March 20, 2010

Big, Big News!

The New York Times website devotes a top-half-of-the-frontpage spot to headline this overwhelmingly important news story:

Arrest in Racial Case at N.J. Wal-Mart

WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP, N.J. — The authorities in southern New Jersey said Saturday that they had arrested a 16-year-old boy for activating a public-address system at a Wal-Mart store last week and ordering “all black people” to leave.

The boy, from Atlantic County, was charged by Gloucester County authorities with bias and intimidation and harassment in connection with the episode last Sunday. If convicted, he could face up to a year in a juvenile detention center, officials said. His name was not released because he is a minor.

According to the police, the boy picked up a public-address telephone in the Wal-Mart in Washington Township, one of two dozen accessible to the store’s customers, and said, “All black people, leave the store now.”

A store manager quickly apologized over the public-address system, witnesses said, and the police and the store opened separate investigations that included a review of images captured by the store’s security cameras.

Rafael Muñiz, the Washington Township police chief, said that while the cameras did not record anyone speaking on the public-address system, images showed three people — the suspect, a young man and a woman — standing near the phone just before the announcement, and rushing from the store just after it.

Investigators also scoured Facebook, MySpace and YouTube, and found postings, including some that the police chief said involved “kids bragging” about what happened.

With the help of anonymous tipsters, he added, investigators were led to the suspect, who was arrested Friday.

“We got lucky,” Chief Muñiz said Saturday at a news conference.

The suspect had been accompanied to the store by a friend and the friend’s mother, the authorities said. Neither the friend nor his mother had been charged, though Chief Muñiz left open the possibility that they could face prosecution for failing to report a crime.

The police would not disclose any details about the suspect, including his race.

In the course of their inquiry, officials said, investigators discovered at least two similar occurrences at the store in recent months.

The store’s parent company, Wal-Mart Stores, issued a statement saying it had modified its intercom system at the store to prevent such breaches.

“We’re pleased this matter is resolved,” the statement said. “We again apologize to all of our customers and associates who had to listen to something so offensive.”

In a statement on Friday, the company said: “We’re appalled by this incident and are amazed that anyone could be so backward and mean-spirited in this day and age.”

Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest retailer, has a history of discrimination and labor complaints involving minorities and women, though in recent years it has redoubled its efforts to promote diversity at its stores.

Last year, the company agreed to pay $17.5 million to settle a class-action lawsuit that accused it of discriminating against blacks applying for jobs as truck drivers.

News of the arrest circulated among the customers at the Washington Township store on Saturday afternoon.

Paulette Duckrey, 43, who is black, said that when she heard about the episode, she guessed that it was a prank by a customer.

“I assumed it couldn’t have been an employee,” she said.

Kirk Semple reported from New York, and Nate Schweber from Washington Township, N.J.

Because a news story this big requires saturation coverage.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

March 18, 2010

NYT: School Discipline Is Racist

From the NYT:
School Suspensions Lead to Legal Challenge

... poor black students are suspended at three times the rate of whites, a disparity not fully explained by differences in income or behavior.

On March 8, the education secretary, Arne Duncan, lamented “schools that seem to suspend and discipline only young African-American boys” as he pledged stronger efforts to ensure racial equality in schooling.

A growing body of research, scholars say, suggests that heavy use of suspensions does less to pacify schools than to push already troubled students toward academic failure and dropping out — and sometimes into what critics have called the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

A rising number of districts are already reversing course and trying new approaches, including behavioral counseling and mediation, to reduce conflict and create safer, quieter schools while ejecting only the worst offenders.

“These students were treated like criminals and abandoned by the school system for doing something that students have done forever — fighting in the schoolyard,” said Erwin Byrd, a lawyer with Legal Aid of North Carolina, which brought the suit with lawyers from the Duke University School of Law. The school district says it must retain discretion over punishments.

Some 15 percent of the nation’s black students in grades K-12 are suspended at least briefly each year, compared with 4.8 percent of white students, according to federal data from 2006, the latest available. Expulsions are meted out to one in 200 black students versus one in 1,000 white students.

