June 10, 2006

Keep a close eye on your heirs during 2010

Half Sigma points out:

The wise members of Congress have determined that the estate tax will be 45% in 2009, 0% in 2010, and then 55/60% in 2011 and years after. Clearly, the best year to die is 2010. By dying in 2010 a rich person essentially doubles the amount of money his heirs will receive.

I predict that there will be a mysterious increase in deaths among the very wealthy in 2010.

A reader notes this abstract:

Dying to Save Taxes: Evidence from Estate Tax Returns on the Death Elasticity

"This paper examines data from U.S. federal tax returns to shed light on whether the timing of death is responsive to its tax consequences. We investigate the temporal pattern of deaths around the time of changes in the estate tax system periods when living longer, or dying sooner, could significantly affect estate tax liability. We find some evidence that there is a small death elasticity, although we cannot rule out that what we have uncovered is ex post doctoring of the reported date of death."

But, I bet the timing advantages of Grandma kicking off by 12/31 have never been as huge as they will be in 2010.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

June 9, 2006

Are women's voices getting lower in the UK?

The Times of London reports:

Women lower tone for some vocal equality with men
Kitty Donaldson

WOMEN are toning it down. A new book reveals that their voices have deepened significantly in the second half of the 20th century.

The change is revealed in The Human Voice by Anne Karpf, which details research indicating the change. It shows that when 1945 recordings of women aged between 18 and 25 were compared with similar recordings from 1993, the average pitch of the later group was about 23 hertz lower — roughly equivalent to a semitone drop.

Singing coaches and audio archivists confirm the trend. Jonnie Robinson, a curator at the British Library who specialises in dialects, said: “Women’s voices do seem to have lowered over the last 50 years.

King Lear said of his daughter Cordelia:

"Her voice was ever soft,
Gentle, and low, an excellent thing in woman."

Assuming that Shakespeare meant "low" to mean "low pitched" rather than just as another synonym for "soft" and "gentle," then I agree. My wife sings alto rather than soprano, and that makes her speaking voice very easy on the ears.

The downside of a deep voice in a man is that it's hard to speak quickly and precisely. The famous BBC accent, which was first inculcated in 18th Century English public schools, allows its users to communicate quickly and transparently, even using tricky multi-syllabic words like "portraiture." A higher pitch goes well with the BBC accent because if you are as guttural as Henry Kissinger or Arnold Schwarzenegger, it's hard to say "portraiture" in less than about five seconds.

A quarter century ago, I went out a couple of times with a girl from Cameroon in West Africa. She said that girls in Cameroon were taught to speak with very high pitched voices and boys with very low pitched voices. Unfortunately, her unnaturally high intonation got on my nerves, so I stopped asking her out.

There seems to be a belt running from Russia south into Arabia where men tend to speak with deep voices. I don't know if this is natural or a cultural affectation.

Perhaps the highest pitched styles are found among the Vietnamese.

I would guess that people of African descent are most likely to have deeply resonant voices, which might be related to the internal structure of the nasal cavities and the like.

That reminds me that many years ago, my wife and I were in the famous Dean & Deluca gourmet grocery store in Manhattan, when we noticed a huge middle-aged black man with a tremendously resonant bass voice and a Trinidadian accent checking out. "Hey, that's that UnCola Nut guy, uh, Geoffrey Holder," I told my wife.

The kid behind the checkout counter stared at Holder and stammered, "You're ... you're ..."

Holder flashed him a killer smile. "That's right, I am James Earl Jones. But, don't tell anyone. You see, I'm traveling in-cog-ni-to," he replied, with complete delight in his exquisite overpronunciation of the word "incognito." He then let out the famous "Ha-Ha-Ha" from his old 7-Up commercials, picked up his bag of groceries, and departed, leaving the kid gaping.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

My interview with Charles Murray

will appear in the new issue of The American Conservative. Here's an excerpt:

Once a decade, Charles Murray publishes massive data-driven volumes such as Losing Ground (1984), The Bell Curve (1994), and Human Achievement (2003). In between, he pens smaller, more philosophical books such as In Pursuit: Of Happiness and Good Government (1988) and What it Means to Be a Libertarian (1997).

