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February 2002

Women's Olympic figure skating is kind of strange: it's as if all the girls in the kingdom who want to be the Princess and live happily ever after with the Prince not only have to try on Cinderella's glass slippers, but then they have to dance in them down a freshly waxed marble staircase without falling on their keisters.


A sports-talk show was debating this morning, "If you like watching women's skating, does that mean you're secretly gay?" One thing I've noticed about myself is that I often intensely enjoy watching feminine-effeminate pastimes like figure skating and Broadway musicals, but I don't spend all that much time thinking about them in-between seeing them. In contrast, I seldom enjoy golf while I'm playing it - my handicap is my swing - but in between rounds I've spent a truly massively useless amount of my life thinking about golf, especially golf course architecture. In fact, when I was changing careers in 2000, I intentionally didn't play for an entire year because when I do play, especially on a fine course, I can't stop thinking about golf for days or weeks afterwards.

This mental gap works in the opposite direction as well. Of all the art forms, golf course architecture is one of the biggest - as measured in objective terms such as dollars spent on it or acres covered by it (more than Delaware and Rhode Island combined). Yet, the rest of the art world pays zero attention to it, probably because it appeals almost solely to the kind of heterosexual guys who don't care much about other kinds of art. If you are interested in seeing how hardcore golf course connoisseurs think, check out the discussions at GolfClubAtlas, where you can read, for example, a 70 message thread about the aesthetic failure of the new fairway bunker on Riviera's 7th hole. The aficionados on the discussion group may seem way over the top, but that's how art forms progress - they require not just people who love good art, but also people who deeply hate bad art and want to stamp it out of existence.


Did you notice
how Women's Ice Hockey, which set off such a frenzy of feminist patriotic chauvinism in 1998, was an utter dud in 2002? NBC broadcast just the last 6 minutes of the gold medal hockey game Thursday night (Canada beat the U.S. 3-2), while giving saturation coverage to the ladies' figure skating final, which is so popular because it serves, in effect, to crown the World's Top Princess (just as women's gymnastics in the Summer Olympics crowns the World's Top Pixie) . The collapse of interest in the U.S. Women's Hockey team continues a trend of faddish interest in women's teams fizzling in their return performances. In the 1996 Olympics, the U.S. Women's Softball and Basketball teams were the subject of vast hoopla, but in 2000 few fans were interested in them anymore. If this trend continues, the next Women's World Cup in soccer will be a massive let-down. Essentially, I see little evidence of long term interest in women's team sports except among lesbian fans and the kind of guy sports nuts who will watch anything on ESPN2.


Dragonfly
, starring Kevin Costner, is the perfect ghost story for people (e.g., me) who don't like ghost stories because they are too scary. Click here for my review.


Race and the Winter Olympics:
Since I've written so much over the years about racial patterns in winners of Summer Olympics medals, a reader asked me several weeks ago if I had anything to say about race in the Winter Olympics. I replied that the role where African Americans have the greatest natural advantage is "brakeman," the primary pusher of the bobsled. It's a job that requires that rare combination of sprinting speed and strength that blacks of West African descent tend to have more of than anybody else. Congratulations to Vonetta Flowers, who just became the first black Winter Olympics gold medallist ... as a bobsled brakewoman.

Despite all the gee-whiz commentary, there's nothing surprising about a sprinter/long jumper switching to bobsled - the Soviets did that all the time with their 100m men who were just below Olympic caliber. NFL players Herschel Walker and Willie Gault have competed in the bobsled, but the in-bred, soap-operaish family of American bobsledders didn't much appreciate rich black superstars parachuting into their penurious sport and hogging their quadrennial moment in the spotlight.


Who's having the best war
among the punditariat? My nominee is Stanley Kurtz of the Hudson Institute for bringing a crucial anthropological perspective. Here he explains why Middle Eastern societies are so hard to reform - no matter who the government is, society consists of interlocking extended family networks. In an earlier column, he noted that extended families in the Middle East are so powerful because they are so inbred - an astonishing 1/3rd of marriages are between first cousins! Does anybody have Kurtz's email address?


Yes, I know lots of you couldn't care less about figure skating, but from a human biodiversity perspective figure skating is hugely instructive because it is that rare sport (assuming it is a sport) that appeals more to women than to men and to gay men than to straight men. It is the exception that proves a lot of rules.

The Figure Skating Powers That Be have announced that they are going to try to make their sport's judging more objective by giving credit for each move on a degree of difficulty scale. There's only one problem with this. Figure skating, as we know it, is essentially about being a princess, not a jock. The more they make it more of a sport like gymnastics and less of an art form, the less feminine it will become and thus the less feminine its champions will be. The danger is not so much that skating will crown as winners more burly women like Tonya Harding, who are strong jumpers, but then so was Charles Barkley. No, the risk is that skating will be overrun by more pre-pubescent girls like Tara "The Human Drill Bit" Lipinksi, the 15 year old who took the gold in 1998 with her high-RPM jumps.

