Back in the Saddle

Friday, June 30th, 2006

Jackson Publick is Back in the Saddle — after a trip to Hawaii — and he’s sharing the titles of this season’s Venture Bros. episodes:

Powerless in the Face of Death
Hate Floats
Assassinanny 911
Escape to the House of Mummies
20 Years to Midnight
Victor. Echo. November.
Fallen Arches
Guess Who’s Coming to State Dinner?
I Know Why the Caged Bird Kills
¡Viva los Muertos!
Showdown at Cremation Creek

Why Mad Scientists Are Mad

Friday, June 30th, 2006

Sharon Begley, the science columnist of the Wall Street Journal, examines the cognitive nature of creativity in Why Mad Scientists Are Mad: What’s Behind the Creative Mind? :

There is little doubt that screening from conscious awareness that which is irrelevant to your immediate needs helps focus concentration. It may also be good for mental health, since paying attention to every little sight, sound, and thought can drive you batty. Indeed, reductions in this filtering mechanism, called latent inhibition, have long been linked with a tendency to psychosis. But Carson wondered whether that “failure” might also spur original thinking. To find out, she and colleagues had 182 Harvard students undergo tests in which they listened to repeated strings of nonsense syllables, heard background noise, and saw yellow lights on a video screen. The students also filled out questionnaires about their creative achievements (which is how Carson identified all those composers, scientists, and the rest), and took standard intelligence tests.

Comparing the measures of the students’ latent inhibition (how many of those noises and lights they noticed) with their IQ scores and creativity, the scientists found that the more creative had significantly lower scores for latent inhibition than the less creative. The truly eminent creative achievers, such as those who had achieved commercial success in the art or music world before the age of twenty-two, were seven times more likely to have low rather than high scores for latent inhibition. Low latent inhibition, it seems, increases the available “mental elements” — thoughts, memories, and the like, or what Carson calls “bits and pieces in the cognitive workspace” — that supply the raw material for originality and novelty.

“Getting swamped by new information that you have difficulty handling may predispose you to a mental disorder,” Carson says. “But if you have high intelligence and a good working memory, you are more likely to be able to combine bits of new information in creative ways.”

Just how closely linked are genius and madness?

In the largest study ever conducted of the connection between creativity and madness, Arnold Ludwig analyzed the biographies of about one thousand eminent men and women. He found that mental illness occurred more frequently in this group than it did in the general population. Specifically, 60 percent of the composers had psychological problems, as did 73 percent of the visual artists, 74 percent of the playwrights, 77 percent of the novelists and short-story writers, and 87 percent of the poets. But only about 20 percent of scientists, politicians, architects, and business people had even mild mental illness. In a similar study at the University of California, Berkeley, creative people were given psychological evaluations. Again, creativity was associated with psychopathology. Writers, for instance, scored higher than the general population on measures of depression, schizophrenia, paranoia, and other mental illnesses. As UC Davis’s Simonton concludes, “The genius-madness link may be more than myth.”
Another mental illness recently linked to creativity is bipolar disorder. In this illness, people experience alternating episodes of depression and mania, the latter characterized by intense bursts of energy, and, perhaps, creativity. Among the poets and writers suspected of suffering from bipolar disorder are John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe and Robert Louis Stevenson, and playwright Eugene O’Neill. Psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison has found that 38 percent of the artists she studied had been treated for an emotional illness, either simple depression or bipolar disorder. In contrast, 1 percent of the general population suffers from bipolar disorder, and about 10 percent from depression.

Milton Friedman on the Open Mind

Friday, June 30th, 2006

As Patri Friedman at Catallarchy notes, “Google Video is starting to accumulate a fair amount of interesting old content,” like this interview of Milton Friedman on the Open Mind from 1975.

The opening and closing are remarkably Twilight Zone-esque — watch the video and listen to the music — but the content is a lucid explanation of “conservative” economics. (Friedman refuses to describe himself as conservative, by the way, given the New Deal status quo.) I found a transcript on-line:

One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results. We all know a famous road that is paved with good intentions. The people who go around talking about their soft heart — I share their — I admire them for the softness of their heart, but unfortunately, it very often extends to their head as well, because the fact is that the programs that are labeled as being for the poor, for the needy, almost always have effects exactly the opposite of those which their well-intentioned sponsors intend them to have.

