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November 2003


The genial yet towering Jim Pinkerton writes to remind me of his L.A. Times column of July 10th, in which he recounts asking Paul Bremer about partitioning Iraq:


"If [Czechloslovakia] and other countries have successfully split up, why should the borders of Iraq be sacred? Last month I put that question to Paul Bremer, the American administrator headquartered in Baghdad. If Iraqis have the right to self-determination, I asked, could they have the right to self-determine themselves into different entities? It would be fair to say that Bremer didn't think much of the question. "President Bush has said that he wants to see a 'free unified Iraq,'" he answered, adding, "I know of no responsible Iraqi who has a different view." Well, I know some, but from the look on Bremer's face, none of them is about to get through to him.


"Back in the United States, I put the same question to James Carafano, a former Army officer who authored a new Heritage Foundation report on lessons learned in Iraq. Carafano is a supporter of the American effort, but since he's not on the government payroll, his answers were more candid. Why is Iraq unified? "Because the British said so," he said flatly."



Please help me understand: What exactly is the Bush Administration's policy on cutting and running in Iraq? As far as I can make out, it is currently something like: "We will be in Iraq until the sands of time run out, until each and every rebel  is reduced to dust beneath our chariot wheels, or until next fall's Presidential election campaign, whichever comes first." If you comprehend it better than I do, please drop me a line.



Here's Charles Murray's fun NYT essay "Well, It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time" on the three greatest ideas with a lot of bizarrely bad consequences: logic, reason, and artistic genius.



From my review of Ron Howard's "The Missing:"


Ron Howard is a misunderstood figure because he straddles the two main camps of directors: the endlessly written about Brand Names vs. the professionally respected but little discussed Hardworking Craftsmen.


Strategies for becoming a Brand Name include:


-- Make only a handful of movies, like Orson Welles. The prolific novelist John Updike once complained that infertile writers like T.S. Eliot, whose collected works of poetry and drama can fit into one volume, are often overrated. Why? Their work is easier to discuss with others because everybody who wants to discuss it has read the same few poems. The same is true for a Welles or a Stanley Kubrick.


-- Keep making the same kind of movie over and over, like Alfred Hitchcock.


-- Market yourself as much as your movies, like Quentin Tarantino. Thus, "Kill Bill: Vol. 1" is declared in its own credits to be "The 4th Quentin Tarantino Film" (which raises the question of what "Kill Bill: Vol. 2" will be called -- "The 4.5th Quentin Tarantino Film?").


In contrast, the Hardworking Craftsman director makes a lot of movies in a lot of genres. They don't all work, but enough do that they add up to a résumé too complex for critics to conveniently characterize. For example, William Wyler earned a record 12 Oscar nominations (winning for "The Best Years of Our Lives," "Ben-Hur," and "Mrs. Miniver"). Yet, today, Wyler is now often confused with the second most-nominated director, Billy Wilder ("Some Like It Hot").


Ron Howard is a Brand Name because he starred in two of the most popular sitcoms of all time ("The Andy Griffith Show" and "Happy Days"). Yet, his career is the epitome of the quasi-anonymous Hardworking Craftsman. "The Missing" is his 15th movie since his first hit, 1982's "Night Shift."


Howard's had his flops, but he's made a long list of fine films in a wide variety of manners, such as "Splash" and "Parenthood." Perhaps he peaked with that exemplar of Big American Moviemaking, "Apollo 13," in which he pulled off one of the most audacious gambits ever: filming in genuine weightlessness. He did it by taking his stars and crew on more than 500 stomach-churning parabolic rides on NASA's "Vomit Comet" space simulator jet.


Howard has made giant hits out of both a mathematician's biography ("A Beautiful Mind") and a Dr. Seuss poem ("The Grinch") -- and if you think that's easy, you deserve to see "The Cat in the Hat."   [More...]



New column at left.



Gertrude Ederle, RIP, age 98. She was the first woman to swim the English Channel in 1926 (wow!) and set the world record doing it. She was welcomed home with a ticker-tape parade down Broadway and her name became a byword in the vigorous popular culture of the 1920s, the distaff Lindbergh. 


Long distance swimming has always been a sport where women do extremely well. The last time I checked, about one out of three people to swim the Channel had been female, and women have pulled off some of the most extraordinary feats in the sport, like swimming the 90 miles from Cuba to Florida or, most amazing to me, swimming the 53 mile Bering Strait. Long distance swimming is one of the few sports where a higher body fat percentage (useful in floating and staying warm) helps.



Congratulations to Tiger Woods on the announcement of his engagement to Swedish nanny/model Elin Nordegren. Tiger always claimed that he would never marry before age 30 (he turns 28 in a month), but Miss Nordegren would appear to be quite a mind-changer.



I don't write about macroeconomics much. I was obsessed with the subject a quarter of a century ago, but then, miracle of miracles, the quality of government economic management dramatically improved here and in much of the world, under the whip hand of the financial markets. For example, the government of South Africa is incompetent (or malign) at providing such basics of good government as protecting public health (AIDS) and safety (rape), but it might well be better at the seemingly esoteric task of macroeconomic management than either the Nixon or Carter administrations. So, I've slacked off on keeping up with the subject.


I've never been all that opposed to running deficits. I always liked the argument that a big deficit held down wasteful government spending. It seemed to keep Clinton under control. So, how come this theory doesn't work on Bush, who seems to be spending like a drunken sailor?


Sure, the Republicans are just running up the deficit for the same reasons the Democrats used to: they think it will help them win re-election, and if it doesn't, doing favors for supporters will always help them get cushy jobs in the pseudo-private sector after they are bounced from office. But the Democrats at least had the decency to concoct various cockamamie theories about why it was good to waste money. Rove's Republicans just seem to hope nobody notices.



I suppose I've read a gazillion words about gay marriage, but I've never seen an answer to this basic question that I think a lot of people have: What do you call two guys in a gay marriage? I mean, if two men get married, what is the preacher supposed to say at the end of the ceremony: "By the powers vested in me by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, I hereby declare you ... man and husband?" Or should he say " and man?" "... husband and husband?" "... husband and wife?" "... wife and wife?" "... Thing One and Thing Two?" Or what?


Update: I guess "spouse and spouse" sounds the least farcical, but "spouse" is one of those words, like "sibling," that nobody uses naturally. It's useful for bureaucratic purposes, but it permanently has an abstract, inhuman air about it. Just as we don't naturally think of our parents' other children as our indeterminately sexed "siblings," but instead as our "brothers" and "sisters" (indeed, the English-speaking peoples have never felt the need to develop an agreed-upon gender neutral collective term for "nephews and nieces"), we don't very often think of the person we are married to as our "spouse," but instead as our "husband" or "wife." And this intrinsic sense that we have that all the linguistic alternatives for describing the participants in a gay wedding are more or less ridiculous suggests why so many feel that "gay marriage" is a contradiction in terms.



While analyzing the long lost national exit poll data from the 2002 House election, I stumbled upon the following anomaly:


"Among the fairly small number of Asians in the 2002 exit poll, a reverse gender gap appeared with only 25 percent of Asian men voting Republican vs. 43 percent of Asian women."


I'd be interested in speculation on why this might be, but first I would like to be assured this isn't just a one-time statistical fluke enabled by a relatively small sample size. Has anybody seen any other data on the voting gender gap among Asian-Americans?



A reader writes regarding my suggestion that the way to limit the bio-engineering of pro athletes is to put size limits on teams:


There are a couple of problems inherent to the plan, but they are not unsolvable:


First, you would have to find a way to permit the participation of true freaks of nature, such as Shaquille O'Neal and Yao Ming. People love to see the biggest men play, and there's no way around this from an economics/marketing/general appeal point of view. The solution would therefore be to limit teams to *average* heights/weights; the team that put Shaq on the floor would thus have to surround him with little guys to even things out. That kind of novelty would add to the appeal, I think -- wouldn't it be interesting to watch a game between a team playing a seven-footer and four point guards, and one that put five 6'5" guys on the floor together? You'd get teams playing radically different styles, and clashes thereof are always interesting.


