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Category archive: Education
The speakers at the Liberty League Freedom Forum were an impressive lot. I intend, Real Soon Now, to be writing at greater length (at Samizdata) about what some of the speakers said. In this posting here, I will concentrate on shoving up photos.
Here are some snaps of just a few of the speakers in action:
Top left: Douglas Carswell; top middle: Terence Kealey; top right: Mark Littlewood.
Bottom left: Sam Bowman; bottom middle: J. P. Floru; bottom right: Randy Barnett.
I did not attend anything like all the sessions, not least because many of them were simultaneous. But we all crowded into the big hall to have lunch on Saturday and Sunday, and there were a couple of speeches there also, from Mark Littlewood on the Saturday, and from J. P. Floru on the Sunday, both of whom are shown above, doing their lunchtime talks.
Impressive though the line-up of speakers was, and hard as it often was to choose which speaker to listen to, the real star of the occasion, for me, was the audience that the Liberty League people had managed to assemble for this event. It would have been quite something for me to have listened to a succession of very good talks. It was something else again to be part of a 200-strong audience listening attentively to those same talks, most of them of less than half my age.
So, here are some crowd shots:
The more I study the world and its ways, the more importance I attach to the influence of gatherings like this one. Getting a couple of hundred of Britain’s most committed libertarians and free marketeers together over a weekend, and permanently connecting them with each other, will have network effects beyond calculation, especially when you consider how much easier it now is to do networking electronically.
So who put this event together? Well, I did some asking around, and three people kept getting mentioned:
Left: Anton Howes; centre: Christiana Hambro; right: Stephen Davies.
The latter two are both briefly biographised at the IEA website, and Anton Howes is likewise described on this list of Liberty Leaguers. Hannah Besford, Will Hamilton and James Lawson, also on that Liberty Leaguers list, also got several mentions, not least in the conference progamme (i.e. on page 2 of this), as having contributed importantly. Notoriously, when credit is to be shared among humans for their cooperative achievements, there are frequent mismatches between who gets given the credit and who did the actual work, so my best guess could be seriously off. Nevertheless, my best guess is that the three people pictured above were the prime movers (certainly among the prime movers), all three of them having decided independently that what the British free market/libertarian movement needs is a succession of gatherings like this one, wherever in the UK it makes sense to stage them. So, that is what they have been doing, this latest London event being merely the biggest of such events so far. There have been several others during the last few years, and it looks like there will be many more. I certainly hope so.
Ripple: me quoting Madsen Pirie, here.
Another ripple: the ASI quoting me, here.
The ASI seems happy, despite the delay.
LATER: Madsen Pirie quoting me, here.
Two interesting early comments (two of many that follow) on this posting, which vividly (i.e. with lots of vivid photos) describes an idiotic Occupy occupation (with thanks to David Thompson for the link).
Given that the University of California, which owns this now-”Occupied” farm tract, is largely responsible for teaching the “Occupiers” the idiot theories under which they’ve undertaken this action, isn’t this really an instance of the chickens coming home to roost?
The vast majority of the “Occupy the Farm” buffoons are not Cal students; it’s mostly composed of losers who didn’t get into Cal, so in jealousy and frustration, they’re stealing the research equipment of the students who actually did well in school.
UC Berkeley is actually two completely distinct universities; the “liberal arts” half is thorough and irretrievably contaminated with Marxist ideologies; but the “STEM” half (“science, technology, engineering, math”) is very rigorous, hardcore, not politicized (and mostly Asian).
The College of Natural Resources, which does research at the farm, is mostly in the STEM half of the school (though there is a politicized component). Notice that the professors who joined the occupiers are all from the Anthropology and Gender Studies departments, not from Natural Resources.
So, this may not be a clear-cut case of chickens and their roosting behavior.
That “mostly Asian” bit makes me very pessimistic about the future of the West.
For how long will the best Asians feel they have to go West to get the best sort of education? Will they keep coming, and after their rigorous Western educations, will they stay in the West? Or, at a pivotal point in the nearish future, will they take their rigour back to Asia and plant it there, leaving what remains of Western education at the mercy of the “humanities”?