Another key point:

But I think the important part of the answer is that it is a natural human tendency to take for granted the good things that happen and to regard as the workings of the devil the bad things. And that if a bad thing comes along, you say, my God, we ought to pass a law and do something. That’s a very natural human tendency. I think the remarkable thing, the thing that needs to be explained, is not why we’ve had a movement towards collectivism and towards more government control, because that’s been the natural state of mankind for thousands of years. The remarkable thing in my opinion, from an intellectual point of view, is how you ever managed to get a century or a century and a half in which the dominant philosophy was the opposite. That’s the exception.

India’s economic report card

Friday, June 30th, 2006

India’s economic report card is not all good:

Given the huge positive press that India has received in recent times, it is sobering to discover that India’s per capita income is just a shade higher than that of sub-Saharan Africa, and about one-sixth that of Latin America.

Equally surprising is that 35% of India’s population lives on less than $1 a day, which is comparable to Bangladesh’s 36% and much worse than Pakistan’s 17% and Sri Lanka’s 6%.

The common wisdom says that India has the second fastest growth rate in the world:

If we take the national income growth rate over the period 2000-04, with an annual growth rate of 6.2% India was not second but the 17th fastest-growing nation in the world.

If we take a longer period, 1990 to 2004, India moves up to being the fourth fastest-growing economy in the world, behind China, Vietnam and Mozambique.

And if we take an even longer view – from 1980 to now, India does indeed come second, behind China and virtually tying with Vietnam.

So what India has excelled in is sustained growth.

One issue is inequality in India:

Let us consider the ratio of income earned by a country’s richest 10% and the poorest 10%. The ratio for India is 7.3. That is, the richest 10% of the population is a little over seven times as rich as the poorest 10%.

All South Asian nations have similar ratios.

This is a lot of inequality but not as much as in China which has a ratio of 18.4 or the United States 15.7.

OK, so it’s not inequality per se that’s the problem:

The problem with South Asia is that, being poor, even this smaller inequality means much greater hardship for the poor and this is what is feeding various kinds of rebellious movements in the region.

Burning Flags

Friday, June 30th, 2006

Scott Adams (Dilbert) talks about Burning Flags:

I was delighted to learn that American politicians are trying to make it illegal to burn the American flag. That can only mean that my dedicated public servants have finally solved the problems of crime, drugs, war, poverty, terrorism, healthcare, immigration, and the mystery of why our children are such idiots compared to Norwegians. Evidently those issues are now under control. I was starting to worry that Congress was wasting my tax dollars doing stupid shit.

I heard Senator Frist compare the flag to a national monument. His point was that you wouldn’t want people to deface our one-of-a-kind historical treasures. Therefore we shouldn’t let people burn an American flag that is one of millions churned out every year by Chinese manufacturers. I think that was his best argument. I know it seems dumb when I recount it, but there was something about the robotic way Frist said it that gave me chills.

I consider myself a highly patriotic guy and I understand how people can get worked up over the flag being burned. I love my flag. But symbols are personal things, and everyone is free to interpret them however they see fit. For me, a flag that I’m NOT allowed to burn is a symbol that the government is too intrusive in my life. And it’s an insult to anyone who died to defend freedom. But that’s just me. You might prefer your symbols of freedom to have as many restrictions as possible.

Hollywood Business

Friday, June 30th, 2006

I love this line from Alan Deutschman’s Hollywood Business:

Hollywood’s moguls know they’re in big trouble when the single most powerful person in the industry today is Wal-Mart CEO H. Lee Scott Jr.

Why is Wal-Mart so important to Hollywood?

The theatrical release has become a loss leader to promote the studios’ real moneymaker, the DVD, which in turn often serves as a loss leader for Wal-Mart to draw in shoppers.

Hanging Monastery in China

Thursday, June 29th, 2006

This Hanging Monastery in China is a fascinating piece of work:

The monastery dates back over 1400 years to the Northern Wei Dynasty. However, most of what you see today are reconstructions made during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties.

The caves behind the pavilions contain religious statues. One cave room has the statues of Buddha, Confucius and Laotsu comfortably sitting side by side. This is noteworthy because simultaneously advocating Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism was rare in ancient China.

The pavilions are constructed almost entirely of wood (except for the decorative multi-hued roof tiles).

Narrow, thin railed skyways connect the pavilions.

