The Yale Problem Begins in High School

Thursday, November 26th, 2015

After giving his Coddle U. vs. Strengthen U. speech at an elite private high school on the West Coast, Jonathan Haidt realized that the Yale Problem in fact begins in high school:

The entire student body — around 450 students, from grades 9-12 — were in the auditorium. There was plenty of laughter at all the right spots, and a lot of applause at the end, so I thought the talk was well received.

But then the discussion began, and it was the most unremittingly hostile questioning I’ve ever had. I don’t mind when people ask hard or critical questions, but I was surprised that I had misread the audience so thoroughly. My talk had little to do with gender, but the second question was “So you think rape is OK?” Like most of the questions, it was backed up by a sea of finger snaps — the sort you can hear in the infamous Yale video, where a student screams at Prof. Christakis to “be quiet” and tells him that he is “disgusting.” I had never heard the snapping before. When it happens in a large auditorium it is disconcerting. It makes you feel that you are facing an angry and unified mob — a feeling I have never had in 25 years of teaching and public speaking.

After the first dozen questions I noticed that not a single questioner was male. I began to search the sea of hands asking to be called on and I did find one boy, who asked a question that indicated that he too was critical of my talk. But other than him, the 200 or so boys in the audience sat silently.

After the Q&A, I got a half-standing ovation: almost all of the boys in the room stood up to cheer. And after the crowd broke up, a line of boys came up to me to thank me and shake my hand. Not a single girl came up to me afterward.

Charter Schools Better for Low-Income Students

Wednesday, November 25th, 2015

Research suggests that charter schools are better than public schools for low-income, nonwhite students in urban areas:

This pattern — positive results in low-income city neighborhoods, zero to negative results in relatively affluent suburbs — holds in lottery studies in Massachusetts as well in a national study of charter schools funded by the Education Department.

My own research, conducted with colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard, shows that charter schools in Boston produced huge gains in test scores. A majority of students at Boston’s charters are African-American and poor. Their score gains are large enough to reduce the black-white score gap in Boston’s middle schools by two-thirds.

Boston’s charters also do a better job at preparing students for college. Charter students are twice as likely to take an Advanced Placement exam as similar students in Boston’s other public schools. Ten percent of charter students pass an A.P. calculus test, compared with just 1 percent of similar students in other public schools. This stronger preparation means that these charter students are far more likely than similar students in traditional public schools to attend a four-year college.

The Revenge of the Coddled

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

Dominic Bouck, O.P., interviews Jonathan Haidt, and they discuss the revenge of the coddled:

I would not want to lead a conversation on this topic with students here at NYU. Not because NYU is more PC than other top schools—it’s not. But professors are much safer these days speaking at other campuses than on their own because it’s only on your own campus that students are going to file harassment charges and drag you before the Equal Opportunity Commission if you say one word that offends someone. So I must heavily self-censor when I speak on my home campus. I can be more provocative and honest when I’m speaking at other schools.

Children are anti-fragile. They have to have many, many experiences of failure, fear, and being challenged. Then they have to figure out ways to get themselves through it. If you deprive children of those experiences for eighteen years and then send them to college, they cannot cope. They don’t know what to do. The first time a romantic relationship fails or they get a low grade, they are not prepared because they have been rendered fragile by their childhoods. So until we can change childhood in America, we won’t be able to roll this back and make room of open debate.

My biggest prescription is that in every hospital delivery room, along with that first set of free diapers, should come the book: Free-Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy. If everyone in America read the book Free-Range Kids the problem would be over in 21 years, when the first set of tougher kids filled our universities.

If you try to reach students when they get to college it’s already too late…. As we say in the essay, childhood changed in 80s and 90s, there was much more protectiveness, there were new zero tolerance policies on bullying, which was fine when bullying was linked to physical aggression and to repeated actions. But bullying has gotten defined down over the last twenty years. There’s no longer a connection to physical violence, it no longer requires repetition, and it no longer requires intent. If someone feels excluded or marginalized by a single event, they have been bullied, and there’s zero tolerance for that. So that’s the way kids are socialized by the time they arrive in college…

What I would suggest is that if any school has an anti-bullying policy, they should balance it with an anti-coddling policy. They need to realize they can do a lot of harm if they coddle the students. They turn them into “moral dependents,” a term for people who cannot solve problems by themselves; they are morally dependent on adults or other authorities to solve their problems for them.

