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  • Archive for August, 2018

    William James Sidis

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 9th August 2018 (All posts by )

    I did a series on Billy Sidis 6-7 years ago which might please this group. I am posting the first essay, and linking to the others, partly because the comments under some of them were also interesting. In particular the argument with the person who insisted that my takedown of the “1867 Harvard Entrance Exam,” that circulates on the internet from time to time, was invalid brought in some rousing discussion. Please comment on any of those here rather than there, as only I will see your ideas otherwise.

    I think the story of Billy Sidis, the purported prodigy with the highest IQ (250-300) ever known, is mostly fraudulent.

    I first read about William James Sidis in the pages of Gift of Fire in the late 80’s. GoF was the journal of the Prometheus Society, a discussion group for those with measured IQ over 164. Amy Wallace’s book on Sidis, The Prodigy, had just come out, and Grady Towers took the opportunity to bring us up to speed on the early 20th C brilliant but eccentric child. That essay, “The Outsiders,” is perhaps the best known of the articles to come out of the High-IQ societies. Its primary topic is the increasing difficulty of adjustment individuals experience the further from norm they are. Terman’s studies in the 40’s of gifted individuals showed that those above 140 IQ were better adapted than average. Grady looked harder at the data and decided that those from 140-150 were better adjusted than average, but beyond that things steadily worsened. The greater frequency of those from 140-150 masked the data of the few from say, 170-180.

    It was perhaps inevitable that Grady would gravitate to the subject of Sidis. Grady qualified for the next society up, the Mega Society, for those with one-in-a-million IQ, cutoff 176. He had been a prodigy himself, almost completing a PhD in Anthropology at age 20, but by the time I knew him (via journal and correspondence), he was usually homeless, working odd jobs across the Southwest, writing on borrowed typewriters and sending mathematical proofs – usually number theory – to whoever would have them. He was murdered horribly in 2000 while working as a security guard. I liked corresponding with him.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Biography, Book Notes, Human Behavior | 15 Comments »

    Are Universities in the Business of Producing Jeongs?

    Posted by David Foster on 8th August 2018 (All posts by )

    Instapundit quotes Jonah Goldberg, writing about Sarah Jeong:

    [Joseph] Schumpeter predicted, before the massive expansion of higher education, that capitalism would breed a new class of intellectuals (writers, journalists, artists, lawyers, etc.) who would be motivated by both ideology and self-interest to undermine liberal democratic capitalism. “Unlike any other type of society, capitalism inevitably and by virtue of the very logic of its civilization creates, educates and subsidizes a vested interest in social unrest,” Schumpeter wrote in Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. He adds a bit further on: “For such an atmosphere [of social hostility to capitalism] to develop it is necessary that there be groups whose interest it is to work up and organize resentment, to nurse it, to voice it and to lead it.”

    Sarah Jeong is not the ideal example of what Schumpeter was talking about, viz. capitalism (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez fits that bill better). But she is a good example of the larger adversary culture that universities not only “nudge” students toward, but actively indoctrinate them into. Simply put, there is an entire industry dedicated to the proposition that not just the American past, but the American present, is disordered, bigoted, and oppressive. And Jeong’s meteoric and meritocratic rise demonstrates how so many of our best and brightest have gotten that message. How many have internalized it as ideology or have just cynically decided that’s how you get ahead is an open question.

    …which reminded me of an observation made a long time ago:

    Francis Bacon pointed out four hundred years ago that one reason for sedition and mutiny in any polity was “breeding more scholars than preferment can take off”…

    (Honor: A History, by James Bowman)

    A modern translation of “breeding more scholars than preferment can take off” might be “graduating more PhDs than have any hope of getting tenure.”

    Posted in Academia, Book Notes, History, Leftism, USA | 11 Comments »

    CON Does Seem Like an Appropriate Acronym

    Posted by David Foster on 5th August 2018 (All posts by )

    Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia currently impose certificate-of-need (CON) restrictions on the provision of healthcare. These rules require providers to first seek permission before they may open or expand their practices or purchase certain devices or new technologies. The applicant must prove that the community “needs” the new or expanded service, and existing providers are invited to challenge a would-be competitor’s application.

    …from a Mercatus article on healthcare “Certificates of Need”, linked by The Advice Goddess.

    In most other industries, collusion of providers in order to keep supply down–and, hence, prices up–is considered an antitrust violation and can carry heavy civil and criminal penalties.

    Does anyone see any legitimate public-policy rationale for the requirement for the CONs in healthcare?

    Posted in Big Government, Business, Health Care | 20 Comments »

    The Dogs Don’t Like It

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 4th August 2018 (All posts by )

    The title of this post is the punchline to an old, old story about the limits of advertising; a story which may or may not be based on fact. The story goes that a big food-manufacturing conglomerate came up with a brand new formulation for dog food, and advertised it with a huge, costly campaign: print ads, TV commercials, product placement in movies, TV shows, county fairs, giveaways and sponsorships; the whole ball of wax … and the product cratered. The CEO of the company is irate and demands answers from anyone who can give him a reason why. Didn’t they do everything possible to make their dog food brand the market leader? Image everyone at that meeting looking nervously at each other at this point – because they have done everything possible … except for one small thing. Finally, someone gets up sufficient nerve to answer. “But the dogs don’t like it.” Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Advertising, Business, Civil Society, Conservatism, Culture, Current Events, Customer Service, Human Behavior, Media, Politics, Trump | 13 Comments »

    Nationalism Revisited

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 4th August 2018 (All posts by )

    I have previously expressed the opinion that it was not nationalism that created WWII, but it was nationalism that won it.  The German attitude was more properly described as a tribalism or racialism, though they called it nationalism.  Jews, Slavs, or Roma who lived within the German nation were not considered part of Das Volk, but ethnic Germans who lived over the borders were considered part of the larger family.  Some nations, of Scandinavian, Frankish, or Anglo-Saxon descent were considered people to be ruled if they would not cooperate, but not exterminated. Hungarian and Romanian “nationalist” figures such as Antonescu were likewise protectors only of ethnic Romanians, not all within the borders. (This is unsurprising in Europe up until that time, because borders moved frequently, but language and ethnic heritage remained primary. It’s just wrong to call it nationalism.)

    In contrast, while the Allies had a lot of international cooperation, they ran largely on nationalist sentiment. Not only the Americans, who, as a mixed people had no choice except nationalism, but as the war progressed, the Soviet Union hunkered down into its constituent parts and Stalin made his appeals on behalf of Mother Russia, not the New Soviet Man. My thought has been that while nationalism has dangers and can be a false god, internationalism is a worse one. It might in theory be a better thing, and if we ever do become better humans I will change my vote. At the moment, however, I consider it an overreach. When we pretend to be better than we are we are in enormous danger, and those who are loyal to international enterprises smuggle in some much more primitive prejudices. They do not transcend nationalism, as they imagine, but replace it with something that aims higher but strikes lower.

    That is an observation of the group mentality, not the individual.  I am fully prepared to accept that there are many people who do transcend nationalism on an individual basis. As Steve Sailer has pointed out, however, in the traditional concentric circles of loyalty humankind tends to use, they more often skip over ring rather than include.  There is more virtue to be signaled in loving those far away rather than neighbors. How much more noble to love illegal aliens at the expense of poor citizens!

    I will have to revise my WWII picture however.  It still applies to Germans.  Yet my reading of Japanese history recently convinces me that nationalism was indeed their motive.  They did not find Koreans, Taiwanese, or Chinese racially inferior, but culturally so. Their attitude toward those in Vietnam, the Philippines, and the Pacific Islands was more tinged with a racialism.

    I’m not sure how I incorporate this into the overall picture, but I have to start by wounding my old model. Any of you who have knowledge about Japanese and other Asian cultural and racial attitudes, please weigh in.
    Cross-posted at Assistant Village Idiot

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 18 Comments »

    More On The Context…

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 4th August 2018 (All posts by )

    …of media bias leading up to Trump.

    More Context: Media Bias
    Media Bias – Magazine Covers

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 3 Comments »

    Seth Barrett Tillman: Who Was Right About the Emoluments Clauses? Judge Messitte or President Washington?

    Posted by Jonathan on 3rd August 2018 (All posts by )

    Josh Blackman & Seth Barrett Tillman at The Volokh Conspiracy:

    For now, it is enough that we point out that the District of Maryland’s five-page rebuke of our brief rests on plain historical error. Moreover, that error was enabled by errors in the Plaintiffs’ briefs. On appeal, the burden remains on the Plaintiffs to show that the District of Maryland, and not President Washington, is the more faithful arbiter of the Emoluments Clauses.

    Worth reading.

    Posted in History, Law, Trump | 1 Comment »

    New! – Your Mid-Summer Night’s Pungently Refreshing Haiku Effusion

    Posted by Jonathan on 3rd August 2018 (All posts by )

    Go ahead, say it:
    Alexa you filthy whore.
    (Feels good, amirite?)

    —-

    Your Uber shared ride:
    Long wait then driver cancels.
    All game the system.

    —-

    With ER visits
    You’re guaranteed an ordeal.
    Sometimes it’s worth it.

    —-

    “Invalid Password” –
    Inept software designers
    Make us click too much.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Poetry | 3 Comments »

    Summer Rerun: Wolf Among Wolves, by Hans Fallada

    Posted by David Foster on 3rd August 2018 (All posts by )

    Hans Fallada’s novel Little Man, What Now?, which I reviewed here, impressed me enough to look up some of  Fallada’s other works.  Wolf Among Wolves, was published later than LMWN, but set in an earlier period: 1923, the time of the great Weimar inflation. It tells the story of a collapsing society through the intertwined lives of many characters, who include:

    Petra Ledig, a sweet-natured girl from a rough background in Berlin, driven into prostitution by financial desperation. On impulse, she asks one of her clients to take her home with him, and he does. That man is…

    Wolfgang Pagel, son of a fairly-well-off but overprotective and controlling mother–the mother being less than thrilled about his relationship with Petra. Wolf supports himself and Petra, in a very marginal way, by working as a professional gambler. One day in Berlin, Wolf meets up again with an old Army acquaintance…

    Joachim von Prackwitz, who everyone calls the Rittmeister (cavalry captain). The Rittmeister married the daughter of a major landowner in East Prussia and is now managing a large farm at Neulohe under lease from his father-in-law, who cannot stand him…indeed, the father-in-law does everything he can to make the Rittmeister’s life miserable, including for example scheming to increase his portion of the electric bill from the estate’s shared diesel generator. (This is surely the only novel I’ve read in which depreciation and cost-allocation calculations come into play.) The Rittmeister was known in the Army as a brave if not terribly bright officer and a good comrade, but he is having great difficulty in dealing with the pressures of his civilian life.

    Eva, the Rittmeister’s well-balanced and long-suffering wife, is losing confidence in her husband and is very worried about the erratic and mysterious behavior of her daughter Violet, an attractive 15-year-old who has developed a passionate and secret crush on…

    The Lieutenant, agent for a group of former military men who are plotting a putsch against the Weimar government

    Mr Studmann, another Army friend of Wolf’s, who has been working as front-desk manager for a hotel. He and Wolf are both invited by the Rittmeister to leave Berlin and come help with the running of the farm. Despite his total lack of agricultural experience, Studmann turns out to be a very effective manager, using the skills he developed at the hotel. Eva is drawn to Studmann, seeing in him the stability and rationality that are absent in her husband–and he is VERY attracted to her.

    Raeder, a young and deeply weird servant who has an unwholesome sexual attraction toward Violet

    One “character” never absent from the story is the mark, the German unit of currency. In fact, the valuation of the mark is mentioned in the very first page of the book:

    This is Berlin, Georgenkirchstrasse, third courtyard, fourth floor, July 1923, at six o’clock in the morning. The dollar stands for the moment at 414,000 marks.

    (By the end of the period covered in the story, the dollar-to-market conversion rate was a trillion to one.)

    A few samples of the writing. Here, a description of Violet’s attraction toward the Lieutenant:

    He was quite different from all the men she had yet known. Even if he were an officer, he in no way resembled the officers of the Reichswehr who had asked her to dance at the balls in Ostade and Frankfurt. The latter had always treated her with extreme courtesy; she was always the “young lady” with whom they chatted airily and politely of hunting, horses, and perhaps of the harvest. In Lieutenant Fritz she had as yet discovered no politeness. He had dawdled through the woods with her, chatting away as if she were some ordinary girl; he had taken her arm and held it, and had let it go again, as if this had been no favor…Just because he thought so little of her, because his visits were so short and irregular, just because all his promises were so unreliable…just because he was never polite to her, she had succumbed to him almost without resistance. He was so different. Mystery and adventure hovered around him…Infinite fire, mysterious adventure, a wonderful darkness, in which one may be naked without shame! Poor Mamma, who has never known this! Poor Papa–so old with your white temples! For me ever new paths, ever different adventures!

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Civil Society, Economics & Finance, Germany, History | 3 Comments »

    Context: Trump and William Loeb

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 1st August 2018 (All posts by )

    Cross-posted at Assistant Village Idiot

    I spoke with a somewhat younger friend who has some familiarity with my opinions about controversial topics, but wanted to know more exactly what I thought.  It is a great compliment, and I started answering him over the phone. I was pressed for time and cut it off, but even more than the temporary crunch, I decided I wanted to give answers of some precision.

    As soon as one goes down that road, one comes up against “Well, in order for you to understand this, I really have to explain that.” Almost immediately, another that comes along requiring another this. It gets out of control quickly.  But there’s nothing for it. I step back once, I step back further, I step back into the next county. He was asking for some summary, or at least ideas, concerning my evaluation of Trump. That is not possible without context, and I eventually found I had to go back to the 1960’s. I am not fond of Mr. Trump in many ways, but I think there is something necessary about him. If he had not come along now, some equally radical* figure would have had to come instead.  Not the same, but equally disruptive.

    My usual style has been an exhaustive, point-by-point argument. While I have sometimes broken such things up into posts I, II, and III, I have more often tried to cram the whole thing into one sustained essay, like a sermon that has gone on too long. I would try to make it more visually comfortable with ********* breaks, photos, headings, and short paragraphs. Let me break this into smaller chunks, and we’ll see what develops. As I head for vacation Saturday afternoon, I may have to leave you hanging.

    My hometown newspaper growing up was the Manchester Union Leader, published by the notorious William Loeb. It is hard to describe to someone under the age of 60 what that meant, but for those in NH older than that, Loeb was simply a continuous presence, influencing everyone in the state either to agree or oppose.  He was well-known around the country as well to those who followed politics. All of us who traveled or went to college outside New England had the experience of identifying where we were from and having some guy in the group turn and say William Loeb! as a reflexive response to hearing “Manchester, NH.” His audience grew enormously every first-in-the-nation-primary. (Yes, “melting snowflakes.” “McCarthy is a Skunks’s Skunk.” That guy.)
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 4 Comments »

    Too Pessimistic

    Posted by Jonathan on 1st August 2018 (All posts by )

    The Origins of Our Second Civil War by Victor Davis Hanson.

    The first half of this VDH piece seems over-the-top. Would the intermarriage and cultural assimilation that he cites in his next-to-last paragraph be happening if the situation were as bad as he thinks? Or is the country mostly culturally sound but burdened with dysfunctional elites dominating politics, big business, the universities and the media.

    This part is good:

    Again, Obama most unfortunately redefined race as a white-versus-nonwhite binary, in an attempt to build a new coalition of progressives, on the unspoken assumption that the clingers were destined to slow irrelevance and with them their retrograde and obstructionist ideas. In other words, the Left could win most presidential elections of the future, as Obama did, by writing off the interior and hyping identity politics on the two coasts.
     
    The Obama administration hinged on leveraging these sociocultural, political, and economic schisms even further. The split pitted constitutionalism and American exceptionalism and tradition on the one side versus globalist ecumenicalism and citizenry of the world on the other. Of course, older divides — big government, high taxes, redistributionist social-welfare schemes, and mandated equality of result versus limited government, low taxes, free-market individualism, and equality of opportunity — were replayed, but sharpened in these new racial, cultural, and economic landscapes.

    The rest of the piece is also good and points out how the country’s situation might improve. “A steady 3 to 4 percent growth in annual GDP” doesn’t seem very far from where we are. University reform seems likely as the public increasingly catches on to the corruption and excessive costs of higher education. Race relations seem to improve when not politicized. Spiritual and religious reawakenings happen every few generations.

    Keyboard trash talk and dark speculations about violence and civil war are not the same as actual violence. They might even be safety valves to release transient passions, cautionary tales, for everyone outside of a tiny lunatic minority. (The lunatic minority who are spurred to action by online/media hype are a serious problem, but not mainly a political one except as regards public and hence political unwillingness to force treatment on recalcitrant individuals with severe mental-health issues.)

    Today’s political violence is a problem but not one at the level of 1968 much less 1861. Almost all of the action now is in the political realm. There is little reason to expect an intractable impasse on a fundamental issue as in 1850-60 over slavery. There is no substantial constituency favoring civil war as there was in 1861. The modern federal government is huge, profligate and obnoxious, but risk-averse deep-state bureaucrats and crony-capitalist opportunists aren’t going to take physical risks to defend the status quo. The political process still responds to public concerns about governmental overreach, which is probably a large part of why Trump was elected. There is also enough collective memory of the last civil war and its awfulness to discourage enthusiasm for a replay from anyone who is sane.

    None of this is to say dire predictions won’t come to pass, but that’s not the way to bet. The country has been through harder times and surmounted them through politics rather than violence. My money’s on the basic soundness of our culture and political system this time as well.

    Posted in America 3.0, Culture, Current Events, History, Human Behavior, Obama, Politics, Rhetoric, Trump, USA | 23 Comments »