Parental Involvement Is Overrated

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

Parental involvement is overrated, Keith Robinson and Angel L. Harris have found:

What did we find? One group of parents, including blacks and Hispanics, as well as some Asians (like Cambodians, Vietnamese and Pacific Islanders), appeared quite similar to a second group, made up of white parents and other Asians (like Chinese, Koreans and Indians) in the frequency of their involvement. A common reason given for why the children of the first group performed worse academically on average was that their parents did not value education to the same extent. But our research shows that these parents tried to help their children in school just as much as the parents in the second group.

Even the notion that kids do better in school when their parents are involved does not stack up. After comparing the average achievement of children whose parents regularly engage in each form of parental involvement to that of their counterparts whose parents do not, we found that most forms of parental involvement yielded no benefit to children’s test scores or grades, regardless of racial or ethnic background or socioeconomic standing.

In fact, there were more instances in which children had higher levels of achievement when their parents were less involved than there were among those whose parents were more involved. Even more counterintuitively: When involvement does seem to matter, the consequences for children’s achievement are more often negative than positive.

When involvement did benefit kids academically, it depended on which behavior parents were engaging in, which academic outcome was examined, the grade level of the child, the racial and ethnic background of the family and its socioeconomic standing. For example, regularly discussing school experiences with your child seems to positively affect the reading and math test scores of Hispanic children, to negatively affect test scores in reading for black children, and to negatively affect test scores in both reading and math for white children (but only during elementary school). Regularly reading to elementary school children appears to benefit reading achievement for white and Hispanic children but it is associated with lower reading achievement for black children. Policy makers should not advocate a one-size-fits-all model of parental involvement.

What about when parents work directly with their children on learning activities at home? When we examined whether regular help with homework had a positive impact on children’s academic performance, we were quite startled by what we found. Regardless of a family’s social class, racial or ethnic background, or a child’s grade level, consistent homework help almost never improved test scores or grades. Most parents appear to be ineffective at helping their children with homework. Even more surprising to us was that when parents regularly helped with homework, kids usually performed worse. One interesting exception: The group of Asians that included Chinese, Korean and Indian children appeared to benefit from regular help with homework, but this benefit was limited to the grades they got during adolescence; it did not affect their test scores.

Our findings also suggest that the idea that parental involvement will address one of the most salient and intractable issues in education, racial and ethnic achievement gaps, is not supported by the evidence. This is because our analyses show that most parental behavior has no benefit on academic performance. While there are some forms of parental involvement that do appear to have a positive impact on children academically, we find at least as many instances in which more frequent involvement is related to lower academic performance.

As it turns out, the list of what generally works is short: expecting your child to go to college, discussing activities children engage in at school (despite the complications we mentioned above), and requesting a particular teacher for your child.

Right Is The New Left

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

Right is the new Left, Scott Alexander has found:

A friend recently pointed out that conservatives aren’t, on average, very smart. He illustrated this with a graph of IQ vs. political belief which confirms that the left has a significant advantage.

But I look at my Facebook feed, and here is what I observe.

I see my high school classmates — a mostly unselected group of the general suburban California population — posting angry left stuff like “Ohmigod I just heard about that mayor in South Carolina WHAT A FUCKING BIGGOT!!!”

I see the people I think of as my intellectual equals posting things that are conspicuously nuanced — “Oh, I heard about that guy in South Carolina. Instead of knee-jerk condemnation, let’s try to form some general principles out of it and see what it teaches us about civil society.”

And I see the people I think of as the level above me posting extremely bizarre libertarian-conservative screeds making use of advanced mathematics that I can barely understand: “The left keeps saying that marriage as an institution isn’t important. But actually, if we look at this from a game theoretic perspective, marriage and social trust and forager values are all in this complicated six-dimensional antifragile network, and it emergently coheres into a beneficial equilibrium if and only if the government doesn’t try to shift the position of any of the nodes. Just as three eighteenth-century Frenchmen and a renegade Brazilian Marxist philosopher predicted. SO HOW COME THE IDIOTS ON THE LEFT KEEPS TRYING TO MAKE GOVERNMENT SHIFT THE POSITION OF THE NODES ALL THE TIME???!”

