Politics, culture, business, and technology

I also blog at ChicagoBoyz.


Selected Posts:
Sleeping with the Enemy
Dancing for the Boa Constrictor
Koestler on Nuance
A Look into the Abyss
Hospital Automation
Made in America
Politicians Behaving Badly
Critics and Doers
Foundations of Bigotry?
Bonhoeffer and Iraq
Misvaluing Manufacturing
Journalism's Nuremberg?
No Steak for You!
An Academic Bubble?
Repent Now
Enemies of Civilization
Molly & the Media
Misquantifying Terrorism
Education or Indoctrination?
Dark Satanic Mills
Political Violence Superheated 'steem
PC and Pearl Harbor
Veterans' Day Musings
Arming Airline Pilots
Pups for Peace
Baghdad on the Rhine

Book Reviews:
Forging a Rebel
The Logic of Failure
The Innovator's Solution
They Made America
On the Rails: A Woman's Journey

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Monday, December 09, 2002  

I first saw this on a blog, and thought it must be a misquote...no former U.S. President could say such a thing. So I tracked down the source (CNN), and it seems that Jimmy Carter really did say it. In a speech given prior to his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize, he spoke of "the inability of Israel to live in peace with its neighbors."

Specifically, he said: "One of the key factors that arouses intense feelings of animosity in the world is the festering problem in the Holy Land, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and the inability of Israel to live in peace with its neighbours. I think this is the single most disturbing element in animosities and misunderstandings and hatred and even violence in the world." (emphasis added.)

Read the whole article here.

11:05 AM

Saturday, December 07, 2002  
DECEMBER 7, 2002

Today is Pearl Harbor Day, and there is remarkably little coverage in the major newsapers. As I've said before, this country is in serious danger of losing its sense of its own history.

Read an article about one man's experiences here.

Update: Pearl Harbor comments and pictures at The Angry Clam.

8:02 AM


In today's New York Times, Gao Zhan writes about his experiences in the Chinese educational system. Excerpts: "..the Chinese education system, tightly controlled by the government, is by no means a success. It is, above all, hopelessly politicized, a vehicle of propaganda." He continues: "Perhaps the biggest problem is that the system discourages intellectual inquiry, especially in the humanities...(a friend told him that) in one political studies class, her son questioned the teacher's claim that "capitalism is bying out." The student gathered his courage, raised his hand and said, "It doesn't seem to me that capitalism is dying out." To this the teacher responded, "Capitalism will die out." The student again raised his hand and said, "That doesn't seem to me the case, either." The embarrassed teacher burst into a rage and accused him of trying to wreck the class."

Note how similar this is to the University of Michigan incident, discussed below. There is the same pattern of rage at anyone who dares to express an opinion departing from the official line; the same explicit or tacit threats of retaliation. In recent years, hundreds of similar occurrences have been reported in American schools and universities.

In China, "Kids who raise questions and demand satisfying answers are usually branded as problems," Gao continues, and also discusses the consequences. "By squashing questions and stigmatizing curiousity, Chinese schools suffocate independent thinkers."

Independent thought, of course, has been a major factor in American success, in economics and in other spheres of life. What impact must the increasingly crushing emphasis on intellectual conformity--from kindergarten through graduate school--be having on the future of independent thought in our own society?

7:50 AM

Friday, December 06, 2002  

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates has admitted responsibility for stealing and trashing about 1,000 copies of The Daily Californian, a student newspaper. The newspaper carried an endorsement of his opponent. Several students said they saw him take the newspaper, and the UC police have now recommended to the District Attorney that he be charged with petty theft. Shockingly but unsurprisingly, some City Council members believe he should continue in office.

I recently wrote about the rise of political violence and intimidation in America. "Although not limited to the college campuses, the current wave of violence and intimidation has largely originated there. University presidents have often allowed leftist and "progressive" groups to take clearly illegal actions, such as stealing and destroying opposition newspapers, and to get away with it...indeed, they have sometimes acted as if their campuses were extraterritorial jurisdictions, in which the laws of the United States did not apply." If this kind of thuggish behavior continues to be tolerated, the consequences will be far worse than stolen newspapers.

