Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Retrotopia: Back To What Worked

This is the fifteenth installment of an exploration of some of the possible futures discussed on this blog, using the toolkit of narrative fiction. Our narrator visits another school, catches the flu, and has his first encounter with the Lakeland Republic’s health care system...

I made some phone calls the next morning and got my schedule sorted out for the next few days. Now that President Meeker had gotten things sorted out with the Restos, I had a lot of things to discuss with the Lakeland government, and I knew they’d want to know as much as possible about what was going to change following the election back home.

By quarter to nine I was climbing the marble stairs in front of the Capitol, passing a midsized crowd of wide-eyed schoolchildren on a field trip. The morning went into detailed discussions with government officials—Melanie Berger from Meeker’s staff, Stuart Macallan from the State Department, and Jaya Patel from the Department of Commerce—about the potential reset in relations between their country and mine now that Barfield and the Dem-Reps were out on their collective ear. They were frankly better prepared for the discussion than I was; I’d taken the precaution of printing out the position papers from Montrose’s transition team before I got on the train in Pittsburgh, and reviewed them the night before, but it was pretty obvious that the Lakelanders weren’t used to looking things up moment by moment on a veepad and I was.

We had lunch downstairs in the congressional dining room, a big pleasant space with tall windows letting in the autumn sunlight, and then it was up to Meeker’s office and a long afternoon talking with the President. I have no idea to this day if Isaiah Meeker plays poker, but if he does, I pity the other players; the skill with which he tried to lure me into saying more than I should, while gracefully evading any question of mine he didn’t want to answer, was really quite impressive. I’m pretty sure that he ended up with a clearer idea of the incoming administration’s foreign-policy plans than anyone outside of Ellen Montrose’s inner circle was entitled to have, though in exchange I think I got a good sense of how his administration was likely to respond to some of the impending changes in inter-American relations—including some I was pretty sure he didn’t know about yet.

Dinner was at a really pleasant French place two blocks from the Capitol: Berger, Patel, her husband Ramaraj, and me—Macallan had to attend some kind of event at the Texan embassy. The conversation stayed deftly on the edge between too little politics to be interesting and too much to be safe. When I finally got back to my hotel room that night, I sat at the desk writing down my impressions until well past midnight, and then fell into bed.

The next morning I’d scheduled a visit to the Capitol Atheist Assembly’s school, and showed up at nine AM promptly just as classes were getting under way. The drill was nearly the same as at the school in Hicksville; I went to the office and signed in with the secretary, they found someone to show me around, and I sat in the back of the room and watched a couple of classes. I’d wanted to see their math and science classes, and I got my wish, but what I saw wasn’t anything like the math and science I was used to. The kids weren’t learning how to run programs to solve mathematical problems, or watching computer simulations of experiments—no, they were actually solving the problems and doing the experiments themselves. I watched a room full of sixth-graders work their way through a geometrical proof, and a class of eighth-graders hard at work setting up some kind of complicated apparatus with mirrors and prisms that ran out to all four corners of the classroom.

“The Michaelson-Morley experiment,” the teacher explained to me as we stood on one side of the classroom and watched the students and a couple of teacher’s apprentices get everything lined up. He was an old guy with flyaway white hair and disconcertingly blue eyes.  “I don’t know if they teach that outside, but it’s one of the classic experiments in physics.”

“I don’t think I heard of it,” I admitted. “I’m curious why you have them repeat it, rather than just telling them how it came out.”

That got me the classic Lakeland you-don’t-get-it look. “We actually have them replicate a whole series of classic scientific experiments,” he said. “That way, they learn that science isn’t some kind of revelation handed down from on high—it’s a living, growing thing, and it lives and grows when people get their hands dirty running experiments, and replicating them.” He gestured at the hardware. “And by making mistakes. Michaelson-Morley’s a finicky one; the first time they do it, the kids almost always get a different result than Michaelson and Morley got, and once that happens they get to go back over what they did and figure out what happened.”

Right then he got called over by one of the apprentices to help sort out some detail of setting up the apparatus, and my guide and I watched for a few more minutes and then headed for another class. All in all, it was an interesting morning; one thing I noticed is that the kids were never just sitting there being bored and restless, the way they were in every school I’d ever seen back home. I wondered how much that had to do with the fact that the students here were actually doing something active in every class I saw, instead of sitting there staring at screens by the hour.

I left when the students went to lunch. While I’d been inside, a rainstorm had come rolling in off the lake, and though it wasn’t much more than five minutes before a streetcar came to the stop out front, I was pretty wet by the time I climbed on board. I had lunch at the hotel; by then the rain had stopped, and I dodged puddles up to the Capitol and then a block and a half past it, to the office building that housed the Lakeland Republic’s Department of Commerce. I spent all afternoon there with Jaya Patel and half a dozen other Commerce staffers, looking into possible trade deals and sorting out how those would be affected by their tax and tariff policies. It was a productive session but a tiring one, and then we headed off to an Indian place for dinner; by the time I got back to my hotel room I was feeling pretty run down.

It wasn’t until the next morning that I realized that there was more going on than simple tiredness. I felt awful, and the face that confronted me in the mirror looked even worse. I sat down on the side of the hotel bed and tried to figure out what to do. Back home, I’d simply have canceled everything for a week, taken some over-the-counter meds, and waited it out.  You don’t go to a doctor or a hospital in the Atlantic Republic if you can possibly help it—a checkup plus lab work and a simple prescription will cost you the better part of a month’s income even after health insurance pays its cut, and you really don’t want to know how many people end up sick or dead every year because somebody screwed up a diagnosis, or because trade treaties won’t allow the government to pull medicines off the market even if they’re ineffective or worse. I’ve seen the numbers and they’re pretty grim.

Still, I wasn’t at home, and I couldn’t afford to spend the next week doing nothing. After a bit I went over to the packet I’d gotten on arrival, and paged through the paper on getting by in the Lakeland Republic. There was one short paragraph on medical emergencies and another on ordinary health care; this didn’t feel like an emergency, so I read the second one. It told me to call the concierge’s desk, and so as soon as I’d called Melissa Berger and cancelled the day’s meetings, that’s what I did.

“No problem, sir,” said the voice on the other end of the line. “I’ll call Dr. Hammond, find out how soon he can get here, and call you right back. It’ll be just a moment.”

About the time I’d begun to wonder how long “just a moment” was—it probably wasn’t more than five minutes, to be fair—the phone rang. “Mr. Carr? Dr. Hammond’s on his way. He’ll be up to see you in twenty minutes or so.”

Up to see me? I wondered about that. Something I’d read on the metanet once mentioned that a long time ago, doctors used to actually go to people’s homes—I think they called it “making house calls” or something like that. The idea sounded pretty far-fetched to me, but then plenty of things about the Lakeland Republic were pretty far-fetched by the standards I knew. Sure enough, right about twenty minutes after I’d gotten off the phone with the concierge, a crisp knock sounded on the door, and I went to open it.

Dr. Paul Hammond turned out to be a youngish African-American guy dressed like an ordinary Toledo businessman, with a big brown leather case in one hand. We did the usual, and then he sat me down, pulled over a chair, pulled a pen and a notebook out of the big leather case and started asking me questions about my health and the symptoms I’d noticed. After he’d finished with that, he got a thin glass thing that seemed to be some kind of thermometer in my mouth, checked my pulse, used some kind of rig with tubes that went from his ears to an odd-shaped disk to listen to my breathing, and then took the thermometer out, had me stick my tongue out and shone a flashlight down my throat.

“Pretty much what I expected, Mr. Carr,” he said then. “There’s a nasty little 24-hour flu going around, and I’m sorry to say you’ve got it. The good news is that you’ll be over it sometime tomorrow if you take it easy and let your body deal with it. You’ve got a mild fever, but that and the muscle aches are normal for this bug—all we have to do is keep any kind of secondary infection from getting going in your upper respiratory tract or your chest, and you’ll be fine.”

He reached into his case, pulled out a brown glass dropper bottle and what looked for all the world like a package of tea bags. “Twenty drops of this in water every two hours,” he said, indicating the bottle, “and one of these in hot water whenever you feel like it—that’s to treat the muscle aches.”

I picked up the package, gave it a dubious look. Yes, they were tea bags, full of what looked like bits of leaves that I guessed came from a bunch of different plants.

Hammond watched me with an amused look on his face. “The concierge tells me that you’re from outside,” he said. “So you were expecting pills, right, rather than plants.”

“Well, yes.”

“Care to guess where a lot of the ingredients in those pills come from?” 

I gave him a quizzical look.

“Plants. Aspirin comes from willow bark, menthol from mint, and so on—there’s a long list. And here’s the thing—some of these plants have been bred for thousands of years to have the right mix of active compounds to treat this or that health problem. By and large, the kind of pharmaceuticals you’re used to taking pull just one compound out of the mix and use that, because somebody or other decided that it was the ‘active ingredient.’” He shook his head. “I can get you some pills if you really want them, but the tincture and the infusion will actually do you more good.”

That seemed improbable to me, but I was feeling too out of sorts to argue. He wrote down some notes about what to eat, told me what symptoms to watch for, and handed me his card so I could call him if anything out of the ordinary happened. Then he told me he’d check on me the next morning, said goodbye, and headed out the door.

I put twenty drops of the stuff from the dropper bottle into half a glass of water from the tap. It tasted so bad that I filled the glass the rest of the way before choking it down. By then I was feeling really tired, so I crawled back into bed and proceeded to sleep like a stone until past noon. I called room service and got some food, along with hot water for the tea-ish stuff—I figured, what the heck, might as well give it a try. It had an aromatic smell I didn’t recognize at all, but it went down easily enough and it seemed to make my muscles ache less.

That’s basically the way I spent the rest of that day. By sunset, rather to my surprise, I was starting to feel noticeably better, and by morning I felt—not well, exactly, but the sort of weak-but-better feeling that tells you that you’re going to be over an illness pretty soon.

Dr. Hammond showed up again at nine-thirty sharp. He had someone else with him, a wiry kid of eighteen or so—Hammond introduced him as his apprentice Larry Soames. “So how are we feeling?” he asked, as he settled on the same chair he’d used the morning before.

“A lot better,” I admitted. I fielded his questions and then got my temperature, pulse, and so on taken again, while the kid watched and listened and took notes in a little black notebook.

“Excellent,” Hammond said finally. “You ought to take the rest of today off, too, but if you do that you should be back on your feet again tomorrow.”

“Fair enough,” I said, “and thank you. Now how much do I owe you?”

“You don’t,” he said, with a broad smile. “I gather nobody’s told you how we do health care here.” When I shook my head:  “It’s pretty simple, really. Doctors like me—general practitioners—contract with businesses, churches, or citizen’s groups to provide basic health care.  That used to be common all over the old United States a century and a half ago.  My contract’s with the hotel; I get a flat monthly salary from them, and in return I provide all the primary health care for the employees and the guests.”

“What if somebody gets something a general practitioner can’t treat?”

“Well, of course, then I refer them to a specialist, and people have health insurance to cover that—but that’s not really that common, all things considered.”

That surprised me.  Back home, if you want to risk going to a doctor, you pretty much have to go to a specialist in whatever’s the matter, and if more than one part of your body is involved you’d better hope the specialists you get are willing to talk to each other or you’re going to land in a world of hurt.

“You don’t have a lot of general practitioners back home, I imagine,” he said then.

“I don’t think I’ve ever met one,” I admitted.

“Well, there you are. Here, probably ninety per cent of the physicians are GPs, and if you want to get into med school and become a specialist you pretty much have to go through an apprenticeship and then work as a GP for at least a few years first.  That way you remember that your job’s to treat patients, and not just a heart or an endocrine system or what have you.”

“Hold it,” I said. “You don’t go to med school to become a GP?”

“Not usually, no.” With another broad smile: “Back in the old Union, the universities got really good at inserting themselves into just about every job category you can think of as a job requirement. It was a big moneymaker for the academic industry but it didn’t work very well for anybody else—you’d go to college and learn a bunch of things dreamed up by people who didn’t actually work in the field, and then you’d graduate and have to unlearn most of it once you were on the job. We ditched all that after Partition; outside of a very few fields, most of them scholarly, it’s pretty much all apprenticeship.”

He nodded at Larry. “Six years from now, when he’s done with his apprenticeship, he’ll have years of hands-on experience to go with what he’s learning from the books, and once he passes his board exams he’ll be ready to start treating patients on his own right away. That’s the way it used to be done, you know—by apprenticeship, followed by state board exams. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, architects, all the skilled professions used to be that way, and it worked better, so we went back to it.”

He got up. “But that’s neither here nor there. Take it easy for the rest of the day, and if you feel worse—or if you get any of the symptoms I mentioned—give me a call right away. Okay? Excellent. Well, Mr. Carr, have a great day.”

They left, and I lay back down and eventually dozed off again.


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Andy Brown said...

I stick with my GP because every year he tells me I should probably eat fewer animal products, and get a bit more exercise than I do, but otherwise he leaves me alone and just writes me a prescription for an antibiotic every other year when I catch Lyme because I'm too vain to tuck my pants into my socks.

Leif Christensen said...

I'm curious as to why you chose to highlight the Michaelson-Morley experiment. I understand that it's a fascinating experiment with profound ramifications for physics and astronomy, but there are certainly plenty of other worthy experiments. Why that one in particular?

Keep up the good work!

whomever said...

So, interesting about the Lakeland Schooling. I've been shopping around for schools for my 4 year old, and the thing that struck me is that the small boutique private schools that aimed for the fairly wealthy all made a big deal about how they looked exactly like, well, the Lakeland schools: Emphasising recess, hands on experimentation, learning through playing, etc. The really hard-to-get-into charter schools were the same. The general public schools seemed to have a resigned "well, we are stuck with the tests and bureaucracy, right?" attitude, and the charter schools aimed at the lower classes were big on discipline and rote (or as a teacher friend of mine put it, "they are designed to turn out obedient middle managers"). I can understand why some of the lower classes crave structure (because they lack it at home for one reason or another, not criticizing, I personally would have a hard time surviving on minimum wage!), but it seems like almost everyone actually wants Lakeland schools, it's just only the rich or very lucky who get them. And, fair disclosure, I earn a decent chunk of change, so I went for the boutique private option.

whomever said...

Another thing: Back when Neil Stephenson actually had an editor (and was therefore readable), he published an awesome book called "The Diamond Age". This postulated a post-nation-state existence where the world had split up into "philes" of various people. What's interesting is that one of the main and most powerful philes were the Neo-Victorians, who explicitly tried to recapture Victorian values (without sacrificing a number of the more receent gains). What's interesting about this world is that the more upper class you were, the more explicitly retro-tech you were (eg, the lower classes used v-pad equivalents, the upper class had proper printer newspapers). There's a certain echo in Retropia. JMG, curious if this influenced you at all?

Darby Valley said...

It is very interesting to see this addressed. I am an acupuncturist and have been in practice for 20 years. In that time I have seen the route to licensure through apprenticeship closed in state after state. I don't believe that it is an option to learn the profession that way anymore. While I did not study under an apprenticeship, my time in practice has certainly shown me many of its merits. My field has one of the highest attrition rates after graduation. At 5 years I once saw a published statistic saying 85% of practitioners had stopped practicing. There are lots of reasons for this but the core one is that book learning is not the same as clinical practice. People ask me how to pick an acupuncturist and my answer is find someone who had made there living at it for 5 years. I certainly would prefer this older way, or at least a hybrid, some things are hard to study from a book in a country office and what you see might get a little too limited. While these comments above pertain to acupuncture, I first graduated from college as an engineer. Let me tell you how humbling it was to realize I did not actually know anything and would have to learn it all on the job. It was also quite a relief because I was pretty sure I did not know how to do much and was very afraid someone was going to die from my ignorance no how many factors of safety I might use to cushion my analysis and design. Luckily most engineering employers know this and they train you with mentors and slowly increasing projects, much like an apprenticeship :)

Shane W said...

If you're in the greater KY area, and you want to "collapse now & avoid the rush", please join us! The next meeting of the Green Wizards Benevolent & Protective Assn., Tower 859, and Ruinmen's Guild, Local 859 of the Bluegrass, Lexington, KY, will be @ Common Grounds coffeehouse (back room if possible) on High Street, 7:00pm, on Thursday, February 25th. in servitio libertas! All are welcome.

Rob Rhodes said...

Has the Lakeland Republic begun to consider what the human carrying capacity of the country might be, and at what degree of ecological takeover? As the countries around them experience the consequences of overshoot migratory pressure must be expected. Perhaps they could reduce such pressure, at least from the Atlantic Republic, by sending Mr. Carr home with an offer of a guest apprentice program, not just for the professions but for trades, farming and most of the skills Lakelanders have had to relearn in their half century.

SLClaire said...

All this makes so much sense to me ... I would have liked to do the M-M experiment back in physics class, but at least I'm old enough that we did actual experiments with actual laboratory apparatus. I was shocked when I found out from my neighbor, whom I was helping with chemistry when she was taking her training as an RN, that all her experiments were computer simulations. It isn't the same as the messy real world.

Sixth grade for geometry? I was in 9th grade when I took that, iirc. But I probably could have done it in sixth grade if school had been set up to do that.

And such a sensible system for health care too! I haven't been to an MD in about 15 years. My husband Mike has been to one maybe once or twice in that time, the latest for a dog bite because he remembered when you were supposed to do that (he went to a nearby clinic because we don't have an MD). Turns out because the dog was a neighbor's it was no big deal. I know a bit of herbalism and another bit of homeopathy, which so far has been sufficient to handle our occasional health care needs. I like knowing that I can do that for us.

Juandonjuan said...

I quite enjoyed your glancing reference to the TPP (trade Agreement)on death by hospital. Odd, but just this past Sunday morning while chatting with my GF, Whose ex was a Director at IBM and whose daughter is a systems architect and applied mathematics/MBA whiz, about Michaelson-Morley experiment as well as Michaelsons earlier work refining the speed of light, that following a brief excursion into Mendeleev's development of the periodic table. And all without computers! Its like we're breeding Idiot-Savants. I no longer wonder how we arrived at crisis central.

Marcu said...

The first meeting of the Green Wizard's Association of Melbourne for 2016 will be held in the first week of March. All interested parties are invited to attend the next meeting of the Melbourne Green Wizards’ Benevolent and Protective Association, Tower Number 1223, and Ruinmen’s Guild, Local 1223, (Green Wizard's Association of Melbourne for short, GWAM for shorter) which will be held on the 5th of March 2016 at 13:00.

The venue is Vapiano, 347 Flinders Lane, Melbourne Victoria, Australia.

Please RSVP, or send queries and comments to limitstogrowth1972[at] For further details please refer to the Green Wizard's forum.

Just look for the green wizard's hat.

Violet Cabra said...

I've been waiting for this one! As a young herbalist it is very, very frustrating that there aren't more apprenticeships! I've taken some classes with an area herbalist, which was lovely, but to actually practice with someone who's done it for decades!! How lovely that would be.

If people are interested in apprenticing through books I heartily recommend to read Matthew Wood, especially his two volumes of Earthwise Herbal. He goes into very impressive detail about the specific indications of thousands of herbs. I've validated a few of his indications and they are incredibly spot on. He also has some books that go into more detail about different plants, the western herbal modality, and the history of western medicine. All are excellent. My herbal teacher showed me a book of his on pulse diagnostics which I really should checkout.

Also, I'm very partial to Thomsonian herbalism as it makes the precepts of health very accessible to the layperson (I cover his concepts with some depth here: I've found his basic concepts enormously useful in my practice in a general way, while I turn to Matthew Wood for more specifics.

I wonder if people are persecuted in the Lakeland Republic for giving herbs to friends. I imagine there is no equivalent to the AMA, but certainly there are guild restrictions. I'm curious as well the different modalities practiced in Lakeland - Ectlectic? Thomsonian? Homeopathic? Ayurvedic? TCM? What are the biases of the standardized test? Surely it talks anatomy and physiology but does it mention doshas? Kidney jing? The differences between allopathic and homeopathic treatments?

pygmycory said...

They must have a fairly high number of doctors per capita to make that work.

I'm sure loads of people from the US will comment on the current state of their medical system, so I'll talk about the one I have experience with, the BC-Canadian version.

The biggest problem I've seen from the patient's point of view is probably access to physicians. trying to find a family doctor is difficult, and will probably take months if you are determined enough not to give up. As for changing physicians... those who are taking new patients are often only taking those who don't have a family doctor. This used to be a problem only in rural areas, but it is now a big problem even in the provincial capital. The Walk-in Clinic nearest me closed down because a doctor retired and they could no longer find enough doctors to staff it. While it was open, waiting an hour or two to be seen was normal.

Wait times to see specialists and for operations and emergency rooms are also longer than they should be and this sometimes kills people.

They also keep reducing the number of nurses to do x, which is really hard on the remaining nurses (according to a friend of mine who is one of those nurses).

MSP contributions cover doctors' visits, with a few fees attached to specific items. People on low incomes pay lower MSP premiums, or no premiums at all if your income is low enough. Even at full price it is way cheaper than the US, and there isn't a deductible for most things. For pharmaceuticals costs there is certain amount you have to pay before you are covered, and the amount varies according to income. There are a fair number of medications that aren't covered, including anything specific for fibromyalgia, unfortunately.

It's a fairly complicated system and has lots of critics. I think that the whole MSP system is needless bureaucracy that should be rolled into income taxes. It would reduce confusion and money. Maybe then we could get a few more doctors!

Doctor Westchester said...

Announcing a New York Green Wizard Meetup!

The 2016 Winter Lower Hudson Valley Green Wizard meetup will be held on Saturday, March 5th, starting at 1:00 PM at Bread & Bottle Bakery & Wine Bar, 7496 South Broadway, Red Hook, NY 12571.

To RSVP or if you have any questions, please email me at doctorwestchester42 at Google mail.

Aron Blue said...

"you’d go to college and learn a bunch of things dreamed up by people who didn’t actually work in the field, and then you’d graduate and have to unlearn most of it once you were on the job." - hellooo masters in teaching LOL

Patricia Mathews said...

Wow. I sure would like to know what that herbal tea was. I want some!

As for isolating body parts - when I had physical therapy for an arthritic hip and also had some arthritis in the knee - in the same leg - the PTs were only permitted to work on the hip in isolation. At the expense of the knee.

When the hip became completely immobile (which I didn't realize) and painful and difficult to walk on, the primary care physician heard me out about pain, weakness, and fatigue, and dismissed it with "You've just let yourself become deconditioned. Now, about increasing your cholesterol medication - about starting on bone density medication - " (A classic confusion of the planes of existence, BTW.) It was a phone call to Orthopedics - actually an afterthought due to my walking ability having gone downhill - that set me straight. I'm still not sure, reading the medical jargon on the on-line health record, if the physician was ever told "She has a mechanical problem, not an attitude problem!"

Shakes head. That I was limping and using a cane should have been a clue.

Peter VE said...

I remember going on house calls in the evening with my mother, a pediatrician, and waiting in the car, when I was too young to leave at home alone. I was maybe 5 or 6 then. She also had office hours in the evening to accommodate families where both parents worked, and she worked alone, without a nurse, assistant, or anyone to deal with the insurance paperwork... She was glad to retire in the early 1980s, as medicine was turning into another massive industry. She began her professional life before the introduction of most vaccines, and she worried about her younger colleagues who had never had to watch a child die of whooping cough, and their accommodation to anti vaccination fads.
The thing I remember best of all my high school classes was the chemistry class. The teacher like to demonstrate reactions: what happens when you combine sodium with the water puddling outside during a rain shower; or how to recombine hydrogen and oxygen after separating them by electrolysis.
I'm sure that most of the farms around where I grew up, east of Cleveland, will have returned to farming in Lakeland, from their current incarnation as sub urban sprawl. The Amish are best positioned for the transition, although I suppose they won't fare so well in the wars.

Mark said...

Awesome, thanks. Having spent most of my upwardly mobile years in US healthcare system administration, and my more recent downwardly mobile years as a herb grower and supplier to my herbalist wife, I really liked the description of healthcare practices. The introduction to teas and tincture is a great way to get started, but it could also be interesting to get into more detail with this and see how the Lakeland Republic is handling things that allopathic medicine is considered, today and by some, to be good at - cancer interventions, say, or advanced surgery.