(I will proceed to describe this level extensionally: Jonathan Haidt, Bowling Alone, time discounting, public choice theory, the Hajnal line, contract law, Ross Douthat, incentives, polycentric anything, unschooling, exit rights)

And, I mean, I know the reason I get so many people trying to come up with bizarre mathematizations of politics is because those are the sorts of people I select as my friends. The part I don’t get is why so many of them end up weird libertarian-conservative. Certainly not because I selected them for that. I don’t even think they were weird libertarian-conservatives a few years ago when I met a lot of them. It just seems to have caught on.

And my theory is that in a world where the upper class wears black and the lower class wears white, they’re the people who have noticed that the middle class is wearing black as well, and have decided to wear white to differentiate themselves.

It’s the reverse of the 1950s. Assume you’re a hip young intellectual in the 1950s. You see all these stodgy conservatives around you — I don’t even know what “stodgy” means, I just know I’m legally obligated to use it to describe 1950s conservatives. You see Mrs. Grundy, chattering to her grundy friends about how scandalous it is that some people read books about sex, lecturing to the school board on how they had better enforce her values on the children or she will have some very harsh words to say to them.

And you think “Whatever else I am, I’m not going to be a mediocrity like Mrs. Grundy. I’m not going to conform.” Which, in the 1950s, meant you became a leftist, and talked about how stodgy society was fundamentally oppressive, and how you were going to value different things, and screw what Mrs. Grundy thought.

And gradually this became sufficiently hip that even the slightly less hip intellectuals caught on and started making fun of Mrs. Grundy, and then people even less hip than that, until it became a big pileup on poor Mrs. Grundy and anyone who wanted even the slightest claim to intellectual independence or personal integrity has to prove themselves by giving long dissertations on how terrible Mrs. Grundy is.

But when Mrs. Grundy herself joins the party, what then?

I mean, take that article on Dartmouth. A group of angry people, stopping just short of violence, invade a school building and make threats against the president unless he meets their demands. Every student must be forced to attend moral instruction classes inculcating their (the protesters’) values. Offensive terms must be removed from the library. And the school must take care to admit people of the right race. When was the last time you could hear a story like that and have it be even slightly probably that the mob was rightist?

It’s hard to argue that Mrs. Grundy is not a proud leftist by now, still chattering about how scandalous it is that people read books with the wrong values, still giving her terminally uncool speeches to the school board about how they had better enforce her values on the children (and if she can get the debate society on board as well, so much the better).

There must be overwhelming temptation among hip intellectuals to differentiate themselves from Mrs. Grundy by shifting rightward.

And perhaps so far this has been kept in check by the second rule of our cellular automaton — you can’t take a position that would get you plausibly confused for a person of lower class than you.

I was tickled by a conversation between two doctors I recently heard in a hospital hallway:

Doctor 1: My daughter just got a full scholarship into a really good university in Georgia.

Doctor 2: Congratulations!

Doctor 1: Thanks! But I’m hoping she’ll choose somewhere closer to home.

Doctor 2: Why? Because you want to be able to visit her more?

Doctor 1: There’s that. But the other problem is that the South is full of those people.

Doctor 2: So? Colleges are like their own world. Your daughter probably won’t even encounter many of them.

Doctor 1: I know. But I keep worrying that just by being there, she’ll make friends with them, and then end up bringing one home as a boyfriend.

“Those people” is my replacement, not the original term used by the doctor involved. The doctor involved said a much less polite word.

She said “fundies”.

Fundies — in all of their Bible-beating gun-owning cousin-marrying stereotypicalness — have so far served as the Lower Class With Which One Must Not Allow One’s Self To Be Confused. But I think that’s changing. Sorting mechanisms are starting to work so well that, at the top, the fundies just aren’t plausible. In our model, people from class N can be confused with class N-1, but never with class N-2. But as the barber-pole movement of fashion creeps downward, fundies are starting to become two classes below certain people at the top, and those people no longer risk misidentification.

I notice that, no matter how many long rants against feminism I write, everyone continues to assume I am a feminist. It’s like, “He doesn’t make too many spelling errors, his writing isn’t peppered with racial slurs — he’s got to be a feminist. He probably just forgot the word ‘not’ in each of his last 228 sentences.”

