Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Vermont Energy Plan

Vermont is now debating its future energy policy. My students have just been assigned the job of reading the report and analyzing the recommendations in light of the work that they have done over the past year. Our state is in a bit of a crisis. Vermont Yankee will be decommissioned in next decade and our Hydro Quebec contract will expire in just a couple of years. These energy sources are responsible for almost 60% of the electricity in Vermont. Combine this with the fact that oil and LNG prices are rising fast and you have a problem in the shire.

So just what are the honorable ones planning to do about this issue. What is their plan? It is interesting that the simple overview is posted using Adobe but the rest of the report is in Word Perfect. Does anyone even use WP anymore? Using this format to make documents to make these documents public is not the best way to practice open government.

I'll be posting their reviews in a week.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Who will be left holding the bag?

Last week I gave a little analysis on the markets and some of the systemic problems that I thought the US capital markets would go through. The crisis of the past two weeks has been with GM and now AIG. It is interesting to note that AIG is the 3ed largest owner of GM debt. That combined with the reinsurance issues with AIG subsidiaries means that this company is very venerable. When the one of the biggest insurance companies is hurting bad, so to will the economy. Contagion is a tricky thing and it is hard to find out if this is not occurring with other insurance companies also…GenRe comes to mind. The market is now at 10412 and 1974 with 1% losses on the day. US$/Euro is at 1.2917? This part of the equation I don’t understand….There is one possibility that the Chinese are actually supporting the US$, but how long will they continue to buy our paper? The US 10ytb is now at 4.59 which marks a big increase in the past week.

Oil is still very high and the risk is increasing. I still think that my prediction is correct about the general risk to the market and the direction that we are going in. Look for the event that creates bad news that starts the movement to the exits. Can the captains and the kings keep things together?

Update on Commons Co-op

For the past couple of weeks, my Research and Service group has been doing a fair amount of work on the Commons Co-op. We have finished our analysis of the electricity consumption at the school and are now working on converting these figures into CO2 emissions. The work is rather difficult and more than a little frustrating. When we research online and use various calculators on the web, they never list the assumptions in the model nor do they provide the equations on which these calculators are based. Unless you can see the assumption in a model, it does not make much sense to use it nor can you justify its use in making various forecasts.

One group of students has come up with the goal of eliminating our carbon emissions by planting trees. We have secured the land to plant the trees and are now working on calculating the carbon absorption of various species. This is also a difficult process because of the simple linear equations that most models use in the calculations that most use. Thus, our figures over how much CO2 we are actually capturing over the course of ten years can be off by several orders of magnitude. This raises a couple of interesting questions about CO2 credits and trading them in futures markets. Just what is it that we are trading? It is important to make sure that your actually making a difference rather than just making yourself feel good about trying to solve the problem.

Planet of Slums

The explosion in human population in the 20th Century altered not only the ecosystems of the planet, but marked a big transition from an agrarian lifestyle to that of an urban one. While many countries and people benefited from this urbanization it does have a downside. Mike Davis is the author or two of my favorite books, City of Quartz and Late Victorian Holocausts. These books were interesting economic and ecological analysis of Los Angeles and 19th Century Globalization. His latest article entitled “Planet of Slums” opened my eyes to an issue that has security, economic, ecological and social implications. Moreover, it questions some of the very basic assumptions about globalization and free markets. I was especially taken by the insight that Davis has about the rise of fundamentalism in these slums. The threat is not just Islamic Fundamentalism making inroads into these new communities, but also in Pentecostal Christianity. Imagine a world where Latin America, Asia and Africa are dominated by Radical Christian Fundamentalists who feel completely alienated from the political and social structures of modernity. If population dynamics is one of the forces that dominate history then this new social phonomena needs to be studied.

Monday, March 21, 2005

The liberal arts...

Bill Hoyt sent me this article about a month ago, when a group of us was engaged in a discussion about the best kind of education. The answer that Leo Strauss has created is as fresh and controversial now as it was when written. While some would dismiss Strauss as the father of neo-conservatism, he raises good points about the role of culture in the creation of society and civilization. Moreover, if you look closely at his text you will see that Strauss does not just reference the traditions of the West:

“The greatest minds to whom we ought to listen are by no means exclusively the greatest minds of the West. It is merely an unfortunate necessity which prevents us from listening to the greatest minds of India and of China: we do not understand their languages, and we cannot learn all languages.”

He has reverence to the best that humanity as to offer, and gives us all the goal of bettering society and ourselves by appealing to reason, logic and a natural aristocracy. Such a goal is sadly missing from most education today. Instead of it being a liberating event to open up a good old book and engage with an interesting teacher, it is often just another powerstruggle between different points of view. The educated person is a rare thing and Strauss makes us realize that.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Still Falling....

Two weeks ago I made a warning about the US Markets, saying that they were overvalued. This short-term prediction was confirmed. The Dow and the NAZ are both off their highs and the 10 Year T-bill is higher. The US$ has lost value to every major currency but not very dramatically and the oil prices are going higher especially gas. The fundamentals of the US economy just are not there, the question is not when the crisis is going to occur but where will first occur.

