/* Added by TWP, 10/12/2012 */ /* End of addition */

One of the live oaks that bless my home

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Future of Engineering Education - Part III

In Part I and Part II of this series, I told you how desperately public universities play the U.S. News & World Report rankings game. Public academia appears to be unable to grasp the fact that school rankings are an elaborate scam set up to boost private schools and provide them with steady income and prestige.  This obsession with rankings also plays to the recurrent thinking in the U.S. that unless you are rich or an already highly-educated, ready-to-use immigrant like me, you are not worthy of a decent life and it is your own fault.  Yeah, shame on you, why aren't you rich or well-educated?

In Part I and Part II, I also suggested that in undergraduate education public universities would never win or place high in the current rankings scam.  Simply put, the rankings carrot is dangled from much too high for the public universities to bite, no matter how hard they try to jump.

Since I spent 18 years as a faculty of the University of California at Berkeley, and have students who are now professors at Stanford and MIT, I must tell you that Berkeley is not 18 notches beneath Harvard.  In fact, one could argue that the rich and complex social ecosystem of Berkeley puts Harvard to shame most of the time, while costing Californians four times less.

So if Berkeley = Harvard in overall rankings, why should UT Austin be number 52, after some no-name private colleges?  With all due respect, why is a Washington University in Saint Louis number 19, while Berkeley is number 20 and The University of Texas at Austin is number 52?  Has anyone heard about a Wake Forest University? I certainly haven't, but it ties with UC Los Angeles, University of Southern California, and University of Virginia for the 23 place in the U.S. News and World Report.  Have we gone mad?

OK, so we have gone mad and public universities are now focusing solely on graduate rankings, feeling correctly that in this domain they can still compete with private universities. But there is a hitch: The public perceives public universities as insufficiently caring about their sons and daughters, almost all of whom will never go beyond an undergraduate B.S. or  B.A. degree.  Few Americans ever get a graduate M.S. degree and far fewer a PhD. degree.  Especially in science and engineering, Americans seldom enroll in graduate schools. A vast majority of all PhD. students in these areas is foreign born. We continue to bet that most of the freshly-minted PhDs  will stay here and run the technical side of U.S. economy.

The top echelons of politics, diplomacy, law, banking, finance, insurance, and the military-spying-police-entertainment-industrial complex are reserved for the Americans graduating from top private schools.  This sophisticated cast system has brought to the U.S. a dismally low social mobility, marginally higher than those in the almost failed United Kingdom and Italy, and five times lower than those in Norway, Denmark and Finland. 

The current fixation with graduate academic rankings palpably hurts public universities, because they fail to see what the public supports and how their own faculty should be rewarded.  These two points are significant, because public universities have now lost much of their public support, but they have not become private universities shielded by the giant endowments and tuition charges that subsidize and maintain their unquestioned royal opulence.  Public universities usually receive strong support from their alumni and falsely assume that this support extends to the general public.  It does not.

In Part II, I quoted Edward Bernays, one of the greatest public communicators of all times, who 80 years ago pointed out that "The public cannot understand unless the teacher understands the relationship between the general public and the academic idea...."

It's that simple.  If public universities want to continue serving a large number of ordinary families, we need to be in tune with what these families care for.  The public cannot be hearing from us only how great we are in research, and how they should help us fulfill our scientific destiny.  The public simply doesn't comprehend what we are talking about.  The public wants to hear what great things we can do for the society in general and their children in particular.

The grievous disconnect between public academia and the general public is a side effect of the con game in which public academia has been ensnarled.  The purpose of this con game is to strengthen private schools and weaken public ones.  And thus we, the oh-so-smart faculty, are drowning only because we must prove to ourselves that we are as good as the private princes of pristine science.  Well, we are actually much better.  Try to imagine private schools running on one quarter or one fifth of the resources they are accustomed to and do as well as we do!  Just look at the three figures below, and Part I and Part II of this blog.  For God's sake, wake up you public academic teachers and tell your bureaucrats to shape up!  By the way, many of these bureaucrats live to play the rankings game and nothing else matters to them.  This means, in particular, that they are less than truthful when they talk about importance of undergraduate education without mentioning research needs in the same sentence.

So why do public universities think they can compete with private ones? First, let's do the numbers.

Figure 1. Total enrollment in the top 30 U.S. graduate programs in engineering.  The top private universities are in red and the top public ones in blue. Notice that in contrast to their small undergraduate enrollments, some of the top private universities have substantial graduate enrollments in engineering.  Simply put, there is a lot more money to be made off of graduate students starting their own companies and filing patents.  In general, undergraduate education is a money-losing proposition best left to public universities.  Unless, of course, you belong to the nomenklatura and a gentleman's C is in store for you, especially if daddy kicked in a few million dollars to his/your private Alma Mater. Source: 2013 rankings by US News & World Report.
Figure 1 shows that among the top 30 engineering programs in the U.S., 17 are public.  The mean enrollment and the standard deviation are 2,410 +/- 874 graduate students for the public universities and 2,202 +/- 1,323 students for the private ones.

Figure 2. Nominal tuition and fees charged by the top 30 U.S. programs in engineering . For the public universities, these are in-state tuition plus fees. For the private universities the tuition and fees are for full-time students.  Texas A&M is an anomaly in its reporting, quoting $258 per credit, the number that is incomprehensible to the public and suggests an almost free education.  In this plot I did the translation. Notice that NC State, Texas A&M and UT Austin charge the least for graduate education.  These charges are below cost and must be subsidized from their respective endowments. Source: 2013 rankings by US News & World Report.
Figure 2 shows that the mean tuition and fees and their standard deviation are $12,787 +/- $3,840 for the top public universities, and $39,426 +/- $6,148 for the private ones.  In short, a good private university charges three times more on average than a good public university.

