Barrel Strength

Over-Proof Opinion, Smoothly Aged Insight

Barrel Strength - Over-Proof Opinion, Smoothly Aged Insight

Ramachandran on IQ

A Californian neuroscientst called V.S. Ramachandran has written a highly informative and entertaining book called The Tell Tale Brain. I recommend it to all who are interested in brain/mind issues. His approach is rather open-minded, for a neuroscientist, that is.

Ramachandran has a few tough words for the proponents of a single number to describe “g”, or general intelligence.

Ironically, the IQ evangelists (such as Arthur Jensen, William Shockley, Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray) use the heritability of IQ itself (sometimes called “general intelligence” or “little g”) to argue that intelligence is a single measurable trait. That would be roughly analogous to saying that general health is one thing because life span has a strong heritable component that can be expressed as a single number – age! No medical student who believed in “general health” as a monoloithic entity would get very far in medical school or be allowed to become a physician – and rightly so – and yet whole careers in psychology and political movements have beenbuilt on the equally absurd belief in a single measurable general intelligence. Their contributions have little more than shock value. (page 171)

To which I say, not so fast, Dr. Ramachandran. What you think is plausible is actually piffle.

  • the various diseases of the body are not even roughly analogous to the ability or abilities of the mind to engage in thought;
  • we use statistical aggregates all the time as a stand-in for measuring ongoing phenomena (temperature, gross domestic product, mortality figures).
  • You do not have to understand how cars work to understand the significance of their cost and their longevity. Likewise with intelligence testing.

More to the point, intelligence testers and neuroscientists are engaged in entirely different pursuits. The intelligence testers  are concerned with outcomes, neuroscientists with causes.

Let Murray and Herrnstein speak for themselves. From The Bell Curve at pages 22-23:

  1. there is such a thing as a general factor of cognitive ability on which human beings differ.
  2. All standardized tests of academic aptitude and achievement ,easure this general factor to some degree, but IQ tests expressly designed for that purpose measure it most accurately.
  3. IQ scores match, to a first degree, whatever it is that people mean when they use the word intelligent or smart in ordinary language.
  4. IQ scores are stable, although not perfectly so, over much of a person’s life.
  5. Properly administered IQ tests are not demonstrably biased against social, economic, ethnic or racial groups.
  6. Cognitive ability is substantially heritable, apparently no less than 40 percent and no more than 80 percent.

 Or let us hear from Geoffrey Miller, who describes himself as a left-wing secular humanist Jew, and who has written The Mating Mind and Spent: Sex, Evolution and Mating Behavior. From page 186 of Spent:

General intelligence (a.k.a. IQ, general cognitive ability, the g factor) is a way of quantifying intelligence’s variability among people. It is the best established, most predictive, most heritable mental trait ever discovered in psychology….Intelligence predicts objective performance and learning ability across all important life domains that show reliable individual differences.

 The irony about general intelligence is that ordinary folks of average intelligence recognize its variance across people, its generality across domains, and its importance in life. Yet educated elites meanwhile often remain implacable opposed to the very concept of general intelligence, and deny its variance, generality and importance. Professors and students at elite universities are especially prone to this pseudohumility….

Similarly, general intelligence is not a mental organ, but a latent variable that emerges when one analyzes functional efficiencies of many different mental organs(such as memory, language ability, social perceptiveness, speed at learning practical skills, and musical aptitude.)

 Intelligence (says Prof. Miller at page 189 of Spent) is positively correlated to:

  • brain size
  • speed of performing basic sensory motor tasks (“reaction time is a factor”, as the cop said in Blade Runner)
  • height
  • symmetry of face and body
  • semen quality (!)
  • health, physical and mental
  • longevity
  • sexual attractiveness for long term relationships

Intelligence: the gift that keeps on giving. If you want to see what life is like when you lack the necessary minimum, go live in Detroit.

The Baltics and Riga, 2013

I arrived in Riga Latvia on Sunday April the 14th, some days before my conference. Riga has an Old Town that has had to be very extensively recreated after World War 2. I wandered happily throughout it for a couple of days. Riga is an old German town, part of the Hanseatic League, which was a kind of trade treaty organization of the Middle Ages. By old I mean that the cathedral there went Lutheran from early in the Reformation.


Many of you will have been to Amsterdam, so I would like you to imagine Amsterdam, and then do the following: remove the druggies, the red light district, the dirt in the streets, the Muslims, and the touristic riff-raff, then improve the architecture, clean the buildings, increase the politeness, provide totally awesome busker bands, and then you have Riga. You still have choral concerts, great beer and food, perfectly good shopping (from what I could see) and splendid architecture: everything you liked about European cities, without the dirt, the menace, and the Bangladeshis selling trinkets.

Consequently it was with a high degree of happiness and interest that I was able to walk about for a couple of days in the brisk April air, looking up at late nineteenth century statuary of posh hotels, or the rebuilt trade halls of the medieval times. Outside the Old Town was a layer of 19th century apartment buildings in the Parisian style, where tramcars ran, and more smart shopping was available. The city had the air of a place that had been eminently prosperous until World War 1, to which it had now mostly returned. Upscale fashion magazines in Russian and Latvian advertised bathroom and kitchen makeovers, the world’s obsession for those with a spare $30,000.

What a dreadful century for the Baltics! The Communist revolution of 1917 in neighbouring Russia was a disaster, the take-over of the country by Stalin in 1938 led to the usual mass deportations and executions of the social core of the citizenry – the ten percent who make a society run, the Second World War brought the Nazis into power, who slaughtered a different set of people, and then the Soviet reconquest slaughtered even more people. (Read Bloodlands for all the appalling details.) How they have managed to restore and recreate their town since the fall of Communism demonstrates the underlying strength and intelligence of the Latvian people. Some people seem to come out on top of cataclysmic disasters.

I did not think about it at the time but it strikes me now that Riga was one of the whitest European cities I have ever been in. There were no recent Arab or African immigrants, as you can find in Oslo, or Stockholm, or almost anywhere in western Europe these days. Ethnic Latvians still drive taxis. The clash of civilizations is not to be found around the corner or down in the subway. It is as safe as Tokyo. The largest risk is running into drunk Norwegians, and by drunk I mean Scandinavian levels of drunk.

The busking was tremendous. A six piece brass band performed on one corner, and another a few blocks away. At a bar there was a Buddy Holly type of singer doing the most authentic reproductions of American rock and roll from the period 1955-1962.On my first day there, I was standing at an enormous war memorial outside of the Old Town when I felt the urge to phone my friend Fred  in California, whose mother had been Latvian. I told him where I was standing, and he said “So you can see the MacDonald’s!” (tastefully discreet in an old building at the edge of Old Town). Fred had been there to settle his mother’s property, which the Latvian government had returned to her. I was wondering how he had kept the secret of what a great place the city is. The parents of another friend Alex the Bear also came from Latvia. In the course of the year I had occasion to deal with Moses Znaimer, the television entrepreneur, and found that his parents had come from there, too. Small world. Talent will flee to where it is free.

[This letter has not been sponsored by the Latvian Tourist Authority].

When you compare what has happened to Latvians in this century, and the Poles, Finns, Estonians, White Russians, Ukrainians and Lithuanians,  to what has happened to our French Canadian compatriots in the previous three centuries, you are forced inevitably to conclude that the eastern Europeans have a real cause of grievance, which they have overcome, and our compatriots have had none whatsoever.

The Hamper Harper Campaign

If this current campaign to weaken Mr. Harper’s leadership had the least chance of success, I would denounce it as irresponsible mischief on the part of those who, as journalists, seek copy or, as politicians, seek power. The greatest defect of the current system, in their opinion, is the fact that it has put Mr. Harper at the head of affairs in consecutive elections and promises to do so again. (That said, everything I hear privately about Mr. Harper’s management style reminds me of Nabokov’s Paduk. Fine. As long as Mr. Harper’s compass and mine point in the same direction, I do not care. He commands volunteers who may seek other employment any time they choose.)

I want to get to Burning Man

I want to get to Burning Man.

These people are doing some kind of  cultural festival, a Stonehenge which is disassembled every year, and every year re-created. The expansion of human possibilities in the Burning Man festival is so much more important to the future of society than Obamacare, expense scandals, and politics in general.

burning man


black rock city overhead


burning wolf

And I do not care whether Kathy Shaidle or any other sound conservative disapproves.

Not just another global warming skeptic

Dr. Tim Ball in Wattsupwiththat:

Elaine Dewar spent several days with Maurice Strong at the UN and concluded in her book The Cloak of Green that, Strong was using the U.N. as a platform to sell a global environment crisis and the Global Governance Agenda. Strong conjectured about a small group of world leaders who decided the rich countries were the principal risk to the world. These countries refused to reduce their environmental impact. The leaders decided the only hope for the planet was for collapse of the industrialized nations and it was their responsibility to bring that about. Strong knew what to do. Create a false problem with false science and use bureaucrats to bypass politicians to close industry down and make developed countries pay.

Compare the industrialized nation to an internal combustion engine running on fossil fuel. You can stop the engine in two ways; cut off the fuel supply or plug the exhaust. Cutting off fuel supply is a political minefield. People quickly notice as all prices, especially food, increase. It’s easier to show the exhaust is causing irreparable environmental damage. This is why CO2 became the exclusive focus of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Process and method were orchestrated to single out CO2 and show it was causing runaway global warming.

This is the first time I have seen laid out clear what I had always suspected. The article asserts  that the great anthropogenic global warming scare is the conscious creation of the  leading elements of the  political Left, and  not as some naive anti-capitalist sentiment, but as a high-level conspiracy involving Maurice Strong and others, to destroy capitalism. It has been brilliantly successful so far. It has every ignorant person in the “educated” world seeing every natural phenomenon as the result of man’s dreadful sin of burning fossil fuels. It has us shutting down nuclear plants, raising the prices of energy, engaging in futile solar and wind energy projects, simultaneously wrecking the countryside, wasting billions, and creating a crony capitalist “green energy” lobby that will seek to defraud us of billions more.

The article by Dr. Tim Ball goes into the many ways in which the IPCC has systematically lied to us about the agenda they are on, the data they have misrepresented or suppressed, and the truths they do not want to be more broadly known.

The article concludes:

The IPCC deception was premeditated under Maurice Strong’s guidance to prove CO2 was causing global warming as pretext for shutting down industrialized nations. They partially achieved their goal as alternate energies and green job economies attest. All this occurred as contradictory evidence mounts because Nature refused to play. CO2 increases as temperatures decline, which according to IPCC science cannot happen. Politicians must deal with facts and abandon all policies based on claims that CO2 is a problem, especially those already causing damage.

Tim Ball’s website is found here, and is worth your time.

Why is Harper on talk radio?

Maybe because, having successfully alienated the NSM (non-Sun media) he has nowhere else to go. If your strategy has been to reach the people more directly, through social media and local news outlets, and you feel you have to do something, then maybe that is what you do. But it looks hasty and ill conceived. And these local appearances cannot change the direction of a national story. So far, they have only made things worse, because he made fresh headlines this morning when he told one radio host Nigel Wright had not resigned, but “was dismissed”. The mainstream pack never liked Harper and it has years of frustration and anger to work off. Now, in Tory convention week, they have motive, means and opportunity – and a national audience.

This is where it all began

The Parthenon, temple of Athena Porthenos, Athena the Virgin, is more impressive the closer you get to it. Massive, and perfectly proportioned, it was built under the direction of Perikles, the leader of the Athenian state, in a space of fifteen years. It was and is the expression of classical Greek originality and aesthetics, and the particular expression of Athenian power might and majesty.



It has been used and abused as a Christian Church, a mosque, the palace of the Turkish governor, a powder magazine, a treasury, a pagan temple, a law court. It has been looted by Macedonians, Romans, Venetians, and Turks, and to that list the Greeks would add Lord Elgin, who took the marbles with permission of the Turkish government (not that they cared for the classical heritage). That it stands yet is a testament to how well built it was in the beginning.

Holes were drilled into the centre of the pillars, and these were filled with molten lead and wood. The effect was act as shock absorbers for the infrequent but severe earthquakes to which the Mediterranean is subject.


We owe to the Greeks the practice of philosophy (close thinking about nature and reason) and to the Jews the idea of a transcendent but personal God acting in history. If you can make a unity out of those two conflicting ideas, you will set your civilization on a path eternal inward contradictions. And here we are.


No warming left to deny

From Pierre Gosselin, the noted skeptic, the information is that the planet is now cooling and has been for the past fifteen years.

“Looking at the data for the last decade or so, one thing stands clear: Global temperatures have been showing many more signs of cooling than warming. Already we are sensing that global temperature has lost the battle to stay up. The HadCrut data series above shows that cooling has gained the upper hand. Indeed warming is now in the history books, having died some 15 years ago.”

It does not matter whether the planet is cooling or warming, what is at issue is whether mankind is causing either. It is very likely that, if the planet is cooling, we are not causing it. Is it not reasonable to infer that we were not causing it to warm, too, when it was warming?


A Deft Move by Vlad

Well, well, it seems that Secretary of State John “Swift Boat” Kerry has out-nuanced himself again. By making Syria an offer to retract the Administration’s threat of a military strike in exchange for surrendering their chemical weapons, Kerry was making a bluff that he didn’t think would be called.

If international politics is a chess game, it’s a game the Russians know a thing or two about. By calling on Syria to accept the offer, with the proviso that it would be carried out under the auspices of the UN thereby ensuring the ‘international control’ end of the deal, they have effectively neutered American threats. Even the French, the last remaining international fig leaf for Obama, are now crowing about letting the UN take this up. No doubt any ‘international control’ would have a heavy dose of Russian input, but Assad is their guy. They could volunteer some of their not inconsiderable military expertise in the CBRN field to corral and control these weapons, and, possibly, give Assad a little help on the side.

Obama’s risible response intimating that it was ‘American threats’ that forced the Russians’ hand just embarrasses the Administration more. No, the Russians spotted an opening and it’s knight to bishop seven, check.

It appears that the Syrians have accepted the Russian offer. No matter how credible or incredible that is, or how long it takes to organize anything in the UN, there is now diplomatic motion here. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, with large majorities of Democrats, Republicans and Independents opposed to a strike, the prospect of a heavy defeat in the House of Representatives, and even the Democrat-controlled Senate up for grabs, the president’s support at home, and power on the world stage, is melting away by the hour. It’s now straw-clutching time in the White House, hence the feigned interest from the State Department in the Russian proposal.

If chemical weapons really were the concern of the White House, and if this proposal has legs to it, then the Americans have no grounds to attack Syria now, unless, of course, it was all about regime change in the first place. And what would that do anyway, bring to power another jihadist, al-Qaida bandit regime?

And if the president still wants to move on a strike, with no support at home or abroad, then wouldn’t the Russians be justified in helping out their ally, especially as Syria hasn’t attacked the US, or any other country for that matter? Has ‘the smartest man ever elected president’ thought of that? I doubt it.