July 21, 2009

Last week the extension of Heatherwilde from Wells Branch Parkway to Howard Lane was opened. This means that I can now get to the Capitol Metro park & ride where I catch the bus to work without going on the Interstate, or going down 685 which is quite a way out of the way. It’s about 0.8 miles shorter distance.

But the speed limit is 35 mph. This is a road with two lanes in each direction and a wide, built-up median between them, through an undeveloped area, so it would clearly be safe to go much faster, at least 50 mph. I can’t conceive of any reason for setting the limit so low.

In fact, for a while now I’ve had the suspicion that speed limits in general are not a good idea. When a law is regularly broken by otherwise law-abiding citizens, there’s probably something wrong with the law. Traffic laws in general are justified by an appeal to safety, but I don’t know of any scientific studies that show they actually make driving safer.

Even if it turns out that they do add slightly to safety, we still might be better off without them. There’s nothing inherently immoral about driving fast, and laws against things that aren’t really wrong tend to breed disrespect for law in general. The fact that many jurisdictions use traffic fines as a major source of income further erodes the moral stature of the law.

Coincidentally, Instapundit had a link today to an article about traffic roundabouts. This strikes me as a better way to achieve safety: instead of making a bunch of rules, design roads and intersections so the easiest and most natural thing to do is the safe thing.

Obama on “Fakebook”.

I showed this to Amanda and she said I had to post it.

via The Other McCain.

This is a cross-posting from my work blog.

Today I sent an open letter to Brad Englert, our new Interim Chief Operating Officer, about some issues we’re dealing with. Since it’s an open letter, I’m posting it here too.

An open letter to Brad Englert.

I want to emphasize that I started writing this letter before Brad was appointed ICOO; the problems I outline have been developing for a long time.

Camp, and so on

July 16, 2009

Daniel is at EFY again this week, and Amanda is at girl’s camp. Last week I got a call from a High Counselor saying that the priesthood leadership that was supposed to go with the 4th year girls the first day couldn’t make it, and could I go. So I ended up taking Monday and Tuesday off and going river rafting and camping.

It’s been kind of strange having so few children at home. Although right now we have two extras, since we’re watching the Bishop’s kids while he goes to camp.

Another good article, this time about the history of population control: Big Money and the Culture of Death.

I remember decades ago my mother telling me that she thought the zero population growth people were being supported by big industrialists to distract attention from the pollution they were causing. Here’s some evidence that, as usual, she was right.

I’ve been meaning to post this eventually almost since I started blogging. Then Amy made her comment on my Dynamic Reality post, and then I read this post about IQ, Temperament, and Meritocracy, and I decided the time was now.

In most human societies, elite status is conferred by birth or wealth or some combination of the two. In the early 1900’s, some educators at prestigious universities in the U. S. A. decided this wasn’t very democratic and began pushing a program to replace traditional elites with a new class based on intelligence. For example, consider this (from an article about the history of the SAT):

The SAT was born in the 1920s-the product of a growing desire by American educators, led by Harvard president James Bryant Conant, to open up their universities to the best students across the country.

America’s elite universities-Eastern establishments such as Harvard, Yale and Princeton-selected students who were the sons of previous graduates or had attended New England’s finest boarding schools. Conant envisioned a “natural aristocracy,” taking the place of the old elite.

Lemann writes of Conant’s ideas, “The new elite’s essential quality, the factor that would make its power deserved where the old elite’s had been merely inherited, would be brains.”

This program was a complete success: today most people in America take for granted that smart people should be the ones to run things. Every president since Ronald Reagan attended an Ivy League university, as well as all of the current Supreme Court justices. Unfortunately, I don’t see any evidence that this new “natural aristocracy” is an improvement over the old kind.

Now, for anyone who doesn’t know me who might be reading this, I should point out that I have most of the qualifications to be a member of this new elite. I was measured as having a high IQ when I was a child; My SAT and ACT scores were in the 97th-99th percentiles; I got my current job by acing a “programmer aptitude” test. Yet I know that if I ever tried to run anything involving humans I would probably not do particularly well. These tests do measure something, but my own experience suggests that it has little to do with successfully managing things in the real world.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that some of the talents and personality traits that go with success on these tests can be detrimental when trying to solve problems in ordinary life. For example, a predilection for abstract reasoning clearly helps one to score well on IQ type tests, but people like me who enjoy dealing in abstractions can easily become enamored of complicated, obtuse theories to the point of ignoring concrete facts that contradict our theories.

Another problem is that the new elite is still an elite; replacing the criteria used for determining who belongs in the elite doesn’t make it any more democratic. Many intellectuals today are as confident of their right to be in charge as feudal aristocrats were when the divine right of kings was the official ideology. This breeds the same kind of arrogance and abuse that has always been the characteristic of a self-proclaimed noble class.

So if intelligence isn’t a good criteria for deciding who should be in charge, what is? The basic principle is that, as much as possible, everyone should be in charge of himself. Where we do have to put someone in a position of authority—presidents, legislators, justices, and so on—we should look less at their aptitudes and more at what they’ve actually accomplished. This is why I thought Sarah Palin was a good choice for Vice President: as governor of Alaska, she had reduced corruption, balanced the budget, and successfully negotiated deals with the oil companies to the benefit of her state. These accomplishments said much more about her suitability than her IQ scores or where she went to school.

Well, it’s getting late and I think I’m starting to ramble. Read the article on meritocracy that I linked at the beginning of this post. Before we can deal with the problems caused by the new elite we need to recognize the implicit assumptions behind its formation, and I hope this post has helped to do that.


July 7, 2009

I live in Pflugerville, Texas, “between a rock and a weird place.” The signs when you come into town now claim a population of about forty seven thousand; when we moved here five and a half years ago they said something like seventeen thousand. Pflugerville was growing rapidly before the current economic problems started and while things have slowed down some it still seems to be growing.

To our north is Round Rock, to the west and south Austin, to the east a wide open swath of mostly agricultural land. (On the evening of the 4th of July we went about a 30 minute drive to the east to the house of a family in our ward and watched them set off fireworks.) I think I could get to somewhere cows live faster than I get to the interstate.

Pflugerville has two creeks and a small lake. There’s a Deutschen Pfest festival every May. If you’ve watched the TV show “Friday Night Lights” you’ve seen Pflugerville High School; that’s where they film the school scenes. For about three years we’ve had a chapel here in town, 1.6 miles from our house.

Although it‘s growing and part of a metropolitan area, Pflugerville still remembers being a small town. When you get to Pecan Street (the main road through down town) along FM 685 there’s a sign saying, “The Future Farmers of America welcome you to Pflugerville.”

Pflugerville also remembers its children who have served our country. Just before memorial day the city or chamber of commerce put up banners along our major streets with the names of young men from Pflugerville who died in wars, from World War I to Iraqi Freedom. We also have a memorial in the main park, and our post office is named for Sgt. Byron Norwood, who died in Fallujah, and whose parents represented the families of our military at the 2005 State of the Union address. When I was teaching Seminary a couple of years ago I attended the graduations for Pflugerville High School and Hendrickson High School, and at least a dozen graduates of each school were joining the military. One of my Seminary students is currently serving in the Marines in Iraq. (I think. He may be back home by now.)

So that’s a little bit about Pflugerville, the town I now call home.