CHAOS MANOR MAIL
Mail 385 October 24 - 30, 2005
FOR THE CURRENT VIEW PAGE CLICK HERE
Highlights this week:
October 24, 2005
How ATM fraud nearly destroyed British banking: <http:// www.theregister.co.uk/2005/10/21/phantoms_and_rogues/>
Self-criticism and the war on terror: <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/ article/0,,2087-1838908,00.html>
Conservatives choosing a leader: <http://www.guardian.co.uk/Observer/ politics/story/0,6903,1598735,00.html> <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087-1838819,00.html> . As a neuroscientist, I find the thought of national leaders with a history of cocaine abuse 'disturbing', and that's what some of the rumours circulating about Cameron are about.
Changes in the drinking laws: <http://www.guardian.co.uk/Observer/ uk_news/story/0,6903,1598732,00.html>
More from Glees and Pope: <http://www.thes.co.uk/current_edition/ story.aspx?story_id=2025555> . These are the analysts who want to crack down hard on university students as a hotbed of terrorism.
Bird flu concerns: <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4368436.stm> . A lot of our staff and students would continue to come in even if they had the bubonic plague.
Stop and search rising: <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4368524.stm>
Chinese warn UK universities of a problem with the overseas market: <http://www.thes.co.uk/current_edition/story.aspx?story_id=2025497>
-- Harry Erwin, PhD
I've been reading your comments about IQ, education and the like for some time now.
Perhaps my story might also enlighten people a bit. As I have previously mentioned, I'm only a bit younger than you. I didn't get to go to college in the 1950s, but in the 1960s. I went to Rutgers, a decently regarded by then state university in New Jersey. My IQ is fairly high. When I took the GREs, my total score for the aptitude part came back at 1550. That score qualified me easily for Mensa. For the year I took the GREs, it only took a 1250 to get in. It seems my IQ actually is in the top 1/1000th. My advanced physics score was in the top 2%. My grades at Rutgers, though, were erratic. I've come to understand that this was mostly likely due to an interaction of personality back then with the environment I was in.
I'm an only child of parents who tended to be a bit on the shy side. Nothing pathological, just a bit less outgoing than most of my friends. Rutgers, when I arrived in 1963, was in a good bit of turmoil. When my father went to Rutgers (class of 1935), I believe there were fewer than a thousand students. This summer I went to a lecture by Milton Viorst (yes, the writer), class of 1951. Viorst's class started out with 400 students, virtually all of whom graduated in four years. Half of those students were returning WWII vets. A man at the talk was a 1950s grad after Viorst. There were about 500 in his class.
What were things like when I started in 1963, only 12 years after Viorst graduated? My freshman class had 1700 students. 1100 of us graduated in 1967. People who majored in physics got the impression that there were too many physics majors. This makes me think students from my era were not getting the same quality of education as people only a bit older than us. Repeat this pattern across the nation. That might help explain the rebellions of the 1960s. When you tell bright young people that they're going to get one thing and they actually receive something considerably worse, rebellion becomes a natural choice for many.
Some years after Rutgers I actually got a taste of what education might have been like before the baby boom explosion. I did a year of grad work at Vassar College. The atmosphere was totally different -- and not just because the majority of the students were female. It was actually possible to interact with the faculty and get to know them. I was actually able to concentrate more fully on my studies -- and date attractive women at the same time.
I've managed to do reasonably decently in life. But I do wonder how I would have done if I hadn't had to fight dysfunctional bureaucracies so often. I also worry about my future. I don't want to be 85 years old and living in a homeless shelter run by our kind Canadian neighbors because our country has collapsed.
We need a major overhaul of education in this country. Today the bureaucratic masters of education are screwing up in fundamental ways.
Thank you for listening.
The modern US university is largely a fraud. There are exceptions, of course, but for the most part, they are simply fraudulent institutions more interested in grants and research than in teaching. The left took control through accusations that the older university system was riddled with favoritism and old boy nets. In California, until the 60's, there was no such thing as "tenure" and the University system was largely intended to teach first, do research second.
Few "professors" want to teach nor have they much to profess. Students are taught by grad students, many Asian who speak with an incomprehensible accent, and few who are interested in actual teaching.
Universities dedicated to teaching are rare.
Really bright people will fend for themselves, and find the resources. What we are neglecting is the 120-140 group, the future managers and officers. We throw them in with the 90-120 groups, the bottom part of which will learn little and benefit less from classical liberal education and Socratic teaching. The results are predictable and we see them now.
We have sown the wind.
Subject: Climate Change in Prehistory
I'm currently reading this recent book by William J. Burroughs. His argument is that the transition from glacial conditions to the Holocene involved a major calming of the climate. Prior to about 10,000 years ago, the decade-to-decade variation in climate (measured in seasonal temperatures and rainfall) over most of the world was sufficiently wild (about ten times the current variation) that agriculture was impossible and most regional populations frequently went through severe famines. It is the risk of that occurring that we have to assess.
-- Harry Erwin, PhD
As I have repeatedly said, don't spend money on remedies until you understand what it is you must guard against. Kyoto was a bad idea in itself, but even had it been the proper response global warming, it would be a bad idea until we have a better understanding of what is happening. We need some real and heavy duty research on what is happening, to include gathering a lot of data, and looking seriously at historical data points.
We need computer models that can fit what has happened in the past so that we can have some confidence in their predictions.
Subject: Why the UN Wants to Control the Internet
Otherwise, the Internet is nearly impossible to control, because the Internet is nothing more than a huge collection of networks using a common set of communications standards to stay interconnected. Thus; “the Internet.” Some countries deal with that by using filtering and blocking software (usually purchased from U.S. companies, that design it for military and commercial firms intent on keeping their secrets), that monitors how people use the Internet, and helps the thought police track down those who say things the government would prefer left unsaid. Alas for these censors, the Internet was designed to defeat censorship, so all that special software only does a partial job. But if the UN were able to control the DNS servers, well, that provides more opportunities for the censors. There are also potential military applications, if key ICANN positions were taken over by members of intelligence organizations.
The nation that has done the most to try and control Internet use, China, is also one of the major proponents for UN control of the DNS servers. China, it appears, is less upset over “U.S. control of the Internet,” than it is in building the “Great Firewall of China” a little higher. As a practical matter, the U.S. has no more influence over ICANN and the DNS servers than anyone else. The UN proposal is all about censorship, and paranoia that somehow, because the Internet basically grew up in America (it was invented by the U.S. Department of Defense, while the web portion was developed, initially, in Switzerland, by a British fellow working for a European research consortium), America “controls” it. The Internet was built to be out of control, and to survive a nuclear war. It will survive censors and UN takeover attempts.
"Everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not his own facts." Daniel Patrick Moynihan
October 25, 2005
It is hard to disagree with all of your response to Mr. Divine's letter, but there lurks a chicken and egg problem. The great expansion of our universities in the 1970s brought in a lot of what you refer to as the 90-120 group. Suddenly, university faculty were lecturing to students who literally could not follow what they were saying. Much of the fun instantly went out of teaching, and many of us were left wallowing, trying to make contact with at least half of our large lecture classes. There has been little resolution of this issue: instead we try to find the bright students and engage them one on one. I would never pay Ivy League tuition for a bright son or daughter of mine, since if he or she were bright and interested, faculty anywhere would latch onto him or her and take him or her into the fold.
(Sorry about all the he or she and him or her stuff: our language was another casualty of the 1970s. Feel free to edit it all out.)
Professor Harpending is coauthor with Greg Cochran of several papers on genetics and intelligence including the "How the Ashkenazi Got Their Smarts" papers.
I must take streneous exception to your blanket comments about US universities, professors and teaching. I have contributed e-mails to the discussion on your site before without reference to my credentials or employment, but I am on the Electrical and Computer Engineering Faculty of the University of Wisconsin, which is relevant to this discussion.
With some exceptions, every one of our undergraduate and graduate courses is taught by a tenured or tenure-track faculty member. Some lecture courses have been taught by TA's who are at the top of the talent pool, often as a way of getting that TA teacher training rather than on account of a shortage of professors to cover the sections. Some lecture courses are taught by adjunct or visiting faculty, people who are visiting in some research or other capacity. Recently, we have hired a small cadre of teaching faculty to supervise labs and teach the more hand-on lab-oriented lecture courses. We have mainly TA's teaching lab courses, but as a professor, I am teaching an advanced undergraduate lab in radio communication systems. We also have TA's teaching discussion systems which supplement what the professor teaches in lecture and offers more example problems and elaboration on theoretical concepts.
As to having a TA teach anything in our department, not only is the graduate student as TA getting financial support to pursue an MS or PhD degree, that graduate student is getting on-the-job teaching training to prepare for a career as a professor or as a manager or other leader in industry. Furthermore, every semester, our TAs go through intensive indoctrination and teacher training sessions, and as part of my duties as a professor, I observe and rate TA teaching and have seen the results of this effort. As to the competence, qualifications, or credentials to teach as a TA, all of our TA teachers have undergraduate degrees in Electrical Engineering or related disciplines, they have the grades or other qualifications to be accepted into graduate school, and they obtain TA positions after a highly selective process applied to an already refined pool. Are you telling me that a person with the credentials to work for GM designing cars or work for Intel designing the next generation of computers is not qualified to teach circuits or logic design at a university?
As to notions regarding how tenured faculty occupy themselves, the expectation is that a professor function in the academic equivalent of a group supervisor if not a manager in an industrial settings. Yes, a leader should lead from the front as they say in the military, but part of a professor's job is to lead graduate students in both teaching and research activities as part of the task of training them.