There is in this topic of healthcare a parallel to the theme you remind us about often with energy usage - that renewables can be helpful but cannot replace fossil fuel, so we had better change our lives to need and use less energy. This rings true in "alternative" healthcare as well - herbs and other natural modalities can be helpful, but won't fully replace the full range of allopathic treatments. So we had better improve our diets, be more active, practice better self-care and, yes, get a bit more comfortable with the probability that we or those we love could die young from some unexpected accident, infection or disease.

Zachary Braverman said...

I don't know about the US, but my wife is a GP in Japan. There seems to be an informal system of apprenticeships. Motivated young doctors pick a well-known experienced doctor they like, and go practice under them for a couple years, often following them through multiple hospitals. Of course, I get the impression this is hardly universal; more of something for the highly motivated or elite.

Isaac Hill said...

A much more sensible educational system. Have you seen this, about U.S. Marshalls arresting somebody for unpaid student loans?

What do you think will happen to the student loan bubble and to the millions of indebted people?

Nathan A said...

As a school teacher, a question has circled around in my mind since Carr's first school visit: How can a society possibly downgrade the bureaucracy without the kind of wrenching national disaster that meant rebuilding the systems in the Lakeland Republics.

Here in Australia, a school with a single Admin clerk is pretty much unthinkable. Who would answer parent concerns, sort out staff pay, keep policies up to date, deal with equipment orders, organise all the paperwork for camps and excursions, write antibullying procedures, not to mention ensuring that every child has a first aid plan for asthma, anaphylaxis, etc.

Almost all of these policies and procedures seem reasonable, when taken in isolation. Why shouldn't all teachers know what to do when a child has an anaphylactic reaction? Why shouldn't it be made a rule that students cannot bring the most common pieces of fruit (today, I heard it was bananas) to school in their lunchbox, because one student might have a sudden, severe reaction and die? Why shouldn't we know best practices for dealing with students with disabilities or other special needs, gifted students, students needing remedial help, students with English as an Additional Language? Why shouldn't we require safety audits and medical forms whenever we take a class outside the school gate?

Most fictional accounts of schools conveniently brush over these realities of modern school life, which is one of the reasons I had trouble with the Harry Potter bandwagon.

John Michael Greer said...

Andy, sounds like the kind of GP I'd like to have.

Leif, no special reason -- it could have been any other of a dozen famous experiments, but that one sounded fun for a class of eighth-graders to get into.

Whomever, the American salary class has put a lot of work into seeing that the good stuff only goes to its own members -- visit a grocery store in the poor part of town sometime and compare what's on sale there to the options at the place you shop. Thus I'm far from surprised that access to a good education in the US is still mostly rationed by price. As for Stephenson, nah, I haven't read anything of his but Anathem, and that was a sufficiently mixed bag that I wasn't inspired to go further.

Darby, exactly. I've heard the same thing over and over again, in relation to more professions than I can readily remember. A university education is very useful if you want to become a tenured academic; other than that, it's pretty much a waste of time -- but the academic industry has gotten very good at parasitizing other professions, and serving as a bottleneck to limit access and thus drive prices up.

Rob, stay tuned! Heh heh heh...

SLClaire, I haven't been to an MD in a good deal longer than that. Partly that's financial -- even if I'd signed up for Obamacare, which would have cost my wife and me more than our house payment, the deductible and co-pays are so high I couldn't have afforded to use it -- and partly a well-earned distrust of an industry in which bad care and useless or harmful "treatments" are way too common.

Juandonjuan, it's the old joke about specialization: these days people learn more and more about less and less, so eventually everyone will know everything about nothing. As usual, "eventually" is now.

Violet, good! I wondered if anyone would catch that. Dr. Hammond is a Thompsonian physician -- that's why he handed over the tincture and the herbal tea, rather than using acupuncture or some other modality. The state board exams cover anatomy and physiology, then go on to present specific case scenarios, for which each candidate must present a detailed plan of treatment, a referral to a specialist, or -- and these are the tricky ones -- a plan of treatment for a deliberately obscure condition with the signs and symptoms they would look for in order to send the patient to the right specialist. Exams are graded by a panel of judges who are familiar with the modality in which the candidates have been trained. The goal, after all, is to make sure that GPs can treat ordinary illnesses and refer patients to specialists for extraordinary illnesses -- not, say, to prop up the income of the pharmaceutical industry.

Pygmycory, in fact, the system is designed to produce a large number of GPs per capita, so that medical care is accessible and affordable to everyone. The current medical system in the US is designed to minimize the number of GPs per capita in order to drive up the profitability of the medical industry. Different goals lead to different approaches...

Peter VE said...

I guess someone in the Navy must be reading The Archdruid Report: they've reintroduced the study of celestial navigation.

Claire said...

Interesting glimpse at the medical system. May I suggest that since the doctor has a contract with the hotel he may have a menu or meal protocol to give to the kitchens. He may also give Carr the option of getting room service to make up the teas.

I would also echo Violet Cabra's wish for herbal apprenticeships from the other side. I worked as a natural health product advisor in a retail vitamin shops for more than 25 year. In all seriousness, everyday was an open book exam. Customers had no hesitation about quizzing us before asking the hard questions. I took many courses in nutrition and training in herbal medicine but I'd say my daily contact with consumers was much more valuable than many of the programs for clinicians.
I never qualified for clinical practice but toward the end of my career I had many new graduates, herbalist, TCM's, even naturopaths, come and shop me for information. These programs provide an excellent foundation but some sort of apprenticeship or mentoring system in sorely needed.

dltrammel said...

I'm sure others will have noticed this one

"How to cut your health-care bill: Pay cash"

I wonder how soon it will be before a familiar doctor will accept home grown veggies or eggs.

RepubAnon said...

I'll buy the apprenticeship training methodology. However, we're already seeing e-Learning start to fail, so I doubt we'd see that much longer. The scammers have fleeced the marks, and are moving on to new scams.

Some of the description of the Atlantic Republic's health care system also seem like a reach. Future trade agreements preventing ineffective medicine from being taken off the market seems, alas, to be a real threat. However, the "only very expensive specialists" idea doesn't match current trends.

We have physicians' assistants and "Doc in a Box" storefronts now for primary care. Plus, some doctors are already engage in "concierge medicine" as described here:
Concierge medicine (also known as retainer medicine) is a relationship between a patient and a primary care physician in which the patient pays an annual fee or retainer. This may or may not be in addition to other charges. In exchange for the retainer, doctors provide enhanced care, including principally a commitment to limit patient loads to ensure adequate time and availability for each patient.
(Source: Wikipedia, Concierge Medicine
It would have been more believable to have telemedicine/robotic medicine be the standard treatment path in the Atlantic Republic- sitting in front of a computer and being treated via a robotic system, possibly backed up by a brief teleconference with a doctor

We're seeing more alternative medicine being practiced, not less. This will only increase if people can't afford to see doctors - they'll seek alternatives that they can afford instead. Your comments about oil scarcity resulting in making oil so expensive that people are driven to alternatives also applies to medicine, law, and other fields. All those unaffordable specialists will go broke, because not enough people would have the resources to pay their fees.

onething said...

Leif, my guess is he chose the MM experiment because it was an atheist school, and this experiment was supposed to have disproved the ether, which bolstered materialism.

Of possible interest, on the Michelson-Morley experiment:

onething said...


What does MSP stand for? Why do you think there are not enough doctors?

Karim said...

Greetings all!

JMG wrote: "A university education is very useful if you want to become a tenured academic; other than that, it's pretty much a waste of time."

I have to disagree, by training I am an ophthalmic optician, trained in the UK in the mid eighties. I went through the basic 3 year university degree, the one year of supervised training followed by professional exams.

I cannot say that I found the university degree a waste of time. On the contrary, it was vital for me to have gone through rigorous theoretical and practical training at the university before going into apprenticeship as it enabled me to understand what I was doing.

And it would have been very hard to get enough grounding into theoretical optics just by being an apprentice as one really needs to be in contact with many lecturers that can cover adequately so many fields. Even today, 30 years later, I find my university years still being relevant as I am involved in optical manufacturing and have had a few apprentices.

Furthermore, more than half of my university lecturers were registered professionals themselves so they knew what we really needed to know about optics and human vision.

With 25 years experience, I also find that every 10 years or so, one needs to revisit one's theoretical knowledge base to consolidate it and expand it. This is only possible with a good sound university education.

OK, I was trained in the UK, and I know nothing of the US. Nevertheless your condemnation of university education is too harsh in my humble experience!

Ozark Chinquapin said...

I hope different schools of thought regarding medicine allowed to compete and complement each other on their own terms, as it was in earlier America, without one system getting in with the government and working to exclude all others. Why do so many people who understand the perils of monopoly in other situations not get that the same thing applies to medicine.

Also, thanks for being a voice of reason on education. Bernie Sanders' ideas make me cringe, they mainly amount to pouring more money onto a bloated and dysfunctional system. So few people are asking why more and more mainly irrelevant schooling is required for so many things in the first place.

onething said...


"things that allopathic medicine is considered, today and by some, to be good at - cancer interventions, say,.."

Surely you jest.

" How can a society possibly downgrade the bureaucracy without the kind of wrenching national disaster that meant rebuilding the systems in the Lakeland Republics."

It doesn't seem likely, does it?

Dennis Mitchell said...

I'm glad we are back in Retrotopia. It feels right. Having lost both parents to modern "medicine" I wish they had experienced a simpler medicine. A healthy diet would have done more for their health than all the meds. Coming from a family of old school teachers the gold standard was one on one teaching. Our modern three R's test teaching is failing us. I was blessed by the teachers who taught with passion. That includes the men I apprenticed under in the work world. Today that includes your weekly blogs. Thanks.

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Coordinated Universal Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20160218T045025Z

Michelson-Morley, not Michaelson-Morley. JMG misspelled twice, and two or so of the comments have at this point perpetuated the misspelling.

Actually, I am not too sure that M-M is quite a plausible experiment for a school. I don't know how much the apparatus costs, BUT (1) you need, apart from the optics, mountings to a mass of tens or hundreds of kilograms, and (2) if you want to do the experiment in the one version which is practical in a classroom (rotate the apparatus by hand, without waiting for the Earth's motions to rotate it in a frame of reference fixed on the distant stars), you need special arrangements. For Prof. Michelson, those "special arrangements" (in the 1887 version of his work) involved floating the optical train, mounted on some slab of something very massive (stone? concrete? pig iron?), in a mercury bath. My guess - admittedly, only a wild guess - is that setting up a Michelson-Morley apparatus with "special arrangements" in today's Canada or today's USA would cost quite a few thousand dollars, even if the lab floor did not need to be braced by carpenters so as to carry the unusual weight.

There is additionally some quasi-medical problem in attending to fringe patterns. Without having seen a Michelson-Morley, I still speculate that this will be at least as hard on the nerves as working with a Michelson interferometer (which I **DID** do) - lots and lots and lots and LOTS and LOTS of fringes in the eyepiece, and you have to concentrate.

Same problem of nervous wear and tear, incidentally, is said to bedevil the Millikan oil-drop experiment for mass of electron - you apparently go crazy looking at the wee little pinpricks of light through the eyepiece, as those oil drops rise or fall in your carefully adjusted electrostatic field.

Some might contemplate giving the kids Thomson electron charge-mass-ratio-of-electron experiment. I remember this demonstrated to 1st-year undergrads in 1989 or so at Univ of Victoria in Canada: the grad student handling the equipment pointed very casually to two metal screws, across which was a potential difference in perhaps the kilovolt regime, and he said, "Put one finger HERE, and another finger HERE, and you are dead."

So the Thomson temptation-to-teach is best resisted at pre-university level.

In a school, funds might be spent on measuring the universal gravitation constant ("big G", as opposed to the banal local-value-of-gravitational-acceleration, "little g"), in a Cavendish apparatus. Apart from its inability (in contrast with Thomson) to kill pupils, Cavendish has the advantage over Michelson-Morley that the result involves lots of measuring, and therefore lots of propagation-of-uncertainties in the calculations. (If foo is known to plus-minus 15%, and bar is known to plus-minus 7%, to what uncertainty is the ratio of foo to bar known? The answer is something coarser than 15%.)

Or, alternatively, one could simply measure the speed of light, taking that as an occasion for discussing maths-of-uncertainties. This has been a first-year experiment at Univ of Toronto, and again does not suggest any obvious ways of killing pupils. If speed-of-light has not been done at pre-university level, it at any rate ought to be - at least to some coarse uncertainty, say to plusminus 20%. I think one uses Fizeau wheel with mirrors, and additionally I think that this can be done (as this type of pedagogical physics ought to be done) eschewing electronics. My guess - but again, it is only a guess - is that Fizeau setup for getting speed of light might run to a few hundred bucks, or to a thousand or two, but NOT to anything as bad as ten or twenty thousand bucks.



(near Toronto)

John Michael Greer said...

Aron, my father, who worked thirty years as a teacher, told me more than once that he learned nothing about teaching from his two degrees in the field. That is to say, I'm not arguing!

Patricia, I'm pretty sure there was Eupatorium perfoliatum in it, if that helps.

Peter, and I bet your mother's patients got excellent care, despite the lack of a gargantuan bureaucracy to, um, help her. There's a lesson in that...

Mark, those more complex forms of medicine are what specialists and hospitals do. It tends to be forgotten, though, that the vast majority of illnesses are simple things that can be treated promptly and easily without all the hardware -- and our current health care system is appallingly bad at providing that kind of care.

Zachary, that sounds very Japanese!

Isaac, it depends on how soon people who have been victimized by predatory student loan providers (and equally predatory universities) start organizing to push back in the legal and political arenas. That's the only thing that's going to change the situation, you know.

Nathan, of course it all sounds so sensible. Now ask yourself this: however did people get by fifty years ago without all that? And has adding in all that actually improved things, or the opposite?

Peter, no, it's something rather more threatening than that. China has antisatellite weapons that could promptly render the GPS system DOA, and the US Navy has had to deal with the fact that they could be suddenly deprived of all those neat modern ways to figure out where they are in the middle of the ocean...

Claire, true enough and thanks for the suggestion!

Dltrammel, my understanding is that that does happen up here in the Appalachians now and again: paying for health care with the butchered-out edible parts of a deer or two, say, isn't unheard of.

RepubAnon, where I live, the handful of GPs are all near retirement and no new ones are entering the business, but there are lots of high-priced specialists. I hear that same situation discussed by people who live elsewhere in the country, so I'm far from sure you're right.

Karim, duly noted. I did say in the post that specialists -- and an opthalmic optician would certainly count -- did have med school degrees; and of course there's a world of difference, by all accounts, between the British and American systems of higher education.

John Michael Greer said...

Ozark, thank you. One of the reasons I'm less than convinced by Sanders -- though he's infinitely preferable to Clinton, I grant! -- is that he's still pushing some very large elements of the salary class agenda, such as even more subsidies for a corrupt and bloated academic industry.

Dennis, thank you! I'm sorry though, unfortunately, not surprised to hear that you lost both parents to modern medicine; death by doctor is hideously common these days.

Toomas, thanks for the feedback and the correction to the name! I'll revisit the choice of experiment, and do the necessary research, when it's time to turn this into a manuscript for publication.

Øyvind Holmstad said...

"But once a big change is made, say from powering transportation with horses to powering transportation with cars, it is pretty much impossible to go back. The economy has reorganized around the new system. The changes to go back would be very large. If nothing else, all of the outstanding debt makes it hard to go back. It likely couldn’t be repaid." - Tverberg

The changes to go back are in most cases way too large. We are indeed stuck in a "high-tech-trap"!

"All countries are linked together. For example, Russia doesn’t make computers, and in fact, no country by itself makes computers. Computers are used in all steps of oil extraction and refining. Computers use practically trace amounts of many different metals. It isn’t possible (without a huge amount of planning and equipment) to recycle old computers into new computers. For a while, it may be able to cannibalize old computers, and use those parts to swap out for broken ones. But over the long ten, this won’t work. It is our high-tech world that makes continuation of our current system impossible." - Tverberg

We should have stopped technological development back in the 1800s, then we could have had an civilization for centuries. We can't go back, we must keep maximal, i.e. current technology, or collapse back to gravels. And the more complex our technology becomes, the harder it is to keep.

Patricia Mathews said...

Thanks for the name of the herb! Pity it's not native to New Mexico, but there are books on local herbal medicines readily available out here. I tried to grow feverfew, but the mourning doves got the plants.

Martin B said...

Once upon a time I was a civil engineer, which required four years of university education and two years of practical experience before getting the Pr Eng certificate.

I started work in a design office where I could use my university theory. I remember hating the damn-fool Factors of Safety which resulted in unnecessarily heavy and graceless structures, IMO. Then I worked for a construction company, and saw what actually happens on a construction site. Frankly, it's a miracle anything gets built at all, because things are always going wrong and workarounds are needed. (Murphy was an engineer, remember.) And I realized: those Factors of Safety are there for sound, practical reasons.

As someone who is self-taught in gardening and baking via books and the internet, I realize a big benefit of a formal education is you learn a lot in a short period of time because someone else has worked out what you need to know, and provided it in concentrated form. So you become productive at a much earlier age than if you are picking up bits and pieces of knowledge here and there.

Also, senior, experienced engineers' time is so valuable that you want them working on income-generating projects and solving tricky problems, rather than supervising apprentices. And of course they themselves are hopefully learning, keeping up with new developments in their professions.

It's tricky. You need both theory and practice to become a well-rounded professional, but the exact balance probably varies quite a bit, depending on how hands-on the needed skills are.

One essential of contact with senior people not usually mentioned is developing a professional attitude and set of ethics. Not every decision you make is covered in the text-books. When you're stuck in the bush and the contractor asks you to approve some less-than-spec piece of work and you know he's on the verge of bankruptcy and it'll take months to get another contractor on site, what you gonna do?

Mean Mr Mustard said...


A pity Lakeland didn't ditch health 'insurance' in favour of universal healthcare funded through general taxation, with no 'co-pay' demanded from those who are unwell. Cuts out the middle man. The UK gets better health outcomes on 8% of GDP than the US does on twice that spending.

Only problem is here in the UK, we have high expectations, demographic and population pressures and now a government unwilling to fund our system adequately, if not actually out to deliberately undermine it for the benefit of their cherry-picking corporate mates, and ultimately themselves, through the revolving doors between ministerial office and boardroom. Allegedly.

There's a huge dispute going on here with a diluted contract now being enforced on hospital junior doctors who backed strike action opposing it by 98%. Doubtless other UK ADR posters here, or a read of the UK press will provide background, though it does seem to be a crisis deliberately engineered by the senior politicians concerned.

As for minor ailments, we've got access to GPs in local clinics (until they retire and aren't replaced, as not enough bright students now want to enter medicine). For clinics in some places that might mean a two week wait, or repeated attempts to book a same day appointment by phone starting at 08.00 until you finally get through to reception. The only costs (for some) will be prescriptions at around $12 per item, but some folks not entitled to exemption genuinely can't afford that, and so may wind up as very expensive (to the taxpayer) hospital admissions instead.

Best of all is that because the healthcare is universal, we Brits aren't dependent on a munificent employer for dubious health coverage through some kind of servitude arrangement. Come to think of it, that kind of serfdom might be the unstated goal of our political masters...



Alexandra said...

I second the longing for a system of herbalist apprenticeship (and the recommendation of Matt Wood's books). I am an aspiring herbalist who is priced out of all the training courses--ironic for a method that is supposed to be "the people's medicine" (and I could say the same for the treatment fees and product prices many herbalists charge). As course fees go, herbalism courses are on par with other sorts of education today, but as JMG so rightly points out, those prices are getting ridiculous. Thankfully at least some of the courses do provide hands-on experience, if nowhere near as much as one would get through apprenticeship. I am convinced of the need for and benefits of herbalism, so I guess better there be herbalists that few can afford (or in some regions, find) than none at all. If the FDA and the pharmaceutical companies get their way, it will soon be illegal to practice clinical herbalism--we are already very close to that point. No doubt Nick Culpeper is spinning in his grave, though I take comfort from the fact that herbalism can still survive "underground". In the meantime, while it is still legal to say so in print, I'm betting there's also some elderflower in that tea Carr was drinking.

JMG, I agree with you on academia's self-insertion into "qualifications" for employment, and a corollary of that is the demise of humanities education--not lucrative enough, with the annoying side effect that it tends to inspire people to ask uppity questions and challenge authority. Have you seen this article about Japanese universities ditching their humanities programs ( I don't think the US can be far behind. I hope the schools in the Lakeland Republic spend as much time teaching kids philosophy and history as they do science and math.

On a side note, I am currently reading Twilight's Last Gleaming and it's starting to really freak me out that every time I scan the news headlines, for a second I think they are right out of your book.

John Michael Greer said...

Øyvind, how come it's impossible to go from cars back to horses when it was perfectly possible to go from horses to cars, and there was a very elaborate and expensive infrastructure around horses and horse transport that somehow got replaced? The answer, of course, is that you're letting the myth of progress do your thinking for you. You don't make the transition all at once, any more than cars replaced horses all at once, and so the ordinary depreciation of the infrastructure that has to be replaced does much of the work for you. The only "high tech trap" exists in the minds of those who can't see outside of the very narrow tunnel of progress.

Patricia, by all means see what you can find among local herbs -- boneset is simply the thing that was used throughout the old Midwest by settlers.

Martin, and yet not all that long ago, most of the engineers in America were trained via an apprenticeship system. Some still are -- I know a very capable mechanical engineer who has never seen the inside of a university engineering department. Clearly it worked just fine back in the day -- and that, as I've tried to point out, suggests that it might still be a workable option, especially if you need a lot of engineers and you don't want to pay for a bloated academic bureaucracy to provide them.

Damo said...

Love the apprenticeship system! Like the US, here in Australia we don't really do apprenticeships anymore. Universities have moved in, helped by legislated fee structures which act as a floor for student debt levels. Back in the day a young person could move straight into a (low) paying position (nurse, electrician, surveyor) and learn at the same time. Typically one day a week would involve theory at a local technical college. Every year their pay increases and after 4 years they are qualified, earning reasonable money and have no debt.

Nowadays, what few professions have not being absorbed by universities, require students to do all the theory up-front, at their own expense with no job guarantee at the end. Typically this has the full blessing of the state and the colleges get paid even if the students don't graduate.

Myosotis said...

I recognize the hilarity of asking here but does anyone have advice on getting out of the habit of too much time on the computer? I grew up always with my nose in a book and the addiction to more and more words to read seems to have transferred to the screen. I feel I get some really value but also that I waste a lot of time. I'm so glad I don't have a smartphone.

Any words of wisdom will be read with gratitude. And hopefully I will then step away!

Emmanuel Goldstein said...

Two facts to ponder;
1) A merger has recently been approved between two large US Pharmacy Chains, Walgreens and Rite Aid. This means that the new Walgreens, along with CVS, control "99.4% of pharmacy/drugstore revenue.." Here's a link;

2) Medications are cheaper in Canada than in the US. For example, a 100 gm tube of Voltaren Gel sells for a bit more that US $100.00, and requires a prescription. The same tube made by the same company sells for CDN $16.00 (about US $11.50) and does not require a prescription in Canada.

This tells me that we have unopposed building of monopolies in US Pharmacy. I'd bet that this latest merger does not decrease the price of medications in the US. It would be interesting to know who gets the additional 50% to 90% markup in US drug prices, but I'm not expecting to find that out anytime soon...

Stuart Jeffery said...

The UK system of using general taxation to provide health care with access to secondary care controlled via GPs is still one of the best (even despite the current crisis that has been driven by government ideology to cut and privatise it). It is also relatively cheap, although I doubt it can be sustained on energy terms for too much longer.

Did you not consider taxation rather than insurance as a model for Lakeland? What happens to those who can't or won't pay the insurance?

Damo said...

I read an interesting paper on Victorian England life expectancy last year (will try and find link later).

They compared post childhood life expectancy (ie ignore deaths under 5 years old) from the 1860s and today. What they found was, despite all the medical advances and new knowledge, the difference was only 1 year! Almost a statistical blip. They suggested that a combination of physical work and excellent diet (trains bought in a constant supply of fresh produce) made the Victorian era citizen one of the healthiest in history. They also noted a correlation between the rise in processed food (tins etc) and declining heath outcomes in the latter half of the 19th century.

