Friday, March 08, 2019

A New Modest Proposal for an Extended Period of Motherly Decision

Protect Women’s Health Now

Abortion and reproductive rights have been in the news recently.  Lawmakers in New York cheered the passage of a Reproductive Health Act, Governor Northam defended a similar measure in the Virginia legislature by speaking reassuringly how “the infant would be kept comfortable,” and a Republican effort in the US Senate to protect children born-alive following abortion was defeated.  These three items highlight that the threat to “women’s health” is real, and I offer a modest proposal to help add clarity to a muddled situation.  

Preliminarily, I have taken Senator Hirono’s admonition to men seriously (“Just shut up and stand up. Do the right thing for a change.”) by consulting with a woman (my wife of 38 years), and she confirmed to me that raising children (for us, 2 boys) definitely can affect a woman’s health, particularly a woman’s mental health, and so I would like to submit that efforts at supporting third and fourth trimester abortion just don’t go far enough.  It is patently clear that having children can be a burdensome challenge to a woman’s health throughout a child’s life, but our categories of fetus (as a mere biological mass) vs. live birth (child) are inadequate to a proper vigilance for a woman’s health as matters now stand.  Thus, I propose a 3-step plan to remedy the situation.

Step 1: An Extended Period of Motherly Decision

The first step to safeguarding women’s health is to create an extended period of motherly decision in connection with all live births.  Following the delivery of a baby, the mother will be asked if she is decided or undecided whether she wants the baby.  If she is decided that she wants the baby, the baby will be granted full status as a human being.  If she is undecided, the baby is deemed an undecided (or simply an undy). If the mother remains undecided and a child reaches the age of majority, the child receives human status, albeit somewhat grudgingly.

Step 2: Care for Undies

Given that the mother is undecided about whether she wants her child, it would grossly and negatively impact her health to ask her to care for an undy child.  I propose that we make a modest extension to the Head Start program to take on this job.  Using existing bureaucratic structure is cost effective and efficient.  If the mother remains undecided past preschool, educating an undy child may be a bad investment, but given the effectiveness of our public schools, there is little risk in this undesirable outcome, in any event.

Step3: Favorable vs. Unfavorable Motherly Decisions

The third piece of the proposal involves what to do once a motherly decision is rendered.  There are two possibilities.  I call these a “favorable” decision (the child is wanted and is allowed to live) and an “unfavorable” decision.  Of course, favorables (“favs”) are deemed human and leave Head Start to go live with mom.  Unfavorables (call them “unfavs”) are another matter.  Unfavs must be terminated and disposed of, and as an engineer I respect understanding traditional solutions before inventing new ones.   Regimes in the Soviet Union, China, and elsewhere have effectively eliminated millions of their citizens in the past, and perhaps our robust commercial relations with the present day regimes in those regions can be put to good use.  But the historical example of the engineering prowess of the German regime of World War 2 (I have intentionally not used the term "Nazi" to avoid an unnecessary repugnance that might prevent us from grasping the genius of their solutions.).  The Germans started with machine guns and guillotines, but the one-two punch of gas chambers using Zyklon B and ovens proved to be the royal road to the efficient elimination of the unfav undies of their time.

Of course, the German historical example was of a different time, and our enlightened era is much more sensitive to “the comfort” of the unfav.   Governor Northam has said it well, and our modern implementation will spare no expense for unfav comfort. Of course, this dictates several important modifications to the German plan.  Germans separated those who could endure slave labor from those who could not.  And let me be clear. There will be no slave labor in our camps.  Perhaps an Amazon fulfillment center can locate next to the camps for work-capable unfavs or perhaps they can be utilized as Lyft drivers.

Following selection for work, those sent for termination in the German example were sent to “the showers.”  Given the heightened sensitivity to gender as a choice, their will be both cis- and trans-gender “showers” to ensure full shower inclusion.

Also, the German example can be criticized because they used freight cars to transport their unfavs to the camps, but here I propose that we use high-speed rail (think Hunger Games) with comfortable seating.  The plans for my scheme can be rolled into the Green New Deal (GND) and perhaps special cars can be built.  I am amenable to connecting my proposal to that of the GND if this will build support for both.

