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February 1-7, 2005 Blog Archive



"Inmate's Rising I.Q. Score Could Mean His Death" reports the NYT:


Three years ago, in the case of a Virginia man named Daryl R. Atkins, the United States Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to execute the mentally retarded. But Mr. Atkins's recent test scores could eliminate him from that group.

His scores have shot up, a defense expert said, thanks to the mental workout his participation in years of litigation gave him. The Supreme Court, which did not decide whether Mr. Atkins was retarded, noted that he scored 59 on an I.Q. test in 1998. The cutoff for retardation in Virginia is 70.

A defense expert who retested Mr. Atkins last year found that his I.Q. was 74. In court here on Thursday, prosecutors said their expert's latest test yielded 76.


From my 2002 article "IQ Defenders Feel Vindicated by Supreme Court" on the Supreme Court's Atkins decision:


"One intelligence expert worried that we will end up executing only those killers 'too stupid to realize that they ought to flunk their IQ test.'





What does "democracy" mean to the Bush Administration? Is the Bush Administration being naively idealistic in seemingly equating the word "democracy" with sugar and spice and everything nice: not just majority rule, but also rule of law, protection of minorities, independent judiciary, federalism, human rights, settled distribution of property, in other words, the whole apparatus of civilized government. 


Or is it being cynical? This broad definition of democratic allows it to declare any country's democracy glass to be half full ... or half empty.


Many of the Bush Administration's strategic concepts have come from Israel. Most famously, his recent obsession with "democracy" comes in large measure from reading Natan Sharansky's new book. Sharansky is a former housing minister of Israel, with strong ties to the settler movement. His book saying that the solution to the Israel-Palestine problem is for Palestine to become a democracy is widely seen as idealistic, but a more cynical interpretation is that Sharansky is trying to set the bar so high that Israel will never have to deal with the Palestinians and can continue their settlements in the West Bank indefinitely. 


Along very much those lines, Ariel Sharon's closest advisor Dov Weisglass, who is Sharon's point man in dealing with the Bush Administration gave a fascinating interview to Ha'aretz newspaper in Israel last fall where he boasted: 


"There will be no timetable to implement the settler's nightmare. I have postponed that nightmare indefinitely. Because what I effectively agreed to with the Americans was that part of the settlements would not be dealt with at all, and the rest will not be dealt with until the Palestinians turn into Finns... With the proper management we succeeded in removing the issue of the political process from the agenda. And we educated the world to understand that there is no one to talk to. And we received a no-one-to-talk-to certificate. That certificate says: (1) There is no one to talk to. (2) As long as there is no one to talk to, the geographic status quo remains intact. (3) The certificate will be revoked only when this-and-this happens - when Palestine becomes Finland. (4) See you then, and shalom."


Obviously, the Palestinians aren't going to turn into Finns, anytime soon, so the West Bank settlements aren't going anywhere. Even though the Palestinians recently held a moderately fair and free election of their new leader Abbas, they are still years, decades, centuries away from Finnish standards of democracy.


Similarly, the Bush Administration can use it's "democracy" crusade to define any foreign government it dislikes as illegitimate. Jim Hoagland writes in the Washington Post:


" Years of American fumbling for a workable approach toward the hostile theocratic regime in Tehran have yielded only a single sentence as agreed Bush policy. The sentence, which Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice delivered in fancy dress to the Europeans during her current travels, comes down to this: The United States will take no action that extends legitimacy to the ayatollahs in Iran."


Iran is not a terribly democratic country, but it's dramatically more democratic than many others that the Bush Administration is copacetic with, such as China. But that's not good enough for the Bush Administration, conveniently enough.




Super Bowl Prediction: Everybody is picking the New England dynasty, but I'll go with Eagles 20 - Patriots 17. (Of course, Super Bowls are seldom that close -- the two week preparation time means that usually one team peaks around last Thursday, comes out flat on Sunday, and gets killed.) Everybody is talking about New England quarterback Tom Brady's great post-season record, but he was only the 9th best passer in the league this year. In contrast, the Eagles' Donovan McNabb finally lived up to the hype and was the 4th best passer in the league. 

I don't really believe that post-season success is all that more indicative of talent than regular season performance. For example, even though Jim Plunkett quarterbacked two Super Bowl winners, he really wasn't anything special. The biggest difference about the post-season is: smaller sample size. Thus, in the view of the press, John Elway was a dog for going 0-3 in first three Super Bowls, but then somehow became a god for going 2-0 in his last two. Nah, he was always Elway, which means that he was good enough to reach the Super Bowl so many times that his luck pretty much evened out in the end.

One way McNabb improved this year was by not running much -- his rushing yardage dropped to a career low 220 yards, down from 629 yards in 2000. Running QBs are exciting, but they generally take too much of a beating to throw truly well (e.g., Steve McNair, who had rushed for 674 yards in 1997 was down to only 138 last year, when he was the co-MVP with a great passing year.) 


Because passing takes longer to mature in the NFL than running, this means that black quarterbacks, who tend to be much better runners than white quarterbacks, can often get into the starting line-up before they'd ready if they were only passers. For example, Michael Vick is a mediocre passer right now (21st in the NFL), but, because he might be the greatest all-around athlete in the world, he's effective overall because he ran for 902 yards. One interesting question is whether black quarterbacks who start off running a lot before they become good throwers will enjoy as long careers as less adventuresome quarterbacks do. The Falcons recently gave Vick the biggest contract in football, but the risk is that they are hoping he gets a lot better at throwing, and stay good at it over his 10 year contract, because over time, he's going to get a lot worse at running as he ages.





The WSJ Editorial Board endorses the foreign policy of The Clash: 


"The message of Bush's foreign policy: No more Somozas," applauds the Wall Street Journal's lead editorial. Who would have thought that the late Joe Strummer, lyricist of The Clash's bloated 1981 Sandinista! triple album, would be reincarnated, and so quickly, as an editorialist for the WSJ, of all places. (Or as a Bush speechwriter, for that matter?)


