March 5, 2005

War Nerd, Charles Murray, Arnold Schwarzenegger and more

More of my 2003 articles:

Q&A with Gary Brecher, the War Nerd

Q&A with Charles Murray on Human Accomplishment

Baseball's Hidden Ethnic Bias

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Steroids

Few Republicans in Hollywood

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Muslim Democracies are Anti-American

Muslim Democracy Marches On -- Wise old Arnaud de Borchgrave, UPI Editor at Large, writes:

No one noticed as Turkey, an erstwhile ally, nabbed the gold medal recently in the global anti-American stakes. Those with the most negative views of the Bush administration's policies are (1) Turks with 82 percent; (2) Indonesians, 81 percent; (3) Lebanese, 80 percent; (4) Argentines, 79 percent; (5) Brazilians, 78 percent. Mercifully, half the 22,000 people surveyed in 21 countries by the BBC around the world did not agree, "America's influence on the world is very negative."

For those who see thousands of demonstrators in Beirut excoriating Syria as pro-American voices for freedom, think again. In Egypt, there are far more people angry with President Hosni Mubarak for his close alliance with the U.S. than for denying them their political freedom.

After reading a long list of lies and distortions published by the Turkish media, the gold medal is hardly surprising. From left to right, and from centrist to Islamist, the United States is raked over hot coals with odious comparisons to Nazi Germany.

So, Lebanon, site of the latest triumph of democracy, has the second most anti-American populous on Earth?

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March 4, 2005

The End of "The Public Interest"

They ain't making neocons like they used to: Despite the influence and money wielded by neoconservatives today, the 40-year-old flagship journal of neoconservatism -- The Public Interest -- is shutting down. See, neoconservatism used to be about the careful study of the unexpected consequences of domestic policies. Today, all the neoconservative money is in the careless advocacy of foreign policies with who knows what consequences.

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Assimilation Toward What?

Head-On and Up and Down, two movies about the impact of immigration on modern Europe, are reviewed by me in The American Conservative of March 28, 2005, available this weekend to electronic subscribers. Here's an excerpt from my review of "Head-On," an exciting Turkish-German film:

In Fatih Akin's funny and disturbing "Head-On," a suicidally glum busboy at a Hamburg punk rock bar, who has almost forgotten his native Turkish, agrees to a fake, sexless marriage to a pretty but slutty Turkish girl. She needs a Turkish husband to move out of her patriarchal father's house, so she can sleep around and take drugs.

"Head-On" begins as a raucous reworking of "The Odd Couple" as a punk romantic comedy. When the bride nicely redecorates her pseudo-groom's squalid apartment, replacing his Siouxsie and the Banshees poster with throw pillows, he snorts, "It looks like a chick-bomb exploded in here." (Modern love stories need these kinds of plot contrivances to delay consummation.) But her Carmen-like promiscuity leads to tragedy and an impassioned coda in Istanbul.

Many pundits advocate assimilation as the sure cure for any problems caused by immigration, but few ask: "Assimilation toward what?" In America, for example, immigrant kids often assimilate toward gangsta rap norms. German culture, still despised and depressed 60 years after 1945, lacks the confidence in its own coolness that African-Americans possess, so Hamburg's hipsters, both German and Turkish, assimilate instead toward the decadent styles of the old London and New York punk scenes.

True-believers in assimilation assume that young Turks educated in Germany will naturally want to write a new Eroica Symphony or found the next Mercedes-Benz, but "Head-On" suggests that they actually want to re-enact "Sid and Nancy," Alex Cox's 1986 classic about Sex Pistols' bassist Sid Vicious and junkie-groupie Nancy Spungeon, the two most worthless people ever to fall madly in love.

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A Literal "Wing Man"

Here's a new study upholding the late William D. Hamilton's theory of kin selection and nepotistic altruism. From UC Berkeley News:

For wild turkeys, at least, helping your brother find a willing and eager mate is a better way to pass on your genes than chancing the mating game alone, according to a new study by a University of California, Berkeley, graduate student...

"This study not only shows that the males are related, but that the indirect gain in fitness through your relative's gain is equal to or greater than the expense of cooperating," said the study's author, Alan Krakauer. "This is one of the best demonstrations in vertebrates that the benefits of cooperating can outweigh the costs because of kinship alone."

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Larry Summers' Math

"We're Different. Get Over It." - My op-ed for the National Post of Toronto on what Larry Summers actually said:

In fact, it's precisely because the presentation by Summers, one of the world's leading economists, was lacking in crude misstatements that it was so threatening to feminists. When finally published, it turned out to be humbly argued, open-minded, well-informed, logically rigorous, and, in sum, cumulatively devastating to the feminist orthodoxy from which many of Summers' female critics have professionally and financially profited...

Hopkins and company want to drive Summers out of polite society to prevent his insightful skepticism from undermining their special privileges.

This is not to say that Summers' sophisticated attempt "to think systematically and clinically about the reasons for underrepresentation" would instantly convince those unfamiliar with the issues. But over the years, the example of the President of Harvard getting away with speaking the subversive truth about gender inequality would embolden others to point out that the feminist empresses have no clothes.

Let me try to outline Summers' unusual approach to "underrepresentation."

He tends to view people relativistically, employing that most useful of all conceptual tools for thinking about both the similarity and the diversity of human beings: the probability distribution (more roughly known as the bell-shaped curve).

