March 5, 2011

Chin stroking time

From the top story in the LA Times:
African migrant workers and black Libyans are targeted by fighters who suspect them of being mercenaries hired by Kadafi.
... Across eastern Libya, rebel fighters and their supporters are detaining, intimidating and frequently beating African immigrants and black Libyans, accusing them of fighting as mercenaries on behalf of Kadafi, witnesses and human rights workers say.
I noticed that English-language reporters could quite easily grasp the unfairness of the government of Bahrain electing a new people of foreign mercenaries to thwart majority rule -- I guess because both the natives of Bahrain and the immigrants/mercenaries are Arabs or at least Muslims. So, the media's crucial Who?/Whom? sensors don't get tripped in Bahrain. Therefore, they can think about Bahrain in a straightforward, principled manner: You know, it's really not fair for the government to import foreigners to win elections over the native majority. (Not being good at analogies or at self-critical thinking, they don't notice how this line of thought could also apply to the U.S.).

But in Libya, Kaddafi's mercenaries are largely black immigrants, so that snarls everything up for the American press when attempting to do their Who? / Whom? calculations:

Kaddafi: Bad
Rebels: Good
Immigrants: Good
Mercenaries: Bad
Blacks: PlusGood
Being mean to blacks: Double Plus UnGood
Rebels being mean to Kaddafi's immigrant black mercenaries: Does Not Compute!

It's very complicated, isn't it?

March 4, 2011

The Onion: "Community college overwhelmed by dumb students"

From The Onion:
The City University of New York has long spent much of its energy and resources just teaching new students what they need to begin taking college-level courses. 

But that tide of remedial students has now swelled so large that ... about three-quarters of the 17,500 freshmen at the community colleges this year have needed remedial instruction in reading, writing or math, and nearly a quarter of the freshmen have required such instruction in all three subjects. In the past five years, a subset of students deemed “triple low remedial” — with the most severe deficits in all three subjects — has doubled, to 1,000.

The reasons are familiar but were reinforced last month by startling statistics from state education officials: fewer than half of all New York State students who graduated from high school in 2009 were prepared for college or careers, as measured by state Regents tests in English and math. In New York City, the proportion was 23 percent.

Many of those graduates end up at CUNY, one of the nation’s largest urban higher-education systems, which requires its community colleges to take every applicant with a high school diploma or equivalency degree.

“It takes a lot of our time and energy and money to figure out what to do with all of these students who need remediation,” said Alexandra W. Logue, the university’s executive vice chancellor and provost. “We are doing some really good things, but it’s time that we’re not thinking about our other wonderful students who are very highly prepared. We need to focus on them, too.” ...

“Most students have serious challenges remembering the basic rules of arithmetic,” Dr. Ianni said of his remedial math class. “The course is really a refresher, but they aren’t ready for a refresher. They need to learn how to learn.”

On a recent afternoon, a half-dozen students in that class prepared for a test, called a Compass exam, that would allow those who passed to start studying college-level math. Without college math skills, students cannot graduate. Seventeen others in the class had not even qualified to take the test; they will have to repeat the course until they qualify or they give up, as history shows many have done....

On Monday, the Obama administration began a series of “community college summits” at campuses across the country to gather ideas on how the schools can produce more graduates. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has pledged up to $110 million to improve remedial programs at community colleges. ...

The university’s biggest concern is those students who lag furthest behind in the three subjects. “These students have a really low probability of success, and it’s hard to know how to work with them,” said Dr. Logue, the provost. “There’s no question that the more remediation a student needs, the less likely they are ever to graduate.”

Students are often surprised to learn that they still have hurdles to clear before they can begin college-level work. As a freshman at LaGuardia, Angel Payero, 18, took the necessary assessment tests in August and discovered that he was deficient in reading, writing and math.

“Throughout high school, I was a good math student, and to find out that it was my lowest grade of all three was really surprising,” said Mr. Payero, who graduated from the High School for Arts, Imagination and Inquiry.

Neither of his parents, who are from the Dominican Republic, attended high school, he said. Yet Mr. Payero yearns for a career in psychology. “I feel like I can really understand people and where they come from,” he said.

Read the whole thing at The Onion.

For more, see here.

