May 7, 2011

Happy 300th!

It's the 300th birthday of David Hume. 

I don't actually have much to say about the Scottish philosopher other than that I always assumed that Hume's line about how you can't really tell the rock falls because you dropped it is more or less a joke that a bunch of German philosophers took too Teutonically. Personally, I like the philosophy of Hume's Scottish contemporary Thomas Reid a little more, but Hume was certainly a great man.

IQ: Intelligence and/or motivation?

Bryan Caplan writes:
Years ago, I told Tyler Cowen, "It's surprising that IQ tests predict life outcomes so well, because there's usually no financial incentive to get a high score."  He replied, "People try out of pride - an under-rated motive."  So when Tyler blogged Duckworth et al, "Role of Test Motivation in Intelligence Testing" I naturally took notice.  Key claims: 
1. Material incentives boost IQ scores: ... "The authors reasonably infer that IQ is more of a composite intelligence/motivation measure than usually believed - especially by inter-disciplinary researchers." 
As far as I can tell, the authors do nothing to show that their results make IQ is less predictive.  They don't even show that IQ is more mutable than earlier studies find; boosting incentives boosts scores while the incentives remain in place, but there's no reason to think the boost lasts after the test-takers receive their pay.  All the researchers require us to reconsider is the reason why IQ is so predictive and hard to durably improve.  

I made Duckworth's point in my 2007 FAQ on IQ:
Q. So, you're saying that IQ testing can tell us more about group differences than about individual differences? 
A. If the sample sizes are big enough and all else is equal, a higher IQ group will virtually always outperform a lower IQ group on any behavioral metric.... 
Of course, everything else is seldom equal. A more conscientious group may well outperform a higher IQ group. On the other hand, conscientiousness, like many virtues, is positively correlated with IQ, so IQ tests work surprisingly well. 
Q. Wait a minute, does that mean that maybe some of the predictive power of IQ comes not from intelligence itself, but from virtues associated with it like conscientiousness? 
A. Most likely. But perhaps smarter people are more conscientious because they are more likely to foresee the bad consequences of slacking off. It's an interesting philosophical question, but, in a practical sense, so what? We have a test that can predict behavior. That's useful.

Keep in mind that the notorious average group gaps in cognitive test scores show up not only on low stakes tests, but on high-stakes tests where the testees are highly motivated: the SAT, ACT, LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, GRE, the military's AFQT enlistment test, NYC firefighting hiring tests, New Haven fire department promotion tests, Chicago cop tests, the NFL's Wonderlic IQ test, insurance agent licensing tests, and so forth and so on ad infinitum.

I can think of only one example where different levels of group motivation had a sizable effect: the military's AFQT enlistment test was renormed in 1980 on the National Longitudinal Study of Youth sample of about 12,000 young people, most of whom weren't trying to enlist. The test was 105 pages long. It was found years later that the anomalously large white-black gap on this renorming (18.6 IQ points rather than the usual 15 or 16) was caused by blacks being more likely to give up from discouragement part way through this long and hard test and leave the latter questions unanswered or just "bubbled in." (Keep in mind that this was a low stakes test for the participants, who were just taking part in a social science project, not trying to enlist).

In 1997, the AFQT was renormed using a computer adaptive testing where wrong answers lead to easier questions and thus less discouragement. The white-black gap was only 14.7 points.

This finding is worth keeping in mind for evaluating school performance test scores, which are usually low stakes tests for the students. 

Some of the difference in performance among schools on achievement tests therefore depends upon how well the principal and teachers manage to motivate students to keep working until the end of the test.

So, a lot of reports of miracle schools that seem to fizzle out after awhile have to do with higher scores ginned up by getting students just to not bubble in.

On the other hand, I'd rather send my kid to a school where the management has enough on the ball to figure out how to look better and is persuasive enough to motivate students to work for an extra 20 minutes than a school where management isn't. And a school that manages to motivate students on their state tests is likely to attract the children of more motivated and smarter parents in the future. 

So, once again, the question of intelligence v. motivation turns out to be more philosophical than predictive.

One thing to keep in mind is that in experimental situations involving low stakes tests, if the experimenters _want_ one group of testtakers to be unmotivated, it's easy to demotivate them to work less hard on the test. The test administrator can convey that a lackadaisical attitude is okay just through word choice, tone of voice, body language, and so forth.

I suspect this is a major feature of the popular stereotype threat experiments where low stakes tests are given to blacks. In the test group, blacks are told that they are expected to score low on the following test and in the control group, they aren't. Not surprisingly, on these tests that are meaningless to the testtakers, the first group is more likely to pick up the experimenters' hopes that they will work less hard and they do work less hard.

I've never seen stereotype threat confirmed experimentally on high stakes tests. I can't see how such an experiment would pass an ethical review board.

You'll note that stereotype threat experiments aren't about getting blacks to perform better on tests but about getting them to perform worse. Big difference.

May 6, 2011

Son of Aladdin

The news that lots of teenagers don't know who Osama bin Laden was reminds me of a story a high school teacher emailed me in 2008:
Student Named Yesenia: "Teacher! Teacher! I have a question." 
Teacher: "Yes, what is it?" 
Yesenia: "Who is Son of Aladdin? Why are they always looking for him in a cave?" 
Teacher: "Huh?" 
Yesenia: "What's so bad about Son of Aladdin? Why are they trying to catch him?" 
Teacher: "Oh, you mean … Osama bin Laden?" 
Yesenia: "Yeah, Son of Aladdin." 
Teacher: "He's a terrorist." 
Yesenia: "Oh." 
Teacher [trying to make this into a Teachable Moment]: "But don't confuse Osama with Obama." 
Yesenia: "Who's that?" 
Teacher: "Barack Obama. He's running for President. The African-American candidate." 
Teacher: "You know, the black guy?" 
Yesenia [Eyes widening]: "He's black?" 
Teacher: "Yes." 
Yesenia: "And he's running for President?" 
Teacher: "Yes." 
Yesenia: [With wide-eyed alarm]: "That's bad."