The pavilions “hang” partially because long timber poles support them from underneath (see photo). However, the greatest structural support comes from unseen rock ledges upon which parts of the pavilions sit — and from the cantilevered wooden beams deeply imbedded into the cliff.

The Chinese name of the Hanging Monastery is Xuankong.

The monastery is also known as the Hengshan Hanging Monastery. It gets its “Hengshan” descriptive because it is located at the foot of Mount Heng (Hengshan), one of the five holy Taoist mountains of China.

Disney, 1939: No woman animators allowed

Thursday, June 29th, 2006

In 1939, Disney responded to a female applicant with the unequivocal message: No woman animators allowed:

Dear Miss Brewer:

Your letter of some time ago has been turned over to the Inking and Painting Department for reply.

Women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen, as that work is performed entirely by young men. For this reason girls are not considered for the training school.

To qualify for the only work open to women one must be well grounded in the use of pen and ink and also water color. The work to be done consists of tracing the characters on clear celluloid sheets with India ink and filling in the tracings on the reverse side with pain according to directions.

In order to qualify for a position as “Inker” or “Painter” it is necessary that one appear at the studio on a Tuesday morning between 9:30 and 11:30, bringing samples of pen and ink and water color work. We will be glad to talk to you further should you come in.

Yours very truly,


Message from Dan

Thursday, June 29th, 2006

In his latest Message from Dan, author Dan Simmons comments on his recent Time Traveler piece and the threat posed by radical Islam:

Why did our fictional Time Traveler return to New Year’s Eve 2005? The paradoxical answer might be that it was the last real time of peace he knew of in the 21st Century.

“Forgetfulness overcomes every successful civilization,” writes Lee Harris. That forgetfulness is this: in each era, just when trade and peace and reason and moderation seem most likely to prevail, the opportunity for the zealots to succeed through ruthlessness is at its greatest.

“The result is an unsettling paradox: the more the spirit of commerce triumphs, the closer mankind comes to dispensing with war, the nearer we approach the end of history, the greater are the rewards to those who decide to return to the path of war, and the easier it will be for them to conquer. There is nothing that can be done to change this fact; it is built into the structure of our world.”

The Renewal of the West

Thursday, June 29th, 2006

Jerry Bowyer disagrees with Pat Buchanan’s The Death of the West in his own The Renewal of the West:

If 200 years from now America will be filled with people who know and love the ideas of Jefferson and Madison — but these people are overwhelmingly dark skinned — will this be good or bad?

That’s the question I asked Pat Buchanan when I debated with him about the content of his book, The Death of the West. He said it would be a disaster and a tragedy. What do you say?

Your answer is a pretty good indicator of whether you’re a we-hold-these-truths-to-be-self-evident conservative or a blood-and-soil conservative.

Bowyer offers up an amusing way to look at misplaced racial pride:

A few years ago, I was studying the life of Charlemagne. His troops had been continually harassed by tribes who would attack, be defeated, surrender, make a treaty and violate the treaty as soon as Charlemagne’s troops were out of sight. They did this over and over again. I was reminded of various Palestinian ‘pledges’ to abandon terrorism. I wondered whether groups like this could ever learn to honor their treaties and live according to the rule of law. Then I realized that the people who were harassing Charlemagne were my ancestors. If you are of Northern European stock, or British or Irish, and you are tempted to racial pride, I highly recommend that you study Romans like Tacitus or Caesar to get some idea how your ancestors looked to the civilized world 2000 years ago.

An Economist’s Guide to Happier Parenting

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

Bryan Caplan offers An Economist’s Guide to Happier Parenting:

My main observation about parental unhappiness is this: The last 10% of parenting hours causes half of all the parental unhappiness. First two hours with your kids: a joy. Second two hours: pretty good. Hours 5-8: Tolerable. Hours nine and ten: Pain. Remaining hours: Anguish. There are few better illustrations of the law of diminishing marginal utility.