As to the "many Asian who speak with an incomprehensible accent", we have graduate students and faculty from all over the globe who speak with all kinds of accents. I happen to have spent language-formative years in Park Ridge, Illinois, and I guess I speak with that same kind of nasal-strident big-city Midwestern twang that grates on people's nerves and will probably prevent the junior senator from New York from ever becoming President unless she takes lessons from an accent coach.
As to "the modern US university is largely a fraud", I challenge anyone to come up with anything fraudulent about our faculty of professors teaching motivated undergraduates about circuit theory, electric and magnetic fields, logic, solid-state electron physics, solid-state electronic devices, linear system theory, probability, computer programming, and numerical methods -- this constitutes our core curriculum -- to the highest standards of rigor as preparation for work in industry, in university teaching, government, or the military. Whether a degree in Electrical Engineering constitutes an education in contrast with degrees in Liberal Studies, I challenge anyone to identify a discipline that challenges a student's mental faculties to the same degree -- some see what I do as technical training and not an education, but what I teach is the intellectual currency of our times, and any student coming out of our program is as suited to be a leader as to be a scientist.
You are welcome at any time to visit any of my class sessions to make a first-hand evaluation of what I do. I cannot promise you the same celebrity treatment that Bill Gates received upon making a surprise visit last week to Computer Science, but I am sure you have enough fans to make it worth your while. I am also on the ABET accreditation committee, and any feedback from you will be taken very seriously at the highest levels.
Paul Milenkovic Associate Professor Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering University of Wisconsin-Madison
I make no doubt there are exceptions, but I speak from considerable experience including my son at UCLA who had calculus classes from a student who was entirely incomprehensible. And you will note I have often said that the hard sciences are generally exceptions to the general decline of teaching.
Unfortunately, to be a good citizen, one needs more than proficiency in engineering. And that, I put it to you, is not being done well. I note that the University of Wisconsin did record the Mosse Lectures, which is a great point in its favor.
There are exceptions to any generalization, but in my judgment the quality of education went way down while the costs skyrocketed, and we have not seen the end of that trend, nor of the unremitting political correctness of the modern university campus.
>>Few "professors" want to teach nor have they much to profess. Students are taught by grad students, many Asian who speak with an incomprehensible accent, and few who are interested in actual teaching. Universities dedicated to teaching are rare.<<
My daughter graduated from h.s. in June and is now a freshman at Florida Gulf Coast University. This is a fairly new school in Fort Myers in SW Florida and is part of the Florida state university system. Certainly not a 'name' school of any kind. We toured the campus last spring during our university shopping trips. I asked our group guide just one question compared to the average 4-8 other parents asked,
Q. "What percentage of the undergraduate classes are taught by graduate assistants rather than full time faculty?"
A. "There are no graduate student teaching positions. The professors teach all the classes."
Which answer pleasantly surprised me, I'll admit. And so far it's proved to have been an honest answer, too. Whether this holds up through FGCU's planned rapid growth over the next few years will be interesting to watch.
As I say, there are exceptions. If one cares to look it's still possible to find a good school. It's just hard to do.
Universities dedicated to teaching aren't that great, either. Unless you say 'no' loudly from time to time, dig in your heels, and if necessary go on strike, they become very similar to high schools-- fifty to sixty hour weeks, stultifying educational bureaucracies, and no time to keep current in your subject. Faculty at research universities retire in their seventies, but faculty at teaching universities tend to take early retirement, both in America and England.
I had a chat with the mayor and his assistant on Sunday after church and discussed the problems as they see them. Most local people are working class, vote Labour, but are very socially conservative. Their children, although smart, would never think of going to college or university--it's just not done. I run into self-fulfilling prophecies all the time. I get these kids and find they have already decided what marks they want and proceed to work at that level. No ambition. A passing mark in the UK is a 40, and that's what they aim at. I set and mark exams based on American expectations (i.e., a 70 is a low C) and find my classes average 45.
Criticising American universities for the state America is in is the sin of suboptimisation. They're only a part of the system and not necessarily one that has much control over the outcome. My experience is that American computer science graduates are better prepared for the real world than most European graduates, so they must be doing something right.
-- "If they do that with marks and grades, should they be trusted with experimental data?"
Harry Erwin, PhD
Subject: piling on re: education thread
Here is a timely editorial in Machine Design regarding education. Its nothing that hasn't been said at your site before, yet still true: http://www.machinedesign.com/ASP/viewSelectedArticle.asp?strArticleId=59353&strSite=MDSite&Screen=CURRENTISSUE&CatID=3
Thanks for what you do at Chaos Manor,
And see below, for other views, including a letter from a Young Jacobin
10 October 2005
I've got a little time and I'm in the writing mode so here I go with another meandering letter from here.
It's five days to go before the Constitutional Referendum and it's starting to get a little nuts here. We've got nightly conference calls with the Corps Election Cell to discuss what's going on, we're updating e-mails on the latest every hour, and generally getting into the last-minute frenzy.
Today I attended the Independent Election Commission of Iraq national committee visit to Salah Ah Din province. The locals managed to fill 130 seats in the auditorium of sheiks, elected officials, and other local leaders. According to one of the State Department folks traveling with Mr. Adel Allami, the IECI national electoral Chairman, it was the largest turnout yet for a trip.
The meeting was held at the Salah Ah Din Rehabilitation Hospital, located just outside Tikrit. The hospital, which is in pretty rundown shape, was built during the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88 to treat soldiers injured in battle. It was Iraq's version of Walter Reed Army Hospital. It turns out one of the guys we hire to help us with local media and Iraqi relations -- Dr. Sa'ad Salih, a former Iraqi Army dentist -- was the commander of this place. He was a one-star general in the Iraqi Army and in charge of 470 staff. Pretty impressive, I think. He was about to make major general, but then the invasion came, he told me today.
Dr. Sa'ad is kind of an interesting guy. He's been working for the US Army as a contractor since 2003. He speaks excellent English and is an amateur archeologist. Of course, I'm also convinced he's probably ratting us out a bit as well since he's still alive.
In any case, the hospital was secured with Iraqi Police Service, the Facilities Protective Service -- think rent-a-cops with AK-47s -- and US infantry in the outer cordon and with a couple of snipers on the roof. We also had a couple of AH -64s in the area all day. Nothing says love like a helicopter gunship overhead.
Today I rode out with a squad from an MP company. It was the first time I'd ridden with these guys. They were pretty aggressive. When one civilian vehicle didn't move over fast enough they put two rounds in the road in front of the car. The car moved over. Of course one reason for the extra aggressiveness was the morning intel report that said there was a threat of an SVBIED connected with the conference today.
The TC of the vehicle today was Sgt. Jane [name changed -- PN]. She's the MP squad leader and was second in command of the three-vehicle section that was ferrying myself and other division types to this meeting. Her platoon leader, another woman, was in overall charge.
I got a kick out of Sgt. Jane. She obviously has her sh*t together but she was prepared for a day of sitting around waiting for us. She had copies of "Cosmo" and "Glamour" for her reading pleasure tucked underneath the radio, in between the spare machine gun ammo cans, and under the smoke grenade in case they have to call for a dust-off. She is also quite pretty, but when her gunner asked if he should shot anything that moved replied, " You know the drill, ROE mother****er." ROE stands for Rules of Engagement. Those tell us when we can and cannot shoot something.
The meeting was interesting, although I missed a lot of it. My designated translator today -- a Jordanian-American lady -- is a really poor spoken translator. She just missed a lot and would just generalize. I started off sharing her with an LA Times reporter the State Department brought in, but he wandered off to her colleague when he realized she wasn't very good. Still, Governor Hamad and the Provincial Council Chairman Sheik Rashid both encouraged everybody to vote and said there was a lot of good stuff in the constitution. They listed the usual Sunni litany of faults -- federalism, resource sharing, Arab identify -- and today and the day before I heard a new one: passing on citizenship through the mother. Somehow it is un-Islamic to pass along citizenship through the mother and this is in the constitution.
The audience asked lots of questions. Some was pretty basic -- When will the polls be open? Some questions were surprising to a westerner: a woman asked if her husband could go and vote for everybody in the family. Of course, the Sunnis boycotted last time so they are out of practice.
Since it's Ramadan -- which means no eating, no smoking, no sex, no drinking water between dawn and dusk -- there was no goat-grab at today's meeting. We brought along bottled water and MREs for the western press and Americans and during a break we huddled in one room while our media colleagues ate MREs.
One thing I did get a kick out of was when the school next door let out. Like many Iraqi facilities, the Rehab Hospital is a self-contained entity; there is housing for the employees on the grounds.
I was standing outside enjoying the day, when the kids started walking down the street. The little girls looked adorable in their matching school uniforms. I noted a lot of them had the Coalition-donated backpacks -- with the Iraqi map logo -- on their backs.
As soon as the kids saw the American Humvees parked outside the building they went nuts. They all went over and started talking to the GIs. Of course they wanted stuff, but it was fun to watch.
One little boy ran back, and grabbed his sister by the hand, and then he gestured and they both took off running to join the crowd. When it was time to leave, Sgt. Jane had acquired a fan club of four little Iraqi boys who were talking to her and hoping to get pens and candy and stuff. Female soldiers are still not an Arab thing so I think they enjoyed the curiosity value as well.
Be it World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Kosovo, and now Iraq; US soldiers like kids and kids sure seem to like US soldiers. It may be that we do have "stuff" but the average GI is a pretty friendly guy, especially where children are involved.
Well this has been kind of a meandering letter. It was mostly just a chance to share some observations and get them down for myself before I forget.
In about 30 more days I should be a civilian again. I am looking forward to that. Oh yes, for all you New York residents, thanks, I intend to take full advantage of every property tax break I can get with my new "combat veterans status". You'll get to pick up the slack (grin).
