Nationalisms: English and other

Hugo Rifkin (on Question Time Extras  – via iPlayer so you won’t be able to see it…) claims that English nationalism is distinguished from other nationalisms by “being about keeping others out“. This, he contrasted this with other nationalisms which, he said,  “seeking to raise up rather than excluding“.

If most nationalisms are similar in someway, I think it is more likely to be not so much raising up as opposed to excluding others, but about expansionist building out (think Sudetenland).

If English nationalism is simply about wishing to remain English – leaving individuals, families, friends, and their collaborations to live as they wish and not usurp this role for State, then that seems a source of greatness to me. And rather a proud  source at that.

Great engineers (according to the BBC)

I smiled when TED gave a slot to a boy who they hailed as an engineering hope for Africa when he had managed to follow plans for a small farm windmill and assembled it from standard parts… That’s not actually innovation, I am afraid.


But today on Radio 4’s women’s hour we heard of young british woman who had made an evaporative cooler (yip – putting a wet blanket over a box, with a lid). This was hailed as a design breakthrough. I couldn’t see it, and I couldn’t see, either, how useful this would be given that her first (yes, she’s a multi award winner) prize wining design was for a wheel-barrow to carry — you guessed it — water!

An initial wonder concerns whether African’s can really have failed to develop the wheel barrow, or if, perhaps more likely, the tracks they are carrying water over make the alternative of carrying one bucket n your head better than pushing 5 on a barrow).

But aside from that, what use is a terribly inefficient, and ineffective passive evaporative cooler going to be in an environment where water has to be carried several miles, 5-gallons at a time?

Given that neither the ‘wheel barrow’ nor the ‘water power refrigerator’ are even engineering or design breakthoughs, let alone inventions, this seems to set a low bar for aspiring female engineers. But maybe that’s the point.

Bill Gates and education

We owe  many of the enduring institutions of our civilization to a handful of businessmen who ended their lives with large amounts of capital and gave it to the future in the form of charitable education and research investments: Rockefeller, Mellon, Carnegie, Wellcome*, and more recently Howard Hughes, and JP Getty.  Bill and Melinda Gates control the worlds two largest fortunes, but have a different vision than these great pioneers of philanthropy. The Gates foundation has two core beliefs:

  1. The world would be better if people were more able and skilled.
  2. Education and health are the source (rather than partially being results) of variation in how able people are, and many skills they have. 

For this reason they are throwing 100 billion precious dollars into Africa and education. I believe that this is one of the biggest tragedies of our century. There are several very important things that can only be achieved with the concerted investment of  billions of dollars in one project: Creating new drugs, life forms, new manufacturing processes and materials to name a few. Without a new round of investment in the future of discovery, we will all be poorer.

Of course if Gates was right, and preventing malaria or vaccinating against AIDS and re-jigging schools would make everyone as intelligent and diligent as he is, then that would unquestionably be an even bigger stimulus for world development. But I think they are wrong. Most of what they see as causes, are consequences. Poverty, like wealth reflects ability, and much of social chaos is a consequence of a low drive to cooperate. Experiments in intermediate “causes” of wealth such as schools are therefore invaluable for understanding the causal chain.

It was therefore sad, but revealing (in the sense that we might see that what we are doing is not working and, like a good scientist, stop and think) to read in this New Yorker article about just how wrong are the assumptions of the foundation.

A failed school recently  received  a million-dollar intervention from the Gates Foundation, making the school more ‘intimate’, and much more expensive to run. The result? Learning fell, gangs increased, and, thankfully, half the parents pulled their children from the school.

Now, if you were the Gates foundation, and you found that adding $1,000,000 and your vision to a school wrecked it so bad that people fled, might you not rethink? It’s not to late to stop, and to change. Warren Buffett: If you are reading this – take your money and put it into a Wikipedia-based global discovery laboratory. More in another post about how this could drive costs out of science while at same time creating an invisible hand to coordinate and drive innovation and wealth just like the industrial and scientific revolutions did before.

*Wellcome Trust is an interesting case: The trust simply owned shares in a for profit pharmaceutical company. At the time of his death, everyone thought Wellcome had made a horrible error, forgetting to put the company inside the trust. At the time (in the midst of the last global depression), the company was worth a few million in todays money: Barely a month of two of grants from todays trust! What happened to turn this tiny ‘mistake’ into a billion pound charitable behemoth? The US branch of the company had an innovative CEO who 10x’d the company, then doubled it again! The charity despite receiving income only from a tax-paying entity, rode this prosperity to its present position.

Are silly left wing ideas due to low quantitative IQ?

Often people on the left get agitated about particular causes which are scientifically very complex and ill-understood, but about which they develop strong opinions, and they then advocate strongly for (often mandatory) changes to our behavior. If these are implemented, they often lose interest, as if the changes have solved the problem. I am wondering if this flows from low quantitative or analytic reasoning skill. Continue reading


Tony Blair defines justice as “the simple conviction that, given a fair go, human beings can better themselves and the world around them” (SMH, March 27, 2006 .

That’s a novel definition for me. Just as in the law, the oath is carefully crafted – we are not just to tell the truth, but the whole truth and nothing but the truth – definitions must be judged by what they exclude, as well as what they include. Prime Minister Blair’s definition includes his conviction, but contains no admonition to action. One can hold this conviction that people can better themselves and their world if given a fair-go (I do) but could nevertheless do almost anything – say incarcerate the innocent to protect – and say I am “just”.

The consequence of this post-modern conviction-based morality, in which as long as you believe that people could have bettered themselves if given a “fair go”, is that justice as it is done, is left undefined.

And they said Tony was the bright one of the two?

There’s more:

“WE ARE in a struggle of a profound kind. Globalisation is a fact, but the values that govern it are a choice. We know the values we believe in: democracy and the rule of law, but also justice, the simple conviction that, given a fair go, human beings can better themselves and the world around them.”

What is the struggle? Why is it (what ever “it” is) profound? What is the choice of values? Why do our values govern globalisation? Isn’t globalisation itself a set of values (free trade, open borders, communication?).

He seems to support openness:
“Left and right still matter hugely in politics and the divergence can sometimes be sharp. But the defining division in countries and between people is increasingly open or closed: open to the changing world, or fearful, hunkered down, seeing the menace of it not the possibility.”

And yet it is Tony and his cronies who want to be able to imprison without trial, to imprison the mentally ill without crime, who have removed habeus corpus, who want to rate houses using satellite photos to spy on home improvements, who want to censor religious freedom, who sell peerages for cash, who want to destroy jury trial, who won’t free up education to allow selection… get the picture?

There are platitudes a plenty: “This is the age of the interconnected” Huh?? “This struggle is our struggle”. “If the going is tough, we tough it out”. Meaningless.

“To win this struggle [about values and about modernity] we have to win the battle of values as much as arms”. Ummm: when did arms come into the equation? This is not, then, a battle of values, just a battle, of interests.

“We have to show that these are not Western still less American or Anglo-Saxon values but values in the common ownership of humanity, universal values that should be the right of the global citizen.”

Isn’t the point that muslim’s (or at least many muslim’s) dispute exactly this point? Mustn’t we accept them at their word: that they don’t value modernity?

“Ranged against us are the people who hate us; but beyond them are many more who do not hate us but question our motives, our good faith, our even-handedness”

Umm: might they be in countries occupied by British and American troops? Might that not have pissed them off a bit?

Then we get to the grist: fuck you if have non-western values: “If we want to secure our way of life, there is no alternative but to fight… not just in our own countries but the world over.”

Thanks. At least now we are all clear. We are at war with Muslim culture, globally.

Then there is some palpable nonsense, completely incoherent with the preceeding statement: “In Iraq and Afghanistan… we have nations engaged in a titanic struggle to be free of a legacy of oppression, stagnation and servitude.”

Nope: in these two countries we have a struggle (mostly won by now) to impose sharia law, vendetta culture, and a religious leadership, un-challengable and utterly opposed to democracy (which is man’s will over god: treason) and equal rights (abomination).

Tony is kidding himself, we are all losing. The Muslim fanatic world needs to be left to its own devices, and essentially excluded from our world, let to descend back into what they wish for so ardently, and what is so opposed to liberal society.

Leaving them to their devices, not forcing them to convert to ours is the answer.

Smart and gets things done

Another article by Joel that makes a nice honours topic: smart and gets things done. We have people in academia with IQs of 130+ who basically achieve nothing. The world is, of course, overflowing with people who get nothing done. There are those too who get things done: the wrong things!

So finding people who are smart and get thing done will be of value. Detecting companies run by and staffed by these people will be a good investment guide. How can we do it?

How can we select smart? – easy: there are many IQ tests, and they all measure the same construct: general ability.

But how do we measure getting things done? Is that organization? Maybe. Conscientiousness? (no – too high and you can’t tolerate the noise that abounds during getting things done).

How about “energy”? This is my best bet: just plain energy. The ability to work hard, physically and mentally. To not give in, to not sit idle, not to be busy with busy work.

Human Task Switches Considered Harmful – Joel on Software

This is a good honours-year project: Get people to do Raven’s matrices in a task switching and a non-task switching condition. The switch would just be between different items, or, to be ambitious, that and a third task, like minding baby.

  • What is the cost of switching?
  • Does some processing go on the back task during off-cycle phases?
  • Are there sex differences?

Human Task Switches Considered Harmful – Joel on Software:

This is a related link