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Monday  June 30, 2003

This topic -- Republic and Empire -- keeps coming up, here and elsewhere; indeed you hear the discussion everywhere now, although I was pretty much alone when I began talking about this sort of thing back in the days of the First Gulf War following the collapse of the Soviet Union. When the Seventy Years War ended I thought I saw an opportunity to stand down and return to the kind of government that served us well until 1940. 

That didn't happen, and there are times when I believe I am merely a mourner, saying an epitaph for the republic I knew.

And do understand: I am not one of those who rejoices each time one of our troopers is fed to the Iraqi meatgrinder, and I am not one who wishes us to fail. I believe our policy is not optimum, and may in fact breed more problems than it solves; imperialism usually does; but I do not cheer when I am proven to be correct.

But empire has a logic which I fear we shall not escape. I wish it were not so.

Dear Jerry,

Two points.

Firstly, I think itıs time to insert some historical perspective into this talk of empire.

The first thing to appreciate is that whoever is top dog is going to be detested by an awful lot of people who are not. This has nothing to do with the rightness or wrongness of their policies or their behaviour; it just goes with the territory. Ask the British; ask the Romans; ask the Chinese.

The second thing is that whoever is on top is going to be seen as an overbearing imperial power, rightly or wrongly. No matter how un-imperial America tries to be, it will be seen as an empire by an awful lot of the rest of the world. That goes with the territory too.

The third thing is that the United States has in practice if not name, behaved as an empire from its earliest days. The westward drive from the original thirteen colonies was the behaviour of an imperial power; the Louisiana Purchase was the act of an imperial power; the hidden agenda of the War of 1812 (to grab Canada from the British while they were occupied with Napoleon) was an imperial project that failed; the wars with Mexico to secure Texas, California, etc. was imperial behaviour; taking the Philippines, etc. as the fruits of victory of the Spanish-American war was an imperial act. If occupying Iraq is now to be seen as imperialism, then so must the occupations of Germany and Japan at the end of World War II. So nothing new is happening now in Iraq.

The fourth thing is that there is nothing unprecedented in history about a republican empire. Athens was one. So was Rome, for centuries before it acquired emperors. The republic of Venice was an imperial power. The French republic had a vast empire that it only lost in the years following the end of the Second World War. And obviously both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were republics and empires at the same time, although I would not hold these last two up as shining examples of the genre.

What matters, and what the world should be grateful for (but wonıt show it) is that the Pax Americana that has followed the end of the Cold War is so vastly superior to the only alternative ending: Soviet hegemony.


Which leads to my other point.

The reason US forces have stayed for so many years in Germany, Japan and Korea has been to persuade these nations that the US is serious about its nuclear guarantees to them. All three nations happen to be in highly dangerous corners of the world.

Without real conviction that America really would have used nuclear weapons if necessary to stop the Red Army from rolling over it to the Rhine, the pressure for West Germany to acquire its own nuclear weapons would have been irresistible back in the Œ60s and Œ70s. More recently (and this is a nice twist) it was the continued presence of US forces in Germany that convinced Gorbachov he could allow the fall of the Berlin Wall and the uniting of the two Germanys. Here the US acted as a guarantor for the Russians against the Germans doing something silly. Actually, they still do in Russian eyes.

In the Far East, Japan, faced with both the Soviet Union and China almost in its back yard, would have had little choice but to remilitarise, including nuclear weapons, some time ago, without the comfort provided by the American nuclear umbrella and the presence of US forces. And in the present Korean situation, only the US force presence‹and nuclear promise‹could prevent South Korea from going nuclear to protect itself against North Korea. If South Korea did go nuclear, I think Japan would have little choice but to follow and the world would face the high probability of a five-way nuclear war in short order.

I hope these example help illustrate how the worldıs greatest power has no choice but to take part in the politico-military affair of the world in a manner that might be construed as imperial, and will certainly be seen by many as unpopular, if war‹ probably nuclear war‹ is to be prevented. If you find this sort of worldwide presence too onerous, thereıs a name for that; itıs called ³imperial overstretch.²

Jim Mangles


 Odd; I thought I was injecting historical perspective into the soup, and that I did so rather well. But let us look at your thesis.

The first two "sub-points" are certainly true but not relevant, at least to me, and I don't think I ever disputed them. I don't really care what others think about us. What I care about is the effect of imperialism on ourselves.

Your third sub-point is partly true, although not original. Beard among others said most of this, and he wasn't alone. Bacevich ( January 03) draws on Beard to make the point. I don't believe that the conquest of Canada was anything like the real reason for the War of 1812; that was mostly English irredentism. There were war hawks, but it was hardly the national will. Had conquest of Canada been the national will, Canada would have fallen. 

The  announcement that there have been republican empires tells me little I don't know: the fact is that the Athenian hegemony led to Alexander, which led to Pyrrhus and his intervention in Italian affairs, which led to the Roman conquest of Greece, although that latter may have been inevitable once Rome got the imperial bit in her teeth. But the last century of the Roman republic was wracked by civil wars and proscriptions and the necessity for standing armies; and while some republican forms survived Augustus, no one for a moment thought that Tiberius was simply the first man in Rome, or that the army didn't come before the citizens.

As to Venice, the Framers considered the Venetian Republic at length in the Convention of 1787. It's an interesting example, and we haven't time to deal with it here.

As to your final non-enumerated point in your first point, as an old Cold Warrior I can hardly dispute that. And it may be that the US is like Greece of old. Fletcher Pratt begins his Battles That Changed History, which I continue to recommend as an essential work in understanding Western history, by saying the Greeks had to go imperial to make it stick. It certainly looked that way to many of us during the Seventy Years War. But we didn't have to go imperial, and we did win; and a few of us remain who think that we ought to stand down. But I certainly do not regret winning the Seventy Years War.

Now to your Second Point:

I agree with every word until we get to the last paragraph, and there I disagree because I do not believe you have demonstrated any such thing. Kagan has said that if you want peace you must keep that peace actively. I don't disagree: the question is how you do that. And I put it to you again that the best way the US can preserve the peace is by developing our resources, becoming energy independent, dominating space and the seas (which will be much the same thing pretty soon) and minding our own business. 

It is one thing to retaliate for attacks on us. It is another to keep our little vexillations all over the world. 

I doubt it matters. I suspect the die is cast already, and we will never again be a republic with small, cheap, self-government. Perhaps we can make it possible for others to be such. That in itself would be no small thing. Of course if we do, those republics will probably bite our ankles as they hide behind our shield, and when that happens, beware the fury of the legions.

Logic of Empire macroscopic scale?

The shaky relationship between occupier and occupied came to the fore in a confrontation Sunday morning in Fallujah, a restive town west of Baghdad that's seen a number of attacks on U.S. troops since the Americans shot and killed 20 protesters during demonstration in April.

A shouting match broke out when an Iraqi civilian, Jamal Shalal Habib al-Mahemdi, accused a U.S. soldier of stealing $600 from his car.

The soldier tried to wave the man on, but, at the behest of bystanders, his superior officer, Sgt. James A. Phillips, searched his pockets and found the money. Phillips then returned the bills to al-Mahemdi, who waved them above his head and cursed the soldier.

It was not clear if the soldier, whose name was not immediately available, would be disciplined. Maj. Sean Gibson, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said he had not heard of the incident but was sure it would be investigated.

The incident was witnessed by an Associated Press photographer.

Kim Smith

That last sentence may be important. Had it not been, perhaps the sergeant would have ratted out his comrade, perhaps not. Armies in the field are not famously examples of plaster sainthood.

But then: 

Censoring The Press In Iraq

By Robert Fisk

The Independent 12 June, 2003

Paul Bremer has ordered his legal department in Baghdad to draw up rules for press censorship. A joke, I concluded, when one of the newly styled Coalition Provisional Authority officials tipped me off last week. But no, it really is true. Two months after "liberating" Iraq, the Anglo- American authorities and their boss Paul Bremer - whose habit of wearing combat boots with a black suit continues to amaze his colleagues - have decided to control the new and free Iraqi press.



