To become a professor at Yale, it helps to be a slacker

on 36 Comments

It’s funny how Amy Chua’s book about “Tiger Mothers,” on the superiority of Chinese family culture, is giving a successful American caste, Jews, an opening to say, hey guess what we’re not driven! This is the theme of Ayelet Waldman’s piece in the Wall Street Journal. And of Lawrence Solomon’s piece in the Financial Post criticizing Chinese mothering as too regimented and pointing out how few Nobel prizes they’ve gotten. (Hint hint, Jews have won a bazillion.) I pass this along not because of the Race Olympics, which are dismaying/entertaining, but because Solomon brags on Chua’s intermarriage to a Jew and then suggests that her husband, who is a law professor at Yale, is not achievement-oriented. This is the funniest thing I’ve heard in a long time, as if positions in the meritocracy are given to dilettantes. 

 [Chua sought] the right balance in her personal life, by choosing as her husband and father of her children someone who is anything but single-minded. Jed Rubenfeld, an American Jew determined to avoid a career in academia, waffled as a student, starting with philosophy and psychology at Princeton, switching to acting at Julliard, then moving to law at Harvard before accepting an academic position at Yale, where he is now professor and assistant dean of law. Several years ago, Rubenfeld tried fiction for the first time, writing The Interpretation of Murder, a book that sold more than a million copies. None of this was planned, as he told Entertainment News: “everything that has happened in my life has happened by accident, contrary to my best intentions.”

By the way, Wikipedia says that Chua is raising her children Jewish. More evidence for my belief that Jewish success in the U.S. is making the brand a lot more attractive. Thanks to Mark Wauck for the tip.

36 Responses

  1. MRW
    January 15, 2011, 11:22 am

    The article to read is Amy Chau’s in the WSJ. You’ll get an entirely different impression. BTW, she’s a law professor at Yale, previously Duke and Columbia. Her JD is from Harvard. and she has two previous books under her belt in international business.
    link to

    I found Solomon’s article about the Chinese to be smug, ethnocentric, and grossly misinformed about the Chinese and their culture. His dismissive remarks about Chinese military weaponry shows he’s unaware of the stealth submarines that popped up beside our naval ships three or four years ago and scared the shit out of our guys.

    In terms of innovation and creativity and invention, the Chinese had it all over western civilization and earlier. They were building ships in drydocks in 400 BC (source: BBC 2010), invented the compass in 200 BC, the first printing press (5,000 characters) in 200 AD, steel, gunpowder, the elevator, philosophy (Confucius 500 BC), military strategy (Sun Tzu 500 BC), smelting, agricultural systems, silk, etc, etc, etc, over 2000 years ago. I saw some of the most exquisite carved and polished jade bowls in a Chinese museum dated 6000 BC. They’ve been around a lot longer than the Greeks and Romans and Hebrews, and their accomplishments at the time dwarf all of them.

    The Nobel Prize issue is more a factor of English usage in the Chinese 20th C under the British colonial boot (Palestine anyone?) than anything else, and the Swedes’ ability to read Mandarin, both of which were nil (which is why their printing press didn’t sell in the west 1800 years ago) not to mention 50 years of hard-ass communism.

    Read the Chau article I link to. This is the mentality our kids are going to be encountering in their Chinese bosses in 10 years. Good luck with that.

    • annie
      January 16, 2011, 3:11 am

      Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:

      • attend a sleepover

      • have a playdate

      • be in a school play

      • complain about not being in a school play

      • watch TV or play computer games

      • choose their own extracurricular activities

      • get any grade less than an A

      • not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama

      • play any instrument other than the piano or violin

      • not play the piano or violin.

      seriously, this is sickening , it makes me want to barf. children are not products we pump out thru conditioning they are life, live beings who require nurturing and love. look a our world people and ask yourselves are we better off? nature, look at nature, replicate nature.
      kudos to the chinese for their accomplishments but i’m not signing up.
      i’m an advocate of the simple life. love rules. love and nurturing. my son is giving and beautiful. growth isn’t always measured in invention, it can be measured in preservation, of nature and mankind.