In contrast, most intellectuals today think in absolute, black and white categories, and thus they get irrationally upset by mention of any facts they can denigrate as a "stereotype." Many seem unable to distinguish between perceptive observations about the average traits of a group and blanket assertions about each and every group member. Thus, even carefully worded summations of the obvious like, "More men than women find mechanical engineering interesting," are indignantly countered with, "So, you're saying no woman likes engineering? Huh? Huh?"

As a bell curve aficionado, Summers noted a widely observed tendency: "It does appear that on many, many different human attributes -- height, weight, propensity for criminality, overall IQ, mathematical ability, scientific ability -- there is relatively clear evidence that whatever the difference in means … there is a difference in the standard deviation and variability of a male and a female population."

In other words, as any woman could testify, there are more stupid men than women; likewise, at least in math and spatial reasoning, there are more brilliant men than women.

Summers stated, "… if one is talking about physicists at a top twenty-five research university, one is not talking about people who are two standard deviations above the mean. [In a normal bell curve, only one out of 44 individuals is that much above average.] And perhaps it's not even talking about somebody who is three standard deviations above the mean [or one out of 741]. But it's talking about people who are three and a half [one out of 4,299], four standard deviations above the mean [one in 31,574] …"

Observing that among the top five percent of twelfth-graders in math and science, it's common to see two boys for every girl, Summers estimated that the variance in ability is about 20 percent greater among males. He went on, "If you do that calculation -- and I have no reason to think that it couldn't be refined in a hundred ways -- you get five to one [males per female], at the high end."

Actually, by my calculations, although perhaps I'm wrong, Summers was being a bit politically correct with his math. At three standard deviations above average (the equivalent of a 145 IQ, although he's just talking about the quantitative/visual portion of IQ), there would be over seven males for every female. At four standard deviations (a stratospheric 160 IQ), there would be more than 30 men for each woman.

This also implies, correctly, that there are a lot more retarded men than women, but they don't come up much for tenure at Harvard.

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March 3, 2005

Actress Jada Pinkett Smith's "heteronormative" talk at Harvard:

You may have heard about how the Scream 2 actress was invited to give a speech by the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations. She said the usual uplifting you-go-girl Oprah-talk that you hear on TV a hundred times per day:

"Women, you can have it all—a loving man, devoted husband, loving children, a fabulous career," she said. "They say you gotta choose. Nah, nah, nah. We are a new generation of women. We got to set a new standard of rules around here. You can do whatever it is you want. All you have to do is want it."

But, as you may have heard, Harvard is a particularly sensitive place these days, and the university's Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and Supporters Alliance [don't you have the nagging suspicion that some group is missing from that list and is really sore about it?] denounced Pinkett Smith's pep talk. The Harvard Crimson reported:

"Some of the content was extremely heteronormative, and made BGLTSA members feel uncomfortable," [BGLTSA co-chair Jordan Woods] said. Calling the comments heteronormative, according to Woods, means they implied that standard sexual relationships are only between males and females. "Our position is that the comments weren’t homophobic, but the content was specific to male-female relationships," Woods said....

Paulus added that the [Intercultural] Foundation will issue a letter later this week apologizing for any offense the show might have caused and encouraging concerned students to attend the planned discussions.

I merely want to point out that black women are rightly very interested in Pinkett Smith's advice on how to have a "devoted husband" because she is Mrs. Will Smith. While the illegitimacy rate for blacks is around 2/3rds, she not only has had a husband for seven years, but her hubby currently holds the record for the highest average opening weekend box office take in movie history. In other words, she persuaded the most popular black man in the world, a fellow who presumably (to use Elvis Presley's formulation) doesn't need to buy the cow because he can get all the milk he wants through the fence, to marry her. You go girl.

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Meanwhile, heteronormativity is on the run in Ontario,

where a newly passed law eliminates the terms "husband" and "wife" from the law book in favor of "spouse," so as not to discriminate against gay marriage.

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Speaking of Will Smith

A reader sent me this note:

Today on the Don and Mike Show, they were talking about an interview Will Smith gave to the London Daily Express talking about casting decisions for "Hitch." Smith talks more openly in Europe, so they said. Apparently, Smith said that the studio turned down the idea of a black-black couple (wouldn't play in US or in Europe); also turned down black/white (would go over okay in Europe but not in US). Finally decided to compromise with black/Latina to satisfy all markets.

Moviegoers like leading ladies to be fairer-skinned than their leading men, and they also like their leading ladies to have lots of long soft hair, both of which make it harder (not impossible, just harder) for black actresses to make it big.

The leading lady in Hitch, Eva Mendes, is not much of a name at all (I can't place her) to star with a star of the magnitude of Will Smith, so it appears that the producers essentially decided to that the important thing was to find a Hispanic, and it didn't have to be anybody famous.

Black-black romantic comedies are a steadily profitable subgenre -- you can make them for $10-15 million, advertise them cheaply mostly on BET and buses, and they'll draw 25-35 million domestically, but they don't sell much overseas. Black-black buddy action movies like Bad Boys II can make over a $100 million and do pretty well overseas, and black-white (Lethal Weapon) or black-Asian (Rush Hour) buddy movies can become lucrative franchises, but black actresses aren't in much demand overseas at all. Whitney Huston might have broken through after The Bodyguard into being a Barbra Streisand-style singer-actress who could "open" a movie, but she developed a lot of personal problems, and never really learned how to act.

The fine black comedy Barbershop made 75 million in America, but if it had been a white movie, with say Cedric the Entertainer as the one black guy in it, it might have gone to Meet the Parents level in the $150-200 million range.

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All about me

Luke Ford Interviews Me at (scan down).


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Catching up...