The physical difference between a little girl and a woman is basically body fat. Women have higher body fat percentages than girls (more body fat is bad in just about any sport not involving massive heat loss like English Channel swimming or Iditarod dogsled mushing). And their weight is distributed farther from their vertical axis (i.e., they have T&A). Recall how skaters spin faster at the ends of their routines when they pull their arms in. It's basic physics. The same applies with T&A. A womanly beauty like Katarina Witt could never attain the RPM necessary to jump like the stick insect-like Lipinski.

Gymnastics has been overrun by pre-pubescents for years (e.g., 14 year old Nadia Comaneci in 1976). That's why they had to set a minimum age of 16 for Olympics "women's" gymnastics. Unfortunately, that just means girls try to delay puberty with dieting, exercise, and drugs, with God-knows-what long term health effects.

Ultimately, womanly grace is awfully hard to quantify, but we sure know it when we see it. It would be sad to penalize that in the name of making skating judging more objective.


I hope I'm not surprising anybody by stating that obviously a lot of male figure skaters, especially in men's singles, are gay. Here's a lesbian activist's list of publicly out skaters. (Obviously, it's missing a lot of theoretically still-closeted stars). The interesting thing is the dog that doesn't bark - the complete lack of out lesbian skaters. The same is true for gymnastics. In ballet, J. Michael Bailey of Northwestern, the leading demographer of homosexuality, found that more than 50% of male dancers (what my later mother-in-law called "ballerinos") are gay, but he was hard-pressed to find a single lesbian.

The simplest explanation is the best: figure skating and ballet (and, to a lesser extent, gymnastics) are highly feminine pastimes, and thus appeal most to feminine (i.e., heterosexual) women and effeminate (i.e., homosexual) men. In general, despite the politicized assumption that gays and lesbians are alike, they are actually radically dissimilar on a host of dimensions. Here's my classic 1994 article "Why Lesbians Aren't Gay," with its notorious table of three dozen traits upon which they tend to differ markedly.


Judging Skating: An irony of the figure skating pairs controversy is that one of the flagrantly biased NBC announcers, Scott Hamilton, was the beneficiary of one of the most rigged decisions in skating history. Coming into the 1984 Games, Scott had been World Champion three years in a row. Everyone knew that if he won the gold, the personable (and heterosexual!) American would be a great ambassador for the sport. So, even though at Sarajevo Hamilton was sick and skated a weak final program, blowing off two triple jumps, he still was handed the gold.

Similarly, Sale and Pelletier, the supposedly martyred Canadian pairs skaters, were only in gold medal contention because the judges decided to not penalize justly their catastrophic double fall at the climax of their short program.

I sort of sympathize with this "cumulative" approach to judging, which tries to lessen the general problem with the Winter Games, which is that it's damn slippery out there. Thus, too many events turn on almost-random mistakes rather than on talent. The skating judges try to smooth out the results by voting for the competitors who have shown themselves the best over the years. Of course, on the other hand, that lends skating its aura of bogusness.


Today's questions: sex, race, and golf - Does anybody out there have an explanation for a demographic phenomenon that has long puzzled me? A couple of times per week, I walk by the Studio City Golf Course's driving range. The ratio of white men to white women beating balls is about 10 to 1. Yet, for Asians, the ratio is only about 3 men for every 1 woman. Among blacks, in contrast, the M/F ratio is something like 100 to 1. (Lots of black guys take up golf, but seldom until they are 25 or older, so you never see them on the PGA Tour. But I've only seen about 4 black women golfers in my life!) I notice the same black>white>Asian M/F ratio everywhere else in golf, too.  Any explanations?

Also, are there any black caddies left on the PGA Tour? Why are almost all caddies white these days?

Finally, why are there more blacks on the Senior PGA Tour (e.g., Jim Thorpe, Jim Dent, and Walter Morgan) than on the PGA Tour (1/4th of Tiger)?


Denzel Washington in "John Q" - HillaryCare agitprop meets Disease-of-the-Week TV movie meets action thriller Guy Movie. But is it good? My review here.


Jonah Goldberg continues his streak of raising interesting topics but not being able to figure out much that's interesting to say about them. Now, he's denouncing the Westminster Dog Show for ... eugenics! "Repugnant thinking thatís died out for humans is thriving at the Westminster Kennel Club... I think Westminster is racist."

Take a deep breath, Jonah, and try to remember that dogs wouldn't exist at all if prehistoric humans didn't eugenically manipulate wolves in order to create a new race of canids that wouldn't eat the baby. Further, the wonderful working dog breeds that Jonah salutes exist because of eugenics. For example, Newfoundlands were bred to possess a genetic-based urge to save drowning people. Ah, the unmitigated horrors of eugenics!