      • MRW
        January 16, 2011, 3:34 am


        I don’t know if you’ve spent a lot of time around Chinese families in China, but there is no absence of love and adulation for their children. It’s almost smothering. But the cultures are different.

        And given the fact that the Bush and Clinton administrations gave away our national treasure to outsourced countries, and have destroyed the working middle class, parents would be wise to prepare their children for Chinese bosses. It’s not going to be their Mommy and Daddy’s world if that happens.

    • Antidote
      January 16, 2011, 4:49 am

      See, that proves it. The Chinese were great when they were slackers. I hear they discovered America before anyone else. Got there, saw it was just more of the same – land, water, trees, people and grass not greener than the stuff at home – and went back to China. Why pick a fight with the natives?

  2. Citizen
    January 15, 2011, 11:41 am

    This has all been done in many episodes of King Of The Hill involving the conflict and misunderstandings between the typical American “redneck” family and their neighbors, a Laotian family. The little redneck boy is the slacker, the little Laotian girl next door, the academically excellent offspring of her Tiger mother.

  3. Potsherd2
    January 15, 2011, 1:27 pm

    I couldn’t help thinking the Chau article had to be parody.

  4. Krauss
    January 15, 2011, 1:42 pm

    I agree to a large extent with MRW about the smugness and gloating of Solomon’s article. Still, Jews are overperforming way above their natural population proportion in terms of Nobel prizes etc. On the other hand, one could argue that in the last century it was more or less only possible to get a Nobel Prize from a Western country save the Soviet Union up until the last 2 decades when far east Asia started to evolve. Therefore if you wanted to get a Nobel prize for much of the last century you had better to live in a Wester country which will explain the overrepresentation of both Jews(and Westerners in general) to at least some extent.

    Another point is Solomon’s assertion that the Chinese have created way more than any other people which is just a direct statement of ignorance. The Ancient Greeks were more mathematically advanced than the Chinese even in 1800 AD(!!) later after a series of crucial and advanced theories(almost all of them proved correct), I’m thinking of Ptolemy in particular, which is amazing considering for how long they kept the advantage(He died in 168 AD and even as far as 1800 AD the Chinese were behind the Ancient Greeks in mathematical knowledge).

    In a whole host of scientific areas, the ancient Greeks outshone the Chinese. Mathematics as I already mentioned was a key area but many other natural scientific areas. The same can be said for modern Western science. In the last 500 years you have had people like Newton, Darwin, da Vinci and many others who have far outshined anything Chinese.

    Civilizations have ups and downs, of course, but this just shows how careful we should be with an ethnocentric variant of ‘The Chosen People’ whether they are Chinese, Jews or Europeans(non-Jewish ones) or any other people.

    As for Ms. Chua, I can’t help but feel slightly sad for her. She is right in some ways that many Western parents have slacked out too much. Solomon is also wrong when he overly criticizes rote learning, it has a role and will always have. The West rose as a confluence of discipline and open and free-spirited intellectual debate and discourse. If this ancient tradition can be nurtured again, then the West will rise again. If China will copy this then they will get there before us.

    Both are acceptable outcomes to me.

    • RoHa
      January 16, 2011, 2:30 am

      “The same can be said for modern Western science. In the last 500 years you have had people like Newton, Darwin, da Vinci and many others who have far outshined anything Chinese.”

      Of course, the Western Scientific Revolution was based on Arabic Mathematics and Astronomy, and Chinese technology. (Francis Bacon claimed that in his time the four most revolutionary inventions were printing, papermaking, gunpowder, and the magnetic compass. All Chinese.)

      This is not to detract from the great Western scientific achievments, but to put them into context. As you say, we should not get carried away with this idea that one group is superior to others, and “Civilizations have ups and downs”. Needham claimed that, where technology and science are concerned, the West only overtook China in the Seventeenth Cemtury. (Not that long ago, in Chinese terms.)

      (Incidentally, when “shine” means “give off light”, the past tense is “shone”, so that should be “outshone”. When “shine” means “polish”, it is regular. Also “If China copies this then they will …”.)