I love the interview note at the end:

This conversation took place on November 4. Over the following days, the meltdowns at Yale, Dartmouth, The University of Missouri, and Claremont McKenna College took place.

The Disorganized Kashba of Molenbeek

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

Teun Voeten called the disorganized Kashba of Molenbeek home for nine years:

In 2005, it was the city’s last affordable neighborhood — in large part because of its bad reputation. My apartment, just across the canal from the city center, is close to the home where two suspects in the Paris attacks were based, and around the corner from where the shooter from the foiled Thalys attack in August had been staying.

I was part of a new wave of young urban professionals, mostly white and college-educated — what the Belgians called bobo, (“bourgeois bohémiens”) — who settled in the area out of pragmatism. We had good intentions. Our contractor’s name was Hassan. He was Moroccan, and we thought that was very cool. We imagined that our kids would one day play happily with his on the street. We hoped for less garbage on the streets, less petty crime. We were confident our block would slowly improve, and that our lofts would increase in value. (We even dared to hope for a hip art gallery or a trendy bar.) We felt like pioneers of the Far West, like we were living in the trenches of the fight for a multicultural society.

Slowly, we woke up to reality. Hassan turned out to be a crook and disappeared with €95,000, the entire budget the tenants had pooled together for our building’s renovation. The neighborhood was hardly multicultural. Rather, with roughly 80 percent of the population of Moroccan origin, it was tragically conformist and homogenous. There may be a vibrant alternative culture in Casablanca and Marrakech, but certainly not in Molenbeek.

Over nine years, as I witnessed the neighborhood become increasingly intolerant. Alcohol became unavailable in most shops and supermarkets; I heard stories of fanatics at the Comte des Flandres metro station who pressured women to wear the veil; Islamic bookshops proliferated, and it became impossible to buy a decent newspaper. With an unemployment rate of 30 percent, the streets were eerily empty until late in the morning. Nowhere was there a bar or café where white, black and brown people would mingle. Instead, I witnessed petty crime, aggression, and frustrated youths who spat at our girlfriends and called them “filthy whores.” If you made a remark, you were inevitably scolded and called a racist. There used to be Jewish shops on Chaussée de Gand, but these were terrorized by gangs of young kids and most closed their doors around 2008. Openly gay people were routinely intimidated, and also packed up their bags.

(Hat tip to Steve Sailer.)

ISIS Revenue

Sunday, November 22nd, 2015

According to U.S. Department of the Treasury officials, ISIS is taking in $500 million from oil a year — and that’s not their only source of revenue:

Yet even if the U.S. finally weakens the group’s oil income, Bahney and other analysts in the U.S., the Middle East, and Europe contend, Islamic State has resources beyond crude — from selling sex slaves to ransoming hostages to plundering stolen farmland — that can likely keep it fighting for years. In any case, $500 million buys a lot of $500 black-market AK-47s.

Islamic State got into the oil business long before it captured global attention through barbaric beheading videos in the summer of 2014. It seized Syrian border crossings to profit from oil smuggling. And it tapped a network that’s operated for decades, dating to at least the 1990s, when Saddam Hussein evaded sanctions by smuggling billions of dollars’ worth of oil out of Iraq under the United Nations’ Oil-for-Food program.