Although the WSJ used to be the scourge of Jimmy Carter's betray-our-allies foreign policy that disastrously undermined Somoza in Nicaragua and the Shah in Iran, it has now signed on to Strummer's endorsement of Jimmy Carterism, as enunciated in The Clash's song Washington Bullets, which is, in effect, the title song of Sandinista!:


For the very first time ever,
When they had a revolution in Nicaragua,
There was no interference from America
Human rights in America
Well the people fought the leader,
And up he flew...
With no Washington bullets what else could he do?...



I loved Joe, but I would no more have voted for him than I would have voted for Jimmy Carter. But I guess that means I'm not a real conservative anymore, according to the WSJ




A surprisingly non-rabid article about Francis Galton in The New Yorker.






"And the Winner Is..." -- My movie column in the Feb. 28th American Conservative reviews the Best Picture race. It is available to electronic subscribers. An excerpt:


This year's Oscar nominees for Best Picture comprise one of the weaker slates in memory, yet an enormous audience will no doubt tune in February 27 to watch the Academy Awards.

That the public still cares about the Oscars, or films in general, is curious. Now in its second century, going to the movies is almost as old-fashioned as such one-time rivals for the entertainment dollar as vaudeville and brass band concerts. Yet, although the average American spends over 1,600 hours annually watching television, compared to just 13 hours at the movies, they remain at the top of the pop culture food chain.

Popular music strongly challenged cinema for supremacy in the Sixties and Seventies, but has since splintered into micro-styles. In contrast, movies have gotten so expensive that only a few are released each week, allowing the studios' expert marketers to concentrate (albeit briefly) the national attention.

Despite television's pervasiveness, it lacks the prestige of film because, to be frank, as an advertiser-supported medium, TV aims primarily at women. A back-of-an-envelope calculation suggests that American men transfer about one trillion dollars annually to women to spend, so television networks (subscriber-supported HBO, the most prestigious network, excepted) pursue female viewers.

In contrast, males buy the majority of movie tickets, so films cater to them. And, as feminists have been known to complain, in our society (as in all societies), renown accrues mostly to things guys like. Men just care more than women do about constructing vast hierarchies of fame, such as the Oscars.

Although female studio bosses are common today, the Academy Awards are still extraordinarily male-dominated. For example, women have picked up only three of the approximately 385 nominations for Best Director, and (alert Nancy Hopkins!) none at all for Best Cinematographer.

Female screenwriters have become scarcer over time. Frances Marion was the highest paid writer in Hollywood's first two decades, but among the 86 individuals with three or more screenwriting nominations, only eight are women, and just three are from the liberated post-1970 era.





"The Larry Summers Show" - My long article in the Feb. 28th American Conservative is available this weekend to electronic subscribers. An excerpt:


The first scientific challenge to academia's traditional assumption that men were smarter than women came in 1912 when pioneering IQ test researcher Cyril Burt announced they scored equally -- on average. Yet, as Summers noted, men are more variable, so they are more numerous among the extremely intelligent, such as Harvard professors and Nobel Prize winners (40 of whom have taught at Harvard).

The Nobel Prize lists show a striking pattern: the fuzzier the field, the better women do. Twelve women have won the most political and least intellectually rigorous Nobel Prize, Peace (13 percent of all individual winners), and ten have been Literature laureates (ten percent). In Physiology & Medicine, there have been seven female laureates (four percent). In Chemistry, three (two percent), and in Physics, the most abstract of the Nobels, just two (one percent).

What about mathematics, that most unworldly of subjects? The Fields Medal for mathematicians under age 40 is the equivalent of the Nobel. No women number among its 44 recipients.

But, surely, the trendline must be turning upwards as discrimination lessens?

That's true in Physiology & Medicine, where women won only once before 1977, but six times (nine percent) since. Yet, by aggregating Physics and Chemistry, we can see the opposite pattern: five women ranked among the first 160 Physics and Chemistry laureates, but over the last 40 years, not a single woman features among the latest 160 winners.

Overall, in the bad old days from 1901 through 1964, women won 2.5 percent of the hard science Nobels. Since then, they've declined to 2.3 percent.

Why hasn't the feminist era fostered more female scientific geniuses? Perhaps feminism persuaded the top women that they could have it all -- romance, children, and career -- rather than just the lonely celibacy society once demanded from them, and they spread themselves too thin. Moreover, feminism encourages women to indulge in self-pity and resentment, which distract from earning a Nobel.

My wife asked, "So why hasn't the Nobel Foundation bowed to feminist pressure and started the usual crypto-quotas to make women feel better about themselves?"

"Because they don't have to?" I speculated. "After all, they're the Nobel Foundation."

"Exactly," she shot back. "And Larry Summers is the President of Harvard. So why can't he too stand up to the feminists who want to make it harder for our sons to get a fair shot?




Our man in Baghdad can't even even beat the Communist Party among Iraqi-American voters! The AP reports:


A Shiite coalition endorsed by clerics won most of the absentee ballots cast by Iraqis living abroad, although the main Kurdish party had a strong showing, according to completed results released Friday. The list led by U.S.-backed Prime Minister Ayad Allawi came in a distant third, despite expectations that the former exile leader — who lived for years in Great Britain — would do well among voters abroad.

The United Iraqi Alliance, which has the endorsement of Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, received 95,318 votes, or 36.15 percent of the valid 263,685 absentee ballots. It got a huge boost from Iraqis living in mostly Shiite Iran. [Is that a good sign?]

The main Kurdish coalition came second with 78,062 votes, or 29.6 percent, backed by the large Kurdish communities in Britain, Germany and Sweden in particular.
Allawi's "Iraqi List" took 24,136 votes, or 9.15 percent, doing its strongest in Syria and Jordan. [Hey, I thought Syria was our enemy! So how come our boy does best in Syria?] ...