The big problem with dog breeding today is that it's insufficiently eugenic. The kennel clubs have calcified. They are only interested in preserving the aesthetics of existing breeds, not creating new breeds with new functions as the politically incorrect 19th Century breeders did. It's easy to dream up new, improved races of dogs that would meet real needs. For example, my family can't own a dog because my youngest son is allergic to them. It's time for a massive program to create a new breed of dog that won't give asthma attacks to dog-loving kids . Or, there are some individual dogs that can fairly reliably sniff out cancer in people. They're better at it than my former doctor, who blithely let me reach the final stage of Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma undiagnosed. Let's create from them a breed of cancer-sniffing dogs

Judging Skaters and movie Directors: How could those Russian pairs skaters beat the Canadian couple? How could Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge earn a Best Picture Oscar nomination, but old Baz be denied a Best Director nomination? How come the Olympic judges hate Elvis Stojko, the skater with the most masculine charisma ever? I answer these burning questions here.


Salt Lake City Olympics "Bribery" Scandal - Well before the scandal broke, I was doing research for a possible TV sitcom script about  the International Olympics Committee. It was common knowledge even then - at least among anybody who cared to look - that IOC members were shaking down potential host cities for bribes.

The economic reason is simple: the Olympics don't pay the athletes anything and they have no real competition. Thus, they can make huge profits (the LA Olympics reaped over $300 million way back in 1984). Not surprisingly, IOC members, who get to decide which city will get the Games, use their power to horn in and claim a share of the loot for their own accounts. So, if you want to eliminate corruption in the site selection process, the solution is simple: pay the athletes. That will lower the profits to be made from hosting an Olympics, which will make potential host cities less willing to share the (reduced) wealth with IOC extortionists.


St. Valentine's Day is coming, so of course the press is full of hype about that quasi-play-that-never-goes-away The Vagina Monologues. The author has been pushing for years to make St. Valentine's Day synonymous with "Vagina Day," on the highly logical grounds that they both begin with V (if you leave out the "St." part). Uh, folks in the media, has it ever occurred to you that St. Valentine's Day is a very big deal to elementary school children?

Also, since when did the vagina become the feminist private part of choice? Aren't feminists supposed to instruct men to pay more attention to the clitoris? Exactly why is it crucial to increase society's vagina-awareness? There's a billboard on Ventura Blvd. near me with "Vagina Monologues" in letters 25' tall. Is this completely necessary? Are America's white male patriarchs insufficiently vagina-conscious? Don't Larry Flynt and his colleagues do their best to raise vagina-interest?


Enormous Surprise: Arnold Schwarzenegger's movie about a fireman hunting down the terrorist who murdered his family is the #1 movie in the country! Who coulda thunk that the public would want to see such a thing? Well, for several months Hollywood didn't, for reasons that I dissected recently.

The critics have almost universally slammed Arnold's Collateral Damage, but for wildly contradictory reasons: It's outdated! It's too current! It's typical Arnold! It's not typical Arnold! It's too pro-American! It's too anti-American! It's a dessert topping! It's a floor wax! (Reviews are collected at RottenTomatoes.com.) Did anybody actually watch the movie before they decided what they were going to write? (I did - here's my review.)

The truth is that as an action movie, Collateral Damage won't make anybody forget Terminator 2. Still, despite staying within the bang-bang-boom-boom confines of the genre (a genre I, like many people, enjoy), it's the smartest, most even-handed Hollywood portrait of the Colombian nightmare since Clear and Present Danger. (Here's the review of a leftist critic who actually sort of gets it.) In fact, it's probably too thoughtful to make big bucks.

This demonstration that contemporary film critics are bigoted ignoramuses regarding the real world makes the news of the death of my role model, Richard Grenier, particularly saddening. In his legendary reviews in Commentary, Grenier demonstrated that movies were worthy topics for his vastly learned and skeptical intelligence. (Click here for his monumental demolition job on Gandhi.)

Everybody's got to have a label these days: neocon, paleocon, whatever. But I'm not sure that mine is working out. A few years ago in National Review, John O'Sullivan described Charles Murray and myself as the first "evolutionary conservatives" - i.e., conservatives who actually know something about the science of human nature. "Cool," I thought. Still, this "evolcon" label has not proven a good career move for Chas and me. That's "evolcon," not "evilcon," dammit!

Feminist Patriotic Chauvinism - Ah, the Winter Olympics bring back memories of one of the funnier American fads of the last decade: the periodic whoop-tee-doos where we all swell up with national pride over an American women's team winning gold in some sport that practically no other county's women bother to play. Do you recall the vast outpouring of corporate image ads celebrating our Women's Ice Hockey Team's gold medal in the last Winter Olympics? Of course, there were only five other teams in the field, and three of them would have been slaughtered by a Boys 7 and Under Pee-Wee squad from Medicine Hat.