9:07 AM


Gretta Duisenberg, wife of European Central Bank President Wim Duisenberg, has been awarded the 2002 Prize for Human Rights by the Flemish League for Human Rights. She is known for her anti-Israel statements, and has been quoted as saying that "the rich Jewish lobby in America" is perpetuating Israel's "injustice" against the Palestinians. It is also reported that when Ms Duisenberg was asked how many signatures she hoped to collect for a petition, she said: "Oh, perhaps six million" and started laughing loudly. This would seem to be a clear reference to the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust.

The Flemish group giving the award commends Ms Duisenberg for committment to "the principle of an antiracial and therefore multicultural society."

Could American liberals please just shut up with their claims about the superior moral standing of European as compared with American society?

8:45 AM

Thursday, December 05, 2002  
Musings on Higher Education

From the world of higher education come two items. The first is sad, the second is horrifying.

In this past week's colloquy on Chronicle of Higher Education, an anonymous adjunct professor submits a comment which is painful to read. Excerpts: "The reason I am an adjunct is that giving my life fully over to this industry of higher education would destroy my spirits; I am not interested in a tenure-track position. I am too aware of the deception--institutions claiming to be about learning are in fact about anything but....A non-university colleague told me last year that he thinks that teaching is part of my spirit, and he was right. Now, working in universities even as an adjunct is threatening to kill that spirit. I get a lot of energy from working with students, but the contradictions are damaging me now too deeply to ignore. I am not going to be able to teach in universities much longer because of the damage it is doing to my spirit." (Emphasis added.)

That's the sad one...now for the horrifying one. At noindoctrination.org, a female student writes about a recent experience. She wanted to become a Residence Hall Assistant, and those who want this job are required to take Psychology 405, "Social Psychology in Community Settings." In the class, students were required to go around and talk about "at least one way in which we have been/are oppressed. When my turn came up, and I answered that I have never been oppressed, the instructor corrected me, saying I must have been, as I'm female. I persisted, saying that being female has never been anything short of a blessing for me. The instructor was relentless..." He asked to speak to her after class. "He was visibly shaken and angry," she reports. "He told me that my classroom behavior was disruptive..and that I would be kicked out of class and would thereby lose my job and my housing for the next year unless I learned to be more cooperative." If this report is true (and no rebuttal has appeared, as of this posting date, on noindoctrination.org), then this student is being threatened with damage to her academic career, and termination of her employment, based soley on her personal opinions and her expression of them.

Writing in Yale Daily News about another matter, a student has expressed concern that "the age of the professor-thug" may be upon us. At the University of Michigan, it certainly sounds like it may already be here.

The above are only two data points, of course, but they are far from unique. Something is seriously wrong with America's universities. Many of these institutions seem to function increasingly for two reasons: to hand out credentials (which are valued for the circular reason that...they are valued), and to indoctrinate students in a particular set of social and political opinions. Independent thought and love of learning are being devalued; in their place, students develop both a sense of grievance and a sense of entitlement. What sane society would establish and support institutions whose primary mission was to produce such feelings? Meanwhile, among the faculty, there seems to be an increasing class distinction between the tenured professors and the untenured (and, apparently, increasingly resentful) who do much of the actual teaching.

William Blake wrote of the "Dark Satanic Mills" of the early industrial revolution. It seems that increasingly, our universities are becoming "Dark Satanic Mills" of the mind, damaging to the spirits of both those who operate them and to those who are "processed" in them...but also without many of the redeeming values that were possessed by the original mills to which Blake referred.

2:36 PM

Tuesday, December 03, 2002  

Blogger Rachel Lucas has embarked on a new project--she's going to be collecting stories from veterans and civilians from the WWII era. She's been motivated in part by the stories of her grandfather, who was killed in the war--and in part by her negative reaction to a professor who said that the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima and Nakasaki was the moral equivalent of the Holocaust.