In the United States, where more than 24,000 Iraqis cast ballots, the Alliance was strongest with over 31 percent, while Allawi's list came in sixth with around four percent — coming not only behind the Kurds but also behind two tiny Assyrian Christian parties and a communist-led party. [That's pathetic.]

More than 265,000 Iraqis turned out to vote in the 14 nations, out of 1.2 million eligible Iraqis abroad. [Not a very good turnout. Presumably, a lot of overseas Sunnis boycotted the election.]



Was the Iraq election a massive defeat for the United States? That lots of Iraqis showed up to vote has been spun endlessly as a huge victory for America, but it's starting to sink in that most of them showed up either to vote against our hand-picked secularist collaborator Allawi or for Muslim fundamentalists, or both. Any of those reasons are a repudiation of America. The New York Times reports:


A second round of preliminary election returns released today by Iraqi authorities showed that 67 percent of the 3.3 million votes counted so far from Sunday's election went to an alliance of Shiite parties dominated by religious groups with strong links to Iran. Only 18 percent went to a group led by Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite who favors strong ties to the United States.


Been down so long it looks like up to me: Generally speaking, getting our butts kicked in an election is considered a defeat, but I guess we've gotten so used to catastrophe in Iraq that losing looks like winning to us by now.





Pinker on Summers-Hopkins in TNR: cognitive science superstar Steven Pinker, who was recruited away from MIT to Harvard shortly after Nancy Hopkins' feminist putsch, writes in the The New Republic (not online; excerpt via American Scene):


What are we to make of the breakdown of standards of intellectual discourse in this affair -- the statistical innumeracy, the confusion of fairness with sameness, the refusal to glance at the scientific literature? It is not a disease of tenured radicals; comparable lapses can be found among the political right (just look at its treatment of evolution). Instead, we may be seeing the operation of a fascinating bit of human psychology.

The psychologist Philip Tetlock has argued that the mentality of taboo--the belief that certain ideas are so dangerous that it is sinful even to think them--is not a quirk of Polynesian culture or religious superstition but is ingrained into our moral sense. In 2000, he reported asking university students their opinions of unpopular but defensible proposals, such as allowing people to buy and sell organs or auctioning adoption licenses to the highest-bidding parents. He found that most of his respondents did not even try to refute the proposals but expressed shock and outrage at having been asked to entertain them. They refused to consider positive arguments for the proposals and sought to cleanse themselves by volunteering for campaigns to oppose them. Sound familiar? 


Back in 2000, John Entine published Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We're Afraid to Talk About, a title that seemed like a clever idea at the time: obviously, American intellectuals aren't in favor of taboos on expression, so this will encourage the book to be widely discussed. Right? Instead, the intellectual community took one look at the title and dropped the book like it had cooties.




Question: Has anybody seen a television ad campaign saying something like "Prejudice is not innate"? If you have, please let me know who is sponsoring it.





"Free to Dance in Iraq" exults Charles Krauthammer over the Iraqi election:


Why weren't Iraqis dancing in the streets on the day Saddam Hussein fell, critics have asked sneeringly... Nearly 22 months later, Iraqis seemed convinced that there would indeed be a new day. And that is when the dancing started -- voters dancing and singing and celebrating, thrusting into the air their ink-stained fingers, symbol of their initiation into democracy.


Well, they better dance while they can, because in Ayatollah Sistani's Iraq they will only be able to hear (according to Sistani.org) "music which is not fit for diversion and play."


Look, Chuck, what the Shi'ites were celebrating was not the process of democracy, but their side's victory. The Bush Administration kept the results covered up for four days so the President could get through his State of the Union address before it dawned on the American public that we had just bought, at the cost of over 12,000 American casualties and counting, the election of a fundamentalist Ayatollah's slate!


I've said it before, but I have to keep it saying it again. Even more than most people, what Muslims want is not so much freedom for all as domination for themselves. Cruel history has taught them that the only way to avoid the bite of the whip is to crack the whip themselves. The Grand Ayatollah is perfectly happy to use an election now to gain power, just as his fellow Shiite ayatollah, Khomeini (remember him?), was happy to hold elections throughout the 1980s next door in Sistani's native Iran, as long as his boys could win the elections, which they did for quite some time.





Fukuyama Responds to Krauthammer: The Israelization of American Foreign Policy. You may recall that prominent neocon Francis "End of History" Fukuyama jumped ship awhile ago and criticized Charles Krauthammer in The National Interest for his lack of realism about the Iraq War. Krauthammer responded, predictably, by playing the anti-Semitism card. Here is part of Fukuyama's rebuttal:


"Krauthammer says I have a "novel way of Judaizing neoconservatism", and that my argument is a more "implicit and subtle" version of things said by Pat Buchanan and Mahathir Mohamad. Since he thinks the latter two are anti-Semites, he is clearly implying that I am one as well. If he really thinks this is so, he should say that openly."


A little late, perhaps, Francis? "First they came for Pat Buchanan, but I was not Pat Buchanan, so I said nothing. Then they came ...". But better late than never. Fukuyama continues:

"What I said in my critique of [Krauthammer's] speech was, of course, quite different. I said that there was a very coherent set of strategic ideas that have come out of Israel's experience dealing with the Arabs and the world community, having to do with threat perception, preemption, the relative balance of carrots and sticks to be used in dealing with the Arabs, the United Nations, and the like. Anyone who has dealt with the Arab-Israeli conflict understands these ideas, and many people (myself included) believe that they were well suited to Israel's actual situation. You do not have to he Jewish to understand or adopt these ideas as your own, which is why people like Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld share them. And it is not so hard to understand how one's experience of Arab-Israeli politics can come to color one's broader view of the world: The 1975 "Zionism is racism" resolution deeply discredited the UN, in the eyes of Jews and non-Jews alike, on issues having nothing to do with the Middle East. This is not about Judaism; it is about ideas. It would be quite disingenuous of Charles Krauthammer to assert that his view of how Israel needs to deal with the Arabs (that is, the testicular route to hearts and minds) has no impact on the way he thinks the United States should deal with them. And it is perfectly legitimate to ask whether this is the best way for the United States to proceed."


