The danger of degrees

I find it all too predictable how the expansion of “computer science education” over the last two decades has created a whole class of “programmers” who can’t actually program anything:

I wrote that article in 2007, and I am stunned, but not entirely surprised, to hear that three years later “the vast majority” of so-called programmers who apply for a programming job interview are unable to write the smallest of programs. To be clear, hard is a relative term — we’re not talking about complicated, Google-style graduate computer science interview problems. This is extremely simple stuff we’re asking candidates to do. And they can’t. It’s the equivalent of attempting to hire a truck driver and finding out that 90 percent of the job applicants can’t find the gas pedal or the gear shift.

I agree, it’s insane. But it happens every day, and is (apparently) an epidemic hiring problem in our industry.

Some of the best and most successful programmers I know still don’t even have college degrees. They might not be able to get past the average corporation’s HR department, but then, they don’t need to. I don’t know how anyone can still argue that education is the answer to anything when, in its current form, it produces junior high school students who can’t read, high school graduates who can’t do math, and college graduates who can’t program.

I still remember playing Ultima I with a young friend. He was a few years younger than me but was an accomplished Apple II programmer at the age of 12.

Interview with John Derbyshire

Vox Day interviewed John Derbyshire, the National Review contributor and author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism, on March 23, 2010.

Who is this “we” of whom you speak? Are you speaking of America, the West, conservatism, or the human race?

Primarily conservatism. But touching in a larger way on Western civilization.

You’re a fairly serious student of science. Isn’t your theme of doom somewhat in opposition to the usual notion of inevitable progress towards a shiny, sexy, science fiction future?

No, I don’t think so. Science is neutral so far as optimism or pessimism is concerned. Indeed, it is neutral so far as all the affairs of the heart are concerned. As I said in the book, the universe doesn’t care what we think of it, it just goes on its way. I understand what you mean, that sort of H.G. Wells breezy optimism about the prospects for the future based on our understanding more and more about the world is commonplace, although not as commonplace as it was when H.G. Wells was alive. But it’s not founded in any solid principles.

Of the various issues you address directly, from politics, diversity, and culture to immigration, empire, and economy, which do you consider to be the most responsible for this doom?

Let’s see. Probably nature. Most of the truths about the world are contained in the world and they are contained in the nature of reality. It’s that that drives everything. I’m more and more inclined, and this is an odd sort of thing for a conservative to say, perhaps, but particularly this last few days, I’m more and more tempted to the old Marxian idea of impersonal forces driving our affairs, with we ourselves having very little to say about it. That’s actually an awful thing to say and I’d like to qualify it at length, but that would take about 45 minutes, which of course we don’t have. But that’s the mood that’s coming on me, I’m afraid.

Fortunately, we have no word limits on the blog. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Robert Prechter and Elliott Wave theory, which applies primarily to the financial markets but can be utilized for purposes well beyond them. Dating back to Tolstoy, there have been a number of non-Marxian thinkers who have reached similar conclusions about larger forces, waves of mass human emotion rather than individual decisions as per Great Man theory dictating events.

It’s a naughty business and obviously one wouldn’t want to discard altogether the possibility that things can be decisively turned this way or that by a single personality, by a Napoleon or an Alexander. But possibly those turnings are just harmonics imposed on a bigger, deeper wave form driven by very cold natural forces.

What do you think some of those forces might be? I mentioned waves of mass human emotion already, but do you have any other candidates in mind?

That’s fairly appealing. I think so far as human history is concerned that in some way that we are not currently even close to understanding, somehow a kind of vector sum of individual human drives and emotions, a sum that is of hundreds of millions of such drives. There probably are some kind of underlying laws there, if only we could discern them.

One of the most terrifying things I have ever read was Paul Krugman’s statement that he decided to become an economist after reading Isaac Asimov’s Foundation novels.

Yeah, we’re veering a bit close to that here, aren’t we? It was Hari Seldon and psychohistory, wasn’t it? I think if you think we’re close to understanding anything like that, you’re in the zone of what is called misplaced concreteness. I think that’s far beyond our grasp at the moment. But it’s very suggestive. There are great forces and great tides at work, ebbing and flowing. Perhaps we’ll understand them, though I doubt we’ll ever reduce them to mathematics as Hari Seldon did. It’s a strong temptation for economists, and one reason to keep economists at arms-length. They do tend to do this kind of thing. You know, if it’s not Hari Seldon, it’s Ayn Rand, one of these other mechanistic thinkers. We’re not even close to understanding any of those dynamics, but that doesn’t mean they might not be impersonal dynamics.