Or, think back to the ecstasy over the first Women's World Cup of soccer. We'd beaten the world! When it was pointed out that the rest of the world didn't much care about women's soccer, well, that just made us even prouder of how progressive our society is, compared to those notoriously oppressed women of Paris, Milan, and London, who haven't been taught to turn in their high heels for soccer spikes!

After each spasm of interest, the poor women athletes come home and set up a domestic pro league, which rapidly loses 99% of the public's interest, because, basically, the best women aren't anywhere near as good at sports as the best men, so what's the point in watching them unless they are kicking some foreigners' un-American butts?

But there's so much quick cash to be made from these frenzies of feminist patriotic chauvinism that you can expect to see them continually pop up in the future. I'm looking forward to the Women's Super Bowl, where our female football players will triumph over the evil women of Iceland 77-3 in the Finals. And there shall be great rejoicing upon the land.


My Review of Schwarzenegger's smart and geopolitically sober Collateral Damage.


I don't want
to pick on Jonah Goldberg - he's an insightful and often funny guy - but in his string of attacks on post-modernists, he keeps missing the most amusing ironies. Here, he dumps on a Harvard professor with the wonderful Arabian Nights name of Homi Bhabha. Homi Bhabha (I just love saying that name) is a hot "post-colonial theorist" who has an even more muddled prose style than is normal for the breed. What Jonah doesn't realize is that Homi Bhabha is a fellow conservative. (Read this NYT article carefully.

This fabulously rich Parsi from Bombay writes in such a tortured prose style to cover up his commonsensical dissent from the Edward Said-orthodoxy of his field. Unlike Said, who denounces Europeans who write about Arabs to cover up how embarrassed he is by his fellow Arabs, as a Parsi, Homhi Bhabha simply doesn't feel like purely a victim of colonialism. His remarkably intelligent race of Zoroastrians (they are to South Asia what Hungarian Jews were to pre-Holocaust Europe) did very well for themselves under the British as industrialists, although British racial snobbery was no doubt galling. In fact, a Parsi was elected to Parliament as a Tory M.P. from the English Home Counties in the 1890s! To Homi Bhabha, it's obvious that colonialism wasn't all bad, and that Said's model of the world is stupid. But he's too smart and too careerist to come out and say it clearly.

Queen Elizabeth's 50th Anniversary: The only time I ever sawn the Queen was in 1983. I had just arrived in San Francisco on business, and the TV news was trumpeting that President Reagan was going to have dinner with Queen Elizabeth at a Golden Gate Park museum. So, I grabbed a taxi and issued the Mother Goose-like command, "Take me to see the Queen!"

"Any queen in particular?" asked the cabbie. "This town's loaded with 'em."

I eventually landed on a street corner full of Irish protestors holding signs denouncing British rule in Northern Ireland. After a long wait, the biggest motorcade in the history of world rolled by, and there at the back was Elizabeth II, giving her famous little wave to all of us on the corner. I turned around to watch the furious Irish protestors, only to see them leaping up and down in joyous excitement, waving back with tears of adulation in their eyes. When she was gone, the embarrassed Fenians skulked off.

By the way, a lot of hyper-intellectual bilge has been written in the years since the Queen's 25th anniversary "explaining" the Sex Pistol's great single "God Save the Queen." The real reason Johnny Rotten (a.k.a., John Lydon) hated the Queen with such memorable passion was simple: he's an Irishman.


Jonah Goldberg in NRO defends the old European "Orientalist" scholars of Middle Eastern culture against the Palestinian-American literary critic Edward Said's celebrated attack on them as racists. But Jonah misses three key points.

First, as is so common among multiculturalists, Said prefers to write about Europeans who wrote about Arabs, rather than writing about Arabs themselves, because Said is bored and embarrassed by his own people.

Second, many of these European scholars were not only not biased against Arabia, they were in fact "desperately in love with the Arab Muslim world," according to the great economic historian David Landes (click here for my review of his last book.) The British archaeologist turned Arab guerilla leader Lawrence of Arabia is only the most famous "sand-smitten" example.

Third, more than a few Orientalists were not only in love with Arabia, they were in love with individual Arab boys or men. Arab culture's tendency toward bisexuality made it particularly attractive to gay Englishmen. When asked why he had fought for Arab independence, Lawrence replied, ""Personal: I liked a particular Arab, and I thought that freedom for the race would be an acceptable present." This particular Arab was apparently Dahoum, a teenage waterboy. In The Source, James Michener suggested that British rulers in Palestine tended to emotionally bond with the Arabs because they both shared a taste for Brideshead Revisited-style male-male "romantic friendships." In contrast, the highly heterosexual Jews and Americans found each other on the same wavelength.