Overcoming Objections to the Proposal

There will be many objections to achieving the proposal, and some will say that I am no more serious than Dr. Swift’s earlier modest proposal to sell poor Irish children for food.  That earlier example does cause me to wonder whether we might be able to market unfav flesh as a kind of new veal, but I digress.  I offer these thoughts forward as a way to buttress woman’s health in our country for the foreseeable future.  And to those naysayers who question my motives and pick at the small details and lacunae of my plan, you are on notice that you haven’t offered one scintilla of creativity to solve this vexing and important problem, and until you do, I say to you that "I am the boss."

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

3 Keys to Cracking the Trump Code

Love him or hate him, President Donald J. Trump is unlike any president our country has ever seen. Opinion pieces on op-ed pages and elsewhere have attempted to make sense of his different approach to the presidency, many relying on his words in The Art of the Deal as the starting point, and while deal making is a good part of the essence of the man (President Trump is always negotiating or setting up a negotiation), I believe there are 3 interlocking keys to cracking the Trump code. A better place to start is with culture.

Key 1: Club Culture Man in a Role Culture World

Cracking the Trump code starts with the management classic The Gods of Management in which Charles Handy classifies four different organizational cultures each belonging to one of 4 Greek gods, Zeus (club or entrepreneurial), Apollo (role or bureaucratic), Athena (task or project), or Dionysus (existential or star). Where most presidents hail from other role cultures in state or federal government, President Trump has headed private sector club or entrepreneurial cultures for much of his adult life, and many of his greatest successes and failures as President can be understood through this lens. Whether you agree with the policy or not, his Sherman’s march through Federal regulations has been a singular club success. In club culture, those working with the Zeus figure (Trump) can move quickly as long as they can answer the question, “What would Zeus do?” and those he trusts completely such as Ivanka, Jared, and cooperative cabinet members can help him move quickly in tasks such as these.

Many have noted the high turnover of Trump administration figures, as well as a number of hires that seemed like bad fits from the get go. This, too, is a natural consequence of bringing a Zeus culture to the Oval Office, a place more accustomed to Apollo (role). Some of Trump’s generals could cut it, but perhaps the mismatch of former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is the best example of this kind of misfit as can be seen in Tillerson’s own words, “What was challenging for me coming from the disciplined, highly process-oriented ExxonMobil corporation to go to work for a man who is pretty undisciplined doesn’t like to read, doesn’t read briefing reports, doesn’t like to get into the details of a lot of things, but rather just kind of says, ‘This is what I believe.” Club cultures value quick, intuitive decisions (like Zeus) without a lot of analysis, and “process-oriented” cultures buy pencils with deep analysis and data. Trump-Tillerson was a classic Zeus-Apollo showdown, and Trump’s hire of Mike Pompeo, is an example of someone who appears to be able to work for Zeus and interact with Apollo effectively. More of President Trump’s hires need to follow this example, but finding such people in Washington is easier said than done.

Key 2: Anchors, BATNAs, and Such

Those who turn to The Art of the Deal are right to think of Trump as always thinking about deals, but a better place to turn for insight is Fisher & Ury’s Getting to Yes. A life of successful dealmaking has honed President Trump’s negotiation technique to a sharp point. For example, a key concept in Fisher & Ury is the idea of the BATNA, or best alternative to a negotiated agreement. President Trump is always aware of his BATNA (and his opponent’s) and almost always trying to improve his (and limit his opponent’s). For example, in the recent shutdown discussions, the President knew that declaration of an emergency was a last resort. Those in his party who called for its early use did not understand Trump, the negotiator.

Another classic negotiation idea is the anchor. Many have commented on President Trump’s changing narrative surrounding deals, his use of extreme positions, and his lack of concern with linguistic precision. In negotiation theory these are all classic anchoring techniques. President Trump is constantly trying to put an early and favorable position out in public (an anchor) because he understands that the first position articulated in a negotiation has a disproportionate effect on the outcome. For example, President Trump called Kim Jong Un “rocket man” and bragged about his “button” as an anchor to the start of a difficult negotiation. Because President Trump values good deals over linguistic precision or nice behavior, this can be seen by some as inconsistent or worse, but President Trump could care less about being articulate or well regarded. The President uses words to get good deals. He also understands the dynamics of negotiation better than his adversaries and allies alike.

