October 6, 2015

QotD: Real science

Filed under: History, Quotations, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The easy way to tell real religion from fake religion is that real religion doesn’t make you feel good. It doesn’t assure you that everything you’re doing is right and that you ought to keep on doing it.

The same holds true for science. Real science doesn’t make you feel smart. Fake science does.

No matter how smart you think you are, real science will make you feel stupid far more often than it will make you feel smart. Real science not only tells us how much more we don’t know than we know, a state of affairs that will continue for all of human history, but it tells us how fragile the knowledge that we have gained is, how prone we are to making childish mistakes and allowing our biases to think for us.

Science is a rigorous way of making fewer mistakes. It’s not very useful to people who already know everything. Science is for stupid people who know how much they don’t know.

A look back at the march of science doesn’t show an even line of progress led by smooth-talking popularizers who are never wrong. Instead the cabinets of science are full of oddballs, unqualified, jealous, obsessed and eccentric, whose pivotal discoveries sometimes came about by accident. Science, like so much of human accomplishment, often depended on lucky accidents to provide a result that could then be isolated and systematized into a useful understanding of the process.

Daniel Greenfield, “Science is for Stupid People”, Sultan Knish, 2014-09-30.

October 5, 2015

QotD: The value scale of literature

Filed under: Humour, Media, Quotations — Tags: — Nicholas @ 01:00

The lowest forms of literature are, in descending order: pornography, the staff recommendations at the Tribeca Barnes & Noble, diet/fitness books, celebrity cookbooks, books of poetry written by pop stars, and, at the bottom of this unsavory slag heap, political memoirs, which have all of the narrative sophistication of pornography with none of the enjoyable bits.

Kevin D. Williamson, “A Plague of Memoirs: A courageously awesome American story of awesomely American courage”, National Review, 2014-10-06.

October 3, 2015

QotD: The hidden roots of writing

Filed under: Media, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

[V.S.] Pritchett begins with a conventional and not very promising theme, writers and money, and quietly turns it into a meditation on the importance of time, “the one necessity of their lives, not simply for high jinks — everyone has that — but time for their particular work.” He distinguishes two sorts of time important to writers: “…the clock time of his prose factory and the vitally necessary unending time of reflection; without the latter his work that clocks in will be dead and automatic.”

Writing has a long gestation because the writer never knows what might prove useful. If he is, as Henry James suggests he ought to be, “one of those on whom nothing is lost,” he has no spare time, no “down time,” no time to kill. A hastily written pen-for-hire piece of journalism may have decades-old origins unknown even to the writer. Every thought, every experience, every book read, might come in handy. Pritchett alludes to Keats’ notion of “negative capability” and adds: “A writer must have the capacity to become passive and lost in doubt in order to be open to new suggestion. He must alternate between clocking in and clocking out.”

Patrick Kurp, “‘They Never Stop Working'”, Anecdotal Evidence, 2014-09-17.

October 2, 2015

QotD: The plight of women at Yale is “worse than Berlin in 1945”

Filed under: Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The Association of American Universities (AAU), a nationally recognized research organization, arranged last Spring to have a Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct taken by undergraduate and graduate and professional students at 27 colleges and universities.


The results at Yale were more spectacular than merely impressive. The survey’s results apparently demonstrate that “By senior year, 34.6 percent of female undergraduates reported experiencing nonconsensual penetration or sexual touching by force or incapacitation.” These are sexual assaults that meet criminal standards.

“Among female undergraduates, 28.1 percent experienced this type of assault since entering Yale University and 14.3 percent experienced this type of assault during the current school year.”

When the Russian Army took Berlin in 1945, “[a]t least 100,000 women are believed to have been raped” (Wikipedia) out of a population of 2,000,000 women.

So roughly 5% of German women were successfully sexually assaulted in 1945 by a hostile invading army of primitives bent upon revenge, while in 2015 at Yale almost three times as many (14.3% ) of the young ladies suffer the same fate worse than death. Goodness gracious!

David Zincavage, “Worse Than Berlin in 1945”, Never Yet Melted, 2015-09-22.

