Friday, January 14, 2011

Layer 421 . . . People Power, By-Election, Miliband, Obama, America, Wikipedia and Intelligence


"A lesson in people power - from the Arab world!" said the Channel 4 correspondent. Non-violent demonstrations "led by the secular middle class" have deposed the President, who has now left the country.
The protests were over unemployment, rising prices, lack of proper democracy, and State repression.

Interesting lesson . . .


By-Election Non Shock
So the Oldham and Saddleworth result turned out pretty much as expected. So what?

I watched the studio discussion after the results came in. The Tory talking head was decent, but witless, and said nothing of interest or impact. The Labour guy was also uninspiring. This was worrying - the fact that Ed Miliband thinks so highly of Sadiq Khan and yet he seems callow, unprepossessing and lacking in style as well as substance. Of course Ed thinks that Khan, being of minority ethnic origins, is a good choice to speak after an election in an area such as O & S. He's not. He's another young politico burning with ambition and guile, and not much else. At least that's what comes across from the TV. Not an attractive personality. Not a good speaker. Not convincing.

The LibDem guy was the most interesting in that he simply twaddled on about the LibDem vote holding up - which was clearly not the case. Why let him get away with it? It's perfectly obvious that it was tactical Tory voting that kept the LibDem vote somewhat respectable. Why bullshit about this? Why not just admit that  thousands of Labour voters who either abstained or voted LibDem in order to get rid of Brown and New Labour are now back in the fold? Why not admit that thousands of people, including lots of first-time voters, who voted LibDem in order to break the Lab-Con monopoly are appalled at what the LibDems have done within the coalition, and will never vote for them again?


And then there was Ed Miliband giving a few comments this morning. Not good, Ed! Talking about voters being against the coalition on account of the VAT increases and tuition fees. For fuck's sake - these are the minor issues! He should be hammering the coalition at every opportunity about the vicious budget cuts, and their determination to shrink State spending at a moment when it's vital it should be broadly maintained (apart from legitimate cutting of waste and crap projects). He should be hammering them about their failure to do something about the bankers and their bonuses. He should be hitting them hard about their deliberate use of unemployment as a cost-cutting measure, and about the illegitimacy of this - especially as unemployment reduces the national income tax take, and requires more state spending on individual and family support. He ought to be beating on the Tories for their illigitimate radical changes to the NHS and the education systems - their Shock Doctrine do-it-all-in-the-first-six-months-without-any-consultation neo-conservative slash and burn tactics.

Wake up, Ed! You were right to stand for the leadership in order to draw a line under New Labour, and you're a bright and decent guy - but you really have to be better prepared for interviews and say the things that are really important, the things that are most likely to make an impact. Compared with highlighting the really big issues this emphasis on the VAT increase and on the decision to ensure students pay higher fees are just pinpricks in the coalition's thick skin.


Simon Jenkins on Obama and America

The USA, as we know, is a monster. Who'd be the President of such a huge, violent, unmanageable country? What kind of people even want to be Senators and Congressmen?

Free speech can't exist unchained. US politics needs the tonic of order

If America is to speak in a way that heals, as Obama wishes, it needs the curbs and regulations that make freedom of expression real

The ugly American is back. Can the handsome one do anything about it? When Barack Obama addressed a shocked nation in Tuscon, Arizona, yesterday, he deployed the only weapon left to a crippled presidency: the power of rhetorical cliche. He deployed it brilliantly.

The vitriol and inaccuracy of the campaign against Obama's public health reforms last year were like those against abortion and homosexuality. To many Europeans, the echo across the Atlantic came from a people isolated from the outside world and unable to handle today's social and scientific progress. The debate was infused with nastiness and xenophobia, as if the US was a land composed of tribes bred only to hate the outside world, and often themselves.

I was asked some time ago by a university-educated Texan, in the nicest possible way, what it was like to live in a country of "baby-killers" about to be "overrun by Muslim bad guys". I inquired where he had gained this bizarre impression of Europe, which he had never visited. It turned out his sole information about the world beyond America's shore came from Fox News. He was not stupid. But he and millions of people like him considered this source of news a sufficient window on the world. He genuinely thought American troops would soon have to save Europe from "the Arabs".

Fine. But how different is this from all those in Britain who  get their news exclusively or mainly from the Daily Mail, the Sun, the Express, etc? There are lots of people here who apparently believe that BBC news and current affairs are hopelessly biased towards the left wing. And who tells them this? Those newspapers, of course. Turn on any phone-in radio programme and just listen to these morons.

When the art historian and TV presenter Sir Kenneth Clark was asked what quality best defined civilisation, he did not answer with liberty or wealth or equality. He answered with courtesy, the framework of rules governing people's tolerance of each other, so their discourse might be creative. Most of the time, it is best for that courtesy to be informal. The best rebuttal of the politics of hate is a torrent of love – or, if not love, at least of facts.

But sometimes, as Obama said, there is a yearning "to try to impose some order on the chaos". If American politics is now going the way of wounding, not healing, it needs the tonic of order. It is the great paradox of democracy. Free speech cannot exist without chains.