Figure 3. Nominal income from the current graduate student populations in the top 30 engineering programs. Source: 2013 rankings by US News & World Report.

Figure 3 shows that the mean nominal income and its standard deviation are $30.5 +/- $14.5 million per year for the top public universities, and $86.0 +/- $51.6 million per year for the private ones.

So what's the conclusion here?  Public universities can fight their way to the top of graduate rankings in engineering despite income that on average is three times less than that of private universities.   When it comes to merit and funding from competitive public sources (NSF, NIH, DOE, DoD, etc.),  creativity and ambition more than make up for the lack of most other resources relative to private universities.

But this victory of sorts of public universities is a Pyrrhic one.  By focusing on research these universities undercut the already meager support of the public, which knows nothing about research and advanced degrees, and does not care.  The public cares, however, a lot about their high-school graduate sons and daughters, who cannot get into the overextended and underfinanced public universities.

For example, my department of Petroleum Engineering at UT Austin already has a 40:1 overall student:faculty ratio and in 2014 had to reject 13 out of 14 candidates for freshmen. At the same time, the public keeps on hearing a loud chorus of voices that tell them the following:  Public universities should deliver cheap and shoddy education for the unwashed masses, and they should stop competing with the private barons and princes of education, who mostly serve the affluent cast.

The public at large is generally uneducated about research and advanced degrees, and deceived.   As it so often happens in America, people actively oppose what might be good for them, because they are conned into believing that they all are incipient millionaires, who have been poor by accident just for the first x-years of their lives. I do not need to remind you that being poor in America is deeply shameful. Shame makes people pretend that they are who they are not, and vote against their self-interest. 

P.S. I wrote this blog on 2/28/2014, but out of disgust could not make myself publish it until today. A week ago I had a medical incident that made me rethink many things.  Chief among them is the creeping betrayal of more than half of U.S. population, from the poor professional soldiers and veterans, to the lower 50% of the population in K-12 schools, which receives eduction at a level below most third-world countries, to a burgeoning population of the less-than-affluent people, who want to send their children to public universities, but cannot, because these children were insufficiently educated in their dismal K-12 schools, and later must compete with the better-to-do families, whose children also flock to public universities.

Let's hope that the wrecking ball falling on undergraduate public education in the U.S. will be less than awesomely devastating.  Judging from what already happened to K-12 schools, I am not holding my breath.  Please pay attention to the ever-louder demands for (academic) teacher "accountability."  That's how it starts.  And it goes down from there.  

Edward Bernays, who was an honest original propagandist, must be turning in his grave.  Bernays genuinely believed  that manipulation of the disoriented masses by the enlightened elites served good social purpose and improved civil society.  Many high schools today do not have real teachers of sciences, but they do have accountability and mechanical, mind-numbing tests for the young inmates.

The purpose of these tests has been to indoctrinate the obedient, schematically thinking, and disoriented young consumers, not enlightened thoughtful citizens. Think then of best public universities as intensive care units, in which some of the young patients  are brought back to life.

This important link to an article "Americans Think We Have the World’s Best Colleges. We Don’t" on the utter mediocrity of most U.S. colleges at bachelor level was added on 6/29/14.  Simply put, most graduates of the generally mediocre K-12 schools in the U.S. are never resuscitated by U.S. colleges, no matter how highly the respective graduate programs in these colleges rank.  Remember that the U.S. graduate programs in math, physics, chemistry, and engineering are mostly for the gifted foreign-born students.  I often hear from this from great American kids: "How can I compete in (PhD-level) math with all these foreign-born students?"  How will I then pass the PhD qualifying exam? So these kids never become PhD students. I could write a whole dissertation on how low on average the analytic math and programing skills are among American undergraduate students.  I would be describing my personal teaching experience over the last 25 years. Other serious problems affecting performance of U.S. colleges involve child poverty, poor nutrition or malnutrition, lack of family support, increasingly language problems, and so on.  These problems are not nearly as severe in other developed countries.

P.S.P.S. Those few public high schools that still work are severely segregated, so that the well-to-do are served and others aren't.  While I do not mind elite high schools protected by difficult entrance exams, I attended one after all,  their admission procedures need to be transparent and well-publicized, and good alternatives for the less prepared/gifted children must exist.  I have a feeling that in the U.S. such alternatives do not exist.

P.S.P.S.P.S.  And here is how the private for profit universities fared and what they have done to tens of thousands of their students.  A decade ago, Corinthian Colleges was a darling of Wall Street which valued it at $3.4 billion, and was used as a shiny example for the outdated public universities.  After wasting billions of dollars of taxpayer's money and thousands of student lives,  Corinthian Colleges will have to fold.  And, yes, public often underwrites private profit and then pays for private losses.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Future of Engineering Education Machine in Almost Here - Part II

In Part I, I criticized current framing of disputes about the future of public higher education.  Now it's time for a positive proposal.  I will show you that private and public schools cannot be easily compared and should not be included in the same rankings.  As you will see, these unrealistic rankings compare equivalents of a leisurely weekend runner jogging at 5 miles per hour (private schools) with a hurried man barreling down a freeway sixteen times faster at 90 miles per hour.  It is impossible to apply the same criteria to the behavior and priorities of both.

In my mind, current university rankings by the U.S. News and World Report should be soundly repudiated by public universities acting as a group, and a case should be made to split the ranking lists of private and public universities.  I am assuming here that we will continue to insist on numerical measures of academic success, however incomplete and distorted these measures are.  That's because I realize that we are insignificant parts of the ever more powerful Machine.  Let's start from a scene from a Roman Polansky movie.

Imagine a lavish ball in an old castle.  The walls of a spacious, richly ornamented ballroom are lined with tall mirrors and a chamber orchestra is playing in the corner.  On the floor, dozens of pairs of bejeweled beautiful ladies in long dresses and elegant men in dark suits are dancing with great skill.  It's a breathtaking view!  Then you look at the mirrors and all you can see is the empty ballroom.  What you observed was an illusion, a beautiful but empty image.  You just watched the Annual Vampires' Ball in Count Dracula's castle.
The ever-insecure public academia is examining herself with trepidation:  "In my cheap dress, will I look as pretty as those private school dames?"  The simple answer is: "No, public academia is different than private schools,  clothed or naked. We serve different societal needs, and we should stop comparing ourselves to our very rich but distant second cousins." Cumulatively, the top 15 public universities charge a little less than one quarter of  the tuition and fees charged by the 15 top private universities, and enroll roughly four times more students. By this metric, the cohort of 15 top U.S. public universities is 16 times (sic!) more efficient than the comparable cohort of private universities. Therefore, it is only right that anyone who feels like it harasses and admonishes public schools, while the private school slobs are living serene fulfilling lives. Source: E.C. Escher, "Hand with Reflecting Sphere," 1935.
Which brings me to academic rankings pursued by public universities with troubling desperation.  As I wrote in Part I of this series, private universities need not worry: By definition, they are on top of all rankings. Think of this, if private schools were not highest-ranked, who would spend up to $100K  per year on private education if 25% of that sum would buy equally good public education?

The small but luxurious private universities are gate keepers, who for the right price dispense lifetime membership cards to the American nomenklatura.  Therefore, no one at the US News and World Report would dare to question the glittering supremacy of the Ivy League schools, never mind that as a cohort they are 4.4x3.7=16 times less efficient than the comparable public universities (see Figures 1 - 4 and 5 - 6). After all, the United States of America has invented the beautiful and tempting, but otherwise empty images.  And this invention has served some of us very well.

Rushing at 90 miles per hour, the stressed-out public educators are remiss in educating public about academia's priorities and difficulties.  Here is what the original U.S. propagandist (in 1928, the term "propaganda" did not have the contemporary pejorative connotation), Edward Bernays, wrote on this subject:
EDUCATION is not securing its proper share of public interest. ... The public is not cognizant of the real value of education, and does not realize that education as a social force is not receiving the kind of attention it has the right to expect in a democracy. ... There are a number of reasons for this condition. First of all, there is the fact that the educator has been trained to stimulate to thought the individual students in his classroom, but has not been trained as an educator at large of the public. In a democracy an educator should, in addition to his academic duties, bear a definite and wholesome relation to the general public. This public does not come within the immediate scope of his academic duties. But in a sense he depends upon it for his living, for the moral support, and the general cultural tone upon which his work must be based. In the field of education, we find what we have found in politics and other fields—that the evolution of the practitioner of the profession has not kept pace with the social evolution around him, and is out of gear with the instruments for the dissemination of ideas which modern society has developed. If this be true, then the training of the educators in this respect should begin in the normal schools, with the addition to their curricula of whatever is necessary to broaden their viewpoint. The public cannot understand unless the teacher understands the relationship between the general public and the academic idea....
I note in passing that private universities have developed a formidable propaganda apparatus since WWI, and continue with great skill to use think tanks and other propaganda outlets to promote their positive public image.  After all, they have ample resources and staff to drive their perennial PR offensive.  Public universities are poor propagandists, because - hmm - they are much poorer and - setting aside the corrupt "college athletics" - they are not as slick as private universities in lying and covering up:
Then as the 2012-2013 school year commenced, Joseph Asch, Dartmouth '79, wrote an open letter the incoming class of 2016 on the Dartblog titled, "Freshman, There Will be Lies." In his letter Mr. Asch warns, among other declarations, that students should begin their time at Dartmouth with the understanding that the administration will lie, underscoring his point by asserting, "Not small lies, or white lies, or inadvertent ones, but straight-out lies that help the administration gain the goals that it seeks at your expense." He reverses all that the students once thought true about an elite academic institution by telling the class that although they expect this "noble institution" to serve the students, in fact the administration "has goals to achieve, and work in an environment where lying has been part of the modus operandi for many years."
In summary, public and private universities are fundamentally different and should not be lumped together in an artificial way that boosts the Ivy League schools relative to the poorer, busier, and less glamorous public university cousins.   In Part III, I will get deeper into these gaping differences and public misperceptions.

P.S. (02/21/2014) If you think that the private and public non-profit schools are less than perfect, you should also look at the for-profit universities.  The pursuit of short-term profits and generally unethical behavior have created greedy monsters that steal money from the taxpayer and the poor. And Congress seems to be unable to control these monsters, which are feeding on mostly government-backed loans to ruin poor uneducated people.

