Friday, May 27, 2011

Can A Test Really Tell Who's A Psychopath?

There's a story on NPR under the above heading. It discusses the accuracy of Hare's checklist for deciding who is a psychopath. The test is now widely used in the criminal justice system to decide who can safely be released on parole. NPR opposes that, of course.

But on what grounds? Their principal ground seems to be the case of one man: A man with a long record of violent crime who scores highly on the Hare test. Rather than seeing that long record of violent crime as excellent validation of the test (proof that the test measures what it purports to measure) they say: "Aha! But that is the man of yesteryear. After many years in prison he has now reformed."

Yet what they report of his behaviour they evaluate very naively. They report that the man realized he would have to adopt different behaviour to get out of jail and worked systematically on doing that. And he has really charmed lots of people by the new and caring man that he is.

What a laugh! That's exactly what psychopaths do. They are great actors when they need to be and charming people is their stock in trade. If the NPR writers knew anything about psychopaths, they would be embarrassed to write what they did. They have actually disproved their own case.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Obama's birth certificate

Joseph Farah has got a spate of articles up at the moment in which he presents evidence against the authenticity of the "photocopy" of Obama's original birth certificate. He is also dropping heavy hints of big developments to come shortly.

From the beginning I have been one of the skeptics about Barry's nativity so I think I should say what I think of the present state of the controversy. Opinions are all you can get about the matter at the moment and I do think that there is something that most of the skeptics have overlooked. So let me start at the beginning.

Obama's mother (above) was clearly a sexy chick with a liking for dark skin and all that went with it. But she would certainly be well aware of the advantages of American citizenship and would have wanted it for her son. So when Barry popped out a bit early in Mombasa, an enterprising lady like her with little respect for the rules of the day would have hopped onto a plane as soon as possible and done what needed to be done to get Barry registered as American-born -- and inserted an appropriate birth-notice in the local paper. And Barry has profited from that deception more than she could ever have dreamed of. So it is possible that we are looking at a deception that was initially devised by Obama's mother.

Now I want to say something about government bureaucracies. I worked in two of them in my younger days so have a good feel for how they work. They can be enormously inefficient but they are also set up in a way that is hard to circumvent. And I think that whatever Barry's mother did to achieve her deception was not perfectly done. There would be signs in the documentation that it was a deception and Barry has been covering that up ever since. His refusal to release ANY documentation from his past is certainly inexplicable otherwise. Do all his documents list him as Kenyan-born?

And the YEARS it took for him to release an alleged copy of his original birth certificate suggests that he had offers from early on to do a forgery but in his typical indecisive way it took him a long time to take up that offer. Only the Trump megaphone pushed him over the edge. Whatever else The Donald is good at, getting lots of publicity in the popular press is something he seems to do effortlessly.

So we come to the indications that the recently released document is a forgery. The premier indication, according to all the skeptics, is that the serial number on the certificate is out of sequence. Unfortunately, from my experience of bureaucracies, I see that as no smoking gun at all. Certificates are issued according to the order that the clerk finds then in his in-tray. They may not at all reflect the exact order in which the events that they certify happened. I would therefore suggest that skeptics greatly downgrade their emphasis on that point.

So I think that there are many indications that both his birth certificate and Obama himself are one big fraud but proving it decisively is at the moment impossible. We will just have to wait and see what Farah's bombshell is. Or maybe Mossad will release a real copy of the original certificate if Obama gets too dangerous to Israel. I imagine that Mossad went to Kenya fairly early on -- long before the Kenyans started to wipe their records


I received from a reader the following comment on the above:

You are right to question the Obama “Certificate of Live Birth”. It contains a forged signature. The mom’s signature has been tampered with. You can see this for yourself, simply by zooming in on the certificate on the government web site. You will see that the “Ann D” part is handwritten and the “unham Obama” part has been drawn in by someone else on the computer. Here is a reference to this.

“Additionally, if you zoom in using Acrobat with your browser on a lot of the text, you’ll notice that it appears jagged and a single color. That’s not original. A pen doesn’t write in a single color; as you write lighter, the color is lighter; as you press harder, it’s darker than everything else. So writing in pen is not a single solid color, and when it scanned, anti-aliased, which means that the square pixels on the edges fade to make it appear smooth. Most of the text in the document including a large portion of the signatures is just a single blotch of color. The likely explanation is that someone just drew them in using a tool similar to “pencil” in Adobe Photoshop.”

I don't necessarily agree about the signature of Ann Dunham. The break between the A and the n is certainly unusual but could just be style. So I offer the above as a sample of the many criticisms that have been made -- often by very expert people -- JR

Monday, May 09, 2011

Misunderstandings about the military

Led by the United States, the English-speaking countries seem to be almost continuously at war -- fighting for their own long-term safety and trying to rescue others from tyranny. In the USA, the wars are mostly initiated by Democrat administrations -- WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Serbia and now Libya -- but usually start out with widespread support among Americans generally.

