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how organisations fail

“Imperial China is not alone here.The smothering of incentive and the cultivation of mendacity are a characteristic weakness of large bureaucracies, whether public or private [business corporations]. nominal colleagues, supposedly pulling together, are in fact adversarial players. They compete within the organisation, not in a free market of ideas but in a closed world of guile and maneuver. The advantage lies with those in higher places.”

From David Landes in The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, 0316908673, p.342

the web address for the article above is





bullying in schools and feedback

“ [...] Most kids are bullied at some point in their lives, but overweight children are more often the targets of bullies' slings and arrows. Now a new UF study reveals this frequently leads them to avoid situations where they have been picked on before, such as gym class and sports.”

“ [...] Aside from causing its victims to avoid events where they might be teased, bullying also is linked to depression and loneliness. Either way, bullying spells serious trouble for children's health, Storch said. Negative attitudes toward exercise can last a lifetime, making it more difficult for overweight children to lose weight and making it easier for them to become obese adults [...] ”

Thus bullying leads to further obesity both in children and adults. Obviously, further obesity leads to further bullying in badly run schools.

As the cut above notes, bullying also leads to ‘depression’. Depression is associated with lower status and then with higher rates of stress diseases like heart problems.

related material
stress, status, politics and the human condition
feedback and crowding

the web address for the article above is

“evolutionary illusion”

“An animal is said to be in an evolutionary illusion or trap when it does something it has evolved to do, but at the wrong time or in the wrong place. The concept may help explain why so many squirrels get squashed on city streets, says Brown. For millions of years, squirrels have evolved to cross open spaces as quickly as possible, without wasting time watching for predators that they would not be able to escape anyway. "Ordinarily, that was a very sensible thing to do," he says. "But as an urban squirrel crossing four lanes of traffic, that's a bad idea." ”

the web address for the article above is

modern society - anarchy, detachment and fame

“Five teenage boys fully intended to go on a shooting spree at their high school but were stopped after one of them discussed the plot on a website, law enforcement and school officials said.

“The boys, ranging in age from 16 to 18, were arrested Thursday, the anniversary of the Columbine massacre, just hours before they planned to shoot fellow students and school employees, authorities said.” [Quoted from]

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“NORTH POLE--Police arrested six seventh-graders Saturday on suspicion they hatched a detailed plot to take guns and knives into North Pole Middle School to kill students and staff last week.

“ The boys each face a charge of first-degree conspiracy to commit murder, a felony. Authorities did not release their names or ages.”

“[...] Fifteen students were subsequently suspended for suspected involvement or knowledge of the plot [...]” [Quoted from]

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related background item
“Why does Rachel go? 'I think she is desperate for attention. This is her way of dealing with years of being ignored and it's hard to undo. She loves the chase.' A couple of times Helena has tried a different, even more agonising tactic - not following her. 'But she's told me she wants to be found. "I'll wait until you get me," she tells me.' When she comes back she'll be drunk on vodka or stoned on temazepam. I wonder if Helena despairs. 'I know I'm fighting a battle I may never win. But when I took on Rachel, I took on the whole of Rachel,' she says. 'This is about making her realise that people do love her. That she isn't just a statistic.' ”

“ This lack of fear is one of the many shocking things about runaways. Some might be bluffing. Others seem to have so little regard for what happens to them they are past caring. It's as though someone has meddled with the safety catch.”

“ There's a sense that Danielle has crammed too many experiences into 14 years. She used to be one of the most prolific runaways in the area - she was reported missing more than 60 times last year - but she hasn't disappeared since before Christmas. It's possible the adrenaline rush has worn off. That she's listening to Emma. That she's finally sick of crossing fields in the middle of the night with only the pathetic glow of her mobile phone to guide her. 'I can't be bothered any more,' she says. 'I'd rather stay at home with a bed to sleep in.' ”[Quoted from]

the web address for the article above is

power- law and disastrous behaviour Three GoldenYak (tm) award

Gladwell is among the very best social commentary writers.