October 1, 2015

QotD: The “epidemic” of sexual assault on campus

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Law, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Wildly overblown claims about an epidemic of sexual assaults on American campuses are obscuring the true danger to young women, too often distracted by cellphones or iPods in public places: the ancient sex crime of abduction and murder. Despite hysterical propaganda about our “rape culture,” the majority of campus incidents being carelessly described as sexual assault are not felonious rape (involving force or drugs) but oafish hookup melodramas, arising from mixed signals and imprudence on both sides.

Colleges should stick to academics and stop their infantilizing supervision of students’ dating lives, an authoritarian intrusion that borders on violation of civil liberties. Real crimes should be reported to the police, not to haphazard and ill-trained campus grievance committees.

Too many young middle class women, raised far from the urban streets, seem to expect adult life to be an extension of their comfortable, overprotected homes. But the world remains a wilderness. The price of women’s modern freedoms is personal responsibility for vigilance and self-defense.

Camille Paglia, “The Modern Campus Cannot Comprehend Evil”, Time, 2014-09-29.

September 30, 2015

Helicopter parents have raised a generation of needy, emotionally fragile young adults

Filed under: Health, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In Psychology Today, Peter Gray looks at how universities are unequipped to handle the anxieties and emotional neediness of today’s students:

A year ago I received an invitation from the head of Counseling Services to join other faculty and administrators, at the university I’m associated with, for discussions about how to deal with the decline in resilience among students. At the first meeting, we learned that emergency calls to Counseling had more than doubled over the past five years. Students are increasingly seeking help for, and apparently having emotional crises over, problems of everyday life. Recent examples mentioned included a student who felt traumatized because her roommate had called her a “bitch” and two students who had sought counseling because they had seen a mouse in their off-campus apartment. The latter two also called the police, who kindly arrived and set a mousetrap for them.

Faculty at the meetings noted that students’ emotional fragility has become a serious problem when in comes to grading. Some said they had grown afraid to give low grades for poor performance, because of the subsequent emotional crises they would have to deal with in their offices. Many students, they said, now view a C, or sometimes even a B, as failure, and they interpret such “failure” as the end of the world. Faculty also noted an increased tendency for students to blame them (the faculty) for low grades—they weren’t explicit enough in telling the students just what the test would cover or just what would distinguish a good paper from a bad one. They described an increased tendency to see a poor grade as reason to complain rather than as reason to study more, or more effectively. Much of the discussions had to do with the amount of handholding faculty should do versus the degree to which the response should be something like, “Buck up, this is college.” Does the first response simply play into and perpetuate students’ neediness and unwillingness to take responsibility? Does the second response create the possibility of serious emotional breakdown, or, who knows, maybe even suicide?

Two weeks ago, the head of Counseling (who has now moved up to another position in the University) sent us all a follow-up email, announcing a new set of meetings. His email included this sobering paragraph: “I have done a considerable amount of reading and research in recent months on the topic of resilience in college students. Our students are no different from what is being reported across the country on the state of late adolescence/early adulthood. There has been an increase in diagnosable mental health problems, but there has also been a decrease in the ability of many young people to manage the everyday bumps in the road of life. Whether we want it or not, these students are bringing their struggles to their teachers and others on campus who deal with students on a day-to-day basis. The lack of resilience is interfering with the academic mission of the University and is thwarting the emotional and personal development of students.”


In my next essay in this series I’ll examine the research evidence suggesting that so-called “helicopter parenting” really is at the core of the problem. But I don’t blame parents, or certainly not just parents. Parents are in some ways victims of larger forces in the society — victims of the continuous exhortations from “experts” about the dangers of letting kids be, victims of the increased power of the school system and the schooling mentality that says kids develop best when carefully guided and supervised by adults, and victims of increased legal and social sanctions for allowing kids into public spaces without adult accompaniment. We have become, unfortunately, a “helicopter society.”

If we want to prepare our kids for college — or for anything else in life! — we have to counter all these social forces. We have to give our children the freedom, which children have always enjoyed in the past, to get away from adults so they can practice being adults, that is, practice taking responsibility for themselves.

