Sunday, June 28, 2009

Idi Amin--Was He Really So Bad?

I am really out of touch with popular culture. I finally got around to seeing “The Last King of Scotland” just last night.

It was a disturbing experience.

Disturbing firstly, of course, for the horror it showed, with the knowledge that much of what it showed was not fiction.

But also disturbing for how the original story—I am old enough to remember Amin in power—has been subtly filtered through a lens of left-wing political correctness, and partly falsified. I fear that, as with The Da Vinci Code or Inherit the Wind, too many will be left thinking this is what really happened.

To begin with, the film makes it clear that, for whatever Amin did, white people were ultimately to blame. It prominently features an arrogant ferret-like British diplomat boasting that Amin was put in power by the British Foreign Office, to “keep the Africans in their place” and as part of some vaguely McCarthyite anti-Communist struggle. This is completely fictitious—the British Foreign Office documents of the time have since been declassified, and Britain had no part in Amin's rise to power. It is just one more attempt to blame everything on “colonialism” and the international WASP conspiracy. In fact, Amin taunted Britain more or less constantly—something the movie does show--and moved Uganda into the Soviet orbit—something about which the film is conspicuously silent.

Then the film twists the story of Kay Amin to push a pro-abortion message. In the movie, she dies from a botched “village abortion,” because she is unable to get a proper medical one within a bizarre personally set deadline of less than 24 hours—no matter the consequences, of which she is clearly warned in the movie.

The message is clear: women must be given free, unrestricted access to abortion on demand, or they simply cannot prevent themselves from going into back alleys to get themselves killed by coathangers.

Bollocks—Kay's actions in the movie are plainly illogical. And the real Kay Amin died from an abortion, all right. But it was an abortion performed in a medical clinic by a qualified doctor.

That, obviously, would not have sent the right message. Though it would have made far more plot sense.

Idi Amin too, if anything, mad as he seems in the movie, is given far too much credit for good intentions. I wonder if a white dictator who had done the same—killed up to 500,000 of his countrymen--would have been portrayed as sympathetically? He is shown as a basically decent if foolish man gradually driven to paranoia by real threats from his enemies. He seems in the movie to have been provoked by an early assassination attempt and an armed attack on a prison in Kampala.

This does not fit the facts. I cannot find any reference to an early assassination attempt. The attack on the prison, too, never seems to have happened. The mass executions of Acholi and Langi ethnic groups began almost immediately—and there was no chance anyone could have missed this, as the movie's protagonist does. Indeed, there was no attempt at secrecy. Amin's common practice was to have people, when seized, take off their shoes at the point of arrest—left on the roadside as a warning to everyone else. “Disappearances” were often preannounced on the radio, to heighten the terror. He expelled all the Asians in Uganda barely a year after coming to power. The reason was transparent, and it was not a fit of madness or misplaced patriotism: it was to seize their property. The technique had been perfected by Hitler against the Jews, and has been used since against whites by Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe.

He was, wuite simply, a serial killer, a pure psychopath, in political power.

And for what it is worth, he shares one interesting biographical detail with many other known serial killers: an absent father.

Consider that next time you hear of a marriage breakup, and the de facto custody of the children being awarded—as it is about 94% of the time—to the mother.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Neda Ascends

Like many others, I have watched the recent video of Neda Agha-Soltan being shot dead in Tehran. Like many others, I found the images disturbing. But I'm not sure it was for the same reason in my case. At the risk of sounding callous, my concern was not that Neda died. It was the way the people around her shouted at her, manhandled her, and tried to keep her alive. It seemed to me to rob the event of all dignity, and her of her dignity, and must have made the experience of dying, which ought to be an epiphany, more difficult.

Why do those who are still alive see life on any terms as so important, and death as so unthinkable? When they swarm someone who is dying like this, and shake them, and shout “come back, come back,” are they really expressing any concern for the dying, or only for their own fears?

Such hostility to death seems to me a type of plain madness, since death is what necessarily happens to us all. And anyone who is a true Muslim or Christian should welcome it, even if we do fear the pain and possible indignity that we face just before that threshold.

Pain and indignity that we must often fear most from the living.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Boss: Man or Woman?

Ask500People is a website at which you can pose a simple question, and people from around the world answer it. Answers are broken down demographically in several ways. Instant research.