In Our Hands: A Plan to Replace the Welfare State is Murray's latest little work. Only 127 pages (not counting the elaborate appendices), it offers a striking combination of futuristic policy wonkery and Murray's old-fashioned notions, derived from Aristotle, Jefferson, and his own small-town upbringing, of how people can lead a good life. "Happiness is lasting and justified satisfaction with one's life as a whole," he writes.

Having demonstrated in Losing Ground that the Great Society poverty programs degraded the poor (an tour de force that ultimately led to the successful welfare reform of 1996), but having also documented in The Bell Curve that not all of our fellow citizens are cut out to thrive in the highly libertarian society that he would ideally prefer, Murray now offers in In Our Hands a "Plan" for a generous but radically simplified welfare state. He suggests abolishing all transfer programs, including Social Security, and replacing them with a single grant of $10,000 to each adult.

I discussed his new book with him via e-mail:

Q. Is this your follow-up to The Bell Curve, where you documented that some people are just unlucky about their endowment of human capital?

A. You're the first person to ask that question. Yes, it is a libertarian's compromise with the realities documented in The Bell Curve. The dynamics that the Plan will set in motion are ones that create the "valued places" that Dick Herrnstein and I talked about in the final chapter of The Bell Curve. In effect, I'm saying to the left, "You get to have big government in terms of spending, if you'll give me small government in terms of the government's ability to stage manage people's lives." ...

Q. Can I be a test case and get $10,000?

A. No test cases. I'm fomenting revolution here.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

June 8, 2006

NBA statistics done right:

I've been boning up lately on the weird world of basketball statistics, a field less mature than baseball statistics. I don't feel all that confident in my understanding of NBA numbers yet, but I do want to mention that Matt Yglesias' new Slate piece explaining why Dirk Nowitzki of the NBA Finalist Dallas Mavericks has gotten better since his best friend, the great point guard Steve Nash, left the team, strikes me as a lot more plausible use of data than Malcolm Gladwell's recent book review about basketball statistics in The New Yorker. Yglesias writes:

If Dallas isn't winning because it plays better defense, then what's the team's secret? The Mavericks are winning because they've unshackled Dirk Nowitzki. The conventional wisdom says that great players in general, and Nash in particular, make their teammates better. But in the case of the Mavericks, Nash made Nowitzki—the team's best player and his best friend—distinctly worse.

Playing with Nash turned Nowitzki into a half-star, half-carnival freak. Nash's penetrate-and-dish moves allowed the 7-foot tall, David Hasselhoff-loving German to take advantage of his uncanny accuracy from the 3-point line. It turns out, though, that having him spot up for 3-pointers isn't the best use of Nowitzki's abilities. Nash's great asset is his unselfishness and ability to find the open man. What makes Nowitzki special is that he doesn't need to be open in order to score. Nobody can guard him...

A strong case can be made that Nowitzki, not the MVP Nash, has now emerged as the best player in the NBA.

Nowitzki has gotten better by parting ways with the league's most unselfish player. And Dallas as a whole is proving that you can generate an effective offense by "playing the wrong way." The Mavericks run lots of isolation plays and don't usually bother passing to the open man. Nash's Suns ended 19.7 percent of their possessions with assists, the highest rate in the league. Nowitzki's Mavericks assisted teammates just 14.8 percent of the time. Only the horrifyingly bad Knicks had a lower rate. Meanwhile, the superselfish Mavs had the league's second-most efficient offense in the regular season.

I would guess that Yglesias was inspired by the criticism of Malcolm Gladwell's contention, based on his three economists' rather unsophisticated analyses, that Kevin Garnett has been far and away the best player in the NBA for years.

Garnett is a great basketball player, but in his current situation on the awful Minnesota Timberwolves, he's too unselfish for his team's good. He does all the subtle little things well, but he doesn't do enough of the obvious big thing: put the ball in the basket. He averaged only 21.8 points per game in 2006 on a team where everybody else stinks. He needed to score about 30 ppg just to lift his team to mediocrity.

Something that has been hard for me, and many others, to learn is that in sports, the most effective athletes are often the selfish or show-offy ones, not the good citizens who always do the conservative things that the coaches tell them to do. Back in 1920, the fans loved Babe Ruth for hitting more homeruns than all the others teams in the league, but the baseball experts held him in contempt for swinging for the fences instead of choking up on the bat and trying for singles. Well, we now know for sure that dumb ol' Babe was right and all the smart money guys like Ty Cobb and John McGraw were wrong about this fundamental question of baseball strategy.