I've written before about the sorry state of history education in America's schools (also see here)...if we count on the education system as presently structured and managed, then America's historical knowledge will reach disastrous levels of ignorance. It's great that people like Rachel are willing to step in and help fill the gap. To once again (approximately) quote C. S. Lewis: If you want to destroy an infantry unit, you cut it off from its adjoining units—and if you want to destroy a generation, you cut it off from knowledge about previous generations. Much of our educational establishment has been acting as if this was indeed their objective. Thanks to highly-motivated people like Rachel, they hopefully will not accomplish it.

4:00 PM

Sunday, December 01, 2002  

A law firm practice manager in the UK writes as follows: "The apparent self-esteem and expectations of some candidates render them unemployable." She is speaking particularly of recent college graduates. (Link is from Brian's Education Blog; letter appears in The Daily Telegraph.)

3:51 PM

Saturday, November 30, 2002  

If the subject is terrorism--Israeli kids being blown to pieces on their way to school, Americans being killed because they went to work--then the "progressives" lecture us on the importance of seeing shades of gray, avoiding black-and-white thinking and most especially avoiding anger.

If the subject is energy--a topic that inherently involves complex matters of technology and economics--then many of these same "progressives" insist on seeing things in black-and-white terms, accusing their opponents of conscious evil, and refusing to admit that replacing the energy infrastructure of a nation may be a non-trivial and non-instantaneous affair.

Can anyone explain this interesting disconnect?

9:11 PM

Thursday, November 28, 2002  

In an article of extraordinary obtuseness, NYT writer Lisa Gurnsey takes on the blogosphere from a gender (what else?) perspective. After deciding to start a weblog, and looking around for other blogs, she asked "Where were the women?" She suggests that the answer may lie in "knotty issues like the power of celebrity, the male tilt of the sexual sereotypes (women keeping diaries, men droning on about politics) and the preciousness of time..." After discovering that there are indeed many female bloggers, she raises her consciousness one-half level. Now, she says that female bloggers exist but have been relatively invisible because mainstream media has focused on the "predominantly male group of bloggers who write about terrorism and Iraq.." Women, she says, want to talk about their personal lives, men are focused on issues.

Well, let's see. We have Kimberly and Joanne, and their excellent weblogs focused on education; also the female owner of Tightly Wound. We have Megan, who is interested primarily (though not exclusively) in economics. There's Rachel, who writes often about terrorism, Iraq, and even history, as well as about her own experiences as a student. Michelle and Meryl write passionately about terrorism and about Israel: yes, they do talk about personal matters as well. Susanna covers media and terrorism. And let's not forget Professor Erin O'Connor, with her wonderful blogs focused on education and cultural issues. I could go on and on. Probably 60% of the blogs I read are female-written, and I'm reading them because of issue-oriented content.

Gurnsey does seem to eventually catch a glimpse of what is really happening, quoting a blogger who says "we're meeting in the middle," with men putting more of their hearts into their weblogs and women talking more about the issues. But overall, the thrust of her article is both stereotype-driven and gender-centric. "..whenever I find a woman's blog, I would find links to another handful, which led to another dozen, and so on." Who follows blog links this way? I click on things that look like they might be interesting; I don't worry about the gender of who wrote them. I think the same is true of most people

And what's this about the keeping of diaries being a female thing? Hasn't she ever heard of Samuel Pepys?

"Knotty and complex"...everything is knotty and complex if you go out of your way to make it so.

9:19 AM

Tuesday, November 26, 2002  

ITEM ONE: Open anti-Semitism is apparently becoming common in Holland. Teachers are afraid to give lessons on the Holocaust and the hatred of Jews, because half the class will walk out, according to Jan van Kooten (head of education at the Anne Frank foundation.) "Another example: pupils from Monnickendam were (not) allowed by their parents to visit the Jewish Historical Museum, because they did not want their children to learn about Jewish culture, 'because Jews are bad.'" (From the Dutch daily Parool via Dilacerator and Instapundit.)