"Disgusting, racially-tinged, Muslim-baiting, xenophobic hate-mongering"

Asked about what else he was doing while on the East Coast, [Indiana governor Mitch Daniels] said he was going to Washington to accept an award from the Arab American Institute. “I happen to be one,” he said—an Arab American, that is. His paternal grandparents immigrated from Syria. Somehow I hadn’t registered that aspect of Daniels’s background before. I guess it makes Daniels even less likely to traffic in the kind of disgusting, racially-tinged, Muslim-baiting, xenophobic hate-mongering that some of his “brethren” (and sistren) have flirted with. ~Hendrik Hertzberg

The funny thing is that neither Hendrik Hertzberg nor all the editors and copy editors and fact checkers at The New Yorker noticed that Hertzberg's frothing-at-the-mouth rage about "hate-mongering" is funny.

May 5, 2011


From Slate:
Their Fates Were SEALed 
Forget the U.S. version of the Bin Laden raid. Any adult male found in the compound was a dead man.
By William Saletan

You can also look at it the other way around: the SEALs did a fine job of not hurting any of the large number of children in the compound and not hurting any neighbors, and killed only one woman and shot another one in the leg or foot. Meanwhile, all adult men in bin Laden's compound were, by the fact of their presence in bin Laden's compound, assumed to be sworn enemies of the United States and therefore terminated with extreme prejudice. Compare it to the NATO aerial attack on Tripoli the night before that managed to kill a couple of Col. Cathaphee's small grandchildren without getting the target.

The latest news from Obama Administration sources (from the Washington Post):
U.S. officials provided new details on bin Laden’s final moments, saying the al-Qaeda leader was first spotted by U.S. forces in the doorway of his room on the compound’s third floor. Bin Laden then turned and retreated into the room before being shot twice — in the head and in the chest.
“He was retreating,” a move that was regarded as resistance, a U.S. official briefed on the operation said. “You don’t know why he’s retreating, what he’s doing when he goes back in there. Is he getting a weapon? Does he have a [suicide] vest?” 

It sounds like they shot him in the back. In the Wild West, that was supposedly considered unsporting. I recall asking my cousin around 1966 about the plot of some cowboy show episode (Gunsmoke? The Rifle Man?) that turned on whether or not a reward would be paid for a desperado wanted dead or alive who, it turns out, was shot in the back. Saloon sentiment in the show was against paying. (As a rather pragmatic and bloodthirsty seven-year-old, shooting bad guys in the back sounded fine to me.) I don't know what feelings are like in the Wild East.

This could explain dumping bin Laden's body into the sea.

The Assassination Corollary to Peak State Theory

If, in my Peak State theory, the chief puppetmaster in a Deep State is more likely to be the public top guy (or, in case of term limits, the obvious de facto top guy, like Putin in Russia) than anybody else, how can we account for assassinations? For example, Pakistani president General Zia-al-Haq's airplane fell out of the sky in 1988 in a highly suspicious manner.

Well, assassinations of the top guy show that it is important enough to be the top guy that other guys will risk their lives to kill the top guy.

Peak State as Occam's Razor

My concept of the Peak State is the Occam's Razor version of the concept of the Deep State.

The Mediterranean term "Deep State" refers to shadowy string pullers within a ruling establishment. The Peak State theory suggests that the man most likely to be pulling more of the strings than anybody else is the official top guy.

For example, in 1983 Ferndinand Marcos's exiled rival Benigno Aquino announced he was returning to the Philippines to challenge Marcos for the Presidency. He was gunned down on the airport tarmac. That led to a lot of complicated theorizing about which rogue elements and shadowy forces gave the orders, since it obviously couldn't have been Marcos, because that was too obvious. He was the obvious suspect, so he obviously wouldn't have done it.

Nah, it was Marcos.

Similarly, when an enemy of Vladimir Putin died in London a few years ago from polonium poisoning, there was much creativity expended on who dunnit, since, clearly, Putin, the man with more means and motive to do it than anybody else, wouldn't do something so obvious as murder an enemy in an extremely conspicuous manner because that would make him look guilty.

Well, maybe. I dunno.

Or when Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan in 2007 to challenge General Pervez Musharaff's grip on the Presidency and wound up very dead, the U.S. blamed Al-Qaeda.


But now we know that the boss of Al-Qaeda was living near the Pakistan Military Academy. That raises questions. 

The simplest answer to those questions seems like: Osama bin Laden was alive in Pakistan and Benazir Bhutto was dead in Pakistan because that's the way Pakistan President Pervez Musharaff wanted it. 

Now, Peak State may well be too logical and tidy an explanation for a place like Pakistan. But, maybe not.  

The Iraq WMD Non-Hoax

One of the more remarkable (but little remarked) non-events of the last decade was that when no Weapons of Mass Destruction turned up in Iraq after the 2003 invasion, nobody planted any. 

I can imagine a lot of possible reasons. First, Cheney really believed they'd be there, and Bush figured that if a smart guy like Cheney believed it, then they would be there. So, they didn't have a Plan B.

Second, that Bush and Cheney had a certain code of honor: spin, embroider, and cover-up, sure, but don't plant evidence like a dirty cop.

Third, that organizing a hoax would be hard and risky.

Fourth, that U.S. soldiers have too strong a sense of honor to go along with a massive hoax.

Peak State

My insta-reaction to bin Laden being found not on Pakistan's lawless frontier but next to the Pakistan Military Academy -- We've been scammed for years by the Pakistan deep state! -- is gaining in respectability.