19 October 2005
I sat down and wrote a lengthy e-mail the other day, ruminating on many things, and my computer ate it. So I'm going to try to do it again. I will probably leave something out, but then again, it probably wasn't important.
The big event here was the referendum. It was 36 hours of staff hell, not unlike covering election night for a newspaper, only it lasted longer.
On Friday, the day before, I left at noon to go brief the commander of an airborne division on some exciting new Civil Military Operations stuff, and everything was under control. The brigade liaison officers were going to report on the flow of ballots to polling centers and all was a well.
When I came back just before five, everything was in crisis mode. For some reason my elections guy had contracted a serious mind fart and dropped the ball, the LNOs were not reporting, and the G-3 script writer hadn't written the information correctly. Unfortunately I bore the brunt of the disaster. I eventually managed to track down the information, and stepped in to write the script and get it to the CG in time. But I still got to stand at parade rest and be dressed down by my boss. Not a fun way to begin the weekend.
The day was tense because it wasn't just me who incurred the wrath of the chief of staff. The brigade liaison officers didn't know enough about what their units were doing so it was a long, unhappy night.
In any case, the voting itself went well. There were very big turnouts in Salah Ah Din, Kirkuk, and Diyala provinces. The Salah Ah Din turnout was almost 74 percent of registered voters. Of course, most of those people were voting no, but that is still a good thing.
I had hoped to go out to the local Provincial Joint Coordination Center with my friend the Political Advisor -- and his personal security detail -- to watch the votes being tallied, but after Friday night's fiasco it was pretty clear I needed to keep my butt solidly fixed in the TOC. After we got through the first phone conference with the corps commander at 1000 in the morning things went better. By the end of the day I had gone from "dumb sonofabitch" to "good job."
I like the chief of staff, and I respect the chief of staff, but he goes from saying everything's okay to calling you a dumb mother****er in about 10 seconds flat. The regular Army is the only place you can still do this.
So in the end, the Iraqis voted and on Tuesday the voting tally sheets got put on an airplane and flown to Baghdad. Now they just have to announce the formal results.
Some of the Sunni's we deal with are very depressed that the constitution passed despite their "no" votes. Of course, they have only themselves to blame because they decided to boycott the vote in January.
I personally believe they are also being a little disingenuous when they talk about the constitution breaking up Iraq. It seems to me that for almost 35 years, Iraqi was a concern run by the Sunni's for themselves -- with the assistance of Saddam -- and the Shia and the Kurds didn't get a hell of a lot out of it. Maybe if the Sunnis hadn't spent so much time killing Kurds and keeping the Shi'ites down then there would be more loyalty to the idea of Iraq.
So now they're all upset. Hopefully that will translate into voting in December and not more bombs.
I also wanted to mention very briefly the famous -- or infamous -- interview that President Bush did with the folks from the 42nd ID. I know three of the people pretty well who were in that ten-person group, and I know that they weren't coached to give any particular answers. The soldiers did decide among themselves who would answer which kinds of questions and they thought hard about what they wanted to say.
We watched that interview in the DMAIN as it took place and I remember thinking: "God, that captain is smiling like a moron," and "Geeze these guys look like they are reading from cue cards." They were not, of course, but they were nervous as hell and the first few folks just said what they wanted to say without responding to the president's actual questions.
It got better when they went to the captain working with the Iraqi cops. He actually answered the question. Then it got better. The Public Affairs Officer came in to see how it looked. I told him the guys were looking like they were reading from cue cards. He hit me on the shoulder.
The bottom line with all this is I don't think there was any conspiracy. The soldiers actually said what they think. Those guys actually believe in their mission, especially the guys working with the Iraqi Army. They folks they had on TV, for the most part, belong to our MITTs (Military Transition Teams), they work with the Iraqis on a daily basis and they know their pluses and minuses. For the most part, the MITT guys I know say the Iraqis are coming along. They have problems, of course, and they are not the 82nd Airborne, but as somebody pointed out once, they do not have to be the 82nd Airborne. They just have to be better than the Sunni insurgents.
In our AO we've got some encouraging signs. Iraqi units are getting better and doing more and more of the fighting. They are definitely taking more of the casualties than we are. On Election Day three Iraqi Army soldiers escorting recovered ballots and tally sheets were killed in the line of duty.
Now the next event is to hand over the job to our replacements. Then we can go home. My counterpart was here for Referendum Day and is coming back over in two more days for another stint. When we did our Relief in Place we basically sat next to our counterparts for a week and then they sat next to us and watched us.
In our RIP will be harder because they are standing up a brand new FOB 12 miles up the road, while we are still running the FOB here. When we leave, our FOB will be shut down and turned over to the Iraqi Army to secure. Bottom line: It makes it tougher to do the battle handover.
All of this, though, is a good sign. In about three weeks I should be back at my US location. I am looking forward to seeing my family again and getting off active duty after a year and a half away from home.
Tonight the Iraqis are celebrating Ramadan. The loud speaker at the mosque is going full-bore and every now and then gunshots erupt. It's "happy fire." These folks haven't seemed to have figured out that a bullet that goes up happy can cause a problem when it comes down. It's cool outside and the moon is almost full and casting a lovely light over the Tigris. This place almost seems nice.
Today we had a couple of demonstrations of people protesting the Saddam trial. More power to them. As long as there's no shooting, its a good thing.
25 October 2005 Iraq
I figured I'd send one more e-mail while I had the chance. In a few days we'll be turning over the last of our TPE ( Theater Provided Equipment) computers to our replacement division's Civil Military Operations section and I will lose the ability to send unclassified e-mails.
I wanted to thank everybody for the e-mails over the past ten months. They've been appreciated more than you know. It's good to have a connection with home when you are away. The infantry division has to spend one more day in complete control of the area dubbed Multi-National Division - North Central and then we turn the responsibility for day-to-day operations over to the airborne division replacing us. Our final Transition of Authority occurs soon and then I don't have to care anymore.
Our challenge then will be to get back home and get demobilized. Soon after TOA we'll fly out of here in Chinook helicopters to the closest APOD (Arial Port of Debarkation) and catch a C-130 going south to Kuwait. In Kuwait we get our gear checked by customs during a 36-hour layover and then head back to our home base.
I just wanted to share a couple of observations as my time here trickles down to a week.
I've always been skeptical of the claims that the press distorts reality. In most cases, I think, people get upset because reporters do not automatically reflect their point of view. For the most part, I think the reporting on Iraq is accurate. I think the reporters here are doing the best they can to tell a complicated story. The problem, of course, is you're compelled to lead with the car bomb de jour or the latest US death. It tends to distort reality.
I think the real distortion of what is happening here occurs when the talking heads and the opinion mavens get involved. My take is that if you hate George W. Bush then nothing good can happen in Iraq, and it is all bad. I think that colors the perspective of most of the chattering classes. They've got to justify their opposition to George Bush and the decision to invade Iraq by finding disaster everywhere. Of course, the opposite can be true, but I think the truth is closer to the middle.
Take the issue of casualties, for example. We'll reach the 2,000 US deaths mark here before I get home I am sure. It is a dangerous place in some places.
The death of a soldier sucks. When you're sitting in the TOC and you find out there's been a KIA the whole place gets depressed. Everybody feels it. I've been to the memorial ceremonies; big tough guys cry. Heck, we feel it when Iraqi soldiers and cops get killed.
But it has to be put in perspective. I've read newspaper columns were they talk about high casualty rates in Iraq. That's nuts. In 2003 there were 1,403 deaths on New York State highways. The average death rate in Iraq is about 650 soldiers a year. Out of the 23,000 soldiers in Task Force Liberty, we have had 53 soldiers killed. That is a 0.23 percent death rate, that is very low, much lower than Vietnam. No soldier wants to die but it is part of the risk.
Hell one of our battalion commanders, five days short of turning over his command, got hit in an IED ambush on his way to a meeting and is now in Germany with a bad shoulder injury. He's a good guy and I hope he pulls through. A Navy guy assigned to our ACE (the All Source Collection Cell) was outside taking a smoke break when a mortar round landed and lost his legs. These things happen.
But I think you've got a statistically higher chance of getting killed driving down the New York State Thruway. It's just that driving on the Thruway is a risk people accept.
There was also the big stink about three-to-one trained Iraqi battalions. A lot of that had to do with the way we evaluate the Iraqi Army. As the IA has gotten better trained, the standards have gotten tougher. When we got here in January the best the Iraqi Army was able to do was company level ops. They are now taking over parts of the battle space and running brigade-level operations. Our challenge has been to take an army that was trained to do little more than check point operations and turn it into one that can conduct cordon and search ops and take on the insurgents on a one-to-one fight.
This is an army that fought for eight years against Iran and didn't get much of anywhere, and an army that got totally stomped in Kuwait. Their junior officers pretty much lacked initiative and their conscript troops didn't have a lot of will to fight.
We've had to teach them basic staff skills -- how to do strength accounting, how to order supplies, how to plan an attack -- that they really had a pretty poor grasp on, and teach them tactics above "stand here and shoot." It is working slowly. The new Iraqi Army is all volunteer (admittedly because there aren't many other jobs) but at least these guys chose to be there.
The Iraqis are getting better and I think that's illustrated by the way the insurgents attack them. Just as the bad guys don't take on US troops in a fire fight, the insurgents have stopped mounting force-on-force attacks on the IA. They're losing and they don't like it.
This continues to be a war of car bombs and inaccurate mortar rounds. The car bombs cause lots of casualties and they make it necessary to have a lot of safety precautions, but they can't defeat an army. And again, most of the casualties are Iraqi civilians. Our casualty rates have stayed low.