Zero tolerance and the quick resort to suspensions have been politically popular, but education leaders are having second thoughts. “If our primary obligation is to educate kids, then to punish them by excluding them doesn’t make sense,” said Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said strict punishment should not be the main tool for order.

“Lots of schools don’t provide the panoply of services we think are important — prevention and intervention strategies and alternative placements for disruptive students,” Ms. Weingarten said in an interview.

Elsewhere, the NYT will constantly demand that Something Must Be Done so that the best teachers will teach in the worst schools.

No cognitive connection will ever occur.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Nicholas Wade reports in the NYT on the latest on dog DNA:

Borrowing methods developed to study the genetics of human disease, researchers have concluded that dogs were probably first domesticated from wolves somewhere in the Middle East, in contrast to an earlier survey suggesting dogs originated in East Asia.

This finding puts the first known domestication — that of dogs — in the same place as the domestication of plants and other animals, and strengthens the link between the first animal to enter human society and the subsequent invention of agriculture about 10,000 years ago.

A Middle Eastern origin for the dog also fits in better with the archaeological evidence, and has enabled geneticists to reconstruct the entire history of the dog, from the first association between wolves and hunter gatherers some 20,000 years ago to the creation by Victorian dog fanciers of many of today’s breeds.

A research team led by Bridgett M. vonHoldt and Robert K. Wayne of the University of California, Los Angeles, has analyzed a large collection of wolf and dog genomes from around the world. Scanning for similar runs of DNA, the researchers found that the Middle East was where wolf and dog genomes were most similar, although there was another area of overlap between East Asian wolves and dogs. Wolves were probably first domesticated in the Middle East, but after dogs had spread to East Asia there was a crossbreeding that injected more wolf genes into the dog genome, the researchers conclude in Thursday’s issue of the journal Nature.

The archaeological evidence supports this idea, since some of the earliest dog remains have been found in the Middle East, dating from 12,000 years ago. The only earlier doglike remains occur in Belgium, at a site 31,000 years old, and in western Russia from 15,000 years ago. ...

Several thousand years later, in the first settled communities that began to appear in the Middle East 15,000 years ago, people began intervening in the breeding patterns of their camp followers, turning them into the first proto-dogs. One of the features they selected was small size, continuing the downsizing of the wolf body plan. “I think a long history such as that would explain how a large carnivore, which can eat you, eventually became stably incorporated in human society,” Dr. Wayne said. ...

Dr. Wayne was surprised to find that all the herding dogs grouped together, as did all the sight hounds and the scent hounds, making a perfect match between dogs’ various functions and the branches on the genetic tree. “I thought there would be many ways to build a herding dog and that they’d come from all over the tree, but there are not,” Dr. Wayne said.

This suggests that the first step, wolf to dog was the hardest, then generic dog to herding dog was also hard, while making subsequent variations on herding dog is easy. I don't know why dog breeders have given up on creating new functional breeds. For example, it is becoming common in New York City among people looking to rent an apartment to hire a dog to come sniff for bed bugs? Why not create a bed bug sniffing breed that is outstanding at this?

His team has also used the dog SNP chip to scan for genes that show signatures of selection. One such favored dog gene has a human counterpart that has been implicated in Williams syndrome, where it causes exceptional gregariousness.

That's pretty funny.

Dog domestication and human settlement occurred at the same time, some 15,000 years ago, raising the possibility that dogs may have had a complex impact on the structure of human society. Dogs could have been the sentries that let hunter gatherers settle without fear of surprise attack. They may also have been the first major item of inherited wealth, preceding cattle, and so could have laid the foundations for the gradations of wealth and social hierarchy that differentiated settled groups from the egalitarianism of their hunter-gatherer predecessors. Notions of inheritance and ownership, Dr. Driscoll said, may have been prompted by the first dogs to permeate human society, laying an unexpected track from wolf to wealth.

