Saturday, February 11, 2006

Social mobility myths

An excellent commentary in The Times today from Jamie Whyte, who is, according to the by-line, a philosopher and author. As the headline says, Whyte asks Why are we all so stuck on the virtues of more social mobility? He makes the seemingly obvious, although rarely mentioned, point that:
Those who recommend social mobility tend to focus on upward movements. John was born into a bottom-income quartile family, but now he is in the top quartile. Good for John. Alas, every upward social movement requires an equal quantity of downward movement. Just as a tennis player cannot climb the world rankings without others falling, so John’s ascent in the social rankings guarantees that others descend. And their losses must be exactly equal to John’s gain. When everyone is taken into account, it is simply impossible for social mobility to deliver a net benefit.

He also points out that:
In modern economies, the intelligent and well-educated tend to have higher incomes. Intelligence and educational performance are largely inherited, through both nature and nurture. People tend to marry within their own social class. If these tendencies are very strong, then we should expect almost no social mobility in a meritocracy. Those with the attributes that get them to the top (merit, let’s call it) will produce children with merit, who will also get to the top and produce children with merit . . . and so on for generation after generation.
Indeed, this was largely the point made by Charles Murray and Richard Hernstein in their book The Bell Curve, although much of it was lost in the accusations of racism when the book came out.

Anyway, have a look at Whyte's article.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Snatching victory...

Loyal readers may recall that TAE pointed out a BBC headline back in December announcing that Bush suffers Patriot Act defeat. At the time I explained that the headline, along with its accompanying article, was totally absurd, suggesting that it was akin to declaring a football match over even as it was tied and headed into overtime. How embarrassing, then, for the headline writing soothsayers at the Beeb (and how satisfying for TAE) to have to announce today, as the match draws to a close, that Bush wins deal on anti-terror law.

Lots of comments

Paul Reynolds' article about blogs and the link it gave to TAE has resulted in a large number of new comments on several posts. They are worth having a look if you get the chance. Most are critical of TAE, albeit not all entirely thoughtful. The most amusing was from, unsurprisingly, Anonymous, who had this to say:
"America is often portrayed as an ignorant, unsophisticated sort of place, full of bible bashers and ruled to a dangerous extent by trashy television, superstition and religious bigotry, a place lacking in respect for evidence based knowledge. I know that is how it is portrayed because I have done my bit to paint that picture..." I dont see why you put this at the top of yr website. It seems that if Justin Webb admits to it then he must have his reasons. The fact is is that we can plainly see for ourselves that America has all of the above. Your East and West Coasts may be different but you lot are so busy buying big ol cars and being rampant consumers with little or no care about polluting the environment and the plight of your fellow men in Africa that you have allowed the greedy corrupt republican party to totally rule your country. You lot allowed Kennedy and MLK to be shot, you allowed lynchings, you had apartheid up until the 60s and still have not redressed the balance. Your foriegn policy has been absolutely scandalous for decades and your media is totally corrupted by its reliance on big business for advertising. You have pulled the wool over your own peoples eyes for so long that they hardly know what goes on in the world. Your ridiculous patriotism and self regard and greed has meant that you are blind to the fact that we live on the same planet and share the same air and are all brothers and sisters. You have done nothing to prevent the mass proliferation of arms amongst your own communities and around the world. You preach violence and consumption. You have got a crazy streak of religious fundamentalism yourselves as evedenced by 'creationalism' and 'natural design' and your military is crap and too gung ho. Your main exports like Macdonalds and Coke are actually polluting the Worlds health too so get a grip. Look inwards before you critise the rest of the World. All of what Justin Webb says is patently obvious to the rest of the World and the fact that there are parts of your country that are different is a moot point. You allow that big mid section of your country to vote in the corrupt republicans time and time again.

Indeed. How dare we allow democracy to work its nefarious ways.

There were, however, some more thoughtful comments. Have a read through.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

BBC reports on blogs..including TAE

A busy night tonight, so not much time to talk about it, but Paul Reynolds has done an article about blogs in the UK. The article is interesting, quite reasonable, and both mentions and quotes TAE. Take a look.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Christopher Hitchens...libertarian?