I love what James Tooley has been doing with his life, namely telling the world about how the world’s poor are now getting themselves educated. The world’s poor are not getting education from their governments. They are purchasing it from their fellow citizens.
This is Tooley’s description of how he got started learning about this global educational miracle, and triumph of the free market economy. It’s from his book The Beautiful Tree (Chapter 1, pp. 3-7):
After a stint teaching philosophy of education at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa, I returned to England to complete my doctorate and later became a professor of education. Thanks to my experiences in sub-Saharan Africa and my modest but respectable academic reputation, I was offered a commission by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation to study private schools in a dozen developing countries.
The lure of faraway places was too enticing to resist, but I was troubled by the project itself. Although I was to study private schools in developing countries, those schools were serving the middle classes and the elite. Despite my lifelong desire to help the poor, I’d somehow wound up researching bastions of privilege.
The first leg of the trip began in New York in January 2000. As if to reinforce my misgivings that the project would do little for the poor, I was flown first class to London in the inordinate luxury of the Concorde. Forty minutes into the flight, as we cruised at twice the speed of sound and two miles above conventional air traffic, caviar and champagne were served. The boxer Mike Tyson (sitting at the front with a towel over his head for much of the journey) and singer George Michael were on the same flight. I felt lost.
From London it was on to Delhi, Chennai, and Mumbai. By day, I evaluated five-star private schools and colleges that were very definitely for the privileged. By night, I was put up in unbelievably salubrious and attentive five-star hotels. But in the evenings, sitting and chatting with street children outside these very same hotels, I wondered what effect any of my work could have on the poor, whose desperate needs I saw all around me. I didn’t just want my work to be a defense of privilege. The middle-class Indians, I felt, were wealthy already. To me it all seemed a bit of a con: just because they were in a “poor” country, they were able to latch onto this international assistance even though they as individuals had no pressing need for it at all. I didn’t like it, but as I returned to my room and lay on the 500-thread-count Egyptian-cotton sheets, my discomfort with the program was forced to compete with a mounting sense of self-criticism.
Then one day, everything changed. Arriving in Hyderabad to evaluate brand-new private colleges at the forefront of India’s hi-tech revolution, I learned that January 26th was Republic Day, a national holiday. Left with some free time, I decided to take an autorickshaw - the three-wheeled taxis ubiquitous in India - from my posh hotel in Banjara Hills to the Charminar, the triumphal arch built at the center of Muhammad Quli Shah’s city in 1591. My Rough Guide to India described it as Hyderabad’s “must see” attraction, and also warned that it was situated in the teeming heart of the Old City slums. That appealed tome. I wanted to see the slums for myself.
As we traveled through the middle-class suburbs, I was struck by the ubiquity of private schools. Their signboards were on every street corner, some on fine specially constructed school buildings, but others grandly posted above shops and offices. Of course, it was nothing more than I’d been led to expect from my meetings in India already - senior government officials had impressed me with their candor when they told me it was common knowledge that even the middle classes were all sending their children to private schools. They all did themselves. But it was still surprising to see how many there were.
We crossed the bridge over the stinking ditch that is the once-proud River Musi. Here were autorickshaws in abundance, cattle-drawn carts meandering slowly with huge loads of hay, rickshaws agonizingly peddled by painfully thin men. Cars were few, but motorbikes and scooters ("two-wheelers") were everywhere - some carried whole families (the largest child standing in front; the father at the handlebars; his wife, sitting sidesaddle in her black burka or colorful sari, holding a baby, with another small child wedged in between). There were huge trucks brightly painted in lively colors. There were worn-out buses, cyclists, and everywhere pedestrians,
whose cavalier attitude toward the traffic unnerved me as they stepped in front of us seemingly without a care in the world. From every vehicle came the noise of horns blaring - the drivers seemed to ignore their mirrors, if they had them at all. Instead, it seemed to be the responsibility of the vehicle behind to indicate its presence to the vehicle in front. This observation was borne out by the legend on the back of the trucks, buses, and autorickshaws, “Please Horn!” The noise of these horns was overwhelming: big, booming, deafening horns of the buses and trucks, harsh squealing horns from the autorickshaws. It’s the noise that will always represent India for me.