Or remember when the young Magic Johnson organized a palace coup on the Lakers and got his coach, Paul Westhead (who had won the NBA championship with Magic not long before), fired and replaced with Pat Riley? Magic felt stifled by Westhead's conservative offensive style and wanted a coach who would let him play the freewheeling "Showtime" game that the fans loved. Well, Magic went on to win four more championships.

After Magic, it became stylish to view scoring as a crude, inferior skill than just about anybody could do. The real art of basketball was in passing to the open man, like Magic did. When Michael Jordan came along, the fans were instantly enraptured but the mavens sniffed. This guy was always shooting the ball, which seemed so 1970s: sure, he'll sell a lot of shoes with his fancy scoring average, but you can't win championships leading the league in scoring. Six championships later, none of them won with a genuine point guard on the Bulls, we know that the fans were right and the experts wrong.

In golf, the old, prestigious Ben Hogan strategy of driving for accuracy, not distance, then hitting superb long irons onto the green is obsolete. Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson, and Ernie Els now follow a less elegant approach of "flogging" the hell out of the ball off the tee, going and finding it, then wedging it out of the rough and onto the green from short range. It works.

As a conservative, this pattern in sports rather irks me. Cautious traditionalism deserves to win, right? Well, it doesn't always work out that way...

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

The Mild, Mild Midwest

From my review of the new film version of Garrison Keillor's public radio variety show "A Prairie Home Companion" in the upcoming issue of The American Conservative:

For most of us, acting our age requires an awkward improvisation for which we've tried to avoid preparing. Garrison Keillor, however, has always had the soul of a 63-year-old, and now that he's finally attained that age on the calendar, he's the Grand Master at it.

The Mark Twain of Minnesota has at last made a movie out of his "Prairie Home Companion," which he's been broadcasting live for two hours every Saturday, 32 weeks per year since 1974, when he got the inspiration while writing a profile of Nashville's Grand Ole Opry for The New Yorker. The low-key film version is merely a fictionalized rendition of his show, with lots of unfashionable old songs like "Frankie & Johnnie" and a little backstage drama about how after tonight's performance the series is being shut down by a soulless Texas corporation.

In a bit of Blue State humor, such as it is, one Minnesotan gripes, "Don't make fun of Texans just because they talk funny, their eyes don't focus, and the flesh is rotting from their bones." Keillor used to write an advice column in Salon, in which his primary message was "to bust loose." Good counsel, I'm sure, for the gentle souls who look to Garrison Keillor as a role model, but perhaps not a reliable general worldview.

Minnesotans like Keillor tend to be politically liberal because they are so personally conservative by nature and nurture that they can't imagine anybody else might need to be restrained by law or tradition. The more hell-raising Texans, in contrast, take a less softheaded view.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

Abortion Dust-Up

John Derbyshire takes a whack at Ramesh Ponnuru's book Party of Death. Ramesh responds. Separately, John O'Sullivan reviews the book.

By the way, pp. 65-73 of Ramesh's book includes the most lucid summary of my critique of the Freakonomics abortion-cut-crime theory I've read (including my own stuff). Here's a small sample:

If the abortion-cuts-crime theory is true, then its truth should be faced and its implications pondered. If it is true, then Levitt, Donohue, and Dubner deserve credit for advancing our understanding of some complicated social phenomena.

But is it true? For a long time, the only people who challenged it were a few researchers (notably Baruch College economist Ted Joyce) whose papers received rather less attention than Levitt's, and the journalist-blogger Steve Sailer. It is these critics, however unheralded, who appear to have the stronger case.

The most impressive evidence for the Levitt theory is that the states that legalized abortion a few years before Roe saw their crimes rates drop a few years earlier than the rest of the country. What Freakonomics ignores, however, is that crime had risen earlier in those same state. As Sailer writes, "[T]he two big urban areas that were the first to enjoy the purported crime-fighting benefits of legalized abortion in 1970, New York City and Los Angeles, were also the ground zeros of the teen murder rampage that began, perhaps not coincidentally, about 16 years later."