I spend most of my time looking at reports on Iraqi governance. We've seen a big change in the last ten months. Local councils that couldn't figure out how to hold a meeting are getting things done. Iraqi's are learning the art of politics and using TV and the media to lead and sway people. One of the things our division can take credit for is bringing together the local governors in our region -- two Kurds, a Sunni, and a Shia -- on a regular basis. These guys are learning to talk together and problem-solve together and even reach out to each other for help. When Kirkuk province needed Arabic copies of the Iraqi constitution, the Kurdish governor called the Sunni governor of Salah Ah Din province and got extra copies in Arabic shipped to him.
Their government isn't as sophisticated as our government but they're slowly learning to do things for themselves on a local level. This is revolutionary in an Iraq which has always been dominated by a strong central government. The local governments had no power and the utilities are run by director generals answerable to a boss in Baghdad. This would be like having the local sewer department back home run by a guy who reports to somebody in Washington D.C. It makes it hard to get stuff done, but things are changing. It is going to take a while, though, to change a whole way of life and 35 years of people with initiative getting shot for showing it.
One of the things we've done here is create a satellite TV station that allows a moderate Sunni viewpoint to be broadcast across the Middle East by local entrepreneurs. Their news coverage is a counter to the Al Jazzera all-bombs all-the-time stuff that is shown throughout the region -- to the disgust of most Iraqis. During the referendum period the sat TV reports were picked up by Egyptian stations looking for something different. This is significant because it allows the Sunni Arabs who want to work things out peacefully a way to get their message out and compete with Zarqawi and the other mad bombers.
Of course there are a bunch of Sunni Arabs that just don't want to face the fact that they don't run this country anymore. They'll be fighting the majority of Iraq after we leave.
One thing I always find interesting in reading on-line are the persistent themes that if only the Coalition troops would go home, things would be peaceful. I've learned (both from experience and from reading about the culture) that it's a pretty consistent Arab trait to blame somebody else for your problems: It isn't Iraqis blowing up cars by mosques it's "foreigners." It's not Iraqi's killing each other, it's because of the Americans, etc.
We've heard these comments a lot and the polls of Iraqis find that is a pretty consistent theme with them. But the educated elites -- Sunni, Shiite, Turcoman, and the Kurds -- still want us around. They realize that, in many ways, the fact that the US and UK still have large troop presences around is what keeps the low-level civil war that is currently being waged from turning into an all-out one.
It's US eyes on them that often keeps Shi'ite soldiers from really roughing up Sunni Arabs who are hiding insurgents. The Turcoman and Arabs in Kirkuk are continually asking us to protect them from the Kurds, etc. I think if we did leave, the Sunni's would regret if bigtime because the Kurds would kick their butts.
The economy here still sucks. The oil infrastructure is so old, it breaks. When it doesn't break it's getting sabotaged; not by the insurgents but by guys who are siphoning off oil for their own use, or by oil security guards who figure if they don't blow up the pipeline every now and then , they'll be out of work.
In the same vein the power lines keep getting blown up by guys who want work rebuilding them.
It's a screwed-up situation, but that's because the top-down Stalinist economy here has sucked much of the life out of the ability of people to make money. We're doing what we can. We've opened business centers to provide loans for people who want to get into business, we're paying for OJT programs, and we've sunk a lot of money into infrastructure. But there's a lot to be done.
So overall, I don't think the situation in Iraqi is great, but I do think it is getting better. Yes the insurgents are making bigger bombs and they're more sophisticated than they were in May 2003, but the Iraqi government is further along and so is the Iraqi Army. This kind of stuff takes time. I think the concern of most military people (and I guess I am one for a little longer) is the civilians back home will lose their nerve and will to fight long before the soldiers do.
Most people here -- at least from what I can tell of the guys in the line units I've talked with -- believe in the mission. They think we're doing okay. They're not despairing as much as the cable TV talk show pundits are. Most of those folks, I think, have never worn a uniform in their life: their take comes down to US domestic politics and how much they hate or like George Bush.
Whether or not we should have gone into Iraqi is, I think, a moot point. We did. There were no weapons of mass destruction.
But the Kurds I talk to still thank us for liberating them. The Shi'ite Arabs still seem pretty happy to have Saddam gone. Sure the Iraqis want more electricity, and more security, etc. But they don't have electricity and they're getting blown up because about 20,000 Sunni Arabs, assisted by a bunch of passive supporters, is shutting down the power, and blowing up the oil, and setting off bombs.
In any case, enough rambling from my end. I hope to see a bunch of you within a few weeks. Thanks again for the e-mails. I've really appreciated them.
The entire series is on a special reports page.
Subject: Letters from Iraq
I’ve been reading the letters from the officer in Iraq. It has been very interesting, and my “gut” says he provides us with an accurate portrayal of the situation there.
Unfortunately, the real cost of this war to our economy. We simply can’t afford it. There are obviously other places in the world we could invest huge amounts of money and try to fix as well. People in those other places are also deserving of our help, but we do so at the expense of our own standard of living and ultimately the happiness of our people. I’m simply not in favor of doing that, and I think I’m in the majority or will be soon. Your correspondent is correct about people at home losing the will to fight, but that’s what a democracy is about, isn’t it? Especially when there was never any compelling reason for us to be there in the first place.
October 26, 2005
It is generally agreed that outdoor relief, or care in the community as it is now called, is a good practise. Those whose handicap falls short of the need to be institutionalised are generally better off living in the wider community while getting the specific support that their disability requires. Unfortunately this sensible and benign principle has been extended to the chattering classes. The University of Paisley in Scotland recently hosted a meeting at Ayr racecourse at which the following topics were discussed:-
Postfeminist fatherhood and the paternalisation of Eddie Murphy (sic) star image. (Hamma Hamad of the University of East Anglia).
The pragmatics of fame: visibility, public memory and Celine Dion. (Line Grenier of the University of Montreal).
A whole session was devoted to the meaning of David Beckham, (a professional Association Footballer). The session included a paper called "Beckham: how "queer" serves 'heterotopia' in the dialectics of celebrity.
Because it might be thought that I have made up these titles I give my reference. They were copied exactly from The Economist of September 17th. this year.
Who on Earth would spend their own money to fund such fatuity? Perhaps sociologists should supplant lawyers, but not spammers, on your "to be shot" list, which is not to say that lawyers should be let off, although guns pointed at lawyers, might very well be let off.
It is difficult to be serious discussing this topic, but it is a serious matter. What is to be done?
This of Howard Stern. (snip) he once interviewed a group of girls who were contestants in a beauty pageant, and the operative question he asked was: What is the square root of nine? Their responses were illuminating insofar as telling us in which direction we are moving on a Darwinian scale.
Subject: Rising Cost of Education
Hello Dr. Pournelle,
I took a quick look at this topic for another reason. The executive summary: Fees charged are growing at a faster rate than the actual fees paid by consumers. This is the result of a decision in 1992 to dramatically expand the eligibility requirements for government funded financial aid.
All data is for public four year institutions, full time students.
For the time period 1990 - 2000
Percentage change in average net tuition charged 74% Percentage change in average net tuition paid by students 62%
Price of attendance (Fees + living expenses + books)
Average growth in price of attendance 51% (fees only) Average growth in net price of attendance 21% (fees - aid) Growth in percentage of students receiving financial aid from 53% to 75% (2000)
1994 - 2000
Growth in average fees charged 19% Growth in net fees 10%
All data from:
http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2004/2004158.pdf in a report titled "A Decade ofUndergraduateStudent Aid:1989–90 to 1999–2000"
Quote: "The 1992 Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA-92) was a defining moment in the history of federal financial aid because it established the direction in which the federal government would support postsecondary education in subsequent years.3 As a result of its passage, many middle-income students who were previously ineligible for need-based student aid were able to receive it, primarily in the form of subsidized student loans. HEA-92 also increased the amounts students were permitted to borrow and for the first time allowed dependent students to take out federally guaranteed unsubsidized loans."
It looks like the education lobby managed to get a couple of more places opened at the trough. I have often wondered how fees can rise in an era of declining student applications and enrollment. At the same time there are reports in the media regarding four year colleges competing for students with upgraded dorms and recreational facilities. I think I understand this to my satisfaction now.
As you so eloquently note, the unintended consequences of this policy change looks like an acceleration of the decline in the standards of post secondary education. Gotta have someone to teach all those fee payers and we gotta have classes for them to attend.
BTW, a family friend is a recent PhD graduate of the University of Iowa. You can still get a good education there and the public schools aren't too shabby either.
But see the letter from a young Jacobin professor below.
Subject: Future ships
Given your son's current military assignment, I thought you might be interested in this short piece on future ships of similar design.
Subject: Marshall Brain
I suspect this is old news for you, but I have only just come across it.
Read "Manna" at http://www.marshallbrain.com/manna1.htm
Subject: Re: Voodoo sciences
Just read your comment on special relativity being responsible for clocks slowing in orbit. This is somewhat true, but I seem to remember long ago doing a calculation to prove to myself that the overwhelming clock slowing effect is due to gravitational redshift, which is an effect predicted by general relativity:
Incidentally, the GPS system would be far less accurate if these effects weren’t taken into account.
October 27, 2005
I’ve been working on other things and didn’t get to your blog for this week, but noted with interest the section on college/university education. Granting the exceptions (and the U of Wisconsin is exceptionable to be sure) I think that on the whole your right. Part of the fraud is admitting students who have no serious preparation for, or interest in, the intellectual life. They simply cannot write, read or do the most basic kinds of analysis. And, because there is no core curriculum (or when there is, it reflects the complimentary incoherencies of the diversity Gestapo and various departments defending their turf) the students design their own programs, an exercise which is much less fun, but about as productive as having the inmates running the asylum. I could go on with a litany of complaints (should I compose a litany to St. Thomas Aquinas, or maybe Albert the Great since I doubt I will ever be a genius, but I hope to teach someone who can become such…)
From grade inflation…
Deliver us, Oh Lord
From the depredations of sports-besotted administrators
Defend us, Oh God
And remember education departments, their fads and empty promises
Smite them, Sweet God, in your mercy
Anyway, the fraud is on so many levels. I don’t think it is just that we all want to be researchers to the neglect of teaching, though I will confess I prefer research, mainly because Polish history continues to fascinate and there is so much that is yet to be written and is now possible to study. Here however, I think Herrr Harpending is on to something – it might be easier to be more enthusiastic about teaching as a larger part of the mix if I actually had sustained contact with my students rather than seeing them in only one class (and without the pressure of designing classes that will put as many buts in seats as possible). Still, I do think that is wrong to simply oppose teaching and research – my research has mad me a better teacher and leads me to understand and makes me better able to teach my subject since it hones my judgment as to what constitutes good history.
Another thing that characterizes this fraud is the over-politicization of most disciplines, esp. in the humanities this hurts a great deal (and the scientists have a role here – they are more than willing to mouth leftist pieties and encourage the worst PC administrators to enact their programs in the humanities as long as they are left alone in their precious labs). Our students rightfully resent efforts by professors to prostitute their disciplines to the political fashions of the day, and frankly those fashions (esp. those of the left) seem so god awful boring that I can understand why the standard bovine-like liberal academic finds such bromides too tiresome to discuss at length. Ergo it is much easier to chew the cud with the herd via research and conferences than to focus on teaching/indoctrinating highly sales-resistant student/customers (whose resentment at all the efforts to indoctrinate them means that they are just as suspicious of all profs, even those of us who don’t see them as ciphers but want to profess our disciplines).
I don’t have time for a more extended rant or analysis but sweet Lord, Jerry you are tragically right about the university as a whole being a fraud. The little tribe of would-be Boethiuses like me, who are trying to cope with the post-Ostrogoth reality of higher ed still do good work, and we have to know enough about Gothic customs to get by, but the institution as a whole throughout the country has radically devolved. The only thing to be said for it is that a 4 year degree has become the new high school leaving certificate – someone who has it is probably literate and can, when cornered like a rat in a trap and under constant supervision, do some intellectual activity without producing immediately disastrous results. While the 60s Ostrogoths are largely responsible for this, frankly most of the people of this country are willing to put up with a substandard education from K-12 and beyond that protects and nurtures self-esteem and celebrates the frightfully seductive model of “democratic education” without a hint of hierarchy or merit.
A Young Jacobin
PS: And in this instance if I were the head of a Committee of Public Safety for a day I would let lose the guillotines on every dept. of ed in this country (both faculty and grad students just to be sure) and burn every book ever written by someone with a PhD in education. It wouldn’t solve all of our problems I know, but a) damn it would be fun and just, a thousand times just and b) it would be a good start, esp. since I would only have a day.
I mildly resent calling my combination of essays, letters with comments, and news a "blog" but I admit I don't have a better short term that would be universally understood. A "salon" is probably the best description, but that isn't a term of use nowadays. Ah well.
Keep up the good work.
Reading over the education posts this week, it occurs to me that much of the problem is structural. The real damage is done by the assumption that having a degree -- or several --- makes someone educated and that the lack of same means that a person is somehow less capable. And the bar keeps being raised. A hundred years ago, a high school diploma was considered more than sufficient to be, say, a reporter at a newspaper and many people learned the trade "on the job". Lincoln Stephens, with his European education, was considered over qualified and therefore , not qualified at all and had to prove himself by working "on space". It was only after a senior reporter noticed that his bill for "space" was more than three times the top salary that he was given a regular job at that newspaper.
Now, for many fields, not even a Bachelor's degree is considered sufficient. When it comes to teaching even at a community college (or especially there) nothing less than a PhD will do. In the Creative Writing field , a Master of Fine Arts, which was touted for many years as the equivalent to a PhD , will no longer do. One is required to also have an appropriate doctorate. And there are now MFA which emphases not fiction or poetry or dram, but how to teach creative writing. (The snake eating its tail comes to mind here).
Of course the possession of such a degree is no guarantee of success as a writer or an instructor of writing. One actually has to learn on the job. Certainly ti does not mean that every graduate will be a bet -selling author, or that the lack of a degree will prevent someone from becoming one. (Let me note here that none of the three writers who sat on my Thesis Committee fro my MFA had an MFA themselves. What they had was significant publications and awards proving their expertise. Ironically, none of them would get hired today in most such programs.)
In the realm of Legal Thrillers, the two top writers are Scott Turow and John Grisham. Turow actually has an MFA from Iowa. Grisham, who must be given the top stop on sales volume alone, does not. Turow became a lawyer, a job he enjoys, because it seemed obvious to him that he could not make a decent living as a writer. Grisham turned to writing as a way to kill time while waiting for the jury to come in. Both are very good writers.
The US Army contains the largest educational establishment in the world. It is called the Training and Doctrine Commend. It spends a lot of money sending officers at all levels to civilian institutions for advanced education and practical experience. (Back in the 1990s, Army doctors were assigned to civilian emergency rooms in big cities to get hands-on experience with gunshot and knife wounds). You cannot find a flag rank officer these days who does not have a PhD, usually in Strategy or International Relations. That program has been going now for more than 50 years, in one form or another. My father picked up a Masters in Biochemistry while, at the same time, doing a residency at Fitzsimmons Army Hospital in Denver. He did a tour after at WRAIR.
So , as you pointed out yourself, degrees and credentials are a handy shorthand for having completed a course of study. That's not the problem. The problem is that other forms of education, training and experience are not given equal weight by the charming people in HR. They play it safe and go with the easy marks in considering someone for employment or advancement. Which is why, the Army took the route of actually awarding advanced degrees for attendance at The War College and other such institutions.
The pity is that the high school graduate of a hundred years ago was better educated than the holder of a Bachelor's degree today. A look at the level six McGuffey's Reader of that era demonstrates that. As we've raised the bar with the formality of requiring a degree, we've also made the degree easier to get. The level of instruction has been dumded down and no one wants to ruin someone's prospects for a desired career with a bad grade in a non-essential course.
Having gained a couple of degrees myself and taken courses towards others, I think I can say with confidence that it is not the education but how you apply it that counts. Some people never get that; that your education does not end on graduation, but truly begins.
There are two problems. One is treating credentials as important when all evidence is that for the most part they are not: possession of a teaching credential most specifically does not mean that one knows how, or even is qualified, to teach. There are other obvious examples.
The other is, as you point out, not treating obvious qualifications as equivalent to academic credentials. The best teachers of undergraduate mathematics I ever saw were US Air Force instructor sergeants; but of course any school board who tried to hire a retired USAF instructor to teach high school math would be crucified for hiring "unqualified" teachers. The gate keeper positions of the universities are absolute.
Charles Sheffield and I tried to deal with some of this in HIGHER EDUCATION, and we were contemplating another book in the series when Charles found out about his eventually fatal illness. I may have to go it alone, because it would be, I think, an important book.
But most education in the US is fraudulent: it charges more and for fewer and fewer results, and leaves much of the middle class hopelessly in debt for life. Another move in the conversion of the USA into The Servile State.
GIFT IS LARGEST FOR CCNY, WHERE HE WAS TOP OF CLASS By Dean Takahashi Mercury News
When Russian troops invaded Hungary in 1956 to quell a democratic revolution, some 200,000 Hungarians -- including a young man named Andras Grof -- spilled across the borders to escape. Humanitarian groups helped whisk him away to relatives in New York City.
Within a matter of six weeks or so of crossing the muddy border in secrecy, he was attending classes in chemical engineering at City College of New York. He changed his name to Andrew Grove, graduated at the top of his class, and went on to become the chief executive of the world's biggest chip maker, Intel.
The 69-year-old retired Grove, now Intel's senior adviser, has decided to pay back City College of New York with a $26 million donation.
The gift is the largest he has given to date and it is the largest that CCNY, founded more than 150 years ago to help low-income and immigrant students, has received. The school will name its school of engineering after Grove, who graduated in 1960.
Ms. Noonan is down big time, Dr. Pournelle.
"I think there is an unspoken subtext in our national political culture right now. In fact I think it's a subtext to our society. I think that a lot of people are carrying around in their heads, unarticulated and even in some cases unnoticed, a sense that the wheels are coming off the trolley and the trolley off the tracks. That in some deep and fundamental way things have broken down and can't be fixed, or won't be fixed any time soon. That our pollsters are preoccupied with "right track" and "wrong track" but missing the number of people who think the answer to "How are things going in America?" is "Off the tracks and hurtling forward, toward an unknown destination."
"Let me focus for a minute on the presidency, another institution in trouble. In the past I have been impatient with the idea that it's impossible now to be president, that it is impossible to run the government of the United States successfully or even competently. I always thought that was an excuse of losers. I'd seen a successful presidency up close. It can be done.
"But since 9/11, in the four years after that catastrophe, I have wondered if it hasn't all gotten too big, too complicated, too crucial, too many-fronted, too . . . impossible.
"I refer to the sheer scope, speed and urgency of the issues that go to a president's desk, to the impossibility of bureaucracy, to the array of impeding and antagonistic forces (the 50-50 nation, the mass media, the senators owned by the groups), to the need to have a fully informed understanding of and stand on the most exotic issues, from Avian flu to the domestic realities of Zimbabwe.