Well said. America's foreign policy blunders of the last 30 months have less to do with the fact that so many highly influential people in Washington and New York, like Krauthammer, think about Israel and its welfare all the time, as to the fact that it has become extremely dangerous to one's career to point out that they do. As Gene Expression blogged:


And I'm sorry, but ethnicity will and should legitimately be a topic brought up in the ensuing debate. Consider an analogy. Suppose that Wolfowitz, Perle, Shulsky, Feith, Ledeen, and all the rest were South Asian Americans rather than Jewish Americans and had names like Ramachandran, Patel, and Choudhury. Again they'd be selected from a highly educated group that was less than 2% of society (there are about 2 to 3 million South Asian Americans, about 1/2 to 1/3 the number of American Jews depending on how you count).

Now suppose they were pushing the US to invade Pakistan, and talking about how the Islamic terrorists killing Indian citizens in Kashmir were the same ones bombing the US on 9/11. Assume that they did this whilst having relatives, extended families, and significant contacts in India.

Now, their arguments would not - and should not - be dismissed out of hand. After all, it is probably more accurate to say that Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and the ISI are/were more closely involved in Muslim terrorism in Kashmir than they are with anti-Israeli terrorism in Palestine. (As far as I know, Al Qaeda has never directly attacked Israel.)

But while their arguments would not be dismissed out of hand, clearly their visible ethnicity would figure into the debate. Plenty of people would take their opinions with a grain of salt, knowing that humans tend to be ethnocentric on the population level if not the individual level. It would be scurrilous to dismiss their arguments simply because they were of Indian ancestry, especially if they were born in America. But it would be foolish to think their ethnicity wasn't impacting any of their arguments, and to rule out mention of their ethnicity as "anti-Subcontinental."


What we need, now more than ever, is free discussion. Closed discussion helped get us into Iraq.




Reactions to the State of the Union Address: A reader writes:


While trawling through the reactions to the SOTU, it occurred to me that Bush has made clear his agenda: That he himself replace FDR and FDR's welfare state. That welfare state will be as large or larger and more intrusive than ever, BUT, the rich guys will be in on the take. Thus the Republican party will displace the Democratic party. So, the speech's overt intent is for Republican party elite to displace the old left-liberal elite, a much better deal for rich people, with assorted bribes to the Unwashed Masses to consent to a somewhat worse deal, BUT the covert intent (what the Germans call the schwerpunkt, 'the main thrust of the battle') is actually the elimination of the CONSERVATIVES, that is, the sort of people (actually) in favor of a constitutional republic and smaller government, not to mention American nationalism....

It's all very Weimar Republic.


Larry Auster writes on his website:


Since the theme of Bush’s leadership is supposedly the spread of freedom and democracy abroad, what are we to make of the hallmarks of the pro-Bush politics in this country, coming from both the elites and the non-elites: the cheerleading, the extravagant adoration, the worship of the great leader, the constant thanks to God for the great leader, the admiration for his deep wisdom, his staunch courage, his transcendent ability to weather all storms, the personal expressions of bliss whenever he’s successful, and the unending stream of “conservative” opinion columns telling us over and over how great Bush is doing and how pathetic his opponents are? Does this sound like the way a democratic and republican people talk about their elected leader? Or does it sound instead like a certain 20th century European political movement not associated with democracy at all, but with its rejection?...

Our quasi-religious faith in America as the spreader of freedom around the world grows in proportion as our actual America loses its culture, its morality, its spiritual and historical cohesion, and its will to defend itself, not to mention its real liberties, which are not to be confused with its modern, liberationist liberties. We can’t defend the actual America anymore, because we fear that we’ve already given so much of it away that the attempt to bring it back would make us seem like extremists or cranks. So, needing something to believe in, but no longer having a real country to believe in, we turn what’s left of our country into a mission to achieve universal democracy, and we believe in that instead.

The more we empty our country of its historical meaning, the more hysterical becomes our embrace of Bush’s messianic rhetoric, which is not about America, but about the world. 





Good year for conservative films: Jim Hubbard's American Film Renaissance organization, which puts on the conservative American Film Fest, collected the Top 10 lists of three dozen conservative critics. Here's their Top 5. 2004 wasn't a very good year overall for movies overall, but a respectable one for conservative-leaning films. 


Best Film

1. The Passion of the Christ
2. The Incredibles
3. Team America
4. The Aviator
5. Miracle


I'd add Bright Young Things, Stephen Fry's overlooked but sprightly version of Evelyn Waugh's Vile Bodies. And Hero was magnificent and conservative, although not my kind of conservative. 

Now that I think of it, 2003 was a pretty good year for conservative films, too, with The Return of the King and Master and Commander as the standard-bearers, Open Range a strong old-fashioned cowboy movie, and with the Waugh-influenced Lost in Translation arguably making the list.

Maybe conservative films are the wave of the future? Hollywood certainly needs to do something to get out of its rut.





Surprise! Larry Summers pays reparations: The NYT reports:


Moving to counter widespread criticism of his comments last month on women's science capabilities, the president of Harvard University announced initiatives yesterday to improve the status of women on the faculty, including a commitment to create a senior administrative position to strengthen recruiting.

The president, Lawrence H. Summers, appointed two task forces, one on women in the faculty and one on women in science and engineering, and charged them with developing recommendations on how to recruit, support and promote women more effectively.

The committees are to complete their work by May 1 so the university can act on their recommendations by the fall term.

In an interview, Dr. Summers declined to say how many new women the university might hire as professors in the short term, or how much the initiatives would cost. But in a public statement announcing the measures, he said, "It is time for Harvard to step up and affirm in strong and concrete terms its commitment to the advancement and support of women pursuing academic careers."