And I wonder if maybe the reason why I am outraged by the debate team but not by the South Carolina mayor isn’t that I feel a greater threat from the debate team, but because I feel like there is a greater threat of me being mistaken for the debate team. If impotent expressions of outrage divorced from any effort to change things are ways of saying “I’m not like this! I promise!” And I get less outraged than some other people about South Carolina because I feel confident enough in my intelligence that I don’t worry anyone will mistake me for a fundie. But I feel less confident no one could mistake me for the sort of person who judged those debate championships, so I need to shout at them to show I’m Not Like That. This would actually explain a lot.

If some intellectuals no longer need to worry about being mistaken for fundies, that frees them to finally breath a sigh of relief and start making fun of Mrs. Grundy again. And that means they’ve got to become conservatives, or libertarians, or anything, anything at all, except for leftists.

So far it is just a few early adopters — the intellectual equivalent of the very trendy people who start wearing some outrageous fashion and no one knows if it is going to catch on or whether they will be soundly mocked for it.

And they are having a really difficult time, because a lot of conservative ideas aren’t that great. Like, reality leaves you a lot of degrees of freedom when you’re deciding your political self-presentation, but it doesn’t leave you an infinite number of degrees of freedom, and the project of creating something that is both anti-leftist enough to serve as a fashion statement but reality-based enough not to be dumb is still going on. The reactionaries are doing an excellent job maximizing the “anti-leftist” criterion. The “reality-based” criterion is a harder egg to crack, but it makes me think of Drew Summitt, Athrelon, and some of SarahC’s more political moments.

As the Commissioner puts it, “Evolution is at work here, but just what is evolving remains to be seen.”

When I put it like this, I realize I’m not becoming more conservative at all. I’m becoming anti-leftist. Actually, put that way a lot of people seem to be anti-leftist. I can’t think of a single specific policy proposal supported by Glenn Beck. Can you?

And I think the best explanation is that all my hip friends who I want to be like are starting to be conservative or weird-libertarian or some variety of non-leftist, and Mrs. Grundy is starting to become very obviously leftist and getting grundier by the day, and so the fashion-conscious part of my brain, the much-abused and rarely-heeded part that tells me “No, you can’t go to work in sweatpants, even though it would be much more comfortable”, is telling me “QUICK, DISENGAGE FROM UNCOOL PEOPLE AND START ACTING LIKE COOL PEOPLE RIGHT NOW.”

And I said this is my favorite of all the explanations. Why?

Because if it’s true, and it spreads beyond a couple of little subcultures, it means my worst fears are misplaced. The future isn’t a foot stamping on the face of a a college debate team forever. It’s people — or at least some people — rolling their eyes at those people and making fake vomiting noises. And then going too far, until other people have to roll their eyes at those people. And so on. Instead of a death spiral we get a pendulum, swinging back and forth.

But I would hope for something even better than that. Like, at each swing of the pendulum, people learn a little. I was really impressed with how many smart and decent people thought that the Eich thing was wrong (…and wore kilts, and played bagpipes…shut up). Fashion does not accrete, but maybe reality does. And I would like to think that the rationalist movement is a part of that. And if that’s true, that’s a way in which reality will eventually come to overpower fashion and the arc of the universe might tend toward justice after all.

Why We Look the Way We Look Now

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

The way we dress now took recognizable shape during the 1930s:

Men got jackets with substantial shoulder pads and darts at the waist. Women acquired sportswear, in fabrics and designs that followed the lines of the figure: clothes made for movement and ease — and equipped with pockets. They spelled escape from dependence on the handbag (or a husband’s pockets). The brassiere, an invention only a few decades old, grew molded cups for uplift and became standard garb. And where would we be without slacks? For women, they still counted as daring 80 years ago, but there was no doubt that they would catch on.

Look closely at the emergence of our modern style, and you can see politics in the fabric seams. Economic collapse and the search for social unity — the conditions that made the New Deal possible — created an unlikely alignment of tastes. Streamlined clothes appealed to the still prosperous, anxious to hide their wealth, and to the downwardly mobile, who hoped to conceal their slide. The sleek look in dresswear issued from Paris, where a pioneering generation of career women colonized the couture scene. The clean lines spread to New York’s Seventh Avenue, where an equally visionary set of American women designers, foremost among them Claire McCardell, spearheaded the sportswear boom. They shared a bold vision: to exploit the idea of femininity and sex appeal in order to achieve a more natural fashion, liberated from shifting conventions — a timeless style.

