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Valar Qringaomis

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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Links - 21st February 2015

Court refuses trial by combat - Telegraph - "A court has rejected a 60-year-old man's attempt to invoke the ancient right to trial by combat, rather than pay a £25 fine for a minor motoring offence. Leon Humphreys remained adamant yesterday that his right to fight a champion nominated by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) was still valid under European human rights legislation. He said it would have been a "reasonable" way to settle the matter. Magistrates sitting at Bury St Edmunds on Friday had disagreed and instead of accepting his offer to take on a clerk from Swansea with "samurai swords, Ghurka knives or heavy hammers", fined him £200 with £100 costs."

Noah's Ark would have floated...even with 70,000 animals - Telegraph - "Previous research has suggested that there were approximately 35,000 species of animals which would have needed to be saved by Noah, enabling the students to conclude that the dimensions given in the Bible would have allowed Noah to build an ark that would float with all of the animals on board"

Sex is the secret to looking younger, claims researcher - Telegraph - "He said sex has a number of health benefits which can make men and women look between five and seven years younger which includes; it causes the release of endorphins, the ‘feel good’ chemical which acts as a natural painkiller and reduces anxiety aiding sleep; exercise boosts circulation which is good for the heart; and it also causes the human growth hormone to be released which makes the skin look more elastic... “Sexual satisfaction is a major contributor to quality of life, ranking at least as high as spiritual or religious commitment and other morale factors, so more positive attitudes towards mature sex should be vigorously promoted"

Oscar Pistorius case highlights how little we really know about the sports stars we idolise - Telegraph - "The most terrifying allegations about Lance Armstrong are not simply his use of performance-enhancing drugs to make him the best, but the campaign of bullying and intimidation he used to preserve his super-clean, supercool image. Those stories are hard to square with his previous public image as a cancer survivor intent on doing good; no wonder his foundation no longer bears his name. I am not for a minute suggesting that having an affair is the same as cheating at sport or that either is equivalent to a murder charge. But in their different ways each revelation shows how little we know about these men — and it usually is men — whom we endow not only with superhuman sporting ability but extraordinary personal qualities. We do the same with actors and film stars. Yet these figures in the public eye are ultimately unknowable. They show us only what they want us to see... The nature of sporting success requires a high degree of narcissism and arrogance, an inflated sense of your own worth, and a single-minded pursuit of your goals. Indeed, it requires many of the qualities that actually work against goodness, kindness and being nice and loyal to the people closest to you"

Women and gay men are 'worst drivers' - Telegraph - "Research has revealed that both perform poorly in tasks involving navigation and spatial awareness when compared to heterosexual men... the findings mean driving in a strange environment would be more difficult for gay men and women than for straight male motorists. Both tend to rely on local landmarks to get around, and are also slower to take in spatial information... The results back earlier studies supporting the stereotype that women are poor navigators. Although women are more successful in tests requiring them to remember the position of objects, men consistently do better in tasks requiring navigation and uncovering hidden objects"

Vultures, sharks, and sex with the enemy: the bizarre accusations against Israel – Telegraph Blogs - "Much mirth and merriment is being generated by the Sudanese reports that an Israeli vulture has been carrying out espionage over Darfur. In reality, of course, the bird was fitted with a GPS tracker by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. The same thing happened in Saudi Arabia last year, when a "griffon" was "arrested" for its role in a "Zionist plot". This is just the latest in a long and bizarre list of examples of paranoia among Israel's enemies. My personal favourite, which I have mentioned here once before, occurred in December 2010. A series of shark attacks in Egyptian waters, which led to one death and four injuries, caused the regional governor Mohamed Abdel Fadil Shousha to blame it on Israel. “The Mossad throwing the deadly shark in the sea to hit tourism in Egypt is not out of the question,” he said. In response, the Israeli foreign ministry made a statement that "the man must have seen Jaws one time too many"... The Rabbi explained that according to Jewish law, women are passive partners during sex, and so seduction for intelligence purposes is permitted when lives are at stake. However, there are certain restrictions: although female Mossad agents do not need specific Rabbinical authority to seduce an enemy target, they must not commit such acts in public, and should not do so if they are known to be Israeli. According to Rabbi Shvat, seduction assignments should “be given to a woman who in any event is promiscuous”, and if she was married, the husband should divorce her beforehand, and they remarry her afterwards."

Muslim juror removed from jury after refusing to take off veil - Telegraph - "A Muslim juror has been excused from sitting on a case because her veil concealed her facial expressions"

Sex surrogates: saviours or sinners? - Telegraph - "Long shrouded in misunderstanding, sex surrogacy is now in the spotlight thanks to a new film, The Sessions, telling the story of O’Brien, played by John Hawkes, and Cohen Greene, played by a largely nude Helen Hunt. Released in Britain early next year, after receiving standing ovations and much Oscar talk in the United States, the film uses a surprising amount of humour to confront two taboos: the sexual needs of the disabled and the controversial role sometimes played by surrogates in order to fulfil them. Although often dismissed as prostitutes – or sex workers, to use the industry’s preferred term – surrogates claim they are actually far closer to therapists, whose work is vital to help people recover from sexual trauma and tackle dysfunction. But critics dismiss the work as morally dubious, degrading and of negligible therapeutic benefit... Previous success rates for sexual dysfunction had been very low. In contrast, Masters and Johnson’s two-week, “hands-on” programme was proved to be 80 per cent effective over five years, and 75 per cent effective when surrogates were used. But even in the free-love era, surrogacy was viewed with suspicion. In 1970 the couple regretfully ended the practice when they were sued by a man who claimed his wife was working as a surrogate. The result, Masters said later, was a complete reversal of previous success rates with single, impotent men, with 75 per cent of therapy now failing"

US should 'keep control of net' says Clinton - "Net freedom could suffer after the US steps back from its role as ultimate overseer of the global network, former US President Bill Clinton has said. Many of the governments keen to help oversee the net just wanted to use it to silence dissent, he said."

Why IEEE Fellow Radia Perlman hates technology - "But the world would be a better place if more engineers, like me, hated technology. The stuff I design, if I'm successful, nobody will ever notice. Things will just work, and be self-managing. Though, I've learned that some people like to configure things, so I usually design in knobs for them to play with, and perhaps improve things, but any setting of the knobs will still work correctly. When engineers [who] just love this stuff design something, we wind up with a system that asks an innocent person attempting to install email, "Do you want POP or IMAP?" One common comment engineers make is that we need "more user training". That's just wrong. Instead of expecting humans to adapt to an interface slapped together by engineers, engineers should strive to create a system that is designed for humans in their natural form"

The Association between Eating Behavior and Various Health Parameters: A Matched Sample Study - "a vegetarian diet is related to a lower BMI and less frequent alcohol consumption. Moreover, our results showed that a vegetarian diet is associated with poorer health (higher incidences of cancer, allergies, and mental health disorders), a higher need for health care, and poorer quality of life"

BBC News - Stranger danger in the 18th Century - ""Friendship was regarded as quite dangerous," says Prof Matthew Grenby, an expert on children's literature from Newcastle University. "Friends are the sort of people that are going to lead you off the straight and narrow and are going to be detrimental to your secular prospects and also your spiritual prospects."

Children’s films have more death than adult ones - "Picking a children’s animated movie to keep the kids quiet on a rainy Sunday afternoon could involve exposing them to 2.5 times the number of deaths found in films aimed at adults, according to new research... Deaths were more likely to occur early on in children’s films: in Pixar’s Finding Nemo, the titular clownfish’s mother is eaten by a barracuda just four minutes and three seconds in, researchers noted, while in Disney’s Tarzan the feral child’s parents are killed by a leopard after four minutes and eight seconds. Parents were five times more likely to die in children’s animated fare than in adult-orientated movies."

Couple singing Peppa Pig tune to toddler 'forced off bus after complaints they were being racist' because it goes against Muslim pork ban

Sleep-Away Camp for Postmodern Cowboys - NYTimes.com - "Team America were at Kasotc for the fifth-annual Warrior Competition in which 32 teams from 17 countries and the Palestinian territories would compete against one another on mock missions. Organizers have referred to it as “the Olympics of counterterrorism”"

Yelp - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - "A Harvard Business School study published in 2011 found that each "star" in a Yelp rating affected the business owner's sales by 5–9 percent. A 2012 study by two Berkeley economists found that an increase from 3.5 to 4 stars on Yelp resulted in a 19 percent increase in the chances of the restaurant being booked during peak hours. A 2014 survey of 300 small business owners done by Yodle found that 78 percent were concerned about negative reviews. Also, 43 percent of respondents said they felt online reviews were unfair, because there is no verification that the review is written by a legitimate customer."

Into The Words

Forbidden Broadway: Greatest Hits - Volume I



STEPHEN
Once upon a time!
(Lights up on a bearded man at the side of the stage. He is Stephen
Sondheim. The MUSIC begins.)

STEPHEN
There was a great songwriter called Stephen Sondheim. He had many, many hit shows, among which
were Sunday In The Park With George...
(A "Dot" character enters, holding an umbrella.)

DOT
I WISH...
(Turns right in profile and freezes)

STEPHEN
Sweeney Todd!
(SWEENEY ENTERS scaring DOT by raising his bloody razor so that
she counters to the right of him.)

SWEENEY
I WISH…

STEPHEN
And the fairy tale musical Into The Woods.
(A LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD ENTERS, carrying a basket.)

RIDING HOOD
I WISH...
(She is left of DOT and smiles at audience, then freezes.)