All along the streets were little stores and workshops in makeshift buildings - from body shops to autorickshaw repair shops, women washing clothes next to paan (snack) shops, men building new structures next to the stalls of market vendors, tailors next to a drugstore, butchers and bakers, all in the same small hovel-like shops, dark and grimy, a nation of shopkeepers. Beyond them all rose the 400-year-old Charminar.
My driver let me out, and told me he’d wait for an hour, but then called me back in a bewildered tone as I headed not to the Charminar but into the back streets behind. No, no, I assured him, this is where I was going, into the slums of the Old City. For the stunning thing about the drive was that private schools had not thinned out as we went from one of the poshest parts of town to the poorest. Everywhere among the little stores and workshops were little private schools! I could see handwritten signs pointing to them even here on the edge of the slums. I was amazed, but also confused: why had no one I’d worked with in India told me about them?
I left my driver and turned down one of the narrow side streets, getting quizzical glances from passers-by as I stopped underneath a sign for Al Hasnath School for Girls. Some young men were serving at the bean-and-vegetable store adjacent to a little alleyway leading to the school. I asked them if anyone was at the school today, and of course the answer was no for it was the national holiday. They pointed me to an alleyway immediately opposite, where a hand-painted sign precariously supported on the first floor of a three-story building advertised “Students Circle High School & Institute: Registered by the Gov’t of AP.” “Someone might be there today,” they helpfully suggested.
I climbed the narrow, dark staircase at the back of the building and met a watchman, who told me in broken English to come back tomorrow. As I exited, the young men at the bean-and-vegetable counter hailed me and said there was definitely someone at the Royal Grammar School just nearby, and that it was a very good private school and I should visit. They gave me directions, and I bade farewell. But I became muddled by the multiplicity of possible right turns down alleyways followed by sharp lefts, and so asked the way of a couple of fat old men sitting alongside a butcher shop.
Their shop was the dirtiest thing I had ever seen, with entrails and various bits and pieces of meat spread out on a mucky table over which literally thousands of flies swarmed. The stench was terrible. No one else seemed the least bit bothered by it. They immediately understood where I wanted to go and summoned a young boy who was headed in the opposite direction to take me there. He agreed without demur, and we walked quickly, not talking at all as he spoke no English. In the next street, young boys played cricket with stones as wickets and a plastic ball. One of them called me
over, to shake my hand. Then we turned down another alleyway (with more boys playing cricket between makeshift houses outside of which men bathed and women did their laundry) and arrived at the Royal Grammar School, which proudly advertised, “English Medium, Recognised by the Gov’t of AP.” The owner, or “correspondent” as I soon came to realize he was called in Hyderabad, was in his tiny office. He enthusiastically welcomed me. Through that chance meeting, I was introduced to the warm, kind, and quietly charismatic Mr. Fazalur Rahman Khurrum and to a huge network of private schools in the slums and low-income areas of the Old City. The more time I spent with him, the more I realized that my expertise in private education might after all have something to say about my concern for the poor.
Khurrum was the president of an association specifically set up to cater to private schools serving the poor, the Federation of Private Schools’ Management, which boasted a membership of over 500 schools, all serving low-income families. Once word got around that a foreign visitor was interested in seeing private schools, Khurrum was inundated with requests for me to visit. I spent as much time as I could over the next 10 days or so with Khurrum traveling the length and breadth of the Old City, in between doing my work for the International Finance Corporation in the new city. We visited nearly 50 private schools in some of the poorest parts of town, driving endlessly down narrow streets to schools whose owners were apparently anxious to meet me. (Our rented car was a large white Ambassador - the Indian vehicle modeled on the old British Morris Minor, proudly used by government officials when an Indian flag on the hood signified the importance of its user - horn blaring constantly, as much to signify our own importance as to get children and animals out of the way.) There seemed to be a private school on almost every street corner, just as in the richer parts of the city. I visited so many, being greeted at narrow entrances by so many students, who marched me into tiny playgrounds, beating their drums, to a seat in front of the school, where I was welcomed in ceremonies officiated by senior students, while school managers garlanded me with flowers, heavy, prickly, and sticky around my neck in the hot sun, which I bore stoically as I did the rounds of the classrooms.