“Power-law solutions have little appeal to the right, because they involve special treatment for people who do not deserve special treatment; and they have little appeal to the left, because their emphasis on efficiency over fairness [i.e., 'equality'] suggests the cold number-crunching of Chicago-school cost-benefit analysis [...].”

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“ "I was in St. Louis recently," Mangano said, back in June, when he dropped by New York on his way to Boise, Idaho. "I spoke with people doing services there. They had a very difficult group of people they couldn't reach no matter what they offered. So I said, Take some of your money and rent some apartments and go out to those people, and literally go out there with the key and say to them, 'This is the key to an apartment. If you come with me right now I am going to give it to you, and you are going to have that apartment.' And so they did. And one by one those people were coming in. Our intent is to take homeless policy from the old idea of funding programs that serve homeless people endlessly and invest in results that actually end homelessness."

“Mangano is a history buff, a man who sometimes falls asleep listening to old Malcolm X speeches, and who peppers his remarks with references to the civil-rights movement and the Berlin Wall and, most of all, the fight against slavery. "I am an abolitionist," he says. "My office in Boston was opposite the monument to the 54th Regiment on the Boston Common, up the street from the Park Street Church, where William Lloyd Garrison called for immediate abolition, and around the corner from where Frederick Douglass gave that famous speech at the Tremont Temple. It is very much ingrained in me that you do not manage a social wrong. You should be ending it." ”

the web address for the article above is

on the arrogance of ignorance

It is essential to realise that socialists like Fisk have not the slightest interest in fact or truth. It is the cause that matters, and any action to forward the cause is justifiable in pursuit of the project.

Islamism has a very similar psychological profile, as has any fundamentalist sect.

Recently a correspondent, who acknowledged the fact that only a tiny number of (minor) US ‘generals’ had talked against Bush, commented in justification, “Yes, but it works,” on the effects of the generals’ actions and the ‘reporting’ thereof.

The attitude is that the end justifies the means. The intention is not objective reporting or discussion, it is the manipulation of opinion in order to undermine the solidarity and will to face down the jihadi supremacists among the Western public.

These socialists do not seek an honest or lawful society. They seek a dictatorship run by mindless fundamentalist dogmatists with ridiculous unworkable theories for a new utopia.

Their utopias invariably and inevitably result in ever-increasing piles of dead bodies and the impoverishment of societies.

But the arrogance and ignorance of people like this are quite impervious to reason or reality.

They just know with the certainties of ignorance what is best for the world and for others. They have no moderation and no humility because they have no depth of education and very little real world ability.

They are usually not bad chaps, just mentally stunted and limited - ‘idealists’ with ‘theories’, but without depth or realism.

I call it the arrogance of ignorance.

the web address for the article above is

one might say that a moderately introspective pigeon should know that, but it is useful to have systematic confirmation- culture and learning

“Our analyses of orangutans suggest that not only does culture--social learning of special skills--promote intelligence, it favors the evolution of greater and greater intelligence in a population over time [...] ”

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“We guessed that populations in which individuals had more chances to observe others in action would show a greater diversity of learned skills than would populations offering fewer learning opportunities. And indeed, we were able to confirm that sites in which individuals spend more time with others have greater repertoires of learned innovations--a relation, by the way, that also holds among chimpanzees. This link was strongest for food-related behavior, which makes sense because acquiring feeding skills from somebody else requires more close-range observation than, say, picking up a conspicuous communication signal. Put another way, those animals exposed to the fewest educated individuals have the smallest collection of cultural variants, exactly like the proverbial country bumpkin.”

“Acquisition of the most cognitively demanding inventions, such as the tool uses found only at Suaq, probably requires face time with proficient individuals, as well as several cycles of observation and practice. The surprising implication of this need is that even though infants learn virtually all their skills from their mothers, a population will be able to perpetuate particular innovations only if tolerant role models other than the mother are around; if mom is not particularly skillful, knowledgeable experts will be close at hand, and a youngster will still be able to learn the fancy techniques that apparently do not come automatically. Thus, the more connected a social network, the more likely it is that the group will retain any skill that is invented, so that in the end tolerant populations support a greater number of such behaviors.”

