The Century of Dreams


It’s long been my belief that sometime the 20th century will be held on a par with the 14th for “centuries you’d prefer not to live in.”

Of course the 20th century saw a lot of advance in technology, life expectancy, cleanliness, the ability to feed the masses of humanity.  On the other hand, just like the 14th century is marked by the black plague, the 20th century was marked by state killing. Masses and masses of humans went to their death at the hands of their own governments.

And because the 20th century was more industrialized and efficient, these killings were done in big batch lots by the numbers, or at least with lots of paper work.  In the past it took sun-worshiping cults and stepped pyramids, and even then they mostly killed prisoners of war, not their citizens.

The thing is that in the twentieth century most citizens became prisoners of dreams.  Both the ideologies responsible for most of the non-war (war too, but) killing of people in the 20th century were “dream ideologies” that inspired, promised and drove people towards an imagined utopia and incidentally promised the birth of a new man.  And yet Aryan Man or Soviet Man were both completely impossible, had no basis in any factual reality or history.

They were pieces of dream, incarnate, striding the land, attracting people with their shining beauty, and hiding the dark carrion evil within.

This last week, under the stress of trying to figure out thing in Portugal (which might or might not happen. Paperwork seems delayed in ways that make no sense, unless of course someone hasn’t liked my articles on the American Council of Bishops and their shilling for illegal immigrants.  In which case that someone should perhaps consider that they really don’t want me upset. Or “never pick a fight with a woman who buys pixels by the bushel.”[UPDATE: Apparently I was maligning the local guys, and it was Portuguese unease with email causing issues.] ) and packing, and a head cold that descended on me out of nowhere, I ended up reading a lot of posts on the supernatural/occult.  I have no idea how I fell into it.  It had something to do with the private detective who goes to hell, and I wanted the name of a minor (and crazy) fortune teller, and next thing you know I’m reading articles from religious people telling everyone how shocked they were that something that looked beautiful and good turned out to be evil/have evil effects.

This practically made me rock back on my feet, because, I’m sorry, what kind of emotional infants is our civilization raising? I thought “a man may smile and smile and be a villain” was well established. And if a man, why not an entity, or for that matter a group of people, an ideology or a dream?

Then I remembered being in a group of female sf/f writers and getting excoriated when I pointed out there’s a long history of male characters who appear horrible, but who do their charity secretly, (as one is supposed to.) And how to me the most powerful character is the one I at first misjudge, and which later shows to be a good person.  This brought a clamor of “No, we have to signal all the right beliefs/politics, etc. upfront, otherwise he’s a villain!”

When I understood they thought “Anyone not politically correct is evil” I shut up. Because these are moral and emotional infants, who have never examined what their own dreams would be like in reality.

Like many mal-adapted teens, I had dreams that would be nightmares for anyone else like “One morning, science stops working, and magic comes into the world.”  The death and destruction that stuff like that would cause did not hit me till I was about 14, but it did hit me by 14 and has, since then, made me the enemy of “if only we shout loud enough, or march shoulder to shoulder, there will be paradise” school of dreamers.

Because you know what? Paradise doesn’t happen when the dreams try to work in the real world and with real humans.  The dreamers always forget the non-glamorous things like sewage, waste removal, or even growing food.

The problem with the twentieth century is that it was saturated in dreams.  Because Marxism infected academia, news reporters and entertainers of all kinds, bits and pieces of it infected everything.  Still does at times.  And the problem is NONE of it works in any way better than the rest.

I woke up to this seemingly innocuous article:  Workers Love AirPods Because Employers Stole Their Walls.

Seemingly innocuous because, even as they base the entire article on the fact that a cherished piece of collectivist dream was dreadfully wrong, they give it an anti-capitalist spin.

The entire idea of wall-less offices (or even cubes, though that, mostly, was an attempt to expand really fast without having to build/spend a lot) was part of the collectivist dream.

It started with wall-less schools, in which the kids were supposed to learn so much better, because in the ur-story of the socialists, humans were created as collective creatures, only happy in the group and it was the invention of private property (the oldest skeletons we find have their own arrows and their own implements that likely they used in life, but never mind. The dreamers want the past to be perfect communism, so they declare it so and shout and stomp their feet) that brought evil and strife into the world.  So they built a lot of elementary schools without walls.

Look, we’d already tried this, and we knew its limits. Most monasteries in the middle ages were supposed to be “everything in common” and they worked, up to a certain number of VOLUNTARIES.  Once the conditions were broken and you got too many people or people who were involuntarily shoved into the monastery, things… went wrong.

But the dream required that children be naturally “communal” so…  So, it was a bloody disaster.  Which is why by the time younger son went into a school originally designed on the open plan, someone had made very sturdy walls cutting willy nilly through the original plant.

Those were popular when? The seventies? But someone failed to learn.  And no, it wasn’t the employers, except to the extent that the employers were brought up in the public school system which extolled that failed dream, and listened to “consultants” that were the product of humanities degrees that were infected with it.

By the early two thousands (Twentieth century- the hangover years.  I think it will take all of the 21st to recover from the 29th) I was reading article after article about how people were so happy and more productive in wall-less offices, and how the younger people — ah, that fabled Homo Sovieticus — was NATURALLY social and communal.

Turns out, no. People do not work better in groups. As all of us who have been forced into group work growing up KNOW.  Turns out, that, as we explained to older son’s second grade teacher “no, the future is not more group work and collaboration, for the simple reason that it doesn’t work very well.  The future, with work from home tech being easier is more likely to be for self-starter and individualists.”

But the dream persists.  And when it blows up, it must be the fault of those evil employers and “greedy” capitalists.

Because at least in the minds of born extroverts — yeah, people like me just wake up screaming — the dream that we’re all really collective creatures who’d love to live in a pod and share all our thoughts and feelings persists. And is too beautiful to give up.  Even when the reality proves to be a crab bucket of petty bickering, mistrust, paranoia, empire building and lack of production.

In fact, there is a non-trivial overlap between those who can’t do and those who dream.

Keep your eyes open.  Reality isn’t always pretty, but dreams are dangerous things.  Beautiful dreams have killed millions of human beings.

And even the pieces of them are harmful.


251 thoughts on “The Century of Dreams

  1. There are parts of the 20th Century world which were quite nice. Sure, sometimes things seemed rough, especially not knowing how they would turn out, but The Depression was really not much worse than “Situation normal” for most of human history. Even 20th Century Britain was likely more comfortable than that island had been in eighteen, nineteen of the previous twenty centuries. Hell, even with the Holocaust I suspect the average Jewish family enjoyed a better life in the Twentieth century than in most of the ones between then and the Diaspora.

    Of course, they may not have appreciated it at the time. When bombs are dropping all night, when boxcars of your co-religionists are running to the camps (and not the kind found in the Catskills), when dust is sifting in through every crack and vent in your siding, it is hard to be philosophical, difficult to take the long view.

    But disappointment is proportionate to expectations. People’s hopes for the Twentieth were greater, so their disappointment came harder. They had been led to believe that Nature, especially Human Nature, had been mastered. That was nonsense. On stilts because the crap was spread so deep. We had material wealth aplenty, although we took it for granted and griped it wasn’t greater. In prior times the expectations were much lower and folks were grateful that worse things didn’t happen. Elizabethan and Victorian England felt prosperous because the people had confidence, as was the case for America prior to becoming Beat Cop for the World.

    It’s all relative, you see. The world’s full of manure and the difference is whether or not you think there’s a pony waiting to be found.

    1. But disappointment is proportionate to expectations.

      Yeah. I acknowledge that there are legitimate frustrations, but the number of people going on about how awful things are and will be and using it as a justification for socialism and in general the insistence that survivor bias means all successes are aberrations (or cheating, of course)….

      …I once tried gently suggesting that historically speaking this did not seem to be such an exceptionally high level of economic uncertainty, but I don’t think I was convincing. Of course, if that sort wins, I suppose poverty is the best I might have to look forward to — that’s if they don’t do something worse for my having dared to have anything.

      1. We’re at such a high level of development that too many young people have been utterly spoiled & entitled. To them, any sort of work & effort looks like slavery, because they’ve never ever had to earn or build or labor to get anything. Somebody else needs to do all that icky stuff, and just give them the fruits of their labors.

      2. Indeed. The grandchildren, in their complaining, frequently announce how much easier we had it back when we were growing up.
        They are puzzled by the involuntary guffaw when they say that. Yes, we have shared stories of how it was back then – it doesn’t sink in.