Secondly, you'd need to avoid the problems associated with wrestlers and their weigh-ins, e.g. the starving, dehydration, rubber-suited workouts, etc. This stuff is just unhealthy, both physically and psychologically. The answer would be to have the weigh-ins in real time, i.e. starters would be weighed just before tip-off (you'd have to overcome issues related to the heavy gear football players must wear) and substitutes would be weighed as they checked in to play. This would eliminate the typical wrester's pattern of utter dehydration up till weigh-in, then massive re-hydration, gorging, etc. before the actual match. I don't think professional athletes/coaches would be tempted to push weight-loss too hard, since they'd know that the players would need to be in optimum condition to perform right after they'd been weighed, and since their long-term health is so valuable (in contrast to high school/college athletes, who frankly are much more expendable).


Overall, it's a great idea, and might lead to much more interesting and free-wheeling styles being adopted, especially in hoops and football.


I wonder: Are  there are any high-tech non-invasive tests that can measure and compensate for dehydration, and thus eliminate the incentive for it? The ideal would be something like this: as the players come out of the tunnel from the locker room to start the game, they walk over a scale that measures their weight. Then they, say, stick their fingers in a machine that somehow or other measures weather they are below normal in liquid in their bloodstreams. If they are, it adds the appropriate number of pounds to their weight.


Also, I don't have that big a problem with very tall basketball players since, so far, there's little evidence that anyone is using unnatural means to grow that tall. Still, it could be a good idea to cut the incentive for anybody to try. Also, under current football strategies, offensive linemen are supposed to add enormous amounts of fat, causing them to occasionally drop dead on hot days. I imagine steroids don't play a huge role in this. I presume they are getting fat the old-fashioned way. But anything that would reduce the incentives to weight 350 pounds would be a good thing.



I always feel more plugged in to the great events of the day when somebody I've met is in the news, so I was interested to hear about the new Bush Scandal (you can read the amusing article from UPI here). Now, I haven't actually met President Bush or ex-President Bush or Governor Bush or First Lady Bush or ex-First Lady Bush, but I have conversed with Ne'er-Do-Well Brother Bush. And Neil Bush is now in a bit of an embarrassing spot involving a paternity test along with some hijinks during his lucrative trips to Asia reminiscent of the "Lip my stocking!" scene in Lost in Translation. If you ever get a chance to see Neil give a speech, you owe it to yourself to go. The great thing about Neil's oratorical style is that he combines all the most peculiar mannerisms of both his father and brother. It's like a chance to enjoy Dana Carvey and Will Ferrell rolled into one.



How to save sports in the age of steroids: Steroid testing should not be dismissed as ineffectual, as shown by the absurdities of the the last decade in baseball, the one big sport without any testing until this year. Still, it's obviously a constant arms race against new designer steroids like THG that are crafted to be undetectable.


So, a friend has proposed a different way to keep team sport athletes from turning into Frankenstein's Monsters: team weight limits: Players would be weighed right before the game and teams would be penalized if they put on the field an assortment of players weighing over the limit, such as 240 pounds for the NFL, 220 pounds for the NBA, and 200 pounds for the MLB. What do you think?



'The Missing:' Ron Howard's horror-western

By Steve Sailer

UPI National Correspondent

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 20 (UPI) -- Ron Howard's first film since winning the Best Director Oscar for "A Beautiful Mind" is the vastly different "The Missing." It's a highly fictionalized and strangely stylized account of the Apache shaman Geronimo's 1885 marauding in New Mexico, told from the point of view of his white and Indian victims.


"The Missing" resembles "Ulzana's Raid," the 1972 Burt Lancaster film that was one of several brutal but realistic films (such as 1970's "A Man Called Horse") made during a brief period of balance in the depiction of Native Americans, falling between the earlier era's anti-Indian prejudice and the present day's happy-clappy New Age nonsense...


In "The Missing," unfortunately, Howard tries to stuff too many genres into one film. It's reminiscent of that old "Saturday Night Live" fake ad: "It's a dessert topping! It's a floor wax!"


"The Missing" is a western, but it's also a family drama about the conflict between an embittered widow (played by an alarmingly skinny, almost blade-like Cate Blanchett) and her artist father (played by Tommie Lee Jones) who selfishly abandoned his family decades before to roam with the Indians.


A horse-mounted "biker gang" of renegade Apaches led by a demonic shaman kidnap Blanchett's daughter to sell her in Mexico as a sex slave. Reluctantly, Blanchett enlists her father's Apache-trained tracking skills to hunt them down.


Most oddly, "The Missing" is also a horror movie about the dark side of Native American spirituality. The film is rated "R" for gruesome scenes of Apache torture and ritual mutilation. Blanchett finds her boyfriend's charred corpse strung up over a campfire where the Indians slowly roasted him to death. Later, when a photographer snaps the Apache leader's picture, the shaman gets his soul back by tearing out the man's heart.


Howard augments the queasiness of these grisly incidents by using unnaturally colored filters to drain the life from his landscapes. The result, though, is that the "The Missing" achieves much of the distastefulness of a horror flick, but without many of the chills.


Still, I have to admire Howard for ignoring the bogus and condescending fantasies about American Indian culture rampant in our society today. Native Americans have suffered enough without having the memory of their warriors emasculated by self-absorbed eco-feminists into sappy symbols of sensitivity.


Geronimo was a cruel man, but he was every inch a man.



From the mailbag:


"The Karl Rove strategy may be a head fake. I recall that after the black vote became powerful in the Deep South, Lee Atwater pulled a "don't throw me in the briar patch" campaign for Strom Thurmond when he was facing a putatively tough re-election in 1978. After a meeting with Jesse Jackson, Atwater declared the goal of the Thurmond camp was to get 40% of the black vote. Sure enough, by the fall the Democrats were flying in Coretta King and Andrew Young to staunch any possible black defections. Strom was re-elected, pulling less than 10% of blacks, but over 2/3 of whites. The Atwater gambit had the (intended I'm sure) benefit of Democrats reminding white South Carolinians of the black base. Could Rove be up to something similar?"


Atwater was Rove's mentor, so I'm sure Rove knows all his tricks. That reminds me of a second benefit: a lot of people remember the forecast as the result rather than the actual result. I recall reading in various places that Thurmond had gotten a high % of the black vote, but I bet the commentators were just recalling what Atwater had said Thurmond was going to do, rather than what actually happened.



Stephen Glass snowed people [at The New Republic] because he told them what they love to hear: that Christians, Buchanan voters and people with real jobs are all hypocritical boobs.


[On opinion magazines] young staffers are also hired because the big shots think they can mold them into their own image. Older people with more experience get tired of being pushed around by lesser talents and move on -- or are pushed aside.



A law professor writes in reply to my item wondering why Supreme Court justices don't hire grown-ups to assist them with their workload:


A Supreme Court clerkship is the ultimate honor on the lawyer's resume. Pathetic as it may seem, when I was in law school (Harvard), law professors inevitably went out of their way to reminiscence along the lines of "my Justice used to say. . . " Owen Fiss at Yale, I am told, was a self-parody, in every class noting "Justice Black, for whom I clerked, has argued . . . " When famous lawyers, however old, are introduced at a speech, if they clerked on the Supreme Court, it is always noted. Why not tell us how the person did in 10th grade chemistry, I sometimes wonder.


A few years ago, one of the Justices had a law professor in his 40s as a clerk and it was a disaster. I'm told he pushed his own agenda and generally didn't lick the shoes of the justice, as was expected. My guess is that once people pass the age of 30, the capacity for groveling and prostrating oneself before an intellectual inferior drops dramatically. And that's part of the job description. Plus, for the Justice, having 3 or 4 young, eager people around each year just another one of the perks . One of Rehnquist's requirements is that his clerks play tennis--he hires only 3 (most Justices hire 4) and they have a weekly tennis game.



Analysis: Demographic trends against GOP

By Steve Sailer

UPI National Correspondent

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 25 (UPI) -- The Republican Party triumphed in the 2002 midterm elections in part because the GOP's kind of voters -- married, middle-aged, affluent, and white -- showed up at the polls in relatively large numbers. In contrast, in the 2004 elections, the normal demographic cycle is likely to be running in the Democrats' direction.


That's because more people cast ballots in presidential election years than in the less glamorous off-years, and these intermittent voters tend to come from more Democratic-leaning demographic groups.


For example, last year Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives were supported by 55 percent of single voters but only 41 percent of married voters. Yet, this staunch support from unmarried voters didn't help Democrats as much as it would have during a presidential election year because single voters made up only 30 percent of the electorate, down from 35 percent during the more exciting Bush-Gore election of 2000.   [More...]



Disturbing question: What are the odds that in 2005 George W. Bush is not President of the United States but Saddam Hussein is President of Iraq?



Shattered Glass, the feature film about The New Republic magazine, starring Hayden Christiansen (of the recent Star Wars whoop-tee-doos) as lying journalist Stephen Glass, answers the big question I've always had about the case:


Why in the world didn't the other people at The New Republic recognize the utter implausibility of Glass' fictions?


Unlike Jayson Blair of the NYT, who just made up plausible-sounding details about Jessica Lynch's house so he wouldn't have to leave his cool lifestyle in NYC and actually go to godforsaken West Virginia, Glass reveled in piling on ridiculous fabrications. For example, I only read one article by Glass, but I can vividly recall my reaction to the following paragraph:


... another bond-trading outfit has turned an empty office into a Greenspan shrine. Dozens of news photographs of Greenspan adorn the walls; glass casing encloses two Bic pens Greenspan supposedly used in 1993. Quotations from more than 30 of his speeches are posted under a sign that reads “Greenspan’s Teachings.” The centerpiece is a red leather chair that sits in the middle of the room, surrounded by blue velvet ropes. A placard perched on the armrest says Greenspan sat in the chair in 1948 -- at the time, he was still in college. “Some nights when we’ve lost money,” trader Brent Donalds confides, “I come in here and sit in the chair and think. It gives me inspiration.”


Here is the dialogue that went on in my head as soon as I read this in 1998:


Little white angel sitting on my right shoulder: "That's amazing!"


Little red devil sitting on my left shoulder: "That's so amazing it can't be true! I've been in the corporate world for 15 years. I can't imagine anybody I ever met acting like that."


Little white angel: "But they wouldn't put it in The New Republic if it wasn't true!"


Little red devil: "Oh, yeah?"


Me: "Shut up, you two. I've reached a decision. I will not believe this unless I hear more evidence confirming it."


It's easy to guess why Glass did it: Besides the fact that reporting is hard work, some people think it's fun to make up absurd stories and see if they can get others to believe them. Chevy Chase's one good acting job, in the original Fletch, largely consists of him making up lies and then piling on the nonsense just to see if he's a good enough liar to lie his way out of the hole he's dug himself.


What I couldn't figure out until I saw Shattered Glass was why nobody at TNR could recognize such big heaping piles of BS. And now I know:


The staffers and editors are children.


An opening title for the movie announces that the median age of editors and staff writers at The New Republic was 26. For example, the pathetic concoction about Greenspan was co-authored by Glass and Jonathan Chait, then only four years out of college, but now a "Senior" Editor at TNR. He was so clueless he put his name on Glass's inventions.


I don't have much experience hanging around opinion magazines, but I fear it's a general rule: the staffers don't have enough life experience to have much understanding of how the world works. The pay is terrible and so you get what you pay for: kids. 


The downside is that these babes in the woods get hoaxed -- on a small scale by Stephen Glass, or on a world-historical scale by the Bush Administration's Iraq Attaq hucksters.


The solution is clear: more money! If you know a billionaire, kindly point out to him that he can have his own intellectual/public policy magazine for pocket change each year. Us public policy intellectuals cannot be bought but we sure can be rented for what any tycoon would consider a pittance.


As for Shattered Glass as a movie-going experience, well, let's say that the distributors of The Return of the King don't have to worry too much about competition from this quarter. It's just a lot of people in cubicles under fluorescent lights.  As for Christiansen's performance as Glass, it's good in the sense that you hate him, but you don't love to hate him. You just plain hate him. So, that's not good.


By the way, not long after TNR editor Chuck Lane exposed this creep who had been hired by Andrew Sullivan and coddled by the late Michael Kelly, he got fired and replaced by a 28-year-old.



Speaking of children in influential places, isn't it time we gave the Supreme Court justices enough of a budget that they could afford to hire grown-ups to assist them? Their reliance on clerks straight out of law school is an outmoded tradition. With the average age of justices being 69 and the median age of clerks being about 26 (although there are a few older ones), the Supreme Court is an uneasy mixture of senility and puerility.



Sunday night column at left.



Analysis: Young voters less conservative

By Steve Sailer

UPI National Correspondent

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 21 (UPI) -- Newly available exit poll data from the 2002 congressional election indicate that Republicans candidates for the House of Representatives did best among voters aged 30-59, and less impressively among younger and older votes.


It had been thought that younger voters were turning to the Republicans. Yet, Democrats, who lost 51 percent to 46 percent overall, can take some hope for the future from eking out a tie (48 percent vs. 48 percent) among those under 30. Yet, the young accounted for only 11 percent of the vote, down from 16 percent in 2000.


However, GOP candidates won 55 percent of the vote of 30- to 44-year-olds and 54 percent of 45- to 59-year-olds. Republicans did less impressively among voters over 60 (50 percent).


The fairly sizable partisan gap between the young (ages 18-29) and those in the 30- to 44-year-old range is often attributed by commentators to the former coming of age during the Clinton years while their older siblings started voting during the Reagan years. This model, however, can't account for the current Republican leanings of 45- to 59-year-olds, the famous first wave of the baby boom who were introduced to politics during the liberal '60s.


A better explanation might be that in the last several elections, one of the most important predictive demographic factors, far more important than age or gender, has been marriage. In 2002, the unmarried voted 16 percentage points less Republican than the married (41 percent vs. 57 percent). Among the 30- to 44-year-old contingent, 76 percent are married, compared to 32 percent of the young.


Another reason for the more Democratic tendency of the under-30 crowd is that young men don't vote as much as young women, and women -- especially single women -- are more liberal.


While 56 percent those overall with college degrees voted for the Republicans, among college graduates under 30, 44 percent gave their ballots to the GOP.


Finally, the youngest cohort is the most heavily minority. It's 27 percent non-white, compared to 18 percent overall. Minorities gave 23 percent of their votes to the GOP.


Among the young, 26 percent labeled themselves "liberal" vs. no more than 17 percent of any other cohort. The young were much more liberal on the fundamental domestic policy question of whether the government should do more or less: 65 percent vs. around 45 percent for the other three age cohorts. Yet, the young also were the most enthusiastic supporters of Bush's first round of tax cuts. [More...]



Conspiracies galore! Just in time for the 40th anniversary of JFK Assassination conspiracy theories, here are some actual conspiracies:


We members of the press love to nag you members of the public about why you rush out to see conspiracy movies. After all, conspiracies don't really exist. If they did, we reporters would know about them! Right?


Not necessarily. One reason people are interested in conspiracy theories is that at lest some important secret operations really do exist. As Henry Kissinger liked to say, "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean you don't have enemies."


For example, for a quarter of a century after World War II, the victors kept hidden from the public the very existence of what was possibly the most important factor in the Allied defeat of Nazi Germany: "Ultra." To break the German Enigma codes, the British built a top-secret deciphering complex on the grounds of Bletchley Park in central England. This gigantic project, which lead to the invention of the electronic computer, employed as many as 10,000 workers. The German military, it turned out, wasn't paranoid enough. They refused to change their codes because they didn't believe anyone could mount an operation capable of cracking them.


Omnipresent surveillance is a staple of conspiracy movies, so it can't be true. Or can it? For years, it was easy to assume that unhinged-sounding Frenchmen ranting about how the "Anglo-Saxons" were eavesdropping on their telephone calls had just spent too much time at the cinema. This Gallic paranoia turned out to be largely accurate, however. The U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, who have been working together to intercept communications since "Ultra," do indeed team up to run a vast global wiretapping network called "Echelon."


Likewise, by refusing to view Russian politics from a conspiracy perspective, the respectable press largely failed to accurately report what was happening in Russia after the break-up of the Soviet Union. For years, the establishment media insisted on portraying Russian politicians as ideologically motivated public servants clashing over whether to emphasize the free market or the social safety net.


Instead, these idealistic-sounding labels were mostly masks for the conspiracies of various criminal gangs struggling over who got the biggest share of the loot. In contrast to the serious press, Hollywood, which quickly added the Russian Mafia to its inventory of stock bad guys, may well have provided a more realistic sense of what power in Boris Yeltsin's Russia was really all about.


Of course, the conspiracy explanations popular with screenwriters and the public are often the wrong ones. Yet, that doesn't mean that there are no conspiracies. The real computer industry, for example, is a lot duller than the one portrayed in "Antitrust." Yet, the history of the diamond industry is as lurid as any Hollywood thriller.


For decades, the mighty DeBeers cartel fixed the price of diamonds so flagrantly that its executives could not set foot in the U.S. for fear of arrest. Meanwhile, DeBeers' ostensible partners, such as Russian government officials, tried to cheat on the cartel by smuggling freshly mined diamonds out of the country.


Similarly, the mysterious wreckage found at Roswell, New Mexico in 1947 has been a staple of films and T.V. shows claiming that the U.S. government covered up an alien spacecraft's crash. In reality, there were no aliens at Roswell. That's what long-time UFO advocate Karl T. Pflock reluctantly concludes in his upcoming book, "Roswell: Inconvenient Facts and the Will to Believe." On the other hand, the military's public explanation that the debris came from a simple weather balloon was not precisely true, either. According to Pflock, the Roswell wreckage consisted of a secret reconnaissance super-balloon the U.S. government hoped to float across the Soviet Union to photograph strategic installations.


Other UFO reports originated in Soviet aerospace technology crashing back to Earth. For example, several times during the Sixties and Seventies, thousands of South Americans would witness numerous fireballs falling out of the sky. Immediately afterwards, stories of contacts with aliens would spring up everywhere. In the preface to Pflock's book, best-selling science fiction novelist Jerry Pournelle, who held various hush-hush jobs in the military-industrial-intelligence complex during the Sixties, says the fireballs were very real. The Soviets conducted numerous tests of a secret Fractional Orbital Bombardment System that could deliver a nuclear attack on the U.S. from the south, where we had no Early Warning System. Sometimes the dummy warheads came down on Peru or Chile.


The alien stories, however, were Soviet KGB disinformation. According to Pournelle, the Kremlin didn't want to admit it was building the capability of launching a Pearl Harbor-style sneak attack on the U.S. So, it planted stories about extra-terrestrials. These ludicrous accounts muddied the waters, making the witnesses to the actual fireballs seem delusional. Meanwhile, the CIA knew all about the Soviet tests, but didn't want the Russians to know it knew. So, our government never exposed the Communists' little green men hoaxes.



Every so often I get in the mood for a little Schopenhauer: 


"... He who writes for fools always finds a large public."


Yeah, that hits the spot. -- via Thrasymachus.



I used to think JFK conspiracy theorists were lunatics, but two things changed my mind. I still think Oswald was a lone gunman and probably acting on his own, but I no longer hold conspiracy theorists in contempt. 


First, I learned that the initial reactions on Nov. 22, 1963 of the two men whose opinions were best informed -- LBJ and RFK -- were both: "Of course the murder was part of a conspiracy." The new President figured that Castro had ordered it as payback for JFK's CIA trying to kill him. The Attorney General had three theories, and the one he ordered his investigators to concentrate upon the most was that the Mafia had done it as revenge for Bobby's investigations.


Second, the biggest argument against a conspiracy is that the the theorists have never come to an agreement on which theory to back, because there are documented links between Oswald and so many different organizations. It finally dawned on me why there was so much evidence that Oswald had indeed been in contact with all the usual suspects: the KGB, the Castroites, the anti-Castroites, the Mob, the CIA, etc.: 


Oswald deeply wanted to be in a conspiracy ... any conspiracy, although he seemed to prefer leftists ones if he had his druthers. He went around initiating contact with potential conspirators, most famously, moving to Russia so he could work for the KGB. Typically, the would-be conspirators figured out sooner or later that Oswald was ineffectual at any kind of organized work. He was just a dangerous wacko who wanted to get into the history books by shooting somebody famous, and so they never did much with him. But, that's why there's this convoluted and sinister-looking trail of contacts that Oswald left behind.



Third in a series:

Analysis: The voting gender gap narrows 

By Steve Sailer 

UPI National Correspondent 

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 20 (UPI) -- Data extricated from the collapse of the lone national exit poll in the 2002 congressional elections show that the gap between how men and women vote declined to the narrowest difference since before the 1994 House elections.


A United Press International analysis of the results of election night surveys of 17,872 voters shows that much of the GOP's 5-percentage-point improvement in the House voting last year came from its increased appeal to women.


Republican candidates' share of the male vote grew from 54 percent in 2000 to 55 percent last November. Their fraction of the female vote, however, rose from 45 percent to 50 percent. This was the first time in several decades that at least half of women's votes went to GOP House candidates.


While women were somewhat less hawkish on Iraq and less libertarian about the role of the government at home, the most striking attitude difference was feminine foreboding. Women expressed more worry than men did to Voter News Service pollsters about terrorism, the economy and the stock market.


The media has tended to view the GOP's difficulties attracting women's votes as a larger problem than the Democrats' equivalent struggles winning men's votes, although under the Constitution, both sexes' ballots are counted equally.


The enormous amount of publicity the gender gap has received is probably due in part to it being widest among the well-educated -- the people most likely to write and read articles about politics.


In reality, though, the celebrated gender gap is dwarfed by the seldom-mentioned disparity within each sex between the married and the unmarried. In 2002, 56 percent of married women voted for the GOP (similar to their husbands' 58 percent) compared to 39 percent of unmarried women (and 44 percent of unmarried men). There's an exceptionally large partisan difference between married women with children (58 percent Republican) and unmarried women with children (32 percent).


One surprising reason was the proportion of women voters who work full time dropped sharply from 2000 to 2002. Whether that was a one-time aberration or the beginning of a trend won't be clear until the 2004 elections.


Among blacks, Republicans have traditionally done relatively better among men (11 percent voted Republican in 2002) than among women (8 percent), but a lot more black women than black men vote: 27 percent more last year. 


Among Hispanics, the gender gap has never really existed. The sexes vote alike.


Among the fairly small number of Asians in the 2002 exit poll, a reverse gender gap appeared with only 25 percent of Asian men voting Republican vs. 43 percent of Asian women. If this is not a one-year fluke, it may stem in part from the sizable number of Asian women who are married to white men.   [More...]



Analysis: GOP's Protestant appeal

By Steve Sailer

UPI National Correspondent

Newly available exit poll data show that the Republican Party's improved performance in the 2002 elections for the House of Representatives was closely tied to a surge in the GOP's popularity among white Protestants...


Among whites who told pollsters they were Protestants or non-Catholic Christians, 69 percent voted for Republican candidates for the House, up from 63 percent in the deadlocked 2000 election. In contrast, the second-largest religious bloc, white Roman Catholics, soured slightly on Republicans, with their GOP fraction going from 52 percent to 50 percent. Democrats won easily among the "Jewish," "all other" and "no religion" categories.


No "gender gap" existed among white Protestants, but white Catholic women voted 46 percent Republican compared to 55 percent among white Catholic men.


Income had a larger influence on white Catholics than on white Protestants or Jews, with Republican voting rising sharply with Catholics' income. Among those white Catholics making more than $100,000 a year, 71 percent voted GOP.


The GOP's share of Jewish ballots was up from 22 percent in 2000 to 29 percent in 2002. This rise brought Republican candidates to the level of popularity they enjoyed among Jews in 1984 through 1988. Still, since Jews made up 3.3 percent of all voters in 2002, this 7-point gain was barely noticeable in the overall totals. The future may look a little brighter for the GOP among Jews, since they won 36 percent of Jews under age 45.


Among both white Protestants and Jews, those who frequently attend religious services voted more Republican than those who seldom worship, but no such pattern was apparent among white Catholics, blacks or Hispanics.


There's been interest in the supposedly growing importance of the Muslim vote. However, the VNS poll found virtually no voters willing to identify themselves as Muslims. They totaled no more than 0.2 percent of all respondents.   [More...]


For the first in this series, explaining what demographic groups propelled the GOP to victory in 2002, click here.



Check out "My weekend as a Mexican plutocrat" by young blogger Moses Herzog about his visit to a rich friend in Mexico City: 


I step out onto the lawn of an exceedingly wealthy Mexican Family. I am here for the 18th birthday of their daughter. I have no idea who she is. Outside of the house is a column of European sports cars, windows tinted, bodies armored. The drivers all know each other. They must meet like this every weekend, and huddle together behind a heat-packing phalanx of calloused, dark features. The hired muscle walk back near the road as the sons and daughters of the City emerge from the cars. They are all Versace and Gucci, with European features and smooth, fair, baby skin.

Remind me again why we want to import this culture into the U.S.?



Here's the first in my important five part series analyzing the long-lost exit poll data that reveals what really happened in the 2002 midterm elections:


Analysis: Initial reads of voters in error

By Steve Sailer

UPI National Correspondent

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 18 (UPI) -- An analysis by United Press International of recently released results of 2002 national exit poll undermines some fashionable myths about why the Republican Party gained ground in last year's election for the House of Representatives.


Because the survey aggregation system of the now-defunct Voter News Service, providers of the lone national exit poll, crashed on Election Day 2002, no definitive data had been available on who voted for whom and why. Lacking hard numbers, pundits and strategists have pushed their pet theories.


Democrats have increasingly argued that the results show they must appeal more to "NASCAR dads," or as Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean more controversially phrased it, "guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks."


In contrast, Republicans have often claimed that the GOP victory stemmed from the party broadening its tent to attract more ethnic minorities and other growing demographic groups.


These conflicting explanations can now be tested. The Roper Center for Public Opinion Research assembled the records of 17,872 interviews of voters leaving the polls on Nov. 5, 2002, and had them reviewed by a panel of statisticians. They determined that "the 2002 data is of comparable utility and quality to past VNS exit polls," so Roper now sells the raw data.


UPI's analysis suggests that both popular theories for the GOP's 2002 improvement -- "NASCAR dads" and "minority outreach" -- are largely wrong.


In 2000, the Republican candidates for the House of Representatives outpolled the Democratic candidates by 49 percent to 48 percent. Last year, that margin grew to 51 percent vs. 45 percent, even though the president's party has historically lost ground in midterm elections.


Despite the overall gains, the GOP did worse in 2002 among both rural and minority voters.


Surprisingly, the Republican increases of 2002 over 2000 stemmed primarily from the GOP strengthening its appeal to its traditional bases: whites, suburbanites, Protestants, the affluent, the well-educated, the non-union, the conservative and the middle-aged.


If these citizens need a snappy moniker like "NASCAR dads," they could be called "white bread voters."


Ruy Teixeira, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation who is one of a handful of analysts to have crunched through this data, told UPI, "The demographic theme of the 2002 election for the Republicans was 'Round up the usual suspects,' and they did a good job at it. The concept that this was the year in which the GOP broke through to new blocs of voters is largely not true."   [More...]



My current article considers George F. Will's emotionally twisted response to the film adaptation of Philip Roth's "The Human Stain."


It's could have been a quite good movie, but The Human Stain's prestigious stars are frustratingly miscast. The exquisite Nicole Kidman portrays to the best of her considerable ability an abused and illiterate cleaning woman, but the 5'-11" beauty can't overcome the fact that women who look like her never have to scrub toilets for a career. The boyish, amiable, and ethnically indefinite Gary Sinise portrays Roth's recurrent alter ego, the old, prickly, and definitely Jewish narrator Nathan Zuckerman. Only Ed Harris looks plausible as Kidman's intense and unbalanced Vietnam Vet husband.


Worst of all, Welshman Anthony Hopkins plays the central character, American classics professor Coleman Silk. Despite prodigious gifts at conveying understated emotion (as in his portrayal of C.S. Lewis in Shadowlands), Hopkins has never learned how to imitate an American accent. His British accent made a joke out of his title role in Oliver Stone's Nixon, and it's fatal here too, especially because Hopkins doesn't sound anything like the fine young actor Wentworth Miller who plays Silk in flashbacks of his growing up in 1940s East Orange, New Jersey. Gene Hackman would have been a more sensible choice to play an old but still virile American.



Here's an outstanding article by ESPN columnist Tom Farrey on Gov. Schwarzenegger and steroids (along with a telling sidebar of baseball players discussing Arnold's influence on them): 


"His back erect and his smile as bright as the mid-day sun, Schwarzenegger, now 56 and California's governor, seems the picture of health and vitality. Large-living proof of how synthetic hormones can actually enhance a person's existence. The new, updated role model for steroids, to replace that of the withered Lyle Alzado.


"The anti-steroids lobby is having a hard time grasping what it means to have a steroids profiteer as head of the nation's most populous state. But this much is certain: If Schwarzenegger has any reservations about how his rise to the governor's office might heighten the acceptance of steroids, in sports and elsewhere in society, then his new job offers the chance to adjust his legacy."



Sunday night VDARE column at left.



My big review of Charles Murray's Human Accomplishment in The American Conservative is finally online, here. Some excerpts from it:


Having spent 17 years in the marketing-data business, I love pointing out better ways to crunch numbers. I can identify several weaknesses in Murray’s methods. For example, since we don’t know the names of most of the countless artists who worked on the great medieval cathedrals, Murray can’t include them in his tables of great individuals and thus he underrates the artistic accomplishments of the Middle Ages. Yet, to my surprise, I can’t think of a single way to do it better than he did.


Once assembled, his “inventory” of 4,002 significant figures in 21 categories allowed him quantitatively to test some Big Questions. For instance, did the pursuit of excellence flourish more in liberal democracies than in non-despotic monarchies? Answer: no.


His methods and lists should become the standards for future research. There is little need to reinvent his wheels. If you want to rate other types of famous people, such as soldiers, violinists, or chefs, you can just follow his methodology. Conversely, if you want to explore questions Murray skips over, such as the role of social class, educational level, or left-handedness among the accomplished, you can just use his tables of names as your starting points. ...


Ben Franklin drubs Thomas Jefferson in the race to be our nation’s foremost Renaissance man. Franklin scores as a major figure in both physics and technology, and a significant one in literature. Others who qualified in three categories include Galileo, Leibniz, Huygens, Archimedes, and Rousseau, who was not just a philosopher and novelist but also a successful comic-opera composer. The top polymaths, showing up as significant in four categories, were Descartes and, predictably, Leonardo Da Vinci.


All the rankings will inspire arguments, of course, but that’s one of the book’s pleasures.


French postmodernists will sneer at the very concept of objectively measuring greatness, but their brittle amour propre will be secretly salved by hearing that the most important city in Murray’s lists, by far, is Paris. It was the workplace for 12 percent of the 4,002 significant scientists and artists. Of course, you can’t construct interesting new knowledge like this if you actually believe the boring old deconstructionist dogmas.


France is tied with Britain and Germany as the leading nation, with Italy fourth. Interestingly, 80 percent of the significant Europeans grew up in a rather narrow axis running from Naples up the Rhine to Edinburgh.



An information scientist at MIT writes


"There's an interesting analogy between Murray's method and the techniques that the search engine Google uses to rank the importance of a web-page. Essentially, Google ranks a webpage based upon the number of other independent sites that link to it. Their engine works because a page that receives many links from other websites is likely to have useful information about its particular topic - they are actually measuring the eminence of every page on the web! The comprehensive histories of art, science, and technology that Murray uses as his raw data sources include the attempts of single authors to trace the chain of influential ideas in a field. A mention of a figure in one of these histories is analogous with a link to a website, and the entire structure of these works is like the total structure of the web.


"I saw a presentation by Craig Silverstein, one of Google's founders, a few months ago. He discussed the genesis of their technology. He and his co-founders were ignorant of the work of Simonton, Lotka, and others whom Murray cites had already established good measures of eminence. Google essentially re-discovered the principle in the context of web searches."


Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World tries to lure literate middle-aged men back to the movie theatre by delivering an action blockbuster of rare intelligence and authenticity. Esteemed Australian director Peter Weir spent a whopping $135 to $150 million crafting a splendid film out of the late Patrick O'Brian's cult novels about the British Navy during the Napoleonic Wars.


Three years after the 1966 death of C.S. Forester, author of the rollicking Horatio Hornblower sea tales, O'Brian published "Master and Commander," raising the Age of Nelson genre to a new plane of literary quality and technical accuracy. O'Brian reads as if Jane Austen had penned a precursor to Tom Clancy's "The Hunt for Red October" based on her seagoing brothers' adventures in those pre-industrial technological marvels, the Royal Navy's frigates.


O'Brian's series of twenty books details the friendship of the hearty captain Jack Aubrey and the reserved ship's surgeon Stephen Maturin. Their odd couple camaraderie resembles that of the 18th Century explorer Capt. James Cook and his naturalist Joseph Banks (the subject of a biography by O'Brian), or their futuristic counterparts in Capt. James Kirk and Mr. Spock / Dr. McCoy. Indeed, O'Brian's novels appeal primarily to men who are little too old for science fiction and fantasy, whose interests have matured from the future to the past, from the imaginary to the intensely real.


For the rest, see the Dec. 1st edition of the American Conservative (subscribe here).



The crucial Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid question about our enemies in Iraq is:


"Who are these guys?"


We must have interrogated hundreds of insurgents in jail by now, but we never seem to hear much about who they are. The President wants you to believe they are purely die-hard members of Saddam's Baathist Party and good old-fashioned Outside Agitators, but the military never seems to release much evidence to back up the politicians' contentions in any systematic way. The more faces from the deck of cards that we catch, the worse it gets for us.


Perhaps most of these fighters are nobodies -- just punks from the neighborhood who don't like outsiders coming in and lording it over them, the Iraqi equivalents of Charlie Sheen and Patrick Swayze in Red Dawn.



Fear or Loathing? -- So, now that General Sanchez has declared that we are back at "war," how do we fight a guerilla war? 


First, it's crucial to understand the basic challenge facing guerillas. They want to provoke poorly targeted reprisals that make the population hate the occupying power more than they fear it. In contrast, the occupying power wants to be feared more than hated.


This illuminates the difficult tightrope we must walk: we want to be dreaded but not detested. Unfortunately, fear and loathing tend to go together in the human mind.


There are lots of ways to fight guerilla wars, but most of them you don't want to watch on TV. 


Probably the best way is to bribe locals, but that can get expensive if the guerillas can prove that they will murder anybody we buy, and their families as well.


Lots of techniques have been tried to make the locals fear the power sufficiently. Sometimes they work.


For example, the British slowly brought an end to the Boer Rebellion in 1902 by seizing the wives and children of the Afrikaners guerillas and locking them up in squalid, disease-ridden concentration camps until their menfolk quit. 


The French in Algeria found a useful way to get intelligence from the Arabs: torture. 


Our anti-communist allies in Latin America made people they didn't like disappear.


The Soviets killed one to two million Muslims in Afghanistan.


The Nazis rendered the French Resistance largely ineffectual by gestures like massacring 642 civilians in the village of Oradour-Sur-Glane.


You can pick one local ethnic group out as your favorite and pay them to keep the other in line as the colonial powers did with the Tutsis over the Hutus in Rwanda and Burundi, although that can have repercussions after you leave.


We could move the entire populations of villages out of areas we can't control into secure areas, like we did in Vietnam with the "strategic hamlet" program.


We could shoot guerilla leaders, like we did in Vietnam's Operation Phoenix, if we could ever figure out who the leaders (if any) are. Intelligence, though, is hard to come by becasue guerillas operate like gangsters: they kill snitches.


Remind me again: Why did we want to get ourselves into a guerilla war in Iraq? 


And when will the people responsible for this massive self-inflicted wound on America pay the slightest price?



I'm reviewing "Master and Commander" in the upcoming American Conservative. The review won't be online. Short preview: Go see it.



Easterbrook still Orwellian unperson at ESPN -- I thought that by now neoliberal Gregg Easterbrook would have his job back at Michael Eisner's, but he remains not only out of work, but a complete unperson. Go to the main page and type "Easterbrook" in the search box. Instead of being shown a list of his ESPN columns, you'll be brought directly back to the main page. Now, try searching for, say, somebody who might seem a little tiny bit worse than Easterbrook, such as, say, "Osama." Bingo! Lots of references. Implication: In the vast domains of Eisner, Easterbrook is more hated than Osama bin Laden.



One more thought on the Reagan miniseries. It finally dawned on me that "The Reagans" was never supposed to be about the former President. Instead, the gay producers were far more interested in the First Lady. To them, this was a follow-up to their successful miniseries with Judy Davis as Judy Garland. TV is basically a medium for women viewers, so this was supposed to be a show about a famous woman, not the man who was her husband, even if he won the Cold War and did a lot of other boring guy stuff.


That's why the lead casting was so unbalanced in terms of talent: Judy Davis (Nancy Reagan) is a little too plain-looking to have ever been a star, but she's an acting powerhouse (Here's all the awards she's been nominated for). In contrast, James Brolin (Ronald Reagan) is just a TV actor who's hung around on his good looks.



Quarterback Doug Flutie, age 41 and barely 5'-10" and 180 pounds, get his first start of the season and runs for two touchdowns and passes for two more in the S.D. Chargers' 42-28 upset of the Minnesota Vikings. I bring this up because Flutie's extraordinary career sheds an informative light on the controversy over whether the NFL irrationally discriminated against playing black quarterbacks during the 80's and 90's. Actually, it's not a controversy anymore since everybody (except Rush Limbaugh and me) simply assumes it was true, although nobody bothers to offer an explanation of why teams would irrationally harm themselves by not starting the best available players at the most important position.


Flutie, however, is a crucial test case for this theory because he is a white quarterback with traditional black quarterback skills at running with the ball. For example, at the age of 37 he led all NFL QBs in rushing yardage.


Flutie, the 1984 Heisman Trophy winner as the best college player, was perhaps the most popular player in the history of college football. Certainly his last second bomb to beat Miami in 1984 is the single most famous pass in the history of the NCAA. Yet, the NFL had so little use for his style of scrambling play that it banished him to the Canadian Football League for the heart of his career from 1990 through 1997. Even though he was voted the top player in the CFL six times in eight years, he couldn't make it back to the NFL until 1998 when he turned 36 and led the Bills to the playoffs and was a Pro Bowl selection.


Flutie's remarkable career strongly suggests that the NFL was colorblind during those recent decades when it had few black quarterbacks. Teams discriminated not against blacks per se, but against running quarterbacks (who tend to be black) and in favor of drop-back quarterbacks (who tend to be white) because they felt more confident of winning with pocket passers. I always thought this was a boring strategy. As did many fans -- that's presumably why one study found 11% higher ratings for Monday Night Football games with black quarterbacks. But coaches are paid to win, not to put on a show for TV viewers in neutral cities.


Flutie's return to the NFL coincided with the rise in the number of black quarterbacks, probably because offensive strategists had reached diminishing returns with drop back quarterbacks. Also, high school and college programs in areas with lots of black players had finally started to emphasize the passing game. So, even though black NFL quarterbacks still tend to be somewhat more inaccurate passers, we now have two (Steve McNair and Daunte Culpepper) who are having super years throwing the ball.



One week: 34 American soldiers killed in Iraq. 


How come the more bigshots from Saddam's regime that we capture or kill, the worse it gets for us over there? This trend suggests that we aren't fighting the remnants of the old regime so much as, well, what? The people killing our soldiers don't appear to be foreigners, in general. So, who are they? Young punks? Cousins of people we killed? A new nationalist uprising?



I finally took a look at Frank Gehry's celebrated new Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown LA (you know, the one that looks like a UFO crashed into the Bilbao Guggenheim museum). What's striking about the Disney Hall is that it so blatantly repudiates the dictum that form follows function. Obviously, the inside of a concert hall has to be a fairly conventional shape (otherwise, the acoustics would be awful), but Gehry made the outside quite different in shape from the inside. Its celebrated silhouette is enhanced by giant pointy shapes made of empty sheet metal -- they're exactly like the tailfins on a '59 Cadillac. Nowadays, cars are supposed to be extremely utilitarian looking, specially sport-utility vehicles. Nobody would dare put tailfins on a new car. But the most talked about building in America has giant tailfins. I haven't made up my mind what I think of the building -- I suppose a lot depends on whether the maintenance crew can keep it shiny.



Readers speculate on why, in the words of on correspondent, "Why do blacks always return greetings and whites sometimes don't:"


Do you remember in Song of the South when Brer Rabbit gets so mad because the tar baby won't return his "howdy"? Joel Chandler Harris also noticed the culture of greeting in blacks. It is a Southern thing but it is more a black thing. I think it derives from 1. church culture. This is the process when one goes to church all day. You speak and acknowledge everyone and 2. It serves to show individual respect that blacks crave after living in a caste system.



I'd go with the more sociable nature of blacks. I stopped in a liquor store on Thanksgiving a few years back in a predominantly black area, and you'd have thought there was a private party going on in there - it was a constant swirl of backslapping, handslapping, teasing and laughter. They knew each other obviously, but also had clearly come separately to pick up some last minute alcohol purchase, as I had. The contrast with any such imaginable scene in a liquor store in a white neighborhood on a Thanksgiving - friendliness would have prevailed, surely, but in a very staid and subdued manner - and the difference in the races socially can be easily discerned.



It makes sense that Blacks in a city setting would be more alert than whites. Black on Black crime is still a very troubling presence. Street-smarts, and awareness of who is around you is a survival instinct. I grew up poor, in a very dangerous neighborhood......and my street awareness, and ability to sense danger is acute, even today, many years removed from that situation. When I was in college I was often amazed at the dull instincts my Ivy League class-mates had in social situations where there was a measure of danger, or trouble. Growing up in constant danger gives one an edge in awareness that life in the suburbs just can't match. Some of the more pampered kids I went to school with thought I was psychic. I was just using all my senses to get through the day; it just seemed psychic to them.



My sense is that this is a regional thing, not racial. Many younger blacks have adopted an urban, "in your face" attitude that might be associated more with white ethnics from the Northeast than blacks from the South. I can't really describe this attitude as friendly, though it's not altogether diffident or reserved either. Many older or middle aged blacks are really transplanted Southerners rather than natives of the metro Philadelphia area. Whites from outside the region, particularly Midwesterners, were as friendly as older or middle aged blacks. At the risk of appearing prejudiced or falling into a cliche, our experience is that there are profound differences in manners. Southerners regardless of race are the most polite. Southerners and midwesterners are both friendly. Europeans are polite and often friendly. What remains of the old line WASP society and those socialized into it are polite, but not that friendly. Ethnic northeasterners are downright rude, abrasive, and unfriendly. One can find all sorts of exceptions, but this seems to be the rule. Given how elites have changed, this issue raises all sorts of related issues. One might wonder how social expectations shape the behavior of those who formulate and impliment foreign policy. Is the replacement of gentlemen by meritocrats a significant factor in the tone-deafness and abraseviness of American diplomacy? There might be an alternative explaination to Walter Russell Mead's theory of a "Jacksonian" style in US foreign policy.



Asperger's Syndrome is, as far as I know, a mostly white affliction. It is part of a whole range of social functioning. One of its symptoms is "difficulty with reciprocal displays of pleasantries and greetings."



A reader writes:


"Here's a good one to do a study on: Why do blacks always return greetings and whites sometimes don't. (Maybe the statistics are different if both passers-by are the same color?)"


Good question. Off the top of my head, I'd wonder if it's more of a Southern vs. Northern cultural difference (politeness vs. brusqueness) rather than a racial one. If it is racial, I'd wonder if it's because blacks tend to be more on the ball in social situations. Any thoughts?



Nothing neo in final 'Matrix' movie

By Steve Sailer

UPI National Correspondent

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 5 (UPI) -- With "The Matrix Revolutions," the virtual reality franchise that has been the "Star Wars" of the Internet generation has definitively crashed and burned. This raises a disturbing question about contemporary science fiction. Can concepts built upon visions of faster data processing prove as consistently satisfying as the old sci-fi stories based upon dreams of faster travel? ...


There doesn't seem much point in trying to decide whether "Revolutions" is more or less misbegotten than "Reloaded," although they are different.


I suspect that veteran action producer Joel Silver finally stepped in this time to provide some adult supervision of the editing. The seminar-length didactic yakfests on the meaning of meaning have been trimmed down and chopped up, but that just makes the point of this vast spectacle even more incoherent and unsatisfying...


Still, it's not fair to describe the Wachowski Brothers, the "frauteurs" behind the series, as exemplifying all that's wrong with Hollywood blockbusters because, while the sequels have certainly been bad, they've been bad in deeply peculiar ways


For example, while the Wachowskis' unusual commitment to casting African-Americans in close to half of the roles should be applauded, the damage the brothers' portentous dialogue and stilted direction do to the reputations of so many black character actors must be deplored. The frauteurs apparently intend to shatter the old stereotype that black entertainers are, well, entertaining. Instead of allowing their African-American actors to be, say, witty, sexy, and likeable, the Wachowskis have made them all as pompous and insufferable as university presidents. In fact, they give quite a few lines in "Revolutions" to an actual Ivy League academic, Cornel West, and he's no more awful than the professionals.


I may be over-generalizing, but the collapse of their concept might reflect a general weakness of current science fiction's infatuation with computer-centered stories in which the underlying action is cyberpunks merely typing on keyboards.   [More...]



Analysis: LA & the apocalyptic imagination

By Steve Sailer 

UPI National Correspondent

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 28 (UPI) -- Hanging like a pinkish-orange neon disk in the smoke-filled sky of Southern California, the mid-afternoon sun shone so anemically that clearly visible to the naked eye were several dark flaws on the sun's surface, the sunspot eruptions that were unleashing a massive solar storm upon the Earth.


After recovering for a decade from Los Angeles' version of the Biblical plagues of Egypt -- the 1992 riots, 1993 fires, and 1994 earthquake -- residents could be forgiven for wondering if another cycle of devastation had begun. At a time when Mother Earth -- in the form of wind, heat, drought and fire -- seemed wrathful, it was disquieting that something didn't look quite right with the sun, normally that blankly perfect symbol of the benign California climate.


Indeed, one of the numerous end-of-the-world works set in Southern California, 1952's "The Year of the Jackpot" by science fiction master Robert Heinlein, ends with the hero, a statistician who has been charting the rising trend of political oddities and natural catastrophes, staring at the hazed-over sun and noticing, for the first time in his life, "freckles." These sunspots keep expanding until he realizes that the disaster of all disasters, the sun exploding into a nova, has arrived.


With last week's wildfires having burnt roughly a 1,100 square miles and 3,600 homes, L.A.'s peculiarly intimate relationship with the apocalyptic imagination has been renewed.


According to journalist Mike Davis, who became L.A.'s favorite prophet of calamity with his foreboding local bestseller "Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster," Southern California is widely seen as "the doom capital of the universe." He wrote in 1998, "The destruction of Los Angeles has been the central theme or dominating image in more than a hundred and fifty novels, short stories, and films." Davis counts 49 fictional local nuclear attacks, 28 earthquakes, six floods, and 10 hordes of invading creatures that have helped brand "the City of Angels as a theme park for Armageddon." Davis himself can't resist trumpeting such alarming but trivial threats to residents as tornados, man-eating coyotes, and killer bees.


Why are so many fascinated by the thought of Southern California's annihilation?   [More...]



If you've been wondering why Russian robber baron Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky has been getting the kind of press normally reserved for Nobel Prize winners (much of the press has been treating him as if he was some kind of Tomas Edisonsky who had personally invented all those hundreds of millions of barrels of underground oil that Yeltsin gave Khodorkovsky for helping buy him a second term in office), the NYT has the background story on how the boy billionaire (the richest man in the world under age 40 according to Forbes last year) bought so much influence in America.