I'll see if Ramesh will let me post the whole thing. Ideally, though, some magazine would print those pages of his as a stand-alone article.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

A long Vanity Fair article on the Niger yellowcake forgeries and Michael Ledeen:

The War They Wanted, The Lies They Needed

The Bush administration invaded Iraq claiming Saddam Hussein had tried to buy yellowcake uranium in Niger. As much of Washington knew, and the world soon learned, the charge was false. Worse, it appears to have been the cornerstone of a highly successful "black propaganda" campaign with links to the White House


Longtime iSteve readers won't find too much that's new in this 12,500 word report. It reaches the same dead-end I did long ago: Logic points to National Review's Michael Ledeen as the obvious usual suspect in this world-historical fraud, but there's nothing close to proof tying him to it.

One thing we do know for sure: Ledeen has not publicly taken up my suggestion that he use his intimate contacts with the known Italian players in the scandal "to search for the Real Forgers."

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

Henry Kissinger on national character in the World Cup

Here is an excerpt from Kissinger's 1986 article on how the different playing styles of the major soccer powers reflect their national personalities. Some editor should get Kissinger to update it to see how much things have changed in 20 years.

World Cup according to Character

The German national team plays the way its general staff prepared for the war; games are meticulously planned, each player skilled in both attack and defense. Intricate pass patterns evolve, starting right in front of the German goal. Anything achievable by human foresight, careful preparation and hard work is accounted for.

And there have been great successes. Of the last six prior World Cups, Germany has won two, was second twice, third once and out of the running only in 1978. At the same time, the German national team suffers from the same disability as the famous Schlieffen plan for German strategy in World War I. There is a limit to human foresight; psychological stress on those charged with executing excessively complex maneuvers cannot be calculated in advance. If the German team falls behind, or if its intricate approach yields no results, its game is shadowed by the underlying national premonition that in the end even the most dedicated effort will go unrewarded, by the nightmare that ultimately fate is cruel ? a nightmare reinforced by the knowledge that the German media are unmerciful when high expectations go unfulfilled. The impression is unavoidable that an outstanding national soccer team has not brought a proportionate amount of joy to a people that may not in its heart of hearts believe joy is the ultimate national destiny. [More]

Tom Piatak responds:

Soccer represents the same sort of insidious threat to the American national character as did the metric system, nearly foisted on us in the dark days of the '70s. Fortunately, we survived that threat, thanks in part to the patriots who filled all road signs giving the speed in kilometers per hour with buckshot.

Soccer is the metric system in short pants. It is the "sport" (if such a word applies to an activity as soporific as a telephone book reading contest) the rest of the world plays, and desperately wants us to play, so we can become like the rest of the world and lose what makes us American. Give it no publicity, lest the real Americans who read your site think they are "supposed" to follow soccer and end up just like the Europeans, rioting and looting out of the sheer boredom generated from watching such a game.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

"Amnesty" Is Not about "Citizenship," Dammit, It’s about Residency

My new posting on the VDARE blog:

Residency">"Amnesty" Is Not about "Citizenship," Dammit, It’s about Residency

The Washington Post reports:

“The president has been supportive of the Senate approach, and in his speech Tuesday indicated that he does not regard such an approach as “amnesty” because illegal immigrants would have to get behind legal immigrants in line for citizenship.”

It is so frustrating that the media lets President Humpty Dumpty use words to mean whatever he wants them to mean. First, the main point is not whether illegal aliens get citizenship now or or later or never. The benefits of citizenship are modest: you get to vote, but you also have to serve on juries, which most citizens view as a burden, not a benefit. (For immigrants, the benefits also include you can bring in your siblings and your parents. Permanent legal residents only get to import their spouses and parents. And citizens can’t get deported after getting out of prison.)

No, what illegal aliens primarily want is residency, permanent legal residency. Illegal aliens don’t want amnesty for illegally voting (hopefully) or illegally serving on juries (undoubtedly); they want amnesty for illegally residing in America.

Second, back in 2004, as you may recall, but nobody in the MSM seems to remember, Bush was defining “amnesty” (which he has always claimed to be against) not to mean “getting ahead of legal immigrants in line for citizenship,” but as “getting on the path to citizenship” at all. Republican Congressmen didn’t want illegal aliens getting the vote because they would predominantly vote Democratic. As I pointed out back then, this Rovian gambit was rhetorically unsupportable — if the debate was over illegal aliens getting residency without citizenship vs. residency with citizenship, the Democrats would win because Americans like to believe that making somebody an American citizen is a good thing.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

June 7, 2006

WSJ OpinionJournal headlines of op-eds I don't need to read

It often seems lately as if the WSJ Editorial Page boys are just going through the motions, that they've been so catastrophically wrong that they're starting to get depressed and are just winging it. Here are some recent headlines from their website that make the essays sound self-evidently bogus:

On the Editorial Page BY NANCY DE WOLF SMITH
Reza Pahlavi says America should help Iranians who oppose the regime.