So much so that Speaker of the House John Boehner has had to put out the word that loyal Invade-the-Worldists shouldn't be discouraged by mere embarrassment. Under the title, "Republicans Are Useless," Your Lying Eyes cites an AP story:
The Obama administration was investigating whether Pakistan knew Osama bin Laden was hiding deep inside the country as House Speaker John Boehner and top lawmakers insisted the U.S. maintain close ties with the sometimes reluctant ally in the war on terror. The killing of Osama bin Laden at a compound just miles from Islamabad prompted furious questions about whether Pakistan was complicit in protecting the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks...Amid the harsh criticism of Pakistan, Boehner and others said this was not the time to back away from Pakistan. "I think we need more engagement, not less," he said. "Al-Qaida and other extremist groups have made Pakistan a target. ... Having a robust partnership with Pakistan is critical to breaking the back of al-Qaida and the rest of them."

How true!

Except that Pakistan hosted the founder of al-Qaida.

And that raises difficult questions of what we mean by "Pakistan."

Outside of the GOP brain trust, the discussion has moved on to whether "rogue elements" in, say, Pakistan's intelligence service sheltered bin Laden.

All this raises the philosophical question of what is meant by "the government of Pakistan." Earlier, I had asserted the metaphysical point that, from the point of view of the United States of America, the strategic question is which side are they on in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, and that, therefore, whomever implements a decision on bin Laden is, for our purposes, the effective government of Pakistan. 

But, there might not be a need for that kind of subtlety of argument, because there's an alternative to the "rogue elements" theory:

Or did this conspiracy go all the way to the top?

The concept of a "deep state," a permanent government of shadowy behind-the-scenes manipulators, is closely associated with Cold War Italy. 

But there's an irony here. The man most often accused of heading Italy's deep state was Giulio Andreotti, who was prime minister of Italy for a total of over seven years from 1972 to 1992. (Here's my review of the 2009 Italian movie about Andreotti, Il Divo, which, I must say, strikes me as once of my best movie reviews.)

Andreotti is the anti-Berlusconi, a man with negligible need for fame and acclaim. If he took on Italy's prime ministership three times, it wasn't out of ego, but because he could get more things done that he wanted to do in the top job than as a grey eminence.

In other words: less deep state than peak state.

Similarly, having lived in Chicago for 18 years, it was obvious to all that there is a Deep City.

Perhaps there were some rogue elements in the machine who were embarrassing, say, their less ridiculous colleagues by embezzling quarters from tollbooths.

But, for 42 of the last 56 years in Chicago, there was no mystery about who was, overall, in charge of the Deep City: Mayor Daley. The young Barack Obama craved the Mayor's job because it represented true power. Rahm Emmanuel didn't quit his post as the President's chief-of-staff to get elected Mayor in order to be manipulated by obscure underlings.

So, let me take a wild guess and throw out a name of somebody in Pakistan who might have decided to host Osama bin Laden: Pervez Musharraf. Granted, I might just be tossing that name out because he's one of the few Pakistanis whose name I know. But, I know his name because he was Chairman of the Pakistan Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1998 to 2007 and President of Pakistan from 1999 to 2008. He resigned a little over a half year after his rival Benazir Bhutto got machine gunned and blown up after returning to Pakistan to challenge him for the Presidency. Maybe that was just a rogue element, too.

Here's a new interview on Fox News in which Musharaff concedes incompetence at catching bin Laden, but denies complicity.

Now, I don't know anything about Pakistan. It seems more disorganized than Chicago, so maybe President Musharaff really was a feeble figurehead. On the other hand, maybe not.

May 4, 2011

Our Man in Islamabad (and Kabul, too) ...

... is Marc Grossman, who was appointed special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan by Hillary Clinton following Richard Holbrooke's death last December.

Where have I heard the name Marc Grossman before? Oh, yeah, he's the former American ambassador to Turkey (1994-1997) who is the central subject in former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds' accusations. (Here's Philip Giraldi's interview with her in 2009 in The American Conservative. I've talked to Giraldi, an ex-CIA man who is AmCon's espionage gossip columnist. He seems like a level-headed guy.)

Very, very few people in the U.S. think about Turkey much. To us, it's either the Mexico of Europe or the Canada of the Middle East, and people who follow the news in America don't pay much attention to Mexico or Canada, much less to Turkey. Yet, it's actually a very interesting and important place -- look at a map.

And, Turkey is byzantine. It has always had connections to old school American deep staters like Scowcroft and Baker through Cold War NATO membership and the like. And it is of great interest to neocons due to the once strong Israeli alliance. Josh Klemons writes:
Israel has viewed Turkey as an ally since before it declared statehood. Turkey, along with Ethiopia and Iran (the latter of course being a much different story) made up Ben-Gurion’s Periphery Doctrine. Recognizing that in the short-term, Israel would not be able to work with its Arab neighbors, he looked to reach out to Israel’s “periphery” as a means of having allies in the region.

The neocons have been uneasy about Turkey, however, since the rise of Prime Minister Erdogan a decade ago.

I don't know whether Edmonds' accusations are true, but nobody seems to deny them very much or put forward evidence against them. Instead, they are just treated as nonexistent. It's not like there's an Official Story on the subject. There's just no story.

One interesting theory a commenter put forward was that the least disturbing explanation for all this would be that Edmonds happened to stumble upon a CIA sting operation in which Grossman was just pretending to be a corrupt secrets dealer in order to lure in the bad guys.

Did some sort of memo go out to never talk about any of this? If so, who sends it and who gets it? Or are you just supposed to know about what not to think about?

By the way, speaking of knowing what not to know, here's the May 5th list of most popular stories on

  1. Who shot bin Laden? Former SEALs fill in the blanks
  2. Osama bin Laden buried at sea after being killed by U.S. forces in Pakistan
  3. Why Glenn Beck lost it
  4. Pakistan did its part
  5. Obama owes thanks, and an apology, to CIA interrogators

Capital Punishment

No body, no photos, no autopsy report.