Dr. Summers's actions yesterday echoed his handling of the outcry that followed his dispute in 2001 with Cornel West, a prominent member of the African-American studies department. At that time, Dr. Summers publicly affirmed his commitment to affirmative action, and Harvard subsequently created several new positions in that department.


My article on the Summers brouhaha should appear in the February 28th American Conservative. It puts the spat in a much larger perspective than has previously been advanced.



Our $200 Billion Ayatollah: Having expended 1,400 American lives and 200 billion clams to replace Saddam Hussein with the Grand Ayatollah Sistani, I figure it it behooves us to learn more about our new man in Baghdad. So, I turned once again to the indispensable Sistani.Org website, where under his "Biography" I found this paragraph, to pick one largely at random:


"His Scientific Genius :
Ayatullah Sistani is one of a few students who had the degree of Ijtihad. He is known for his intelligence and plentiful researching activities in biographies. He is also well-acquainted with many theories on many scientific subjects of Hawzah. Ayatullah Sistani had been involved in scientific competition with martyr Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr... It is worthy to say that up to that date, Ayatullah Khou'i had never certificated any of his students' knowledge or Ijtihad, except for Ayatullah Sistani and Ayatullah shaykh Ali Falsafi (an eminent `alim in the Hawzah of Mashhad. On the other hand, the famous `Allamah shaykh Agha Buzurg Tehrani wrote a letter to Ayatullah Sistani in 1960 in which he eulogizing him for his intellectual talents on biography and hadith. This means that, our master, Ayatullah Sistani, had been granted his high scientific rank when he was only thirty-one years old." 


Well, I'm feeling better already. Obviously, Sistani comes from a cultural tradition very similar to our own, with an identical conception of science, a culture which we shall no trouble understanding.


Seriously, Sistani is, by all accounts, the most sensible mullah in Iraq, but why are we celebrating our handing Iraq over to a Muslim fundamentalist? I thought this whole War on Terror was intended to weaken Muslim fundamentalists, not give them a few trillion dollars worth of oil reserves to play with. 


Hey, I'm glad we held an election and the Grand Ayatollah won. By Iraqi standards, such as they are, he sounds like George Washington. So, can we leave now?





Who won in Iraq? In answer to my question, a reader sends this picture of Iraqi voters celebrating the presumed winner, and comments:

Answer: The guys who look like the Mullahs in Iran won. And that fact is why the "winners" aren't being shown on American TV. We won't want to give the "American people" the wrong idea, for example, that we wasted hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of lives in Iraq to install in power Mullahs who hate our guts and reject every aspect of America "civilization."

It's too bad all these Mullahs look alike. That makes it difficult to distinguish between the good democratic Mullahs we're handing power to in Iraq from the bad non-democratic Mullahs we're trying to overthrow in Iran.

BTW, the Frumster said on MSNBC that Bush's triumph in Iraq has emboldened him to call out the Iranian Mullahs now that Powell and Armitage (he didn't name Powell but did Armitage & the State Dept) aren't around to control the President of the World.

As far as Medieval Shi'ite Ayatollahs go, Sistani seems like a pretty open-minded guy. For example, his Sistani.org website offers his decrees in handy question and answer form:


Question: My wife has said the phrase “Amin” in her prayer for years. Recently she discovered that saying this invalidates the prayer. Does she have to make up all of these incorrect prayers due to the fact that she said “Amino”?

Answer: No need to make up for offered prayers.


See? He's practically an ACLU member.

Question: Can a Muslim Listen to music?

Answer: It is permissible to listen to music which is not fit for diversion and play.


My favorite kind! I guess Lou Reed's "Metal Machine Music" must be big in Baghdad.


Question: Is playing a chess allowed?

Answer: It is absolutely unlawful.


Question: Is having an orgy permissible under the Qur’an?

Answer: It's forbidden.


But, apparently not quite as unlawful as playing a chess.


Question: Are shaking of hands with girls allowed?

Answer: It is not permissible.


Handshaking can lead to playing a chess, you know.


Question: What is the Islamic viewpoint on adoption?

Answer: There is no objection in adoption, but he/she is Stranger and is not one's real child.


Ah, democracy!



Diamond's Collapse: A reader writes:


I flipped through "Guns Germs and Steel" earlier today and noticed that Diamond (correctly) refers to the Greenland settlement as a "tiny marginal colony." Little could the Iceland-Greenlanders have known that their tiny marginal colony in fact foretold the end of civilization, according to the New and Improved Diamond.

As an side, what is this fetish with deforestation? Diamond bases a book on it, that African woman scored a Nobel Prize for planting trees, and a coupe of weeks ago an (Asian-)Indian-British professor claimed in a letter to the FinancialTimes editor that Western wealth was built on deforestation.

Geez. I have cut down a few trees and planted hundreds more but I have neither a Nobel Prize nor much wealth to show for it. What am I doing wrong?


Many of the most beloved landscapes in the world, Tuscany, the Cotswolds, the Loire Valley, and so forth, are largely deforested. People love trees, but with the exception of specially adapted cultures like the Yanomamo and the Andamanese, they don't much like forests, which most people find dark and depressing. Actually, what humans really like are grasslands at the edge of forests: that's what the typical American golf course provides, and look how much money is spent on them.

On the other hand, this is not to argue that the near total deforestation of, say, Haiti was a good thing. Diamond has an interesting chapter comparing the two halves of the island of Hispaniola: basket case Haiti and mediocre but still viable Dominican Republic. In the DR, the megalomaniacal dictator Trujillo stole most of the forest land, which he then proceeded to exploit cautiously in a rational manner, thus avoiding the tragedy of the commons. (Surprisingly, Diamond even gets around to gingerly mentioning the most obvious difference between the two countries, mentioning that Trujillo encouraged European immigration. Indeed, Trujillo was the only world leader to look forward to admitting large numbers of Jewish refugees, asking for 100,000, although only 645 ever made it, but that wasn't Trujillio's fault.)



