Archive for November, 2009

Mad Men

I’m a big fan of this show, and if you haven’t watched it yet then you are an idiot.

The Mad Men era of America was really a beautiful social model. The men worked hard, women knew how to cook and listened to their husbands, children were disciplined and there was great shame in divorce. Personal accountability was the norm before Kennedy was elected.

The thing about Mad Men though is that you aren’t meant to watch it with admiration – you are meant to laugh and smirk at crude social foibles – like ostracizing a divorced women, men not taking their wives seriously and slapping your kids when they piss you off.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible for a contemporary, edgy show to portray that period without highlighting how far we’ve progressed in a positive light. Single motherhood is now the norm AND a cause of celebration. It’s good that we treat kids like spoiled adults…

As that social period was far superior to the one we have now, the only way to portray it is to show that while everything might look squeaky clean on the outside, scratch the surface and you will find womanising men, depressed housewives and psychologically traumatized children.

Bullshit. A far higher percentage of people were far happier, more secure and content with life then, than after the mid-60’s social revolution. Especially for the working men – the most important demographic of society you want to keep happy.

Look at the newly poor whites in this video – ugly omega men and dumb fat whale women. South African whites IQ’s are normally distributed just like any other sufficiently large Caucasian population. There did however appear to be a relatively good level of group cooperation  among poor whites – in banding together and supporting each other in the absence of state sanctioned employment security. While their plight may appear dire, they are comparatively better off than the dregs of black society – where you could throw in a good measure of crime, drug abuse and gang culture into the mix.

Affirmative action in favour of blacks or whites is erroneous but inevitable. A truly post-racial society is impossible.

So a Cambridge student decided to throw his Doc Martins at our former PM

For my  ignorant American readers, John Howard was the conservative leader of the centre-right Liberal (misnomer) party, and good friend of George Bush during his term. Although much smarter than Bush, his electoral success in the last 10 years somewhat mirrored that of the Republic party’s ability to capture a disaffected middle America who felt alienated by an elitist left – we called them ‘Howard Battlers’.

The article is light on details, so I will attempt to fill in the blanks based on what we know:

He took off his Doc Marten boot and attempted to throw it at the former head of government.Senior union members managed to intercept the boot and the man was escorted out.

i.e. Scrawny, unathletic herb with insufficient upper body strength to throw a shoe across a room.

…the man yelled: “I was ashamed to be an Australian for that entire time, racist.”

I’m guessing politically active white student who excelled in bullshit humanities courses to secure a semester exchange to Cambridge. An Australian on a Cambridge scholarship wouldn’t do something so stupid or reckless with that much on the line. Despite the stunt, he’ll probably still get course credit for the semester there and something to brag about when he comes back next year.

Mr Howard was preparing to speak to an audience of 400 at the Cambridge Union Society on the “leadership in the new century” last Friday when a student verbally abused him and accused him of being racist.

So Howard’s talk had nothing to do with racial/national issues. He wasn’t talking about his policy positions on Indigenous Australians, asylum seekers, the Iraq war, border protection or immigration.  The outburst was out of context – a desperate search for any bit of social posturing he could get his hands on. The fact is that calling Howard a racist is grasping at straws. It’s kind of like conservative hacks calling Obama a Marxist. Sure, the argument is there, but you only look like a shrill little pansy when you make it. I’d love to read his gender studies social deconstruction essays when he concludes, ‘and therefore, that is why the the dominance of the Windows operating system in the 1990’s represented an unjust and shameful oppression of female freedom and suffrage.’

Do not watch this video if you have ever struggled to put together a flatpack IKEA bookshelf.

William Kamkwamba was born August 5, 1987 in Dowa, Malawi, and grew up on his family farm in Masitala Village…Due to severe famine in 2001, his family lacked the funds to pay the $80 in annual school fees and William was forced to drop out of school a few months into his freshman year. For five years he was unable to go to school…
Starting at 14, rather than accept his fate, William started borrowing books from a small community lending library located at his former primary school. He borrowed an 8th grade American textbook called Using Energy, which depicted wind turbines on its cover. He decided to build a windmill to power his family’s home and obviate the need for kerosene, which provided only smoky, flickering, distant and expensive light after dark. First he built a prototype using a radio motor, then his initial 5-meter windmill out of a broken bicycle, tractor fan blade, old shock absorber, and blue gum trees. After hooking the windmill to a car battery for storage, William was able to power four light bulbs and charge neighbors’ mobile phones. This system was even equipped with homemade light switches and a circuit breaker made from nails, wire, and magnets. The windmill was later extended to 12 meters to better catch the wind above the trees. A third windmill pumped grey water for irrigation.

This is seriously impressive. He had never seen or even heard of the concept of a windmill before. Nor could he read the English printed on the textbook. It’s not like an 8th grade science textbook gives a step by step guide on constructing a windmill anyway – his mind would have had to make several leaps in logical construction between what he could understand (pictures and diagrams), what he might be able guess and decipher (words, plus pictures), and thinking very laterally about construction given resource constraints. At the age of 14.

A guy from one of my marketing classes loaned me this book some time ago, before I started reading about HBD.

Malcolm Gladwell is the author of his much more popular and better book, The Tipping Point, which spawned something of a cottage industry in viral marketing firms and social media gurus.  

In Outliers Gladwell explores the factors that shape remarkably successful people – those who have widely deviated above the norm of human achievement.

Unfortunatley, nothing concrete is offered between loosely connected, albeit well written and interesting chapters on:

– Why Bill Gates was not just ‘any’ middle class geek who managed to become the world’s richest man

– Why high IQ does not correlate with success

– Koreans made for bad commercial pilots

– NHL players are disproportionately likely to be born in certain months

It was the chapter ‘Rice Paddies and Math Tests’ which most piqued my interest. Gladwell provides the usual evidence on Asian math dominance, and provides 2 novel causes:

1) The structure of Asian languages and numbering systems, compared to Western ones – read this part from a chapter excerpt here. No mention of African language structures though.

Take a look at the following list of numbers: 4,8,5,3,9,7,6. Read them out loud to yourself. Now look away, and spend twenty seconds memorizing that sequence before saying them out loud again.

If you speak English, you have about a 50 percent chance of remembering that sequence perfectly If you’re Chinese, though, you’re almost certain to get it right every time. Why is that? Because as human beings we store digits in a memory loop that runs for about two seconds. We most easily memorize whatever we can say or read within that two second span. And Chinese speakers get that list of numbers—4,8,5,3,9,7,6—right every time because—unlike English speakers—their language allows them to fit all those seven numbers into two seconds.

2) Rice paddy agricultural systems used in East Asia that necessitated a culture of attention to detail, complex  rule/process following, structural problem solving and persistence. These are the qualities required to excel in math and logical-type endevours such as computers and engineering.

Interestingly, Gladwell suggests a hereditary link with these culturally acquired skills to mathemateical success. He cites one study where  participants were asked to solve a logical pattern problem. Second generation Asian Americans, without any prior math-oriented backgrounds, outperformed because they were willing to spend longer time on the problem before giving up and deciding it was impossible.