Despite the frenzy among much of the punditariat in the U.S., the fighting In Lebanon is playing out more like a 1970s squabble, such as Israel's 1978 incursion into Lebanon, than as something on the scale of August 1914 or June 1941.
Israel is hamstrung by the typical problem civilized nations run into when invading more backward countries, just as we have in Iraq: the most reliable way to defeat urban guerillas is to flatten their whole city, but the invaders would prefer not to. The War Nerd has observed that the reason you don't hear much about urban guerillas before the 20th Century is because conquerors weren't that civilized. If a city rose up, it was put to the sword. End of story.
As I pointed out in my review of "Black Hawk Down" in 2002, the basic dilemma facing a top dog like America or Israel is whether you go in light with infantry, and get a lot of your boys killed in fair fights (as happened to us in Mogadishu in 1993), or go in heavy, with tanks and armored bulldozers, and risk crushing civilians in their own homes. At Jenin in the West Bank in 2002, the Israelis started out light, took heavier causalities than they could tolerate, and ended up going in heavy with armored bulldozers. This proved militarily effective, but looked bad on TV.
The hoped-for third way is to use pinpoint bombing, missiles, and artillery, but that depends upon having good intelligence. Judging by their failure to diminish the rocket attacks despite pounding a lot of sites in Lebanon, Israel doesn't have good moles within Hezbollah.
Hezbollah's rocket barrage of northern Israel hasn't proven terribly lethal -- about 1.2 Israeli civilians have been killed per day since July 12, far below the civilian deaths Israel has inflicted on the Lebanese -- but the economic toll of temporarily evacuating the north is expensive. Worse, it's worrisome for the future, since improvements in guidance are inevitable over the years. This could have unfortunate effects on capital investment in Israel.
I would think that it's not beyond Israeli technical capacity to come up with a fire suppression system that tracks ballistic missile launches back to their point of origin and drops an explosive payload on that site within 30 seconds.
July 29, 2006
Despite the frenzy among much of the punditariat in the U.S., the fighting In Lebanon is playing out more like a 1970s squabble, such as Israel's 1978 incursion into Lebanon, than as something on the scale of August 1914 or June 1941.
A reader from Dearborn writes;
We have a very large population of immigrants from the Middle East, many of whom are Muslims. Marrying off daughters who do not do well in school by the age of 16 is not uncommon. Of course, this is arranged by dad. In addition, some of the dad's accept a dowry for one of their daughters while visiting the home land. Dearborn schools are constantly on the alert for kidnappings uniting school girls with their unknown future husbands in the Middle East. These girls don't have a choice. Wake up, Steve, and join the 16th century! It's as if we have sharia (Muslim law) in Dearborn.
07:01 PM PDT on Friday, July 28, 2006
SEATTLE – One person is dead and five others have been injured in a shooting at the Jewish Federation at 2031 Third Ave. in downtown Seattle. One suspect has been taken into custody.
Seattle police spokesman Rich Pruitt said police are confident that only one shooter was involved.
Sources told KING 5 the suspect is a 31-year-old Pakistani man with a criminal background. He is from the Pasco but his citizenship status or how long he has lived in the United States is unknown. Also unknown is what sort of criminal record he has. Officials are on the way to the Pasco to interview his family.
According to the Seattle Times, a man got through security at the Jewish Federation and told staff members, "I'm a Muslim American; I'm angry at Israel," then began shooting, according to Amy Wasser-Simpson, the vice president for planning and community services for the Jewish Federation.
You keep hearing how there haven't been any terrorist attacks in the U.S. since 9/11. I wonder if this attack will disappear down the memory hole like the July 4, 2002 massacre at the Los Angeles International Airport when Egyptian immigrant Hesham Mohamed Hadayet, who got to stay in America on his wife's Diversity Lottery Visa, killed two Jews at the Israeli El Al Airline counter.
Anti-Semitic terrorism ... another job Americans just won't do!
For visitors from The Corner, here's an excerpt from a 1998 review I published in National Review of Judith Rich Harris's The Nurture Assumption. (This followed a long series of email exchanges with Harris's mentor, Steven Pinker.)
The Nature of Nurture
... Still, Judith Rich Harris's Camille Paglia-like ambitiousness drives her to overstate both the novelty of her true ideas (that genes and peers matter) and the truth of her novel idea (that parent's don't matter).
She's right that innate differences between children are important, but for experienced parents not befuddled by modern egalitarianism that's old, even ancient, news. That offspring raised side-by-side can possess wildly different personalities was clear to well-known parents like Adam & Eve, Isaac & Rebecca, and King Lear. (A second child always undermines parents' belief in their power to mold their children, but child-rearing books hush this up because their market is first-time parents.)
Further, although child development experts before Mrs. Harris may have failed to understand the power of peer groups, parents always knew. They've tried to shield their kids from Bad Influences since long before King Henry IV sought to keep Prince Hal away from "vulgar companions" like Falstaff. Today, this concern is behind much of the de facto racial segregation that's pervasive in housing and schooling.
In contrast, her third assertion -- parents don't matter -- is plausible only within her narrow, arbitrary boundaries. To fully explain human behavior, everything matters...
To show that peers outweigh parents, she repeatedly cites Darwinian linguist Pinker's work on how young immigrant kids automatically develop the accents of their playmates, not their parents. True, but there's more to life than language. Not until p. 191 does she admit -- in a footnote -- that immigrant parents do pass down home-based aspects of their culture like cuisine, since kids don't learn to cook from their friends. (How about attitudes toward housekeeping, charity, courtesy, wife-beating, and child-rearing itself?) Not until p. 330 does she recall something else where peers don't much matter: religion! Worse, she never notices what Thomas Sowell has voluminously documented in his accounts of ethnic economic specialization. It's parents and relatives who pass on both specific occupations (e.g., Italians and marble-cutting or Cambodians and donut-making) and general attitudes toward hard work, thrift, and entrepreneurship.
Nor can peers account for social change among young children, such as the current switch from football to soccer, since preteen peer groups are intensely conservative. (Some playground games have been passed down since Roman times). Even more so, the trend toward having little girls play soccer and other cootie-infested boys sports did not, rest assured, originate among peer groups of little girls. That was primarily their dads' idea, especially sports-crazed dads without sons.
