The True Value Of A Good Education
September 29, 2010, 5:52 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Steve Sailer’s on a kick lately about rich white parents bending over backwards to keep their kids out of highly-nonwhite schools while telling themselves that’s not what they’re doing at all. Good for a chuckle.

It is very illustrative of the leftist problem in general, which is: how does one support a system characterized largely by credentialed, centralized bureaucratic privilege and unconstrained power, while continuing to always posture as an egalitarian populist on the side of the masses? The answer seems to be to continually harness your brainpower to come up with elaborate theories about this and that (why things are so bad for others, etc.), and in particular to extrapolate whatever conflicted personal hang-ups and obsessions you happen to have into a social theory. Hence, ‘I didn’t keep my kid out of that school cuz it was mostly Hispanic, I kept my kid out of that school because, um, the teachers are so bad. Which raises a troubling social question, why are Our Society’s Teachers so bad? We need to fix that, and you should put me in charge of fixing that!’ Etc. While doing this, of course you get cushy jobs and high salaries and live in nice houses and all the rest.

The essential factor in this approach to social/political issues is the lie. The ‘progressive’, fundamentally, is engaged in lying to others and to himself about his (largely self-centered, egocentric) motivations. In order for the lie to be believable, i.e. guilt averted, the lie has to be carefully constructed, backed by grandiose and intellectual-seeming theories, defended with vigor and viciousness against all challengers, and held to with a deep emotional investment – all characteristics of any current ‘progressive’ stance.

If my theory/slander is correct, then you can expect to find virtually any social institution dominated by the left to behave as something built on a scaffolding of lies. I think Education qualifies as an example. The basic lie of Education is that it is hugely important to always go to the ‘right’ schools, etc., because (supposedly) ‘good’ schools, like, teach a lot lot more than ‘bad’ ones (or something), and that this – learning like a lot more stuff from ‘good teachers’, etc. – is what is important for life and career happiness, at any cost. If your kid is bright but you don’t send him to this sort of ‘good’ school, he’ll get dumb. Etc.

When you see parents agonizing over whether their three-year-old will get into Snotwell Academy For Tots, or whatever, and then on up to spending $30k+ a year on some useless four-year-degree, this is the lie they are telling themselves and others. But because they believe the lie (or act as if they do), it leads to an ‘arms race’ among parents of similar and adjacent social classes, to do the same thing for their children. And because it’s a lie, the phenomena is hugely wasteful for all involved. The irony is that the wastefulness of it all is something that’s easy to spot, by everyone, looking at it from the outside – or even among the people doing it. Yet because the lie is so entrenched in our institutions and social mores, people still just do it (not to do it, if you can, would practically make you a pariah – ‘don’t you care about your children??’), and so no one knows the way out.

But we can start by identifying the truth behind the lie. And in the case of Education, I think the truth is something like this:

Your kid is either smart or he’s not. If he’s smart, the smartness will out, regardless of whether the school is ‘good’, etc. Schools being ‘good’ (above a certain basic level of safety, etc.) is mostly a sideshow. Rather: The main effect of where you send your kid to preschool, or middle school, or college, or whatever, is nothing more or less than what sort of kids will your kid know and hang out with. If you send your kid to a chi-chi preschool, your kid will have play dates with the kid of Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. If you send your kid to a no-name preschool, he’ll have play dates with the kid of a construction worker. If your kid goes to Sidwell Friends or Dalton Middle School, he’ll smoke pot in the park with the kids of Fortune 500 CEOs, politicians, and famous writers. If your kid goes to Suburban Lawns Public School, he’ll smoke pot with the kids of random sysadmins and part-time nurses. If your kid goes to Yale or Princeton or Stanford, he’ll get invited to parties in Kennebunkport or summer houses on Cape Cod to hang out with kids of former Presidents. If your kid goes to State U., he’ll spend spring break in Reno with the kids of no-name semi retired software programmers and middle managers. Etc.

What parents are really choosing when they choosing the ‘best’ schools is: a peer group for their children. Will their precious, special kids be part of and hobnob with an upper-class, privileged peer group? Or will they be part of an undifferentiated, lowbrow peer group of no repute? And the reason parents care about this is largely for their own sake. It’s not like smoking pot in the park or having oral sex at a party is a hugely more beneficial, future-oriented, character-building activity when done with a hedge fund manager’s kid than when done with a gas station manager’s kid. No, parents basically just want to be proud that they got to the point that their kid brushes elbows with so-and-so. They want to feel like their kid is joining the upper crust. They couch all this in terms like ‘opportunities’ and ‘giving them the most options’, and all that, but when you try to boil it down to tangibles it’s pretty clear that this is what they’re really talking about. ‘Opportunities’ means ‘the cool, upper-crust kids’.

Which makes it easy to understand the phenomenon Sailer is talking about, the disguised ‘white flight’ of the upper class to private schools. The parents Sailer cites are obviously doing this basically because they don’t want their kid to be, like, hanging out with a bunch of Hispanics all the time. They don’t want that largely because they don’t want to think of themselves as the sort of parents who raised a kid who ended up being the kind of kid who hangs out with a bunch of Hispanics. That’s a step (or two) down the social totem pole in these parents’ minds, it would be painful (like parting with a portion of their self-image), and so of course they are willing to pay up to avoid it at all costs.

Obviously, this sort of motivation is painfully unthinkable and impossible to admit, especially to anyone who sees themselves as ‘progressive’, so they have to tell themselves a bunch of other reasons they’re doing what they’re doing. They will even ostentatiously devote huge amounts of time (and talk to others about how much time they’re devoting) to ‘research schools’ and ‘go through the process’, if it can help add to the illusion that what they’re doing is anything other than what I just described.

Fundamentally, it’s painful to think of oneself as this sort of person (even though I suspect a huge fraction, probably a majority, of people are motivated by precisely this sort of thing). And to the progressive, doubly so. This, largely, is why ‘progressive’ theories of social failures, inequality, and so on (theories which blame ‘society’ for this and that, and which cry out for ‘progressive’ ‘solutions’) are so desperately needed. The ‘progressive’ self-image demands such theories, and so such theories are produced. They are theories served up to feed the lies at their root, not to serve truth. But truth is always there, lying in wait to show itself.

Sad To The Future
September 26, 2010, 4:17 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: ,

The Back to the Future movies have been in heavy rotation on some cable station or another, so I’ve had a chance to look at them for the first time in probably 20 years. I’m not sure I had fully appreciated how great they were; I certainly hadn’t recognized them for the modern-day Frank Capra-esque gems that they are. Michael J. Fox is great, of course. Christopher Lloyd is unbelievable. And even the sequels, while generally not as fresh or good as the first, have their moments.

But my main reaction was one of sadness. There is an innocence and a sense of wonder to those movies that we just don’t see nowadays. Do they even make movies like this anymore? Also notice that we’re in that future. The canonical Back to the Future generation-length is 30 years. 1985 went to 1955. So a modern-day Marty McFly visiting his parents from 2015 – five years from now – would travel to…1985.

Have we come anywhere near as far in that generation as teens from 1985 would have assumed? Other than our movies having become coarser and darker, I mean.

Maybe ultimately this is just another variation of the complaint that we don’t have flying cars yet….

My Opinion Means Nothin’
September 26, 2010, 2:02 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

See Robin Hanson’s signs that your opinions function more to signal loyalty and ability than to estimate truth. By my count, I suffer from around 4-5 out of 11 of those signs, if not more.

I reckon it’s fair to say I put forth a lot of opinions/arguments in order to demonstrate ‘ability’. Since there’s no one obvious that my opinions could be meant to signal ‘loyalty’ to (if anything, my opinions are about disloyalty), that part doesn’t really apply however.

So let me plead guilty to being, largely, a kind of contrarian showoff.

I think this makes some sense strategically, to be honest. Let’s say you think that all opinions from someone like me should always be meant to ‘estimate truth’, all the time. But why? I’m a lowly blogger. Very few people read me. What if I hit upon some genuine truth, and investigated it honestly, and estimated it fairly, and then wrote it up. What effect would that actually have? Zero-point-none.