There has however been no mass mobilization since WWII. The wars these days tend to be fought as just another budget item with only the professional military involved. The population generally have no experience of war and little acquaintance with military men. The countries concerned just live on in peace and prosperity. This has produced something of a paradox. The people at large of the world's most "warlike" countries know little of war or of military matters.

In the circumstances, there seems to have developed -- particularly on the political Left -- a quite warped view of the military and often a real contempt for the military. In a patriotic country like America, that contempt has to be mostly veiled but observers of the Left will be familiar with such attitudes anyway. Because of the British tradition of emotional restraint, however, overt expressions of patriotism are rare in Britain and Australia so the Left there are more vocal in making known their attitude to the military.

So the combination of no experience with the military and Leftist contempt for military men does seem to have led to a fairly widespread lack of understanding of what military men are like and how the military functions. And as a former army psychologist, I think I might be in a position to make a few points that may dispel some of those misunderstandings.

* A very common misunderstanding is that military men are dumb. That is far from the case. The military handle some very dangerous gear so a dummy would be more of a danger to his buddies than to the enemy. For that reason all Western armies select on intellectual grounds: You have to have an above average IQ to be a soldier. And in the more specialist jobs (officers generally, special forces, etc.), the intellectual requirement is quite high. So it is quite right to refer to the "profession" of arms. It needs training, knowledge, dedication and ability comparable to many other professions.

* Another incomprehension that seems particularly common on the left is why on earth would anybody take a job where he might get shot at? That seems like a very bad deal to most Leftists and may be part of the reason why military men are overwhelmingly conservative. Guerilla war where they can shoot others from cover (as in various "revolutions" -- such as Castro's) seems OK to Leftists but they generally haven't got the stomach for regular military service.

So why DO military men put themselves in harm's way? The answer quite simply is that they are real men. They have inherited a strong dose of the characteristics that enabled men to survive in "caveman" times. Life was a very risky business for us for most of our evolutionary past and men who did not enjoy risks and challenges just did not survive. Military men actually ENJOY putting themselves to the test. They LIKE doing difficult and dangerous things. Sadly, the army often disappoints them. Even if there is a war on, most of your time is spent waiting around. But the army does a lot of training and sport and there is always the prospect of action. So in every army, the men are always keen to get to "the front" -- where the action is and where they might get shot at! I was one of them many years ago. The Vietnam war was on at the time and I volunteered for a posting there.

A little story might help illustrate all that. During the Vietnam war, Australia had conscription and it was largely conscripts who were sent to the front. What is not generally known however is that conscripts were not usually sent to the front unwillingly. Anybody who did not want to go was discharged as "medically" unfit or was given the chance of volunteering for work in (say) a BOD (Base Ordnance Depot -- a military warehouse). But given the option of spending two boring years in a BOD back in Australia and going to Vietnam, close to 100% of the conscripts chose Vietnam. Men like excitement and Vietnam offered that, even if it was dangerous.

* Another myth much beloved of Leftist psychologists is that army men are some sort of "robot". They are all the same and just obey orders like machines. The old Prussian expression that a soldier should be "Kadaver gehorsam" (show corpselike obedience) helped establish that myth. And it does have a germ of truth. Take a look at the picture below. It is easy to see a march of robots there, is it not?

It is in fact a parade of cadets at Sandhurst, Britain's equivalent of West Point. So all the men there are in fact highly skilled soldiers with the equivalent of a university degree who will go on to positions of leadershiop throughout the British army and later on lead in British life generally. Far from being robots they are an elite.

So learning to work together and take orders is certainly a part of military life but it says nothing about the character of the men involved. The fact that the army has to train its men very heavily in order to get them to that state of readiness should speak for itself. It does not come naturally. Military men are very much individuals. And when you are in the army, you get to know what individuals your fellow unit members are and come to value them accordingly. For that reason, military men feel great grief at the loss of anyone in their unit -- as you will hear any time you ask them about their wartime experiences -- and in later life you never walk past a member of your old army unit in the street without stopping to chat. Fellow members of your unit become very special friends. You don't of course get on equally well with them all but you usually respect them all.

So I hope that goes a little way towards showing how wrong are simplistic judgments of the military and of military men.

Perhaps I should close on a rather provocative note: You could think that women would not be attracted to military men. The men are often away on deployment and may come home in a body bag. What sort of a deal is that for a woman? Yet as you always see, when the men come home from deployment, most have wives and girlfriends waiting eagerly to see their men again. How come? Easy: As I have pointed out above, military men are real men and real women like real men.

