Friday, January 29, 2010


The public school system turned one of my sons against government.  The system has perverse incentives.  He was talking to me about bullying.

In my experience and my son's, teachers turn a blind eye to bullying.  Now and then teachers and administrators work around the edges, but they are reluctant to get serious.  Here are the incentives.

If little Aristotle bullies little Socrates and the school lets this happen, what is little Socrates' parents' recourse?  They can demand the school do something.  Suppose the school does nothing?  Probably nothing happens.  Socrates' parents can sue.  To the parents' attorney, the school presents the paper trail they left that showed they were doing something to try to stop the problem.  The paper trail may be two sided, since the bully, little Aristotle, denied and lied at every stage.

Suppose the school expels little Aristotle?  Little Aristotle's parents have ironclad evidence that the school expelled their son.  Yes, the school has a paper trail, which may be two sided.  But there is clear evidence that the kid was expelled.  And maybe there is some theory by which the school singled out Aristotle.

Little Aristotle's case for being expelled is much stronger than little Socretes' case that the school should have done more.  Bad incentives guarantee that most of the time the bullies win.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Part Time Job

At sixteen I had a job as a night watchman at a funeral home.  They would call me when they had a body and I would spend the night.

In the rear end of the building was a small living room with a television.  Sometimes I had to bang on the side to get the picture right, but it had cable back in the days when cable did not cross the mill pond and go into the little community where I lived.  I would invite friends over and we would play games and pop popcorn.

There was a bedroom, too.  In the morning I would shower and drive to school.  For that, I made $20.

When the heating or cooling system would kick on, it would make a few loud bumps, which would make me jump.  Other than that, the job was sheer gravy.

At one point someone mentioned that I was there for insurance purposes.  Other than that, nobody ever told me what I was watching for.

Monday, January 18, 2010


Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold -- William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming

Systems tend toward disorder.  This is a casual paraphrase of the Second Law of Thermodynamics--the Law of Entropy.

Orson Scott Card's "Alvin Maker" books frame evil as the destructive force, which the world tends toward, like water flowing downhill.  Whereas good, the constructive force, must work against the tide.

Things wear out, rocks erode away, the sun cools slowly.

Over a decade ago, I read something that Marilyn Vos Savant wrote.  I paraphrase it, thus.  Information is not subject to entropy.  That which stores the information is subject to entropy--paper decays, your hard drive crashes.

Other than Card's "Alvin Maker," I have not read anything which makes entropy a character in a story.  But now I am thinking about it.  Right now my ideas are soup.  I have to overcome my own entropy to make it into something solid.