New Frontiers in Multicultural Sensitivity: My 7th grader's Spanish teacher just announced that she does not want her students to develop correct accents because "some people think that would be making fun of my people." Man, I would have ruled if she had been my Spanish teacher, because I always sounded like W.C. Fields trying to speak Spanish. Unfortunately, my high school Spanish teacher, Mr. De Soto, had reactionary ideas about how the language of Cervantes and Borges should be pronounced. After I'd recite, he'd groan and call me "Super Gringo."

Is Human Evolution Finally Over? asks the British Observer. Of course not. Some genes are always being selected for and some against. For example, Palestinians are having three times as many children as Israeli Jews. Thus, the gene frequencies in the Holy Land are evolving at a dramatic rate, with massive real world consequences.

Of course, the rate of current gene change pales in comparison to what will be happening not far in the future when genetic technologies mature. (Already, there are children alive today whose embryos were scientifically selected for being genetically superior to their sibling embryos.) This will have massive political and social impact.

Francis Fukuyama's next book Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution will try to predict these consequences. Unfortunately, I fear Fukuyama will ignore the single best tool for estimating the impact of future differences in gene frequencies: looking at the impact of current genetic differences between individuals and groups. He's always played it safe (in career terms) by ignoring race, even to the point of silliness in his last book, which was about crime and illegitimacy!

To see how understanding genetic differences today sheds crucial light on the genetically engineered tomorrow, read my Thatcher Lecture and my "The Future of Human Nature."  2/3/02


Superbowl Special!
Are football players dumb? Actually, they are fairly smart. The NFL requires draft prospects to take the Wonderlic IQ test. Offensive guards averaged 107, centers and punters 106, quarterbacks and kickers 104. The speed positions averaged lower: halfbacks, free safeties, cornerbacks, and wide receivers averaged from 91 to 94. Still, at both the white positions and the black positions, prospects scored about a half standard deviation higher than the respective white and black national means.

Of course, IQ tests do a lousy job of measuring improvisational mental ability, which football players, especially the black ones, are particularly good at. (See my classic article "Great Black Hopes" for the full story.)

The Patriots are the underdogs, but they'd be favored if it was a debate tournament. Starting QB Tom Brady scored 126 (that's about what George W. Bush would score, judging from his 1206 SAT score), while backup QB Drew Bledsoe beat that with a 134 (Al Gore's IQ).  2/02/02


The essential problem with the European Union: It's not democratic, and it can't be - because Europeans don't speak a common language. Until they do, power will be in the hands of multilingual bureaucrats in Brussels, not of the people.


Why Canada admits so many immigrants: It's not to fill up Canada's vast empty spaces, since a large majority of the newcomers crowd into Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. No, immigration and multiculturalism are the passive-aggressive revenge by English Canada and the bilingual elite on the monoculturalists of French Canada. Since few immigrants want to learn a declining language like French, the immigrant vote is all that keeps Quebec in Canada. Wouldn't it be simpler just to expel the French?


Irresistible upcoming book: Richard Lynn's IQ and the Wealth of Nations lists average IQ scores for dozens of countries

C'mon, you know you want to to read its tables! For instance, those snotty French who think they are so smart? How do they really score? Or, if you've been wondering why so many people in so many Arab countries believe in so much dumb stuff, Lynn's book offers the most direct explanation: generally speaking, they ain't rocket scientists. Not surprisingly, the Northeast Asian tigers lead the world in average national IQ. (Lynn's mediocre score for Israel seems open to question.)

For the correlation between national IQ and per capita GDP, Lynn reports the kind of high number that social scientists normally only dream about finding. If all you know about a country is its average IQ and whether it has a free market economy, you can predict its income level with a surprising degree of accuracy. Of course, this doesn't solve the chicken or egg question. Are they rich because they are smart or smart because they are rich? From what I've seen so far out of the book, it looks to me like both are true.

Culture also plays a role. Lynn lists underachievers with high IQs and low incomes (e.g., perennial screw-up Argentina) and overachievers (e.g., Barbados, with its veddy, veddy English cricket-centric culture that makes it the best-run black country in the world.).


Black History Month: Okay, I know your attention is wandering already. And, no doubt, having Black History Month immediately follow Martin Luther King day is overkill. Still, the topic can be fascinating, especially in the hands of someone with an independent perspective, such as, well, me. Here's my take on one of more delightful figures in American literature, Zora Neale Hurston.  2/1/02


My review of Nicole Kidman's Birthday Girl.