A theory: it wasn't much of a firefight, it was more of an execution.

I'm okay with that.

Most of the time, I care about cost-benefit analysis. But with Osama bin Laden, I care most about vengeance.

The Wealth of Nations

In a new paper in Psychological Science, Heiner Rindermann and James Thompson quantitatively model the wealth of nations based on a variety test scores, evidence of scientific and engineering skills, and Charles Murray's Human Accomplishment database of eminent individuals from Homer to John Von Neumann. Looks like La Griffe du Lion's smart fraction theory comes out looking good.
Cognitive Capitalism: The Effect of Cognitive Ability on Wealth, as Mediated Through Scientific Achievement and Economic Freedom 
Heiner Rindermann and James Thompson
Chemnitz University of Technology and University College London 
Traditional economic theories stress the relevance of political, institutional, geographic, and historical factors for economic growth. In contrast, human-capital theories suggest that peoples’ competences, mediated by technological progress, are the deciding factor in a nation’s wealth. Using three large-scale assessments, we calculated cognitive-competence sums for the mean and for upper- and lower-level groups for 90 countries and compared the influence of each group’s intellectual ability on gross domestic product. In our cross-national analyses, we applied different statistical methods (path analyses, bootstrapping) and measures developed by different research groups to various country samples and historical periods. Our results underscore the decisive relevance of cognitive ability—particularly of an intellectual class with high cognitive ability and accomplishments in science, technology, engineering, and math—for national wealth. Furthermore, this group’s cognitive ability predicts the quality of economic and political institutions, which further determines the economic affluence of the nation. Cognitive resources enable the evolution of capitalism and the rise of wealth.

And here's a big graph from the paper (click on it to see the right edge):

Shallow State

The revelations of this week suggest that Pakistan is actually governed by a "deep state" that sheltered Osama bin Laden. But, what about America? Is our country ruled by a deep state?

Perhaps, but the truth may be even more terrifying. 

From the BBC, November 6, 1999:
First off, Andy Hiller, political reporter for WHDH-TV in Boston, Massachusetts, wanted to know whether the potential next president of the US could name the president of Chechnya. 
Mr Bush: "No, can you?" 
Instead, Mr Hiller fired off his second question. "Can you name the president of Taiwan?" 
Bush: "Yeah, Lee." His score so far: 50%. 
But then came the crunch question: "Can you name the general who is in charge of Pakistan?" 
Mr Bush needed a breather. "Wait, wait, is this 50 questions?"  
"No, it's four questions of four leaders in four hot spots, " the reporter tried to put his victim at ease. 
"The new Pakistani general, he's just been elected - not elected, this guy took over office. It appears this guy is going to bring stability to the country and I think that's good news for the sub-continent," the Republican candidate offered. 
Good news, but not an answer, and the interviewer insisted: "Can you name him?" 
"General. I can't name the general. General" was all Mr Bush had to offer. 
The reporter tried the another country in the same region, but the Indian prime minister's name did not come to George Bush either. 
"The new prime minister of India is - no."

This incident, of course, catapulted TV reporter Andy Hiller to national fame and fortune. 

Nah, I'm kidding, Hiller is still stuck in the same local TV job he's had since 1993. Here's a career tip: Don't embarrass the powerful by asking hard questions. It just makes everybody, powerful and powerless alike, embarrassed, and then they get mildly irritated with you.

Granted, these were actually four pretty hard questions. How many of the four country's leaders would you know today? (Is Chechnya even a country?) On the other hand, my dad's best friend isn't General Brent Scowcroft, friend of Presidents and model old school deep stater, so I didn't grow up around as many dinner table conversations about foreign leaders.

I was struck, however, by how Bush Jr., even if he couldn't remember his name, had such a strong positive opinion on the new dictator of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf. Clearly, he had picked it up somewhere, but where? And why? From reading the newspaper?

Pakistan is the country where, more than just about anywhere else in the world, you need inside information, a trusted guide to make sense of what in the world is going on there.

General Musharraf, currently living in London and avoiding a 2011 arrest warrant from a Pakistani court relating to the 2008 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, was the man in charge of Pakistan's civil government and military at the time bin Laden's compound was constructed in 2005. Seems to me that Bush, who was as plugged in as he cared to be, didn't pick up very good hints about Musharraf.

What about Obama?

In the May 2, 2011 New Yorker, Ryan Lizza tries to make sense of the War in Libya:
Barack Obama came to Washington just six years ago, having spent his professional life as a part-time lawyer, part-time law professor, and part-time state legislator in Illinois. As an undergraduate, he took courses in history and international relations, but neither his academic life nor his work in Springfield gave him an especially profound grasp of foreign affairs. ... 
As a student during the Reagan years, Obama gravitated toward conventionally left-leaning positions. At Occidental, he demonstrated in favor of divesting from apartheid South Africa. At Columbia, he wrote a forgettable essay in Sundial, a campus publication, in favor of the nuclear-freeze movement. As a professor at the University of Chicago, he focussed on civil-rights law and race. And, as a candidate who emphasized his “story,” Obama argued that what he lacked in experience with foreign affairs he made up for with foreign travel: four years in Indonesia as a boy, and trips to Pakistan, India, Kenya, and Europe during and after college. But there was no mistaking the lightness of his résumé. Just a year before coming to Washington, State Senator Obama was not immersed in the dangers of nuclear Pakistan or an ascendant China; as a provincial legislator, he was investigating the dangers of a toy known as the Yo-Yo Water Ball. (He tried, unsuccessfully, to have it banned.)

In other words, Obama, like the younger Bush, had been -- by choice -- a card-carrying member of the Shallow State.

On the other hand, Pakistan is one of the very few countries Barack Obama had any kind of inside information about. His mother worked there, he had four friends, including a roommate, from Pakistan's elite, he visited there in 1981 and stayed on the estate of a future Prime Minister's family. On September 15, 2008, I blogged:
In Pakistan in 1981, Obama stayed at the estate of the man who was recently caretaker Prime Minister after his boss, Gen. Musharraf, quit. Although Obama recently boasted of how much foreign policy expertise he gained from this trip, he didn't mention it in Dreams from My Father since it didn't have much to do with his story of race and inheritance. 
Obama's youthful connection to Pakistani bigshots is not particularly remarkable. Imagine an American student at Amherst in the 19th Century who makes friends with the tiny number of Italian students there, and goes to visit Italy with his classmate. His friends would almost certainly belong to a politically influential network of Italian families. Of course, if that American later ran for President, it would be interesting to know which network of Italian families he had connections to. ... 
Obama's Pakistani friends no doubt came from wealthy, influential families within Pakistan. Does anybody know what their political connections are within Pakistan, since they've probably helped shape Obama's view of that complicated and obscure part of the world?

This may be relevant to the question of how much credit Obama deserves.

In baseball statistics, there's the concept of Wins Above Replacement. Back in the 1980s, baseball analysts used to try to measure ballplayers against the average player. If a below average player got into a lot of games, he came out looking worse than an equally mediocre player who didn't play much. But that didn't make sense because even below average major leaguers are awfully good. The relevant comparison, instead, is to replacement players: the average player you could pick up from Triple A or the waiver wire to replace him.

In recent Presidential history, Gerald Ford might roughly represent the replacement level President. (In contrast, George W. Bush seems like the Jesus Alou of Presidents, a good-looking ballplayer from a famous family who got into 1,380 big league games despite being below replacement level for his 15 year career.)

So, you can reasonably ask: What did Obama do that Gerald Ford wouldn't have done?

If there is an answer to that question besides "nothing," it may have to do with Obama's willingness to upset the applecart in relation to Pakistan. And it could be that Obama's personal experience with Pakistanis might have made him more cynical about Pakistan than past Presidents. Maybe hanging around with rich Marxist Pakistanis taught him something about not trusting Pakistan.

Or, maybe the opposite is true, and Gerry Ford would have sent in the SEALs long before.

May 3, 2011

"The Cave of Forgotten Dreams"

From my movie review in Taki's Magazine:
The Cave of Forgotten Dreams is the latest documentary from artiste / showman Werner Herzog. It's cinema's first look at the world’s oldest known cave paintings (c. 30,000 B.C.), discovered in 1994 at Chauvet Grotto in southeastern France and immediately locked up to protect the stunning drawings of imposing beasts. 
The French government allowed Herzog to make this first documentary about Chauvet because he is a major auteur. His long career depicting energetic lunatics includes 1972’s Aguirre: The Wrath of God, in which a 16th-century conquistador searches in vain for a city of gold amid Brazil’s fever swamps. 
You and I will never be allowed in Chauvet.

Read the whole thing there.

By the way, here's Friedrich von Blowhard's 2003 post on 2Blowhards about the mysteries behind the great Old Stone Age cave paintings. Does anybody really know what they were for?

Why didn't bin Laden have a gun?

There could be a lot of reasons, but commenter Wandrin just pointed out one: If he were in prison.

Was that big wall around his compound to keep outsiders out or to keep bin Laden in? Or both?

How's that coed Navy SEALs thing working out?

After success in the 1991 Gulf War made the military more prestigious, a remarkable amount of energy was expended in America over the rest of the decade to co-edize all aspects of the military. For example, as part of the feminist campaign for female fighter pilots, a huge scandal was ginned up when the Navy fighter pilots' Tailhook fraternity held a 1991 convention / victory party in a Las Vegas hotel and engaged in Las Vegas hotel victory party-type activities. Conversely, cover-ups of fatal female pilot screw-ups were engineered in which the Pentagon and press were complicit. Our leaders' motto in the 1990s was: What happens in Las Vegas gets publicized all over the world, but what happens on the deck of an aircraft carrier in plain view of hundreds stays on that aircraft carrier. (After the Private Jessica Lynch hoax in Iraq in 2003, this frenzy started to ease, its mission accomplished.)

The reductio ad absurdum of this protracted phase in American cultural history was the 1997 Ridley Scott movie G.I. Jane, in which Demi Moore becomes a Navy SEAL and wins a battle with Col. Qathaphee's Libyan Army. (Being a movie by Sir Ridley, G.I. Jane isn't as stupid as it would have been in somebody else's hands in that feminism-fevered cultural climate, but it's still pretty stupid.)

So, how many women Navy SEALs went into bin Laden's compound?

Well, as it turns out, the SEALs never were co-edized. Somebody, somewhere had the good sense to say that the SEALs were a bridge too far because: Someday, we may actually need these guys to get something important done. 

Wikipedia says: "Without exception, all SEALs are male members of either the United States Navy or the United States Coast Guard." Big swinging male members, I might add.

Gentlemen, thank you.

Connecting the dots

Dennis Dale points out in The American Conservative:
Osama bin Laden’s fortress was heavily constructed–drone-proofed, it seems, when built in 2005. He avoided land-lines and stayed indoors. This is consistent with the need to evade the US and its technology. In contrast, his compound was very lightly guarded. This is consistent with a high degree of comfort–concerning the possibility of a ground raid. 
Of course bin Laden discounted the chance of a US commando raid–anyone would have (in fact, that loud racket you hear is the sound of the president’s giant brass b**ls clanging together as he does his victory lap). There was no need to post a useless armed contingent whose presence could only draw suspicion. If and when we came it would be via airborne munitions. 
What is striking is how completely bin Laden appears to have discounted the possibility of being raided by Pakistani forces. What confidence he had in the fidelity, authority and discretion of his benefactors, whoever they are!