So many private schools, some had beautiful names, like Little Nightingale’s High School, named after Sarogini Naidu, a famous “freedom fighter” in the 1940s, known by Nehru as the “Little Nightingale” for her tender English songs. Or Firdaus Flowers Convent School, that is, “flowers of heaven.” The “convent” part of the name puzzled me at first, as did the many names such as St. Maria’s or St. John’s. It seemed odd, since these schools were clearly run by Muslims - indeed, for a while I fostered the illusion that these saints and nuns must be in the Islamic tradition too. But no, the names were chosen because of the connotations to parents - the old Catholic and Anglican schools were still viewed as great schools in the city, so their religious names were borrowed to signify quality to the parents. But did they really deliver a quality education? I needed to find out.
I mentioned the difficulties I had last Saturday, at the Liberty League Conference, with indoor photography. The least unsuccessful indoor photos I took were of some of the speakers.
Part of movement building is telling each other what we all look like, so here are these snaps. Click to get bigger pictures, exactly as they emerged from my camera. If anyone uses any of these snaps elsewhere (as they are most welcome to do) they are also welcome to do whatever editing they consider might improve them.
The good gentlemen pictured below are, in the order in which they spoke at the Conference, James Stanfield (top left), Mark Pennington (top centre), Brendon O’Neill (top right), Kristian Niemietz (bottom left), Andrew Lilico (bottom centre), Mustafa Akyol (bottom left):
James Stanfield. Stanfield is a colleague of James Tooley, and was a late replacement for Tooley, who had been struck down by a travel-related bug. It seems that school spotting in far away places has its dangers. Having heard Tooley speak a number of times over the years, most recently last Wednesday, and not ever having heard James Stanfield before, I personally was not that distressed by this swap, although I’m guessing others present may have been.
Everyone, definitely including me, regretted the no-show by Toby Young, who got stuck in traffic and then failed to find anywhere to park and went back home. Bizarre. But at least Young phoned in to explain all this. The titles of two of his books, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People and The Sound of No Hands Clapping, provoked laughter when mentioned by conference supremo Anton Howes as he passed on these travel updates.
Stanfield’s talk was distinguished by his assertion of the value of liberty, as a principle. Stanfield didn’t justify a total free market in education merely because it would, in the opinion of onlookers, have better educational results. People should, he said, be allowed to choose whatever education they want for their children, because that is an inherently good idea, along with such ideas as it being good for people to be allowed to say what they want and go where they want.
The other of the above speakers who particularly impressed me was Mustafa Akyol. I am no admirer of Islam. Akyol is the first person (Muslim or otherwise) I have ever heard to have got me thinking that I might be mistaken about just how inherently evil Islam is. He is the author of a book entitled Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case For Liberty, a copy of which I purchased after he gave his talk. I probably still won’t be convinced, mind, but I am looking forward to reading this.
That a particular speaker may not have impressed me as much as the above two says little about him and quite a lot about me. I have reached the nodding off stage in life. If I nod off while you are speaking at an event I am attending, you shouldn’t take it personally. Could this be why so many people - people other than me - prefer not to sit at the front of the audience at events like this?
Indeed. For a report on the actual lecture, go here.
Right, seen that? Maybe while there, you also saw the little clump of glasses and bottles to the left as we look at Tooley. For quite a while I photoed them, instead of Tooley or his introducer, because, well, they just looked so much better, and were so much better lit:
I can’t remember what that quote there, on the right, actually signifies. Something bad about state education.
So now here’s the man himself:
Next up, on the left, the audience, who struck me as being really quite numerous, and not entirely by any means consisting only of old people whom I already knew. In fact, I hardly recognised anyone, which is good.
And on the right, Mark
Pennington Littlewood of the IEA squints into the light of the slide show machine, trying to make out who is trying to ask a question.
If you think these pictures are bit blurry, I can only say that I agree with you. One of the reasons I now want a new camera is that I want a new camera that will work better in bad light, for occasions like this.
Today I had a bizarre and rather troubling experience. I listened to a recording I had made of a single orchestral piece, performed at some point in a broadcast concert earlier this summer. My recording began, not with an announcement of what the piece was and who was playing it, but with the beginning of the performance itself. As it began, I was wondering what it was, what with the sound file being called 09081930.MP2 rather than anything more informative. That says when it was recorded (Aug 9 at 7.30pm), but not what it is.
