The F-35 Can’t Dogfight

July 7th, 2015

It comes as no surprise that the F-35 can’t dogfight, according to a recent test pilot’s report.

Harvard Gets Its Geek On

July 7th, 2015

Harvard’s Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences has seen its enrollment increase dramatically since it became its own school in 2007. Harry Lewis, its interim dean, explains what’s driving demand:

The easy answer is we’re doing a superb job of teaching our courses and we’ve created an infectious enthusiasm among undergraduates. And I think that’s all partly true — CS 50 [the introduction to computer science] is a cultural phenomenon at Harvard now, in a way that never used to be the case. People take CS 50 because their buddy on the lacrosse team is taking the course. Everybody knows it’s a cool course, so everybody wants to take it. The same thing is happening to a lesser degree in some of the other engineering disciplines.

There’s also been a kind of cultural change at Harvard, where making things, doing useful things, is no longer — as it certainly once was at Harvard — considered the sort of thing gentlemen and gentlewomen didn’t do. Harvard used to be a place where pure science was revered and applied science was not particularly respected. And that’s very much not the case now.

I’m sorry, gentlewomen? Really?

Closing Europe’s Harbors

July 6th, 2015

David Frum provides a rather thorough case for closing Europe’s harbors to migrants:

Illegal migration across the Mediterranean has tripled since the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011 opened the ports of Libya to human smuggling on an unprecedented scale. Some 50,000 migrants made the crossing to southern Europe in the first four months of 2015. Another 1,800 died at sea.

Hundreds of thousands more people are estimated to be waiting in Libya for the chance to cross into Europe. Millions more would follow if they could. The migrants come from a vast swath of Africa and the Middle East, spanning not only war-torn Syria (in the first four months of 2015, Syrians accounted for just 30 percent of those crossing the sea) but also Nigeria and the Gambia and Eritrea and Somalia and Mali. They wish to leave behind poor, unstable countries in order to seek opportunity in the wealthy lands of the European Union. It’s a dangerous gamble. But the prize is huge.

Of the 170,000 migrants who made landfall in Italy in 2014 (Italy being the most common destination for migrant boats last year), reportedly only about 5,000 have actually been deported. Sixty percent of those who sought asylum in the country last year were granted refugee status or other protections upon their first request. (Still more received such status on appeal.) Many migrants don’t wait for a hearing. They spend a few days in an overcrowded reception center, then abscond north to the stronger job markets of France, Germany, and beyond. Italian authorities are sometimes accused of conniving at this escape, so as to lessen the burden these new arrivals pose to Italian taxpayers.

The migrants who embark upon this journey are typically represented as terrorized and impoverished—as people driven (to quote Amnesty International) “to risk their lives in treacherous sea crossings in a desperate attempt to reach safety in Europe.” The demographic and economic facts complicate that story. When populations flee war or famine, they generally flee together: the elderly and the infants, women as well as men. The current migrants, however, are overwhelmingly working-age males. All of them have paid a substantial price to make the trip: it can cost upwards of $2,000 to board a smuggler’s boat, to say nothing of hundreds or even thousands of dollars to travel from home to the embarkation point in the first place. Very few of the migrants from Libya are actually Libyan nationals.

Doug Saunders, a British Canadian journalist who has spent considerable time reporting from North Africa and the Middle East and who in 2012 published a book that was sympathetic to trans-Mediterranean migrants, rejects as “insidious” the notion that such migrants are fleeing famine and death. To the contrary, he wrote recently:

Every boat person I’ve met has been ambitious, urban, educated, and, if not middle-class (though a surprising number are …), then far from subsistence peasantry. They are very poor by European standards, but often comfortable by African and Middle Eastern ones.

What these migrants are doing is what migrants have always done: they’re pursuing a better life. But although migration is attractive to the migrants, it is unwanted by European electorates—and the tension between continued migration and public opinion is changing the Continent in dangerous ways.

Read the whole thing.

Engineering Fiction

July 6th, 2015

The first two-thirds of Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves is not science fiction so much as engineering fiction, John Derbyshire notes:

The moon suddenly disintegrates, cause unknown. There are seven big pieces and innumerable smaller ones.

