Thursday, January 29, 2015

Dollars and Sense: Ed Kleinbard, We Are Better Than This

In a new book, We Are Better Than This, Ed Kleinbard gives a detailed and accurate rendering of how we spend public monies and how we tax and borrow to obtain those monies. It is a profound lesson in civics, with politics and economy thrown in. He has his own preferred policies, but 90% or more of the book is a description of "the system." Most of us know bits and pieces, but the whole picture is presented here. The book is lengthy, but not too long. I know of nothing like it. For most of us in the professions, you need to know this material if you are to thrive in your careers. (Most of what we 'know' is somewhat partial and biased, I believe.) 

Kleinbard was a leading partner of Cleary, Gottlieb, one of the major law firms ("white shoe"), in its tax practice. He then was the head of the Joint Commission on Taxation of the Congress, and now is on the faculty of USC in the Gould School of Law. In his legal practice at Cleary, he was one of the innovators in structured financial instruments, and is widely respected in the legal world. I think he is terrific as a colleague, deep and fun. He is comfortable in the world of practice, government, and scholarship. Quite rare.

This interview on CSPAN does not convey the detailed and balanced character of the book and Kleinbard. But it is a beginning:

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Client-Focus: Where Professional Education Seems to Be Going

In most professions, we see the following trends over the last 100 years in professional education once it gets into the universities:

1. Practice
2. Science and social science (with an attempt to avoid (1). You'll learn it later.
3. Design and problem-based with some of (2)

What next?

4. Client-focused: What do they need? How could you and they know better what they need? (This may involve study outside the field.)

Useful Reference Books for Those Who Write

If you plan to have a career as a scholar, likely you will be writing a good deal. The basics might be

American Heritage Dictionary, about $40 from amazon--less permissive than most. (Garner likes this one.)
Chicago Manual of Style, about $40, if you ever plan to publish.
Garner's Modern American Usage, about $26, for a very large and detailed guide to usage. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Albert Wohlstetter on social science, referring to Poincare on sociology.

I also had an uncomfortable suspicion that the devastating remark of the great French mathematician, Henri PoincarĂ©, about sociology ("The most methods, and the least results") might only too accurately describe the way one might dally in the approach to any social science in order to avoid actually going in and getting lost in a very dense jungle. Maps, brochures, the purchase of compasses, machetes, bush jackets and rakish tropical helmets can be used as a substitute for a hot and sweaty journey. In short, I sympathize with Johan Galtung's misgivings about theories about theory in a theory-poor field. (And with the feeling expressed by Burton Marshall since I first wrote these lines: reading the behaviorist literature in international relations seems a bit like sitting through an overture that never ends.[1] But I find that traditionalist critiques of behavioral essays on methodology, with rare exceptions like Marshall's own laconic contributions, have their own longeurs.)

Monday, January 12, 2015

Engineering as Actually Practiced

1.       Actual engineering is done for a client—hence economics, politics, etc are essential. That engineering is value laden is surely not restricted to client concerns, but it is a good start.
2.       “Engineering Science” allows one to teach courses with no actual engineering. (“You’ll get to the good stuff next year.”) Bad idea?
3.       Design and team work are crucial. Very few professions or jobs allow just for individual work, and engineering is fundamentally team or group. It should feel that way from the beginning.
4.       Is it possible for someone who happens to have a BA, in anything, to take a few math and science fundamental courses, and then get a MS in, say, electrical engineering. I assume most masters students nowadays already have an undergraduate engineering degree.
6.       Just what kinds of mathematics are needed for undergraduate engineering education? Some calculus, plus the usual high school studies. More?  Maybe computer algorithms. Maybe some logic. I imagine that one might teach all this in a one semester course—practical and outrageous.
7.       I believe that economics and history might be core here. The economics says something about why and how given resource constraints, the history about why what you see now is what it is. Also, it demythologizes the stories people are told.

8.       I would not push people to read the Federalist Papers, for example. Unless it was attached to particular engineering issues… It should not be hard to have a liberal arts set of subjects that are always attached to engineering, and since engineering has developed historically the reverse is also true. But the trick is not to present it as enhancement. Rather what we call liberal arts is just what is needed to understand engineering as a practice.