Most often refined in Syria, the group’s oil is trucked to cities such as Mosul to provide people living under its black banner with fuel for generators and other basic needs. It’s also used to power the war machine. “They have quite an organized supply chain running fuel into Iraq and [throughout] the ‘caliphate,’?” says Michael Knights, an Iraq expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, using the militant group’s religiously loaded term for itself. Because the U.S. apparently believed the real money for Islamic State came primarily via selling refined oil, rather than crude, last year’s strikes heavily targeted refineries and storage depots, says Bahney. He and other experts say that strategy missed an important shift: Militants increasingly sell raw crude to truckers and middlemen, rather than refining it themselves. So while Islamic State probably maintains some refining capacity, the majority of the oil in IS territory is refined by locals who operate thousands of rudimentary, roadside furnaces that dot the Syrian desert.

Pentagon officials also acknowledge that for more than a year they avoided striking tanker trucks to limit civilian casualties. “None of these guys are ISIS. We don’t feel right vaporizing them, so we have been watching ISIS oil flowing around for a year,” says Knights. That changed on Nov. 16, when four U.S. attack planes and two gunships destroyed 116 oil trucks. A Pentagon spokesman says the U.S. first dropped leaflets warning drivers to scatter.

Beyond oil, the caliphate is believed by U.S. officials to have assets including $500 million to $1 billion that it seized from Iraqi bank branches last year, untold “hundreds of millions” of dollars that U.S. officials say are extorted and taxed out of populations under the group’s control, and tens of millions of dollars more earned from looted antiquities and ransoms paid to free kidnap victims.

The taxes bring in real money. One example: Islamic State allows policemen, soldiers, and teachers in its territory to atone for the “sin” of having worked under religiously inappropriate regimes—for a fee. Forgiveness comes in the form of a repentance ID card costing up to $2,500, which requires an additional $200 a year to renew, according to Aymenn Jawad al-Tami, a fellow at the Middle East Forum who closely follows the group.

Arguably the least appreciated resource for Islamic State is its fertile farms. Before even starting the engine of a single tractor, the group is believed to have grabbed as much as $200 million in wheat from Iraqi silos alone. Beyond harvested grains, the acreage now controlled by militants across the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys has historically produced half of Syria’s annual wheat crop, about one-third of Iraq’s, and almost 40 percent of Iraqi barley, according to UN agricultural officials and a Syrian economist. Its fields could yield $200 million per year if those crops are sold, even at the cut rates paid on black markets. And how do you conduct airstrikes on farm fields?

For his part, Bahney contends that the group’s real financial strength is its fanatical spending discipline. Rand estimates the biggest and most important drain on Islamic State’s budget is the salary line for up to 100,000 fighters.

Charles Krauthammer’s Conversation with Bill Kristol

Saturday, November 21st, 2015

Charles Krauthammer has a conversation with Bill Kristol that more or less starts with the Reagan Doctrine he named while still a conservative Democrat:

ISIS in Afghanistan

Friday, November 20th, 2015

I watched the latest Frontline, ISIS in Afghanistan, and had a few thoughts.

Frontline correspondent Najibullah Quraishi seems rather… credulous. Apparently Afghan fighters are defecting from the Taliban to the new, better-paying Islamist group, ISIS — and ISIS is running schools where they teach the children how to fight unbelievers.

Only no one at the school they visited seems to know much about gun-handling. The boys at the ISIS-run school have clearly never handled the guns before, and the teacher doesn’t seem to have many technical pointers to offer.

Also — random thought — I can remember reading years ago — in Matt Ridley’s The Red Queen, I believe — that blond hair is attractive because it suggests youth, and that seemed odd to me, because I hadn’t noticed kids being blonder than adults while growing up. In Afghanistan, on the other hand, the difference in color between children and adults is stark. Almost all the adults have dark hair and skin, but many of the children are blond.

Servants without Masters

Friday, November 20th, 2015

Singapore’s government has an extensive guest-worker system — which creates some dynamics Harold Lee found jarring:

There, in the flesh, was a middle-aged Filipino woman who was just there to attend to my needs, as a guest of the family. I was expected to ask her to wash my clothes, for example, and prepare whatever I wanted for breakfast. And for all my admiration of the political needle-threading of Singaporean immigration policy, this situation completely freaked me out. It made me intensely uncomfortable to have someone hanging around just to attend to my needs, and tell them to do menial chores for me.

