La capacita' di imparare una lingua ha poco a che fare con l'intelligenza ed e' dunque difficile dire quant'e' stupido questo intervento (link grazie a Ladri e Bugiardi):

Obama's idiotic suggestion that all our kids should learn Spanish is, amongst other things (this is multi-dimensional stupidity) an illustration of educational romanticism run amok.

The cold fact is that absent exceptional circumstances — the most common of which is, total immersion at a receptive age — not many human beings can learn another language. Oh, you can learn enough to stumble along and get by on a trip abroad, but if you can attain fluency in a language not your own, without those exceptional circumstances, you are an unusually smart and gifted person. (For my own sad track record, see here.)

Since the generality of human beings do not like to do things they can't do well, not many of us care to persevere with foreign languages, and whatever was once hammered into our heads at school is lost. Unless you decide to go live abroad in a non-English-speaking country, this really doesn't matter.

The pointlessness of foreign-language learning is obscured for English-speakers by all those foreigners we meet who have good English. (Scandinavians are especially humiliating in this regard.) We should remember, though, that (a) the foreigners we meet are mostly smart upper-middle-class types who travel a lot (try finding an English-speaker on a Paris street), and (b) the whole world is bathed in English, so that if you are born in, say, Finland, and want to do anything with your life more ambitious than running an autobody shop in Ylikiiminki, you can't help but learn some English, and (c) for teenagers the world over, English is cool.

Obama suffers from the fallacy — extremely common among high-IQ lefties — that everyone else is just as smart as he is, or could easily be made so with a few educational reforms. In fact, below some cutoff point, which I'd guess at around minus one standard deviation in IQ (that would encompass sixteen percent of the population), education beyond the three R's is a waste of time, and foreign-language instruction a total waste of time.

Commenti?  If you know any other languages, feel free to comment in those.

Methodological individualism

David Brooks has discovered that human behavior is more complicated (and the science more uncertain) than some headlines he vaguely remembers seem to have suggested:

It wasn’t long ago that headlines were blaring about the discovery of an aggression gene, a happiness gene or a depression gene. The implication was obvious: We’re beginning to understand the wellsprings of human behavior, and it won’t be long before we can begin to intervene to enhance or transform human life.  

But, alas.  

Few talk that way now. There seems to be a general feeling, as a Hastings Center working group put it, that “behavioral genetics will never explain as much of human behavior as was once promised.”

"Behavorial genetics" seems kind of scientific.  What conclusion can we draw from the new-found skepticism about the glories of the scientific mind:

Today, we have access to our own genetic recipe. But we seem not to be falling into the arrogant temptation — to try to re-engineer society on the basis of what we think we know. Saying farewell to the sort of horrible social engineering projects that dominated the 20th century is a major example of human progress.

We can strive to eliminate that multivariate thing we call poverty. We can take people out of environments that (somehow) produce bad outcomes and try to immerse them into environments that (somehow) produce better ones. But we’re not close to understanding how A leads to B, and probably never will be.

This age of tremendous scientific achievement has underlined an ancient philosophic truth — that there are severe limits to what we know and can know; that the best political actions are incremental, respectful toward accumulated practice and more attuned to particular circumstances than universal laws.

Wholly crap!  "Aggressive behavior in an individual" might be the subject of behavorial genetics (worthy of all well-informed (not Brooksian) skepticism), "poverty" is not a genetic property but rather a (relative) social and economic one.  One whose causes, by the way, are largely well known: lack of financial resources, etc. 

By linking poverty with behavorial genetics (whatever that might mean exactly), Brooks seems to claim the explanation for poverty lies mainly with the individual poor person.  But Brooks is then too respectful of the deep human mystery to inquire further about it.

So Brooks' pseudo-skepticism masks a very dogmatic adherence to the claim that individuals are largely responsible for their social destiny.  And that's not very skeptical.


*minor edit for "cogency"

It’s not a lie

Another chapter in our dumb national discourse.  The New York Times sent Zev Chafets to interview Rush Limbaugh.  By all accounts, the lengthy New York Times magazine piece lacked a critical perspective entirely.  For a piece on such a divisive figure such as Rush Limbaugh that’s inexcusable.  In defending his work, the author made the following puzzling remarks:

CHAFETS: Well, do you have an example of that? I’m not an apologist for Rush Limbaugh, but I’m a little bit defensive because I think that the liberal media takes such an unfair view of him.