 

January 2002

By the way, did I ever mention that way back in Dec. of 1992 I accurately predicted that Bill Clinton's Presidency would one day be threatened by a sexual harassment charge made by an Arkansas state employee (who turned out to be Paula Jones) and dredged up by an investigative reporter (which turned out to be David Brock of The American Spectator). Here's the remarkably prophetic article I wrote (but no one would publish) before Clinton was even sworn in.  1/30/02


Faithful iSteve.com reader Nikki, who says she looks "like a Latin Dorothy Dandridge meets Jessica Rabbit type," writes to point out that while, as I theorized below, young blonde women may indeed have a Darwinian advantage in catching men's eyes, their edge fades:

While my [blonde] girlfriends admittedly wield what would seem to average looking girls of any race an enviable disproportion of sexual power in their teens and twenties, these Blonde beauties, especially the sun-goddesses, start looking a tad bit, well peaked, you know, past the sell-by date, once they hit their mid-thirties - unless they happen to be blessed with strong cheekbones and facial structure. Otherwise, Father Time does his cruel linear dance with crows' feet across Mother Nature's fair maiden's countenance, and watching that happen is heart-breaking without the aid of the Botox Wizard. It's like observing a nouveau riche tycoon devolving into a shopping-cart pushing crack head, not a sight for the faint of heart. Unless said fair maiden is married to a plastic surgeon like the fortunate Victoria Principal. I guess it all evens out in the end! YAY! 


Punditgate? - Andrew Sullivan and his raging hormones have been on the warpath against NYT op-ed columnist Paul Krugman, who took $50k from Enron a few years ago for some light advice. Now, Krugman's not exactly beloved by many people besides his mom. Still, it's been hard for Sullivan to articulate exactly what he objects to. Here's his latest attempt: "The point is at some point in the future any big corporation could be a scandal." Yet, Sullivan himself is running today on his website an ad for Amazon, which, when last I checked, was a big corporation.

No, Sullivan has the issue backwards. The problem with pundits getting in bed with big corporations is less that the corporation will scandalize the pundit, but more that - to avoid scandalizing his corporate benefactor - the pundit will censor his own writings. Big businesses don't like controversy, especially over diversity and multiculturalism. If I was hoping to endear myself to corporate image-makers, I wouldn't write 80% of the stuff I do. How many other opinionizers can say that?  1/28/02


More Enron: Having noted yesterday how business insiders never kill themselves anymore over being "ruined" (largely because, unlike in the past, they aren't really ruined - they always escape poverty) comes word today that former Enron Vice Chairman J. Clifford Baxter has shot himself in the head. Still, like the Enron scandal in general, that's an exception that proves the rule.

No doubt, prison sentences are in order for several Enron bigshots, but the truth is that criminal trials aren't an adequate deterrent for corporate malfeasance in general. The standard of guilt - beyond a reasonable doubt - is high and the complexity of the cases often makes reaching that level of certainty beyond juries' capabilities. You'll note that Enron is a huge once-a-decade story in elite circles, but it's making most of the public's eyes glaze over

No, civil trials and regulatory proceedings are more appropriate for deterring routine bad behavior. The problem is that the penalties are seldom severe enough. Executives generally escape scandalous bankruptcies with their lifestyles merely cut down from filthy rich to highly affluent. Consider a parallel case: O.J. Simpson's daily life after losing a gigantic civil suit. He didn't have to get a job at Burger King. He merely went from playing golf daily at ritzy Riviera to playing golf daily at the public courses like Knollwood at which I occasionally treat myself to a round.  1/25/02

My review of "The Count of Monte Cristo"


Enron: In finance, reward is proportional to risk. So, corporate insiders have an incentive to take big risks. If they succeed, they are vastly rich. If they fail, the current stockholders are wiped out. The insiders, however, typically have previously sold enough stock to manage to shield millions of personal assets from corporate creditors, so they walk away merely rich. So, why not take huge risks? In J.P. Morgan's time, in contrast, bankruptcy meant "ruin:" i.e., poverty. That's why they jumped out windows back then. Corporate bankruptees never kill themselves anymore because they still have highly comfortable lives ahead of them. The solution is to make top corporate officers more personally responsible for paying off corporate collapses.

"The Problem with Polygamy" - Here's my fun little article on the logical blindspot in every article I've ever read about polygamy. See if you can spot the common fallacy displayed in this Onion-like but genuine quote from the BBC: "Sudan's President Omar Hassan al Bashir has urged Sudanese men to take more than one wife in order to double the country's population of 30 million ... 'We should achieve this aim by having many wives,' Bashir said."  1/22/02


One of my longstanding complaints is that bioethics are too important to leave to the bioethicists. It's an insular profession where insiders who have never written anything of interest outside bioethics are treated as if they were Marcus Aurelius, Confucius, and Einstein rolled into one. The only two bioethicists whose names anyone on the outside can remember are Peter Singer and Leon Kass, and they got that way for their sophomoric extremism. Pete, you know that old saying Dog is Man's best friend? Well, you are supposed to stay just friends. And Leon, civilization won't collapse if people eat ice cream cones while walking down the street.