I found this interesting as it suggests a post industrial society with clean water and basic vaccines would quite probably have longer life expectancy than we do today.

Morgenfrue said...

In Denmark the health care system is built up such that everyone has a GP, who functions as the gateway to the rest of the system. If necessary they refer to specialists/hospitals. It's paid for by taxes. Medications are sliding scale. Some things like physical therapy and psychotherapy have a reduced cost if you have a referral. GPs do house calls here, if there is an indication, such as an elderly person in very poor health, or someone who has chosen to die at home. Everyone also has a right to district nursing, either at a clinic or in their own home depending on mobility. It's not a perfect system, and there is still inequality in health as some groups present challenges - homeless, addicted persons, psychiatric patients - but my impression is that it is much better than in the U.S.!

Ben Eyers said...

Having done a formal carpentry apprenticeship starting in my early 20's I can vouch for its value. I've had a number of conversations hypothesising an apprenticeship scheme for doctors. But you're right it could be used for any profession.

Imagine if all doctors were compelled to work as a hospital porter for say 20 hours a week in their first year of training. That would sort out who was really interested and likely to do well pretty quickly, not to mention the learning that would come from just being around other medical professionals :)

Incidentally my dad's a GP who's always had a policy of turning any drug company representative right out back out on the street (where they belong as the pushers they are). He used to joke to the secretary that if one ever got into his meeting room they'd be fired on the spot.


Mark said...

Onething, well, I did say that some people consider allopathic medicine to be good at some things, not necessarily me.

Personally, I wouldn't touch the current medical system with a ten foot tongue depressor. I know it fairly well and have had a couple of disastrous medical experiences in my time. Generally, I avoid it. I guess my point is that natural healing modalities, which can be very powerful, require a lot more of us as patients to manage our own health and lifestyle. It won't be so easy in future, say, to live a life of stress and bad diet and then get a couple of stents slapped in to prop up failing arteries, or to have a tumor removed surgically. As with personal energy descent where we need to get used to doing more ourselves and using less energy, with healthcare descent we need to get used to taking better care of ourselves and expecting fewer heroic interventions.

I don't mean to be glum about that, though. Personally I'm much healthier and happier since I got out of the medical system. But it obviously isn't as simple as just swapping tablets for tincture.

Be well :-)

YCS said...

One of the most frequent complaints of my newly emigrated to the USA sister is the difficulty in finding a GP (amongst all the other travesties of your healthcare system). I couldn't understand how, since GPs are still the most common form of doctor here in Oceania. Still, I have friends doing 7 years of study to eventually become GPs, and I wonder why a shorter and more practical program wouldn't work since they will be treating common colds and infections mostly anyway.

It seems that the policy making most 'developed countries' is built in some way to amplify techno-stupidity. Cuba has so far been unknowingly blessed, and could have blazed the trail for deindustrialization. Now with the recent 'opening' I expect thr demand of rude entitled American tourists and naiive westernized local youngsters to ruin their country in short time.


Damaris Zehner said...

I concur heartily about the effectiveness of apprenticeship. I knew I wanted to be a teacher but was appalled at the education department in my college. Because I got a full ride to do so, I went to graduate school (in Medieval Literature -- not a practical field, but I liked it) and never got a teaching certificate. I began by working at a test prep company for classroom experience then got a private school to hire me. At that point I asked every teacher I worked with if I could sit in their classes during my free periods, if I could look at their tests and lesson plans, and what I should do about a tricky student. They were wonderful people and gave me everything I needed to learn the profession. I hope I wasn't a burden to them -- a formal apprenticeship program would have been better, I'm sure -- but I knew even as a 22-year-old that the way I was learning how to teach was far superior to months spent in Blackboard 101. I now have 30+ years of experience, have trained teachers around the world and in the US -- and am not eligible to teach in high school. To become eligible I would have to spend many thousands of dollars and take several years of courses, taught, most likely, by people who have less experience than I do. We try so hard to set up bureaucratic hoops to guarantee that qualified people get jobs, but we end up just getting people who can jump through hoops.

Jack Ellis said...

Iitect, and I had an apprenticeship... I just had to get through the degree first.
The degree doesn't teach you anything; its a shibboleth call-and-response, a way of checking that you're 'one of us'.
Do you talk working class? Not read the right books? Not know the right names, or show the right attitudes? Worst of all, does your need to work to live distract you from living, thinking, dreaming your degree 24/7? You'll struggle.
Universities aren't educational facilities, at least not for the professions. They're filters.

Andrew said...

As someone who works in training, I found the training methods for Dr Hammond really interesting. The rule of thumb that we all like to ignore is that we learn about 10% of what we need from theoretical work, 20% by talking to other practitioners and (to use the medieval language of apprenticeships) Masters, and 70% by doing, failing and figuring it out. Unlike in the Lakeland Republic, this 70% seems to be ignored in most formal eduction, so people have to complete their education on the job. It's interesting that the medieval system used the right proportions hundreds of years ago and in our efforts to improve it and speed it up, we've wrecked it. As someone once said, no matter how you're trained you can't think any faster. I'm also reminded of a great medical specialist I once worked with, a father of Interventional Cardiology in Europe. A newly qualified cardiologist once came to see him to ask if he could become a fellow in his clinic and learn from the master. He was fixed with a gimlet glare by the old man who asked him "are you theoretical or practical?" Practical he answered. The right answer and he was taken on.

Caryn said...

What a great thing to come home to on a Thursday eve. We're back in Retrotopia! Thanks for sharing this with us, JGM, I want to teach in Lakeland. Any openings for an Art Teacher? :)

I can, on the front lines, concur with the assessment made by Whomever, somewhat, not totally. IMHO, the private schools are far more Lakeland, hands-on, experiential and project/process based; but they're not immune to the mad rush for an iPad on each desk "newer, higher techno-complexity-must-be-better!" There's a fear of falling behind the times.

The primary school I work in is one of those pricey private schools Whomever was speaking of, and there are a lot of 'doing', not 'showing' activities the kids are engaged in. IMHO, the reason is that as a private school, they have the flexibility and freedom from Public School requirements, mandates and laws. Standardized Testing is optional. They can afford the time to try new things, and keep them if they seem to work. "Doing" does work.

In Art class, by it's very nature, it's about 10% academic, (learning about historic and influential artists, movements, elements of design, etc.) and 90% hands on doing. Our kids also have D&T, (Design/Technology, kind of a mix of wood-shop, physics, basically building 'stuff') and a science lab for experiments. We have a roof top garden that we are keeping, (My day is tomorrow with the Year-6's - planting some more pepper plants), they have field trips, camp, PE, choir, instrumental music, and Mandarin -which is a mix of language and culture study. I think that's the only time the Cookery Room gets used - making Chinese dumplings. Of all of these "doing" activities, Art and Music are the only constants they get, (one hour per week.) Most are sprinkled in amongst the academic curriculum.

AND YET: Many times I worry greatly for my little students when I see how woefully unfamiliar they are with hands-on tangible tasks. Even my Year-6's have trouble tying a knot, threading a needle, manipulating clay or paper with their fingers, even regulating hand pressure to get a dark pencil stroke or a light pencil stroke in drawing. They are missing the concept that you have to actually physically force it to do what you want it to. It's not automatic. I guess that they still do spend far too much time on computers where everything IS automatic. (If you want a light pencil stroke, you just click on the light icon, to switch to dark or heavy pencil lines, you click on that corresponding icon.) The problem is that they seem to have a great disconnect in theory/abstract academics which they are comfortable with, and the physical world, which they are not. I can only guess that our in-school 'doing' projects are the only places they get to actually 'do' more than swipe a finger across a pad. Which is not great, as we're still in school, not free play.

In these tangible areas, manipulating physical objects to make a craft project or knowing how basic things are put together and/or work in the physical world, my generation (I'm 54) is not that different than my lovely step-daughter's, (born in 1991). For my young students who are young children today - there is a vast difference. Their physical vs. virtual disconnect is profound and even doing our (very expensive and well-thought out) best; their future ability to function in the real world alarms me.

Phil Harris said...

Thanks to Toomas near Toronto for expanding my thinking about knowledge and experiment, and for your reply.

I was going to note that a close to near-frictionless bearing (a bath of mercury) in a basement on a massive foundation was required for the necessary accuracy in the later classic 1887 Michelson–Morley. (The observations still went haywire from passing horse traffic or a distant thunderclap, it seems.)

I am also not sure whether there will be mercury in your GP's glass thermometer!

I haven't checked it out but I have a memory that speed of light slows down (but not measureably I guess in a school setting?) in the refraction experiment with the flat slab of glass and a light beam? Anybody remember any school speed of light experiments?


barrymelius said...

JMG,Its my feeling that the reason large pharmaceutical companies have pills rather than herbs is that an herb can't be patented. Even if the whole plant is more effective than an an isolated element extracted from that herb big pharma is set up to ignore that in order to get on with the business of making a profit.

Daniel Cowan said...

My grandfather became a psychiatric nurse with only on-the-job training, after working in a broom factory and I believe going to school up to the eighth grade. He worked up to some sort of supervisory position, and built houses as a side job, and practically-speaking he had to be one of the most skilled and intelligent people I've know of.

My mom became a nurse in the seventies, which required two years of schooling at the time, but they allowed you to live in the hospital dorms at the time. There was a lot of hands-on apprenticeship work, and the financial burden was light.

Now, becoming a nurse is at least a 4 year university degree - here you have to take a least one year of general classes before being able to enter the faculty, and not everyone makes it in their first try.

I'm no expert on the system, I could be wrong, but it seems like as the number of people who go to graduate school for nursing, and get positions in the faculty, professional bodies, or government administration goes up, so does the amount of paperwork demands on working nurses, who are increasingly pressed for time as hospital stays get shorter and shorter, have to work on several different units, etc.

A few years ago in Quebec, there were large student demonstrations over tuition increases (which actually happen to be among the lowest in Canada, and far lower than those in the US, I believe.) I certainly sympathize with young people trying to get jobs and careers going without going into debt, but at the time I thought, instead of demands for lower tuition, the protesters really should be demanding less school!

Agent Provocateur said...


Re. Physics experiments:'s_Constant_LAB.pdf

has a fairly simple procedure to calculate Planck's Constant. I had intended to do this with my kids for homeschooling but we built a AM radio instead from aluminum foil (capacitor) and wire (induction coil) etc. Bought a diode though ... should like to try a safety pin and razor though (a la the legendary prisoner of war radio).

The Planck; constant experiment requires a LED as well as some other basic electronic components as well though. Perhaps it could be adapted to the assumed technology suite?

So here is the basic problem: All such versions of experiments to be conducted today assume today's level of technology. I suppose to ensure authenticity you would need to first do the experiment yourself from the components you assume would be available. I expect you have the background to make a radio from scratch.

Just some ideas.

buddhabythelake said...


Thank you for this continuing sojourn into possibility. I have to keep a strong awareness of how much the worldview we adopt limits the possibilities we perceive. (You have already alluded to this many times, including in the comments on this post.) More empire-in-the-mind (sigh).

I have been thinking about the future of education of late, trying to see what new structures we might develop locally to replace the system that is very visibly falling apart. In WI, the legislature recently sent a substantial cut to the University system, which of course was passed down to all the campuses. The two-year campuses got wacked pretty hard, many of their positions centralized, and I would not be surprised if our local campus gets closed within the next decade. (I taught an occasional evening math course and truly enjoyed the experience.) While I am a Ph.D., I purposely chose not to go into academia, wanting to apply my skills in "the real world" for a while. I had always thought that I'd like to teach (not research, but teach) as a second career once I finished my first.

Finally, I'd like to provide an update on the local political scene in Two Rivers, WI. By a fairly slim margin (4 votes, apparently), yours truly has indeed survived the primary to make it onto the April ballot for city council. The top three of six in that election will win seats. I have a bit of work to do in the coming weeks!

Helix said...

@JMG and Toomas

I read Toomas's suggestions carefully and tend to agree that experiments such as Michelson-Morley and Millikan's Oil Drop are beyond the resources of a typical 8th grade class, and in the case of M-M, probably beyond the skill set and knowledge base of an 8th-grader, even of the early 20th century variety. The good news here is that top-notch teachers have been striving for decades to develop experiments and demonstrations that are grade-appropriate, and the both the internet and print books are absolutely replete with their ideas.

But I think the hands-on approach described is completely spot-on. One thing that mystified me when I was in school was that the science apparatus was not designed and built by the students themselves. So we had physics at one of the school, and shop class at the other, but nary the two should meet. What a missed opportunity! The Physics kids could have had the fundamental ideas and skills appropriate to scientific inquiry driven home by designing and using their own apparatus, and the shop kids would have the satisfaction of building useful equipment and collaborating with the physics kids to perfect the designs. What an opportunity to combine theory and practice in the real world! Instead, the shop kids kept building bird houses and grandfather clocks, and the physics kids kept using prepackaged and, incidentally, very expensive PSSC physics lab kits, and the two groups of kids kept to their separate universes.

We already live in a world where far too few people know how to build or fix things. And where chalk-and-talk classes require huge quantities of Ritalin to survive. Such a shame, and a disservice to our children and grandchildren.

Unknown said...

"contract with businesses, churches, or citizen’s groups to provide basic health care" Seems like a whole lot of people wouldn't get health care this way. You have to be a member of a church or an employee of a business that decides to spend some of its money on paying a staff GP. And how do citizen's groups have any money at all to do such a thing? As lovely as Lakeland sounds, there must be some folks who are just flat out left out. What happens to them?

Unknown said...

Apprenticeships help clergy too. Sure, we have (currently) a requirement for college and divinity school in the group I serve, but it wasn't always the case and academics do not a pastor (nor a priest) make. It would make the credentialists nuts, but I could imagine a system whereby possible future clergy spend some time with their local clergy as a "shadow" before more specialized training and again after or during that training. To a great degree monastic clergy still do this. As mentioned in the blog post, you can do practical work and study books at the same time in order to learn most of the "professions." And, probably be better off for it. The better in the lab chemists are trained this way, too, in my experience.

As to re-doing fundamental science experiments, I have mixed feelings. I've done some of it in my education, and it is frustrating to use antiquated tools that barely serve the didactic purpose and have been cast aside by the profession in favor of more modern equipment. More than once, I took samples to the professor's lab where I worked to get better answers/analyses than we had in lab classes. There is some value in grinding through lab data by hand to give you a feel for how things can be "easily" solved by computer but wrong (certain types of data analysis for enzyme kinetics come to mind) or in other reviews of the old stuff.

Michelson Morely's important, but if i'm remembering the apparatus/experiment correctly, it's hardly going to be easy or the first list of experiments to replicate in a lot of schools. It's really fiddly and requires a lot of expensive single/limited use precision equipment: a huge batch of front silvered precision mirrors and a huge optically flat table that can be rotated smoothly and a micrometer/interferometer mounted on a floor that's far away from vibrations like the street cars in your fictional town or even the footsteps of other students. Same for Miliken's electron charge experiment.

As an alternative: There's also a lot of value of diving into the real problems at the edge of human knowledge. Most "hard" math was invented to make interesting problems soluble, for instance. Doing labs identifying "unknowns" with crude techniques (many of which are ambiguous at best and require grams of materials) is kind of dumb when you can go in a lab and make real unknowns---get your initial training making the "starting materials" (advanced intermediates) for getting to the unknowns. The starting materials are hard to make but the procedures are known and will teach you a lot and within a few days or weeks (not years) you will be at the forefront of research. The real learning will come struggling with problems with no "obvious" answers/answer keys.

peacegarden said...

@ Patricia Matthews

Eupatorium perfoliatum can be used in homeopathic doses, and can be part of an herbal “first aid kit”. We are fortunate to be in a position to purchase some of the herbs we cannot grow ourselves …for instance dried leaves can be acquired and used in a tea (decoction) as in Mr. Carr’s case…producing perspiration and fever “breaking”.

“…the popular name Boneset is derived from the great value of this remedy in the treatment of a species of influenza which had much prevailed in the United States, and which from the pain attending it was commonly called Break-Bone Fever.” ~The Modern Herbal, Maude Grieve.

The tea Mr. Carr was given most likely had other herbs as well.
Also good is to do research on other herbs with similar actions that may be more local for you. I am doing that with Ligusticum porteri also known as Osha. It is endangered now, coming from high above the tree line in the Western US, so it is very important to try growing some here, but even more important to grow a substitute and try to make it accustomed to our little biome.

@ Violet Cabra
So good to hear from a young herbalist…always enjoy your posts.



Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Coordinated Universal Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20160218T144647Z

Since JMG's work is in a fluid state, with changes impending before his work goes to publication (he remarks on this in his posting timestamped "2/17/16, 9:25 PM"), I will add some further thoughts on school physics.

(1) There is a place for the classic experiments, such as Michelson-Morley. An Ideal Republic might want to contemplate a centralized government institution, a bit like the Ontario Science Center in Toronto, but without the Science Center's present-day showmanship and glitz. In this centralized institution, there would be a basement room with a Michelson-Morley, in all its perhaps 20,000- or 50,000- or 80,000-dollar glory, mercury bath and all, and a school would schedule a two-hour session in that room by way of a field trip (I mean, by way of a school excursion). Thomson charge-mass-ratio-of-electron could likewise be kept in this centralized institution, with safety precautions. Cavendish value-of-big-G, despite what I wrote in my posting from UTC=20160218T045025Z, is perhaps also best put into this institution (with a technician handy to help, and with students booking, quite a few hours for making multiple runs on the equipment and taking multiple rows of data).

(2) An Ideal Republic might want to put the routine classroom emphasis, as opposed to the special Science Center field trip emphasis, not on the classic experiments but on problem solving. Here are three possibilities (the first two from me, and the third possibly from Prof. Feynman):

(a) How accurately can we identify direction of North, proceeding from the principle that shadows are "shortest when Sun is due South"? (First problem for the kids: explain, with reference to a telephone pole that is not quite vertical, why "Shadows are shortest when Sun is due South" is false. Next, elicit with questioning an appreciation for the need for casting the shadows, from a truly vertical gnomon, onto a surface which is itself perfectly horizontal. Then ask for experimental arrangements. Without having done this myself, I **THINK** a good way to proceed would be to form horizontal surface by pouring molten wax into approx-horizontal pan, taking the surface of the now-cold wax to be a reasonably true horizontal. To get a reasonably true vertical, we of course use a plumb line, and we can get the necessary shadow pattern by ensuring that plumb line has two knots (and we then seek the instant at which the two shadows cast by the two knots on the cold wax attain minimum separation; it is at this instant that the plumb-line shadow lies N-S). A subtle point is that (a) unless our school is at the poles or the equator, or alternatively (b) unless we succeed in stopping the Earth's rotation, our plumb line will not be exactly vertical, and indeed our cold wax surface not exactly horizontal. So I guess we get small systematic error in our results on top of the normal random errors due to manipulation of equipment: this too, might be discussed in class, as an example of the diff between random error and systematic error.) Budget: 20 bucks or so.

(b) What, from our knowledge of Coriolis Effect, can we predict as the discrepancy between direction of winds aloft (as monitored by lying on one's back and viewing clouds through a wire mesh) and direction of winds at rooftop level (as monitored with a wind vane)? (Underlying physics is that Coriolis Effect gets smaller and smaller the greater the friction between moving air mass and ground - i.e., gets smaller and smaller the lower the altitude of the wind. - Unless I am missing something here, there should be NO discrepancy if wind vane and clouds are moving exactly E-to-W or W-to-E, and there should be MAX discrepancy both when wind vane is pointing exactly N-S and (a second, equal, extremum for discrepancy) when clouds are moving exactly N-S.) Wire mesh and wind vane can be set up for perhaps twenty bucks.

/...continued in next posting, UTC=20160218T152148Z .../

234567 said...

I've espoused this before, but Petroleum Engineers are still apprenticed, internally within oil companies, AFTER their 4 year degree. Each engineer has millions of dollars of authority and responsibility; each has responsibility for the safety of every human body at the rig site - not something a green graduate is ready for. It is perhaps, with the exception of Civil Engineering, the last apprenticeship around that I have seen, outside of a farrier, cooper or actual blacksmith.

I am about to get a hip replacement. It is interesting, as I interview potential ortho's, to see their reaction. I have done my own research (it is a mechanical replacement of organic joint after all), as the first 2 ortho's simply told me to get it scheduled with their assistants, and handed me a pamphlet designed for 2nd graders.

During my interview process, it was enlightening to see that a choice of joint type was only brought up by ONE doctor of the 9 I visited. The type of procedure was only discussed by TWO, and one of them was defensive when I asked why he preferred the medial over the lateral method - and obfuscated and took offense at my asking a question.

My initial hip problem was ascertained via MRI, but this same ortho MISSED the 4 herniated discs in my lumber spine. He saw the arthritic hip and assumed it was the cause of my pain, even though the referred pain was obviously sciatic. How does one 'miss' the well-documented sciatic pain with the hernias staring him in the face? I saw the hernias in the films - and went to a back specialist. Therapy fixed it for now. My guess is dollar signs for the hip surgery blinded someone?

My pre-med education has saved my butt and my family a lot of bad diagnosis and practice over the years.

Specialization is not necessarily bad, but generalists are sorely needed. Focus on whole health is very hard to find in the current USA medical system. We have a system that uses symptomatic triage as a primary methodology.

Apprenticeship is something I would enthusiastically support in every field. We "old dogs" are being put out to pasture in favor of "more data" and "expert systems". As things slide into more chaos, followed by lower tech, data and expert systems will avail us nothing.

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Coordinated Universal Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20160218T152148Z

/...continued from posting above, timestamped UTC=20160218T144647Z .../

(c) A small oil slick, of readily measured area, is formed in a tray, from a drop of oil released from medicine dropper. What is average thickness of slick? (Budget: 10 bucks or so. We desire some coarse determination of volume of a drop, and this can be done coarsely by counting the number of drops required to fill a 10-mL graduated cylinder. We thus need dropper and cylinder. For measuring area of slick, we need glass tray, placed over sheet of square-ruled paper (so that we can count squares fully under slick, and also keep a tally of squares partly-but-not-fully under slick, operating carefully with fractions).

It might be additionally remarked that the Feynman (?) experiment leads to discussions of optical interference effects in thin films: e.g., if the oil slick rainbow is red at one instant and place, and in the same conditions of illumination and viewing angle green at another instant in the same place, by how much is the thickness of the slick likely to change? This question can be answered if one knows the wavelengths of red and green light, and that in turn can be had for a couple of hundred bucks by running Young's double-slit experiment.

Tom = Toomas(dot)Karmo(at)gmail(dot)com

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Coordinated Universal Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20160218T153359Z

Re maths: I have been told from a reliable "Source" that in the dear old Sovyetski Soyuz, calculus started in the equivalent of USA Grade Nine. In Nova Scotia, by contrast, in high school programme finishing 1970 June, I found no calculus at all on the curriculum - nichyevo, spaseebo. Wow. We never got past Cramer's Rule and some analytic geometry (in two dimensions, never in three).

Past experience has shown that Russian questions can get answered on this blog, since there is a Russia-based readership. (I was delighted to learn here that yes, just as in the Sovyetski Soyuz, so also in modern Russia, you can get from Saint Petersburg to Moskva in streetcars, with just one or two changes of streetcar.) Perhaps someone inside Russia is now able to tell us in which year of high school Russian pupils now start calculus?


(Estonian diaspora, in Canada)

Mike said...

@Toomas, a small correction. The Millikan oil drop experiment was to measure the charge of the electron, not the mass.

@JMG, in my rural high school (in Canada circa 1978) students in physics class performed a modified version of the Millikan oil drop experiment (with microscopic plastic beads instead of oil droplets). The apparatus used was smaller than an entry-level microscope and our school had enough of them to allocate one to each pair of students, so their cost could not have been exorbitant. Notwithstanding Toomas' concerns re. nervous wear & tear, we young students with our sharp eyes had little trouble replicating Millikan's results, and it was a vivid enough demonstration of a fundamental aspect of our world that I remember it well to this day, including the histograms we created from our data that revealed the quantum charges so clearly. I think the Millikan experiment would be an excellent choice for your book.

Myriad said...

While I approve of Lakeland's medical system (I even predicted the house calls after part one), I have some doubts about the "24 hour flu" diagnosis. I've never had a flu end in anything close to 24 hours, except for the so-called "stomach flu" that has very different symptoms from Carr's.