I continued to listen to the piece. It was totally familiar, but what the hell was it? I knew I knew it, but I … did not know its name! Every note was familiar. I knew exactly what was coming next. I knew how it would end. I knew it, I knew it, I knew it. But, I did not know it.
Even more irritating was that, presumably because I obviously knew it, my recording of the piece ended with a snatch of truncated applause, rather than any further announcement of what it was and who had been playing it. What the hell was it?
After much further research of a silliness that I need not bother you with, I finally found my way to the programme of the event I had been recording. And all was revealed. Finlandia.
Finlandia, by Sibelius.
Finlandia!!!! This is one of the most famous pieces of classical music ever written, just about at the pinnacle of the classical pop chart. And what’s more, I don’t just know this piece, and I haven’t just known it for half a century, possessing an increasing number of recordings of it as the decades have passed. I fXXXing played in it when I was at Marlborough. I played the flute, and Finlandia has lots for the flutes to do, and I did it, week after week, and then finally at the end of term concert. Not long after that I got a recording of the piece (along with the Sibelius Violin Concerto - also wonderful) by Herbert Von Karajan, to hear how it should really sound, and listened to it over and over again with huge pleasure. Yet, until I had consulted that concert programme, I could not remember the name of the piece, or who had written it.
I’ve had experiences like this before, such as not recognising the Beethoven Violin Concerto when hearing Beethoven’s own version of it for piano and orchestra, or not recognising some famous pop tune, that I also knew I knew, when someone sang it. But this was truly bizarre.
This is not the end, but it now feels a lot like the beginning of the end.
Radio 3 is overdosing on Mozart just now. Every note he ever wrote is being broadcast this week, apparently.
I’ve just been listening to Donald MacLeod playing recordings of some of Mozart’s very earliest pieces, all very diverting and entertaining. Right at the end of the show MacLeod reminded us that Mozart was, although MacLeod did not use this phrase, entirely home schooled, as supervised by his famous dad, Leopold. Mozart never went to school at all. Too busy working, as a composer and performer.
One of Mozart’s childhood companions (and yes, home schooled children do tend to have companions) said that Mozart might, had he not been so closely watched and taught by adults in his early years, especially Leopold of course, and steered towards honest employment so early, have become … a criminal. Mozart was essentially amoral, the friend said, and constantly tempted by every passing novelty. (It was indeed like that all his life, which was one of extravagance and debt, as well as musical genius of course.)
Had Mozart not been taught, very early on, how to make money as a musician, said the childhood friend, he might simply have grabbed it wherever he could.
From the Preface of The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins:
A lawyer or a politician is paid to exercise his passion and his persuasion on behalf of a client or a cause in which he may not privately believe. I have never done this and I never shall. I may not always be right, but I care passionately about what is true and I never say anything that I do not believe to be right. I remember being shocked when visiting a university debating society to debate with creationists. At dinner after the debate, I was placed next to a young woman who had made a relatively powerful speech in favour of creationism. She clearly couldn’t be a creationist, so I asked her to tell me honestly why she had done it. She freely admitted that she was simply practising her debating skills, and found it more challenging to advocate a position in which she did not believe. Apparently it is common practice in university debating societies for speakers simply to be told on which side they are to speak. Their own beliefs don’t come into it. I had come a long way to perform the disagreeable task of public speaking, because I believed in the truth of the motion that I had been asked to propose. When I discovered that members of the society were using the motion as a vehicle for playing arguing games, I resolved to decline future invitations from debating societies that encourage insincere advocacy on issues where scientific truth is at stake.
I uphold the right of people to indulge in such debating games, but share Dawkins’s extreme distaste for having any part in them myself. I also think that Dawkins makes his point very well, as is usual with him.
The thing that pissed me off about university debating societies like this one was not so much the insincerity, as the fact that they seemed to use the argument as a mere excuse to do bad stand-up comedy. They weren’t seriously pretending to take the other side. They frivolously refused to take any side at all, and didn’t give a damn that they made this entirely obvious. Poor, pathetic you for taking the subject so absurdly seriously, for caring about it all, for getting so involved.