Getting cynical in my old age

For the last dozen years, I've listened to Bill Gates explain how to improve education. First, it was small learning communities (which he now says the Gates Foundation wasted $2 billion upon), then it was making everybody pass Algebra II to graduate from high school, then it was something else, now it's giving the best teachers bigger classes (see Gates's latest op-ed: "How Teacher Development Could Revolutionize Our Schools").

The weird thing is that the Way to Fix the Schools has basically never been, according to Gates, about the main way the rest of economy gets more productive -- and also the one thing Bill Gates definitely knows a lot about: information technology. 

And yet, common sense says that information technology offers the main hope of us ever being able to afford on a mass scale the one educational tool that works more often than anything else, especially with math: individualized tutoring. It often doesn't work, but over thousands of years it's tended to work enough that that's what rich people get for their kids. And it's a lot more likely to work than the latest fad.

Unfortunately, assigning one human tutor with patience, insight, and communications skills per student is mind-bogglingly expensive. 

So, the standard Ed School solution is "differentiated instruction:" i.e., the teacher should be every student's personal tutor. The teacher is supposed to walk around the classroom instantly diagnosing why each individual student is screwing up and giving the exact help he or she needs. Thus, the need for Superman.

Yet, assigning one computer per student is getting cheaper all the time. And computers have all the patience in the world. It's easy for a program like Aleks to generate math problems adapted on the fly to the exact level of the student -- if you miss a question, the next one is easier, if you get it right, the next one is harder. That's how big tests like the GRE and the ASVAB work today. 

What's harder is getting the computer to figure out why the student gets wrong a problem at his appropriate level. Yet, that's not an impossible task in math, where there are a finite number of ways to screw up. 

Folks, it's 2011. Way back in 1998, my Palm Pilot could humiliate me in chess. We're not talking about beating Gary Kasparov or Ken Jennings here, we're talking about reminding a kid who thinks that -3 times -3 equals -9 that a negative number times a negative number is a positive number. 

So, what would have happened if instead of investing billions naively chasing social theory fads, Bill Gates had invested billions over the last 12 years in something he knows about: software.

Would that have done more good than investing billions in the Ayres Brothers' small learning communities idea? Maybe not, even probably not. But would it have done less good?

So, why not? 

Sometimes I wonder if all of Gates's interventions in American education aren't a sideshow to distract from Microsoft Windows' unsuitability for integrating into classrooms. Lots of schools have Computer Classrooms where the students file in and do stuff on computers under the eye of the Computer Teacher who comes around and fixes stuff when it breaks.

What hasn't worked well, at least up through Windows Vista (I have no experience with Windows 7) is integrating PCs into regular classroom work. When the solution to hangups it to reboot and wait ten minutes for the PC reload Windows, well, as Glaivester pointed out a few years ago, when he was teaching and the whole school was given laptops, learning dropped precipitously because he spent half his time fixing kids' computer problems.

That's why Steve Jobs' Winston-Smith-loved-Big-Brother approach to limiting what you can do on Apple products (e.g., no Flash) to what Steve thinks you should do may be more promising for classrooms. 

(By the way, here's Ridley Scott's "1984" Apple commercial announcing the Mac during the 1984 Super Bowl broadcast -- talk about irony.)

March 3, 2011

Tom Stoppard

There are a couple of bits of Tom Stoppard news this week (an Arcadia revival is in previews on Broadway and Keira Knightley might play Anna Karenina in a film of Stoppard's adaptation), so I used that as an excuse to write about my favorite playwright in my Taki's Magazine column:
Tom Stoppard’s remarkable career stands as a puzzling rebuke to cynicism about show biz. Sure, audience-pandering, trend-surfing, and propagandizing can explain the vast majority of what the entertainment industry sets before us. Yet, how can we account for Stoppard’s endless success? Sir Tom has appealed to everyone’s best instincts for most of the last half-century, and he’s been handsomely rewarded for it.

Read the rest there.

By the way, here's something that caught my eye in Johann Hari's 2003 review of a Stoppard biography in the leftwing Independent:
Did you know that Stoppard came up with the name of his friend Mick Jagger's 1997 tour, "Bridges to Babylon", or that Stoppard, Jagger and the ultra-right-wing journalist Paul Johnson often meet for tea and biscuits? (Oh, to be a fly on the wall of that padded cell...)