By the way, by relying on Google Maps crowdsourcing, I got the precise location of bin Laden's compound wrong in the busy hours following bin Laden's execution. Google Maps put a pin on a similar sized compound a little farther out of town than the actual one, which lies between the center of Abbottabad and the Pakistan Military Academy. Bin Laden's place was more conveniently located to the venerable Abbottabad Golf Club than I had originally thought. I apologize to whomever lives in that big compound I pointed to. On the other hand, I wouldn't be terribly surprised if that guy got to own that big estate by, oh, I dunno, accepting bags of cash from the CIA to look for bin Laden ...

Bin Laden's three story building was built in what was then an open field no more than a mile from t he front gate of Pakistan's West Point, which has 4,400 cadets and about 600 officer / instructors. There are also operational units of the Pakistan Army based in Abbottabad. The average person in Pakistan doesn't ask a lot of questions about what the Army is up to, with ample justification. On the other hand, Pakistan's military-intelligence complex asks lots of questions about lots of things, especially who is building a fortified compound right in the intellectual heart of their power. The only way they couldn't have not found out that bin Laden had decided to infiltrate their front yard was if they had done the deciding for him.

Why the elite bash teachers

Matthew Yglesias defends the popularity of teacher-bashing among liberal and corporate elites:
"Indeed, evidence suggests that quality of teaching is the most important non-demographic contributor to student learning."

Okay, but what has been most responsible over the last generation for changing the demographics of public school students? The answer is the elite conventional wisdom that celebrated mass immigration and denounced immigration skeptics as racists. (Matt, for example, wants to import another 165,000,000 immigrants.) 

Bashing teachers (a huge group of people who are, not surprisingly, pretty average and thus, on the whole, non-miracle workers) is just the inevitable reaction of ruling class elites as they attempt to elude responsibility for their immigration policies by blaming the teachers for not eliminating the racial gaps in student achievement. If you don't believe that teachers can wholly eliminate racial gaps caused by "the soft bigotry of low expectations," then, obviously, you are a racist. So, don't blame George W. Bush or Ted Kennedy or Matthew Yglesias for America's immigration policies, blame teachers for being bigots.

The sanctity of education reform is a by-product of the sanctity of diversity. Since we all know that diversity is the highest social value, therefore, increasing diversity by allowing in tens of millions of illegal immigrants and their descendants is an unquestionable good.

Unfortunately, the test scores don't support that.

So, "all we have to do is fix the schools." That must be easy, because if it's not easy, that would call into question the goodness of diversity, and that is unquestionable.

Which one is not like the others?

Here are the most popular articles on the Washington Post website early on May 3:
  1. Secretive Virginia SEALs thrill community by taking down bin Laden
  2. Why Glenn Beck lost it
  3. Osama bin Laden killed in U.S. raid, buried at sea
  4. Who shot bin Laden? Former SEALs fill in the blanks
  5. Osama bin Laden buried at sea after being killed by U.S. 

Let's see, four of the headlines include "bin Laden," two include "SEALs," and two are virtually the same: "Osama bin Laden killed in U.S. raid, buried at sea" and "Osama bin Laden buried at sea after being killed by U.S." From this we can surmise that the reading public is presently interested in Osama bin Laden, Navy SEALs, the U.S., and burial at sea, for reasons that need no explication.

On the other hand, there's "Why Glenn Beck lost it," Dana Milbank's April 7th column accusing the fired TV talker of anti-Semitism, or at least of being the kind of person who might someday have an anti-Semitic thought flit through his brain and therefore must be silenced today. It has been near the top of the WaPo's popularity chart for almost four weeks now, while nothing else lasts more than two or three days. Heck, I can barely recall what I wrote a month ago, much less anybody else remembering it. By pundit standards, Milbank has achieved Iliad-level immortality.

So, here's to you, Dana Milbank!

By the way, could there be some other explanation for this phenomenon other than that real live humans are relentlessly pecking away at links to this ancient article like pigeons in a Skinner Box?

May 2, 2011

Crazy Talk

From the NYT:
Pentagon officials said they were preparing for calls for a more rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan. 

I.e., preparing to shout down calls for withdrawal. I'm sorry if this sounds old-fashioned, but I had somehow gotten the impression that the Pentagon's job was to fight our country's wars, not to choose them. Silly me.
Pentagon officials acknowledged that NATO nations, many of whom already are reluctant to remain in Afghanistan, also may argue that Bin Laden’s death allows them to withdraw more rapidly than planned. 
“I hope people are going to feel, on a bipartisan basis, that when you move the ball this far it’s crazy to walk off the field,” one senior administration official said. Officials who favor retaining a large troop presence said that while this was a significant victory, the security gains in Afghanistan remained fragile.

The idea of not spending $114 billion dollars per year on war in strategically crucial Afghanistan is just crazy talk! The U.S. must dominate Afghanistan's world-historical supplies of gravel.

It's interesting that the Pentagon was unenthusiastic about starting the war in Libya, but went along with the State / White House war fever. It's sort of a One War for You, One War for Me deal. We'll fight your war if you let us keep fighting our war. Nobody, of course, seems interested in the inverse: we'll stop our war and you stop your war.

Afghanistan war request for 2012: $113.7 billion

Spending on Afghanistan for the current fiscal year will be $118.6 billion and for FY 2012, the request is $113.7 billion.

Can we go home now?

Playing the Game of Empire

Here's my new column on the bin Laden hit. A is the Pakistan Military Academy. B is the bin Laden compound,less than mile away.

Not only is playing the Game of Empire bad for the USA. the USA is really, really bad at playing the Game.