Domesticating dogs was a big deal, although we don't know in what precise ways.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

March 17, 2010

Rielle Hunter

Just a reminder as everybody has fun with the interview given by Rielle Hunter, the mother of former Presidential candidate John Edward's out-of-wedlock baby: She is also a major character, under the name Alison Poole, in novels by fairly major novelists, Jay McInerney and Brett Easton Ellis: the Alma Mahler of the Tin Age.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Advanced Placement: taking classes v. passing tests

The growth over the years of Advanced Placement testing allowing high school students to earn college credit has been one of the better things to happen to American education. For example, getting credit for intro college courses while in high school can help students avoid spending 4.5 or 5.0 years in college (which had become traditional at University of California campuses in the 1980s due to shortages of seats in required classes), which is a lot more expensive these days than 4.0 years.

Unfortunately, as with most things involving schooling, discussion of Advanced Placement (AP) is beset with confusion. The most common problem is the recurrent confusion between taking AP classes and passing AP tests. The conventional wisdom assumes that the former more or less equates to the latter, so if we just get enough poor and minority students to take classes called "AP" then our problems our solved. But that's clearly not true.

Huge numbers of kids take courses in high school each year labeled "AP" and then bomb the national AP test in May. In polar contrast, other kids pass AP tests without taking AP classes, or even any classes at all in the subject. (My kid, for example, received 9 hours of college credit, more than half a semester, through AP testing for subjects he never even took in high school: World History and Comparative Government. He simply piggybacked off courses he did take, European History and US History and U.S. Government, with some home reading to fill in the gaps, such as memorizing the Chinese dynasties.)

A new book of social science research sounds like it can help clear up some of the confusion. (Of course, that assumes that people want to become less confused, which is a very risky assumption in anything having to do with American schooling.)

Education Week reports:

At a time of mushrooming interest in Advanced Placement tests, a new book assembles studies on how capable the program is of meeting the increasingly diverse expectations held up for it.

“The AP program is not going to solve all the problems of American education,” said Philip M. Sadler, one of the editors of AP: A Critical Examination of the Advanced Placement Program, being published this month by Harvard Education Press. “I think AP is really good for some things and not very good for other things,” said Mr. Sadler, a senior lecturer in astronomy at Harvard University, “and people should be aware of what its strengths and weaknesses are.”

Despite quibbles with some of the studies in the book, officials from the College Board, the New York City-based group that runs the program, called the new volume a “landmark collection” in an area where scholarship is badly needed.

“The College Board has long lamented the fact that, except for the grants our organization distributes to fund AP-focused research, there has seemed to be little interest among independent researchers in AP,” Trevor Packer, the board’s vice president for Advanced Placement programs, wrote in an e-mail message.

Growing out of a symposium held at Harvard in 2007, the book focuses on AP science courses in particular and offers evidence on whether they give students an academic edge in college or persuade them to earn degrees in science-related fields.

One big example of the confusion between the value of taking AP classes and passing AP tests is that college admissions people tend to treat AP totally backward. At least in public discussions of how they weigh applications, they give more weight to you taking classes designated by your high school to be "AP" than to you getting good scores on the national AP tests.

In calculating high school GPA, they give an extra GPA point to any high class that claims to be AP (thus an "A" in Advanced Placement Psychology is worth a 5 instead of a 4), which is why, say, Berkeley students enter college with high school GPAs that sound hallucinatory (e.g., 4.47!) to older generations who didn't benefit from this gimmick.

But, admissions offices are reluctant to publicly admit that they give much weight to actually passing the national AP exams, even though those are very good predictors of whether you have the smarts and self-discipline to do well in college. Unlike high school GPA, AP tests are both nationally standard and they are more challenging than the vast majority of high school classes. Unlike the SAT, you can't be a smart slack-off and ace them. So, they function well as an acid test that this kid is college material.
In their chapter, for instance, researchers Chrys Dougherty and Lynne T. Mellor of the National Center for Educational Achievement, in Austin, Texas, draw on five years of data collected when Texas’ efforts to expand access to college-preparation courses were getting under way. They found that, once differences in students’ backgrounds were accounted for, AP students were no more likely to graduate from college than non-AP students. But the opposite was true for AP students who both took and passed AP exams.

College admissions offices, however, tend to argue that directly weighing scores on AP tests would discriminate against students at schools that don't offer AP classes. That's true, but less true than giving an extra GPA point to kids in classes labeled AP.

