Archive for January, 2010

Terrorism and high IQ underachievers

January 6, 2010

Some interesting thoughts from Half Sigma on the counterintuitive idea that terrrorists have higher than average IQ. Also related, why so many terrorists have engineering degrees:

A paper (PDF) released this summer by two sociologists, Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog, adds empirical evidence to this observation. The pair looked at more than 400 radical Islamic terrorists from more than 30 nations in the Middle East and Africa born mostly between the 1950s and 1970s. Earlier studies had shown that terrorists tend to be wealthier and better-educated than their countrymen, but Gambetta and Hertog found that engineers, in particular, were three to four times more likely to become violent terrorists than their peers in finance, medicine or the sciences. The next most radicalizing graduate degree, in a distant second, was Islamic Studies.

So what’s with all the terrorist-engineers? The simple explanation is that engineering happens to be an especially popular field of study in the countries that produce violent radicals. But Gambetta and Hertog corrected for national enrollment numbers in engineering programs and got similar results. Even among Islamic terrorists born or raised in the West, nearly 60 percent had engineering backgrounds.

Another possible explanation would be that engineers possess technical skills and architectural know-how that makes them attractive recruits for terrorist organizations. But the recent study found that engineers are just as likely to hold leadership roles within these organizations as they are to be working hands-on with explosives …

Gambetta and Hertog propose that a lack of appropriate jobs in their home countries may have radicalized some engineers in Arab countries. The graduates they studied came of age at a time when a degree from a competitive technical program was supposed to provide a guarantee of high-status employment. But the promises of modernization and development were often stymied by repression and corruption, and many young engineers in the 1980s were left jobless and frustrated. One exception was Saudi Arabia, where engineers had little trouble finding work in an ever-expanding economy. As it happens, Saudi Arabia is also the only Arab state where the study found that engineers are not disproportionately represented in the radical movement

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Eastwood’s new movie

January 4, 2010

I am not usually keen on movies that have some sporting event as a main focus of the plot in some way. The only exception to this rule is the sweet science – boxing.

There have been many great movies that revolve around boxing. Rocky 1, 2 and 3 and Rocky Balboa (the last one). Million Dollar Baby. Raging Bull with Robert De Niro compellingly cast as the tragic Jake La Motta. Even the Ali movie with Will Smith was alright though not outstanding. And that’s just the fictionalised movies.

One exception I’ll be making to this rule will be Invictus. I’ll really be looking forward to this one. It’s about rugby, a sport I know next to nothing about. But Clint Eastwood is behind it. Eastwood has been going from strength to strength lately. He’s made great movies about war (Letters from Iwo Jima and Flags of our fathers), boxing and euthanasia (Million Dollar Baby of course), revisionist Westerns (Unforgiven), miscarriage of justice (Changeling), multiculturalism (Gran Torino or How an aged Dirty Harry helps assimilate migrants). Now he’s tackling Nelson Mandela and rugby. It will be entertaining to watch how he pulls it off, just as it will be entertaining to watch Morgan Freeman play Mandela (who better?)

This month’s Quadrant and Stoicism

January 4, 2010

The January-February edition of Quadrant marks the first time I’ve been published in the hard copy version as it reproduces a short essay I contributed to an online Quadrant symposium (see the Politics section called ‘What’s left of the left?’).

However the main reason I’m mentioning this issue is because I really could not recommend more highly an essay on Stoicism and its relevance to the military by Michael Evans. This was my favourite piece in the latest Quadrant not only because I have the highest regard for the Stoic philosophical tradition but because Evans explains its continued relevance so cogently.

The piece refers to some works by Vice Presidential candidate (with Ross Perot) Admiral Stockdale on stoicism. I didn’t know until I read this that Stockdale of all people wrote on philosophy but apparently so. One of his papers on Stoicism is available here (PDF).

Jazz biographies

January 4, 2010

Via Arts and Letters Daily, there are two articles on two of my favourote jazz musicians, Thelonius Monk and Louis Armstrong (no, loving the music of one isn’t incompatible with loving the music of the other at all).