And yet, when I thought about it, I realized that I had no problem with janitors or baristas doing dirty work for me. My emotional reaction was not really about being an American with sturdy frontier values of self-sufficiency. I was perfectly happy to farm out menial work — as long as it was done by a faceless worker in a uniform, rather than a single person I was expected to have a relationship with. This incongruence was one of the major lessons I took from my trip to Singapore. Even after I returned to the Land of the Free, I kept being struck by the ease with which I blithely accepted the service of servants as long as they were framed as business transactions with dehumanized service workers.

And I noticed that the same blind spot applied in the other direction, in people’s attitudes towards submission towards superiors. The very word “submissiveness” tends to raise people’s hackles in our culture, but in fact we are happy to accept it — if and only if it’s submission to a faceless institution, rather than to someone’s personal authority. In an old-school apprenticeship, the master essentially runs your life for seven years and can bring you back if you run away, possibly with a flogging for good measure. This seems incredibly coercive today, and is probably one of the reasons apprenticeship and other forms of demanding mentorship are in short supply. But at the same time, it’s considered completely unremarkable for someone to go into nondischargeable debt to go to grad school and work hard to satisfy every whim of their professors. For a more barbed example, it’s considered entirely unremarkable for a woman to be submissive to her boss, but sounds terribly suspect to expect her to be equivalently submissive to her husband.


It’s a sort of inverse Confucianism — a system where authority can only be exercised by people who deliberately do not engage in one-on-one superior-inferior relationships.

This reminds me, oddly enough, of George Fitzhugh‘s very Southern view of slavery as the best form of socialism.

Tomorrow Land: Disney in Space and Beyond

Thursday, November 19th, 2015

I may have picked up Tomorrow Land: Disney in Space and Beyond on a whim a decade ago — even though I was never really a space geek — but it stuck with me.

I grew up in an era when we took going to the moon for granted — but anything equally ambitious seemed ludicrous.

Nick B. Steves recently watched one of the included pieces and noted the civilizational confidence of post-war America:

This talk of civilizational confidence reminds me of Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (and the new Amazon show), where the victorious Nazis go on to drain the Mediterranean.

The Confucian Heuristic

Thursday, November 19th, 2015

Harold Lee explains the Confucian heuristic:

Like a lot of people, Confucius was bothered by “bad inequality” — the kind of hierarchy where the elites actively oppress the poor and the lower class at best toils away, and at worse foment short-sighted peasant rebellions. The usual Western response to bad inequality is leveling — knock down all hierarchies as “elitism” and “privilege,” and even everything out until there’s no concentration of power such that anyone can oppress his fellow man. Sometimes that can be a helpful approach, but there are several side effects.

One is that while some kinds of inequality can be gotten rid of — wealth, family inheritance, ethnic inequalities, and so on — there are many more you can’t touch. Some people are more diligent than others, you can’t change that. Some are more politically savvy, some are taller, better looking. If you suppress all sources of inequality that you can, often you end up just increasing the importance of things you can’t touch. Knock down aristocracy, and you simply get meritocracy that privileges diligent, politically savvy nerds instead. And while we’ve developed some social technology to at least channel selfish impulses in prosocial ways, we haven’t yet invented the analogue of capitalism that channels height inequality into prosocial behavior.

A related problem is that in telling a story about eliminating inequality, this leveling frees up the new elites — the winners in the new “emergent inequality,” to deny that they’re in fact elites. They’re just average Joes like anyone else, and feel therefore feel no sense of obligation towards the losers of society. And when they’re in competition with the weak, they see it as a contest between equals and have no compunction about using their strengths to exploit them, all cloaked in egalitarianism. (This is in fact a criticism that has been leveled against meritocracy — the winners feel like they have earned their advantages, and therefore feel no noblesse oblige.)