More of My 2002 Articles not previously available on

Biology at Work: Rethinking Sexual Equality

Stephen Jay Gould, R.I.P.

"Redshirting" Little Boys: A Kindergarten Arms Race

South Central LA, 10 Years after the Riots

That Curious Immigration Diversity Visa Lottery

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iSteve syndication: I stuck this button up above that is supposed to allow you to read my new blog items in RSS or Atom (whatever those are). I'm just experimenting with this whole concept right now, so don't expect too much yet.


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March 2, 2005

Zora Neale Hurston's "Their Eyes Were Watching God"

Halle Berry in Zora Neale Hurston's "Their Eyes Were Watching God" -- ABC, Sunday March 6th, produced by Oprah.

Zora (?-1960) was the first major black woman writer in the U.S., and a much more interesting and likable character than you'd expect from all the adulation she gets from the Feminists of Color covens in the college English departments. I reviewed Hurston's collected works in NR in 1995.

As for the movie, well, I'm sure it's way too much of a chick flick for my tastes, but, Halle sounds perfectly cast as the 38-years-old-but-still-stunningly-gorgeous light-skinned romantic heroine.

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2003 articles by Steve Sailer

Some of My 2003 Articles Now Available on for the first time:

Have the Genes of the World's Greatest Lover Been Found?

NBA-Level Height Is Now Spreading Globally

Few Atheists Found in U.S. Foxholes

Bill Bennett's Gambling in Perspective

Q&A w/ Jon Entine on Exploring Jewish History through Genes

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Democracy No Cure-All

Robert Conquest on "Downloading Democracy" in the National Interest:

The common addiction to general words or concepts tends to produce mind blockers or reality distorters. As Clive James has put it, "verbal cleverness, unless its limitations are clearly and continuously seen by its possessors, is an unbeatable way of blurring reality until nothing can be seen at all."

Mark Steyn should get that tattooed on the back of his hand.

"Democracy" is high on the list of blur-begetters--not a weasel word so much as a huge rampaging Kodiak bear of a word. The conception is, of course, Greek. It was a matter of the free vote by the public (though confined to males and citizens). Pericles, praising the Athenian system, is especially proud of the fact that policies are argued about and debated before being put into action, thus, he says, "avoiding the worst thing in the world", which is to rush into action without considering the consequences. And, indeed, the Athenians did discuss and debate, often sensibly.

Its faults are almost as obvious as its virtues. And examples are many--for instance, the sentencing of Socrates, who lost votes because of his politically incorrect speech in his own defense. Or the Athenian assembly voting for the death of all the adult males and the enslavement of all the women and children of Mytilene, then regretting the decision and sending a second boat to intercept, just in time, the boat carrying the order. Democracy had the even more grievous result of procuring the ruin of Athens, by voting for the disastrous and pointless expedition to Syracuse against the advice of the more sensible, on being bamboozled by the attractive promises of the destructive demagogue Alcibiades.

It's bizarre how neocons are so obsessed with the Peloponnesian War and Thucydides' account of it, yet stumble repeatedly into the same mistakes the Athenians made.

Even in failure, the thought-fires it set off went on burning. But the views it posed did not really return to Europe and elsewhere until a quarter of a millennium ago. Thus it was not its example but its theory that hit the inexperienced thinkers of the European Enlightenment. Unfortunately, the inheritance was less about the Periclean need for debate than about the need to harness the people (to a succession of rulers). And though the broader forces of real consensual rule began to penetrate, from England and elsewhere (such as the early New England town meetings or those of Swiss rural cantons), they had to compete in the struggle for the vote with inexperienced populations and "philosophical" elites.

The revival of the concept of democracy on the European continent saw this huge stress on the demos, the people. They could not in fact match the direct participation of the Athenian demos, but they could be "represented" by any revolutionary regime claiming to do so--often concerned, above all, to repress "enemies of the people." Also, the people, or those of military age, could be conscripted in bulk--the levŽe en masse that long defeated more conventional armies.

Burke said, "The Revolution was made, not to make France free, but to make her formidable; ... not to make her more observant of laws, but to put her in a condition to impose them." Of course, no true conservative pays attention to that old fuddy-duddy Burke anymore.

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Malcolm Gladwell on "The Sports Taboo: Why blacks are like boys and whites are like girls"

Best-selling Author Malcolm Gladwell Said the Same Thing As Larry Summers, and About Race As Well! The top selling non-fiction book Blink is coining mucho bling for Malcolm Gladwell, yet in 1997 Gladwell wrote a New Yorker article called "The Sports Taboo: Why blacks are like boys and whites are like girls," which made exactly the same argument as Larry Summers made about what is innately different in the capabilities of males and females -- that men have a larger standard deviation on many traits, so there are more men at the top (and bottom) of the bell curves. But Gladwell also extended the argument to race:

"Sometimes a baseball player is just a baseball player, and sometimes an observation about racial difference is just an observation about racial difference. Few object when medical scientists talk about the significant epidemiological differences between blacks and whites-the fact that blacks have a higher incidence of hypertension than whites and twice as many black males die of diabetes and prostate cancer as white males, that breast tumors appear to grow faster in black women than in white women, that black girls show signs of puberty sooner than white girls. So why aren't we allowed to say that there might be athletically significant differences between blacks and whites?

"According to the medical evidence, African-Americans seem to have, on the average, greater bone mass than do white Americans-a difference that suggests greater muscle mass. Black men have slightly higher circulating levels of testosterone and human-growth hormone than their white counterparts, and blacks over all tend to have proportionally slimmer hips, wider shoulders, and longer legs.... There is a point at which it becomes foolish to deny the fact of black athletic prowess, and even more foolish to banish speculation on the topic. Clearly, something is going on. The question is what.