A couple of days ago, I asked the question, “Who would you rather have as your immediate superior in your job? A man or a woman?” I got about the result I expected: 66% prefer a man as their boss.

Discrimination? Maybe; but consider this: women were about twice as likely than men to prefer a man. This makes me suspect the bias is the other way: men probably feel more contrained in seeing or saying the truth, for fear of being considered sexist.

Results were consistent across all age groups past age 25—i.e., beyond the point when people were likely to have had actual experience of both. Results by country were too small to make much of. The US, with the greatest response, matched the general trend pretty closely. India preferred women.

Even feminists now admit that men and women are not the same. It may well follow that one sex is better than the other at any given task, including that of managing other adults. It would only make sense to organize enterprises accordingly.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

How to Improve the Schools

A few weeks ago, someone sent me an interesting report. This year, the Massachusetts Dept of Ed required Ed School grads to take a test in grade school math for certification. Only 27% passed.

This seems to mean that the average teacher in grade school actually knows less math than the pupils. How can someone teach what they do not know?

But this also implies that the worst students in grade school are the ones who go on to be teachers. This, surely, is the opposite of what we should seek. How has this come about?

I Googled for a site that analyses SAT figures. These scores are supposed to measure innate academic ability, and are used by universities as an objective check on actual marks to determine who will do well in further education. As such, they are also a fairly good proxy for IQ. Checking the rankings finds Ed School entrants indeed near the bottom of the barrel. They are third to last on math skills.

But here's an even bigger shocker: they are even worse in their verbal skills: second to last. Yet this is the one essential skill for a good teacher: the ability to communicate clearly. A teacher is a public speaker, and rhetorical skill was for two thousand years roughly equated with teaching ability. It seems we would do better by choosing any other major instead of education as our qualification for teaching in the schools.

Mind you, the problem might not be that only the dull want to study education. The more likely hypothesis is that only the dull want to teach in the schools.

That's as may be, but the thesis is easily tested. Abolish education schools, open the doors of official teacher certification to all majors, and see what happens. At worst, we would be no worse off.

For what it's worth, I also checked GRE scores. At graduate level, the SAT is replaced by the GRE. Here, too, those seeking second degrees in education do not distinguish themselves. Various education specialities get various scores, but almost all are in the bottom half of all majors. And the lowest education specialties are again close to scraping the bottom in all skills—second to last in verbal and math, and fifth to last in writing. These are the people running the schools and designing the curriculum.

And this turns out to look like a fluke. At the Ph.D. level—those teaching the teachers to teach teachers to teach—Education majors are again second to dead last. Only professional bureaucrats score worse.

Since most universities in Canada also use the SAT and GRE, there is every reason to believe that these figures reflect the Canadian situation as well as that in the US.

Some—certainly most teachers' unions—argue that the problem is that teachers are underpaid. Pay them more, and you would attract better-qualified candidates. But these same figures do not seem to bear this out. Who is most driven by money in choosing their major? Wouldn't that be the business grads and the MBA's? But it turns out that Business grads and MBAs are not scoring that much better than teachers; below the fold in all skills. And—believe it or not—neither are medical students, the best-paying career of all.

Who is actually pulling the big IQs and academic talents?

Philosophy. English language and literature. Arts and Humanities. Religion. Physics. Mathematics.

This makes sense, in fact. Money is less likely to be a motivator the smarter you are. The really bright are going to be driven by ideas. These are the fields in which you get to encounter the biggest and best ideas of mankind, with a minimum of BS.

But the greater irony is that these are also the fields most likely to develop good teachers: they teach clarity of thought and of expression, enthusiasm for learning, a sense of mission, and a broad knowledge of the best ideas of human civilization.

The way, then, to improve the schools is clear, and it costs less than nothing. Abolish the Teachers' Colleges, and make these degrees the basic requirement for a job as a teacher.

In two generations, the country that does will rule the world.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Let's Stop Foreigners from Marrying and Having Children!

A casual reader of this blog reports herself “dismayed” by my post on May-December marriages—or “child brides,” as most prefer to call it. She refers me to a UN web site titled “Child Marriage Fact Sheet.”


So let's examine the facts, one by one:

“Married adolescents are typified by:

large spousal age gaps.”