the web address for the article above is

it pays to be an optimist - the auroran sunset

As someone who would claim to have lived a charmed life, this strikes a chord:

“Clearly, luck is a state of mind. Is it more than that? To explore this question scientifically, experimental psychologist Richard Wiseman created a "luck lab" at the University of Hertfordshire in England. Wiseman began by testing whether those who believe they are lucky are actually more likely to win the lottery. He recruited 700 subjects who had intended to purchase lottery tickets to complete his luck questionnaire, which is a self-report scale that measures whether people consider themselves to be lucky or unlucky. Although lucky people were twice as confident as the unlucky ones that they would win the lottery, there was no difference in winnings.”

“Lucky people score significantly higher than unlucky people on extroversion. "There are three ways in which lucky people's extroversion significantly increases the likelihood of their having a lucky chance encounter," Wiseman explains: "meeting a large number of people, being a 'social magnet' and keeping in contact with people." Lucky people, for example, smile twice as often and engage in more eye contact than unlucky people do, which leads to more social encounters, which generates more opportunities. ”

What does ‘lucky’ mean in a context where those that think themselves lucky tend to both create and see more opportunities than those less optimistic?

Extreme optimists have a tendency to not prepare sufficiently, take excessive risks and act irresponsibly. For sanity, all forms of extreme - not just pessimistic extremes - are to be avoided.

Note that the words ‘sufficient’, ‘excessive’ and ‘irresponsible’ are judgments based on the word user’s own strategy; the words may gain a degree of objectivity if the result of the so-described action is compared with the person acting’s own desires. An extreme pessimist may take the view that crossing a road is ‘irresponsible’. While crossing the road is certainly a risky act, I doubt many would agree with the pessimist’s judgemental, unless perhaps the road-crosser were 90 and hobbling, while the road was a 16-lane motorway.

related material
Balance and judgemental

Being a (reasonable) optimist tends to be good for the individual, but efficient societies also appear to have need for a counter-balancing contingent of (probably unreasonable) pessimists. One could be tempted to worry that once people are educated to the advantages of (measured) optimism, this pessimistic counterweight would wither away to society's detriment. However, any reasonable (that is, not extreme) optimist is, almost by definition, at times a reasonable pessimist. Again, sanity lies in balance.

the web address for the article above is

on the defeat of pessimism by pessimists - the open society Four GoldenYak (tm) award
article by david brin
this entity can think and accumulate data!

“In a world of rapid change, we can only maximize the benefits of scientific advancement - and minimize inevitable harm - by using the great tools of openness and accountability. Above all, acknowledging that vigorous criticism is the only known antidote to error. This collective version of "wisdom" is what almost surely has saved us so far. It bears little or no resemblance to the kind of individual sagacity that we are used to associating with priests, gurus, and grandmothers - but it is also less dependent upon perfection. Less prone to catastrophe when the anointed Center of Wisdom makes some inevitable blunder.

“Hence, in fact, I find fretful worry-mongers invigorating! Their very presence helps progress along by challenging the gung-ho enthusiasts. It's a process called reciprocal accountability. Without bright grouches, eager to point at potential failure modes, we might really be in the kind of danger that they claim we are. Ironically, it is an open society - where the sourpuss Cassandras are well heard - that is unlikely to need renunciation, or the draconian styles of paternalism they prescribe.”

relevant link
some crowds are not so stupid
‘cocksure young men’

the web address for the article above is

can market solutions be injected into a government producer cartel? - uk education

“[...]Ofsted is to have a new statutory power to investigate parents' complaints[...]”

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“But then the Tories came along and introduced a national curriculum accompanied by tests for pupils aged seven, 11 and 14. For the first time, parents could find out what, if anything, their children were learning. Later, the publication of Ofsted inspection reports and league tables enabled them to tell just how well the nearest school was doing.

“The producers' reaction? Every year without exception since the curriculum, the tests, the tables and Ofsted were introduced, the annual conferences of the biggest teaching unions have demanded their abolition. They will be at it again this Easter weekend.”

the web address for the article above is

on science, creationism and intelligent design

The UK prod chief on creationism:

“The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has stepped into the controversy between religious fundamentalists and scientists by saying that he does not believe that creationism - the Bible-based account of the origins of the world - should be taught in schools.”