"A useful case study is to compare the ability of men and women in math. If you give a large, representative sample of male and female students a standardized math test, their mean scores will come out pretty much the same. But if you look at the margins, at the very best and the very worst students, sharp differences emerge. In the math portion of an achievement test conducted by Project Talent-a nationwide survey of fifteen-year-olds-there were 1.3 boys for every girl in the top ten per cent, 1.5 boys for every girl in the top five per cent, and seven boys for every girl in the top one per cent. In the fifty-six-year history of the Putnam Mathematical Competition, which has been described as the Olympics of college math, all but one of the winners have been male. Conversely, if you look at people with the very lowest math ability, you'll find more boys than girls there, too. In other words, although the average math ability of boys and girls is the same, the distribution isn't: there are more males than females at the bottom of the pile, more males than females at the top of the pile, and fewer males than females in the middle. Statisticians refer to this as a difference in variability.

"This pattern, as it turns out, is repeated in almost every conceivable area of gender difference. Boys are more variable than girls on the College Board entrance exam and in routine elementary-school spelling tests. Male mortality patterns are more variable than female patterns; that is, many more men die in early and middle age than women, who tend to die in more of a concentrated clump toward the end of life. The problem is that variability differences are regularly confused with average differences."

Likewise, Summers said in his infinitely denounced speech, as I pointed out in my essay in the National Post of Toronto last week:

"It does appear that on many, many different human attributes -- height, weight, propensity for criminality, overall IQ, mathematical ability, scientific ability -- there is relatively clear evidence that whatever the difference in means … there is a difference in the standard deviation and variability of a male and a female population."

In other words, as any woman could testify, there are more stupid men than women; likewise, at least in math and spatial reasoning, there are more brilliant men than women.

Summers stated;

"… if one is talking about physicists at a top twenty-five research university, one is not talking about people who are two standard deviations above the mean. [In a normal bell curve, only one out of 44 individuals is that much above average.] And perhaps it's not even talking about somebody who is three standard deviations above the mean [or one out of 741]. But it's talking about people who are three and a half [one out of 4,299], four standard deviations above the mean [one in 31,574] …"

Observing that among the top five percent of twelfth-graders in math and science, it's common to see two boys for every girl, Summers estimated that the variance in ability is about 20 percent greater among males. He went on,

"If you do that calculation -- and I have no reason to think that it couldn't be refined in a hundred ways -- you get five to one [males per female], at the high end."

So, Gladwell, who makes something like $1 million dollars per year speaking to corporations, believes exactly the same thing as Summers about the math skills of males and females.

Now, let's get back to Gladwell's New Yorker article as he tries to extend this correct statement about gender to race.

" The same holds true for differences between the races. A racist stereotype is the assertion of average difference-it's the claim that the typical white is superior to the typical black. It allows a white man to assume that the black man he passes on the street is stupider than he is. By contrast, if what racists believed was that black intelligence was simply more variable than white intelligence, then it would be impossible for them to construct a stereotype about black intelligence at all. They wouldn't be able to generalize. If they wanted to believe that there were a lot of blacks dumber than whites, they would also have to believe that there were a lot of blacks smarter than they were. This distinction is critical to understanding the relation between race and athletic performance. What are we seeing when we remark black domination of élite sporting events-an average difference between the races or merely a difference in variability?

Gladwell is being excessively tricky here, as he so often tends to be. Gladwell thinks that it's not too politically incorrect to say that there are differences in variability between the races, as long as he doesn't say there are differences in means. But as the denunciations of Summers have shown, lots of politically correct people think it's deplorably sexist to say: "Even though men and women are equal in intelligence, greater male variability means that more men than women will be smart enough to get tenure in the Harvard math department." (Indeed when Summers mentioned that "white men are very substantially underrepresented in the National Basketball Association," the WSJ sniffed, "According to the transcript, Mr. Summers cited no sources for these assertions …")

Gladwell went on:

"This distinction is critical to understanding the relation between race and athletic performance. What are we seeing when we remark black domination of élite sporting events-an average difference between the races or merely a difference in variability?

"This question has been explored by geneticists and physical anthropologists, and some of the most notable work has been conducted over the past few years by Kenneth Kidd, at Yale. Kidd and his colleagues have been taking DNA samples from two African Pygmy tribes in Zaire and the Central African Republic and comparing them with DNA samples taken from populations all over the world. What they have been looking for is variants-subtle differences between the DNA of one person and another-and what they have found is fascinating. "I would say, without a doubt, that in almost any single African population-a tribe or however you want to define it-there is more genetic variation than in all the rest of the world put together," Kidd told me.

"So you can expect groups of Africans to be more variable in respect to almost anything that has a genetic component. If, for example, your genes control how you react to aspirin, you'd expect to see more Africans than whites for whom one aspirin stops a bad headache, more for whom no amount of aspirin works, more who are allergic to aspirin, and more who need to take, say, four aspirin at a time to get any benefit-but far fewer Africans for whom the standard two-aspirin dose would work well. And to the extent that running is influenced by genetic factors you would expect to see more really fast blacks-and more really slow blacks-than whites but far fewer Africans of merely average speed. Blacks are like boys. Whites are like girls.

"There is nothing particularly scary about this fact, and certainly nothing to warrant the kind of gag order on talk of racial differences which is now in place.