May be relevant.

Subject: The legions become restless . . .

------ Roland Dobbins



And in the logic of empire


Mr. Newby's complaint about the anti-boycott law provisions invokes concerns about free speech. As I understand this law, it's about resisting blackmail. Since the blackmail involves threats by Saudis and other "close allies", our government cannot of course take any direct actions against the boycotters (note however that European authorities have no problem threatening the US when the US attempts to enforce various economic sanctions - - boycotts - - against Cuba).

Telling a boycotter whether or not you trade with the boycottee furthers the boycotter's aims. Is that free speech? Or is that participating in a conspiracy? Free speech, after all, does have limits. Yes, we were born free. But even in your youth, communicating with others in a conspiracy (and US law has clearly labeled the Arab anti-Israel boycott as a criminal conspiracy) was against the law, and not protected ("free") speech.

One could argue that both sides have done unsavory things so that it's hard to make a call. It seems to me that our government has made a call, and we need to live with that. Or we break the law. At least the penalties are financial and do not involve jail time.

Ed Hume

I am not at all sure this needs comment. Res ipsa loquitor.

Subj: Verge of (a) Empire? or (b) Isolationism?

Victor Davis Hanson thinks rather (b), writing in National Review Online at 

Hanson's essay is framed as an assessment of the mood of the "American street". He sees that mood as basically "fed up" with the antics of the South Koreans, Belgians, etc. etc., and as enthusiastic to bring the troops home and let such ungrateful "allies" defend themselves.

But even granting, arguendo, that he's right about that, the question remains: will the American ruling elite respond to that mood?

Or, perhaps framed another way: The current ruling elite in America is a strange menage, locked in a perpetual love/hate embrace, of Democrats and Republicans. If, as seems likely, the currently-dominant faction of the ruling elite is unwilling to respond to that mood, is there a sufficiently large faction, currently out of power, that would be willing to respond, that could take power?

Rod Montgomery ==

Probably not. Most of the country wants an end to immigration while we let the melting pot work on those who are here now, but our masters pay not one whit of attention to those desires.

It is interesting that we have "the Arab street" and "the American street" and refer to them in much the same way now. At one time the American People were in fact pretty well in control of their destiny, and "the American street" wasn't a useful phrase at all. Now it's the people who may or may not have some influence over their government. They aren't the government, of course.




And on a topic related but not congruent:

Dear Jerry,

Subject: Reducto Ad Totalitarianism

Summary: Imagine a society in which an unelected, few people, qualified for power only by their mastery of esoteric terminology and incantations, are able to dictate our everyday lives in the most minute detail--growing rich in the process by siphoning off unearned billions from the nation's economy. Does this sound like life in some dictatorship, like the reign of the theocratic mullahs in Iran? In fact, it is the system that a cabal of trial lawyers is trying to impose here in America. 


Gordon Runkle -- "The tragedy of modern man is not that he knows less and less about the meaning of his own life, but that it bothers him less and less." --Vaclav Havel

They state the case in more breathless terms than I would; but the federalization of everything makes it inevitable that we cannot have laws that anyone understands, and manipulating the courts becomes very lucrative. See the SCO suits, or the Martha Stewart case, or any number of examples; and yes, that is very much related to the first topic of the day.

And on a much more pleasant subject:

Subject: yes, yes, a thousand times yes


This Times article is absolutely true at least in our house!

My 10 year old has been waiting to get his hands on the latest in the Potter series. My wife had him out of town visiting his maternal grandmother last week, but he burst into the house shouting "Dad, Dad, where is the NEW POTTER BOOK" yesterday.  He has been reading it ever since.  I had to force him to go to sleep last night. 

Is it too wild to want to get into Space?

Mark Huth
mhuth at

Subject: Your dissertation mathematically confirmed


One of your dissertations was on political science, and analyzed politics according to a two-dimensional grid - - - two orthogonal spectra. This article - - -  - - - reports the work of a mathematician who basically confirms your dissertation, forty years later.

The important points:

(For the Rehnquist court) " . . . Each justice's vote can be regarded as fixed mixture of those two voting patterns, Dr. Sirovich writes. Only three decisions out of 468 are not fully captured by his two vectors. . . "

" . . . Dr. Sirovich applied his two yardsticks - information theory and single value decomposition - to the Warren court for two periods when its composition was unchanged, from 1959 to 1961 and from 1967 to 1969. The first Warren court was somewhat more diverse than the Rehnquist court, operating as if with 5.16 ideal justices.

But its dynamics were quite similar, with two dominant voting patterns, . . . "

Ed Hume

Heh. Thanks. If I has stayed in academia I would have developed this more. Different lives...


Some time ago you used one of your sayings - - - iron is cheap, but silicon is cheaper - - - in referring to CD's. A reader chastised you, pointing out that CD's are plastic.

Actually, I think, CD's and other plastic products extend your point:

Iron is cheap, silicon is cheaper, and plastic is cheaper still.

I've been reading about plastic displays, plastic circuits, etc. I don't know if there is something cheaper than plastic. I've been reading about researchers using inkjet printers to spray display and other electronic circuitry on paper, but I don't know if paper will be cheaper than plastic in the long run. Perhaps one should return to (ahem) elemental considerations:

Iron is cheap, silicon is cheaper, and carbon is even cheaper.

Ed Hume





This week:


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Tuesday, July 1, 2003

There was a sign on Reagan's desk: it's amazing how much you can get done if you don't care who gets the credit.

From: Stephen M. St. Onge                                                  
Date: July 1, 2oo3                                                                            subject: plagiarism
Dear Jerry:
        It appears the Pentagon has found a new name for Thor.  They hope to implement by 2010.
        Btw, part of the reason for actually building it this time (aside from the fact that Donald Rumsfeld isn't Robert "the Strange" McNamara) is the desire to withdraw from overseas bases.



I don't care what they call it. To build it requires fairly low cost access to space, and that will lead to space solar power.l

Mr. Woosley sent a note about this, as did Brian Lane and Edmund Hack. Thanks to all. And then we have:

Hi Jerry,

A move in the right direction..... 

Stay well,

Tony Brown

So Strategy of Technology did its work, I think.

That giant sucking sound you hear is the automobile industry moving to China. 

If there is an exodus to China by parts makers, it could eventually mean the loss of tens of thousands of jobs in North America. GM will soon be importing an engine from China for a new sport utility vehicle. Tim Dunne predicts that Toyota or Honda will be exporting cars within five years, probably to Asia or the less-developed world at first.

Tom Slater

But the neocons are so sure it will all work out for the best.

News from the front:

Hi All:

Whom do you believe? The US Media, or this guy who's here and has no ax to grind? Bill ===============

Sent: Thursday, June 26, 2003 1:45 PM Subject: Open Current Events Letter From A U.S. Army Major In Iraq

It has been a while since I have written to my friends at First Lutheran Church about what's really going on here in Iraq. The news you watch on TV is exaggerated, sensationalized and selective. Good news doesn't sell.

The stuff you don't hear about on CNN? Let's start with Electrical Power production in Iraq. The day after the war was declared over, there was nearly 0 power being generated in Iraq; 45 days later, in a partnership between the Army, the Iraqi people and some private companies, there are now 3200 mega watts (Mw) of power produced daily, or 1/3 of the total national potential. Downed power lines ( big stuff, 400 Kilovolt (Kv) and 132 Kv) are being repaired and are now about 70% complete.

Then there is water purification.

In central Iraq between Baghdad and Mosul, home of the 4th Infantry Division, water treatment was spotty at best. The facilities existed, but the controls were never implemented. Simple chemicals like Chlorine for purification and Alum (Aluminum Sulfate) for sediment settling (the Tigris River is about as clear as the Mississippi River) were in very short supply. Or not used at all. And when chlorine was used, it was metered by guessing.

So some people got pool water to drink and some people got water with lots of little things floating around in it. We are slowly but surely solving that. Contracts for repairs to facilities [that are only 50% or less operational ] are being let. Chemicals are being delivered, although we don't have the metering problem solved yet (... but again, it's only been 45 days).