That England's leading playwright, rock star, and historian get together privately and, no doubt, exchange heresies ... I mean, they have to be mad to say things like what Johann Hari suspects them of saying at tea parties he doesn't get invited to.

March 2, 2011


From an LA Times story about Libyan rebel volunteers:
Among them was Masoud Buaser, 36, who wore a partial uniform and had strung a bandoleer of ammunition around his neck, though he had never served in the army. He also carried a satchel stuffed with TNT, which he said he uses to kill and collect fish.

"Now I'm fishing for Kadafi!" Buaser shouted as his fellow recruits laughed and jeered.

That reminds me ... In 1980 I was walking on a beach in Corfu, Greece, when suddenly there was a huge bang from about 200 feet offshore and water shot high into the air. My first thought was that a WWII mine had gone off. I looked the other way down the beach and there were two guys, similar-looking enough to be brothers. I expected them to be reacting with as much surprise as I was, but they were merely gazing complacently at the site of the explosion with their arms folded. 

Then, stunned fish began floating to the surface. The two locals waded into the water and began putting them into net bags. At that point, I heard shouting from behind me. A scuba diver was standing in the surf, holding his head and cursing at the dynamite fishermen.

Four helicopters

I was walking down the street last night and way to the south there were four helicopters hovering in a rough diamond. I figure there's a car chase down Ventura and they're filming it for the TV news, but the more I watch the more I realize they are a lot farther south, more like over Mulholland Drive at the top of the Hollywood Hills. And, they aren't following somebody driving 90 mph, they're just hovering there. So, I said to myself, "I bet they are hovering over Charlie Sheen's house."

And I was right.

The Toyota War

From Wikipedia, about Kaddafi's 1980s invasion of Chad to the south, which led to classic battles between Libyan tanks vs. the impoverished black country's Toyota pickup trucks:
The Toyota War is the name commonly given to the last phase of the Chadian–Libyan conflict, which took place in 1987 in Northern Chad and on the Libyan-Chadian border. It takes its name from the Toyota pickup trucks used as technicals to provide mobility for the Chadian troops as they fought against the Libyans.[6] 

The War Nerd explains what a "technical" is:
Habre's rebels took it from the Libyans in a battle which might've been the debut of one of the major new weapons systems of the late 20th century, the "technical." If you've read up on Somalia, you know that a "technical" is just a Toyota 4wd pickup with a big machinegun or grenade launcher welded onto the bed. 

Wikipedia goes on:
The 1987 war resulted in a heavy defeat for Libya, which, according to American sources, lost one tenth of its army, with 7,500 troops killed and 1.5 billion dollars worth of military equipment destroyed or captured.[7] Chadian losses were 1,000 troops killed.[5]

... Apparently formidable, the Libyan military disposition in Chad was marred by serious flaws. The Libyans were prepared for a war in which they would provide ground and air support to their Chadian allies, act as assault infantry, and provide reconnaissance. However, by 1987, Gaddafi had lost his allies, exposing Libya's inadequate knowledge of the area. Libyan garrisons came to resemble isolated and vulnerable islands in the Chadian Sahara. Also important was the low morale among the troops, who were fighting in a foreign country, and the structural disorganization of the Libyan army, which was in part induced by Gaddafi's fear of a military coup against him. This fear led him to avoid the professionalization of the armed forces.

Invade the world, invite the world (Muslim gratitude edition)

From the New York Times:
Two United States airmen on their way to Afghanistan were killed and two seriously injured on Wednesday when a gunman opened fire on an American military bus at the Frankfurt airport, according to American military officials in Europe and German police....

He was not named by the authorities, but The Associated Press reported that his uncle in Kosovo identified him as Arid Uka, and said he was born and raised in Germany after his parents moved there about 40 years ago. The uncle, Rexhep Uka, told the news agency that the family was Muslim and that Arid Uka worked at the Frankfurt Airport. That could not be immediately confirmed.  ...

The German magazine Der Spiegel reported on its Web site that the suspect was carrying a large amount of ammunition when arrested. The police said they could not confirm that report.