I hear people being vilified on the radio on all sorts of radio stations by all sorts of people all day long. And Limbaugh is not worse than many of the ones I hear, even on NPR. He just has a different point of view.

GARFIELD: The NAACP should have a riot rehearsal. They should get a liquor store and practice robberies?

CHAFETS: Not my sense of humor, but it’s not a lie.

GARFIELD: Did Limbaugh not say that Abu Ghraib was no worse than a Skull and Bones initiation?

CHAFETS: Yeah, he did. It’s his opinion.

The liberal media, oh please.  But besides, how does Limbaugh’s claim not being a lie somehow excuse it?  Those kinds of remarks aren’t the kinds of remarks that can be lies anyway–the problem most people have with gutter characters such as Limbaugh is that they and their ilk actually believe the things they say.  So the problem isn’t whether it’s a lie, it’s whether it’s justified.  And that’s a different story.  Way to go liberal media!  

Hard power

A people oppressed by years of military rule is a little like a hostage: they're oppressed against their will (no surprise), and they're subject to all sorts of unspeakable brutalities (including murder).  But that's pretty much it.  However difficult it is to rescue hostages (and it's very difficult I'm sure), it's rather easier than rescuing an oppressed people with "democracy" or "humanitarian intervention").  For that reason, Charles Krauthammer's analogizing the Columbian hostage rescue (which used "hard power"–no shooting, however!) to the invasion of Iraq (which used shooting) makes one cringe:

And who's going to intervene? The only country that could is the country that in the past two decades led coalitions that liberated Kuwait, Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan [The only country?  Not only are these situations significantly different from each other, but, Europe participated in all four of them–eds]. Having sacrificed much blood and treasure in its latest endeavor — the liberation of 25 million Iraqis from the most barbarous tyranny of all, and its replacement with what is beginning to emerge as the Arab world's first democracy — and having earned near-universal condemnation for its pains, America has absolutely no appetite for such missions.

And so the innocent languish, as did Betancourt, until some local power, inexplicably under the sway of the Bush notion of hard power, gets it done — often with the support of the American military. "Behind the rescue in a jungle clearing stood years of clandestine American work," explained The Post. "It included the deployment of elite U.S. Special Forces . . . a vast intelligence-gathering operation . . . and training programs for Colombian troops."

Upon her liberation, Betancourt offered profuse thanks to God and the Virgin Mary, to her supporters and the media, to France and Colombia and just about everybody else. As of this writing, none to the United States.

All of this to claim the French are sissies (yet again).  But, as certainly the French know, libertating a hostage from a captor has one clear marker of success: the hostage's life and freedom.  The success metric of an invasion?  Perhaps when they see us, their liberator, as their oppressor.  For then they are truly free.


I can think of two primary beer objectors–the late Dr.Atkins (and his crazy low-carb diet) and Christian (therefore European) religious Teetotalers. So why this then?

The gene pools of human settlements became progressively dominated by the survivors — by those genetically disposed to, well, drink beer. "Most of the world's population today," Johnson writes, "is made up of descendants of those early beer drinkers, and we have largely inherited their genetic tolerance for alcohol."

Johnson suggests, not unreasonably, that this explains why certain of the world's population groups, such as Native Americans and Australian Aborigines, have had disproportionately high levels of alcoholism: These groups never endured the cruel culling of the genetically unfortunate that town dwellers endured. If so, the high alcoholism rates among Native Americans are not, or at least not entirely, ascribable to the humiliations and deprivations of the reservation system. Rather, the explanation is that not enough of their ancestors lived in towns.

But that is a potential stew of racial or ethnic sensitivities that we need not stir in this correction of Investor's Business Daily. Suffice it to say that the good news is really good: Beer is a health food. And you do not need to buy it from those wan, unhealthy-looking people who, peering disapprovingly at you through rimless Trotsky-style spectacles, seem to run all the health food stores.

Doesn't Whole Foods, a kind of health food store, sell beer?  Nice bit of paralipsis also about racial "sensitivities."