How about oil and fuel?

Well the war was all about oil wasn't it? You bet it was. It was all about oil for the Iraqi people ! They have no other income. They produce nothing else. Oil is 95% of the Iraqi GNP. For this nation to survive, it MUST sell oil.

The Refinery at Bayji is at 75% of capacity in producing gasoline. The crude oil pipeline between Kirkuk (Oil Central) and Bayji will be repaired by tomorrow (2 June). LPG, what all Iraqi's use to cook and heat with, is at 103% of normal production. And WE, the US ARMY, are insuring it is being distributed FAIRLY to ALL Iraqi's.

You have to remember that only 3 months ago, ALL these things were used by the Sadam regime as weapons against the population to keep them in line. If your town misbehaved, gasoline shipments stopped .. LPG pipelines and trucks stopped .. water was turned off .. power was turned off.

Now, until exports start again, every drop of gasoline produced goes to the Iraqi people. Crude oil production is being stored and the country is at 75% capacity right now. They need to export or stop pumping soon, ... so thank the UN for that delay.

ALL LPG goes to the Iraqi people EVERYWHERE. And water is being purified as best it can be, but at least it's running all the time to everyone.

Are we still getting shot at? Yep. Are American Soldiers still dying? Yep, about 1 a day from my outfit, the 4th Infantry Division, most in accidents. But dead is dead.

If we are doing all this for the Iraqi's, why are they shooting at us?

The general Iraqi population isn't shooting at us. There are still bad guys, who won't let go of the old regime. They are Ba'ath party members (read Nazi Party, but not as nice) who have known nothing but .. and supported nothing but .. the regime all of their lives. These are the thugs for the regime that caused many to disappear in the night. They have no other skills. At least the Nazis had jobs and a semblance of a national infrastructure that they could go back to after the war, .. as plumbers, managers, engineers, etc. These people have no skills .. but terror. They are simply applying their skills. But we are applying ours. There is no Christian way to say this .. but they must be eliminated and we are doing so with all the efficiency we can muster.

Our troops are shot at literally everyday by small arms and Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs). We respond and 100% of the time, the Ba'ath party guys come out with the short end of the stick.

The most amazing thing to me is that they don't realize that if they stopped shooting at us, we would focus on .. fixing things more quickly .. and then leave back to the land of the Big PX. And the more they shoot at us, the longer we will have to stay.

Lastly, all of you please realize that 90% of the damage you see on TV was caused by Iraqi's, NOT by us and not by the war. Sure we took out a few bridges from military necessity, we took out a few power and phone lines to disrupt communications, sure we drilled a few palaces and government headquarters buildings with 2000 lb. laser guided bombs (I work 100 yards from where two hit the Tikrit Palace), he had plenty to spare. But, ANY damage you see to schools, hospitals, power generation facilities, refineries, pipelines, was ALL caused either by .. the Iraqi Army in its death throes .. or from much of the Iraqi civilians looting the places.

Could we have prevented it? Nope.

We can and do it now, but 45 days ago the average soldier was fighting for his own survival .. and trying to get to his objectives as fast as possible. He was lucky to know what town he was in much less be informed enough to know .. who owned what .. or have the power to stop a 1,000 people from looting and burning a building by himself.

The United States and our Allies, especially Great Britain, are doing a very noble thing here. We stuck our necks out on the world's chopping block to free an entire people from the grip of a horrible terror that was beyond belief.

I've already talked the weapons of mass destruction thing to death, .. bottom line, who cares? This country was one big conventional weapons ammo dump anyway. We have probably destroyed more ground weapons and ammo in the last 30 days than the US Army has ever fired in the last 30 years (Remember, this is a country the size of Texas), so drop the WMD argument as the reason we came here ... if we find them GREAT.. if we don't, SO WHAT?

I'm living in a "guest palace" on a 500 acre palace compound with 20 palaces with like facilities built in half a dozen towns all over Iraq that were built for one man. Drive down the street and out into the country side 5 miles away, like I have, and see all the families of 10 or more, all living in mud huts and herding the two dozen sheep on which their very existence depends, ...then tell me why you think we are here.

WMD ? ...important .. have to find 'em wherever they may be (.. in Syria?), but not OUR real motivator. Don't let it be yours either.


E. R. MAJOR Deputy Division Engineer 4th Infantry Division

William E. Haynes (Col. USAF, Ret.)


Protect the weak and make humble the proud. There have been worse missions.

On the other hand:


BAGHDAD, June 30 -- To Staff Sgt. Charles Pollard, the working-class suburb of Mashtal is a "very, very, very, very bad neighborhood." And he sees just one solution.

"U.S. officials need to get our [expletive] out of here," said the 43-year-old reservist from Pittsburgh, who arrived in Iraq with the 307th Military Police Company on May 24. "I say that seriously. We have no business being here. We will not change the culture they have in Iraq, in Baghdad. Baghdad is so corrupted. All we are here is potential people to be killed and sitting ducks."

Full story at: 



John Welch

"But if we find we have left our bones to bleach in these desert sands for nothing, beware the fury of the legions..." (Centurion in a letter home from North Africa, 3rd Century)

And see also more mail.




Subject: Which is the tail, and which the dog?

--- Roland Dobbins

Subject: "Thanks a million!"

----- Roland Dobbins


That is grisly...

Subject: Reagan's Desk

It said

"There is no limit to what a man can accomplish as long as he does not mind who gets the credit."

No change in meaning, but a bit more "prepared speech"-like, less conversational.

I remember seeing a picture of Reagan in Time magazine with that on his desk.

Just so you don't feel alone about this, here's a correction in yesterday's (June 30) New York Times in which William Safire admits to misquoting Walt Whitman by rewording him to "Very well then I am inconsistent." from the original "Very well then I contradict myself."

The letter from a reader said "Whitman knew that using an active-voice transitive verb always beats a copula-and-adjective complement combo."

- Stephen Hart


On the "Polypill"

I got this several days ago but I was unwilling to post it until I had an a more authoritative view; so I asked Dr. Mark Huth, our resident heart specialist (well actually his heart clinic is in Oregon and he's a board certified specialist and all that, but he's resident on these pages). He said his reply ought not be taken as fully official, but I can post it.

First the original story:

Subject: The Polypill.,11381,986012,00.html

---- Roland Dobbins

Then Dr. Huth:


I looked at the original article in the BMJ. What they are proposing is hardly original. Basically, they look at the improvement in risk by taking agents known to improve outcomes in patients with cardiovascular risk factors and say: if each of these drugs improve things by 10%, lets stick 'um all together and get 11 years improvement in survival on average. I've no doubt that such a pill would improve things for many patients...but it would harm some patients, would under-treat many (most??) of the people who should be taking it and would be of not benefit to perhaps half the population. I also note that the authors have applied for a patent application for such a pill. Wonders never cease!

The three blood pressure medications are a beta blocker, a diuretic, and an ace inhibitor. If one doesn't have hypertension, it is very unlikely that treating you for elevated blood pressure will improve your survival. In fact, there is data to suggest that lowering your blood pressure below some point will increase your mortality.

As always, in this kind of situation, the best thing to do is to discuss this kind of thing with your physician. Really, we look at our patients to see if they should be using a mix of medications to address these risk factors.

I'm kind of astonished the BMJ would publish something like this as a research article.

Mark Huth mhuth at


And then we have Microsoft on the March

Oops! You were right again

<snip> Microsoft has given new marching orders to its phalanx of lobbyists: Use the government to seek a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Hypocritical? Perhaps. Randian? Hardly. But all in all, entirely unsurprising. While the old Microsoft would have been appalled, this is becoming the standard way of doing business in Washington for the new Microsoft. In fact, though the software giant may learn slowly, it learns its lessons exceedingly well.<snip> 


Yeah. Ellison ought to be worried. But people who kick sleeping giants often wish they had not done it.






This week:


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Wednesday, July 2, 2003


Subject: Glimmerings of a clue.

------- Roland Dobbins

Subject: Which is the tail, and which the dog?