A man whose office is near the site of the shooting, speaking on condition of anonymity to protect his business, said witnesses told him that before opening fire the gunman shouted “God is great” in Arabic. Mr. F├╝llhardt, the police official, said he could not confirm such reports. 

As you may recall, the U.S. military liberated Muslim Kosovo from its internationally recognized government in Christian Serbia back in 1999.

In other news, there are widespread calls in the U.S. media for the U.S. military to intervene in Libya. After all, the Grand Strategists reason, that would make Muslims love us.


In the Washington Post, sportswriter Sally Jenkins * writes:
[Indianopolis Colt's executive Bill] Polian made one of the great all time decisions in 1998 when he drafted Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf. It's a no brainer now but it was an agonizing choice back then. Leaf was bigger and more overtly athletic, but to Polian, Manning seemed to have more emotional maturity and ability to deal with adversity. It was exactly the right assessment; Leaf turned out to have buried temperament problems and caused the San Diego Chargers nothing but grief. 

It wasn't the first time Polian was correct: he also brought Jim Kelly to the Buffalo Bills from the USFL. If Polian has a secret, it's that he tries not to overrate the physical in favor of the mental and emotional aspects of the game. Just because a guy has an arm doesn't make him a quarterback. Rather than pure strength, he puts a premium on accuracy and poise, and a particular kind of processing intelligence that he calls "fast eyes," the ability to assess complex situations quickly.

"Intelligence is awfully important," Polian says. "It's a complex game and they have to be able to comprehend and process lots of information. It's not rocket science but it's pretty close, it's like financial engineering, or the things that pilots do."

Frank Ryan of the 1960s Cleveland Browns earned a Ph.D. in math from Rice U.. (See here for the title of his dissertation.) Yet, he wasn't known as a smart quarterback on the field. His coach had to simplify plays for him to be able to make the right decisions in real time. (What he was known for to his teammates was being brave.)

It would seem as if the NFL, with all its resources, could develop some kind of video game test of "fast eyes" that would be more relevant than the standard Wonderlic IQ test. 

For example, I played a fair amount of touch football growing up and, having a decent arm, I was an okay sandlot quarterback in 2 on 2 games where I had only two mental tasks: focus on my one receiver and avoid the pass rusher. In 6 on 6 games, however, I was cognitively overwhelmed. I have "slow eyes."

You'll notice that my blogging style isn't that different. Instead of putting up a lot of posts, each one making one single point, I tend to start off with a short post, but it keeps growing as I follow out the implications to who knows where. I don't shift focus adroitly to the latest topic of interest in the news. I'd rather keep burrowing into one topic for a long time.

* By the way, Sally Jenkins is the daughter of Dan Jenkins, one of the half dozen top sportswriters of the second half of the 20th Century. I have this theory that women who succeed in masculine fields are much more likely to have fathers who were in that field.

David Foster Wallace

The only thing I've ever read by David Foster Wallace, a famous novelist who killed himself a couple of years ago, was his 13,800 word giganto article called "Host" in The Atlantic in 2005 about how David Foster Wallace was smarter than a minor LA talk radio host named John Ziegler. 

I don't doubt that Wallace was smarter that KFI's evening talk radio host (although when Ziegler interviewed me a couple of years later, I found him quite professional and sharp). But what was bizarre about DFW's vast essay were the handful of issues where he decided to draw the line between himself and the conservative talk show host, typically about race, and specifically about the guilt of O.J. Simpson. DFW wanted readers to know that the villain of the piece believed O.J. was guilty while DFW had "doubt."

If you don't believe me, here are the last two paragraphs of this endless article, in which DFW watches Ziegler watch Katie Couric interview OJ:
It's odd: if you've spent some time watching Mr. Z. perform in the studio, you can predict just what he'll look like, how his head and arms will move and eyes fill with life as he says certain things that it's all but sure he'll say on-air tonight, such as "I have some very, very strong opinions about how this interview was conducted," and "Katie Couric is a disgrace to journalism everywhere," and that O.J.'s self-presentation was "delusional and arrogant beyond all belief," and that the original trial jury was "a collection of absolute nimrods," and that to believe in Simpson's innocence, as Ms. Couric says a poll shows some 70 percent of African-Americans still do, "you have to be either crazy, deluded, or stupid—there are no other explanations."