This book offers a new rule of thumb:
Based on that calculation, he figures that students who take honors courses ought to receive an extra half-point on a grade-point-average scale of 1 to 4, while AP courses ought to be worth an extra point, and an extra 2 points if students pass the exam.

“I think it’s the only article I’ve seen that provides evidence for how to calculate high school GPAs,” Mr. Sadler said of his study. “Everywhere else, they just use a rule of thumb.”

I recall, however, a University of California study that recommended reducing the the AP GPA bonus from 1.0 to 0.5 points.

The study also found that exam failure rates were disproportionately high among African-American, Hispanic, and low-income students, the disadvantaged groups the policy aimed to help, and that many such students had to take remedial courses in college.

States and districts have tried to increase access to AP by providing subsidies to cover students’ exam fees. But Ms. Klopfenstein argues that, given her findings on the amount of time it takes AP students to earn a degree, such policies are not cost-effective.

I've looked at a ton of AP data, and it's really obvious who is taking fewer than the optimal number of AP tests: Red State white kids. But nobody is supposed to be looking out publicly for the welfare of white kids, so you only hear about how more NAMs need to take the AP tests, even though their returns on taking them in terms of passing are much more diminishing.

A couple of things are going on in why Red State white kids tend to be oblivious to AP: First, AP is administered by the College Board, which is affiliated with ETS in Princeton, NJ, where the SAT comes from, so AP is bigger in SAT states than in ACT states. The ACT college aptitude test is developed in Iowa and is most popular in the middle of the country, so Red State kids tend to take the ACT and Blue State kids the SAT, and there is a spillover effect in terms of marketing AP tests: people who live in SAT states take more APs than people in ACT states.

Second, the people who are crazy about the AP are the Asians, who take about three times more per capita than whites, so whites who live near a lot of Asians tend to pick up AP Fever from them.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Kerala: Nothing Ever Changes

The BBC reports on Kerala in southwest India, west of booming Bangalore. Kerala is a sort of Nicholas Kristof Utopia. But all is not well:
Why is India's most socially developed state - and one of the developing world's most advanced regions - an economic laggard?

This question about Kerala, known all over the world for its lush landscapes, sun-drenched beaches and idyllic backwaters, has been a subject of intense debate among economists and social scientists.

Kerala defies all stereotypes of a "socially backward" Indian state - swathes of people living in abject poverty, men outnumbering women because of female foeticide, internecine caste politics.

Many of its social indicators are on par with the developed world and it has the highest human development index in India.

It also has the highest literacy rate (more than 90%) and life expectancy in India, lowest infant mortality, lowest school drop-out rate, and a fairly prosperous countryside.

That's not all.

In contrast to India's more prosperous states, like Punjab and Haryana, Kerala can boast a very healthy gender ratio - women outnumber men here.

Life expectancy for women is also higher than for men, as in most developed countries. Thanks to a matrilineal society, women, by and large, are more empowered than in most places in India.

When it comes to low population growth, Kerala competes with Europe and the US. And all but two districts of the state have a lower fertility rate than that needed to maintain current population levels.

All this happened because of the region's early trading connections with the West - the Portuguese arrived here in the 15th Century, followed by the Dutch and then the British - and a long history of social reforms initiated by the missionaries and the kings of two princely states that were later integrated to create Kerala. [I believe Kerala has a Christian population going back to Doubting Thomas the Apostle.]

And thanks to pioneering land reforms initiated by a Communist government in the late 1950s, the levels of rural poverty here are the lowest in India. Decent state-funded health care and education even made it the best welfare state in India.

Yet, today, Kerala is a straggler economy almost entirely dependent on tourism and remittances sent back by two million of its people who live and work abroad, mostly in the Gulf.

Joblessness is rife due to the lack of a robust manufacturing base - more than 15% in urban areas, three times the national average. More than 30 million people live in the densely populated state, a third of which is covered by forests

More people here are taking their lives than anywhere else in India. Alcoholism is a dire social problem - the state has India's highest per capita alcohol consumption. People migrate because there are no jobs at home.

Apparently, nothing much has changed in the dozen years since The Atlantic ran an article on Kerala in 1998 praising it as "Poor but Prosperous" (but the details painted a darker picture).