Put this in the category of "why we can't have nice things" (courtesy of Digby):

Sen. KERRY: …what almost every person in the Pentagon has admitted. I mean, Bob, you’re smart, you’ve talked to these people in Washington. There are very few people who walk around and say, `Going into Iraq was the right thing to do and we should’ve done it. I’d do it again if I had the chance.’ John McCain does. John McCain believes this was the right decision.

SCHIEFFER: Well, let…

Sen. KERRY: He said, you know, you can’t–I have to tell you, Bob, I just came back from the Middle East. I just met with the king of Saudi Arabia. I met with President Mubarak of Egypt. I met with others. You know what they said to me? They said, `You, America, have served up to Iran, Iraq on a platter.’ They are outraged by this sort of, you know, ineptitude of what has been done by those who decided it was smart to go into Iraq.

SCHIEFFER: Let me just ask you one question here.

Sen. KERRY: And they have turned away–yeah.

SCHIEFFER: Before we–before–because we are going to talk about–are you now challenging Senator McCain’s integrity?

Sen. KERRY: No, I’m challenging Senator McCain’s judgment, his judgment that says there’s no violence history between Sunni and Shia. That’s wrong. His judgment that says this is going to increase the stability of the Middle East. It hasn’t. It’s made it less stable. The judgment that says this will, quote “This will be the best thing for America and the world in a long time.”

SCHIEFFER: All right….all right.

Who would have thought Kerry was challenging McCain's integrity.  What kind of question is that?

Quintessentially irrational

Someone wonders what would have happened had Al Gore been selected President in 2000 (and thus President on 9/11).  Someone else responds, saying:

So I will assume that you mean 9/11 wouldn't have happened if Gore were elected because a Gore administration would have made the federal government more competent and vigilant. This argument blends irrational partisanship with that quintessentially American belief that all tragedies — whether on the playground or elsewhere — are eminently preventable. Under this belief, stuff just doesn't "happen," and there is no horror that cannot be prevented by a manufacturer's foresight, a guardian's prudence or a government's alertness. Such anti-fatalism is the faith of our fathers (and of our plaintiffs' lawyers), and it animates our political discourse in mostly positive ways. Too much fatalism, after all, can lead to a kind of "que sera, sera" complacency.

Someone asked a specific question, and Andres Martinez (who writes some kind of column for the Post) answers two general ones about the psychology not of the questioner but of two groups of people: irrational partisans and "quintessentially American" anti-fatalists.  He has in effect turned a straight-forward counterfactual question into a complex one by giving an irrelevantly bifurcated response.  It's a reverse complex question straw man ad hominem circumstantial.  As if to say, "oh, I see what you're saying, but why are you so interested in irrational partisanship and fatalism denial?"

Judgment at C-Span

I saw an interesting film last night–Judgment at Nuremberg–In case you haven't seen it, you should.  As the title suggests, the film deals with the war crimes of the Nazis–but in particular the criminal complicity of lower level Nazi judges who participated in the legal machinations of the Nazi regime.

On a related theme, Kathleen Parker has found a new way to pass out moral responsibility in such situations.  If you think you're involved in a criminal regime (but are not yourself criminally responsible), then your saying nothing is worse, yes, worse, than the crimes you have witnessed being committed.  Speaking on C-Span, courtesy of Crooks and Liars, she says:

Parker: Oh wow that’s, you know I’ve met Scott and he is, comes across as just the sweetest, nicest fellow. I took great umbrage at this primarily because, whether the… you know, if… if he were… if he sat in those meetings where evidence was being trumped up and people are actually dying and never so much as cleared his throat or raised an eyebrow–which is what I’m told by everyone in the White House– then I think that he is guilty of something much greater than whatever he presents to the public in this book. You don’t sit there and listen to what you now consider lies and know… you walk out the door. An honorable man walks out the door. And you can go and call a press conference if you are the Press Secretary of the President of the United States. You can call a press conference. You can walk out and get a book contract that day, but you don’t sit through it for years and years and then say ‘well, I think I’ll go get a book contract and you know, present basically my notes that I’ve taken all these years knowing that these people were doing wrong.’ So I simply don’t trust a person like that.