Question: Best book on statistics for beginner? A reader writes:


I'm looking for a good book on Statistics that can
take one from the basics to an advanced level while
building intuition.  I was wondering if you had any


I received a couple of quick votes for Larry Gonick's Cartoon Guide to Statistics


And a reader who is much smarter than me sent this list:


For self learning you need to have good books w/ worked examples and answers to even problems (at least) in the back of the book so that you can check yourself. My recommendations are made with this in mind.

I've read all of the following books pretty much cover to cover, so I'm not recommending blind (w/ the exception of Jun Shao which I keep around for reference purposes). With that in mind:

1) If he doesn't know probability, start with Pitman.

He should also know linear algebra to the level of Strang.

2) If he already knows probability, I like Degroot and Schervish.

Supplement with Schaum's if more practice is needed w/ specific problems.

This will get him to intermediate level. At this point he needs to figure out where he wants to go.

A) Computational statistics and data mining:

Duda & Stork 

and *DEFINITELY* Venables and Ripley (which he can go through with R).

Depending on whether he's feeling his oats, he can also go for Hastie and Tibshirani, but it is somewhat opaque at times (though worth going through).

I also strongly recommend going through the various tutorials on the R project site. A lot of that stuff has not been put into book form but is very useful.

B) Stochastic processes, filtering, and time series - I like Papoulis

and then Oksendal:

C) Measure theory and theorem/proof stuff - go w/ Jun Shao. My background in this area is not as strong.


Well, we all have our weaknesses. Personally, I think I'll stick to the Cartoon Guide, myself.





By the way, who won the Iraq election? I know we aren't supposed to worry about such petty details and instead just perpetually glory in the wonderfulness of there simply being an Iraq election, but it's now been about 84 hours since the polls closed over there, and I'm just getting curious about who actually, you know, won.

Nobody else seems very interested in this, however. Everybody apparently assumes that most Iraqis just voted for their ethnic group's party, so the outcome was predetermined. I guess that's democracy for you, but it kind of reminds me of the 1962 election in Rwanda, where the Hutus made up 84% of the population and, funny thing, the Hutu party got 84% of the vote. But look how well democracy worked out in Rwanda, so I guess I shouldn't bother my pretty little head wondering about who actually won.





" A Win-Win Solution to Indian Team Name Disputes" - A reader responds: 


I thought I had read everything you had written but this one surprised me. It was too good to keep hidden away wherever you had it so thanks for bringing it out.

You make the point that American boys are encouraged to act like rappers now and it extends to the rez. The boys there (at least on the reservations near here [in the Pacific Northwest]) have entirely abandon the Indian as their role model. They have adopted the 'thug life' in its entirety. New gangs that form even model themselves on inner-city gangs with the same type of nicknames and graffiti.

I was struck by the stories about 'Dagger' John the priest who saved the Irish of New York. It seems to me that the inner-cities of today could use their own 'Dagger' John. Someone to encourage young men to act like civilized young men while still being masculine. I think that young men in all parts of American society adopt the 'thug life' because mainstream American society is so emasculated.

Part of the reason that the boys in my town make good Marines is because they have not been emasculated by their society. Logging, Hunting and Fishing don't lend themselves to the wimpy values and attitudes of America today. So many boys in our small town become Marines that the other recruiters don't even bother coming out here. I am not sure how much our experience is relevant to the rest of American society though.

What do you think Americans should do as a society to 'remasculinize' our boys without turning them into thugs? I think your suggestion of making the tribal names copywritable and using them and their images for sports teams would help. Even if it is a romanticized image, the image of 'Quannah Parker' or 'Red Cloud' are way more appropriate than 'Tupac' or 'Snoop Dogg'.





The Dirt Gap: As you know, I've pointed out that the famous red state - blue state voting gap correlates closely with the baby gap (the 19 states with the highest white total fertility voted for Bush), the marriage gap (the 25 states with the highest rate of youngish white women being married voted for Bush), and the housing inflation gap (the 26 states with the least growth in home prices from 1980 to 2004 voted for Bush). 


Now, in my article "A Tale of Two States: America's future is either Texas or California," in the Feb. 14th issue of The American Conservative, now available at newsstands, I point out an even more fundamental cause of these three gaps: The Dirt Gap. Briefly, most Red State metropolises are surrounded by almost 360 degrees of dirt, while most Blue State metropolises are partially bordered by water.


This restrained land price growth in Texas reflects a bedrock geographic reality about the metropolises of Texas, and of red states as a whole. Red state cities simply have more land available for suburban and exurban expansion because most of them are inland and thus not hemmed in by water, unlike the typical blue state city, which is on an ocean or a Great Lake.

Let's look at the 50 most populous metropolitan areas in the country. Of the ones in blue states, 73 percent of their population lives in cities, such as New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, where physical growth is restricted by unbridgeable water, compared to only 19 percent of the population of the biggest red state metropolises, such as Dallas, Atlanta, and Phoenix.

The Law of Supply and Demand controls housing prices. The greater supply of available land for suburban expansion in red metropolises keeps house prices down.

Contrast the Dallas-Fort Worth conurbation, the largest in red America, to San Francisco, culturally the bluest spot on the entire map.

Exurban Dallas-Fort Worth can expand outward around 360 degrees of flat, adequately watered land, easily bulldozed into lots and streets. In sharp divergence, San Francisco sits on a peninsula, with the Pacific Ocean to the west, the San Francisco Bay to the east, and mountain ranges to the north and south. This makes for superb scenery, but also for vastly expensive homes within an hour's commute of downtown San Francisco...

San Francisco therefore fills up with two kinds of people who don't need as much space per paycheck -- singles, most famously gays, and immigrants from countries where families don't expect American-style square footage. Neither is likely to vote Republican. The Chinese in San Francisco might have conservative social views, but, as journalist Arthur Hu has perceptively pointed out, they tend to take their voting cues from their native neighbors, who are more often than not quite liberal.

White heterosexual couples who meet in San Francisco know that if they want to marry and have several children, they are likely to have to leave this adult Disneyland of scenic beauty and superb restaurants and move inland, perhaps as far as the hot, smoggy, and dull Central Valley. The ones who do make this sacrifice to have children are more likely to become Republicans, but the ones who stay will likely vote Democratic.


I fear, though, that despite the explanatory power of the Dirt Gap, the concept will not be widely discussed. The problem is that it's too morally neutral. What people want to hear are explanations for why they are morally superior to their enemies.



Suggestion: A reader writes:


Why don't we ink stain people's fingers here on election day?  We have really shoddy electioneering safe-guards over here.  I suspect the Dems engage in significant voter fraud in basket-case areas.  A simple thing like ink stains could go a long way, I suspect. 


It would certainly discourage voting by illegal aliens.






More of my old articles: Readers seem to like my old articles when I dig them up and put them in a presentable format. So, here are a random sample from the first half of 2001. A few might be out of date, but most of my topics are of the more things change, the more they stay the same variety:


Why the French Ignore Darwin
The Science of Being a Nightclub Bouncer
A Win-Win Solution to Indian Team Name Disputes

The Web's True Digital Divide

Russia's Kremlin: Symbol of Survival

Canada's Experience with Bilingualism

Is Bilingualism Needed in the US?

Q&A with Ron Unz, Bilingual Ed's #1 Enemy

Book Review: Lives of the Statisticians: The Lady Tasting Tea

Book Review: History of Drugs: Forces of Habit

Latino Quarterly Probe's Bush's Mexican Millionaire Contacts

Is Linda Chavez Hispanic Enough?





So you want to be a public school teacher? To teach in a California public school, you have to pass the California Basic Educational Skills Test. Somebody showed me a book of CBEST practice tests and while thumbing through the reading comprehension section, I was struck by how incomprehensible the reading samples were. For instance:


There is an importance of learning communication and meaning in language... Communication in the classroom is vital. The teacher should use communication to help students develop the capacity to make their private responses become public responses.



If you are looking for a single sentence that combines the banal, the barbarous, and the unfathomable, it's hard to beat: "There is an importance of learning communication and meaning in language."


The clarity of other passages on the exam could be enhanced by recasting them as, say, dialogue spoken by Shaggy on Scooby-doo. For example, 


In view of the current emphasis on literature-based reading instruction, a greater understanding by teachers of variance in cultural, language, and story components should assist in narrowing the gap between reader and text and improve reading comprehension. Classroom teachers should begin with students' meaning and intentions about stories before moving students to the commonalities of story meaning based on common background and culture. 


makes far more sense when rendered in Shaggy-speak:


You gotta dig where these stories are coming from, man! And you gotta grok where your kids heads are at.


Clearly, the point of the CBEST is to intimidate and/or bore anybody who didn't get a degree in Ed. into not trying to become a public school teacher in order to keep the supply of teachers down and their wages up. But, think of what it does to the souls of the people we entrust our children to that they had to spend their formative college years drenched in this gibberish.





More Malcolm: A reader writes:


I saw Malcolm Gladwell on NY1, the local cable station in NYC. He continued the contradictions you identified, and then went on to make the loopy assertion that criminal defendants, because of racial prejudice, should testify from behind a screen --- or not at all, and respond to questions by email.


Great idea! Malcolm, who never met two contradictory ideas he didn't like, also writes at length in Blink about how people have an innate talent for recognizing whether somebody is telling the truth or not from their facial expressions. How exactly is the jury supposed to exercise their "rapid cognition" ability via email? Hmmhmmhm ... do you think if the racial makeup of defendants was different, Malcolm would be espousing the opposite view?


Look, the reason I hammer Malcolm Gladwell and Jared Diamond so hard is because they aren't invincibly ignorant. They are even a little bit courageous. They are people who like to prance up to the precipice of the truth and then dash away. They've made themselves rich by constructing politically correct rationales for stupider people to believe.





Yuri Slezkine's The Jewish Century is compared to The Origin of Species. Noah Efron, who is a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and teaches history & philosophy of science at Bar-Ilan University, writes in in the Jerusalem Report:


Still, the schematic nature of Slezkine’s analysis is an unavoidable cost of writing on such a capacious scale, and it’s a price well worth paying. The clarity of analysis is extraordinary, and the relatively simple conceptual tools Slezkine provides are unexpectedly powerful. After reading Darwin for the first time*, Thomas Henry Huxley registered shock that so clear and simple an explanation could explain so much, and that it had been overlooked for so long. I could be Slezkine’s Huxley. 

It’s now 22 years since I moved to Israel to remake myself as an apollonian [man of the soil], and I find myself a fat university professor in a room lined with books, waiting for the next issue of the New York Review to arrive. The Soviet Union is gone, of course, and the great-grandchildren of Jewish revolutionaries are mostly trying to make a living in Brooklyn and Bat Yam. We are all mercurians now, but as Slezkine has shown, it may be that my personal failure to remold myself ultimately owes to the Jews’ great success remolding the world we all live in. 


* To be precise, Huxley had read many articles and letters by his friend Darwin, but had never given much credence to Darwin's fragmentary advancement of his theory of natural selection, until Huxley read Darwin's book-length treatment in 1859, at which point he exclaimed, "How stupid of me not to have thought of that."





Race is good enough for government work: Geneticist Neil Risch, who recently moved from Stanford to UC San Francisco medical school, has done a DNA study of 3,636 people from 15 locations in the US and Taiwan.

Checking a box next to a racial/ethnic category gives several pieces of information about people - the continent where their ancestors were born, the possible color of their skin and perhaps something about their risk of different diseases. But a new study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine finds that the checked box also says something about a person's genetic background.

This work comes on the heels of several contradictory studies about the genetic basis of race. Some found that race is a social construct with no genetic basis while others suggested that clear genetic differences exist between people of different races.

What makes the current study, published in the February issue of the American Journal of Human Genetics, more conclusive is its size. The study is by far the largest, consisting of 3,636 people who all identified themselves as either white, African-American, East Asian or Hispanic. Of these, only five individuals had DNA that matched an ethnic group different than the box they checked at the beginning of the study. That's an error rate of 0.14 percent....

Without knowing how the participants had identified themselves, Risch and his team ran the results through a computer program that grouped individuals according to patterns of the 326 [DNA] signposts. This analysis could have resulted in any number of different clusters, but only four clear groups turned up. And in each case the individuals within those clusters all fell within the same self-identified racial group.

"This shows that people's self-identified race/ethnicity is a nearly perfect indicator of their genetic background," Risch said.

When the team further analyzed each of the four clusters, they found two distinct sub-groups within the East Asian genetic cluster. These two groups correlated with people who identified themselves as Chinese and Japanese. None of the other genetic groups could be broken down into smaller sub-sections. This suggests that there isn't enough genetic difference to distinguish between people who have ancestry from northern Europe versus southern Europe, for example. Risch admitted that few people in this study were of recent mixed ancestry, who might not fall into such neat genetic categories.

I've often pointed out the absurdities inherent in the U.S. Government's race and ethnicity guidelines, but I've also admitted that on the whole they tend to be good enough for government work

Risch has been working to show that self-identification into broad categories is good enough for medicine, too. I think it's important, though, that doctors keep a relativistic, nesting model of racial groups in mind. For example, although most white subgroups are fairly similar genetically, they should watch out for where they aren't. 

Consider alcohol. While doctors who believe that one glass of red wine per day helps the heart shouldn't hesitate to recommend it to Italians and Jews, whose ancestors have been drinking wine for thousands of years, they should ask some questions before recommending alcohol to Swedes and Finns, who often have a hard time stopping once they start drinking. Likewise, the Japanese tend to get drunk fast but also don't have much trouble getting up and getting to work the next morning, but their distant cousins the American Indians have terrible problems with alcohol. Although Risch found that Hispanics lump together pretty well, I would guess that they'd be quite variable in relation to drinking, depending upon whether they inherited Iberian or Amerindian genes for processing alcohol.





Gregg Easterbrook has some sensible caveats to offer about Jared Diamond's Collapse.


Personally, I suspect that Diamond worked on his book too long. By the time he got it done, history had moved on and the word "collapse" was less evocative of environmental catastrophe than of what has happened to birthrates among the productive portion of the world's population. Diamond's book will help scare bright and impressionable young people into childlessness, which is turning out to be a much worse problem for civilization than the deforestation that scares Diamond.





Fighting off the common cold: I have a lousy immune system, so I'm vulnerable to catching a cold almost any time I get tired. For example, right now I can feel a sore throat developing, so I'm headed to bed soon. 


I've found that the herb echinacea temporarily boosts my immune system, often eliminating the sore throat for several hours. I've also found that zinc will knock down many a cold that has already started. 


This does not mean these will work for you. But doctors don't seem to understand that immune systems differ. The NYT quotes:


Dr. Eric Larson, an internist at Group Health in Seattle, said, "If anybody actually found a way to prevent a cold, we'd all know about it and we'd all be using it, and there would be no disagreement among doctors."


No, no, no. The whole point of William D. Hamilton's famous Red Queen theory for why there are two sexes, instead of just females cloning themselves, is so there exists a diversity of genomes, most specifically immune systems, so parasites (i.e., germs) can't evolve specialized attacks  Sexual reproduction reshuffles the genetic deck with each new generation so that we put up new defenses against germs. 


So, what works for my immune system (echinacea and zinc) is not likely to work for everybody else's. It's basic evolutionary logic, but doctors don't know anything about evolution. 





Yuri Slezkine's The Jewish Century gets a positive review from The Forward, the former Yiddish newspaper now published in English.


Also, Ami Eden, the national editor of The Forward, published an important op-ed in the NYT called "Playing the Holocaust Card:"


Jewish organizations and advocates of Israel fail to grasp that they are no longer viewed as the voice of the disenfranchised. Rather, they are seen as a global Goliath, close to the seats of power and capable of influencing policies and damaging reputations. As such, their efforts to raise the alarm increasingly appear as bullying.

The most recent example came earlier this month, after Prince Harry of Britain was photographed attending a private masquerade party in a World War II-era German uniform and Nazi armband. His appearance touched off a frenzy in the news media. The prince was called insensitive to Jewish suffering, with some suggesting that he was infected with anti-Jewish bigotry lurking in the genes of the royal family. One protester, Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, called on the prince to make amends by traveling to Poland for the Auschwitz ceremony.

This is exactly the wrong approach. By playing the Holocaust card against Harry, Jewish critics deflected attention from how Harry had insulted the memory of the millions of Britons who suffered during World War II; they also risked squandering a diminishing supply of hard-won moral capital better spent in the fight against terrorism and the rise in Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism...

For more than half a century, Auschwitz has rightly stood at the heart of virtually every moral argument put forth by spokesmen for the Jewish community, a powerful testament to the consequences of otherwise decent people remaining silent in the face of evil. Yet this legacy is in peril, threatened by an increasing reliance on raw political muscle over appeals to conscience.

As the world recalls the horrors and liberation of Auschwitz, Jewish organizations and advocates for Israel should remember that "speaking truth to power" does not work when you are seen as the powerful one.


A brave essay. One thing that could be added is that Jews need to realize that people like Abe Foxman and Morris Dees are not on their sides. They are on the sides of Abe Foxman and Morris Dees, respectively. They make a very nice living scaring the bejeebers out of elderly affluent Jews with nightmare stories about how the New Cossacks are ready to ride, and then extracting big donations.




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