December 18, 2010

Cities and Physics (but not People)

Physicist Geoffrey West explains in the NYT Magazine, "A Physicist Solves the City," that he  now understands cities:
In essence, they arrive at the sensible conclusion that cities are valuable because they facilitate human interactions, as people crammed into a few square miles exchange ideas and start collaborations. “If you ask people why they move to the city, they always give the same reasons,” West says. “They’ve come to get a job or follow their friends or to be at the center of a scene. That’s why we pay the high rent. Cities are all about the people, not the infrastructure.”
... As [Jane] Jacobs pointed out, the layout of her Manhattan neighborhood — the short blocks, the mixed-use zoning, the density of brownstones — made it easier to cope with the strain of the metropolis. It’s fitting that it’s called the Village.

In recent decades, though, many of the fastest-growing cities in America, like Phoenix and Riverside, Calif., have given us a very different urban model. These places have traded away public spaces for affordable single-family homes, attracting working-class families who want their own white picket fences. West and Bettencourt point out, however, that cheap suburban comforts are associated with poor performance on a variety of urban metrics. Phoenix, for instance, has been characterized by below-average levels of income and innovation (as measured by the production of patents) for the last 40 years.

Yet, what could account for the lower rates of patents in Riverside or Phoenix than in equally suburban Silicon Valley or North San Diego County?

It's a mystery!

December 17, 2010

The SCHEME Act up for a vote Saturday

The lame duck Senate is scheduled to vote on the DREAM Act, which is, in effect, a sneaky mid-sized amnesty, on Saturday.

The Ennui of the Left

As C. Van Carter of Across Difficult Country pointed out in the comments, Google's new Ngrams website lets you graph the frequency of usage of any of the hundreds of billions of words in Google Books. 

For example, this graph shows how staple words of leftist thought, such as "socialism," "racism," "sexism," "feminism," "discrimination," and "civil rights" have been in decline in published books over the last decade. Socialism peaked in usage around 1976, but most of the others enjoyed their peaks in the 1990s. (To be precise, discrimination had a peak around 1975 and a second one of equal magnitude around 1996. The other four words peaked in the 1990s.) 

Is this just a decline in the proportion of public affairs books published? (These numbers, by the way, are weighted by publications, not by sales.) I don't think so. In contrast, "capitalism" and "conservatism" have been relatively flat since about 1980, and "evolutionary psychology" skyrocketed from 1992 to 2004, then drifted slightly lower. "Darwin" was flat from 1960 to 1990, the shot upwards until about 2005.

That fits my general recollection of hanging around bookstores on my lunch hour: that their was a surge in DiversityThink in books around 1989 to 1995 (perhaps related to the collapse of socialism channeling leftist thought into other directions, perhaps related to the surge during the Crack Era of bad behavior among blacks creating a perceived need for more denunciations of white racism). This era was followed, however, by collective boredom and embarrassment.

The word "diversity" itself zoomed upwards starting in 1989, peaked around 1999, but has only dropped slightly since then. As a non-accusatory happy word, it doesn't inspire as much heretical thought as an accusatory word like "racism," so  it's more likely to endure in exhoratory prose.

We're now well into the Brezhnev Era of DiversityThink, when everybody is bored and cynical about the ruling ideology, but it still has 53,000 tanks, so most people assume it can't be all that off-base.

To get off topic, how about Nabokov v. Borges? Borges, whom Nabokov spoofed as "Osberg" in Ada, has been in the lead in English language books since the early 1960s.

How about Golden Age Sci- Fi writers: Heinlein, Asimov, and Bradbury? They seem to be mentioned: Bradbury first, Asimov second, Heinlein third.

December 16, 2010

Does everybody secretly hate graphs?

I'm reading the book Fault Lines by former IMF chief economist Raghuram G. Rajan of the U of Chicago economics dept. It's a pretty good read, but what struck me while flipping through it is that it's solid text: no quantitative graphics, no tables of numbers, just paragraphs. The sole thing to interrupt the flow of paragraphs across a couple of hundred pages is a poem by 18th century economist Bernard de Mandeville.  