STEPHEN
All the characters in all the shows were very happy to be in a prestigious Sondheim musical, except for a
few things…

RIDING HOOD
I WISH.
I WISH THIS SHOW WAS MORE MELODIC!
I WISH.
(Sticks her tongue out at SONDHEIM, and freezes again.)

SWEENEY
I WISH.
I WISH THIS SHOW WAS LESS PRETENTIOUS.
I WISH.
(SWEENEY raises his razor high, and freezes.)

DOT
(Faces forward)
I WISH.
I WISH THE LYRICS WEREN'T SO WORDY.
I WISH.

STEPHEN
(As he crosses to center in front of his characters:)
You see, with Sondheim shows people sometimes miss the point. They're supposed to listen and go...Into
the words.
(Each character joins SONDHEIM on his or her line.)

RIDING HOOD
INTO THE WORDS

SWEENEY
INTO THE WORDS

DOT
INTO THE WORDS

ALL
INTO THE WORDS

STEPHEN
THE METAPHORS, THE SYNONYMS, THE PERFECT SCAN

ALL
INTO THE WORDS

STEPHEN
THE DETAIL AND THE TRICKY LITTLE PHRASES

ALL
INTO THE WORDS

SWEENEY
THE WHAT, THE WHERE, THE WHEN, THE WHY
THE PLOT BEGAN

ALL
INTO THE WORDS

DOT
THE WORK, THE CRAFT

RIDING HOOD
THAT GARNERS ALL THE PRAISES
(They skip in a counter-clockwise circle.)

ALL
INTO THE WORDS!
INTO THE WORDS!

DOT
THE MUSIC WAITS

ALL
INTO THE WORDS!
INTO THE WORDS!

STEPHEN
THE LYRIC STATES THAT

ALL
INTO THE WORDS

STEPHEN
YOUR CONTENT ALWAYS COMES BEFORE YOUR FORM AND STYLE

ALL
INTO THE WORDS

STEPHEN
INTERNAL RHYMES THAT EVEN BAFFLED MERMAN

ALL
INTO THE WORDS
A QUICK EXCHANGE
SO VERY STRANGE, YOU'LL CRY AND SMILE

STEPHEN
AND NEVER REPEAT A VERSE OR BRIDGE
THIS ISN'T JERRY HERMAN
(They link arms and skip upstage, then downstage.)

ALL
INTO THE WORDS
INTO THE WORDS

STEPHEN
THEY ALWAYS TEACH
ALL
INTO THE WORDS
INTO THE WORDS

STEPHEN
TO HEAR ME PREACH
THE THOUGHTS ARE CLEAR
IF UNDERSTOOD
I HAVE NO PEER
'CAUSE I'M SO GOOD

THE SCORE IS THE STAR
THE STARS ARE JUST WOOD
I SORT OF HATE TO ASK IT
BUT WHAT'S A RHYME FOR BASKET?

ALL
INTO THE WORDS
THAT TRIP YOUR LIP, AND FRY YOUR BRAIN
AND SPRAIN YOUR TONGUE
INTO THE WORDS
A CAVE SO DARK
YOU'D BETTER BRING A TORCH IN

INTO THE WORDS
THAT FLY AND TRY TO MAKE YOU
CHOKE THE JOKE YOU'VE SUNG
INTO THE WORDS
MORE LETTERS THAN
THEY SELL ON WHEEL OF FORTUNE
(RIDING HOOD goes offstage right and brings on a large board with
the words to the song on it; she hands it to SONDHEIM.)

STEPHEN
(Spoken)
Now, some people say that my songs aren't catchy. But that's not true. And to prove it, I'll conduct a
Sondheim singalong. Now everybody sing and just follow the bouncing razor.
(SWEENEY suddenly raises his peculiar teaching instrument.)

STEPHEN (CONT'D)
Ready? 1-2-12-8.

ALL
(With the audience, they repeat the two verses, slowly and surely,
SWEENEY'S razor bouncing along the top of the board.)
INTO THE WORDS
THAT TRIP YOUR LIP, AND FRY YOUR BRAIN
AND SPRAIN YOUR TONGUE
INTO THE WORDS
A CAVE SO DARK
YOU'D BETTER BRING A TORCH IN

INTO THE WORDS
THAT FLY AND TRY TO MAKE YOU
CHOKE THE JOKE YOU'VE SUNG
INTO THE WORDS
MORE LETTERS THAN
THEY SELL ON WHEEL OF FORTUNE

STEPHEN
(Speaks:)
Very good. You all graduate! So now let's do it up to tempo.
(And then, done very quickly)
1-2-12-8!

ALL
(They sing double time, while the audience tries to keep up, repeating the
two verses.)
INTO THE WORDS
THAT TRIP YOUR LIP, AND FRY YOUR BRAIN
AND SPRAIN YOUR TONGUE
INTO THE WORDS
A CAVE SO DARK
YOU'D BETTER BRING A TORCH IN

INTO THE WORDS
THAT FLY AND TRY TO MAKE YOU
CHOKE THE JOKE YOU'VE SUNG
INTO THE WORDS
MORE LETTERS THAN
THEY SELL ON WHEEL OF FORTUNE

ALL (WITHOUT AUDIENCE)
WE'RE…
(They all take a deep breath)
INTO THE SYLLABLES
INTO THE ANTONYMS
INTO THE METAPHORS
INTO THE SYNONYMS

DOT AND RIDING HOOD
INTO THE SYLLABLES
INTO THE ANTONYMS
INTO THE METAPHORS
INTO THE SYNONYMS
INTO THE SYLLABLES
INTO THE ANTONYMS
INTO THE METAPHORS
AND

STEPHEN
CAREFUL!
YOUR DICTION
CAREFUL!
YOUR DICTION
CAREFUL!
YOU

SWEENEY
ARE YOU SURE
YOU UNDERSTAND?
ARE YOU THAT
YOU VERSTEH?
ARE YOU SURE
THAT YOU CAPEESH?
AWAY WE GO
INTO

ALL
THE WORDS!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Links - 20th February 2015

Eating Alone in China - "For millennia, the most basic of Chinese meals have involved “three main dishes plus a soup,” a spread that only makes sense for a table of three people or more. It’s no wonder that a perennial staple of stir-frys—a merry medley of beef, chicken, pork and vegetables—is named “happy family”... “I’m watching this alone,” a commenter wrote wryly beneath the video of the summer waffle. “It relaxes me and loosens my heart.” To be alone isn’t always to be lonely. Sometimes, a strawberry waffle is all the companionship you need."

We should stop putting women in jail. For anything. - "The argument is actually quite straightforward: There are far fewer women in prison than men to start with — women make up just 7 percent of the prison population. This means that these women are disproportionately affected by a system designed for men. But could women’s prisons actually be eliminated in the United States, where the rate of women’s incarceration has risen by 646 percent in the past 30 years?"
Comments: "So basically, we should have 2 separate standards for genders when it comes to moral responsibility and punishment. So I guess sexism is a good thing when it helps women...."
"Do you suppose women might end up in prison less because people like the author keep on insisting they don't deserve to be punished? Because they are seen as duped accomplices instead of willing instigators? You do know women excel at "violence by proxy" right, while men prefer to fight their own battles? All of this is true. None of it is sexist, at least, according to feminists."
"On a similar note, statistics show there's far fewer white people in prison than colored people - so should we conclude that it would be a good idea to stop putting white people in jail, for anything?"
"Look few women go to prison. Fewer Whites going to prison was called racism. Is the fact that fewer women go sexism?"


China: Groom calls wedding off after the Bride arrived at the wedding looking 50 years older - "Apparently, 26-year-old Qing Kao deliberately attended her wedding looking like that, to prank her boyfriend. She wanted to see the groom’s reaction, and wanted to know if he would still love her when she is 70 years old. Guo Chien, the groom, did not find the prank funny at all, and started the heated shouting in public while shocked passersby looked on."
Comments: "before people screaming hate regarding gender equality and how China needs feminism, the guy (even though it seems he was yelling) was trying to tell her to calm down and not embarrass herself and have this discussion inside or another time, without all the people watching. HOWEVER she was screaming abuse at him (calling him a prick etc), then told him to "fuck off" which was the reason he threw his glasses on the ground and stormed off."
"Future prank: groom shows up in rags asking if she's still love him if he's poor."


etymology - Where does the phrase of "boredom punctuated by moments of terror" come from?

Victoria's Secret 'Perfect Body' Campaign Changes Slogan After Backlash
Comment: "Oh please. You do not view VS's product as "realism". It is all about fantasy and has always been as such. For women to get upset about a VS advertising campaign is about like men getting upset about an A&F one. And if you're finding yourself victimized by it... well, that's your choice. Sorry to seem brusque, but when has advertising *ever* been about reality?"
"Maybe they can add a couple of dudes in there too. Who's to say guys don't look sexy in lingerie?"
"It might be nice to see some models who are disabled, perhaps using wheelchairs or crutches, for example. People with disabilities are the biggest minority yet they are often not represented in media. Don't the ad agencies think people with disabilities buy underwear too?"
"You know if that happened people would cry foul and say the media was fetishizing disability."


Does Playing Hard to Get Make You Fall in Love?

Intelligence makes people think like economists: Evidence from the General Social Survey - "

Education is by far the strongest predictor of whether a non-economist will share the economic beliefs of the average economist. (Caplan, 2001) Is the effect of education as large as it seems? Or is education largely a proxy for cognitive ability? Using data from the General Social Survey (GSS), we show that the estimated effect of education sharply falls after controlling for intelligence. In fact, education is driven down to second place, and intelligence replaces it at the top of the list of variables that make people "think like economists." Thus, to a fair degree education is proxy for intelligence, though there are some areas—international economics in particular—where education still dominates. An important implication is that the political externalities of education may not be as large as they initially appear."

