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.

“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.

The all-purpose excuse

I read somewhere that the word “racism” did not exist until the late 1950s. I can believe it. Now it is the universal solvent of all rational thinking, and it is especially convenient for the Left to use against regions, classes and cultures that disagree with them, and which fail to produce electoral victories. The continuing dismissal of the American South by the Democrats and their allies comes to mind.

Rick Moran writes in PJ Media.

Racism as an excuse for Democratic defeat in the South is too easy, too pat. But it has the benefit of allowing Democrats the luxury of being able to ignore the real reasons why white Southerners have so completely rejected their candidates. Liberals are apparently incapable of conducting the introspection necessary to arrive at the conclusion that their attitudes toward those they feel superior to contributes far more to their electoral defeats than some kind of nebulous racism that doesn’t exist in any greater proportion in the South than it does anywhere else in the country.

Of course, as Thomas Sowell pointed out in his brilliant book, The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as the Basis of Social Policy, [the title says it all], in order to come to grips with reality the liberal – I use that in the American sense of ‘Leftist’ – would have to change their conception of themselves, and that would be impossibly humiliating.

Cultural wars are so desperate because they are not simply about the merits and demerits of particular policies. They are about the anointed’s whole conception of themselves – about whether they are in the heady role of the vanguard or in the pathetic role of pretentious and self-infatuated people. [p.250]

Because differential rectitude is pivotal to the vision of the anointed, opponents must be shown to be not merely mistaken but morally lacking….This denigration or demonizing of those opposed to their views not only has the desired effect of discrediting the opposition but also has the unintended effect of cutting off the path of retreat from positions which become progressive;ly less tenable with the passage of time and the accumulation of discordant evidence….

For the anointed, it is desperately important to win, not simply because they believe that one policy or set of beliefs is better for society, but because their whole sense of themselves is at stake. [p.252]

The first obligation of the conservative is to know that one can be wholly wrong: emotionally, intellectually, morally. It keeps one humble. It prevents the development of the feeling of being anointed to govern one’s lessers.

I also think that Thomas Sowell’s The Vision of the Anointed should be on every thinking person’s bookshelf, along with Burke’s Reflections on the Late Revolution in France and Tocqueville’s Democracy in America.

Attempted lynching goes wrong; activists fear for the future of lynching

Rolling Stone magazine published a story about gang rape at a Virginia fraternity that turned out to be not true, indeed, entirely erroneous, invented.

So naturally the Huffington Post, that acolyte of all things trendy, published this story:

Rolling Stone printed a bombshell story last month detailing a violent rape at a fraternity house. The story came after two years of unprecedented activism and attention on campus sexual assault, including a White House task force on the issue, multiple congressional hearings and bipartisan legislation at the federal and state levels. At the same time, lawmakers have ramped up scrutiny on how the militaryhandles sexual assault, and multiple women whose rape allegations against comedian Bill Cosby had been ignored for years suddenly seemed to gain traction in the media.

But new facts have emerged in the wake of the Rolling Stone piece that have caused the magazine to revoke its trust in “Jackie,” the survivor at the center of the story. “In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account,” Managing Editor Will Dana said in a statement. “We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault and now regret the decision to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account.

Hostler worries that Rolling Stone’s reporting errors will reinforce the tendency to doubt rape survivors, and that victims will be afraid to come forward as they had been for years before the public started to really discuss campus rape and take it seriously.

In short, the Huffington Post is not in the least concerned that young men were falsely accused of rape, which we patriarchs take as a violent crime, worthy of serious punishment, because it offends against our women, and our interest in their progeny, our grandchildren,  but they have the gall to propose that false accusation will be made more difficult in future, and that is a bad thing.

Ah! the moral inversions of modernity: all that is anti-white, anti-male, and anti-Christian is good, and we white Christian males should know our proper places: at the bottom of the Leftist moral hierarchy.


The nauseating moral swamp of black and liberal reaction to Ferguson

No one over sixteen has failed to have had a negative interaction with police.

