Monday, August 29, 2005

"The Bell Curve" Revisited

Andrew Sullivan thinks this new article by Charles Murray, one of the authors of The Bell Curve, is a must read. The Bell Curve, for those who don't recall, was the extremely controversial 1994 book that claimed to prove that blacks have lower IQs than whites. At least, that's what I read about the book at the time, and I well recall how the authors were excoriated in the media. I never actually read the book, but have a pretty clearly bad impression of it.

Apparently, Murray was inspired to write this article by the recent contretemps over Larry Summers' remarks that some evidence suggests there are more men than women who score at the top level in science aptitude tests. Since I thought Summers' comments were not particularly outrageous, and witnessed the frequently hysterical response to his comments, and the many ways they were inaccurately portrayed in the media, I thought it would be worthwhile to check out Murray's article. Perhaps he had been similarly slimed and maligned.

Well, first, yes, he really is saying that scientific evidence shows that blacks score lower on IQ tests than whites, and that they perform less well on tests that purportedly test not for academic achievement, which would clearly be more susceptible to environmental factors, but for certain types of mental acuity which are not altered by environmental factors.

Not hard to see why this is controversial. Unfortunately, I'm not particularly qualified to assess the science. While certainly anyone should be allowed to pursue this kind of scientific inquiry, it is not totally clear what one would do with such information. Indeed, Murray himself seems a bit cagey in his article, simply saying that this knowledge would help change social policies designed to overcome black/white inequalities. Does he think we shouldn't bother, as blacks are just stupider? Andrew Sullivan doesn't say either, even though he says that the book "still holds up as one of the most insightful and careful of the last decade." He also says that
the fact of human inequality and the subtle and complex differences between various manifestations of being human - gay, straight, male, female, black, Asian - is a subject worth exploring, period.

I agree, but I am curious as to whether there are any non-white, non-male scientists championing the view that science tells us that non-white non-males are intellectually inferior. Not claiming that Murray or Sullivan are racist or sexist, but it does seem like an awfully conve-e-enient theory for them.

I'd be curious to find out what the scientific arguments against the Bell Curve were. Something I'll have to look into.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

These are the dog days of summer?

I've been completely immersed in the intricacies of hybrid-electric transit buses for the past few weeks -- yeah, that's as exciting as it sounds. Actually, it is pretty interesting, even if I have to wade through talk about steady state vs. transient engine operation, auxiliary power units, and Mean Distance Between Failures. But the point is, I haven't had time to blog, so thoughts have been building up. Add that to the fact that I'm grouchy about all this work, and I'm one pent-up, irritable blogger.

So let's just review some of the things that have been annoying me over the last two weeks:

1. Americans whining about gas prices: "Hey, we want the free market to allow us to purchase any oversized and ludicrously inefficient vehicle possible, but we don't want to pay free market prices." If these people who oppose fuel economy laws since they "have the right" to buy any car they want...well then, they also "have the right" to pay 80 bucks when they fill up their gas tanks. Suck it up.

2. Pat Robertson, that good Christian, thinks we should kill Hugo Chavez because he doesn't do what we want. Can you believe this fruitcake ran for president? Andrew Sullivan (who's back, thank goodness) says Robertson was on the list of people consulted by the Administration on the Supreme Court nomination. Can you imagine Democrats consulting Noam Chomsky or Michael Moore? How is this hateful, increasingly paranoid person any better?

3. Speaking of double standards, there is no doubt in my mind that if a Democrat were in the White House right now, that the Republican response to how things are going in Iraq and Afghanistan would be absolutely brutal. Remember how respectful they were toward Clinton's military efforts?

4. This blog's namesake was made available for any team to pick up, possibly marking the end of his time in a Red Sox uniform. I'm not mad about that -- he was having all kinds of offensive struggles this season -- but about the disgraceful way he was treated by the Fenway faithless.

That's about it for now. I'll be back for more later! I hope the rest of you are having a better week. :-)

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Huffington Post

I haven't paid much attention the The Huffington Post, that new website for liberal/lefty commentary and blogging, I popped over there today and found two disturbing things.

First, this headline, featured prominently a la Drudge Report (that is, oversized font apparently intended to be visible from the space station):

Pat Buchanan: "Cindy Sheehan May Be The Catalyst Of Crisis For The Bush Presidency"

Ok, listen up fellow liberals. When Pat "Coming Culture War" Buchanan is on the same side as you, it should be seen as a red flag. It's not a sure sign that you're on the wrong side; he is probably pro-breathing, for example. But it's...not good. It's also a bit weird when David Duke is one of your supporters.

Second, they feature this important announcement: Sean Penn's Iran Dispatches To Run Monday... Wow. Sean Penn is going to share his extensive knowledge of the Iranian political situation? I've already made my views on celebrities spouting their political views, so no need to say more on this subject.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Dan Savage's Guest-Blogging Stint

Dan Savage has been guest-blogging over at andrewsullivan.com this week. I love Dan Savage. His sex column Savage Love is funny, opinionated and graphic. He doesn't pigeonhole himself into a standard lefty (or righty) stance on all positions. Did I mention he's hilarious?

His stint at andrewsullivan.com has been enjoyable, although I personally could have done with fewer references to dildos and whatnot, but that's just quibbling. (Oh, and he also revealed that he has a good editor for his other writing jobs, as he's made several proofreading errors. I know how easy that can be...)

But what I was really waiting for was his take on the Iraq war. As Dan noted on Monday, he was possibly "the only professional sex advice columnist in the United States, if not the world, to come out in favor of the invasion of Iraq." On Monday, he promised to blog about his current view of things, and then waited until today to give it a try. I sense hesitation due to the difficulty for a lefty to explain a lefty stance on the Iraq as it is today. Clearly, unlike Christopher Hitchens, Dan is not just pretending that everything has gone as hoped.

He reprints a column he wrote for the Stranger (the Seattle weekly he edits) in March 2003, shortly before the U.S. invaded Iraq, which gives a great LEFTIST argument for overthrowing Saddam Hussein, and other Middle Eastern tyrants as well. It's well worth checking out (at the top of today's entry.)

But the point of the article is actually to explain why he stopped supporting going to war because of the dismal failure of the Bush Administration to sell the war to NATO and the U.N.

This is almost the exact same view that I had at that time, except that I still supported the war, in part because I thought we would find lots of ugly WMD there. Yeah, that worked out well.

Anyway, reading Dan's stuff today reminded me of something else I was thinking today, while listening to an NPR show about Cindy Sheehan, that mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, who is protesting the war. During this hour-long show, no one called in to say they supported keeping the troops in Iraq. One person even called in to sing a protest song -- ugh. This is one of my major gripes with the left by the way. The continuing obsession with 60's style protests with sappy, limp protest songs. And large puppets, for some reason that I cannot comprehend.

But the point is, that while I continue to think, as Paul Berman has said that "the position of the antiwar movement and of liberals should be that the United States fulfill entirely its obligation to replace Saddam with a decent or even admirable system," it's hard to feel sympathy for the Bush Administration since they basically brought this on themselves by selling Americans a product that is vastly different than what Bush et al have actually provided. This is always a recipe for disaster, even if the actual product delivered is not a bad one. Bush basically sold a war:

1. that would remove nasty WMD from the hands of an unstable dictator -- whoops
2. that would overthrow said dictator, and bring about a democracy that would make life better for Iraqis -- check on overthrow, jury still way out on democracy
3. with no defined price tag (remember how Bush refused to give a figure for fighting the Iraq war during that fiscal year's budget process?) -- no effort to prepare Americans for the very high pricetag of this war
4. with no set timetable for removal of troops -- Bush was, at best, cagey about how long and bloody the occupation would be, and at worst, let people who were clearly speaking for him (Cheney, Richard Perle, Rumsfeld) portray the whole undertaking as relatively easy.

Needless to say, this is not the war that has been delivered. Bush failed to produce anything close to the specs he provided, so of course, people are, shall we say, surprised by the product performance thus far.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

"Sweet Neocon"?! Sweet Jesus.

Mick Jagger has written a new song criticizing the Bush Administration's foreign policy. It's called "Sweet Neocon." <\hack hack> Sorry, got a bit of a cough.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Steven Vincent

I didn't know much about Steven Vincent, the freelance journalist and blogger who was recently murdered in Basra. Possibly in retaliation for his tough reporting on Shia hardliners in Basra. The WBUR show On Point had a great "radio diary" bit "on him today by one of his friends. They also pointed to his blog from Iraq, "In the Red Zone", which is a fascinating read. You get more details about real life in Iraq than you would from the latest suicide bomber story. He was also able to criticize both mindlessly patriotic Americans and mindlessly anti-American Americans.

This is one of my favorite entries -- it's long but worthwhile. He's talking about bringing his translator, Layla, to meet an American air force captain involved in developing the bidding process for construction projects. Sadly, Layla was also shot in the attack on Vincent, and is still in the hospital in critical condition.

I'd wanted to introduce Layla to the Gary Cooper side of America, and I felt I'd succeeded. Instead of the evasive, over-subtle, windy Iraqi, fond of theory and abstraction, here was a to-the-point Yank, rolling up his sleeves with a can-do spirit of fair play and doing good. "I want to have a positive effect on this country's future," the Captain averred. "For example, whenever I learn of a contracting firm run by women, I put it at the top of my list for businesses I want to consider for future projects." I felt proud of my countryman; you couldn't ask for a more sincere guy.

Layla, however, flashed a tight, cynical smile. "How do you know," she began, "that the religious parties haven't put a woman's name on a company letterhead to win a bid? Maybe you are just funneling money to extremists posing as contractors." Pause. The Captain looked confused. "Religious parties? Extremists?"

Oh boy. Maa salaama Gary Cooper, as Layla and I gave our man a quick tutorial about the militant Shiites who have transformed once free-wheeling Basra into something resembling Savonarola's Florence. The Captain seemed taken aback, having, as most Westerners--especially the troops stationed here--little idea of what goes on in the city. "I'll have to take this into consideration..." scratching his head, "I certainly hope none of these contracts are going to the wrong people." Not for the first time, I felt I was living in a Graham Greene novel, this about about a U.S. soldier--call it The Naive American--who finds what works so well in Power Point presentations has unpredictable results when applied to realities of Iraq. Or is that the story of our whole attempt to liberate this nation?

Collecting himself, "But should we really get involved in choosing one political group over another?" the Captain countered. "I mean, I've always believed that we shouldn't project American values onto other cultures--that we should let them be. Who is to say we are right and they are wrong?"

And there it was, the familiar Cultural-Values-Are-Relative argument, surprising though it was to hear it from a military man. But that, too, I realized, was part of American Naiveté: the belief, evidently filtering down from ivy-league academia to Main Street, U.S.A., that our values are no better (and usually worse) than those of foreign nations; that we have no right to judge "the Other;" and that imposing our way of life on the world is the sure path to the bleak morality of Empire (cue the Darth Vader theme).

But Layla would have none of it. "No, believe me!" she exclaimed, sitting forward on her stool. "These religious parties are wrong! Look at them, their corruption, their incompetence, their stupidity! Look at the way they treat women! How can you say you cannot judge them? Why shouldn't your apply your own cultural values?"

It was a moment I wish every muddle-headed college kid and Western-civilization-hating leftist could have witnessed: an Air Force Captain quoting chapter and verse from the new American Gospel of Multiculturalism, only to have a flesh and blood representative of "the Other" declare that he was incorrect, that discriminations and judgment between cultures are possible--necessary--especially when it comes to the absolutely unacceptable way Middle Eastern Arabs treat women. And though Layla would not have pushed the point this far, I couldn't resist. "You know, Captain," I said, "sometimes American values are just--better."

It's Official: Yankee fans really are dumber than Red Sox fans

It's a close call, what with the Red Sox fans who think it's more fun to catch a ball than to have your home team get an important out...but 18-year old Scott Harper of Westchester, NY has now provided the definitive proof that Yankees fans really are dumber than Red Sox fans. Yesterday, Harper jumped from the upper decks in Yankee Stadium onto the netting behind home plate. According to this NY1 News story,

"Witnesses say Harper just jumped over the railing during the bottom of the eighth inning after being overheard saying "you think the net will hold me"? "

Uh yeah.

Group Audition for "What Not to Wear"?

No, just members of the Bush Cabinet in their casual weekend wear (accompanying WaPo story here, probably requiring sign in). Geez, have you ever seen a more unimaginatively and dumpily dressed bunch? Actually, this is pretty typical D.C.-wear, I'm sorry to say, as a native of the D.C. area.

More disturbingly, what's with the halo over Bush's head? I know conservatives think Bush is infallible, but this is ridiculous.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Funny headlines

As I've been too busy to post lately, and still don't have time right now, I'll just put up a link passed along to me by the fiance: this is a real headline, apparently.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

What's Going on with Karl Rove and Valerie Plame?

I have been trying my darndest to follow the Valerie Plame/Robert Novak/Judith Miller/Karl Rove et al scandal -- and lord knows I'd love to find Rove exposed as the reborn Lee Atwater that he appears to be -- but I just can't make heads or tails of most of it. Who did what, was it illegal or improper, is it a government scandal or a press scandal or a .... I just don't know. Of course, I'm also unable to follow the complicated plots of those movie thrillers where people are double or triple-crossing each other, so maybe this scandal is totally clear to someone a bit smarter. I probably would have had trouble figuring out why the Washington Post was so obsessed with a minor break-in at a posh Washington, D.C. hotel... It does seem as though there are an awful lot of "Clintonian-style" defenses being used, which is strange since I thought Republicans were returning honor and integrity to the government...

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