This is not just traditional European anti-Semitism. It is hard to imagine such things occurring in Holland, or indeed anywhere in Europe, during, say, the early 1960s. Rather, this is a new anti-Semitism instigated by the intemperate denunciations of Israel and of "Zionism," originating with the educated elites and largely within the academy. This new anti-Semitism is fanning the embers of what remains of the traditional prejudice, as well as setting new fires throughout the political landscape. The U.S. is not immune: hysterical denunciations of Israel and of "Zionism" have become common on American campuses...although they have not spread throughout the population to the degree that they apparently have in Holland.

ITEM TWO: Erin O'Connor quotes at length a communication she received from a student. A few excerpts: "..I'm not learning anything about history and philsophy..Sure I go to the appropriately-titled classes: History, Philosophy...I'm a straight-A student. Honor roll material...But in spite of all this, I'm not learning. I haven't actually been assigned Plato's Republic. Or Herodotus. Or the Gulag Archipelago. On, no. But I can tell you this: Islam is more inclusive than Christianity, and a lot easier on women to boot. I know it sounds crazy. But my Religion teacher says so, and he has some really snazzy theories to back that assertion up."

There's much more. "The bottom line is that no matter what class I take, the lesson is nearly always the same: all of my asumptions are untrue and doubly so because I'm infected with the sickness of lousy social conditioning...Instead of being given an actual body of useful knowledge, reinforced by a demanding curriculum of scholarly training and research, all I'm being offered is an attitude, a stance, a sociopolitical posture...We strip-mine the texts for every pertinent word or symbol or turn of phrase, we plug it into the Academic Theory of the Week Machine, and voila! We have our minds blown. Then, we regurgitate the conclusion on the test, all the while making pretend that these were our ideas all along, and that we are engaging in some kind of critical thinking exercise...This is a travesty. There is not another student in that entire class with the inclination or the information to challenge the lecture content and see it for what it is. The other students I talk to know there's something missing, something simply wrong, but they can't quite put their fingers on it..." Read the whole thing.

I couple these two items together because I believe that there is a strong relationship between them. As the student so cogently observed, much of humanities education has degenerated into cant, jargon, and proof by assertion rather than by logic. For those who are subjected to this process during their formative years, it becomes difficult to reason clearly. At least in the U.S., it is not farmers and factory workers who are falling prey to the madness of today's "progressives"--including the new anti-Semitism--it is college graduates, and often those with graduate degrees. In Europe, with the greater dominance of elites, the situation is more acute, with results such as those now being seen in Holland.

In one of Erich Maria Remarque's books, a character says (and I am quoting from memory): "It was their education. It had made them stupid."

8:11 AM

Monday, November 25, 2002  

"The essays that the graduating BAs would submit with their applications were often brilliant. After five or six years of PhD work, the same people would write incomprehensible crap. Where did they learn it? They learned it from us." This is how Frederick Crews, Emeritus professor of English at Berkeley, describes the state of graduate programs in his field.

In other educational news, a recent survey by the National Geographic Society showed an alarming level of geographical ignorance in Americans of ages 18-24. Only 30% of those surveyed could find New Jersey on a map, and only 13% and 17% could find Iraq and Afghanistan, respectively. Indeed, 29% could not find the Pacific Ocean on a map! Some indication of the reason for these results appears at Joanne Jacobs' site. According to a caller to a talk show, "Whether or not someone can find a country on a map or not has nothing to do with whether or not he is good in geography." The caller identified himself as a geography teacher.

8:09 AM

Thursday, November 21, 2002  
The Rise of Political Violence and Intimidation in America

"This may have been advertised as an anti-war rally,” said Suzanne Davidson, “but I could hear in the distance, as I looked at the hate-filled faces, military boots marching on broken glass."

Davidson is a leader of a small group in LA that had been meeting regularly to show public support of Israel. Prior to the group’s usual rally on October 6, she learned that an “anti-war” group was planning a major demonstration in the same area. Should she cancel the pro-Israel demonstration? No, she decided…after all, what could be feared from a “peace” rally?