That lack of tables and graphs can't be natural for an economics professor, can it? The publisher must have told him what statistician Andrew Gelman's publisher told him when he wrote Red State, Blue State, that each graph in the book cuts sales in half.

So, does everybody really hate graphs? If so, why does everybody who gives a presentation think they have to do it in Powerpoint? (As in Abe Lincoln's Gettysburg Address graph comparing New Nations -87 Years to Now.) Do audience members actually look at the graphs? Or do they just appreciate the chance during the work day to veg out in a dark room with a glowing screen? "Powerpoint: It's Almost Like Watching TV While Getting Paid!" 

Or did people used to like graphs until Powerpoint came along? 

Do the books that the people who sit next to you on the airplane read have graphs in them? A large fraction of people in airplanes are traveling to meetings infested by Powerpoint graphs: if there is a graph in their book, do they consider it work? 

I like graphs. I had Minard's now-famous graph-map of Napoleon's 1812 invasion of Russia up on my office wall for years. It worked as a sort of secret club handshake for people walking by. One out every zillion people who walked down the hall past my office would recognize it and introduce himself.

I find that graphs always take me about five times longer to finish creating than I expected. For example, in VDARE, I've got a graph that answers the obvious question (obvious to you and me, at least) about those PISA international school achievement test scores that everybody was pontificating upon last week. My graph shows where the PISA test scores of the four main racial/ethnic groups in the U.S. would fall compared to the national average scores for the 65 countries that took the test. 

A simple idea, right? Yet it took me forever to get the graph right so the answer is clear. (First, I had to find the American race numbers, which don't appear in any of the hundreds of pages of data posted by the OECD last week.) Then, I had to fiddle for hours to get the graph to look less confusing. 

I think it finally came out okay. But, if everybody out there secretly hates graphs, then I'll stop wasting time making them.

December 15, 2010

The Pointlessness of the Central Flaw in Current Thought

In the latest brouhaha over new Nixon tapes, I saw something in passing by Slate writer Jack Shafer that is illustrative of the most fundamental weakness in modern thought. So, let me set the stage for a bit before getting to the key bit that wouldn't even be noticed by a non-crimethinker.

Jack Shafer writes in Slate:
From his throne in hell, Richard Nixon commands our attention once again with newly released White House tapes from February and March 1973 that drop another tanker load of piss and bile on Jews. ...

After recounting various private remarks of Nixon about Jews, Shafer turns to consider the arguments of Nixon's Jewish defenders:
Nixon has never lacked Jewish defenders. Just six months ago, writer Ben Stein, the son of Herbert Stein, the head of the Council of Economic Advisers under Nixon, pooh-poohed the Jew-counting story that Noah has so determinedly tracked. Wrote Stein:
Now, bear in mind, Nixon was by far the best friend the Jewish people have ever had since Abraham. He had the most Jewish appointees to high offices, the most pro-Israel foreign and defense policy in history, saved Israel in the Yom Kippur War, put Russia at bay about helping Egypt in that war—was just the best friend Jews have ever had, including Jews themselves.

Alas, being actively pro-Israel doesn't automatically exonerate Nixon from anti-Semitism. For one thing, he and Kissinger were playing a global board game with the Soviets in those years, and the Soviets were backing Egypt. An Israeli defeat would have been an American defeat, too. For another, Nixon didn't want to go down in history as the American president who "lost" Israel and put the Jewish people in peril.