        1. Uphill… through the snow… both ways… and we had to stand up and walk to the TV if we wanted to change the channel!

          1. We didn’t even have a TV until I was 7. Not only were us kids mom & dad’s remote, sometimes someone had to hold the rabbit ear antenna just right to get one of two channels. Color TV didn’t come to family home until after I left for college (neither did the dishwasher, correction house and mom had 3, one of us 3 girls … if I remember correctly, I had a dishwasher that didn’t rely on a person washing the dishes in my home before mom did because littlest sister didn’t leave for college for another 18 months after I got it …) Not only that, only one car for the entire family until I was in HS. No car at 16 for any of us kids. I’m sure I can come up with other deprivations. Oh, yea, no cell phone, no computer, no … (well okay, former didn’t exactly exist, latter would have taken up the whole house), oh phone handset was tethered, no push buttons, … we did skip the party line …

            1. The ’50s were a financially good-ish time for our family. Not sure when we bought the TV, but it was around for me at Kindergarten or first grade. A recession in 1960 coincided with us moving, and it took a year to sell the old house. When the earlier TV died, my folks bought a (solid state!) B&W set on time. IIRC, it cost about $150 or so.

              One of my brothers (who’s really “stupid about money”*) bought a color TV, then when he was broke, sold it to my mother. I bought a B&W TV in college; a 9” special. Got a color TV shortly after college from a coworker who thought he was an accomplished poker player. His “friends” loved to have him at the table.

              Our 1903 vintage house had a 1940s era built in dishwasher. Defunct. Dad removed it and when finances got a bit better, used the space as a garage for a portable dishwasher. Before that, it’d be two or three of us boys doing the dishes.

              (*) Hat tip Chef

          2. You could change the TV by walking across the room? Lucky swells! We had to go outside, climb up onto the roof and rotate the antenna. And we were glad to do it, too, because before that we would have to gather around the antenna mast and rotate the world in order to tune in the channel we wanted.

        2. On the other hand, the grandchildren aren’t entirely in the wrong. Life used to be simpler. Slower. You KNEW the rules of what constituted good and bad behavior, and they stayed the same.

          There’s more to life than technological gimcracks.

          1. Indeed. The grandchildren, in their complaining, frequently announce how much easier we had it back when we were growing up.

            They’re right, funnily enough. You did. Just being male wasn’t evidence of thought crime. You had an intact family, and if you didn’t, you were a rarity and other mom’s and dads could step up (and usually did). Families and communities worked.

            If the grand kids are at least young teens, it’s possible (barely) they’re clued in to some or all of this.

            Hmmm… There have to be historical writings from folk like us in other times and places where similar conditions applied. Things really getting worse and worse in big picture civilizational ways, so that the eternal wail of people who have never been anything but young, turns out to be right.

            1. What was it Screwtape said? “Used to be people knew when a thing was proven?”

              These days nothing is ever proven and the rule changes come so fst that even Calvinball seems stable.

          2. We did have an advantage in that we were allowed to participate in events were we could win or lose. Learning how to deal with failure is often more important than learning to deal with success.

          3. It was slower, but one had to put more work into the normal task of everyday life. Lots of stuff we can do almost instantly on our phones from anywhere had to be done in person, usually via waiting in line.
            You had to actually go to the bank and wait in line to get money (or make a deposit). You had to write out checks and out them into the mail to pay your bills.
            Also, while one didn’t have internet outrage mobs, the opinions of one’s community could be just as harsh and have some of the same negative consequences, meaning you still had to keep your opinions to yourself.
            I’ll take whinging over perceived microagression over living under the boot of High Sheriff Willis McCall back in the 40’s.

          4. For those of us who entered kindergarten circa 1962 the rules kept changing around us while we were growing up.
            It’s no surprise that many of my peers took the “…dissent the highest form of patriotism” line we kept hearing to heart and rebelled against the old “stifling” rules. We are living with the consequences of them ignoring (or never even hearing of) the Chesterton’s Fence principle.

            1. Good grief! Dissent, per se is not patriotism. Reasoned dissent, dissent against a wrong turning, yes, sure. But mere dissent is merely dissent and even less patriotic than “My country, right or wrong.”

              Out of context dissent is no more than the dog in the manger, snarling because it can’t get its way.

              1. Dissent from the Left’s party line is never patriotic, it is always racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia and comparable ad hominem response.

        3. I offer, on occasion, to teach my oldest son how to wash clothes by hand, in a basin, while hauling buckets of water. Fortunately, he’s outgrown the complaints for the most part, has become quite good at babysitting his youngest sister, all the way to giving her a bath and changing nappies (I told him very honestly that taking care of babies is something everyone should learn how to do) and I haven’t hidden the fact that the house and chores are basically training grounds for their eventually living on their own.

          He finished seasoning the viand for dinner last night. Small steps.

          1. *Nod* Our “normal” chores are basically helping to keep care of yourself.

            Doing the Little’s folding is a not uncommon punishment, though, when I run out of “now pick up the mess you made.”

            1. Yep. Start young, with the simple things. “Put away your toys after playtime,” or ‘put your dirty dishes at the sink’ and ‘put your dishes into their spot in the cupboard.’

              I remember very fondly how proud Vincent was of being able to do such things as a toddler. And, how, one morning while I was washing dishes, he ran to me to pull me to the hall where he had carefully paired all our shoes and lined them up in a curving line… but all correctly paired and the toes lined up. I didn’t tell him to tidy the shoes, but they were ‘not fixed up’ so he did.

              *sigh* Sometimes, I wish they were small again, y’know?

              1. Yes. I miss “I ‘lp” … sigh. Mine is almost 30 … Oh, he helps … even much more helpful, than back when he was a toddler/youngster, but it’s not the same.

                  1. Of course that just reminds me of the Clorox commercial series.

                    Sometimes ‘Mommy I did this!’ isn’t quite what it should be…

    2. My mother, as a child, saw a friend’s mother die in front of her. One of the little brown snakes, invisible among the brown coffee leaves. And shoes were a luxury. No anti-venom. No hospital closer than two days away.

      People you knew and loved just died.

      What is strange and terrifying is how the authoritarian dreamers have brought this back to the heart of the civilized world in places like Detroit. And no amount of facts about the Gods of the Copybook headings will budge their hearts one bit.

      This is why non-delusional, brave storytellers are so needed.

      1. Last summer, my dad slipped and ruptured a couple of vertebrae in his back. Go back a few decades, and that would be pretty much the end of his active life. He would have been crippled, and probably would have lived the rest of his life in pain from the pinched nerve.
        However, he was able to get his back fixed with a minimum of hospital time, and a minimum of bedrest (another medical miracle most don’t really notice).

    3. Res… that second to last paragraph is the most succinct summary of it i have seen from anyone.

      1. Succinct? Moi?

        I am so very sorry. i shall endeavor to be more verbose and pompous in the future.

        I am, after all, a wallaby with a reputation to maintain.

          1. Surely you do not imagine I accept compliments? My ego is over-fed as is, a black hole threatening to consume me.

    1. Don’t forget verse 15:

      “It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their actions. “

  2. I’m reading articles from religious people telling everyone how shocked they were that something that looked beautiful and good turned out to be evil/have evil effects.

    Humanity hasn’t experienced such disappointment in the reliance on a salesman’s puffery since Eve ate the apple*.

    *Actual fruit may be other than depicted. All apples referenced in this comment are purely metaphorical.

  3. Do I detect a reference to a 16-year-old Swedish idiot, or hasn’t her indoctrinated ‘wisdom’ got across the big pond yet?

      1. 16 year old Greta Thunberg, on the autism spectrum (and from what I can tell, way off kilter) who refused to go to school because climate change. If I have it right, she’s the one who inspired the lunatics gluing themselves to annoy ordinary people Speak Truth to Power in London.

        For a taste of the insanity, search “greta climate change”. I’m eating, so won’t read the Grauniad. Here’s the daily mail:

        1. Are they saying she’s autistic as an excuse? Because I’ve actually run across similar reasoning, where the argument of why the person refuses to seek employment and work (and thereby personally solve their own problems and pay their college bills) is that doing so is participating in capitalism. And no, after much examination and observation, those who tend to push communism these days are no more than severely lazy, entitled nouveau noblesse-delusionaires, who want to spend all their time ‘doing more important things’ than ‘be enslaved by a corporation.’

          1. The creepy bit is because she’s so Woke, the rulers of the European Union must pay attention to her every thought. Of course, she’s saying what they want to hear, so it’s not much of a stretch.