QotD: Self-government and the scale problem

Filed under: Europe, Government, History, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The pioneering political thinkers of the West — Greeks, mostly Athenian, including the sublime Aristotle — devoted much thought to this question of scale. Their consensus was that a state of more than about five thousand people (plus slaves, of course) was essentially unmanageable, at least by its citizens. Large empires or alliances of states might attempt to guarantee the freedom and independence of these small states (or might not), but the hard fact was that above around five thousand souls, the participation of the citizen in his own government ceases to be reality, and becomes rather a pious (or impious) myth.

Skip forward to 1789, the year of the French Revolution. As I have written elsewhere, perhaps the most permanent effect of that Revolution was the transformation of local government across France. Overnight, the seemingly timeless boundaries of 60,000 French parishes, each governed in its own unique way — were erased and replaced with 36,000 “communes,” governed identically and now under central direction from Paris.

This model was copied, across most of Europe, for even those national politicians who did not share in the ideals of the Revolution were attracted by the prospect of central power. France has mostly preserved her revolutionary communes, of a piece in land area, though now a city such as Paris is a single commune with more than two million people. In other countries, these small districts were merged and merged again, into ever larger territorial units, ever more bureaucratic and ever more subject to central direction.


According to me — and I have mulled this at length, with my own feeble mental powers — the Greeks were right. Five thousand is near the top end of a population that can attempt genuine self-government, deciding for themselves what they will and will not put up with, inside their own little domains. In huge conurbations, I would say that is about the maximum size for a self-governing urban borough or ward, necessarily small in area. Outside, rural districts would be rather larger, and there the question of maximum acreage comes into view, balanced against the minimum population to make any formal government necessary.

Boundaries are important. Above the parish or ward, the county seems to be the next higher natural level of government, for the resolution of issues that cross parish boundaries. But at all levels, attention should be given to geography. The boundaries of the jurisdiction should correspond as closely as possible to natural landmarks, and elevations of land, such that e.g. riparian responsibilities can be assigned to the visibly appropriate jurisdiction.

What has all this got to do with the environmental management of the planet? Everything. Where people can see the cause and effect of their actions, problems such as pollution will be tackled, and beauties such as birdsong will not be sacrificed. If the problems aren’t tackled, and the blight spills into another jurisdiction, penalties may be imposed from a higher level, but first give people the chance and the power to solve their own problems at source. Give them ownership, and stable rule by law — not by central planning which rewrites laws for its own convenience.

David Warren, “Five thousand max”, Essays in Idleness, 2015-06-19.

September 29, 2015

Bad preschool is worse than no preschool

Filed under: Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Megan McArdle on the popular notion that preschool programs are a panacea for all that ails the public school system:

Universal preschool has become the ginseng of American politics, a sort of broad-spectrum nostrum that will cure almost anything that ails you. Inequality, male-female pay gaps, crime, poverty — just apply some early childhood programs, and watch those maladies fade. Expect to hear this a lot from Hillary Clinton in the coming presidential race.

And what kind of a crotchety, sour, greedy old columnist could be opposed to such a wonderful idea? I’m so glad you asked.

In truth, I am not opposed to early childhood education programs. I am opposed to blind boosterism of such programs, the kind that confidently predicts marvelous results from thin empirical evidence, and briskly proceeds to demand huge sums be spent accordingly. There are three big problems with this:

1. The empirical evidence is shakier than many boosters suggest. The possible benefits of these programs can be divided into two baskets: cognitive benefits (improvement in academic skills and performance), and non-cognitive benefits (improvement in such things as social skills, hyperactivity, gratification delay, and so forth). The evidence of cognitive benefits is underwhelming; they appear, and then tend to fade out as the children leave the program and proceed through our nation’s school systems.

A lot of hope has therefore been poured into non-cognitive benefits. Some early programs seem to show long-term improvements in things like graduation rates, employment and criminal activity. However, many of these programs were very small, which raises the possibility that we’re dealing with small samples plus publication bias, rather than something that actually works. In general, in social science, you tend to see that the larger the sample and the better designed the study, the less remarkable the effects. And this is definitely what you see with early childhood programs. Perry, Abecedarian, the Chicago Child-Parent Center: these are inspiring projects. They’re not nearly large enough to base a national program on.