With that in mind, Bush's new  nominees for his Council on Bioethics seem much stronger than I expected. James Q. Wilson, for example, has a long track record of making successful predictions (e.g., to reduce crime: put more crooks in jail for longer terms and fix broken windows). Francis Fukuyama, Charles Krauthammer, and Stephen Carter are also smart guys that you might have heard of.  1/22/02


Enjoying MLK day off? What, you don't get the day off? And you don't care because the dead of winter is a worthless time for a three day weekend?

Since most whites don't mind working on Martin Luther King Day, the holiday has just ended up worsening racial divisions. Chris Rock says, "You gotta be pretty racist to not want a day off work!"

Fortunately, I have a solution. Move the holiday from King's birthday to the date of his most memorable accomplishment, his "I Have a Dream" speech on Aug. 28, 1963. All Americans would then unite to demand a three day weekend the week before Labor Day. Racial harmony would prevail across the land.  1/20/02


More MLK: You may have thought that King's "Dream" speech was about allowing black American citizens to share fully in the benefits of American citizenship. But Roger Clegg, of Linda Chavez's Center for Equal Opportunity, sets you straight in National Review Online. It was really about "liberal immigration policies." Thanks, Rog, I can feel the scales falling from my eyes already.  1/20/02


"Factually Correct?" "I think the artistic expression of diversity would supersede any concern over factual correctness," said a black NYC fireman in defense of depicting as minorities two of the three firemen in that 9-11 statue that will be based on a picture of three white firemen. Jonah Goldberg of NRO works up a good head of steam denouncing the poor man for saying "factual correctness." Jonah seems to assume that works of art inspired by reality were always 100% "factually correct" until insidious postmodernists like Stanley Fish corrupted everybody.

Look, Jonah, Iet me let you in on a secret: George Washington didn't really chop down the cherry tree. As Nabokov used to say, art is artifice. It's artificial. People who make art are called artists, not naturists or factists. Artists have been fudging the facts forever to affirm various values. You can argue about which values art should express, but please don't get up on your high horse about postmodernists inventing factual incorrectness in the arts.

What's actually interesting about the statue controversy is that around 95% of the NYFD is white. NYC firemen are largely a hereditary caste for white Catholics. The few blacks who get in can expect lots of on-the-job harassment intended to keep the NYFD that way. Hereditary castes are supposed to justify their existence by living up to the ideals of noblesse oblige - they live better than others because they are not afraid to die to defend the others. That bargain is seldom fulfilled in real life. Yet, the NYFD has not only satisfied the demands of noblesse oblige, but vastly exceeded them. 1/20/02/


Headscratcher of the Week: "A black man and a white man from Manhattan, for example, are likely to be more genetically similar than a black man from Manhattan and a black man from Nigeria." - Radley Balko, Cato Institute, "Biologically Speaking, Race Doesn't Exist," FoxNews.com.

Well, sure, if the average "black" guy is more than half white. But most African-Americans are not (1/6th white on average might be the best estimate), so the statement is obviously silly. How do writers and editors get simple family tree stuff like this so wrong?

Yeah, I know, everybody has heard about how "There is more genetic diversity in one African village than in yadda yadda." But that only applies to junk genes, not the genes that actually do anything. The West Africans dragged to the U.S. as slaves were actually biologically fairly homogenous. They were the descendents of the "Bantu expansion" that emerged out of the Nigeria-Cameroon border region a few millennia ago and ethnically cleansed most of Africa of Bushmen and other truly genetically diverse peoples. Dean of population geneticists L.L. Cavalli-Sforza says, "Ö differences between most sub-Saharan Africans other than Khoisan [Bushmen] and Pygmies seem rather small."  1/20/02


More from Balko's "Race Doesn't Exist:" "Possibly only six genes determine the color of a personís skin ... Six genes, out of the 30,000 to 40,000 genes that make us human, determine race."

Inspired by this widespread notion that the only biological difference between blacks and whites is skin color, an 11-year-old boy asked a conservative talk show host this question: How come everybody is so worked up over plans to change one of the bronze figures in the 9-11 Firemen's Statue from a white man to a black man? Won't all the statues be bronze-colored, so nobody could tell the difference in race?