            Still, from the text coverage, (I seldom do video), it’s over the top ridiculous.

              1. Likewise, if she was saying things that the Important People didn’t already agree with.

        2. Ah, so kids are skipping school in “protest.” I see. For her next move, is she going to persuade them to eat nothing but ice cream for a week? (Yeah, I know, she’s vegan, so if she can persuade kids to eat nothing but broccoli and non-dairy organic soy I’ll be impressed).

      1. The vulnerable kids are … vulnerable to evil ideologues. Read Never Fall Down if you have a strong stomach.

        May a merciful God guard her from the trans activists.

        1. Quite. Really, a clinical case – take a child with her problems, indoctrinate her from birth, and you get this. (Selective mutism is always accompanied by selective deafness – the sufferer actually cannot hear anything that is even slightly contradictory to what their internal thinking is telling them.)

          1. I have a 14 year old dog that’s selectively deaf. We just say she’s hard of listening. 🙂

  4. This brought a clamor of ‘No, we have to signal all the right beliefs/politics, etc. upfront, otherwise he’s a villain!’

    I would wager good money that these same people would sneer at the traditional significance of white and black hats in Westerns.

    I am inclined to wonder whether the hat signifying is true — I doubt anybody has undertaken a serious, in-depth study of men’s headwear in American Western films of the 20s through the 50s — I suspect that by the 60s (if not before) the signifying role of cowboys’ hats had become a self-fulfilled prophecy. Maybe I should apply for a government grant to review the subject matter and write up the analysis? Nope — too many bad B-Westerns in the 20s and 30s that no amount of reward could justify sitting through.

    1. That was the idea behind Save the Cat, right? If your hero started out unheroic you were supposed to put something in there right away to signal that this character was redeemable. But it was only supposed to be a hint. If someone already had all the right beliefs or attitudes, where was character growth supposed to come from?

      It’s really easy to make your heroes too “good” though. I just realized that I’d fallen into that trap and had gotten stuck because I’d given my hero attitudes that he wouldn’t have had. As a result he was having silly conversations explaining himself, which he’d never have done. And just like that he went from “interesting and dangerous” to “omg, do I have to finish writing this.”

      1. If someone already had all the right beliefs or attitudes, where was character growth supposed to come from?

        If you knew Mary Sue
        Then you’d know why I feel blue
        Reading Mary, your Mary Sue
        Oh well, I loathe you, gal
        Yes, I loathe you Mary Sue

        1. Ha ha! No.

          Conversations explaining himself. I ended up with him going on about what his people are doing and why to the other character. It was wrong, so very wrong.

      2. “If your hero started out unheroic you were supposed to put something in there right away to signal that this character was redeemable. ”
        The true-character-revealed-over-time, or in a crisis, or both, is almost a trademark of Jane Austen. You are describing Darcy (and quite a few others), but the opposite is also true: the heroic, or at least pleasant, young man who turns out to be a total rotter (Wickam).
        My all-time-favorite, the Lymond Chronicles, takes about 6 volumes to box the compass and come out with the final positive verdict on its protagonist.

    2. Selection set of 4 from 1950s TV. Lone Ranger was white hat, as was Sky King and the Ponderosa Cartwrights. OTOH, Hopalong Cassidy wore a black hat.

      There was a bit of a mixture (playing with the trope, partly) with shows like Maverick (cardshark, “good”, but black hat), and Paladin from Have Gun, Will Travel having a black hat.

      No firm recollection on the villains.

      Rough guess, by the 50s, the trope had been set, but the Hollywood people were perfectly happy to play with it. (The Wiki image for Sky King shows Sky’s niece Penny wearing a black hat.)

    3. They were in black and white so all the hats were black or white. So, even if the villain had a black hat, so did a lot of the extras (those not wearing white hats).

  5. … made me the enemy of ‘if only we shout loud enough, or march shoulder to shoulder, there will be paradise’ school of dreamers.

    Looking back on my 60s and early 70s adolescent years, it seems to me that the same folk proclaiming the glories of collectivism were also the ones denouncing the Crusades as delusional schemes by Western bankers and aristos.

    Takes one to know one, eh?

  6. we explained to older son’s second grade teacher ‘no, the future is not more group work and collaboration …’

    I somehow doubt that those able to (accurately*) predict the future would be dictating second-grade pedagogy … although those desiring to create a future almost certainly would. Such people were likely no more competent at such manufacturing than they were at building small explosive devices.

    *Okay, anybody can predict the future, but can anyone do it with significant accuracy?

    I can call spirits from the vasty deep.

    Why, so can I, or so can any man;
    But will they come when you do call for them?

    Why, I can teach you, cousin, to command
    The devil

    And I can teach thee, coz, to shame the devil—
    By telling the truth. Tell truth and shame the devil.

    Henry The Fourth, Part I Act 3, scene 1, 52–58

    1. “I can call up the devil”

      “But will he obey you when he arrives?” 😈

      1. Depends on your definition of obey. I could imagine he would have a lot of fun being an evil Genie, fulfilling your exact words in the most destructive way possible.

        1. Or just not the way you wanted them, out of sheer spite.

          I ran with that in A Diabolical Bargain. You can do a lot with that.

          On the other hand, by the time you’re summoning up the devil, odds are good that the devil can really use exactly what you want.

          1. In one of Manly Wade Wellman’s “Silver John” stories, John is facing a man with an “evil” fiddle that was given him by the devil.

            John questioned “how good of businessman the devil was for a trade when the devil already had the evil man’s soul”.

            The evil man basically said (IIRC) that since he was doing the devil’s work, the devil gave him the fiddle so he could do the devil’s work better. 😀

      2. I say to you againe, doe not call up Any that you cannot put downe; by the Which I mean, Any that can in Turne call up somewhat against you, whereby your Powerfullest Devices may not be of use. Ask of the Lesser, lest the Greater shall not wish to answer, and shall commande more than you.- HP Lovecraft

        1. The classic story of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

          How things have changed. There was an American variant where the apprentice was a group of Harvard students, the task was summoning up a devil, and fortunately, the president of Harvard arrived and was able to put it down.

          1. Are you sure you have that correctly? These days it seems that it would read, “a group of Harvard students were summoning up a devil, and the president of Harvard arrived.”

  7. It started with wall-less schools, in which the kids were supposed to learn so much better.

    Oh, Lord. I went to one of those schools. I still have nightmares about it. All I have to say about those is that there must have been some really good drugs in the seventies, because anyone who thought that seven-year-olds would learn best when noise and distraction are coming at them from every direction must have been higher than a Concord jet.

    I read the Atlantic article, but really the part of it that wasn’t “no, duh” felt a little too much like an extended Apple commercial to me. “Apple introduced these wireless headphones.” “He had to run out to the Apple store and buy another pair.” “Have we mentioned recently that this is all due to Apple?”

    1. I remember the earliest incarnation, from the 1960s… where individual desks were replaced by group tables, because group learning is the best learning, doncha know. Hated it immediately, and mind you, I was 9 or 10. Always quickly became one leader (sometimes not so bad) or queen bee (horrible), a couple of sycophants, and the remainder goofing off or trying to escape into doing their own thing. No one learned anything.

      1. The interesting thing in some of the group work studies I read were that it isn’t the most knowledgeable people that usually end up running the group or even contributing most of the ideas, it’s actually the person that seems most confident about the information they are providing, no matter how inaccurate it might be.

        1. That’s generally true. It’s why the most basic capability of a leader is that he (or she) *makes decisions*. Doesn’t have to be the right decision, but the capacity to do so is usually what turns people into leaders. This can be a plus or a minus, depending on rhe character of rhe leader.

      2. I was lucky, the schools I went to in the 50s and 60s didn’t have that. The grade school (3-6th grade) was late 19th century, so no way, and the high school campii didn’t bother. Some of the science classes needed partners, but it was a two-person group when necessary.

    2. I agree, great product placement by Apple. You’d think they invented the concept of “wireless headphones”.

      In my experience the preferred auditory-isolation-device for the communal wall-less workplace are wireless full-coverage headphones like the Bose noise cancelling ones, for maximum exclusion of ones annoying co-workers. I am surprised they don’t also use something like the vision obstructing eyewear that’re used for pilot training (along the lines of to block out that unsightly person across the shared desk.

      1. *raises paw* I actually did that once, when I had to work in a shared space. It wasn’t comfortable [Foggles, I hatesssssss them my Precious!] but eliminated visual distractions.

    3. “Oh, gosh, Apple should introduce larger models!”

