THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 444 December 11 - 17, 2006
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December 11, 2006
We are back from San Diego and the beach house. I got a great deal done down there. New material on both Inferno and Mamelukes, and the column and mail bag although those were written and only needed editing before we left.
All is well. Today's Mailbag is up at Chaos Manor Reviews and the next installment of the column is done and will be posted tomorrow.
A note to subscribers: the one thing I have not done is get content into the subscriber only section. That will happen. It is taking longer than I thought, and I apologize. Part of it is format and mechanism, but we are working on that. You will Real Soon Now get username and password information. Real Soon Now.
I heard on the radio driving up that Tony Blair has had enough of diversity in England and is calling for some common standards. I was delighted, but I have no notion of whether this will have an effect.
News: I can't give the source but it's reliable. Intel employees are now allowed to buy Mac equipment. Many are rushing to buy MacBook Pro, Mac Pro, and the beautiful 24" iMac. An interesting development.
I recall Mr. Heinlein bullying me into a pledge for $2,000 donation to her campaign for President if he could bully her into running. He didn't, so I didn't have to make good. I always wondered, given what he assessed me, how much he bit Larry in the ear for.
Now if they would just decide to put up $10 to $20 billion as a prize for a Lunar Colony. Let NASA continue with it's $40 billion (you just know it will be $100 billion before it's done) program, but see if a fraction of that as a prize won't get it done, and quicker. But that would be intelligent...
And for a new kind of Carol, you really ought to try
I can't recommend The Wire enough.
The Wire is the best sociological exposition of what's wrong with the drug war, the schools, and the inner city in America, period. Get the DVDs from NetFlix or just buy them, starting with Season 1. Season 4 just concluded (focused on education; I recommend staring out with Season 1, though), and will be out on DVD soon.
- Roland Dobbins
I don't watch a lot of TV (The Closer and House are two favorites, and we like NCIS for some reason); I have to confess I never heard of The Wire. I'll look into it, and thanks.
And it's the 100th Anniversary of the birth of Commodore (and later Admiral) Grace Hopper. They named a modern warship, the first one designed to have mixed sex crew, after her, and I got to go on the maiden voyage. I did a sort of report on that here, as well as for BYTE, but it seems to have gotten losted. Here it is again.
I have many more pictures. Perhaps I'll do a real report -- that one was truncated for reasons given in the text -- for the subscribers as the first of the private material?
|This week:||Tuesday, December
The problem is not warming, it's CO2; and if that's the problem, why not address that problem? But we see almost no studies of how to reduce the CO2 levels, which certainly are high, perhaps alarmingly so. We are running an open-ended experiment on CO2 levels, and this is not a sensible thing to do.
I have seen suggestions such as: stimulating plankton blooms, which will cause ocean life to make insoluble carbonates out of CO2 extracted from the atmosphere: they then sink and the CO2 is gone. The oceans are mostly deserts except for places where there is cold water upwelling which brings nutrients from the bottom that will feed plankton.
We can stimulate upwelling (see A Step Farther Out written about 30 years ago) and extract from that at least enough electricity to power the upwelling, and probably enough more to make it worth feeding power to the grid in Hawaii and near other suitable islands near deep water.
That's one suggestion. There are many others. There are processes that will remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Some of those may require power; lots of power; but we have nuclear power technology. If CO2 levels are critical, why are we not trying to DO something about it? Instead all efforts are on silly measures like the Kyoto Accords, which even in the estimati0n of those who like Kyoto (oddly enough that set includes a lot of people who would make a lot of money out of Kytoto) -- even in the estimati0n of the pro-Kyoto advocates it would be expensive and not do much to slow down CO2 released, and certainly do nothing to reduce the levels.
When I see the climate experts focus on the identified problem, which is rising CO2 levels, and start looking for remedies, I'll take them seriously.
Start with some serious research on methods for reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide. Add a few billion in prizes for people who actually do fix some carbon and remove it from the atmosphere. Add a bonus prize for those who fix the carbon, remove it from the atmosphere, and put it somewhere that's accessible if we suddenly need it again.