But if I entertain, or put forth an opinion in a memorable way, well that won’t change anything either, but at least some people might not be sorry they spent time reading me, and I’ll have had fun writing it.

The alternative of course is just not to write at all due to shame at my self-awareness that my writing is not a 100% genuine truth-estimation endeavor. That may happen too, but it will be out of boredom and lack of interest, not because I don’t live up to Robin Hanson’s opinion standards. No one could.

The Palin Freakout
September 26, 2010, 1:50 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

For someone with such strong political views, it’s really quite shocking how little I actually pay attention to the daily ins and outs of political battles. So-and-so won a primary, who cares. Wake me when something actually happens.

But one thing that does always grab my attention (because it’s so good for a belly laugh) is that most recent of political phenomena, the Palin Freakout. This is when some politician rises to prominence on the right, and the lefties freak out because

  • the politician mentions religion, or
  • the politician is so against taxes that they get, like, exercised over it, or
  • the politician doesn’t seem to be in love with all gay people sight-unseen, or
  • the politician doesn’t speak like she’s in a Harvard social-issues seminar, or
  • the politician is just generally unhip, or
  • the politician is named Sarah Palin (i.e. all of the above).

Recently I started seeing signs that a new Palin Freakout was underway, this time centered on a lady named O’Donnell (I think). Instinctively, and reflexively, I started to get excited: this should be good for some chuckles. A year from now are we going to start seeing tell-all, ‘scary’ expose’s about O’Donnell (I think that’s her name) in all the Barnes & Nobles just in time for Christmas? You betcha!

Hilarious. For people so smart and correct about everything, and confident about their smartness and correctness, lefties sure scare easily, don’t they? All it takes is some broad, somewhere, in some position of even the most lowliest of prominence, who publicly gives signs that she doesn’t want taxes or abortions to increase, and lefties across the nation soil their pants at the inevitable theocratic anti-feminist fascism they are sure it foretells.

I have to admit though that this one is a bit weirder than Palin. Palin, say what you want about her, was just minding her own business as an Alaska politician before the McCain pick put her in the national spotlight. This O’Donnell dame is something else entirely, and I’m not sure what. For reasons that escape me now, I actually used to watch that TV show Politically Incorrect quite a bit back in the ’90s. Since the setup of the show was (typically) Maher and three lefties beating down a hand-picked righty punching-bag, who that punching-bag was was usually pretty memorable, especially if he/she seemed to hold up fairly well under pressure. And I did remember one girl in particular, a youngish girl who mentioned experimenting with witchcraft, in a she-did-ok-I-wonder-where-she-is-now sort of way.

So when I started seeing headlines (I still haven’t read a single full-length story about this stupid race, thank goodness) suggesting that O’Donnell ‘admitted to dabbling in witchcraft back in the ’90s’, something clicked in my brain:

“Oh no. She’s not actually that chick who was on Politically Incorrect a few times, is she?”

Yes, she is. Hilarious! I had no idea.

Now, the point of this post is not that I’m full-on in the O’Donnell camp. Looking over her wiki page, there does seem to be a lot of things that are iffy about her. Lawsuits left and right, for starters. (I’m working on this theory that there are basically people who get involved in lawsuits – who see lawsuits as a normal thing to try in life – and people who don’t, and the former cause like a hugely disproportionate chunk of society’s problems. For example, I really just can’t see myself getting involved in some lawsuit, deciding to ‘sue’ somebody or something. It would really take a lot….)

But anyway, O’Donnell, whatever her merits or lack thereof, is clearly the Palin-Freakout subject of the moment. And it’s always good for some entertainment, to see who the lefties consider a boogeyman. Which, I just remembered the other headlines about her – that she’s “against masturbation”! And the left FREAKS OUT!!

Hi-larious. :)

Memo To The San Francisco Giants, From: A Giants Fan
September 23, 2010, 2:42 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

Baseball is a mythologically, intricately complex pastime the nuances of which poets and physicists alike are destined to grapple with for time immemorial, or as long as humans walk this earth. In baseball, through the perfectly-calibrated magic of a stick, a ball, and a four-sided diamond, infinite possibilities are opened up. Randomness and chaos, heroism and emotion, action and pastoral beauty – baseball encapsulates it all, the wealth of human experience.

In particular, the strategies involved in baseball are immense. No single human mind could possibly grasp them all, and that includes me. Indeed, let me be the first to admit that when it comes to the game of baseball I am not exactly a strategic genius.

But I do know one thing: when you play a baseball game, regardless of your strategic acumen, it is a metaphysical impossibility to win that game if you don’t score any runs.

Something to keep in mind.

UPDATE 9/23: Looks like they got my memo!

How iTunes Might Prevent Me From Giving Money To Josh Homme That I Probably Wouldn’t Have Considered Giving Him Anyway, Because Without iTunes I Wouldn’t Have Known Who He Was, Not That iTunes Was All That Much Of A Help In That Regard, Cuz I Really Did Most Of The Work Anyway Now That I Think About It

I have several complaints about iTunes. For one thing, just about every time I start it up (or it starts up because I plug in my iPod to charge it up), a popup steals my screen (and the task lights up on my taskbar annoyingly) saying there’s a new version of iTunes and would I like to download it? I have tried the download-it option a few times, which takes a while, prevents me from doing other stuff, maybe forces me to reboot (can’t remember), and then when it’s done iTunes looks and feels…no different whatsoever. Memo to Apple: No more fricking ‘new versions’. I finally had to check Don’t ask me this again (which for me, is a drastic measure I rarely bother taking). So if Apple ever comes out with a ‘new version’ of iTunes that is truly important (I have yet to see evidence of this), do let me know.

But the larger complaint is that its ‘Genius’ system for recommending music seems to be dumb as hell, as if it’s built off perhaps 1994-vintage AOL-era ‘recommendation’ technology. It’s hard to quantify or put into words just how horrible and dumb its recommendations seem so I’ll just run through a few current examples:

  • I think I said ‘like’ to a Jeff Buckley album, so it recommends…Van Morrison?
  • I ‘like’ Echo & the Bunnymen, so it recommends…an early Depeche Mode?
  • I ‘like’ Quadrophenia, so it recommends…Fragile by Yes?
  • I have music by the Mr. T Experience, so it recommends…Achtung Baby?
  • Liking Born to Run gets me a Moondance suggestion (more Van Morrison! They got a quota or something?)…
  • Owning Green Day gets me a Weird Al (not that I don’t appreciate me some Weird Al, but huh?)
  • Squeeze gets me Roxy Music, Sublime gets me Led Zeppelin, etc. etc. etc.

With Netflix, the list of suggested movies I might like always tended to make some sense (it’s useless to me now but that’s only because I’ve pretty much whittled down all the good unseen movies off it to the point where there really aren’t any movies out there I’d like, period). With Netflix, even if I didn’t like or knew/suspected I wouldn’t like a movie, I could usually at least see why it might think someone with my movie history would like it.

With examples like the above, I’m just left scratching my head. It’s not that I necessarily don’t or wouldn’t like the suggestion (in most cases I do, as it happens), it’s that I don’t understand how it follows from the ‘you liked…’ part so the suggestion may as well be out of the clear blue sky. And it’s not that the ‘you liked…’ and ‘you might like…’ bands are often worlds apart as such – I mean, usually, you could imagine them both being part of the play cycle of the same radio station – it’s just that (unless we’re talking about obvious cases like [Band] -> Lead Singer of [Band]’s First Solo Album, or [Band] -> Later Supergroup With Former Members of [Band]) they’re so seldom in anything that I would think of as the same niche that the suggestion becomes useless. Because the only reason I can think of for anyone even wanting suggestions like this is if they were looking to explore a very specific niche!