My guess is that the lesson is that if you want to turn your country into Sweden, it's best to get fairly rich first.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

March 16, 2010

"Obama's Happiness Deficit"

Fred Hiatt, the op-ed editor of the Washington Post, writes:

Here's a theory about why President Obama is having a tough political time right now: He doesn't seem all that happy being president.

I know, it's the world's hardest job, and between war and the world economy collapsing, he didn't have the first year he might have wished for. And, yes, he's damned either way: With thousands of Americans risking their lives overseas and millions losing their jobs at home, we'd slam him if he acted carefree.

Still, I think Americans want a president who seems, despite everything, to relish the challenge. They don't want to have to feel grateful to him for taking on the burden.

I started thinking about this a few weeks ago when Obama confidant David Axelrod, noting that the president always makes time for his daughters' recitals and soccer games, told the New York Times, "I think that's part of how he sustains himself through all this."

Really? Is the presidency something to sustain yourself through? ...

Less lugubriousness wouldn't necessarily buy him a health-care bill. But in the long run, Americans might find it easier to root for or with Obama if he'd show us, despite everything, that he's happy we hired him.

Obama is psychologically fragile, and thus self-medicates a lot with cigarettes, golf, and exercise.

He has gone through depressive periods in his mood cycle before, such as in New York in the early 1980s (when his sister worried about him winding up a homeless lunatic) and in Chicago in 2000 after his rejection by black voters.

The flip side of his mood swings is that when he's not feeling blue, he has feelings of grandiosity, such as running for the U.S. Senate or running for the White House.

How'd that work out for him?

Pretty good!

So, Obama's rivals should not assume that just because he's down now, that he'll stay down. He could come back very strong.

My pet theory of history is that the big names in the history books are largely the guys whose Up periods happened to coincide with big opportunities in their lives and whose Down periods came at harmless points.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Betting on the Box Office

From my new column at Taki's Magazine:

I certainly don’t know much about investing, but I can give you one solid tip: don’t bet in the movie box office futures market.

Wall Street firm Cantor Fitzgerald expects to get federal regulatory approval to begin trading movie pseudo-shares in April (and a start-up called Veriana Networks also hopes to get into the business). The rationalization is that movie-makers could unload some of the risk of a flop on investors, but the appeal is that it’s more fun than gambling on pork bellies.

What could be a more perfect embodiment of our post-modern economy? While the Asians manufacture everything, Americans will try to get rich by selling each other cinematic synthetic financial instruments.

Betting on box office numbers isn’t a new idea. For a decade, hobbyists with too much time on their hands have been competing on the Hollywood Stock Exchange (HSX) for pretend money by predicting how well new movies will perform.

Read why betting real money on how well upcoming movies will perform is a bad idea there, and comment upon it here.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

March 15, 2010

Karl Rove's Autobiography

Excerpts from my new column:

Karl Rove, “The Architect” of George W. Bush’s campaigns and domestic policy, has been one of the central figures of this puzzling century. No single adviser has been more closely linked to a President since Henry Kissinger served Richard Nixon. For most of the last decade, Rove defined the official Republican line, stomping alternative conservative viewpoints into obscurity. And it all ended in catastrophe.

So, is Rove’s autobiography, Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight, the first memoir from a true Bush insider, enlightening about what went wrong?

Answer: yes—but mostly in an unintended way. ...

Rove devotes a moderate amount of space to describing his feelings, which are mostly hurt. People have said a lot of unkind things about Karl Rove over the years, and—he wants you to know—they’ve left him feeling sorry for himself. ...

Thus, we are informed that Rove has been hurt:

* by his unstable mother (who never got around to telling him that her husband wasn’t his biological father);

* by pit bull prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald (who investigated him for years in the rather exiguous Valerie Plame case);

* by Democrats; and

* by the Main Stream Media.

Among the MSM’s many transgressions, it accused Rove’s beloved adoptive father of being gay. Rove pushes back against this notion by telling us more than I, personally, cared to know about his mom and dad’s sex life.