    • MRW
      January 16, 2011, 3:20 am

      Krauss, (Since it’s almost Sunday here, you’ll indulge me the lengthy diversion)

      You’re right about those wanting a Nobel in the last half of the 20th C. Richard Feynman got a Nobel in Physics 1965. One of this favorite quotes is “There is enough energy inside the space of an empty cup to boil all the oceans of the world.” Feynman’s prize for advancing elementary particle physics was only possible because of the work of Yang and Lee, two boychik Chinese scientists who got a “nearly instant” Nobel in December 1957 for their revolutionary 1956 discovery that contradicted the settled laws of conservation of parity, and led to Feynman’s work. Yang and Lee emigrated from China after the war. (Incidentally, Yang and Lee’s work and its importance substantiating the extraction process for the energy Feynman talks about has been scrubbed from all graduate-level electrical engineering textbooks because it proves conclusively what Feynman’s quote above refers to.)

      On the other hand, I have to disagree with you about Ptolemy. There’s no doubt the guy was a genius to even conceive of the problems, or want to solve them. But his system of pulleys and gears about how the heavens worked persisted for 1500 years, and led the ever-intelligent Catholic Church to chase (Father) Giordano Bruno through the streets of Rome and burn him at the stake in an open square in 1600 for disagreeing with Ptolemy, and also led the Church to subsequently lock up Galileo.

      Ptolemy’s view? The sun and all the planets revolve around a stationary earth.

      Ptolemy was just plain wrong, even though his ‘science’ was considered ‘settled’ for over a millennia and a half. (Think of that the next time to listen to our great astrophysicists Maher/Olbermann/Maddow ostentatiously sneer that 30-year-old (since 1979) Climate Science is ‘settled’. Or as some Chinese politician/philosopher/historian replied a few years ago when asked what he thought about the political effects of the French Revolution, “Too soon to tell.”)

      In the meantime, the Chinese and Islamic scientific culture had no such restrictions on their understanding of the heavens and navigation, which was completely different than western thought, far more advanced, and produced this when China was still under the influence of the Mongol Genghis Khan (although he was dead). Their ship, the length of a football field, is at the back. Christopher Columbus’ ship is the little thing at the bottom left, the height of western maritime accomplishment at the time.

      As this BBC radio special, on Feb 5, 2010 recounts, some of their technology was so advanced we don’t know how to build wooden ships like this in the 21st C because it’s been lost to history. The National Geographic traces the first voyage (first of seven) with 317 of these ships with 27,870 men in 1405-1407 AD.

      What we perceive as China’s xenophobic period starting in 1641, which was breached with British colonial efforts in the 1800s and its attempt to destroy Chinese culture with opium (from the Chinese POV), was the impetus (broadly speaking) for communism in the 20th C to take their culture back (from their POV).

      Don’t be so quick to pooh-pooh Chinese invention, and claim omnipotence for modern Western science. This is what the Chinese invented, starting at the time of Plato, in the 4th and 3rd BC alone, according to Joseph Needham’s Science and Civilization in China (25 volumes, Cambridge, 1995), among other sources:

      • The trace efficient horse harness – 500 years later in Western civilization
      • Double-acting piston bellows, air and liquid – 1900-2100 years later in Western civilization
      • Petroleum and natural gas as fuel – 2300 years later in Western civilization
      A place for zero in math1400 years later in Western civilization
      • The first compass – 1400 years later in Western civilization
      • The First Law of Motion – 1400 years later in Western civilization (but 2000 to Newton)
      • Manned flight with kites – 1650 years later in Western civilization
      • War technology: Chemical warfare: poison gas, smoke bombs, tear
      gas – 2300 years later in Western civilization
      • The crossbow – Centuries years later in Western civilization

      Then, from 221-206 BC (Qin Dynsasty) — 15 years — the Chinese built the Great Wall of China, standardized weights, measures, and calligraphy, and built the huge underground (burial) pit city with thousands of full-size clay Terracotta soldiers, and started the concept of government civil service.