That's no big deal. Strains change over time, and so does terminology, and the setting is in the future. But I suggest that the doctor should have showed some concern that Carr, being a traveler recently arrived from a distant region, might be hit harder by a local bug that's been "going around," or might be coming down with a more virulent strain he brought in himself. Those become significant medical considerations in a less interconnected world. A doctor contracted with a hotel would be well versed in the principles of epidemiology.

@Toomas, I and a few other students did the speed of light measurement in high school, in a small and unpopular senior physics class. The school had the equipment on hand but it hadn't been used in several years. The rotating mirror was a motorized unit specifically made for the purpose, so that part was easy. (It needs to be on the order of ten thousand RPM if I recall correctly, so cobbling one together from separate standard parts would be difficult.) But our light source was poor (no lasers in schools back then) and we needed a long corridor. We used a cellar corridor, which also allowed us the pitch darkness we needed to see and align the beam. (I suspect a classroom M-M would have the same issue of needing complete darkness.) We still didn't get a very good reading, but it was good experience.

@JMG, if you don't already have a paper copy of the 1965 The Amateur Scientist compilation, full free downloads are available here, at It has instructions for the Millikan Experiment, as well as things like "a simple magnetic-resonance spectrometer" and home-built smoke tunnels for aerodynamics.

August Johnson said...

JMG – An excellent book about the Michelson-Morley-Miller Aether-Drift Experiments is The Ethereal Aether by Loyd S. Swenson, Jr.

I am fortunate enough to have been able, in my Jr. High School and High School years, to have been able to see and manipulate the Michelson Interferometer that my father used in his Astronomical research. This was used for FTS (Fourier Transform Spectrometry). After actually having my hands on this thing and seeing just how touchy the adjustments are to even be able to see any fringes at all let alone get the thing to stand still for hours (days, weeks that Michelson needed) I appreciate just how amazing his experiment was. And aligning my father's instrument was done with the help of a laser, much harder without the use of a good coherent light source; working only with the White Light Fringe would be a bear!

Making and aligning a Michelson Interferometer would be possible in a school setting but I have grave doubts about actually replicating the experiment. What you will see is just how good a ruler the Interferometer is, when using a laser as the light source, it’s possible to measure the bending of a 1/2 inch aluminum plate produced by light finger pressure! This same plate is also a thermometer, you can see it expanding and contracting with temperature changes.

The instrument my father used is described in this publication (pdf) FOURIER-TRANSFORM INFRARED SPECTROMETER. He later used a much simplified version that looks very similar to the “basic” one described in the Wikipedia article. This was simplified so that it would be usable at visible light wavelengths that are much shorter than the Infrared and therefore the alignment is even more difficult.

The “Amateur Scientist” columns in the Scientific American magazine of days gone past provide a plethora of great experiments that could be carried out in schools. A collection of these was published in 1960 as the book "The Scientific American book of Projects for The Amateur Scientist" It is now available as a free download from several sources, and among others.

Brian Kaller said...

I love reading accounts of the instruction given to children in ordinary schools a century or so ago, and think most of those students knew more about science than kids today.

Take, for example Clarence Robison’s 1911 book “Agricultural Instruction in the Public High Schools of the United States,” for example, which describes students first being taught the basic rules of physics, and then how to create experiments. Soon the children were testing crops for disease resistance, yield and other qualities that were completely understandable and useful in their farming communities.

I feel quite cheated that I never got that kind of schooling, from childhood to college, and I envy the Lakelanders.

Nastarana said...

Mr. Greer, it occurs to me that growing and providing herbs might be a good way for misanthropes, hermits and other such loners to be useful and make themselves an income they can live on. wildcrafting will not be a sustainable option much longer, and I have read complaints even now about excessive and irresponsible harvesting of native herbs.

Yanocoches said...

I had the good fortune of receiving science classes that were based on performing experiments, drawing conclusions. I loved it and probably would have gone into science or engineering if we had stayed in the USA during my high school years. It was fascinating and lots of fun, and I learned things.
As for the health care piece, wow, there is so much to say, so many thoughts after working in health care for 30 years. One thing I would like to point out is that current medical education, while not the strict apprenticeship system described in this chapter, typically includes some actual observation and observed practice time on real patients leading to supervised practice and eventually independent practice. Granted it’s not six years, more like six- to eight-week clinical rotations in various settings, but it’s not all power points in the classroom (though admittedly there is a whole lot of that these days).
The model described in the chapter would seem to require more physicians per capita than what is available in the modern western medical model. What I see happening is that general practice physicians (GP) are being replaced in many settings with the advanced practice nurse or nurse practitioner (NP) as these are less expensive to employ and are able to provide many of the services that used to be exclusive to the MD license. What happens if Dr. Hammond does not have time to see all the patients calling for service in any given day? Does he have back up? Do groups such as the New Shakers employ a GP or ensure that they have a member who is a GP on site?
Does the population of the Lakeland Republic display what is commonly referred to as the social determinants of health? In other words, do people in the higher income brackets enjoy better overall health and longer life expectancy than those with lower incomes and perhaps less education, less access to healthy, nutritious food, and basic preventative services? I get the sense that the food in Lakeland is minimally processed and probably does not have the sugar, salt, and other questionable additives so common in the modern North American diet. Does the Lakeland government subsidize basic preventative services somehow, or are these provided exclusively by the businesses, churches, or citizen’s groups that hire the GPs? And what if one group will provide “x” and another won’t cover that? The ever contentious birth control issue comes to mind here. Or does the payor simply pay the salary of the GP, and the GP has complete freedom to provide whatever is needed within the ethical guidelines established by the Lakeland equivalent AMA (American Medical Association)?
And what happens when a patient is non-compliant with the treatment regimen and as a consequence does not improve and continues to call for appointments? For example if Mr. Carr had decided that the herbal tincture was too nasty to drink, didn’t take it, and as a consequence got worse resulting in daily calls to and visits from Dr. Hammond over the ten days? Or is this considered just another part of the practice of medicine in Lakeland, i.e. more complex patient who may have other contributing issues impacting ability to recover that need to be addressed as part of treatment?
I guess my comment has turned into more questions than comments, and I want to say that the impression I have of Lakeland is that the overall basic level of health of the population seems to be higher and more consistent across the Tiers than what I see even here in Colorado, which is one of the healthiest states in the Union (in the top 20%).

Neo Tuxedo said...

Nobody's talking about why house calls went away. I don't have a theory of my own, but I have one to share, courtesy of the last Robert A. Heinlein book published in his lifetime, 1987's To Sail Beyond the Sunset. In 1897, telegraphy and telephony came to the part of Missouri where 15-year-old Maureen Johnson was 15 years away from becoming the mother of Woodrow Wilson Smith (whom you perhaps know better by his final name, Lazarus Long). Her father, local sawbones Ira Johnson, expressed his concerns about the concomitants thereof:

"They point out that it will soon be possible, as more people subscribe, to call for a doctor in the middle of the night. Yes, yes, surely. Today I make night calls because somebody is in such trouble that some member of the patient's family has hitched up in the middle of the night and driven here to ask me to come.

"But what happens when he can rout me out of bed just by cranking a little crank? Will it be for a dying child? No, Maureen, it will be for a hangnail. Mark my words; the telephone signals the end of the house call. Not today, not tomorrow, but soon. They will ride a willing horse to death... and you will see the day when medical doctors will refuse to make house calls."


Øyvind, how come it's impossible to go from cars back to horses when it was perfectly possible to go from horses to cars, and there was a very elaborate and expensive infrastructure around horses and horse transport that somehow got replaced? The answer, of course...

I submit that Øyvind might have had, or might still have, an answer of his own, and that I think it would have been an educational experience, for him and the Archdruid and everyone, to find out what that answer was. Make him do the experiment himself, as it were.

Yanocoches said...

For Patricia Mathews who said, “As for isolating body parts - when I had physical therapy for an arthritic hip and also had some arthritis in the knee - in the same leg - the PTs were only permitted to work on the hip in isolation. At the expense of the knee.”
This story actually causes tears of both sadness and frustration. I have worked as a physical therapist for 30 years and cannot imagine why the PTs were not able to address your knee. I can only speak for myself, but I would have coded the treatment diagnosis to include the whole leg for one thing, then if that was insufficient, I would have called the referring provider to secure an additional referral that included the knee. Many of the rehab exercises that are good for the hip are also good for the knee so I do not understand why they could not have given you something for the knee. We cannot look at one joint in isolation. Bodies don’t work that way. It’s always good practice to look at the adjacent joints because the body is a kinetic chain and nothing works by itself. For the hip, it’s wise to examine the knee, the sacroiliac and the lumbar joints, as well as the feet in many cases. And don’t forget the other (“uninvolved” as we like to say) leg that is taking the brunt of the ground reaction force and overworking when you have to limp.
I did have a patient last year referred to PT for bilateral knee pain. He would come in complaining of severe neck pain. The neck is too far away to justify treatment when the referral is for the knees, but I addressed the neck as best I could and called the referring provider’s office to get a new script for the neck. I was denied based on some “other plan” for this patient’s neck.

Blue said...

A couple of other suggestions for experiments that can be run with minimal hardware:

Measuring the speed of light can be done with nothing more than a mirror, a lens, a bright light, and a little bit of trigonometry. Originally done with hand tools, the addition of a single electric motor reduces the required space from "hundreds of feet" down to "one classroom".

Measuring the charge of one electron requires a perfume bottle, a small electric generator or battery, a microscope, a bright light, some simple algebra and patience. The experiment requires taking more on faith - equations about air resistance, for example - but I found the results compelling and personal when we did the actual experiment in college. A chance to glimpse the atomic scale with your own eyes.

Urban Harvester said...

The apprenticeship commentary struck a chord with me. Up until about 20 years ago one could become licensed to practice architecture through apprenticeship in my state, now you are required to have a masters degree (thought there are still 22 states where you can go the apprenticeship route). As someone who got into the field working my way up in an office, and hit a glass ceiling due to lack of education, and who went to school to get that education, I can say that most of what needs to be learned can be learned better on the job, not at the university. (And I have worked under several very competent and accomplished architects who were licensed under apprenticeship.)

Although there are valid traditions which can (but only sometimes do) get passed on in architecture schools, the fact that they profit from students having few options other than going into debt to get what they used to get paid to learn in the field is a tough pill to swallow. The heavy religion of progress indoctrination is the icing on that bitter cake.

Here's to the theft of university recruits and licensure scams by guilds and apprenticeships, and to organizing to stop the student loan dilemma!

Blue said...

I recently felt compelled to write up some historical / political / economic ideas in a long-form post on my blog - you'll certainly recognize them as your ideas cast through a lens. You'll also certainly recognize the tone of the comments - "Oh, of course alternative energy will get cheap enough that we don't have to change anything," "We can fix all this if we elect XYZ," etc.

I was a member of that crowd until a few years ago (how embarrassed I am about a comment I left here on this blog in 2014!), so I understand where it comes from - but reading here has been eye opening. So anyway, all I really wanted to say is that if you can reach the ears of a financially secure (or as close as it comes these days) salary-class 20-something working in tech like myself... perhaps there's some hope for the younger generation yet.

I've given up my car and microwave, decided not to get a smartphone (how many dubious looks that gets me!), am learning to sew and bake from scratch. I still live in a big-city apartment - no room for a garden and no freedom to upgrade my insulation or install a solar hot-water heater - but I have at least taken to wearing heavier clothing rather than heating the room up around me.

It's a start.

Dammerung said...

I've always thought the apprenticeship model made about a billion times more sense than the lecture, study, and test model of education currently employed by the university system. I'm sure you're bound to get a few snake oil salesman if we go back to the old way - but has anybody looked around /lately?/

Blue said...

Split the actual link to the blog post off into its own comment in case you don't want to publish it, which I'll completely understand. My blog's usual subject is rather risque. ^^;;

Rita said...

About 25 years ago I was reading up on osteopathic medicine. At the time the majority of osteopaths were GPs. The book I was reading said that when the legislature of a Midwestern state was considering funding a new medical school they learned that the majority of graduates with an MD go on to become specialists. The real need in the state was for GPs, so they decided to fund an school of osteopathy instead. This probably couldn't happen now.

My childhood doctor had originally trained as an osteopath because he decided on a medical career late in life (30s rather than 20s) and could not get into a conventional medical school. This would probably have been in the 1940s sometime. At some point California had put some kind of restrictions on the DO but grandfathered all the practicing DOs as MDs. As a kid I had no idea of the distinctions--I just loved being left in the examining rooms that had wonderfully gory medical illustrations instead of the Disney cutouts that modern pediatricians plaster on the walls.

It is also interesting that one of the medical shows my mother was watching on TV has a plot thread involving a hospital being sued because the emergency room doctor overruled a cancer patient's "do not resuscitate" order because he can get her into a trial of yet another promising treatment. Wish there was some way to do a survey of audience reaction.

Ron M said...

Hi, JMG. Stimulating posting – as usual.

Regarding “death by doctor”, one of Canada’s national newspapers (The Globe and Mail) recently published an article that stated that in a public survey, people estimated that about 500 patients die per year in Canada due to medical errors – while the actual number in 2014 was 30,277. The latter figure is greater than total deaths by stroke, diabetes, Alzheimers’ and kidney disease in the same year. Very sad statistic.

Iuval Clejan said...

I want to move to the Lakeland republic. The last straw was repeating the Michaelson Morley experiment, you had me salivating on that one. I also liked the Frankens' messing around with masers. If you don't want to be accused of being utopian (which usually means unable to see and make tradeoffs), can you mention something that doesn't work in your utopia, or that works better in the Atlantic Republic? And by "works" I mean works for people's well being, not just for better machines.

Unknown said...

You have me trying to figure out how to convince the powers that be at the tech school where I teach to allow me to recreate Pasteur's famous proof of biogenesis with swan necked flasks. They're not really into open flames in the laboratory anymore. We did make yogurt this semester, which went over very well--Gram staining the product and finding Acidophilus and Streptococcus species was the highlight of the semester so far.

pygmycory said...

Sorry Onething:
MSP stands for Medical Services Plan. It is BC's health insurance. It's mandatory and publicly run. You can get additional health insurance privately if you want, but most people don't, though they may get dental insurance.

As for the doctor shortage, I'd also really like to know why. I managed to find a family doctor eventually last year after my walk-in clinic shut down, but I don't really trust her very much and I'm stuck with her. I think part of the problem is that doctors can easily leave for the US, where they can make a lot more money. I asked that nurse friend of mine what she thought was causing it, and she said the doctor's salaries are too low to compensate properly for the amount of responsibility they have and the resulting stress. The population in BC is also older than the Canadian average, so there's higher need per capita for medical care.

There's some articles on the issues from CBC below.

111DFC said...

Hi JMG. Another great post

Could Cuba outperform Lakeland Republic?

Cuba had also a strong “catabolic collapse”, when in 1991 suddenly lost almost all the oil, fertilizers, pesticides (and others chemicals) and all the food imports (80% of the Cuban intake), now, from some years ago they have more calories intake than before the “special period”, and Cuba is self-reliant in food production based almost completely on organic farming, this is not anymore an organic “experiment” or a “bubble” after 25 years. In 2013 FAO says all the poor countries should learn from the Cuban example (I think also the developed countries should)

I was there in 1995 and around the Habana landscape there were thousands of small allotments (huertos) near the tall buildings (like in the cover of one of your books)
They use around 10 times less energy per capita than US, but they have a higher life expectancy and with a tiny fraction of health care expenditure; not to mention the much lower rate of chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, ADHD, autism, Alzheimer, cholesterol, Crohn syndrome, fibromyalgia, depression, severe drug addiction, etc…

Mother nature is very generous if you treat her as she deserves, and really we do not need too much to live

About learning, always the best system have been “Upanishad” (sitting next to the master, in sanskrit), because there are thousands of non-verbal valuable learning in the process that are missed in the “modern” way, a lot even non-conscious

My father was a "village" doctor from 1950 to 1988 in Spain (Andalucia), we are 7 brothers and all of us were born in my house with the only help of my father, who help birth some thousands people more in almost 40 year of profession, in few case there were real complications.

No, you do not need a very complex health care system to have a enough high life expectancy or a healthy life, because, as my father said, what really “cure” the disease is the body itself, because the life is so extremely complex system that you cannot “tune” the solution with drugs, only try to help the body in a soft way. He considered the drugs as “drugs”, and dangerous ones, so he prescribed them as “last resorts”, that was not a popular policy then and much less would be today, but I think is the right one (I try to follow this rule by myself)

Thanks for your job (or craftmanship)

Edgar said...

As a physician I can attest that practical knowledge is as important as theory, at least as a GP. I think starting out as A GP is a good idea and that is essentially how it works in some countries. Im still sort of an apprentice after eleven years and will be for another three or four. This is the way it works in most places, although people usually dont understand it. To be a fully functional and independent physician takes a looong time. Incidentally mr Carr doesnt need a doctor at all, its a waste of resources. He needs basic knowledge of self care, which is probably taught in all lakeland schools. I love these posts, by the way!

thecrowandsheep said...

Many a day would I have begged for a house visiting doctor.

But no, like everyone else I've had to drag my Rumsfeld out of bed, find a doctor, get to the doctor, sit in the stuffy waiting room full of other sicklings to be christened with their infections as well while hoping I remain approximately vertical with seat or no seat for hours until I do end up seeing the doctor to explain to them inside of two minutes flat my symptoms and then having to work out whether they themselves are not talking out of their McNamara and then deciding whether the medicine they prescribe me won't actually make me sicker; if not, going to get the medicine and then finding out it is not currently stocked, so very sorry about that and I will have to come back later to pick it up and be told again about the elaborate dosage procedure cause I am not sure if it is the fancy green pills I take twice a day, or is it the yellow ones only once, or the other way around; god I have not the slightest idea what is actually in these pills, so reading the enclosed product description pages long in fine print one finally comes to the listing of the side effects to be almost disappointed to read an exploding head only in 1 of 100,000 cases.

Janet D said...

JMG, who said, "Nathan, of course it all sounds so sensible. Now ask yourself this: however did people get by fifty years ago without all that? And has adding in all that actually improved things, or the opposite?"

Having completed a M.Ed. degree (about 4-5 years ago), I can attest to it's overall worthlessness. However, I don't think it's fair to expect that today's school environment could ever have the pared-down environment of 50 years ago, due to the huge amount of social decay that has occurred in that time frame(which dramatically impacts the students).

The number of learning disabilities has skyrocketed (and, while people love to say that it's just due to diagnosis, it isn't...I think environmental toxicity is to blame, but whatever the cause there are a lot more kids who have tremendous problems learning than when I was a kid in the 70's. These require paperwork/meetings/etc). The impact of the high number of kids who have these life-threatening allergies where they can literally be alive and fine one minute and dead the next after touching something that had a trace of peanut (or whatever) on it is huge. The impact of the number of kids who sat in my classroom that came to school hungry, with inadequate clothing, with some huge melodrama going on at home (divorce, drugs, violence, homelessness, 20 people living in a 2-bedroom apt, etc...all things my students regularly experienced was huge - these situations ensured their minds were everywhere but the classroom and in the years I taught, these students comprised ~50% of my class (and I wasn't inner city). The increase in the number of parents who sue or threaten to sue is huge (a "friend" of mine actually just did this), thus requiring a substantial trail of paperwork for every student, etc. etc. And let's not even discuss NCLB and mandated testing.

In many cases, the school districts are just playing catch-up with trying to meet these drastic changes in student needs, as well as meeting burdensome legislative requirements or CYA from lawsuits. Having taught, my personal opinion is that societal failure has far more to do with the failure of the public schools than any other single factor. Not that anyone ever discusses this.

onething said...

JMG said, "RepubAnon, where I live, the handful of GPs are all near retirement and no new ones are entering the business, but there are lots of high-priced specialists. I hear that same situation discussed by people who live elsewhere in the country, so I'm far from sure you're right."

What's going on is that when you go to a clinic there is a doctor or two who oversee things and also see some patients, but it is generally staffed by nurse practitioners and physician's assistants. In the hospital, more and more, the patients are admitted to the hospital service under the management of an internist known as a hospitalist. But physician's assistants see many or most of the patients as well as managing problems overnight. The PAs are very good and they collaborate with the doctors in a similar way to an apprentice, so over time they become pretty knowledgeable. Seeing an actual doctor can be a bit luxurious, but at the same time if you stub your toe, the toe specialist is called in, if you have a kidney doctor but have a problem with your bladder, the urologist is called in, you might have up to 3 different kinds of cardiologists, and the hospitalists defer to all those other specialties to do most decisions, tests, prescriptions. I'm sure this layer of doctors increases costs. If you have a cardiologist and are having chest pain, instead of being admitted under the care of your cardiologist, they go ahead and admit you under the care of the hospitalist, who calls your cardiologist in as a consultant.

onething said...

"One of the reasons I'm less than convinced by Sanders -- though he's infinitely preferable to Clinton, I grant! -- is that he's still pushing some very large elements of the salary class agenda, such as even more subsidies for a corrupt and bloated academic industry."

I don't know at this point that I will vote at all, but it occurs to me that of all the candidates, Sanders might be the only one who is an actual human. I'm not sure what the others might be, lizards, androids, walk-ins or what have you.

Jack Ellis said...

Apologies for the garbled post above, caused by trying to rant into a text box the size of my thumb print. There's a lesson in there, either about rants or text boxes, if I was smart enough to see it.

onething said...


"Personally, I wouldn't touch the current medical system with a ten foot tongue depressor. I know it fairly well and have had a couple of disastrous medical experiences in my time. Generally, I avoid it. I guess my point is that natural healing modalities, which can be very powerful, require a lot more of us as patients to manage our own health and lifestyle. It won't be so easy in future, say, to live a life of stress and bad diet and then get a couple of stents slapped in to prop up failing arteries, or to have a tumor removed surgically. As with personal energy descent where we need to get used to doing more ourselves and using less energy, with healthcare descent we need to get used to taking better care of ourselves and expecting fewer heroic interventions."

Oh, I just reacted to the suggestion that they were any good at cancer, which is their biggest failing in my opinion. I wonder, re the above, if people in the past were really more proactive toward their own health than they are now, or if there were just as many careless people who simply died younger of it than they do now.

Susan Roberts, MDiv, OTR/L said...

I look forward to reading this blog every week. JMG you have been an inspiration and I've started serializing my own book The Biomechanics of Spiritual Healing. So fitting to do it after this wonderful post of yours. I have a link to this blogpost on my website blog. I'd send a link but can't figure out how to make it work. My website is susanlroberts Thanks for stimulating my creative thoughts every week.

John Michael Greer said...

Mustard, er, remember that the first half of the title of this story is "retro." The point of the thought experiment is to look at things from the American past that would work considerably better than what we have in the American present, and tax-funded medical care isn't there in the source material, you know.

Alexandra, elderflower? Why, yes. ;-) The abolition of the humanities is well under way in American academia, too, though it's as driven as much by the flight of the disciplines in question into into self-referential irrelevance as anything else. The humanities as once understood and practiced -- the humaniores litterae, as Petrarch would have said -- are all but extinct in American universities; all that remains is the hauling away of the corpse.

Damo, that's what happens when a society loses track of the fact that it actually needs to encourage people to get useful jobs and do productive work. One of the themes of the Retrotopia series is that the luxury to ignore that need is a thing of the past.

Myosotis, find something else to do with your time that interests you more. That's usually the best way to get out from under an unproductive habit.

Emmanuel, good. In point of fact, the monopoly laws are basically no longer enforced in today's America -- if they were, Amazon would be shut down overnight for its blatantly monopolistic behavior -- and soaring prices, plunging quality, and kleptocratic profiteering by the top end of the salary class are the inevitable results.

Stuart, as noted above, the point of this thought experiment is to explore ways in which things from the American past would work better than the corresponding things in the American present. I'm not a great fan of government-managed health care, though of course it's considerably better than what we've got in the US today -- almost anything would be better than what we've got in the US today -- but more to the point, it's not the way things were done back when we had some of the best health care on the planet, thus isn't relevant to this narrative.

Damo, please try to find that! I'd be very interested to see it.

Morgenfrue, as noted above, almost anything would be better than the health care we have in the US today. We have the most expensive health care on the planet, and also the worst health care by far in the industrial world -- by some measures of public health, in fact, the US is worse off than some Third World countries.