But from the very beginning, Davidson says, members of the “anti-war” demonstration behaved in a hostile and intimidating manner toward the smaller pro-Israel group, beginning with curses and a demand to "F___ off." This escalated to the cry "You are Zionist Nazi pigs." 1500 "anti-war" demonstrators marched past the 25 members of the pro-Israel group, some of them shouting "shame on you," along with assorted name-calling. "I shudder to think what would have happened had the police not been there," wrote Davidson.

As shameful as this event was, similar behavior--and much worse--has become increasingly common. At Concordia College (Toronto), Benhamin Netanyahu was prevented from speaking by a riot of Palestinian students and their supporters. Thomas Hecht, a Holocaust survivor, was pushed against a wall, spat on, and reportedly kicked in the groin. A woman said that during the same incident, attackers "aimed their punches at my breasts." Two weeks later, at the same college, a Jewish student was beaten bloody by an Arab student.

At Berkeley, someone thre a cinder block through the glass door at the Hillel (Jewish) center, and wrote "F___ Jews" on the wall. At San Francisco State University, a rally of Jewish students and other was disrupted by pro-Palestinian students screaming "Go back to Russia," and "We will kill you." Some students were reportedly shoved against the wall, and the Jewish group had to be escorted out by police. Laurie Zoloth, a campus Jewish leader, summed up the campus situation in these words: "This is the Weimar republic with Brownshirts it cannot control."

Just a few days ago, blogger Stefan Sharkansky attended Ehud Barak’s speech at UC Berkeley. He brought a camera with him. Demonstrators were there, some of whom attempted to disrupt Barak’s speech. One of them seized Sharkansky’s camera and destroyed it. (Happily, the assailant was arrested.)

But the increase in political violence is not limited to the campuses, and is not limited to issues involving Jews. In Colorado, a car belonging to Rita Moreno (a leader of the initiative to scrap bilingual education) was torched. There is no proof that the fire-bombing was political…but Moreno says that there have been other forms of harassment against supporters of this initiative, including dumping of garbage in their yards and 3 AM phone calls.

Suzanne Davidson's words about "hate-filled faces" and "military boots marching on broken glass" are very apt, as are Laurie Zoloth's words about Brownshirts and the Weimar Republic. Most Americans think of Naziism in its final state, in control of the machinery of the German government along with its police and military forces. But Naziism did not start this way. It started as a group of street rowdies, committing illegal violence to intimidate political opponents. Without such intimidation, it is unlikely that the Nazis would ever have been able to obtain control of the German government.

The rise of political violence is a serious threat to American democracy. Although not limited to the college campuses, the current wave of violence and intimidation has largely originated there. University presidents have often allowed leftist and "progressive" groups to take clearly illegal actions, such as stealing and destroying opposition newspapers, and to get away with it...indeed, they have sometimes acted as if their campuses were extraterritorial jurisdictions, in which the laws of the United States did not apply. And for years, campus "postmodern" philosphers have been arguing that speech is merely another form of action, and that free speech needs to be restricted in the service of "higher" goals. Once this philosophical position is accepted, then the use of actual violence to suppress differing viewpoints is arguably not very far away.

8:44 AM

Wednesday, November 20, 2002  

Idiotarianism is evidently not a new invention; it has been around for a long time. In the 1930s, the British statesman Lord Lothian expresssed the opinion that Germany could not be expected to accept armament limitations without first being permitted to re-arm. His thought process is summarized in the book The Appeasers: ""If Germany were allowed to rearm, this would give her an "equality" that would enable her to sit without any sense of weakness or inferiority at the Disarmament Conference." (Book is by Martin Gilbert and Richard Gott.) Clearly Lord Lothian, were he around today, would be eligible for a stellar career in education, as well as in politics. (It should be noted in fairness that such opinions were not his alone, but were fairly common among the upper classes and the leading newspaperes.)

For more on 1930s appeasement and its relationship to today's issues, read Baghdad on the Rhine on this weblog.