Here are a couple of possibilities…

  1. Increased prices at the pump cause consumer spending to fall.
  2. The housing market will slump as the interest rates rise. The tipping point is difficult to determine, but when it occurs all hell will break lose. I’ll go out on a limb and say that it will happen this year. Today while looking at the Burlington Free Press I notices that a condo near my house sold for over $200,000. That is just insane…Vermont is not NYC.
  3. The ever present threat of terrorism and some international crisis could cause a real crisis of confidence.
  4. Long Term Capital Management was a small firm in the late 1990’s that almost destroyed the US financial system using all kinds of fancy investment vehicles that it sold to all kinds of…suckers. There are all kinds of firms that are struggling to make ends meet and they will do anything to keep the game going. Somewhere out in the real world is a trader or money manager who is invest a large part of a portfolio in something that he does not understand…and his risk is increasing.
  5. Increasing interest rates will eventually create a problem for all of us. The real problem is that the rise of interest rates will not satisfy the foreign investors and the US$ falls as interest rates are jacked up even higher. This is the nightmare scenario and will probably not occur.

The markets are still heading south...

March 21, 2005. It looks as it GM is going to cause a fair amount of chaos in the market. The stock is taking a pounding and the layoffs are being announced. Here is a link to their page on Yahoo. They are in debt 300 Billion...They will never pay this money back. Can anyone say bankruptacy...just who owns their debt. Those insitutions are screwed.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Education, Reductionism and a Party

Education is changing and the way in which students are learning about the world is undergoing a profound transformation. The explosion of information and its easy accessibility destroys the old belief that the accumulation of information in the human mind was the key component in preparing young people to meet the challenges of the future. In addition, the preparation of students was also centered on preparing them for jobs in a manufacturing and national economy. The world has changed and so must our system of preparing people for the future. In a networked world suffering from information overload, critical thinking and analytical skills become even more important—and the cultural stakes are raised even higher.

Last night I went to a going away party for one of my old students. She is traveling to Peru for a semester abroad. One of my professors from undergraduate days was also in attendance. After explaining that I teach at Vermont Commons, he asked me about my classes. I told him about some of the computer modeling I do with the students, the kinds of books they read and our general approach and philosophy. Middlebury is and always will be a bastion of conservatism and his reaction to my answers gave me an insight into one of the main issues in education.

“So you’re teaching them Marxism…”

How do I answer? Marx was a great social scientist. His development of economic theory and its use in understanding class structure and creation of value are excellent analytical tools. Is he making reference to Marx as an economic reductionist or is he simply calling me a red? I laughed knowing that my membership in DKE and the Dissipated 8 should place me in his memory as part of one of the most reactionary and conservative members of the Middlebury community. Has the College moved so far to the right that its members consider frat boy singers to be the leftist fringe?

As a religion professor, is his weltanschauung centered on the idea that truth, a is revealed by God to humanity through the divine word? His religious tradition is centered on sacred texts and the interaction with these texts. Thus, the truth of the world is made clear by looking at the text in combination with reason and logic. His way of finding the truth is at odds with mine. Truth is arrived at as a dynamic process of interaction with the world informing our understanding of truth. Marxism and religion are tools used to understand the world, but they are not truth in itself. Thus, the professor while rejecting reductionism is in danger of being a reductionist himself.

Being educated means using the best intellectual tool for the job. God, the environment, modeling, Marxism, poetry, Madyamika, Plato, Spanish, Chinese and painting are all important reference points and methods that we use to find truth but they are not truth. We must use whatever is available because the world is what we create with our minds and our understanding. The great debates in education and our culture today center around where we receive our inspiration to create a just world and the methodology we use to make it manifest.

The world is far too complex and diverse to rely on the revealed truth of any one religion or set of sacred texts. The challenges of the Buddha’s words remain, “We are what we think, all that we are arises with our thoughts, and with our thoughts we make the world.” So the task of education is to provide the tools to understand the world so that together we can create a better one. Math, science allow us to explore the nature of the world. Language allows us to communicate our knowledge to others. Models give us the ability to communicate our worldviews to others and make them explicit. In just a few rare occasions they help us predict possible futures and avoid the biggest mistakes.

This just the roughest outline of what education needs to become.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Introduction to Peak Oil

The United States Department of Energy has just published an interesting report. While the title makes you think it deals with the boring subject of oil shale, its importance lies in the section on global oil reserves. This report is another indicator that shows the US government realizes that we have a problem. I’ve been doing a lot of work with my students on the issue of oil consumption and production creating various computer models and trying to simulate the dynamics between price, consumption, demand the limits of this natural resource. While this has proved quite challenging it has also enabled us to develop a much deeper understanding of some of the political, economic and social implications of this coming crisis. If you don’t already know about this issue, this report is a good introduction.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Voices from the Middle East...

A couple of posts ago I wrote a reply to about an idea to get a group of people and buy a foreign correspondent. It seems like that idea is not really needed. There are already a lot of people who are blogging about what is happening outside the United States. The only thing you need to do is find out who they are and link to their blog. I’ve already created a link to Baghad Burning, but here are a couple of new ones.

View from Iran. This is another country that we have very little access to. Interesting takes on daily life and politics inside the country.

Big Pharaoh. A view from an Egyptian on various events in the Middle East.