Take as an example the Australian soldier below. He is clearly a family man and may look undistinguished to some. But Ben Roberts-Smith is a man of exceptional intelligence, daring and courage. For his actions in Afghanistan he was recently awarded the Victoria Cross, which is as high an award for valour as there is. It is very rarely awarded. You can read his story here and here. He could join the officer corps any time he applied but he chooses to serve as a corporal leading a small detachment of Special Forces. Why? Because that is where the action is. We can be proud that the English-speaking nations still produce men like him -- JR

Saturday, May 07, 2011

‘Happiness gene’ in brain determines basic levels of contentment

This is quite a strong piece of research. The strong influence of genetics on happiness was known but to pick out one of the actual genes involved is a good advance. Sadly, the measure of happiness used was unsophisticated. A more comprehensive and reliable measure of happiness could well show the gene as even more influential than the researchers below calculate.

The political importance of the finding goes back to several findings in recent years that money doesn't make you happy. Leftists have reasoned from that that they are therefore doing you no harm by taking more of your money in tax.

But in a typically incurious Leftist way, they fail to ask WHY money doesn't generally make you happy. And a large part of the answer is the finding reiterated below: That happiness is a stable, inborn personality trait that varies little no matter WHAT happens to you. In fact, even people who have become paraplegic or quadriplegic through some unfortunate accident usually regain their previous level of happiness after a couple of years

So by Leftist reasoning, they would do us no harm by making us all paraplegics. In other words, the invariability of happiness makes it an inappropriate criterion by which to judge public policy. What people WANT is a far more justifiable and ascertainable criterion

And in any case we have to ask where Leftists get the right to make our decisions for us? It is far more justifiable and humane to say that each person should as far as possible make his own decisions for himself. But Leftist arrogance has no time for that of course. The individual hardly matters to them at all. They know better. They seem to think that their sh*t doesn't stink.

I examine the earlier research and writing in this field at more length here. The final version of the scientific journal article presently being disussed is supposed to be available here but does not yet appear to be online. I therefore follow the popular summary below with the abstract from a working version of the paper. An alternative summary of the paper can be found here

The study of more than 2,500 Americans revealed two variants of a gene that influenced how satisfied – or dissatisfied – people were with their lot. Those born with two long versions of the gene (one is passed down from each parent) were more likely to declare themselves "very satisfied" with life than those who inherited two short versions.

The study marks a tentative step towards explaining the mystery of why some people seem naturally happier than others. "This gives us more insight into the biological mechanisms that influence life satisfaction," said Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, a researcher at the London School of Economics and Political Science. "If you're feeling down, you can say it's your biology telling you life is less rosy that it is," he added.

A greater understanding of happiness genes might in future allow would-be parents to create a child who will be more satisfied with their life.

Happiness is only partly influenced by genetic makeup. Studies in twins suggest that genes account for roughly a third to a half of the variation in happiness between people. It is not yet known how many genes affect how cheerful we are.

De Neve looked at the genetic makeup of 2,574 people selected to be representative of the general population, whose medical histories were recorded for the US National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Among the records were answers to a question participants were asked in their early 20s about life satisfaction. In response to the question, "How satisfied are you with your life as a whole", they answered either "very satisfied", "satisfied", "neither satisfied or dissatisfied", "dissatisfied" or "very dissatisfied".

Writing in the Journal of Human Genetics, De Neve describes how roughly 40% said they were "very satisfied" with life, and among these, 35.4% had two long variants of the gene and only 19.1% had two short versions. Of those who were "dissatisfied" with life, 26.2% had two long variants of the gene, while 20% had two short versions. That indicates a slight over-representation of the long variants in happier people.

The gene, known as 5-HTT, is involved with the transport of serotonin, a feelgood chemical, in the brain. The longer variant leads to more efficient release and recycling of the neurotransmitter....

A 2009 study by Elaine Fox at the University of Essex suggested that people who carried long versions of the 5-HTT gene had a greater tendency to focus on the positives in life. The "bright side" version of the gene might bolster people's resilience to stressful events, and protect against anxiety, depression and other mental health problems.

Ed Diener, a psychologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and author of the 2008 book, Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, said: "We are just beginning to understand the actual genetics of happiness, and how genes might influence brain hormones and other physiology that influence our well-being.

"This exciting work offers insights that one day may help us counter disorders such as depression. Parents one day might have the choice of whether to choose genes that will create a child who is more satisfied with his or her life."

Genes, Economics, and Happiness

By Jan-Emmanuel De Neve et al.


A major finding from research into the sources of subjective well-being is that individuals exhibit a "baseline" level of happiness. We explore the influence of genetic variation by employing a twin design and genetic association study.

We first show that about 33% of the variation in happiness is explained by genes. Next, using two independent data sources, we present evidence that individuals with a transcriptionally more efficient version of the serotonin transporter gene (SLC6A4) report significantly higher levels of life satisfaction.

These results are the first to identify a specific gene that is associated with happiness and suggest that behavioral models benefit from integrating genetic variation.