Confucius took a different tack — he said hey, there’s always going to be inequality, let’s not kid ourselves. Instead, let’s formalize it into really visible hierarchy, and, crucially, tie great power to great responsibility. Rather than wrangle with abstract notions of status, he prefers to emphasize the personal interactions between superiors and inferiors. So he spends a lot of time talking about rights and responsibilities in different kinds of relationships, and promoting rites — think “etiquette” — to make it clear that the weak respect the strong, and that the strong have obligations to the weak. If you’re going to be king, you’d better protect your people. If you’re going to be a mom, the kids have to obey you and take care of you in your old age, but you’d better raise them well. No weaseling out.

The Unintended Consequences of Recording the Police

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

Greg Ellifritz discusses the unintended consequences of recording the police:

As citizens record officers with increasing frequency, what do you think the officers are likely to do?  If there’s a high probability that no matter what an officer does (good or bad) will end up on YouTube in a video critical of police, cops will simply stop working.  You see, cops are rarely disciplined for NOT doing something.  They get in trouble when they ACT, particularly when the action the officer takes turns out badly or has some undesirable political ramifications.  The easiest way to prevent that is for the officer to stop doing ANYTHING that has the potential of being videotaped.  The officer can drive slowly to calls of violence in progress (claiming that he would be putting the public at risk if he drove any faster), arriving just in time to write a stellar report without catching the criminal or stopping the crime in progress.  People don’t videotape cops writing reports.  That’s not exciting.  It’s when the cops are interacting with criminals that the cell phones come out.  A simple solution to avoid being taped would be to AVOID INTERACTING WITH CRIMINALS.  How do you think that would affect long term crime statistics?  Would it be a net positive or net negative for society if cops stopped arresting people breaking the law?

Since it’s obvious that a crime in progress isn’t the only thing that will cause people to break out the cameras, cops will start avoiding interactions with citizens as well. I could have easily driven past the man flagging me down for help. If I was ever questioned about it by supervisors (unlikely), I could always claim that I didn’t see the man or that I was trying to catch up to a traffic violator. I could claim I was en route to another more important call. There could be any number of valid reasons why I didn’t stop for help.

Driving past a person flagging me down for help would ensure that I don’t get videotaped. Avoiding all citizen contact would ensure that my face doesn’t end up on YouTube. I could sit all day in a parking lot doing nothing and virtually ensure that I don’t get taped. The worst thing that would happen is that I might get some kind of reprimand for lack of “productivity.” A written reprimand is a far better option than having my face on a negative YouTube video that goes viral.

So if cops stop arresting criminals and go out of their way to avoid having any type of contact with citizens, would society be a better place? If the goal of the folks with the video cameras is social reform, that’s what they’ll get. But the reform that will happen won’t be a positive one. That makes me think that maybe these folks filming the cops don’t really want social reform. Maybe they want a world where criminals go unchallenged. Maybe they place their own fame and notoriety above the goal of living in a better society. If personal notoriety and unchecked criminal aggression is your goal, then by all means keep filming cops who are loaning their cell phones to stranded construction workers.

The truly sad aspect of where this is heading is the long term effect that it will have on the ability to hire quality police candidates. If I was a conscientious and intelligent person, why would I even consider being a police officer as a career when I know that whatever I do, good or bad, will end up on a video sharing site with a negative spin? Why go through the hassle? Quality candidates will have better career options that don’t involve their unintended starring role in the next viral video.

Pesticide against Hezbollah and Assad

Monday, November 16th, 2015

Israel treats Sunni militias like ISIS as pesticide against Hezbollah and Assad:

While the US was intervening to attack the Sunni jihadis, the IDF underlined its view of the real enemy by knocking down one of Assad’s antique fighters out of the sky.

That ancient MiG wasn’t downed because it was a threat to Israel, or because it was over the line. It was downed as a gesture. Bibi and his Likud allies are sulking, because the way they see it, we’re bombing the wrong Syrians. The Israeli elite has always wanted the US to intervene in the Syrian Civil War — but not against the Sunni jihadists, as we’re doing now. They want American planes and drones to obliterate the other side — the Alawites’ Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and its Hezbollah allies.