While millions of parents sweat and save to get their kids into neighborhoods and schools offering better peer groups, Mrs. Harris redefines this merely as an "indirect" parental influence. She claims modern studies can't find predictable relationships between "direct" influences (i.e., different child-rearing styles) and how children turn out. But that may be merely an inherent shortcoming of these non-experimental analyses. For example, she asserts (not necessarily reliably) that studies prove it doesn't matter whether mothers work or not. But the same methodology would report that it doesn't matter whether you buy a minivan or a Miata, since purchasers of different classes of vehicles report roughly similar satisfaction. In reality, women don't randomly choose home or work; they agonize over balancing career and family. They tailor their family size to fit their career ambitions and vice-versa. Mothers then readjust as necessary to best meet their particular families' conflicting needs for money and mothering. For instance, a working mother might quit when her second baby proves unexpectedly colicky, then return when the children enter school, then shift to part time after her husband gets a big raise. That's bad for these studies, but good for their kids.
Finally, why do mothers care so much? Disappointingly for a Darwinian, Mrs. Harris blames it on The Media. She hopes her book will encourage parents to fret less, but it will likely have little impact on mothers, since natural selection has crafted them so that "'Worry' is a mother's middle name." In contrast, men will find her view more appealing, with painful consequences not just for their kids, but for themselves and all of society. The more violent and poverty-stricken will a culture become, the less it persuades men that "fathering" requires decades rather than minutes. [More]
July 27, 2006
From Human Events:
Billboard Causes Panic: Los Angeles Population Plummets 14% in Three Days
by Mac Johnson Posted May 12, 2005
Los Angeles -- A controversial billboard campaign in Los Angeles continued to make headlines this week as anger rapidly turned to confusion and hysteria.
The billboard, advertising a Spanish Language television station, originally made news by enraging many Americans with its aggressive Mexican Nationalist message --declaring that Los Angeles was no longer part of the United States, but was instead a Mexican city once again.
Below the banner message in which “Los Angeles, CA” had been crossed out and changed in blaring red type to read “Los Angeles, MEXICO,” the billboard pronounced in Spanish “Your City. Your Team.”
Now Gringo anger is the least of the problems caused by the Billboard, as the apparently quite believable reconquista it announces sends shockwaves through the city’s residents, Anglo and Latino alike. In a scene reminiscent of war-torn Europe 60 years ago, the roads leading north out of Los Angeles are choked with thousands of Mexican refugees stoically carrying their meager possessions with them.
When I asked what had precipitated this mass exodus, one migrant, whom we’ll call Jose “X,” simply turned, pointed to the Billboard looming over his neighborhood and said, “¡Oh Man! I stopped walking too soon!” --then bravely continued on with the others.
I asked a second man why he was fleeing Los Angeles, Mexico. “I did a lotta bad things back in Mexico, I’m afraid of police there,” he said matter-of-factly, then added “In America, police must give me Latte, so I walk to America. Again. ¡Norte!”
When questioned about the efflux of migrants blackening all roads leading out of Los Angeles, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Hugh Dick responded “What Mexicans? I don’t see any Mexicans.”
The Mexican government has seen the problem though and quickly dispatched officials to the scene to aid the population in re-escaping to America. “This is a tragedy,” said Luis de Silva de Gonzales y Ramon de Dinero debajo de Mesa. He added “These people thought they were safe and prosperous, now they’re just in Mexico. Again. ¡Norte!”
The reconquista panic has taken myriad forms. Los Angeles wholesalers were said to be totally out of Chiclets brand gum, as terrified Los Angelenos, believing they were in Mexico, immediately sent their children into the streets to sell gum to tourists. A dazed passer-by, Richard Martinez, commented, “I had a good paying job, Man. Now this happens. Heck, I don’t even know how to speak Spanish except a little to my Grandmother. How am I supposed to make a living asking for hugs and cookies? I’m an American for Chrissake! Quit lumping me in with all these illegals --I DON’T WANT ANY GUM, OK? VAMOOS, YOU LITTLE URCHINS!-- Screw it. I’m moving to Canada.” ...
President Vicente Fox of Mexico subsequently released a statement condemning Bush’s total support for illegal aliens as “lukewarm” and demanding that Bush immediately deploy the Marines to Los Angeles to “restore Mexico’s moneymaker, dammit.” Adding, “¿Do you think these people can sell enough gum to wire home a billion dollars a month? ¡Take back L.A. now!”...
Anti-American liberal whites in Los Angeles briefly poured into the streets to celebrate L.A.’s “liberation” from United States “hegemony”, but they were quickly dispersed with massive force from the Federale LAPD. Commented one smiling officer as he repeatedly swung his baton onto a crying trustafarian, “Where’s your First Amendment NOW, pinko?” The officer then asked us to pay a $100 cash fee for a “reporting license.” “After this, I’m gonna start me a drug gang!” he told a grinning friend standing nearby, on the thin neck of a “Peace Activist”. [More]
A libertarian in Istanbul writes:
Actually, Steve, Cowen's logic is flawed right from the outset. How does #2 not follow from #1?
If I call you my brother, and then turn around and call the whole world my "brothas", then the word brother - due to the absence of 'scarcity' in its usage - loses its meaning. If, that is, the very stranger right at the other side of the world is morally equivalent in value to my brother, then they pretty much become interchangeable. The trouble with this is, there's no discriminant left to oblige me to be morally committed towards one or the other.
This is the universal moral conundrum that egalitarianism always falls into: when everybody is equally valuable, everybody is equally valueless.
The very nature of economic scarcity and choice defies the notion of universal equivalence.
He thinks he's pushing the Kantian "categorical imperative" but - like all who get dizzy with the nuances of the sage of Königsberg - he confuses two things here: categorical imperative in no way requires that all categories be equal in moral value. All mothers may more or less be valuable to their relative offspring, and we cannot treat the bond between a Bantu mother and her children as less valuable than our own - which, in fact, conservatives like you don't to at all - but that doesn't mean that every mother has an equal obligation to every child on earth. Such would be the total nullification of the categorical nature of the mother-child bond.
I recently came up with an idea for a conspiracy theory thriller novel, so I read these two famous examples of the genre (plus Richard Condon's 1959 novel The Manchurian Candidate, which isn't as good as the 1962 movie version, but is better than the 2004 remake).
I'm inclined to believe that Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code is an intentional attempt to dumb down for a mass audience Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum. This 1989 bestseller (although hardly on the same scale as TDVC, which has sold at least 40 million copies) tells of three bored editors at a vanity publishing house who synthesize the occult manuscripts submitted by pay-to-publish cranks into the ultimate conspiracy theory amalgamating every obsession of European crackpottery for the last 600 years, only to have the authors come to believe the editors really do know the secret of the Knights Templar and pursue them murderously to get it.
Eco, for example, is a "professor of semiotics" while Brown's hero Robert Langdon is a "professor of symbology." And the subject matter of the books overlap: Knights Templar, Masons, Mary Magdalene as Mrs. Jesus Christ, Rosicrucians, etc.. Of course, Eco's treatment of these hermeneutic obsessions is brilliantly ironic while Brown's is credulous.