Indeed, that "fact" is particularly not scary because it's not a fact. As I wrote in "Seven Dumb Ideas about Race" in 2000:"

#7 "Most of the human race's genetic variation is among black Africans."

This chestnut is true only for junk genes, the DNA that doesn't do anything. Junk genes are highly useful to population geneticists tracing the genealogies of racial groups, but they don't affect anything in the real world.

Then, are black Africans highly diverse physically? Well, that depends upon who you are lumping together. There are indeed some highly unusual peoples in Africa, but almost none of them were brought to America as slaves. The most genetically distinct people in sub-Saharan Africa are the Khoisan. These are the yellowish-brown, tongue-clicking Bushmen and Hottentots of the Southern African wastelands, the remnants of a great race that once dominated most of Africa before the blacks ethnically cleansed them from the more desirable lands. The most striking contrast in Africa is between the tiny Pygmies and the ultra-tall herding tribes of East Africa. But except for the 7'7", 190-pound basketball novelty Manute Bol, few of either group made it to America. In contrast, the West African tribes that did provide the vast majority of American slaves are relatively homogenous. Cavalli-Sforza sums up the situation on the ground like this, "… differences between most sub-Saharan Africans other than Khoisan and Pygmies seem rather small."

There is little evidence that blacks tend to be more variable than whites in things that matter. In IQ, the standard deviation for blacks appears to be slightly smaller, not larger as Gladwell seems to assume, than for whites. Gladwell's logic implies that there would be more blacks than whites per capita in Ivy League math departments. That, I can assure, you is not true.

The New Yorker is famous for its fact-checking department (although it seems to have a very narrow definition of what is a fact since it gave the OK to Gladwell's complete misinterpretation of Kidd's statement), but it definitely doesn't have a logic-checking department. A few minutes thought would shoot enormous holes in Gladwell's complicated but ridiculous argument.

If black IQ is more variable than white IQ, as Gladwell implies, then blacks should be over-represented in high IQ positions, such as Ivy League faculties, yet the NYT just reported: "From 1993 to 2003, the percentage of tenured black professors on the Ivy faculties remained essentially flat at 2 percent." (And quite a few of those were in Black Studies departments.)

In reality, the big racial difference in intelligence in America is not in variance but in the mean, which differs by a full standard deviation. No, the big mistake is to use the the term "racist" at all in discussions of empirical matters.

Similarly, there is little evidence that the difference in athletic ability between blacks and whites has anything to do with differences in variance. Gladwell is unmarried, but I've spent lots of time shepherding my kids at playgrounds and sports fields, and the average racial difference in running speed is apparent from toddlerhood up. There simply is no question that average sprinting ability is higher among black kids than white kids.

The same is true for distance running ability in East Africa. Physiologist Bengt Saltin took members of the Swedish Olympic track team to compete against St. Patrick's high school in the Kalenjin area of Kenya's highlands. Dr. Saltin estimates there are at least 500 schoolboys in the region who could beat Sweden's best man at 2,000 meters.

So, the least Gladwell could do is speak out in defense of Summers.

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March 1, 2005

America's New Shia Pet

"Saudi Shiites, Long Kept Down, Look to Iraq and Assert Rights," headlines the NYT.

Ever since America's last experiment in pushing for democratization in the Middle East -- Jimmy Carter's undermining of the Shah of Iran in 1979 -- brought the Ayatollah Khomeini to power, America's fundamental strategy in the Persian Gulf has been modeled on Britain's centuries-old policy toward Europe of opposing any single power dominating the Continent, especially the lowlands where the Rhine River reaches the sea, which, lying opposite the mouth of the Thames, are the natural commercial link between the British Isles and the Continent. That's why the lowlands are divided up into the three small Benelux countries and why the violation of Belgium neutrality by the German invaders in WWI triggered British entry into the Great War.

Similarly, our goal has been to insure that the vast oil reserves of the Persian Gulf remain divided amongst numerous states: Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and various statelets such as the members of the United Arab Emirates. As long as the oil of the Persian Gulf is not monopolized by one state, it is difficult -- not impossible, just difficult -- for OPEC to fully maximize prices due to competition and backstabbing among members. Cartels are not as effective as monopolies.

That's why the civilized world reacted so violently to Saddam's stick-up of Kuwait in 1990. Although it may not have been Saddam's immediate intention, digesting Kuwait would have put him in position to eventually annex Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and then use his vast wealth to re-open his war with Iran and seize its oil regions. (Alternately, he could have simply blackmailed by threat of conquest his surviving neighbors into cooperating.) The prospect of Saddam being able to unilaterally set the price of oil as a profit-maximizing monopolist was intolerable to most of the the world.

Since the Shi'ite takeover of Iran in 1979, however, another major American fear has stemmed from the an unlucky correlation between demography and geology -- living on top of most of the oil fields of the Gulf are Shi'ites. Shi'ites make up the majority of Kuwaitis and the majority of Saudis in the oil-rich Eastern Province. Similarly, Shi'ites live atop most Iraqi and Iranian oil (in Iran, they are typically Arab-speakers).

We long have feared consolidation of power under the Shi'ites in the oil regions of the Gulf and thus supported maintenance of existing borders. Perhaps that was an unreasonable fear, but it is worth asking why the Bush White House decided to junk this policy with almost no debate or reflection and instead push Shia Power in the Middle East via our recent fetishization of democracy.

The President seems increasingly addicted to rolling the geopolitical dice on the assumption that whatever comes up, even snake-eyes, the Republican media machine can spin it as another triumph of our Infallible Leader's Master Plan.

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Leo Strauss Explained

Finally, the link between Straussianism and the neocons' latest foreign policy explained. Manhattan Transfer lays it out:

How had a group of people who are obviously learned in the classics of conservative political thought, including Burke, Aristotle and Plato, have come to a conclusion--that there is one just form of government, democracy, and that democratic government is equally realizable for all people, at all times--that seems so foreign to the the conservative tradition? This was the foreign policy of Woodrow Wilson and the progressives, not the policy of American conservatives.

To understand how the neoconservatives arrived at Wilsonianism it helps to know about how Straussians read ancient texts. In the nineteenth century the dominant method of interpreting the classics of Greece and Rome held that in order to understand these works it was necessary to know a lot about the history and culture of the society from in their authors lived. The values that informed the work were presumed to be historical, which is to say foreign to our contemporary way of thinking, and a great deal of historical knowledge was required in order to recover those values and an understanding of, say, Plato's Republic.

In the early part of the twentieth century this view was challenged by what would come to be known as post-modernism. The post-modernists pointed out that the knowledge of history necessary to understand the works of the ancients could only be derived from the works themselves. If this knowledge was necessary to understanding them, the project couldn't get started in the first place. The door to the values of the past was closed. The historicist approach was impossible.

Leo Strauss was one of those who sought to recover the value of reading very old books. His approach was not to defend the historicist method but to deny the requirement of history. Great books were timeless, in the sense that they did not require a lot of knowledge about history and culture to be understood. They could be read closely by the best minds of very different times because they had been written by thinkers who were not themselves prisoners of their age. He proposed a fellowship of thinkers that stretched across vast epochs and made reading the ancients possible.

Beneath the Straussian approach to reading was a metaphysical perspective. Understanding through the ages was possible because certain questions were permanent questions, questions that arose and applied in any age. What is the best way to live? What regime is the best? These questions remained permanent because all men shared a certain nature. In short, Strauss supported his recovery of reading with an appeal to a permanent human nature, a psychic unity stretching across generations.

The neoconservatives take this a step--a dangerous, vulgarizing step--further. If there is a universal human nature that makes reading the ancients possible in all times and all places, shouldn't this universal human nature also make democratic-capitalism possible for everyone? What seems to have happened is that the neoconservatives took the Straussian downgrade of the importance of history and culture for reading great books and applied it to the importance of history and culture for governing people.

The problem with this is that Strauss applied his way of reading only to the best readers reading the best writing of the best writers. It was highly elitist. The neoconservatives have popularized this by taking out its elitism and then applied it to an entirely different sphere of life, politics. That is, they have treated global politics as if it were philosophy, and treated entire populations as if they were philosophers. Unfortunately, philosophy is not politics and Iraq is not populated by philosophers.

Of course, much of what passes for a worldview among neocons is simply opportunistic scrambling to provide rationalizations for their actions. But this seems to explain something important about how Strauss, who valued prudence, became associated with a policy of wild imprudence.

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"Non-socially divisive minds, free markets!"

Carter of Across Difficult Country asks if that will be the new slogan of Reason magazine. That certainly seems to be its editor Nick Gillespie's dogma. In response to the scoffing at the adamantine political correctness Gillespie displayed when interviewed by Luke Ford, Gillespie sniffs:

I'm not interested in perpetuating or even entertaining pseudo-scientific, socially divisive explanations of human behavior that participate in a long and baleful discourse about such matters in America.

Nancy Hopkins and Susan Estrich couldn't have put it better, Nick!

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Democracy in Lebanon!

What could be more wonderful!

Except that there already was democracy in Lebanon from 1943 to 1975, and it broke down because the demography changed. The Christians had been the richest and biggest group in 1943, followed by the Sunnis, so the Christians had the most power and the Sunnis the second position. Life was nice - Beirut was a tourist town. But the backward Shi'ites were fast growing, as were Walid Jumblatt's Druze, and they both wanted more power. Then the Palestinians showed up, having gotten kicked out of Jordan by King Hussein. And so a decade and a half of civil war started in 1975.

Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon tried invading in 1982, without really mentioning it to the rest of the cabinet, kind of like Rumsfeld invading Mexico on his own say-so. There was dancing in the streets as the Israelis advanced, but then it all bogged down and Israel got stuck in Lebanon for 18 years before going home. So then the US sent troops to help make peace, but after awhile, for reasons that almost nobody can remember now, but which no doubt seemed like a good idea at the time, the U.S.S. New Jersey battleship spent much of 1983 shelling Jumblatt's Druze villages. Eventually, Reagan decided this wasn't such a good idea, and we went home. And the Lebanese kept shelling each other for eight more years, until the Syrians won, and the killing finally stopped.

So, has the demography of Lebanon improved over the last 30 years? Have the proportion of middle class, Western-oriented, modern, moderate folks in Lebanon increased? Not exactly. A huge fraction of the Christian population has left. The big birthrate had been among the rural Shi'ites, the people represented by the ferociously anti-Israeli, Iranian-backed Hezbollah, so presumably they will be much stronger if another vote is held. But, then, that apparently is our Grand Strategy in the Middle East, at least this month: to build up Iran's power, at least until we decide to attack Iran as part of next month's Grand Strategy.

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February 28, 2005

French freedom

Solzhenitsyn's latest now translated into French: One of the mysteries of 21st Century publishing is whether the great Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Two Centuries Together, a two volume history of the world-shaping interactions of Russians and Jews, will ever be published in America. A reader points out that if you read French (which I don't), both volumes have been available from since 2003.

