The Long View 2005-05-26: High-Powered Jobs, Then Mostly British Stuff

Work-life balance is important, particularly insofar as a lack of it contributes to lower fertility in precisely the people who should be having more kids. However, the problem is that you can't make a job with time off for raising kids equal to a job with brutal hours and a lack of interruptions. You might insist that you can pretend, but the reality of it won't change.

High-Powered Jobs, Then Mostly British Stuff

Matt Miller wrote a column that appeared in the New York Times earlier this week, entitled, Listen to My Wife, that tries to transcend the affirmative action debates about gender:

Here's the deal: this isn't a "women's" problem; it's a human problem. Yet for 30 years women have tried to crack this largely on their own, and one thing is clear: if the fight isn't joined by men (like me) who want a life, too, any solutions become "women's" solutions. A broader drive to redesign work will take a union-style consciousness that makes it safe for men who secretly want balance to say so.

The argument is interesting because it reveals a blindspot far more debilitating than any gender ideology. Power, at least in this context, means the ability to do work. High-powered jobs are constituted by the productivity of their incumbents. You can, of course, give someone a corner office and a princely salary even if he does nothing all day, but such a person will not have anything like the influence of someone who makes profitable decisions when they are needed. The real power of all workers, competent or not, diminishes when people are being appointed to jobs for reasons other than merit, because the ability of the workers to affect their own fate is thereby reduced. The same would apply when jobs are artificially designed in the interests of family life. There may be good reasons for doing so, but do not delude yourself that they will be the same jobs.

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For reasons which seemed sufficient at the time, I recently sought to familiarize myself with the philosophy of Fr. Bernard Lonergan, S.J. There is a description here of his views about epistemology: it seems to be a shotgun wedding of Kant and Aquinas, with John Newman holding the shotgun. I link to it here, however, because that article briefly mentions a mathematical puzzle I had not seen before. Look:

1/3 = 0.333...

3 X 1/3 = 3 X 0.333...

3 X 1/3 = 0.999...

1 = 0.999...

But what happens if you raise both those terms to the power of infinity? I am perplexed.

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I have often mentioned, and will no doubt mention again, that my favorite C.S. Lewis novel is That Hideous Strength. The story deals in large part with the malefactions of the NICE, a very British bureaucracy called the National Institute for Coordinated Experiments. Imagine my surprise to discover that there is a real NICE, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence. It even does NICE things, like advise the British government about when to cut off medical care to malingering patients. That characterization may be unfair, but what were these people thinking of when they coined the acronym?

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Speaking of very British things, I have no excuse at all for having seen all the classic Doctor Who episodes. I did not see them "when I was a kid"; I was about 30, when the series aired on some of the less-well-to-do public television stations in New Jersey. (This information apparently leaked back to the scriptwriters: you may recall when Tom Baker remarks of K-9, his robot dog: "Do you like him? They are all the rage in Trenton, New Jersey.") In any case, I was surprised to learn that the series is back in business. The Doctor Who Website has all sorts of information about the Doctor's latest incarnation. Plus there are games, and you can download the Dalek cry, "exterminate!" I also see that each episode is judged by a panel of children to assess the scary bits. You would think the show was made for kids.

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I am working on Chinese again, this time with special attention to the simplified characters. There are many free online study aids. I downloaded a modest-sized Java flashcard program from here. There is no audio, so you can use it at odd moments without attracting attention. Also, it is not embarrassing if you are caught goofing off.

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Finally, I was pleased to see that The Weekly Standard ran a piece by Christopher Hitchens about George Galloway. The latter humiliated the US Senate subcommittee that was investigating corruption in the UN Oil-for-Food program in Iraq, and the US press seemed little inclined to explain who Galloway was. Hitchens explained why Galloway richly deserved to get a better grilling than the one he got, Hitchens also makes this observation:

In a small way--an exceedingly small way--this had the paradoxical effect of making me proud to be British. Parliament trains its sons in a hard school of debate and unscripted exchange, and so does the British Labour movement. You get your retaliation in first, you rise to a point of order, you heckle and you watch out for hecklers. The torpid majesty of a Senate proceeding does nothing to prepare you for a Galloway, who is in addition a man without embarrassment who has stayed just on the right side of many enquiries into his character and his accounting methods.

There is something to this observation, but do you really need to incur the risk of liver damage that a stint in Westminster entails to learn how to deal with a provocateur? Galloway's performance was classic open-meeting agitator: accuse the people on the podium of being criminals, make too many charges to answer, and never give a direct answer other than "no."

What Galloway did happens in public meetings everywhere in the United States at one time or another. School Board chairmen learn in short order how to deal with such people. The senators must have been school-board chairmen, or something similar, at some point on their way to the Senate. Have they forgotten how to answer a con man?

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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