A timeless obsession took root, too. The elegantly simple creations inspired by this convergence of social tensions and taste disguised wealth, or the lack of it, but revealed an awful lot else. There was no hiding the figure under these clothes. The toned and exercised body became a marker of privilege, a status signal that has become only more glaring since. We have the 1930s to thank for a by-now-familiar paradox: Americans’ clothes became more similar even as their bodies diverged along class lines.

For men as for women, the changes in fashion were startling. Suits were now designed to build a man up. The sack-suit jacket, a floppy construction, had revealed drooping shoulders; the pants readily slipped below bulging bellies. But the redefined suit, born in London and Naples, bid farewell to all that. On Savile Row, the Dutch-born tailor Frederick Scholte took as his model the scarlet coats worn by members of the Brigade of Guards, famous emblems of masculinity (and, infamously, the lust objects of gay men, as a series of sex scandals demonstrated). Scholte’s “drape” method of cutting cloth broadened the shoulders and narrowed the waist, making a man look taller, slimmer, and more muscular. Suddenly anyone could take on the dashing figure of a guardsman. In 1933, Esquire, a lavish 116 pages and 50 cents on the newsstands (this at a time when the average household income was about $29 a week), sold out its first print run. The magazine, conceived as a quarterly, turned monthly with its second issue.

For the ladies, accentuating femininity was the goal. The flapper’s straight, dropped-waist dress of the 1920s — a garment so loose that it could be pulled on over the head — was gone. Dresses were fashioned from clingy materials and cut on the bias, diagonally across the grain of the cloth; the technique exploited the stretch of the fabric to emphasize the curves of the body. New methods of weaving produced fabrics ideal for sinuous designs: mousselines and supple velvets, silk gauzes and chiffons. Every year, more body was exposed. At the beach and by the pool, women could dare to show off in midriff-revealing two-piece swimsuits. Evening gowns dipped down backs, displaying naked flesh. Nightgowns were slinky and slippery. It could be hard to distinguish between what 1930s women wore to galas and what they wore to bed at night.

Hollywood hyped the new look, broadcasting it to the tens of millions of people who flocked to American cinemas every week during the movie-mad Depression.

Just a Job

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

What jobs require minimum skills?

All the jobs reformers and progressives both describe in disparaging terms: Walmart clerk, hotel maid, custodian, garbage collector, handyman, fast food worker. The average elite makes these jobs sound unfit, an insult to even consider.

I had a kid who I will call Sam in my Math Support Class for Kids Who Didn’t Pass the Graduation Test. He wasn’t particularly memorable, charming or appealing, a slacker constantly trying to get out of any effort. If I didn’t take away his cell phone, he’d never work and even without his cell phone he’d be more likely to draw than practice the basic skills I tried to help him improve on. His skills are incredibly weak; like many low IQ kids he’s got good solid math facts but no ability to synthesize or generalize.

A couple months ago, long after he’d finished my class, Sam came bounding into my room beaming. BEAMING. He’d gotten a job at Subway. He was going to make a presentation in English class on how to make a sandwich, and he was wondering if I could help him edit his essay on the same topic. His essay was weak, but it demonstrated significant effort on his part, and he took my edit suggestions to heart and returned with a still-weak-but-much-improved version. I’ve seen him several times since, getting an update on his increasing hours, a raise, getting his GED because he can’t pass the graduation test. He’s got a purpose and he’s excited. He could give a damn if elites think his job’s a dead end.

From there, Education Realist goes off in a direction I was not expecting.

Sudbury Valley School

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

Mark Oppenheimer visits the (in)famous Sudbury Valley School — which doesn’t group children into grades, doesn’t give out grades, either, has no curriculum, gives the kids a vote on every issue, etc. — and finds it a dangerous place to visit:

It upends your views about what school is for, why it has to cost as much as it does, and whether our current model makes any sense at all. But what’s most amazing about the school, a claim the founders make which was backed up by my brief observations, my conversations with students, and the written recollections of alumni, is that the school has taken the angst out of education. Students like going there, and they like their teachers. Because they are never made to take a class they don’t like, they don’t rue learning. They don’t hate homework because they don’t have homework. School causes no fights with their parents.