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Oblivious to the Obvious

Luke Ford interviews Reason magazine editor Nick Gillespie and tries to get him to say something, anything, politically incorrect about race, while Nick ducks and weaves, trying to stay as smug and boring as possible:

Luke: "Why do you think there are so many white women with black men and so few black women with white men?"

Nick: "I don't know that any of that is the case. I would suspect that in every possible category, you are seeing [more interracial relationships], not less. The premise of your question is probably flawed."

Luke: Steve Sailer writes in the National Review 7/14/97:...

In the 1990 Census, 72 per cent of black - white couples consisted of a black husband and a white wife. In contrast, white - Asian pairs showed the reverse: 72 per cent consisted of a white husband and an Asian wife....

Luke: "We see few Asian men with white women as opposed to Asian women with white men."

Nick: "Is this the kind of discussion that you had with Virginia [Postrel]?"

Gillespie also trots out this chestnut:

Nick: "My mother was Italian and my father was Irish. A hundred years ago, neither of them was part of the white race. I suspect in the future that might change again."

[You'll recall that famous scene in Gone with the Wind where Scarlett O'Hara's Irish last name is discovered and she is immediately sold into slavery.]

Luke: "So you don't regard yourself as a white man?"

Nick: "I don't think of myself in those terms.

"I grew up in suburban New Jersey in a working class immigrant [neighborhood]. There were a lot of Irish, Italian and Polish-Americans. We had a similar background. In Europe, we wouldn't have considered ourselves that similar."

Luke: "Would most of your friend be conventionally considered white?"

Nick: "Most of my friends would be conventionally considered interesting What is your fixation with race?"

Luke: "I don't think we discuss it honestly and I think it plays a much larger role..."

Nick: "In what way? Do you have some kind of visceral reaction to people who look more or less like you?"

Luke: "I think people tend to overwhelmingly live among people of their own race but they don't want to admit it."

[Here's the famous April 2002 Atlantic piece by Jonathan Rauch showing how people naturally segregate themselves by race.]

Nick: "OK. Then you don't need my opinion on it, do you?"...

Luke: "How come all the people who write in your book are white?"

Nick: "They're not all white. In our next issue, we have something written by a Taiwanese-American."

Luke: "No, in the book Choice."

Nick: "I don't know. I guess because they were all born that way.

"What is that? What's the point of a question like that?"

Luke: "On the one hand, you say that race is an artificial construct, but then you see certain actions...that seem contrary to [Nick's] stated race-means-nothing [attitude]."

Nick: "OK."

What exactly is the point of being a libertarian if it means you don't feel free to speak the truth about the world around you?

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My shallowness exposed

I am not worthy: As a movie reviewer, that's how I always feel after reading one of Michael Blowhard's offhand but profound film essays, such as his new one on Sideways and the art of the close-up.

And here's a long, insightful review by Alan Dale of what's wrong with "Million Dollar Baby."

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Just asking ...

If democracy is the indispensable key, as the President claims, how come China has been a huge success recently despite almost no elections, while Russia has been a catastrophe despite lots of elections, especially during its worst years in the 1990s? Just asking ...


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February 27, 2005

Was Dustin Hoffman on horse tranquilizers ...

... while announcing the Best Picture Oscar winner?

I liked how the composer of the Best Song, Jorge Drexler, instead of giving a speech thanking his childhood piano teacher, sang his song all over again, in a lovely a capella version, to make up for the clunking rendition by Antonio Banderas and Carlos Santana earlier in the evening, which had led my son to ask, "Are they making this song up as the go along?"

I also liked how the Academy selected the two most incomprehensible actresses in Hollywood, Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek, to deliver the Best Sound awards.

By the way, I've discovered the secret to getting Google to send a lot of hits your way: misspellings! I accidentally titled my review on my website as "Million Dollar Baby with Clint Eastwood and Hillary Swank" and I'm getting lots of business from people who think the Best Actress' name is spelled like Mrs. Clinton's name, instead of the correct "Hilary."

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"Hotel Rwanda"

My review of Oscar nominee Hotel Rwanda:

As America strives to prod Iraq to "democracy," which President Bush defines as sugar and spice and everything nice (such as protection of minority rights), "Hotel Rwanda" could serve as a timely reminder that long-oppressed peoples, like the Hutus in Rwanda (and perhaps the Shi'ites in Iraq), generally assume the word means … majority rule.

And what the Hutu majority wanted was vengeance on their traditional rulers, the Tutsis.

Not that you'll learn much from "Hotel Rwanda" itself. Its script methodically excludes any insights into why Hutu mobs butchered at least a half million Tutsis and moderate Hutus in the spring of 1994.

No, the reason to see this solidly made little movie is Don Cheadle's subtle performance as Paul Rusesabagina, the suave Hutu manager of Rwanda's finest hotel, who saved 1,286 refugees through Schindler's List-style subterfuges.

Cheadle has been to film acting what Dave Chappelle was to television comedy -- the man who had been the Next Big Thing for so long he was becoming a joke. "Hotel Rwanda" won't make Cheadle a matinee idol -- the topic is too foreboding -- but it finally gives him the character lead he deserves.

Further, "Hotel Rwanda" is less depressing than it sounds, offering one of the few Rwandan stories with a happy ending. On-screen gore is minimized, allowing the film a PG-13 rating.