      From 206 BC until Jesus was born they invented these:

      • Paper – 1400 years later in Western civilization
      • The rotary winnowing fan – 2000 years later in Western civilization
      • The multi-tube seed drill – 1800 years later in Western civilization
      • Crank handle – 1100 years later in Western civilization
      • Gimbals, or Cardan suspension – 1100 years later in Western civilization
      • Manufacture of steel from cast iron – 2000 years later in Western civilization
      • Science of endocrinology – 2100 years later in Western civilization
      • Hexagonal structure of snowflakes – 1800 years later in Western civilization
      • Parachute – 2000 years later in Western civilization
      • Miniature hot-air balloons – 1400 years later in Western civilization
      • Tuned drums – 2000 years later in Western civilization

      While the Romans were conquering the Mediterranean, and Messianic Jews were running around fighting atop the two or three acres at Masada, the Chinese were inventing these:

      • Deep drilling for natural gas – 1900 years later in Western civilization
      • Belt drive – 1400-1800 years later in Western civilization
      • Wheelbarrow – 1300 years later in Western civilization
      • Sliding Calipers – 1700 years later in Western civilization
      • Hermetically sealed labs – 2000 years later in Western civilization
      • Water pump – 1200 years later in Western civilization
      • Suspension bridge – 1800 years later in Western civilization
      • The rudder – 1100 years later in Western civilization
      • Seismograph – 1400 years later in Western civilization

      While I appreciate claims of American (or Western) exceptionalism, and understand the impetus for it, the facts bornre by history prove otherwise. I mean, Western geologists still think oil is a fossil fuel, fercrissake (another ptolemaic-style absurdity).

      • MRW
        January 16, 2011, 3:56 am


        I screwed up and put an extra quote at the end of the link syntax, so they don’t translate into webpages. (You can also just remove the extra “ after htm or html in the URL.) Here are the actual links to the indicated text.

        scrubbed from all graduate-level electrical engineering textbooks
        link to

        link to

        this BBC radio special
        link to

        Feb 5, 2010 recounts
        link to

        traces the first voyage (first of seven) with 317 of these ships with 27,870 men
        link to

        And I thought I was being so clever by doing it properly.

      • Woody Tanaka
        January 17, 2011, 5:48 pm

        It’s strange that among all of these pronouncements are some real odd, quirky bits of nonsense, such as the “Climate Science” slam and the promotion of abiogenic petroleum hypothesis.

        Further, the statements regarding Zhang He’s treasure ships assumes that they were, in fact, the size alleged, something that is strongly disputed by historians and by the physics of wooden shipbuilding. (Moreover, the comparison between the Chinese treasure ships and Columbus-style carracks and caravels — based on size alone — is kind of dumb, given the very different jobs these classes of ships were designed to perform. It’s like saying that Caterpiller, Inc. is a better manufacturer than Porsche because dump trucks are bigger than sports cars.)

        Put all this together and I have to take your other assertions regarding the Chinese historical record with a grain of salt.

  5. Lydda Four Eight
    January 15, 2011, 2:09 pm

    Even in Christian circles the “Jewish brand” has gained a following with people becoming Torah students, messianic Jewish “ministries” selling Judaic accessories/ cloth and much, much more!

    Ironically some of the oldest active churches and oldest living lineages to the Early church have not gained a trendy following (which I am thankful for, since trends and brands are just capital exploits) and I would not be surprised if this is because they are Middle Eastern/ Palestinian/ Iraqi/ Syrian, etc.

  6. hophmi
    January 15, 2011, 4:29 pm

    “By the way, Wikipedia says that Chua is raising her children Jewish. More evidence for my belief that Jewish success in the U.S. is making the brand a lot more attractive.”

    It was a silly theory a few days ago and it’s silly now. You seem to confuse Judaism as a fashionable status symbol with actual Jewish continuity. You need to develop a longer-term view than that. There’s no statistical evidence to support what you say.

  7. lohdennis
    January 15, 2011, 6:17 pm

    Amy Chua is a hard-working, not brilliant academic. Graduating from Harvard cum laude is no guarantee for brilliance. Being an Asian women pursuing legal profession, it’s possible that she was a member of the under-represented minority getting into Harvard Law. She didn’t make it to the Law Review. She didn’t make it to being a partner at Cleary, Gottlieb (at least not obvious, left after 5 years). She goes to Duke, meets her future husband who is bright. Gets a job at Yale through family connection. There is nothing in her biography that suggests brilliance. Her husband on the other hand was a summa at Princeton and a start at Law School and an academic superstar. He is definitely smarter than she is, intellectually-speaking. Amy Chua’s approach can be summarized as mediocre mother’s recipe for creating mediocre, successful people. Some profs at Yale are bright, most are not so bright, and some don’t belong there.