He found himself scrutinizing even the smallest commitment to a canon of knowledge:

But the Sudbury advocates would also say that even if a given student never picks up on some bit of knowledge that we civilians deem essential, then so what? The tradeoff made at Sudbury is worth it: Every child will have some blind spots—and don’t children in most public schools, and even the best private schools, have blind spots?—but Sudbury children have a radical sense of empowerment and responsibility for their own education.

I find that answer pretty satisfying, in part because I don’t think that public or private education is good at teaching an academic canon of knowledge, anyway. A 2007 poll by the University of Connecticut found that about 20 percent of college students thought that Martin Luther King had something to do with ending slavery. On a personal note, an inspection of my own high school transcript—from a very rigorous, and expensive, high school—forced me to confess that everything that I remember is from classes in subjects I loved: history, English, French, and philosophy. I remember no geometry, trigonometry, or calculus, no chemistry or physics—none—and scant biology. If I had been at a Sudbury school, and spent those lab hours just reading history and novels instead, would I be worse off, or better off?

He thinks there are aspects of the Sudbury schools that even a public school without a lot of wiggle room could borrow:

For example, Sudbury Valley and its peer schools have rejected the overly regimented school day, where learning stops the moment the minute hand hits the right spot; the pointless segregation of students by age and year; and the anxiety that comes with grading. Couldn’t a public school do all that? Sudbury has also shown that students, enforcing community standards through representative committees, can keep order as well as the principal’s office. Yes, these schools have fewer students, all of them self-selected. Sudbury Valley, the largest Sudbury school, has never got larger than 200 students—we have no way to know at what size its sense of community would break down.

And of course the Sudbury staff and students will be the first to say that the model only works because everyone there chose it.

Why Toyota Moved to Texas

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

Toyota is moving its North American sales headquarters from Torrance, south of Los Angeles, to Plano, north of Dallas, which offers a 21st-century version of the middle-class California dream that built towns like Torrance:

In contrasting Texas and California, politicians and pundits tend to emphasize taxes and business regulation. But for most people on a day-to-day basis, the biggest difference between the two is the cost of housing.

Although Plano is one of the country’s richest cities, with a highly educated population and a median income of $85,333 compared to Torrance’s $70,061, it offers a much wider range of housing options. You can pay nearly $7 million for a five-acre estate in Plano — $3 million more than the most expensive listing in Torrance — but the average home costs less than $200,000, compared to $552,000 in Torrance. A Redfin search for three-bedroom houses costing less than $400,000 turns up 149 in Plano versus four in Torrance; lowering the threshold to $300,000 cuts the Plano supply to 73, while yielding nothing in Torrance.

As I’ve written elsewhere, Plano’s combination of inexpensive real estate and excellent public schools has cultural consequences. It allows for more traditional lifestyles, since many families don’t need a second income to live a comfortable middle-class life. Many mothers choose to stay at home or to work, often part-time, for personal fulfillment and luxuries such as family vacations. For both men and women, a life oriented around work rather than family is less common than in coastal enclaves of similarly highly educated people.

The Truth About Chicago’s Crime Rates

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

The truth about Chicago’s crime rates is that they’ve been manipulated — even the murder rates:

We identified 10 people, including Groves, who were beaten, burned, suffocated, or shot to death in 2013 and whose cases were reclassified as death investigations, downgraded to more minor crimes, or even closed as noncriminal incidents — all for illogical or, at best, unclear reasons.


Granted, a few dozen crimes constitute a tiny percentage of the more than 300,000 reported in Chicago last year. But sources describe a practice that has become widespread at the same time that top police brass have become fixated on demonstrating improvement in Chicago’s woeful crime statistics.

And has there ever been improvement. Aside from homicides, which soared in 2012, the drop in crime since Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy arrived in May 2011 is unprecedented—and, some of his detractors say, unbelievable. Crime hasn’t just fallen, it has freefallen: across the city and across all major categories.