To be fair, though, there truly are some dubious, unsettling things about the Dateline interview, such as for instance that NBC has acceded to O.J. Simpson's "no editing" condition for appearing, which used to be an utter taboo for serious news organizations. Or that O.J. gets to sit there looking cheery and unguarded even though he has his lawyer almost in his lap; or that most of Katie Couric's questions turn out to be Larry King—size fluffballs; or that O.J. Simpson responds to one of her few substantive questions—about 1994's eerie, slow-motion Bronco chase and its bearing on how O.J.'s case is still perceived—by harping on the fact that the chase "never ever, in three trials that I had, it never came up," as if that had anything to do with whatever his behavior in the Bronco really signified (and at which non-answer, and Ms. Couric's failure to press or follow up, Mr. Z. moans and smears his hand up and down over his face).    Or that O.J.'s cheerful expression never changes when Katie Couric, leaning forward and speaking with a delicacy that's either decent or obscene, inquires whether his children ever ask him about the crime. And when someone in the arc of chairs around John Ziegler says, almost to himself, that the one pure thing to hope for here is that Simpson's kids believe he's innocent, Mr. Z. gives a snort of reply and states, very flatly, "They know, and he knows they know, that he did it." To which, in KFI's prep room, the best response would probably be compassion, empathy. Because one can almost feel it: what a bleak and merciless world this host lives in—believes, nay, knows for an absolute fact he lives in. I'll take doubt.

I guess all you can say is that if Johnnie and Marcia had agreed to put America's most brilliant young novelist on the OJ jury, well, he wouldn't have performed any worse (or better) than the ladies and gentlemen who acquitted the Juice.

Did Wallace write better than this, or is it all this, ultimately, stupid?

For one of the many, many pro-DFW opinions, see here.

March 1, 2011

Up to a point, Lord Bloomberg

From the New York Times:
Bloomberg Seeks to Dominate World of Opinion

Over the last year, representatives of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg [net worth; $17 billion] quietly reached out to a handful of the country’s top journalists with an intriguing job offer: Divine and distill his unique brand of political philosophy and disseminate it around the globe for an annual salary of close to $500,000.

In interviews inside a grand Beaux-Arts town house on the Upper East Side, he spoke with candidates about education reform, post-partisan politics and urban affairs. And in a slightly startling admission for a man of abundant self-certainty, he acknowledged that there remained essential areas where he had yet to develop convictions. “I don’t know what to do about Afghanistan,” he said during the process, according to a person familiar with that conversation.

After conquering Wall Street in the 1970s, crushing competitors in the information-technology industry in the ’80s and reigning over New York City politics for the past decade, the ever-ambitious Mr. Bloomberg now wants to dominate a new sphere — the world of opinion.
At the mayor’s urging, his giant media company will soon make a splashy foray into opinion, churning out columns and essays on issues as varied as gun control and deficit spending. At the center: up to two editorials a day that channel the views of Mr. Bloomberg himself....

As with all of his undertakings, Mr. Bloomberg is sparing no expense. Offering outsized salaries, Bloomberg View has hired editors away from a variety of national publications, like The New York Times, The Atlantic and The Week. And it has begun recruiting a stable of well-known contributors, like Peter R. Orszag, President Obama’s former budget director, who briefly wrote a column for The Times last year.

Orszag's first two columns for the New York Times were comically bad sub-Gladwellian sermons:
Success in most arenas of life is thus not a reflection of innate skill but rather devoted effort. 

When readers cuffed him around badly in the comments section, Orszag huffily replied:
Indeed, the examples we have of individuals who put in 10,000 or more hours of dedicated practice and fail to achieve stunning levels of performance is quite limited — because most people are not willing to put in that time and effort.

When the first name of a hotshot pundit you leak is Peter Orszag, you're just reinforcing assumptions that you aren't in the opinion business, you're in the business of providing sinecures for future high ranking government officials.


Here's an article about HP's plan for next generation computing built around memristors (dreamed up by Amy Chua's dad 40 years ago). The problem with the current architecture:
Today, computers constantly shuttle data back and forth among faster and slower memories. The systems keep frequently used data close to the processor and then move it to slower and more permanent storage when it is no longer needed for the ongoing calculations.