      Uh…like the folding, noise canceling, gaming ones my husband got for, oh, a quarter of the price of the air watzists?

    4. The kids are calling them “bitch-boy pods” because only the snotty rich kids have them.

      The kids are calling the large over-ear style “F#ck Off!” headphones. I think adding signage to the sides that also said that would deliver the message nicely. ~:D

  8. Perhaps RES has a point – about expectations for the 20th century being so high that they were bound to be crushed … after all, so much had improved for the Western world generally in the 19th, and the optimism in that century being so great. Which is why I love writing about the 19th century world, just because it was so optimistic. Things were getting better, generally … and then, it all went crashing in with WWI.
    Sometimes readers have asked me if I wouldn’t carry up the family saga into the 20th century, but I can’t quite summon up any enthusiasm for it. Maybe I could write something entirely removed from the Texas-German cycle, set in WWII, as I know a hell of a lot about that…
    Ah well, back to work…

    1. The 19th Cent. saw miracles achieved through the development of science and engineering. The 20th Cent. saw nightmares realized through the misapplication of the principles of science and engineering to things not truly amenable to the techniques of science and engineering. The 21st Cent is looking even more horrible as the people crying “It’s SCIENCE!” are using Science as a euphemism for Magic.

      Science applied to moral questions seems to yield large scale death in every instance.

      1. Science is good for answering “how” questions. It’s really poor at the “why” ones. It’s absolutely atrocious as a substitute for religion, ethics, or morality. One of the more deadly side effects of the 18th century “Enlightenment” and infatuation with Science was the notion that agnostic or atheistic determinism could serve as a basis for society.

        1. There’s also the problem of rejecting centuries of accumulated beliefs and practices, because SCIENCE! could have a new answer to everything.
          The example of tearing down a messy & slightly dilapidated but comfortable old house in favor of a new modern avant-garde structure of glass and concrete (incorporating all the most up to date touches!) comes to mind. Interesting that Start From Zero was the cry of both the Bauhausians & the Khmer Rouge.

        2. I’ve noticed how many of our basic bedrock principles are based on Christian ethics, even if we no longer recognize them as such. Things like the Golden Rule are not universal ideas that come coded in our DNA. I wonder how long we can keep the principles as more and more people jettison the foundation religion.

          1. This is the hardest aspect of getting folks to understand the Middle East, Asia, heck all the not-Christian cultures.

            They do not share our assumptions about people, their inherent worth, even children. Oh, gads, especially children, and the vulnerable…. *shudder*

              1. That they matter, in general.

                That an imperfect one is worth keeping alive. (The golden illustration there is that the “Palestinians” send disabled kids with explosives strapped on them at Israeli checkpoints… and the Israelis work to save the kids.)

                That they are something besides tools for an adult’s goals.

                1. Good example. It’s also hard to get people to understand the golden example you gave because a good number of the Left (especially) quietly will blame ‘conservatives’ for being anti-abortion (thus not having given the option to Muslims, at least in their own fevered delusions) and that it’s ‘Israel’s fault anyway.’

                  The war won’t end until the Muslims value their children more than their hate of the other… and they cherish their hate more than their children, as per the example of the Sri Lanka terrorists’ co-conspirators and that wife who blew herself up along with her children, unborn and born…

                2. tools for an adult’s goals.

                  So what we call Munchausen-by-proxy and all of the lesser pathologies associated with overbearing parents living vicariously through their children … are normal adult behavior there?

                  1. Not really, because that requires that the common assumption is that the kids have an inherent value divorced from their usefulness.

                    It’s more like… how Roman fathers could kill their kids at will, but it wasn’t unknown that some were incredibly fond of their kids, even their daughters.

            1. Are you sure you aren’t being racist in not simply dropping to the highest common level of humanity and sticking with that? 🙂

              Yeah, I probably have warped myself in harmful ways thinking about such things to the extent that I have.

              1. *grumbles* Common folks can manage it just fine, I could live with THAT kind of common humanity, like common sense…..

          2. A lot of neo-pagan stuff is syncretic — well, that’s accurate enough — but they have no CLUE how much of it is Christian.

      2. The problem may have been that science and engineering fell into the hands of people who could not actually DO them. And tended to think of them as magic.

          1. Yeah, this is pretty much obvious and the only conclusion when you a) finally learn enough science and engineering to understand how it works in the real world and b) look at the history. I started reading some early twentieth century US fiction recently. The difference between a late nineteenth/early twentieth century intellectual writing about business and industry and a mid twentieth century pacific islander cultist is that for some reason people take the opinions of the former seriously.

  9. Years ago my then wife worked a subcontract to a major aerospace prime government contract. Her team had to be on site, but there was no available office space so they were put into several house trailers, the kind you see at construction sites. Desks were installed in pairs, face to face to facilitate computer and power lines. And a Thou Shalt Not edict came down from the prime contractor, no partitions allowed.
    Although technically I was their customer I was a part of the group through wifey so stopped by to see their new digs and got an earful of griping about “how can anyone expect us to work under these conditions?”
    Looking over the arrangement it was obvious that what was needed were at least six foot partitions to create somewhat of a cube effect. Eight would have been better, but six would do.
    So I asked the wife to inquire as to whether the powers that be deemed bookcases as an acceptable addition to the office. Response was yes but the prime would not pay, buy them yourselves.
    Year before I’d received a nice bonus and used it to purchase a commercial grade 10 inch table saw. Spent a week of after work free time cutting bookcase kits out of cheap pine with pegboard backs.
    Following weekend we had a construction party where everyone with a desk assembled their own bookcase which coincidentally exactly fit across the back of their desk and stood about six feet from the floor.
    As I was as I said technically their customer it would have been inappropriate for me to profit from the exercise, so each proud new bookcase owner gave the wife precisely the cost of the materials. I never saw a penny.
    I do vaguely recall there being some non monetary compensation a bit later on. That, and the opportunity to stick a finger in the eye of some pompous Boeing bureaucrat that is.

    1. I was hired to do a consulting gig for a test equipment company. We set up in the Silicon Valley office (manufacturing and Galactic HQ was in Bavaris), but took cubes at the far end of the space. This kept the employees and customers training there out of our hair, and it was fairly quiet.

      The team was small and wonderful; the boss was the RF specialist and came up with the math and such, a very senior tech/circuits type came up with the necessary hardware, and I wrote the code. Debugging used 1-3, depending in circumstances. I was able to do some of the coding from home.

      We delivered, just in time for the customer to go bankrupt. That destroyed my last month’s pay, but it was tolerable; I made a bunch earlier. The customer got bought in a fire sale by a larger competitor. Such is life.

      1. We delivered, just in time for the customer to go bankrupt. … The customer got bought in a fire sale by a larger competitor. Such is life.”

        I’ve been doing contract Accounting (Temping) for something like a dozen years. Your tale is why, when I interview for positions I get asked about it and always reply, “Every job is temporary; some just don’t know their end date.”

        1. We were chasing a bug the last month. Turns out the standards missed one part of the calibration (RF has some interesting ways to get into trouble, I learned). Resolution of the problem and bankruptcy of the client occurred within a week.

          OTOH, it funded the remodel that let us escape from The People’s Republic of California.

  10. “And when it blows up, it must be the fault of those evil employers and “greedy” capitalists.”

    The prevalence of this trope today is a fascinating study in the effectiveness of propaganda. Nearly any large failure in the West is attributable to the Failures of Capitalism™. When, by and large, you examine any problem past the superficial level, you notice the very large and very visible hand of the state warping conditions far beyond the dreams of would-be central planners.

    They regurgitate this trope even in the face of empirical data that proves them wrong, yet have the gall to don the mantle of the Party of Science™. So you dig beyond the superficial into the ideology underpinning their worldview and find…


    It’s all based on Critical Theory (an inbred descendant of Marxism) – their equivalent to the Grand Unified Theory, only they accept it as Truth with even less evidence than supports any Grand Unified Theory, without any of that troublesome self-examination that good science requires. That’s why they come across as religious practitioners. Their worldview, their “science”, is based upon narrative, and a narrow one at that. But it’s everywhere. and so far has yet to produce a better human being.

    But damn if we don’t have a bunch more raging sociopaths out in the open than we used to.

    1. It is a religion because the inevitable historical forces causing the arc of history are functionally identical to spirits.

      Basically, the combination of an animism of spirits (bad things because spirits angry, good because happy) with the idea other religions have about all aspects of thought and behavior having religious significance.

      1. So if one applies the accumulated empirical human knowledge base, “Never trust a Djinn” becomes “Never trust an Inevitable Historical Force”, and that makes much sense to me.