------- Roland Dobbins

I suppose I should cheer about the next one, but I have some mixed emotions.

Subject: You're covered!,1283,59424,00.html

----- Roland Dobbins

I will get into the whys of my misgivings another time.

Subject: Martin rees and Man In Space 

Is it too wild to want to get into Space?

Mark Huth mhuth at


Subject: California borders and potential terrorists

Apparently, in addition to bringing in undocumented laborers, criminal gangs in California have smuggled in dozens of Middle Easterners in the past several years.

"Rather than stop illegal border crossings generally, the government is trying to pick out the potential Middle Eastern terrorists sneaking in among the Latin American jobseekers."

I feel so much safer already.

Steve Setzer

Don't we all?

And a new essay by Greg Cochran:

How the Ashkenazi Got Their Smarts

Ashkenazi Jews have the highest average IQ of any ethnic group. They score 0.75 to 1.0 standard deviations above the general European average, which corresponds to an IQ score around 112-115. . This fact has social significance, because IQ (as measured by IQ tests) is a good predictor of success in academic subjects and many jobs. Jews are just as successful in such jobs as their tested IQ would predict, and are hugely overrepresented in those jobs and accomplishments with the highest cognitive demands. During the 20th century, they made up about 3% of the US population, but won 27% of the US Nobel science prizes and 25% of the ACM Turing awards. They account for more than half of world chess champions.

This is not exactly news. I'm telling you something your grandmother knew. Popular opinion has held that Jews are smart for a long time - although, interestingly, not in Classical times - and such stereotypes are usually decent approximations of the truth.

Ashkenazi Jews have an unusual cognitive ability profile, as well as higher-than-average IQ. They have high verbal and mathematical scores, while their visuospatial abilities are typically somewhat worse (by about half a standard deviation) than the European average. Han Eysenck noted that "The correlation between verbal and performance tests is about 0.77 in the general population, hut only 0.31 among Jewish children. Differences of 10-20 points have been found in samples of Jewish children; there is no other group that shows anything like this size difference. " Their pattern of success is what you might expect from this ability distribution - great success in mathematics and literature, more typical results in painting, sculpture, and architecture.

Just as important, Sephardic and Oriental Jews do _not_ have higher-than-average IQs, nor are they tremendously overrepresented in cognitively demanding fields.

Any attempt at a causal explanation of Ashkenazi cognitive abilities must explain high Ashkenazi IQ, the unusual structure of their cognitive abilities, and the nonexistence of these traits among Sephardic/Oriental Jews and among Jews as a whole in Classical times. It must also be consistent with the neodarwinian synthesis, the historical record, and genetic data.

The natural approach is to look for a historical situation in which natural selection strongly favored this trait constellation. Immediately, we see that conditions among Jews were especially suitable for rapid evolutionary change. They lived in an unusual ecological situation, and they were reproductively isolated.

Reproductive isolation means that there was very little gene flow between the Jews and neighboring non-Jewish populations, very little intermarriage. This is course what the historical record indicates, but the genetic evidence is even stronger. We see that the majority of Y-chromosomes among the Ashkenazi are associated with Mideastern clades; this is enough to show that per-generation gene flow from surrounding Europeans (from males, anyhow) averaged less than 0.5% over many generations. Such reproduction isolation is almost a prerequisite for strong natural selection: if a population undergoing unusual selective pressures mixes heavily with a much larger population experiencing typical selective pressures, nothing happens.

The other important point is that Jews lived unusual lives, compared with most other population. By about 800 AD, almost all of them lived in cities. The great majority of almost every other ethnic group were farmers - they _had_ to be, since in premodern times farmers did not produce much above their own requirements, and it took several farmers to support one city-dweller. To the extent that the demands and rewards of urban life differed from those of farmers, the selective pressures experienced by Jews were unusual.

In earlier times, the great majority of Jews were themselves farmers. This means that in Classical times, they had not yet experienced unusual selective pressures, and in those days nobody thought that they were especially smart. The process that eventually resulted in high Ashkenazi IQ had not yet occurred.

For there to be strong selection for IQ, individuals with high IQs must have had more surviving children than average. Today, of course, that does not happen, but there is reason to think that it was sometimes the case in premodern Europe. In those days, wealthy people had quite a few more surviving children than average, so if high IQ increased income, there could have been selection for IQ in some situations.

The strength of this trend depended very much on the way an individual made a living. A dirt farmer with strong mathematical and verbal talents probably didn't do much better than average, but a merchant with such talents was likely to become wealthy and could raise a large family. In other words, the fitness/IQ derivative (which we will call the IQ elasticity) was not the same for all occupations.

This means that the occupational mix experienced by a population group was very important in determining the selective forces experienced by that population.

The Ashkenazi, in their beginnings in Western Europe, were mostly moneylenders. After they migrated to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, for a long time most were moneylenders, tax farmers, toll-farmers, and estate managers. They had to manage complex financial transactions, and those who did well made more money and had more children. Prosperous Jews may have averaged twice as many surviving children than poor Jews, and they made their money with their wits, rather than by inheritance or fighting skills, as in most other European elites.

For hundreds of years, _most_ of the Ashkenazi had jobs with high IQ elasticity, while at the same time experiencing very low gene flow with neighboring populations. This situation was unique. There were certainly non-Jewish groups in Europe that had occupations with high IQ elasticity - merchants in Bristol or Rotterdam for example - but they were not reproductively isolated. They kept marrying non-merchants. The Jews of Islam, although reproductively isolated, seem not have had the necessary concentration of occupations with high IQ elasticity. Some had such jobs in some of the Arab world, in some periods, but it seems it was never the case that _most_ did. In part this was because other minority groups competed successfully for these jobs - Greek Christians, Armenians, etc., in part because Moslems, at least some of the time, took many of those jobs themselves, valuing non-warrior occupations more highly than medieval Christians. In fact, to a large extent, and especially during the last six or seven hundred years of relative Moslem decline, the Jews of Islam tended to have 'dirty' jobs. These included such tasks as cleaning cesspools and drying the contents for use as fuel - a common Jewish occupation in Morocco, Yemen, Iraq, Iran, and Central Asia. Jews were also found as tanners, butchers, hangmen, and other disagreeable or despised occupations. I think that such jobs had low IQ elasticity - probably brilliant tanners did not get rich.

Only the Ashkenazi had low gene flow and a preponderance of occupations with high IQ elasticity for hundreds of years. That is enough to have caused the IQ increase that we observe. The narrow-sense heritability of IQ is at least 0.3 - that means if the parents of the next generation average 1 point above the current population average, the next generation (with equal environments) will average 0.3 point higher. Continue this process for 40 generations and you get an increase of 12 points, just about what we see today.

It also explains the pattern of mental abilities we see in Ashkenazi Jews. Verbal and mathematical talent helped medieval businessmen succeed, while spatiovisual abilities were irrelevant.

There have been other causes suggested. One, 'winnowing through persecution", suggests that only the smartest Jews survived persecution. Why this should be so is not clear, particularly there was no similar outcome in other groups such as Gypsies that faced frequent persecution. Another theory suggests that there was selective breeding for Talmudic scholarship. The are two fatal problems with this hypothesis: first, it was wealth that caused increased fertility, not scholarship. Second, there weren't very many rabbis, certainly less than one percent of the population.. A selective force that only affects a fraction of a percent of the population can never be strong, can never cause significant change in tens of generations. One that that affects the top 10 or 20% of the population can.

Albert Einstein said "Things should be described as simply as possible, but no simpler." The same principle must invoked in explaining Einstein himself.


Gregory Cochran

A good bit to think about here, and we'll get back to it. Comments below.

And it's about time, but I have no confidence:

July 2, 2003, 6:24AM

NASA to shake up shuttle management

Changes to beat release of accident report

Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle

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       From Where You Sit"



To balance that possible good news:

Subject: ''The government doesn't want people to take matters into their own hands . . . "

--- Roland Dobbins

But we were born free. The government only wants to help, you understand. Compassion.