True, but Nixon and his chief domestic policy adviser Daniel Patrick Moynihan of 1969-70 were also simultaneously playing a domestic board game with New York intellectuals in those years. Nixon and Moynihan had long conversations in 1969 about how they could promote a self-conscious neoconservative tendency among Moynihan's fellow New York intellectuals. Portraying Israel as a crucial bastion of the Cold War (a position that Ike and, perhaps, JFK would have regarded as objectively silly) was intended by Nixon and Moynihan to encourage at least some intellectual Jews to take the Cold War more personally, just as the British government had found it expedient to issue the Balfour Declaration in 1917 to appeal to Jewish opinion during Britain's struggle with Germany and Austria. Nixon's considered judgment was that he didn't need all the Jewish intellectuals on his side, just some of them, and he devoted a lot of effort to wooing them. As we can tell by reading Commentary and The Weekly Standard in 2010, Nixon and Moynihan had a fair degree of success with with wooing a vocal minority of Jewish intellectuals toward supporting an aggressive American foreign policy.
To be open-minded about Nixon, let's go ahead and put his support of Israel in the asset side of his anti-Semitism account.

What then to make of his long list of Jewish appointees? In a newspaper interview last year promoting his book, Why Are Jews Liberals?, Norman Podhoretz beat Stein to the punch on Nixon's defense of Israel but added that Nixon "was the kind of anti-Semite who thought that Jews were smarter than everybody else. That's why he had Kissinger. That's why he had Arthur Burns, Herb Stein. … A lot of Nixon's anti-Semitism is talk. ... His anti-Semitism consisted of resentment of Jews for being liberals and hating him. It's not the traditional kind of anti-Semitism." [Emphasis added.]

Podhoretz is half, maybe three-quarters right. Nixon did seem to believe Jews were exceptionally smart, although these views were obviously colored by the fact that most of his encounters with Jews in his adult life were with successful Jews. Did he similarly extrapolate from his encounters with successful Catholics that they were brilliant, too? Mormons? Cubans? Armenians?

This last paragraph is worth re-reading. Shafer is attempting to first construct, then debunk a socially acceptable Occam's Butterknife defense of Nixon's opinion that American Jews tend to be smart. Let me flesh out the argument:
How could Nixon have ever come to the conclusion that Jews tend to be above average in intelligence? Well, perhaps he was an unwitting victim of selection bias [as outlined at length by novelist Michael Chabon in the NYT last June], which caused him to be unintentionally wrong. See, Nixon employed brilliant Jews like Kissinger, so he must have wrongly inferred from how smart Kissinger was that Jews on average were above average in intelligence. On the other hand, he also employed brilliant Catholics like Moynihan. And yet he does not appear to have inferred from long talks with Moynihan that Catholics were notably above average in intelligence. Therefore, Nixon can't be convicted of merely a lesser charge of Anti-Semitism by Error. Nixon was instead guilty of Anti-Semitism in the Highest [contemporary] Degree: noticing that American Jews tend to be smarter than average! Case closed!

Of course, Occam's Razor would suggest that just maybe Nixon, who was on a national ticket five times, winning four times, actually had a decent empirical grasp of social realities. And, if Nixon had had any questions about average Jewish intelligence, he could have asked Moynihan, who, with Moynihan's co-author Nathan Glazer, was academia's leading expert on white ethnics.

Now, you could say that Shafer's assumption that Nixon noticing the overwhelming evidence for Jews being smarter on average renders him odious is just an example of the contemporary aversion to realistic thought epitomized by how calling something a "stereotype" is now assumed to automatically refute its empirical truth.

But, over the last decade and a half, the evidence keeps piling up that the Jewish IQ advantage is not just an example of what's wrong with intellectual life today, but the single most important cause for contemporary thinking going off the tracks.

While I was reading all the frenzied reaction to The Bell Curve sixteen years ago, I noticed that not much of it was actually coming from blacks. Thomas Sowell had a response, we know now that Barack Obama broke his Vow of Silence to comment on NPR upon The Bell Curve, and so forth, but those were mostly the exceptions. There really aren't that many black intellectuals that other intellectuals pay attention to.

Those most vocally enraged by The Bell Curve were white intellectuals, especially Jews. To them, the assertion that the average black IQ was equal to the average American IQ serves as the outer bulwark defending the inner sanctum: the belief that the average Jewish American IQ is equal to the average American IQ. If you let the peasants realize that blacks are on average could be less smart, eventually they'll figure out that Jews on average could be more smart, and then they'll be coming for us with pitchforks!

Of course, this dominant belief about smarts held by contemporary intellectuals is about 99% stupid. Practically everybody in America already realizes that Jews tend to be smarter. And, guess what, they're okay with it. Most Americans appreciate Jewish intelligence.

Consider the example of, say, Richard Nixon, a powerful and congenitally angry man who was well aware of the facts about Jewish intelligence. What was his response to this knowledge?

He searched out ways to do more favors for Jews.

So, the central, underlying flaw in the edifice of current intellectualizing is pointless. 

On the other hand, an intellectual climate that says, in effect, you can't be a genuine intellectual unless you publicly humiliate yourself by saying things like Nixon must have assumed Jews tend to be smart because he only met smart Jews has a lot of usefulness as a loyalty test. It's like a fraternity initiation in which they'll only let you in if you run around campus dressed as a marshmallow. It shows how much you want to be one of us. You won't let self-respect get in your way.

Alternative History Questions

Imagine this scenario: Imagine that Hitler and Stalin both died in, say, 1935 and replaced by unaggressive Euroweenies of the Gorbachev sort. Without Hitler's bad example, the leaders of the Japanese Navy arrest the leaders of the Japanese Army and Japan gives up the crazy idea of fighting America. Or imagine whatever you want (Edwin Starr Sr. records "War! What Is It Good For?" in 1938, if you like), as long as it leads to WWII and the Cold War never happening. By 1939, Europe and East Asia have already settled into their long post 1989 peace that we know from our world.

In that situation, would anybody have gotten around to inventing the atomic bomb? Who? When? (Something to consider is the question of whether, in this world, nuclear weapons were ever truly reinvented?)

Now, imagine another scenario in which it's 2010, but nuclear technology has remained at rudimentary 1930s levels ever since the 1930s. Everything else is the same about the world of 2010 -- They've got computers, lasers, titanium, Powerpoint, Twitter, whatever -- just that nobody ever got around to working on nukes. 

Then, some country in this Alternative Present decides to build an atomic bomb. With all the 21st Century advantages, would they do it faster than the Manhattan Project? Would they even set one off by 2020?

December 14, 2010

Northeast Asians outpacing Muslims at complicated tech stuff

From the New York Times:
North Korean Nuclear Ability Seen to Far Outpace Iran’s

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has concluded that North Korea’s new plant to enrich nuclear fuel uses technology that is “significantly more advanced” than what Iran has struggled over two decades to assemble, according to senior administration and intelligence officials.

North Korea is smaller and much poorer than Iran, has no oil money, and is run by people who make the Iranian rulers look like George Washington for sanity.

Looking at 2009 PISA test scores (p. 155-157), North Korea didn't take the test, but 26% of South Korean 15-year-olds scored in the top two ranks of math tests, the fifth best performance out of 65 regions, behind only Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.

Iran didn't take the test, but trying to find remotely similar countries, we see Turkey with a respectable 6%, Qatar 2%, and Jordan with under 1%. In science, 12% of South Koreans scored in the top two ranks versus 2% of Turks and vanishingly small percentages of most other Muslim countries. 

Moreover, unlike North Korea, Iran lets people emigrate. A lot of smart Iranians have wound up in Southern California. My wife knows an upper crust Iranian lady who arrived from Iran a decade ago and her son then majored in physics at Caltech. Probably a better decision for the family, all in all, than staying in Iran, having the son get drafted into the nuclear program, and then having the Israelis someday drop a bomb on his head. (In contrast to Iran, there hasn't been a notably large outflow of smart Turks from Turkey. If you've got some money, Turkey is a pretty okay place to live.)

And then there's an interesting game theory paradox to how hard you would work on building a Bomb in Iran v. North Korea if you were an engineer. If you actually got to the verge of a working Bomb, the Israelis would likely drop a bomb on your head, so better to putter around and give each other Powerpoint presentations forever. It's a living! The North Korean engineers aren't too worried about a pre-emptive strike because North Korea already has a deterrent in artillery and small rockets trained on Greater Seoul. The North Koreans have freedom to build a deterrent because they already have a deterrent.