Figure 1.  Click on the image to see it in full resolution. Tuition and fees charged by the top-ranked private universities. All of these universities are at the top of national rankings, i.e., Princeton is #1, according to the U.S. News and World Report. Add another $25-40,000 per year for living expenses. Another question comes to mind:  Is this cartel of private schools colluding in setting their tuition levels?
Figure 2.  Tuition and fees charged by the top-ranked public universities. U.C. Berkeley, the top public university in the U.S., is ranked as #20 by the U.S. News and World Report. The University of Connecticut is ranked #57. Add another $25-40,000 per year for living expenses.
Figure 3.  Undergraduate enrollment in the top-ranked private universities. All of these universities are at the top of national rankings, i.e., Princeton is #1, according to the U.S. News and World Report.
Figure 4.  Undergraduate enrollment in the top-ranked public universities. U.C. Berkeley, the top public university in the U.S., is ranked as #20 by the U.S. News and World Report. The University of Connecticut is ranked #57.
Figure 5.  Cumulative undergraduate enrollment in the 15 top-ranked private (#1-15) and 15 top-ranked public (#20-57) universities. Source : the U.S. News and World Report. The cumulative enrollment ratio is 4.4:1 in favor of the public universities.
Figure 6.  Cumulative tuition and fees charged by the 15 top-ranked private (#1-15) and 15 top-ranked public (#20-57) universities. Source : the U.S. News and World Report.  Cumulatively the private universities charge 3.7 times more than the corresponding cohort of public universities.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Future Engineering Education Machine is Almost Here - Part I

I presume that you already know what engineering and science education should morph into in the near future. After all, the distinguished professors of management and psychology are telling you how research should be divorced from teaching and how good teachers and good researchers should be put into two different academic drawers. 

Today, the consensus is to split teaching from research in all disciplines of public academia, thus lowering cost and increasing efficiency.  I find this consensus to be misinformed and potentially harmful to many of the students who will not go to Harvard or Yale to replenish the ranks of our oh-so-smart and so-thoughtful elites.

A complete divorce of research and teaching, vigorously pushed by non-scientists (psychologists, economists, political scientists, business majors, and the like), is akin to a religious belief in absolute right and wrong that simply do not obtain in science.  Dr. Isaak Asimov commented on this belief, which is rooted in scientific ignorance, in a beautiful essay: "The Relativity of Wrong"  (The Skeptical Inquirer, Fall 1989, 14(1), 35-44).  English Lit majors beware when you pontificate about science and engineering!

Where we are in the U.S. today is in no small measure an outcome of our elites' superior Ivy League education and their thorough understanding of the universe.  Take, for example, President George W. Bush, a Yale and Harvard graduate. His VP, Dick Chaney, was another failed Yale student and draft dodger, while his Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, was a political scientist from Princeton.  Yet another prescient guru in this team was the Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson, with a B.A. in English from Dartmouth College and MBA from Harvard, just like President Bush.  Paulson's most quotable parting words were: "Who could know that the financial markets would collapse?"

In eight memorable years, those geniuses -  not one with an advanced degree in anything I would consider to be rigorous education - raked up 30% of all U.S. national debt and did more damage to the U.S. than all of our enemies combined over the last century.  Their collective actions are quite an achievement for any Ivy School-educated team. Now, were their academic teachers researchers or lecturers?  Or does it matter?

Of course, to my knowledge, no one suggests that anyone should divorce teaching from research in the Ivy League colleges.  They're fine, as are private high schools.  After all, how could anything be wrong if these schools charge $40-50K per year in tuition, their student-to-faculty ratio is less than 10:1, and they graduate  - and intermarry - most of our presidents, top federal government appointees, CEOs, and other legacy children?

Presently, we are only talking about how to best damage public education at all levels.  And here there is no shortage of deep insights about streamlining the future lives of the gifted children of lesser others.

In summary, public discussion about the future of education has framed the subject in a way that lets private schools off the hook, despite their monumental failures in delivering quality education and instilling social responsibility into their highly-paying customers.  In Part II, I'll explain my thinking about education costs, teaching, and research in academia.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Life in The Machine

My wife and I are in Munich now. We are enjoying Christmas with old friends, whom we have known through high school, university and the first job.  As I am reflecting on the magic of this relationship, I have realized that it predates the Time of The Machine, or our contemporary society.  And I am not merely suggesting here that "the grass was greener, the light was brighter, the taste was sweeter, the nights of wonder, with friends surrounded, the dawn mist glowing, the water flowing, the endless river, forever and ever," as Pink Floyd once famously sang.

Imagine spending your free time with friends wherever, playing outdoors, biking, walking, or going to the movies or to somebody's house.  The parents needed not know and there were very few phones, so they had to believe that we were OK.  "Privacy matters," as Edward Snowden would say. Imagine standing in line at 5 a.m. in front of a bookstore to buy "One Hundred Years of Solitude" by Gabriel García Márquez or "Hopscotch" by Julio Cortázar. Later we would read them voraciously and enjoy heated literary discussions.

Professor Kazimierz Raczek, my high school history teacher, was sentenced to teaching in high school, not university,  because of his political past.  When he saw us for the very first time, he asked us to hang the state-sanctioned history books by the toilet, claiming that they would make "fine toilet paper that will last for the entire school year."  He would then calmly proceed to teach us from his own notes, memories, and old prewar history books that were strictly forbidden by the communists.  Imagine a high school teacher today in the U.S. attempting to challenge The Machine like this guy did.  Impossible! We simply adored him and no one in our class uttered a word for four years.
Imagine skipping classes in high school to read new books, learn about the universe, or have wild drinking parties punctuated by philosophical discourses; no TVs, no computers, but plenty of small pleasures of freedom stolen from an imperfect communist police state. I skipped almost exactly 1/2 of my high school to learn more about everything, be examined by the wise teachers, and graduate with highest honors. In my four years in high school in never took a single multiple choice test.  I had to solve open-ended difficult intellectual problems.  In fact, GRE was the first multiple-choice test in my life. (TOEFL is not worth mentioning.) I took it as a PhD student at the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw with no preparation, not knowing what the heck it was.  I did sufficiently well to qualify for a Fulbright scholarship as one of the three Polish winners in the PhD student category in technical sciences.