By any chance, would one of those Iranians who oppose the regime and thus deserve help from America be Reza Pahlavi, son of the late Shah of Iran?

Do Americans still understand the meaning of honor?

Isn't there something a little ironic about the people who helped lie us into the war in Iraq with their WMD duplicity nagging the rest of us about how we don't have enough "honor?" When did fraud become honorable?

On the Editorial Page BY KOFI A. ANNAN
Nations that welcome immigrants are the most dynamic in the world.

Sure, like China, South Korea, and India ... Isn't it funny how the WSJ, which denounces UN supremo Kofi Annan weekly as a crook and a liar, is happy to publish his crooked lies about immigration? (Do check out the readers' spirited responses.)

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

Do autistic children never recover?

An NYT oped by Cammie McGovern, "Autism's Parent Trap," is getting a lot of publicity for asserting:

Now, as the mother of a 10-year-old, I will say what no parents who have just discovered their child is autistic want to hear, but should, at least from one person: I've never met a recovered child outside the pages of those old books.

I only have anecdotal evidence, but I know a kid who was extremely autistic from birth -- he hated to be cuddled as a baby. (In contrast, most autistic children don't show symptoms until they are toddlers.) He didn't speak until he was five. Then, one day, he said:

"Nuclear Regulatory Commission"

And he has seldom stopped talking since. He's a nerdy teenager today, but that's a lot better than being autistic.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

Prominent alienist calls Americans stupid

Why does the Wall Street Journal hate America? James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal Op-Ed page has, for perhaps the first time in his career, deigned to cite a quantitative study of the educational performance of immigrants. Too bad it's slapdash and misleading:

Keep America stupid--seal the borders!
Why They Call Nativists 'Know-Nothings'
Blogger Harry Forbes notes something quite interesting:

The Boston Globe website published the pictures of each valedictorian in Boston's high schools and other high school programs. As you thumb through the pictures, it is striking how many of these students are immigrants. So many, that I decided to take some statistics. The Globe listed the country of birth for each student. For some US-born students I guessed that they were 2nd generation immigrants (for instance if they were Vietnamese). Almost 2/3 of the Boston valedictorians are either immigrants or children of immigrants. From my analysis: here is the breakdown of the 38 valedictorians:

1st or 2nd generation US 63.2%
Later than 2nd generation US 32.8%

Born in the US 52.6%
Born overseas 47.4%

iSteve readers being more analytical and honest, it was inevitable that one would actually explain what was going on:

That article (and the Journal, too – of course) seemed to miss the real point. These schools appear to only be in Boston proper, not the suburbs

Because Boston it so old, the de jure suburbs, like Cambridge, begin extraordinarily close to the city center, so it's easy to escape the Boston school district.

As we saw back in the tumult over school busing in Boston in the 1970s, most of the white American students left in the Boston public schools -- even back then -- were working class Irish kids in neighborhoods like Southie. Judge Arthur Garrity, who ordered the forced busing in the Boston schools lived in the wealthy white suburb of Wellesley, which was, surprise, unaffected by his decision.

The Boston Public Schools system: 58,000 students (44% black, 33% Hispanic, 14% white, 9% Asian). An additional 21,000+ students live in the district but attend private or charter schools.

The average SAT score of "college-bound seniors" in the district is just 895 (and that's under the new, easier scoring system that began about a decade ago. The statewide average is 1047, and no doubt a higher percentage of seniors are college bound than in Boston, so the real gap is even larger than 150 points (which is about 3/4ths of a standard deviation).

So, if diversity is so wonderful, how come the white parents of the Boston area won't send their kids to diverse schools, other than elite schools with competitive examinations?

Anyway, the current debate is mostly about illegal Mexican immigrants. Although 33% of the students are Hispanics, none of the 38 valedictorians was from Mexico.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer