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February 2004

 

Tooting my own horn -- 13 months ago I predicted that The Two Towers would be stiffed at the 2003 Academy Awards ceremony but that The Return of the King would be the big winner at the 2004 Oscar wingding. 

 

It's interesting to speculate on which film would have been Best Picture without LOTR in the race. Since Master and Commander won the two technical awards for which LOTR wasn't nominated, that may well have finished second, since Academy members tend to respect the technical specialties without particularly understanding them, so they generally give lots of minor awards to whichever film they voted for Best Picture on the not unreasonable theory that its technicians must have helped make it best. Or, the screenwriting Oscar for Lost In Translation might suggest it was #2. Or Mystic River's two acting Oscars might have carried it to BP. Seabiscuit almost certainly finished a deserved last in the five film BP race. (I would have voted in that order: LOTR, M&C, Lost, Mystic, and Biscuit, with Big Fish #3 or 4 if it had been nominated.)

 

Once again, the Academy showed its disdain for comedy actors. Thus, Tim Robbins, a near-great comic actor (check him out in the Coen Bros.' Hudsucker Proxy or as Nuke Laloosh in Bull Durham) gets an Oscar for the no-laughs Mystic River. It's hard to remember, but Sean Penn was once a hilarious character actor -- such as surfer dude Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High -- or a fascinating character lead -- such as the sniveling drug dealer in The Falcon and the Snowman. In recent years, though, he acts less and emotes more. Thus, this year, his portrayals of a gangster in Mystic River and of a mathematician in 21 Grams were almost interchangeable. Mobster, math professor, whatever, they're all just chances for Sean to scrunch up his forehead and emit raw emotion. Now, he's remarkably powerful at that, but he could do more with his talent.

 

As I wrote in my review, "Mystic River" provides Penn with perhaps the Sean Penniest role of his career. Always the fiercest of Method actors, here, as the tormented father, he achieves the intensity of a rabid ferret. Still, Penn's not suited to play the tragic hero, who, since the time of Sophocles and Aristotle, has been a larger than life figure of flawed greatness. We find his demise cathartic because he has so far to fall. Penn, on the other hand, is a small, wrinkly rodent of a man."

 

In contrast, Johnny Depp is a lot more adventurous. He gets a rare shot at a starring role in a summer flick with a blockbuster budget and tries a bizarre characterization. I didn't find it wholly successful, but judging by this otherwise undistinguished film's colossal box office, everybody else in the world did, so why not give him the Oscar?

***

 

Here's my review of Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean:

 

Nobody ever accused Johnny Depp of looking every inch a king. He's famous for his high cheekbones, although that's just another way of saying he has a delicate little jaw. He doesn't look like a classic Hollywood leading man. Instead, he has the gaunt, somewhat androgynous face of a Rolling Stone. In fact, Depp moved to Hollywood originally to try for a recording contract, and he long played guitar in rock bands. In this era when most every actor in Hollywood pumps iron and thinks about scoring a prescription for testosterone and human growth hormone, the slightly-built Depp moved to France, where he doesn't appear to lift anything heavier than cigarettes.

 

In "Pirates," with eyeliner and scarves that Steven Tyler of Aerosmith would envy, Depp portrays the foppish Captain Jack Sparrow, the feyest buccaneer to ever sashay the plank. But, Cap'n Jack's not gay. (Not that there's anything wrong with that!) He's just an early 70s rock star in a time warp, the kind of intentionally effeminate heterosexual superstar who, like Depp, winds up married to a model.

 

Depp's conception of pirates as the glam rockers of their day isn't too historically outlandish. Pirate captains often either came from or aspired to the lace-cuffed Cavalier gentry. Aristocrats put on airs of delicate refinement that modern democratic American males would find downright dubious.

 

Amusing as Depp is (and he might be very funny indeed if you could comprehend more than half of what he gurgles), his performance lacks the charisma of Keith Richards or Mick Jagger in their primes. This is a Disney movie, so there's little sense of the 70s rocker's lust and menace. Depp is as harmlessly genial, polite, and befuddled as Mike Myers spoofing, with velvet smoking jacket and martini glass, the Stones' elderly guitarist-duffer Ronnie Wood.

***

 

Tories to defend fraudulent immigrants: The Western world's most incompetent political party, the British Conservatives, have announced that now, just as their traditional skepticism about fake asylum seekers has become the hottest trend in European politics, they will abandon their historic principles and join up with the reeling forces of the far left. The Observer reports

 

The Tories will tomorrow rise to the defence of rejected asylum-seekers in a startling new attempt to rebrand the party as anti-racist and tolerant of immigration. They will line up with Labour rebels, civil-liberties groups and refugee charities in opposing government plans to scrap asylum-seekers' legal right of appeal, sparking furious charges of hypocrisy from Labour aides.

 

Shadow frontbencher Dominic Grieve insisted the plan was 'fundamentally wrong' and the Tories would vote against it when the Government's Asylum Bill comes before the Commons tomorrow: 'We are sympathetic to the Government's concerns that the system of appeals has been massively abused by a small number of unscrupulous lawyers spinning out proceedings. But we consider it fundamentally wrong to oust the jurisdiction of the higher courts.

 

The move will be seen as the latest stage in Tory leader Michael Howard's careful attempts to reposition his party on immigration, which began with a controversial speech in Burnley denouncing the BNP as bigots and telling the story of how his grandmother had died in a Nazi death camp. He went on to strip backbencher Ann Winterton of the party whip for telling an offensive joke about the dead Chinese cockle-pickers.

***

 

New VDARE.com column at left on Tuesday's primary...

***

 

What did Jesus look like? -- Physical anthropology blogger Dienekes offers a strong post responding to a NY Times article that showed an artist's mock-up of what Jesus would have looked like based on averaging three random Jewish skulls from roughly the right time and a place. The artist's rendition in the NYT comes out looking like a nephew of Yassir Arafat. 

 

Obviously, this forensic anthropology work is interesting for whatever light it might shine on that perennial hot potato -- Who are the Palestinians? Jews like to think of the Palestinians as Arabs descended from The Prophet's invaders of the 7th Century A.D, which would mean that their "claim to the land" postdates that of the of Jews, since Joshua conquered it back around the 12th Century B.C. Palestinians, themselves, call themselves "Felastin," which means Philistines, suggesting they were on the land back in Old Testament times. Some disinterested observers harbor the sneaking suspicion, however, that the Palestinians are in significant part descended from the Jews, and might even be closer to the Biblical Jews on average than are modern Jews, a possibility that would peeve both Zionists and anti-Zionists.

 

Two comments. First, I don't know what the genetic evidence says. Cavalli-Sforza prudently skipped the entire question in his 1994 summary of population genetics. Second, who cares? Well, obviously, lots of people care, but I for one have a hard time seeing how ancient history is terribly relevant to the moral worth of the contending parties in today's Holy Land.

 

Back to Jesus ... The New York Times claims that Jesus couldn't have been as good looking as actor Jim Caviezel because ... well, because, the average guy back then wasn't as good looking as a Hollywood movie star. Leaving aside the point the journeyman actor Caviezel is not fabulous looking by leading man standards, it's obviously unwarranted to assume that Jesus, a man of world-shaking personal charisma, was average looking. Look at contemporary self-help guru Tony Robbins. He's about 6'-8" and has the jaw of a comic book superhero. At age 33, Jesse Jackson was a tremendously handsome man.

 

What the NYT article doesn't address well is that there is a very strong tradition in art about what Jesus looked like. He's not portrayed as a generic good-looking guy, but as distinctive in an idiosyncratic way. He always is shown with a long face, but not long because he has a honking big chin like John Kerry. Nor does he always have a high, intellectual forehead. Instead, the middle of his face from his mouth to his eyes is elongated, with a nose that takes up a lot of real estate vertically. (Caviezel has that long nose).

 

Dienekes unearths the following:

 

"John Damascene, a Church father described Jesus thus in the 7th c. AD: 'He was graceful, as his appearance is described by the ancient historians, with joined eyebrows, beautiful eyes, a long nose, curly hair, somewhat stooping, ..., having a black beard, wheat-colored like his mother: long-fingered ...'"

 

This mentions of the "long nose" is striking. In general, this one quote suggests that the traditional representation was seen over 1300 years ago not as representing some symbolic theory of what Jesus ought to have looked like, but instead as the best evidence available of what he had looked like. The notion that some accounts of what a dynamic public figure who preached to thousands would have looked like might have survived does not seem utterly implausible. But I certainly don't claim to be an expert on the subject, so I'd be fascinated to hear what the alternative theories are.

***

 

The Passion's Friday B.O. -- Apparently, word of mouth is reasonably strong because it made $23.2 million in its third day. To put that in perspective, the second place film, Adam Sandler's 50 Crazy Nights, earned $4.0. The general rule of thumb is that you can multiply the opening Friday's haul by 9 to get a very crude estimate of total domestic box office, which would put it out around $200 million. That seems overoptimistic to me because The Passion is such an uncompromising film, an exemplification of the auteur theory. Nonetheless, the film's success reflects a stunning repudiation of much of Hollywood's conventional wisdom, not least, the pernicious assumption that you should not release serious movies in the late winter, only commercial drek.

***

 

Opening Friday in Limited Release - From my review in the March 15 issue of The American Conservative

 

The German hit "Good Bye, Lenin!" is a well-made sentimental farce with a strikingly unsexy theme -- a young man's concern for his ailing mother -- but it's more interesting as a social phenomenon. In Germany, it's the all time German-made box office champ, a distinction achieved by being both the beneficiary and promoter of the "Ostalgia" fad: nostalgia for the late and, one would have hoped, unlamented puppet state of East Germany.

 

Besides all the usual spying and lying, the unique accomplishment of East German Communism was turning Prussians into shoddy craftsmen. Even fifteen years later, Easterners remain significantly less productive than Westerners.

 

Yet, life in the German consumer paradise is now so boring that trendy young people from the posh Rhineland rent dilapidated two-cylinder Trabants to putter around East Berlin, admiring the Stalinist architectural monstrosities and stopping at recently opened boutiques that carry only the crud manufactured under the old regime.

 

The rest of the review will not be online. You can buy TAC at most newsstands (it's well distributed) or subscribe here.

***

 

Boffo box office for The Passion continues -- Thursday, it raked in an estimated $14.8 million, bringing its two-day midweek total to $41.3 million, with its first weekend yet to come. (It has yet to debut in most foreign markets.) Gibson spent $30 million to make it and $15 million to promote it, both figures being not much more than half the budgets for the average studio movie. Gibson seems likely to walk away with, oh, say, a $75 million personal profit (warning -- top of the head guesstimate), just domestically. Add in international profits (which are often 150% of the domestic), and Gibson's profit might rival Jim Cameron's on Titanic or George Lucas' on The Phantom Menace as the biggest haul ever garnered by a single auteur.

 

The point of all this inside baseball is that Hollywood is not the do-anything-for-a-profit machine as it is often depicted. There's much the studios won't do, even though the profit opportunities are obvious -- make pro-Christian or anti-Communist or anti-illegal immigration films, to pick some obvious examples.

***

 

The Passion of the Christ makes an estimated $26.6 million in a single day at the box office, which is off all the charts for a Wednesday in February for an R-rated subtitled film. It's the third biggest Wednesday opening ever for any kind of picture, beating even Matrix Revolutions and The Two Towers. Do you get the impression that Hollywood has been leaving cash in potential customers' pockets due to its conformist distaste for many popular topics?

 

I haven't seen it. Mel Gibson's fascination with bloody suffering isn't to my taste (I thought it hurt We Were Soldiers), but Christianity is a big tent that can accommodate artists of many different psychological types. Gibson's preoccupations with the torment of crucifixion are in fact part of a major theme in the history of the art of Western Civilization, going back to Grunewald's Isenheim Altarpiece up thorugh Caravaggio and his 17th Century Spanish follower Ribera, Rubens, and all the way to Salvador Dali's best picture. (Here's a linked list of over 100 major crucifixion paintings of the last 1500 years.)

***

 

Speaking of Harvard's Prof. Samuel P. Huntington, author of "The Clash of Civilizations" and "Who Are We," he is a member of one of the most distinguished and best studied families in American history. About 90% of all Huntingtons in America trace back to a Puritan family that arrived in 1633. Strikingly, the branches of the family that produced the highest proportion of eminent men had the lowest fertility and the least distinguished branches had the highest fertility, which is one reason why Puritan descendents no longer dominate the ranks of eminence in America. (Nathaniel Weyl's books are a treasure house of statistical lore on American names.)

 

The low fertility of the old New England/New York elite was a favorite topic of my late friend Jim Chapin, a historian and left wing activist, who came from another distinguished family. His grandfather Kenneth Burke was a famous literary critic, his father Jim Chapin a legendary jazz drummer, and his brother Harry Chapin a popular folk singer ("Taxi" and "Cats in the Cradle".) Jim's Puritan grandmother was a leading suffragette and early feminist who didn't have time for much sensual indulgence. Her husband, Jim's grandfather, always told him that the greatest accomplishment of his life was getting a single baby out of her.

***

 

How The Passion plays on Rodeo Dr. -- Sitting in a screening room in Beverly Hills tonight, waiting for the upcoming Jim Carrey-Charlie Kaufman movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to start, I overheard the following conversation about Mel Gibson's movie.

 

Man -- "It really doesn't work as a movie. I mean, if you don't know who the characters are, you can't figure out what's going on. And why is he washing people's feet?

 

Woman -- "It's like Gibson expects you to know the story already."

 

Man -- "And it's so historically inaccurate. The men didn't have long hair back then."

 

Woman -- "Now, what I really like is The Da Vinci Code. It's about how Mary Magdalene was really his wife and Leonardo Da Vinci put coded messages about it in his paintings."

 

Man -- "My mother and sister really liked that. My favorite was The Passover Plot back in the 70s. See, in that book, the whole thing is really just a hoax to make the prophecies look like they came true."

***

 

Questions -- Formerly, I tried to pare down the amount of text on this page so that it would load over a 56k modem in about 35 seconds. Lately, I've left old stuff on longer, which should be more convenient for occasional and first time visitors, and the load times have gotten up over 50 seconds. (It's currently at 48 seconds.) My question -- do load times matter to anybody? Do you want More & Slow or Less & Fast?

***

 

More Bad Math Over Hispanic Voters: Donald Lambro writes in the Washington Times --

 

"The memo, a copy of which I obtained from a Democratic Party official, indicated Hispanics ... made up about 6 percent of the electorate in the 2000 election, but this year it will be about 9 percent... The president, however, doesn't need to increase his margin among Hispanics that much to crush the Democrats in November. According to the memo, "The Republicans are not aiming to get the majority of the Hispanic vote, they don't need it - they only need 5 or 6 more percentage points to win... The memo, presented by Maria Cardona, vice president at the New Democrat Network and the party's leading expert in Hispanic outreach..."

 

This is a lot of hooey. Political journalists should try to remember to check on a pocket calculator the scenarios that the political consultants feed them. Maria Cardona obviously has a vested interest in trying to make Hispanic voters look more important than they really are.

 

First, the Hispanic vote will not be 9% in 2004. In 2000, the Hispanic vote was 5.4% in the Census survey and 6.5% in the VNS exit poll. It's been growing about 0.6% per four year cycle.

 

If Bush picks up an extra "5 or 6" percentage points of the Hispanic vote, that will add 0.3 to 0.4 extra percentage points to his total, which is insignificant. If in pursuit of this sliver of the vote (through his unpopular immigration plan, for example), he alienates even 0.5% of the >90% of the electorate that is not Hispanic, Bush will be a net loser.

 

It's simple arithmetic.

***

 

Any statistical analyses of steroid doping? A prestigious magazine is going to do a big article on how most of the notable improvements in sports performance recently have probably come from performance enhancing drugs. They are going to use my 1997 article "Track and Battlefield" and my exhaustive background studies on running performance, especially the downloadable Word version, which can be found here. But, all my data is a half dozen years old. Has anybody done a big study more recently?

***

 

Underperforming David Brooks is back with another pallid NYT column, this time tsk-tsking over the magisterial Samuel Huntington's new book on the problems caused by mass immigration, "Who Are We" (which will be excerpted in the new issue of John O'Sullivan's National Interest). Brooks' less than stunning conclusion to his essay reads:

 

"Huntington is right that Mexican-Americans lag at school. But that's in part because we've failed them. Our integration machinery is broken."

 

Perhaps the integration machinery is broken, Dave, because it's overwhelmed by the sheer size of the Mexican-American immigrant community? Numbers count, Dave. 

 

"But if we close our borders to new immigration, you can kiss goodbye the new energy, new tastes and new strivers who want to lunge into the future."

 

I read this a lot, especially from people who don't live in California. But is it true? In Silicon Valley, where strivers lunge into the future more than anywhere else in America, Mexican participation above the assembly-line worker level is negligible. What about "new tastes?" In the movie and music industries of Hollywood, Mexican influence is barely visible. (This is not to say that Hispanic artistry is not influencing America, but Florida, where Latin America's rich flock, is the main conduit, while California, where Latin America's poor go, is largely a cultural dead end.) 

 

Think of it like this: if Mexico didn't exist, if the only thing south of San Diego was ocean, how different would be the output of Silicon Valley and Hollywood? One percent different? Less?

***

 

Something I'm noticing more and more is that pro-illegal immigration New York neocons like Brooks and Tamar Jacoby don't know anything about Mexicans. Growing up in NYC, Mexico was completely off their cultural radar. Nor do they really care anything about Mexicans either. What they actually care about, intensely, is refighting with WASPs like Huntington an 80-year-old battle over Ellis Island immigration. To the New York neocons, Mexicans are interesting only as abstract placeholders in the ever-crucial battle to prove that the WASPs shouldn't have cut back on immigration in 1924. To moderate the level of immigration today would be to symbolically betray their great aunts who came in at Ellis Island.

 

Can't we, instead, just declare that bygones are bygones and start focusing on the present and the future? 

***

 

New VDARE.com column at left...

***

 

Richard Dawkins: The New York Review of Books runs an excellent essay by biologist H. Allen Orr on Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene. Orr calls Dawkins "perhaps the best popularizer of science working." He goes on to say, "the selfish gene view has been exceptionally fertile, providing unexpected insight into everything from the organization of insect societies to the spread of "junk" DNA that has no function. Indeed selfish gene thinking is now orthodox in evolutionary biology and, among many evolutionists, represents a near reflex. It is certainly true that Dawkins's early rhetoric was sometimes extreme. But it is more true that selfish gene thinking has delivered a number of important insights. The same cannot be said for hierarchical selection, as [Stephen Jay] Gould himself lamented in his final major publication, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. Indeed while many of us suspect that higher-level selection occurs, the evidence for it is, so far, frustratingly weak."

 

But Orr also makes some judicious criticisms of Dawkins' work such as his popular theory of "memes:" "Dawkins argued that cultural entities like ideas, tunes, and fashions behave in a way that's analogous to genes: some of these entities, which he called "memes," spread through a culture faster than others. Certain advertising jingles, for instance, are (annoyingly) catchy and spread among people at a remarkably fast rate... This jingle is therefore a fit meme: it is good at propagating among minds and so can be thought of as increasing in frequency in a population of brains by a kind of cultural natural selection.." 

 

Clearly, this is more analogous to viral epidemiology than to evolution, but Orr makes another important critique: "unlike the selfish gene view, the selfish meme view hasn't led anywhere. Where are the puzzling phenomena that have been explained by memes? Dawkins provides no examples and I suspect there aren't any. The truth is that the meme idea, though a quarter-century old, has inspired next to no serious research and has failed to establish a place for itself in mainstream cognitive science, psychology, or sociology. Though laymen often have the impression that scientific ideas die in decisive experiments, far more often they die because they didn't suggest many experiments."

 

Further, Orr is skeptical of Dawkins' hatred of religion: "The popular impression of long warfare between Church and science—in which an ignorant institution fought to keep a fledgling science from escaping the Dark Ages—is nonsense, little more than Victorian propaganda. The truth, which emerged only from the last century of scholarship, is almost entirely unknown among scientists: the medieval Church was a leading patron of science; most theologians studied "natural philosophy"; and the medieval curriculum was perhaps the most scientific in Western history. There were of course some skirmishes between Church and science (the Condemnations of 1270 and 1277, the Galileo affair) and the Church made a number of stupid decisions, but it's not entirely clear that these were more egregious than those made by secular institutions (e.g., Lysenko's suppression of Mendelian genetics)."

***

 

New and Improved, with the magic ingredient: proofreading! --

Needed Role Model: O.J. Simpson? -- Discover Magazine runs an interesting article (not online) on the big improvement that Western statisticians finally realized they had to plug into their models to explain why HIV spreads so much faster in sub-Saharan Africa -- "multiple concurrent relationships." Originally, American computer whizzes assumed that the sexual behavior of Africans resembled to one degree or another various American models -- monogamy, serial monogamy, promiscuity, mistress-keeping, prostitution, etc. But they missed the key difference between Africa and much of the non-tropical world: a large proportion of both the men and women of Africa are involved in simultaneous long term relationships with two or more members of the opposite sex.

 

The author of the Discover article fails to pick up on the cause, but it leaps out from her interviews with African men: the lower level of male jealousy in Africa. The men the journalist interviewed drinking beer in a Botswana bar one morning all claim to have more than one long-term girlfriend. There's nothing surprising in this. What is very surprising for Westerners, though, is the complacency with which they assume that their multiple girlfriends probably have multiple boyfriends, as well. Feminists should be delighted by their enlightened commitment to sexual equality, their assumption that what's sauce for the gander is sauce for the goose, too.

 

An anthropologist friend of mine living with an African tribe went off on a multi-day trip with some of the men of the tribe. They were supposed to be back, say, Wednesday morning but on Tuesday evening they were making such good time that he suggested they drive onward and get home late that night. His hosts were dismayed at this ungentlemanly suggestion. A good husband, they explained, never unexpectedly showed up late at night. It could create the most embarrassing scenes with his wife and her lover.

 

In contrast, O.J. Simpson assumed it was perfectly reasonable for him to have many women, but the notion that his ex-wife was fooling around with a younger version of himself, USC Heisman Trophy winning running back Marcus Allen, drove him nuts -- a much more American than African response. 

 

Evolutionary psychologists explain why men are more sexually jealous and women are more romantically jealous (i.e., a man more hates the idea of his wife sleeping with another man, while a woman more hates the idea of her husband caring for another woman) by reference to the old rhyme:

 

Mother's baby

Father's maybe

 

In other words, a man has to police his wife's sexual fidelity in order to not get saddled working like a dog for 18 years to support another's man's child. But what happens in the large swathes of the world where the husband doesn't expect to slave away to support his wife's children, legitimate or not? Evolutionary psychologists aren't very good at thinking about diversity. They simply assume that humanity is so homogenous that they can understand the whole human race by giving questionnaires to their UC Santa Barbara students.

 

Indeed, African men are more likely to insist than to object to their women going out into the workplace. By one estimate, women do not just 50% of the work, but 80% of the work in sub-Saharan Africa. 

 

And that seems to be the key to explaining the AIDS epidemic in Africa: on average, African men aren't jealous enough to do what it takes to keep their women faithful. Why not? Because they are less likely than men in the rest of the world to support their women's children, so getting handed cuckoo's egg kids by adulterous wives is less skin off their noses than it would be for men in cultures where husbands are expected to make higher degrees of paternal investment in their nominal kids.

 

Thus, you see in African cultures tendencies both toward hyper-polygamy and matrilineal/matrilocal family structures. Outside of the tropics, you have to be the Emperor of China or the equivalent to be able to afford a huge number of wives. But, in systems of tropical agriculture where most of the work is gardening (e.g., weeding), which women, with their nimble fingers, can do better than men, you sometimes see handsome men with 100 or more wives. Of course, he can't afford to keep them locked up in harems, so he puts them to work in the fields, where they can produce enough to support themselves and their children. Now, the 99 local bachelors who are left over are going to spend a lot of effort to lure the polygamist's wives out of the fields and into the bushes, so, many of the children born to the local Big Man's wives are not going to be his genetic offspring. But their mother's can support them, so it's no big deal to him. 

 

Likewise, it's much more common for tropical folks like Africans and Melanesians than elsewhereto have social structures where there is so little certainty of paternity that the mother's brother plays a major role as the adult male in the lives of the mother's children. After all, he knows for sure that he's at least the half-uncle of his sister's kids, while her husband might have no genetic relationship to them. These sometimes are "matrilocal" families where the brother lives with his sister and her children, while her husband and other lovers may live with their sisters. 

 

Another time, the anthropologist was once about to go off on a dangerous trip into lion country. The tribespeople were very worried about him, and asked what to do with his possessions in case he gotten eaten. He said, "Just send them to my wife." They were shocked at this immoral reply: "Don't you want us to send them to your family?" (i.e., to his sisters) they asked in disbelief.

 

(Of course, polygamy and matrilocalism are somewhat contradictory in practice. A man with 100 wives who lived in 100 different villages would be as exhausted as the traveling salesman in a 1920s joke. So, there is a wide vary of African family structures. But, the overall bell curves of kinship systems in Africa are significantly shifted in directions implied by the relatively higher ability of African women to fend for themselves and their children without males as providers.

 

This lack of male jealousy makes Africans particularly susceptible to the spread of venereal diseases like AIDS.

 

By this analysis, O.J. Simpson would represent assimilation toward the non-tropical norm of high male jealously.

***

 

Needed Role Model: O.J. Simpson -- Discover Magazine runs an interesting article (not online) on the big change that Western statisticians finally realized they had to plug into their models to explain why HIV spread so much faster in sub-Saharan Africa -- concurrent relationships. Originally, American computer whizzes assumed that the sexual behavior of Africans resembled to one degree or another various American models -- monogamy, serial monogamy, promiscuity, mistress-keeping, prostitution, etc. But they missed the key difference: a large proportion of both the men and women of Africa are involved in simultaneous long term relationships with two or more members of the opposite sex.

 

The underlying cause of this is something that the author of the article fails to pick up on, but it leaps out from the interviews with African men: the lower level of male jealousy in Africa. The men the journalist interviewed drinking beer in a Botswana bar one morning all claim to have more than one long-term girlfriend. There's nothing surprising in this. What is very surprising for Westerners, though, is the complacency with which they assumed that their multiple girlfriends have multiple boyfriends, as well. Feminists should be delighted by their enlightened commitment to sexual equality, their assumption that what's sauce for the gander is sauce for the goose, too.

 

In contrast, O.J. Simpson assumed it was perfectly reasonable for him to have many women, but the notion that his ex-wife was fooling around with a younger USC Heisman Trophy winner (Marcus Allen) drove him nuts -- a very non-African response. 

 

Indeed, African men seldom object to women going out into the workplace. By one estimate, women do not just 50% of the work but 80% of the work in sub-Saharan Africa. And that seems to be the key to explaining the AIDS epidemic in Africa: on average, African men aren't jealous enough to do what it takes to keep their women faithful. Why not? Because they are less likely than men in the rest of the world to support their women's children, so getting handed cuckoo's egg kids by adulterous wives is less skin off their noses than it would be for men in cultures where husbands are expected to make higher degrees of paternal investment in their nominal kids.

 

Thus, you see in African cultures tendencies both toward hyper-polygamy and matrilineal/matrilocal family structures. Outside of the tropics, you have to be the Emperor of China or the equivalent to be able to afford a huge number of wives. But, in systems of tropical agriculture where most of the work is weeding, which women, with their nimble fingers, can do better than men, you sometimes see handsome men with 100 or more wives. Of course, he can't afford to keep them locked up in harems, so he puts them to work in the fields, where they can produce enough to support themselves and their children. Now, the 99 local bachelors who are left over are going to spend a lot of effort to lure the polygamist's wives out of the fields and into the bushes, so, many of the children born to the local Big Man's wives are not going to be his genetic offspring, but their mother's can support them, so it's no big deal to him. 

 

Likewise, it's much more common for tropical folks like Africans and Melanesians to have social structures where there is so little certainty of paternity that the mother's brother plays a major role as the adult male in the lives of the mother's children. After all, he knows for sure that he's at least the half-uncle of his sister's kids, while her husband might have no genetic relationship to them. These sometimes are "matrilocal" families where the brother lives with his sister and her children, while her husband and other lovers may live with their sisters. An anthropologist friend of mine living with an African tribe was once about to go off on a dangerous trip into lion country. The tribespeople were very worried about him, and asked what to do with his possessions in case he gotten eaten. He said, "Just send them to my wife." They were shocked at this immoral reply: "Don't you want us to send them to your family?" (i.e., to his sisters) they asked in disbelief.

 

(Of course, polygamy and matrilocalism are somewhat contradictory in practice. A man with 100 wives who lived in 100 different villages would be as exhausted as the traveling salesman in a 1920s joke. So, there is a wide vary of AFrican family structures. But, , but the overall bell curves of kinship systems in Africa are significantly shifted in directions implied by the relatively higher ability of women to fend for themselves without males as providers.)

 

This lack of male jealousy makes Africans particularly susceptible to the spread of veneeral diseases like AIDS.

 

By this analysis, O.J. Simpson would represent assimilation toward the European norm of high male jealously.

***

 

The world's three highest altitude populations -- Ethiopians, Tibetans, and Andeans -- have all evolved different mutations for surviving at such high altitudes, according to Cynthia Beall of Case-Western Reserve U., the leading expert on the biochemistry of high altitude human biodiversity. The Indians of the Andes, for example, are quite barrel-chested, but the other two groups are not. The Tibetan Sherpas are the world's best high altitude mountain climbers, while Ethiopia is second only to Kenya as a global power in the marathon.

***

 

Updated below: An important point from Robert D. Kaplan's Atlantic profile "The Man who Would Be Khan" of the brilliant colonel Tom Wilhelm, who represents the U.S. military in Mongolia, and who is helping the Mongolian Army keep out illegal immigrants from the highly populous country to the south (why he isn't employed here in the U.S. doing the same task never seems to come up). 

 

Wilhelm's reflecting back on why the U.S. Army is so much better today than when he joined:  

 

The full flowering of the middle ranks had its roots in the social transformation of the American military, which, according to Wilhelm (a liberal who voted for Al Gore in 2000), had taken place a decade earlier, when the rise of Christian evangelicalism had helped stop the indiscipline of the Vietnam-era Army. "This zeal reformed behavior, empowered junior leaders, and demanded better recruits," he said. "For one thing, drinking stopped, and that killed off the officers' clubs, which, in turn, broke down more barriers between officers and noncoms, giving the noncoms the confidence to do what majors and colonels in other armies do. The Christian fundamentalism was the hidden hand that changed the military for the better. Though you try to get someone to admit it! We never could have pulled off Macedonia or Bosnia with the old Vietnam Army."

 

Update: A reader writes

 

I suspect that there is a lot of truth in Wilhelm's characterization of the changes in the army and other services over the last 30 years. Up through the 1960s, the assumption was that the US military was basically drawing recruits from a well-behaved and reasonably disciplined civilian society that was, if anything, too gentle for war. The military's task was, to a large extent, to de-civilize its recruits, to make them capable of killing and tolerating killing on a routine basis. So alcohol, brawling and a large degree of sexual promiscuity were tolerated and even encouraged. In the Marine Corps of the 1960s, no senior sergeants were really respected unless they had been demoted several times, generally for bar fights or the equivalent, then regained their rank through extraordinary service.

That sort of army was capable of doing what it had to do, take 100-300 KIA a week, in a nasty ground war. But I wouldn't want it to be doing military police work in the Balkans or Baghdad. The trouble is, today's army has to do a number of very different things, some of which are like military policing and some of which are very much like the old army's raids and ambushes.

***

 

Dienekes -- You may know Dienekes.com for it's terrific coverage of physical/genetic anthropology, but Dienekes also provides a cultural perspective that's almost completely missing from American discourse: for want of a better term, call it Byzantine. Here he presents an Eastern Orthodox theological / historical analysis by Frederica Matthewes-Green of what everybody is presuming will be the high level of violence in Mel Gibson's The Passion.

***

 

The War Nerd is back! Gary Brecher returns with a hilarious biography of Muammar GQKaddaffi (or however you spell his name).

***

 

The Cannibal Army: A friend writes:

 

The front page of today's New York Times carried an interesting story about the current goings on in unfortunate Haiti, and the moves afoot by portions of the populace to replace the current leader, a U.S.-installed Jeffersonian Democrat, with a new and improved 2004-model Jeffersonian Democrat.

 

I also note the very recent op-ed by Max Boot, a leading neocon ideologue of America's worldwide imperial crusade for Jeffersonian Democracy. Boot argues quite plausibly that the ongoing problems in Haiti are largely due to Bill Clinton's unwillingness to commit himself to a long-term American occupation of that island, and urges our current leaders to certainly avoid making that same mistake in Iraq.

 

Considering that America has occupied Haiti off and on for something like twenty years over the last century, I have little doubt that raising that total to a solid thirty would transform Haitian political life into a "diversified" version of New England's traditional town meetings.

 

As one early indicator of this likelihood, the Times story reveals that the main Haitian opposition group, which had long styled itself "the Cannibal Army," has now told reporters it henceforth wishes to be known as the "Artibonite Resistance Front," presumably in hopes of raising its chances of attracting financial and political patronage from our National Endowment for Democracy or various neocon media organs.

 

Since that the ongoing dispute between these different factions of Haitian Jeffersonian Democrats is attaining a somewhat bitter tinge, marked by nasty anonymous leaks to political reporters and also by random disembowlments, the recent Open Borders Immigration Proposal of our neocon masters demonstrates their strikingly timely wisdom. I have little doubt that at least one million or more Haitians will soon determine that Florida would currently be a more congenial home to Jeffersonian Democrats than disputatious Haiti, and quickly act on that inclination.

 

Furthermore, given the closely-divided Florida electorate I suspect that we can also discern the notoriously shrewd hand of Karl Rove behind these events. As the neocons have repeatedly dmonstrated, America is a "propositional nation," so we should soon expect President Bush to propose---to resounding cheers from WSJ Editorial Page and the Weekly Standard---that all of those hundreds of thousands of Haitians who reach the welcoming Florida Coast have merely to declare themselves loyal veterans of the Cannibal Army---oops! the Jeffersonian Democratic Movement---in order to be granted immediate American citizenship and sufferage, just in time for the important November vote.

 

Tom DeLay can quickly hammer the necessary legislation through Congress and all those---whether Democrat or Republican---who raise nagging doubts will have conveniently unmasked themselves as both nativists and racists, two for the price of one.

***

 

Dennis Dutton, editor of the Arts & Letters website, gives a strong review to Charles Murray's Human Accomplishment in The New Criterion. Unlike Terry Teachout in Commentary, who claimed that Murray “is indiscriminately hostile to modernism” and has “cut his analytic cloth to fit his aesthetic tastes," Dutton thinks Murray's methodology is too favorable to modernist giants Picasso and Schoenberg.

 

Commentary printed here a weakened version of my letter protesting Teachout's review, along with Teachout's semi-incomprehensible reply, complete with irrelevant ad hominem attacks on me. Teachout is a good aesthetic critic, but (relevant ad hominem attack coming up) he's far too innumerate (and far too intemperate) to have anything worth saying about Murray's massive statistical analysis.

***

 

Gay Marriage and Immigration: A reader writes: "Have you considered the impact of gay marriage on immigration? It's not uncommon for foreigners to try and immigrate by marrying an American. Why would gay marriage be any different?"

 

I suspect that Andrew Sullivan has thought of it and hopes that a combination of gay marriage and Bush's immigration plan will allow more homosexuals to immigrate, since, in Andrew's apparent opinion, that's what America needs most: new friends for Andrew. Indeed, back in 2001, Andrew, showing his characteristic obtuseness about the attitudes of anybody not named Andrew Sullivan, declared that it would be a sure-fire vote winner for Bush if he changed the law to allow the HIV-infected to immigrate to America. I think it's safe to say, however, that the non-Andrew voting bloc feels that, with 6 billion foreigners in the world, we could choose better immigrants than those suffering from an often-fatal infectious disease.

***

 

New VDARE column on why the Bush Cult has been bad for Bush.

***

 

Why the world hates America -- For the same reason you hate the ultrarich New York Yankees for acquiring the amazing Alex Rodriguez, the highest paid player in baseball.

***

 

DVD rental recommendations: A couple of G-rated documentaries that, in my experience, both adults and kids enjoy are Winged Migration and Spellbound. The first is a French nature documentary where the cameraman flew inches from  migrating birds in ultralight aircraft. There's a surprising amount of humor in it. 

 

Spellbound follows eight adolescent contenders in the National Spelling Bee, chosen for their demographic diversity: the illegal alien's daughter who appears to have a slight case of Asperger's syndrome, the polo playing rich girl, the farm boy who is the only smart kid in town, the hyperactive boy, the girl from the small town in Pennsylvania that hasn't had anything else to cheer about since the asbestos mill shut down, the D.C. girl whose entire family consists of females (her mothers' two brothers are in jail and god knows where her father is), and a whole bunch of Indians.

***

 

More on the Herdsman vs. Farmer conflict in world culture (see below): John Derbyshire points out that Rodgers and Hammerstein were quite aware of this dichotomy. From Oklahoma:

 

The farmer and the cowman should be friends, 

Oh, the farmer and the cowman should be friends. 

One man likes to push a plough, 

the other likes to chase a cow, 

But that's no reason why they cain't be friends. 

Territory folks should stick together, 

Territory folks should all be pals. 

Cowboys dance with farmer's daughters, 

Farmers dance with the ranchers' gals. 

I'd like to say a word for the farmer, 

He come out west and made a lot of changes 

He come out west and built a lot of fences, 

And built 'em right acrost our cattle ranges. 

The farmer and the cowman should be friends, 

Oh, the farmer and the cowman should be friends. 

The cowman ropes a cow with ease, 

the farmer steals her butter and cheese, 

But that's no reason why they cain't be friends...

 

The song devolves into a brawl between the farmers and cowmen.

***

 

Congratulations to John Daly for his first victory on the PGA Tour since 1995. Daly is the kind of phenomenal physical talent (he is both strong as a bear and as flexible as a Ukrainian girl gymnast) who would be jollied along in a team sport despite being not very bright and burdened with a tendency to become addicted to practically everything he touches (alcohol, tobacco, sugar, etc.) He's been the most famous trainwreck, however, in the history of golf, a sport that's extremely demanding mentally and psychologically, one where extremely level-headed personalities like Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods traditionally dominate.

***

 

A few days ago, a reader sent me the following, which has suddenly become more relevant to the daily news:

 

On a personal note: I used to date a Harvard graduate student back in 1991, and at that time the middle-aged figure of U.S. Senator John Forbes Kerry was also on campus sampling the undergraduate talent. He had a cute 19 year old as his regular friend, and several other young women he hung out with. I had the pleasure of meeting my g\f in the same remote corner of the Harvard Coop, (the school bookstore) as he met his. Over time we developed a casual acquaintance as we often bumped into each other around Cambridge, and I must tell you, he proved to be delightful company. Funny, smart, and he had a great sense of irony about his activities with the young ladies... Kerry had a way of withdrawing into himself so that if he was on campus, most people did not know it was him; or feel comfortable approaching him. I could never vote for him; but I have to tell you; he is not at all like the haughty guy that we see on TV.

***

 

Updates added below on Wednesday, 2/11...

 

Team Player? One discussion I've often had with myself is whether I ought to be more of a team player. Obviously, I have some talent for coming up with reasons, so I could have done well for myself putting my knack to work dreaming up rationalizations explaining why Pres. Bush is really The Great Leader we all wish he was. But, I guess I'm just not a team player, because I simply couldn't bring myself to get with the program.

 

One upside of telling the truth as best you see it, besides the truth being easier to remember than lies, is that you're more likely to turn out to be right in the long run. Indeed, ever since Bush announced his misbegotten amnesty program on 1/7/04, I've noticed a decent-sized uptick in interest in what I have to say. 

 

However, now when I'm finally getting popular, I'm going to take a break for a few days to take care of some business. But, I'm leaving you with a few postings below.

 

UPDATE: A reader comments: 

 

"There are enough team players out there - too many, in fact. Conservative group-think and popular-frontism is becoming a real problem. I can think of only one substantial conservative commentator who supported the Iraq war and is seriously disturbed by how lousy our intelligence was before the war; George Will. Apart from him, it's close ranks and change the subject. That's very disturbing to me, and an index of the insecurity of the "vast right-wing conspiracy." Like you say: knowledge is good. I don't know how it serves anyone's interests - including the Bush Administration's - to close one's mind to information or analysis, whatever the source."

***

 

Herdsman vs. Farmer: [UPDATES BELOW] One ancient theme in world cultures is the difference between herdsmen and farmers. For example, African herding tribes tend to be more aggressive than farming tribes, probably because livestock are easier to steal than crops. This would seem to offer insight into the Rwanda/Burundi conflict. Long ago the tall Tutsi herdsmen subjugated the short Hutu farmers and maintained the ascendancy over them until decolonization. (Of course, since then the Hutus have proven quite violent themselves.) 

 

This aggressive herdsman vs. stolid farmer concept is a huge theme in American popular culture: how many movie Westerns start off on an Ohio or Illinois farm where the most restless son can't stand the boredom and drudgery, so he leaves his more level-headed brothers behind to work the farm and heads West to become a cowboy? The footlooseness of being a herdsman (and the lure of cattle-rustling or fighting off cattle-rustlers) recruited aggressive individuals from farms everywhere (and even from mansions, like Teddy Roosevelt). Regional mores quickly began to diverge, with a cult of honor and the accompanying duels reigning in the West, while the farming Midwest becomes ever more orderly. 

 

Interestingly, if there had been no technical progress, and the West had stayed a herding economy and the eastern Midwest a farming economy, it seems possible that over the course of a few thousand years we would probably see the peoples of the two regions begin to diverge strikingly in terms of physique (rangy, wiry cowboys vs. stockier farmers) and innate temperament. (I also wonder if there are any anecdotes in the Old Testament about differences between herdsmen and farmers?)

 

One area to explore is whether herdsmen tend to display more of the kind of opportunistic aggression useful in raiding, while farmers tend to be more endowed with the kind of dogged courage that makes armies successful. John Keegan's "History of War," which is based on the fundamental distinction between the quick-strike style of warfare perfected by Central Asian herding nomads like Ghengis Khan's Mongols and the disciplined armies cool-headed enough to be maneuvered in combat that Keegan sees as first reaching maturity among the small landholders of Ancient Greece. Presumably the costs of failure in conflict are less to a herding culture that can run away to fight another day, than to a farmer, whose fate would be enslavement or death.

 

T.E. Lawrence made his reputation by perceiving the difference between herders vs. farmers, and thus crafting a war strategy for the Bedouin that was in line with their herding lifestyle, at a time when everyone else in Europe had forgotten this ancient dichotomy in warmaking. The British high command had wanted to draft the Arabs into British Imperial ranks and use them as cannon-fodder in the ultimate farmer's war. (Trench warfare is almost inconceivable without the doggedness and soil-based territorialism that seems to come with farming.) Lawrence perceived that the nomadic Arabs would be no good at this, that their skills and personalities were attuned to sporadic hit and run ambush-style fighting, and that mode would work well in their native country. He thus achieved an extremely high ROI for the British. On the other hand, the absolute value of his achievement was not particularly great -- "a sideshow to a sideshow" -- since land that can't support a lot of farmers isn't worth fighting a big war over (unless it has, say, oil underground).

 

Lawrence pointed out that Arab culture remains heavily influenced by the nomadic personality, since surplus nomads are constantly settling down in the more fertile areas and slowly blending into farming and urban populations, but not without reinfusing the settled peoples with desert standards of honor and other traits. Not surprisingly, the nomad's cult of honor remains a major influence on the violent, uncompromising, revenge-based foreign policy of so many nations in the region. (The exception, of course, is Egypt, the immemorial farming state. I wonder whether this was behind Kissinger's insight that Egypt was the weak link in the Arab unified front against Israel?)

 

Anyway, it would be interesting to see whether there are genetic as well as cultural differences between herders and farmers. This distinction can't  be more than 5 to 10,000 years old, but interesting differences can emerge in short periods (compare massive Samoans -- the 60,000 residents of American Samoa provide close to 20 NFL players -- to their petite cousins on Bali). One farmer-herder genetic difference that leaps to mind is lactose intolerance -- most African adults, for example, can't drink milk, but the herding tribes of East Africa are highly lactose tolerant. Lawrence noted that Bedouin tended to be able to go for tremendously long times without water (rather like their camels). Is this learned or in-bred? Finally, what about personality traits? This seems particularly hard to tease apart into nurture and nature. But as Thomas Sowell has noted, this really isn't that important in either the short or medium runs. Even if all traits were 100% inherited or 100% derived from the childhood environment your parents provide, the best advice in either case is to choose your parents wisely. Failing that, choose your career wisely to fit your individual traits, whether you inherited them or absorbed them from your environment.

 

UPDATES FROM READERS:

 

The story of Cain and Abel seems to fit the bill. Although, it's the herdsman who's the victim of violence instead of the farmer in this story.

*

 

To some extent, the entire Hebrew Bible (well, the early books - Genesis through Judges) is about the conflict between city-dwellers (bad) and nomadic herders (good). Think the tower of Babel story (big buildings bad); the vengeance that Simeon and Levi take on Shechem for raping their sister (Shechem lived in a city; Jacob and his sons camped out with their herds); the antipathy that the Egyptians express for the Hebrew shepherds who have settled in their midst; etc. Lots of other examples could be cited.

 

Egypt is not the only farming society in the Middle East. Historically, Mesopotamia was an agricultural land as well. Difference is, the Nile is gentle and the Tigris/Euphrates system wantonly destructive, flooding so capriciously that whole civilizations got washed away periodically in ancient times. The result: Egypt grew into the ultimate stable, long-term civilization, while Mesopotamia was a seething cauldron of rising and falling city-states. Ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian religion reflect this difference as well: Egypt's pantheon is a highly ordered heirarchy while the gods of Mesopotamia are in a state of constant internecine warfare (and at war with man; in the Mesopotamian flood myth, the gods decide to destroy humanity because we're making too much noise). One consequence of Egypt's uniqueness is that it is the only Arab nation today, a heterogeneous people with a common and self-conscious identity associated with a territory. That's a distinction Egypt shares with Turkey, Israel and Iran in the Middle East, but no other Arab state. The other Arab states are either feudal monarchies (Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, the Gulf states), patchworks held together more by terror and corruption than by common identity (Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia). Algeria just might be a nation as well, but only because of the strong French influence on their history. [Right, the leaders of the Algerian War of Independence in 1954-1962 were mostly sergeants in the reformed French Army of 1944-1945 and picked up their ideas of nationalism from them.]

 

The Arabs have a long-lasting bias against farming. The medieval Arab kingdoms used to tax farmers brutally, with the result that much of the countryside returned to wilderness centuries ago. Even today, Arab farmers devote very little capital to improving the land. I agree with you that the Arab way of warfare is the raid and the ambush; this is born out not only in the current guerilla wars against Israel and the American occupation in Iraq, but in the outcome of Arab-Arab wars. Egypt fought a vicious, fruitless war with Yemen in the 1960s. They massively outgunned and outmanned the Yemenis, but the regular Egyptian army simply stank and the lightly-armed Yemeni guerillas harried them into eventually leaving.

 

BTW: If farming is what produces good infantry, and herding is what produces good cavalry raiders, what does the West's overwhelmingly urban population produce? Farming and herding haven't been significant occupations in the developed world for decades.

***

 

Improvements I'd like to see in Microsoft Word: You word processor ought to help you correct stylistic problems, just as it currently helps with grammar and spelling mistakes:

 

1. Department of Redundancy Department -- A good writing tip is to not use the same word over and over again if it has acceptable synonyms. MS Office's Thesaurus feature is a big help, but you have to notice that you need help. I'd like this to be part of the style checker. It should operate in order of egregiousness -- e.g., if I use "amalgamation" twice in consecutive sentences, it should alert me about this before it alerts me that I used "merger" twice in consecutive pages. 

 

2. Alliteration Assistant -- I have a Spiro Agnew-like weakness for alliteration: e.g., I recently wrote that the appropriately named Magnus Ver Magnusson won the World's Strongest Man contest, in which he hoisted boulders, heaved beer kegs, hurled logs, and hauled 18-wheelers. In this case, alliteration is appropriately silly. MS Word should be able to help me out with this (but only when I ask for it!)

 

3. Vivid Verbs -- I should be able to ask MS Word to take me through each verb and offer suggestions for more pungent alternatives. 

 

4. Parallelism -- I'd love for the software to point out opportunities for parallel constructions, and offer suggestions for parallel phrasing.

***

 

Bush's illegal immigrant fetish: As I've explained repeatedly since 2000, campaigning in favor of illegal immigration is as dumb a mistake as a mainstream politician can make. So, why has the President insisted upon dropping this electoral anvil on his toe? Perhaps, it's personal -- it seems likely from this article that his sister-in-law, Jeb Bush's wife Columba, was an illegal immigrant in California for a period during her childhood before returning to Mexico when her parents split up for good. As we've seen, Bush is not particularly inclined to think through the indirect and unintended consequences of government policies, so perhaps his thinking is simply: "Why should nice people like the mother of my nephew/nieces be inconvenienced just because they are born in other countries?"

***

 

Why is anthropology almost forgotten? A reader writes:

 

I think there are two reasons for anthropology's decline: multiculturalism and changing public attitudes. I took an anthropology class to fill a social science and non-Western culture requirement. My prof was a very effete fellow from South India who stood 5 feet tall. He loved talking about homosexuality in military subcultures, and devoted a whole class period to a section in our textbook about "5 sexes". He harbored hostility toward masculine men and conventional sexuality, was overly sensitive to disagreement, and still gave everyone As.

 

One of the main draws of anthropology classes is practicing unabashed exoticism when staring at half-naked tribesmen shove deer antlers through their noses. But talking about cultural differences is now banned unless Westerners laud Stone Age hunter-gatherers or pre-modern Ghanian farmers to the detriment of their own societies. Few of even the most sophisticated students enjoy attacks on their culture every week. For a significant minority, however, this environment encourages them to express and develop their own unresolved malice toward their society. Such students usually identify with the professors, and thus anthro majors are often touchy people with little charm. They rarely glitter in the spotlight, and are too uncomfortable outside the academic ghetto to be media personalities.

 

Secondly, the canards of academic anthropology --  biological gender equity, infinite malleability of human nature, moral superiority of pre-modern cultures, matriarchal theories etc. -- have limited credibility, at best, w/ the general public. Margaret Mead's gentle, libidinous Samoans [as opposed to all those NFL linebacker Samoans we actually see on TV every weekend in fall] offered hope to what people in the 60s could be. But times change, and people are much less receptive to things like open marriages even if all those South Seas Islanders cavort like rabbits in between funerals for all the infants who never see their 5th birthdays. By the way, Mead's discrediting didn't seem to reach the editors of my anthro 101 text, which sited her as proof of the social construction of gender roles.

***

 

Buyer's remorse: Three years into Bush's presidency, Republicans are starting to wonder en masse whether they picked a turkey back in 2000. I suspect that Democrats might feel buyer's remorse even sooner over John Kerry. I suppose I can see a case, just maybe, for why Kerry ought to be the Democrats' nominee, but it sure doesn't seem obvious enough for Kerry to be the presumptive sure-thing nominee a full nine months before the election. It sure looks now like the Democratic nomination was wrapped up in a one punch knockout at the Iowa Caucuses -- not even a primary, but caucuses, for cripessake.

 

But at least the Democrats had a bunch of candidates to choose from, even if they seem to have handed the job over a few thousand people in Iowa. Back before the 2000 primary season even opened, Bush/Rove had managed to scare off just about every creditable candidate, leaving voters' a choice solely between Bush and McCain.

 

Clearly, the system is broken. Perhaps we need a more structured approach, one that will give voters more candidates and longer to make up their minds. Many have suggested a national primary, but the obvious objection is that just turns the nomination struggle into a test of fundraising for the national TV advertising buys that such a gigantic election would depend upon.

 

Why don't we nominate Presidential candidates the way we select NFL or NCAA champions? Those are honors we really care about, so we have rational systems for them. We could divide the country up into six regions and hold regional primaries in April. Only candidates who live in each region would be eligible to run in a regional primary. We'd get six winners, plus two wild cards (the top two second place finishers) who would then match up in the quarterfinals in the North, South, East and West in May. The semifinals would come in June, and the finals in July.

 

This system would attract much more voter attention (as measured in office betting pools) than the current one, and it would prevent candidates from wrapping up the nomination before the public gets to know them.

***

 

Why candidates shouldn't trust campaign consultants: The Baltimore Sun reports: "[Howard] Dean paid $7.2 million to aide's company. Trippi consulting firm got nearly one-quarter of his television ad buys... Instead of a salary, Trippi's company had been paid a commission of the campaign's television advertising buys..." This kind of conflict of interest is quite common. Campaign consultants often make a lot of money on ad buy commissions even when their candidates' lose, which encourages them to encourage their candidates to spend heavily on TV time, whether or not its the best strategy.

***

 

In defense of Bush's physical courage -- The thrice-wounded Sen. Kerry is naturally giving Pres. Bush a lot of flak over his having spent the Vietnam years stateside in the Air National Guard. Bush has pretty much admitted he joined up to stay out of Vietnam, telling the Houston Chronicle in 1994: "I was not prepared to shoot my eardrum out with a shotgun in order to get a deferment. Nor was I willing to go to Canada. So I chose to better myself by learning how to fly airplanes."

 

Still, Bush's physical courage should not be denigrated. Flying supersonic single-engine fighter jets like his F-102, an early 1950s technology that had been rushed into service, was hardly a safe occupation. In his famous The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe pointed out that among US jet fighter pilots, only 78% survived a 20 year hitch ... in peacetime. (Later in the book, Wolfe admitted that the extraordinary number of car crashes that fighter jocks are prone to contributed to that extraordinary death rate of over 1% per year.) I'm sure that Bush would have been safer if he had become, say, a non-flying naval officer.

 

Presumably, Bush found the Air National Guard the ideal choice because it allowed him to follow in his father's footsteps as a pilot, but while largely continuing his pleasant civilian life.

***

 

"I'm from Texas and I know this issue." G.W. Bush, defending the Karl Rove Amnesty Plan in front of 218 mostly rebellious GOP Members of the House. 

 

It's rare for the President to claim any personal expertise on a matter of state. (Back in 1978, he got beat in his run for the Midland, TX House seat by a good old boy incumbent who portrayed Bush as some egghead with two Ivy League degrees. Bush decided then and there that he was never going to get out-dumbed again.)

 

As John Derbyshire pointed out, Republicans in Texas are somewhat less aghast over KRAP than are Republicans everywhere else.

 

Being a Californian and having gone to Rice U. in Houston, I've thought a lot about the difference between the states. The fundamental disparity is in terrain and climate. The eastern half of Texas is an enormous expanse that's all about equally mediocre as a place to live -- flat, with a hot and or humid climate and surprisingly cold winters. There is some nice hill country around Austin, but otherwise, no place is any better to live than any other one. So, if the burgeoning immigrant population keeps displacing you within Texas -- from the city to the suburbs to the exurbs to the ex-exurbs -- so what? Nobody in Texas ever feels like Adam and Eve being driven from paradise, so why not let more people move in?

 

In contrast, the coast of California is one of those places, along with the Cote D'Azur, that many people who can afford to live anywhere in the world choose to live. Unfortunately, the quality of climate and terrain falls off quickly as one moves inland. I live about 15 miles from the ocean, and life is still pretty sweet (the current weather forecast for the coming five days looks like Steve Martin's forecast as the bored TV weatherman in "LA Story" -- 72, 72 72, 72, 72.). If you go 100 miles inland, however, you are into places that could be worse than anywhere in East Texas. Thus, a booming population is hated by the people of California, because, unless they are hugely wealthy, they fear they, or, especially their children, are in danger of being driven out of paradise.

***

 

Twisted Bioethics: Rick Kittles (here's my interview with him) and other black geneticists at Howard U., the leading historically black college, are building a database of disease gene variants that affect African-Americans more than other races. The Chicago Tribune ran a long article attacking their effort to save lives:

 

"In the view of another leading bioethicist, Arthur Caplan of the University of Pennsylvania: 'Collecting DNA from African-Americans raises the risks of reinforcing the view that race has a genetic basis, which it does not.'"

 

This is a quite extraordinary statement. A "leading bioethicist" thinks the Howard geneticists are wrong and he is right about ... genetics. And he wants to block research intended to save patients lives so that the geneticists' view of genetics won't get more publicity than his view. Now that's bioethical!

 

"The FDA agrees that cultural issues and habits account for many differences but still wants racial factors studied so differences can be understood. [Craig] Venter doesn't buy it. 'Geographical origin (ancestry) appears to be more relevant than a person's self-identified race,' he wrote in the journal Science."

 

Apparently, Venter  wants us to believe that "race" and  "geographical origin (ancestry)" are closer to antonyms than synonyms. Thanks, Craig, that clears up a lot!

***

 

Who are these people? The low-wage loving WSJ runs a "Conservative Statement of Principles on Immigration." Nothing makes clearer what a dud the administration's KRAP (Karl Rove Amnesty Plan) turned out to be than this less than glittering list of only 15 conservatives who signed on:

 

Stuart Anderson, Jeff Bell, Linda Chavez, Larry Cirignano, Cesar V. Conda, Francis Fukuyama, Richard Gilder, Newt Gingrich, Ed Goeas, Tamar Jacoby, Jack Kemp, Steve Moore, Grover Norquist, Richard W. Rahn and Malcolm Wallop.

 

That's it: two over-the-hill former political superstars, maybe three or four mid-range conservative names, and a bunch of people you never heard of. 

***

 

What real Republicans really think of KRAP: "Growing frustration over President Bush's immigration plan and lack of fiscal discipline came to a head behind closed doors at last weekend's Republican retreat in Philadelphia. House lawmakers, stunned by the intensity of their constituents' displeasure at some of Mr. Bush's key domestic policies, gave his political strategist Karl Rove an earful behind closed doors." -- Ralph Z. Hallow, Washington Times.

***

Which Founding Father are you? This is a fun Cosmo-style quiz that shows you which 18th Century giant you most resemble (in personality, not politics). I came out as Alexander Hamilton. So, don't get on my nerves or I'll meet you at dawn on the field of honor. Wait, I'd better get myself to a shooting range for some practice before I make statements like that. (Link from ManSizedTarget).

***

 

What went wrong with anthropology? Remember when anthropologists like Margaret Mead were media stars? Today, there's a fair amount of interest in paleontology and population genetics, but old-fashioned Boasian cultural anthropology has no more buzz than Cyndi Lauper.

 

The funny thing is that the meat and potatoes of cultural anthropology -- kinship and marriage systems -- are still highly relevant. For example, more and more of the Iraq insurgency seems to consist of "bloodline attacks" -- kin of somebody our boys shot up trying to get revenge. But almost nobody cares anymore about what anthropologists have to say. What happened?

***

 

A reader explains:

 

The reason that there are so few women playwrights is probably due to the door through which most women enter the theatre world: acting...