        1. You CAN trust the Inevitable Historical Force when you realize she has a name- “Eris”.

          Hail Discordia!

    2. The Failures of Capitalism have much in common with those of Christianity, about which Chesterton observed: “he Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.

      People who do not trust Capitalism doctor the recipe and, when their cake inevitably collapses, blame the recipe rather than their failure to follow it.

      1. I’ll admit that I’ve never been particularly impressed by Chesterton’s statement there. It strikes me as being a bit too close to the insistence that “real Communism” has never been tried.

        Whatever the philosophy, the “real” thing is what humans can make work. The major difference is that I think real Christianity is pretty good compared to the alternatives, whereas real Communism, well, doesn’t have nearly so good a track record.

        1. Sure, they sound the same– but that’s not enough to count something as wrong, testing it does.

          With Communism, we can very quickly see that all the steps are followed, and the recipe never gets what it’s supposed to– with the added ‘test’ that it requires a material that doesn’t exist, and has no means to ‘correct’ that lack. (Requires perfect humans.)
          With Christianity, following the steps is not supposed to get perfection, but is supposed to get improved– and in practice, it does. Also has a failure-control where there’s a means to fix the failures.
          One of the saddest things I heard out of the middle east is that some of those enslaving Christians did so because they could trust a Christian slave more than their own family.
          Talk about an indictment of Islam. You slaughter someone’s family, abuse them, and simply because they are Christian, they are STILL less of a danger than your own blood.

        2. If anyone promises you that this time it will be real Christianity, I promise to scream as loudly as you do. . . .

          The difference is that Marx predicted success in a way that Jesus never did.

        3. There is a simple way to tell the difference: look at the result curves.

          The more communism you have the worse things get. Up until the magical 100% communism is reached and heaven on earth appears.

          The more capitalism you have the better things get. Even with horrible burdens and corruption the black market does its best to keep life going.

        4. I wonder if the difference comes down to envy? I’ve noticed that the doctrines that promote it, Marxisim, militant Islam, et al, always seem to end in blood, while those that do not, Christianity, Judeism, Sikha, Hinduism, free markest, Libertarianism, generally do not.

        1. I saw a meme a while ago: Che Guevara wearing a Bernie Sanders tee.

          On a real t-shirt: pics of Marx, Lenin, Stalin and Bernie. Caption “Bernie is my Comrade”. As I recall, the vendor got deplatformed.

        2. The folks who advocate democracies, as opposed to republics, are to a fairly significant degree facists or red facists.

          Not for love of representative government, but for for love of the opportunity provided by the instabilities inherent in democracy.

          Republics can be stable when they sufficiently restrict the options available to power (whether voters, official, bureaucrats, judges or robot mannequins), such that people can afford to lose, wait, and try again next time.

          Yeah, I’m hypocritical. Not all of the policies that I have sincerely advocated for pass the test of preserving the restrictions of a republic.

    3. Yesterday I fell into a pit of Islamic writings, and was skimming through the work of some modern imam. I was both amused and appalled to note how closely his concepts mirrored Marx.

      1. I recently delved into the same. Was amazed at the material that never, ever, ever makes it to main stream. Shocking how ignorant I was. The fools encouraging conflict and migration are pouring gasoline on the fire.

      2. Not surprised. For all that Leftists blather on about the evils of colonialism and imposing our values on other societies, Marxists are incredibly eager to do just that.

      3. Why would you be? The Islamic revolution in Iran was explicitly Islamic socialism. Ba’athism was Islamic socialism with a dash of ethnic nationalism. The intellectuals who started the Muslim Brotherhood were heavily influenced by Marx. The war in Yemen is basically their civil war (which involved a Communist Republic) all over ahain.

        1. Stupid phone. Comment number two: Marxism was pretty prevalent in Europe intellectual circles in the latter part of the 19th century, when rhe Ottoman Empire was looking to reform itself. Plus, it lends itself well to that “struggle” narrative and liberation theology nonsense. So someone looking to marry “We’ve been done wrong to and kt’s THEIR/YOUR fault” to their own cultural milieu, will absokitely glom knto Marx. Particukarly as it lets them recruit people feeling aggrieved and attacked. Regardless of the actual merit of those feelings.

          1. And modern ‘Christian’ clergy would also, depending, show a heavy influence by Marx.

            1. Clergy should stop singing the pastel limp-wristed praise songs and crank up the battle hymns.

    4. This was recently linked to me by ThePhantom (hi!) and I think this comment is a good place to share it. As well as this post.

      After the fall of the USSR, there was a vast outpouring of truth-telling about the fallen communist regimes in Russia, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Bulgaria, Hungary, Albania, Romania and Poland. The stagnant debt and corruption, the human rights abuses in political-prisons and orphanages, the hidden mass graves, the illegal human experiments, the secret surveillance systems, the assassinations, the mass starvations, and the overwhelming evidence of the failure in each country of “the planned economy.” The structures, too, of government-misinformation, the eradication of free speech and the re-writing of history—erasing your opponents by murdering them and then wiping all traces of their existence from the history books. In the 90s the hidden data from Stalin’s famine-genocide in the Ukraine (1923–33) was exposed. Later, the scale of Chairman Mao’s genocides staggered the world. Even the methods that communist regimes used to produce historical amnesia were exposed.

      For a brief period, the consensus was that the communist experiment had failed. Never again, said the postmodernists and historians. Never again, said the economists and political parties. Never again said the people of former communist countries. Never again.

      Fast forward 20 years and never again has been forgotten. The Wall Street Journal in 2016 asked: “Is Communism Cool? Ask a Millennial.” Last year MIT Press published Communism for Kids and Teen Vogue ran an excited apologia for Communism. Tablet announced, with some concern, a “Cool Kid Communist Comeback.” On Twitter, there is new trend of people giving themselves communist-themed names: “Gothicommunist,” “Trans-Communist,” “Commie-Bitch,” “Eco-Communist.” The hammer and sickle flag has been re-appearing on campuses, at protests and on social media.

      1. Ponzi schemes never really go out of style, and cargo cults tend to linger despite the utter lack of success.
        If you look at it as a scam to get the great masses of people to sell their lives, liberty, and property for the promise of security, it makes perfect sense why those who intend to profit from it don’t talk about the failures.

      2. Ugh, the comments on that – from the resident lefties – make my teeth itch. A bit of Tu Quoque right off the bat. That’s not necessarily bad, until you see the person making the argument about capitalism that’s criticized in this post. Like Capitalism is a coherent political ideology and the famines mentioned were the result of free markets.

        1. Skimming a bit, I’m rather unsurprised by the sheer hatred towards Churchill in the thread by the socialists/commies. The revisionism to make Indians look good and British evil makes little sense when, as someone noted further down the thread, Indians volunteered to fight IN the British military. (I wonder how many of them will remember that the British were the ones who freed the Hindus from the Muslims… oh who am I kidding? they’ll conveniently forget it or say that the British did it only because ‘there was capitalist rewards as incentive’.

            1. Honestly, given the zealotry of the ‘new’ Communists, what I expect to come to pass, if they come to power, is more akin to the Khmer Rouge, post Fall of Saigon, and Stalin’s erasure of every ‘traitor’ that made the mistake of disagreeing with him…


              As Loung and her family continued the hike out of the city through the countryside, they stopped by a temple, but upon hearing gunshots from inside, they kept moving. After four days, they reached a checkpoint where Khmer Rouge soldiers asked former government workers to step forward and sign up for “immediate work.” Although Loung’s father was a high-ranking official in Boret’s government, he told the soldiers that his background was in packing on the wharfs. The next day, Loung remembers her elder brother telling her parents, “The noise last night was the Khmer Rouge soldiers opening fire on all the people who registered for work. They killed every one of them.”

              The new regime tried to eliminate every vestige of the old government—and every vestige of society they considered a threat, including people who had committed no crime besides wearing reading glasses. The population was forced to wear a national uniform of all black, and absolute conformity with Khmer Rouge ideology was imposed on the people. According to the leaders of the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia had long been led astray by the Western world, its money, its profits, and its professionals. Now that the cities had been evacuated and emptied into the countryside, Cambodia would take a different path—an agrarian brotherhood dedicated to working the land. Cambodia was to return to ‘Year Zero,’ and recover its former glory, removed from the modern world and the unnecessary corruption of its influences. In order to facilitate the eradication of capitalism, the National Bank was blown apart and all forms of money were banned. Marriages were now arranged by the state, children were taught to obey the government instead of their parents, and every last trace of individuality was expunged from human life. To seal the transformation, the country was renamed Kampuchea.