Clearly cooperation with the regime is dangerous; one needs to assert freedoms in secret. If that isn't the lesson they think they are teaching, is it not the one to learn? I only ask.

And here is a man with a view:

The proper way to occupy Iraq?

It certainly isn't the way you suggest! i.e."The proper way to occupy Iraq is to build a comfortable enclave with good defences and secure perimeter, garrison that, then bring in a client army to do the actual occupation."

Quite frankly, if that's the way most of you Yanks think then no wonder you're in such trouble - I've never read such nonsense in my life. You do what you suggest and you'll end up having two enemies to deal with, and frankly you'll deserve it as a reward for your stupidity. Haven't you learned the lessons of Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia etc etc yet? Obviously not.

You want to do it properly? You want to do it as it should be done, rather than as your hugely bloated military-industrial complex seems to compel you to do? Then do it as the Australian Army does. Like we did in Cambodia. What we did in Laos. How we handled East Timor. We've just successfully finished five years of peace making in Bougainville - that's right, bloody, savage, armed to the teeth, thoroughly screwed up Bougainville - the Hell of the South Pacific. And how did our lads do it? Well, totally unarmed for one thing - not a weapon in sight, or out of sight for that matter. Yep, that's right, no guns at all. Total Australian casualties? None. Total Bougainvillian casualties? None. Prior to our arrival over 50 people per week were being killed in that nasty little civil war. By late 1998 we had a truce in place and in 2001 we helped negotiate a comprehensive peace agreement.

As our Defence Minister Robert Hill said the other day "The fact that it was an unarmed group - perhaps the first ever peacekeeping group to serve without access to weapons - is sometimes overlooked. But the absence of arms was fundamental to winning the trust of the local population.".

So how is it done? Very simple. When Australian troops arrive in a foreign land the first thing they do is establish fresh clean water supplies - for the locals. Then we build hospitals, provide medical supplies and services and start training the locals. Then we build schools for the local children, supply them and again start training the locals. Then we get in our agriculture experts to see what we can do to stabilise and enhance local food production. We get to know the inhabitants - show them we're friendly, find out what their concerns are and how we can help. That generally takes up most of the first month. Getting the picture? We win because we win their hearts and minds. We make ourselves useful rather than try to repress the locals - a loser strategy if ever there was one. We make ourselves indispensable. We provide clean water, healthcare, education, sanitation, agricultural services and security - no wonder they love us. Countries are actually better off for being occupied by Australia. We also use technology that is appropriate for the local circumstances - there's no point in using technology that can't be sustained by the locals. That would just be a waste.

Total bill to Oz so far? Oh, about the price of a couple of cruise missiles. Sure, in Bougainville we used 3,500 troops and 300 civilians but hell, we pay them anyway... Oh, and the locals handed in over 90% of the known weapons in Bougainville. That's right - they handed them in. No stupid, dangerous, provocative house to house searches thanks very much. Funny what happens when you ask people politely and point out how it is in their best interests. No threats, just gentle, persistent persuasion.

You Americans should try it some time. Our Defence Force Chief is General Peter Cosgrove. He's a friendly bloke. Ask him. He'll tell you how it's done. What you're doing now is just murder, plain and simple. Unfortunately your strategy is also murdering at least one young American every day. Not smart. Not smart at all. American arrogance may yet be the death of us all.

All the best! Dave Barry

P.S. You think it's hot in Iraq? Try Australia some time! Bloody fantastic - I love the heat! At least that's what I say every Winter...


I am tempted to leave this unanswered, but I suppose I should say a few words.

Of course what I was saying and have said all along is that the proper way to occupy Iraq is not to be there at all; but I suspect I was a bit too subtle for this reader. But I mean every word about the logic of empire: an empire must look to the health and safety and morale of its soldiers, first and foremost; then to its citizens; and then to its clients. Of course I put my statement in as brutal a fashion as I could; in the real world the language of diplomacy is employed, and clients are given titles and privileges (or at least their rulers are). As an essayist I can afford to be honest; were I really in charge of the world I'd have to be a lot more careful about what I say.

And of course most people don't think as I do, or I wouldn't have to write about it.

But the world is as it is, and soldiers are as they are; and things have not changed since that Centurion wrote in the 3rd Century "If we find you have left our bones to bleach in this desert for nothing, beware the fury of the Legions." Empires have to worry about such things. Republics don't, but republics don't do a lot of occupation of foreign lands, or nation building.

Finally, Mr. Barry, I am not in charge although you seem to think we are. But I am certain the Australians are far better people than we Yanks, and know far better how to run someone else's country, and your friendly blokes will be glad to instruct us. And I invite you to send your unarmed forces to Iraq. Better you than us.

You can then politely ask the Palestinians to disarm, and Hezbollah and Hamas, and gollies, soon you will have the Middle East a nice place with everyone being orderly and polite. Why didn't we think of that?

I would, however, appreciate your views on the lessons we should have learned but did not learn from Korea? Please tell me what the Australians would have done, and done better that we did there? As for me, I thought we ought to have come home when the Cold War ended, and stop being involved in the territorial disputes of Asia as well as Europe; I never thought that we had much reason for large standing armies and a big missile establishment once there were not 26,000 warheads aimed at us, and large armies poised to be on the Rhine in hours.

It's true that standing down from Korea would have taken a few years, first to convince the South Koreans that we were serious, then to give them time to look to their own defenses (and allow the Japanese to consider their options as well); but had we begun in 1992 we would have all the troops home now.

The lesson of Viet Nam is simpler: don't entirely abandon your allies. In 1972 the North Vietnamese sent 150,000 troops south. Almost none returned alive. The US lost about 600 men in the entire year. ARVN with US materiel support and US air support devastated an army that came south with more armor than the Wehrmacht ever had during WW II. I would say that lesson was that the US with allies can defeat damn near anything. True, in 1975 the Democrats in Congress voted to abandon South Viet Nam and send ARVN 20 cartridges and 2 hand grenades per man, and no air support; once again an army with as much armor as the Wehrmacht ever had and as many trucks as Patton ever had swept south. This time ARVN was defeated, and Saigon became Ho Chi Minh city, and the Boat People began their exodus to many places -- did any get to Australia?  But the lesson was that US clients without US support can't defeat Russian clients with Russian support: a lesson that one might have thought we would understood without running the experiment. 

In any event I am sure you will enlighten me as to the lessons we should have learned; those were the ones I thought we had learned. 

And see below.

And then we have


Subject: This is Outrageous

Dr. Pournelle: I came across this where a man was sentenced to life in prison for spitting on a police officer.

 I feel that judges that impose these absurd sentences need to be removed from the bench and have their law licenses revoked. There is very little excuse for this type of sentence. If the man had shot the police officer and wounded the officer he would have only gotten 20 years. But spitting seems to be more of a deadly weapon. 

And don't let the airline security people get a hold on this information. They would probably find a way to search for spitters in the security gates.

 Interesting times indeed and I feel so much safer. 

Ray Thompson 
Systems Administrator

When you "leave it to the professionals" for your health and safety, and substitute "expert" government for self government, you must expect your new experts to protect themselves with utmost severity. Why are you surprised?

But in fact this seems a simple application of Three Strikes. Siwash laws used to be pretty common in the US. Three time losers and all that... See below.







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Thursday, July 3, 2003

Subject: heh heh

----- Roland Dobbins

Which needs no comment...