At first there seems no cause for alarm. The fragments are gravitationally bound. The single, solid moon has been replaced by a rubble cloud; that’s all. The big pieces — orbiting their common center of gravity — occasionally collide and shatter, but there seems to be no danger in that.

Then someone does the math. The number of collisions will increase exponentially, reaching a “hockey stick” upward turn in two years’ time. Then trillions of moon fragments will fall from orbit onto the Earth, superheating the atmosphere and sterilizing the surface. The bombardment will last for millennia.

The first two-thirds of Seveneves describes the frenzied two-year effort to get enough people and materials into orbit for life up there to be self-sustaining. The International Space Station, somewhat enhanced from its actual current configuration, plays a lead role.

At this point in what we used to call “the Space Age” (remember?), ISS — now in its 15th year of continuous occupation — is deeply unglamorous. Probably most Americans are not aware of its existence. Neal Stephenson is very aware. He has researched ISS down to the last lug. It’s the toehold he needs to make his story work.

So this first two-thirds of the book is in fact not so much science fiction as engineering fiction. There are no just-barely-imaginable scientific possibilities in play here, only Newtonian mechanics and a relentless press of technical problems large and small. Large: Those trillions of falling rocks will fall through the orbital zone ISS inhabits. Small: The human eyeball loses its shape in prolonged weightlessness, so everyone needs new eyeglasses.

You either like this kind of thing or you don’t. I couldn’t get enough of it, and breezed through these first 566 pages.

Free-Handed with Violence

July 5th, 2015

I haven’t seen the latest Mad Max yet, but David Grant explains that the villain of the piece, Immortan Joe, maintains a measure of civilization but is still the villain — to a modern audience, at least — because he is more free-handed with violence than with the benefits of civilization:

He engages in slavery; he attacks people who simply wander into his territory; he withholds water from the people below him; he restricts immigration up to his fortress. All these things are supposed to feel wrong to us modern, Western viewers. Instead, we’re supposed to sympathize with Furiosa and company’s dream of escaping Joe’s tyranny. When the gang returns to the Citadel with Joe’s corpse strapped to the front of their car, there is much rejoicing as the crowd tears Joe’s corpse, the women carry people up to the fortress along with them, and the women already up top release water for the people below.

What we do not see is that the food supply is still meager, the people overuse the water and eventually run out, and a rival warlord seizes Gastown and the Bullet Farm and lays siege to the Citadel, killing or enslaving everyone he gets his hands on. The women’s dream of a better life for themselves and their children proves illusory. Max, understandably, doesn’t stick around to watch all this unfold.

That’s not the point though:

Compare Max to another uncivilized hero near-and-dear to the hearts of many neoreactionaries: Conan the Cimmerian. Conan kills, rapes, and steals as the desire strikes him and prudence permits him; he has no respect for private property, law and order, or any authority beyond power. He has a barbaric code of honor that places great emphasis on personal ties and obligations, and while that code often makes him more admirable than his civilized antagonists, it is not sufficient to support a civilization.

Like Fury Road, the stories of Conan are straightforward action-adventures. We don’t read them for any kind of morality play but rather because we want to see a man facing adversity and triumphing through strength and cunning. When Conan strangles the tyrannical king of Aquilonia and seizes his throne, we are not supposed to take this as social commentary and definitely not supposed to go out and try our own hands at Hyborian rapine.

The value of Max and Conan, as well as heroes from James Bond to Luke Skywalker to Odysseus, is to exemplify various masculine virtues and to show us the great deeds that can be accomplished with them. Their stories inspire us to live out those same virtues; they teach us how to be men. This kind of instruction is badly needed these days.

Mad Max: Fury Road should be watched as an action-adventure film. There is no need for us to seek a deeper meaning to it. But if people want to see it as a morality play and to sing the praises of Furiosa, the strong, independent woman who still needs a man, we can explain how Joe was a benefactor to his people and that by destroying him, Furiosa has led them all to death and desolation. Normal people do not wish to live in the waste; they will recoil from these thoughts.