Here are instances from my life:

Your bicycle has just been stolen and you flag down a cop car. You cross the street to approach the car and the idiot chides you for crossing the street against a traffic light, or something. Then they tell you your stolen bike is their business, and don’t go looking for it. They do nothing but give you a number where you can reach a kindly old retired cop who handles stolen bicycle complaints. They do nothing effective.

You are a teenager on your way to your friend’s house. The cop stops you, you get into the cop car at his command and he proceeds to intimidate you for daring to be in that part of town at night. The entire proceeding is just a cop being a thug.

Your house has been thoroughly robbed. On the cop’s second look through your house, the improperly stored firearm -according to our draconian firearms control law –  is discovered in its hiding place. They take the rifle and never give it back. You have to hire lawyers to defend yourself. You make it clear to the prosecutor that there will be plenty of newspaper coverage of the fact that your door was broken down, your house robbed, and the homeowner is in more trouble than the thief who stole $20,000 worth of stuff in several trips, who has got away clean.

So do not accuse me of being soft on the constabulary. Like most of the human species, there is a strong case for eliminating the half of them with IQs below 100. But with what portion of the human species would we begin, in that case?

Yet even after a lifetime of not always happy interactions with these authoritarian twenty-five year-olds and older self-satisfied uniformed idiots, I still think they have a difficult, rough job to do.

Fred Reed has a great insight into the life of a cop at the Unz Review, called Notes from the Drains. It should be read by all who fulminate about police brutality and shooting. It describes the life of a normal well-motivated cop.

With time, your views on police brutality will become ambivalent, or not ambivalent. You will see the pretty blonde rape victim, fifteen, about due for her first prom, screaming and screaming and screaming, sobbing and choking, while the med tech tries to get a sedative into her arm. And you will hear the cop next to you, hand clenching hard on his night stick, say in cold fury, “I hope the sonofabitch resists arrest.” Yeah, you may find yourself thinking, yeah. Social theories are nice. The streets are not theoretical.

And you will find that the perps are almost always black. If you are a good liberal, you won’t like this, but after three months on the street you will not have the faintest doubt. If you are a suburban conservative out of Reader’s Digest, you will be surprised at the starkness of the racial delineation.

All cops know this. They know better than to say it. This can be tricky for black cops, especially if former military who believe in law and order.

You will find that there are white cops who knock blacks around, who humiliate them. You will think it wrong, and so will many of your fellows, but you will decide not to turn them in. You have twenty more years on the streets with them. You will discover that black cops exist who also mistreat blacks, and this will confuse you.

A more statistical approach is found in the City Journal this week. After showing that the number of citizen interactions with police has been going down in the past decade

 …another series of Justice Department surveys,… ask Americans whether they have been victimized by crime. Those who say yes are then asked to identify the race of their attacker. In a 2008 survey, 58 percent of violent crime victims of identified the perpetrators as white, and 23 percent as black. That compares with a national population 74 percent white and 12 percent black. (After 2008, questions about the race of offenders disappear from the victimization data on the FBI’s website.) Police frequently point to this survey and others like it to explain that stop rates and arrest rates are higher for minorities because crime rates are higher in minority areas. Victims disproportionately identify perpetrators as minority.

The real indicator would be a significant dissimilarity between the incident rate, the arrest rate, the prosecution rate and the conviction rate. Dissimilarities would indicate that too many arrest were being made, or prosecutions initiated, relative to convictions. But there are not. Blacks fill American jails, and North American Indians fill Canadian jails, disproportionately to their presence in the population, because they engage in crime disproportionately to the population.

The notion that the thug who attacked the store owner in Ferguson, punched the cop in the police car, escaped, and charged back at the cop is some kind of innocent: it revolts me. The attempt by Obama and his more revolting – if that is possible – Attorney General Holder  to divert moral judgment from the American black propensity to commit crime disproportionately to other ethnicities, and blame police, makes me ill.

It starts to make Stuff Black People don’t like look like a description of facts. Actually, it is all factual, just the selection of facts is biased.

Fred reed again, explaining the speed with which cops must make lethal decisions:

If you shoot, and the object turns out to be a cell phone, “White cop shoots unarmed teen.” If you don’t shoot, and it turns out to be a gun, your wife gets to explain why daddy isn’t’ coming back. Ever.

Cops understand this. Delicate Ivy flowers in the peat moss of the Washington Post do not.

Let’s drop the “You are a cop” narrative. Instead, let’s try an experiment. In your living room, no adrenaline, no darkness, no danger, I will turn my back on you, holding in front of me in one hand a Day-Glo yellow plastic banana and, in the other, a realistic plastic pistol. You, in calm, perfectly safe circumstances, will point a “pistol” at me. Your finger will do fine. I will turn as fast as I can with one or the other in my hand. You have to shoot or not.

You will find, no matter how many times we try the experiment, that I can turn and fire (if I turn with the gun) before you can decide whether I have a gun or a Day-Glo banana. Try it in a dark alley.

Nuff said.




What if plate tectonics added to your electricity bill?

Plate tectonics was the first and only “theory of everything” in earth sciences. By explaining that mountains rise and fall because vast plates crash into each other with exquisite slowness, and that continents are but assemblages of “plates” drifting across the magma below them, the theory gave geologists the first comprehensive theory of what the earth has been doing for the last ten billion years.

Two great books chronicle the evolution of our thinking on geology, and particularly, plate tectonics:

Supercontinent, by Ted Nield.

Annals of the Former World, by John McPhee

The time scales of geology require an expansion of one’s idea of time. We live and die like fruitflies compared even to a ten-thousand year perspective, which is about one-tenth the right length for considering an ice age, and one thousandth for considering geological change. If you want a measuring tape for geology, use something where one million years is represented by an inch, and your tape is 30 feet long. Five and a quarter feet would get you back to about the end of the dinosaurs (63 million years ago).

Both these books should be read by anyone considering the nature of time and the earth.

Yet despite the triumph of plate tectonics as the theory of everything geological, there are disbelievers and skeptics within the body of respectable geology. Not all accept the unified narrative of oceans splitting apart and gradually being zipped up as plates rip apart and collide again somewhere else.

John McPhee writes about a geologist called Anita Harris in  chapter two of “Annals of the Former World”, who does not believe that the Appalachian range, once as high as the Himalayas, was created by a continental landmass pressing against the eastern edge of North America.


Anita Harris geologist

Her skepticism about the adequacy of plate tectonics to explain the origin of the Appalachians is well-expressed here. Essentially she says, plate tectonics provides a story to cover up the absence of observation.

… Anita said, “I believe in plate tectonics — just not in the way they’re perpetrating it for places like the East Coast [of the US]. It shouldn’t be used as the immediate answer to every problem. That’s what I object to. Now that their suture zones have disappeared, people are going to microplates.”

If you have been interested so far, you will be smelling where this trail is going. No one has denounced Anita Harris or her equally skeptical geologist husband. There are no labels of “deniers” being tossed about, no declarations that those who dispute the triumph of plate tectonic theory are “unscientific”, “stupid”, and ought to be banned from publication. No cabals of geologists have tried to have them excluded from the American Geophysical Society.

She was not driven from her job at the US Geological Survey, and has received its Meritorious Service Award. So what gives?

The ability of a geologist like Anita Harris to hold her job while disputing the adequacy of plate tectonics shows that geology is still a science, which “climate science” is not.

Nothing in plate tectonics is causing or will cause my Ontario electricity bill to rise by $150 a month. Nothing in plate tectonics is causing coal-fired electricity plants to be shut down, and for large windmills to disfigure the landscape, and for government subsidy-seekers to engage in useless wind and solar ventures at taxpayer expense.

I suppose that if plate tectonics were the theoretical basis of a drive to reduce human CO2 production, Anita Harris would have been hounded out of the profession, for publicly expressing insufficient zeal

No one who contemplates the huge amount of government subsidies that have funded atmospheric sciences can doubt that many careers have profited from global warming alarmism, and many more thwarted and turned away from true science by the obvious political agendas their computer models are expected to be serving.

The theory – and it is  still a theory – of anthropogenic global warming is driving billions of research dollars into atmospheric and cryogenic sciences, but the implicit bargain with the scientists is corrupt. There is huge pressure to come up with correct results, to go with the flow, and it is accompanied among the less scientifically-minded with a tendency to denounce the nay-sayers, the skeptics, the wait-a-minute! people who do not express sufficiently zealous approval of “man-bad, Gaia good”.

Wind-mills are not an atonement; they are just a particularly stupid way to generate electricity.

Right now I am waiting for a climate scientist to say that man-caused global warming would be disproved if any or all of the following things [fill in the blanks] happened or failed to happen.


In the spirit of Karl Popper, is man-caused global warming a falsifiable proposition? Because if it cannot be falsified, then it is a religion, and something other than science.


A reminder to “root cause” apologists

From the Protein Wisdom blog on the wages of appeasement, as true now as it was in 2005:

Overheard inside a Najaf bunker

First militant:  “You know, Qasim, I’m really beginning to like this Cindy Sheehan infidel.  Unusual to find an uncovered cur so willing to sing the heavenly music of Truth.”*

Second militant: “I agree, brother.  When we conquer the Great Satan and take his land by force of fiery sword, we shall have to remember to slit her throat last.”*

First militant:  “Exactly.  Allah be praised.”

Second militant: “Allah be praised.

We will not start getting this right until we can say what Islam is

I said it before. I will say it again. If a man dressed up as a Nazi and hurled abuse at Jews and spoke of the Jewish plot to control the world, people would connect the dots between the doctrines espoused and the man’s belief in Hitler’s vision. But when a Muslim, recent convert or not,  kills people for Islam, and says he is doing so for Islam, they will NOT connect the dots between the doctrines of Islam and the behaviour they observe. He is not killing people because he was deprived as a kid. He is killing people because his religion authorizes, condones, encourages, and indeed commands him to. What religion is that? The one he espouses: Islam.

Calling him a terrorist, is beside the point. He is an orthodox Muslim. He is taking the Koran seriously. The Koran authorizes and condones this sort of behaviour. Is this not obvious? Then when are we going to start to deal with Islam as if it were a totalitarian and murderous ideology?


The Bell Curve, 20 Years later

Twenty years ago Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray published The Bell Curve. It had the effect of a large stone thrown into the still pond of “settled science”.
a) there is such a thing as g, general intelligence
b) it is largely heritable
b) IQ tests measure g quite well
c) IQ test outcomes predict a great many social results, including propensities to success or pathologies with better accuracy than any other measure, including years of education, family income, and social status;
d) social factors interact with genetic endowments, and
e) IQ results differ by race.

The Left has been in paroxysms of rage and denial ever since.

Charles Murray was interviewed about the Bell Curve recently in the policy blog of the American Enterprise Institute. Here is a snippet. Go the article for more.

American political and social life today is pretty much one great big “Q.E.D.” for the two main theses of “The Bell Curve.” Those theses were, first, that changes in the economy over the course of the 20th century had made brains much more valuable in the job market; second, that from the 1950s onward, colleges had become much more efficient in finding cognitive talent wherever it was and shipping that talent off to the best colleges. We then documented all the ways in which cognitive ability is associated with important outcomes in life — everything from employment to crime to family structure to parenting styles. Put those all together, we said, and we’re looking at some serious problems down the road. Let me give you a passage to quote directly from the close of the book:

Predicting the course of society is chancy, but certain tendencies seem strong enough to worry about:

An increasingly isolated cognitive elite.
A merging of the cognitive elite with the affluent.
A deteriorating quality of life for people at the bottom end of the cognitive distribution.

Unchecked, these trends will lead the U.S. toward something resembling a caste society, with the underclass mired ever more firmly at the bottom and the cognitive elite ever more firmly anchored at the top, restructuring the rules of society so that it becomes harder and harder for them to lose. (p. 509)

Remind you of anything you’ve noticed about the US recently?