“ I think creationism is [...] a kind of category mistake, as if the Bible were a theory like other theories [...] if creationism is presented as a stark alternative theory alongside other theories I think there's just been a jarring of categories ... My worry is creationism can end up reducing the doctrine of creation rather than enhancing it," he said.”

John Barrow on growing understanding of the universe

“It takes almost 10 billion years for this stellar alchemy to burn hydrogen to helium, and on to beryllium, and carbon and oxygen and beyond, before the dying stars explode in supernovae and spread their life-giving debris around the Universe where it finds its way into grains of dust, planets, and ultimately into people. The nucleus of every carbon atom in our bodies has been through a star.

“Astronomy has transformed the simple-minded, life-averse, meaningless Universe of the sceptical philosophers.

“The concept of a lawful Universe with order that can be understood and relied upon emerged largely out of religious beliefs about the nature of God.”

related material
the anthropic principle, or what if the universe was not the way it is

the web address for the article above is

who owns the child in the uk? the state or the parent?
‘Judge’ decides it’s the state.

“Today teachers are vindicated by the High Court. It's up to schools - not parents or magistrates - to decide whether children can be taken out of class in term time to go on holiday, said their lordships.

“Lord Justice Auld, sitting with Mr Justice Sullivan, allowed an appeal by a local education authority against a Bromley magistrates' court decision to acquit a mother-of-three who took her young daughters on two holidays without permission. The magistrates had misdirected themselves, they decided.

“This was no feckless mother, by all accounts [...].”

the web address for the article above is

boris on socialist ‘education’

“But here is an awful truth, confided in me the other day by a deputation of engineers and scientists. "If the Government decided to build a nuclear reactor today, there are only half a dozen people who have the experience to do it in this country, and they have all retired." That's it, my friends: the birthplace of Newton, and Boyle, and J J Thomson - and we can't even build our own nukes any more!

“The Government is desperately trying to remedy the problem with a £6.3 million nuclear science programme, aimed at keeping nuclear studies going for the next four years in seven universities, but in the short term it will make little difference. If we want a clean, green, nuclear source of energy, we will have to get the French, or the Japanese, or even the South Africans to equip us with the necessary technology.”

“ We have too few physics graduates teaching physics; we have too few mathematicians teaching maths. The result is that far too much of the first year of university is spent on remedial mathematics, and the result is that it is quite hard to find people who want to be lecturers or tutors in the physical sciences - especially when they can earn double in the private sector.”

Well of course, you cannot pay maths and physics teachers twice as much as the ‘knitting graduates’. It just wouldn’t be ‘equal’ and ‘fair’, especially... socialist pink heaven.

the web address for the article above is

interesting new experiments on humans and chimpanzees

“[...] Sometimes he "struggled" with the tasks; sometimes he deliberately messed up.

“Over and over, whether Warneken dropped clothespins or knocked over his books, each of 24 toddlers offered help within seconds but only if he
appeared to need it [...] ”

“ To be altruistic, babies must have the cognitive ability to understand other people's goals plus possess what Warneken calls "pro-social motivation," a desire to be part of their community.

“ "When those two things come together they obviously do so at 18 months of age and maybe earlier they are able to help [...] " ”

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"...3- and 4-year-old chimpanzees find and hand over objects that a
familiar human "lost"? The chimps frequently did help out if all that was
required was reaching for a dropped object [...]” [Quoted from]

Press release version.

video of child helping an adult
video of chimpanzee helping an adult human
Note the news page containing these two .mpg links will become subscribers only, so they may too become difficult to access.

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“Dogs Interpret Signals Better Than Chimps

“This indicates that dogs may have been selected or bred on the basis of their ability to understand their masters.

“ Dogs seems to be able to interpret signals or communication cues from humans much better than chimpanzees. The reason may come from thousands of years of selective breeding due to living with humans”

This could put a different light on the results of the new experiment reported above.

Last link thanks to Energumen.

the web address for the article above is
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