"The special prosecutors, the scandals, the spin for the scandals, nuclear proliferation, wars and natural disasters, Iraq, stem cells, earthquakes, the background of the Supreme Court backup pick, how best to handle the security problems at the port of Newark, how to increase production of vaccines, tort reform, did Justice bungle the anthrax case, how is Cipro production going, did you see this morning's Raw Threat File? Our public schools don't work, and there's little refuge to be had in private schools, however pricey, in part because teachers there are embarrassed not to be working in the slums and make up for it by putting pictures of Frida Kalho where Abe Lincoln used to be. Where is Osama? What's up with trademark infringement and intellectual capital? We need an answer on an amendment on homosexual marriage! We face a revolt on immigration.
"The range, depth, and complexity of these problems, the crucial nature of each of them, the speed with which they bombard the Oval Office, and the psychic and practical impossibility of meeting and answering even the most urgent of them, is overwhelming. And that doesn't even get us to Korea. And Russia. And China, and the Mideast. You say we don't understand Africa? We don't even understand Canada!"
Subject: egregiousness abounds
"Both the egregious Frum and the abominable Schumer are crowing. My favorite scenario is that the President appoints Bork."
May I point out that Bork himself egregiously agreed with the egregious Frum that Miers was an egregious choice? And said so, out loud, in the world's most-read conservative newspaper?
Personally, I'm in the ideologically-incorrect position of liking and admiring both you and Frum for your different contributions to American politics. So reading your repeated flames of Frum has been somewhat exasperating for me. For crying out loud, the man may have been rude to you, and that's bad: but he's not a villain!
More generally, it's entirely possible to support Bush and yet think that Bush is a fallible human being capable of error, sometimes serious error.
One doesn't show one's reasoned, mature loyalty to a political leader by just automatically agreeing with him -- not in any kind of real world with which I'm familiar, anyway. That's not loyalty, that's idolatry. Frum worked for Bush, and wrote an eloquent book arguing in favor of Bush's reelection: he knows the difference.
And for what it's worth: I suspect Frum himself would agree with you about Bork as a choice for the Supreme Court.
You are correct with regards to Bork, who ought to have known better; I used his name largely because I could think of no other that would so infuriate the opposition. Bad manners doesn't disqualify one for the Supreme Court although in this case with this President it very probably does.
With regards to the egregious Frum, he owes Stephen Tonsor a public apology and knows it; as well as a retraction of his fatwah against all those who were not enthusiasts about the invasion of Iraq. He turned his back on us, publicly and loudly; it's his move.
Subject: Race and IQ
Is it genetic or environmental? I'll start with some facts, and close with some opinion.
FACTS from my family - Genetic and Environmental
My wife and I are both "white" from Irish and Germanic stock. We have five children. Two are adopted african-americans by race. The other three were made the old fashioned way with the help of my beautiful wife of 21 years using a technique which has been practiced world wide for thousands of years.
I'm a chemical engineer. I was a national merit scholar in high school. My wife is an elementary school teacher. She is very highly regarded by both parents and peers. We both had a 3.1 GPA in college. I paid my way through school and 1/2 of hers. I've read everything written by Asimov, Heinlein, Niven, Pournelle, Tolkien, and others.
Most people would agree that my wife and I have high IQ's. The data would suggest that we also work hard and live up to our commitments. Four of my five children have been identified as "gifted." Only one of them consistently makes good grades in school.
OBSERVATION - our biological kids don't seem to be any smarter than our adopted black kids. This observation is based on their grades in school as well as a general feeling of "smartness." I define "smartness" as the ability to be witty, understand jokes, create good practical jokes, read above your grade level, etc.
OPINION The empirical correlation between race and IQ that you've quoted may be accurate, but "correlation is not causation" [note 1].
Race in this country is not an independent variable ... it's extremly confounded with other variables such as single parenting and poverty. Is an IQ test measuring the intelligence that you inherited from your parents or is it measuring the rich learning environment of your first 3 years? Most people would say - both.
Based on my absurdly small data set I refuse to draw any firm conclusions. However, there exists the very real possibility that high parental expectations and a good learning environment are at least as important as race in determining IQ, achievement, and other awards of distinction such as first prize at the science fair.
1 - "Statistics for Experimenters", Box, Hunter, and Hunter, 1978, p. 8
----------- Since this note includes some personal info I'll ask you to withhold my name and email address.
I have comments, but first from colleagues:
> Two are adopted african-americans by race.
The other three were made
> OBSERVATION - our biological kids don't seem
to be any smarter than
Even apart from the race issue its an important fact in the adoption literature that _biological_ children score consistently better on IQ and grade measures than _adopted_ children, period. So even if he did get the impression they weren't doing as well, and ignored the meaningless sample size, he didn't even have a legitimate comparison group, which would be adopted white children. Of course I understand his comment was one of a loving parent rather than someone actually trying to figure out a puzzle, but real adoption data shows that black kids in white families (by the time of high school) do exactly the same on IQ tests and in school as nonadopted blacks:
Of course, if you look at the national GPA data, that amounts to the difference between a B and a B-, on average, so his method of grade comparison and the true extent of the bell curve makes his sample even more pointless.
> Race in this country is not an independent
variable ... it's extremely
I'm afraid the myth of the primacy of between-family differences (SES, "parenting" etc.) will never catch on so that conservatives and liberals will just keep on parroting it as their default "common sense" assumption. Most variation is *within*-families - meaning that you'll find nearly as much variety in those poor single-mom black families as you will in the population at large - its only when you zoom out when group patterns start to emerge. Controlling for poverty (SES and wealth) does very little to narrow the B-W IQ gap, and controlling for whether the mother is single or not does virtually nothing.
If we had the IQ numbers for each member of the family, we could calculate how far an outlier his family is probability-wise.
I wonder what his thoughts on the genetics of temperament are. Most adoptive parents seem to have strong opinions on it.
> I define "smartness" as the
The first three of these are talents that blacks tend to be above-average relative to IQ at.
Rushton had a good article on Muhammad Ali as a genuinely quick-witted man:
Howard Cosell: You seem truculent tonight, Muhammad.
Muhammad Ali: If truculent's good, I'm it!
A reader of mine whose father was a waiter for decades at a famous Manhattan restaurant said Ali was her father's all time favorite customer: a huge tipper and tremendous fun to be around.
But Ali scored a 78 on his AFQT military IQ test, which top black studies professor Gerald Early says was a perfectly accurate representation of his lack of brainpower at the the kind of higher level thinking that IQ and SAT tests are supposed measure. (Ali was illiterate when he was heavyweight champ.)
Shouldn't the US Army be able to find a place for African-Americans with IQs under 90 who display some of those specifically black gifts (not forgetting Michael Jordan's remarkable abilities that you, have noted)? Are all the extra few to be allowed in by the recent lowering of standards destined to be drivers and cooks whose implements of destruction will have a lower mortality impact than guns and bombs?
Indeed the Army should have places for everyone from IQ 85 or so up; the problem comes when there are complaints that a non-racial classification scheme puts more blacks in the support positions than the special forces. Of course there are black special forces and damned good ones, too; but there will not be equalities of numbers. That is the way the world is, or at least that is what all the objective evidence indicates.
I know that there are bright African Americans. The best student I ever had was Bill Allen. One of my writing partners is Steve Barnes.
When I was a young man I was considered a hopeless radical in the Old South because I thought the law ought to be color blind. Now I am considered a hopeless fascist monster because I believe the law ought to be color blind. The problem with race and IQ differences is that if you apply non-racial classification tests, you will get non-quota results. And the law is then on color blind so we go back and try to fix things. And it can't possible work.
I sure wish that there were a lot of evidence that randomly selected black children raised in foster homes -- white or black or Asian foster homes -- would grow up indistinguishable from a randomly selected sample from the general population. It would make things so very much simpler. But that is not the way the universe it.
October 28, 2005
Two global-warming skeptics who questioned an influential climate study and prompted a congressional inquiry are now facing critics of their own, as a pair of new research papers take issue with their results.
The new findings are the latest round in a politically charged dispute over the "hockey stick," a widely publicized graphic showing that temperatures during the late 20th century were likely higher than at any time in the past 1,000 years.
The hockey stick, so-called because global temperatures show a sharp blade-like rise in recent decades, was prominently featured in a 2001 United Nations report that said the burning of fossil fuels is the cause of global warming.
A dispute erupted earlier this year when oil and minerals consultant Stephen McIntyre and economist Ross McKitrick, both Canadians, published a scientific study detailing possible mathematical errors in the hockey-stick result.
Michael Mann, the Pennsylvania State University climatologist who was the author of the hockey-stick findings, claimed the charges were part of a campaign to cast doubt on global warming.
The clash broadened in June, when Rep. Joe Barton (R., Texas), head of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, ordered an inquiry into the work of Dr. Mann and two co-authors and requested extensive details of their methods and data. <snip>
So far as I can tell, Mann has yet to publish his actual study so that someone else can replicate it. He still has hidden algorithms. I do not understand why anyone believes this is science.
Global Warming may or may not be a serious threat. Acting like advocates for a particular outcome isn't in my judgment a particularly good way to meet it.
I seem to be required to say this often: the proper response to a situation in which there is a real threat, and several mutually exclusive and very expensive remedies depending on the nature of the threat, is to reduce the ambiguities: spend money, lots if need be, on understanding the situation and reducing uncertainties. We are in that situation with regards to global warming. The computer modelers see one thing. The people who collect data see another. This situation has endured for some time.
I do not see how unpublished models and unpublished modeling algorithms contribute much to designing a wise policy.
Dear Dr. Pournelle,
I want to thank you for sticking up for my father, Stephen J. Tonsor. All of us in the family—my two sisters, my brother, and myself—read David Frum’s hatchet job in National Review and were outraged by it. My first reaction was that I should write them an angry letter, but when my father’s measured and even humorous response did not provoke an apology, but merely served as the occasion for more sneering, I was just as glad that I had not.