The thing some people don’t seem to get about Dawkins is how much emotion is involved in his fiercely logical harangues. They assume that because he is trying so hard to be logical, which he is, that therefore no deep feeling can be involved. But there is no necessary conflict between logic and depth of feeling, any more than there is a necessary conflict between a car engine and petrol.
Just now I am on the look out for little (or big) things from books, so that I can practice scanning stuff in, to my new computer, with my new scanner. Right now it is still a bit of a struggle, so expect more bits from more books.
A comment by James Waterton on this, deserves to be a blog posting in its own right:
A former colleague of mine was one of those exceedingly cerebral Russian science/maths boffins. He would teach maths in English for four months of the year to rich Chinese high school grads destined to study in the West. Then for the remaining 8 months of the year, he’d burn through the money he earned working on whatever mad scientist projects he could dream up. An extremely intelligent but also mild-mannered and courteous gentleman.
I had a number of chats with this man, and once sounded him out regarding his political views. He told me that his ideal political system was one where the more educated and intelligent you could prove yourself to be, the more votes you would receive in an election. Furthermore, access to public office would be made easier based on the same criteria. I remember finding this amusing. It seems obvious to me that out of all the countries that have been ill-served by extremely intelligent people (and there are many), Russia would have to have suffered the most under the yoke of the super smart who thought they were so intelligent that they had the right to tell those who they saw as less intelligent how to live.
The irony that this borderline genius still wasn’t smart enough to heed the abundantly clear lesson from his country’s past, and would, in his ‘perfect world’, introduce something similar, was not lost on me. Clearly people like this should be kept as far away from the levers of power as possible.
And now it is.
I have just watched this amazing video, and frankly, it looked to me like a rather over-the-top (but very funny) attack on the green movement, done by people who really, really hate it, far more even than I do. Seriously. The fact that the teacher was such a genuinely nice lefty, and she was being very sweet about everything, right up to the bit where she murdered the dissenters, just made it all the funnier.
Greenies. Don’t be fooled by the niceness. They’re psycho-murderers, or they would be if they could be. Good grief. If I was making an attack on the greenies, I wouldn’t have dared to go this far. This was genius.
I thought it was a nice twist that David Ginola got squelched, rather than just one of those Joe Soap footballers. That was also very funny.
Talk about an own goal. These people are making propaganda against themselves.
And they expect everyone to accept their screeching opinions about the environment, after a giant cock-up like this.
It is the amazing stupidity that I am, well, amazed by.
I very rarely get such good value for my tax contributions. As PJ O’Rourke famously said, about something else that was also over-the-top splendid (a warship I think): ”This is how to waste public money!”
This made my weekend.
I am still absolutely dazed with amazement at the total, one hundred and eighty degree oppositeness of the message this video sends out to the message they were trying to send out.
All the anti-greenies seem to be angry. I’m not angry. I guffawed. But all the other greenies must now be spitting blood and biting the wallpaper.
Natalie Solent responded to my comment by taking the analysis a bit further:
… And the actress who plays Scully gets murdered because her submission to the cause, though present, is not deep enough. It’s almost as if the film is saying, “these Greens - don’t trust them, even if you are one of them!”
Spot on. Spot on.
Speculation on the unconscious motives of the makers could fill a landfill. Many have said that it shows what Greens fantasize about doing to non-Greens. Could it instead - or also - reveal the unconscious hatred and understanding of Greens for their own movement?
Actually, I think it was just inside-their-little-bubble groupthink that lead them into this car crash of a video. They literally did not see what they were saying, until it was too late.
I assume that what they thought they were doing was dramatising how really really serious the environment thing is. They sense that they’re losing this argument, so they decided to shout. But what they ended up shouting was: “We’re a bunch of vile greenie-nazis!”
LATER: And it begins.
Incoming, in a way that is ideal for one of my feline Friday postings, which I don’t want only to be cuddly little kitty-witties (not that there’s anything wrong with that):
I saw this and thought of you ...
Eric Raymond has been cat blogging.