Key 3: Tit for Tat and the Evolution of Cooperation

Some are troubled by President Trump’s hitting back in both action and tweets against those who criticize him, and some were perplexed when he withdrew Nancy Pelosi’s government airplane after she withdrew her State of the Union invitation, but those familiar with Bob Axelrod’s 1984 The Evolution of Cooperation would understand. That book describes seminal experiments with strategies in the so-called iterated prisoner’s dilemma problem. In many social and negotiation settings people can cooperate or not (defect) with one another, and the payoff for cooperation or defection is often like the deals on TV crime shows where better deals are given to those who rat out their criminal partners. The hard behavior in such cases is for both criminals to stay true to one another (to cooperate), and it is also the behavior that often gets the criminals the highest joint payoff (little or no jail time).

Axelrod ran a set of tournaments in which computerized bots played an iterated prisoner’s dilemma problem against one another. Surprisingly, the winner of these tournaments was a simple entry by game theorist Anatol Rapoport called Tit-for-Tat (TFT) in which the bot’s strategy was simple: defect when the opponent defects on the previous move and cooperate when the opponent cooperates on the previous move. The TFT strategy was surprisingly robust, and much of President Trump’s behavior can be understood as exercising TFT. The tweeting and counter-tweeting and the airplane-for-invitation withdrawal are current examples.

Following the early experiments Axelrod worked with computer scientist Stephanie Forrest using a kind of artificial intelligence called a genetic algorithm, to evolve strategies by computer that were better than TFT. The resulting best amongst these refined strategies can be thought of as a kind of TFT+making-nice. Simple TFT by itself has the disadvantage of getting stuck at low payoff when both parties play tit-for-tat. TFT+making-nice allows a negotiating pair to get unstuck and back to high joint of mutual cooperation.

President Trump’s moves during and following the shutdown are examples of TFT+making-nice. The shutdown and early actions were largely tit-for-tat. Democrats and Republicans crowing or lamenting the President’s reopening the government, misunderstand the President’s effort to make nice and try to get a deal. True, Trump’s tactics may work better in a business context when there are fortunes to be made and both parties have clear interests aligned with a deal, but friends and foes alike should understand that the President’s tactics align well with our best understanding of how cooperation can come about in adversarial situations such as our current political culture.

David E. Goldberg is Dobrovolny Professor of Entrepreneurial Engineering Emeritus at the University of Illinois and author of Genetic Algorithms in Search, Optimization, and Machine Learning, The Design of Innovation, and A Whole New Engineer: The Coming Revolution in Engineering Education. He helps transform engineering education for individual freedom and unleashing around the world as a leadership coach from his firm in Douglas, Michigan.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

TEE is back

This blog (The Entrepreneurial Engineer) was my first effort at blogging going back to 2004.  I suspended writing this blog to go to other forms of social media in 2010.  I bring back this blog as a way to express views about current events in important ways. 

In particular, I find the rise of anti-market narrative and efforts to return to increased government control and planning troubling, especially considering TEE's original vision.  I am also concerned by the rise on campus of speech codes, new forms of bigotry, and the widespread corruption of the modern university

In tackling some of these issues, I will stick to the habits of the earlier blog. I'll draw from a variety of theoretical and practical frameworks to make my point.  Whether you agree with my point of view or not is less important than understanding the underlying theories and practices and how they are woven together.  Some of the views I express will be unpopular, but I am particularly troubled by the smug confidence of those who use their positional power to shut others up.  Although I've been away from campus for some time, I always valued the rough and tumble of different points of view in the academy.  That this has disappeared or is disappearing must not be allowed to stand without a fight. 

So welcome back to TEE.  Let the blogging begin.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The perils and pleasures of interdisciplinarity

I just gave a talk on "The Perils and Pleasures of Interdisciplinarity" at a Workshop on the Challenges in Top-Down, Bottom-up and Computational Approaches in Synthetic Biology. The talk is available in the viewer below:

Monday, October 26, 2009

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Save the Date for Philosophy, Engineering & Technology: 9-10 May 2010

The 2010 Forum on Philosophy, Engineering, and Technology (FPET-2010) will be held on 9-10 May 2010 (Sunday evening through Monday) at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, CO. The event is an outgrowth of the WPE-2007 and WPE-2008 meetings held in Delft and London.

Philosophical reasoning was important to the writing of The Entrepreneurial Engineer and TEE author David E. Goldberg is one of FPET-2010’s organizers. More information is available at

Tuesday, June 30, 2009