold in the United States in 2017 about 5% short of where things stood in 2008, according to Music Trades magazine. The heavyweight retailer on the American scene, Guitar Center, carries $1.6bn in debt.
And here, too.
Factfulness: The stress-reducing habit of only carrying opinions for which you have strong supporting
He saw what other people had not yet seen, that this was a new space—one to which he quickly applied an existing term, cyberspace, and his own metaphor, the electronic frontier.
From the Economist’s obituary (the best writing in this world is about the dead..). He of the wonderful:
Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather…I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us.
Then the thug with hoodie took over and the garden was enclosed.
It was Stewart Brand who made clear to me the link between the creation of the modern (computer — for that is what it is) age, and all that was good about the 1960s:
I think that hackers — dedicated, innovative, irreverent computer programmers — other most interesting and effective body of intellectuals since the framers of the US Constitution….. No other group that I know of has set out to liberate a technology and succeeded. They not only did so against the active disinterest of corporate America, their success forced corporate America to adopt their style in the end. The quietest of all the ‘60s subcultures has emerged as the most innovative and powerful.
[Stewart Brand’s description nails it (previous link of mine)]
And in memory here is the version of Dark Star (“The Finest Rock Improvisation Ever Recorded” – Robert Christgau). Listen to Lesh’s bass signalling the coming together at 1’15” onwards
The easiest way to predict the future is to prevent it.
Original version is Alan Kay (the easiest way to predict the future is to invent it), and this permutation is his, too. As he says, very appropriate for education.
“In Sweden, if you ask a union leader, ‘Are you afraid of new technology?’ they will answer, ‘No, I’m afraid of old technology,’” says the Swedish minister for employment and integration, Ylva Johansson. “The jobs disappear, and then we train people for new jobs. We won’t protect jobs. But we will protect workers.”
Alan Kay says:
a change in perspective may be worth 80 IQ points (or words to that effect). A nice visual metaphor for this below. (The one that is revealed from 1-20 seconds works for me, best).
I am a bad
(awful) guitarist, but remain fascinated by guitars and the people who wield them. In recent years I have become ever more interested in the pedagogy of the guitar, and what insights it may throw on professional practice and education, and how people learn outwith the academies. And even if I would not have expressed it in these terms at that time, as a teenager the guitar was my intellectual bridge into understanding that there is as much — if not more— discipline and rigour outside the academy than within it. (If you are interested in the ‘how’ of learning the guitar, check out Gary Marcus’ book).
With many great players, even if I cannot work out exactly how they do it, I have a good idea. You can spot the pentatonic or the classic major and minor scales easily enough: Clapton doesn’t play the same notes as Akkerman. But the first time I heard Allan Holdsworth (playing with Bill Bruford), I was confused. I couldn’t work out the scales and his phrasing was not like that of any guitarist I knew (nor was I any wiser, quite frankly, after seeing him on stage at Newcastle University, on this tour I suspect).
Bjørn Schille, says it well below
“As opposed to much of the music I spent time listening to and examining, his music left me with both chills and a feeling of total confusion. I had no idea what he was doing. Both his chord progressions and his phrases defied my sense of tonality and sounded like nothing I had ever heard. At the same time, it all sounded so perfectly unstrained and logical; like a beautiful language I had yet to understand. His choice of notes may have resembled jazz, but the character of the music had a much darker melancholy, as well as an absence of the swing rhythm that to me makes traditional jazz always a little too cheerful.”
(Bjørn Schille, Master Thesis in Musicology – February 2011 Institute of Musicology, University of Oslo [ you can hear the author here])
The guitarist John McLaughlin has wryly admitted he would have been happy to borrow just about anything his fellow Yorkshireman invented, if only he could have figured out how it was done.
There are some YouTube clips below. The sound is not too good, but they give a flavour of his genius. There is also a 12CD boxed set released shortly before he died [link here]. He would have hated the title.
Many of us held down a summer job during our school days to earn a bit of cash. Some, such as those who attended the fictional Scumbag College, did everything they could to avoid work. Things look a bit more draconian over in Zhengzhou where, as my colleague Yuan Yang has revealed, thousands of students have been working 11-hour shifts to assemble the iPhone X. There is nothing wrong with a bit of hard work but this situation constitutes illegal overtime for student interns under Chinese law. Six students told the Financial Times that they were among a group of 3,000 from Zhengzhou Urban Rail Transit School sent in September to work at the local facility run by Apple supplier Hon Hai Precision Industry, better known as Foxconn. The mandatory three-month stint was called “work experience”.
[Barry] John ran in another dimension of time and space. His opponents ran into the glass walls which covered his escape routes from their bewildered clutches