The best stuff on this blog is often in the comments:
“I’ve wondered if this were the case ever since I saw footage of Dr. Irene Pepperberg’s work with the African grey parrot Alex. She was apparently able to challenge the bird into a whole new realm of cognitive capability, and I wondered if we, by placing them into a cognitively challenging environment and exposing them to unusually complex stimuli (speech, ambient noise such as television, regular tool use in their presence) might do the same for our cats and dogs to a lesser extent?
The possibility is tantalizing. I know our cats had varying success in attempting to manipulate doors, seemingly in mimicry of human behavior. There was no “training” involved, no explicit reinforcement. They’ve also developed relatively sophisticated desires regarding yogurt (a favorite treat), and strategies for achieving them.
Then of course, there is the fact that cats simply don’t talk to us the way they do other cats. In the wild adult cat-to-cat communication is mainly about stance and body posture, and of course smell. Cats meow because they learn that’s what we respond to. And given that an adult cat’s meow is in the same frequency range as a baby’s cry … is this a case of us operant-conditioning them or them operant-conditioning us?”
Rob, this is the second time in as many days that you have recycled a comment for the benefit of this blog, once in the above email, and then another (which I also highly recommend) quoted within a comment of yours, on the previous posting about Devil’s Kitchen. I strongly agree that comments are a great source of further postings. That often happens at Samizdata too. Many a posting there began as a comment on a previous posting.
Here’s another classic comment from the same Raymond cat posting:
A few years ago there was a story of a mentally deficient man on death row in Texas. Every year they would give him an IQ test to see if he was intelligent enough to execute and for a few years he failed. One year he finally passed. Researchers believe that his IQ increase was due to the time that he spent interacting with his lawyers and participating in his own defence as they were trying to get him off of death row.
Proof positive that passing exams doesn’t always enhance your life chances. Proof also that IQ is not always all it’s cracked up to be. A truly intelligent man would have made sure he kept failing this particular exam.
A week ago today, I journeyed to White Van Land (aka South East London), to record an interview with Toby Baxendale - businessman, Austrian economics devotee, social activist, boss of Direct Seafoods, and founder of the Cobden Centre, among other things. We - mostly he - spoke for just on fifty minutes, which is a longish time for a thing like this, but worth anyone’s time (I hope those who give it a go will agree), because he is an impressive individual. You don’t get from seventy grand in debt at the age of twenty one to running a company that turns over a hundred million quid a year before you are even properly middle aged without having something about you.
Listen to it by clicking here.
The thing I find particularly intriguing about Toby is how his thinking in the academic sense and his business and social thinking are so deeply intertwined, which is sadly not true of far too many businessmen. His early acquaintance with the economic facts of life, due to his parents divorcing early and him being raised by his single mother, meant that he came to the study of economics with a well developed sense of how the economy worked and how wealth gets created, and regular economics didn’t add up. Too abstract. Simply: not right. He paid for much of this education by himself working, first by part-owning and running a night club, then by buying food for a restaurant that he part-owned, the latter activity being the basis of his later business success. An early burst of anti-left politics in his teens got him in touch with the legal and social thinking of Friedrich Hayek, and he made a note to chase up Austrian School economics later, once he had got his business life motoring. Which it did, not least because of his willingness to use the dispersed-knowledge dispersed-profit model of business organisation and business cooperation, rather than just putting all his underlings on a fixed salary and telling them what to do. He didn’t want the do-as-you’re-told life for himself, and figured they wouldn’t either. Plus, profit-sharing is more profitable.
His ideological advocacy and social activism now takes several forms. He is a magistrate. He is active in a microfinance organisation, for the kind of people for whom any kind of finance is liable to be something of a battle. He talked eloquently about the example set by such persons as the Quakers - before going to the London School of Economics, he attended a Quaker school for a few years - and by the Manchester liberals, such as Cobden. And, with his Cobden Centre hat on, he compares the privilege-breaking Repeal of the Corn Laws that the Manchester liberals accomplished with a similar job that needs to be done with the world’s current politically privileged banking system. What these persons now do, he is at pains to admit, is all perfectly legal. But, like the Corn Laws, it ought not to be.
So, recommended. And even if nearly an hour listening to one and half people just talking does not appeal, at least remember the name: Toby Baxendale. He will surely be making waves in the next few years.