9:04 AM

Tuesday, November 19, 2002  

I know you've got 'em...send 'em in. PhotonCourier is looking for the silliest, most ridiculous self-esteem programs in existence. Everyone is eligible...education, social work, government, corporations, even the military (isn't the "Obstacle Course" now the "Confidence Course?") All countries are eligible, too. Read Superheated 'Steem and Superheated 'Steem II, and see if you can top these. Extra points if the program is not just useless, but positively harmful.

Send your entries to photoncourier@yahoo.com.

9:31 AM

Monday, November 18, 2002  
Is The U.S. Falling Behind?

Yes, I'm afraid it's true. In the quest for the most ridiculous self-esteem program, the U.S. is falling behind our British cousins. A British "education specialist" offers a set of techniques to diagnose whether children as young as three years are suffering from a self-esteem shortage. Some of the questions to be asked are: "Does this child have a group they go around with? Does this child like to look nice? or does this child take care to select the latest trends?" When low self-esteem is diagnosed, techniques for raising it are suggested..for example, have the other children chant "You are Polly and you are pretty." Joanne Jacobs, who evidently has actual experience with real children, has suggested how this might work out in real life. (Lots of possibilities: "You are Polly and you are piggy," "You are Polly and you are pathetic" are two that come to mind in addition to the one Joanne suggests.)

I think this program clearly puts Britain in the lead in the Superheated 'Steem Sweepstakes...for now. But I'm confident that American educators, social workers, and psychologists are busily working on something that will help us regain our lead. Send in your suggestions.

8:37 AM

Sunday, November 17, 2002  

A few days ago, I reported that historical ignorance is so bad that 15% of American high school students thought that Germany and the U.S. were allies during WWII. Dean Esmay has done some sleuthing, and has found that the situation is even worse than I thought...much worse. Bruce Hunter, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, reports that fifty-two percent of high school seniors thought that at least one of the Axis powers--Germany, Japan, Italy--was a U.S. ally during that war. (Check out Dean's web site here.)

Statistics like this indicate that the educational establishment has been guilty of gross negligence on a colossal scale. And if you look at any other academic field (in addition to history), I feel confident that the results would be equally grim.

8:43 AM

Friday, November 15, 2002  

NBC News just reported that the deadline for screening of all checked baggage will not be met, probably for another *year*. The reason given was that "not enough scanners are available," or words to that effect.

This matter seems to always be discussed as if scanners were redwood trees, which grow at a fixed rate and cannot be hurried. As I wrote earlier, there seems to be no coordinated program to bring the full weight of America's industrial base to bear on this problem. During WWII, automobile plants were rapidly converted to tank plants and aircraft plants. People who had never been in a factory in their lives were put to work making high-precision bombsights. Why can't we do the same with scanner production?

President Bush should appoint a coordinator of industrial mobilization. He should personally call a retired executive of the stature of Jack Welch and ask him to take the job. This executive, in turn, should call the CEO's of the companies with relevant expertise and get them going flat-out on this issue--and the many others which are certain to arise.

4:22 PM

Tuesday, November 12, 2002  

December 7 is Pearl Harbor day and in San Pedro, California, a commemorative showing of the film "Tora, Tora, Tora" was planned. Pearl Harbor survivors were invited, ushers were to wear WWII uniforms, and a recently-restored searchlight was to be placed outside the theater. The group organizing the event intended to hold it at the historic Warner Grand, which is operated by the city.

But the event won't be happening, at least in that venue. “I wanted to be very sensitive to the Japanese-American community,” said LA city councilwoman Janice Hahn. “Dec. 7 is a tough day, especially for the second and third generations of Japanese-Americans. Why do we want to do something that makes it more difficult?” (As quoted in the local newspaper Daily Breeze.) The individual who manages the theater says there was another event booked for that data; however, volunteers who were organizing the film say that the date was shown as "open" on the web site used for scheduling. The city agency says that the facility was originally going to show the movie "Boy's Town" on that date, but that it will now be used for the mayor's community party.

Regardless of the scheduling situation, I don't think there's much justification for Janice Hahn's position. If it's sensitivity she's concerned about, then what about the "sensitivities" of Pearl Harbor survivors and other Pacific War vets? And why should any American of Japanese descent be offended by the showing of this film (which is by all accounts a remarkably "balanced" presentation of Pearl Harbor)? Should Americans of German descent be offended by D-day commemorations? A human being is more than his or her ethnic background. To suggest that a person will have a particular view on historical issues because of their ethnic background is offensive to my sensibilities.