On the other hand, it's clear from trudging my way through The Da Vinci Code that Dan Brown doesn't so much understand the common mind as have the common mind. I've never read a less confidence-inspiring author, one who radiates so obviously that he doesn't know what the hell he's talking about. It's not just the clunky prose style -- that's forgivable in well-informed authors like James Michener and Tom Clancy -- it's the small mistakes of fact and judgment that pop up every couple of pages in the narration. It's impossible to take the giant conspiracy theories seriously when he gets so many little things wrong.
After reading The Da Vinci Code, the campaign by Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett to rename the anti-religious as "brights" (on the model of how homosexuals got themselves renamed "gays") seems particularly hilarious.
Umberto Eco, on the other hand, turns out to be a fine fellow, much more admirable than you'd expect a European postmodernist academic to be. "Foucault's Pendulum," which is named after the 19th Century physicist rather than the 20th Century philosopher, is an immensely long book (I confess to having skimmed some of the later sections without feeling shortchanged), but Eco has his head squarely on his shoulders.
Toward the end, Eco's narrator sums up the kind of thinking underlying the popularity of The Da Vinci Code:
A plot, if there is to be one, must be a secret. A secret that, if we only knew it, would dispel our frustration, lead us to salvation; or else the knowing of it in itself would be salvation. Does such a luminous secret exist?
Yes, provided it is never known. Known, it will only disappoint us. Hadn't Aglie spoken of the yearning for mystery that stirred the age of the Antonines [second century AD Rome]? Yet someone had just arrived and declared himself the Son of God, the Son of God made flesh, to redeem the sins of the world. Was that a run-of-the-mill mystery? And he promised salvation to all: you only had to love your neighbor. Was that a trivial secret? And he bequeathed the idea that whoever uttered the right worlds at the right time could turn a chunk of bread and a half-glass of win into the body and blood of the Son of God, and be nourished by it. Was that a paltry riddle? ... And yet they, who now had salvation within their grasp -- do-it-yourself salvation -- turned deaf ears. Is that all there is to it? How trite. And they kept on scouring the Mediterranean in their boats, looking for a lost knowledge, of which those thirty-denarii dogmas were but the superficial veil, the parable for the poor in spirit, the allusive hieroglyph, the wink of the eye at the pneumatics. The mystery of the Trinity? Too simple: there had to be more to it.
Someone -- Rubinstein, maybe -- once said, when asked if he believed in God: "Oh, no, I believe ... in something much bigger." And someone else -- was it Chesterton? -- said that when men stop believing in God, it isn't that they then believe in nothing: they believe in everything. [p. 620]
"Umberto Eco" is a blatantly Nabokovian name, echoing the narrator of Lolita, Humbert Humbert, and the obsession Vladimir Nabokov shared with Jorge Luis Borges (who shows up in Nabokov's science-fiction novel Ada as "Osberg, the author of The Gitanilla, the AntiTerran Lolita") with reflections and doubles.
Eco's mock-scholarly foreword to his first bestseller, The Name of the Rose, reads as if the fictitious foreword to Lolita by "John Ray Jr., Ph.D." had instead been written by the mad, self-absorbed, coyly homosexual literary scholar Charles Kinbote of Nabokov's great Pale Fire:
On August 16, 1968, I was handed a book written by a certain Abbe Vallet, Le Manuscrip de Dom Adson de Melk, traduit en francais d'apres l'edition de Dom J. Mabillon (Aux Presses de l'Abbaye de la Source, Paris, 1842). ... The scholarly discovery (I mean mine, the third in chronological order) entertained me while I was in Prague, waiting for a dear friend. Six days later Soviet troops invaded that unhappy city. I managed, not without adventure, to reach the Austrian border at Linz, and from there I journeyed to Vienna, where I met my beloved, and together we sailed up the Danube.
In a state of intellectual excitement, I read with fascination the terrible story of Adso of Melk, and I allowed myself to be so absorbed by it that, almost in a single burst of energy, I completed a translation, using some of those large notebooks from the Papeterie Joseph Gilbert in which it is so pleasant to write if you use a felt-tip pen.
On the next page comes Eco's pitch-perfect tribute to Borges:
"... then, in 1970, in Buenos Aires, as I was browsing among the shelves of a little antiquarian bookseller on Corrientes, not far from the more illustrious Patio del Tango of that great street, I came upon the Castilian version of a little work by Milo Temesvar, On the Use of Mirrors in the Game of Chess."
And in the main part of the story, we find a blind librarian, Jorge of Burgos. The main character, played by Sean Connery in the movie, the insightful and commonsensical friar-detective William of Baskerville, is a tribute both to an old favorite of the Anglophile Borges (who wished he'd been born Anthony Burgess), Sherlock Holmes, and to the English philosopher William of Ockham, whose Razor pointed the way out of the luxurious but impenetrable thickets of medieval thought.
So, I went to look up what the real name of "Umberto Eco" actually is, only to find out that it is his real name. Which, now that I think about it, is more Nabokovian/Borgesian than a pseudonym would be.
July 26, 2006
The Star-Ledger of New Jersey reports:
State Police flunking the minorities they recruit:
Tests and background checks foil effort for a more-diverse force
BY RICK HEPP, ROBERT GEBELOFF AND JOHN P. MARTIN, Star-Ledger Staff
On Friday, 102 men and women are expected to walk across the stage at the State Police training academy in Sea Girt, collect their badges and join the ranks of New Jersey's top law enforcement agency.
This latest batch of graduating troopers looks like many of the previous classes, but less and less like the state they will serve. Seventy-nine of the 102 are white men.
Seven years and millions of dollars after the State Police conceded their minority recruiting efforts were "significantly flawed" and pledged improvement, the race and gender makeup of the rank and file remains effectively unchanged.
A Star-Ledger analysis of recruiting data since 1999 shows more minorities and women than ever are applying for the force but are being rejected because they fail admission tests at disproportionately higher rates.
This rejection, according to the newspaper's analysis, occurs at various stages of the multitiered selection process: Hispanics and black candidates failed the background check at least three times more often than white applicants; women were nearly three times as likely as men to fail the physical; seven in 10 black applicants didn't pass the written test.
Why the failures persist and how to fix them have perplexed four successive attorneys general and four State Police superintendents. And they linger despite an overhaul of the recruiting and testing process, the hiring of outside consultants to grade applicants, and regular monitoring by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which sued the state a decade ago to address the issue.
In the past decade, the state's minority population has steadily risen and now hovers near 35 percent. By 2025, Census estimates indicate, almost half of New Jersey's residents will be members of minorities.
Today white males account for one-third of the state's population. But they make up four-fifths of the 2,966 active members of the State Police force, a rate only slightly lower than the racial makeup in 1999.
