November 25, 2010

Well-Staffed

You can't complain that high tuition private colleges aren't well-staffed these days. From an article in the Washington Post about problems college freshmen have with their parents when they go home on vacation for the first time:
A growing number of colleges are helping freshmen and their families navigate the fine art of learning to live together once again. Last week, George Washington University hosted a seminar for about 40 students on "Going Home: It will be different."

The university's Office of Parent Services also sent a letter to parents explaining that their kids won't be the same people this semester - and probably will sleep a lot.

Tips included: "Try not to remove all of the freedoms that your student has become accustomed to over the past few months. They have developed a new way of living, and reverting back to the 'old way' may cause stress." The letter ends with a couple of phone numbers to the school's Office of Parent Services that parents can call "if things get rough."

Would a Sarrazin-like megaseller even find a publisher in New York?

The publishing sensation of 2010 is Thilo Sarrazin's million selling work of statistical analysis, Germany Abolishes Itself. You might think that the New York publishing industry would be abuzz over rumors of plans for how to put out a similar product to obtain megasales. But all I hear is crickets chirping. 

November 24, 2010

An English review of Sarrazin

Via Arnold Kling, David Goodhart, editor of the U.K. Prospect, reviews Thilo Sarrazin's book Germany Abolishes Itself in his magazine, which may have been the best intellectual journal in the English language over the last decade:
Thilo Sarrazin, a minor German politician on the technocratic wing of the country’s Social Democratic party, has just written what is probably the bestselling political book in postwar Europe (1m copies in hardback and counting). Everyone in Germany knows at least a simplified version of what Germany Abolishes Itself says, and the reaction to the book is helping to drive government policy on minority integration.

The message of the book, in headline form, is that Germany is becoming smaller (thanks to the familiar story of a falling birthrate among native Germans) and stupider (thanks to the fact that educated Germans are having fewer children and the fastest growing part of the population are poorly-integrated Muslim immigrants). That “stupider” is, of course, contested and has led to accusations of a flirtation with eugenics—of which more later.

But Sarrazin is no right-wing populist in the image of J├Ârg Haider, the late Austrian politician, or even Geert Wilders, the anti-Islamic leader of the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands. Much of the book is a dry compendium of economic and social data. Indeed, I suspect his book is the political equivalent of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time—much purchased but little read. Although controversy has swirled around his comments on group intelligence and the failure of German immigration policy, there is little in German public policy that he does not also take his axe to: welfare policy, education and training policy (apparently Britain now has a much higher proportion of students studying maths, science and technology than Germany), the poverty lobby and more. In fact, it is a meticulously prepared trashing of the liberal pieties of the 1968 generation.

The political and media class’s initial instinct was to denounce the book, and Sarrazin was forced out of his job at the Bundesbank. But as sales started to take off and as the new social media—the bloggers and emailers—lined up overwhelmingly behind Sarrazin, the reaction of political Germany shifted, albeit grudgingly. Chancellor Angela Merkel opportunistically declared the happy-clappy multikulti of the German left to have “failed utterly.” There was even a respectful and self-critical essay in Der Spiegel magazine by a leading liberal, Peter Schneider.

This shift is rather remarkable and it may help to prevent the rise of a serious right-wing force equivalent to France’s National Front. As the book complains, German public debate has, for obvious historical reasons, been more constrained by various kinds of taboos about national culture than any other big European country. As recently as 2000 a leading Christian Democrat politician, Friedrich Merz, had his political career damaged by merely asking that minorities show respect for the law and institutions of the dominant culture (Leitkultur). In the ensuing row the then-president of Germany, Johannes Rau, declared that he was not proud to be German.

Nowhere in Europe is the gap between public opinion and published opinion as wide as in Germany. And nowhere has public policy been more influenced by a 1960s generation, post-national, society-is-to-blame kind of liberalism. Yet this “official” liberalism has never reflected the way people live and think, even in the German chattering classes. When I lived in the country, 20 years ago, it felt far more socially conservative than the similar circles I had come from in London.

