Crimea endgame. They’re doing it to the SAT again. Why we needed a surge in Iraq.

View 814 Sunday, March 09, 2014

“Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.”

President Barack Obama, January 31, 2009


If a foreign government had imposed this system of education on the United States, we would rightfully consider it an act of war.

Glenn T. Seaborg, National Commission on Education, 1983


Christians to Beirut. Alawites to the grave.

Syrian Freedom Fighters


We seem to have been bracketed by earthquakes, one in northern California and one in waters off Mexico since dinnertime today. None of that was felt here in Los Angeles, and no damage has been reported.


Crimea is, I think, an accomplished fact: the secession will be confirmed by plebiscite, and the new government will then ally with Russia and eventually become an independent state within the Russian federation. If that sounds a bit like the way Texas became part of the United States (eventually with the assistance of the United States Army) you should not be surprised. Russians study history even if most Americans can’t be bothered.

Eastern Ukraine is a tougher nut. The further west you go in Ukraine the more people call themselves Ukrainians and the closer the language resembles Polish; going east more call themselves ethnic Russians and speak Russian. Some partition is likely over time, but there’s no hurry. From Putin’s view it is enough that the Ukraine does not join the western bloc, and remains dependent on Russia. Russia began in Kiev with the Vikings, and there is a long attachment, felt stronger among Russians for Ukraine than the other way around. Stalin, after all, conquered Ukraine and starved the peasants, gong so far as to confiscate their shovels so that they could not feed themselves. See Robert Conquest, Harvest of Sorrow, for more than you will want to know about that. The result was that many Ukrainians saw the Wehrmacht as a liberation army, and many allied with the Germans. That did not last due to Hitler’s policies.

There is a famous story of a German Wehrmacht colonel being questioned by an American intelligence officer.

The German said “Do you want to know where we lost the war?”

The American said, “Everyone knows that was Stalingrad.”

“Oh, no. It was much earlier than that. It was in Kiev, when we hoisted the Swastika rather than the Ukrainian national flag.”

Hitler being Hitler and the SS being the SS, it was probably inevitable; but it makes for an interesting speculation: had Germany come as a liberator, would the outcome of World War II have been different? But given Hitler, that seems unlikely.


They are revising the SAT again. The results will not be good, and the revisions are in deference to the concept of ‘diversity’ rather than grade prediction, aptitude testing, tests of abilities, and in particular, in rejection of the whole notion of IQ.

The Post’s View

As the SAT changes again, colleges lose critical measures

By Editorial Board, Published: March 8

IT’S THE NEWS that will launch a thousand test-preparation courses: The College Board is once again altering the SAT, the much-criticized college admissions exam that has struggled to defend its approach to student assessment. The SAT’s writers appear to be doing two things: changing what it tests; and making it easier. There’s reason for the former, and danger in the latter.

The SAT has had a rough several years, as critics have continued to charge that performance on the exam doesn’t predict college performance well, or much better than students’ socio-economic status does. Worse from the College Board’s perspective, no doubt, is that the SAT is now a less popular college entrance exam than the ACT, which used to be common in the center of the country and very rare on the West Coast and in the Northeast.

. . .

Integrating the SAT with what’s taught in class is a fine idea, particularly since the exam’s writers gave up on their claim to measure raw aptitude years ago. But making the exam easier in order to chase the ACT isn’t. It sounds as though students could conceivably get a perfect score on the new exam and yet struggle to fully comprehend some of the articles in this newspaper. Colleges should want to know if their would-be English majors are conversant in words more challenging than “synthesis,” or that their scores reflect more than lucky bubble guesses, now that wrong answers carry no penalty.

The SAT’s fiercest critics claim that the test is practically useless, reflecting little more than students’ socio-economic status. Grades alone are better predictors of college success, they argue. But grades can be misleading, too, since their value depends on the particular expectations of individual schools and even individual teachers. Colleges are right to want a common assessment in the mix as they evaluate applicants, including top inner-city students who might have spotless transcripts but few other ways to demonstrate that they’ve achieved as much as or more than other applicants at schools with better reputations.

Understand, Paul Horst in a study financed by the Office of Naval Research at the University of Washington in the 1950’s developed a multivariate grade prediction program that was amazingly successful; alas, although race was not one of the variables and was not in fact collected, the program was not equal in outcomes predicted for various minority groups, according to research by other groups who did collect racial information. The grade prediction program is no longer in use.

The new program is not going to be very useful in selecting those who will and will not be successful at university, but that is no longer its purpose.

One change will be that students will no longer be penalized for wrong answers. This is entirely political. Any multiple choice examination must contain a penalty for wrong answers, else the proper strategy for taking the test is “always guess since you can’t lose.” If there is a penalty, then you need to know precisely what it is to develop a test taking strategy: of the five multiple choices, you can generally eliminate one, so that a pure guess will now have a 25% chance of being correct as opposed to 20% if you have no idea whatever. If the penalty is 0.2 then you should guess if you can eliminate one answer, and always guess if you can eliminate two (thus getting a 33% chance of getting it right by chance). With no penalty at all, never leave an answer blank. Always guess. Best if you have a source of random numbers, but even pseudorandom guesses are better than leaving any question unanswered.

The SAT has been criticized for being a test of how well you take the test rather than of any ability you may have; this will likely make it more so.

For more see


I note that the Syrian government has taken another important city. Israeli forces have seized a boatload of missiles destined for Gaza. There are riots and bombings in Iraq, except for in Iraqi Kurdistan where Americans are popular (so far) and there is stability, but Baghdad writ does not run there.

Bremer Mistakes & The Surge


General Peter Mansoor is on C-Span2’s weekend "BookTV" talking about his book "Surge". He seems to be in violent agreement with you on Bremer’s early mistakes being a major reason the Iraq insurgency developed to the point where the Surge was needed.

In the first few minutes of the talk (it’s about an hour and a half

total) he cites two Bremer decisions: To de-Baathify Iraq well beyond the top level types, far down into the levels where as often as not joining the Baath Party was simply what you had to do to get a job.

And, as you’ve often mentioned, to disband the existing Iraqi army (as opposed to the far more political Republican Guard formations.)

He continues into some detail on how we fostered the later chaos, before he starts on the main part of his talk about the actual conduct of the Surge.

The video is at .


Bremer is the most incompetent proconsul in Mesopotamia since – well actually none of the Romans were that incompetent, nor any of the Saracens. Since ever.



Are ‘Blackwater’ now active in Ukraine? Videos spark talk that U.S. mercenary outfit has been deployed to Donetsk Jerry,

This is crazy.

First we get video of Ms. Nuland passing out cookies to Ukrainian protesters followed by the phone intercept of her decreeing who will be in the cabinet of the interim government.

Now we have reports of Blackwater mercenaries in Ukraine.

As Gov. Palin would phrase it, it appears that Obama stuffed a pair of rolled up socks down the front of his mom jenes to delude himself into thinking that he is macho then picked a fight with bear wrestling Putin.

I am mystified about what national interest was served by destabilizing Ukraine and provoking a confrontation with Russia that has long since ceased to be an existential threat.

This can not end well.


This is the sort of thing I rarely post here, but the rumors of Blackwater mercenaries – isn’t that company out of business – do spark an idea for a story which I am unlikely to write. Who would be paying them, and to do what?   And where in Ukraine?  They are not needed in Crimea. By either side.

Dr. Pournelle,

In addition to your observations about knowledge of European history, there seems to be a memory gap in recent and personal history. For instance, the CINC campaigned on his opposition to Iraq invasion rev 2 (on grounds of costs and lack of political interest), yet seems to be more of a hawk than his predecessor on the Ukraine and Crimea.

Hope that your hearing is continuing to return, albeit slowly.



Putin Needs Russians

Presumably he doesn’t really understand how free enterprise works much better than Obama. He has plenty of money. all he has to do is put lots of it into child support, probably only of children who have at least 2 ethnic Russian grandparents though that would get a lot of western fingerwagging.

If you tax something you will get less of it. if you subsidize it, enough, you will get more.

That would be cheaper than wars.

One of the lessons of wars since the industrial revolution is that a nation no longer gets powerful by grabbing the territory of unfriendly neighbors if you have to keep their recalcitrant population too. Britain learned this in Ireland and India & learned the opposite lesson about the strength of friends in Australia and Canada (& despite a little carelessness in 1776 in the US too).

I once calculated that by 2050, at present rates of population growth <> Yemen will have a larger population and a more aggressive population than Russia (more aggressive because poorer, more crowded and large families make young men more expendable). Not problems I wish on either.

Best Wishes

Neil Craig

I am quite certain that Mr. Putin understands family incentives and tax breaks. And not wanting recalcitrant minorities is likely to look very high in his calculations. In the case of the Crimea the benefits of annexation outweigh the costs.  In the cast of the ‘stans’, it is better to lure the Russians to Russia; the land is not really wanted. With the Ukraine itself things get complicated.  I suspect Russians are quite capable of rational analysis on these issues.

Ukraine and the Washington-New York implosion 

Hi Dr. Pournelle,

It seems to me that all the fuss over Ukraine along the New York-Washington axis is because those folks really believed that Great Power competition could be subsumed under a hazy fog of U.N. resolutions. Much of their self-importance is wrapped up in this concept; you see, if physical force has great importance, then a nation’s power largely comes from its economic heft, which means Washington has reason to be concerned about the effects of its policies on the real economy out there in flyover country, and the New York banks have reason to be concerned about the effects of their business practices on the economy at large. If peace and prosperity flow from the pen of the U.N. Secretary General, then the opinion of the great and good is all that matters.

At any rate, along comes our “partner for peace” Vladimir Putin, acting as though power grows out of the barrel of a gun, and abrogates the Budapest Memorandum—under which peace-loving Ukraine surrendered its nukes for a mess of pottage—and all of a sudden it becomes clear that the only safety to be found in this world is under the cover of superior firepower. No surprise to anyone who has been paying the least attention, but now the denizens of the East Coast Establishment can’t so easily fool themselves.

Their disbelief (why else was there no intelligence report indicating what any analyst should know would happen?) has been followed by anger at Russia, and I suspect that bargaining is currently underway. That leaves depression and acceptance—although it may take another Great Power use-of-force event to bring them to that point…


One place the current lesson will not be lost is in Pyongyang.

AND this should have gone up a week ago. Apologies


Dr. Pournelle,

Thanks for your historical summary. Something about the CIC’s statement that President Putin is "…on the wrong side of history…" for the annexation of the Crimea bothered me when I heard it, and I think the run-down you gave put it in focus for me. Spoken by an old-school socialist referring to a new-style imperialist, I suppose his comment is particularly ironic.

One wonders if SecState is any better versed in history than his boss, and if so, will it make a difference in the outcome. The U.S. has no real interest in the Ukraine, and has shown its lack of resolve in dealing with Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan, and sundry other "crises." I suppose that negotiating an unlikely concession from a weak position might make SecState’s job more interesting, but hardly more effective.

I visited Lviv (or Lvov, depending on the kind of Vodka one drinks) in Ukraine in 1992 under non-mysterious and otherwise uninteresting circumstances. A reforming cold warrior at the time, I enjoyed the people and the sights, but left with the impression that the country had been pretty much exhausted by repeated invasion over several generations. I agree with the suggestion you printed, that they could sell (or even 99-year lease) the area to Russia at a profit, still retain some coastline with the Black Sea, negotiate for more compensation for Chernobyl and other concessions, and come out with what is left of their dignity and growing spirit of nationalism.

As for nukes, I’ve been laboring under the belief that western aid was withheld from Ukraine until the Russians got them all out. If true, it would be one thing done right by the Clinton administration. The KGB and other formerly Soviet forces were still quite active in Ukraine while I was there, and the Crimea was given up to Ukraine almost by default as the U.S.S.R crumbled. Ukrainian military assets were abandoned at least temporarily in Western Europe, basically for lack of gas money to get home. I’m very skeptical that they could keep the old Russian weapons working, yet alone get a delivery system up to initial capability. Having nukes and not having others know about them is counterproductive, so if they’d had a development and maintenance program for the last 20-some years, I think they’d have advertised it. But before you ask, no, I’m not ready to bet the farm. Having such a weak leadership, I’d be more assured if we had an adequate foreign intelligence service, but with the concentration on the middle East and anti-terrorism for the last decade, I’m not betting any marbles there, either.

I don’t think any blast doors will be rolling in Montana, either, though, as I think the threat would be Ukraine’s against Russia. In light of our record in the Arab Spring and subsequent events, I am not so cynical to think that our President (shudder) is nuts enough to loose the hounds in the case of a possible conflict confined to eastern Europe, and I know of no entangling treaties that would make it necessary to intervene. I sincerely pray for the President’s good health, though, at least partly because I’m not too sure of the veep’s sanity.

I am glad that you are enjoying music in spite of the hearing setbacks! With hope for your full recovery,





The batteries ran down in my hearing aids. The system signals by having each aid send a pattern of gong sounds at intervals, never both at once, one ear at a time. Tonight for the first time in two weeks I heard – faintly but definitely – the gongs in my left ear. If there is some hearing left in there, they may be able to reprogram the system. Tomorrow I take the last steroid pill; Tuesday I get the final shot in the eardrum. After that I will go to COSTCO and see what they can do. As I taper off the steroids my digestion is better but alas the flatulence remains. I’ll stop Zantac after Tuesday.





Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.




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