"I'm not saying these (recruiting) efforts are for nil," said Renee Steinhagen, executive director of New Jersey Appleseed, a public-interest law center, and a longtime critic of the State Police. "But they're not where they should be. I still believe the State Police has not changed."
State officials, law enforcement experts and the advocates who brought the initial NAACP lawsuit acknowledge the lack of success but haven't been able to explain or fix it.
As Yul Brynner said in "The King and I," "Tis a puzzlement." What possible reason could there be that women don't do as well on average as men on tests of strength, and blacks and Hispanics don't do as well on average as whites on tests of intelligence and law-abidingness? The true explanation must be incredibly complicated, as Occam's Butterknife demands.
Rex F. May (aka, Baloo) cartoonizes my VDARE.com column on Lebanon: The cartoonist liked my Orwell knock-off ending well enough to turn it into a cartoon. You can find more of his cartoons here.
The phrase "diversity is strength" echoes 1984's Party slogan "ignorance is strength," but I wonder if "diversity is unity" wouldn't be more in the spirit of that dystopian novel.
A reader suggests a likely route for how "elites" became so fashionable in high level political discourse in this decade:
I'm not sure if it's the first use of the term, but Christopher Lash's Revolt of the Elites (1995) was the first I remember hearing the term. I quickly looked over my copy of the book and found two definitions of elites:
1. (pg. 3) "The new elites, which include not only corporate managers but all those professions that produce and manipulate information..are far more cosmopolitan, or at least more restless and migratory, than their predecessors."
2. (pg 25-6) "Today it is the elites, however - those who control the international flow of money and information, preside over philanthropic foundations and institutions of higher learning, manage the instruments of cultural production and thus set the terms of public debate..."
Lasch may have used the term "elites" rather than elite to mirror Ortega y Gasset's Revolt of the Masses, as he compares the revolts of the two groups in chapter 2 of the book. The index of the book does not have an entry for "elites" but it does include one for "elite class."
The economics of middle east turmoil: With numerous self-styled pundits commenting on the current events in the middle east, I am surprised not to have heard anyone yet bring up a simple economic formula: If you are a major oil exporter, and you spend $1 in any direction that increases turmoil in the region, or ensures continuation of turmoil, you are likely to reap the fruits manyfold through higher oil prices.
Wars have always more than paid for themselves from the point of view of arms dealers, etc. Now, they are also an economically profitable trade for oil exporting countries. (Or course, some oil exporting countries in the region are nervous about long-term implications of the fighting, but they cannot deny that the fighting makes them much richer). Some countries lose tourism receipts, of course, but (a la Kaldor-Hicks efficiency analyses), they can be -- and probably will be, directly or indirectly -- compensated for those lost receipts. Construction firms will make huge profits, no doubt...
All in all, the more turmoil there is, the more that the rich will grow richer. The poor and dispossessed will die, but their surviving family members can be fed empty slogans by beneficiaries on all sides. In the final analysis, economists can even celebrate the eventual rise in per capita income, especially if the death tolls are substantial.
Of course, this strategy would work best for an oil producer well-insulated from the turmoil it exacerbated. Thus, it would be more rational for, say, Norway to fund instability in the Persian Gulf than for, say, Kuwait to try to ride the tiger.
The Soviet Union, as a major oil and mineral producer, was a big winner from the oil price rises of 1973 and 1979. The profits helped fund the Soviets' adventuresome foreign policy of 1974-1979, which in turn raised fears around the world, driving up oil and gold, further strengthening the Soviets. (Similarly, South Africa was a big winner from the precious metals bubble of 1979.) Then, in 1986, the Reagan Administration talked the Saudis into flooding the world with cheap oil, driving the price of a barrel down to about $10. As planned, this devastated the Soviet's ability to project force. Like a shark that has to keep moving forward or die, the Soviet Union was gone within a half dozen years.
On his Marginal Revolution blog, George Mason economist Tyler Cowen philosophizes opaquely:
Mistakes in moral arithmetic
1. For reasons of practicality and cost, nations should in many cases devote more resources to their own citizens than to foreigners.
2. Once the costs mentioned in #1 are taken into account, foreigners are still "worth less" than citizens.
#2 does not follow from #1, that is a mistake in moral arithmetic. #2 is false.
Obviously, this has something to do with Tyler trying to justify his many opeds calling for the Hispanicization of America through massive immigration, but exactly what this is supposed to mean is unclear. Tyler then tried to explain in his comments what the heck he was talking about:
There is such a thing as an impersonal moral point of view. It is fine to argue that the world would collapse if we each tried to take care of each other's families; that is #1. One (not my view) also might argue that at "some levels of morality" our moral obligation is stronger to friends and family. But our behavior would still be wrong from the impersonal point of view and we should admit as such, especially when we are actively imposing harms on distant others. Keep also in mind that our ties to family and friends are quite real. I consider myself a patriot, but for pragmatic reasons. Most of the people in Washington do not please me. Governments are convenient fictions, not ultimate sources of moral delineation. p.s. also beware when the argument against cosmopolitanism is simply a reductio, rather than a positive argument for national borders as ultimate sources of moral delineation. The latter is very very hard to make in palatable fashion. The difficulties of reconciling common sense morality with utilitarianism, while real, do not help much on the national borders question.
Tyler's normally lucid prose style has collapsed into Hegel-like vagueness. This may not be an accident. Whenever the subject turns to immigration, Tyler's usually sharp insight is dulled by strong arational emotions.
The valuable skepticism of economists about human motivations suddenly evaporates when economists start explaining their own motivations. No libertarian economist could listen with a straight face to an official in a socialist government explaining "Trust me, I'm making policy for the good of the people of my country."
Yet the very same economists will solemnly swear that they only advocate policies for the good of all the people of the world (which is even more improbable) and that their own tastes and self-interests has zero to do with it. Nowhere is this more obvious than when economists who know very little about immigration start preaching on the subject.
What makes Tyler more interesting than most economists is that, with his intense aesthetic preoccupations -- e.g., "Going to Haiti changed my life. Haitian voodoo art is my favorite" -- he often seems like a character out of an Oscar Wilde novel as interpreted by Camille Paglia.
Thus, when Tyler calls for the creation of Hispanic shantytowns in the U.S. because of all the good music they will produce (as he memorably did in Slate), well, that's pretty cool. Granted, it's demented and sociologically nonsensical (good music comes out of black shantytowns, not Mexican ones), but, still, it's cool in a cruel, decadent aesthete sort of way.
What's not cool, unfortunately, is when Tyler then starts lecturing us on "moral arithmetic" as if that has much at all to do with what's motivating his views on immigration.