 

In most fields the presence of men mollifies bitchy competition, but men who work in theatre are disproportionately gay. While not all gay men are manipulative and gossipy, the winnowing process selects for people who can thrive in such an environment. Second, the law of supply and demand decrees that competition among actresses will cut-throat. Third, while beauty is an asset in any career, few incompetent women lawyers will make partner based on their looks. The high professional value that the performing arts place on beauty inevitably heightens and sharpens female competition. 

 

Finally, theatre is hypersexualized and hyperemotionalized. The venerable casting couch accompanies actresses' own sexual adventurism, for which actresses have been notorious since the Restoration. In your Halle Berry Oscar piece, you noted how high strung actresses are. Surely one stems from the other, though its probably a chicken and egg conundrum.

 

In any case, the resulting atmosphere is full of cliquishness, narcissism, profound insecurity and jealous rages. Many women who like acting and theatre, but are untalented or don't have the looks work in makeup or set design. But I suspect that introverted, writer types frequently find the endless drama repulsive and would rather stay home with their books. By contrast decorous English Departments, where most young writers are exposed to great novels, are consistent with shy literary personalities.

 

The theatre environment is much more appealing to heterosexual men. A lot of verbally talented men see the concentration of good-looking promiscuous women among mostly gay guys, decide that it's worth the often hysterical mood, and use their writing gifts to impress actresses. I think the absence of such a strong incentive, plus the propensity for getting drawn into backstabbing bitch fests, makes theatre much less attractive to most women writers unless they themselves are tough and manipulative. Lillian Hellman certainly qualifies there.

***

 

Another esteemed reader notes:

 

As for women screenwriters, I've got a small anecdote. I was talking once to Robert McKee, the screenwriting guru [portrayed in Adaptation by Bryan Cox], and asked him roughly the same question. He said that in his experience, women are often better writers than men -- more intuitive, more empathetic, less ego-rattled. They're better at creating living characters and charged situations. What happens, though, is that they then encounter the business. And it's a rough, awful thing, full of jerks. And women are simply more likely than men to give it up in the face of such hideousness. "I've gone to the trouble of creating something I love, and this is how I get treated?" -- that's how they're prone to react, according to McKee. So they bail out of the business. Maybe guys' lack of sensitivity, and maybe their jerk egos -- maybe both these things cripple them creatively a bit. But maybe they also help them (drive them?) to persist and survive the business and production challenges.

 

Why does the name Joe Esterhaz come to mind? 

***

 

Secret Asian Man - A very funny cartoon strip by Tak Toyoshima touching on an important phenomenon that nobody notices: Asian-American male anger. Here's S.A.M. pitching a reality TV show and here's how an action movie's busty blonde leading lady rewards the white hero, the black hero, and S.A.M.

***

 

Where are the women playwrights? A friend writes:

 

Last week I saw the very funny new movie "Something's Got to Give," with Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton. Keaton's character is described in the movie as "the best woman playwright since Lillian Hellman." Back home, I wondered: who IS the best woman playwright since Lillian Hellman? (And yes, despite being a censorious old Communist, I think you have to say that the author of "The Little Foxes" and "The Children's Hour" was a good playwright.) 

 

Anyway, I did a little Googling and concluded: no one. There have been no outstanding woman playwrights in the past 50 years. In 55 years of Tonys, women have won 2-1/2. Recently Tonys were won by Wendy Wasserstein and another woman. I guess you'd have to call Wasserstein "the best woman playwright since Hellman." But I don't think that's saying much.

 

So my h-bd question: Why? Writing plays seems like something women should be good at. In general, I'd think women are better listeners, with a more nuanced sense of human relationships, which should be good for writing plays. Women write both bestselling and critically acclaimed novels, and have since the earliest days. So where are the woman playwrights?

 

To this, I'd add: Where are the women screenwriters?

 

To summarize the Oscar nomination data for the two screenwriting categories (Original and Adapted): There are 36 men with four or more screenwriting nominations but only one woman (Frances Goodrich -- It's a Wonderful Life, Father of the Bride, etc.) Women make up at least 7 of the 50 people with exactly 3 nominations. So, that's 8 of the top 86 or 9%. 

 

Of these 8 women with three or more nominations, only three have made their careers since 1970, which is the halfway point since the Oscars started in 1927: Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally), Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (Merchant-Ivory), and Frances Walsh, who is Peter Jackson's wife (or close equivalent). Five made their careers back in the pre-feminist Bad Old Days, including Hellman.

 

The studios used to pair up male-female writing teams, like Frances Marion and Herman J. Manckiewicz on 1933's Dinner at Eight, but today, there are more brother pairs than male-female pairs. (In case you are wondering, I have no idea why three of the top eight women screenwriters are named "Frances.")

***

 

David Brooks at the NYT: He's not working out, is he?

Brooks' strong suit is doing Tom Wolfe Lite social trend reporting. He reads an article in American Demographics magazine that gives him an idea that marketing researchers are thinking about but that the political world hasn't heard of yet, then he gets in his car, drives around, looks at stuff, talks to people in stores, and comes back with some gentle insights. It's a good niche. As the NYT's new twice-a-week pundit, though, he seems to be floundering. The 750 word op-ed just isn't his natural length.

 

Of course, it doesn't help that he was an advocate of the War in Error and now feels obligated to construct ever more tortured rationales. His latest, for example, is just sad: He attacks the CIA for being too ... scientific! 

 

Brooks writes: "For decades, the U.S. intelligence community has propagated the myth that it possesses analytical methods that must be insulated pristinely from the hurly-burly world of politics... When it comes to understanding the world's thugs and menaces... I'd trust politicians, who, whatever their faults, have finely tuned antennae for the flow of events."

 

Okay ... except that the CIA was a whole lot less wrong about Iraq than the politicians running the Bush Administration. It was the politicians, not the CIA, who believed in the Saddam-Al Qaeda connection, the Niger yellowcake, and that the Iraqis would dance in the streets to welcome Ahmed Chalabi home. 

 

The CIA's problem is that it doesn't have enough scientific competence. The bomb boys at Livermore and Los Alamos were high skeptical of the idea that Saddam was progressing toward nuclear weapons, but the politicians didn't want to hear that.

***

 

The politicians' problem is an example of the growing arationalism [or, as Razib says, anempiricism] on the Right: the feeling that strong belief is far more important than mere facts.

 

Partly, this stems from the President's personal history: God helped him stop drinking and thus set him on the road to the White House. So, who is he to to question too deeply the wonder-working power of the occasional idea that pops into his head? Maybe it's God telling him to invade Iraq or open the borders. How can you prove it's not God telling him to do these things? (Keep in mind that if you had ideas as rarely as George W. Bush does, you might also be inclined to view each one as some kind of miracle.)

 

Moreover, there's the infection of the Right by the postmodernism & multiculturalism rampant in our society: "Truth" doesn't exist, it is just what the power structure (whether the heterosexist white male patriarchy or the liberal media establishment) says it is, yada yada. Creationism is a wound through which leftist postmodern disparagement of science enters the conservative mind.

 

Also, there's the rising pressure on conservatives to be team players. When the GOP was out of power, flinty independence of mind was admired by conservatives. But now, the pressure to conform and stick to the talking points has become overwhelming.

 

Finally, conservatives have largely finally used up the intellectual capital generated by neoconservative converts to the cause back in the 1970s, and the movement is desperately in need of some new ideas. Instead, though, the old idea men and their descendents have become fossilized as the new Protectors of the Faith.

***

 

A reader comments: 

 

"I think the miscalculation behind the Karl Rove Amnesty Plan is that large sections of the base have finally woken up to the fact that KRAP requires a continuing leftward tilt to the Republican Party in order to compensate for the demographic changes wrought by recent immigration. Many of those who reluctantly acquiesced in the spending, affirmative action etc. on the grounds that it was necessary to broaden the Party's appeal, have suddenly realized that under the aegis of Bush/Rove the leftward drift is to be never ending."

***

 

As I predicted, the Administration's post-Karl Rove Amnesty Plan malaise has allowed Kerry to take the lead over Bush:

 

CNN-Gallup reported: "When the 562 likely voters were asked for their choice from a Bush v. Kerry race, 53 percent of those picked Kerry, and 46 percent favored Bush... The poll showed Bush's job approval rating at 49 percent among all the adults surveyed, the first time since he became president that his job approval has dipped below 50 percent. A month ago his rating was at 60 percent..."

 

Also, AP reported on another poll: "The Quinnipiac University poll also gave the Massachusetts senator the edge, 51 percent to 42 percent, in a head-to-head race with President Bush... The poll also gave Bush an approval rating of 48 percent, the first time his approval has dipped below 50 percent in a Quinnipiac poll."

***

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