The radio host was completely stumped by the question!. White people sure can be morons about race - they just condescendingly assume that blacks are whites with black skins. They never look at blacks carefully enough to notice the myriad other differences.  1/20/02


Black Hawk Down - Click here for my review.

revolt of the range rover republicans - Why do homeowners so often favor the Democrats' conservationism over the GOP's anti-environmental brand of conservatism? Why are conservative intellectuals clueless that attacking ecological protection scares off what should be the GOP's natural constituency: the propertied classes? Click here for the answers.  1/15/02


Back in December, I noted that gay pundit Andrew Sullivan was tsk-tsking over the fact that the Taliban and the U.S. military both had what he called a "weird and fastidious" policy against military men sexually violating young males under their command. For those with strong stomachs, click here for the details from the Times of London on this charming Pathan custom that is now coming back out of the closet.

The larger point is that the reason the Pathans welcomed the Taliban in 1996 is because they knew they have a royally screwed-up culture - one largely dedicated to not just pederasty, but also blood feuds, brigandage, smuggling, and tax evasion. They wanted to change. That's the good news. The bad news is that the best idea they could come up with for fixing their culture was religious totalitarianism. Does anybody have any suggestions for how the Pathans can change for the better? Email me at SteveSlr@aol.com

The most optimistic analogy I've dreamed up for the Pathans is the Scottish Highlanders, who also lived in Bronze Age clans devoted to raiding and feuding up through 1745. Then, however, they followed Bonnie Prince Charlie on his almost-successful invasion of England. Outraged by this 9/11-like provocation, the English subsequently used overwhelming force to modernize the Highlands. A century later, Celtic Highlanders like Thomas Babington Macaulay were at the forefront of British civilization.  1/14/02


The critically acclaimed art-house film Monster's Ball has a wonderfully self-parodying premise: Racist prison guard Billy Bob Thornton learns to appreciate black people by sleeping with Halle Berry! Unfortunately, "Monster's Ball" is not a comedy. The movie - complete with its suggestion that the cure for ethnic animosity is hands-on racial sensitivity training from Hollywood's most exquisite starlet - is supposed to be taken seriously. Very seriously. Click here for my review.  1/10/2002
Monster's Ball has a wonderfully self-parodying premise: Racist prison guard Billy Bob Thornton learns to appreciate black people by sleeping with Halle Berry! Unfortunately, "Monster's Ball" is not a comedy. The movie - complete with its suggestion that the cure for ethnic animosity is hands-on racial sensitivity training from Hollywood's most exquisite starlet - is supposed to be taken seriously. Very seriously. Click here for my review.  1/10/2002

Argentina and The End of History - Francis Fukuyama famously observed at the end of the Cold War that - at the highest levels of ideology - there was nothing to argue over anymore: capitalism and democracy were obviously better than any alternatives. From now on, history would get ever duller because everybody knew that capitalist democracy was the solution.

Of course, history hasn't exactly ended yet. What's becoming clear is that there was a fatal flaw in Fukuyama's model. He forgot to ask: "What if large parts of the world are simply not competent enough to make capitalist democracy work?" Consider Argentina, a nation blessed by nature at least abundantly as Canada. A nation so trendy in social values that plastic surgery is more common in Buenos Aires than in Los Angeles. A nation where, after decades of bad choices, the political elite had for the last decade been the world's truest believers in neoliberal economics. Yet, Argentina has once again has collapsed into economic and political chaos. 1-9-2002


A Not-So-Beautiful Mind - As an apparent frontrunner for the Best Picture Oscar, A Beautiful Mind demands more scrutiny than critics have so far given it. Ultimately, it reveals less about the delusions of mathematician John F. Nash than it does about the delusions of the modern hack screenwriter. Read the rest of my review here. 1/3/2002


Happy New Year (for some people) - I've long pointed out how we lucky members of the right (i.e., upper) half of America's IQ bell curve use our cleverness to exploit the left half. One grotesque example is the college expense tax break called the "529 Plan." It gives huge tax savings to people whose kids are going to college, but offers nothing to people who are trying to save in order to establish their kids in a trade. (By the way, conscience be damned, I just plunked a bundle of money in 529's for my kids, and I advise you to do the same.) - I've long pointed out how we lucky members of the right (i.e., upper) half of America's IQ bell curve use our cleverness to exploit the left half. One grotesque example is the college expense tax break called the "529 Plan." It gives huge tax savings to people whose kids are going to college, but offers nothing to people who are trying to save in order to establish their kids in a trade. (By the way, conscience be damned, I just plunked a bundle of money in 529's for my kids, and I advise you to do the same.)

Here in California, you can shelter up to $229,000 in a 529 account. You don't have to pay federal taxes on your earnings while they accumulate, and, starting today and running until at least 2010, you don't even have to pay taxes on earnings when you withdraw them to pay for college expenses for your child. Oh, you say your kid isn't the college-type, but you are saving money to buy him an 18-wheeler to drive when he gets out of the Marines, and you'd like to use a 529 plan? Sorry, but too bad. If you want the tax break, you should have had a smarter kid. Click here for an FAQ giving the unbelievable details.  1/1/02.