July 25, 2006
I don't know if this is real or not: I just received this email, perhaps stemming from a Google search on "cousin marriage:"
My name is XXX. i'm YYYteen years old and am a muslim girl living in scotland and was wondering if you know of anything that will help me escape marrying an older first cousin from the middle east. I know i sound stupid but i got really freaked when my mum spoke to a relative telling them that she'd still give my hand to my cousin who is years older and tells the relative to wait because i haven't finished school and my other education. Also it is my mum's brother's son i'm supposed to marry and my uncle is really ill and my mum dotes on him. what if my uncle died and that was his dying wish, to have me married to my cousin? how disastrous is that going to be, i mean i don't even like the thought of inbreeding i think it's sick! Please do you know any loopholes in a XXX wedding that will stop me getting married to ZZZ? Please can you help i haven't even finished school or got a job so this has really blown me away!
I'm reluctant to offer any top-of-the-head advice because it might get her set on fire. Any suggestions?
A Scottish lawyer writes:
I would suggest you mail back with the phone number for Scottish Women's Aid - from the UK it's 0131 226 6606.
Also send the URL for the local contact groups -
If they can't help they'll know who can.
And if your correspondent is genuinely afraid they'll do something about their situation.
Here's an excerpt from my article "Cousin Marriage Conundrum:"
According to the leading authority on inbreeding, geneticist Alan H. Bittles of Edith Cowan U. in Perth, Australia, "In the resident Pakistani community of some 0.5 million [in Britain] an estimated 50% to 60+% of marriages are consanguineous [between first or second cousins], with evidence that their prevalence is increasing." (Bittles' Web-site www.Consang.net presents the results of several hundred studies of the prevalence of inbreeding around the world.)
European nations have recently become increasingly hostile toward the common practice among their Muslim immigrants of arranging marriages between their children and citizens of their home country, frequently their relatives. One study of Turkish guest-workers in the Danish city of Ishund that 98% -- 1st, 2nd and 3rd generation -- married a spouse from Turkey who then came and lived in Denmark. (Turks, however, are quite a bit less enthusiastic about cousin marriage than are Arabs or Pakistanis, which correlates with the much stronger degree of patriotism found in Turkey.)
European "family reunification" laws present an immigrant with the opportunity to bring in his nephew by marrying his daughter to him. Not surprisingly, "family reunification" almost always works just in one direction -- with the new husband moving from the poor Muslim country to the rich European country.
If a European-born daughter refused to marry her cousin from the old country just because she doesn't love him, that would deprive her extended family of the boon of an immigration visa. So, intense family pressure can fall on the daughter to do as she is told.
July 24, 2006
I've used it a lot myself, but I must confess that I have never been sure exactly what it means. It has two possible meanings: as a collective noun for collective nouns (e.g., elite groups) or as a collective noun for individuals who are elite.
The former is the more traditional use of the term, since "an elite" has normally designated a group of individuals: e.g., "Navy SEALs are an elite." In the past, you wouldn't have said, "A Navy SEAL is an elite." You would have said "A Navy SEAL belongs to an elite." Or you would have used "elite" as an adjective when referring to an individual: "A Navy SEAL is an elite fighting man." But, now, it appears that "elites" can mean the plural: "Navy SEALs are elites." Yet, you still don't see "elite" used very often to refer to a single individual: "A Navy SEAL is an elite."
I tend to weasel-word my sentences so "elites" could mean either. For example, if I write "Elites favor mass immigration," I could be referring to various elite organizations and groups, such as, say, the Business Roundtable, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the like. This would be the more traditional use of the term.
But I could also mean individuals who have elite status in some fashion. That would be a more novel use of the word.
So, what exactly is the meaning and status of the Word of the Decade?
"[S]ome Congressmen probably would vote for a declaration of war against Canada if it were contained in a bill with the words `civil rights' in its title." ['Civil Rights' That Can Lead to Civil War, By Thomas Sowell, New York Daily News, April 24, 1990), p. 30, quoted in Paved With Good Intentions, p. 151]
President Bush's speech to the NAACP on Thursday was strikingly lacking in any sort of "Sister Souljah moment"—chiding that venerable but now notoriously corrupt and ineffectual black organization for even one of its numerous faults.
Instead, Bush made the climax of his speech a demand that the Senate pass a 25-year extension of the Voting Rights Act without amendment.
The Senate instantly complied by a vote of 98-0 (following the House's passage by the margin of 390-33).
As a substantive bill, the VRA extension was notable for insisting that foreign language ballots be provided to voters who need them.
Yet, to become a U.S. citizen, immigrants are legally required to prove that they are literate in English. So the need for a non-English ballot would appear to be prima facie proof that an immigrant either fraudulently became a citizen or that he is a noncitizen attempting to vote fraudulently.
But President Bush and the solons of the Senate aren't concerned about mere logic when they can revel in one of the more popular rituals of 21st century political theatre: pretending that Southern white racism is omnipresent, a pervasive threat to blacks' right to vote.
Apparently, the only thing that can divert this tidal wave of Southern white bigotry from washing away the gains of the 1960s is a unanimous vote of the Senate, including all the Southern white Senators, in favor of the new VRA.
This 25-year VRA extension , which President Bush swore to the NAACP that he would sign, requires nine states, seven of them Southern, to get the Justice Department's approval for any change in voting rules to make sure that "the change did not have a discriminatory purpose and would not have a discriminatory effect."
Thus, the mark of Cain will officially be upon the South into the 2030s for evils that disappeared by the 1970s.
In reality, as Thomas Sowell pointed out back in the pre-Internet days, the 1965 Voting Rights Act was the most quickly successful of the civil rights era landmarks. [More]
What’s Wrong With the Democrats?
By Steve Sailer
They’ve left middle America behind and can’t pander to one minority without alienating another.
New Deals & Old Answers
By James P. Pinkerton
Can the Democrats recover the ideological energy of William Jennings Bryan or FDR? Not on their current course.
Our Dangerous Times
By James Bovard
In accusing the NYT of treason, the Right displays greater loyalty to the president than to their old principles.
Attention Wal-Mart Shoppers
By Sen. Byron L. Dorgan
Low prices come at a high economic cost.
By Paul Craig Roberts
Don’t worry about what currency oil is denominated in—worry about the deficit.
Afghanistan on the Edge
By Stewart Nusbaumer
Why we’re losing hearts and minds in Afghanistan
Mother Russia No More
By Pavel Kohout
State subsidies won’t reverse Russia’s demographic decline.
Hell on Heels
By Steve Sailer
Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada”
By R.J. Stove
Performing Music in the Age of Recording by Robert Philip
Absent at the Creation
By James Bowman
The Creators: From Chaucer and Dürer to Picasso and Disney by Paul Johnson
By Bill Kauffman
Where Did the Party Go? William Jennings Bryan, Hubert Humphrey, and the Jeffersonian Legacy by Jeff Taylor
Kim Jong Il’s Independence Day
By Patrick J. Buchanan
World Cup, National Sport
Fourteen Days: Court Reins in Bush Gitmo Tribunals; A Pat on the Head for Social Conservatives; The Devil Defeats Immigration Reform
Deep Background: Terrorists Scoop Times on Financial Surveillance; TSA Is Making a List—and Not Checking It Twice
More General Social Study data: A reader, perhaps inspired by Inductivist and Half Sigma, has fallen in love with the GSS database of in-depth interviews of thousands of Americans. The GSS includes a 10 question vocabulary test, which is often used as a crude approximation of IQ. So, he sent me the average age at first birth by mothers in the sample by number of vocabulary words correct (0 to 10). I worked out approximate IQs for the mean member of each group and whipped together a graph in Excel. So, age at first birth is fairly flat for the left half of the bell curve (the blue line), then rises steadily for the right half. So, smarter women not only are having fewer babies (I assume), but they are starting later in life so their generation times are longer as well.
angry, resentful, and abusive ...
By Shankar Vedantam
Washington Post Staff Writer Monday,
July 24, 2006; Page A07
Stephen Jay Gould would have been pleased.
No, not about his mug shot at the endpoint of evolution in the illustration above, but about the growing evidence that evolution is not just real but is actually happening to human beings right now.
"From 1970 to 2000, there was a widespread view that although natural selection is very important, it is relatively rare," said Jonathan Pritchard, a geneticist at the University of Chicago. "That view was driven largely because we did not have data to identify the signals of natural selection. . . . In the last five years or so, there has been a tremendous growth in our understanding of how much selection there is."
That insight has only deepened as scientists have gained the ability to read the entire human genome, the chain of "letters" that spell out humanity's genetic identity.
"Signals of natural selection are incredibly widespread across the human genome," Pritchard said. "Everywhere we look, there appears to be very widespread signals of natural selection in many genes and many processes."
Pritchard helped write a recent paper that identified some of those changes. The paper was published in the public access journal PLoS Biology.
The research offers a fascinating snapshot into how the human genome has continued to change as humans adapted to new circumstances over the past 10,000 years. As people went from hunter-gatherers to agricultural societies, for instance, there is evidence of genetic adaptations to new diseases and diets.
Europeans seem to be adapting to the increased availability of dairy products, with genetic changes that allow the enzyme lactase, which breaks down lactose in milk, to be available throughout life, not just in infancy. Similarly, East Asians show genetic changes that affect the metabolism of the sugar sucrose, while the Yoruba people in sub-Saharan Africa show genetic changes that alter how they metabolize the sugar mannose.
Where starvation was once widespread in humans' evolutionary history, making it genetically advantageous to conserve calories as much as possible, the abundance of food in many countries today has led to the opposite problem -- risk factors and diseases related to metabolic overload, including obesity and diabetes -- suggesting these could be areas in which natural selection may currently be active, as genetic variations that help protect against such disorders gain selective advantage.
There are also a host of changes at the genetic level that scientists do not yet understand -- they are probably useful, but it is not clear how.
Several changes seem related to fertility and reproduction, areas of very high relevance to natural selection. The basic protein structure of sperm may have changed in East Asians and the Yoruba; East Asians also show genetic changes related to sperm motility; and Europeans show genetic changes related to egg viability, fertilization and the female immune response to sperm.
Pritchard said his research does not speak directly to Gould's "punctuated equilibrium" hypothesis that suggests that evolution progresses in leaps and starts. That is because Gould focused on large changes in form or structure, whereas Pritchard studies subtler changes at the genetic level.
"If you met a human from 10,000 years ago," Pritchard quipped, "they may look a little different, but if you dressed them right, they would probably blend in. Gould's talking about changes in body plan and broader changes."
To spot natural selection at work, Pritchard and Bruce Lahn, also a geneticist at the University of Chicago who has conducted independent research in the same area, first look for places along the human genome to identify sites that show changes in some people but not in others. Then they look at the genetic material surrounding the changed part.
If the surrounding area looks very different from one person to the next, the particular change probably occurred a long time ago, because the general area has had time to accumulate other changes in the DNA. If there are not many differences in the surrounding genetic sequence, that indicates the particular change is relatively new.
Then scientists figure out how widespread that particular change is in large populations. Changes that are both new and widespread reveal the hand of natural selection -- since advantageous genetic changes will quickly spread through the population.
Next, scientists try to guess what the genetic change is accomplishing. If the change is in a part of the genome known to be involved in the immune system, the change may have something to do with responding to new diseases. Other changes may have to do with brain functioning or skin color.
Europeans, for example, show strong changes over the past 10,000 years in genes that affect skin color -- as humans moved into northern Europe, where there was less ultraviolet light, there was a strong evolutionary advantage to having lighter skin to allow in more ultraviolet light, which is needed to synthesize Vitamin D.
Lahn found changes in two genes, dubbed ASPM and MCPH1, that are known to be involved in brain development. He published his results recently in the journal Science.
While genetic changes, especially related to the brain, may prompt people to think different populations are evolving different mental abilities, both Lahn and Pritchard pooh-poohed this idea. For one thing, they pointed out, biology is complex, and the same genes often play multiple roles in the body. A gene that affects brain development may also play a role in the immune system, so it is not possible to say with certainty that natural selection has favored the change because of its effect on the brain.
Well, that's persuasive! I guess the Marxist Gould would have had nothing to worry about this new research puncturing his favorite dogmas ...
Besides, Pritchard added, scientists found about the same number of changes in all three groups they studied, suggesting that evolution is taking place everywhere, adapting different groups to the particulars of their ecological niches.
Note to WaPo reporter: that fact doesn't imply what you think it implies. Instead, it implies the exact opposite.
Come to think of it, the late Stephen Jay Gould might have been upset with the above illustration. Contrary to the popular imagination, evolution is not a linear process that culminates in the triumphal ascent of humans at the top of the genetic heap. The process is analogous to a bush, where twigs and leaves push out in every direction.
When biologists talk about evolution and the survival of the fittest, they do not necessarily mean the strongest, fastest or smartest. Fitness is whatever works in a particular environment, and the new research shows that as environments change, notions of fitness change, too.