RE: Australians!
Dr. Pournelle,
I suspect you were too subtle for Mr. Barry. Of course, most of the Australians I have met were about as subtle as a sledgehammer. They are a direct people, and directness serves in some circumstances. Mr. Barry touts the recent Australian foray into Bougainville and the lack of casualties therein. Did the Australians just dismantle a violent, bloody regime? A regime, I might add, that still has supporters running around taking shots at them. A regime reluctant to release the power of life and death over those who hold no power. No, didn't think so. Have the people of Bougainville had multiple years of indoctrination as to the evils of the Australian Infidels? No on that count as well.
If we disarmed our troops in Iraq deaths would increase exponentially. Our troops, to coin an old phrase, would be lambs led to the slaughter. I agree with you. The way to occupy Iraq is not to be there at all, but we are there and the course we need to steer is not clear. That course also seems to be sewn with mines, sometimes literally.
Now, that order is on its way to being restored, we are doing much of what our Australian friend has stated that we should do. We are rebuilding the infrastructure. We are working on the problem of potable water. Mr. Barry seems to be as ignorant of the true state of affairs in Iraq as most Americans. I refer specifically to one of your pieces of mail,
I have grown out of my sophomoric sense of patriotism. I've been in two of our four armed services. In high school I had the pleasure of hearing President Reagan speak. I make these somewhat disjointed statements to give a feeling for my background. I grew up as the son of a blue-collar worker. A man who in his drinking days was almost as temperate as after he became a Christian. The fourth of July was as big a holiday as Christmas or Easter. My family also has a history of service. My father was Navy. I have served in both Army and Air Force. My sister was Army and now works for the Department of Defense as an engineer. One nephew is in training at Fort Huacguca and another is in Ranger School. The one in Ranger School went to Afghanistan with the Eighty Deuce, the Eighty-Second Airborne. Even so, some of the luster has worn off. With a little maturity I can see where we have substituted brass for gold. Still, I'd rather be here than anywhere else, for as you have stated, at least we were born free. Maybe, just maybe, we can be free again.
Douglas Knapp

I am a bit surprised that I have had so little mail on Barry's letter.

Subject: Warning order.

------ Roland Dobbins

It may be a good idea, but it's one more. To protect the weak and make humble the proud...







This week:


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Friday, July Four, 2003

Thanks to Bonnie for this chuckle...

Go to  Type in "weapons of mass destruction" in the search field

and click the "I'm feeling lucky" button.


Humor in a jugular vein.

"Still, it would help in American domestic politics if we found a big hidden laboratory, and particularly if we found a big nuclear research facility" 

That depends on which side of the fence one is on, good for the "fascist pigs", bad for us "elitist pinko commies." Keep up the good work, I enjoy your blog almost as much as I enjoy your books. One caveat though I would hate to see chaos manor turn into just another right wing blog. I like differing opinions. No one side has a monopoly on wisdom. 

Dan Vanzile

 I think there is no danger of this being "just another right wing blog," being that it's not a blog and I don't know what the "right wing" is any longer. Frum has read me and my brand of conservatives out of his party, although I continue to have friends at National Review and even Weekly Standard. My view is that Frum was having a bad day, or month, or year, and Stephen Tonsor got his goat; something Stephen is quite able to do with a certain degree of aplomb. And since I can lay pretty good claim to being Possony's successor, Frum seems to have read several of the founders of National Review out of the Conservative movement, whatever that is.

My principles have been said many times: I am For America and I believe the first obligation of the government is to America, not the world. I believe we should have policies that encourage competition, but within a structure that puts America first and preserves American jobs even if that means that goods cost more and harms international trade. I believe that the government of a republic derives its just powers from the consent of the governed, and that means (1) we don't try to run other countries for their own good, and we run them for our own good if they force us to it, and (2) most matters of government other than foreign policy and true interstate commerce should be left to the states: that particularly includes matters of social policy like equalitarianism, death taxes, income-leveling taxes, sumptuary taxes, and so forth. National taxes ought to be chiefly for revenue and domestic job protection.

I think most matters of social policy properly belong to the States, and that we need a new Amendment to the Constitution: "No State shall on grounds of race, religion, or national origin,  deprive any Citizen of the United States of the equal protection of the laws, and this time we really mean it.

States may set periods of residency requirements for state citizenship not to exceed 2 years."

I think we need a strong Navy and that includes a Space Navy; energy independence; and an Army capable of defending our shores.

And that's about enough of that. I doubt this makes me a simple "right winger," but I am not sure just what it does make me.



On another subject,

Subject: Free-X

---- Roland Dobbins

Comments from interested parties invited.

On the Third Strike

"Dr. Pournelle: I came across this where a man was sentenced to life in prison for spitting on a police officer."

He wasn't strictly sentenced for that crime. He fell under the third strike and you're in for life law. He apparently had a very poor record of living by civilized rules. When California (and other states) first came out with three strike laws, prosecutors, who were usually opposed to the laws, would pick what would seem absurd crimes to prosecute as the third strike, in an effort to get the laws thrown out as unconstitutional. They ran into two problems. The courts wouldn't do it, and citizens who obey the law prefer to have habitual lawbreakers locked up. Third strike laws are very popular with everyone except the criminal class.

Harold Hamblet

Indeed. And see below

From : Alan E Brain, Canberra, Australia 

E-mail :

Re: Dave Barry's "Hearts and Minds" post.

It's no accident that Australia specifically did *not* volunteer for Peacekeeping in Iraq. In fact, the Australian Govt. withstood a lot of political pressure by the US for us to be involved.

The reason we won the peace in Bougainville and elsewhere is because we chose our battles carefully. In Bougainville, the carrot sufficed. In East Timor, it also required the stick, namely, a detachment of SASR (special Air Service Regiment) and Commandos with the carefully-nurtured reputation of being cold, merciless killers who take no prisoners.

The reputation has just enough fact in it to put the fear of God into the local thugs - those that survive their first contact. There were remarkably few casualties on either side in East Timor.

Our next operation of this sort is to be in the Solomons, with a Kleptocratic and corrupt policeforce, indistinguishable from the many other gangs of disorganised-crime there. We'll restore the infrastructure of a functional state, or at least, that's the plan. Purely out of self-interest: the current governmental machinery is being used to provide terrorists and others with genuine passports, to launder drug money and provide a haven for some very antisocial people ( Drug barons, Scam Artists, Al Qaeda etc ).

There's enough truth in Dave Barry's letter though as regards what the US priorities should be. Much was done to restore (and in many cases, build out of whole cloth) the Iraqi civilian infrastructure. But this was not adequately publicised within and without of Iraq. The point is, even more should have been done, and quicker, and with far, far more publicity.

Where Dave goes wrong is in assuming this will always work: Australian forces in Somalia weren't there to win hearts and minds, for example.

Alan Brain

The fact is that Iraq NEVER had much electric power outside Baghdad and Saddam's home territories; there isn't the capacity. Baghdad got power regularly, other places in rolling power/blackout cycles. There never was very good water supply. Many of the problems being reported by Western journalists would have been seen there in Saddam's time if there had been Western journalist access to the areas outside the showcases.

We should not have simply dismissed the Iraqi army without pensions, and we should have issued military scrip for our troops to spend on whatever they liked just to pump some money into the economy. We're learning.

On the whole, if I had to be occupied, I'd rather be occupied by American GI's than anyone else; that seems to be one big lesson of history, and was even made into a novel and a movie, The Mouse That Roared. Ah well.

But I stand by my statement: the right way to occupy Iraq is for us not to be there, but to have someone else do it; but we need control over who does it, so that we can extract the fruits of victory, which are not oil profits from Iraq -- that money can stay in Iraq -- but oil supply so that the world oil price falls to a competitive level. When oil hits $20/bbl. the Dow will hit 11,000 and there will be venture capital again...


Some cheering thoughts on why America may have a few good minutes left in it: 

Happy Independence Day!

--Erich Schwarz


And on a very serious subject, to which we will return, and one I hate to see discussed on Independence Day although perhaps there is no better time:

Subject: Sunt lacrimae rerum.

I'm pretty sure these individuals are the scum of the earth, who quite likely deserve public execution.

And yet I oppose the very -idea- of trying them via military tribunals, as we to this day are not involved in a declared war anywhere in the world: 

What's more, it's painfully obvious that not one of the people in the current Administration have ever read a history book; it's obvious none of them bothered to study the records of the postwar administration of Japan and Germany, either. And as for Rumsfeld, who's old enough to have direct memory of those things and thus is old enough to know better, I'm just dumbfounded that he would countenance such a state of affairs.

------------ Roland Dobbins

They have lived.

Cicero did not hesitate to use the Ultimate Decree against Cataline; but that was a genuine domestic revolt and ended in a pitched battle. As noted, we are not in a declared war: thus how can there be "enemy aliens"? 