About 20% of the hits on this site are from places outside North and South America. If your living outside the Americas can you send me an e-mail. I’d love to know what area of the world your from. My address is

Monday, March 14, 2005

Peak oil in the House

The Hon. Roscoe Bartlett and the Hon.Wayne Gilchrest, both Republican Members of the U.S. House of Representatives for Maryland, argued on the floor that global oil production has peaked. They called for conservation and a crash program to develop alternative forms of energy. The speech represents a major event because the elected representatives of people are coming to the realization that we are in big trouble. As I watched this speech on C-Span I was stunned. Bartlett and Gilchrest recognized the limits to economic growth given our current energy system. Each said that unless we developed sustainable sources of energy we would experience a profound denigration of our social, political, economic and ecological systems. Furthermore, these gentlemen said that the issue of peak oil could only be dealt with on an international level with all nations working together. It was a call for change dialogue and action.

This event gives me a lot of hope. If two Republican members of the House of Representatives recognize that we need to live within limits and transition to a more sustainable society then all is not lost. There is an issue that we, Republicans and Democrats, can find common ground. As soon as it becomes available I will provide a link to these speeches in the Congressional Record.

The Commons Co-op

As part of my responsibilities at the Vermont Commons School, I teach a class in our Research and Service Program. The Commons Co-op was a project that I created this fall of 2004 to explore various market driven solutions to decreasing energy consumption. My personal belief is that while developing an environmental ethic is important we also need to use the power of the market to get people to conserve energy. Conservation can be profitable and can even work when you energize a employees at a small business or school by giving them the opportunity to benefit economically from a change in their own behavior. This spring we are expanding the scope of the project.

Getting Eyeballs...

The power of a blog lies in the number of eyeballs that look at it. The question is how to attract the audience. This little experiment has a few self-imposed limitations. First, I did not want to spend any money developing the site. Nor did I want to buy a domain name. So I relied on two ways to attract people to my site.

1. Content. If you create content that adds something to the reader’s lives then you will do quite well. Content is the foundation of a good blog.

2. E-mail to friends. Last Monday, I e-mailed my old fraternity brothers and asked them to check out the blog. Thus, using personal contacts to generate some kind of initial interest is a cheap way to generate traffic.

3. Comments on other blogs. The day of the greatest traffic was when I commented on a post at This type of interaction takes a lot of time and effort. However, it is important to generate buzz within the community.

4. The patron. If my blog could attract the attention of a major blogger then eyeballs would follow. A comment on their blog would be cool, a link would be even better. How can I possibly get their interest? See #1.

5. Targeted advertising. Forget the newspapers just advertise on a blog or website that is of importance to your audience.

These are the simple guidelines and as I start developing the blog for the school, I’ll keep updating this list. If your reading these lines I’d appreciate some feedback.

Taylorism by Chris Reed

Its Monday morning and after spending Thursday, Friday and part of Saturday with the flu, I’m now in a position to post some more things to the blog. One of the reasons to create this online piece of work, is to show examples of work from the Vermont Commons School. Chris Reed’s paper on Taylorism was written for his Global Studies II class. (His paper does contain several footnotes and a bibliography. However, I was unable to cut and past them to the blog. Please send me an e-mail and I will forward you a copy that includes this missing information if you need it.)

The Father of Scientific Management: Frederick W. Taylor and Taylorism by Chris Reed

Frederick Winslow Taylor founded the system of workplace regulation and division known as Taylorism in the late 1800s. As the words inscribed upon his gravestone state, he was the father of scientific management. His most significant achievements to the world are recorded in his published volume The Principles of Scientific Management; an intellectual work that details a new type of workplace designed around the sole goal of ultimate efficiency. In its most essential form, scientific management is the idea that system of labor may be broken down and analyzed mathematically, with the ultimate goal being a higher efficiency and profit yield.

As a result of this examination, many revolutionary new concepts became distributed for the first time in Taylor’s Principles. The separation of administrative office space from the production area was exercised for the first time due to Taylor’s calculations of efficiency. Payment by output rather than a flat rate and generally the most comprehensive study of the labor system to date could be found in this radical volume. The Principles of Scientific Management was translated into several languages, giving his ideas an influence around the world . To this day, Taylorist technique and this time in American history is taught in classrooms around the world, because many of the ideals of a scientifically managed workplace hold perpetually true; Peter Drucker has called Taylor’s book perhaps “the most powerful as well as the most lasting contribution America has made to Western thought since the Federalist Papers.”

Perhaps the most significant and hotly debated ideal employed by Taylorism was the reduction of skilled workers, artisans, and tradesmen to perform only a simple and menial job, often extremely repetitive requiring no thought. In a workplace based on Taylorist ideology, men were seen as cogs in a great machine that must be carefully regulated and maintain but one critical piece of the entire process. This reduction to a simple, repetitive and tedious task concerned many labor union leaders and middle managers alike, whose jobs it would eliminate in the interest of greater efficiency and profits as they became unnecessary. Many times these fears were confirmed; in an example at Simonds roller bearings company, who hired Taylor during his days as a consultant, 120 workers were replaced with 35 as the jobs of these middle managers became unnecessary. This attracted further negative attention from labor unions and those who wished to defend these managers.

Taylor, however, felt he was misunderstood when he was seen responsible for a period of particularly vicious searching for efficiency in the workplace. In accordance with the ideals set forth by Principles, managers and administrators would often “stalk their workers with stopwatches,” starting and stopping constantly to measure their output vs. time, calculating their efficiency. Labor union zealots would often oppose Taylor, seeing only that men were made to perform less skilled jobs and to work harder for what they earned, even if those earnings were now dependent on work merit: “…unions hostile to Taylor…said his system overworked and enslaved the men; denied them a voice; reduced skilled mechanics to common laborers; left no room for the average man, but only the superhumanly strong.”