As I wrote in 1999 in "Darwin's Enemies on the Left:"
The left fears Darwinian science because its dogma of our factual equality cannot survive the relentlessly accumulating evidence of our genetic variability. Gould, a famous sports nut, cannot turn on his TV without being confronted by lean East Africans outdistancing the world's runners, massive Samoans flattening quarterbacks, lithe Chinese diving and tumbling for gold medals, or muscular athletes of West African descent out-sprinting, out-jumping, and out-hitting all comers. No wonder Gould is reduced to insisting we chant: "Say it five times before breakfast tomorrow: … Human equality is a contingent fact of history" -- like Dorothy trying to get home from Oz.
After the Bell Curve
By DAVID L. KIRP
When it comes to explaining the roots of intelligence, the fight between partisans of the gene and partisans of the environment is ancient and fierce. Each side challenges the other’s intellectual bona fides and political agendas. What is at stake is not just the definition of good science but also the meaning of the just society. The nurture crowd is predisposed to revive the War on Poverty, while the hereditarians typically embrace a Social Darwinist perspective.
A century’s worth of quantitative-genetics literature concludes that a person’s I.Q. is remarkably stable and that about three-quarters of I.Q. differences between individuals are attributable to heredity. This is how I.Q. is widely understood — as being mainly “in the genes” — and that understanding has been used as a rationale for doing nothing about seemingly intractable social problems like the black-white school-achievement gap and the widening income disparity.
Earth to New York Times: As a close reader of your newspaper, I'm having trouble recalling a single article in this decade that paid serious attention to the possibility that genetic differences might partly account for the black-white school achievement gap.
Does this imply that the NYT knows that the politically correct verbiage that they print isn't supported by the scientific consensus?
If nature disposes, the argument goes, there is little to be gained by intervening. In their 1994 best seller, “The Bell Curve,” Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray relied on this research to argue that the United States is a genetic meritocracy and to urge an end to affirmative action. Since there is no way to significantly boost I.Q., prominent geneticists like Arthur Jensen of Berkeley have contended, compensatory education is a bad bet.
But what if the supposed opposition between heredity and environment is altogether misleading? A new generation of studies shows that genes and environment don’t occupy separate spheres — that much of what is labeled “hereditary” becomes meaningful only in the context of experience. “It doesn’t really matter whether the heritability of I.Q. is this particular figure or that one,” says Sir Michael Rutter of the University of London. “Changing the environment can still make an enormous difference.” If heredity defines the limits of intelligence, the research shows, experience largely determines whether those limits will be reached. And if this is so, the prospects for remedying social inequalities may be better than we thought.
This is a confused way to get to a reasonable point. There's nothing in this article that suggests that the nature-nurture distinction is invalid. In reality, what the studies cited in this article suggest is that the heritability of IQ is less than 1.00, especially in poor environments.
Kirp cites two studies. I posted about the more interesting one, a French adoption study, back on June 20. The definitive analysis was done by Darth Quixote at GNXP two days earlier.
It's a very intriguing analysis because it tries to overcome the usual restriction of range problem in American adoption studies, which typically have shown almost no impact of home environment on adult IQ. The methodological problem is that most adoptions these days are made by affluent couples of the biological offspring of couples of lower status. If you are, say, Bill Gates's kid, you probably won't end up being adopted by some meth head couple in a trailer park. That's good for the kid, but not for the science.
Capron and Duyme came up with eight cases of children who are the biological offspring of highly educated parents being adopted by poorly educated parents (along with ten cases of the other three alternatives: high nature - high nurture, low nature - high nurture, low nature - low nurture, for a grand total of 38 kids in the study. But it's still a good first step.
Regardless of whether the adopting families were rich or poor, Capron and Duyme learned, children whose biological parents were well-off had I.Q. scores averaging 16 points higher than those from working-class parents. Yet what is really remarkable is how big a difference the adopting families’ backgrounds made all the same. The average I.Q. of children from well-to-do parents who were placed with families from the same social stratum was 119.6. But when such infants were adopted by poor families, their average I.Q. was 107.5 — 12 points lower. The same holds true for children born into impoverished families: youngsters adopted by parents of similarly modest means had average I.Q.’s of 92.4, while the I.Q.’s of those placed with well-off parents averaged 103.6. These studies confirm that environment matters — the only, and crucial, difference between these children is the lives they have led.
It strikes me as plausible that the nature-nurture balance could be in the 60-40 range, as the French found, at least when sizable environmental differences are possible. A study with a sample size of 38 is not conclusive, but I personally find this more likely than the idea that adoption would have zero impact on IQ.
Also, there is evidence that IQ is malleable before puberty, but that people generally revert to their genetic level as they mature. (Sandra Scarr's Minnesota Transracial Adoption study followed this pattern, with the hopeful early IQ results of black children adopted by upper middle white parents being dashed by their scores falling to an average of 89 when they were retested at 17.) The French study tested the adopted children at age 14, which is fairly late, although probably not late enough to settle this question.
I suspect that having a higher IQ as a child has long term benefits even if you revert back to your long term norm as an adult. Somebody with a long term IQ of 80 who had a good upbringing that raised it to 90 as a child is much more likely to learn how to read and how to be a functioning adult than somebody with the same genes who had a bad upbringing. But I haven't seen any direct studies of this.
Kirp contends that the French study supports his pet project of "universal preschool," although a less biased reading probably suggests that if adoption can work to raise IQs, then little children being raised by high status moms are better off staying home with mom than going off to some run-of-the-mill government preschool.
Anyway, the effects of preschools were intensively studied directly in the 1960s through 1980s, and the results in terms of boosting IQ were unimpressive, unless the expenditures were so vast as to approach adoption. On the other hand, Head Start seems to have some good effect on reducing delinquency later on. IQ ain't everything.
When quantitative geneticists estimate the heritability of I.Q., they are generally relying on studies of twins. Identical twins are in effect clones who share all their genes; fraternal twins are siblings born together — just half of their genes are identical. If heredity explains most of the difference in intelligence, the logic goes, the I.Q. scores of identical twins will be far more similar than the I.Q.’s of fraternal twins. And this is what the research has typically shown. Only when children have spent their earliest years in the most wretched of circumstances, as in the infamous case of the Romanian orphans, treated like animals during the misrule of Nicolae Ceausescu, has it been thought that the environment makes a notable difference. Otherwise, genes rule.
Then along came Eric Turkheimer to shake things up. Turkheimer, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, is the kind of irreverent academic who gives his papers user-friendly titles like “Spinach and Ice Cream” and “Mobiles.” He also has a reputation as a methodologist’s methodologist. In combing through the research, he noticed that the twins being studied had middle-class backgrounds. The explanation was simple — poor people don’t volunteer for research projects — but he wondered whether this omission mattered.