My high school professor of Polish Literature, Krystyna Gara, had the quickest wit and sharpest stinging riposts known to mankind.  She challenged me to learn from university textbooks, and to study writers of many cultures.  How I write today in the languages I know, I owe to her. 
Now, imagine your child trying to emulate the richness of my intellectual experience in the one-dimensional kingdom of The Machine. Impossible! For starters, you would go to jail in this Land of the Free for criminal neglect of your children.  "You must not separate your children from me," hisses The Machine, and she locks them up daily in the vast prison system called "K through 12 schools." At the middle and high school level, the prison rules become stricter and your children are punished for every glimpse of their non-robotic, disobedient behavior. Being black or disabled makes the punishment even worse.

So what is The Machine?  Let me give you a hint: I am a consummate citizen of Machinedom.  I am an academic teacher. I use Google, and a plethora of electronic journals and databases for research. I email all the time, buy most things on the web, and write this blog.  I use GPS after dark and carry a smart phone that locates me down to 100 ft anywhere I go, and may be intercepting and transmitting any sound near it. On the other hand, I refuse to go near Facebook and I tweet only occasionally to communicate facts.  I read and I think.

At my friend's house in Munich, I picked up at random the Polityka, a Polish weekly equivalent of Der Spiegel, or a left-leaning version of The Economist.   In this Polityka issue (44(2931) p. 16), I ran into a two-page interview with Dr. Eben Moglen, Professor of Law at the Columbia University, entitled "Imprisoned in the Machine."

Professor Moglen defines the Machine as a virtual organism.  It consists of all of us, smart phones, computers, software, terminals, the surrounding surveillance cameras, the Internet, the cellular phone networks, satellites, drones, GPS, server farms, cloud computing, the NSA surveillance universe that taps into everything in the Machinedom, the FBI, CIA, the military forces, and so on.

Already in 1954, when I was still in diapers and von Neumann's team was constructing the first modern computers, Martin Heidegger warned us about the Machine in his Question Concerning Technology. Heidegger correctly predicted that humans are but a part of the technology-human system, and technology we think we create and control, in fact uses us  - and can consume us - just like anything else it touches in this world.

So, what does The Machine want and need?  She wants global reach and control, and she needs stable supplies of everything.  She also needs permanent amorphous enemies, preferably individuals who are outside of her domain.  Hence the permanent "war on terrorism" and the vast Homeland Security  apparatus created to protect The Machine.  You can think of Obamacare as a new addition to The Machine, and its medical portal as a default gateway tailored to her, but not to the people who aren't yet sufficiently reeducated.

The Machine applies her own machine learning methods to teach next generations.  So far, through extensive computerized testing and intensive use of computers in K through 12 schools, The Machine has been very successful in diminishing the roles normally played by human teachers, and decreasing their status.  It is important that children learn machine thinking directly from the elements of The Machine, instead of the free-wheeling, independent humans.  Therefore the next inevitable step is destruction of humanities and liberal arts.

The Machine needs skilled operators who provide her with the ever-more complex software and hardware, and feed her with energy and other raw materials.  But, The Machine does not like humans teaching these skills, therefore she exerts pressure to widen machine learning of all kinds, through online courses and MOOCS in particular.  Anything that prevents humans from influencing the youth is desirable. 

The results are clearly visible, just watch the young people intently staring at their smart phones for hours on end and avoiding human contact at all costs.  Reality is real only what it is mediated through The Machine.  So expect your child to propose marriage on Facebook or phone, rather than looking into the partner's eyes and uttering the magic words. 

The Machine is about enticement and control.  She entices us with offers of immediate pornographic pleasure, and she controls most of what we do through our smart phones, GPS, Google queries, web posts, emails, and credit card purchases. When I say "pornography," I do not mean just the old innocent offers of immediate sex.  Instead, I mean the savage computer games, the Facebook, the Twitter, TV, gratuitously violent movies, and the Shopping Channel.

I cannot imagine that under the old communist system people would be volunteering to reveal everything about themselves, their daily movements, friends and acquaintances, their sexual habits, families,  purchasing patterns, naked bodies, and infidelities big and small.  And most of these revelations are driven by a purely narcissistic exhibitionism. "It's all about you," whispers The Machine, and all too many humans buy this nonsense.

Just remember what Dante Alighieri saw happening to the self-centered gluttons: They lie in the Third Circle of Hell, sightless and heedless of their neighbors, just as they were cold and selfish in their empty lives played on Facebook. The vile, stinking slush, in which  they are trapped like pigs in industrial pig farms, is their penalty for overindulgence in food and drink, and other kinds of addiction, like taking their own pictures on smart phones or watching Fox News. The shady pig farm owners will be sent to the Fourth Circle of Hell for their greed.  You should see what lies in store for those wretched capitalists...
The Third Circle of Hell:  This is the future of selfies and other self-indulgent Facebookies.
But I digressed. So where from here?  Three thoughts come to my mind.  First, the complexity and speed of evolution of human languages and thinking exceed the speed of software writing in proprietary, fixed computer languages.  Second, The Machine works continuously and probably requires Tera watts of electrical power worldwide, especially in the U.S.   This power can be disrupted in many ways around the world.  Third, the center of gravity of human development will move away from the Machinedom, to people who know The Machine, use her elements when necessary, but live outside of her empire.  You know, those people who still talk with each other, eat dinners together, and say "I love you" to a person, not an iPad.

P.S. To visualize what education in The Machine can do to you, please see this sketch by Jon Stewart's reporters. No further comments are necessary.

P.S.P.S.  Jan 9, 2014. The high school prison superintendents arrest and expel their young captives a little too often, but even more if those captives are black, Hispanic, or disabled. The  most telling infraction is "defying authority," for which there is a suspension.  Whose authority exactly?  And on what authority? The Machine rejects young people acting like people and defying authority.