Pakistan's Deep State Scammed Uncle Sam

The news of where Osama bin Laden was living for, probably, the last six years should be shocking: in northeast Abbottabad, the Pakistani national security echelons' most secure neighborhood, right next to the Pakistan Military Academy. It's as if Osama built a big compound in Annapolis, a few blocks from the Naval Academy, or in Langley, VA, just down the street from CIA headquarters. In this map, "B" is Osama's compound while "A" is the front gate of the Pakistan Military Academy. There's a distance scale in the lower left corner.

Abbottabad isn't some dirt village near the Khyber Pass. Wikipedia's article on the town says, "The city is well-known throughout Pakistan for its pleasant weather, high standard educational institutions and military establishments."

They knew.

Pakistan's Deep State had to know. You can't run a compound of that size in Pakistan without a bunch of gossipy servants.

The most likely conclusion is that the Pakistani Deep State was hiding Osama from us, while collecting billions to claim to help hunt for him in the anarchic Northwest Territories. They were sheltering Osama, probably because he was their meal ticket for billions from Uncle Sucker to search for him.

This is a crime against America of historic proportions. How many Americans have died hunting for Osama in the far-off mountains while he was being hosted in comfort in Pakistan's inner circle?

At minimum, can we stop paying off Pakistan's Deep State and go home from Afghanistan now?

P.S. It may also be relevant that there are two hospitals a few hundred yards to the west of Bin Laden's home. As a commenter pointed out, if his kidney disease was as bad as reported in 2001, he may have needed dialysis. In turn, that may suggest an explanation for the bizarre reports that the U.S. military "buried his body at sea" -- to prevent an autopsy from showing that he needed sophisticated dialysis to stay alive. (I will admit that trying to explain the "burial at sea" is just speculation -- I don't know what that was about. It would have been much less suspicion-inducing to bury the body on the fortress island of Diego Garcia in the middle of the Indian Ocean.)

P.P.S. I explained the Mediterranean concept of the "Deep State" here.

P.P.P.S. I've got a bunch of posts below making this same point in different ways. I'm sorry about their being a little chaotic, but this analysis is breaking news.

Bury the body on Diego Garcia

The rumor is that the U.S. government will bury Osama bin Laden's body at sea to prevent it from becoming a shrine for terrorists (kind of like how Stalin had Hitler's body burned, then had the ashes mixed into concrete).

One word of advice: Don't.

Nobody will believe the story.

Bury the body on Diego Garcia, the U.S. base in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

P.S. Oh, well ... They didn't listen to me.

What's the deal here, anyways?

If it was all a fake, why fake it in the heart of the most sophisticated town in Pakistan, with people with Twitter accounts around? Why cause a massive diplomatic crisis by implying that the Pakistani inner circle was hiding bin Laden? Why not stage a fake somewhere up in the mountains?

If it's for real, why bury the body at sea when Diego Garcia is completely owned by the U.S. military? Then, if too many questions get asked, the U.S. could produce the body at a later time.

War with Pakistan?

How will Pakistan be punished for putting Osama bin Laden up in the heart of their Deep State right next to the Pakistan Military Academy?

Going to war with a nuclear-armed country is probably not a good idea, no matter how much they've scammed us.

Still, there is another question:

How should Pakistan be punished?

May 1, 2011


I very rarely use all caps, but this is important: WE GOT SCAMMED.

It turns out that Osama was living in a huge compound built in 2005 that is only a few hundred meters from the Pakistan Military Academy. 

Pakistan had to know. This location can't possibly be a coincidence. Pakistani government insiders put him right in their pocket so they could protect him. They hugged him to their bosom.

They've been scamming us for billions of dollars for years pretending to help us chase Osama Bin Laden while they've been sheltering him in their equivalent of West Point, Annapolis, and Colorado Springs rolled into one. He was an official guest of the Deep State of Pakistan. Maybe the elected leaders didn't know, or didn't want to know because they might end up as dead as Benazir Bhutto.

That means Pakistan is on the other side, more so than the Taliban. And they were getting paid to do it by the United States.

Do we want to know that? Do we want to go to war with Pakistan? Should we flatten the Pakistan Military Academy?

Probably not, so I'll put it on my blog, which means that the fact that Pakistan's Deep State has scammed us by protecting America's Enemy #1 will turn into Official Unknowledge.

But, can we at least stop sending money to Pakistan?

Can we go home now?

From the Drudge Report:
We Got Him.

By the way, here's my movie review of September 26, 2001.

It turns out that Abbottabad, where OBL was living, isn't some out-of-the-way hole in the ground, it's a resort town with a golf course where the the Pakistan Military Academy is located. The Google Maps view of the town is pretty hilarious because of all the Pakistani elite institutions located in Abbottabad. It's like West Point, Annapolis, and Colorado Springs rolled into one. Clearly, the U.S. has been scammed by Pakistani authorities for years.
Abbottabad, the city where Osama bin Laden met his death on Sunday, has a long history dating from the days of British rule as a military station. It remains today the headquarters of a brigade in the Second Division of Pakistan's Northern Army Corps, and is dotted with military buildings and home to thousands of army personnel. The Associated Press says the house where bin Laden died is just 100 yards from a Pakistani military academy.

Abbottabad, which is named after James Abbott, is known as the City of Schools. Presumably, Osama was just looking for a neighborhood with good schools for his kids.

Are we going to have to declare war on Pakistan?

We've been scammed.


Economists without economics

My quoting Paul Krugman's nostalgic reminiscences about his upbringing has set off a broad but not particularly deep discussion (e.g., Kevin DrumAlex Tabarrok, Matthew Yglesias, and Megan McArdle). 