Take “index crimes”: the eight violent and property crimes that virtually all U.S. cities supply to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for its Uniform Crime Report. According to police figures, the number of these crimes plunged by 56 percent citywide from 2010 to 2013 — an average of nearly 19 percent per year — a reduction that borders on the miraculous. To put these numbers in perspective: From 1993, when index crimes peaked, to 2010, the last full year under McCarthy’s predecessor, Jody Weis, the average annual decline was less than 4 percent.

This dramatic crime reduction has been happening even as the department has been bleeding officers.

The examples are especially vivid.

Enhancement or Distraction?

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

The “richness” of interactive e-books is often more of a distraction than an enhancement:

While young readers find these digital products very appealing, their multitude of features may diffuse children’s attention, interfering with their comprehension of the text, Ms. Smith and the Schugars found. It seems that the very “richness” of the multimedia environment that e-books provide — heralded as their advantage over printed books — may overwhelm children’s limited working memory, leading them to lose the thread of the narrative or to process the meaning of the story less deeply.

This is especially true of what the authors call some e-books’ “gimmicks and distractions.” In the book “Sir Charlie Stinky Socks and the Really Big Adventure,” for example, children can touch “wiggly woos” to make the creatures emit noise and move around the screen. In another e-book, “Rocket Learns to Read,” a bird flutters and sounds play in the background.

Such flourishes can interrupt the fluency of children’s reading and cause their comprehension to fragment, the authors found. They can also lead children to spend less time reading over all: One study cited by Ms. Smith and the Schugars reported that children spent 43 percent of their e-book engagement time playing games embedded in the e-books rather than reading the text.

Open Letter to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America

Monday, April 28th, 2014

Conquest’s Second Law strikes again, leading John C. Wright to pen this open letter to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America:

Instead of enhancing the prestige of the genre, the leadership seems bent on holding us up to the jeers of all fair-minded men by behaving as gossips, whiners, and petty totalitarians, and by supporting a political agenda irrelevant to science fiction.

Instead of men who treat each other with professionalism and respect, I find a mob of perpetually outraged gray-haired juveniles.

Instead of receiving aid to my writing career, I find organized attempts to harass my readers and hurt my sales figures.

Instead of finding an organization for the mutual support of Science Fiction writers, I find an organization for the support of Political Correctness.

Instead of friends, I find ideologues bent on jihad against all who do not meekly conform to their Orwellian and hellish philosophy.


Monday, April 28th, 2014

Spandrell talks a bit about craziness — starting with Randall Collins’ thoughts on how Jesus “threw out the demons” possessing the mentally ill:

Part of most critiques of modernity is the idea that modern people are especially dysfunctional, that modern life is unnatural and dehumanizing, and that people today are full of mental issues which were unknown to our more wholesome ancestors.

Well what if that’s completely wrong? I have relatives not very far removed from a medieval peasant lifestyle, and while they are free of many of the psychological ills of modern people (they don’t get depressed, they are not lazy nor obsessed about minutiae, and gender roles are crystal clear), but I wouldn’t say they are all models or psychological wholesomeness. They drink copiously, are often irritable, non cooperative, and act in their own selfish interest without the slightest sign of introspection.

Then there are the crackpot-ish yet infinitely interesting theories of psychohistory and the bicameral mind. Julian Jaynes’ bicameral mind hypothesis said that ancients before the Bronze Age collapse had underdeveloped language skills which made their executive function manifest itself as external voices which commanded to do things, so strictly speaking the ancients weren’t conscious, i.e. self-aware. No internal dialogue in the old books.

Psychohistory is the theory of Lloyd deMause, who noted that many ancient civilizations, if not all of them at some point, practiced ritual child sacrifice, and even after that stopped, infanticide was common until not that long ago. Well imagine being a kid in those circumstances. Seeing your little friends being killed in scary altars, and your parents referring to you as a burden, with dad and mom often fighting over whether they should just throw you into the river once and for all, that’s likely to mess you up in the head. Even if they don’t end up killing you to save some shekels, you’ve either been a candidate for an early death, or seen your friends killed. And those traumatized children eventually grow up to become the adults. Chechar has great stuff on how that applied to the Aztecs, which were big on killing children on stone pyramids.