In this approach, the microprocessor is in the center of the computing universe, but in terms of energy costs, moving the information, first to be computed upon and then stored, dwarfs the energy used in the actual computing operation. ...

One reason is computing’s enormous energy appetite. A 10-petaflop supercomputer — scheduled to be built by I.B.M. next year — will consume 15 megawatts of power, roughly the electricity consumed by a city of 15,000 homes.

There are perhaps analogies here to the evolution of human intelligence. For millions of years, our predecessors' brains got larger, peaking with the Neanderthals. That suggests that bigger brains made us fitter.

But that's a brute force solution.The usual argument is that big brains require too much food. (They also make us fall over more.) Now, it could be that as human population increased after the invention of agriculture, there were enough mutations to create more intelligence per cubic centimeter, just as there have been with computer chips.

That's certainly true, but I suspect the concomitant problem of not just getting enough energy in, but of getting enough energy out of the skull, of heat dispersal, also became a problem with this trend toward bigger brains. With a roughly spherical shape, as volume goes up, so does the volume to surface ratio.

Unfortunately, I've never seen anybody who actually knows what they are talking about consider this question of brains shedding heat. 

It could be that there is an ideal latitude at which the cost of keeping the brain warm is balanced by the cost of keeping the brain cool at lowest overall cost. In 1911, Yale Professor of Geography Ellsworth Huntington conducted a study of climate's effect on human achievement. He concluded that the ideal climate was roughly that of New Haven, Connecticut. In a recent article, Malcolm Gladwell had great fun with that: here we are, 100 years later, and we can see what a biased moron Huntington was! Proving how much things have changed in 100 years, Malcolm's article appeared in that glossy, ad-packed magazine, The Lagoser.

Australian governments spend twice as much on Aborigines

The Australian newspaper reports:
The 2010 indigenous expenditure report released today shows that for the year 2008-2009 expenditure “related to” indigenous Australians totalled $21.9 billion, or 5.3 per cent of total general government expenditure.
While expenditure on non-indigenous Australians is estimated at $18,351 per person, expenditure on indigenous Australians per head of population is estimated at $40,228. ...
The report is the first of its kind and was agreed to by the Council of Australian Governments to assist policy makers in reducing disadvantage for indigenous Australians.

Expect the Australian Parliament to vote an apology about 2065 for The Spoiled Generations.

February 28, 2011

The ideal NFL IQ

From a 1998 Sports Illustrated article about veteran NFL coach Bill Parcells:
Another thing about a Parcells player: He can't be too dumb or too smart. Dumb players make dumb plays, and Parcells has no tolerance for those. But smart players question his motivational gimmicks and techniques, and Parcells doesn't brook too much questioning. "Bill treats players as if they've got an IQ of about 95," says one observer who has watched Parcells up close but who doesn't want to be identified in any other way. "You can't have a 70 IQ, and you can't have a 120. Of course, there are smart guys who figure it out and go the blue-collar, don't-question-me route, like [QB Phil] Simms." [QB Jeff] Hostetler, who is known as a smart guy, says, "I'd say that's an accurate perception."


Matt Hinton writes about the upcoming NFL draft:
Usually, leaked Wonderlic scores are embarrassingly low. Not so, however, for Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy, who nearly aced the test, scoring a 48 out of a possible 50 according to his hometown Fort Worth Star-Telegram. That score puts him on the high, high end of potential employees in any field, and especially among NFL quarterbacks. A 48 is twice the league average for incoming QBs, and matches the highest score for a quarterback on record, belonging to current Buffalo Bills starter Ryan Fitzpatrick, a Harvard grad. (Here is the most complete database of Wonderlic scores by quarterbacks through 2006. Only one other starter last year, the 49ers' Alex Smith, managed a 40 on the test; only one NFL player former Bengals punter Pat McInally – another Harvard grad – is believed to have scored a perfect fifty.)

By that standard, McElroy is one of the smartest quarterbacks in league history – no surprise, considering he was a finalist for a Rhodes scholarship last fall and has always been praised more for his poise and decision-making than his arm or athleticism.