The older I get, the more convinced I become that a lot of getting on and getting ahead in the world is a matter of sheer physical energy, of getting things done, first time, fast, lots of them every day. I, on the other hand, was not at my physical best when recording this conversation and got quite a lot more ill soon after it, hence the delay in sticking it up here. Luckily nothing of importance is lost because of this delay, but still, my apologies to Toby for any irritation this delay may have caused. Toby Baxendale, I sense, doesn’t do ill. Did I mention that he is an Ironman Triathlete? No I did not and nor did he. I only found out about this afterwards.
My thanks to Antoine Clarke for suggesting this recorded conversation, and to Tim Evans for putting Toby Baxendale and me in touch.
“Reading Cricinfo commentary secretively on my phone in detention,” says Joey, who doesn’t reveal which school he is at. Excellent work by that man. Detentions were never fun, were they?
They are now, provided you’re well kitted up.
West Indies following on and sliding fast at 75-4 – Swann has just done Chanderpaul for the second time in the match. Whoops . . . 79-5. Embarrassing. 4W4W. That is not how you bat when you are serious about trying to save a game. Swann and Onions are doing the damage, just as in the first innings.
Swann and Onions. Sounds like something Henry VIII might have feasted upon.
Yesterday I was mildly rebuking Garry Kasparov for being a bit obvious about things like tactics without strategy not being a good thing.
On the other hand . . .
When I was a student at Harvard Business School, between 2004 and 2006, I recall a distinguished professor of organisational behaviour, Joel Podolny, telling us proudly of his work with Fred Goodwin at RBS. At the time, RBS looked like a corporate supermodel and Podolny was keen to trumpet his role in its transformation. A Harvard Business School case study of the firm entitled The Royal Bank of Scotland: Masters of Integration, written in 2003, began with a quote from the man we now know as Fred the Shred or the World’s Worst Banker: “Hard work, focus, discipline and concentrating on what our customers need. It’s quite a simple formula really, but we’ve just been very, very consistent with it.”
The authors of the case, two Harvard Business School professors, described the “new architecture” formed by RBS after its acquisition of NatWest, the clusters of customer-facing units, the successful “buy-in” by employees. Goodwin came across as a management master, saying: “A leader’s job is to create the conditions that enable people to believe, in their hearts and minds, in the value of what they are doing.”
Then just last December, Harvard Business School revised and republished another homage to RBS - The Royal Bank of Scotland Group: The Human Capital Strategy.
It is tragic to read now of all the effort put in by those under Goodwin, from “pulse surveys” to track employee performance to “the big thank you”, a website where managers could recognise individual excellence in customer service.
Every trendy business school idea was being implemented, it seemed, while what really mattered - the bank’s risk assessment, cash flow and capital structure - was going to hell. To be fair, neither Podolny nor the authors of the case studies were finance professors, but it’s still pretty shocking that a school that purports to teach general management should fail to see the gaping problems at a firm they studied in such depth.
The guts of this piece is that an MBA, from pretty much anywhere, is a highly trained business tactician, with at best a random grasp of strategy, but just as likely a grasp of strategy fatally loosened by concentrating too much on tactics. All spelling and grammar, you might say, but nothing to say, or worse something deeply stupid to say, on account of not having thought it through.
However, a commenter says this, which strikes me as shrewd:
I think the author is missing the point - in spite of all this I still want a Harvard MBA because it opens doors. It’s a sure path to success, allowing those upon who it has been bestowed the opportunity to run companies, governments, economies (and to publish books) and to do it well OR poorly.
That “who” should be “whom”, but the point is a very good one. The MBA, in other words, is an exercise in upward social mobility. You have to have one to be in the new Ruling Class, but it is no guarantee of wisdom. This reminds me rather of Sandhurst. You have to go there before they let you command a British army, and they teach you the nuts and bolts of how to do that. But you still might completely cock it up. The Sandhurst comparison illuminates that merely switching our future rulers back to Latin and Greek, etc., will not guarantee better results.
Michael Jennings has been telling me that, like a Harvard MBA, Dubai (which is where the above commenter, “Sama”, comments from) is, from the point of view of city building, also all tactics and no strategy. They’ve been building fantastic skyscrapers there like there’s no tomorrow, and there won’t be much of a tomorrow for most of them.