              Loung and her family were forced, along with the rest of the population, into communal agrarian labour camps, which also served as centres for extreme indoctrination. Loung’s sister Keav died of food poisoning. One day, two soldiers arrived at Loung’s hut and asked her father to assist them in getting a wagon unstuck. She never saw him again. Disturbed by the disappearance of her husband and the sounds of screaming at night, Loung’s mother ordered Loung and her surviving siblings to separate and pretend to be orphans. She feared the Khmer Rouge would eventually kill them too, just as they were killing the families of other executed ‘traitors.’

              It surprises me not at all that they moved to ‘erase’ the past; much in the same way ISIS did, and the same way the people who seek to erase ‘racist’ history do now. Given history, which is not taught any more in order to facilitate the slaughter, it’s simply a matter of ‘when’ now.

    5. I’ve seen recently certain persons, usually young and ignorant, try to explain away communism’s victims by complaining about “the victims of capitalism”– who are given, variously, as “people who have to choose between paying their rent and buying food”, and “people who are in danger of losing their home in order to pay medical bills” and similar. The fact that none of those are “victims” of capitalism, but rather of their own decision making doesn’t register, nor does the fact that under socialism/communism those dilemmas WOULD NOT GO AWAY, they’d only get worse. And would include things like “informing on a friend/family member/lover IN ORDER TO get any food” not having a choice between the two.

      Which is just a long way of saying “It’s always a failure of capitalism, never a failure of personal responsibility and decision making.” It rather reminds me of the coverage of Sri Lanka, and the “intelligence failure” that wasn’t. Always blame the system, not the people making decisions within it. (In that case, intel did its job and had actual specific, actionable intelligence. Conflict between the PM and President of Sri Lanka kept it from being acted upon. That was a political failure, but it will never be fixed. Easier to blame it on the system.) Although, Sri Lanka is apparently known as “the Democratic Socialist Republic” of Sri Lanka, so that explains a lot.

      1. There’s been a trend of being upset about clothes that ‘aren’t made without exploiting victims of capitalism.’ The first one I ran into which TRIED to use that as a gotcha against me refused to reply when I asked if she, in her virtuousness, grew her own fibers and wool animals, harvested and treated them, then spun the thread that then was woven into cloth which she then stitched by hand into the clothes she wore.

        She wasn’t very happy with me when I said that I bought the clothes I was wearing from my fellow countryfolk, from the town of their manufacture. I later got out of her, to my surprise, that she couldn’t claim the same, and frankly spazzed out when I said ‘so why are you trying to claim what I was doing is bad, when you are the one guilty of what you are saying is bad?’

  11. Cubicles – a little slice of hell on this earth. I first encountered them in the early 80s and was immediately repelled. I guess I can thank them for giving me enough drive to get promoted and get my own office. Once I suggested to the head of HR that we should give the corridors between cubicles street names, and then everyone could have a home address and customize their town. They just looked at me like I was insane.

    1. …or even cubes, though that, mostly, was an attempt to expand really fast without having to build/spend a lot

      The avoidance of paying to build out hardwalls in a leased building was the main thing, plus if a company reconfigured there was some salvage value from the old cube parts. It was also somewhat easier to get at the data/power wiring in the cube runs than in sheetrock.

      But as to speed, I recall vast swaths of space waiting for months and months for cubical parts to arrive. The CAD group that had already moved into the adjacent cubed-up space played indoor frisbee tournaments there. And then when the cube parts finally arrived, one exec refused to occupy his assigned cube and kept all his stuff, including his bike, piled up out in the corridors until they converted a conference room into a hardwall office for him.

      I guess I can thank [cubes] for giving me enough drive to get promoted and get my own office.

      Promotion never led to getting an actual door until one got to Director level in my experience. In fact, over time the cubes got smaller – My first individual contributor cube was 8′ x 12′, and when I became a manager it went to 10′ x 12′ with the back a halfwall under a window, but later on it was standardized 8’x8′ for every cube in the company with no cubes against any window – they ran hallways along all the windows just to make sure. Only the hardwall exec offices got windows.

      As it was even with sightlines blocked by cubes, the audible environment was bad enough. There was always that one person who made all their phone calls on speaker, allowing everyone else to learn all about their health problems and family situation.

      But at least I had cube walls. The cubeless stuff, combined with the climate of complaints to HR (“He’s looking at me!”) would have been just pure hell. I am so glad I’m out of cubeland.

      1. > 8×8

        You’re kidding? Standard cube size anywhere I’ve seen in meatspace has been 6×6!

        “Doubles” were something like 10×6.

        1. Been out of cubeland for a while – they could be down to 4×4 now for all I would know.

      1. One aspect of open plan vs. cubeland was brought up back in the 1990s when the company next door to ours put in an array of extremely large, very sturdy, and deeply anchored concrete planters in front of their lobby’s glass front door wall – the Brit higher ups had been the recipient of an MI5 briefing on how truck bomb attacks on office buildings were being carried out.

        It occurred to me at the time that the main advantage of multiple exits and cubes all over was that it was very hard for a lone person to see very far from all but a few locations, and if said person were “disgruntled”, one could likely get to an exit without being much in the line of fire.

        One of those open office places, not so much.

  12. I went to one of those open plan schools. There was a constant white noise inthe background that in retrospect was kind of like having class in a mall, about 50 feet away from the food court. If you could concentrate it was okay, but concentrating is not a grade schooler’s strong suit.

    The library had a lot of sci fi, which was nice. And there were regular classrooms once you reached 5th grade.

    1. For someone with ADD or ADHD, even a normal classroom with walls is hell. I can’t even imagine how awful an open plan school would be.

  13. I’ll take the 20th century, thanks. I’m beginning to suspect it may be regarded as a halcyon time, before governments started intrusive social credit systems. A time in which the population retained things like the knowledge that vaccinations for deadly infectious diseases like measles are good things.

    While there were thumping great wars, in comparison to other eras the century’s overall death rate was tiny. See slides 4 & 5:

    In the 20th century educated people read Shakespeare and great literature, which gives a very good toolbox to predict human behavior. I worry a great deal that our schools are actively discouraging the reading of books and plays, due to test prep pressure. If you haven’t met Iago, Lady MacBeth, or Queen Gertrude, you will be blindsided by normal human behavior. (Hint: people lie. People are self-serving. All heroes have feet of clay.)

    I wish to encourage you to keep your blog going, if only on an “option 3” basis. I read your blog often, but have only commented once or twice. You could try an Instapundit model of guest bloggers sharing the load.

  14. Workplace group-work is slightly less awful than school based group-work simply because slackers get found out instead of moved to a different group next time. There’s less motivation or opportunity to slack. Not that it never happens, but not like school groups.

    1. My problem was the jerkwads who only used speakerphone, turned up as loud as it would go, for every conversation. The phone was on their desk; they stood out in the aisle, as far away as possible, and shouted at it.

      Three or four of those simultaneously, and no, I can’t deal with a support call or stay in the zone for programming…

      When I complained about it, management’s instant response was that *I* was the one being unreasonable.

      *They* all had offices. With doors. Not that they spent much time there, they were always at some other building in meetings. Supposedly…

      1. I have to take it on faith that other people can tune out voices. I cannot. I know people who consider a television suitable background noise. I do not.

        I can’t not listen. I can’t not try to determine what people are saying if I hear voices. It takes a foreign language before I can ignore it, and even then, if I know a few words, I just listen more to see if I can guess what the words are. If I listen to the same songs long enough I can start to ignore the words.

        1. I’m the opposite- I’m more used to tuning out voices (ask my old elementary teachers), so I find that makes a better, easier to ignore background noise than music or white noise.
          I usually put a DVD (usually a MST3k ep) on repeat when I go to bed, as I cannot stand silence when I sleep.

          1. I think that I am one of those – able to tune out background noise at will. I was able to do my homework … sitting in the school lunchroom.
            Powers of concentration, I guess. Able to tune out all the noise and make it go away.

        2. If the voices/sounds are distinct, I can’t read or work. OTOH, if my wife is watching TV in the living room, and I’m in the back of the house, acoustics are such that it’s washed out and ignorable.

        3. “I can’t not listen. ”
          Exactly so. I missed a lot of the music and tv experiences of my HS age group because I did not study with the radio or tv blaring.
          Now they get all nostalgic about their favorite bands or actors, and I have no idea who they are talking about.
          No great loss.