(Thanks to Right Wing News for surfacing this story.)

3:30 PM


(Rant mode ON:) Idiotic behavior is not limited to politics and academia--it can also be found in the heart of corporate America. For a change of pace, here's a little story.

Earlier today, I tried to sign up for on-line access to one of my credit card accounts. Everything went swimmingly at first, but I knew it was too good to be true. There were about three pages of various questions...and then, a "sorry--server not available" message. Of course, everything I had entered was lost. I then clicked on the "contact us" address for the company, and got the following message: Sorry. Could not include the documentum page. Application Error.

I suspect that the company was running two processes, or maybe two physical servers, one to collect data and one to update the database. Process #1 was running happily along, asking questions and getting answers, without any clue that Process #2 was dead in the water. Now, maybe I'm wrong about this. Maybe there's just one combined process, and it just happened to roll over and play dead at the very moment I had answered the last question and clicked the button. But I doubt it. And if my theory is correct, then the "designer" of this system committed a major error in not shutting down the data collection process when the back-end process was dead. And he committed a much worse sin in ever allowing an error message like the one above to be exposed to an end user.

Credit cards are basically a commodity business. One of the few ways of differentiating oneself is by superior customer service--and that includes your customer-service web site. Executives should take these matters seriously, and use their web sites themselves..in many cases, they're going to be horrified. Technical managers should pay a lot more attention to useability considerations and failure modes, and so should university computer science departments.
(Rant mode OFF)

11:50 AM

Sunday, November 10, 2002  

On Veterans’ Day, we are meant to reflect on the accomplishments and sacrifices of those who have fought for our country. A significant number of Americans, however, will not be thinking, even for a moment, about those Americans who fought at Gettysberg, Normandy, Anzio, or the Philippines. Still less will they be thinking about the contributions of those who served in the forces of allied nations—the RAF fighter pilots who saved the world in its darkest hours, or the men and women of the French Resistance. They won’t be reflecting on these things because they don’t know anything about them.

The state of historical education in this country is a national disgrace, as indicated many times by survey research. One recent survey even showed that a significant number of high school students thought that Germany and the U.S. were allied in WWII. (15%, if I remember correctly). Anecdotal evidence confirms the same dismal picture. Dr. Thomas Reeves recently wrote of his experiences teaching at University of Wisconsin—Parkside. To quote Dr. Reeves: “One quickly learns that the young people signed up for 101 and 102 (the chronological break between the courses at Parkside is 1877) know virtually nothing about the history of their own nation. They have no grasp of colonial America...or the nation's constitutional machinery. Even after instruction, they often confuse World War I and World War II..” (emphasis added) (Quote is from Kimberly Swygert's site.)

To be fair UW-Parkside is not a selective school. But all of these students are presumably high school graduates. Aren’t the subjects mentioned all things that a tenth grader should have some familiarity with? And don't delude yourself that those who missed it in high school will pick it up in college. Those following a professional curriculum may take little or no history; those pursuing the humanities will likely study history only as imaged through the lens of postmodernism and other highly theoretical constructs.

These things matter. How can a person who confuses WWI and WWII, or who thinks the U.S. and Germany were allies in the latter, possibly follow a debate about the relevance of the Munich crisis to today’s Iraqi crisis? Extreme absence of historical knowledge makes effective citizenship impossible.

And there is a more subtle factor at work here, also. To understand the sacrifices and accomplishments of those who came before tends to give a person a bit of humility. The absence of such understanding encourages a certain kind of arrogance--”self-esteem” of the worst kind.

C. S. Lewis wrote that if you want to destroy an infantry unit, you cut it off from its adjoining units—and if you want to destroy a generation, you cut it off from knowledge about previous generations. Were this the objective of our educational establishment, they would be doing a pretty good job of it.

1:33 PM

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