Another way to say this is that iTunes’s implicit database of ‘niches’ is very clunky and sophomoric. It’s as if they farmed out a one-time data entry job to an Indian consulting firm, to grossly and haphazardly categorize all music into, like, one of about 12 Types Of Music: ‘classic rock’, ‘alternative rock’, ‘metal’, ‘soundtracks’…you know, the various sections of a Tower Records store. Then they built their Genius software around the results (cross-referenced by decade and country, which seems to be why Who=Yes, Squeeze=Roxy, etc). End result: I liked Echo & the Bunnymen so I might like Depeche Mode. Why, because they’re both ‘alternative rock from the 1980s’? So what? The experience is like being a bright-eyed 13 year old walking into a Tower Records store, asking interestedly about Echo & the Bunnymen having just gotten into them, and what their band name means and where they’re from and who is Ian McCulloch, and having the bored/snooty purple-haired college dropout employee randomly fish something out of the same basic section and shove it in your face. “Here kid, Some Great Reward by Depeche Mode, try that.” “Why, are they similar?” “Well they’re both Alternative aren’t they? I think they’re also both, like, from England or whatever. Plus ‘D’ is next to ‘E’ and I didn’t wanna walk very far, it’s not like I care about any of this middle of the road stuff anyway…”


So I’ve given up on Genius and figured I’d try to bypass/short-circuit it by using what seems like it could be a more useful feature, ‘listeners also bought’. You’re looking at one band or album and iTunes shows you a short list of bands that other users bought along with this one. This kinda makes more sense and for most medium-popular (or less) artists the results seem like they should be pretty robust. (If it’s a mega-popular artist – who didn’t buy Thriller? – the results should by definition almost be white noise.) So I’ve spent some time starting from a few core bands I like and clicking through their ‘Listeners Also Bought’ orbits. Inevitably the orbit peters out into a hazy hinterland of like five obscure singer-songwriters from Canada I’ve never heard of until I can’t be bothered to keep clicking, but for the first few orbits anyway, the results do seem to make more sense.

This is all a long-winded way of explaining how I discovered the Queens of the Stone Age. (The Raconteurs -> The Dead Weather -> Them Crooked Vultures -> Queens of the Stone Age, for those keeping score at home.) Finally, some positive results, as based on what I can tell from the 30-second iTunes clips anyway, I feel like I could really get into them. And (having explored their orbit a little), their side/other projects like The Dead Weather and Eagles of Death Metal, as well.

So, it hasn’t all been a lost cause. The problem I have now is, QOTSA and all these weird side projects each seem to have like 2-6 albums to them, and from sampling them, I can’t really differentiate them in quality or enjoyability. There’s no one standout obvious choice to buy. So I either end up buying up all of the 10-15 albums we’re talking about here, or I don’t bother because at the end of the day, it’s not worth the trouble. I’m leaning toward the latter option (and certainly don’t want to enrich/reward iTunes any more than I have to), but do let me know if this is a mistake.

September 19, 2010, 3:05 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Are banks just part of the government (HT Foseti)? As someone who’s griped before about financial socialism, I’m certainly receptive to the idea.

The classical defining property of banks is that they borrow money (short-term) from depositors and then try to use it (lend it long-term) to make money for themselves. But they also borrow money from the government, and nowadays those deposits are insured by the government anyway, so one way or another the money banks play with ultimately comes from the government. They spray this money around (making loans, buying bonds, funding deals and issuances, etc.) to various actors in the economy, in the hopes that when the dust settles they’ll end up with more than they started, net of their funding cost, and then pay themselves a sizable chunk as bonus. The fact that this arrangement makes banks the government’s counterparties is what lends credence to the claim that banks are just an unacknowledged part of the government – after all, once a bank has borrowed billions from the government, the government can’t really afford to let them fail, and can’t credibly promise not to bail them out. In other words, the government implicitly holds the tail risk on whatever risky hi-jinx banks get into (and banks are nothing if not good at figuring out ways of squeezing more risk to play with out of the same capital). Privatized gains, socialized losses.

But through their activities, what banks really end up doing is, they figure out Who Should Get To Use Money. If they make a loan or facility to corporation ABC at such and such spread, but XYZ at a higher spread or not at all, this is a judgment that ABC is more business-worthy – i.e., more supported by the market. In other words the bank has decided (rightly or wrongly, but wrong decisions are punished) that people would, at the margin, rather have what ABC is selling than what XYZ is selling, and/or that ABC is better-managed and more viable than XYZ, thus ABC should get more/easier money. Notice that someone has to figure this out. And I’m not sure who it should be, if not banks.