I’m still angry about it, however. I can’t imagine what was going through the minds of the editors. I am the oldest child, so I can remember back in the 1950s, when I was young and my father worked almost constantly to support his family on the pittance paid him by the University of Michigan. He tirelessly wrote articles and book reviews, taught night classes and summer school and extension courses. Much of the work he did was in support of the nascent conservative movement, at bargain prices. In return for their honoraria, National Review and others never received less than 110% of my father’s formidable intellect, concentration, and loyalty. These people no longer retain the slightest degree of moral authority in my estimation, when they have shown themselves capable of turning on one of their own as they did.
The problem is not that they expressed disagreement with his positions. The problem is that they allowed David Frum to ascribe to him positions he has never espoused, for the sole purpose of heaping upon him contempt he has never deserved. It was an underhanded method of undercutting his true position, not through reasoned argument which he is well able to contend with, even now at 82, but through personal attack he was not given an opportunity to refute.
I don’t feel I should be speaking on behalf of his political and philosophical views. However, I am fully qualified to speak to the charge that he is one of a group within the movement who are motivated by hopes of using political influence for personal gain. That really made my blood boil. As children, we bore personal witness to my father’s fierce integrity and his refusal to sell out for money or favor under any circumstances. He was constantly attacked, belittled and harassed by academic colleagues for his principled stance as a Catholic conservative. Promotions and honors were sometimes delayed or denied.
We lived an existence that was, in some ways, almost monastic. I remember going to school in wornout shoes and hand-me-downs, in dresses made for me by my great-grandmother. Our family vacations were rare trips back to my uncle’s farm in Illinois, or our much-cherished weeks of camping in a tent by the shores of Lake Michigan. We rarely ate out or went to the movies. We didn’t have a TV or a car until I was in junior high school. Gardening and reading are, and were, my father’s recreations. We were never without books, wine, or flowers—though the wine frequently came from the bargain bin at the Big 10 Party Store, the books from the library used book sale, and the flowers from our back yard. I cannot conceive that a Beltway bootlicker like Frum could even imagine such a life—so far removed from patronage of any kind. I know that on several occasions, my father was offered a more political role, and he always turned such offers down, preferring to maintain his independence.
It is true that he can be combative in his manner—but I truly believe he is not reacting to personal affront, but to what he sees as actions that are injurious to a movement to which he has devoted his life, and a nation he loves. As for the allegation that he would ever be motivated by a desire to profit from his loyalties, this is simply a lie. It is a lie that I believe Frum knew to be false, as would anyone who has known or worked with my father. It is a base and cowardly lie, and I wish I could respond to it by giving Frum the smacking he so richly deserves.
However, as my father is fond of saying, “I am a historian. I can wait.” A recent book, Equality, Decadence, and Modernity: The Collected Essays of Stephen J. Tonsor, edited by Gregory L. Schneider, speaks for him better than I could. In his introduction, Dr. Schneider says this of my parents: “For the next two days I was treated to a hospitality that hundreds of students, friends, colleagues, and family have received over the years, a magnanimity and graciousness that defied all expectations. . . . As I made my goodbyes I was reminded of something Tonsor once wrote. ‘The early conservative movement was a community. . . . One could come into a strange town and find immediate hospitality and companionship. . . . There was a bond of hospitality and friendship. . . . A room full of five hundred people eating rubber chicken is no substitute for a night at Mecosta, Woodstock, or Three Oaks.’ As I drove off, I thought that Morton Avenue should be added to this list.”
I have in my own possession a card, written to me in 1973, the Watergate era, when my father was away in Washington, D.C., doing research—and living in a rented room to save money—in which he comments on the political situation of the time. “I am so delighted that I am an independent person, able to make my own choices and not bound by either ambition or the inability to do something else. I have always been able to be free.”
The ultimate punishment for Frum and his ilk is that they will never be able to say the same.
Thank you, once again, for remembering and defending my father. It means a lot to me in a world that seems to find it very easy to forget a champion.
Ann Tonsor Zeddies
--- Roland Dobbins
Subject: Research funding and prizes
Just read yesterday's "View" and you've brought this idea of results-based research prizes up a few times. It always sounds spot on to me.
Wouldn't that be the sort of thing the National Science Foundation is *supposed* to be doing according to their mandate? They award grants for current research projects et cetera, but I wouldn't think it would be too much of a stretch to extend the logic (and budget) to have them doing just the sort of award prizes you're talking about?
Don't get me wrong - the NSF does fund a lot of good and necessary research, but it has also become a major funding source (i.e. academic welfare) for quite a bit of nonsense as well. Nor am I simply talking about "voodoo" sciences either, although there is a good bit of that too (as well as there being some social/behavioral science projects that are NOT voodoo. It is out there. Really.).
Kind of goes towards the whole university education discussion as well. At the upper levels (PhD students), the NSF is highly sought after for funding. Sometimes it gives the impression of NSF grants being a welfare-like support system for people who need to keep up their "academic" habit (i.e. perpetual students avoiding the realities of the working world - a necessity in some academic fields, particularly the less employable ones). Academia, far from being educational institutions or even intellectual salons (I rather liked your use of the term - very appropriate for your "blog"), has instead become in many cases a place to indefinitely support and coddle otherwise bright (and with increasing frequency some not-so-bright) folks that are nonetheless unemployable by any other means.
Just my 2 cents.
Regards, J. (name withheld as this could get me into MORE trouble than my non-PC views on IQ, actually)
Well I wouldn't want NSF to have total control of the prize system. They certainly ought to have a seat on the board that sets prizes. I am prepared to argue that the NSF appropriation is one of the best investments we make with my taxes.
It appears that "dark matter" may not exist after all. A pair of physicists came up with the bright idea of using general relativity instead of Newtonian physics to model galactic motion. They claim that nonlinear effects arising from general relativity allow them to compute theoretical results which match the observed motion of galaxies. Their model uses only the mass estimated from observations and does not include any exotic "dark matter".
I would like to know what Dr. Woosley thinks of this new idea.
October 29, 2005
Subject: dark matter combined response
I haven't been as close to the detailed cosmological analysis as I had hoped, but I am somewhat surprised that the analyses have been done with Newtonian physics.
That said, using GR is so obvious a fix that I'm surprised nobody had considered it before. Of course, it's not easy...
After reading the Economist article and scanning arXiv link below: as someone who has been following the debate as an interested amateur, the theory and the paper make sense. I would need to compare the other references to get a better picture, and watch the further development of the subject, but I think that Dr. Cooperstock has laid the foundation for putting exotic dark matter to rest. The effects on dark energy are not addressed in the paper and are yet to be determined.
Will look further as time permits, of course. (Hopefully before retirement. ;)
- Roland Dobbins
>>But most education in the US is fraudulent: it charges more and for fewer and fewer results, and leaves much of the middle class hopelessly in debt for life. Another move in the conversion of the USA into The Servile State.
The educational system has managed to escape checks and balances. Science uses double blind testing, businesses use double entry accounting systems. But the educational system has successfully demanded that we have faith in them. Even though colleges have turned to using the SAT as a way to evaluate students, because they found that high school grades were too unreliable.
Using tests to independently verify the learning level and innate ability of people works rather well. In the 60's many companies were successfully using IQ & aptitudes tests as a way evaluate job applicants. Unfortunately, a spate of civil rights lawsuits ended that practice. And employers had to fall back on using educational qualifications, job history, & appearance. Which explains how people such as former FEMA director Micheal Brown end up running everything, and everybody hates their job.
The University of Washington Grade Prediction Program, which predicted grades in about 30 majors after four years, was remarkably successful (and had built in procedures for making the predictions even better) but was thrown out because it predicted that blacks would get lower grades in college than whites. Of course blacks do get lower grades in college than whites, so if it had not predicted that result it would have been an inaccurate program, but that doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone.
Needless to say, the Grade Prediction Program inputs did not include race, nor were there any subjective factors; it was all automated and done by computer. The program was devised by Dr. Aaron Paul Horst, and employed one of the first uses of matrix algebra to generate multiple regression coefficients.
Subject: Research Prizes
"Development Prizes" is a better term.
>>Just read yesterday's "View" and you've brought this idea of results-based research prizes up a few times. It always sounds spot on to me. Wouldn't that be the sort of thing the National Science Foundation is *supposed* to be doing according to their mandate?<<
NSF is supposed to fund basic science research where the potential result is unknown. The only criteria should be competence and diligence of execution and total publication all of results. There'd be no need for the 'research' if the result could be specified in advance.
This sort of 'science' should not be mixed with an X-Prize system intended to foster application engineering development based on what should be known scientific principles. If a particular entrant introduces new science along the way, such as someone using working Dean Machines to develop Moon Bases in the course of winning the Moon Colony Prize, so much the better. But the goals and prizes should be established for things deemed to be within the realm and reach of currently known science.
Mark & Elena Gallmeier
Precisely. Not the same thing at all. Setting goals is broader than NSF's view. Or NASA's.
What I would hope is that if we get used to awarding large and real prizes for specified results, we can expand the program.
Dear Dr. Pournelle:
Thanks for your thoughtful reply to my e-mail of last weekend regarding empiricism in physics.
I also enjoyed reading the resulting thread develop among Dr. Woosley and your other correspondents.
I understand and appreciate your points about the test of falsifiability and empiricism, as well as Dr. Woosley's related points.
But it nevertheless continues to seem odd to me, that theoretical physicists of the last half century or so are often inclined to postulate yet another dozen arcane and improbable hypothetical objects, when all it may take to explain some discordant observation, is just more patient, better controlled, further observation.