Perhaps the best anecdote in the book concerns Rove’s first (and last) marriage counseling session with his first wife (p. 53):
“The assistant rector of Palmer Episcopal Church turned blandly to Val to ask if she would like to say anything. She said, ‘Yes.’ She then looked at me and blurted out, ‘I don’t love you. I’ve never loved you. I never will love you. And I don’t see any purpose in this.’ With that, she walked out. The room seemed frozen in silence. Then the assistant rector exhaled deeply, looked at me, and said, ‘Well, that about says it all,’ and closed the portfolio holding his pad and pen.”

(There’s no hint in Rove’s manuscript, which presumably was finished several months ago, of his December 29, 2009 divorce from his second wife.)

Rove’s feelings appear to have been hurt most frequently of all by George W. Bush.

There’s something a little creepy about Rove’s glowing memory of the first time he laid eyes on W. on November 21, 1973 (p. 39):
“George W. Bush walked through the front door, exuding more charm and charisma than is allowed by law. He had on his Air National Guard flight jacket, jeans, and boots. I introduced myself and we chatted about nothing for a few minutes.”

In Courage and Consequence, Rove vociferously eulogizes the greatness of George W. Bush. And yet Rove slips in dozens of small examples of Bush being hurtful, such as nicknaming Rove “Turd Blossom”.

A recurrent drumbeat in the book is Bush’s peevishness when tired (and he seems to tire quickly). Rove’s memoir has a bit of the flavor of a battered wife who ostentatiously defends her husband, partly out of affection and partly to draw sympathy to herself.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Disparate Impact v. School Discipline

The New York Time editorializes in support of Sec. of Education Arne Duncan's speech denouncing discipline in the public schools:
Mr. Duncan said that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would be pleased by the racial progress that the country has made but “would have been ... dismayed to learn of schools that seem to suspend and discipline only young African-American boys.”

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Why is the federal government involved in education anyway?

Obama is announcing his plan for changing the No Child Left Behind law, including dumping the current mandate that every child in America score as "proficient" in reading and math by 2014 as "utopian."

(Update: Actually, Obama has decided to pass on that. From the WP:
Obama's plan leapfrogs over the tough question of whether to eliminate the 2014 goal of proficiency for all. In essence, the administration is leaving that up to Congress. Instead, Obama points toward a new goal that would take effect in stages over the next few years: for all students to meet "college- and career-ready" standards by 2020.)

But why does the federal government exercise effective control over local public schools anyway?

Back in the post-Sputnik era, a chief reason offered for federal intervention was the huge differences in wealth among the states demanded that the federal government pitch in to help equalize resources. Yet, it's not clear to me that those between-state differences are all that important anymore as cost-of-living differences have emerged. For example, up through 1975, California had both a highly productive economy and housing costs no higher than the national average. So, sure, it was easier then for California to afford schoolteachers (not to mention a fabulous system of public universities) than it was for Mississippi. So, the argument went, if there was some smart kid in Mississippi, he might not get as good an education as if he was in California, and therefore the federal government should supplement state and local spending on education.

Today, though, differences in spending ability between states have been rendered less striking by higher costs-of-living in high income states. And, indeed, that old-fashioned argument for federal involvement in schooling has largely disappeared.

Today, in contrast, the obsession of the federal No Child Left Behind act is with closing the racial gaps in students' performance -- which are virtually the same in every state (and even in every school district) in the United States. So, what is the justification for federal involvement?

It's not as if some states or school districts have discovered solutions for racial gaps, and the federal government only needs to impose those solutions on a few recalcitrant bigoted states. In fact, the most liberal of the 51 "states," the one that is most under control of Congress, the District of Columbia, has by far the largest white-black gap in test scores of any in the country.

So, if nobody has yet discovered how to close the racial gap, then why federalize education? Why not let 51 flowers bloom and see if anybody comes up with a solution?

Why not have more competition between states and between school districts within states? In Southern California, the suburban San Gabriel Valley long played second fiddle to the more close-in suburban San Fernando Valley, but the San Gabriel Valley has surged ahead in recent years, largely because it has a wide variety of competing school districts, such as Arcadia (where my cousins went to public school) while most of the San Fernando Valley is under the not very competitive Los Angeles Unified School District.

So, why reproduce the LAUSD on a national scale?