How long do you think it will be before the "scientific consensus community" actually addresses the real problem?
There is an exchange of views on education over in Mail that's worth your time.
Friday the 13th falls on Wednesday this month
As usual I find that Dr. Murray makes good sense. I wish more sociologists did.
Intel has released yet another Quad-Core chip. As we said three years ago, the era of computing plenty is coming on fast. With sufficiency, emulation of any system by any other can be done invisibly and without noticeable slowing (do you care if responses are 100 or 200 milliseconds?).
December 14, 2006
Today started off well but quickly degenerated. Oh, well. There's still work to be done.
There are new diatribes by Joanne Dow. She sends them daily and I update the page periodically.
I have a number of letters about her observations. One set protests that they are collections of anecdotes and hardly comprise any kind of scientific evidence, particularly for generalizing about a nation, much less an entire culture and religion. Of course this is exactly right. On the other hand, if there is ever to be a remedy to horrors, the horrors must be observed and discussed.
There are plenty of defects in Western civilization. The fundamental debate is whether these are defects: that is, is the basis of judgment that says mangers in the public square are unfair itself correct? What is the fountain of justice? How do we determine what is just, we who are descended from those who ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good an evil? What is evil? Is brutality to our enemies evil? Is brutality to animals evil? We generally believe it is, but: Why? Who has made it so?
We in the West seem to be building a consensus that inequality of result is evil in itself; that equality of opportunity is not only not enough, but is inherently unjust; that that needs to be continuous and ubiquitous state activity to produce equality of results in every conceivable competition except professional sports. Those are out debates.
When we look at non-Western cultures, we usually judge them by whether they are like us; but we know that is not a good basis. So on what grounds do we judge them? If we point to actions we believe are wrong, is this a bad thing to do?
I leave the argument there, and refer you to the Pope's Regensburg speech, still perhaps the most important presentation on ethics and morals of this young century. (Background here; text here.) The importance of this speech in intellectual history and moral philosophy has been lost in the aftermath of the Muslim reaction to the Pope's quotation of a emperor beset by those seeking his destruction; but that quotation and the reaction to it are themselves evidence of the importance of the debates. It is a fundamental question: Who, or What, is the fountain of justice? Is what we believe to be Good good because God wills it, or does God will it because it is good?
And now I will return to Purgatorio. And on a more modest level, Mamelukes, both of which have that question in their background, so to speak.
I have a new IBM ThinkPad. It's silver and it's gorgeous and it's amazing, and I need a name for him. Seems to be a masculine gender machine. I need a name.
I HAVE A NAME, and thanks to those who suggested better ones. I will tell the story in the column; I ended up with a name I hadn't really intended, but we have it. Computers don't like having their names changed, so this will have to do.
I recall him well.
Once again Microsoft has done it to me.
I have a new IBM Laptop. I have managed to get it into my domain. I can see it from my other computers. Naturally I cannot access it. Nor will it access the domain. It can search active directory and find the names of other computers, but it can't access the domain itself.
I think the goal here is to make things so secure that people turn off all the security. Then when the bad guys get in, they can say "It wasn't our fault! You turned everything off!"
I hate this. I hate this a lot.
OK: I found that problem. I turned off the Windows Firewall. That didn't do it. But when I turned off the SYMANTEC PROTECTION FIREWALL that comes preinstalled, LO! My network works.
I HATE THAT. There are no instructions on this. Just it disables things for you. Monsters. Garros, cabrones, hijos de -- I guess this is a family web site.
On Naming the new IBM ThinkPad which is wicked fast:
I HAVE A NAME, and thanks to those who suggested better ones. I will tell the story in the column; I ended up with a name I hadn't really intended, but we have it. Computers don't like having their names changed, so this will have to do.
Freeman Dyson, professor emeritus at Institute for Advanced Studies, Princeton University, in an email interview:
"Climate change is a real problem, partly caused by human activities, but its importance has been grossly exaggerated.
"It is far less important than other social problems such as poverty, infectious diseases, deforestation, extinction of species on land and in the sea, not to mention war, nuclear weapons and biological weapons.