P.S.P.S.P.S.  Jan 10, 2014.  The Machine does not sleep, rest, or have fun.  Neither should her inner circle servants: The Wall Street traders.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Our Roots

I wrote this blog on August 2 and 3, 2013, after my arrival in Warsaw.

In 8 hours, this marvel of modern technology, Boeing 787 DreamLiner, transplanted me from Chicago to Warsaw, and three hours later, after a fabulous dinner at a by-the-word-of-mouth-only home food diner, here I was on the Nowy Świat Street, walking towards the Old Town and the Royal Palace.

Literally every building I passed by had a plaque commemorating those murdered there during the war (World War II for the younger audience) and ten bloody years of the Stalinist terror after the war.  Every beautifully kept old building and church or cathedral I passed was meticulously rebuilt after the war.  For all of them perished during the war, together with the people of Warsaw.
Please click on the image to see it in high resolution. All of these buildings were destroyed during WWII.  Some of the heaviest fighting during the Warsaw Uprising occurred not far from here.  But today you see a sparkling, bustling, wonderful city.

The Polish White House, Presidential Palace on the Nowy Świat Street. It was rebuilt too. Here my Polish Professor diploma was signed into a document.
I arrived one day after the 69th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising.  On August 1, 1944, at 5 p.m., the Polish resistance army (mostly Armia Krajowa, or AK) attacked Germans all across the city.  It was an incredibly stupid political gamble of the Polish Government in exile in London.  The purpose was to force Germans out before the Soviet Red Army, camped on the right bank of the Vistula River, would take over the city.  Of course the Russians watched with pleasure how Warsaw was being erased from the map, and the best and most educated Poles were being killed by the thousands.  The Russians also made sure that the Allied flights to supply Warsaw could not land 20 km east of the city and refuel, causing untold casualties among the mostly volunteer, mostly Polish pilots flying night missions mostly from England.
Warsaw and her people are being exterminated by the Germans in late 1944, while the Soviets are enjoying watching the spectacle from the other side of the Vistula River.
Sixty three days later, over 20 thousands of Polish soldiers and about 150-180 thousands civilians were dead,  and the survivors dispersed or were marched to German concentration camps.  On average, each day, Germans were executing 1000 random civilians on the streets of Warsaw.  My wife's grandfather, Zygmunt Paulisz, a professor of linguistics, who spoke fluently seven languages, was caught in one of these random roundups of people, executed and dumped into a mass grave. Until today, no one knows where he is buried. My wife's mother, gave all her jewelery to a German soldier and walked away from a column of civilians marched to a concentration camp.

Please click on the image to see it in high resolution. We are in the Powązki, a cemetery in Warsaw where the Polish heroes have been buried for generations.  This woman was 14 years old when she participated in a hit on two senior Nazi officers.
Please click on the image to see it in high resolution. On her tomb, there are verses of poems by Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński, a Polish poet and AK soldier, one of the most renowned authors of the Generation of Columbuses, the young generation of Polish poets of whom many perished in the Warsaw Uprising.  Defensio Patriae Suprema Lex means "Defense of my country is supreme duty." Baczyński was a poet, not a soldier.  He was made a company commander to prevent him from street combat.  He died from a German sniper's bullet standing in an open window of a building they took from the Germans.  He was a poet, not a soldier.  His young pregnant wife died on the same day not knowing of his fate. Both were barely 20 years old. Can you still weep?
My grand uncle, Zbigniew Niwiński, a civil engineer, fought Germans in Warsaw as an officer of the Narodowe Siły Zbrojne (NSZ or National Army), was caught, and transported to the same oflag in Murnau, where my grandfather was beginning the fifth year of his captivity.

My grandfather, Wiktor Patzek, a physicist and a major in the Polish Army surrendered in early October 1939, after a month of heavy fighting each day and marching towards Warsaw each night. At the end both of his feet were bloody pulp and he could not stand straight without falling asleep. For my grandfather, WWII was the third war he fought in 25 years.  During WWI, he started smuggling Polish deserters from the Austrian army to Pilsudski's Legions in the east.  He then fled Austria and joined Pilsudski's army, which went on to liberate Poland.  In 1919, my grandfather volunteered under a pseudonym to fight the Soviets in the bloody 1919/20 war that is virtually unknown in America.  Since he was a teacher, the young Poland did not want him do die on the eastern front. On September 1, 1939, my grandfather was too old to be on active duty, so he volunteered again.  He told me that in absolute exhaustion it is not your physical strength that counts, but the degree to which you control your fear, pain, and overwhelming urge to sleep.

After the war, my granduncle sneaked in through the southern Polish border, found his fiance, and fled back with her, using his resistance contacts and safe houses.  When caught by the communists, those who belonged NSZ could only expect torture and a bullet in their head.  Whoever was caught with them, would be executed too.

Please click on the image to see it in high resolution. A symbolic grave of the hundreds of Polish girl scouts, who died in WWII, mostly in the Warsaw Uprising.
Please click on the image to see it in high resolution. A symbolic grave of the thousands of Polish boy scouts who died in WWII, mostly in the Warsaw Uprising.
After the upraising, the good Germans went on to blow up, incinerate, or bomb every larger building still standing in Warsaw.  With the burning buildings went the irreplaceable treasures of Polish culture, science and heritage.  While at it, the German SS troops and their Latvian SS helpers committed unspeakable atrocities, of the kind that even today would earn a mention in the Guinness Book of World Records.

October 1944: This is how Warsaw looked like when Germans finished raping her.
After the war, the NKVD and the Polish communist traitors killed another 50 thousand of survivors of the Uprising and of the Polish resistance fighters elsewhere, but mostly in the east. My granduncle married and settled with his wife in Vancouver, Canada, where I visited him many times before he died.