For example, I was gratified this week to come across the following, more prosaic alternative to 'Dark Matter':
" Galaxies Could Be Twice as Large as Previously Estimated <http://www.universetoday.com/am/publish/gemini_uncovers_lost_city_of_stars.html?1182005> "
... I must say I find it telling that this observation is *not* the result of astronomers pursuing a lead provided by the goading of theoreticians.
Rather, they just stumbled across what is probably good evidence that there's just a lot more matter out there, of the plain, old-fashioned, boring, electrons-neutrons-and- protons kind. Admittedly, it doesn't fully explain that, for which 'Dark Matter' was conjured up to account -- but it's literally a real step towards a full explanation. Which, I dare claim, 'Dark Matter' is not (viz., real).
Meanwhile, the theoretical physicists continue to wrack their branes [sic], multiplying entities in total disregard of William of Ockham's good advice now of many centuries' standing.
But then, if the rule of academic survival is publish or perish, and if 'exotic' is likelier to get you published than 'bland', I guess there is actually a sort of Darwinian selective pressure to pursue voodoo trends in the hard sciences, too.
So, really, this thread is not so far removed from Chaos Manor's on-going "Rot in Higher Education" megathread.
Tim Macneil, Toronto, Ontario.
October 30, 2005
Subject: "Only a few lives were ruined."
Well, not exactly, Dr. Pournelle...
Those who love children in the mentoring sense and parents of children, and of course children themselves, all have had their lives made more difficult by verdicts such as the ones in the MacMartin case. It is very difficult approaching impossible to interact with strange children without their parents and all around wondering when the horns and tail will appear. Meanwhile, true child abusers are being let out of prison, often to make room for losers in the war on drugs, and disappearing into the landscape -- frequently to abuse again.
Of course I was being sardonic. But in fact the verdicts weren't the problem: there were no convictions in the case. None. Although one young man was held in jail for five years without bail because of the heinous nature of the crime, and by the end the prosecutors were desperate to get someone convicted somehow in what became the longest and most expensive criminal trial in US history. And at the end the prosecutor said "Justice was served." This is the creature who purported to "believe the children" after they told of being taken on airplanes, to cemeteries and being forced to exhume coffins, of secret rooms -- there are still web sites that state as fact that the secret rooms and tunnels were found when of course there was no such thing. And the prosecutor said "They were lucky. The system worked." If a system that destroys lives wholesale is working, what horrors would a broken system produce?
More on education:
Subject: cnn link
This is on topic... more or less, anyway.
Perhaps so. It is hard to see why there should be much difference in engineering programs whether at historically black colleges or at Georgia Tech; calculus is calculus, stress analysis is stress analysis, and Ohm's Law with its implications doesn't much care if you are white, black, Asian, or Martian. Nor do I know of any indication that Clark engineering degrees are any easier to obtain than those from Georgia Tech.
It may be the competition for qualified students. The "mainstream" (i.e. colleges not historically black) colleges will be vying with each other and with Clark for qualified black engineering students, so much so that they may have affirmative action programs that admit marginal black students over better qualified white and Asian (I admit I no longer understand the rules for capitalization when discussing these matters) students. Clark is not as wealthy as the competition, and thus can offer fewer benefits to the qualified black students; it is thus faced with the choice of lowering admission standards, a potentially disastrous policy, or of finding the money to subsidize the engineering department.
This would be an ideal time for some black benefactors genuinely interested in these matters to step up and save the engineering department by funding some subsidies for qualified black students who will take their engineering degree at Clark. The existence of an unambiguously rigorous historically black engineering school which turns out qualified black engineers whose competence is unquestionable would seem to be a highly desirable thing.
Barring that, I don't know what they ought to do. They have my sympathy. Affirmative action programs have made it tough on some of the excellent historically black universities: how do they retain highly qualified students when other places compete by offering them more?
-- Roland Dobbins
Which may also be relevant to the education theme, and is more so to the economics essay I have in preparation.
The End of Pensions.
-- Roland Dobbins
Also highly relevant to the coming economic crisis.
Subject: NYT Mag: Dowd: What's a Modern Girl to Do?
Someone needs to tell Ms. Dowd that *something* had better change, because America simply cannot live with the elite-female fertility rates she bemoans.
> ...what they're truly looking for in a woman
Given the demographics of the marriage market for "Maureen Dowd"s in their 30s, however, Ms. Dowd had better *hope* that successful middle-aged men will continue to be willing to dump their first wives/mothers of their children for a newer, younger wife. The numbers just don't work out for hyper-hypergynous elite females, otherwise. Actually, they don't work out now, but they could get much, much worse. It seems obvious to me that Ms. Dowd's demographic has a big-time "effective sex ratio" problem. There are just not enough high-status males competing for her hand in marriage for her to have any great value in her target marriage market, even with all the "recycling" (of older men to younger 2nd wives) going on.
Her section about "Money" is The Good News, though. I tell the young women I counsel that they have just as much right to be interested in a date's earning capacity as he has a right to be interested in their youth and beauty, and, obviously, were it not for the latter, the man would be out on a date with someone else while they sat alone at home watching "Sex In The City" reruns!
What's a Modern Girl to Do? http://select.nytimes.com/preview/2005/10/30/magazine/1130230220728.html
By MAUREEN DOWD
When I entered college in 1969, women were bursting out of theirs 50's chrysalis, shedding girdles, padded bras and conventions. The Jazz Age spirit flared in the Age of Aquarius. Women were once again imitating men and acting all independent: smoking, drinking, wanting to earn money and thinking they had the right to be sexual, this time protected by the pill. I didn't fit in with the brazen new world of hard-charging feminists. I was more of a fun-loving (if chaste) type who would decades later come to life in Sarah Jessica Parker's Carrie Bradshaw. I hated the grubby, unisex jeans and no-makeup look and drugs that zoned you out, and I couldn't understand the appeal of dances that didn't involve touching your partner. In the universe of Eros, I longed for style and wit. I loved the Art Deco glamour of 30's movies. I wanted to dance the Continental like Fred and Ginger in white hotel suites; drink martinis like Myrna Loy and William Powell; live the life of a screwball heroine like Katharine Hepburn, wearing a gold lamé gown cut on the bias, cavorting with Cary Grant, strolling along Fifth Avenue with my pet leopard.
My mom would just shake her head and tell me that my idea of the 30's was wildly romanticized. "We were poor," she'd say. "We didn't dance around in white hotel suites." I took the idealism and passion of the 60's for granted, simply assuming we were sailing toward perfect equality with men, a utopian world at home and at work. I didn't listen to her when she cautioned me about the chimera of equality.
On my 31st birthday, she sent me a bankbook with a modest nest egg she had saved for me. "I always felt that the girls in a family should get a little more than the boys even though all are equally loved," she wrote in a letter. "They need a little cushion to fall back on. Women can stand on the Empire State Building and scream to the heavens that they are equal to men and liberated, but until they have the same anatomy, it's a lie. It's more of a man's world today than ever. Men can eat their cake in unlimited bakeries."
I thought she was just being Old World, like my favorite jade, Dorothy Parker, when she wrote:
By the time you swear you're his,
I thought the struggle for egalitarianism was a cinch, so I could leave it to my earnest sisters in black turtlenecks and Birkenstocks. I figured there was plenty of time for me to get serious later, that America would always be full of passionate and full-throated debate about the big stuff - social issues, sexual equality, civil rights. Little did I realize that the feminist revolution would have the unexpected consequence of intensifying the confusion between the sexes, leaving women in a tangle of dependence and independence as they entered the 21st century.
Maybe we should have known that the story of women's progress would be more of a zigzag than a superhighway, that the triumph of feminism would last a nanosecond while the backlash lasted 40 years. <snip>
Sure it can. The people not having babies will simply breed themselves out of the population. The ones having babies will be the population. In 100-200 years, America's elite will look very different.
My take on the subject is something I called the "Z Prize" after the "X Prize." Specify four or five specific areas of interest and offer an appropriate prize of N millions of dollars for technologies which achieve a demonstrated 3 dB improvement on specified "state of the art" performance metrics for those areas of interest. My candidate list (space transportation oriented) was something along the lines of:
Achievable delta-V for in-space transportation of a payload of mass suitable for manned exploration of Jupiter, as measured (initially) by transit from Earth to Jupiter in 50% of the time of an optimal minimum energy transfer orbit with a suitable payload. This may be demonstrated by ground operation of a demonstration unit of sufficient thrust operating for a sufficient period of time with measurable performance to achieve the transit time objectives.
Scalable or linearly additive power generation per unit mass of generating system, as baselined by the highest mass efficiency nuclear power generation system in current use.
Ductile Material Strength, as measured by the ultimate tensile yield strength, with no reduction in Brinell hardness compared to the best current candidate material.
Approaches may be either revolutionary or evolutionary, but with goals reviewed bianually, and increased if necessary -- without award -- in step with evolutionary improvements in the state of the art. Once an award is earned the pool resets and the process is repeated for the next 3 dB improvmeent.
Subject: [NYT] China Luring Scholars to Make Universities Great
"SHANGHAI, Oct. 26 - When Andrew Chi-chih Yao, a Princeton professor who is recognized as one of the United States' top computer scientists, was approached by Qinghua University in Beijing last year to lead an advanced computer studies program, he did not hesitate."
Subject: [WaPo] Underfunded and Overrun, 'Harvard of Africa' Struggles to Teach
"KAMPALA, Uganda -- Their central dormitory is named for a charismatic Congolese leader who was assassinated in 1961. Their university has educated generations of prominent Africans, including the current presidents of Kenya and Tanzania.
But conditions today at Makerere University, once known as the Harvard of Africa, are an embarrassment. Classes are crowded, dorms have only intermittent running water, scholarship funds are depleted and there are long waits for online computers."
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