Together with several colleagues, Turkheimer searched for data on twins from a wider range of families. He found what he needed in a sample from the 1970’s of more than 50,000 American infants, many from poor families, who had taken I.Q. tests at age 7. In a widely-discussed 2003 article, he found that, as anticipated, virtually all the variation in I.Q. scores for twins in the sample with wealthy parents can be attributed to genetics. The big surprise is among the poorest families. Contrary to what you might expect, for those children, the I.Q.’s of identical twins vary just as much as the I.Q.’s of fraternal twins. The impact of growing up impoverished overwhelms these children’s genetic capacities. In other words, home life is the critical factor for youngsters at the bottom of the economic barrel. “If you have a chaotic environment, kids’ genetic potential doesn’t have a chance to be expressed,” Turkheimer explains. “Well-off families can provide the mental stimulation needed for genes to build the brain circuitry for intelligence.”
This theory is plausible. It's comparable to the argument I made back in 2002 that comparing the average African IQ of 70 to the 85 average of their African-American cousins suggests that the bad environment in Africa is keeping Africans from reaching their genetic potential.
On the other hand, the connection between this theory and Turkheimer's actual findings seems tenuous.
Unfortunately, Turkheimer's paper isn't terribly persuasive because it seems disingenuous. It's particularly frustrating to read because, as far as I can tell, it refuses to tell us what were the average IQs of the children tested, or most of the other most interesting basic facts about the data.
A few years ago I emailed Turkheimer asking him to reveal these numbers, but he never responded. Later, I got an email from a friend of Turkheimer's chiding me for criticizing his paper. When I explained that I needed to know these basic facts about the study, he agreed, and offered to ask Turkheimer for the numbers, but then I never heard anything more.
This is important because psychometrician John Ray has put forward a plausible-sounding alternative suggestion:
Full publication of the study has not been done as yet but from what we know so far it seems that what they found was in fact much simpler than that. They found that if you separated out low income respondents (mostly black) and studied them alone, the role of heredity was less important in explaining IQ differences. That does sound like a real finding but it is in fact what statisticians would call a “restriction of range effect”. In other words, if you take ANY group and select out a subset that is relatively homogeneous with regard to some variable, differences in that variable will tend to have less importance in explaining other differences. Since socioeconomic status and race are substantially correlated with heritable IQ, that is precisely what these researchers have done: Selected a group that is relatively homogeneous in genetic inheritance for IQ and then said: “Hey! Differences in genetic inheritance are not so important here!” Statisticians would call the finding an “artifact” -- i.e. something created by the research procedure rather than a genuine finding about the world.
But, Turkheimer won't tell us the numbers, so everything is just speculation.
An excerpt from the interview conducted by Matt McIntosh:
9. [Matt McIntosh]: Any scholar with a sincere devotion to seeking the truth is bound to have their own beliefs, expectations and prejudices falsified on occasion. Can you tell us about occasions on which you've discovered something which profoundly altered your beliefs?
My epiphany came in Thailand in the 1960s, when I first came to understand how badly bureaucracies dealt with human problems in the villages, and how well (with qualifications) villagers dealt with their own problems given certain conditions. I describe that epiphany at some length in In Pursuit. The turnaround that led to The Bell Curve occurred in 1986, when Linda Gottfredson and Robert Gordon asked me to be on an American Psychological Association panel discussing their two papers on the relationship of IQ to unemployment and IQ to crime respectively, both of which discussed the B-W difference. The bibliographies astonished me--I had no idea that so much scholarly work had been done in these fields that so decisively contradicted what I had assumed (taught by the New York Times) to believe. If you want to see how far I moved: in Losing Ground, published in 1984, I cite [Stephen Jay Gould's] The Mismeasure of Man approvingly.
My other movement has been less dramatic, but has been intensifying--and will not please the founders and probably most of the readers of Gene Expression. I have been an agnostic since my teens. But I am increasingly drawn to the proposition that of all the hypotheses about God, simple atheism is the least probable. That to be a confident atheist is the silliest of intellectual positions. That thinking about spiritual issues, despite all the difficulties, must be part of being a grown-up. [More]
July 23, 2006
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See below for more about Google's surprisingly dim-witted ad strategy.
One of my more experience readers, who fought in WWII, then was a major league professional athlete, and then worked in high tech defense projects, including ABM, responds to my idea that we should practice perfecting a hit-to-kill ICBM interceptor, but then, if we ever are attacked, arm the interceptors with nuclear warheads (kind of like practicing skeet shooting with a rifle but then going bird hunting with a shotgun) responds:
That is a super idea. A not-so-short narrative to explain why we no longer have 'em. When we began serious work on ABM (anti-ballistic missile) systems, they were all nuclear. The first attempt at defenses was the Nike-Zeus system deployed around some of our cities in the 60's to intercept Russian bombers. There were citizens' uprising against upgrading this system to be capable of missile intercepts. The thing that really bothered the people was the idea that there would be nuclear-tipped interceptors underground near their homes.
What they didn't know was that there were already nuclear-tipped interceptors deployed near their homes. Nike-X, the improved system (on which $400 million a year in 60's dollars was being spent), was specifically designed to work against ICBMs. The long-range interceptors (Spartans), out-of-the atmosphere interceptors, carried megatons of yield (yes, megatons). The short-range ones (Sprints), which had to make the intercept after the atmosphere had filtered out pen-aids were fast, agile, and carried a small yield nuclear warhead. McNamara was the steward.
The idea of deploying this system in cities was abandoned, but a bowdlerized version of this system was actually deployed around our retaliatory missile silos in the northern midwest during the NIxon administration. We gave it up for SALT, even though we were permitted to have it. Good. Because it wouldn't have worked.
A combination of political pressures and new technology which seemed to promise hit-to-kill capability resulted in adopting the idea that we would do missile defense without nuclear weapons. President Reagan, or his people, specified non-nuke for the Star Wars program. (The atomic physicists who made the A-bomb and the H-bomb have really been against nuclear weapons for decades. I assume it's a guilt complex for having been responsible for the deaths of, was it? 150,000 innocent Japanese in WWII.)
All the time I worked in and around these programs, virtually everyone agreed with your idea, but the decisions were made and we shutup. I'm relying on memory for this. More would require research.
So, compared to the Cold War, this should be a tempest in a teapot. Indeed, through 9/11, Iran's regional ambitions were being restrained by two regimes, the Taliban to the east and Saddam to the west, even though they were little more than house-of-cards. The U.S. then easily toppled both, sensibly in the case of Afghanistan, more mysteriously in the case of Iraq. So, Iran now has Shi'ite allies in a belt to the west through the formerly Sunni-dominated but now Shi'ite-run Iraq, into quasi-Shi'ite-controlled Syria, and on to Hezbollah's state-within-a-state in South Lebanon. But, in terms of a threat to the West, this isn't at all like Russia controlling Ukraine, Poland, and East Germany. So, let's keep matters in perspective.