December 11, 2010

More Mandatory Finnish Content

Taksin Nuoret writes:
Ever since December 2001, when the results of the first PISA survey were made public, the Finnish educational system has received a lot of international attention. Foreign delegations are flocking to Finland, in the hope of discovering Finland's secrets.

The explanation widely accepted is that the Finnish educational system is better. For example, the following aspects have been pointed out:
  • Schools routinely provide tutoring for weak students.
  • Each school has a social worker ("koulukuraattori").
  • Substitute teachers are often provided when the teacher is ill.

Damn, why didn't anybody in the U.S. ever think of having substitute teachers? 

Anyway, Nuoret goes on to make the argument that perhaps Finnish is an easier language for kids to learn in than many other languages. He notes that Estonians, the other Finno-Ugric-speaking country, also do better than expected on PISA, and that Swedish-speakers in Finland do a little worse than Finnish-speakers on the PISA, even though Swedish-speakers have larger stock portfolios.

Arguments that one language is better than another for thinking about something have been around a long time. For example, maybe the poor reading performance in Latin American countries has something to do with the how it normally takes more letters and syllables to say something in Spanish than in English, as you can see by noting bilingual signs and the like. Puerto Ricans make up for the extra syllables in spoken Spanish by talking faster, but perhaps it's hard to read faster. I don't know.

We don't seem to have made much progress over the many years I've been listening to language theories like these at figuring out how to evaluate them. I like Nuoret's argument because he at least comes up with two pieces of evidence from the PISA results. That's only two pieces of data, however.  Yet that's still about twice the average amount of data presented in these types of discussions of whether one language is more efficient for thinking than another language.

December 9, 2010

"That's rape in Sweden!"

In Taki's Magazine, Jim Goad explains what Julian Assange of WikiLeaks is in the hoosegow for. 

Apparently, hell hath no fury like a feminist scorned.

Arizona v. Nevada

Why has Arizona moved to the right while Nevada is, at least relative to the rest of the country, moving to the left? My new VDARE column offers some explanations.

The DREAM amnesty

Mickey Kaus has been covering in Newsweek the maneuvering to pass the DREAM amnesty by the lame duck Senate (after it was passed by a lame duck House this week).  First, DREAM is potentially a huge amnesty:
because there are no penalties to lying on a DREAM application, and because once you file the application you get a work permit good for 10 years (while you comply with the Act's requirements), DREAM is basically a 10 year free pass to any illegal in a broad under-35ish age range who either qualifies or is willing to say he qualifies even if he doesn't.

Second, that Harry Reid postponed a vote today shows he's not just going-through-the-motions to prove his good intentions to Hispanic activists. Instead, he's trying to keep it alive in case it can become part of the tax cut extension compromise:
Delay offers the hope that something will break in his favor, that the ongoing big negotiations on taxes and spending will offer a moment of leverage to pry a recalcitrant Republican (or, more likely, Democrat) or two over to the DREAM side. At the very least, it offers the prospect that, once the big tax-cut-extension deal is done, Republican senators will consider themselves released from their "Wall of No" pledge not to give any other legislation priority.

Anthropologists say sayonara to science

Nicholas Wade reports in the New York Times:
'Science' Is Cut from Anthropology Group's Guiding Plan, Deepening a Rift

Anthropologists have been thrown into turmoil about the nature and future of their profession after a decision by the American Anthropological Association at its recent annual meeting to strip the word “science” from a statement of its long-range plan.
The decision has reopened a long-simmering tension between researchers in science-based anthropological disciplines — including archaeologists, physical anthropologists and some cultural anthropologists — and members of the profession who study race, ethnicity and gender and see themselves as advocates for native peoples or human rights.
... Until now, the association’s long-range plan was “to advance anthropology as the science that studies humankind in all its aspects.” The executive board revised this last month to say, “The purposes of the association shall be to advance public understanding of humankind in all its aspects.” This is followed by a list of anthropological subdisciplines that includes political research.

... Dr. Peregrine, who is at Lawrence University in Wisconsin, said in an interview that the dropping of the references to science “just blows the top off” the tensions between the two factions. “Even if the board goes back to the old wording, the cat’s out of the bag and is running around clawing up the furniture,” he said.

He attributed what he viewed as an attack on science to two influences within anthropology. One is that of so-called critical anthropologists, who see anthropology as an arm of colonialism and therefore something that should be done away with. The other is the postmodernist critique of the authority of science. “Much of this is like creationism in that it is based on the rejection of rational argument and thought,” he said.
The flames have been fueled by blogs, like one in Psychology Today by Alice Dreger, a historian and medical ethicist. Reporting on an American Anthropological Association meeting in New Orleans, she wrote, “Non-fluff-head cultural anthropologists are feeling utterly beleaguered in this environment that denigrates science and consistently promotes activism over data collection and scientific theorizing.”

This implied dichotomy between anti-science anthropologists who write about race, ethnicity, or gender and scientific anthropologists who don't study those topics is a bit misleading. The are also anthropologists who study race, ethnicity or gender scientifically (several of whom are on my blogroll). The work of Darwinian anthropologists of sex differences like John Tooby and of ancestral differences like Henry Harpending are the hidden key to this controversy. The anti-science anthropologists fear that if anthropology is allowed to be a science, then all sorts of politically incorrect scientific knowledge about humanity will emerge. The pro-science leaders try, publicily, to pooh-pooh those fears.

iSteve Finnish Content

Election expert Michael Barone writes about the midterms:
The Finnish vote. Around 100 years ago, Finnish immigrants flocked to the mines and woods of the country around Lake Superior, where the topography and weather must have seemed familiar. They've been a mostly Democratic, sometimes even radical, voting bloc ever since. No more, it seems. Going into the election, the three most Finnish districts, Michigan 1, Wisconsin 7 and Minnesota 8, all fronting on Lake Superior, were represented by two Democratic committee chairmen and the chairman of an Energy and Commerce subcommittee, with a total of 95 years of seniority.

Wisconsin's David Obey and Michigan's Bart Stupak both chose to retire, and were replaced by Republicans who had started running before their announcements. Minnesota's James Oberstar was upset by retired Northwest Airlines pilot and stay-at-home dad Chip Cravaack.

So here's a new rule for the political scientists: As go the Finns, so goes America.

Gus Hall (1910-2000), who was the perennial Communist Party USA candidate for President when I was a kid, was born Arvo Kustaa Halberg in the iron-mining belt of Minnesota and grew up speaking Finnish in his family of twelve. A lot of the Finnish Communists who subsequently lost the Finnish civil war of 1918 to von Mannerheim fled to America, so the CPUSA always had a sizable Finnish contingent. 

So, Obama managed to lose the hereditarily Communist vote.

Again: Who is rich?

My impression is that most Americans believe that to be rich you have to have a butler, like on Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Worldlier Americans believe that to be rich, you have to have a private jet. For example, I suspect that Bill Clinton and Al Gore don't consider themselves rich, precisely because they are always having to bum rides off billionaires and dictators with private jets. (Or have they cashed in enough by now to buy their own?)

Ergo, almost no Americans see themselves as rich.

December 7, 2010

Who is rich?

For 2010, federal income marginal tax rates begin at 10% and lurchingly rise to 35% on every dollar of taxable income above $373,650 for married filing jointly.

And then the marginal tax rates stop rising. Couples who make $374,000 per year, well, they're about as rich as it's worth thinking about, right.

A generation ago, it made sense not to worry much about squeezing a little extra tax revenue out of people making extremely gigantic amounts of income because there weren't very many of them and it didn't add up to all that much.

Today, though, the term "orders of magnitude" just comes up a lot more when thinking about income.

Consider baseball contracts as a well-known example. Free agency started around 1975, but by the 1980 season, only one player, Nolan Ryan, was averaging a million bucks per year over the life of his contract. During the 1989 season, Eddie Murray was averaging the most at $2.7 million. By 1996, Ken Griffey Jr. was getting $8.5 million, and then pay really exploded, all the way up to Alex Rodriguez getting $25 million in 2001. Today, Rodriguez remains the highest paid at $27.5 million. 

So, today, the marginal tax rate on Alex Rodriguez is the same as on a utility infielder making the minimum major league salary of $400,000.  How much would it really hurt the economy in the long run if Alex Rodriguez faced a marginal tax rate that was 5 or 10 points higher than that of the lowest paid major leaguer?

What are the hardest sports?

I finally dug up the old table I'd heard about from Letter from Gotham ranking dozens of sports on dozens of different "performance factors." It looks like it goes back to James Nicholas's 1975 study in the Journal of Sports Medicine.

I was going to accuse it of being subjective, but then I noticed that the least hard sport according to Nicholas, hiking, is the sport I least dodge doing.

PISA and Mexico

In Mexico, the PAN government's of the last decade has been trying to get parents to keep their kids in school longer. Here's PISA document congratulating Mexico for getting its act together over the last decade. 

The really striking thing about Mexico's performance on the 2009 PISA school achievement tests is the lack of very high scorers. For example, on reading, 9.9% of Americans score at the 5th level or 6th level on a 0 to 6 scale. In contrast, only 0.4% of Mexicans score that high. That's really bad. 

In comparison, 1.9% of Turks score in the top two levels: not great, but several times the fraction in Mexico, suggesting that in Turkey there are small cultures of elites here and there who impress it upon their kids to hit the books hard. When I was in Bodrum, Turkey for Hans-Herman Hoppe's conference, I was impressed by the books on sale at the supermarket across the street. Granted, Bodrum is kind of like Santa Barbara and this was an upscale supermarket in a chain headquartered in Switzerland in a nice neighborhood in a resort town, but, still, it was nice to see serious books on sale somewhere.

That suggests to me, not for the first time, that much of the blame for Mexico's cultural malaise stems from Mexico's rich not setting a good example for the masses, such as by not studying hard.

More PISA school achievement results

Lots of fun stuff here, such as a table on students by region in certain European countries. Some tendencies:

- For example, England,  Scotland, and Northern Ireland all do about the same, but Wales lags, kind of like West Virginia in the U.S.

- Finnish-speaking Finns outscore Swedish-speaking Finns, although they both do well versus the world. A century ago, high achieving Finns like Sibelius and Mannerheim tended to come from the coastal Swedish-speaking population of Finland, but the Finnish lumberjacks have really come on in the world since then.

- Flemish-speaking Belgians outscore French-speaking Belgians who outscore German-speaking Belgians.

- Northern Italians outscore Sicilians.

- Madrid slightly outscores Catalonia in Spain.

PISA scores for Shanghai

Here are the results from the 2009 PISA test of 15-year-old's school performance with the first ever scores from the city of Shanghai. Shanghai swept the three categories. (Shanghai is not the full country of China -- Shanghai is the current favored son city of the regime, with restrictions on who gets to internally migrate there). Also, this is the first time Shanghai participated, so they presumably waited until they were ready to rip on the test.

Mean is 500, standard deviation is 100. So, Shanghai students beat the advanced world's international mean by 0.75, 0.56, and 1.00 standard deviations. Pretty good. On an IQ-like scale, that's approaching 112.

Having seen the National Merit Semifinalist names for 2009 in California, where there was a single Cohen and 49 Wangs among the honorees, I can't say I was too surprised. Santa Clara County might challenge Shanghai in a heads-up match, though.

Interestingly, the NYT table left out some low-scoring countries, such as Mexico, but then what possible policy implications do the educational attainment and intelligence of Mexicans have for an American audience? None, none  I tell you! Here's an eyeball-frying graphic from The Guardian of the OECD countries (leaving out unrepresentative cities like Shanghai). Check out the bottom line:

Converting to an IQ scale, Mexico scores an 88, although that's probably held down by the low quality of Mexican schools. 

You can look up all the results on the official PISA site here. The crazy colored Guardian graph is somewhat unfair to Mexico by making it the lowest: there are a number of countries that did worse, including Argentina. My general impression is that Mexico has been coming up in these international comparisons over the last decade.

"The Black Swan"

From my review in Taki's Magazine:
The Black Swan’s central problem is that the heterosexual Aronofsky, who directed Mickey Rourke so well in The Wrestler two years ago, appears more inspired by professional wrestling than by ballet. Despite Aronofsky’s undoubted cleverness (Harvard Class of ’91), he seems to love the idea of ballet far more than he cares for ballet itself. A film stronger on analysis than artfulness, The Black Swan’s dancing, while competently filmed, is seldom electrifying.

Aronofsky’s intentions can’t be understood in isolation from his last movie about a quasi-athlete’s alarming dedication, The Wrestler. Rourke portrayed a charismatic old professional grappler crucifying himself in training for one last comeback that will surely kill him. In The Black Swan, Natalie Portman plays a bland young dancer, a Little Miss Goody Toe Shoes, who destroys her health and sanity to be the prima ballerina in Tchaikovsky’s high romantic masterpiece Swan Lake.

The Black Swan intellectually complements The Wrestler in a fashion ideal for explicating in a Film Studies 101 term paper on dualities such as masculine v. feminine, experience v. innocence, heavy v. light, steroids v. bulimia, vulgar v. aristocratic, and (regrettably) moving v. overwrought.

Read the whole thing there.

December 5, 2010

The Citadel of Haiti

The is the famous Citadel on a mountaintop in Haiti build by Henri Christophe in 1805-1820  to deter France from attempting to reconquer Haiti. The loss of life in building the mountaintop redoubt was staggering.  But no attempt was made to retake Haiti. The King shot himself with a silver bullet in 1820.

The biography of Henri Christophe was enfolded into the play The Emperor Jones by Eugene O'Neill. The extraordinary history of Haiti was probably better known in the U.S. many decades ago than it is today.