"We do not know whether the observed climate changes are on balance good or bad for the health of the biosphere. And the effects of atmospheric carbon dioxide as a fertilizer of plant growth are at least as important as its effects on climate."
I have long considered Freeman one of the sanest people on the planet. Even when we disagreed about Cold War strategies it was on a rational basis. I have no quarrel with his statement.
If we need to worry about WARMING, then go paint your roof white. If enough do that it will have an effect.
If the problem is CO2, then let's work on removing some of it, preferably in ways that let us release it again if we need it.
One thing is certain: Kyoto will do neither. Kyoto is like the old Hitler-Stalin pact as a test: any communist who followed the line ("German soldier have liberated the working people of Paris" when the Nazis marched down Champs Elysées) was hard core Stalinist, unresponsive to rational arguments. So are Kyoto adherents.
Neocons Want a Mulligan on Iraq.
-- Roland Dobbins
Indeed they do.
December 15, 2006
First, TITAN, the new Lenovo IBM Z61T ThinkPad, is not only wicked fast but beautiful, and is working fine; the problems I had can be overcome and have to do with the preinstalled software, in particular the SYMANTEC system with its defaults that protect you from doing anything useful. All this will be covered in the column.
None of it changes the recommendation I made earlier: ThinkPads are the way to go if you want a Windows only laptop. I have some quibbles, and the fingerprint recognition software can drive you partly nuts, but those are quibbles; the machines work and once set up properly Just Work.
Many of my essays are written in response to mail, but sometimes there is mail on subjects that I was intending to write an essay about anyway. This is one of those cases. The following mail asks questions I had intended to address.
Your question is astute and important.
The evidence that mean IQ's differ by racial groups, and that a great deal of what we do is predisposed if not determined by heredity -- and thus is influenced by race -- is nearly overwhelming. IQ remains the best single predictor of success in intellectual activities, and IQ is about 60% determined by heredity. There is room for discussion about that 60% number, but it's pretty solid.
Your question is: given that mean IQ is different for different racial groups, so what? Does this have any meaning for public policy, since it is certainly true that individual members of the racial groups can be way above or way below the mean (average) IQ of the group? I personally know brilliant black men and women and abysmally stupid white men and women. I know stupid Ashkenazi Jews even though so far as I know the Ashkenazim as a group have the highest mean IQ of any large hereditarily defined group. Since we can't use the mean IQ when dealing with individuals, what good is it for public policy? Why is it useful to know that different racial groups have different mean IQ's?
It is useful to this extent: if you understand that IQ's differ among racial groups, you will stop expecting equal racial outcomes when there is fair competiti0n. That is: in activities predicted by IQ we do not expect to see numbers of each race in the high achievement group proportional to that race's percentage in the population; and the fact that we see unequal outcomes will not be taken as prima facie evidence that the measurements of success are unfair.
We do not expect 12% of the physics professors to be black, nor do we expect that only 2 or 3% of them will be Ashkenazi Jews: or at least we shouldn't expect that result, and if we do see it, we are justified in concluding that there is something other than competence at physics at work here.
Taking the opposite view: that there must be numbers proportionate to the population frequencies among all the professions, leads to increased numbers of marginally competent people in those professions. This isn't a "racist" statement; it's inevitable.
If we insisted that basketball teams reflect the racial composition of the United States, with proportionate numbers of Asians in NBA teams, and concluded that because there are so few Asian professional basketball players the NBA is racist, you would think us mad.
This is not Lake Wobegon. Half the children are below average. Half the children cannot benefit from a traditional college education. Half the children cannot benefit from "a world class university preparatory education." The good news is that they don't need one.
College is not a good place to acquire skills and skill sets. Skills are taught by practice, repetition, drill and kill. They are not taught by education, which is training in ways of thinking, manipulating abstract symbols, doing mathematics and statistical inferences. At least half the populace will never be very good at manipulating abstract symbols. At least half the population will never understand statistical inferences (real statistical inference including understanding the fit of the mathematical model to the population, not just mechanically cranking out numbers with an ANOVA program). At least half the population is not smart enough to be physicians. At least half the population is not smart enough to be registered nurses.
The good news is that it doesn't matter all that much. People not smart enough to benefit from colleges did very well building this country. The American people are smart enough to have built a First World economy, and to manage it quite well. This isn't a country built by eggheads, and the most eggheaded president we ever had, Woodrow Wilson, didn't do a very good job of keeping us out of the Great War nor of doing anything useful with the victory. The Jacobin-inspired patchwork built out of Wilsonian idealism didn't fare very well or for very long. Eggheads build their model worlds in their heads, and act as if their models are real, and soon enough they are trying to force people to act as if the model were true.
There is a place in this world for the children who are below average. They won't become eggheads, but they certainly can become useful citizens. They won't profit from an education that makes them apprentice eggheads; they would do far better at being apprentice plumbers, electricians, carpenters, construction workers, machine shop workers, truck drivers, soldiers and sailors, insurance salespeople, store clerks, and for that matter teachers of those skills. What they need is training in the kind of work they can do.
The problem is that the eggheads seem to have convinced everyone that the only thing worth doing is to become an egghead, and if one never gets to be an egghead one's life is ruined. And since at least half the population is never going to be successful at eggheadery, at least half the population is doomed to failure.
The egghead notion that the only thing that make life worth living is to become an egghead, and the egghead notion that all people are equal and have equal capabilities to become eggheads, has produced a terrible situation in which, in the mad race to leave no child behind, leaves a good part of the population behind. We have built a school system whose only purpose is to turn out apprentice eggheads, and by doing that we have structured a system in which most of the potential eggheads are shortchanged while the rest of the population is doomed to failure.
This is insane.
As to why the schools can't even produce good eggheads, it's obvious to anyone studying the data -- something our lamebrained eggheads manqué have never learned to do. The simple truth is that learning to be an eggheads isn't easy, and requires teaching methods that just won't work with at least half of the population -- yet the classes are carefully designed to eliminate "tracking" and to guarantee that at least half those in the classroom with our budding young eggheads are below average, not able to profit much from egghead training. And since teachers hate to fail, they discover that if they teach the eggheads much eggheadery the rest of their students will fail dismally, they soon put all their effort into the majority in the classroom -- that is, into teaching them a few simple facts and some ways to make use of those facts; and into drilling them until they learn to pass tests.
And the real potential eggheads in that classroom contemplate suicide from boredom.
The simple truth is that smart people do better in the company of smart people, and this is true whether they have gathered together to learn, or to write computer programs, or design atomic bombs, or devise policies for insurance by examining tons of statistical data. We all know this, because, of course, nearly everyone who has read this far is an egghead. We all know that when we are set to do something, it's a lot easier if everyone in the group can be assumed to understand simple instructions and to keep up; when we don't have to set the pace to someone who's a really nice chap but just doesn't get it very well and has to have it explained over and over again.
Some of you reading this may not have any notion of what I am talking about because you were fortunate enough never to have to do intellectually challenging work with average people in your work group. Blessings to you, but you'll just have to use your imagination. The rest of you know precisely what I am talking about.
So what has all this to do with race and IQ?
Just this: if the world functions better when eggheads are educated and the rest are taught skills, then we must identify the eggheads and move them to education systems designed for eggheads, and the ordinary people into education systems designed to teach practical skills like automobile repair, electrical installation to meet building codes, etc., etc. And when we do that, then if it is true - as alas and regrettably it is -- that the mean IQ's of different races are not only unequal but in some cases spectacularly unequal -- we will find that the racial composition of our two groups is spectacularly unlike the distribution of those races in the general population. Our egghead group will be topheavy with Asians and Ashkenazi Jews, then whites, and then Latino and Blacks. It will be just the opposite over in the skill set group: sure, lots of whites, but far fewer Asians, and far more Latinos and Blacks.
This is inevitable. It is inevitable because IQ is the best predictor we have of success in the egghead profession. It will be true because the ability to manipulate symbols is unequally distributed across the races.
And since the ability to manipulate symbols is not equal, there are going to be many who simply cannot understand the argument and will insist that if the various races are not equally represented in the two groups there must be discrimination going on. And of course they will be right: there is discrimination, but it is discrimination by ability to manipulate symbols, and because that ability is not distributed equally among the races, the result we obtained follows as the night the day, and there is not one damned thing we can do about it except to devise tests less useful at predicting success. Which is to negate the point of the enterprise.
Now: up to now I have simplified by pretending that there are only two main groups here, those fit to be eggheads and those fit to be almost everything else.
But the fact of the matter is that those two groups are themselves divisible. Moreover, some people have both capabilities: they have both the smarts to learn symbol manipulation, and the temperament to learn skills. And, alas, some people have neither and aren't likely to profit from any general education system we can devise: they have "special needs", indeed, indeed, and they aren't going to fit into any mainstream, and to the extent that we try to put them in with the mainstream we shortchange the vast majority for a tiny benefit for a group that isn't likely to be useful in building a First World civilization to begin with. These are legal issues, and a lot of eggheads make a lot of money manipulating the system, insisting on "equal rights" and "mainstreaming" and then -- suprise! -- insisting that the general education system change itself to accommodate those who were only asking to be treated like everyone else. And so it goes.
Part Five and Conclusion
I am not sure there is a conclusion. It's pretty clear, if you study the data, that eggheads are best educated by and among other eggheads. Worse, the brightest eggheads thrive when put among other birds of that feather. It's clear enough that this can be carried too far.
How we divide our school system; how many "tracks" we have; these are matters for public discussion. Of course they are not much discussed because the education establishment is probably the best example of Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy ever seen, and the way it is organized at present is very suitable to Their Highnesses who run the system. But since it is producing such disgraceful results that even the smartest eggheads can't hide how abysmally bad it has become, we may one day get the chance to make a redesign.
If that day ever comes, we will need to take account of all the data: of what we know, not just what we wish were true.
The truth may not set you free; but it's pretty clear that ignoring the truth leads to absurdities like No Child Left Behind. We all know the only way that to be sure no child is left behind is to be certain that no children get ahead.
And making sure that no children get ahead is to abandon the notion that our children will be able to sustain, much less, rebuild the First World Civilization that we want for them -- and for that matter, for ourselves when we get old and dotty.
Interestingly enough, for those who believe IQ is the bunk:
The author may not know it, but he has said: IQ is important; and a mean 15 point IQ difference is an intolerable disadvantage to a nation. Both of which are true, but not part of the received wisdom of which the New York Times generally partakes. But here is real world data beating up on the received wisdom.
|This week:||Saturday, December
My apologies. I was in the middle of the essay above when Niven came over for a hike. We went to lunch. I worked on fiction. I was so tired afterwards that I didn't finish the essay.
I finished it this morning. You will find it above.
I wonder how long it will be before I get mail calling me a racist, and more mail telling me that IQ measures nothing and is determined entirely by cultural factors and the tests are themselves racist.
The trouble with eggheadery is that we eggheads compulsively build models of the world. We can't help it.
Worse, though, is that we may not build formal models and test them against reality. We may just build them in our heads from incidents in our lives. Again we can't help it: anecdotal data is about all most of us have. There are other sources of evidence, but unless we're being paid to look at them, we sort of go with what we have. After all, we're pretty smart.
But then we take those models so seriously that we insist the world conform to our model rather than modify the model when the world hits us hard with evidence that the model is cuckoo.
But that's the nature of the egghead business. Now go read my essay.
December 17, 2006
I've been working on the Column and Mailbab. The education discussion will continue next week.
This is a day book. It's not all that well edited. I try to keep this up daily, but sometimes I can't. I'll keep trying. See also the monthly COMPUTING AT CHAOS MANOR column, 8,000 - 12,000 words, depending. (Older columns here.) For more on what this page is about, please go to the VIEW PAGE. If you have never read the explanatory material on that page, please do so. If you got here through a link that didn't take you to the front page of this site, click here for a better explanation of what we're trying to do here. This site is run on the "public radio" model; see below.
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