Another difference that struck me was the invisibility of the Turks and the other big minorities living in Germany, compared with the relative visibility of Britain’s minorities. I later worked out why this was. There was what Peter Schneider calls an “unholy alliance” between left and right to pretend that Germany did not have an integration issue—especially amongst its Turkish, middle eastern and north African minorities. By 1990, there were more than 2m Turks living in Germany, many of them second and third generation. Yet the Christian Democratic right still refused to accept that some of the “guest workers” who had arrived in the 1950s and 1960s had come to stay—and rejected the idea that Germany was an “immigration country.” This meant that they put no effort or money into turning Turks into Germans. As for the anti-national left, the idea that the exotic Turks should be forced to learn the language of the SS was equally abhorrent. So the mainly Muslim minorities were left alone in their parallel worlds.

I would add my impression after a couple of weeks in Turkey attending Hans-Hermann Hoppe's Property and Freedom Society conference in Bodrum, which is kind of like the Santa Barbara of Turkey, is that Turks don't particularly want to make spectacles of themselves either. In some ways, Turks and Germans seem pretty similar in personality, although Turks don't drink much, so they are less likely to loosen up after a few beers the way introverted Germans sometimes do.

The most obvious personality differences are in neuroticism and conscientiousness. Germans tend to be energetic worrywarts, while Turks are more sedate and easygoing. This makes driving in Turkey less alarming than I had expected. Even though winding country roads in Turkey feature vehicles of wildly different maximum velocities, from S-Class Mercedes to the common sight of a farmer driving a tractor pulling an open wagon holding a dozen middle aged ladies in head scarves, Turks in slower vehicles are pretty good about pulling over to let faster cars go by. It's a polite culture.

On the other hand, there are lots of stray dogs around because they aren't really into worrying and organizing about things like that.

If I were a Turk I'd be proud of being a Turk and would have no problem coming up with reasons why I shouldn't conform to the neurotic culture of the Germans. Who cares about stray dogs?

Add in Islam ...
... The fact that Muslim migrants perform poorly in the context of German society does not, however, support the outlandish claim that they are inherently stupider than Germans or other minorities. Sarrazin does not quite say this but he does assert that their poor performance is dragging down the country’s average ability level—something that could probably be said of most of Europe’s immigrant groups from poor countries, at least for a generation or two.

Turks in Germany are well into a third generation. How's that working out?

Much of the issue is upon whom should the burden of proof be placed. Germany is currently 45 years into a massive social experiment. So far, the vast majority of the evidence is on the side of Sarrazin. Social scientists Detlef Rost and Heiner Rindermann conclude: "As far as the psychological aspects of his book are concerned, they are largely compatible with the state of knowledge in modern psychological research."

Not surprisingly, the political class in Germany thinks, however, that it's all much too soon to tell. Germany should merely wait another 45 years, by which time everybody responsible for the current situation will be beyond blaming. What could be fairer?

Goodhart goes on to repeat the standard embarrassing sophistries about intelligence, which is depressing in reminding us that a good guy like Goodheart is reduced to this in today's anti-intelligence intellectual world. But, he concludes:
Ultimately, Sarrazin’s hard-headedness is a welcome counterpoint to the wishful thinking of the 1968 generation. The former finance minister of Berlin, who looks like a soldier in the Kaiser’s army, is a member of the awkward squad. You can imagine him causing minor riots at liberal Berlin dinner parties. Most of his argument is clear-eyed and well-informed, but he could not resist the provocations both on intelligence and on the nature of the underclass, which he never bothers to define. Yet the fact that his book has been so influential, despite the provocations, marks an important step forward for Germany—not only in facing up to the failures of its past immigration policies, but also in bridging the wide gap between popular opinion and the political class and thus preventing a German Haider.

November 23, 2010

Link Fixed: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1"

Read my review in Taki's Magazine:
Kids these days have short attention spans.

Or so I’ve often been informed. For example, Baroness Greenfield, an Oxford professor of “synaptic pharmacology,” recently warned the House of Lords that social-networking websites “are devoid of cohesive narrative and long-term significance. As a consequence, the mid-21st century mind might almost be infantilized, characterized by short attention spans, sensationalism, inability to empathize, and a shaky sense of identity.”

Yet having recently plunked my 20th-century mind down amid an otherwise superbly attentive young audience cheering on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, the seventh and penultimate film in the witches and warlocks series, I suspect the opposite is truer. When sufficiently interested, the new generation can display attention spans that boggle the old. 

Read the whole thing there.

November 22, 2010

More unsolicited advice for President Obama

In VDARE this week, I offer the President another policy suggestion that he won't hear from anybody else that would be politically feasible and good for himself, good for the Democrats, and good for the country.

You're welcome, Mr. President.

November 21, 2010

"Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction"

The NYT has a long article on the younger generation's shrinking attention spans.
By MATT RICHTEL

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. — On the eve of a pivotal academic year in Vishal Singh’s life, he faces a stark choice on his bedroom desk: book or computer?

By all rights, Vishal, a bright 17-year-old, should already have finished the book, Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle,” his summer reading assignment. But he has managed 43 pages in two months.

He typically favors Facebook, YouTube and making digital videos. That is the case this August afternoon. Bypassing Vonnegut, he clicks over to YouTube, meaning that tomorrow he will enter his senior year of high school hoping to see an improvement in his grades, but without having completed his only summer homework.

On YouTube, “you can get a whole story in six minutes,” he explains. “A book takes so long. I prefer the immediate gratification.”

Students have always faced distractions and time-wasters. But computers and cellphones, and the constant stream of stimuli they offer, pose a profound new challenge to focusing and learning.

Researchers say the lure of these technologies, while it affects adults too, is particularly powerful for young people. The risk, they say, is that developing brains can become more easily habituated than adult brains to constantly switching tasks — and less able to sustain attention.

“Their brains are rewarded not for staying on task but for jumping to the next thing,” said Michael Rich, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and executive director of the Center on Media and Child Health in Boston. And the effects could linger: “The worry is we’re raising a generation of kids in front of screens whose brains are going to be wired differently.”

But even as some parents and educators express unease about students’ digital diets, they are intensifying efforts to use technology in the classroom, seeing it as a way to connect with students and give them essential skills. Across the country, schools are equipping themselves with computers, Internet access and mobile devices so they can teach on the students’ technological territory.

It is a tension on vivid display at Vishal’s school, Woodside High School, on a sprawling campus set against the forested hills of Silicon Valley. Here, as elsewhere, it is not uncommon for students to send hundreds of text messages a day or spend hours playing video games, and virtually everyone is on Facebook.

The principal, David Reilly, 37, a former musician who says he sympathizes when young people feel disenfranchised, is determined to engage these 21st-century students. He has asked teachers to build Web sites to communicate with students, introduced popular classes on using digital tools to record music, secured funding for iPads to teach Mandarin and obtained $3 million in grants for a multimedia center.

He pushed first period back an hour, to 9 a.m., because students were showing up bleary-eyed, at least in part because they were up late on their computers. Unchecked use of digital devices, he says, can create a culture in which students are addicted to the virtual world and lost in it. ...

“Video games don’t make the hole; they fill it,” says Sean, sitting at a picnic table in the quad, where he is surrounded by a multimillion-dollar view: on the nearby hills are the evergreens that tower above the affluent neighborhoods populated by Internet tycoons. ...

Big Macintosh monitors sit on every desk, and a man with hip glasses and an easygoing style stands at the front of the class. He is Geoff Diesel, 40, a favorite teacher here at Woodside who has taught English and film. Now he teaches one of Mr. Reilly’s new classes, audio production. He has a rapt audience of more than 20 students as he shows a video of the band Nirvana mixing their music, then holds up a music keyboard.

“Who knows how to use Pro Tools? We’ve got it. It’s the program used by the best music studios in the world,” he says.

In the back of the room, Mr. Reilly watches, thrilled. He introduced the audio course last year and enough students signed up to fill four classes. (He could barely pull together one class when he introduced Mandarin, even though he had secured iPads to help teach the language.)

I was going to read the whole thing, but I got distracted. 

Anyway, one thing I did notice before I zoned out, however, is that Woodside H.S. is one of the Five Bad Schools featured in the much-lauded documentary Waiting for "Superman". In this article, though, it sounds groovy.