hard heads soft hearts

a scratch pad for half-formed thoughts by a liberal political junkie who's nobody special. ''Hard Heads, Soft Hearts'' is the title of a book by Princeton economist Alan Blinder, and tends to be a favorite motto of neoliberals, especially liberal economists.

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Saturday, February 05, 2011
It's A Wise Physicist (Or Economist)

Who was it that said "As far as I can see, the right way to raise kids is to find out what they want to do, and then tell them to do it."? I thought it was Murray Gell-Mann, but it might have been an economist instead. Googling, the only references I could find were a 1983 magazine article in Folio magazine and a 1940 memoir of LDS member Jesse Knight.

There are a lot of really good letters in Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track: The Letters of Richard P. Feynman. Here is one, plus a bit from the foreword by Timothy Ferris:

Foreword by Timothy Ferris

. . .When a Caltech student asked the eminent cosmologist Michael Turner what his "bias" was in favoring one or another particle as a likely candidate to comprise the dark matter in the universe, Feynman snapped, "Why do you want to know his bias? Form your own bias!" . . .

. . .Mindful of his own shortcomings, Feynman could be admirably indulgent of the shortcomings of others. . .so long as their inquiries struck him as arising from honest intentions. . .a missive from one Bernard Hanft, enclosing a washer and thread the unprompted spinning of which, Hanft proposed, was due to a new force that he rather immodestly dubbed "The Hanft Force." . . .Feynman - reacting, perhaps, to Hanft's earnest, hands-on approach - performed the experiment himself and replied . . .showing that the washer's twirl had a simpler explanation and concluding with a gracious salutation: "Thank you again for calling my attention to these entertaining phenomenon." . . .

Raymond R. Rogers to Richard P. Feynman, December 17, 1965

Dear Sir:
I watched and listened to your discussion with members of KNXT's news commentators tonight and was amazed at the colossal ignorance and smugness. . .Your comment on smog was of a man entirely ignorant of the problem. . .

. . .I have never progressed beyond high school. My ambition was to attend Throop College which is now Cal Tech. My I.Q. was too low to get in. I served my apprenticeship as a machinist starting at ten cents an hour. My whole life has been to be the best machinist there was.

When I retired from Technical Laboratories (now. T.R.W. Systems) on account of age I had worked up as far as I could go without a degree. Your smart young men from Cal. Tech. came over to tell me how things should be done. It sounded like the prattle of small children.

One part of the O.G.O. satellite was so poorly designed I told them so, and I could design one that would really work. They laughed at me, (a poor slob without an education). Two years later when O.G.O. was put into orbit that part was on O.G.O. exactly as I designed it. . .

. . Some times I think education is a handicap.

How did you get the Nobel Prize?
Yours Truly,
Raymond R. Rogers

Richard P. Feynman to Raymond R. Rogers, January 20, 1966

. . .Thank you for your letter about my KNXT interview. You are quite right that I am ignorant about smog and many other things. . .

. . .I won the Nobel Prize for work I did in physics trying to uncover the laws of nature. The only thing I really know very much about are these laws. . .

. . .although you have become a very good machinist and I a good scientist, neither of us really know about the smog problem. Just as my comments on it seem ignorant to you, so your comments on it in your letter do not seem so wise to me. . .

. . .So, please excuse the fact I wasn't happy and polite during my interview, and had to answer questions about which I had no particular special knowledge.

By the way, one of my ambitions had been to be at least good in the machine shop, but everything I made fit poorly, my bearings wobbled, etc. Good machining is essential to building good apparatus for the precise and careful measurements required in physics to discover Nature's laws. So, we physicists have always worked close to and depended on men like you and some of us (like Rowland, who made the first very precise ruling engines to make diffraction gratings) have been great machinists.

About using the words "you guys" - I am sorry it offended you, but it is because I never believed that people who used big words and very fancy speech were especially smart or good. I think it is important only to express clearly what you want to say. I admit though, that "you guys" doesn't sound polite, so I guess that wasn't so good.

Yours sincerely,
R.P. Feynman

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