Ben, I'd happily take your dad as my GP! I hope the drug company reps ("reptiles," as I've heard them called) occasionally land on the street with a bootprint on their backsides.

YCS, got it in one! One of the core agendas of the modern religion of progress is that people have to be replaced by machines -- that's just so much more progressive! -- and since machines are, by definition, stupid (I'll get to the logic behind this statement in an upcoming post), technostupidity is the natural outcome.

Damaris, no argument there.

John Michael Greer said...

Jack, of course universities are filters. That's why the salary class always supports making a university degree a job requirement -- that filters out competition from the wage class.

Andrew, good! Notice the way that faith in progress makes it impossible to fix a mistake of this sort once it's been made; "we can't go back," and so even though the new system is much worse than the old one, people keep on doubling down on the exact features of the new system that make it worse. There's a better way...

Caryn, I've heard that from others. I hope there's some way to remedy that, or that whole generation is going to be in a world of hurt.

Phil, no, a lot of glass thermometers use dyed alcohol instead of mercury.

Barry, that's certainly a large part of the reason!

Daniel, exactly. The creeping bureaucratization of every job is a common feature of societies in decline, by the way.

Agent, many thanks for this. Yes, I've built radios from scratch, including the razor-and-safety-pin variety.

Buddha, congratulations! Go ye forth and triumph.

Helix, combining physics and shop classes is a really good idea -- many thanks.

Unknown, you might want to do a bit of research before jumping to conclusions like that. The system I've outlined was extremely common in early 20th century America and worked quite well; the citizens' groups, of course, pool money from their membership to hire a GP. (Fraternal lodges such as the Masons, Odd Fellows, etc. did that as a matter of course until the AMA shut the whole thing down.)

Unknown (other Unknown?), a lot of poor and nonwhite denominations in the US still do apprenticeships for their clergy, though a few years at a bible college sometimes gets in there too.

Toomas, thanks for this; I'll consider those as possibilities, though the Millican oil drop experiment sounds like the best of the various options at first glance.

234567, yes, I've seen what happens when a patient tries to have a discussion with a doctor, as opposed to sitting there adoringly attending to every word the doctor says. There's an apposite joke: "What's the difference between God and a doctor" God doesn't think he's a doctor."

Angus Wallace said...


I mentally corrected "inter-American" to "intra-American" and then thought -- no! inter is right ;-)

I was thinking more about your post from last week. Even if there is a solar PV bubble and it bursts, it doesn't mean that solar PV can't power (an) industrial society -- all it means is that market speculation has resulted in the misallocation if resources.

Cheers, Angus

ptor said...

By the way, seems that people across the ocean from the Lakeland Republic are thinking of ways to bring down drones...

John Michael Greer said...

Mike, thank you. That's definitely worth considering.

Myriad, hmm. I modeled Carr's illness very precisely on illnesses I've had, which I have every reason to think were cases of influenza. (As the doctor said, if you can keep a secondary infection from getting under way in the upper respiratory tract or chest -- those are where the oceans of multicolored snot come in -- it's over pretty quickly.) Many thanks for the link!

August, so noted and thank you.

Brian, exactly. That's one of the many things that motivate this thought experiment.

Nastarana, sounds like a very good option -- I recall reading that herbs are among the plants that allow people to make decent money on small acreages.

Yanocoches, somehow medical practitioners and public health officials managed to provide quite a high level of health care in early to mid-20th century America within the sort of framework I've sketched out. It might be interesting to do some research into why those seem to have been so much less of a problem than they appear to be these days.

Neo Tuxedo, all the doctors had to do to prevent that was hire an answering service -- those were common, readily available, and fairly cheap -- and having them screen calls between 10 pm and 8 am. No, what happened was that the AMA got laws passed making all other forms of health care illegal and made it as difficult as possible to get a medical license, in order to drive up the income of its members and get rid of annoying burdens such as house calls. It was all very up front, too -- check out the editorials Morris Fishbein wrote as editor of JAMA in the middle years of the 20th century.

Blue, thanks for these!

Harvester, thanks for this -- I've heard the same thing over and over again in many different professions.

Blue, exactly. You do what you can do, a step at a time.

Dammerung, good. That's exactly it, isn't it? It's easy to point to potential or actual problems with older systems, but compared to what we have now...

Blue, heh. Caveat lector and all that.

Rita, no, they couldn't do that now -- the AMA would have their hides. The mere fact that more GPs would actually meet a need doesn't enter into the equation, of course.

Anthony Romano said...

"Notice the way that faith in progress makes it impossible to fix a mistake of this sort once it's been made; "we can't go back," and so even though the new system is much worse than the old one, people keep on doubling down on the exact features of the new system that make it worse. There's a better way..."

I recently started reading Moby Dick and what JMG said in the quote above reminds me of young Ishmael's thoughts as his voyage is about to begin in earnest...

"But when a man suspects any wrong, it sometimes happens that if he be already involved in the matter, he insensibly strives to cover up his suspicions even from himself. And much this way it was with me. I said nothing, and tried to think nothing."

Melville seems to have captured something essential about human nature here that explains much of our current predicaments.

Mark said...

Onething, re whether in the past people were more attentive to their own health. Probably been a pretty mixed bag down through the ages, humans being human. Although it was probably more difficult to get hold of a 7×7 Steakburger ‘n Fries in 14th century Europe :-)

John Michael Greer said...

Ron, such stats as I've seen -- and just try getting detailed, up-to-date stats on the number of people killed by medical care in the US! -- suggest that iatrogenic (doctor- and medical care-caused) death is the leading cause of death in the US, ahead of heart disease, cancer, or anything else.

Iuval, er, this is a utopian narrative: in other words, a collection of things that would work better than what we have now. If you've read, say, Ernest Callenbach's Ecotopia, you'll notice the same thing -- it's all an improvement. That's the point of the genre. Others, in the conversation thus started, can critique this or that part of the package; the initial task of the utopian narrative is to make a case for a better way of doing things.

Unknown, nice! I like the idea of Gram staining yogurt, too.

111DFC, good question. You'll doubtless have noticed that I surreptitiously borrowed some things from recent Cuban history for the backstory of Retrotopia.

Edgar, oh, granted, but here again, a house call from a doctor used to be routine in cases like this.

Sheep, funny. I particularly like the use of politicians' names as expletives...

Janet, I wish I could argue. The problems with the public schools are a microcosm of the problems with American society in general, no question.

Onething, I'm almost terrified to speculate about what the current crop of candidates are when they take off their human masks! ;-)

Susan, you're welcome and thank you. Remember that you can always just post the URL in text, as in -- it's easy for readers to cut and paste that into the right place in their browser.

John Michael Greer said...

Angus, I never said that the bubble proved that PV couldn't power an industrial society. That's a different matter, suggested by the other sites and stats I cited. The bubble is simply part of the scenery on the way down.

Ptor, yes, I saw that!

Anthony, that's one of the reasons literature matters; a good novel, any good novel, has a lot to teach about the world -- and Moby Dick is a very, very good novel.

Justin said...

Onething, yes, it is bizarre. We have Rodan the flying Secretary of Something, the Champion of College, an actual robot, a guacamole chef, an evangelical Cuban-Canadian-American and well, The Donald. I do confess to wanting to see The Donald say "You're Fired!" to the privileged classes metastasizing out of DC.

More on subject, I've heard it said that North America has long been divided between the Red Tribe and the Blue Tribe. The Red Tribe grows our food, fights our wars, works in our dwindling industries and collects our garbage. The Blue Tribe goes to college, occupies our remaining cushy office jobs, controls the media, and elects Republican and Democrat alike. The priest-politicians of the Republicans do pay lip service to a predominately white subclass of the Red Tribe in the same way that the democrat-shamans pay lip service to the browner subclasses of the Red Tribe (and actually convince many of them that they are temporarily embarrassed members of the Blue Tribe).

Unfortunately, the Red Tribe has been accepting converts from the Blue Tribe, and their new warlord, Donald the Unstumped, has been gathering quite the warband.

My round-about point is that what you described as the 'Suicide of the American Left' (it would be more accurate to say they cut out their still-beating heart and laid it on the altar of progress) is most evident in education and in the crisis of masculinity facing Western nations. Two generations of teaching men that their highest aspiration should be to move bits of real or imagined paper around have not had a particularly great result. Something has to change. It seems to me like the most important thing a society can do to stay stable is channel the energy of its young men in at worst, a harmless direction if not a constructive one. Once you realize this, the Pyramids look like an alternate take on football or Scouting. The modern approach of telling its young men that their excess energy is bad and just a figment of their privileged imaginations is well, suicidal. Blue Tribe is forging a sword that it loudly insists is a spork - which I'm sure it will do in increasingly shrill terms until it finds that sword in it's belly. Interesting times await.

Neo Tuxedo said...

Somehow, I'm not terribly surprised to learn that the AMA had something to do with it. I've had a distrust for them ever since I learned they were the ultimate source of the "Public health insurance: Communist Trojan horse in our hospitals" meme (not usually phrased that baldly, mind you; more often with the [relative] subtlety of Reagan's warning about the dangers of Medicare back in 1964). And on that cheerful note, I'm going to have to stop tracking this thread, as being too lively for my inbox. Take care, everyone!

Patricia Mathews said...

@Mark: in 14th Century Europe, some of the things on the tables of the nobility were almost as bad as the supersized steak and fries. Maybe even worse: they piled on the spices for ostentation as well.

@JMG: re Carr's illness, I think we're looking at terminology here. I've had uncountable bouts of these 24-hour illnesses. I've always heard them called "That bug that's going around" or "that virus that's going around", depending on how precise the speakers like to think they're being. We pretty much reserve the term "flu" for the full-on two weeks of utter misery except for the term "stomach flu" meaning any GI problems. I think this may be a regional thing.

Pat, down in the high desert country. Where curandismo is quite prevalent.

beneaththesurface said...

The end part of this week's Retrotopia post--that explains how an apprenticeship is the most common way to enter a profession, and mentions colleges getting out of the job credential business--particularly resonated with my experience.

At the library system where I work there are three kinds of public service positions, very much defined by the amount of schooling required. Technicians (who mainly do shelving and circulation tasks) require just a high school degree. Associates (my job position, where I work reference desks, do a little programming and other tasks similar to librarians but have less responsibility) require a college degree. Librarians must have a Masters degree in Library/Information Science from an ALA-accredited institution.

When I started working this job 2 1/2 years ago, I had no plans to pursue a Masters. Despite having become more interested in libraries, I've become even more turned away from pursuing a Masters. The thing is, the public can't tell the difference between us "associates" and "librarians." When I started my job, the responsibilities of associates vs. librarians were a lot more fluid. Unfortunately, more recently my manager created rigid roles for each job title. One of my co-workers without a Masters, who has worked for our system for 7 years, doing similar amounts and quality programming as librarians, suddenly found that she was discouraged from doing tasks that she used to capably do simply because of new rules associated with her job title. She was so upset about this she was in tears.

I've had the experience of librarians fresh out of library school coming to work in my department having had little library work experience prior. I find that associates, despite their lower job title, are teaching them some skills! I also find that associates are sometimes more knowledgeable in certain fields than librarians, maybe because they have more free time to read or have more diverse work backgrounds?

For most of library history, there was no such thing as "library school" required to become a librarian. You had to be a serious scholar or take an apprenticeship to become a librarian. I would like to see some aspect of those old patterns return. Many librarians cringe at that suggestion because they see it as a threat to how they've invested in their career; this is a common response: I also find that I think more critically about contemporary libraries than my co-workers with Masters degrees. Maybe it's partly just because of who I am, or my background in other fields that allows me to ask "forbidden" questions, but some of it I attribute to having less schooling. I think independently, not having been indoctrinated into the accepted orthodoxy of professional opinion.

I do think having a deeper knowledge of the library field is important to complement day-to-day skills; I'm not against demanding standards of intellectual rigor for those entering the profession. However, I think there could be other ways to value this that don't involve going into massive debt and propping up academic institutions going in a delusional direction. In small ways I have tried to pursue a different path, though I wish I had more of a support structure. For example: Every year at work I have to pick a personal goal of my choice. This past year, I decided to learn more about library, book, and printing history, and how they has shaped human thought and culture. My co-worker lent me her syllabus for a course she took, "The History of the Book," which gave me some ideas for resources, but I designed my own course of study, picking the books I wanted to read, pursuing the questions that mattered most to me, participating in a letterpress printing apprenticeship, a bookbinding workshop, and communicating with rare book scholars. I have gained much insight into library history, but all on my own, for a fraction of the cost of a Masters level course. But I don't have a transcript to show for it.

LewisLucanBooks said...

Mr. Greer - Way back in the late 60s, I took some of the prerequisites for, eventually, getting into the Master of Library Science program. This was at the U. of Washington, by the way. I think the first class I took was something called "Libraries and Society." A very plain speaking instructor told us that librarianship had become a Masters program because ... librarians wanted the professional respect (and status), accorded to doctors and lawyers.

Well, I never entered the MLS program. Heck, I didn't even bother finishing my BA. But, I didn't do too bad in library land. It really depended on the administration of whatever system I was working in. Some were hard line "you-have-to-have-a-degree" people, and others were much more flexible in taking account of actual experience.

And, since, at 15, I had gone out to run a rural branch, on my own, while the "librarian" was on vacation .. well, I had experience. My last experience in library land was as a on-call substitute clerical. For a 5 county regional system. If I worked in the big branches, it was "check them in and check them out and if anyone needs directions to the bathroom, refer them to a librarian." In the smaller rural branches, however, I was often "building head." Not that that was reflected in my wages :-).

Along the way, I took a few on-line classes. Picked and choose what would be useful to me. Children's Literature, Young Adult Literature, three reference courses. I even took cataloging. Paid for it myself. Wasn't too expensive. At that time, University of Main didn't charge any more for an out of state online student, than an in state student. I took the classes to be a more valuable employee, and to be of more use to the library users. Lew

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Onething, I have seen a couple of clips from TV interviews of GOP candidate John Kasich, and he appears (to me) to be a human being.

John Michael Greer said...

Justin, oh, I know. I tend to think that one of the things that makes civilization work is that it gives something for young men to do other than make trouble. Hauling big stones to build pyramids for the greater glory of the pharaoh is no sillier than any other adolescent male activity -- did you know that Egyptologists have found graffiti on building stones left by the work gangs, saying the equivalent of "Team Heliopolis Rules!"? It's also documented that they were paid in rations of bread, onions, and beer. Might not be a bad precedent to follow... ;-)

Neo, understood! I have to track the threads, for obvious reasons, and my inbox groans under the burden from time to time.

Patricia, you're probably right. The way I learned it is that fever and muscle ache define it as flu, and whether you go on to two weeks of misery depends on keeping the mucus membranes from getting a secondary infection, usually bacterial.

Beneath, I'm really brooding at this point over how to break the stranglehold of the universities on so many professions, librarians among them.

Lew, I wonder if the librarians who thought they'd get the same status as doctors and lawyers realized that no, they'd just pay lots of money for a degree nobody else cares about.

Mark Rice said...

Regarding the retro medical care:
There is an irrational side of me that wants access to all the modern medical technology possible. This is in case I come down with a condition that only this technology can solve.

On a rational level I know this is wrong. I realize most of the medications people take lack efficacy and many do more harm than good. On a rational level I see that many of these high tech cures and treatments can cause more harm than good. I also see how expensive this is.

But I have a common modern ailment. I do not want to face my mortality. I want to believe us modern people can defeat death. But the truth of the matter is we are a long long way even extending the maximum life time much beyond what is was centuries ago.

Unknown said...

Re the flu, one of the most common causes of exacerbated illness is the use of anti-inflamatory medications to prevent the discomfort of fever. The fever has a prupose. The elevated temperature damages the structure of the virus and prevents its replication. From memory the term "telameres" was used to describe the particular part of the virus. All courtesy of a radio program heard while feeding the cows in the nice comfortable cabin of a tractor on a filthy winters day. Some progress is really worth hanging on to.

Go to bed, rug up warm, and drink plenty of fluids, wait a couple of days and then replace the bed clothes and wash the dirty linen.

On apprenticeships and degrees. I was working as a condition monitoring tech providing predicitive maintenance services to a GM Engine plant in Melbourne, Australia. The site had hired an intern whose thesis was on implementing those proceedures into a maintenance management system. We hit it off, and when I decided multinational corporates were fraudulent enterprises not worthy of my effort he was manipulated into a really good job for a graduate. We spent a couple of months bringing him up to speed, and his comment at the end of his first day on the business end of a vibration data collector was "f..k, now I know what they didn't teach us. Then he had to analyse the data we had collected. That I could do that with only a tradesmans experience did his head in. ( I had a number of consultants as clients who took my reports and rewrote them to make it look like they had done the work) He lasted twelve months, more or less and then got a job as an engineer at a very large global mutual insurer specialising in industrial insurance. That was a very smart move. He was, last time we caught up, Regional manager, well up the greasy pole. His comment on the time he spent in my role was that it was worth twenty years in any university. I also note that his favourite pastime was fourwheel driving, which he complains he does not get enough time to really enjoy. Meanwhile I get paid to do that every day I go to work. (while the diesel keeps flowing)

On another aspect of that discussion, today at the farm I work on, we received an invite to attend a training course on euthenaising cattle. $45 for the day, subsidized by levies the farm has to pay, 6 hours long, no practical demonstrations, and we would have to travel 2 hours to attend. All to receive knowledge that could have been transmitted via a single page email for a fraction of the cost of the postage and printing of the invitation. I guess it keeps the GDP growing, and that matters, doesn't it? Sarc off.

Thanks again for a valuable service to mankind.

eagle eye

Unknown said...

@Patricia Matthews
"I tried to grow feverfew, but the mourning doves got the plants"

This made me smile,... Feverfew grows like a weed in the garden by my bus stop - your comment got my attention because the bus stop is outside the local funeral directors :-)

Unknown said...

JMG, down here in Tasmania we are cursed with a polity nearly bad enough to make one want to slam tender parts of ones anatomy in a door rather than vote for them. I have taken to pointing out that expecting party politicians whose first act is one of conflicting their interests to deliver sound policy is an exercise in futility.

It occurs to me that the operation of most western democracies could be drastically altered for the better by the presence of an organisation devoted to educating voters of that truth, and promoting the need for clear thinking independent representatives who saw their role as representing the full range of their constituents views, needs, and concerns to the chamber of government, where the path forward would be determined by collegial debate, not partisan warfare. Who knows what sort of common myths and delusions could be shattered by a government formed by such an assembly.

I once tried to develop such an organisation in Tas, but those who attended the meeting either got it (20%) or wanted to place restrictions on the candidates they would support around policy. I gave up because I had more important family matters to contend with, and because I thought the timing was not quite there.

Time to go again, perhaps.

patriciaormsby said...

@Myosotis, I've had the same problem as you. I've loved books since childhood and chasing after factoids. I used to spend hours just looking at the dictionary! The Internet is nerd heaven. Last year I realized I was spending too much time on the Net, and of course the advice here at ADR is to reduce screen time. To collapse properly, you have to get out in the field or start making lots of things by hand, or both. Also there is a lot to get done before the collapse really sets in and we lose the chance forever.
In my case, appalled at international treachery, I tend to spend way too long reading the news. So as a New Years sort of resolution, I took two steps. One was to choose one day a week and really go through the news then, but otherwise just glance at my in box and deal with stuff at hand. The other was to create a screen to block off my view of the TV, to which my husband is addicted. It was easy and my husband was helpful. Just a stiff sheet of plastic and couple of blocks of wood to hold it up. We didn't even need to buy anything.
This has done wonders for me. On Sundays I look at the news, and get so disgusted I go back to the taxes or my novel or sewing. Anything but more news.
I do make an exception for JMG and the comments here. They are worth at least scanning through. Lots of intelligent folks here discussing vital subjects. Nice community! (Yes, even though it's on-line and I will probably never have a chance to meet most of you.)

Cherokee Organics said...


Absolutely and way to go! I've known plenty of older accountants who received far more professional standing than I've ever enjoyed and most of them learned by... an apprenticeship. And they’re old curmudgeons too. Of course the apprenticeship system works, but they sold my generation down the river to keep their salaries high and it played into the hands of the voracious education industry – who lapped it up. The barriers that were raised to entry into the profession have simply been raised higher as time goes on and ever more layers of complexity get added. And the fees increase and the parasites become hungrier all of the time and they set the rules too. Aren't they clever? If they want a pay rise they just come up with a new complexity and I have to jump through new hoops, and/or they consume some of my existing income...

I'm unsure where it is all going, but I decided to take an avenue that few people in my profession were willing to take because it is considered low status and doesn't pay that well, but businesses actually need that job done. I tend to consider it a bad thing if I spend too much time in the office, as I try and spend as much time as I can in the businesses. But few in my profession actually see the world that way.

On an interesting side note, I mentioned this to you a long time ago, but I'm occasionally contrary and in my last place of full time employment long ago, I actually bucked the entire system and took on a very talented accounts person as an apprentice - who hadn't been to University and they are still working there today. And you know the funny thing about it? The business needed that apprentice far more than the profession needed to maintain its hubris. I had to fight tooth and nail to get the idea across the line too from most directions - even though it was clearly in their best interests. And years later I was at a first birthday party (they're like a form of torture to me) and someone that by coincidence was working there thought that it was OK to question me about my decision - even after many years of outstanding work by that individual.

Pah. The system as it stands is a massive scam and it eats lives and resources that would be better utilised elsewhere. Many of the older professionals got to enjoy their younger years and never had the burden of responsibility of having to juggle full time work and part time study for more than a decade. Because you have to get a post graduate nowadays to practice too.

So much corporate training has been outsourced onto the individuals - it makes me angry. Grump, grump, grump! And don't start me about people taking two week courses and claiming they understand the pain of doing an entire undergraduate degree and then coming to me and asking me for more money (that happened in a past employment life and the IT industry stinks of it - you'd be surprised what employers want to do to them...)

Oooo. I'm seriously ranting and raving! It felt very cathartic.

I enjoyed the story too and the medical industry isn't too bad down here - and the government bulk buys pharmaceuticals because they're all to aware of the desire for profit.



PS: I've got a new blog entry up: A Spanikopita in the works. Anyway, I thought that the title was very clever because I was writing about the declining standards in the industrial food system as there has been a significant problem here this week. More berries were gleaned this week. It was hot again - boring, but important. I start to make a batch of soap. It is so easy, why aren't you all doing that? Hmmm. Answer me that one, people? I show lots of bee stuff and also the result of a bee sting to the face (not good). Cleaning out the chimney flue for the wood heater. Lots of good stuff and cool photos.

Allexis Weetman said...

I really enjoyed the story this week. Hands on experiments in science class were the high point of my school day back in the 20thC. I also liked your idea of a network of doctors paid for on a local level. Less vulnerable to political meddling than the british NHS, sad but true.

Off topic I wondered if there is any place where I can see a list of ADR posts by name and date. I wanted to read again a series of posts you did where you "interview" people living in successive periods of the future about their daily lives. I enjoyed it and wanted a second read but cant find it in this ocean of words.

PRiZM said...

It's heartening to see the prospect of less technology in the classroom and more hands-on, experiential learning. A few days ago I ran across this article in The Atlantic discussing how children are filled with tons of ideas but have never been taught how to express them. One of the key reasons for this has been identified as modern day communication, ie: SmartPhones, Twitter, and Instant Messaging, all which encourage communication through simple, dumb-downed, short sentences.

While reading it, I felt a bit encouraged that people are aware of the problem.. but towards the end I see them still wanting to help resolve the problem by still using technology.

Damo said...

Hi JMG and others,

The paper I mentioned (life expectancy in Victorian England) can be found here:

It is a great read!


Tripp said...

Oh man, this one really hits home for me. My wife and I have been making herbal medicines for ourselves and then our children for quite a long time, and took some of those formulations public 5 years ago when we started our craft show/farmers market apothecary Small Batch Garden (also the name of my blog). We don't diagnose, prescribe, or formulate medicines per request; we just sell the handful of products we've had great success with, and make a decent side living at it, too. For now.

But the FDA's position on herbal medicine finally crossed over into Draconian territory last year, so much so that we removed any internet exposure our little company had. We figured it would be a lot harder for them to shut us down if we didn't just walk into their sting operation with our wrists held out waiting for the handcuffs!