          1. The 1970s college radio station liked to play modern jazz in the evenings. (Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and so on). I’m not a fan of modern jazz (at all!), but I’d play it to mask over apartment/dorm noises when doing homework.

        4. We had a marital discussion on just this earlier today, ending with me saying “I’ll take your word that you find tv noise different from a crowded shopping center if you’ll take mine that I DON’T!”

          Must be something in the aether . . .

        5. Re foreignspeak: There was this group manager (parallel reporting to the same Director, level one up from me but a couple branches away) who would somewhat quietly go off in Spanish at uncooperative people (after hanging up) or inanimate objects (mostly her computer). I had to remind her that we were in cubeland, and lots of folks in California have enough Espaniol to roughly make out to the job category she was assigning whoever, and what they being advised to do with what, at least in the outlines, unless she jumped to Tagalog, and for that there was at least one cube dweller around who could translate.

      2. Try being a programmer and expected to take support calls. Company didn’t and still doesn’t have support division. Every call took 30 to 45 minutes to get back to what I was coding, IF the call didn’t take me away from what I was doing and into the rabbit hole related to the call. Then get questioned why original change/code “wasn’t done.” Took me awhile, but finally got callers to use email to report problems, with pictures, that I’d call if I had questions. Also got to the point that a solution/answer would come as soon as I could find the problem. Just left out that the search might not be immediate* … especially toward the end, when I knew the quit date, but hadn’t informed anyone (under “What? They going to fire me?) The last year was almost fun, again.

        * Depended on what & who. There were some where the problem when into the common database and assigned to the person in charge of assignments. Then I essentially washed my hands of it, unless it was assigned back to me. Didn’t use to be that way. But when I started out, I was solely responsible. Last 12 years that was not true, but still I was helpful. Took 12 years to wear me down to the ending attitude. Loved coding. Hated repeated interruptions. Especially since the support requirement didn’t apply equally to everyone. Some got a pass because they weren’t “people friendly” …

        1. A coworker described our product engineering job as a series of interruptions, interrupted by interruptions.

          ESR’s Hacker’s Dictionary refers to the human interrupt stack. I still get stack overflow at times. The border collie can be most insistent.

            1. You may want to read the whole dictionary.

              I read it in middle or highschool, and it made a small impression.

        2. “Some got a pass because they weren’t “people friendly” …”
          A book I read about leadership and management spent some time explaining why it was sometimes important to NOT make everyone “part of the group,” especially the geeky types. As a consultant, the author was once asked to find a way to get one of the programmers — the most productive one, of course — to be more “friendly” and particpatory. After some study, he recommended that they could have a new chum, or working code.
          They left the programmer alone.

          1. “new chum, or working code. They left the programmer alone.”

            Plus (occasional) resentment from someone who has to pick up their slack or lack … AND can also produce working code.

      3. The phone was on their desk; they stood out in the aisle, as far away as possible, and shouted at it.

        This is why headsets were invented.

      1. Which itself is highly suspect, as everyone knows the Romans used stone and chisel for the important stuff.

      2. Cast in bronze and carried into the temple of Saturn. Since the temples were torn down, nothing gets done.

  15. One of my favorite profs in grad school began an undergrad lecture about the 14th Century by declaring, ‘The Fourteenth Century just sucked.” Said prof allowed as how the 20th and 17th weren’t great either, but the 14th really took the cake. (Globally, the 17th is looking worse and worse, but this was a European History Survey course.)
    Barbara Tuchman’s _A Distant Mirror_ hits most of the highlights [lowlights?]

    1. If you were living in and around the Germanies in the first half of the 17th, life was pretty sucky.

      1. All suckiness is local. Germany fared fairly well in the Fourteenth, but got stomped in the Seventeenth- and the opposite for France.

        1. *wags paw* The climate disruption of the late 1500s-1600s pretty much whomped everyone in the Northern Hemisphere. Timing varied, but sheesh. Some parts of China had almost complete population loss because of natural disasters combined with disease and inept (or corrupt) government. That was before the dynastic turnover of Ming to Qing. (See G. Parker’s summary global history for the gory details. Don’t leave it where kids can see some of the illustrations.)

  16. This practically made me rock back on my feet, because, I’m sorry, what kind of emotional infants is our civilization raising? I thought “a man may smile and smile and be a villain” was well established.

    Good heavens, it’s so simple a HOBBIT can get it!

    A servant of the Enemy would “look fairer, and feel fouler.”

    1. Sorry, but I’ve never seen a picture of Karl Marx that I could possibly conceive of any woman’s heart going pitter patter over him.

        1. It is rarely a good idea to try to understand the beauty and style preferences of other countries, and the past is, indeed, an other country.

          What passes as the modern feminine ideal figure would be derided as hopelessly scrawny in almost all other eras.

  17. “the American Council of Bishops”? Who?

    Perhaps you mean “the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops”?

    (I.e. not Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopalian, or Orthodox bishops)

    1. I allow as I would feel greater ease with the Bishops did they seem less committed to rooking the congregants.

  18. “we explained to older son’s second grade teacher ‘no, the future is not more group work and collaboration …’ ”

    Let’s take two supposed to be similar, but equal, segregated (well one was, one still is) programs for Girls and Boys. BSA (now co-ed) and GSA (not co-ed). Both have top awards that only a few who ever join persist to earn. Both have very different ways of required methods to accomplish the requirements up to the highest reward. The biggest difference between the two is GSA requires collaboration to advance and finally earn the Gold Award. Specific quote for the GSA Gold Project:

    “Work collaboratively to develop a plan for your project that creates lasting change.” Essentially a group project. Whether that is actually true in practice, that I don’t know. But it definitely was a problem with my sister’s girls.

    BSA reward does NOT require “collaborative development” for the Eagle Project. In fact each Eagle Project is designed by the scout, with advise for sure, but the design is an individual accomplishment. Must use leadership to accomplish the plan, or can’t just create a plan and follow through on their own. Must get others, in scouting or not, to help complete the plan they came up with. A lone scout (an actual option) or a scout as part of a troop have equal chances of earning Eagle. GSA, by definition, can’t claim that.

    No wonder sisters want to join with their brothers in BSA programs. Which is worse “collaboration projects” or camping?

    (I do not want to get into a debate about whether the recent BSA change was good for either BSA or GSA.)

    1. The Eagle Project process is designed to demonstrate leadership. The Scout going for the award designs the project, and one way or the other, gets others to help/do the work. They don’t have to be fellow Scouts, either. My son used some of his HS friends to complete his project.

      Sounds like the GSA Gold Star is designed to establish committees.

      1. Yes. “GSA Gold Star is designed to establish committees.” That is my take too. Plus if you can’t get together a committee then you can’t earn the award.

        My son too used HS friends, fellow scouts both from his troop and others, and extended family members (to get his cousins to help was an accomplishment, trust me), to complete various stages of his project.

    2. Your decision was wise. I am involved with a new Scout troop of girls, in the 11-12 years. They do silly, but it’s a start. Camporee coming up soon, which will be their first camping experience.

      1. 🙂

        11-12 year old boys are serious? Really, since when?

        First camping experience? Wow. Have fun! What area? How is the group for equipment?

      2. One grand-daughter just earned her Bear badge, which is the age-group of which I am den leader, in another city.
        I am having conflicted emotions….

    3. By the way, the Lone Scout option for the Eagle project still requires the scout to interact with others: either to solicit donations of funds or supplies. Ideally, the scout should be supervising and managing others performing the labor portions also. And the way it is now, the scout has to submit what’s basically a business proposal to the council committee for approval of the project before he even starts. The final report to the council resembles a cross between a term paper and a research thesis. There’s still a rather large range of what’s considered acceptable from one council to the next, or even between multiple members in the council; regardless of what the book says.

      That particular requirement transcends sex, gender, and preferences. It also points out who are the go-getters who are leadership oriented people, and who are the followers.

      1. “By the way, the Lone Scout option for the Eagle project still requires the scout to interact with others”

        Yes. The requirements for a lone scout doesn’t change. How some are executed, has to be. Ex. A scout troop provides leadership opportunities within the group, on the trail to Eagle. The lone scout would have to find other options.

        “the scout has to submit what’s basically a business proposal to the council committee for approval of the project before he even starts. The final report to the council resembles a cross between a term paper and a research thesis.”


        “That particular requirement transcends sex, gender, and preferences. It also points out who are the go-getters who are leadership oriented people, and who are the followers.”


        The only way a scout gets Eagle is because they want it, they want it bad, they work for it, they work very hard for it.