And indeed, that’s what a new study out of Quebec seems to suggest. In the 1990s, the province instituted an inexpensive universal child-care program. The program doesn’t seem to have produced much in the way of cognitive benefits, and its non-cognitive benefits were actually negative — that is, kids exposed to the program (those who lived in Quebec) were more likely to have various problems than control groups in other provinces.

Now, this is, as I always caution, Just One Study. It’s a pretty convincing study, of a pretty large group. But it’s still a single study, which means that we should not rush to say that universal child care is a bad idea, or even that cheap, badly designed universal child care is a bad idea.

What we should rush to say, however, is that the background assumption about such programs — that at worst they’re a waste of money for zero results — cannot be safely held. We have to assume some possibility that our early childhood program will actually be worse for the kids than the status quo is.

September 28, 2015

QotD: Universal criminality

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I’ve written on many occasions about what I call universal criminality, the crowning achievement of the modern police state, under which there are so many vague, overbroad and counterintuitive laws that every single person is in violation of at least a few of them at all times. Nearly any encounter with the police can be turned into “assault on a police officer” or “resisting arrest”, almost any business can be twisted into “racketeering”, virtually any financial transaction can be redefined as “money laundering” and even normal friendships or business interactions can be tortured into “conspiracy”. But while charges like these can be used to harass, bankrupt and imprison the target, possibly for many years, they often lack the firepower necessary to totally destroy his life forever; after his release from prison he might still be able to find work, have a normal social life and rebuild his shattered fortunes into some semblance of a comfortable existence. Worst of all (from the prosecutorial viewpoint), the public might even side with the victim, turning him into a martyr both during and after his state-sanctioned torture and caging. But there is one weapon in the state’s arsenal which, used properly, will utterly destroy a person’s life. At the end of the process he will have no money, no friends and no home; he will be completely unemployable and condemned to everlasting surveillance, shunned by society and unable even to avail himself of even paid companionship without triggering still more awful consequences. If the prosecutor is really lucky, his victim may even be murdered by the police or other thugs or take his own life. And all it takes to detonate this thermonuclear weapon of modern law is the sending of a single email.

Maggie McNeill, “Instant Criminal”, The Honest Courtesan, 2014-09-19.

September 26, 2015

QotD: The “stab in the back” theory

Filed under: Europe, History, Military, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

There’s this underlying tone, whenever you see people talking about the “Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy to destroy Germany” and the “stab in the back” theory of why Germany lost World War I, that the latter was come up with out of whole cloth by the German aristocracy and military while the former was Hitler’s own insane twist on the theory.

Unfortunately, neither one of those statements is entirely true. First, while Germany would have ended up losing World War I even without its internal issues, the fact of the matter is that the morale issues and general disaffection that led the German high command to sue for peace in 1918 were exacerbated by socialist agitation. The most obvious result of this was the Kiel mutiny, when the sailors of the German navy refused to go out and have a last “glorious” battle with the British and proceeded to set up a socialist-led soldiers and workers council, and eventually forced the German government to overthrow the Kaiser. In other words, the “stab in the back” happened — it’s just that it was more of a result of Germany’s loss of the war than the cause of it.

As to the “Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy” — well, the awkward thing is that a disproportionate amount of Jews were involved in leftism in this period. Many of the leaders of the Spartacus League, which was heavily involved in the 1919 Spartacist uprising that attempted to take over Berlin, were Jewish, as were many within the Bolshevik uprising in Russia itself. The reason for this, of course, was that a disproportionate number of Jews were intellectuals, and intellectuals are often attracted to leftism. Now, the emphasis on Judaism was part and parcel of a longstanding pattern of German and European anti-Semitism, while the destruction of Germany/the German people was a case of a toxic combination of “They believe, as I do, that their policies are bad for Germany” and projection.

However, it should be noted that both of these theories, like all the really powerful lies, had a little kernel of truth in them, and a lot of belief behind them. There had been a socialist uprising in Germany that served as the straw that broke the camel’s back, and there were a number of Jews involved in the German left.

Sarah Hoyt, “Social Injustice – 60 Guilders”, According to Hoyt, 2015-07-31.

September 25, 2015

QotD: The danger of vague laws

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Prosecutors, and regulators more generally, like vague standards that are impossible to enforce consistently. It gives them a great deal of discretion in whom they target and how. It is a threat that can be wielded to force pleas to lesser crimes or other “voluntary” actions that obviate the need for a messy trial they might lose.