A Plan to Reboot Dating - "In her Atlantic article "Boys on the Side" (September 2012), Hanna Rosin argues that the social progress of women depends on the hook-up culture. Women in their 20s and 30s are, for the first time, more successful than their male peers. These alpha females not only outnumber men on college campuses, they have also overtaken men as the majority of the work force. This would not have been possible without sexual liberation, which has let women delay marriage and child-rearing to pursue their educational and career ambitions without worrying about the emotional burdens of a relationship. Women are better off in part because of the hook-up culture, the argument goes. But are they really?... ccording to a 2010 report by the American Council on Education, 57 percent of all undergraduates are female. Robert Epstein, a professor of psychology at Harvard and an expert in relationships, said in an interview with me that the more women there are on campus, the more prevalent the hook-up culture is: "You have a situation in which relationships are bound to fail and men keep switching off from one woman to the next," he told me. What motivation do men have to ask women out on a date when sex is so widely and easily available? The feminist sociologist Lisa Wade, based at Occidental College, who did a qualitative study of 44 of her freshman students (33 of them women), found that most of them were "overwhelmingly disappointed with the sex they were having in hook ups. This was true of both men and women, but was felt more intensely by women." College women today, as Wade points out, feel "disempowered instead of empowered by sexual encounters. They didn't feel like equals on the sexual playground, more like jungle gyms." According to a 2010 study by Carolyn Bradshaw of James Madison University, only 2 percent of women strongly prefer the hook-up culture to a dating culture. Miriam Grossman, author of the 2006 book Unprotected, reports that women long for emotional involvement with their partner twice as often as men following a hook up; 91 percent of women experience regret; 80 percent of women wish the hook-up hadn't happened; and 34 percent of women hope the hook-up develops into a relationship. NYU sociologist Paula England, whom Rosin cites, says that 66 percent of women and 58 percent of men want their hook up to develop into "something more." When it doesn't, problems arise. A 2010 psychology study out of Florida State University found that students who have casual sex experience more physical and mental health problems, defined as eating disorders, alcohol use, stress, depression, suicidal feelings, than those who are in committed long-term relationships. Put bluntly, the ethos of the culture is: "Hook up now; get therapy later," as one of my fellow students, writing in the campus newspaper her sophomore year, declared... "Women need to take some responsibility—they're allowing themselves to be used. It can lead to sexual assault." Hooking up, in fact, shares the defining feature of a sexual assault: using another person for your own sexual gratification, without any regard as to what that person wants or how he or she feels"

Grumpy cat makes owner £64 million - "Grumpy’s earnings have dwarfed those of many of Hollywood’s biggest names such as Gwyneth Paltrow who, according to Forbes magazine, earned just over £12 million last year. The cat is also outstripping the world’s top footballers including Christiano Ronaldo, whose total remuneration this year is estimated at £27.1 million. Grumpy’s permanent scowl is a result of her having been born with dwarfism and an underbite."

North Korea accuses US of developing Ebola virus - "The article, "Ebola virus much feared as biological weapon", claims that the US has done so for the purposes of generating profits from an Ebola vaccine as well as to weaken other countries for its own political gain"

How atheists became the most colossally smug and annoying people on the planet - "So, what’s gone wrong with atheism? The problem isn’t atheism itself, of course, which is just non-belief, a nothing, a lack of something. Rather it is the transformation of this nothing into an identity, into the basis of one’s outlook on life, which gives rise to today’s monumentally annoying atheism. The problem with today’s campaigning atheists is that they have turned their absence of belief in God into the be-all and end-all of their personality. Which is bizarre. Atheism merely signals what you don’t believe in, not what you do believe in. It’s a negative. And therefore, basing your entire worldview on it is bound to generate immense amounts of negativity. Where earlier generations of the Godless viewed their atheism as a pretty minor part of their personality, or at most as the starting point of their broader identity as socialists or humanists or whatever, today’s ostentatiously Godless folk constantly declare “I am an atheist!” as if that tells you everything you need to know about a person, when it doesn’t"

Sharia law or gay marriage critics would be branded ‘extremists’ under Tory plans, atheists and Christians warn - "The National Secular Society and the Christian institute – two organisations with often diametrically opposing interests – said they shared fears that the broad scope of extremism could represent a major threat to free speech... Simon Calvert, Deputy Director of the Christian Institute, said traditionalist evangelicals who criticise gay marriage or even argue that all religions are not the same could find themselves accused of extremism. “Anyone who expresses an opinion that isn’t regarded as totally compliant with the Equality Act could find themselves ranked alongside Anjem Choudary, Islamic state or Boko Haram,” he said. He added: “How many times a day do intellectually lazy political activists accuse their opponents of ‘spreading hatred’? “The left does it, the right does it, liberals do it, conservatives do it, it is routine"

'God' seen in photograph of clouds over Norfolk - but it could be Sean Connery or Karl Marx

Commonwealth Games Scottie dogs 'disrespectful to Muslims' - Telegraph - "Malaysian politicians and religious leaders have attacked the use of Scottie dogs during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony, claiming it was disrespectful to Muslims"

Shorter men live longer, scientists find - Telegraph

What ISIS Really Wants

What ISIS Really Wants

"In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.

The group seized Mosul, Iraq, last June, and already rules an area larger than the United Kingdom. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been its leader since May 2010, but until last summer, his most recent known appearance on film was a grainy mug shot from a stay in U.S. captivity at Camp Bucca during the occupation of Iraq. Then, on July 5 of last year, he stepped into the pulpit of the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul, to deliver a Ramadan sermon as the first caliph in generations—upgrading his resolution from grainy to high-definition, and his position from hunted guerrilla to commander of all Muslims. The inflow of jihadists that followed, from around the world, was unprecedented in its pace and volume, and is continuing.

Our ignorance of the Islamic State is in some ways understandable: It is a hermit kingdom; few have gone there and returned. Baghdadi has spoken on camera only once. But his address, and the Islamic State’s countless other propaganda videos and encyclicals, are online, and the caliphate’s supporters have toiled mightily to make their project knowable. We can gather that their state rejects peace as a matter of principle; that it hungers for genocide; that its religious views make it constitutionally incapable of certain types of change, even if that change might ensure its survival; and that it considers itself a harbinger of—and headline player in—the imminent end of the world.

The Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), follows a distinctive variety of Islam whose beliefs about the path to the Day of Judgment matter to its strategy, and can help the West know its enemy and predict its behavior. Its rise to power is less like the triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (a group whose leaders the Islamic State considers apostates) than like the realization of a dystopian alternate reality in which David Koresh or Jim Jones survived to wield absolute power over not just a few hundred people, but some 8 million.

We have misunderstood the nature of the Islamic State in at least two ways. First, we tend to see jihadism as monolithic, and to apply the logic of al‑Qaeda to an organization that has decisively eclipsed it. The Islamic State supporters I spoke with still refer to Osama bin Laden as “Sheikh Osama,” a title of honor. But jihadism has evolved since al-Qaeda’s heyday, from about 1998 to 2003, and many jihadists disdain the group’s priorities and current leadership.

Bin Laden viewed his terrorism as a prologue to a caliphate he did not expect to see in his lifetime. His organization was flexible, operating as a geographically diffuse network of autonomous cells. The Islamic State, by contrast, requires territory to remain legitimate, and a top-down structure to rule it. (Its bureaucracy is divided into civil and military arms, and its territory into provinces.)

We are misled in a second way, by a well-intentioned but dishonest campaign to deny the Islamic State’s medieval religious nature. Peter Bergen, who produced the first interview with bin Laden in 1997, titled his first book Holy War, Inc. in part to acknowledge bin Laden as a creature of the modern secular world. Bin Laden corporatized terror and franchised it out. He requested specific political concessions, such as the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Saudi Arabia. His foot soldiers navigated the modern world confidently. On Mohammad Atta’s last full day of life, he shopped at Walmart and ate dinner at Pizza Hut.

There is a temptation to rehearse this observation—that jihadists are modern secular people, with modern political concerns, wearing medieval religious disguise—and make it fit the Islamic State. In fact, much of what the group does looks nonsensical except in light of a sincere, carefully considered commitment to returning civilization to a seventh-century legal environment, and ultimately to bringing about the apocalypse.

The most-articulate spokesmen for that position are the Islamic State’s officials and supporters themselves. They refer derisively to “moderns.” In conversation, they insist that they will not—cannot—waver from governing precepts that were embedded in Islam by the Prophet Muhammad and his earliest followers. They often speak in codes and allusions that sound odd or old-fashioned to non-Muslims, but refer to specific traditions and texts of early Islam.

To take one example: In September, Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the Islamic State’s chief spokesman, called on Muslims in Western countries such as France and Canada to find an infidel and “smash his head with a rock,” poison him, run him over with a car, or “destroy his crops.” To Western ears, the biblical-sounding punishments—the stoning and crop destruction—juxtaposed strangely with his more modern-sounding call to vehicular homicide. (As if to show that he could terrorize by imagery alone, Adnani also referred to Secretary of State John Kerry as an “uncircumcised geezer.”)