Dull Minds and Criminal Acts

July 5th, 2015

Dull minds and criminal acts go together, Finnish researchers have confirmed:

Finland is the sort of place where they do things thoroughly, things like testing the intelligence of a total population cohort of Finnish males born in 1987 and following up the results. Gold dust.

Joseph A. Schwartz, Jukka Savolainen, Mikko Aaltonen, Marko Merikukka, Reija Paananen, Mika Gisslerd. Intelligence and criminal behavior in a total birth cohort: An examination of functional form, dimensions of intelligence, and the nature of offending. Intelligence, Vol 51, July–August 2015, Pages 109–118.

They found that lower levels of intelligence are associated with greater levels of offending, that the IQ-offending association is mostly linear, with some curvilinear aspects at highest and lowest levels, and that the pattern is consistent across multiple measures of intelligence and offending. In some ways this is exactly as predicted and already observed, since the available literature shows that individuals with lower IQ are more likely to engage in criminal behaviour.  Criminal offending was measured with nine different indicators from official records and intelligence was measured using three subscales (verbal, mathematical, and spatial reasoning) as well as a composite measure. The results show consistent evidence of mostly linear patterns, with some indication of curvilinear associations at the very lowest and the very highest ranges of intellectual ability.

However, the advantage of these data is that they deal with an entire birth cohort, so there are no distorting effects caused by the loss of a few miscreants who might account for lots of crimes. The population is restricted to males n = 21,513 because only males in Finland do military service and sit the intelligence tests. Offending is judged from real documentary data, not from fallible self report, even more fallible when painful memories are involved. Lastly, they have verbal, mathematic and spatial IQ measures, so can investigate whether verbal intelligence has a particular effect, as some have argued.

Crimes vs. Intelligence

Note that violent crime is an order of magnitude higher in the bottom 20% of the population by ability than the top 20% of population by ability.

The Declaration of Causes of Seceding States

July 4th, 2015

I don’t remember reading any of the declarations of causes of the seceding states in school. South Carolina’s declaration starts as follows:

The people of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, on the 26th day of April, A.D., 1852, declared that the frequent violations of the Constitution of the United States, by the Federal Government, and its encroachments upon the reserved rights of the States, fully justified this State in then withdrawing from the Federal Union; but in deference to the opinions and wishes of the other slaveholding States, she forbore at that time to exercise this right. Since that time, these encroachments have continued to increase, and further forbearance ceases to be a virtue.

And now the State of South Carolina having resumed her separate and equal place among nations, deems it due to herself, to the remaining United States of America, and to the nations of the world, that she should declare the immediate causes which have led to this act.

In the year 1765, that portion of the British Empire embracing Great Britain, undertook to make laws for the government of that portion composed of the thirteen American Colonies. A struggle for the right of self-government ensued, which resulted, on the 4th of July, 1776, in a Declaration, by the Colonies, “that they are, and of right ought to be, FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES; and that, as free and independent States, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do.”

They further solemnly declared that whenever any “form of government becomes destructive of the ends for which it was established, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government.” Deeming the Government of Great Britain to have become destructive of these ends, they declared that the Colonies “are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”

In pursuance of this Declaration of Independence, each of the thirteen States proceeded to exercise its separate sovereignty; adopted for itself a Constitution, and appointed officers for the administration of government in all its departments — Legislative, Executive and Judicial. For purposes of defense, they united their arms and their counsels; and, in 1778, they entered into a League known as the Articles of Confederation, whereby they agreed to entrust the administration of their external relations to a common agent, known as the Congress of the United States, expressly declaring, in the first Article “that each State retains its sovereignty, freedom and independence, and every power, jurisdiction and right which is not, by this Confederation, expressly delegated to the United States in Congress assembled.”

Under this Confederation the war of the Revolution was carried on, and on the 3rd of September, 1783, the contest ended, and a definite Treaty was signed by Great Britain, in which she acknowledged the independence of the Colonies in the following terms: “ARTICLE 1 — His Britannic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz: New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to be FREE, SOVEREIGN AND INDEPENDENT STATES; that he treats with them as such; and for himself, his heirs and successors, relinquishes all claims to the government, propriety and territorial rights of the same and every part thereof.”