Clearly, the main reason for the tightening grip of the federal government on local education is simply that the most ambitious politicians, such as Bush and Obama, go into federal politics and they grab the most appealing issues (Fix the schools!) and try to deal with them at the federal level.

That's not a good reason.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

National Standards in Education

From the NYT:

A panel of educators convened by the nation’s governors and state school superintendents proposed a uniform set of academic standards on Wednesday, laying out their vision for what all the nation’s public school children should learn in math and English, year by year, from kindergarten to high school graduation.

The new proposals could transform American education, replacing the patchwork of standards ranging from mediocre to world-class that have been written by local educators in every state.

Under the proposed standards for English, for example, fifth graders would be expected to explain the differences between drama and prose stories, and to identify elements of drama like characters, dialogue and stage directions. Seventh graders would study, among other math concepts, proportional relationships, operations with rational numbers and solutions for linear equations.

Yes, but here's the essential rub with standards: What happens to seventh graders who can't do those things?

Standards are great for, say, fighter pilot training programs. If by week X of training, you haven't mastered standards A, B, and C, then you don't get to be a fighter pilot. You go do something else. Maybe if you come close to meeting the fighter pilot standard, they send you off to transport plane training.

But what do you do with 7th graders who aren't smart enough to meet the standards?

Well, in European countries, they put kids of different intelligence on different tracks. But, our educational establishment hates tracking. So, we just put our fingers in our ears and close our eyes and assume everybody is equal in intelligence, and sue for disparate impact discrimination.

The new standards are likely to touch off a vast effort to rewrite textbooks, train teachers and produce appropriate tests, if a critical mass of states adopts them in coming months, as seems likely.

There is a lot of money in rewriting textbooks. By the way, one of the things that the proliferation of standards has contributed to is making children's textbooks so massive that many kids don't want to lug them from school to home to do their homework, so they don't do their homework.

But there could be opposition in some states, like Massachusetts, which already has high standards that advocates may want to keep.

And why shouldn't Massachusetts have higher standards than West Virginia? Massachusetts has been the academic capital of America since the 1600s. There is a reason that the most academically distinguished towns in both Britain and America have exactly the same name: Cambridge.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Alternative Right

Richard B. Spencer's elegant new web magazine, Alternative Right, is up and running:, launched on March 1, 2010, is an online magazine of radical traditionalism. As such, it marks an attempt to forge a new intellectual right-wing that is independent and outside the "conservative" establishment.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

March 14, 2010

Depression v. Nervous Breakdown

There have some good articles lately on the indeterminacy of psychiatric definitions, such as "depression:" John Derbyshire's The Anatomy of Melancholy at Alternative Right, Louis Menand's Head Case: Can psychiatry be a science? at The New Yorker, Jonathan Lehrer's Depression's Upside in the NY Times Magazine, and Ethan Watters' The Americanization of Mental Illness in the NYT Mag.

One of the conundrums is that psychiatric terms change over the generations. For example, terms such as "depression" and "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder" have largely replaced "nervous breakdown" in popular usage. Robert Heinlein sci-fi stories from the middle of the 20th Century frequently feature spaceship captains who suffer "nervous breakdowns" from the strain of command. (Heinlein was a naval officer for seven years, so his space travel stories are really sea stories.)

And, yet, Wikipedia says:
The terms "nervous breakdown" and "mental breakdown" have not been formally defined through a diagnostic system such as the DSM-IV or ICD-9, and are nearly absent from current scientific literature regarding mental illness. ... The closest DSM-IV diagnostic category to nervous breakdown is Adjustment Disorder with Mixed Anxiety and Depressed Mood (Acute).

But few people talk about ADMADM(A) these days. But everybody worried about "nervous breakdowns" in 1942, when Americans didn't exactly have time for things that weren't important.

Moreover, Heinlein's captains weren't suffering Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder because their stress is over the upcoming or current trauma, not necessarily past ones.

And different terms have have somewhat different connotations. Which term you use will tend to influence your thinking.

I noticed this when I was reading up on the Civil War and got to the formidable Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's psychological collapse in late 1861, in-between his strong performances at the battles of First Bull Run in 1861 and Shiloh in 1862. While organizing behind the lines for the next year's campaigns, he had to be relieved of command so he could recuperate at home. Sherman later joked, "Grant stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk, and now we stand by each other."