That's novel.  The usual claim is that the person is complicit in the crimes, a silent accomplice perhaps.  Perhaps in an extreme case one might consider the person guilty of a serious crime, but no one could sustain the claim that his or her crime is worse than the original crime.  This would, after all, make the actual criminal less bad than the silent witness.

Why We Fight

I'm reminded today of a set of arguments that I find both compelling and well-executed, a set of arguments that is sadly under-appreciated (in my view, anyway). And while much of what we do here is criticism, today we turn our attentions to some good arguments. We've commented recently on certain views on American patriotism, as well as on various uses and abuses of the term "fascism," especially as they are applied to those who might offer up dissent to the policies of the current administration. A troubling trend in recent political op-eds is that fascism–and its (erroneously so-called) cousins, communism and terrorism–has been posited as the binary opposite of patriotism. So, today we discuss dissent. And there could no more fitting day than the anniversary of this manifesto of dissent. The men and women who founded this country were concerned about dissent. After all, its very founding was an act of dissent. And so, once it was born, they worried what might happen if some recalcitrant groups of citizens decided to up and overthrow them.  One of them had an answer:

By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.

There are two methods of curing the mischiefs of faction: the one, by removing its causes; the other, by controlling its effects.

There are again two methods of removing the causes of faction: the one, by destroying the liberty which is essential to its existence; the other, by giving to every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests.

It could never be more truly said than of the first remedy, that it was worse than the disease. Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires. But it could not be less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction, than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency.

The second expedient is as impracticable as the first would be unwise. As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed. As long as the connection subsists between his reason and his self-love, his opinions and his passions will have a reciprocal influence on each other; and the former will be objects to which the latter will attach themselves. The diversity in the faculties of men, from which the rights of property originate, is not less an insuperable obstacle to a uniformity of interests. The protection of these faculties is the first object of government. From the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property, the possession of different degrees and kinds of property immediately results; and from the influence of these on the sentiments and views of the respective proprietors, ensues a division of the society into different interests and parties.

I'd like to note two things here: one, Madison begins by clearly defining his terms. He avoids any equivocation and the likelihood of misinterpretation by getting his terms clear from the start. Two, the argument here is clearly and deftly stated. No tricks, no semantic sleight-of-hand, just premises and conclusions. Read it through, please. It's a wonderful piece of argument. On a deeper level though, notice that differing opinions are not only to be tolerated by the government, but cultivated by the government. As Madison will go on to argue, it is only the effects of faction that need to be controlled, and this will happen naturally, as a function of widely differing opinions. This is not the language of fealty and demagoguery; it is the language of free expression and independent thought.

Here's our bit: this was written in a newspaper. It is no small shame that such elevated and concise discourse does not occupy the op-ed pages of today's newspapers. Instead we have partisan-baiting, ad hominem attacks, and rhetorical trickery. Our national discourse is in shambles and we bear the burden of bringing it back up. Don't settle. Demand something better. That's why we do what we do here. Not because we like to titillate ourselves with the cleverness of our ratiocinations, nor because we think the refutation of some pundit's stance on a particular issue proves the veracity of our own privately-held view. We do it because it is in the best American spirit to speak out. So, we'll be here, gentle reader, keeping up the fight. We wish you and yours the very best on this Fourth of July.

Argumentum ad linguam

David Broder reviews a conservative think tanks' "admirably well written and well researched" pamphlet about whether "whether America's national identity is eroding under the pressure of population diversity and educational slackness."  Broder, in his oddly positive review of this pamphlet, fails to see the irony in the following two claims.


And so, the Bradley scholars say, "knowing what America stands for is not a genetic inheritance. It must be learned, both by the next generation and by those who come to this country. In this way, a nation founded on an idea is inherently fragile." 


When it comes to the treatment of immigrants, the Bradley team sees a real threat in such things as multilingual ballots and bilingual classes. Such accommodations to the growing diversity of the population could lead to "many Americas, or even no America at all," they maintain. "Historical ignorance, civic neglect and social fragmentation might achieve what a foreign invader could not." 

Seems to me the authors are disturbed by the mechanisms of greater civic knowledge and participation.  Besides, if I remember my history rightly, both of the belligerents in American Civil War spoke English.