I am somewhat in awe of your prediction in the book that we shall all be Icelanders, given recent events of that island nation and our own debt/GDP ratio. How was it that you so accurately foresaw the collapse into debt-servitude of the Icelandic economy?

(Chuckles) Yes, yes. Do you know the joke that was going around? What’s the capital of Iceland? About $45. That was just fortuitous. That was in my chapter on religion and when I spoke of us being Icelanders I was saying that even in the least religious nation in the world, where only two percent of the population attend church regularly, if you poll them you get big majorities believing in life after death, supernatural powers, and so on. Just by way of illustrating the fact that you can have these diffuse spiritual longings, human beings do have them in the generality, without much in the way of organized religion. It wasn’t actually related to the economics; although I would have liked to have predicted the economic crash in Iceland, but no, I didn’t.

I was aware of that, I just thought you might like to take the credit. You know, one of the interesting data points in one of the Barna religion surveys was that half of the self-identified atheists surveyed believed in Heaven and Hell.

Oh yes, you get all kinds of things. Way back when I was a student, I read Marghanita Laski’s very fine book, Ecstasy in Secular and Religious Experience. It was an inquiry into the religious experience. She found as many people she could who had claimed to have had a religious experience and asked them to describe it in order to draw out the common elements in the experiences, and some striking proportion of her respondents, something like 30 percent, were atheists! Religious experiences for everyone!

Now, you’re not a religious man, but it seems to me there is a certain Voltairean theme in your book. It is customary among the scientific cognoscenti to consider religion a sign of backwardness, however, in We Are Doomed, one of the things you cite as evidence of our doom is this rising tide of unbelief. How do you balance that in terms of where you stand between Voltaire on one side and Sam Harris on the other?

Well, there’s a tragic element there, always. As a number of commentators have pointed out, if you survey the human race dispassionately, it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that a) human beings are better off with religion, and yet, b) religion is ultimately a wishful fantasy. So that the kind of adherence to cold realism that you would want people to have in spheres like scientific inquiry and jurisprudence doesn’t serve the human race well if it is taken up in all aspects of life. Probably people who are not very reflective – Hazlitt had a phrase that I liked very much, “the reflective portion of humanity” amongst which he of course included himself – the reflective portion of humanity is probably only a quarter or a third of the human race at best. And the rest, ordinary people who just want to go about their lives and raise their families and do some type of useful work, I doubt they can be sustained in life without some sort of supernatural beliefs. So, yeah, there’s a tragic element there. What one might wish human beings to be like and what they’re actually like is an unbridgeable gap. That’s the tragic dimension. But the Voltairean optimism is not apt, certainly not in our present circumstances. I think we will lose our faith. I think we’re losing it visibly. I’ve been living in America since 1973 and this is a much less religious country now than it was then. I give the example in the book of the countries I grew up adjacent to, Ireland and Wales, which were then deeply religious in the 1950s and are now completely irreligious. They’re as irreligious as Iceland now, Ireland not quite, but Wales is there already. I don’t know why this wouldn’t happen to any other Western country. The cause is the same and the basic genetic stock is much the same.

Speaking of the change of nations, recent studies have shown that immigrants tend to lean heavily Democrat. You’ve got a chapter devoted to immigration in the book, so how do you explain the continued enthusiasm for immigration into the USA among conservatives and the Republican Party?

It’s based in a heady optimism about American exceptionalism. What I was really arguing about in my chapter in religion is American exceptionalism draining away. The great exceptionalism that America has amongst Western nations is its religiosity. That’s draining away. I think a lot of American conservatives are very much attached to this notion of exceptionalism. Patriotism is one of the half-dozen core features of conservatism, the belief that one’s own country is special and has some sort of special mission in the world. That’s been a core feature, not just of American conservatism but every kind of conservatism. Even the much older, European, Throne-and-Altar conservatism, the Squire Weston type in 18th century England. The exceptionalism of “our King, our Church, our Nation”. That’s a core feature, so in what does American exceptionalism consist? And one of the things it consists of is this having been a nation populated in very recent times. Most of the populating of American has taken place just in the last 400 years; that’s a very exceptional thing. It makes us a new country, structurally, and American conservatives would like to feel that’s going to go on, that we’re going to go on populating ourselves. I think that’s the main pull there. But of course, it’s an illusion. It’s a fantasy. We already have far more people than we can reasonably support. The ideal population for the continental USA is probably about 100 million, I should think. It doesn’t make any sense in terms of economics or demographics. But there’s the pull of wanting to be that unusual nation, wanting to maintain the things that made us what we are, one of those things having been occasional waves of mass immigration. But you know, conservatives aren’t very knowledgeable here. Peter Brimelow likes to point out that the New England states had practically zero immigration for 200 years, from the mid-17th century to the mid-19th century, from the last of the Pilgrims to the first of the Irish. There was essentially no inflow into New England and the population increased naturally. So, these spells of immigration were few and far between, but they caught the imagination of conservatives because they speak to our exceptionalism.

After the passage of the Obamacare bill, you made an analogy to a sinking cruise ship. What are some of the issues that you feel have drawn the bilge-pumpers away from the pumps and onto the dance floor over the last two decades?

The temptations of power. There’s always been enough discontent with the way things are going to draw people to vote conservatives into power now and again. When conservatives are in power, then the temptations of power take over and they become statists. They want to do things – they want to do conservative things – but the only way to do things is to use the apparatus of the federal government – so they then become proponents of federal power and are sucked into the abyss like that. We’ve fallen into the trap of active conservatism, conservatism to do something, conservatism to ban something, conservatism to fix something. And that really isn’t conservatism, it certainly isn’t real American conservatism. That’s why I obsess about Calvin Coolidge, who was the quintessential American conservative.

I admired your refusal to end We Are Doomed on an up note. Since you finished the book, have you seen any evidence that you need to alter your conclusions of doom?

Oh, none at all. I think my conclusions stand. I was writing something for NRO this morning and I was going to quote myself, the bit where I say that I fully expect to live the rest of my life without ever seeing any major conservative legislation passed. I stand by that. I think it looks better now than when I wrote it.

There is a lot of talk on National Review and elsewhere that the Obamacare bill is really going to energize the Right, that people are going to react strongly against the Congressional Democrats and Obama as a result of their ramming health care legislation down the collective throat of the country. Do you think this is true and we’re on the verge of a 1994, Contract With America-style revolution or is something else in the cards?

So what if we are? After ’94 came ’95. The forces that are dragging the ship down quickly reasserted themselves after 1994 and they will after 2010. They are irresistible, I’m sure. Thomas Sowell, who in my book is a wise man, has a piece on NRO where he pours cold water on the dreams of 2010 being another 1994. It just may not be like that, it may be a nine-days wonder and now that it’s done, everyone will just breathe a sigh of relief and say “oh, thank goodness we don’t have to talk about that stuff anymore.” I think inertia will settle in. I’m pessimistic. (laughs) So, don’t take it for granted that there’s going to be some huge upheaval in 2010. A lot of politicians will get voted out of office, perhaps the balance of power will even change in the House. But we’ll still have this president, we’ll still have this establishment, we’ll still have this Federal apparatus, we’ll still have a largely torpid general public not willing to concentrate very long on any of the things that matter.

A descent into madness

I have a random idea for something that may be of interest to a small and masochistic fraction of the Ilk. Most of you will recall that we have, on occasion, collectively contemplated the possibility of Japan invading the West Coast. Being a game designer, I have often found that a wargame nicely clarifies one’s thinking on the range of practical possibilities. However, since there does not appear to be a wargame dedicated to this proposition, for what I believe to be the obvious reason that it wasn’t considered even a remote possibility by any of the functional military minds on either side, my thought is to design one which will clearly illustrate the various points I have repeatedly explained to those who bought into Michelle Malkin’s thesis.

If anyone is interested participating, the first thing we’ll need to do is work out orders of battle for both sides, decide on a scale for the map, and settle on potential victory conditions. I intend to work out the Japanese OOB circa spring 1942; I have already reinstalled the War in the Pacific complete with the latest updates to assist in this process. So, if you’re a wargamer or WWII enthusiast, feel free to share your thoughts on the idea here.

A government of dunces

Obamacare faces immediate corporate blowback:

One of the “cute tricks” passed with Medicare Part “D” (by George W. Bush) was a “tax credit” for corporations who provided health care to retirees from their firms. This too was a distortion – an intentional one put into that bill to “buy off” some key Reps and Senators to insure passage of Medicare Part “D” (the biggest boondoggle and scam in the history of the Republic – until President Obama signed this piece of crap legislation.)

But this legislation repeals that little ditty in the Medicare Part “D” law. Remember, the Democrat talking points were that this bill would “lower your costs” and “make health care more affordable.” It was also called a “jobs bill” – that is, that this bill would create jobs.

Within hours corporations announced intent to recognize the repeal of this exemption – via 8Ks filed with the SEC. This was not a surprise – Caterpillar had warned the Administration, as had other firms, that the bill as written would increase their costs and that they would have to recognize those forward costs.

Securities laws require firms to disclose material changes when they are realized – which in this case means when the bill was signed into law, since they had already analyzed the bill and it’s impact. Legally, these companies are obligated to file the 8Ks disclosing these charges.

The Administration and Democrats generally ignored these folks when they warned of this impact before the bill was passed…. Well, the corporations weren’t lying, and now the 8Ks are flying. Caterpillar has announced an intent to take a $100 million non-cash charge, John Deer $150 million, and AT&T a whopping $1 billion.

We are indeed amused. Obama won’t prove to be the worst president ever, as Wilson and Lincoln almost surely have first and second positions locked down, but he is definitely one of the most comedic. And I suspect that he’s still only scratching the surface of his potential.

No mention of the real problem

Which is, of course, those crafty creationists:

Traditional science experiments ‘disappearing’ from schools
Almost all science teachers and lab technicians said they were now being prevented from staging certain practicals in biology, chemistry and physics lessons, it was claimed.

The study – by Science Learning Centres, a network of teacher training colleges – said more than two-thirds of staff admitted axing experiments because of a lack of space in the curriculum. Four-in-10 blamed the demands of exams and assessment. According to the study, some 28 per cent of teachers had been forced to drop classroom practical because of bad behaviour among pupils, while one-in-10 cited health and safety fears.

The amusing thing is that the self-styled defenders of science who are so vocal about so many unrelated issues don’t give a damn about the state of scientific education. Atheists such as Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers are FAR more concerned with preventing creationism from being taught as an alternative to time + chance + natural selection (probably) + magic stardust/aliens than they are with the fact that students are increasingly being taught scientific history rather than science.

Answering questions

What is your favorite color?
Straw blonde.

What is your quest?
To finally play Fifth Frontier War. This maywill require finishing the VASSAL mod. I’ve got the map and infantry counters done, now I just have to finish the spaceships.

How do you manage your time with all the activities you are engaged in (reading, writing, gaming, soccer, family, work)?
I work in exceptionally fast bursts, punctuated by long periods of doing little more than reading. I drop the sports, writing, and gaming whenever necessary. Also, I have essentially eradicated my social life since I find that I tend to prefer solitary pursuits these days.

Who’s your second favourite Ilk after me of course?

What is your IQ?
Over the so-called “genius” threshhold. Some people can’t seem to figure out that the 132 IQ Mensa requirement (Stanford-Binet) is a floor, not a ceiling.

Why do you hate science?
I don’t hate science. I have great respect for the scientific method, although I am cognizant of its conceptual and practical limits. The problem is that my contempt for scientists who dishonestly make use of bait-and-switches wherein they appeal to the authority of the scientific method without actually utilizing it in any way is often mistaken for a dislike of science by the modestly intelligent.

Why do you hate socialism?
Because it is an economic absurdity built on a false premise of value, an ideological monstrosity constructed upon the worst aspects of human nature, and a form of societal organization that is both intrinsically inefficient from an economic perspective and reliably dangerous from a political one.

Why are you a racist?
It depends upon how you define “racist”. There is no question that there are divergent human populations; the genetic science is settled in this regard and only a scientific ignoramus would deny that race, in the form of a genetically homogeneous groups of homo sapiens, exists. But to acknowledge the existence of racial diversity is not tantamount to a belief in general racial superiority. Each race has various strengths and weaknesses. None are intrinsically superior on average; the relative superiority of one race in comparison with another completely depends upon the metric selected.

Why are you a sexist?
Because I don’t believe sexual equality exists, or ever has existed, in any material, spiritual, or legal form. And it never will exist.

Why did you leave the US?
Because I anticipated that it was going to go through some very difficult times in the near future and I didn’t want to be around a bunch of deluded and disappointed people in the process of discovering that they were not, in fact, the most wealthy, most powerful, and most free people on the planet. My philosophy is that it is best to leave Rome before Alaric arrives.

Why Italy?
First, collapse would be redundant. Second, the food is good and the weather is nice. Third, I always wanted to learn the language.

If planning a visit to Italy, what places do recommend and what places should be avoided?
Go to Rome, Venice, and Verona. Avoid Milan and Florence.

What are good times of the year to visit Italy?
In the early spring or late fall. But I hate crowds, especially crowds of tourists, so I’m quite happy to have to wear a jacket in order to be alone in a piazza. Also, my tolerance for cold is higher than most.

At what age did you embrace your Christian faith?

Do you think Brown is right, that the Permanent Portfolio always makes sense?
No. No investment philosophy always makes sense. Stocks can take 30 years just to break even.

If you and Chuck Norris got into a fight, who would win?
At our respective peaks, Mr. Norris. I might have a shot today since I am younger and closer to my peak speed and strength.

How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

Can God create a rock so large that He is unable to lift it?

Why do birds suddenly appear every time you draw near?
Upon visiting the shrine of St. Frances of Assisi in the winter of 2001, I realized that the pattern of the trees in the grove were planted in an unusual way that suggested hermetic purpose. After eight months of close daily observation, I discovered that the shadows they cast spelled out a certain word on the autumnal equinox. Speaking that word at sunrise on a particular date gave me the gift of Gramarye. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of testing it with a extraordinarily loquacious starling and now that many of the birds around the world know I can understand them, the little bastards simply won’t leave me alone.

Is Alex Jones your mentor?
No. I’m not a fan of radio talkers.

Have you ever gamed a Japanese invasion of the west coast ~1942?
Not per se. I have played War in the Pacific, the computer game published by Matrix Games, but I didn’t try invading the West Coast.

What is your favorite caliber handgun?
.40 caliber. No particular reason, I just don’t like 9mm and I’m accustomed to forty.

If one of your feminist critics decided they wanted to have sex with you anyways, would you? That is if you weren’t married and said feminist was HOT. Would you? And by hot, I mean swedish bikini blonde hot…

Hypotheticals are irrelevant; as it stands I already have Norwegian bikini blonde hot. And having recently visited both Stockholm and Olso, I can state with assurance that Norwegian is much hotter. So, no.

My daughter just started playing soccer and I’d like to know where you learned so much about the game. What can I do to learn enough to be useful to her development in the game?
Playing it for 25 years. Go join a rec team and learn how to play it. It’s a simple game and it’s not hard to pick up on the tactics even if your technical skills are hopeless.

When does the next installment of Summa Elvetica come out?
I have to write it first. I have no idea.

Blue Hurricane or Amaretto Sour?
I have to go with the Windex. It’s the umbrellas, you know. But I’ll take a proper Sex on the Beach with Chambord, chilled but sans ice, over either.

Why do we like a person we’ve never met, so much?
It’s the charming combination of total arrogance with a complete unwillingness to take myself seriously. Humanity isn’t merely flawed, it is ridiculous.

Favorite books?

Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco. The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper. A Horse and His Boy by CS Lewis. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkein.

How many comments do you have to delete from people who have no business commenting in the first place? Are there ever idle threats?
About three or four per day on average. Not really. The sort of commenter who gets himself banned is much more given to claiming martyrdom and superior debate skills than issuing threats.

Why do you hate?
Because I feed on the dark side of the Force.

How do you conceptualize God?
A model builder sitting outside a globe of space-time and checking it out from time to time when He feels curious. I find it hard to imagine that God is as completely consumed with interest in His Creation as many atheists and Christians assume. I’m not claiming He’s indifferent or completely hands-off, I’m just saying that it’s possible the Deists were not entirely off-base.

Holden Caulfield, misunderstood genius, or spoiled brat prick?
Spoiled brat prick. He desperately needed a beat-down or three.

More to come as needed….

Dante’s Inferno XIV and XV

Next week’s reading is cantos XVI and XVII