For better or worse though, Julian Jaynes’ theories on the origin of language were disproved. And a casual reading of deMause tells you the guy is full of shit, and quite disturbed himself. Yet you don’t need a new encompassing theory of history to feel that maybe our ancestors weren’t as well adjusted as we may think. Going back to Jesus, Randal Collins seems to have read Rodney Stark’s The Rise of Christianity, which basically explains the growth of Christianity because urban life in the Roman Empire sucked so incredibly bad that the little niceties that Christians did for each other (giving water to sick people) produced such a difference on fertility and mortality rates that starting with 12 dudes, after 300 years they outgrew everyone else.

Certainly the Palestine of the days of Jesus wasn’t a very rational place. Lots of prophets in the streets, predicating their crap, some better than others. And people actually stopped and listened to them! Collins makes a convincing case for Jesus being an unprecedented charismatic genius, but there were many other preachers in Rome at the time, presumably not as good as Jesus, but still managed to get following.

And don’t go that far. Stay in 19th century America. Certainly there was something wrong in the head with the people that followed Joseph Smith? Or all those who joined the wacky communes mushrooming all over New England? What about the huge followings people like Marx or Freud got? Freud was kinda like the original Yudkowsky. Making people mad while claiming to fix madness, running a cult about not running a cult. One day they’ll call them the Ironic Intellectuals.

Reading Churchill Aloud in Winchester

Monday, April 28th, 2014

I don’t endorse megaphone-powered pronouncements in public places, but it seems odd that the English would arrest an Englishman running for office for the crime of reading Churchill aloud in Winchester. Paul Weston, chairman of the party Liberty GB and candidate in the 22 May European Elections in the South East, was arrested for reading this passage from The River War, Churchill’s 1899 account of the reconquest of “the Soudan” during the Mahdist War:

How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property — either as a child, a wife, or a concubine — must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the faith: all know how to die but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith.

(Hat tip to Mangan.)

Custom 3D Printed Kidneys Help Surgeons Remove Tumors

Monday, April 28th, 2014

3d-Printed Kidney with TumorResearchers at Kobe University are now offering surgeons 3D-printed recreations of their patients’ own kidneys, including the tumor and surrounding vasculature, to analyze and practice on:

The team uses pre-op CT scans to create 3D models of the kidneys, which are then transferred to the printer. The kidney is then printed out of two different materials so that the tumor and vasculature stand out from the rest of the organ. This allows the surgeons to initially see the tumor and vessels that will be much harder to spot during actual surgery.

Australian Chief of Army’s Reading List

Monday, April 28th, 2014

Thomas E. Ricks highly recommends the Australian Chief of Army’s reading list, because it doesn’t just list books; it tells you why you might want to read each one. Also, he says, USMC General Paul Van Riper’s essay on his own professional education is worth an evening all by itself.

If Moses had been a machine-gunner

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

If Moses had been a machine-gunner, there would have been eight commandments instead of ten:

“Probably the most basic of all and one that we don’t have to spend much time discussing — MUTUAL SUPPORT. We just have to make sure that no gun is sitting out there in isolation. If possible, each gun should be sited where another gun can fire directly at it if it is overrun. This, of course, is seldom possible to achieve with every gun on the position. Some times you may have to fill in with a C2 or a couple of riflemen.”

“The second one is probably the most important — CO-ORDINATION OF FIRE. This starts with the proper preparation of range cards and the registration targets. The range card in a machine gun trench is much more important than the one used by a rifleman. There will be many occasions when the gunner won’t be able to observe the target area, but his fire will be essential. Each gun must have an FPF and four or five targets. As soon as the tripod is well bedded in, the T & E data for each of these targets must be recorded. That way the crew can engage any of their targets whether they can see them or not.”