I adored my grandfather.  He showed me experiments with high voltage, using his prewar inductor machine.  He showed me stars through a small telescope he had, and their constellations in the dark sky outside Piotrkow Trybunalski, where he lived and I often visited him.  He took me to the WWII battlefields around Piotrkow, and walked with me in the forests where he fought German invaders.  There were still pieces of old rusting canon, destroyed trucks, tanks, and other military equipment.  I literally saw my grandfather fighting and the line of fire.  He would lose chess games with me, a 9-year old, and I suspected that he was too easy on me.  My grandfather and my father never lied, and they infected me incurably with this unfortunate lack of social skills.  

My grandfather died of a heart attack in 1962, when I was just ten.  It was a bright sunny day, when the mailman delivered a telegram with the news.  I opened the door for him and then opened the telegram. Today, I still can see the black capital letters telling me that my grandfather was no more.

These two sisters were 21 and 23 when they fell fighting Germans.  The older sister was executed in the Jewish Ghetto in January 1944, and the younger one fell in Czerniaków in September 1944. Both belonged to the same AK Company "Rudy." Only one photograph survived.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Some Narratives Are Better Than Others

The dominant contemporary narrative in the U.S. was delineated 42 years ago by Lewis Powell in his August 23, 1971, confidential memo to the Chamber of Commerce. No one I have talked to in the U.S. knows anything about this memo, but several people in other countries do.

As the Powell memo instructs its confidential readers, there should be a concerted effort to bring our side of facts (our facts?) to fore regularly, with high intensity, and from many seemingly independent sources:
The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society.  Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.
Edward Bernays, Propaganda, Chapter 1, 1928.
In this vain, for a while now, it has been fashionable to put down OPEC and Russia, and tout eternal oil and gas abundance in the U.S.  Here are but three recent examples:
There are many similar examples in mass media, now merged into a single web of circular non-thinking and positive feedback through Twitter, Facebook, and so on.
Ordinary people must be rather confused when assaulted by a cacophony of learned opinions from the "world authorities," "global experts," "friends," and other talking, writing and tweeting heads.

Now, if I were an emperor or Edward Bernays, author of the original Propaganda (1928), how would I create a narrative about American oil and gas A.D. 2013, and make the world believe it?

First, I would have to understand the cold facts.  The U.S. still is the top world consumer of petroleum and natural gas.  Half of the petroleum is imported.  Most of the increase of domestic petroleum production is the non-petroleum light condensate from wells that cost a lot and decline fast.  Since my refineries are fine-tuned towards heavier petroleum, not condensate, I have a small problem, but I will use Canadian heavy crude imports through the new Keystone pipeline to solve it. If not the pipeline, I'll use trains to solve my problem. I could go even deeper into the Gulf of Mexico and farther north into the Arctic, but such moves are monstrously expensive and risky, and I must be careful.

Actually, everything I do is too expensive to continue, so I finance my house of cards by borrowing astronomical amounts of money. Then I borrow even more money to keep on borrowing money.  But I do not want to dwell on such details.  Instead, I'll help you snort Facebook a little longer. If not, I would need to tell each tax-paying fool that his share of my borrowing has been over one million dollars. Yes, all of you little people became negative millionaires while you were busy tweeting each other!

I digressed, but I could not help laughing a little about the total debt I created by globalizing the world economy and exporting my debt all over the place. Fooled ya!

Going back to my script: I import a lot of oil from Canada, and will import even more in the future.  So, since I think that I can destroy enough demand for petroleum in the U.S., and use Canada and few other countries to fill the rest of my tank, screw OPEC.  More specifically, when Saudi Arabia exhausts the Ghawar, the largest oilfield in the world, they will be unable to export enough oil and become irrelevant to me.  Screw them.

Screw Russia, too. Even though I badly need access to oil and gas in Siberia, I have never trusted them Russians. And for good reason. Screw them.

Second,  I would need to convince everybody around the world (but not in Canada) that I don't need their stinking oil.  I'll do this by developing a story of eternal oil and gas abundance in North America. Both will gush forever from a horn of plenty, a modern cornucopia my fellow Americans have always hoped for.  I still need to make my fellow Americans use less petroleum, but I can do this through pricing, taxation, and expensive toll roads, without ever mentioning the real reason: Like there is not enough oil to continue our current drinking binge.

Third, I could throw in corn ethanol for energy independence, and a few other renewables for fun. Those are expensive, subsidized, and not very important to me, but by paying lip service to "green energy" I can keep the left distracted and the right quiet. Oh, I forgot, I also need to keep on praising our superior technology and advances in efficiency.

This sounds like a plan.  Now I need to find several well-placed "independent experts" in my extensive network, and ask them to retell my script as many times as possible.  It is not the content that counts, but the simplicity of message, and repetition, repetition, repetition...  Like this Energy Revolution page on Time's website. Which brings me back to Bernays, the Powell memo, and the three examples above.

Time Magazine, October 18, 2013.
Let's start in the middle. The New York Times piece follows my script to the letter and ends with this thought-provoking claim:
The behemoths of today — the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Russia, and even some major oil companies — could be losers if they do not adapt. “People underestimated the U.S. and overestimated countries like Iraq,” said Majid Jafar, the chief executive of Crescent Petroleum, an oil company based in the United Arab Emirates with production in Iraqi Kurdistan. “It is more about the investment climate than what is in the ground.”
Hmm, doesn't this statement imply that a Luxembourg with no hydrocarbons whatsoever under its soil and good investment climate might become a larger producer of oil and gas than Iraq with its giant untapped oil reserves - the largest in the world?! Oops, stuff happens when my man parrots the script. But never mind, the confused readers might not notice, and my man can always rewrite this paragraph and repost it. At least he put down Iraq.