Let’s say you didn’t think it should be banks, because banks are evil and risky. Instead, you tried to set up or change regulations to allow for some other institution(s) to do it (whether part of the government or not), and you didn’t call them “banks” you called them knabs, and you changed the rules around so that it is knabs (and not banks) who end up figuring out where money should go.

Well, they’d end up doing pretty much what banks do. Wouldn’t they? Analysts and spreadsheets, and risk-taking and competition for brainpower, thus corporate structures and obscene payscales.

Or maybe not, you say. Maybe the knabs would have different, better criteria for allocating money than the evil, selfish banks do. While you can’t (or, at least, shouldn’t) just print the money and send everyone an equal cut, or spray it in bundles from helicopters with those athletic-event T-shirt-launchers, maybe the answer is socialism. In a stereotypical socialist system, I guess Who Should Get Money would be figured out by a highly elite council of commissars – brilliant, selfless, philosopher-kings who sat around in a tastefully-drab room and deduced via their brilliance, insight, education, correct ideologies, and compassion that for the coming year-quintile, X billion goes to the tractor factories, Y billion goes to statues of the Great Leader, Z billion goes to the subway system, (W billion secretly goes to their nomenklatura friends & family), etc.

I admit that’s a possible resolution. But it doesn’t sound preferable to me.

Or, one might consider some of the full-on libertarian (and/or Moldbuggian) alternatives, by contrast. Yes there would be ‘knabs’ but you wouldn’t have to set them up at all, they would all just arise naturally as private funds (no deposit insurance, no government bailouts) bidding on everything privately. Meanwhile the banking sector itself would be characterized by ‘free banking’ and private money. And you ban fractional-reserve banking and maturity mismatches (i.e. the defining quality of depository banks) as instances of fraud. My mind is open to all this, but at present in terms of real-world test cases, proofs of concept, and feasibility, on the scale of the modern financial world, most of these still lie in the realm of science fiction.

So the function of banks, perhaps, is to replace the socialist council of commissars with something feasible that is meaningfully connected to market forces and distributed knowledge. Instead of making up money allocation out of thin air, arrogance, and dogma, banks at least try to make their decisions according to something resembling rational criteria, i.e., what will make them money. Not because they’re saints or geniuses (though possibly some are, at least the latter), but because they participate directly in the rewards. The commissars might decide to fund an overall factory regardless of whether any of the peasants actually wanted overalls, it won’t affect whether they have a fancy dacha and use of the car either way; a corporate bank PM, having at least some incentive, might think twice before (or at least charge more for) making a loan to Overalls, Inc. under the same circumstances. The commissars will make decisions based on preconceived, politicized, top-down and ideological notions of ‘fairness’, ‘egalitarianism’, ‘five-year plans’, ‘what the Great Leader wants’, or whatever other non-economic criteria, whereas banks will at least try to do some half-baked or (more often) misleadingly-precise calculations to convince themselves that the market will reward putting money here or there.

It can’t be denied that the banks have more connection to and dependence on true market forces than do the commissars. So what is the problem, and why is it so hard to convince oneself that banks are free market actors? Perhaps it really does boil down to leverage. Maybe we believe that under a certain leverage, banks would have a harder time getting in trouble, and banks who did get in trouble presumably wouldn’t have gotten that big in the first place, meaning the government would be better able to resist bailing them out. Thus any given instance of ‘socializing the losses’ would be less likely. So yes, banks are ‘part of the government’, but under normal circumstances, only slightly so. It’s just that the more levered and risky banks are, the more ‘part of the government’ they become.

As usual in any conversation about socialism, we only confuse ourselves if we try to think of political economics in a binary way rather than a continuum. There is a continuum between free market and socialism, and (similarly) between ‘private’ and ‘part of the government’, and maybe increasing leverage in this situation may be what helps get you closer to the latter. This both suggests a diagnosis of our recent problems and a possible direction for a solution. Unless you think you can think of a better way to figure out Who Should Get Money. But if so, I’ve probably already read your sci-fi novel.


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