“Well, the third one is pretty basic — INTERLOCKING FIRE. This helps with your all round defense plus provides a high concentration of fire into your killing areas. It ties in closely with the next principle — SITED IN PAIRS. There will be times during the battle when you will want almost continuous fire on a target. Our guns are not capable of providing this; therefore, you have to use two guns firing alternate bursts. You must also always keep in mind that mother nature is a bitch and she always sides with the hidden flaw. A separated casing can occur at any time and having a stand-by gun might make the difference between a group of BMPs being destroyed or passing through a killing area unscathed. While we are talking about APCs, it’s a good idea to pair an HMG with a GPMG. A GPMG won’t hurt an APC and it’s a terrible waste to use C44 AP/T ammo against personnel, so neither gun can do the complete job by itself. Ideally, paired guns should be about 25 metres apart and work under one fire controller. Ground and distribution of guns within the company does not always allow this, however. If need be, two guns from different platoons can work together. The co-ordination problem becomes a bit of a monster, though.”

“The next two principles go hand in hand. They are — SITED IN DEFILADE and SITED TO PRODUCE ENFILADE FIRE. Defilade simply means that you have something solid between you and the bulk of the enemy’s direct fire weapons and enfilade means that you hit the enemy from a flank. As glamorous as it might sound, the last thing we want is to have the enemy staring down the muzzles of our machine guns. I can best illustrate this with a diagram.”


“I mentioned the effectiveness of modern tank gunnery already and the enemy can also bring down a considerable weight of artillery, not to mention his close air support. PROTECTION AND CONCEALMENT is our seventh principle. Our guns must be well dug in, in proper machine gun trenches.”

“Yes,” I interrupted. “I’m familiar with machine gun trenches. Let’s get to the last principle.”

“ECONOMY,” he stated. “The standing joke on my course was that there were originally only seven principles and that economy was added as part of the Government’s latest austerity programme. When you look at it seriously, though, its as important as the other seven. Economy of ammunition is the important thing but we mustn’t disregard wear and tear on the guns. The HMG has a cyclic rate of close to 500 rounds per minute (RPM) and the GPMG can reach over 600. Both guns will fire at this rate of limited periods and can be used that way in an emergency. It doesn’t take long, however, before barrels burn out, oil burns off, metal parts expand and tolerances become just a little bit too tight. Then the gun will let you down, probably when you need it the most. The proper rates of fire for the HMG are 40 RPM normal and 100 RPM rapid. The GPMG is 60 and 90. We found on my advanced course, with the GPMG firing four to six round bursts, that a slow count of five between bursts would give normal rate while a three second pause would give rapid.”

“Ammunition expenditure is probably the biggest thing we will have to watch. I had a look through the carriers last night and we are well bombed up. I would say substantially higher than our official first line. That ammo is not doing us much good back in the zulu harbour, though. Firing rapid rate, an HMG goes through 35 pounds of ammo each minute and a GPMG uses about seven. That could add up to a tremendous resupply problem. One that might be impossible to cope with in the heat of battle. The solution is to dump as much ammo as we dare on the position itself. Then we must exercise extremely tight fire discipline. We can’t afford to have three guns firing at the same target if one will do the job. We shouldn’t waste HMG ammo on soft targets if there is a GPMG in range and available for the task. We have to be particularly stingy with our C44 AP/T.”

Repetition, Ritual, and Beauty

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

Even from a completely secular starting point, it can be worth studying religions to learn how to alter behaviour:

Too often, social reformers have implicitly believed that if you just tell people what is right once, all will be well. However, it seems we need to be told things hundreds of times over long periods before they have any chance whatsoever of affecting how we actually behave. Religions are therefore rightly obsessed with repetition. Three or five or ten times a day, they’ll tell us more or less the same thing, because they know that what seemed really convincing at nine in the morning will have entirely gone by evening. Religions have calendars that split time up into tiny segments, each of which has some divine truth tagged to it.

A ritual is a repeated, communal event connected up with private individual evolution and enlightenment. The secular world is deeply suspicious about, and inept with, rituals. It thinks of them as ‘fake’ and too bossy.

But religions have rituals for everything. All the key moments of life are ‘ritualised’: that is, they are put onto a public footing and given an outward shape.

The modern world has lots of interest in beautiful things: there are elegant boutiques, celebrated designers, fashionable artists, famous singers and lauded buildings… And simultaneously, there’s a high respect for important ideas and concepts.

But what’s lacking is any particular drive to try to unite these two elements: to unite beauty with truth, that is, to try to make the most important concepts and ideas attractive and seductive (and therefore far more effective) through the medium of art.

This is what religions have, for their part, excelled at doing.