Nobody ever seems to mention it, but the supposedly fearsome IS now owns the ground right under Israel’s Golan Heights fortifications, after moving in in June 2014 when the weary SAA, tired of being shelled by the IDF, moved out.

So IS has been in place right there on Israel’s border for months now—and there’s been no attack from Israel. Yes, folks, you might actually get the impression that the Israelis — who know a thing or two about threat assessment — just don’t take IS very seriously.

In fact, IS is a convenient little irritant, as seen from Jerusalem, a useful way to annoy the real enemy—the Shia-Alawite-Iran bloc.

A Superforecaster on Superforecasting

Monday, November 16th, 2015

A superforecaster reviews Superforecasting:

While superforecasters had ordinary-seeming day jobs, they were an unusually smart and knowledgeable group. When tested, they scored at least a standard deviation higher than the general population on tests of fluid intelligence and at least a standard deviation higher than the general population on tests of political knowledge. Many were retired or — like me — were employed less than full time, so they could spend hours every week researching the questions and breaking them down into manageable parts. If the question was whether Ebola would spread to Europe, they pored over epidemiological models, studied airline screening procedures, and read papers on the possible sexual transmission of the disease. They updated their forecasts often.

Superforecasters also scored highly on measures of “actively open-minded thinking”. That is, they are not committed in advance to any one idea of how the world works. They treat their ideas as hypotheses to be tested, rather than premises to be built on. They look for facts and arguments that might call their views into question. They generally see events as determined in part by chance rather than attributing them to divine will or fate. They approach problems from a variety of different angles. They are unusually willing to consider that they might be wrong.

The philosopher Isaiah Berlin famously divided thinkers into “foxes”, who look at problems from a different perspectives, and “hedgehogs”, who “relate everything to a single central vision”. The dichotomy comes from the Greek poet Archilochus’ line that “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing”. Tetlock found that people who were confident there are simple, readily-available explanations for events — whether they were realists or liberal idealists, Marxists or supply-side economists — were practically worthless forecasters. People who saw themselves as foxes, who thought politics was complex and unpredictable, and who were willing to consider different points of view were consistently more accurate. Foxes were better forecasters.

The superforecaster writing that is Robert de Neufville, an associate of the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute:

He has degrees in political science and political theory from Harvard and Berkeley. As one of the top 2% of forecasters in IARPA ‘s experimental Good Judgment Project forecasting tournament, he qualifies as a “superforecaster”. He was one on the forecasters interviewed for Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner’s book Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction. He has contributed to The Economist and The Washington Monthly, and for several years wrote the Politeia column for Big Think. Follow him on Twitter here.

Pertinaciously Obstinate

Sunday, November 15th, 2015

David Hume addresses the “trolls” of his time in the first section of his Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals:

Disputes with men, pertinaciously obstinate in their principles, are, of all others, the most irksome; except, perhaps, those with persons, entirely disingenuous, who really do not believe the opinions they defend, but engage in the controversy, from affectation, from a spirit of opposition, or from a desire of showing wit and ingenuity, superior to the rest of mankind. The same blind adherence to their own arguments is to be expected in both; the same contempt of their antagonists; and the same passionate vehemence, in inforcing sophistry and falsehood. And as reasoning is not the source, whence either disputant derives his tenets; it is in vain to expect, that any logic, which speaks not to the affections, will ever engage him to embrace sounder principles.

How Gun Traffickers Get Around State Gun Laws

Saturday, November 14th, 2015

The New York Times is shocked — shocked! —  that gun traffickers get around state gun laws by buying guns one state over — and get around federal laws by not buying them legally at all:

Many guns follow a complex path from the original sale to the underground market. Most guns are originally bought from retail stores, but people who can’t pass a background check typically obtain guns from friends, family or illegal dealers.

According to an anonymous survey of inmates in Cook County, Ill., covering 135 guns they had access to, only two had been purchased directly from a gun store. Many inmates reported obtaining guns from friends who had bought them legally and then reported them stolen, or from locals who had brought the guns from out of state.