"I am a citizen of Rome."

"Thou hast appealed to Caesar, and to Caesar must thou go."

I suspect we will live to regret the implications of what is being done here. Secret trial of anonymous accused. Without a declaration of war.

And see 



Subject: Incompetent empire - part XXVIII

----- Roland Dobbins

And so it goes.

On  a previous subject

Comment on How the Ashkenazi Got Their Smarts: Greg Cochran
Greg Cochran says:
"Another theory suggests that there was selective breeding for Talmudic scholarship. The are two fatal problems with this hypothesis: first, it was wealth that caused increased fertility, not scholarship. Second, there weren't very many rabbis, certainly less than one percent of the population. A selective force that only affects a fraction of a percent of the population can never be strong, can never cause significant change in tens of generations. One that that affects the top 10 or 20% of the population can."
Please note the following customs, dating back perhaps 1000 years, but especially since perhaps the 1300's, that suggest breeding for scholarship among the Jews of Eastern Europe :
1. Male children were put in Hebrew school (cheder) starting at age two and they would continue their studies until they were winnowed out intellectually/financially. The very brightest, no matter how poor, would spend their lifetimes in study, supported by the community (or individuals: see custom 2).  Learning was so valued that every male would try to study every spare minute that earning a living would allow.  And their wives and families would support them in this (and still do, in traditional Jewish communities).
2. Rich men married their daughters to the greatest scholars they could match them up with, and, thereafter, supported their sons-in-law so they could continue their studies, at least part-time*. The greatest adornment to the reputation of a family was it's scholars, not it's wealth,  so rich men "bought" Talmudic scholars to (hopefully) give them famous scholars as blood grandsons. And a man's importance (and power) in a community was based as much on the scholastic achievements of his forebears as it was on his wealth, or his family's wealth, or even the fame of his own scholarship, unless it was very great.  There was trickle-down here, so as you went down the economic scale, the less wealthy tried to get the best scholar they could "afford" for their daughters. Their daughters they tried to marry to the sons of wealth (but he should be at least respectably scholarly too).  The matchmaker was always at least as interested in a prospective groom's scholarship as his wealth, while the bride's financial condition was most important.
Bottom line: the successful and wealthy sought out talmudic scholars to father their grandchildren.  And "it was wealth that caused increased fertility".  (BTW, infant mortality was much lower than in the surrounding culture, especially among the affluent;  some Jewish scholars claim this was one of the roots of Eastern European anti-Semitism.)
This is not to say that wealth/success was not more important than "Talmudic scholarship," but rather that there was an interplay.  Marrying Talmud bochers into the could it hurt the business? So scholarship and wealth tended to more and more go hand in hand.
I misdoubt the claim that "certainly less than one percent" were rabbis; it does not jibe with my understanding of traditional Ashkenazic Jewish community life.  Remember: 1) Rabbis had jobs (unlike priests), 2) a community could have many Rabbis (unlike a parish), and 3) ) an ordination was not a pre-requisite for a  reputation as a Talmud scholar. Is there evidence that "less than 1% were Rabbis?"
Nuff said.  (Except note that my sources are not academic studies of Ashkenazic life in the middle ages; instead they are  a) anthropological studies of Eastern European Jewish life in the 19th and early 20th centuries , and b) Jewish tradition and literature.
David Philips, PE
*Actually, it was traditional to study full-time and make a living part-time in these arrangements.

I will let Greg Cochran speak for himself, but one should understand that he does not publish titled material without some thought behind it.

Cochran's reply below.

And if you were not sufficiently depressed:

Subject: State of the unions.

---- Roland Dobbins

Subject: And the beat goes on . . .

-------- Roland Dobbins

And final for today: something very important.

Dear Jerry,

Subject: 'Complex facets of instructional presentation'

Vin Suprynowicz on why we aren't teaching children to read:


Gordon Runkle

-- "In the Country of the Blind, the one-eyed man is in for a hell of a rough ride." -- Robert A. Heinlein

Anyone interested in why our kids can't read will find that article worth the time.

Then have a look at the graph on spending and education results.












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Saturday, July 5, 2003

Column Time






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Sunday, July 6, 2003

Greg Cochran replies to comment

         I doubt if breeding for scholarship was a very important part of the selection for IQ among the Ashkenazi, but I could be wrong.  In principle, it should be easy to check, if you can get enough genealogical data - just look at what fraction their kids were of the  next generation.  Combined with some kind of horseback guess as to their IQ, that would  give you the intensity of selection.  In order to compare the effect that I suspect dominated - breeding for the ability to run a fairly complex business - do the same for the guys who made the most money.  

      Most of the sources I read indicate that rabbis were usually only wealthy to the extent that they made money by non-rabbinical work.  Certainly they didn't make much money as rabbis:  typically they didn't even receive a salary until 1750 or so, and made out with fees for marrying people and such.  If the money came from other commercial work, how much did Talmudic study have to do with it?

      Rabbis were respected among the Jews of Islam, but that didn't produce any Field Medallists or Nobel prizewinners.  That's one reason I doubt the ' breeding for scholarship' notion.  Of course,  customs were not exactly the same.  I don't know the extent to which rich guys married their daughters to promising students in those groups -  unfortunately, in a quantitative sense, I don't how much they did in Lithuania either. I'd love to know more.

    As for the number of rabbis: the information I've been able to glean ( and I don't pretend to have anywhere near as much as I would like)  says that there was, more or less, one rabbi  per town.   Some examples:

            'In 1765, the Jewish community of Zmigród consisted of 683 Jews and another 1263 Jews in the nearby villages. These figures included 159 head-households which included 41 self employed, such as 1 tax collector, 2 shopkeepers, 8 tailors, 7 hat makers, 2 glove makers, 2 jewelers, 1 butcher, 1 rabbi, 1 cantor, 7 religious teachers and 1 musician. '

      Another town with 8000 Jews had one full-time rabbi and two dayyanim (judges).  Usually one assume that adults make up about one-third of the population - that looks like less than one percent to me.  But If someone gathers some reprsentative data and finds otherwise, I promise to change my mind in a New York minute.

      Ashkenazi Jews score high in math and verbal, not spatial.  I can see businessmen needing math and verbal skills, but I guess I don't see strong selection for mathematical abilities among Talmudists. But that's a weak argument, I admit.

      I think that selection for intelligence was probably stronger in 1400 than it was in 1850; but probably there was still some in 1850.  The reason is that the job mix changed over time, toward jobs with lower IQ elasticity.  In the  early days of Jewish settlement in the Polish-Lithuanian  Commonwealth, hardly any were craftmen, almost all were independent businessmen  with a few professionals.  In those Jews were maybe 0.5% of the population, in 1850 maybe 10%. They  had  overgrown their niche - there were only  so many management and financial jobs, and as the Jewish population grew, more and more ended up as craftsmen, etc.  Still, hardly any became peasants, and it may be that jobs like running a mom-and-pop store or being a local grain trader still  had significantly higher IQ elasticity than peasant farming.  Turkish Jews in 1850  had jobs like bootblacks and masons, those who had a job at all. 

     In my opinion, any  reproductively isolated group whose way of making a living  mostly involved jobs with high IQ elasticity  for enough generations would have undergone approximately the same evolutionary change, even if their hobby was poker or mumbley-peg, rather than Talmudic argumentation.  But that kind of reproductive isolation is unusual: I'd look at India. I wonder about the Parsees and Brahmins and so should you.

      Gregory Cochran


P.S. the idea that you have to consider evolutionary change over _historic_ time in order to understand where people are today is obvious enough, but hardly anybody  ever seems to take it seriously.   I wonder why.  Of course Possony did. (Possony and Weyl, The Geography of Intellect)

On a previous subject

Reply to Comment on How the Ashkenazi Got Their Smarts: Greg Cochran

Greg Cochran says: "Another theory suggests that there was selective breeding for Talmudic scholarship. The are two fatal problems with this hypothesis: first, it was wealth that caused increased fertility, not scholarship. Second, there weren't very many rabbis, certainly less than one percent of the population. A selective force that only affects a fraction of a percent of the population can never be strong, can never cause significant change in tens of generations. One that that affects the top 10 or 20% of the population can."