Once you see this clearly, there are some obvious solutions:

  1. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Don’t plan three activities every Saturday, and wind up exploding at your kids’ behavior in the middle of the third. It’s far better for them and you to do one thing together that you can all enjoy, then let them watch t.v. Seriously.
  2. If you can afford a nanny, get a nanny. If you can’t afford a nanny yet, consider waiting to have kids until you can. If you’re the typical person who isn’t sure if he or she wants kids, you’re well-educated and have good income potential. So if you can’t afford a nanny yet, you’ll be able to soon enough.
  3. Don’t let American prejudice against live-in nannies influence you: Live-in nannies mean you can sleep in, stay out, and get a break when you need one. Your best bet is to get a mature woman to bond with your kids when they’re infants, and keep her happy. A little respect goes a long way.
  4. Read Judith Harris’ The Nurture Assumption. Don’t worry about ‘moulding’ your child for life; you couldn’t do it if you tried. Realize, instead, that the purpose of discipline is:
    1. To keep your kid in one piece.
    2. To make your life easier – you count too!
    3. To force your kid to sacrifice very short-run gains (playing ten more minutes) for short-run gains (not being cranky later today)

Thus, I am adamant about naps. Partly this is because little kids get cranky without their naps, but refuse to accept the fact. But mostly it’s because I’ll be cranky if I don’t get a nap, and I can’t nap if they don’t.

If you can’t mould your child, what’s the point? As Harris observes, that’s a lot like asking ‘If you can’t mould your wife, what’s the point?’ The point is to enjoy your time together.

The India Model

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

Gurcharan Das, former CEO of Procter & Gamble India, discusses The India Model and its history:

For half a century before independence, the Indian economy was stagnant. Between 1900 and 1950, economic growth averaged o.8 percent a year — exactly the same rate as population growth, resulting in no increase in per capita income. In the first decades after independence, economic growth picked up, averaging 3.5 percent from 1950 to 1980. But population growth accelerated as well. The net effect on per capita income was an average annual increase of just 1.3 percent.

Indians mournfully called this “the Hindu rate of growth.” Of course, it had nothing to do with Hinduism and everything to do with the Fabian socialist policies of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his imperious daughter, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who oversaw India’s darkest economic decades. Father and daughter shackled the energies of the Indian people under a mixed economy that combined the worst features of capitalism and socialism. Their model was inward-looking and import-substituting rather than outward-looking and export-promoting, and it denied India a share in the prosperity that a massive expansion in global trade brought in the post-World War II era. (Average per capita growth for the developing world as a whole was almost 3 percent from 1950 to 1980, more than double India’s rate.) Nehru set up an inefficient and monopolistic public sector, overregulated private enterprise with the most stringent price and production controls in the world, and discouraged foreign investment — thereby causing India to lose out on the benefits of both foreign technology and foreign competition. His approach also pampered organized labor to the point of significantly lowering productivity and ignored the education of India’s children.

But even this system could have delivered more had it been better implemented. It did not have to degenerate into a “license-permit-quota raj,” as Chakravarthi Rajagopalachari first put it in the late 1950s. Although Indians blame ideology (and sometimes democracy) for their failings, the truth is that a mundane inability to implement policy — reflecting a bias for thought and against action — may have been even more damaging.

Life of the Party

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

In Life of the Party, Adam Gopnik looks at the unusual conservative who became prime minister of Great Britain, Benjamin Disraeli:

A salacious imagination is not needed to wonder about the sexual orientation of a man who dresses up in pirate garb, writes novels gasping after gorgeous, ignorant young lords, enjoys a series of passionate friendships with handsome younger men, has his closest female relations with sisters and much older women, and defends, as Disraeli did, the love life of the Turks.

The abolition of slavery

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

Howard Temperley looks at the unlikely abolition of slavery and shares some little-known facts:

What is surprising is the discovery that a mere 500,000 slaves, 5–6 per cent of the total, went to North America — a figure roughly comparable to the number of West Indians migrating to the United Kingdom over the past fifty years. This contrasts with the 3.5 million who went to Brazil. The difference is largely attributable to the exceptional physical demands of sugar. In Brazil, as in other sugar-producing regions, life expectancy and fertility rates were so low that the only way of maintaining a stable workforce was by shipping in more slaves. When Britain withdrew from the slave trade in 1807, the effect on its colonies’ economy and population was catastrophic. In contrast, the withdrawal of the US from the slave trade, in 1808, had no discernible effect on its slave population, which, being principally employed in tobacco and cotton cultivation, had achieved a rate of natural increase not unlike that of the white population.

The Secret of Your Success

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

Adrian Wooldridge reviews the history of thought on social mobility in The Secret of Your Success:

During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, three highly distinct theories of social mobility captivated the imaginations of successive generations of commentators — one based on character; one based on ability, by which psychologists increasingly meant native intelligence; and one based on luck.

Read the whole article for the details.