        The district we were involved with had a saying. “Anyone who stopped short of Eagle, regardless of the reason, has regrets that they didn’t finish. No one who earned their Eagle regrets the accomplishment of earning it.”

    4. “BSA reward does NOT require “collaborative development” for the Eagle Project.” – yet. Any takers on the pool as to how long that lasts?

      1. OMG. I hope not. Resisted it so far.

        OTOH, we seen here, how a troop will be selected because of how things are done, and immediately have the new comers try to change how things are done … really?

        Not that changes were all bad, some even required. Know the troop is large enough now that they are able to do more high adventures with the youth old enough to participate, which mean summer camps are more varied and challenging for youth First Class and 14 or older, which translates to more earning Eagle.

  19. Moved from job with own office to a cubicles office where we were all on phones 90% time. (Shaved 2 hours commuting time.) Cubicle job could/should have been done at least part time rotating schedule from home. Now retired reading your horrible experiences. So glad I had schools with individual(!) desks all facing teacher. Schooling was paradise from what I learn about public schools now. Would home school if raising kids today. 21st century is going fulfill may you live in interesting times. Often thought that was a curse.

  20. I’ve spent most of my career in cube farms, but never liked them. Having an office was wonderful.

    But the notion that people NEED to be in massive groups? Nonsense! Utter and complete nonsense put out by people who want to avoid responsibility by spreading out amongst a horde. The purveyors of Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy.

    If anything, nearly 40 years of working has taught me the value of the individual, or small group. The one way to counter the Iron Law is the Band of Brothers. A small group, highly competent, with the freedom to make their own decisions – they can work miracles.

    I’ve seen it. Been part of it. The power is real. And Shakespeare was right. The fewer numbers, the greater share of glory.

  21. I know I’ll be in the minority, but I actually like “cubes” and “modular office” constructs, when done right. The truly “dividerless” open office is abhorrent.

    Part of “done right” is that you have to have enough small conference rooms that when people need to have a conversation or a phone call, they can just duck in to one of the nearby small conference rooms to do that.

    But once the culture is such that if you’re going to be chatting for an hour you duck in to a room, I find that it really does save time; you can spend most of your time in “your space” but the next person you need to talk to, you stand up and lean over the cubicle wall, or such; and I’ve seen a lot of mistakes avoided when two people were talking over an engineering problem and a third person popped up to say “wait, that’s not right”

    Another essential part of “done right” (which was how it was done at Intel), is “it’s got to work for management too”. Andy Grove ran Intel from a cubicle, just like everyone else. So the culture had to adapt to a style of work that worked with cubicles, instead of there being a class distinction (you could get a bigger cubicle, but there was no pay grade at which you weren’t in a cubicle).

    And their advantages in rapidly reconfiguring the work spaces as the teams and projects change are strong.

    But humans have to have their ‘own’ space. They just don’t work any other way. And some people can’t stand being snuck up on, so they have to be able to “face the door” and see people coming, or they just don’t feel safe enough to concentrate.

    And as George Carlin said “I need a place to put MY stuff”

    1. I absolutely despise cubicles. Mostly because they send a message to the workforce – you are disposable, so we put you into a disposable workspace.

      20th Century business management (and employment regulations) have NOT kept pace with the High-Skill Professional workforce. They think in terms of Managers and Hourly Factory Labor…and can’t quite understand knowledge workers.

        1. The Pointy Haired Boss is the gift that keeps on giving (so long as someone else has to endure the PHB). Had one who fit the description to a tee. Our nickname for him was obscene but appropriate. F—-head.

          Turning down the sizable raise offer from FH on my last day was one of my happiest moments at work there. And, it was actually (usually) a fun job, except when it wasn’t.

    2. There are a lot of people whose work requires considerable concentration–programmers, financial analysts, etc—and their productivity can suffer from constant interruptions or background noise. And managers need to be able to have private conversations without getting up and moving to a conference room whenever a conversation starts to get a bit sensitive (which isn’t always known in the beginning.) Salespeople, contracts people, and others who are on the phone a lot need to be able to make calls without either detracting others or being distracted. I see little upside to cubicles other than pure cost-savings…and full open-office areas are worse.

    3. Most of my career was in production engineering, and we tended to have open or bullpen offices. Since about half the job was spent away from the desk, it wasn’t that bad. In once case, our division was moving piecemeal, so we ended up with a whole lot of space; high bookcases to give some privacy.

      We had the wide-open office once; very wide aisles, so lots of non-relevant people wandering about. As I recall, I’d get to the production floor and steal a machine from production. The room was fairly noisy (maybe half a dozen people in there at a time), but the machine noises were enough to mask the voices. Occasional use of Silencio shooter’s muffs was helpful.

      1. My first full time programming position there was a center computer workstation area, but everyone had their primary desks away from that area. Two groups had shared areas (three to each area.) Everyone else had their own offices. Now note, the poor suffers that had to share their offices were field personnel, rarely spent a day in the office. Only when they had process information gathered in the field … you know, dump it from water proof hand held protable computers (no, not cell phones, way before then.)

    4. “I’ve seen a lot of mistakes avoided when two people were talking over an engineering problem and a third person popped up to say “wait, that’s not right””

      My husband has talked about that. When people are talking about work (and not taking customer phone calls!) the discussion of technical problems sometimes gets a prairie dog answer, someone pops up and says, “Did you try…” He’s got an office now, but has had a cube for a decade and most people have cubes.

      Though at his work place they’ve got the bad habit of having loud political arguments down the cubical rows, which frankly, I think that a little bit of leadership could discourage if it wasn’t already so ingrained. That’s just bad manners.

      1. The evidence seems to indicate that, for some workplaces, cubicles are an effective arrangement and that in other workplaces they are ineffective. The real problem seems an inability (or unwillingness) of management to distinguish the former from the latter.

        That management is often incapable of determining what constitutes effectiveness is hardly news.

  22. To quote Excalibur, one of my favorite movies: “A dream to some. A nightmare to others!”

  23. So, the office went from cubes to open office and that drove me nuts. The noise, the fact that the office is mostly female (and the gossip…), and the general motion around me just made it harder for me to get anything done.

    I was able to snag an office spot, and while i have to share the office with two other people, it’s nice having a door and that people have to come in and not just come by.

  24. The start of the 20th Century was when a lot of people thought that Scientific Utopia, in the form of socialism, eugenics, and planning by the Right People (TM) was going to fix everything and bring about the Earthly paradise.

    And, to try and create that Earthly Paradise took two wars that spanned the world, countless atrocities, and crimes that the believers still won’t admit to. The people that tried this before are trying to do the same thing all over again, just with different labels and slightly different call-outs for the uninitiated to NOT know what is going on.

    I wouldn’t be so upset and frustrated if it wasn’t just trying to put a new cover on horse that has been dead for years.

  25. “Reality isn’t always pretty, but dreams are dangerous things. Beautiful dreams have killed millions of human beings. And even the pieces of them are harmful.”

    I just thought up a new weapon called The Dream Killer, and a context where that is a -good- thing. Kali the Destroyer keeps it in her pocket, for when something really pisses her off.

    1. You need an additional mental filter to handle the additional load of sensory stimulus that is similar to interaction, but is not interaction, or does not need to be addressed. That filter is applied to face to face, email has a better signal to noise ratio, more worth spending energies there.

      I expect you would see an opposite result, for an organization with a shared email, and separate offices that are still accessible.

  26. Spider Robinson’s greatest weakness as a writer is his love affair with hive minds. He seems to believe that they wouldmbe WONDERFUL, whereas the very idea makes my skin crawl.

    1. Everybody likes hive minds theoretically.

      Nobody likes the hive mind following him/her to the bathroom, or making prairie dog remarks about his/her social life.

      Robinson cracks me up, because his characters are always heading for more wilderness and so is he. He personally seems to love being around other people for very short intense periods, but then he pulls back and is practically antisocial. Hive mind, my butt. He doesn’t even want a small convention mind.

    2. I stopped reading Robinson when one of his books proclaimed that anyone who didn’t want to participate in the hivemind was fundamentally broken.

      Since I find the idea more than a little horrifying… well, giving the guy money to insult me when there’s so much more out there? No thanks.

  27. Dreams can be useful. Vital even. We all need a little romance in our lives, but Romanticism (and its children) will kill us stone dead.

    As Kratman says, the dose makes the poison.

          1. sigh

            Originally? Fairly sure it’s Paracelsus. Who is attempting to make people aware of the concept *now*?

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