    As for Jewish brilliance, I always chuckle. Read comments by Richard Feynman on this topic in “Perfectly normal deviations”. In short, if they are so brilliant, where were they before the last 150 years other than possibly Spinoza? Anyone ascribing superior intelligence to any race is walking towards a very slippery slope–be careful–reiterated by Feynman himself.

    • MRW
      January 16, 2011, 3:26 am

      See my post above below Krauss’, then check your facts. Feynman’s 1965 Nobel was not possible without the work of Yang and Lee (Nobel, 1957). In fact, Chinese scientist Wu proved both of their work.

    • MRW
      January 16, 2011, 4:27 am

      The Hopi say that 10,000 years ago, the Great Spirit Maasau split mankind into four groups and sent them out in the world. They would learn what they needed to, then come back together. It was the duty of the White People, the last to develop, to bring them back together, which according to the Hopi Elders, started in the 1700/1800s with the Industrial Revolution.

      The Red people were in charge of the earth
      The Black people were in charge of the water (feeling)
      The Yellow people were in charge of the air (intelligence)
      The White people were in charge of fire (industry)

      The time, written on Prophecy Rock at Second Mesa in AZ 10,000 years ago, when this was to happen was between 2000-2006 AD. According to the Elders, if the White People did not bring the four colors back together, the Great Spirt Massau was going to shake his Gourd a third time (WWIII) and Turtle Island (US & Canada) would have the oceans close in on them and rise to the sky, and all would be dark for generations.

      The point being, in response to your post, is that it was predicted that the Yellow People would be in charge of intelligence. ;-)

    • MRW
      January 16, 2011, 4:41 am

      She goes to Duke, meets her future husband who is bright. Gets a job at Yale through family connection. There is nothing in her biography that suggests brilliance. Her husband on the other hand was a summa at Princeton and a start at Law School and an academic superstar. He is definitely smarter than she is, intellectually-speaking. Amy Chua’s approach can be summarized as mediocre mother’s recipe for creating mediocre, successful people. Some profs at Yale are bright, most are not so bright, and some don’t belong there.

      I hadn’t realized you knew her personally.

      • lohdennis
        January 16, 2011, 12:40 pm

        Feynman’s work for which he received the Nobel Prize, shared with Shinichiro Tomonaga and Julian Schwinger is for his contribution to quantum electrodynamics which he did in the 1940’s and early 1950’s. Chen-Ning Yang and Tsun Dao Lee’s work on the violation of the symmetry laws though important is not directly related to his work any more than many other work. As for the thesis more relevant to Amy Chua’s book and about racial disparity in productivity: Feynman says in a letter written on Feb. 7, 1967: “It is the combination of characteristics of the culture of any father and his father plus the learning and ideas and influences of people of all races and backgrounds which make me what I am, good or bad. I appreciate the valuable (and the negative) elements of my background but I feel it to be bad taste and an insult to other peoples to call attention in any direct way to that one element in my composition.” “Therefore you see at thirteen I was not only converted to other religious views but I also stopped believing that the Jewish people are in any way “the chosen people”.

      • Philip Weiss
        January 16, 2011, 12:41 pm

        thank you dennis

      • MRW
        January 16, 2011, 2:52 pm


        quantum electrodynamics which he did in the 1940’s and early 1950’s. Chen-Ning Yang and Tsun Dao Lee’s work on the violation of the symmetry laws though important is not directly related to his work any more than many other work.

        I’m afraid you don’t understand what Yang and Lee did. As this article recounts in layman’s language, they completely shattered a physics principle at the time and they were nominated for a Nobel within three months — Feynman even bet $50 it couldn’t be done, and lost his bet. Their work was such a breakthrough it would undermine the need for an oil industry, and those are the people who buried the importance of Yang and Lee’s discovery.
        link to

        And as for Yang and Lee’s work not being key to Feynman’s later work in 1963, which led to his Nobel in 1965, do a google search on it.