The funny thing is how economists and economically-minded writers ignore the economists' toolbox of concepts, such as ceteris paribus (all else being equal) and opportunity costs, that are most relevant for thinking about the actual issues raised by this topic. For example, Krugman himself says that he wouldn't want to go back because now, "You can get really good coffee just about anywhere." Similarly, Tabarrok reasons: "I remember those idyllic summers of the 1970s earning a few extra dollars mowing lawns–80,000 amputated fingers, hands and mangled toes and feet every year back then and just 6,000 today. Would I even let me kid use a mower from the 1970s?"

The point of thinking about the past is not to decide whether or not we'd rather live there. Since we don't actually have time machines, we aren't confronted with an all or nothing choice between living in the past and living in the present. Uninventing advances in coffee-making machines or lawnmowers isn't on the table. The point is to understand the past to help us make decisions in the present to make the future better.

For example, Benjamin Franklin explained in the 1750s why, all else being equal, a less populated America would be better for the average American's future than a more populated America, and the implications for immigration policy.

Please note that the relevant issue for policymaking isn't whether or not the future will be better or worse in some overall sense than the present or the past, the issue is to choose the policy now that would make the future better than alternative futures in which worse policies were chosen now. Fortunately, we have analytical tools for considering tradeoffs resulting from policies. Unfortunately, these are tools that are almost never used whenever the topic comes within a country mile of immigration.

The immigration policies that most of these pundits advocate have had tremendous effects of various kinds on the affordability of family formation, but most pundits would rather discuss side issues like coffee and lawnmowers.

My policy suggestion has long been that when you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is to stop digging. But that is not so much an unpopular view amongst the punditry as one that simply can't be remembered for more than a few seconds at a time because it so orthogonal to the dominant ideologies.


The most sophisticated thinker about the pre-Tiger Mother social and material egalitarianism of the lost California is Benjamin Schwarz, culture editor for The Atlantic Monthly. In the July-August 2009 Atlantic, Schwarz reviewed the latest volume of Kevin Starr’s history of California: Golden Dreams: California in the Age of Abundance: 1950-1963.  Schwarz is a half-decade younger than me and, I would guess from this, had a similar San Fernando Valley upbringing:
It was a magnificent run. From the end of the Second World War to the mid-1960s, California consolidated its position as an economic and technological colossus and emerged as the country’s dominant political, social, and cultural trendsetter. … In 1959, wages paid in Los Angeles’s working-class and solidly middle-class San Fernando Valley alone were higher than the total wages of 18 states. 
It was a sweet, vivacious time: California’s children, swarming on all those new playgrounds, seemed healthier, happier, taller, and — thanks to that brilliantly clean sunshine — were blonder and more tan than kids in the rest of the country. For better and mostly for worse, it’s a time irretrievably lost. … 
Starr consistently returns to his leitmotif: the California dream. By this he means something quite specific — and prosaic. California, as he’s argued in earlier volumes, promised “the highest possible life for the middle classes.” It wasn’t a paradise for world-beaters; rather, it offered “a better place for ordinary people.” That place always meant “an improved and more affordable domestic life”: a small but stylish and airy house marked by a fluidity of indoor and outdoor space … and a lush backyard — the stage, that is, for “family life in a sunny climate.” It also meant some public goods: decent roads, plentiful facilities for outdoor recreation, and the libraries and schools that helped produce the Los Angeles “common man” who, as that jaundiced easterner James M. Cain described him in 1933, "addresses you in easy grammar, completes his sentences, shows familiarity with good manners, and in addition gives you a pleasant smile." 
Until the Second World War, California had proffered this Good Life only to people already in the middle class — the small proprietors, farmers, and professionals, largely transplanted midwesterners … But the war and the decades-long boom that followed extended the California dream to a previously unimaginable number of Americans of modest means. Here Starr records how that dream possessed the national imagination … and how the Golden State — fleetingly, as it turns out — accomodated Americans’ “conviction that California was the best place in the nation to seek and attain a better life.” … 
This dolce vita was, as Starr makes clear, a democratic one: the ranch houses with their sliding glass doors and orange trees in the backyard might have been more sprawling in La Canada and Orinda than they were in the working-class suburbs of Lakewood and Hayward, but family and social life in nearly all of them centered on the patio, the barbecue, and the swimming pool. The beaches were publicly owned and hence available to all — as were such glorious parks as Yosemite, Chico’s Bidwell, the East Bay’s Tilden, and San Diego’s Balboa. Golf and tennis, year-round California pursuits, had once been limited to the upper class, but thanks to proliferating publicly supported courses and courts (thousands of public tennis courts had already been built in L.A. in the 1930s), they became fully middle-class. This shared outdoor-oriented, informal California way of life democratized — some would say homogenized — a society made up of people of varying attainments and income levels. These people were overwhelmingly white and native-born, and their common culture revolved around nurturing and (publicly educating) their children. Until the 1980s, a California preppy was all but oxymoronic. True, the comprehensive high schools had commercial, vocational, and college-prep tracks (good grades in the last guaranteed admission to Berkeley or UCLA — times have definitely changed). But, as Starr concludes from his survey of yearbooks and other school records, “there remained a common experience, especially in athletics, and a mutual respect among young people heading in different directions.” 
To a Californian today, much of what Starr chronicles is unrecognizable. (Astonishing fact: Ricky Nelson and the character he played in that quintessential idealization of suburbia, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, attended Hollywood High, a school that is now 75% Hispanic and that The New York Times accurately described in 2003 as a “typically overcrowded, vandalism-prone urban campuse.”) Granted, a version of the California Good Life can still be had — by those Starr calls the “fiercely competitive.” That’s just the heartbreak: most of us are merely ordinary. For nearly a century, California offered ordinary people better lives than they could lead perhaps anywhere else in the world. Today, reflecting our intensely stratified, increasingly mobile society, California affords the Good Life only to the most gifted and ambitious, regardless of their background. That’s a deeply undemocratic betrayal of California’s dream …

So, if you want to understand where I'm coming from, read Starr and Schwarz.