Thus were established the two great principles asserted by the Colonies, namely: the right of a State to govern itself; and the right of a people to abolish a Government when it becomes destructive of the ends for which it was instituted. And concurrent with the establishment of these principles, was the fact, that each Colony became and was recognized by the mother Country a FREE, SOVEREIGN AND INDEPENDENT STATE.

In 1787, Deputies were appointed by the States to revise the Articles of Confederation, and on 17th September, 1787, these Deputies recommended for the adoption of the States, the Articles of Union, known as the Constitution of the United States.

The parties to whom this Constitution was submitted, were the several sovereign States; they were to agree or disagree, and when nine of them agreed the compact was to take effect among those concurring; and the General Government, as the common agent, was then invested with their authority.

If only nine of the thirteen States had concurred, the other four would have remained as they then were– separate, sovereign States, independent of any of the provisions of the Constitution. In fact, two of the States did not accede to the Constitution until long after it had gone into operation among the other eleven; and during that interval, they each exercised the functions of an independent nation.

By this Constitution, certain duties were imposed upon the several States, and the exercise of certain of their powers was restrained, which necessarily implied their continued existence as sovereign States. But to remove all doubt, an amendment was added, which declared that the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States, respectively, or to the people. On the 23d May , 1788, South Carolina, by a Convention of her People, passed an Ordinance assenting to this Constitution, and afterwards altered her own Constitution, to conform herself to the obligations she had undertaken.

Thus was established, by compact between the States, a Government with definite objects and powers, limited to the express words of the grant. This limitation left the whole remaining mass of power subject to the clause reserving it to the States or to the people, and rendered unnecessary any specification of reserved rights.

We hold that the Government thus established is subject to the two great principles asserted in the Declaration of Independence; and we hold further, that the mode of its formation subjects it to a third fundamental principle, namely: the law of compact. We maintain that in every compact between two or more parties, the obligation is mutual; that the failure of one of the contracting parties to perform a material part of the agreement, entirely releases the obligation of the other; and that where no arbiter is provided, each party is remitted to his own judgment to determine the fact of failure, with all its consequences.

In the present case, that fact is established with certainty. We assert that fourteen of the States have deliberately refused, for years past, to fulfill their constitutional obligations, and we refer to their own Statutes for the proof.

The Constitution of the United States, in its fourth Article, provides as follows: “No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up, on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.”

This stipulation was so material to the compact, that without it that compact would not have been made. The greater number of the contracting parties held slaves, and they had previously evinced their estimate of the value of such a stipulation by making it a condition in the Ordinance for the government of the territory ceded by Virginia, which now composes the States north of the Ohio River.

The same article of the Constitution stipulates also for rendition by the several States of fugitives from justice from the other States.

Happy Secession Day

July 4th, 2015

Once again, I wish you a happy Secession Day! I’ve discussed the colonies’ secession from the motherland more than once over the years:

Race and Discipline

July 3rd, 2015

Black students in Seattle cause four times more trouble than their white classmates, based on their suspension rates — and that’s simply inconceivable:

More than 800 black students were sent home last year, many missing weeks of instruction for comparatively low-level offenses like “disruptive conduct” or “disobedience” or “rule-breaking.” At some schools such as Seattle’s Washington Middle — where, despite comparable populations, 94 African-American kids were disciplined and just seven whites — the data is so lopsided that confrontation with uncomfortable questions becomes difficult to avoid.

As striking as the racial split is the age at which it begins: kindergarten.

Statewide, more than 8,716 students younger than sixth grade were suspended or expelled in 2012-13, and patterns in Seattle suggest that a disproportionate number were children of color. (The state has not released breakdowns by race in students that young.)

The reason given for these sanctions speaks to the enormous role that individual judgment plays in disciplining kids. While there were only 119 suspensions for clear-cut violations like alcohol, tobacco or drugs, schools logged a whopping 7,479 incidents for “other behavior.”

The meaning of this data confounds African-American parents, who wonder whether white teachers are targeting their children and has made educators increasingly uncomfortable.

Steve Sailer dubs this the racist nice white lady menace.

Is Special Education Racist?

July 3rd, 2015

Is special education racist? With the New York Times asking, you’d have to assume, yes:

More than six million children in the United States receive special-education services for their disabilities. Of those age 6 and older, nearly 20 percent are black.

Critics claim that this high number — blacks are 1.4 times more likely to be placed in special education than other races and ethnicities combined — shows that black children are put into special education because schools are racially biased.

But our new research suggests just the opposite. The real problem is that black children are underrepresented in special-education classes when compared with white children with similar levels of academic achievement, behavior and family economic resources.

The belief that black children are overrepresented in special education is driving some misguided attempts at policy changes.

I was not expecting that:

In a study published today, we report that the under-diagnosis of black children occurs across five disability conditions for which special services are commonly provided — learning disabilities, speech or language impairments, intellectual disabilities, health impairments and emotional disturbances. From the beginning of kindergarten to the end of eighth grade, black children are less, not more, likely than white children with similar levels of academic performance and behaviors to be identified as having each of these disabilities.

In fact, our study statistically controlled for many possible factors that might explain these disparities. Examples included differences in children’s academic achievement, behavior, gender and age, birth weight, the mother’s marital status and the family’s income and education levels. In contrast, many previous studies reporting overrepresentation have not adjusted for these factors. Instead, these prior studies have relied on school- or district-level data that did not adequately control for differences in risk factor exposure between black and white children.

Since nobody remembers anything, Steve Sailer notes that racial differences in special ed were what led Arthur Jensen of Berkeley to the Dark Side a half century ago:

Jensen’s interest in this topic began when one of his graduate students noted that the white special education students he was working with appeared to be more genuinely “retarded” than the students from minority groups who had been placed in special education. In fact, it seemed to Jensen’s student that whereas the white children functioned at a low level both inside and outside the classroom, the minority children sometimes appeared “quite indistinguishable in every way from children of normal intelligence, except in their scholastic performance and in their performance on a variety of standard IQ tests (Jensen, 1974, p. 222).”

How History Forgot Judah P. Benjamin

July 2nd, 2015

The Confederate secretary of state, who appeared on its two-dollar bill, was perhaps the 19th Century’s most prominent American Jew, Judah P. Benjamin:

Benjamin was born a British subject on St. Croix in 1811 to a family of Sephardic Jews. In 1822, the Benjamin family immigrated to America, seeking their fortune in what was then the nation’s most Jewish city: Charleston, S.C.

[...]

As a Charleston schoolboy, Judah was adored by his teachers for his quick mind. He was packed off to Yale at age 14 where he became the sole Jew in his class. In New Haven, Judah distinguished himself as a debater, engaging the questions that he would eventually argue on the Senate floor, including “Ought the government of the U. States to take immediate measures for the Manumission of the slaves of our country?” and, ominously, “Is it probable that our country will continue united under its present form of government for a century?”

But the little big man on campus—Benjamin stood just over five feet tall—never graduated. In 1827, he was expelled from the university for “ungentlemanly conduct” of an unspecified nature. Rumors that the tempest in New Haven involved gambling, carousing, or kleptomania dogged him the rest of his life, particularly during the Civil War when the Northern press rehashed the scandal to tar the man they called the South’s “evil genius.”

[...]

By 1852, “the Little Jew from New Orleans” had made enough of a name for himself as a state legislator to be sent to the U.S. Senate, chosen, as was then customary, not by popular election but by statehouse pols. On the Senate floor, Benjamin flourished as an orator of the Southern cause, a master of the secessionist rhetoric that cast slaveholders as victims. After Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860, with the war looming, Benjamin intoned in a speech to his Northern Senate colleagues, “You may carry desolation into our peaceful land, and with torch and fire you may set our cities in flames … but you never can subjugate us; you never can convert the free sons of the soil into vassals, paying tribute to your power; and you never, never can degrade them to the level of an inferior and servile race. Never! Never!” When an abolitionist senator, citing the Book of Exodus, called Benjamin out for the signal hypocrisy of a Jew shilling for slavery—he tarred him as “an Israelite with Egyptian principles”—Benjamin cried anti-Semitism and refused to answer the charge on the merits.

With Louisiana’s secession from the Union in 1861, Benjamin, having turned down the chance to be the first Jew nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court, was tapped by Confederate President Jefferson Davis as his right-hand man. During the war, Benjamin rotated through a series of Cabinet positions, first attorney general, then secretary of war, and finally secretary of state. Because of Benjamin’s Jewishness, Davis presumably figured he could never challenge him for the presidency should the South succeed in its bid for independence. (Unlike the United States Constitution, the Confederate Constitution permitted immigrants to become president provided they were Confederate citizens at the time of its ratification.) Secretary of State Benjamin was given the daunting diplomatic task of trying to obtain international recognition for the South as an independent country—a hopeless endeavor he pursued with such zeal he was later dubbed the “Confederate Kissinger.”

When the war ended, Benjamin fled Richmond posing as a French farmer who spoke only broken English. The short, fat attorney eluded a U.S. Army manhunt through the swamps of Florida before setting sail for London, where he began his legal practice anew from scratch. Soon counted among Britain’s most successful barristers, he built his wife a trophy home on the Rue d’Iéna in Paris and threw a lavish wedding for his daughter. In 1884, Benjamin died a wealthy man. Against his wishes, his wife had him buried in a Catholic cemetery, the famed Père Lachaise, where he rests today in obscurity, ignored by tourists tramping from Marcel Proust’s grave to Jim Morrison’s.

Oh, and he might have been gay, too.

(Hat tip to Steve Sailer.)

Anti-Elitist, but Even More Anti-Mobist

July 2nd, 2015

Arnold Kling thinks of himself as anti-elitist, but even more anti-mobist:

When the mob emerges, I cease to be libertarian and instead become ultra-conservative. There is no phenomenon more barbaric than the mob.

Kling was delighted to learn about “unfollowing” on Facebook, so he could unfollow any friends who constantly posted political screeds.

He also cites James Poulos on why Twitter is terrible:

Twitter is a megaphone for the worldview wars. It fosters constant competition among our claims that everyone should care and act as we do.

Simplistic and Naive, but Effectively True

July 2nd, 2015

Outsiders discredit themselves when they make accusations of conscious conspiracy:

Some government bureaucracies have the very nasty dynamic that when they screw up, they create bigger problems, and thus get more funding to solve the bigger problem. Often, no one gets fired. The leaders of the problem-creating department now have more employees and thus more status and authority. Thus the system actively rewards those who work against the stated goals of the institution (again, they are not intentionally subverting the institution, they are often deluded).

The word “intent” breaks down because we do not have a handy English word to describe subconscious, institutional, or evolutionary intent. Many low-status outsiders observe the institution acting like a vampire, but they do not understand the internal dynamic, so they assume that the selfishness is conscious, when it is not. Their mistaken analysis of the internal dynamic makes them look like cranks, even though the overall observation is correct.

Because intent is so complicated, it hardly makes sense to even analyze it. To judge an institution, watch what it does. Look at the pressure that shapes its decisions.

Consider the pro-immigration Silicon Valley capitalists. I doubt Paul Graham fantasizes about bringing in hordes of programmers to push down wages, so that he can make an extra buck. That is ridiculous. But, he spends most of his time with startup founders and other investors. His grand thesis is that what is good for startups, is good for the country where the startups live (I generally agree with this thesis). So naturally, out of pure empathy, he feels pain when the founders recount some trouble getting a visa for themselves or a key employee. The social circle of elites like Graham, Zuckerberg and Gates include few workers who have been squeezed out of their jobs by H1B’s. So their concerns are reduced to a footnote and omitted from the FWD.us plan-of-action.2

Consider the Yale president. President Salovey will want to champion some noble new initiatives. That is the role he was hired for. But how to pay for it? If he cuts funding for some diversity program he will have protesters at his door. If he cuts a department, professors will be outraged. If he cuts the new gymnasium renovations, they’ll lose out on matriculation from rich and prestigious elite students. Thus the pressure is always to get more money, to grow, to expand. The pressure is to raise tuition, seek more government grants, seek more tax benefits from running a giant real estate conglomerate. Does President Salovey ever lie in bed, trying to sleep, thinking to himself, “You know, the primary benefit of Yale is really having a monopoly on a social network. It is wrong to exploit that social network, to make parents take out second mortgages to get access to it. Maybe we should charge less. We could do without the new electronic media center.” Perhaps he does think that. But there is no pressure to make him act on such thoughts.