This doesn't excuse Putin, but it does make clear, as William Safire notes, that both sides are deeply unattractive.



Conservatives get CBS to dump The Reagans miniseries to Showtime -- Keep in mind that this is a wholly negative victory. Conservative aren't going to win the culture wars just by censoring liberal productions. Instead, they have to produce entertainment that mass audiences want to see.


That said, you have to wonder what in the world CBS was thinking when they turned over such a subject of vast historical importance to two gay producers of musicals, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, whose past productions have been so gay-oriented, such as their recent miniseries with Judy Davis as Judy Garland. No wonder the disproportionate emphasis on AIDS. Still, I was looking forward to seeing Davis as Nancy Reagan.



An Open Letter to Terry Teachout:


Dear Mr. Teachout:


I was disappointed in your Commentary Magazine review of Charles Murray's book "Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950."


You allege that Murray, who spent five years crunching numbers and who lays out his entire methodology in excruciating detail, "cut his analytic cloth to fit his aesthetic tastes," yet you provide little evidence for this serious charge against one of the leading social scientists of the our time.


You claim:


"That Murray is indiscriminately hostile to modernism seems clear enough. But has his hostility led him to go so far as to stack his statistical deck? ... [H]e freely admits that the particular reference works from which his lists were compiled reflected a private agenda. 'I am choosing one type of expertise and rejecting another,' he writes, 'allying myself with the classic aesthetic tradition and rejecting the alternative tradition that sprang up” in the 20th century. The admission is admirably frank."


But as Murray makes crushingly clear on the immediately following two pages (pp. 70-71) of his book, this purported smoking gun sentence you quote is not referring to the "modernist" aesthetics you admire, but to the "postmodernist" aesthetics that you, too, dislike. 


Murray writes on the next two pages, "I am rejecting a postmodernist alternative of recent origin that within a few decades of its founding had become so politicized that its original merits were lost. In saying this, I should acknowledge that I find it impossible to take postmodernism seriously. ... If the criteria for the choice are rootedness in human experience, seriousness of purpose, and intellectual depth, choosing the classic aesthetic tradition over postmodernism is not a close call."


Like you, Murray disdains postmodernism for rejecting the idea that one work of art can be aesthetically superior to another. This hardly seems like a nefarious "private agenda."


As Murray laughingly explained to me in my UPI interview with him, he couldn't use postmodernist encyclopedias as sources because a postmodernist reference work is a contradiction in terms: "It would be internally contradictory for a postmodernist history of art, let's say, to devote space according to objective merit, wouldn't it?," Murray asked me. "What would be its rationale for allocating more space to Michelangelo than to Grandma Moses? If you're a devout postmodernist, surely you couldn't believe that Michelangelo was 'better' than Grandma Moses?"


In attempting to provide specific evidence of how Murray's supposed anti-modernist bias has distorted his findings, you claim: 


"In, for example, [Murray's] description of the highest-scoring significant figures in Western art, he observes: 'The presence of Picasso in second place will surprise and perhaps outrage some readers.' Anyone who fought last spring to get a ticket to the Museum of Modern Art’s hugely popular Matisse-Picasso exhibition is likely to wonder just who could be 'outraged' by Picasso’s high index score, second only to Michelangelo’s. The answer, one eventually concludes, is Charles Murray himself..."


First, lots of people dislike Picasso, including many who love Matisse. There's nothing at all unreasonable about Murray's note, which goes on in the very next sentence to explain to the many Picasso-haters, "The amount of space accorded to [Picasso] reflects not just the high regard in which his art is held, but also his seminal role in several phases of the break with classicism that occurred in late 19C and early 20C."


Second, although I've read his book closely, I have no idea what Murray's opinion of Picasso is, but let's assume Murray loathes Picasso. Obviously, then, that undermines your contention that Murray "cut his analytic cloth to fit his aesthetic tastes." Unless you want to contend that Picasso is actually even more eminent than Murray's first place finisher (Michelangelo), then Picasso's sky-high ranking in Murray's listing of fame is, logically, an endorsement of Murray's objectivity.


If you think Murray's methodology, which he explains in microscopic detail, is biased by his aesthetic tastes, well, then you need to offer reasons for this assertion, rather than just baseless slanders.


Yours truly,

Steve Sailer



New column at left.



Virginia Postrel's new book "The Substance of Style" argues that we have entered a "new age of aesthetics" in which we devote more effort than ever before to making things look nice. Perhaps somebody who is more familiar with the book than I am can answer this question: if we are so much more aesthetics-conscious today, why do our implements seem far less decorated than in the past? Bill Gates is probably richer than a 16th Century King of France was, but I bet Gates doesn't hire the contemporary equivalent of Cellini (if he exists) to create a solid gold salt shaker in the shape of mythical gods and goddesses. I'm sure Mrs. Gates simply buys some very nice salt shakers from a very nice store and is done with it.


I would suspect that in some eras of the European past, such as the early 18th century Rococo era, a much larger fraction of disposable income was spent on aesthetics than today. Similarly, Paul Johnson's "Art: A New History" says that some medieval communities devoted up to 8-10% of their GDP's for decades to cathedral building and decoration.


Does Ms. Postrel deal with these objections? I sort of imagine that she just assumes that people all through history acted like they did when she was young in the 1970s, the Era of Crappiness, but perhaps I'm being unfair to her?



There's a lot of confusion over the methodology used by Charles Murray in Human Accomplishment. It's simple, but it works for a subtle reason that I'm not sure even Murray fully grasps. From my review in the American Conservative (not on line):


For example, to determine the most significant Western visual artists, Murray assembled 14 leading comprehensive works by art historians such as Gombrich and Janson. For each name in each book's index, he typed into his computer basic measures of importance such as the number of pages mentioning the artist. (No surprise: Michelangelo came out on top.)...


Can we trust this data? The scholars Murray rely upon have their personal and professional biases, but, ultimately, their need to create coherent narratives explaining who influenced whom means that their books aren't primarily based on their own opinions, but on those of their subjects. For example, the best single confirmation of Beethoven's greatness might be Brahms' explanation of why he spent decades fussing before finally unveiling his First Symphony: "You have no idea how it feels for someone like me to hear behind him the tramp of a giant like Beethoven."


In Paul Johnson's just published and immensely readable book "Art: A New History," you can see how even this most opinionated of historians must adapt himself to the judgments of artists. Much of the book's entertainment value stems from Johnson's heresies, such as his grumpy comment on Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel: "No one ever wished the ceiling larger." Still, Johnson can't really break free from conventional art history because he can't avoid writing about the artists that subsequent artists emulated.


For example, Johnson finds Cézanne (who ranks tenth in Murray's table of 479 significant artists) painfully incompetent at the basics of his craft. Yet, Johnson has to grit his teeth and write about Cézanne at length because he "was in some ways the most influential painter of the late nineteenth century because of his powerful (and to many mysterious) appeal to other painters…"



Rare as a blue moon: A sensible NYT editorial: "The popular protests in Bolivia that forced out President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada last month are the most recent example of a wave of indigenous power sweeping Latin America. Not since the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors have Latin America's Indians enjoyed the political influence they have today. Sadly, however, the indigenous may not benefit. Leaders of the Bolivia protests, for example, advocate policies that would make the poor worse off."


One interesting question is whether the Indigenous Power movement in South America will eventually have an impact on Hispanics in the U.S.? My assumption is that a rise in racial consciousness among mestizos in America would benefit the Democrats. During the 1990s, the political temperament in Mexico, the most important Hispanic state from America's perspective, was moving to the right. But the 2003 midterm elections showed that trend is about over as Fox flounders. The new favorite in Mexico's 2006 Presidential race is the leftwing party's mayor of Mexico City, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, although judging from his picture, he's about as mixed-race as Sir Anthony Hopkins.



Russia's Ken Lay: As I predicted below, "Russia Is Mostly Unmoved by the Troubles of Its Tycoons" (according to the NYT today.)



Bush is enjoying an uptick in the polls -- It's not much, but the amazing Pollkatz graph of all the Presidential approval surveys shows the first good news for Bush in half a year. Of course, the news from Iraq isn't exactly improving as quickly as the economy seems to be.



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