Unfortunately, the screenplay aims at self-absorbed white liberals who think all Africans look alike and that white racism is the root of all evil. The script even claims that it's merely a white myth that Tutsis tend to be taller than Hutus, asserting that the Belgian imperialists arbitrarily assigned those identities to random Rwandans. Yet, soon the Hutu Power radio station is broadcasting the prearranged code to begin exterminating the Tutsis: "Cut down the tall trees." [...more]

From a 2004 article in The Economist:

Who are the Tutsis? Some anthropologists argue that the label is meaningless. But everyone in Rwanda, Burundi and Congo understands it. The stereotypical Tutsi looks like Rwanda's president, Paul Kagame: tall and thin, with a long thin nose. [Here's Kagame chatting with Larry Summers, who could get some good advice from Kagame on why he shouldn't fear feminists so much: "What are they going to do to you? Chop you up with machetes?"] The other cliché about Tutsis is that they live by herding cattle, whereas their squat, flat-nosed neighbours (this includes the Hutus) subsist by growing crops. In reality, the differences between the two groups are blurred, and there is plenty of intermarriage.

The relationship between the two groups is similar to Latin America, where after 500 years of intermarriage, the ruling class still looks white. But, nobody understands how Latin America works (some of my most gratifying emails are from Mexicans and South Americans thanking me for explaining this paradox), so it's hardly surprising that nobody in the West understands how Rwanda works either. I wrote in my review:

The Tutsi ascendancy resembled the white pre-eminence in Latin America. Intermarriage was frequent, yet physical differences between the classes endured, just as they have in Mexico, where despite five centuries of intermarrying, the elite remains much taller and fairer than the masses. The trick is that Mexico's most successful short, dark men often wed tall, blonde women and have more European-looking offspring, thus replenishing the caste system. Likewise, in "Hotel Rwanda," Cheadle's ultra-competent Hutu executive is married to a Tutsi beauty who is taller and fairer than he is. (She's played by Oscar nominee Sophie Okonedo, whose mother is a Jewish Englishwoman.)


The Economist continues:

In the West, the Tutsis are best known as the victims of genocide. In 1994, the Hutu-dominated government of Rwanda tried to exterminate every Tutsi within its borders, and nearly succeeded. The slaughter stopped when an army of Tutsi exiles—scattered around the region by previous anti-Tutsi pogroms—overthrew the genocidal regime and took over the country. Mr Kagame, a Rwandan Tutsi raised in Uganda, was its leader.

Since then, Mr Kagame's ostensibly multi-ethnic but actually Tutsi-led government has been ruthlessly determined to prevent another genocide and to hang on to power. Besides crushing revolts within Rwanda, his men have twice invaded Congo to hunt down the Hutu génocidaires who fled there. They killed perhaps 200,000 killers and innocents in Congo, and sparked a terrible civil war.

All these conflicts have been, first and foremost, about power and its perks. But because insecurity makes people turn to their tribe for protection, the faultlines of war quickly become tribal. In this region, that often means the Tutsis versus the rest.

Everywhere they live, the Tutsis are a small minority. In Rwanda, where they are perhaps 15% of a population of 9m, they have been firmly in charge since 1994. The country is peaceful and visibly better run than its neighbours. The government is relatively clean, refreshingly businesslike, and beloved of foreign donors. But the surface calm disguises wild currents below. The government's line is that there are no Hutus or Tutsis, only Rwandans. Its ideologues argue that the Hutu-Tutsi divide was a creation of Rwanda's old colonial masters, the Belgians, and that a Tutsi is simply a Hutu whose ancestors owned cows. Public discussion of ethnic differences is, in effect, banned.

Rwandan Hutus can't help noticing that tall, thin people hold a lot of the top jobs, but they risk trouble if they say so...

In Burundi, Hutu-Tutsi relations have been improving, albeit from a wretched base. The country has roughly the same ethnic mix as Rwanda, but its Tutsi elite has run it for much of its 40-odd years of independence, keeping the majority down with flashes of exceptional brutality. A huge massacre of Hutus in Burundi in 1993 helped to convince the Hutu regime in Rwanda that the only way to ensure its own survival was to kill all Tutsis.

Burundi is still at war, but that war is less bloody than it was. Most Hutu rebels have been brought into a power-sharing government. Burundians openly discuss ethnic issues, and a South African-style truth and reconciliation commission is planned. A few hundred diehard Hutu rebels still lob explosives into the capital, but not many people were being killed until last week. That slaughter took place near the border with Congo; the Burundian government is convinced that it was the work of Hutu militias based in Congo.

The situation in Congo is the most complex. Because it is so vast and thinly populated, refugees from its crowded, violent neighbours have been thronging there for over a century. Some 5% of the 20m people in eastern Congo are now Tutsis.

In all three countries, Tutsis feel besieged. Some Tutsis liken themselves to Israelis: they may be few in number and surrounded by enemies, but they survive because they are clever and well-organised, whereas those who would annihilate them are corrupt and incompetent.


Yet, for all its troubles, Africa retains its intense appeal. The first 5 minutes of Hotel Rwanda rekindled the odd sense of joy I feel in watching daily life in Africa, with the women in technicolor clothes swaying under bundles balanced on their heads. I only wish that part of the film was longer before the chopping begins.

No movie captures the beauty, romance, and cheerfulness of which Africa is sometimes capable better than the remarkable early 1980s Afrikaaner slapstick comedy about a Kalahari Bushman's quest to throw a Coke bottle that brought trouble to his his band off the edge of the world, The Gods Must Be Crazy. This microbudget Boer-language import was one of my two favorite movies of the era, along with Repo Man. I just watched it again tonight and it lived up to my memories. Sure, it romanticizes the Bushmen, yet they deserve it -- they really are the least violent hunter-gatherer tribe in the world.

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