      • lohdennis
        January 16, 2011, 3:27 pm

        MRW: Have you studied physics at higher levels or are you simply quoting “layman’s” programs. Although I don’t have a PhD in physics, I have studied physics at Caltech in Feynman’s presence. The work for which Feynman, Tomonaga, and Schwinger received their Nobel Prize was primarily done around 1948. Here is a quote from Feynman himself in his book “Quantum Electrodynamics–The Strange Theory of light and matter”:
        “Well, this problem of how to calculate things in quantum electrodynamics was straightened out by Julian Schwinger, Shin-Itiro Tomonaga, and myself in about 1948. Schwinger was the first to calculate this correction using a new “shellgame”; his theoretical value was around 1.00116, which was close enough to the experimental number to show that we were on the right track. At last, we had a quantum theory of electricity and magnetism with which we could calculate!”
        Their contribution solved the problems posed earlier in 1929 that dealt with electron’s interaction with light. When Dirac later introduced the relativistic theory, the magnetic moment of the electron gave the physicists some headache. This is where the new QED came in for which Feynman’ Nobel Prize was given. I haven’t done physics in several decades but this is my understanding of their contribution. It has virtually nothing to do with Yang and Lee’s contribution to violation of asymmetry which of course is a monumental work. In fact, the Nobel Prizes given 2 or 3 years ago to Nambu and others also has to do with the violation of symmetry laws. Having said all this, this has nothing to do with Palestine-Israel or even Amy Chua’s book. What I suggest is read about QED and its origins even if you don’t understand the math (I have a hard time with some of the matrix analyses and tensor analyses and I had four years of Caltech math beyond calculus). I don’t know how good you are in math but most of the books by Feynman including his famous three volume physics text is readable if you had some differential equations courses (the only reason that I can do them is because two of my sons are now majoring in physics and I try to keep up with them).

      • MRW
        January 16, 2011, 5:16 pm


        I have studied physics at Caltech in Feynman’s presence. Lucky you.

        No, I haven’t studied physics formally at the “higher levels.” My interest is now avocational. I was accepted into MIT in my penultimate year of high-school to study theoretical physics, but decided not to pursue it for a bunch of reasons. (I was one of those nerdy kids who did calculus at nine and I could physically “see” mathematical equations dancing in three dimensions when I read them, which is what attracted me to them. There was a magic and purity to math that I found as breathtaking as creation itself. I was always surprised that people thought math was two-dimensional numbers of a page.) I didn’t keep up with the math, as I had, after I was 19 because sex intervened. The person who continued to fascinate me, however, was Dirac, and the person who I think got shafted for a Nobel was Wu, who proved Yang-Lee’s theory in late ’56 and Feynman/Gell-Mann’s ’58 follow-on theory in 1963. I was told in the early 1980s by someone on the inside of the Nobel selection that it was Wu’s 1963 proof of Feynman/Gell-Mann’s 1958 work that brought Feynman’s work to the attention of the committee…not in the sense that they didn’t know who he was, but his ongoing importance to the field. No different than Einstein who, as you know, did not win a Nobel for the theory of relativity.

      • MRW
        January 16, 2011, 5:25 pm

        P.S. Lohdennis,

        You bet what Yang and Lee did was “monumental.” If the commercial powers-that-be hadn’t diminished the importance of their work, kids like your sons could have invented energy sources by now that completely obviated the need for all the physical fuels we are dicking around with. And I know this for a fact from the mouth of one of the top four at Shell in the Netherlands.

      • lohdennis
        January 16, 2011, 7:14 pm

        Amen. Yang and Lee has nothing to do with energy sources. I am sorry that I wasted my time arguing with someone who doesn’t understand basic, basic physics.

      • MRW
        January 17, 2011, 2:08 am

        Hunh? What do you think is behind the asymmetrical-field permanent magnets fueling the self-powering systems that use energy from the vacuum, the very stuff in that cup Feynman was talking about? Physicists may be aware of these, but electrical engineers aren’t, and that’s by design because companies like Shell have bought up nearly all the patents for the exciting inventions using these principles and, literally, shelved them. (I’m not equating them. One is theory, the other practical.) These are quantum power sources.