Then with our herbal insect repellent we deal with the EPA, which doesn't really mind herbal bugsprays, so long as you only use ingredients on their pre-approved list. Which doesn't happen to include 2 of the ingredients in ours (get this): witchhazel solution and lavender essential oil! Of all the things that can make a herbal bugspray work, I've found these two to be crucial, and about as benign as it gets. (Hmmm, maybe they know that.) Our bugspray is as good as Deep Woods Off!, but so yummy in comparison that you might just choose to wear it as perfume, too, instead of feeling like you need to walk through an industrial car wash after application!

THEN, 2 years ago my brother's wife left her high-stress corporate insurance job and went to herbalist school to become a clinical herbalist, and now tries to play the role of expert when talking with us. Jesus, the holier-than-thou alphabet soup game irritates me. Never mind that we've been living in the middle of an ecological garden for most of a decade now, or that we used most of these plants regularly for another decade before that! Or that hundreds of people have ranted and raved about our products (not that we're allowed to use testimonials in our business - that's considered drug fraud now!) for half a decade.

Go to school, get the letters to dangle behind your name, and then go to your real job, which apparently is to pour scorn on anyone who doesn't do it the "right" way! (aka the salary class-filtered way.) I'm glad my only credential is a "BS," which I'm not likely to add to my signature any time real soon!! Hehehe.

Oh, and I never took a permaculture design course either, but that's never stopped me from practicing permaculture! (Or using the word formally if I need to.)


Tripp said...

Oh, and JMG, by the way, I'm almost finished with your book on polytheism, and you have me convinced! Your arguments, as usual, are impeccable, and well-supported. Man, of all the worldviews I've pondered in my life, "polytheist" is not one I expected to ever cross my path, much less stick to the wall! A logical religious view based on reciprocity and mutual respect? Didn't know that such an animal existed...


K.M. said...

Dear JMG,

Try this paper:

Inexpensive Michelson Interferometer, by Eric F. Cave1 and Louis V. Holroyd1. American Journal of Physics 23, 61 (1955).

Abstract: "The construction and operating characteristics of a Michelson interferometer designed on kinematic principles are outlined. The main components are ground steel dowel pins and ball bearings which are commercially available. The construction requires only a moderate amount of mechanical skill. Preliminary results indicate that the device is quite suitable for use in the undergraduate optics laboratory."

Yes, that's from 1955; and uses a photo-multiplier tube (1950's tech that is still in heavy use today) as a detector. It's compact -- even more so if you update to a laser. Recommend a good solid steel plate for a base and don't use it on the 2nd floor of a building, try a slab foundation or basement. As other people have mentioned, it's really a bit much for younger students (especially to DO the experiment rather than just count fringes etc). But it's a wonderful experience. Things go wrong. Things don't work. You have to figure out why and how to fix it. That's when students actually LEARN something. So any experiment you can put in your novel involving something going wrong, where students have to fix it -- that is educational gold. And rare in this day and age.

dagnygromer said...

It's not only in the fictional place that doctors are available and affordable. He's a link to a post from a friend of mine who moved to Mexico (it's in English)

Eric S. said...

“You'll doubtless have noticed that I surreptitiously borrowed some things from recent Cuban history for the backstory of Retrotopia.”

Hmm… Drawing attention to current events in Cuba makes me think of the last chapter, where Carr muses on the implications of the embargo lifting:

“Now that the embargo was over and the borders with the other North American republics were open, the isolation was gone, and I didn’t see any reason to think the Republic’s back-to-the-past ideology would be strong enough by itself in the face of the overwhelming pressures the global economy could bring to bear.”

I hadn’t considered at the time just how closely those thoughts echo those on a lot of minds as the Cuba embargo lifts: (,, There’s been a long, slow dismantling of the Organopónicos system since 2012, already, and it seems these latest developments are already causing the system to cave in the face of global economic pressure exactly the way Carr fears Lakeland will. Barring Cuba’s other problems, the Organopónicos system has always stood out as the only nationwide attempt that exists at present for dealing with an age of limits, and it’s produced some promising results, but right now its future looks pretty grim. Perhaps enough people will continue to practice the urban agriculture model out of habit and necessity even as the economy changes so that some of the techniques that have been developed there will pass to the next generations to be readily revived when they’re needed again. I wonder if Carr has enough memory of history to be able to draw comparisons with US/Cuba relations in 2016, and ultimately, I wonder how Lakeland’s future post-embargo will differ from current events? I’m reminded of a past essay on the timing of social change: . In which, you say:

“While modern industrial societies as they exist today probably can’t survive the end of constantly increasing energy supplies, the impact of peak fossil fuel production will likely drive the emergence of other forms of industrialism adapted to a world of diminishing fuel supplies – and while those supplies still exist, these neo-industrial societies will probably still be able to wield more economic and military force than ecotechnic rivals.

[…]In the near and middle future […] the societies that will be best able to flourish are precisely those that will be least able to survive over the long term. In the near term, societies that rely on the increasingly efficient use of the remaining fossil fuels, eked out with renewable resources and high technology, will likely do much better than either the wasteful dinosaur cultures of the present industrial period or the lower-energy cultures that will end up replacing them. ”

It seems, based on that passage, that what’s currently going on in Cuba, is that with the lifting of the embargo, the Cuban economy, and the tier of scarcity industrialism it’s adapted to is entering into competition with the abundance industrialism of the rest of the world, and being overrun, and technologies and systems like Organopónicos that are emergent ecotechnic systems, are being overrun by the modern abundance oriented agricultural system. So the question there is, what’s different in the Lakeland Republic’s era? (Assuming it succeeds, which… well it wouldn’t be much of a utopian novel if it didn’t) Is the answer to that question that it’s entering the world at just the right time, The Lakeland Republic maxing out at the tier 5 counties that represent a classic scarcity industrialist model, and an agricultural system that uses urban mixed-crop agriculture similar to Cuban Organopónicos, while the Eastern Republic is still using an abundance system in an age that no longer supports it, thus representing an ecological shift that hasn’t quite happened yet?

Candace said...

@ Lewis and others
I'm baffled. What is it that Librarians do that their failure would be the equivalent of a patient dying or going to jail for life? I admit I don't know what is involved with the profression. I've mostly thought of them as skilled, specialized clerical workers. Sorry for my ignorance!

Varun Bhaskar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rita said...

I find myself wondering how red and blue switched places in the political spectrum.
Red used to be the color of revolution--ultimately that of the Communist nations--redbaiting, dirty red, better dead than red, etc. And blue was the color of conservatism, as in true blue, Tory blue and so forth. It seems only recently have we started referring to conservative states in the US as 'red states' and liberal dominated states as 'blue.' Anybody have any clue how this happened? Given the emotive qualities of colors I can't help but feel this is important, but I can't put my finger on how or why.

thecrowandsheep said...

"I particularly like the use of politicians' names as expletives..."

JMG, you are welcome to use that particular technique in Retrotopia, e.g.:

After visiting the physics labs, Carr was taken to the school's dojo where the instructor was just wrapping up a self-defense class.

"...and remember kids, despite what you learned here today, if you are really struggling to shake of your attacker, don't be afraid to kick him in the Thatchers."

pygmycory said...

Calling drug reps reptiles is an insult to honest snakes, lizards and chelonians.

Cherokee Organics said...


Also, I forgot to mention that a lot of the things that I was expected to rote learn at University bore no relevance to the sorts of things which are actually useful in either business or public practice. Graduates are a lot of work and more or less have to undertake an apprenticeship before they are useful and productive. And that really annoys me because the system ate chunks of my life, and who are they to set the bar anyway? Honestly, if such a system were anything other than a barrier to entry, then feedback would go two ways, but it doesn't. Just sayin...

There is a weird thing with University too that has always troubled me. There was never a subject which discusses the role of Universities, their place in society and how to think clearly and how to actually practice the art of studying. I often wondered about that lack and it is certainly telling that they didn’t cover those issues.

The post graduate - which is required in order to gain professional standing - and run by the professional body was much more relevant to the real world and lived experience, but then why couldn't that learning simply be incorporated into the University under graduate course? And everyone wants their cut of your time and resources too. And they manage to maintain that cut on an ongoing basis through the requirements of continuing professional development minimum hours (40 hours per year) requirements which is measured in hours. And then a few years back a new scam developed whereby you attend a course which may go for 8 hours. You think you'd receive recognition for the full 8 hours. No, the course states that it only provides for say 4.5 hours recognition - even though it is an 8 hour course. I smell a rat!



Patricia Mathews said...

Re: barriers to entry. In the Middle Ages, I have totally forgotten when (unless this was an urban legend; I concentrated on the Early Period North) but it was plainly during a period of anti-female backlash, there was a decree (Papal?) that any woman who practiced medicine without having studied would be accounted a witch. And the universities were male-only. I do know that at one time the University of Bologna had been open to women; there was a noted physician named Trotula; and Edward III of England's Flemish Queen had a female Flemish physician.

And the English Physician's Guild both limited their numbers and set a bottom price that they would charge, a price which excluded all but the very rich.

BTW, nobody went after the village herbwives or the nunnery infirmarians, except in cases of very blatant malpractice, if then.

And 19th Century medicine was notorious for doctors experimenting on charity patients and on the insane; the notorious 20th Century Tuskegee syphilis study came at the very tail end of that period, late enough to become a scandal in the lifetime of the doctors.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Rita--I know exactly what produced the red/blue swap and noted it at the time, but the details have faded from my memory. It was a cover article on American politics in a major magazine, almost certainly either Atlantic or Harper's. The time since something happened tends to compress in my memory; I think it came out in the 1990s or possibly the 1980s. IIRC the cover art was a US map with color-coded states, no purple ones (that was a later development). The article got enough attention that other political commentators picked up its terminology. It's possible that the title of the article was "Red State, Blue State."

If anybody else remembers reading this article maybe they can supply further details to track it down. Or look for a first citation of the term "Blue State".

I noticed at the time that the color associations were unfamiliar, and I don't think a reason was given in the article. What I figured was that the authors did it deliberately in order to avoid implying that liberals are Commies or fellow travelers. Both Harper's and the Atlantic Monthly were slightly left of center editorially and they wouldn't want to do that.

Berserker said...

The colors are from TV election night maps-not standardized until about 20 years ago.
I'm sure the Democrats would have thrown a fit about being coded red...

Varun Bhaskar said...


People go into the university ignorant system and come out arrogant. The only way to break their stranglehold on so many professions is to start taking up said professions. Yes there will be consequences, but non-violent non-cooperation is the best way build a retro economy. View on the Ground will be taking up the challenge once we're in print. I'll hire and train apprentice journalists. It would be nice to know how to step up a good apprenticeship, maybe you can offer some advice?

*sorry about reposting this, I realized I missed a vital word while I was typing it last time.


Congratulations from Madison, I hope to soon cover Two Rivers shift toward retrotopia!



Caryn said...

@ Cherokee:

Argh! I've just 'Trumped'-up a batch of soap. Heading over to your site now to read and discuss.

I don't know why more people don't do it either. It's strangely addictive creative fun. It's also a gate-way-drug/craft. We make almost all of our cleaning and personal care items now and still experimenting with new ones.

latheChuck said...

Regarding the efficacy of modern medicine: I know of two women who were diagnosed within the last few years with stage-3 and -4 ovarian cancer. After a few months of surgery and chemotherapy, both are (apparently) cancer-free and back to living normal lives. Some months of recovery were needed to restore strength and energy. (Taxol and cisplatin stop cancer, essentially, by stopping cell reproduction. Cells in non-cancerous tissues survive longer, and so are less affected.) In the case with which I am most familiar, the medical staff seemed surprised and delighted that their patient actually performed the home-care activities as prescribed. "Most patients just expect us to do everything for them", I might have heard one say.

So, we enjoy ultrasonic imaging for diagnosis. General anesthesia for major abdominal surgery. Antiseptic surgical conditions. Trained and experienced medical staff. Chemotherapy that works. (Yeah, I know that taxol was originally extracted from a "taxus" (yew) tree.) Sterile single-use (plastic) IV plumbing. Blood tests for specific marker proteins, as well as lymphocytes and red blood cells. Powerful anti-nausea medications (though I hear that there's a effective herb for THAT).

As for the financial part of it, it's all a mystery. From the actual cost of consultations and treatments, to the billed costs, actual insurance payment (negotiated between provider and insurer), to implicit cost-sharing which provides some care to those unable to pay, who knows what's true? When you need treatment, you're in no position to haggle.

If you're planning to have cancer, NOW seems to be the very best time... not 25 years ago (when my first wife discovered the melanoma that killed her), and probably not 25 years from now (when morphine might just ease the pain).

william fairchild said...


When I read the intro to your story this week, I had a hunch you were headed to housecalls.

I am on the bubble of becoming an old fart, and I can remember them well. When I was a little boy in the early 70s, our family doctor (Dr. Bilotti) still made housecalls. And he was not a believer in fiddling about with oral antibiotics for days and days. If you came down with strep, you got a shot of penicillin in the arse to knock it out.

It has been decades since Drs. did housecalls. In fact, since Bilotti, we only had one Dr who did, Dr Connoly, who made a housecall to remove sutures after my wife's surgery. Even though our current Dr. must be seen in the office, we have been going to her for 14 years. There is a level of trust between the GP and the patient that is built up over time. This system of HMOs, clinics, urgent care, and rolling Drs. is dehumanizing and misses things. The system of housecalls was so much more humane.

Be careful with herbs, guys. Whilst herbs can be efficacious and are important, so is evidence based medicine. One of my wife's friends wanted her to drink black walnut tea. What she ended up needing was potent antifungals for a fungal infection in her lung. Just be careful, there are lots of snake oil salesmen out there.

Shane W said...

it'll be interesting what JMG has to say, but my guess is that Lakeland protects its economic system through vigorous tariffs and other regulations (remember, they've already fought off attempts @ regime change, and have repeatedly rebuffed the economists @ the IMF, World Bank, etc.) Remember, they also have tailpipe tariffs that apply to imported goods as well, so there's no incentive to offshore pollution.
from an internet search, the colors in the US are totally arbitrary, and the opposite of the rest of the Western world. I know that the official colour of the Conservative Party in Canada is blue, and the Liberal, red. In the US, TV networks used red & blue interchangeably for Democrats & Republicans, and different networks would use different color schemes even in the same year, up until 2000. The infamous 2000 Bush v Gore election is when the colors were locked into place, red--Republican, blue--Democrat, and, to my knowledge, it was totally arbitrary, and, as I've already said, in opposition to the rest of the Western world.
i'm working my way through the recommended reading list, that was also included in the ecology chapter in Green Wizardry, and I just finished Muddling Toward Frugality. I must say, a lot of your ideas are not as original as I once thought ;) I'm glad to know where you're coming from, and what influences your thinking--they are good reads! Oh, the promise that never was fulfilled in that promising time (70s)

LewisLucanBooks said...

@ Candace - What do librarians do? Well, from my observations, they spend a lot of time doing personal shopping on the internet. And, looking at cute cat pictures. They develop new programs, that, since they have no contact with the patrons, or the library workers who are "in the trenches", often have very bad unintended consequences. :-). They will also take non-degreed employees suggestions, say they are unworkable, and then implement them 6 months later, and claim them for their own.

On the other hand, I've known many fine librarians in my working career. Librarians who value their customers and get a real charge out of putting the right book, or, accurate information in the right hands. There's a little charge of energy that's exchanged when that happens. And, they are fed on it. I probably worked for two of the finest catalogue librarians, in the Pacific Northwest. They wanted their classifications of books to be 100% accurate. So you could find the book or material you were looking for. That's all mostly outsourced, now, to a big company called OCLC. They hire green librarians, fresh out of library school, keep as many of them part time (so they don't have to provide benefits) and pay them near minimum wage.

One of the finest children's "librarian", I knew, finally stopped going to children's library conferences. Even though he has been in the trenches, for years, and, raised a daughter as a single parent, he only had a BA ... and not in Library Science (now called "Information Technology", by the way.) He'd be having pleasant conversations about a successful program he had developed, and, when was asked where he got his library degree from, and it came out that he wasn't degreed, they'd turn their back on him and walk away.

In library land, you have more status as a librarian, if you don't work directly with "the great unwashed." The public. We had a regional head librarian, who wouldn't even say hello to a person, unless they had a library degree. She also added a whole layer of pointless management, just to employ more degreed librarians. They do take care of their own.

Then a new head librarian came in. She began by talking to EVERY employee in the library system. From the lowliest page to the delivery guys on the docks. She stripped out the layer of useless management. Oh, the howls! I think there was even a law suit or two. That went nowhere.

Not really related to "degrees", but a similar thing happened in the chain book business. It seemed like there was a slow swinging pendulum. Between "book people" and "bean counters." The bean counters would take over the home office, things would fall apart, and it was back to the book people, again. The bean counters ended up "winning", in the end.

Well, enough ranting. Thank you. I feel better :-). "Now tell us how you REALLY feel, Lew." :-)

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Coordinated Universal Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20160220T032457Z

Woops, sorry: Millikan measures charge of electron, not mass; and yes, this DOES seem viable as a school experiment.

I also realize now, thinking further, that direction of North (one of my suggestions for experiment) could be had without the worry about systematic error from Earth's rotation as one hangs a noon-day plumb line over a noon-day poured-wax horizontal. An astrocamera exposing a slow photo emulsion could be pointed to Polaris (the "Pole Star"). Polaris is close enough to the actual north celestial pole to describe an arc of conveniently small radius in the several-hours-long photo exposure. At the centre of this little arc is the exact north celestial pole, no matter how significant the plumb-line-perturbing centrifugal "force" might be in a rotating frame of reference fixed on Earth.

Finally, I now remember with a bit of a jolt that I was too swift in dismissing Thomson electron charge-to-mass-ratio as an experiment dangerous for schools. Prof. Malcolm Graham told us in 2nd yr physics lab at Univ of Toronto in the 1992-1993 academic year that when he was a boy in the tiny, and isolated, town of Parrsboro in Nova Scotia, an enterprising circa-1948 teacher of his got an oscilloscope from the Canadian military, and rigged it up (contrary to the actual design purpose of an oscilloscope) into a Thomson apparatus.

Thanks to several commentators for remarks on speed-of-light experiments!



GreenGoth said...

My grandmother, who went to nursing school in Missouri back before World War 1, had a working nurse's scorn for many of the doctors she had to work with over the years -- "The type who believed their 'M.D.' stood for 'Medical Deity'," she said. Whereas she had great respect for several of the rural GPs she worked with as a young nurse, who had an exam room in their homes and often went out to treat patients on remote farms. She was able to raise 5 kids alone in the Depression as a special duty nurse at Los Angeles's Children's Hospital with her 2 years of schooling and many more years learning at the side of experienced nurses and doctors.

We lost her to brain cancer in 1969; she'd be horrified at what the medical professions have become in the decades since.

GreenGoth said...

On another note, my husband proudly refers to himself as a "bastard engineer from a long line of bastard engineers", who has recently retired from a career of over 30 years as a transportation engineer specializing in electrical engineering and cutting-edge data collection technology. He worked his way up from testing into a job as a "junior engineering technician" after a sound math & science background in Catholic school and a couple years trying out several college majors completely unrelated to engineering. He learned on the job and through personal study, kept passing promotional tests until he reached Transportation Engineer, but couldn't progress further without a college degree and wasn't allowed to test for the Professional Engineer license. Going back to college for years while working full time and overtime, and raising a family, wasn't possible or desirable.

His father and grandfather became engineers the same way, back in the 1920s and 1940s, working up to become Resident Engineers in charge of building major highway projects. But the move to "professionalize" swept that path away, and now an engineering degree is essential to even be allowed to take the entry level tests to qualify for hiring interviews. Meanwhile, as before in his father's and grandfather's days, the experienced, years-in-the-field "bastard engineers" (let's call them B.E.s for fun) had to take the green college kids under their wings and teach them everything practical they needed to even begin to function, including people skills, building specifications and safety on major construction jobs. But the last of the B.E.s are retiring/dying out now, that path is closed, and I shudder to think about who's designing & running these major jobs now.

And this was the world famous California Division of Highways in its building heyday, later rechristened Caltrans. It's a decimated shambles now and getting worse, run into the ground by politicians, the contracting industry and "professionalization", as the system falls apart from deferred maintenance and the pounding of traffic beyond its originators' wildest imaginations. Collapse indeed, well on its way for all the reasons we are familiar with on this blog.

jessi thompson said...

there is a simple answer: smaller schools. my graduating class had 22 high school seniors, and about 10 or so had been in my kindergarten class as well, which was also on the same campus. my school was preschool thru 12th grade by the time i graduated. it's san perlita school in texas. it happens to be the poorest school in the u.s. but nome of us had any idea because it had such high test scores and graduation rates that principals used to use it to boost their resumes (we had a revolving door of them for a 6 year stretch until they decided to promote from within, then we had a principal that stayed).

each graduating class might be between 10 and 40 kids. so the fifth graders might not bring peanuts because jane is allergic. ok. not a problem. the kids seem to pick on ricky a lot. lets keep an eye on that. hey we can set up a trig class this year because 5 kids have all their prerequisites for it, so lets have them take it online.

suddenly complex problems turn back into simple kids with real faces and names.

GreenGoth said...

I always read but rarely comment -- all this just really touched some nerves tonight, I promise this is my last rant.

The pure greedy evilest evilness evident in Big Pharma jacking up the cost of long available, affordable, essential medications, for humans and animals! My beloved corgi came down with life-threatening myasthenia gravis and megaesophagus, treated successfully with Mestinon, a medication used for human MG patients. It was already getting pricey, over $200/month, then the drug company (Valeant) that bought the rights to it suddenly jacked the price up to the stratosphere - last month it would've been over $1,200 for a month's supply! And it's not FDA-approved for veterinary use so pet insurance or online pet meds sites couldn't help.

Human ME patients are screaming about the costs in online forums as well, even those with insurance. My vet did a workaround with a local compounding pharmacist to concoct a "veterinary version" for $465 (for now, until they close that loophole). It's a huge budget hit for us still, but most people would have no choice but to euthanize a pet who'd otherwise be able to live well a long time, and after a treatment course it has high percentages of remission. And of course human insurance premiums will jump to cover the surge in drug prices. (This was by one of the two recently notorious companies pilloried in the news that pulled this "buy rights to an older essential med and price it to the sky" trick.)

If I believed in hell, there's be that special place tailored for these monsters...maybe in their "life review" at death they'll get to experience in excruciating detail all the suffering their greed inflicted on others, humans and other animals!

jessi thompson said...

1. start going for walks every day.2. give up (or drastically reduce) fiction and substitute with nonfiction, how-to, etc. so you're always absorbing something useful. 3. downgrade ur data/internet package or switch to dial up. 4. pick up some hands-on hobbies or learn new skills and then apply them in the real world. 5. for topics that really interest you, look for people immersed in those topics and talk to them directly.

jessi thompson said...

don't forget that long conversation you had with the doc explaining why you can't take xyz medication so he precsribed abc medication... but the pharmacy doesn't carry abc meds so they just gave you xyz... only they didn't mention that, and you found out when you got home. (happened to me more than once because i'm allergic to aleve/naproxen sodium)

jessi thompson said...

sooo true!!! don't forget those kids lucky enough to have two parents at home may have each parent working 1-2 jobs and putting in 35-60 hour work weeks. we have an entire generation of latchkey kids

jessi thompson said...

20% is pretty good! when i was in high school, a substitute teacher threw out the history teacher's notes for the day and instead gave a lecture explaining what a lobbyist is. i was probably the only one listening ("this isn't going to be on the test?") but eventually that little lecture brought me to places like this one. once you see the problems you can't unsee them.

Allexis Weetman said...

Re: my query, Aha I found them - christmas eve 2050, solstice 2100 and Nawida 2150. A classic series of posts exploring the future of everyday life!

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

From the Wikipedia article "Red States and Blue States":

This terminology came into use in the United States presidential election of 2000 on an episode of the Today show on October 30, 2000. According to AlterNet and The Washington Post, the terms were coined by journalist Tim Russert, during his televised coverage of the 2000 presidential election.[1] That was not the first election during which the news media used colored maps to depict voter preferences in the various states, but it was the first time a standard color scheme took hold; the colors were often reversed or different colors used before the 2000 election. . .

In the days following the 2000 election, whose outcome was unclear for some time after election day, major media outlets began conforming to the same color scheme because the electoral map was continually in view, and conformity made for easy and instant viewer comprehension. On Election Night that year, there was no coordinated effort to code Democratic states blue and Republican states red; the association gradually emerged. Partly as a result of this eventual and near-universal color-coding, the terms "red states" and "blue states" entered popular use in the weeks following the 2000 presidential election. After the results were final, journalists stuck with the color scheme, as The Atlantic's December 2001 cover story by David Brooks entitled, "One Nation, Slightly Divisible", illustrated.[15]

Cherokee Organics said...


Brood no longer! It is all very simple really, those institutions operate by way of a social license and what can be giveth can also be taken away. My gut feeling is that they will over reach in much the same way that the banks are also going about their business. They'll eventually be a victim of their own success.

A good example down here is that there are now more people studying for journalism degrees than there actually are even jobs. Go figure that one out. And nursing is also way over subscribed compared to positions available too.

Oh by the way, I recall reading an old story here where one of the characters earned a BA and it was remarked in the story was that was achieved back in the day when such things carried weight and value.



111DFC said...

Good topic of discussion: “The pyramids"

The construction of the pyramids proofs that there were huge amounts of surplus in the Ancient Egypt. When I was a child the pictures about the pyramids always show some guy hitting with a whip the back of some workers (slaves) pushing a stone block on a ramp; obviously all that was a pure invention. IMHO the pyramids were, in fact, a huge re-distribution system (we could call that now “Keynesianism”) for free workers, that fit the moral parameters of that time, because it was made “in the name of the Pharaoh’s glory”

The Ancient Egypt was obsessed with the “stationary state” (eternity), and this “keynesianism” was a way to achieve the social stability (as all keynesianism), as also were the “Jubilees” in the Sumerian region, based in the periodic destruction of debt (another re-distribution system) “by the generosity of the Almighty new King”. More or less it works for more than two thousand years

In the modern times we tend to think that all the past societies were “in the brink of starvation”, that is another important part of the “myth of progress”, so the reaction to the “optimistic” writings of William Godwin was “Essay on the Principle of Population” (1798) by Thomas Malthus, where he “demonstrated” the truth that the “struggle for survival” is the natural state of the man, as was the hobbesian “poor, nasty, brutish and short” live of the men. Of course they achieve the self-fulfilling prophecies of these ideas, after the dynamic of “enclosures” and dispossession, with the “Poor Laws”, the “Workhouses” and the Irish Famine

At the end of the middle age, in Europe (for example in the “Comunidades de Villa y Tierra” of Castile) there were around 200 days of saints festivities when the peasants did not work, so the surplus was quite high those days. All that change in XVI century with the new monetary economy, the abstract market, the dynamic of enclosures, the war capitalism and the work as the first “moral duty” (that brought Calvinism)

The Man inhabits a symbolic universe not a natural one; so WE are who live in the scarcity, and it shows up in our bodies, with the modern epidemic of stress, anguish, depression, hypertension, insomnia, and all the auto-immune diseases typical of a caged animal that cannot fight nor flight

August Johnson said...

As far as politician's names as expletives:

From Merriam-Webster:

Definition of trumped–up:

deliberately done or created to make someone appear to be guilty of a crime

fraudulently concocted : spurious

First Known Use of trumped–up 1728

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Coordinated Universal Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20160220T162334Z

Dear JMG:

Three queries:

(1) In your posting timestamped "2/18/16, 5:32 PM", you mention having built a
razor-blade-and-safety-pin radio. Am I right in thinking that your rectifier
("detector") incorporated pencil lead, as described at

(2) What was your tuning arrangement? Did you use a variable capacitor, or did you tune in some other way - for instance, by varying the inductance in the tank circuit, as by pulling iron nail further and further out of a helical wire winding?

(3) Do remember what literature you used for guidance? One possibility is of course But another possibility is one or another of the various Alfred Powell Morgan Boy's ... Radio and Electronics books (which I have not yet examined, but should at some point examine).



Mark said...

I sympathize with the herbal licensing challenges that Tripp mentioned. We have a small-scale herb business in the north-east. I know a few others too, and they all face similar licensing and certification challenges. Most manage it with various radar avoidance strategies, or pushing into teaching and classes to make up income where product sales at higher volume gets too conspicuous. But then the field can get a bit ponzi-like with herbalists training herbalists to make money because the risk of being a practicing herbalist is too great. Also, in the couple of years that we tried to sell a lot of product - running around to farmers markets and trying to get into retail stores and selling online - well, it became a stressful business very quickly, and making money became a focus. And so then you end up flirting with the same dynamics that got the current system into trouble: the need to make money and grow. So, you have to keep it simple and that means a low level of income. Which is fine for me at my stage of life but would be more difficult if we were relying on it to raise a family. So, of course, the regulatory dynamics are not at all friendly. Although I suspect there aren't many inspectors to actually follow-up on the mass of regulations one has to consider. But there are lawyers, plenty of lawyers.

The financing model that JMG touches on in the story - the local physician under contract to provide health services to organizations and families, and integrating simple and proven herbal remedies into a general practice - makes a lot of sense. Flat salary, rather than incentives to treat or prescribe, is the way to go. Ideally, a salary structure based on health outcomes would be good, but it's very hard to implement. Impossible really. And the current US system has been fiddling around pay-for-performance and quality measures for years to no serious result. The current system will implode if it can't keep growing. And it only grows if it can keep treating and prescribing, more and more, and finding people to pay for it all. Nobody is going to "bend the cost curve" willingly, except reality will, at some point.

Years ago, my father was a salaried school dentist, working for the local health authority in the UK, as part of the NHS. He went around to schools and treated kids teeth. He didn't have to invest in fancy equipment (visiting a modern dentist these days is bit like a trip to NASA mission control). And he didn't have to spend money on marketing and administration and IT and stuff. He just rigged up a mobile RV/caravan with a dentist chair and towed it around from school to school behind his car. He was paid the same salary whether he saw ten people or twenty, or whether he applied a dozen treatments or none. Did the same thing, pretty much, for 35 years. I don't know what's happening in the UK these days, whether fee for service has gotten it's horrible claws into the practice of medicine or not. But I'm pretty sure people wouldn't be comfortable with my Dad pulling up in the parking lot with his caravan and a foot-powered drill. Meanwhile, I'm 54 and my teeth are all, mostly, intact.

Simple is always better, in my view, unless you want to grow and make a lot money.

Myriad said...

If your kids' schools are over-structured, stifling, and short on actual hands-on learning, they might try a Scout troop...

...Or maybe not. Last year the BSA re-structured the Cub Scout program, and published in their monthly magazine a sampling of the new material. Group activities outside of the weekly meetings are now called "adventures," the completion of which determines the boys' advancement through the program.

The sample "adventure" they highlighted in the magazine article is one intended for Weblos (ten-to-eleven-year-olds). It comes with a rationale, a list of educational objectives, and a form that enumerates eight "requirements" for the adventure, each of which ties in with one or more of five key "principles" and requires a separate "approved by" sign-off. One of the requirements lists four different necessary "leadership roles" that the kids must fulfill during the adventure.

This exemplary adventure is a three-mile walk.

Each of the program elements appears meritorious on the surface. Most of the Requirements seem more or less common sense or at least useful or instructive (making a plan, bringing a first aid kit, preparing and bringing a meal, and so forth). But no one has considered the big picture.

Loaded down with so much rigamarole, do such "adventures" teach confident familiarity with routine outdoor activities, or fear of leaving the house without extensive logistical support and approval from a planning committee?

Multiply that phenomenon several thousandfold and you have our education system, our medical system, most of our commerce...

Patricia Mathews said...

The Second Civil War - from a totally different source. Brin's column puts us onto this novel:

"Speaking of the recurring American fever.... What would happen if the U.S. split apart into warring states -- set off by a far-reaching conspiracy? I've read (in manuscript) a new novel by Sean T. Smith about a near future hot American civil war. Washington and San Francisco get nuked pretty early. TEARS OF ABRAHAM is a page-turner filled with vivid, believable action and characters you care about, along with sober, thoughtful insights into what it may mean - when the chips are down - to be an American. The book will be released (pre-order now) March 22."

You don't have to be a meterologist to know which way the wind is blowing?

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Coordinated Universal Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20160220T193004Z
(correcting errors in now-deleted, ALMOST identical, post of 20160220T153820Z)

Still on the subject of finding North: I was too fancy in suggesting, above, that students be encouraged to locate with astro-camera long exposure the centre of the small arc traced around the north celestial pole by Polaris. It suffices to use some standard pre-1990 amateur procedure for aligning an equatorially mounted telescope with the celestial pole. (I say "pre-1990" because from 1990 onward, amateur astronomy has been affected by computerization, as the teaching physics lab has also been.) Once the telescope is correctly aligned, with its N-S ("polar") axis pointing to that tricky little spot just a tiny bit away from Polaris, with the tracking motor turned on, all stars, no matter where in the sky, will appear stationary in the eyepiece.

So I now suspect my idea of finding North as a school exercise is insufficiently instructive.

What would be a good exercise in problem-solving? The Coriolis cloud exercise which I proposed above, and someone's (Richard Feynman's?) exercise on determining the average thickness of the oil slick - possibly on the order of a tenth of a micron - still stand. **BUT** these two exercises do not probe deep. We need, rather, problem-solving tasks that touch the conceptual foundations of physics.

With diffidence, realizing my own deficiencies (nothing beyond B.Sc., the prescribed B.Sc. astrophys supplementary courses, and private study), I remark herewith that two general areas to consider are (A) quantics (rather notably, wave-particle duality) and (B) gravitation.

(A) In quantics, we recall that the Young double-slit experiment from ca 1800 was repeated ca 1900/1910/1920 in a deep way by someone at Cambridge. In the Cambridge work, a weak light source was caused to illuminate the slits, and the diffraction pattern was thrown upon a photo emulsion, subsequently developed. The chosen source was so weak as to make it probable that at any one instant, at most a single photon would be passing through one or the other of the two slits. From a non-quantum perspective, we would expect to find no interference pattern on developing the emulsion (exposed to its feeble barrage of individual photons over a period of days, weeks, or months): and yet there is an interference pattern.

How can this experiment now be modified? It is a key feature of the Cambridge arrangement that although the individual photons pass singly through the two-slitted barrier, the emulsion is developed in a darkroom tray all in one fell swoop. What happens if we somehow forgo all-in-one-fell-swoop photo developing? Can we arrange for each individual photon impact to be followed by the developing of just one little fragment of emulsion - say, by making a row of tiny emulsion tiles, and developing the tiles one by one, so as to track individual photon impact events (perhaps replacing tiles-removed with tiles-as-yet-unexposed, doing lots and lots of tile-removal and tile-insertion in the darkness)? Do we then still get the diffraction pattern?

My guess is "no". But what do I know about wave-particle duality? I got C- in the quantum physics course of Univ of Toronto 3rd yr (1993-1994), and have to hope to remedy my deficiencies some day with private study, AFTER progressing in the current round of radio physics (Maxwell).

(B) We could devise some kind of problem-solving to probe the puzzling fact that inertial mass (the "m" in "force = m times acceleration") is the same as gravitational mass (the "m" in "force of mutual attraction between two bodies of negligible extension, each of mass m, at separation r, is proportional to m-squared divided by r-squared").

Apparently the classical experimental authority for this is Eötvös. But we want somehow to build on the thoughts of Eötvös, not to repeat them by way of recitation.


Tom (near Toronto)

peacegarden said...

This has truly hit a nerve…or as they/we say in the south, “hit my last nerve!” The health (sick) care debacle and the deliberate raising of the entry level qualifications ever higher in every field has set many of us to ranting.

I was very fortunate to be trained by a former RAF nurse for my position as a nursing assistant. The candidates were given a comprehensive introduction to anatomy, signs and symptoms, correct terminology and usage of many implements and treatments as well as the importance of the role of the nursing assistant in the patient’s care. It was rigorous and inspiring. The time I spent working with the nurses and doctors back then was very fulfilling…there was respect for and appreciation of every person involved in the patient’s care, including housekeeping staff. And, there was time… time enough to get “the work” done, and plenty of time to have a relationship with the patients and other staff. There was an esprit de corps that made even the most “unpleasant” treatments (involving as they did much exposure to body fluids) just part of a normal day.

I left the work world to be a full time mom and home maker, and it was many years later that I “went back” to my former occupation. Things had definitely changed, and for the worse. Now direct care staff were under trained, under paid and put in impossible positions every shift. The weekends were just horrendous…not enough staff scheduled, a certain amount of reporting out sick, and we were faced with the dilemma of hauling heavy patients around alone to render care where stated policy required two persons for such work. The question one asked was, “Do I leave Ms. X laying in her own excrement, or risk injury to do what humanity demands?” After injuring my back badly enough to qualify for workers compensation twice, I finally responded to my husband’s begging me to quit before my injuries became incapacitating, and resigned.

Back in the day, even the RNs with BS degrees would jump right in to lift and maneuver patients. In the more recent experience, it was contractually forbidden for even an LPN to assist with such work…medication and treatments only were allowed. The jobs had been “upgraded”, you see.

My husband’s experience in his field of engineering also followed a similar trajectory to many folks commenting here. The company he worked for used to promote from the ranks, but increasingly started bringing in MBAs and other forms of bean counters as supervisors and managers. The IT department made the tasks of the engineers who actually brought in revenue for the company almost impossible. Over the thirty years of his career, the last ten or so seemed to be the worst. He retired in 2014, and is a very happy man. And I am a very happy woman.

Our adult children are getting by for the most part, but each year brings more complexity to deal with and uncertainty about the future. We help when we can, but try to model the LESS behavior without preaching…not always easy.

Thanks so much, JMG, for the reminders that we could go back and find a more human and satisfying life, if we just decided to get off our glutei maximi and make the changes we can now, while building for the future. Inspiring!



Cherokee Organics said...


Tropical Cyclone Winston smashed into Fiji. It is being reported as one of the Southern hemispheres most powerful storms on record, with reports of widespread devastation and one death. Tropical Cyclone Winston: Massive category five storm leaves trail of destruction across Fiji.

The storms seem to be packing more energy lately... Tuesday down here is meant to hit 37'C (100'F)... I'm over summer.



Ray Wharton said...

@william fairchild.

I don't know the situation with your wifes lung, but as an amateur mycologist, I have noticed that black walnut is a very potent anti fungal. Perhaps, not one that targets the particular condition in this context. Still, that snake oil saleman was much closer than random.

latheChuck said...

On the topic of physics experiments for school children, you might consider the first experiments on the discovery and properties of radio waves. The first step was simply to show that a momentary spark discharge on one side of the room produced a microscopic spark in apparatus on the other side. We're talking about 1886 technology: a battery, capacitor, switch, and wire, plus more wire and a microscope for the receiver. The trick is to have circuits which resonate at the same frequency in both units. There would be a bit of simple metalwork needed to build the adjustable spark gap in both units, and perhaps a tunable capacitor in the transmitter.

After making the first sparks, Hertz went on to focus his radiation with parabolic dishes (on each side), to measure the frequency (wavelength) by showing interference fringes from a plate behind the receiver (which means that the wavelength was on the order of centimeters: microwaves), polarization of the waves, and even the photo-electric effect (for which Einstein won the 1921 Nobel prize for a paper published in 1905).

And, as we might expect radio to be important in Lakeland, it would be important for the students to understand its foundations.

... not that I'm biased or anything... --... ...-- DE AB3NA

Kyle Schuant said...

I was mentioning to someone the other day the idea of GPs being paid a salary by subscribers, I'd forgotten where I read of it (I don't know if it ever happened here in Australia, we never had as many "brotherhood" organisations as the US), now of course I remember.

I did some sketch figures for how much this much cost, not knowing the average income of GPs, or how many patients they can deal with.

From - - we see that in Australia, the average doctor's (not just GPs, but all doctors in non-managerial positions) income is $2,860pw, and there are overall 201.9 GPs per 100,000 persons, or 1 per 495. It's fair to assume that the salaries of some well-paid specialists pump the average up, so a fair salary (in our current economy) for a GP might be $100,000 annually. And probably it's more like 250 people per GP in close urban well-off areas, and 1,000 for poorer rural areas. Still, it works out to $200 a year for 500 people to support a single $100k GP. Pretty cheap, really.

What surprised me was specialists from 2001 to 2011 going from 84.6 to 117.9 per 100,000, that's a 40% increase in 10 years. I assure you that the health of the population has not improved 40% in 10 years. In medicine as in other things, we see diminishing returns on effort, time and money invested.

I was also surprised we had so many nurses, 1,195.8 per 100,000, up 17% in those same 10 years. I suppose lots must be working in aged and disability care.

So basically for 1,000 people we'd have 2 GPs, 1 specialist and 12 nurses. So, 1.5% of the population are involved in medical care... not counting all the admin staff etc.
I think most communities of 1,000 people could afford 2 GPs. I'm not sure they could also afford 1 specialist and 12 nurses. But do we really need them all? I genuinely don't know.

In Australia there's been a growing movement to attach nurses to GPs and deal with more mundane stuff, like colds and vaccinations. But this is as well as and not instead of GPs. It seems to me that health and education are both things which you can always spend more money on. But again, do we really need it? I don't know.

David said...

(aka the blogger formerly known as buddhabythelake)

@Varun, @JMG -- Many thanks! I will be making my case to the local electorate over the next six weeks or so and hope to gain enough ground to land in the top three come April. I decided to go with a more conventional handle (at least for the time being), as I set up a blog for my "campaign" and figured that it would be better to have the posts signed "David" rather than the more esoteric predecessor., for any who are interested. I'm being very upfront in my approach, though admittedly treading lightly on the localization emphasis for now.

More on-topic, two thoughts. First, regarding the credentialing issue, I am not a PE, though I could sit for the exam, given the experience I've acquired. I have a graduate engineering degree, but not the 4-year undergraduate engineering degree generally required for the exams. (I'm more applied mathematician than engineer, but solidly within the overlap area.) Even though my employer would give a small pay bump if I got the licensing, I've decided that I don't care to perform any more hoop-jumping.

Secondly, given our repeated visits to the educational system in the narrative, I am wondering if anyone in the readership here has thoughts re the possible structures of replacement educational systems? A number of folks have commented on the apprenticeship mechanism -- which I believe is a very likely successor to "higher ed" -- but what of the primary schooling systems? Perhaps it is too early to begin building yet, as the collapse has to proceed further before there will be enough local support to do something different.

Lastly, more off-topic, my personal disintermediation efforts continue. Today saw a successful loaf of bread baked (pain de campagne, per the recipe), that cheese-making class is coming up in a few weeks, and I signed up for one-on-one banjo lessons at our local folk music shop. Baby steps!

Myriad said...


The problem with a double slit experiment where you develop the emulsion "one tile at a time" after each single photon is that you wouldn't know which tile to develop. You don't know where the photon landed until you find the exposed point on the film which you can only find by developing it.

Also, photographic film (emulsion) is not sensitive enough to respond detectably to a single photon. At least, not any kind of film available to the public.

There are devices that can register a single photon immediately, and separately for each photon. Most modern versions of double slit experiments use these instead of photographic film. But a single-photon detector array suitable for a classroom experiment would be too expensive or too difficult to handle, and it would be difficult getting any school laboratory dark enough (or a housing for the experiment perfect enough) to not have random leaked photons swamp the signal anyhow.

The kind of sensors digital cameras use are getting close to single-photon sensitivity (which the human eye also already has when completely adapted to darkness), and digital camera sensors might soon be able to record individual photons. Even with those, a classroom version would have to put the whole experiment inside a literal black box to keep other stray light out. All the students would be able to see is the electronic signals coming out. (That might be okay if the students understand what the apparatus is doing and have already seen the visible interference pattern in a previous demonstration.)

Nonetheless, quantum mechanics (which has been tested in countless different ways in countless experiments) predicts that the interference pattern would still form in any of those cases. The only way the interference pattern would not occur is if you really did install some way to find out which path each individual photon takes (or at least, which slit it goes through) before detecting where it actually strikes the screen. Any way of collecting and retaining such information causes the interference pattern to disappear. According to some interpretations of QM this is due to "collapse of the probability wave function" caused by "measuring" (interacting with) the photon's path along the way. Other interpretations explain the outcome in different terms but all make the same prediction for what the actual results of the experiment would be.

dltrammel said...

As an off topic example of the Myth of Progress:

"New Monopoly edition goes paperless, ruins everyone’s fun"

How better to make a game more complicated and less fun than to add an electronic gizmo.

Dennis D said...

Luckily, there are some apprentice systems still in place. I am an electrician and instrument mechanic, now working as a supervisor. These programs are alive and well, so are there to copy as needed. The attempts to upscale the job by doing two years of school, then two years on the job (electrical technologist), compared with 8 to 12 week school periods, each followed by ten months of work experience(electrician), has been limited due to the technologists frequently being only suitable for niche jobs, and not having the practical experience for the normal day to day troubleshooting required. I remember that all the high school staff were pushing university, and the trades were reserved for those not "good enough" for higher education. I note that many of those engineering type jobs are being off shored, but it is pretty hard to off shore my job of keeping the equipment running, and net wages (no student loans, earning from first day on the job) favor the trades for quite a few years.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

(not for publication)

JMG, the link for Dark Age America doesn't work, at least in Firefox on a Mac. The books immediately below it in the side column have working links.
Maybe the link hasn't been activated b/c the publication date has not been set?

Shane W said...

Just to chime in on the academization of professions, I got my Bachelors in Psychology, and psychology requires graduate degrees to practice. About all you can do with a Bachelors is be a case manager. However, when the time came, I decided not to pursue further education precisely because of what I saw in University. Competition for research graduate programs is intense, and published research has metastasized like a tumor over the years, yet all the low hanging fruit, such as Milgram's compliance study, has already been picked. So now, most research is focused on very arcane, specific studies that only seek to move the needle a millimeter using very complex, byzantine computerized statistical programs. Psychology, like everything today, is not immune to being taken over by the technostructure.
On the practical side, I just could never get excited about shunting people into the System with a capital S, having no faith that it actually promoted any real mental health. I'd participated in public mental health systems and seen therapists in both public & private systems, and I've never been more sane until I left that behind. I have no faith in the public mental health systems programs of medication (definitely distrust psych meds along with all big pharma), rehab (not shown to have any efficacy), job training/placement (what jobs?), and connection to social workers/etc. If I were behind the desk advising someone, it would go something like this: "the problem you suffer from is not a PERSONAL problem, it's a SOCIOECONOMIC/POLITICAL one. You're in a hopeless system designed to keep you down. Personal solutions like psych meds, rehab, job training/placement are not the answer to socioeconomic/political problems. Your grandparents & great grandparents did not suffer from the problems you're suffering from, because they did not suffer the socioeconomic injustice you do. The solution to socioeconomic/political problems are pitchforks & rope, and an organized effort with fellow oppressed in the same boat as you. Bringing down an unjust system that you don't benefit from and trying to create something better for your grandchildren so they don't have to suffer the indignities you do are the only things that will bring about a sense of purpose and meaning to your life."
Somehow, I don't think that's the kind of person they want sitting behind the desk. They'd rather have someone referring to psychiatrists for psych meds, rehab, social workers--anything to keep the underclass in the System. I wonder if the way we treat the underclass in mental health systems is not the same kind of Batesonian bind as the one that blamed housewives for their "hysteria" in postwar suburban anomie, and blamed slaves for drapetomania.

Chris Smith said...

@ Tripp:

Which book on polytheism are you reading? Sounds like I need to read it myself. Thanks.

Patricia Mathews said...

@ Shane: Spot-on. Except for " Your grandparents & great grandparents did not suffer from the problems you're suffering from, because they did not suffer the socioeconomic injustice you do..."

If they're white. You do not want to run that by either anybody from the Rez, or anybody darker than a paper bag, you really don't.

Shane W said...