In an otherwise innocuous article about the reaction of western governments to Muslim hysteria over the inconveniences of free speech, the BBC's Paul Reynolds notes the struggle of governments to "reconcile a defence of free speech with criticism of the media for exercising that right," and points out that:

The nuanced approach to the competing rights of free speech and responsibility has led to criticism from right-wing and libertarian quarters in the West.

In the United States, writer Christopher Hitchens launched into the State Department spokesman in these terms: "How appalling for the country of the First Amendment [protecting the freedom of the press] to be represented by such an administration."

Unprincipled and hypocritical might have been a better description of the approach, but this being an objective news piece, "nuanced" is, I suppose, somewhat understandable.

Less understandable is Reynolds' apparent belief that Christopher Hitchens occupies right-wing or libertarian quarters. While it is certainly true that Hitchens has been a strong supporter of the war in Iraq and hence, at least in that respect, a supporter of President Bush, a man who laments the loss of his association with socialism "like a lost limb", continues to think that redistributing wealth is a good thing, and who still speaks of his associates as "comrades", can hardly be characterized as a man of the right.

Even more absurd is the implication that he can be counted among libertarians, who actually oppose wealth redistribution even more than those on the political right, and whose representatives, from the mainstream establishment down to the uncompromising fringes, were entirely opposed to the one thing that Hitchens has been most outspoken in supporting...the Iraq war.

Now, it is certainly true that this a very minor point within the context of Reynolds' overall piece, the value of which hardly rested upon the incorrect characterization of Hitchens' political sympathies. But if the BBC cannot be trusted to grasp the difference between an anti-capitalist who argues from leftist principles for the invasion of Iraq, and laissez-faire capitalists who argue against that very same invasion, just what can it be trusted to grasp?

Sunday, February 05, 2006


TAE has been fairly pre-occupied lately, hence the sparse output in the last couple of weeks. I have, however, taking note of a few things worth pointing out.

Last week Judge Alito finally and happily became Justice Alito, much to the chagrin of raving loons like Ted Kennedy. The Guardian, demonstrating again its fundamental lack of understanding of American politics, recapped Alito's rise to the Supreme Court by claiming that Aliot got the nomination only because Bush's first choice, Harriet Miers, was too "moderate". According to Simon Jeffery:
Mr Alito, a US court of appeals judge since 1990, was put up for the court when Harriet Miers, Mr Bush's personal lawyer in Texas, withdrew herself from consideration. Social conservatives looking for a justice who shared their values had harshly criticised the president for nominating an apparent moderate.
Just what made it "apparent" to Jeffery that Miers was indeed a "moderate", much less that this was the reason for her being forced to withdraw, is a mystery. Certainly, to whatever extent that social conservatives were concerned about her political leanings, what bothered them was not what was known about them, but rather what wasn't known. Given her total lack of any experience in constitutional law, it was nearly impossible to determine independently whether she was a judicial conservative, liberal, or something else. But regardless, anyone who followed the Miers debacle with any attention (ie not, apparently, The Guardian) knows that the primary focus of conservative attacks upon her was that utter absence of judicial experience and distinction, not any evidence that she was an "apparent moderate."

Matt Frei's latest diary entry on the BBC focused on the the President's latest State of the Union address, and the decreasing interest Americans seem to be showing in it. In what was otherwise a fairly inoffensive and mildly interesting piece, Frei demonstrated quite well that characteristic BBC tic (recently and surprisingly pointed out by none other than Justin Webb) of assuming that all would be well with the rest of the world if only America would behave properly. According to Frei, the current crisis of Iranian pursuit of nukes led by a man who denies the holocaust and psuhes for the destruction of Israel can be firmly traced back to, and blamed on, a previous SOTU in which Bush decried Iran as a part of the "axis of evil", a claim which Frie describes as a "self-fulfilling prophecy."
In 2002, Iran still had a strong impulse for secular, democratic reform. But since it was already declared a basket case by Potus, the extremists have been doing their level best to prove him right.
Right. Iran, firmly on the path to freedom, peace and democracy, took a drastic turn towards authoritarianism and nuclear armament simply to spite Bush. It's a theory, I guess.

And finally, from today's top story in the Times, a clear sign that the death of reason has arrived and the apocalypse is nearly upon us.
NURSES want patients who are intent on harming themselves to be provided
with clean blades so that they can cut themselves more safely.
Just think about that for a while.