        Another person doing really exciting work in this field is Yakir Aharonov. He won the National Medal of Science a couple of months ago. I loved this in the press account of it:

        In other experiments, Aharonov made a series of “weak” measurements at the quantum level that appear to show that actions in the future can alter measurements made in the past.

        The work raises profound questions about the fundamental nature of time and space.

        “It’s just a way to test new ideas about time,” Aharonov said.

        “The basic idea is that the present is not only affected by the past but also by the future. This is a new development that I’m advocating.”

        And French scientists in 2007 were able to take Wheeler’s experiment further and prove that what they did could retroactively change something they did in the past. (They introduced a second beam splitter in the classic Wheeler experiment.)
        link to

      • lohdennis
        January 17, 2011, 11:26 am

        Please read real science for scientists and not some popular science that handpicks headlines. Your comments indicate (to me) that you don’t quite understand basic physics and basic engineering concepts. I think you’ve overdosed on popular science without understanding where facts end and wishful thinking starts. I’m sure we both have better things to do to help humanity in the mean time.
        Let’s just agree to disagree and move on. We are both wasting our time.

      • marc b.
        January 17, 2011, 8:58 am

        well, it does sound a bit personal, mrw, with the ranking obsession, as if being an ‘academic superstar’ (whatever that is) in america is a sign of brilliance.

        more to the point at hand, i read the bleating, disingenous protests of ms. chua in the nyt sunday edition (two promotional ‘news’ articles on the ‘controversy’), ‘oh, i never expected such a strong response’, etc. etc., says she, and her ‘shock’ is just as convincing as the shame expressed by some talentless starlet whose ‘sex tape’ is released on the internet. ‘oh, are the most controversial passages meant to be ironic?’ worries the times journalist, stirring furthe controversy, i.e. promotional buzz. the times really can’t dish up enough of navel gazing fluff for the enthocentric crowd, the ‘tiger mother’ crap being more about the jewish rating on the success scale and the fear of ‘race mixing’ than child-rearing practices.

  8. lohdennis
    January 16, 2011, 12:51 pm

    While I am Richard Feynman, here is my favorite quote of his on the same subject:
    –There is no such thing as a Jewish baby or a Muslim baby. A child is born into a Jewish family or a Muslim family and subsequently becomes Jewish or Muslim (Richard P. Feynman).

  9. marc b.
    January 17, 2011, 8:39 am

    This is the funniest thing I’ve heard in a long time, as if positions in the meritocracy are given to dilettantes.

    yes, and speaking of funny, what meritocracy are you talking about? with all due respect to rubenfeld’s class rank and LSAT scores, this guy’s trajectory sounds like that of some pampered protestant blue blood from the turn of the century, first off to paris to write that book he’d always dreamed he had in him, then a hand at painting in the post-impressionist style, then back to head the family firm, or if british, off to india to serve as advisor to the governor-general. who funded this dilettantish flitting about, while thousands/millions of others are pressed into unrewarding toil to pay student loans? and how does one go about walking into the offices of henry holt and co., manuscript in hand, with any hope of success, without a call from uncle/auntie so-and-so, while hundreds of more talented, dedicated writers couldn’t get past the security desk in the lobby? have you read any of the schmutz produced by this guy? try a few pages and tell me whether there can’t be any better unpublished writers. jesus, you wouldn’t know a meritocracy if it fell out of the sky and hit you on the head.

  10. marc b.
    January 17, 2011, 9:11 am

    now, phil, no need for your passive-aggressive streak to get the best of you. i’ve done just fine, thank you, in part because of the mid-2oth century fixation with test scores, and in larger measure because of my parents’ hard work. but you know what i’m talking about, being of my generation, more or less. the decades-long experiment in meritocracy is over, and it ended with those messy protests in the 60s-70s, when it was decided that all that time for study and reflection was also an opportunity to throw some sand in the gears of the great american imperium. that, and the people at the top never want to compete, despite their philosophical fixation with darwinism and the free market, and they have all sorts of tricks up their sleaves to keep the rabble in line, the cost of education and accompanying ‘student loans’ being one of the most effective.