Consider the Federal Reserve. It is incorrect to claim that the Federal Reserve is run by the banking industry in a command and control manner. But the two are very cozy. The door revolves. And even if you eliminated the revolving door, the banking industry has real power because of the information asymmetry. The bankers know the mechanics of the financial system, and thus when the system breaks, the bankers get to make the plan to fix it.3 Thus policy plans that originate in the banking sector are often the policy plans that get passed. And look at the results. There were trillions in bailouts for Wall Street. Many financiers net gained from the entire boom-bust cycle, while the ordinary tax payer has net lost. Inflation has run higher than the interest on CD’s, thus taking away money from ordinary Americans each year. Favored institutions get loans at low rates to buy up coveted property. Local banks and shops struggle to compete. If you observe the results, the conspiracy theorists have a point.

Consider media companies. Do journalists get promoted for making good predictions and fired for making wrong predictions? Do clicks and advertising dollars correlate with truth value? Do foundation grants and donations from the wealthy correlate with truth value? If not, why should we expect these institutions to be giving us an accurate view of reality?

The bottom line is do not judge any person or institution by what they say. Watch what they do. Find where the pressure is. Trace their social network. Who gives them advice? Who do they want to impress? Examine where the incentives lie. Examine the selection process by which people or departments or ideas get promoted. In the long term, an institution is forged by pressure, not by lofty goals and intentions. Thus the conspiracy critique is often simplistic and naive, but effectively true.

A Sentimental Education

July 1st, 2015

The Guardian has published a glowing review of Drumduan Upper School, a Steiner school co-founded by Tilda Swinton:

Through the windows Krzysztof points to a pair of handsome canoes sitting outside, and fetches a paddle for my inspection. “They were made out of slabs of local Douglas fir, with no machines and no vices, just clamps on desks,” he says. To Krzysztof the boat is a paragon of interdisciplinary education. As he puts it: “You’ve got mathematics, geometry, physics of buoyancy, the chemistry of epoxy resins, the art and aesthetic of colour and shape, the process of collaboration and the physical, outdoor experience of it all.” Of course, you’ve also got a boat.

But there is no A-level exam in boat making, and the question of how these students will make it to university should they wish to go – as, for example, Arran does — is never fully resolved. The students’ work is documented in books that they write and design “to their own best intellectual and artistic standard,” and there’s some suggestion that these can take the place of exam results, but in an education system so heavily predicated on grades, it seems a big ask. There are precedents, however. The Acorn School in Gloucestershire is run along near-identical lines. This year, its students were offered places at universities in Bath, Exeter, Manchester and Bristol. The school claims that no Acorn student applying for university has ever failed to secure a place.

Drumduan parents are obviously a highly self-selecting group. Sharon McAlister says she’s not worried by the absence of exams. Her youngest son, Angus, a sparky and genial 15-year-old (“You shouldn’t ask a boy his age,” he jests), spent seven years in the state system, where he was bullied and unhappy, before transferring to Drumduan in 2013. “It’s that wonderful thing of being able to celebrate a burgeoning individualism that you don’t get in a state school,” McAlister tells me. Tilda refers to this as “each chain on each moving bicycle” in contrast to the widespread practice of teaching children as if they’re all on the same bike. “I didn’t have a particularly toxic education, but my chain was not on my bicycle,” says Tilda. “I managed to coast down a few hills and got off and walked the rest of the way.”

I like to describe Steiner, or Waldorf, schools as what people only vaguely familiar with Montessori schools imagine when they hear them described.

Rudolph Steiner founded anthroposophy, a proto-New Age philosophy.

What’s true remains true

July 1st, 2015

What’s true remains true, JayMan reminds us, even if the truth is unpopular — or supports a dangerous idea.