This is all reminiscent of eight years ago when we were assured by The People Who Know that Saddam Hussein was this close to building his own Bomb using crack Iraqi scientists and engineers.

Sen. Webb: Germany, not China

If the United States wants to claw its way back to economic self-determination, it should look not at China for the route forward, but at Germany.

Such was the prescription issued Dec. 10 by U.S. Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), speaking at the Arlington Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting.

Webb noted that Germany, while having a population just 8 percent of China’s, had a higher trade surplus, and is the world’s biggest exporter.

“They produce quality products that people want, they take care of their workforce - they are doing something right,” Webb said of the Germans, during a speech before about 320 Arlington business, political and civic leaders at the Sheraton National Hotel.

Webb’s politics long have been all but impossible to pigeon-hole ...

Webb has written enough books explaining where he's coming from, such as Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America. In short, he's a romantic but realistic Scots-Irish ethnocentric American patriot. In Webb's view, his Scots-Irish kin aren't, on the whole, the smartest or richest or most exclusive Americans; they're just the most American Americans. So, what's good for America is good for the Scots-Irish and what's good for the Scots-Irish is good for America.

From that flows a number of positions that sound contradictory to everybody else in Washington, such as being for the military and against war (because his kin will do more of the dying than anybody else) and being for industry and for labor (because his kin want high wage factory jobs).

December 13, 2010

"The Fighter"

From my movie review in Taki's Magazine:
On Friday, I was shocked like the rest of America to learn that Richard Nixon had been taped in the Oval Office subscribing to a stereotype: “The Irish can’t drink.…Virtually every Irish I’ve known gets mean when he drinks. Particularly the real Irish.”

On Saturday, I went to see The Fighter, a first-rate biopic about the pugnacious family life of boxer “Irish” Micky Ward, “The Pride of Lowell.” The Fighter is only the latest in a long series of Oscar contenders, such as Good Will Hunting, Mystic River, and The Departed, about sozzled Greater Boston residents pounding the hell out of each other. In recent years, awards-season movies have featured working-class Irish giving each other fraternal concussions almost as often as upper-class English serving each other tea in a marked manner. Both The Town and The Fighter are good bets to join The King’s Speech as Best Picture nominees.

Read the whole thing there.

Does polygamy raise or lower IQ?

I don't have a definitive answer to that old evolutionary theory question, but I wanted to cite this one bit of data from that Iraqi terrorist who evidently tripped and blew himself up in Sweden:
In a recent profile he placed on an Islamic dating Web site,, the younger Mr. Abdaly appears as a tall, stern-looking, neatly dressed man standing in front of a white curtain, his dark hair cropped short, with a trimmed black beard.

“I am married since 2004,” he said on his dating profile, according to a translation of the original Arabic. He described himself as “very religious” and said that he had two daughters, aged three and one. “I want to get married again,” he said, “and would like to have a BIG family. My wife agreed to this."

December 12, 2010

Finns & Japanese

A Finnish-American reader writes:
Steve, have you ever investigated the connections between Finnish and Japanese culture? They are legion, and strange: Finns and Japanese are the two ethnic groups with the higest incidences of reversed-hemispheric brain activity, i.e. information from the right eye goes to the right side of the brain instead of the reverse (which is the usual way). There are some strange connections between Finnish and Japanese languages, although they come from quite different families. Doing a quick search for "finns and japanese" or "finnish japanese" yields interesting results, though few scholarly ones.

Also, the first foreign-born member of the Diet of Japan is a Finn, Marutei Tsurunen. And here's a webpage about him, which combines Finglish and Engrish in a very charming way.

You can't see it on a Mercator-projection map, but you can see it on a globe: Eurasia is narrower at high latitudes. From Vladivostok to Finland (or vice-versa) is about the same distance as from Vladivostok to the Caspian Sea. Probably more importantly, there were likely fewer people to have to fight your way past when wandering across the far north than at more habitable latitudes.