It's not even the underclass that is victimized by the (capital) Mental Health System. Drug and alcohol abuse/dependence, depression, violence/lashing out are all logical/reasonable responses to cope with as pathological a society as ours has become, yet the System does not recognize these as valid responses to a pathological system, and places all the blame at the individual's feet. My neighbor two doors down shot himself, and I find that to be a totally logical response to losing his job. Like most people nowadays, his job meant the world to him, and he'd already lost his job before and spent quite a bit of time searching until he found the more recent job he got let go from. If he hadn't of shot himself, then he'd be faced with the Batesonian bind of looking for a nonexistent job. Society says that an abled-bodied man his age should have no problem finding a job, and puts all the responsibility on the individual to find work. After a while of searching for a non-existent job, he'd get discouraged, and he'd find no support in society for being a "slacker" who isn't working. So his choice to eat a bullet instead of suffering the torture of the Batesonian bind society would put him in makes total sense.
I think that therapy is designed to keep people coming back to therapists by focusing on and magnifying one's problems. I forget where, but some tribe in Africa thought that the Western therapeutic practice of putting someone in a small dark room to talk with someone about their grief was bizarre. They dealt with grief by getting the individual out into the open and celebrating some kind of ceremony to lift the curse, to get the person outside his or herself. To me, that's the never ending cycle of therapy--you go to a therapist to talk about and focus on your problems, which magnifies your problems, and it becomes a never ending cycle of navel gazing whereby you become self-absorbed and personal molehills get made into mountains. Our grandparents & great grandparents rightfully scorned such behaviors, and people in the deindustrial future will not have the luxury of obsessing on such trivialities.

peacegarden said...

@ Justin

Kudos to you, sir! And a pox on the ones who didn’t give you the raise! “Make Conan ANGRY!!!”



Kevin Warner said...

I seem to recall reading a long time ago a system that the Chinese communists had put in place for their doctors. Each doctor was assigned so many thousands of people and it was up to him to ensure that they stayed healthy. The kicker was that if they stayed healthy he got his full pay but that the more sick people there were, the lower his pay would be. That sounds like something that the Retrotopian Republic might be interested in with the proper safeguards in place.

This next bit I am a bit hesitant to mention but feel it worth noting. Many people here talk about simplifying their lives, growing their own foods, etc. and I say more power to them. When the passengers on an ocean liner take to drilling holes in the ship's hull under the encouragement of the crew as a way of behaviour, it is not incumbent on all passengers to take part nor not to borrow a lifeboat or two.

There is however another dimension to this voluntary collapse in how it may be viewed by different authorities. As an example, I came across an old Civil Defense film from the 1950s at which states that people abandoning cities in case of nuclear attack to be guilty of treason and worse. This film is just bizarre to watch but instructive how things can play out.

My point is how people that seek to build a post-industrial lifestyle will be viewed - as teachers and mentors to others or as personal rebukes or even threats to a collapsing system and way of life, especially to fellow citizens. By rights as things slowly get worse, more people should be encouraged to adopt such a lifestyle by their governments but I see no real sign of that happening yet. I guess that things will have to get a lot worse before they get better.

Shane W said...

I think a lot of the psychological problems have at their root the destruction of traditional cultures and life ways, whether it's First Nations, the South, Latinos, etc. The breaking of family bonds, the disruption of community, anonymity, loss of tradition and traditions. Modern mental health doesn't seek to change any of these underlying societal problems behind addiction, drug & alcohol abuse, domestic violence, etc., yet it doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand that wherever industrial society has replaced traditional cultures, these psychological problems skyrocket. Yet the system doesn't address it, it works from the paradigm of adjusting the individual to (industrial) society.

olivier64 said...

@Janet D Very thoughtful comment, thank you. I want to make one in a similar vein about the higher education racket. Everybody on this forum seems to be ganging up on universities but they did not create this credentialism craze, they merely feed on it. The real culprits are the employers, who have 1) persuaded themselves that nothing and nobody can possibly be good enough for them and 2) refuse to do any training of their own anymore. Social decay indeed.

latheChuck said...

May I rant for a moment on the crapification of daily life? I want to change the oil filter on my new (used) car, so I need a new oil filter wrench. Only the pleated paper cylinder gets replaced in this car (hurrah for less steel going into the trash), but that means I can't test-fit any of the myriad oil-filter wrenches on the filter cap (which is on the car). I found a wrench which is adjustable: 2-1/2" to 4-1/2". The back of the package has a large black circle with the helpful words: "your selected filter should fall within the range of the black circle." So considerate, yes, for those who can't actually measure their filter?

The inner diameter of the circle is 1.75", outer diameter is 2.05"!?!

It doesn't take a degree from "packaging science school" (Go ahead; Google it!) to avoid this kind of nonsense. It takes someone who knows that 2-1/2 inches is about the length of my thumb, and 4-1/2" is a "kind of big to wrap my hand around"... the kind of knowledge one gets from actually building something... anything... from physical materials.

pygmycory said...

Shane, I tend to agree with you that a lot of mental and emotional problems are aggravated or even created by the social problems in our society. Trouble is, knowing that doesn't fix the suffering people are going through. And in some cases the right drug can help people. I know that venlafaxine has helped me with my depression and anxiety issues and made me somewhat more functional, though it doesn't fix any of the underlying issues. I've been on and off it enough times to know that if I go off it I'll likely be back on again in a few months because my mental health has gotten worse again. I'm also using some herbal tinctures that I make based on what I learned from the local college that teaches that as well as the venlafaxine, but those herbs were simply not effective enough alone.

It is nice to be able to make some of my own meds, though, and even grow some of the ingredients myself. Experimenting with herbal medicine instead of antidepressants was one of last year's projects. I did manage to lower the dose of meds I'm taking for the fibromyalgia. That's something, at least, and now I know how to make and use tinctures.

Varun Bhaskar said...


Nice to meet you! It's never too early to start the localization drive. I know for a fact that you have several artisans living near Two Rivers, though I am not personally acquainted with any of them. You have several black smiths near you, I also believe the upper mid-west blacksmith association is located some where near Two Rivers. Might consider reaching out to them, but as you say tread lightly with the public.

I've bookmarked your blog, will probably link it to my website when I have a minute.

As for education of the younger generation, that's a little outside my expertise. Best I can offer is a journalism apprenticeship, would be happy to train you if you want to become a correspondent. ;)

I think one of the best ways to learn is pull together a bunch of people and start self-training, set the bar high for what it takes to be a master. Once you've reached the bar, start offering apprenticeships. I'm actually a little surprised that the Archdruid doesn't have any apprentices in his town, or for that matter several people on this message board. I would give an arm an a leg to train under some of you.



Helen Highwater said...

@pygmycory - I think the kind of experience you have with the medical system in British Columbia, Canada depends on where you live. I had no problem at all finding a doctor in the small town where I live, and she is within walking distance of my home. If I call at 8:30 a.m. I can get in to see her the same day. I recently needed an x-ray. I got a referral from my doctor, took it to the hospital x-ray department and got the x-ray the same day. No charge for any of this. They apologized for making me wait 20 minutes. I also had cataract surgery recently on both eyes. No charge for anything except some eye drops I had to buy. We have several walk-in clinics in the area where I live. If you don't have a family doctor you just go there and wait your turn to be seen. Doctors take turns working there. I do hear stories about long waits for specialists and surgical procedures, but have never experienced anything like that myself. I think the problems are probably worse in big cities. I have a fairly low income so I don't pay any premiums for health care. It even partially covers visits to naturopaths, chiropractors, massage therapists and acupuncturists.

Jeanne Labonte said...

I am old enough to recall the doctor making a house call when I was very sick with the measles. This would have been in the early 60s. The house calls petered out quickly by the end of the decade.

Along with stethoscopes, thermometers and tongue depressors, the human nose can occasionally serve as a diagnostic tool. My late mother (who was a nurse) was very fond of telling the story of when she was a nursing student (about 1939) of when a patient had been admitted to the floor she was working on who was ill with diphtheria. She was present when a retired doctor dropped in for a visit. No sooner had he stepped through the door, when he stopped, sniffed a bit and then announced "I see you got diphtheria on the floor."

Tyler August said...

@ Shane W:

Look into Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT, as they call it), for counseling (and it is not psychotherapy but counseling, an act which is much less regulated; depending on jurisdiction, you might be eligible to give it) that works, and doesn't get the patient into a cycle of reliance. Parts of it are similar Stoicism ; in troth, it's a form of naive/empirical magic, since the whole point is to change how you think in accordance to your will (in order to make it less pathological).

Studies have shown that CBT can be as effective as medication for depression and anxiety disorders -- studies in the journals held hostage by the psycho-pharmasutical industry. Likely, then, it works much better than the medications.

You should care? Because if the response (like your neighbour's) to to the 'red pill' that the system is against you is suicide, you'll never get the revolution you need. You need to talk the could-be revolutionaries into the mental resilience needed to take up arms, Shane.

Yes, you. Who else is going to?

@ Patricia Mathews:
I'd like you to reflect on your response to Shane W, and the fact that death and suicide rates in your country are climbing significantly faster for whites (and are in some cases higher) than those for people 'from the Rez or darker than a paper bag.'
Could the knee-jerk response of denying that white men can suffer, or are worthy of sympathy because the mythical 'White Male' came in last at the "Victimhood Olympics" be part of why that is? Who did you help by saying what you did?

Tyler August said...

Excellent as usual. A classroom interferometer is possible, as I believe others have pointed out ; there's cognitive dissonance involved in imagining gr.8s using it, but that's because I am picturing gr.8s as I know them now. In Lakeland, probably ought to be thinking of first-year undergraduates, at least, for maturity... in which case, yeah, go for it.

That said, we never did Michelson-Morley in my undergraduate classes; we did do Millikan's oil drop and Thompson's mass experiment, though. Note that Thompson's experiment does not actually measure the mass of the electron, but the ratio of the electrostatic to gravitational forces on the electron in the experiment. Other experiments are needed to find the charge of the electron, and the electrostatic and gravitational force constants if one is to derive the mass from this experiment. Millikan's gives us the charge. Coulomb's constant can be measured quite easily in the lab, from the deflection of charged spheres (here's a lab report!'s+Constant ) ; Cavendish's experiment for the gravitational constant is very similar (deflection of an accurate torsion balance) but rather more finicky. That said, this suite of interrelated experiments would be an excellent one. Amazing, in fact. If I ever had the chance to plan a physics lab course... I'd do these.

Then, once everyone is convinced that the electron is a particle with discreet charge and mass, I'd follow it with a version of the Davisson-Germer experiment on electron diffraction to blow everyone's minds by proving de Broglie's wave hypothesis. (Though I think a modified version where the diffraction pattern is projected onto a phosphor screen is more impressive to students, especially if they've seen such patterns before in optics.) This is much easier than trying to recreate the double-slit experiment with single-photon detectors, and a more impressive proof of quantum theory (since 'light is a wave' isn't exactly a revolutionary concept).

In the double slit experiment, a single photon (or electron, or proton, or atom, or even molecule, if you're very careful and have a very good vacuum) goes "off-course" compared to the classical trajectory, even if you stop the experiment with one detection. This has been tried. It interferes with itself, because "it" is not a particle in this instance; it is acting as a wave. Yes, spooky, if you're used to thinking in particles. Eventually you get used to the idea and admit that these things are neither waves, nor particles, nor good red meat but something altogether their own and outside of our experience. Quantum Mechanics was impossible for me until I (temporarily, I hope) stuffed my common sense into a closet and told it to take a time out.

Shane W said...

I think what we've been discussing is the "reverse Midas touch" whereby everything touched by our society turns to crap. JMG has noted that this is a feature of declining societies/empires...

Shane W said...

I'm not so sure--I think the post-civil rights era has been more of a mixed bag regarding minority achievement. I once read that blacks were disproportionately affected by the offshoring of blue collar union jobs such that average income for the black community went DOWN in the post-civil rights era due to offshoring & the hollowing out of urban cores. Also, a lot of traditional resilience in communities of color, like gardening, caning, traditional cooking, etc. has become passe and associated with the pre-civil rights era. To the extent that equality has allowed a black or brown 1-5% to percolate up to the top while everyone else stays in the same position they were always in, if not worse, then IDK how much we've ACTUALLY progressed. It seems to me like the destruction of communities of color and traditions has proceeded apace in the last 30 years. For me, while I appreciate legal same-sex marriage, it certainly doesn't affect all the other myriad factors that make up decline & collapse in our society right now.

Chris Smith said...

Shane: your posts remind me of reading David Barash back in the '90s. Prof. Barash's theory (presented in an oversimplified manner) is that our societal evolution has outpaced our biological evolution and our technological evolution has outpaced our societal evolution. And here we are trying to force-fit individuals adapted to living in small communities in the African savanna into a crapified panopticon denuded of meaningful community whose owners want to work you to death while paying you a pittance.

JMS: your narration of the house call reminds me of the last time I was in Kolkata. I got sick hours before I departed from JFK. The day after I arrived, my mother-in-law called their doctor who came over. Checked me out, and wrote some prescriptions (still had to send someone out to the pharmacy). He followed up in a few days to make sure I was feeling better (and actually following my antibiotics as prescribed - Indian doctors take that very seriously).

trippticket said...

@Chris Smith:
"A World Full of Gods - An Inquiry into Polytheism"
by one J.M. Greer

Top shelf.

Shane W said...

It might be a little bit more tricky regarding the African-American community and the 400 year oppression/repression of their culture and community, but I still think a case can be made on some level that industrialism has had the same negative effects on tradition, culture, and community in the African-American community as any other.

Ed-M said...

About the comments on the academic industry setting up and increasing barriers to entry to the job market and the unintended effects thereon... you all have posted very good comments!

I myself know of people who went through four years of civil engineering school only to find out in the real world that he can't find his McNamara without a GPS! And I graduated at a time (1983) when getting an entry-level job where you can be shown the ropes, so to speak, was the luck of the draw. Even then you had better luck if you went into the pub;lic sector. I bet now all companies expect you to know stuff right off the bat so they'll "plug 'n' play" you instead of letting you become trained and "seasoned." Yet in the 90s and twenty-noughts I've read editorials in the ASCE magazine of engineering graduates with a Bachelor of Science being woefully unprepared for the real world and their brilliant idea was to require a Masters before you could get a professional engineer's license.

And yet I remember from my days at the state highway department in Massachusetts of "old salts" who never went to college but actually knew what they were doing. Go figure...

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Coordinated Universal Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20160222T192927Z

Thanks, Myriad (your posting timestamped "2/20/16, 6:39 PM"). You seem to me to be right on all counts. I really regret not noticing the problem of choosing which tile to pluck out of the ensemble for developing. This was an elementary, and silly, error.


Bob Patterson said...

Against the backdrop of your sane economic system of Retropia, we have the latest financial obscenity from Wall Street, the Coco bond. Sort of an automated bail-in that can be triggered by a bank at any time and convert the assets of a privately held bond into bank collateral at the press of a button. Because they carry a 2% to 3% higher return, they are selling like gangbusters in Europe. Beware of getting anywhere near these toxic financial products. You can go from being a bond holder making good interest to a shareholder (diluted) in a failing enterprise and receiving no income and little or no principle.

Caryn said...


Firstly; I want to express my condolences and sadness at hearing about your neighbor. That is devastating news. I think it brings home the absolute necessity of building our communities and being there for each other wherever we are. Who knows when 'we ourselves will be in that boat, in need of help.

I hear what you're saying about social collapse and mental health and in your general ideas, I agree. I don't think the practice of therapy itself, however is wrong-headed. I am sorry to hear your exposure to talk therapy was so abysmal. In my humble yet experienced opinion, What you saw was simply bad practice.

Certainly, for some people being brought out of themselves and buoyed up by friends and family can successfully get them through emotionally troubling times. However, not all people are in need of therapy because of their crumbling society or lack of distractions, purpose or support network. There were crummy and downright abusive parents and people well before the industrial age also. Drunkards and addicts with painful pasts. "She' always been a little OFF" or "He's just not been right in the head since the war". No one knew quite what to do about them though, so they just muddled through as best they could. I think if there were 'talk-therapists' in those days they were the local priest or minister and I understand that counseling or 'pastoral care' was one of their chief jobs. It really does help to get secrets or pains off your chest, to share with someone who is caring, but not family or friend - someone who is less involved, who has no dog in the fight and can offer objective advice or critique, if you know what I mean.

In my experience, talk therapy is hard work, can be a life-saver or a complete waste of time, depending on the therapist and sometimes just the patient/therapist dynamic. I've had experiences with both, (as a patient, not a therapist.)

The goal of talk therapy, I'm sure you know, is to face your buried problems, however ugly, at their source with eyes wide opened to reality with a caring, competent but uninvolved, (un-manipulative) ally holding your hand. Once you have found and faced the source of your pain, to 're-live' it but as a stronger, older you; then to devise behavior changes and mental habits to effect feeling changes and work on an upward spiral instead of a downward one. There is a lot more detail in how that works, but again - as you have said you have an education in this field, you probably know all of this already.

If not talking about their problems works for the most part for those African tribes-people, then good for them. It sounds great, but I'm not buying that it solves all of their emotional problems. We humans are far more complicated than that no matter how complex or simple our societies are. We always have been.

GreenGoth said...

Ed-M, EXACTLY the experience I was talking about a few comments above, about the "bastard engineers" who learned the ropes through mastering the basic math & science, personal study & work experience/mentoring, not college degrees, who were the actual highway designers/builders/resident engineers who built California's highway system. One highway designer friend graduated as a math & English double-major before starting with Division of Highways and worked her way up (yes, HER way, starting in the 1960s) to lead highway design teams.

Until the past decade or so, when they've "professionalized" to the point that you can't even take an entry level test without a degree (pref. Masters) to qualify for an interview, and your P.E. if you want to promote beyond basic Transportation Engineer. And the old hands who used to train the university grads in real-world civil and electrical engineering are all retiring or already gone.

Three generations of my husband's family came up that way but that path is now closed, and the new engineers coming in are woefully unprepared for the real-world jobs.

For many decades Calif. Division of Highways/Caltrans was a top level training ground for generations of newly graduated engineers through what was called the "junior civil engineer rotation", moving them through the various specialty areas (surveys, materials, design, traffic operations, hydrology, bridges, highway maintenance & electrical, construction, etc.) under the supervision of experienced staff to groom them for the real hands-on work you can't learn in a classroom, only to lose large swaths of them in the last 15+ years as soon as they completed their rotations to better-paying private industry companies. And with all the attacks on public sector workers, salaries lagging way behind private and constant assaults on pensions and relative job security, it's harder & harder to get & keep good people. It's not just lack of funding that's causing our infrastructure to crumble. Lowest-bidder contractors always looking to cut corners, and fewer public servants who know what their tricks are and how to manage those contracts -- and less management/political will to back them up when they go heads-up with contractors over problems in the field -- recipe for disaster, financial and infrastructure.

Patricia Mathews said...

Tyler - Shane's post said, and I repeated the quote, "Your GRANDPARENTS and GREAT-GRANDPARENTS" had not known the sort of "the system is against me" despair and nihilism their descendants do today. His point being that they were better off in the past than we are today.

Now, to me, "grandparents" means people around at the turn of the 20th century, and "great-grandparents," in the post-Civil-War era. NOT today's people whose suffering I neither deny nor minimize.

And HISTORICALLY --- IN THEIR OWN PERIOD! -- the grandparents and great-grandparents of the people I named were the targets of an institutionalized discrimination and ill-treatment I hope nobody today has to endure, Though those who are actually IN institutions such as prisons obviously do.

You're not the only person to read my comment wrong. A friend of mine read it and accused me of Boomer-bashing, pointing out that there were poor white Boomers of which she was one. But I say again - there are people alive today who have not forgotten that *their* ancestors had it far worse ... by custom and by law ... and if you told them how privileged their ancestors were, would send you to some of the literature written in period or the museums of the period.

Sylvia Rissell said...

Tyler August, Shane W, Patrica Mathews.
Good points all.

Id like to add that the lot of women under traditional roles and legal systems is less subject to her control than a socially equivalent male.

The traditional "congratulations" to the groom acknowledges his new, higher status as a head of household.

The bride is traditionally told "good luck", which probably includes easy pregnancies, healthy children, and a husband who doesnt turn out to be abusive, alcoholic, or insolvent. In the absence of divorce, she is kind of stuck with him and her inlaws...

This is not to say that many women didnt have great lives, and still do.. They were lucky.

Carnegie said...

Speaking of "back to what worked," this week's Low Tech Magazine features something so perfectly fit for Retrotopia: Fruit Walls!

Bonus military advantage that cracked me up:

Established during the seventeenth century, Montreuil had more than 600 km fruit walls in the 1870s, when the industry reached its peak. The 300 hectare maze of jumbled up walls was so confusing for outsiders that the Prussian army went around Montreuil during the siege of Paris in 1870.

I would love to live in a place like this! How beautiful this mighty maze of fruit trees must have been.

Fred said...

@Myriad What a shame that Boy Scouts did what Girl Scouts did 10 years ago when they rewrote the entire Girls Scout program into Journeys and slimmed down the number of badges. Being a member of the salary class with a background in corporate training, I could do the facilitated discussions and process of discovery of information in the Journeys. It isn't what I thought Girl Scouts was ever about - sitting around talking - but I could do it so the girls could get the Journey's done and then work on what they cared about for badges. The Journeys were required before anything else could be done. Most of the Troop Leaders are from the wage class with only a high school diploma and maybe some technical school or nursing school. They never participated in a facilitated discussion or brainstorming session in their life! Their entire adult life was spent taking orders no matter how inane from managers. There was no way they could complete a Journey the way it intended. Absolutely no training was provided to volunteers on how to conduct what is in the Journeys and I think that is because most of the council staff didn't know how to do them either! Someone in the national office paid a huge amount of money to some consulting firm to redo all of Girl Scout tradition with absolutely no consideration and understanding of the consequences. Girls and volunteers left in droves - our local council reduced in size by 50% and has never recovered. Its such a shame and such a loss for children and their parents.

Caryn said...

* Sorry I think I've posted this to last weeks comments - JGM, If you don't mind - pls, post it here instead:

@Myriad & Fred;

I and my 2 sons were in Cub Scouts also from about 2006 to 2012. I lead both of their dens, (13 boys in one, 9 in the other.) VERY disheartening to know they've changed their format. It was such an awesome activity, as Fred says, for both the kids and their parents. The old booklet outlined great, well rounded activity badges to work on, each with a good hands-on skill or lesson to learn that could stay with them for life. We did woodworking, auto-mechanics, sewing, camping, cooking, nature hikes and plant identification, 'survival-skills' of starting a fire and fishing with minimal or found tools, making rope from wild grasses, charity drives and a formal dinner etiquette, (Blue & Gold Banquet)…. It was a blast! Shockingly, my teen boys still thank me for teaching them how to sew in Cub Scouts - a very useful skill for anyone!
IMHO, even then, some of the prescription for completing the badge were inapplicably academic or not helpful, but the beauty of the organization was that each den and each troop is run by local families and volunteers - so it was easy to take what worked and leave the rest. I'm sure the Uppity-Uppers and Muckety-Mucks at BSA headquarters would not have approved, but as one of my favorite local Chinese sayings goes: "The Mountains are high and the Emperor is very far away". ;)

Bill Pulliam said...

Shane --

When there's a man about my age (I'm 54) around here that I haven't seen in a while, I figure he's dead. And it usually turns out I was right. Suicides, heart attacks, cancers. The local paper is full of obituaries for men in their 40s and 50s who "passed away at home" with no other info provided. Everyone knows what this is code for.

Tyler August said...

@ Patricia, (plus Sylvia and Shane),
I recognized the past tense in your comment, Patricia, my point is that I don't think it's germane. It seems like we're always back to the victimhood olympics: 'others suffered worse.' I admitted that whites lose that game. My question was, who does it help to bring it up?

Shane's neighbour ate his gun. A human being is dead. In reference to that, who the frack cares just how privileged his ancestors might have been, or that women were at one point less free than men? The fact that whenever a certain segment of the population tries to say "I am suffering" they get shouted down and told "you can't be! you're privileged!" (or, at the very best, ignored so we can talk about the historical suffering of someone else -- which hurts just as much) might have something to do with the relative suicide rates amongst white males. I'm going to leave the stats here; I think they speak for themselves.

U.S. Suicide Statistics (2001)
Rate Per
Group # of Suicides 100,000
White Male.......22,328........19.5
White Female .....5,382.........4.6
Nonwhite Male ....2,344.........9.3
Nonwhite Female ....568.........2.1
Black Male .......1,627.........9.2
Black Female........330.........1.7


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