Obama's full speech available here:



I've finally got round to watching the recent BBC4 Horizon programme about 'intelligence'.

On the website the "key talent" for this programme is listed as the presenter, Dallas Campbell. Dear oh dear.

Dallas Campbell delves into the Horizon archive to discover how our understanding of intelligence has transformed over the last century. From early caveman thinkers to computers doing the thinking for us, he discovers the best ways of testing how clever we are - and enhancing it.

How "clever", eh?

No. Throughout this programme there's absolutely no attempt to differentiate 'intellect' from 'intelligence'. The script is so stupid it continuously uses the word intelligence when it actually means intellect.

IQ is of course the starting point - "the benchmark".

IQ testing brands us with "a single mark".
IQ testing was introduced in 1912. Almost a century ago, and we're still doing it.
How has our understanding of intelligence changed?
Sternberg was introduced and talked about "the testing 'industry'". Well we know all about that!
Someone called Gould talked about animal and insect 'instinctual' intelligence as being "automatic responses to cues"
Is this intelligence?
The presenter clearly thought not. He's obviously not even considered instinct as a true intelligence.
He was only interested in 'ability to solve complex problems'.
Chimps and bees were described as 'Intelligent enough to cooperate' - so there's some sort of inkling there about social intelligence, but it was quickly glossed over.
'When did we learn to think?'
"Humans alone plan ahead, dream and think. Other animals live from day to day."
How do we find evidence of the first recorded expressions of intelligence?
'Only humans create and can make sense of art.'
"Paintings and abstract art are expressions of thought."
The ability to store something outside the human brain.
Galton was convinced that intelligence is inherited.
He was a hero for Cyril Burt. Ah, yes. Dear Cyril. The Bogus Man.
He believed in Eugenics and 'good birth'.
Believed the poor should be prevented from having children. Hitler agreed.
Burt was responsible for the development of IQ tests and the introduction of the 11+.
He claimed to have tested separated twins - and claimed that genetics is responsible for 80% of IQ.
Only after his death were his results properly scrutinised.
'Clearly something was drastically wrong.'
Probably he never saw a single separated twin.
Robert Graham believed the gene pool was deteriorating. He hoped to use the 'sperm of clever men' to breed 'intelligent kids' with 'outstanding genes'.
His sperm bank was operational for nearly 20 years.
Three Nobel scientists were persuaded to donate sperm.
So are there inherited components of intelligence? No specific genes have ever been identified.
But a large part of intelligence IS inherited, according to recent research with twins. According to this programme.
Should we be engaging the minds of children in "something useful" ALL of the time?
Can other behaviours predict academic success?
Kids who defer gratification apparently do better at school.
Other variables? Parents? Upbringing? Wider environment?
"IQ tests seem to show we have an all-purpose thinking skill that can be measured."
Memory/intellect seems to be an all-round ability. (?)
What about a broader spectrum of skills, abilties and aptitudes?
Howard Gardner and his Multiple Intelligence Theory were eventually mentioned.
Gardner says we have at least 8 separate intelligences.
But there's NO agreed system for measuring them.
Writer and dramatist Bonnie Greer scored highest of a bright bunch of people when 'a wider range of skills' was considered. Joint top with a quantum physicist. But we never got to find out which skills she did well on.
Is a high IQ a predictor of longevity?
Can we use microwaves to alter the structure of the brain?
Could this be the dawn of a brave new world?

Lawks. Most unenlightening. Such a waste of a programme.



We've seen America's vitriol. Now let's salute Wikipedia, a US pioneer of global civility

For all its shortcomings Wikipedia, now aged 10, is the internet's biggest and best example of not-for-profit idealism

by Timothy Garton-Ash

If Wikipedia's principal architect, Jimmy Wales, had chosen to commercialise the enterprise, he could now be worth billions – like Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg. Putting it all under the not-for-profit umbrella was, Wales quipped to me, at once the stupidest and the cleverest thing he ever did. More than any other major global site, Wikipedia still breathes the utopian idealism of the internet's heroic early days. Wikipedians, as they style themselves, are men and women with a mission. That mission, upon which they boldly go, is summed up in this almost Lennonist (that's John, not Vladimir) sentence from the man they all refer to as Jimmy: "Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge."

To suggest that this utopian goal could be achieved by a world wide web of volunteers – working for nothing, editing anything and everything, with the words they type immediately visible for the whole world to see – was of course a totally barmy idea. Yet this barmy army has come a remarkably long way in just 10 years.

We do not yet know if the shooting in Tucson, Arizona, was a direct product of the vitriolic incivility of American political discourse, as heard on talk radio and cable channels such as Fox News. A crazy man may just be crazy. But America's daily political vitriol is an undeniable fact. Against that depressing background, it is good to be able to celebrate an American invention which, for all its faults, tries to spread around the world a combination of unpaid idealism, knowledge and stubborn civility.

I was intending to finish this blog with a piece on another TV programme about children under pressure, but that'll have to wait till tomorrow. Y'all come back now.


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