Never mind the mangled grammar--just note that this is cited, without explanation, as a problem with the marriages. It is simply a strong expression of prejudice.

“limited social support, due to social isolation”


If this is a concern, and it should be, our efforts should be fully directed to introducing the practice of child marriage into the First World. Social isolation is an endemic problem in the developed West, and it is largely due to separation from the extended family. By contrast, a child bride in the Third World has just doubled her number of close relatives. In most cases, they will all be living close by.

“limited educational attainment and no schooling options.”


In other words, the child bride has managed to escape years of unpaid labour. This sounds like an advantage to me—but probably isn't. There's little chance she could have afforded to go to school in any case. Not that school would have been any use to her--it would prepare her for jobs that do not exist.

“intense pressure to become pregnant.”


Anyone who has actually known a real girl or woman knows that women want children. Two-year-olds will play with dolls. Women without children will treat a dog or cat as one. The chance to have children before other women is a significant advantage of the practice, for women.

For some reason, we enjoy torturing our youth by denying them marriage and responsibility until long after puberty. And then we wonder why they are so difficult during those teenage years. Girls, at least, avoid this in the Third World.

“increased risk of infant and maternal mortality.”


This just is not true. Maternal mortality risk rises steadily with age, and is highest for the first birth. “Puerperal fatality [that is, death of the mother in childbirth] was at a minimum for the youngest mothers and increased very sharply with advancing age of mother,” notes a study done in New York State.

That means it is safest to have your first child when you are quite young; and this is more crucial in the Third World, where there is often little medical care available. The UN page claims the reverse, that younger women are more likely to die in childbirth--but it does not seem to have controlled for the fact that younger women are much more likely to be undergoing their first birth.

Maternal mortality risk is also correlated with nutrition—and one important advantage to marrying a much older man is that he is probably more financially established. If one truly cares for the life and health of Third World women, one should encourage the practice.

Increased vulnerablity to HIV and other STIs.


Once again, this is the reverse of the truth. The surest way to prevent sexually-transmitted diseases, next to lifelong chastity, is to marry young and stay monogamous.

Restricted social mobility-freedom of movement.


When a woman marries, she is out from under the control of her father, and mistress in her own home. At worst, she has a bossy mother-in-law to contend with instead of a bossy mother; but she has her husband as a possible ally against her. Probably in most cases a step up in terms of social mobility and freedom of movement.

Little access to modern media.


Again, one of the points of May-December marriage is that the husband will be more financially established, and so better able to support a wife and children. It follows, in case it is important, that the child bride will as a result have greater access to modern media than otherwise.

Lack of skills to be viable to the labour market.


She already has a job—wife and mother. It is a good job, and a well-paid one. Good jobs are rare in the Third World—jobs of any kind are rare in the Third World. Those that are available are almost entirely unskilled—and so she has the skills she needs in any case.

The page goes on to say, “The link is clear. It is no coincidence that the same countries ... that have high rates of child marriage are those with: high poverty rates, birth rates, and death rates.”

Yes, indeed, the link is clear—it is poor countries in which May-December marriages are most advantageous to both parties. Men cannot afford to support families until later in life. Women cannot afford to wait too long to have children, or the health risks become significant.

Greater incidence of conflict and civil strife.


This is a major cause of poverty everywhere. But it is also a good reason why it is not wise for a woman to remain single longer than necessary. She needs all the male protection she can get.

The UN page goes on to use the subhead “Disparities in Age and Power,” without explaining how these two things—age and power—might be related. In fact, a woman who is significantly younger than her husband, in the Third World, has a great deal of power over him as a direct result. Inevitably, in old age, should he survive that long, he will be wholly dependent on her. This becomes an overwhelming incentive to treat her well in youth.

My correspondent goes on to say “Your synopsis of feminism is also painfully underthought - the foundation of feminism is simply human rights- that no person, regardless of race, gender, age, should be systematically oppressed by another individual or group.”

Again, this is just about the opposite of the true foundation of feminism. Feminism has never been about equality. It was, in the first place, about enabling casual sex. It has since become about getting more for women under any circumstances, and suppressing the rights of men. It has also become quite actively racist, and hostile to all non-Western cultures.

As the current discussion shows.