But Adnani was not merely talking trash. His speech was laced with theological and legal discussion, and his exhortation to attack crops directly echoed orders from Muhammad to leave well water and crops alone—unless the armies of Islam were in a defensive position, in which case Muslims in the lands of kuffar, or infidels, should be unmerciful, and poison away.

The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it. We’ll need to get acquainted with the Islamic State’s intellectual genealogy if we are to react in a way that will not strengthen it, but instead help it self-immolate in its own excessive zeal...

The distinction between apostate and sinner may appear subtle, but it is a key point of contention between al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

Denying the holiness of the Koran or the prophecies of Muhammad is straightforward apostasy. But Zarqawi and the state he spawned take the position that many other acts can remove a Muslim from Islam. These include, in certain cases, selling alcohol or drugs, wearing Western clothes or shaving one’s beard, voting in an election—even for a Muslim candidate—and being lax about calling other people apostates. Being a Shiite, as most Iraqi Arabs are, meets the standard as well, because the Islamic State regards Shiism as innovation, and to innovate on the Koran is to deny its initial perfection. (The Islamic State claims that common Shiite practices, such as worship at the graves of imams and public self-flagellation, have no basis in the Koran or in the example of the Prophet.) That means roughly 200 million Shia are marked for death. So too are the heads of state of every Muslim country, who have elevated man-made law above Sharia by running for office or enforcing laws not made by God.

Following takfiri doctrine, the Islamic State is committed to purifying the world by killing vast numbers of people...

In the past, Westerners who accused Muslims of blindly following ancient scriptures came to deserved grief from academics—notably the late Edward Said—who pointed out that calling Muslims “ancient” was usually just another way to denigrate them. Look instead, these scholars urged, to the conditions in which these ideologies arose—the bad governance, the shifting social mores, the humiliation of living in lands valued only for their oil.

Without acknowledgment of these factors, no explanation of the rise of the Islamic State could be complete. But focusing on them to the exclusion of ideology reflects another kind of Western bias: that if religious ideology doesn’t matter much in Washington or Berlin, surely it must be equally irrelevant in Raqqa or Mosul. When a masked executioner says Allahu akbar while beheading an apostate, sometimes he’s doing so for religious reasons.

Many mainstream Muslim organizations have gone so far as to say the Islamic State is, in fact, un-Islamic. It is, of course, reassuring to know that the vast majority of Muslims have zero interest in replacing Hollywood movies with public executions as evening entertainment. But Muslims who call the Islamic State un-Islamic are typically, as the Princeton scholar Bernard Haykel, the leading expert on the group’s theology, told me, “embarrassed and politically correct, with a cotton-candy view of their own religion” that neglects “what their religion has historically and legally required.” Many denials of the Islamic State’s religious nature, he said, are rooted in an “interfaith-Christian-nonsense tradition”...

He regards the claim that the Islamic State has distorted the texts of Islam as preposterous, sustainable only through willful ignorance. “People want to absolve Islam,” he said. “It’s this ‘Islam is a religion of peace’ mantra. As if there is such a thing as ‘Islam’! It’s what Muslims do, and how they interpret their texts.” Those texts are shared by all Sunni Muslims, not just the Islamic State. “And these guys have just as much legitimacy as anyone else.”

All Muslims acknowledge that Muhammad’s earliest conquests were not tidy affairs, and that the laws of war passed down in the Koran and in the narrations of the Prophet’s rule were calibrated to fit a turbulent and violent time. In Haykel’s estimation, the fighters of the Islamic State are authentic throwbacks to early Islam and are faithfully reproducing its norms of war. This behavior includes a number of practices that modern Muslims tend to prefer not to acknowledge as integral to their sacred texts. “Slavery, crucifixion, and beheadings are not something that freakish [jihadists] are cherry-picking from the medieval tradition,” Haykel said. Islamic State fighters “are smack in the middle of the medieval tradition and are bringing it wholesale into the present day”...

Leaders of the Islamic State have taken emulation of Muhammad as strict duty, and have revived traditions that have been dormant for hundreds of years. “What’s striking about them is not just the literalism, but also the seriousness with which they read these texts,” Haykel said. “There is an assiduous, obsessive seriousness that Muslims don’t normally have”...

The caliphate has continued to embrace slavery and crucifixion without apology. “We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women,” Adnani, the spokesman, promised in one of his periodic valentines to the West. “If we do not reach that time, then our children and grandchildren will reach it, and they will sell your sons as slaves at the slave market”...

The caliphate, Cerantonio told me, is not just a political entity but also a vehicle for salvation. Islamic State propaganda regularly reports the pledges of baya’a (allegiance) rolling in from jihadist groups across the Muslim world. Cerantonio quoted a Prophetic saying, that to die without pledging allegiance is to die jahil (ignorant) and therefore die a “death of disbelief.” Consider how Muslims (or, for that matter, Christians) imagine God deals with the souls of people who die without learning about the one true religion. They are neither obviously saved nor definitively condemned. Similarly, Cerantonio said, the Muslim who acknowledges one omnipotent god and prays, but who dies without pledging himself to a valid caliph and incurring the obligations of that oath, has failed to live a fully Islamic life. I pointed out that this means the vast majority of Muslims in history, and all who passed away between 1924 and 2014, died a death of disbelief. Cerantonio nodded gravely. “I would go so far as to say that Islam has been reestablished” by the caliphate...

The caliph is required to implement Sharia. Any deviation will compel those who have pledged allegiance to inform the caliph in private of his error and, in extreme cases, to excommunicate and replace him if he persists...

Choudary said Sharia has been misunderstood because of its incomplete application by regimes such as Saudi Arabia, which does behead murderers and cut off thieves’ hands. “The problem,” he explained, “is that when places like Saudi Arabia just implement the penal code, and don’t provide the social and economic justice of the Sharia—the whole package—they simply engender hatred toward the Sharia.” That whole package, he said, would include free housing, food, and clothing for all, though of course anyone who wished to enrich himself with work could do so...

The Islamic State may have medieval-style punishments for moral crimes (lashes for boozing or fornication, stoning for adultery), but its social-welfare program is, at least in some aspects, progressive to a degree that would please an MSNBC pundit. Health care, he said, is free. (“Isn’t it free in Britain, too?,” I asked. “Not really,” he said. “Some procedures aren’t covered, such as vision.”) This provision of social welfare was not, he said, a policy choice of the Islamic State, but a policy obligation inherent in God’s law...

The Islamic State has its share of worldly concerns (including, in the places it controls, collecting garbage and keeping the water running), but the End of Days is a leitmotif of its propaganda...

For certain true believers—the kind who long for epic good-versus-evil battles—visions of apocalyptic bloodbaths fulfill a deep psychological need. Of the Islamic State supporters I met, Musa Cerantonio, the Australian, expressed the deepest interest in the apocalypse and how the remaining days of the Islamic State—and the world—might look. Parts of that prediction are original to him, and do not yet have the status of doctrine. But other parts are based on mainstream Sunni sources and appear all over the Islamic State’s propaganda. These include the belief that there will be only 12 legitimate caliphs, and Baghdadi is the eighth; that the armies of Rome will mass to meet the armies of Islam in northern Syria; and that Islam’s final showdown with an anti-Messiah will occur in Jerusalem after a period of renewed Islamic conquest.

The Islamic State has attached great importance to the Syrian city of Dabiq, near Aleppo. It named its propaganda magazine after the town, and celebrated madly when (at great cost) it conquered Dabiq’s strategically unimportant plains. It is here, the Prophet reportedly said, that the armies of Rome will set up their camp. The armies of Islam will meet them, and Dabiq will be Rome’s Waterloo or its Antietam...

The ideological purity of the Islamic State has one compensating virtue: it allows us to predict some of the group’s actions. Osama bin Laden was seldom predictable. He ended his first television interview cryptically. CNN’s Peter Arnett asked him, “What are your future plans?” Bin Laden replied, “You’ll see them and hear about them in the media, God willing.” By contrast, the Islamic State boasts openly about its plans—not all of them, but enough so that by listening carefully, we can deduce how it intends to govern and expand...

Choudary took pains to present the laws of war under which the Islamic State operates as policies of mercy rather than of brutality. He told me the state has an obligation to terrorize its enemies—a holy order to scare the shit out of them with beheadings and crucifixions and enslavement of women and children, because doing so hastens victory and avoids prolonged conflict.

Choudary’s colleague Abu Baraa explained that Islamic law permits only temporary peace treaties, lasting no longer than a decade. Similarly, accepting any border is anathema, as stated by the Prophet and echoed in the Islamic State’s propaganda videos. If the caliph consents to a longer-term peace or permanent border, he will be in error. Temporary peace treaties are renewable, but may not be applied to all enemies at once: the caliph must wage jihad at least once a year. He may not rest, or he will fall into a state of sin...

Given everything we know about the Islamic State, continuing to slowly bleed it, through air strikes and proxy warfare, appears the best of bad military options. Neither the Kurds nor the Shia will ever subdue and control the whole Sunni heartland of Syria and Iraq—they are hated there, and have no appetite for such an adventure anyway. But they can keep the Islamic State from fulfilling its duty to expand. And with every month that it fails to expand, it resembles less the conquering state of the Prophet Muhammad than yet another Middle Eastern government failing to bring prosperity to its people...

The foreign fighters (and their wives and children) have been traveling to the caliphate on one-way tickets: they want to live under true Sharia, and many want martyrdom. Doctrine, recall, requires believers to reside in the caliphate if it is at all possible for them to do so. One of the Islamic State’s less bloody videos shows a group of jihadists burning their French, British, and Australian passports. This would be an eccentric act for someone intending to return to blow himself up in line at the Louvre or to hold another chocolate shop hostage in Sydney...

It would be facile, even exculpatory, to call the problem of the Islamic State “a problem with Islam.” The religion allows many interpretations, and Islamic State supporters are morally on the hook for the one they choose. And yet simply denouncing the Islamic State as un-Islamic can be counterproductive, especially if those who hear the message have read the holy texts and seen the endorsement of many of the caliphate’s practices written plainly within them.

Muslims can say that slavery is not legitimate now, and that crucifixion is wrong at this historical juncture. Many say precisely this. But they cannot condemn slavery or crucifixion outright without contradicting the Koran and the example of the Prophet. “The only principled ground that the Islamic State’s opponents could take is to say that certain core texts and traditional teachings of Islam are no longer valid,” Bernard Haykel says. That really would be an act of apostasy...

The term Salafi has been villainized, in part because authentic villains have ridden into battle waving the Salafi banner. But most Salafis are not jihadists, and most adhere to sects that reject the Islamic State. They are, as Haykel notes, committed to expanding Dar al-Islam, the land of Islam, even, perhaps, with the implementation of monstrous practices such as slavery and amputation—but at some future point. Their first priority is personal purification and religious observance, and they believe anything that thwarts those goals—such as causing war or unrest that would disrupt lives and prayer and scholarship—is forbidden...

Quietist Salafis believe that Muslims should direct their energies toward perfecting their personal life, including prayer, ritual, and hygiene. Much in the same way ultra-Orthodox Jews debate whether it’s kosher to tear off squares of toilet paper on the Sabbath (does that count as “rending cloth”?), they spend an inordinate amount of time ensuring that their trousers are not too long, that their beards are trimmed in some areas and shaggy in others. Through this fastidious observance, they believe, God will favor them with strength and numbers, and perhaps a caliphate will arise. At that moment, Muslims will take vengeance and, yes, achieve glorious victory at Dabiq...

Western officials would probably do best to refrain from weighing in on matters of Islamic theological debate altogether. Barack Obama himself drifted into takfiri waters when he claimed that the Islamic State was “not Islamic”—the irony being that he, as the non-Muslim son of a Muslim, may himself be classified as an apostate, and yet is now practicing takfir against Muslims. Non-Muslims’ practicing takfir elicits chuckles from jihadists (“Like a pig covered in feces giving hygiene advice to others,” one tweeted).

I suspect that most Muslims appreciated Obama’s sentiment: the president was standing with them against both Baghdadi and non-Muslim chauvinists trying to implicate them in crimes. But most Muslims aren’t susceptible to joining jihad. The ones who are susceptible will only have had their suspicions confirmed: the United States lies about religion to serve its purposes...

In reviewing Mein Kampf in March 1940, George Orwell confessed that he had “never been able to dislike Hitler”; something about the man projected an underdog quality, even when his goals were cowardly or loathsome. “If he were killing a mouse he would know how to make it seem like a dragon.” The Islamic State’s partisans have much the same allure. They believe that they are personally involved in struggles beyond their own lives, and that merely to be swept up in the drama, on the side of righteousness, is a privilege and a pleasure—especially when it is also a burden.

Fascism, Orwell continued, is

psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life … Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people “I offer you a good time,” Hitler has said to them, “I offer you struggle, danger, and death,” and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet … We ought not to underrate its emotional appeal.
"


So the solution to violent religious fundamentalism is... more religious fundamentalism?


Addendum:

'What ISIS Really Wants': How Readers Are Responding to The Atlantic's Cover Story

"As for the reaction from the Islamic State: I noticed my article tweeted out multiple times by ISIS supporters, at least once by a fan of the group who noted nervously that the guy who wrote it must be spying on their tweets. Those whose comments I saw were delighted that I had taken their ideology seriously and concluded that ISIS is an Islamic group. Their delight pleases me only because my intention was to describe the group in terms it recognized and considered fair. I suppose at least some supporters thought I succeeded, or at least came closer than the last infidel who tried...

'[The] enemies of the Muslims may be aware of what the Muslims are planning, but it won't benefit them at all as they prefer to either keep their heads in the sand, or to fight their imaginary war based upon rational freedom-loving democrats vs. irrational evil terrorist madmen. With this in mind, maybe you can understand to some degree one of the reasons why many Muslims will share your piece. It’s not because we don't understand what it is saying in terms of how to defeat the Muslims, rather it’s because we know that those in charge will ignore it and screw things up anyway.'"

Thursday, February 19, 2015

New blog picture - 19th February 2015

After more than a year (!), finally a new one:

 photo kermit-goatse_zps5f494e08.jpg
Goatse Fa Cai

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Links - 18th February 2015

Environmentalists Applaud Army Move To Replace Humvee Fleet - "It’s extremely quiet. You could drive this car right up the ass of al Qaeda and they wouldn’t even hear you until you it was all over"

This Is What Happens When You Tell Men To Peel The Potatoes... - "This guy peels a few pounds of potatoes in less than sixty seconds using a power hose, a bucket, a drill, and a cheap (NEW) toilet bowl brush."

Why Illinois has banned exfoliating face washes - "They may feel good when they're exfoliating your face, but the tiny plastic beads found in cosmetics are seriously bad news for the environment"

Game of Thrones Reenvisioned as Feudal Japan - Imgur

Life Extension May Add Just Bad Time - "increased life span did not usually come with a prolonged period of health and strength. Indeed, the “good times” for each of the worms was roughly the same, regardless of their overall life span. In other words, the longer-living worms spent a greater proportion of their lives in a diminished state—with less mobility and stress resistance."

Saving old information can boost memory for new information - "The simple act of saving something, such as a file on a computer, may improve our memory for the information we encounter next, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The research suggests that the act of saving helps to free up cognitive resources that can be used to remember new information"

Nobel Prize-winner Shuji Nakamura to Japan’s young people: “Get out of Japan” - "Although Nakamura praised the Japanese culture of cooperation, hard work and honesty, he called out the education system for focusing too much on the limited goals of exams and getting into big companies. He pointed out that it is failing to give young people the English skills they need to function on a global level... He also said that lack of exposure to foreign cultures breeds a parochial ethnocentrism and makes young Japanese susceptible to “mind control” by the government. Nakamura slammed Japan for failing to ensure that inventors are fairly compensated for their work, something that stifles innovation and provides “zero incentive” for employees to be creative. Article 35 of the patent law says that patent rights belong to the inventor, but in practice, companies dictate the terms of compensation to their employees. In fact, Nakamura’s former company paid him the equivalent of just US$180 for his Nobel-winning invention. Nakamura sued in 2001 and a Tokyo court determined that his patent had generated about US$1 billion in revenue. Nakamura settled with the company for US$8 million... “The most important thing is to go abroad and they can see Japan from outside the country. And they understand, …oh, now I can understand bad thing of Japan. That’s the most important thing, no? Japanese people have to wake up about Japanese bad things, you know. I think that’s very important.”"

The Economist pulls out cartoon - "Social and Family Development Minister Chan Chun Sing said in a Facebook post: "We must never attack the religious beliefs that people hold dear.""
What about extremist religious beliefs that people hold dear?

Denmark: Prosecution of Free Speech Advocate May Prompt Changes to Racism Laws - "On August 4, 2010, the Public Prosecutor for Copenhagen charged International Free Press Society (IFPS) president Lars Hedegaard with racism. The IFPS describes itself as an organization "exclusively devoted to defending the right of free expression." The basis for Hedegaard's prosecution was an interview from December 2009 in which he made controversial statements about Islam. These assertions included critiques of what Hedegaard saw as Islam's permissiveness regarding child abuse and bearing false witness, as well as Islam's general intolerance concerning apostacism and critical speech... Hedegaard's statements earned him a hate speech charge under Danish law. While Denmark's constitution ostensibly protects freedom of expression and forbids censorship (see Section 77), the Criminal code provides that "expressing and spreading racial hatred" is a criminal offense punishable with up to two years imprisonment. (Article 266b) Indeed, notwithstanding Section 77, article 266b has already been deployed against defendants who, like Hedegaard, dare to criticize Islam. On June 16, 2010, the Danish parliament voted to strip a lawmaker of immunity so that he could face charges over anti-Muslim comments. The politician, Jesper Langballe, is a veteran member of the Danish People's Party (PPD) and a crucial ally of the center-right government. In January 2010, he penned a newspaper column discussing the status of women in Islam and the "Islamisation of Europe." Included was the statement that "Muslims kill their daughters over crimes of honour and turn a blind eye while they are raped by their uncles." He is currently awaiting trial for violating Article 266b—the same hate speech statute that will likely be applied to Hedegaard... Justice Minister Lars Barfoed announced that Denmark's hate speech and blasphemy laws should be reexamined. The Copenhagen Post explains that Barfoed is "preparing the ground for changes to laws criminalising racist and blasphemous speech on concerns they could be misused as political instruments to restrict free speech."

How a ban on hate speech helped the Nazis - "Modern hate speech leg­islation was born from World War II. There was a feeling that hatred needed to be curbed to prevent another outburst of fascist hysteria. But it wasn’t Western governments calling for laws against hate speech — it was the authoritarian Soviet Union... Eleanor Roosevelt said a hate speech qualification would be “extremely dangerous” since “any criticism of public or religious authorities might all too easily be described as incitement to hatred” (how prescient she was)... The Weimar Republic of the 30s had laws against “insulting religious communities”. They were used to prosecute hundreds of Nazi agitators, including Joseph Goebbels. Did it stop them? No. It helped them. The Nazis turned their prosecutions for hate speech to their advantage, presenting themselves as political victims and whipping up public support among aggrieved sections of German society, their future social base. Far from halting Nazism, hate speech legislation assisted it."

Meet the woman who's 'too fat to work' refused NHS weight-loss surgery so she can stay on benefits - "‘I’m not going ­under the knife for ­anyone because I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong,’ the 28-year-old said... Despite being advised by several doctors to have gastric band fitted, Ms Sinclair, who uses a mobility scooter to get around, insists her size is due to fluid retention – not poor diet or lack of exercise. She also believes she should be entitled to a free cleaner because she’s ‘too big’ to keep her home hygienic."

Naser Khader and Flemming Rose: Reflections on the Danish Cartoon Controversy - "Many Muslim members dropped out of the Democratic Muslims of Denmark because they were threatened. One board member was attacked physically. Young females are especially vulnerable. I remember a woman board member, a Somali, who said that she could not continue on the board because she was intimidated. When I went to visit her with a bodyguard, I encountered five to ten Muslims who were hostile to me. When I got out of the car and went to her flat, they smashed the police car. Extra police protection was brought in to help us... The publishing of the cartoons was a wake-up call to many of Denmark's neighbors—particularly the Swedes who are inclined to ignore such problems—that they have to pay attention to radical Islam. They cannot go on blindly with their multicultural hopes. Instead, they must come to terms that there are radical extremists in their midst who need to be dealt with... Business owners realized that there are Danish Muslims loyal to the Danish state and society. Those who had hitherto been skeptical of employing Muslims, worried that they would be getting Islamists, now understand that there is a segment—something on the order of 15 percent, one‑sixth of the Muslim population—that is overtly, strongly loyal and would be great hires... it is discriminatory toward Muslims to say that we should not make fun of their religion when we are making fun of everybody else's religion... the cartoons were an act of inclusion because we were not asking more or less of Muslims but exactly the same as of everybody else. Danish Muslims should be treated as adults, not as a weak minority needing special treatment like small children... We have in Western Europe this kind of self-hatred stemming from our colonial past and things like that... I spoke to [historian of Islam] Bernard Lewis about this, and he said that the big difference between our case and the Rushdie affair is that Rushdie is perceived as an apostate by the Muslims while, in our case, Muslims were insisting on applying Islamic law to what non-Muslims are doing in non‑Muslim countries. In that sense, he said it is a kind of unique case that might indicate that Europe is perceived as some kind of intermediate state between the Muslim world and the non-Muslim world...
MEQ: If you knew the outrage that publishing the cartoons would generate, would you still have commissioned them?
Rose: That's like asking a rape victim if she regrets wearing a short skirt at the discotheque Friday night. I have been asked that question many times, and no matter how you answer, it is problematic."

Quebec government opposes expanded access to French language instruction - "The Quebec government has appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada to prevent expanding access to French language education for Francophone minority communities in the rest of Canada. Quebec has argued that expanding access to French language instruction outside Quebec may result in having to also expand access to English language instruction in Quebec, which the provincial government argues may result in potentially ‘grave consequences’ here in La Belle Province."

Malaysian Muslim group demands Catholic Church to stop using Malay in newspaper

Norwegian Reality Show Sends Fashion Bloggers to Work in Cambodian Sweatshop

Are Cambodia's Sex Workers Being Forced Into the Garment Trade? - "Is Cambodia’s aggressive anti-trafficking campaign forcing sex workers into an even worse trade? A video exposé from Vice News claims that Cambodian authorities are “rehabilitating” former prostitutes in garment sweatshops, where conditions and pay are even more deplorable... Sex workers brought into police custody are given a simple choice, according to Alvi: accept training for a new career or remain behind bars, where they’re vulnerable to abuse and shakedowns by corrupt police, indefinitely. More often than not, the women accept the retraining, nearly always for Cambodia’s garment industry, which employs half a million Cambodians and accounts for 80 percent of the Southeast Asian country’s exports. Since the crackdowns began in 2008, the Cambodian government says it has given thousands of sex workers a fresh start. The truth is a little grayer, however. “We soon learn that many of these women didn’t want to be rescued at all,” Alvi says... “They convinced me that NGOs could change my life,” Pholly tells him. “That place was like a prison. They closed the door and wouldn’t let me out”... Not all sex workers are victims of trafficking, Alvi says. In fact, a surprisingly number are entering brothels of their own free will. And there’s the rub."

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Something to do during Chinese New Year

Lee Amizadai - Timeline Photos:



"I heard a really awful story the other day. When CNY rolls around, some old folk who live alone in the Chai Chee estate get dressed in their finest, in anticipation of family visitations.... but nobody comes. I visualise old men and women sitting alone in their flats, alternating between hope and resignation, waiting for a knock on the door that never happens. And then as the sky dims, they change out of their CNY clothing and go to bed. The horrible thing is that it's a dark and depressing reality for some people in a time that should be everything but. So Wally and I are dropping by on Friday, 20 Feb to say hi to some of the people who have been identified as living alone and in need of some CNY cheer. Feel free to join us, and invite other people to come along (share this pic, or refer them to the event page below). I really need to get that picture out of my head and make a different reality. I may not be that auntie or uncle's family, but I can certainly act like they are my grandma or grandpa!

Chai Chee CNY Blessings"

Links - 17th February 2015

German teen floods club toilet in futile hunt for lost mobile phone - "A German teen who lost his mobile phone in a pond tried to get it back by draining the water and pumping it into a nearby toilet but caused major damage when the water flooded the tank and sent the waste spewing"

Black cats are being abandoned by owners because they don't look good in SELFIES

Amazon calls for Hachette to cut e-book prices - "Amazon said that its internal data showed that when a book is priced at $9.99, it sells nearly twice as many copies as when it is priced at $14.99. It argued that, as a result, total revenue at $9.99 is more than when the book is priced higher. "At $9.99, the total pie is bigger""

Are there emotional no-go areas where logic dare not show its face? - "These dilemmas are uncomfortable. It is the business of moral philosophers to face up to the discomfort and teach their students to do the same. A friend, a professor of moral philosophy, told me he received hate-mail when he raised the hypothetical case of the miners. He also told me there are certain thought experiments that divide his students down the middle. Some students are capable of temporarily accepting a noxious hypothetical, to explore where it might lead. Others are so blinded by emotion that they cannot even contemplate the hypothetical. They simply stop up their ears and refuse to join the discussion... There are those whose love of reason allows them to enter such disagreeable hypothetical worlds and see where the discussion might lead. And there are those whose emotions prevent them from going anywhere near the conversation. Some of these will vilify and hurl vicious insults at anybody who is prepared to discuss such matters. Some will pursue active witch-hunts against moral philosophers for daring to consider obnoxious hypothetical thought experiments... There is no allowable distinction between one kind of rape and another. If that were really right, judges shouldn’t be allowed to impose harsher sentences for some rapes than for others. Do we really want our courts to impose a single mandatory sentence – a life sentence, perhaps – for all rapes regardless? To all rapes, from getting a woman drunk and taking advantage at one end of the spectrum, to holding a knife to her throat in a dark alley at the other? Do we really want our judges to ignore such distinctions when they pass sentence? I don’t, and I don’t think any reasonable person would if they thought it through. And yet that would seem to be the message of the agonisingly passionate tweets that I have been reading. The message seems to be, no, there is no spectrum, you are wicked, evil, a monster, to even ask whether there might be a spectrum."

Who Wins in the Name Game? - "Not being able to pronounce a name spells a death sentence for relationships. That’s because the ability to pronounce someone’s name is directly related to how close you feel to that person. Our brains tend to believe that if something is difficult to understand, it must also be high-risk."

Psychologists Find a Surprising Thing Happens to Kids Who Read Harry Potter - "reading the Harry Potter series significantly improved young peoples' perception of stigmatized groups like immigrants, homosexuals or refugees."

5 or 50 Minutes of Running Makes No Difference to Health Benefits: Study - "The key is to sustain the practice."

Restaurant Watches Video Footage Of Customers And Uncovers Shocking Truth - "a restaurant in New York City conducted an investigation looking into why they were getting bad reviews from customers who waited to long to get their food. Believe it or not, cellphones were to blame for the slow service of this restaurant. The restaurant published what they found on the internet and it’s an intriguing testimony of what our society has come to."

Rockets and bombs make Israelis and Palestinians less willing to compromise - "do terrorism and indiscriminate violence “scare” a people into accepting the perpetrators’ demands? Or do they harden the affected population, making them less willing to negotiate?... we use variation in the range of rockets from Gaza to Israel to estimate the effect of terrorism on voting in the Israeli elections from 2003 through 2009. During this period, the rockets’ range has continuously increased, allowing us to examine what happens to voters who come into the range of rockets from Gaza compared to similar voters who live outside that range. We find that the vote-shares of right-wing parties that typically oppose concessions to Palestinians increase by 2-7 percentage points among voters within range of rockets. We further argue that voters “reward” right-wing incumbents electorally even if rocket range increases while they are in office, because right-wing parties are perceived to be more competent in dealing with security threats... Palestinians who grew up during First Intifada (the first Palestinian uprising, which took place 1987-1993), and were thus exposed to more violence during their formative years, are less likely to support negotiations with Israel than individuals who grew up during the Oslo peace process."

French court rules no halal meals in prison - "a court in Lyon ruled that "given the possibility for detainees to get meals without pork or vegetarian meals, to get special meals during the main holidays and given the possibility to buy halal meat," prisoners' rights were being respected."

How to reverse course on bad driving? - "Should Singapore do away with traffic lights and signs, in a bid to rid the roads of virulent bad driving? Counter-intuitive as it sounds, such a move has borne results. In the Dutch town of Drachten, removing street rules and directives resurrected road users’ “ability to be considerate”"

Why the Dismal Science Deserves Federal Funding - "Research funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and conducted by Columbia University's Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, among others, has shown that socioeconomic conditions in the home, child-rearing practices, and other environmental influences have a critical impact on child health and development. Federally funded research has also shown that throwing money at families, as we did in the failed War on Poverty of the 1960s, does not improve social mobility or create economic opportunity. Recall that it was government-sponsored research conducted by Johns Hopkins University's Robert Moffitt and others that helped provide the analysis behind welfare reform in the 1990s... We cannot expect the market alone to support basic economic and social research, including data collection, since they are public goods that are difficult to appropriate privately"

The 10 most annoying sounds - and why they bother us so much - "Researchers identified these as the most unpleasant sounds:
1. Knife on a bottle
2. Fork on a glass
3. Chalk on a blackboard
4. Ruler on a bottle
5. Nails on a chalkboard
6. Female scream
7. Angle grinder
8. Brakes on a cycle squealing
9. Baby crying
10. Electric drill
The study also identified some of the least unpleasant sounds:
1. Applause
2. Baby laughing
3. Thunder
4. Water flowing"

Why Opposites Attract in Fiction But Not Reality - "The key ingredient of any story is conflict. Will Odysseus return to Ithaca safely? Will Moby Dick get the best of Captain Ahab? Will Walt and Skyler in Breaking Bad, or Don and Betty in Mad Men end up together? Darwinists point out that two things ultimately motivate all organisms: survival and reproduction. Literary Darwinists argue that it’s not a coincidence that these two goals are the most prominent themes in fiction from Homer’s The Odyssey to Kathleen Woodiwess’ 1970s pulp fiction romantic novel The Flame and the Flower to Woody Allen’s Love and Death, a satire on Russian literature. If the conflict is essential to fiction, then chances are it revolves around sex and violence... the goal of some postmodern writers is to scrap clichés in favor of more accurate accounts of everyday life. The problem with this so-called hyperrealist fiction is that it’s incredibly boring... But it’s not conflict and sensationalism per se that draws us in. What we really love are resolutions; it just happens that conflict is the necessary ingredient"

Not So Golden, Sumiko - "To whom does Singapore belong, Sumiko? Does Homeless Man have a right to demand a stake too? The answer, according to your article, would be no – because you, your dogs and a whole load of Duck Tour-ists are having a great time."

We Are Hyper Cacher - "France, in other words, was the site of one of the great Jewish engagements with liberalism and one of the great liberal engagements with the Jews... pieties about diversity are an inadequate response to intercommunal violence. When members of one patch of the quilt murder members of another patch of the quilt, it will not suffice to invoke the splendors of quiltness. Instead, the harsh realities of tolerance must be faced. I say harsh because a tolerant society is a society in which feelings are regularly bruised and faiths are regularly outraged. The integrity of the otherwise puerile and disagreeable Charlie Hebdo is owed to the range of its impudence: It insults everybody, and in this way it is respectful in its disrespect. Umbrage is one of the telltale signs of an open society. One can always respond in kind: The offended may offend the offending. (An AK-47, by contrast, is not an acceptable instrument of literary criticism.) Too many Muslims—not all, not all, not all—wish to be granted tolerance but do not wish to grant it. They do not see that blasphemy is the price one pays for the freedom to practice and to propound one’s religion. Blasphemy is freedom’s tax. The important thing is that the tax be imposed fairly—which is why the French government makes a serious mistake, philosophically and politically, when it seeks to criminalize speech that offends the Jews of France... The history of anti-Semitic incitement in modern Europe may appear to justify the regulation of opinion by law and government, but censorship only intensifies and embitters prejudice. Hatred must be confronted and refuted and disgraced. This may be a long struggle, but no society can be spared a struggle with its demons; and muzzling its demons, or arresting them, as the French authorities have just arrested the contemptible Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, will not banish them... the Jewish crisis of confidence in France is certainly more than a year old: I would date it at least as far back as 2006, when a young Jew named Ilan Halimi was kidnapped in a Parisian suburb by an anti-Semitic crew called the Gang of Barbarians and horrifically tortured for three weeks. He died of his wounds and almost nobody remembers his name. A few years later, an Islamist terrorist shot schoolchildren at point-blank range and killed their rabbi at the Ozar Hatorah day school in Toulouse. President Sarkozy called it an isolated incident. More recently, Fabius and Cazeneuve referred to the beatings and synagogue burnings of this past year—in the first six months of the year there were 527 anti-Semitic acts, many of them violent—as isolated incidents. Isolated from what? Certainly not from each other. They are isolated only from an honest discussion about a deteriorating situation... Is the choice for the Jews of France now between friendly assault rifles and unfriendly assault rifles?"

Harvard, Ivy League Should Judge Students by Standardized Tests

Harvard, Ivy League Should Judge Students by Standardized Tests

"Deresiewicz writes engagingly about the wacky ways of elite university admissions, and he deserves credit for opening a debate on policies which have been shrouded in Victorian daintiness and bureaucratic obfuscation. Unfortunately, his article is a poor foundation for diagnosing and treating the illness. Long on dogmatic assertion and short on objective analysis, the article is driven by a literarism which exalts bohemian authenticity over worldly success and analytical brainpower. And his grapeshot inflicts a lot of collateral damage while sparing the biggest pachyderms in the parlor...

It’s easy to agree with him that “the first thing that college is for is to teach you to think,” but much harder to figure out what that means. Deresiewicz knows what it does not mean—“the analytical and rhetorical skills that are necessary for success in business and the professions”—but this belletristic disdain for the real world is unhelpful. The skills necessary for success in the professions include organizing one’s thoughts so that they may be communicated clearly to others, breaking a complex problem into its components, applying general principles to specific cases, discerning cause and effect, and negotiating tradeoffs between competing values. In what rarefied ivory chateau do these skills not count as “thinking”? In its place Deresiewicz says only that learning to think consists of “contemplating things from a distance,” with no hint as to what that contemplation should consist of or where it should lead.

This leads to Deresiewicz’s second goal, “building a self,” which he explicates as follows: “it is only through the act of establishing communication between the mind and the heart, the mind and experience, that you become an individual, a unique being—a soul.” Perhaps I am emblematic of everything that is wrong with elite American education, but I have no idea how to get my students to build a self or become a soul. It isn’t taught in graduate school, and in the hundreds of faculty appointments and promotions I have participated in, we’ve never evaluated a candidate on how well he or she could accomplish it. I submit that if “building a self” is the goal of a university education, you’re going to be reading anguished articles about how the universities are failing at it for a long, long time.

I think we can be more specific. It seems to me that educated people should know something about the 13-billion-year prehistory of our species and the basic laws governing the physical and living world, including our bodies and brains. They should grasp the timeline of human history from the dawn of agriculture to the present. They should be exposed to the diversity of human cultures, and the major systems of belief and value with which they have made sense of their lives. They should know about the formative events in human history, including the blunders we can hope not to repeat. They should understand the principles behind democratic governance and the rule of law. They should know how to appreciate works of fiction and art as sources of aesthetic pleasure and as impetuses to reflect on the human condition.

On top of this knowledge, a liberal education should make certain habits of rationality second nature. Educated people should be able to express complex ideas in clear writing and speech. They should appreciate that objective knowledge is a precious commodity, and know how to distinguish vetted fact from superstition, rumor, and unexamined conventional wisdom. They should know how to reason logically and statistically, avoiding the fallacies and biases to which the untutored human mind is vulnerable. They should think causally rather than magically, and know what it takes to distinguish causation from correlation and coincidence. They should be acutely aware of human fallibility, most notably their own, and appreciate that people who disagree with them are not stupid or evil. Accordingly, they should appreciate the value of trying to change minds by persuasion rather than intimidation or demagoguery.

I believe (and believe I can persuade you) that the more deeply a society cultivates this knowledge and mindset, the more it will flourish. The conviction that they are teachable gets me out of bed in the morning. Laying the foundations in just four years is a formidable challenge. If on top of all this, students want to build a self, they can do it on their own time.

I heartily agree with Deresiewicz that high-quality postsecondary education is a public good which should be accessible to any citizen who can profit from it. At the same time, there are reasons for students to distribute themselves among colleges with different emphases and degrees of academic rigor. People vary in their innate and acquired intelligence, their taste for abstraction, their familiarity with literate culture, their priorities in life, and their personality traits relevant to learning. I could not offer a course in brain science or linguist theory to a representative sample of the college-age population without baffling many students at one end and boring an equal number at the other. Also, students learn as much from their peers as their professors, and benefit from a cohort with which they can bat around ideas. Not least, a vibrant research institution must bring smarter undergraduates into the fold, to challenge received wisdom, inject energy and innovation, and replenish its senescing membership...

Like many observers of American universities, I used to believe the following story. Once upon a time Harvard was a finishing school for the plutocracy, where preppies and Kennedy scions earned gentleman’s Cs while playing football, singing in choral groups, and male-bonding at final clubs, while the blackballed Jews at CCNY founded left-wing magazines and slogged away in labs that prepared them for their Nobel prizes in science. Then came Sputnik, the '60s, and the decline of genteel racism and anti-Semitism, and Harvard had to retool itself as a meritocracy, whose best-and-brightest gifts to America would include recombinant DNA, Wall Street quants, The Simpsons, Facebook, and the masthead of The New Republic.

At the admissions end, it’s common knowledge that Harvard selects at most 10 percent (some say 5 percent) of its students on the basis of academic merit. At an orientation session for new faculty, we were told that Harvard “wants to train the future leaders of the world, not the future academics of the world,” and that “We want to read about our student in Newsweek 20 years hence” (prompting the woman next to me to mutter, “Like the Unabomer”). The rest are selected “holistically,” based also on participation in athletics, the arts, charity, activism, travel, and, we inferred (Not in front of the children!), race, donations, and legacy status (since anything can be hidden behind the holistic fig leaf).

The lucky students who squeeze through this murky bottleneck find themselves in an institution that is single-mindedly and expensively dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge... The benefits of matching this intellectual empyrean with the world’s smartest students are obvious. So why should an ability to play the bassoon or chuck a lacrosse ball be given any weight in the selection process?...

Jerome Karabel has unearthed a damning paper trail showing that in the first half of the twentieth century, holistic admissions were explicitly engineered to cap the number of Jewish students. Ron Unz, in an exposé even more scathing than Deresiewicz’s, has assembled impressive circumstantial evidence that the same thing is happening today with Asians.

Just as troublingly, why are elite universities, of all institutions, perpetuating the destructive stereotype that smart people are one-dimensional dweebs? It would be an occasion for hilarity if anyone suggested that Harvard pick its graduate students, faculty, or president for their prowess in athletics or music, yet these people are certainly no shallower than our undergraduates. In any case, the stereotype is provably false. Camilla Benbow and David Lubinski have tracked a large sample of precocious teenagers identified solely by high performance on the SAT, and found that when they grew up, they not only excelled in academia, technology, medicine, and business, but won outsize recognition for their novels, plays, poems, paintings, sculptures, and productions in dance, music, and theater. A comparison to a Harvard freshman class would be like a match between the Harlem Globetrotters and the Washington Generals.

What about the rationalization that charitable extracurricular activities teach kids important lessons of moral engagement? There are reasons to be skeptical. A skilled professional I know had to turn down an important freelance assignment because of a recurring commitment to chauffeur her son to a resumé-building “social action” assignment required by his high school. This involved driving the boy for 45 minutes to a community center, cooling her heels while he sorted used clothing for charity, and driving him back—forgoing income which, judiciously donated, could have fed, clothed, and inoculated an African village. The dubious “lessons” of this forced labor as an overqualified ragpicker are that children are entitled to treat their mothers’ time as worth nothing, that you can make the world a better place by destroying economic value, and that the moral worth of an action should be measured by the conspicuousness of the sacrifice rather than the gain to the beneficiary.

Knowing how our students are selected, I should not have been surprised when I discovered how they treat their educational windfall once they get here. A few weeks into every semester, I face a lecture hall that is half-empty, despite the fact that I am repeatedly voted a Harvard Yearbook Favorite Professor, that the lectures are not video-recorded, and that they are the only source of certain material that will be on the exam. I don’t take it personally; it’s common knowledge that Harvard students stay away from lectures in droves, burning a fifty-dollar bill from their parents’ wallets every time they do. Obviously they’re not slackers; the reason is that they are crazy-busy. Since they’re not punching a clock at Safeway or picking up kids at day-care, what could they be doing that is more important than learning in class? The answer is that they are consumed by the same kinds of extracurricular activities that got them here in the first place.

Some of these activities, like writing for the campus newspaper, are clearly educational, but most would be classified in any other setting as recreation: sports, dance, improv comedy, and music, music, music (many students perform in more than one ensemble). The commitments can be draconian: a member of the crew might pull an oar four hours a day, seven days a week, and musical ensembles can be just as demanding. Many students have told me that the camaraderie, teamwork, and sense of accomplishment made these activities their most important experiences at Harvard. But it’s not clear why they could not have had the same experiences at Tailgate State, or, for that matter, the local YMCA, opening up places for less “well-rounded” students who could take better advantage of the libraries, labs, and lectures.

The anti-intellectualism of Ivy League undergraduate education is by no means indigenous to the student culture. It’s reinforced by the administration, which treats academics as just one option in the college activity list...

It’s not that students are unconditionally pampered. They may be disciplined by an administrative board with medieval standards of jurisprudence, pressured to sign a kindness pledge suitable for kindergarten, muzzled by speech codes that would not pass the giggle test if challenged on First Amendment grounds, and publicly shamed for private emails that express controversial opinions. The common denominator (belying any hope that an elite university education helps students develop a self) is that they are not treated as competent grown-ups, starting with the first law of adulthood: first attend to your priorities, then you get to play.

My third surprise was what happens to Harvard students at the other end of the pipeline: they get snatched up by the big consulting and investment firms, helping to explain that 20 percent boost in their expected earnings. Why, I wondered, do these cutthroat institutions hire rowers and baritones who know diddly-squat about business just because they have a transcript with the word “Veritas” on it? Wouldn’t they get more value by hiring the best finance major from Ohio State? I asked some people familiar with this world to explain what seemed to me like a massive market failure. They responded candidly.

First, an Ivy degree is treated as a certification of intelligence and self-discipline. Apparently adding a few Harvard students to a team raises its average intelligence and makes it more effective at solving problems. That, the employers feel, is more valuable than specific knowledge, which smart people can pick up quickly in any case...

More disconcertingly, I was told that Ivy League graduates are a prestige good: having a lot of them in your firm is like wearing a Rolex or driving a Bentley. Also, if something goes wrong, your keister is covered. As they used to say about computers, “No one ever got fired for buying IBM.”

Is this any way to run a meritocracy? Ivy admissions policies force teenagers and their mothers into a potlatch of conspicuous leisure and virtue. The winners go to an exorbitant summer camp, most of them indifferent to the outstanding facilities of scholarship and research that are bundled with it. They can afford this insouciance because the piece of paper they leave with serves as a quarter-million-dollar IQ and Marshmallow test. The self-fulfilling aura of prestige ensures that companies will overlook better qualified graduates of store-brand schools. And the size of the jackpot means that it’s rational for families to play this irrational game.

What would it take to fix this wasteful and unjust system? Let’s daydream for a moment. If only we had some way to divine the suitability of a student for an elite education, without ethnic bias, undeserved advantages to the wealthy, or pointless gaming of the system. If only we had some way to match jobs with candidates that was not distorted by the halo of prestige. A sample of behavior that could be gathered quickly and cheaply, assessed objectively, and double-checked for its ability to predict the qualities we value….

We do have this magic measuring stick, of course: it’s called standardized testing. I suspect that a major reason we slid into this madness and can’t seem to figure out how to get out of it is that the American intelligentsia has lost the ability to think straight about objective tests. After all, if the Ivies admitted the highest scoring kids at one end, and companies hired the highest scoring graduates across all universities at the other (with tests that tap knowledge and skill as well as aptitude), many of the perversities of the current system would vanish overnight. Other industrialized countries, lacking our squeamishness about testing, pick their elite students this way, as do our firms in high technology. And as Adrian Wooldridge pointed out in these pages two decades ago, test-based selection used to be the enlightened policy among liberals and progressives, since it can level a hereditary caste system by favoring the Jenny Cavilleris (poor and smart) over the Oliver Barretts (rich and stupid).

If, for various reasons, a university didn’t want a freshman class composed solely of scary-smart kids, there are simple ways to shake up the mixture. Unz suggests that Ivies fill a certain fraction of the incoming class with the highest-scoring applicants, and select the remainder from among the qualified applicant pool by lottery. One can imagine various numerical tweaks, including ones that pull up the number of minorities or legacies to the extent that those goals can be publicly justified. Grades or class rank could also be folded into the calculation. Details aside, it’s hard to see how a simple, transparent, and objective formula would be worse than the eye-of-newt-wing-of-bat mysticism that jerks teenagers and their moms around and conceals unknown mischief.

So why aren’t creative alternatives like this even on the table? A major reason is that popular writers like Stephen Jay Gould and Malcolm Gladwell, pushing a leftist or heart-above-head egalitarianism, have poisoned their readers against aptitude testing. They have insisted that the tests don’t predict anything, or that they do but only up to a limited point on the scale, or that they do but only because affluent parents can goose their children’s scores by buying them test-prep courses.

But all of these hypotheses have been empirically refuted. We have already seen that test scores, as far up the upper tail as you can go, predict a vast range of intellectual, practical, and artistic accomplishments. They’re not perfect, but intuitive judgments based on interviews and other subjective impressions have been shown to be far worse. Test preparation courses, notwithstanding their hard-sell ads, increase scores by a trifling seventh of a standard deviation (with most of the gains in the math component). As for Deresiewicz’s pronouncement that “SAT is supposed to measure aptitude, but what it actually measures is parental income, which it tracks quite closely,” this is bad social science. SAT correlates with parental income (more relevantly, socioeconomic status or SES), but that doesn’t mean it measures it... Paul Sackett and his collaborators have shown that SAT scores predict future university grades, holding all else constant, whereas parental SES does not. Matt McGue has shown, moreover, that adolescents’ test scores track the SES only of their biological parents, not (for adopted kids) of their adoptive parents, suggesting that the tracking reflects shared genes, not economic privilege.

Regardless of the role that you think aptitude testing should play in the admissions process, any discussion of meritocracy that pretends that aptitude does not exist or cannot be measured is not playing with a full deck"
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