Megan McArdle, “California Accidentally Legalizes Campus Sex”, Bloomberg View, 2014-09-23.

September 24, 2015

QotD: Sex trafficking

Filed under: Law, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I am often asked if, by calling “sex trafficking” a myth, I’m saying that there is no such thing as coercion in sex work. The answer, of course, is “not at all”; what I’m saying is 1) that coercion is much rarer than “trafficking” fetishists pretend it is; 2) that the term “trafficking” is used to describe many different things along a broad spectrum running from absolutely coercive to absolutely not coercive, yet all of them are shoehorned into a lurid, melodramatic and highly-stereotyped narrative; and 3) that even situations of genuine coercion rarely bear much resemblance to the familiar masturbatory fantasy of an “innocent” middle-class girl in her early teens abducted by “pimps” from a shopping mall, bus stop or internet chat room.

Maggie McNeill, “The Face of Trafficking”, The Honest Courtesan, 2014-10-10.

September 23, 2015

QotD: The Platonic Ideal of a Guardian column

Filed under: Humour, Media, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The Guardian’s Aisha Mirza bemoans the “psychic burden” of living among white people, which is worse than being mugged.

The more I think about it, the more this may exemplify a near-perfect Guardian article, the ideal to which all other Guardian columnists should aspire. It’s haughty and obnoxious, is ignorant of relevant subject matter, is frequently question-begging, and its imagined piety is premised on a rather obvious double standard. Specifically, Ms Mirza’s belief that people who leave London do so, secretly, because they don’t feel comfortable living among people with skin of a darker hue, which is racist and therefore bad, and her own simultaneous preference not to live among people whose skin is paler than hers, which is somehow not racist at all, and is in fact aired as the last word in righteousness.

David Thompson, “Reheated (45)”, davidthompson, 2015-09-08.

September 22, 2015

QotD: Women’s clothing in patriarchal cultures

Filed under: Liberty, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I think it’s a mistake to worry too much about what is “normal”. “Normal” men in patriarchal societies tend to want their wives to dress in a way they perceive as modest; this derives from a desire to protect their “property” from those who might trespass or steal it. The more patriarchal the society, the more “modestly” it expects women to dress; in societies where women’s status is higher, women tend to dress more provocatively, and in those where it is lower, they tend to dress more concealingly. There are few if any exceptions, yet neofeminists teach a looking-glass version of reality in which dressing sexily is “objectification” and a manifestation of “patriarchy”, despite abundant real-world evidence that the exact opposite is true. Now, this is not to say that one individual man, or indeed large minorities of men, might not prefer women who “belong” to them dressed in a revealing fashion; however, the majority (“normal”) view has always been the opposite.

Maggie McNeill, “Wardrobe Choices”, The Honest Courtesan, 2014-10-08.

September 21, 2015

QotD: True believers visit the Workers’ Paradise

Filed under: Europe, History, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I have never forgotten these visitors, or ceased to marvel at them, at how they have gone on from strength to strength, continuing to lighten our darkness, and to guide, counsel and instruct us. They are unquestionably one of the wonders of the age, and I shall treasure till I die as a blessed memory the spectacle of them travelling with radiant optimism through a famished countryside, wandering in happy bands about squalid, over-crowded towns, listening with unshakeable faith to the fatuous patter of carefully trained and indoctrinated guides, repeating like schoolchildren a multiplication table, the bogus statistics and mindless slogans endlessly intoned on them. There, I would think, an earnest office-holder in some local branch of the League of Nations Union, there a godly Quaker who had once had tea with Gandhi, there an inveigher against the Means Test and the Blasphemy Laws, there a staunch upholder of free speech and human rights, there an indomitable preventer of cruelty to animals, there scarred and worthy veterans of a hundred battles for truth, freedom, and justice – all, all chanting the praises of Stalin and his Dictatorship of the Proletariat. It was as though a vegetarian society had come outwith a passionate plea for cannibalism, or Hitler had been nominated posthumously for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Malcolm Muggeridge, Chronicles of Wasted Time, 2006.

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