If the mean on the Wonderlic IQ test is 21, and each additional right answer is worth 2 points, then a 48 is equal to a 154 IQ. On the other hand, I suspect the kind of guy who is aiming for an NFL quarterback career might do some serious test prep. In the case of one college quarterback who jumped from 94 to 136 in his two tries, you gotta wonder if his agent might have pulled a few strings. (Wonderlics by position here.)

If you take Peyton Manning as the gold standard of NFL quarterbacks (114) and Eli Manning (136) as representative of the merely pretty good NFL quarterback, then the usefulness of the test starts to look like it might be more in answering questions like: Smart enough to stay out of jail? Smart enough to not get caught for steroids? Smart enough to learn the playbook?

Meanwhile, Natalie Angier in the NYT riffs off Natalie Portman's Oscar:
Among the lesser-known but nonetheless depressingly impressive details in Ms. Portman’s altogether too precociously storied career is that as a student at Syosset High School on Long Island back in the late 1990s, Ms. Portman made it all the way to the semifinal rounds of the Intel competition. ...

Ms. Portman is one of a handful of high-profile actors who happen to have serious scientific credentials — awards, degrees, patents and theorems in their name. 

Natalie Angier being Natalie Angier, she goes on to list only female actresses such as Hedy Lamarr, who co-invented frequency-hopping for confidential radio transmissions. One actor ignored by Angier is action hero Dolph Lundgren, who came to America on Fulbright Scholarship to get an advanced degree at MIT.

Among directors, sci-tech-eng skills are not uncommon. Frank Capra was a chemical engineering graduate of Cal Tech, for instance.

From the files

A reader pointed out to me in 2004 that Khaddafi, having come in from the cold in 2003, had turned to internet punditry. I blogged in 2004:

Question: Whose website is this really? A reader writes:

The best thing I ever read about Turkey & the EU was an article by none other than..... Mumar Qaddafi. Check his website out:
It's statesmen-like in its forbearance. It almost makes me forget he's a crazy dictator. The multiple self-ingratiating posed photos on his website homepage keep me grounded, though.

This is very strange. Here's another not unreasonable op-ed by the old mad bomber on how to solve the Korean problem. Has Khaddafi actually taken up punditry in his old age? (He seems to be about as good at it as, say, Thomas Friedman or Jim Hoagland and better than William Safire or Frank Rich.) Is this some kind of PR offensive by Gadaffi's minions? Or is this a hoax?

Update: My reader writes:

Another thing that points to it being my main man Muammar is that the Africa thing is front and center. He has this obsession with uniting Africa politically (under guess who's rule?) He seems to have swapped pan-Arabism for pan-Africanism. It's been really pissing off his subjects. He's opened up immigration and his principal cities are being more and more subjected to black immigration. They aren't happy about it. 

If you read his silly essay on Africa it goes in for some anti-colonialism red meat and then presents the problem that elections have led to the problem of "power rotation" where perpetual changes in leadership bring "instability" and so no dynamic progress can be made. I see where he's going with this.

Oh dear, with all the power rotation leading to instability who can save us Africans? If only there was a man who could unite us and provide us with stability WITHOUT pesky "power rotations". But WHO?

Commenter Gwern helpfully adds:
The links are broken, but all seem to be old enough that you can get at them via the Internet Archive, for example the first two are &

Here's Kaddafi's root directory for all his musings. Did he write them himself? I dunno, but I sort of think he did. The notion that he's a bright guy with ADHD seems plausible.

My old articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

February 27, 2011

Gaddafi's mercenaries

From my new column:
In last week’s column, Bahrain—Electing A New People…And Shooting The Old One, I pointed out the roles played by immigration in Bahrain’s discontent, most notoriously in the rulers’ use of immigrant mercenaries to attack native political opponents.

Today in Libya, a major rebellion is surging back and forth across the same Mediterranean coastal desert where Peter Brimelow’s father spent years chasing Gen. Rommel’s Afrika Korps. Despite the contrast between the bland sophistication of Bahrain’s leaders and the egomaniacal sturm und drang of Colonel Muammar Kaddafi, the upshot has been the same—the government’s immigrant mercenaries opening fire on native-born protestors.

Granted, there is no end to the list of reasons for Libyans to be angry with Kaddafi. But the role played by immigration in that North African tragedy is surprisingly large.

Read the whole thing there.

Speaking of stuff I found funny while writing at 4am ...