This argument remains blind to some of the detailed provided by Taylorites. “…What did scientific management really strip from work?” they asked. “Nothing…on the contrary, it brought workers up, into better jobs…[Taylor] told later of a man who came to America on the first day of the new century, worked as a laborer at fifteen cents an hour, and moved up through a succession of jobs to become foreman and head of the whole department.” Many believed such success stories were only possible with a system of labor like Taylor’s because it allowed workers to be paid by, and advance as, a result of their dedication and hard work.
Taylorism even came under attack by a committee appointed by the US Congress. Hearings proceeded to determine the validity of the continuance of the application of Taylorist technique in the workplace. This “inquisition” as Kanigel puts it, lasted over six weeks and consisted of labor unions, congressmen, and other concerned political and business figures. Taylor was confronted by his enemies over issues such as workers rights under his system, the legitimacy of reducing skilled jobs to unskilled labor, the increased reliance on mechanization, and the exhaustion and cutthroat nature that was instilled in workers laboring under this system.
Some specific main opponents to the application of Taylorism and scientific management in the workplace and even to Taylor himself were Congressman William Bauchop Wilson, who was “from the coal mines of central Pennsylvania…the [Congressional] committee chairman, a former union organizer.” Fellow congressman John Q. Tilson also attacked Taylor and his ideas when serving alongside Wilson on the House Committee to Investigate the Taylor and Other Systems of Shop Management. Samuel Gompers, the president of the American Federation of Labor for many years, even wrote slanderous stories in the Washington Post to damn Taylor and what he stood for. Having so many fervent enemies was not something that Taylor had been accustomed to, and as soon as he departed the hearings, defeated and depressed, he left with his wife on a cruise in the Mediterranean. He was dead within three years.

Some modern historians still see Taylor as an opponent to workers’ rights and a contributor to the divide between the privileged and underprivileged in American society. Howard Zinn remarks that Taylor’s contributions to labor systems were based solely with the purpose to “increase production and profits” and that “’scientific management’…could now control every detail of the worker’s energy and time in the factory.” In any case, Taylor himself notes in his opening remarks in his Principles: “The principle object of management should be to secure the maximum prosperity for the employer…” and adds obligatorily that this should also be “…coupled with the maximum prosperity for each employee.”

Frederick Taylor’s life gives us a look into his knowledge and obsession with scientific management, the workplace, and efficiency analysis of labor systems. He was born March 20, 1865 in Philadelphia to a liberal and affluent family. His father was a Princeton graduate, and as a child, Taylor was educated in choice private schools. At age 25, Taylor graduated from the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey. The degree he received here would have been enough to enter at an administrative level into the industrial workforce; however, he took a job as a common laborer at Midvale Steel Company. He wanted to gain an understanding of the way corporations worked at the time to better analyze the processes that occurred and what could change for better efficiency. From the position of this common laborer, Taylor rose up shortly as he excelled through the ranks on the production floor, and later, as a manager and chairman of the company.

Throughout this period of self-education and gaining an understanding of the workplace, Taylor showed a constant obsession with finding the most efficient way of getting any task done. He would often time himself, calculating his own efficiency and how this affected company profits. “’I never found Mr. Taylor in any period of relaxation,’ a colleague once said. ‘Even when we were sitting still there was always something to study, consider or plan.’” This helped him develop his theory of paying the worker, rather than the job, based on their relative productivity and overall efficiency. He became sure that labor unions would no longer be necessary if this system were to be employed exclusively, because workers would have no one to blame except themselves for poor wages or benefits if they were to be paid based on their output. It should, he argued, be their own responsibility to make sure that their output was high enough to earn the wages they desired.

Taylor worked as a consultant for industries looking to bring their workplace to the next generation of efficiency and increase their profits. He mainly worked with eastern industrial factories such as steel and iron casting facilities in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. He traveled throughout the states and worked with management to transform the organization and division of the workplace to his own ideals, then calculated the heightened profits from before.

Taylor faced various stresses toward the end of his life. His wife suffered severe illness, which strained Taylor’s ability to travel as a consultant or speaker. He often dealt with depression over the misunderstanding he perceived toward himself by the embittered masses of laborers that stood against him and his ideologies. While on the road for a speaking tour, Taylor became ill with influenza. He spent his 59th birthday in a hospital and died the next day, in 1915. His achievements are surmised on his gravestone, proclaiming him to be the “father of scientific management”.

The United States at the turn of the 19th century was ready for a breakthrough in labor practices. The corporations of the nation were facing a higher and higher percentage of untrained and uneducated European laborers on their assembly lines. Many could not speak English well, and could only perform a task that could be explained to them in simple terms. According to Zinn, this allowed factories adopting the policies and ideologies of Taylorism to ultimately exploit these immigrants: “With immigrants a larger proportion of the labor force (in the Carnegie plants of Allegheny County in 1907, of the 14,359 common laborers, 11,694 were Eastern Europeans), Taylorism, with its simplified unskilled jobs, became more feasible.” The American automotive industry was the first to embrace Taylor’s ideas. Relying heavily upon the recent influx of unskilled and untrained immigrants that would work industrial jobs with little compensation in pay or benefits, Ford motors based all of their corporate policies on Taylorist ideals and concentrated on increasing efficiency to make more profits. In the years 1913-14, the Corporation made over 30 million dollars in sheer profits. This kind of super yield was only made possible through rigorous and systematic examination of the methods of profit in the industry, and this approach was taken by consultation with Taylor’s works.

Taylorism and scientific management are terms that are almost unheard of in today’s realm of business management, yet they are perpetually relevant and employed in nearly every modern workplace and in contemporary administration and management technique.
Many of Taylor’s ideas have become standard in many industries, and we fail to regard them as anything but such. For example, the separation of administrative “headquarters” and production space is now common practice in nearly all corporations throughout the global marketplace. Before 1900, this separation was almost unheard of. The physical separation of these two disparate tasks leads to the ultimate specialization in each; ie, factory workers, whose merit lies in their strength and mental endurance, shall not play any role where they must lay pen to paper. This job was to be left to specialists trained in the field of keeping papers and files, just as the men who soldered and drilled in factories were trained in their own respective field.
An example of this separation between office and factory space is readily apparent upon an analysis of the Subaru motor corporation. Three offices in Japan employing about 1,500 workers never hear a rivet driven through metal nor smell the fumes of fresh paint on car chassis. However, miles away, 12,200 employees may very well never send a letter nor type a document at a computer; specialized inter-department communications teams are responsible for this coordination. The Subaru example is a modern day application of Taylorist ideals on a massive scale.

The “piecework” wage labor system of paying the person for their output rather than an hourly rate for just simply performing a job also has been adapted and is still in use in many industries. The automotive industry, as always, remains a prime example of scientific management at work. Today, workers on assembly lines in plants throughout the world make money based on a flat rate of output. Even automotive service technicians receive a flat rate, based on a preset amount of earnings per specific job taken. One service technician remarked, “If the system were to remain fair at all times, a flat rate would be the obvious choice for everybody’s sake. However, because those with means of production (car dealers) control the preset earnings, technicians fail to have a voice to ensure the equality of opportunity and wages.”

In addition to Taylor’s intellectual work still apparent in the organization of the workplace, it also gave birth to many new strategies and approaches to resource management within a company. As soon as managers could see that Taylor’s obsession with the “one best way” to do any task brought them increased efficiency (and ultimately yielded higher profits), they began to create their own theories. As time and technology changed, necessary evolution in scientific management have occurred, post mortem for Taylor. The New Manager’s Starter Kit: Essential Tools to Doing the Job Right by Robert Crittendon is an ambitiously-titled book with an equally ambitious goal: it dictates how one should manage personnel resources in the office, including higher management. Even in the seemingly straightforward explanations presented within, it is easy to see how scientific management and Taylor’s ideas are represented. “Routines are a good thing,” claims Crittendon. “Routines = unconscious competence.” In his detailed strategy for choosing who to hire, he disregards the fit of a position for a personality, but makes sure to note that it is important to “hire employees that complement your strengths and compensate your weaknesses.” This systematic approach to hiring personnel reflects Taylorist ideals. Finally, his list of “ten things employees want” is based on Taylorist beliefs, as it allows management to exploit the workers’ basic human desires for respect and a voice in the workplace in order to keep them performing their job without complication. In a book for administrators explaining a method of management called the “Taguchi” method, graphs and equations are included for the purpose of calculating efficiency and what dictates what factors may be changed to increase this efficiency and how it relates to profit.

Frederick Taylor’s contributions to the workplace of 1911 and of today are undeniable. Yet, there still remains obvious question as to whether this was a step of progress for the majority of laborers, who perform unskilled tasks and are reduced to a menial and tedious role in accordance with Taylorist ideals, or simply another way for the rich to further separate themselves from the poor of America. Labor union leaders and the middle managers who lost their jobs when Taylor arrived as a consultant would claim that he was a savage, obsessed man that was only bringing about a further imbalance in the socioeconomic status of the American population. Taylorites would say the opposite of this state, claiming that Taylorism could provide the opportunities for working men and women to pull themselves to jobs of higher status simply by displaying fervency when on the job.

In this we see the heart of a debate that continues to rage on today. Where must the obsession with efficiency end in the interest of human laborers’ health and wellbeing? Is it worth it to downsize middle management from over 100 to 35 to earn that much more in profits that year? Taylor spent his entire life consumed with his passion to find the one best way of doing anything. In Taylor’s mind, his theories and strategies should have increased the success and prosperity of every worker, administrator and laborer alike. However, most feel that it was not so, and today we still face the same problem of the gap between those that have the means of production, and those that must assume a role subservient to them. By employing scientific management in the workplace, he may have found the most efficient and profitable manner of performing any task, but was it the best? How may we all agree on what is “best” for every human? This search shall remain in progress, over a century after the death of this “industrial messiah”, for society never stops its own progress, and therefore the “one best way” changes every day.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

"Now you have no control."

The following is part of a speech given by Michael Woolf, The Vanity Fair media columnist at the 2005 SIIA Information Industry Summit in New York City on February 1. Woolf is know for coining the phrase that information wants to be free. You can check out the full speech at I find his comments on information theory and the role of gatekeepers interesting. I also am fascinated by his prediction about blogs.

....A profound change has happened. The ecology of information has altered, and virtually nobody (at least nobody who has a job) has been willing to really examine the implications of information flowing not from it's usual source but from so many other sources. The implications of one person having this remarkable control. I mean, that's the reversal. It used to be that if you were an information provider you had control. Now you have no control. Control has absolutely passed to the consumer.
The ecology of information has been disrupted because there is so much information that nobody has authority. So if you're in the information business what you have been customarily selling is authority: "We know. We have information." Nobody believes that you have information anymore. Nobody believes your information should not be qualified by other information.
The most interesting change in the information ecology I know is actually the Martha Stewart model in which she closes the loop on information. She is just selling herself so it's a circular thing. All we can do in the media business is sell. But instead of selling someone else's products, we will just sell ourselves. So we have no product to sell. We have no information, as it were, to sell. We just have the name Martha Stewart to sell, which has worked. If I had to go back into the media business that's exactly what I would do. I would go to jail.
I want to stop rambling and finish up by telling you why I don't want to write a blog. Because I don't. At some point in the '50s Truman Capote was asked about Jack Kerouac, and he said, "That's not writing, that's typing," which is to some degree how I feel about blogs. I even hate saying the word blog. I hate being forced to say the word blog.
When I look at that particular blog piece of software I react viscerally. I said, "Oh, I don't want this. I don't want to be part of this." There's that scene in "Doctor Zhivago" where the professionals and the intelligentsia are reduced to having to walk with the hoi polloi, and that's what I feel when I'm forced into this blog stuff.
So I want to take what I think of as a noble and principled stand in saying that I'm not going to be part of this blog stuff. And I'm going to insist upon this until I am washed away.
Thank you very much. Any questions? I'd be delighted ...
AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: What's your reaction to the news that Universal is renegotiating its licenses on the music business with the various channel partners? And why are you so pessimistic when there are channel partners that are making 50 percent margins on the music business? Don't you think it's still just a redistribution of the profits that are in effect? And the other comment is that, you know, Universal cut the prices and they upped their consumption. So are you convinced that the music business as a content business is dead?
WOLFF: No, as I said, I think it can be the book business. I think the music business as a business that we know -- the business that we think of the business of incredible margins, incredible excess -- is over. Yeah, I mean over the course of this change in the value of content people still stay in business somehow. I'm not sure why they stay in business. And if I were in the music business, I would say, "What am I doing here? I've got to go back to graduate school or something." But yeah, there's something. I mean, there's still a business there.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: What role do you see blogs playing in the new ecology of information? They seem to have an impact.
WOLFF: Well, they do have impact. Part of it is actually involved with a kind of further devaluation of information because what it sets up is this constant second guessing of information. Which is not necessarily bad but it does lower the value of all information. You undermine that authority of information. But having been around this business now for some time I've learned that nothing lasts too long. By all rights, 18 months from now we should be looking back at this and all kind of embarrassed to say the word blog -- I hope.

What I've learned from Blogging so far...

This blog has been in existence just under a week and I’m still trying to figure out its implications. I agree with Hugh Hewitt’s analysis in his book Blog, about the ability of this medium to change the way opinions get formed. There will still be gatekeepers and opinion makers; the difference is that anyone can get involved in this process. Media Companies are in a state of transition and the networks of power that are dependent on TV, newspapers, and broadcast journalism are losing their ability to completely control content. What is happening on the web reminds me a lot of the rise of pamphleteers during the 1760’s in the American Colonies. Ben Franklin produced a blog called Poor Richard’s Almanac along with hundreds of letters and papers in the quest to help the colonies maintain their traditional rights as British subjects. He had quite an impact on the debates of the 18th century.

What is the role of a blog for a school or an educational movement? Clearly you can showcase student writing, artwork and even computer modeling. It can act as a marketing piece, but maybe it can do something more…There are a lot of things that we do at the Vermont Commons School that need to be communicated to the outside world. We have lots of resources to offer the global and local community. Meaningful articles from students on the 21st Century democratic theory, computer models on the impact of alcohol on human behavior, plans on how to restore an polluted stream, poems and essays. It can also be a place to exchange ideas or even network. It all depends on content.

A 21st Century education is going to be imbedded in learning basic skills like reading, writing, math and modeling while actively trying to solve problems of both our local and global communities. Blogs are not going to solve problems. Content will remain as important as ever, but now I can communicate directly with people who are interested in seeing what we are doing. We can be a resource to people worldwide. That is an exciting world to be a part of.

Next question for tomorrow: How do I attract the eyeballs?

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Baghdad Burning

Getting unfiltered information from Iraqis is difficult on many levels. Language is a major issue, as is credibility. Let us be realistic, the people appearing on television are not ordinary Iraqis. Most that I have seen are European or American area experts. When I found Baghdad Burning, I was excited. It is a first person account of a young woman living in Iraq over the past 18 months…it’s a good read and an important document.

Churchill, Manitoba. Posted by Hello

Student e-mail from Churchill, Manitoba

This February, Ruth Heindel traveled to Churchill Manitoba to participate in an Earthwatch Program and volunteered at a science station there. I thought you might be interested in her e-mails.

Hello everyone!!I've been here a few days now and have gotten a feel of Churchill,Manitoba, so I thought I would send everyone an update to let you all knowhow I'm doing.Basically, Churchill is amazing. The landscape is unlike anything I'veever seen, and the wide spaces are liberating but at the same time alittle terrifying. It is so flat here that you can see for miles -- milesof stumpy trees and bushes in one direction and miles of the endless whiteice of Hudson Bay in the other. The sky is huge as well, since there areno mountains to block it. I just came inside from a Northern Lightsviewing session and it was incredible. The milky light has hints of pinkand green and looks like heavy cream being poured across the sky. Thelight changes constantly, and sometimes so fast that it "dances". Theonly nights out here without the Aurora are the nights with clouds. Otherthan that, there is a constant display going on.On a smaller scale, the snow, trees, and animals offer just as muchexcitement. Because it is constantly windy in Churchill the snow formshuge drifts and ridges with many different textures. Some of it is rockhard (which makes for easy walking) and some is fine powder (which makesfor amusing walking). With these different textures come differentsounds. On the hard stuff the squeak is so high-pitched and the flyingsnow from walking can sound like running water.In terms of animal activity I have seen an arctic hare that was whiterthan the snow and only gave itself away with black ears and eyes. It satright outside of the Studies Centre and ate some twigs. Alhtough that isthe only live animal I've seen, there are tracks all around in the snow.The ptarmigan tracks are incredible. On the hard snow you can see theindividual claws, the tail, and sometimes even marks from their wings.
Apart from the white, brown, and green that makes up most of thelandscape, the only real color is from lichen on the rocks. Although thismay not sound very impressive, the color of the orange lichen is intenseand stands out dramatically from the dull surroundings. Today was cloudyand snowy, and so everything was white -- the trees seemed to fade intothe background and turn gray.In the midst of this world I am busy at work in the kitchen of the StudiesCentre baking cakes, making crumble, and, most importantly, washingdishes. I have also been working in the office doing some computer work.Today, for a little variety, I went with the science technician to measurethe geomagnetic declination and inclination (which, as I understand it, isthe difference between true north and magnetic north). In Churchill thetwo are very similar, unlike other areas. The Studies Centre is one ofabout 12 stations around Canada with this equipment, and they take thisdata so that maps telling the declination of all areas can be updated,since the numbers are constantly shifting. I felt very official takingthis information down (we had to do the same thing four times, make surethe equipment was all balanced, and make sure we had no metal on us).
The people here are great; the food is, well, it's Churchill and thinkabout shipping food up here....
I'll e-mail again once the Earthwatch Program has started and I startdigging in the snow.
I would love to hear from you all!


p.s. Mary Jane -- could you circulate this throughout the school? Thanks.

Hello all!I'll start with some exciting events that happened since my last e-mail.
I have seen a ptarmigan! I was walking down a road (if you can call itthat...huge drifts usually cover everything but two rows of bushes oneither side) and the white and brown bird flew from right next to me awayto nearby trees. I decided to follow it, but on taking one step off ofthe road I found myself waist-deep in snow. The ptarmigan was viewed from a distance.I have added a mode of transportation to my list: bombadier. It is a combination of submarine (with round windows), tank, and snowmobile...hard to describe.I have stood on Hudson Bay, and not only that, I have stood in the NunavutTerritory. The land around here is in Manitoba, but once on the ice whereI was, it is Nunavut Territory. The ice is amazing on the Churchill Riverand the bay. There are lots of rocks beneath both bodies of water, and sowhen the tide goes out, the ice crashes into the rocks and forms thesehuge mountains of ice. The mounds are taller than a person and made up ofcomplicated ice wedges and formations.
I have tasted muskox and arctic char. The arctic char was delicious, and the muskox was tough and pretty disgusting...what can you expect from amuskox?So, the Earthwatch program started last night, which means I am out of thekitchen and into the cold. As a basic overview, the point of the projectis to create a baseline set of data that later groups can use to compareto. There is no way we can have proof of climate change and itsenvironmental impacts without having some reference point. To establishthis reference point thes project includes every season and usuallyinvolves many different aspects (soil, permafrost, wind, temperature,producers, consumers, etc.), but in the winter the snow is really thedominating feature. So, we are mainly focused on analyzing snow at manydifferent sites.This morning we started bright and early with a tutorial so that we wouldknow what to do once we were out digging our snow pits. There is so much cool scientific equipment -- RAM penetrometers, Adirondack snow corers, density shovels, snow crystal charts, and much more. So by lunch we had a vague idea of what we had to do once we got out there, but it was still a little hazy...Not so anymore! After an afternoon with two complete snow pits, I know how to operate all the cool stuff. The hard part is operating them when theaverage temperature without the wind chill is 25 below (Celcius...yes, I'min Canada). Basically, we dig a snow pit so that there is a flat surfacefrom the top to the ground. Then, we do measurements and analysis of allof the different snow layers. One snow pit I dug today had four verydistinct different layers. On the bottom, the snow crystals have changedto form crystals like diamonds. In the middle there was a distinct icelayer, perhaps from the 20 minutes of rain they had here about one monthago. On the top, the snow is so fine that one crystal is usually .5 mmlong.
I stayed reasonably warm, although I think most of us had trouble keepingfeeling in our hands and feet. I wore every single winter layer I own,and I was glad for each and every layer. Goggles, face mask, neck warmer-- not one bit of skin was exposed! The hardest time to keep warm isduring the ride to and from the sites in a boxy sled thing pulled behind asnowmobile. I was never dangerously cold, so I think I'll be fine.Tomorrow we are out to the tundra site in the morning, and in theafternoon it looks like there is going to be a blizzard. So we'll seewhat happens.
Thanks to all of you who wrote back after the last e-mail! It's nice tohave some sort of contact with those of you down south...And, to VCS, have a great February vacation!!!


Monday, March 07, 2005

Reply to


Great post. I like your observations and they got me to thinking….

There is a really big problem with the news today and the lack of transparency. This is especially true in the area of international/foreign correspondence. For example, CBS has only one foreign correspondent in Asia. That’s one journalist for 2 billion people? Here’s a radical idea. Why don’t we start our own publicly funded foreign correspondent! If enough of us donate $10, we could easily hire a reporter to write stories for us. In addition, we could ask him/her to write stories on topics chosen by the donors.

Here’s a list of steps to make this idea a reality.

Discuss this issue…does this idea have any support?
1. I’ll form the not-for profit if enough people are interested. I’ll list myself as an officer but then when this goes live we can vote on a board to manage the not-for-profit.
2. Max donation per person or organization is $100 US.
3. Come up with a budget… I think we can make this happen with $100,000 US.
4. Advertise for the position…on the blog.
5. Go through the applications and pick a list of finalists.
Put their resumes on the blog and have the donors vote on who to hire.

Just a set of guidelines…I’d be interested in a discussion. I have this message posted on .

Rob Skiff

Buffett's Annual Report.

Here is a link to Buffett's annual report. It is an important read so check it out. He seems to be selling US$. I'd love to look at the structure of his currency trades.

What's going on in the US Markets?

Most investors and speculators pay close attention to managing risk. A good money manager needs to know how much they could lose if a particular company and/or industry goes bad. A great money manager will also look at systemic risk or the durability of global financial networks. One of my favorite traders said, “If you don’t understand why the market is behaving in a particular way get out.”

Greenspan warns, in his testimony to Congress, about record budget deficits. An OPEC oil minister says a barrel of crude will hit $80.00 within two years and gas goes up 10% in a weekend. The US$ is at 1.3182 to the Euro, US non-farm payrolls go up 262,000, and the Dow is almost at 11,000. Why with energy prices and budget deficits increasing are we seeing a rise in the Dow? My guess would be that the rise in the Dow is basically a move to the positive before a collapse. Complex dynamic systems often behave this way before a major shift. However, predicting the direction of any particular market is very difficult. However, looking at relative risk is easier.

This is a very risky environment and there are a lot of things that point to a potential market collapse. What surprises me is that the relative risk does not seem to be priced into the price of US treasuries, stocks or even the US$. Capital costs should be high, and they are not. They are especially low in the US housing market and bond markets. Here is link to a graph of the 10 year T-Bill.

I don’t get it why the price, while volatile is remaining in a tight range. Why are the foreigners still buying our paper? Where is the US getting the money to support our markets? The change in the US$ is making it cheaper for foreigners to invest in the US, but as the US$ continues to fall they are losing money? It’s just a guess, but the answer to the question may just lie across the pacific in China. Risk is high and the US markets are overvalued.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Culture and Natural Resources.

The conflict among nation-states and cultures is a clash of ideas within the context of natural resources. While our “war on terror” and the “clash of civilizations” continue to dominate main street media (MSM) many of us are taking a look at the role of natural resources in increasing the violence and intensity of international conflicts. Bush is not wrong when he describes the “war on terror” as being about a conflict between religious fanaticism and democratic ideals. He just is not communicating the entire story. The left is wrong in reducing the current conflict to just a “war for oil.” Both perspectives are necessary for a better understanding of the conflict. We need oil to fuel our economy and culture, but control of that necessary resource is what causes conflict between cultures that generates war and violence. Thus, the solution to the “war on terror” is not just a defeat of the “evil doers,” nor will peace arrive when the “US Imperialists” withdraw from Iraq and start driving hybrid vehicles. Instead, a solution to this conflict must address the dynamic of cultural conflict and natural resource use at the same time. I wish I had a solution, but I think a couple of books do highlight these issues quite well.

The first book is The Human Web by John Robert McNeill and William Hardy McNeil. What makes this book so interesting is its thesis that economic, political and cultural interconnectedness has been happening since the beginning of history. Thus, our current time has historical precedence. Are we experiencing a world soon to be integrated under a Roman like Imperial System based on military and legal systems, or a trading network like the that of the Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms of Indonesia? The McNeills constantly reference various environmental resource issues as the foundation of the rise and fall of civilizations.

The author of The Challenge of Fundamentalisms: Political Islam and the New World Disorder by Bassam Tibi has an excellent treatment of the ideological and religious conflict between Islamic Fundamentalism and non-Muslims. The author describes the subversion of Islam by a political and religious elite trying to recapture an age that never existed.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Starting is important…so here we go.
The purpose of this blog is simple. I’m going to let you know what I think is important. I’ll direct you to websites, books and movements that are having a deep impact on our society and world. I’ll also add my own commentary. It is my hope that at some point you think I am right on the money and that I am completely off my rocker. I’m interested in theory but also very committed at acting on my beliefs and ideas. For now I will be concentrating my comments in the following areas:

1. Education.
2. Economics.
3. Environment.