This reminds me, I just borrowed a trillion dollars to liberate Iraq from Iraqis. But now those Chinese, Iranian, Italian, French, and Russian oil companies are getting all the Iraqi oil and gas concessions, and I got nothing. So screw Iraq (but not Iraqi Kurdistan). Iraqi Kurds gave me the concessions I wanted hoping I would liberate them from Iraq. But now that Syria, Turkey and Lebanon are unstable -  and I lost the rest of Iraq -, I can't. Oops, all these unknown knowns. They confuse me.

On the bright side, my experts on the West Coast (Amy Myers Jaffe) and the East Coast (Ed Morse) did a tremendous job presenting my script to the world. Thank you both. I could not do this better.

Here are a few small suggestions for further improvement. For example, why dwell on the oil despots we kept in power for decades, protected from justice, and supplied with our weapons and military training so that they could better kill and oppress their people? Let bygones be bygones. Instead, let's strengthen these masterpieces:
U.S.-led innovation in alternative fuels (including natural gas-vehicle fueling technology and electric vehicles), energy-efficiency technologies, battery storage, and smart-grid solutions, working together with and complementing the supply surge in unconventional oil and gas, should also change the face of demand, giving consumers around the world more freedom of choice. And as the United States becomes an energy exporter -- at competitive prices -- that should seal the deal. By providing ready alternatives to politicized energy supplies, the United States can use its influence to democratize global energy markets, much the way smartphone and social media technologies have ended the lock on information and communications by repressive governments and large multinational or state-run corporations....
Over the coming decade, the United States looks likely to overtake Russia and rival Qatar as a leading supplier of natural gas to international markets....
And U.S. crude oil exports might also be possible some day, strengthening America's lead in market-related pricing for kingpin crude oil, much the way rising North Sea production did in the 1980s. ...
What I love about this brilliant text is that my entire script is laid out in its essential, unquestionable beauty in just a few sentences.  But I would caution Amy and Ed not to be too specific about natural gas and crude oil exports from the U.S., and U.S. becoming a new democratic Saudi Arabia. That's because it will not happen.  We may barely reduce imports of crude oil, and barely produce enough gas to satisfy our ever growing needs over the next few decades.

In my mind, it is far better to put others down and say that we no longer need them, because now we can satisfy most of our thirst for oil and gas.  Just imagine an Egyptian despot on our payroll reading these words and calculating how much longer he has to live before his house of cards crashes without our constant propping it up?  Otherwise, Amy and Ed, you are beautiful.

I could glow about the last press example, but you're already getting my drift.  These three literary gems are examples of a narrative better than merely telling the truth.  Most people want to be lied to.  That's why we have elections. Every four years we are free to choose our favorite pack of lies, and revert back to our iPhones, Facebook and Twitter.  Sleep tight America.

P.S. 10/27/2013. Another one of my people at the New York Times, Mr. Binyamin Appelbaum, has reported that inflation is good for economic growth by, for example, eroding increases of teachers' salaries in Alaska and increasing profits of Walmart and Costco.  Kenneth S. Rogoff, a Harvard economist, wrote recently. “It should be embraced.” And there is more...

I am humbled. Why didn't I think about such an elegant novel way of screwing Americans?  May be because I still think that Americans are on our team? I need to grow up.

Actually, novel this plan is not. Ten days before the Powell memo, on August 13, 1971, President Nixon met secretly at Camp David with Federal Reserve chairman Arthur Burns, incoming Treasury Secretary John Connally, then undersecretary for international monetary affairs and future Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, and other high-ranking White House and Treasury advisers. Quoting Wikipedia:
There was great debate about what Nixon should do, but ultimately Nixon, relying heavily on the advice of the self-confident Connally, decided to break up Bretton Woods by suspending the convertibility of the dollar into gold, freezing wages and prices for 90 days to combat potential inflationary effects, and impose an import surcharge of 10 percent. "Connally brilliantly packaged the program not as America abandoning its commitment to the gold standard but as America taking charge. He turned the dollar's collapse, which could have appeared shameful, into a moment of hubris."
This disastrous move caused the prolonged stagflation of the 1970s, and the 45% cumulative inflation by 1976.  Since very few Americans remember anything older than yesterday, my boys are fixin' to do it again.  But this time around the consequences will be direr than in 1971. Like a two-digit inflation for a decade or longer?

Please click on this image to see it in full resolution. If we follow the 1971 example, we may expect 10+ % inflation rate for over a decade. Such inflation would wipe out most of the retired people and people on fixed incomes. It would impoverish 98% of the rest. Source: The New York Times, Published: October 26, 2013.

P.S.P.S. 11/08/2013.  My crew at Goldman Sachs, when they rest from trying to starve millions of poor people around the world or from conspiring to destroy the world economy, they toy with predicting future of production of oil and condensate, and ethanol in the U.S.  Here is their prediction for the record, to be revisited a year or two from now.


P.S.P.S.P.S. 11/09/2013. My men at the Economist are following up on Mr. Binyamin Appelbaum's script, praising charms of inflation. Something's cooking here. The hopelessly indebted and inefficient developed economies have to cancel their debt. That's what we are about to do through gentle inflation. But we need a whole lot of inflation to get rid of the many tens of trillions of dollars of our collective debt. For example, if the U.S. wants to bring down the $70 trillion of our current debt to $16 trillion (current GDP), we need 10 years of 16 percent per year inflation. Well, let's see what happens...