  11. lohdennis
    January 17, 2011, 11:49 am

    I think meritocracy is alive. Of course, money and connections help in opening doors.
    The best example of this is the US university system. It is one of the few things that based on my experience, we have the best university system. It’s not perfect but it’s better than anything else I have seen in Asia and Europe. Look at who make up the faculty at the “better” schools, particularly in fields like science and engineering. You will find that it is a virtual hodge-podge of people from all over the world. Yes, of course, some of them got there through connections, or good looks or whatever. But on the whole, it’s best on merit (in contrast to party membership etc. etc.).
    Here is my personal, unofficial ranking of meritocracy indicator for admission to undergraduate college (and to some extent faculty):

    Caltech (39% Asian-American, 11 % foreign students)
    Harvard- a little different because Harvard looks for “diverse” meritocracy not necessarily purely academic. See “Harvard beats Yale: 29-29”, a wonderful film about a football game that really shows the difference between Harvard and Yale. Of course, Phil and I being both Harvard grad, we are both biased!!

    These last two are pretty bad although Yale is trying to change because they realize now that they can’t compete in the natural sciences/engineering without admitting more Asian students. These impressions are totally unscientific based on interviews with faculty, alumni, students, prospective students, conversations with university administrators etc. etc. Take it with a grain of salt.

    • marc b.
      January 17, 2011, 4:41 pm

      1. lohdennis, you contradict yourself in the first paragraph. money and connections would have no influence in admissions in a meritocracy, and the myth of the meritocracy (i.e. economic success as a measure of intelligence) corrupts aspirations for a truly meritocratic system.

      2. the debate over educational investment in this country is completely corrupt, with constant reference to the sums spent with little reward, the implication being that some are just not worth the effort (see e.g. heavy expenditures in DC with attendant poor results), and further suggestions that the unions have a stranglehold on standards, preventing the introduction of ‘free market’ forces to clean out the incompetents and waste. all of these arguments are [email protected] of course. i have not looked at statistics recently, however my memory is that per student expenditure in the US as a percentage of GDP is not all that good. further, much of the money invested in ‘education’ in poorer communities is actually spent on services, such a breakfast programs, afterschool daycare, etc. which are not strictly speaking part of a child’s ‘education’. there is no real interest in a public investment in education for many reasons, one of them being the neo-darwinist philosophy of the most recent ‘haves’ who conclude that a meritocracy must exist since they perceive themselves to be on top. additionally, although i have no solid evidence for this, i believe that many in policy influencing positions have concluded that (‘all hail the free market’) it is cheaper to let india, russia, china, etc. make the investment in secondary education, leaving the US universities to cherry pick candidates for university, particularly graduate programs.

      3. once again, i don’t have the documentation at hand, but i believe that there has been some fairly recent debate about whether it is appropriate to rely so heavily on test scores for admissions to college, particularly in the better public universities. this came about at a time when many ‘asian’ immigrants began to excel at test taking, threatening the previous kings of the test-taking universe. this shift is reminiscent of the shift from the protestant assessment of manly character as the measure of a good harvard candidate, to the standardized measure of appropriateness.

  12. lohdennis
    January 17, 2011, 6:15 pm

    Marc b. Meritocracy is alive in US in that talented individuals can rise independent of money, power, and connection. The latter helps, particularly if one has talent. I still believe that a hard-working, talented individual who has nothing to offer other than his/her brains and hard work to rise in the US. This is not necessarily true in many other countries. I have witnessed this all the way from the halls of Caltech, Harvard Med School, MIT, and even to the trading floors of Wall Street hedge funds. If one is “hungry” enough and have the ability, work ethic and to some extent luck, one can still make it “big” in the US. Does connection and money help. Of course but the ultimate level of “success” whatever that means is dependent on talent. The best examples of this is George Soros, Steve Chu, and Barak Obama, and Bill Clinton. Though US has its own problems, there are very few countries, if any, that offer better opportunities to these people.

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