And see future mail

On another subject entirely:

Subject: Madness.

---------- Roland Dobbins

I find this interesting: just what should be the consequences of veterinary incompetence (assuming that is what happened here)? Our aging Siberian Husky's life was shortened considerably from the after-effects of anesthesia administered so that his teeth could be cleaned. It probably took a year off his life, and that wouldn't have happened had we been given proper post-operative instructions (he drank too much water and caused a displacement of his stomach requiring internal surgery). We didn't sue, of course, but we did lose about a year with an old friend.

On the other hand, not all wrongs -- assuming there was a wrong, because he probably should have been a lot more careful to ask the right questions --  have a legal remedy, and the consequences of running veterinary malpractice insurance through the roof can't be good for anyone.

What would RAH have thought, I wonder 

Incredible! The French have invented the concept of a moving slidewalk...


The Roads Must Roll...

And of course we feel safer:

Better than ever, NOT.

Who checked this guy out?! 

Sue Ferarra

I wonder if there is any competent person at all involved here? We have ATS screening failing to detect what ought to have been easily detected. We have a passenger bringing odd stuff on board, but doing nothing else. We have a would-be thief becoming a hero. We have an airliner diverted over no threat I can see. We have --

We have a very odd situation in which no one acts competently. Don't we all feel safer now?

And from Ed Hume

INFANTRY: One Observer Calls All


July 4, 2003: The U.S. Marine Corps is taking the lead in creating a new kind of forward observer. In the past, there were different forward observers for artillery, mortars, air strikes and naval gunfire. But communications equipment is now capable of easily (relatively) communicating with all those weapons systems, and binoculars equipped with GPS and laser rangefinders (and linked to the radio), make it easier to get accurate targeting data to the supporting weapons. The army has been agitating with the air force to allow army troops to be trained to call in air strikes, but the air force is reluctant to let go of this job. The Marines have no such problem, being part of the Navy and having their own Marine combat pilots flying jets as well.

 The Air Force must be made to give up the close support mission. They don't want it, it's a career killer in USAF for those who go that way, and yet in some ways it's the most important job there is once air supremacy is established. (Also added to the Infantry discussion which has other recent additions.)

And for those interested in finances and profits, this will be interesting:

What a shock!

The results reported here are simply Shocking! What a tremendous surprise!,15114,460291,00.html

Ed Hume

As will be the following referenced in the article,15114,368649,00.html 

And the following was noted by a number of readers:

Subject: Ahhhh, ain't it sweet . . .

Website turns tables on government officials


And I have preserved the graph mentioned in this just in case:

Subject: U.S. Department of  Education

Hello Dr. Pournelle,

Check out the Dept of Ed's homepage. There is a bargraph detailing appropriations vs. 9th grade reading scores. It's supposed to be an argument for the No Child Left Behind program, but really shows how inept the Department of Education really is. Spending is increasing exponentially (can we spell asymptotic?) with little or no improvements in quality. We could set the clocks back to 1975 and be no worse off. Or better yet, back to 1960 and put us back on the moon in a decade. 

Randy Storms

"Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." Philip K. Dick

Thanks for finding this.  And we have this, well, strange, comment:

Dear Dr. Pournelle --

I found the education spending bar graph rather interesting from several perspectives.

First, from a data presentation perspective: what were they intending to show? It is not clear what the reading scores actually are, because only a single value is given on the ordinate. Assuming that the ordinate scale actually begins at zero, they have heavily compressed the numerical values, to the point that trends, if any, are difficult to discern.

Second, is there any meaning to reading scores at age 9 as an end-point? The title to the graph suggests that the funding is for K-12; at age 9 most people are in third grade; the data in the graph give no indication as to where the money was spent nor do the data indicate any effects, positive or negative, on outcomes later in the school careers of the students involved.

Third, why are the data given in uncorrected dollars? The graph seems to show a considerable increase in education spending, except that it does not take inflation into account. I don't have exact figures for inflation at hand; however, a quick Google search turned up the US Bureau of Labor Statistics page (, which includes an inflation calculator. According to the graph, the US government spent about $2.5 billion on education in 1975 (the first year for which reading scores are listed). A little time spent using that calculator suggests that funding, corrected for inflation, decreased for the next several years, and did not return to 1975 levels until about 1988. An examination of the graph suggests that reading scores also decreased somewhat during that period. This suggests that the first increase above the rate of inflation (from 1986 to 1992) only resulted in a slight real increase in funding levels. While it is difficult to tell from the graph, there might have been an increase in reading scores about 1995; whether this is related to funding levels is difficult to tell from the limited data presented.

Finally, the graph does not show education spending; it shows a subset of Federal education spending. I do not know (and the graph has no relevant information) what actual education spending levels were during this time, because the graph does not include state level funding. This is perhaps fortunate: the current spending is listed as being $22.5 billion, or less than 2% of the Federal budget.

You and others have commented that the US educational system needs work. You have also stated that more money would not be beneficial. My mother spent 20 years as a school librarian. She spent a large portion of her time attempting to stretch her limited budget so that her students would have at least a few worthwhile books to read, and was forced to spend too much of her time satisfying bureaucratic requirements rather than teaching students. One of her comments about funding and education, based on her experience, is that "we don't know if throwing money at the problem would improve education, because it has never been tried!" I do not know where the money is being spent, but relatively little seems to be in the actual schools.

I taught biochemistry and related topics at the university level in California for a number of years. The pay scale for faculty was . . . unimpressive; I could have earned considerably more money working in industry. The current theory (especially in California) seems to be that the way for public schools to obtain good teachers is to offer low pay and moderately unpleasant working conditions. Perhaps this will attract dedicated individuals; however, dedication does not necessarily equate to competence. Moreover, dedicated, competent individuals tend to have other options, and may decide that unrewarded dedication has its limits. I won't comment on my own competence, but last year I left the California higher education system to take a job at a private engineering school in Indiana; the pay and attitude of my administration toward the faculty are both considerable improvements over their equivalents in California.

Perhaps, as the original poster commented, we could go back to 1975 spending and still be successful. Perhaps competent teachers will donate their time to the goal of education . . . .

Mark Brandt, Ph.D. My opinions are my own, but I distribute them freely to anyone failing to flee fast enough.

I would have thought it pretty obvious: a lot of federal money has been spent without much in the way of result. We know that local districts have different results, sometimes, although it is relatively easy to show that the results don't correlate with the money spent; but it should be dramatically obvious that spending quite a lot of money at the federal level had no measurable result. Correcting for inflation isn't going to change that.

In fact, I would venture that, by forcing a certain uniformity of methodology across the country, the federal funds have done harm rather than good; but demonstrating that takes more time than I care to put in just now. 

I know teachers want more money. I also know that education organizations have dug in like the French on the Marne to resist any attempt to tie pay raises or bonuses to results. Accountability may or may not have more relevance than just pumping out money; but it's clear enough from the chart that simply putting in federal dollars isn't solving the problem.

But then we (Mrs. Pournelle and I) said that many times over the past 30 years.

Incidentally, private schools in California pay less than the public schools, and often by a lot; public school pay is pretty good in Los Angeles. The private schools do seem to attract staff, and many of them tie payment to results; and most seem to have more applicants than positions to be filled despite spending considerably less per pupil than do the public schools. 









And finishing off the spitting (and biting) burglar:

Doctor P:

As I suspected, there was a bit more to the story about the OK life sentence for spitting on a police officer. 

The prosecutor recommended 25 years, the defense attorney asked for 4, and the jury said give him the maximum. His prior felonies appear the have been rape and burglary. He also bit the officer while being subdued.

Tim Morris Online Faculty email alt email phone Work (810) 985-2410 (Best 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. M-F Eastern Time) phone Home (810) 388-0491 Both are voice mail enabled

Which ought to close the subject.







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