The Wikipedia page on Sherman uses the old-fashioned term "nervous breakdown" and blames "the concerns of command." In contrast, James M. McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom sometimes uses the more modern term "depression," and at one point suggests that Sherman was depressed by his vision of the logic of Total War.

Or was he suffering Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder over Bull Run?

I certainly don't know enough about Sherman to offer a diagnosis. I just want to point out that you can see how the customary terminology of your time and place would tend to channel your descriptions and explanations.

Similarly, other countries have mental illnesses we don't exactly have, such as running amok in Malaysia (in the 19th Century, every village had to have a long pole with a lasso on the end for snagging the inevitable amok runners).

On the other hand, the power of American culture seems to allow us to infect other cultures with American mental illnesses, such as anorexia. USA! USA!

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Women and the Academy Awards

In the NY Times, film critic Manohla Dargis is all worked up over Kathryn Bigelow becoming the first women to win the Best Director Oscar: a triumph for feminism!

Dargis is smart enough that she seems vaguely uneasy over the fact that it's a little more complicated than that. (For example, women are on-screen for no more than 2 minutes in "The Hurt Locker.")

The dirty little secret that Dargis can't quite bring herself to mention is that the triumph of her kind of auteur-worshiping film theory that lionizes titans like Orson Welles has lessened appreciation of women as directors, few of whom have the requisite ambitiousness.

For example, the 1988 comedy "Big" was, in retrospect, the first of a long run of good movies starring Tom Hanks, but few could see Penny Marshall (Laverne on Laverne and Shirley) as a Best Director for "Big." On the other hand, if you conceive the role of the film director as less a Beethoven-like giant of self-expression molding his profound artistic statement and more as a presiding coordinator who keeps everybody moving together in the right direction, well, then, sure, Penny Marshall did a bang-up job on "Big."

But there are lots of other demographic oddities when you look through the history of the Oscars. I've pointed out before that no woman has ever been nominated for Best Cinematography. (One reason is that it's very hard for a woman to serve as an apprentice in that craft because the entry-level job is lugging heavy lights up ladders, so upper body strength is a requirement).

Another disparity I've just noticed is the lack of women nominees for Best Score (background music, not songs). Rachel Portman was nominated three times between 1996 and 2000, and in 1996 became the first woman to win. Before her, no woman had been nominated since Ann Ronell in 1945 (at least that's my guess based on first names).

And no woman has been nominated since 2000, so that's 45 men out of the last 45 nominees.

Granted, Best Score is one of those awards where you aren't really certain if the person nominated did the actual work. Randy Newman's uncle Alfred Newman received 45 nominations because he was the head of the music department at his studio and insisted that he get sole credit for all the work done by his staff. And, it's a small and nepotistic business: six Newmans have been nominated. (All male, by the way.)

So, it could well be that an anonymous female staffer actually wrote the music for one or more of the last 45 films nominated for Best Score. The Writer's Guild offers a credit dispute resolution system for ensuring that screenplay nominations go to the people who wrote the largest parts of the script, but I don't believe anything like that exists for scores.

Still, it's a remarkable disparity between the sexes.

Orchestral composition is one of those skills that are so far beyond my talent range that I really have no concept of what is involved, and why men so outnumber women at it. Two centuries ago, from Beethoven onward, composing for orchestra was perhaps the single most lionized of all artistic trades, so it's not surprising that the mystique surrounding it would attract the most ambitious of artists, such as Wagner, and that it would remain an all-male domain.

Yet over the last half century, however, it's dropped off to a niche field. Moreover, film scoring itself isn't on the cutting edge of musical art. It's more of a nice-paying job for musicians who are very highly skilled but lacking in the Beethoven-like ambition to assault Olympus, and instead are willing to subordinate their egos to help punch up the emotional impact of the scene where Jennifer Aniston realizes how much Owen Wilson's dog means to him.

So, the sex disparity in Best Score nominations presumably reflects actual disparities in compositional talent at the far right edge of the musical bell curve.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer