Barrel Strength

Over-Proof Opinion, Smoothly Aged Insight

Barrel Strength - Over-Proof Opinion, Smoothly Aged Insight

Education in a Communist system

A few postings ago, a Serbian intellectual now living in the United States opined that the education in a communist regime was, in many instances, better than the politically correct hogwash fed to our children through unionized teachers and provincial education departments. Why is this so? It is not a trivial question.

Why, despite the obeisance they all had to make to Marxism, did Eastern European children end up with sounder fundamentals than Western kids educated in our touchy-feely system? Logic, grammar, foreign languages, mathematics, composition, rigor: those elements missing from contemporary public schools.

Reading an obituary today of Dennis O’Keeffe, written by the British libertarian Sean Gabb, I came across an answer. Sean Gabb’s wife came from Czechoslovakia, then a Soviet satellite, and her question for Professor O’Keeffe (which in the circumstances she did not ask) was the one posed above.

Dennis had been denouncing socialism in education, she told me afterwards. Yet she had received a standard socialist education in Czechoslovakia – nothing special, as she didn’t come from the privileged orders in that country—and this was vastly better than anything she had seen in England. She left school with a stock of mathematical and scientific knowledge that most undergraduates here don’t have. Including Czech, she also learnt four other languages. History and the other humanities, she admitted, were a joke; and probably the universities were far worse than ours outside the purely scientific faculties…


Had she asked her question—and I wish she had—I am sure Dennis would have answered it as follows. Her country before 1989 was run by East European Communists. Yes, they had all the ridiculous economics of Marxism, and the police state means of enforcing them on the people. But they shared with Marx the old Germanic respect for learning and belief in its potential for improvement. Our own lefties are just an embittered clique of anti-nomians. They retain a vaguely Marxist economics, but are untouched by the educational traditions that Marx and his East European followers unthinkingly accepted. What they deliver here is an education that sends 20 per cent of working class children illiterate into the adult world, and the other 80 per cent ignorant of history, mathematics, the natural sciences, and just about everything else worth knowing.

Frequencies – the movie

There is a delightful brain-tease of a movie available called Frequencies. The trailer is here. The assumption of the movie is that people have a “frequency” which is not quite IQ, but which seems to have much the same sorting function. The higher the frequency, the greater the luck, but the less the empathy. The movie begins in a private school with two main protagonists, a boy and girl. The girl is very high frequency, the boy is a scores very low: indeed he is a minus. He is not unintelligent; but it appears from his “frequency” that he will attract bad luck, and always be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The girl, by contrast, does not even have to look both ways before crossing a street: she will always walk between the speeding cars and buses. The movie follows them from childhood through their teens to their early twenties (changing actors on the way).

Our hero, the young man, comes back from foreign travels after several years to attend the birthday party of the young lady with whom he was in love in school, and that is where the fun begins: where the weird stuff starts. By “weird” I mean that the young man and his principal male friend have found a way to compel people to do what they want by the uttering of certain two syllable words, which they put into the conversation seamlessly. That is the magic. He has found a way to change his frequency. And the girl, who had been on the verge of suicide, because she felt nothing, now has the chance to feel emotions.

So far it is boy meets girl story. Then the complications begin. Because what the young man has found is a system of sounds which have essentially near-magical powers of compulsion, which attracts the attention of the State: men in black suits with Heckler&Koch sub-machine guns. and then it gets even weirder and better, and deals with some Very Large Issues, free will and determinism among them.

This is a classic of British science-fiction. It uses nothing but ideas and characters to convey its message: no special effects, no interstellar travel, no advanced technologies. Just a great script and some intelligent actors. It is at the other end of production costs of Interstellar, and just as interesting. Available on Netflix.

A fine review is available here from the New York Times.

A report by a Danish psychologist on Muslim immigrants

Nicolai Sennels wrote a report on why Muslim immigrants to Denmark are failing. It is entitled, “Report from the therapy room: Why are Muslims more violent and criminal?”.

Having shown their disproportionate contribution to Danish crime, and their apprehension and conviction rate, Sennels asks why they are not succeeding, and answers:

Being criminal, not being able to read and write, dropping out of one’s education and coming from a culture that in general has very little interest in science and knowledge severely minimize one’s chances of getting a well paid job – or a job at all. Anti-social behaviour – criminal behaviour, not supporting one’s children’s schooling, not paying making an effort to finish one’s education etc. – thus leads to poverty (and not the other way around).

Sennels then carefully examines all the arguments why Muslims are not integrating in Denmark, and concludes:


My conclusion as a professional psychologist with quite some experience in this area is that growing up in the Muslim culture is mentally unhealthy for several reasons. The cultural norms and traditions create a great deal of aggression, insecurity and religious racism in Muslims. Above all, Islam and Muslim culture is a serious hindrance to the integration of Muslims into non-Islamic societies and a source of hostility and violence against non-Muslims and our Western societies.


Muslim immigration to the West is the greatest sociological and group psychological experiment in World History. The experiment is clearly going wrong, and statistics and facts show us that the problems are accelerating.

Any good scientist with common sense would in such a case start by putting the experiment to a complete halt: Stop Muslim immigration and cut citizenships to resident Muslim immigrants and refugees. Non-Western immigrants and refugees who have not yet attained Western citizenship should only be able to continue their life in our Western countries as long as they can support themselves and are not convicted of any violent crimes. There is nothing wrong with asking unpleasant guests to leave a party.

It should be read in its entirety. It is nothing that we do not already know, but it is well argued, dealing with people as they are and not as some would like them to be.




Interstellar is a great movie. I cannot recall a movie that has had this effect on me since Kubrick’s 2001 or Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.  Interstellar asks “what will mankind become? What are his limits?” and boldly answers “more great than we can now conceive”.



The scene is set early. The parent, a former astronaut, played by McConaughey, is in a parent-teachers conference. His daughter, Murph, has been in a fight with some boys over the reality of the Apollo program, now some eighty years or so in the past. McConaughey’s old text books have educated her into the notion that the Apollo landings on the moon had actually taken place, while the teacher blandly insists that, as we all now know, they were faked to cause the Russians to overspend on military equipment and bankrupt themselves. The  assurance of the teacher – her absolute conviction – is like the conviction of people who believe in man-made global warming.



This is our signal that director Christopher Nolan is challenging the prevailing mindset of limits to growth, earth is our home, Gaia is angry, even as his plot envisions the “blight”, a world wide emergence of a microscopic life form which is transforming the planet, eating the oxygen and breathing out nitrogen. Humans will suffocate in a few generations unless they find a new place to live. Yes, Gaia is doing her thing, transforming once again the conditions of life, just as bacteria breathing out oxygen a few billion years ago transformed life on this plant, giving rise to oxygen breathing creatures, from fish upwards, that live on oxygen, and killing most of the anaerobic bacteria that had dominated hitherto.

The imagery is stunning, the science plausible, the characters well acted. Hans Zimmer’s music is occasionally overwhelming, as it is meant to be.

The entire effect of the film is stunning. The Wikipedia plot synopsis will tell you all you need to know.

The point of the film however, is that humanity of the future has been sending information back in time, through the force of gravity,  to enable their ancestors to get off the planet. Our descendants have figured how to move around in time as if it were a dimension of space. The film offers a refreshing refutation of the prevailing current assumptions of cultural and scientific decline, and that we are bound to this planet.

You do not have to believe the vision presented by Christopher Nolan to enjoy the hugely stimulating mind-romp he gives the viewer.

A final point: earth is not dying, as the reviewers may suggest; it is turning into something hostile to oxygen-based life.The film suggests that man is subject to forces much greater than his own doings, and by implication, that if we think changes of a few degrees in average global temperature are huge, wait until you contemplate what real change would be like. I think it no accident that the villain is a Dr. Mann, named I suspect after the climate scientist of the “hockey stick”  hoax.

I urge the forward edge of the bell curve to see it.

Distributed cognitive stratification

There is a charming old grump of, I guess, my age, a former newspaper man who writes from some beach in Mexico, whose blog is called Fred on Everything. I recommend it warmly.

You might like to start with is latest, “Balkanizing the News: Separation of People and State”, for a deeply observant analysis of why the newspaper business is collapsing.


The major outlets (this will not be a blinding insight) as always are in near-lockstep—that is, controlled.  Reporters understand the rules perfectly. You do not, not ever, criticize Israel. You don’t say anything remotely interpretable as racist. Women are sacrosanct. Do not offend the sexually baroque. The endless wars get minimal coverage and almost nothing that would upset the public. Huge military contracts get almost no mention.

None of this is accidental….

This system is breaking down under the onslaught of the internet. Papers are losing both credibility and circulation. So are the networks.

Race is the obvious example of the decline in control. The spin and censorship have become so heavy-handed as to be comic….

The Internet is allowing lateral communication as he styles it, among the readership, which permits people to know that others are aware of the extent to which the papers are preventing discussion of, say, black on white crime, and the paltriness of the excuses for it, and the daily cover-ups [“youth”, “teenagers”] that seek to disguise the race of the attackers. Many elephants in the newsroom, none of them adverted to, all of them carefully avoided.

Another problem that the internet poses for papers is the divide between the intelligent and the rest. Again we see two opposed poles, though in this case blending imperceptibly into one another. The major media are not comfortable with intelligence. Television is worst, the medium of the illiterate, barely literate, stupid, uneducated, and uninterested. It cannot afford to air much that might puzzle these classes.

Newspapers can assume that their subscribers can at least read but, intelligence being pyramidal in distribution, have to focus of the lower end. They also have to avoid offending the advertisers, the politically correct, or the corporate ownership.

By contrast, web sites have few of these problems. Since they aggregate their readership from the whole planet, they do not have to concern themselves with grocery ads in St. Louis.  They cost little to run. They do not need the bottom end of the distribution. And they have become multitudinous. Collectively you might call them “a free press.”

There are for example Taki’s Magazine, leaning hard to the political Right but thoughtful, beautifully written, fearless, and possessed of a beguiling aristocratic snottiness; the Unz Review, leaning hard in all directions at once but written by and for a cognitive elite;, not sucking up to military industry; Tom Dispatch, extraordinarily informed analyst of imperial policy; Counterpunch, hard Left but highly intelligent, and the Drudge Report, half grocery-store tabloid and half unintimidatable teller-like-it-is, sort of America’s thermometer.

These and countless others are all over the spectrum, any spectrum, every spectrum, off spectrum, but in most cases assume a post-graduate intelligence and knowledge. No newspaper of which I am aware comes close.

It amounts to distributed cognitive stratification.

Go to Fred on Everything to read the rest, it is quite first rate.

The Bell Curve is the invisible gravity of human life. -Dalwhinnie

Male unemployment, and what it means

The New York Times discusses male unemployment in the United States.
I am glad they have noticed, finally.

After decades of celebrating “diversity” and affirmative action [code for anti-white discrimination], deploring the glass ceiling and favouring female empowerment [code for anti-male discrimination], mass immigration of low paid Central American peasants and off-shoring [producing downward pressure on working class wages], the elites may be waking up to the crisis they have engendered. I accuse the Republicans as much as the Democrats for fostering many of these conditions.

Working, in America, is in decline. The share of prime-age men — those 25 to 54 years old — who are not working has more than tripled since the late 1960s, to 16 percent. More recently, since the turn of the century, the share of women without paying jobs has been rising, too. The United States, which had one of the highest employment rates among developed nations as recently as 2000, has fallen toward the bottom of the list….

Many men, in particular, have decided that low-wage work will not improve their lives, in part because deep changes in American society have made it easier for them to live without working. These changes include the availability of federal disability benefits; the decline of marriage, which means fewer men provide for children; and the rise of the Internet, which has reduced the isolation of unemployment.


It seems that the people in the New York Times may have read Charles Murray’s Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 (2012). They are describing what Murray has been worried about for decades.

Murray’s thesis is both simple and well demonstrated. Society is becoming increasingly stratified around intelligence. The more intelligent are marrying and breeding within their cognitive class. The zip codes of the elites are home to the top half of the ninety-ninth centile of wealth. Geographic separation of the cognitive elites is well developed.

In chapter 4 of his book, called “How thick is your bubble?”, he tests the reader to a number of different questions, whose difficulty you will have in answering, will disabuse you of the notion that you do not live among, and are a member of, the cognitive elite.

For most of the rest of the chapters, Murray details the decline in family formation, industriousness, honesty and religiosity of the American working class.

Murray tells us why this matters.

The deterioration of social capital in the lower-class white America strips the people who live there of one of the main resources through which Americans have pursue happiness. The same may be said of the deterioration in marriage, industriousness, honesty and religiosity. These are not aspects of life that may or may not be important, depending on personal preferences.Together, they make up the stuff of life. (p.253)

The New York Times article points out the centrality of work to self-respect.

A study published in October by scholars at the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for Family Studies estimated that 37 percent of the decline in male employment since 1979 could be explained by this retreat from marriage and fatherhood.

“When the legal, entry-level economy isn’t providing a wage that allows someone a convincing and realistic option to become an adult — to go out and get married and form a household — it demoralizes them and shunts them into illegal economies,” said Philippe Bourgeois, an anthropologist at the University of Pennsylvania who has studied the lives of young men in urban areas. “It’s not a choice that has made them happy. They would much rather be adults in a respectful job that pays them and promises them benefits.”

[When the New York Times cites the conservative  American Enterprise Institute, you know something important is happening.]

The decline we observe comes back to simple moral elements of society that we have done our best to disparage, to consider optional, to treat as way more mutable than they really are, or can be: work, faith, family, children, morality. Yes there are issues of production, taxation, and technology, as there ever were. But when and if the history of this time is written, it will be described as the Great Darkness, a decadent time,  from which men and women arose, and not the high tide of human existence, which some people feel it is, on grounds of our material abundance. Measuring civilization by the number of countries that contribute produce to our wine cellars is a deceptive indicator.


“There is complete freedom of discussion in the Soviet Union”

A guy I know who worked in the Soviet Union for Canada in the 1970s surprized me one day when he said, in response to my comment, “On the contrary, there is complete freedom of discussion in the Soviet Union”.

What did he mean?

He said: “if you have known a guy since high school, and you are sure of him on all grounds, and you are out ice fishing on a lake, say, out of reach of microphones, then Russians have an extremely broad range of discussion, broader than here.” He intimated that Russians in such places would feel free to talk about Stalin and Hitler, the Russian Revolution, the future of communism, the United States, sex, God, Christianity, anything.

If you spoke too loudly in the wrong circumstances, you might draw attention of the secret police, and be called in for a threatening chat. You might lose your academic job. But within the boundaries of a totalitarian police state, where the compulsion was external, society itself maintained freedom of discussion. It also maintained educational standards. Communism may have wrecked social trust, the bedrock of cooperation, markets, and democracy, but it did not reach in and destroy friendships and a real but limited freedom of thought and speech.

In the same vein, Prof. Srdia Trifkovic speaks below of how the Communist system did not challenge the classical education system: grammar, logic, mathematics, essay writing, and how in consequence, the education system was less affected by cultural Marxism than it is in the West now, and how eastern European immigrants to Western Europe are succeeding because of this rigorous training in thinking.

Speaking of the absorption of political correctness by Western social elites, compared to Eastern Europeans,

The circle of people [here] who have internalized these idiocies, as a normal part of their world outlook is, I would say, much wider.



Go to minute 2:40 and thereafter for this important discussion.

Being brought up short

Those not familiar with the English language might wonder about what “being brought up short” means: having one’s moral failings being called to one’s attention. It is a painful and humiliating experience, for those with a conscience. For those without a conscience, it is just an attempt at shaming, if that.

In two different places this week, I observed institutions “brought up short”. One was Matt Ridley’s column in the Times, in which he describes three different instances in the same month of science playing fast and loose with facts to achieve political ends: attempts to ban nicotinoid-based insecticides, faking evidence for global warming, and official blathering about extreme weather. Each one of these instances either concerned faked evidence, or where no evidence existed and the institution had spoken as if it existed.

The second was the blast in the National Post this morning about the CBC, the people’s broadcaster, whose views represent the Volvo-driving classes to the exclusion of all others.

Someone recently observed that the CBC is not about Canadian programming but programming Canadians to its enlightened view of how the world should work.

Nothing in this morning’s NatPost rant is different from anything conservative bloggers have been saying for years. The only novelty is that the view was expressed in a large national newspaper. When such views leave the Financial Post editorial section for the regular editorial section, I shall be even more impressed. If such views ever show up on the Globe and Mail’s editorial pages, I shall swoon in a transport of shock.

This brings me around to an opinion I saw yesterday in Ricochet which seems to encapsulate the views of our unelected governors in the mainstream media:

Many reporters and editors loathe how aware people have become of the journalistic process. They can barely conceal their anger at having the public (largely conservatives) challenge what, when, and how they cover the news. Their sins of commission have been understood for decades, with a heavy thumb on the left side of the scale for either cultural, institutional, or ideological reasons. Lately though, the media’s sins of omission are more deadly to their reputation and future — and being called on them has the press in a white-hot fury.

When the media was a kind of hermetic priesthood, they controlled what Americans read and saw. If the Washington Post or the New York Times didn’t cover a story, you could bet it wasn’t going to be on the evening news. If they didn’t cover a story real people were interested in, they could put it down to news judgment. There was no effective recourse and nowhere else to get to the story. They know their business model is under existential threat, but they’ve practically declared war on the majority of their potential customers.

….The legacy media largely produces a product they and their friends want. “Another gushing Hillary article? Can’t WAIT!” “Gosh, what Americans really need is another story on how we’re destroying the Earth and how global warming will kill our kids.” “Is Obama a great President, or the greatest President?” Legacy reporters and editors desperately miss that power to mediate the national dialogue.

Putting it all together, I observe a decline of the values which sustain the institutions on which we depend for science, news, and justice. We are concerned about the decline of science, and we are concerned about the decline of guardian institutions generally, but we are more concerned about the decline of culture which infuses all these institutions with vain, shallow, narcissistic, amoral, atheistic  people who think they are no better than meat machines, and behave as they believe they are. This kind of decline in people makes me think Christianity has a valid point.

As Saint Leonard Cohen said

When they said: repent, repent,
I wondered what they meant.