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August 2003

 

Analysis: Summer movies had no legs

By Steve Sailer

UPI National Correspondent

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 28 (UPI) -- A summer movie season obsessed with opening huge closes small this Labor Day weekend with Paramount Pictures sending one of the year's only films with any legs, the caper flick "The Italian Job," back into 1,700 theatres so it can reach the $100 million box office plateau.

 

If it does, "The Italian Job," which opened with a modest $19.5 million back in May, will join "The Pirates of the Caribbean" as one of only two mainstream movies to have made five times as much in its total run as in its first weekend. ("Finding Nemo" currently has a "legs ratio" of 4.7 and "Seabiscuit" is at 4.5 and still cantering.)

 

What's remarkable about "The Italian Job" is how unremarkable it ought to be. It simply delivers a fun evening out at the movies that inspires good word-of-mouth. And that's something that's been in short supply this year.

 

During the past few years, an increasing amount of the talent and energy in Hollywood has gone into marketing films rather than making them. Economically, this has been a hugely successful stratagem. But this year, it seems to have finally hit diminishing returns as the public has shown that -- while it can still be whipped into an opening weekend frenzy -- it can no longer be cajoled into staying interested in blockbuster duds. ...

 

Back in 1994, the legs ratio of the year's top 50 films was 6.4. Last year it was down to 3.9. The era when a normal summer release can achieve a double digit legs ratio like 1998's "Something About Mary" (12.4) and 1999's "The Sixth Sense" (11.0) seems long gone. The best that a widely released summer movie has done in this century was 2001's grown-up ghost story "The Others" (6.9).

 

Yet, because the average top 50 film's first weekend grew from $11 million in 1994 to $31 million in 2002, overall domestic box office roared upward from $5.4 billion to $9.1 billion. That's impressive growth for a century-old medium in an era with so many new electronic entertainment alternatives.

 

The culmination of this first-weekend trend was this summer's surfeit of listless sequels and remakes. Canadian writer Colby Cosh, a devoted player of the online box office forecasting game Hollywood Stock Exchange, explained the business logic to me: "Sequels and remakes of old TV shows and movies never, ever fail. In the latter case, it doesn't seem to matter, really, if people have actually seen the source material, nor whether a big star is on hand. They adore the familiar, even if all they know is that it should be familiar." [More ...]

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Link: Aug. 27, 2003 22:31:57 E-mail me iSteve home

New SAT score statistics show the rich (whites and Asians) are getting richer, while the poor (blacks and Hispanics) are getting at least relatively poorer.

 

Over the last decade, white students' scores are up 26 points (that would be about 0.12 standard deviations) to 1063, and Asians an impressive 41 points to 1083. These aren't huge improvements, and most of the gains are in Math rather than Verbal, but they're better than a sharp stick in the eye.

 

Meanwhile, blacks were only up 7 points to 857. Hispanics are broken up into three groups: Mexican-Americans are down 5 to 905, Other Hispanics down 2 to 921, and the small Puerto Rican group up 26 to 909. (See page 11 of this 820k pdf. All these scores, whether from 1993 or 2003, use the easier scoring system introduced in 1995.)

 

The good thing about the SAT is that it's given and graded by an independent organization, unlike all these school achievement tests that are administered by the schools themselves. Not surprisingly, whenever you hear a governor trumpeting massive increases in his state's school achievement test scores, you can be sure of skullduggery. Also, the SAT is intended to be stable from year to year, while many of these state achievement tests are intentionally rigged to give rising scores to make everybody feel better.

 

Nonetheless, the growth in achievement tests might account for the slight uptick in SAT scores. Or maybe it's the popularity of test prep programs. Or maybe something else.

 

Still, you have to take SAT score changes with several grains of salt, since the dumber students are less likely to take the test. So, even small changes in an ethnic group's participation rates can affect its relative standing. 

 

If anybody knows of a study adjusting for participation rates (which should not be measured as % of high school graduates, but as % of all 18 year olds), please let me know.

 

Further, quite a large fraction of test-takers now decline to state their ethnicity, so that throws another imponderable into the mix. 

 

Then, language facility is another issue -- Asians score 68 points higher on math than verbal, in part because some have trouble with English. Yet, Hispanics only score about 7 points higher on math than verbal, which is depressing, since it suggests a lower upside on 

Verbal once Hispanics' language problems are beat. 

 

That's partly driven by another complicating consideration -- the male/female mix. Among whites and Asians, 46% and 47% (respectively) of test-takers are male, versus only 41% and 42% among blacks and Hispanics. Because males average higher on the SAT (1049 to 1006 overall), especially in Math, the more males who take the test, the better the score. 

 

Why do males average higher? It's partly because fewer males take the test, partly because the male variance is larger, which means there are more very smart boys than very smart girls. 

 

The big question that remains though is the poor performance of the two immigrant-dominated Hispanic groups. This raises yet more questions about the assumption that they will assimilate into the American middle class.

***

 

Link: Aug. 26, 2003 16:37:52 E-mail me iSteve home

I haven't commented upon Mel Gibson's The Passion for a number of reasons, most importantly because I haven't seen it yet and don't want to see it until it's finished next spring. 

 

My approach to movie reviewing is that I try not to do any more preparation before seeing a movie than the typical moviegoer. I don't want, for example, to read the book ahead of time because only a tiny minority of the audience has done so, even for a bestseller like Seabiscuit. After seeing the movie, however, I do a lot of research, probably as much as anybody else professionally writing 800 word reviews that come out before the movie's release date. (Pulitzer Prize winner Stephen Hunter of the Washington Post and Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune are two other hard workers. Most everybody else essentially just lists what they liked and disliked about the movie.) For example, I saw Seabiscuit the movie on Tuesday night, read Seabiscuit the book on Wednesday, and wrote Seabiscuit the review, demonstrating how much Gary Ross' Democratic Party-uber-alles script distorted the book, in the wee hours of Thursday morning.

 

So, let me just voice one worry about the movie and one comment on the controversy. I've admired Mel Gibson as an actor, director, and all-around force for a long time now. I just don't like his love of spatter and gore -- in We Were Soldiers every single bullet hit an artery and blood spurted three feet -- and I fear he'll put too much of it on screen here. Well, we'll see...

 

As for the controversy, it would seem far more likely that the Anti-Defamation League is causing much more anti-Semitism by trying to censor Gibson's art than the movie could possibly cause. But, when isn't Abe Foxman of the ADL trying to stir up anti-Semitism in America? The ADL could have realistically declared victory over anti-Semitism and triumphantly shut itself down long ago, but then Foxman would be out of a job. Instead, he continues to carry on graduate level seminars in ethnic touchiness for all the other identity politics warriors in America, as I discovered when I interviewed representatives of Arab, Islamic, Turkish, and Armenian pressure groups. To them, Foxman is the Michael Jordan of their profession. Is he good for the Jews in the long run? No, but in the short run, he's very, very good for Abe Foxman.

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Link: Aug. 26, 2003 14:54:36 E-mail me iSteve home

An American friend who is a college professor in Japan, where he lives with his Japanese wife and their child, adds some insight to the discussion below of the Northeast Asian tendency toward holistic rather than reductionist thinking: 

 

"I have commented before that Japanese are more emotional than Westerners. This is not obvious to Westerners because Japanese adopt a poker face in public, but if you listen to them talking they are constantly commenting on their own (and others') feelings. Japanese are probably more "in touch with their feelings" than any other people on earth. Thus extreme forms of obsession are probably nurtured more in Japan. In the West we would told to suck it up or something, but in Japan you get dozens of sympathetic supporters for any malady, real or imagined. People are not told to get over it. Their feelings are reflected back with sincere interest and
perhaps a comment on how to cure the problem by eating a certain kind of radish only grown in Hokkaido or rubbing the back of your neck lightly with an up-and-down motion with a cold towel.

 

"When David Beckham (the soccer player, who is unspeakably popular in Japan) visited recently, there was a big commotion surrounding his public appearances. A reporter asked (naturally) how do you FEEL when you see this. He answered, "It's very exciting." as any good Westerner would. He commented on the situation, not on his own feelings. But the Japanese did not want to know what he thought of the situation. They wanted to know his FEELINGS!!! A Japanese would have answered, "I am very excited." or "I was deeply moved." or something. Japanese know how they feel because they are constantly monitoring their own feelings. There are dozens of little remedies sold in in Japan for every shoulder, back, foot and leg ache. Japanese know which part of your foot to massage to cure constipation. They know which food to eat before the big test to calm you down and give you mental stamina. These topics are discussed endlessly on TV from morning to night. 

 

"Suicide [which is more common in Japan than America] is just the reductio ad absurdum of this obsession with feelings."

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Link: Aug. 26, 2003 14:53:22 E-mail me iSteve home

A reader writes in response to "Never End a Nation with a Proposition":

 

"Steve, you're a very smart guy who could really use a proper political philosophy. Breezy positivism, even done as well as you do it (and you're the best), gets us just so far... But to support a principled argument you need to descend to the level of the philosophical. It would be entertaining and instructive to see you put your formidable mind to the task."

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Link: Aug. 26, 2003 14:52:14 E-mail me iSteve home

Question: Are there any East Asian champion race car drivers? Do East Asians care about car racing?

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Link: Aug. 25, 2003 01:50:15 E-mail me iSteve home

In the NYT, Nicholas Wade considers "The End of Evolution?" and rejects the idea. He concludes:

 

Given all the possibilities for human evolutionary change, it is hard to know which path our distant descendants will be constrained to tread. From a New York perspective, however, it is hard to ignore a certain foreboding: that under the joint power of sexual selection and Fisher's gloomy prognosis [of IQ dysgenics] we will become ever more beautiful and less acute. The future, in a word, is Californian.

 

Perhaps because I'm a native Californian, I reached a similar conclusion in 2000 in "The Future of Human Nature:"

 

"So, how will humanity choose to re-engineer its genes? Will we follow the sci-fi movies and equip our children with huge heads, spindly bodies, and politically correct personalities? ... Individual parents could only finesse their offspring within the genetic limits imposed by what Charles Darwin called "sexual selection." For what parents want most from their children is grandchildren. Parents will thus design their children to outcompete same-sex peers in attracting the most desirable spouses, in order to produce the most desirable grandkids. So, most parents will be satisfied with only moderately higher IQ's. Why? Although much larger brains would probably be required for gigantic increases in intelligence (as shown by our brains being three times the size of our ape ancestors' brains), having a head the size of E.T.'s just isn't sexy. Nor will a gentle personality, like that of children's TV host Mr. Rogers, make your boy a babe magnet. Thus parents will balance the lip service they pay to having wiser and kinder spawn against their need for more sexually desirable descendants, just as feminists denounce sexual harassment and rape but can't get enough of that sexual harasser and accused rapist Bill Clinton...

 

Free-market eugenics will brings us a human race that's the utter opposite of the sexless, altruistic eggheads of the sci-fi movies. Note how many affluent California families are holding their little boys back for a second year of kindergarten. This is so their sons will be bigger, stronger, smarter, more athletic, and more socially dominant than the other kids in their classes. How much do you think these couples would pay for the genetic enhancements that would allow their scions to continue to rule as alpha males as adults? ... Obsessed by equality, bioethicists and other intellectuals today fret most that the new genetic technologies will let rich parents buy their kids higher IQs. Yet, considering the coming tidal wave of testosterone that the same techniques are likely to unleash, I suspect we're going to need all the smarts we can get to keep the bellicose boys of the future from blowing up the world just to hear the bang."

***

 

Link: Aug. 25, 2003 01:27:56 E-mail me iSteve home

Razib at GNXP.com summarizes Robert Nisbett's analysis of psychological testing on English-speaking whites and Northeast Asians in "Geography of Thought" as:

 

- The West is reductionist, the East is holistic.

- The East accepts contradiction, the West must be consistent.

- The West focuses on the object, the East observes context."

 

As Steve Goldberg, author of The Inevitability of Patriarchy, points out, these are also male-female differences. Indeed, a lot of racial and/or cultural differences (I don't pretend to know where these particular differences come from) resemble masculine-feminine differences. The important thing to note, however, is that racial differences never all go in the same direction. For example, while Northeast Asians are more feminine than Anglo-Americans whites in the cognitive traits Nisbett focuses upon, they are more masculine in visual manipulation traits like the ability to rotate a 3-d object in your imagination. 

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Link: Aug. 25, 2003 00:51:50 E-mail me iSteve home

"I always used to favor a muscular foreign policy, but I draw the line at steroids." -- Strategic weapons designer Greg Cochran

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Link: Aug. 25, 2003 00:50:17 E-mail me iSteve home

Wouldn't you like today off? Wouldn't the Monday before Labor Day, which is the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech on 8/28/63, be a better day to celebrate MLK's life than his birthday in godforsaken January? My forlorn crusade to move MLK day to the last week in August continues: "How to Make MLK Day Popular."

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Link: Aug. 24, 2003 23:38:13 E-mail me iSteve home

Bobby Bonds, RIP -- I vividly recall first hearing the name "Bonds" in Bobby's' first big league game in 1968 when he broke this 9-year-old Dodger fan's heart by hitting a grand slam in his first official major league at-bat (he walked his first time up). Thirty-five years later, the name still resounds with terror among Dodger fans. 

 

Somebody should do a careful profile of the Bondses as a study in heredity and nurture, since Barry represents about as far as human will power can take any man. Bobby was a tremendous talent and accomplished a huge amount -- the Total Baseball encyclopedia has him at 29.5 games over .500 for his career, which would make him a borderline Hall of Famer in a just world. But Bobby will never make the Hall because his career always seemed a bit of a disappointment, largely because the teams of his era were uncomfortable with his combination of power and speed. He was a tremendous run scorer as a lead-off man, but he just didn't look like the skinny slap-hitting leadoff men of that era. Plus, his smoking in the dugout between innings (which eventually killed him) was considered a bad show even back then. His son Barry took his father's unusual skills and developed them even further, and rectified his weaknesses (such as striking out too much) as well, to make himself ..., well, what? The greatest player since Ruth?

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Link: Aug. 22, 2003 00:10:04 E-mail me iSteve home

Ruining the War Nerd: I forwarded on to Gary Brecher a nice little email from the leading scientific intellectual of this generation (to keep the War Nerd's famous admirer semi-anonymous) praising the interview with him . I worry, though, that too much appreciation could sap the War Nerd's magnificent rage. If he keeps getting the recognition he deserves, a decade from now, Garrison Brecher III, a.k.a. the Conflict Connoisseur, will probably be writing a column for the USN&WR and sounding about as controversial as David Gergen.

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'Open Range': Wild West nation building

By Steve Sailer, UPI National Correspondent

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 21 (UPI) -- In his slow but strong "Open Range," director Kevin Costner revives the classic cowboy movie. ...

 

The Western is timely once again. Now that the Bush Administration has decided to go into the nation-building business overseas, it's becoming clear that Americans no long remember much about how nations are built, even our own. Up until about 1970, we at least could learn from the Western film, a genre that, more than anything else, was about nation-building -- the invention of order, justice, representative government, and a society fit for decent women and children.

 

Cowboy movies were prototypically about establishing a legitimate monopoly of violence. As the Old West receded into the distant past, however, Hollywood switched to the cop film genre, which is about maintaining that monopoly. In recent year's, we've come to simply presume the rule of law, an expectation that has ill-equipped us for our stays in Afghanistan and Iraq. ...

 

Costner underlines the appeal of anarchy to men during the panoramic early scenes set on the endless rolling grasslands at the foot of the Rockies. Moreover, living beyond the reach of the law demands more of a man's character -- his courage, honesty, and loyalty -- than does modern life, where the punishment of wrongdoers and enforcement of contracts is delegated to the government. Indeed, the frontier demands more of men than they can be expected to give. "Open Range" recognizes both the sadness and rightness of its passing. [If you want to read the parts where I actually review the movie rather than just wax philosophical, click here.]

***

 

Link: Aug. 18, 2003 21:53:15 E-mail me iSteve home

Here's a fun article on a new quantitative study of dog breeds, ranking them on five basic personality traits. The popularity of Labrador retrievers is explained by their ranking very high on sociability and playfulness. (As with most personality psychology, they ignore intelligence, even though that's one of the most obvious differences between breeds -- e.g., when somebody says "dumb as an Afghan" they aren't being racist, they are being [accurately] breedist.) 

 

By the way: "Others have run up against the central paradox, identified by John Paul Scott and John L. Fuller in their 1965 book, "Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog," that there is more variation in behavior and abilities among dogs within a breed than there is between breeds." More variation within than between ... where have I heard that before? Oh, yeah, I always hear that about human racial groups and it's always smugly said as a reason for ignoring all differences between them. I guess that means we ought to ignore differences between dog breeds, too. Somehow, I still don't think I'll let the baby play with the pit bull.

***

 

Link: Aug. 18, 2003 15:04:59 E-mail me iSteve home

Is there a collective noun for nephews and nieces that is the equivalent of "siblings" for brothers and sisters? If not, then I nominate "neplings." Or maybe "niblings" would be more easily understood.

***

 

New VDARE.com column at left -- This is a serious one that reviews from a Darwinian perspective four major theories about the causation of male homosexuality. 

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Link: Aug. 15, 2003 21:26:04 E-mail me iSteve home

Does anybody else get the impression that Matt Welch is eventually going to scandalize his colleagues at the libertarian Reason magazine by coming out against illegal immigration? He's been writing scare articles like "Re-propping 187" about how us bad guys at VDARE.com and our arguments are coming back into mainstream debate, but the funny thing is: he sure seems to give us all the best lines in his pieces. C'mon, Matt, come out of the closet!

***

 

Link: Aug. 15, 2003 15:01:08 E-mail me iSteve home

Commentary: A unique aspect of Arnold

By Steve Sailer

UPI National Correspondent

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 15 (UPI) -- California Democrats are expected to unimaginatively attack Arnold Schwarzenegger for such obvious skeletons in his closet as being a movie star rather than a professional politician, having a father who was a Nazi Party member, smoking marijuana in a scene in the 1977 bodybuilding documentary "Pumping Iron," and womanizing.

 

It would be more interesting, however, if they questioned Schwarzenegger about being the all-time leading role model for steroid use. No man owes more to steroids and steroids owe more to no man. Yet, it's testimony to the magnitude of his impact on world popular culture that his opponents seem largely stumped by this issue.

 

The Austrian-born superstar began his bodybuilding career in the late 1960s, an era when extreme muscularity in a man was considered something only the lower class admired. Despite his inability to speak English other than in a thickly accented monotone, by the late 1980's he had made himself the biggest movie star in Hollywood. In the process, he redefined masculinity in his own bulging, brutalitarian image.   [More...]

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Link: Aug. 14, 2003 23:40:54 E-mail me iSteve home

 

James Taranto, the WSJ's "Best of the Web" blogger, writes:

 

Does anyone else find this claim suspicious? "France's worst heat wave on record has killed an estimated 3,000 people across the nation, the Health Ministry said Thursday, as the government faced accusations that it failed to respond to a major health crisis," the Associated Press reports from Paris. Three thousand deaths? In a Western European country? Because of the weather? This is the kind of death toll usually reserved for Third World natural disasters--Chinese earthquakes, Bangladeshi floods and the like. Has the heat really killed 3,000 Frenchmen? ... Might it be noteworthy that the French are claiming almost the same number of deaths from the heat as America suffered on Sept. 11?

 

Does anyone else find Taranto to be a hate-filled moron? Look, a heatwave in Chicago alone caused 700 excess deaths in a week in 1995. (I particularly recall the 26 hour blackout on a humid 106 degree day I endured.) There's nothing unlikely about a once-a-century heatwave killing 3,000 in a sizable country. On an individual basis, these kind of deaths aren't as bad as, say, the deaths in a school bus crash, because the victims are typically old people without long life expectancies, but still, it's awfully sad.

***

 

 

Link: Aug. 14, 2003 19:07:43 E-mail me iSteve home

Film review: Semi-splendid 'American Splendor'

By Steve Sailer

UPI National Correspondent

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 14 (UPI) -- Studios prefer movies like "Bad Boys II" that require few words to describe ("Things go Boom!"), while we critics favor films like "American Splendor" that need lots of words to explain, especially when one of those words is "postmodern." The irony is that "American Splendor" is a much more enjoyable film to watch than to read about.

 

So, what is "American Splendor?" It's not, as I had feared, the sequel to "American Beauty." Instead, it's an interwoven combination of documentary, biopic and animation about a prickly, semi-employable Cleveland hipster named Harvey Pekar. Born in 1939, Pekar bounced from crummy job to crummy job while writing jazz reviews in his spare time. Finally, he got himself a lifetime civil service sinecure as a file clerk at a Veterans Administration hospital. He decided in 1976 that his daily life deserved to be immortalized in a series of underground comic books he called "American Splendor."

 

That Pekar can't draw anything besides stick figures didn't slow him down. He simply got his old pal R. Crumb, the "Keep on Truckin'" cartoonist, to illustrate what Crumb accurately calls Pekar's "staggeringly mundane" life. A marginal celebrityhood ensued, capped by numerous appearances on the Letterman Show and now this film.

 

In the movie, the real Pekar is shown commenting on Paul Giammati's fine performance as Pekar as he writes his comic books commenting on his life. And now I'm commenting on all that commentary. Whee! Ain't we postmodern?

 

Actually, this contemporary tendency toward commentaries piled upon commentaries seems more like a medieval throwback. Thirteenth Century churchmen and Talmudic scholars would have understood the 21st Century filmmakers' urge to say rather than show.

 

Over the past few years, voiceovers and other techniques borrowed from documentaries have become ever more common in feature films, such as the grating pseudo-Ken Burns interludes in "Seabiscuit." Fortunately, the husband-wife team of documentarists behind "American Splendor," Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, know how to use their bag of non-fiction tricks to keep this film lively without distracting the audience with their cleverness.   [More...]

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Link: Aug. 13, 2003 23:05:06

Mickey Kaus makes a point in "Hold the Hispanic Hype" regarding the recall election that he picked up from me two years ago: despite the countless articles, the tidal wave of Hispanic electoral power hasn't yet gone through the formality of coming into existence.

 

By the way, my vague impression is that young Hispanic males are particularly big fans of bodybuilding. In total, I'm sure I've spent several years of my life standing at magazine racks reading for free. (As a professional journalist, however, I strongly advise you to buy each and every magazine you touch.) So, I've seen what kind of people read different kinds of magazines. The only people I can recall ever leafing through muscle man mags were skinny Latino kids. So, maybe Arnold can mobilize this constituency, but, realistically,  I don't think many will actually turn out to vote. (Speaking of newsstands, the only magazines I've ever seen beautiful women reading are -- if they don't have a ring -- fashion and beauty titles; and -- if they do have a big diamond -- upscale home decorating mags.)

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Permalink: Aug. 13, 2003 15:01:28

More on the evolutionary origins of blonde hair -- My VDARE.com column suggested a theory to explain why blonde hair is more valued in women than in men (because it's inherently more eye-catching because it's shinier and women want to catch the eye of men more than vice-versa) and why no group on earth is all blonde (because its eye-catchingness reduces the stealthiness required for hunting and raiding) and why it's more common at high latitudes (because direct sunlight isn't too strong there to give away the location of blond hunters). I don't know how true this theory will turn out to be, but it's parsimonious because it tries to answer three big questions by pointing to a single, obvious trait (blonde hair is more reflective). 

 

Many readers have brought up the "neoteny" theory as an alternative. This suggests that blonde hair is valued because in Caucasians little children have lighter-colored hair than adults: two year old girls tend to have fairer hair than 18 year old girls. There's probably something to this, but one clear problem is that men are more attracted to 18 year old girls than to 2 year old girls (thankfully), so, as Desi Arnaz would have said, neoteny advocates have some 'splaining to do. (Of course, Desi had Lucy dye her hair red, which is a whole 'nother issue). Dienkes lists some other problems with the neoteny theory here.

 

Finally, I want to make clear that I take no sides in the controversy over which racial group's women are most attractive. I've been studying this question for 30 years and, in the grand tradition of the last paragraph of articles in scientific journals, I've come to only one conclusion: More research is required!

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Permalink: Aug. 12, 2003 18:11:51

A reason for President Bush to back Arnold -- The Governor of California is the second most plausible plank of potential Presidential Timber out there, following only the Vice President. Any Republican who wins in October and gets re-elected in 2006 would be well positioned to run for the GOP Presidential nomination in 2008 against, oh, say, the Governor of Florida. Unless he was born in Austria and is Constitutionally ineligible and thus not a threat to the Bush Dynastic Plan.

 

By the way, why do Governors do better than Senators in the Presidential sweepstakes? A reader explains:

 

"Gregarious, hearty guys who run for and achieve office in collegial bodies, especially the Senate, end up looking and sounding wimpish to the rest of humanity. But the same sort of people who stumble into governorships or other executive positions come across as stronger and more plausible leaders. All this is partly a matter of choice, of course, but I think accident and family preferences also play a part. The last Presidents elected from the Senate were Kennedy, who rarely dropped in to the Senate, and Lyndon Johnson, who dominated the body from the day he scraped into it. For last 40 years, the Senate has mostly been a burial ground filled with the bleached bones of likable, talented guys with plenty of "situational awareness," who found themselves with a nice office, interesting work to do, plenty of fawning staff and a wife who wanted the children to grow up in the same neighborhood. So they developed "Senate Personality Disorder.""

Link: Aug. 13, 2003 18:00:27

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Permalink: Aug. 12, 2003 17:51:45

A reader comments on my article (below) on why we like macho leaders:

 

"One thing people need to remember about pre-industrial warfare is the degree to which sheer upper-body strength could be a deciding factor. The more armor you could wear, and the stronger a sword-blow you could deliver, the likelier you were to prevail. There was probably a mutually reinforcing cycle of stronger, higher-testosterone males coming to leadership positions through success in combat, and people coming to see such males as natural leaders. Also, quick situational thinking was more important than overall long-term strategic thinking for a long time, until the informational tools became available to enable strategic thinkers to effectively understand their situation and control a large-scale state apparatus. Probably that transition came during the military revolution of the 16th century but was by no means complete until much later."

 

For millennia, kings "led from the front" in battles. For example, Alexander the Great was wounded countless times leading the charge.

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Permalink: Aug. 11, 2003 19:24:38

The new September issue of American Enterprise magazine, the lively house journal of AEI, focuses on masculinity in the modern world. It is on newsstands now. It features my article, "Why We Like Macho Leaders." Here's a sample:

 

With many Republicans excited by the possibility that former Mr. Olympia bodybuilder and current Terminator 3 star Arnold Schwarzenegger may run for governor of California, the connection between masculinity and leadership charisma needs examining. Why does the prospect of being governed by Schwarzenegger, who did for steroids what Timothy Leary did for LSD, seem so much more right and fitting than the notion of being led by, say, David Spade, the snippy receptionist on “Just Shoot Me?”

 

The rise of feminism and political correctness has left us with little vocabulary for discussing why, all else being equal, humans prefer masculine rulers. Our pundits have a hard time accounting for the almost subrational reasons why some politicians, such as George W. Bush, are widely seen as natural leaders and others, like poor old Al Gore, aren’t. ...

 

To explain why people look to Big Men for leadership, it’s useful to compare the Big Man to another masculine, yet radically different, archetype: the nerd. If you enjoy 98 percent fact-free evolutionary speculation, you might picture a Cro-Magnon tribe on the Ice Age steppes. The leader of the wooly mammoth hunters is a primordial Big Man, while the guy who stays home and expertly chips flints for the hunters’ spears is an early nerd.

Where are Big Men and nerds found in the modern world? Consider the life of George W. Bush. As a fraternity president, he no doubt assigned audio-visual nerds to hook up the frat house stereo to boom out “Louie Louie.” As a fighter pilot, he flew F-102 Delta Daggers designed by engineer nerds. As managing general partner of the Texas Rangers ball club, he sold the city of Arlington, Texas on a new stadium deal worked out by finance nerds. As President of the United States of America, he gave a rousing speech to an American Enterprise Institute audience promoting a plan to democratize the Middle East largely sketched by Iraq Attaq nerd Paul Wolfowitz (who, in case you are wondering about his nerd credentials, has a Ph.D. in math).

 

Big men have the “situational awareness” that the Air Force prizes in fighter pilots; Big Men tend to focus broadly but shallowly. Nerds, in contrast, concentrate narrowly but deeply. Big Men are at their best when they are improvising in the flow of a discussion, hunt, battle, basketball game. Bush is at his most impressive in fairly small meetings. Nerds work best asynchronously.

In other words, Big Men say the right thing to the right people at the right time. Nerds don’t. As a card-carrying nerd, I vividly recall walking along after a college history class, reflecting on the Austro-Hungarian Empire, when a Big Man friend passed by with a “Hey, what’s happening?”

 

Well, the Austro-Hungarian Empire clearly wasn't happening, but what was? About five minutes later, I came up with a clever, but by then useless, reply—which later I could never seem to remember whenever somebody asked me, “Hey, What’s happening?”

 

I bet that never happened to George W. Bush. [For the rest of the article, buy the magazine!]

***

 

Permalink: Aug. 11, 2003 18:52:10

Mark Steyn picks up on my "gay ghetto" idea and adds a useful term to the "straight flight" coined by John Derbyshire: "gay tipping point." He writes:

 

"As an old musical theater hand, I've been here before. It's the difference between the Broadway of Rodgers and Hammerstein and the Broadway of Stephen Sondheim. The former was the great central throughway of American popular culture, the latter is a shriveled little self-regarding gay ghetto. Don't get me wrong, I love show tunes--and, as a result, I'm always assumed to be gay. I don't particularly mind that--I bought some Judy Garland DVDs in New York the other week and the guy was all flirty with me, which girl salesclerks hardly ever are these days. But a lot of chaps aren't so keen on that sort of thing, and eventually institutions reach a kind of gay tipping point after which straight men just steer clear. The Broadway of Stephen Sondheim may be, as its admirers claim, better, sharper, more sophisticated, but it's also underattended."

***

 

Permalink: Aug. 10, 2003 17:48:39

In Slate, Mickey Kaus gives a couple of plugs to my pal Joe Guzzardi's candidacy for governor of California. Mickey says:

 

"California's Missing Candidate, II: An update has been posted below. It turns out that one little-known (so far!) candidate, Joe Guzzardi, is raising the "border control" issue. ... This is exactly the sort of issue that would normally be suppressed in the structured, safe two-party campaign favored by the Al Hunts of the world, but that can be aired in a Hiram Johnson/American Idol recall free-for-all."

 

Joe teaches English as a second language to Hispanic immigrants, writes for VDARE.com and NumbersUSA, and he's a really nice guy -- a model of the public spirited citizen. Joe's website will be http://www.guzzardi4gov.com. He promises to have something up by Monday.

***

 

 

Permalink: Aug. 10, 2003 15:05:36

Gay marriage -- What's the rush? The USA is the most important country in the world. It would be irresponsible of us to rush into a fundamental social change whose impact is extremely difficult to fully foresee when there are minor countries like the Netherlands and Canada that are willing to play guinea pig. Let's wait a decade or two and see what happens to them.

***

 

Permalink: Aug. 9, 2003 18:52:25

Charles Murray previews his new history of everything book Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences for the American Enterprise Institute. One finding: "97 percent of both significant figures and events in the sciences occurred in Europe and North America."

***

 

Permalink: Aug. 9, 2003 18:53:57

Why are movies so bad this summer? I hope it's a cyclical effect. Last summer you saw a lot of the more artistically ambitious big stars combining with big directors, such as Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg getting together to make Minority Report and Tom Hanks with Sam Mendes in Road to Perdition, which, despite their flaws, were impressive for summer movies. The big directors tend to work in two year cycles, so hopefully you'll see more of that next summer (fingers crossed).

 

More pessimistically, we're seeing the working out of long term economic trends which all point the industry toward going for a big opening weekend score, before word-of-mouth can have its unpredictable effect. The best reform would be to revise the standard contracts between studios and theatres, which give the studios a huge percentage of ticket revenue during the opening week, with a more even distribution in later weeks. That just impels Hollywood to bring out sequels and remakes that are almost guaranteed to open big, but are unlikely to prove very satisfying in the long run.

***

 

Film review: Merchant-Ivory's 'Le Divorce' 

By Steve Sailer, UPI National Correspondent

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 7 (UPI) -- Merchant & Ivory, the producer-director duo whose glossy period pieces like "Howards End" gave Masterpiece Theatre an undeservedly bad name, are back with "Le Divorce." In the wake of co-star Kate Hudson's hit "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days," Fox Searchlight is marketing this limited release film as a Parisian romantic comedy, but it's lacking in both amour and comédie.

 

Still, despite its complicated plot's failure to gain traction emotionally, "Le Divorce" is elegant looking, mostly well-acted, and informative about the differences between contemporary American and French culture. "Le Divorce" is a bit of a mess, but it does provide a 2-D facsimile of going to lunch at a $150 per head Paris restaurant and listening to French and American in-laws discuss their tangled affairs. ...

 

The message of "Le Divorce" is that, despite the Francophobia of America's conservative press, France is far more conservative than the United States. The French resent America's churning dynamism because they feel, with some justification, that they've already figured out the best way to live...

 

Hudson, a cheerful American girl, finds that France's old-fashioned sex roles excite her erotically. After seeing the 55-year-old Uncle-in-Law Edgar on French TV discoursing grandly (if incomprehensibly), she instantly accepts his offer to be his mistress, then hurries to a lingerie boutique to acquire the traditional attire for her new role.   More...

***

 

Permalink: Aug. 8, 2003 14:06:22

Kate Hudson is this week's example of the New Nepotism in Hollywood, which Adam Bellow discusses in his In Praise of Nepotism. Today's movies are full of the relatives of Hollywood bigshots, to a much greater extent than even three decades ago. One additional explanation for this that I hadn't though of before is that young people with powerful kin can get a foothold in acting in a much more non-demeaning manner than can young people from Dubuque, so the profession is more attractive to them. If you are Kate Hudson, the daughter of Hollywood power Goldie Hawn and the quasi-stepdaughter of famous tough guy and gun lover Kurt Russell, no agent or producer is going to demand that you sleep with him to get a bit part. If you have no important relations, however, you come under heavy pressure to prostitute yourself.

***

 

 

Permalink: Aug. 7, 2003 18:39:41

Why do actresses starve themselves so badly? I think part of the reason has to do with the famous waist-hip ratio. Various studies from around the world found much disagreement among men over the thickness of padding most desirable on a woman, but little disagreement over the proportions. Men liked women, whether skinny or plump, with waists about 70% as far around as their hips. For example, the 36-24-36 figure we used to hear about all the time has a 67% waist to hip ratio.

 

Film, however, is a two-dimensional medium that only reproduces three dimensions with severe limitations. (Pictures reproduce breasts much better than buttocks.) By dieting to an extreme, an actress can reduce her waist, but her hip bones will remain the same width, thus improving her waist to hip ratio when seen from the front or back. Seen in person, she might look unhealthy, but onscreen, with the right camera angles, she'll look fabulous.

***

 

Permalink: 8/6/03 5:30 PM

 

Ah-nold is in the race. 

 

The Democrats are prepared to leak to the tabloids a lot of sex stuff, but I'm not sure that the public will be all that shocked to learn that Ah-nold might not have always resisted every woman who threw herself into those enormous arms. To my mind, the important questions concern those arms and the steroids he took to make them so enormous.

***

 

Permalink: 8/6/03 4:51 PM

Poor Edward Said, hoist by his own petard!

 

In the new introduction to the 25 anniversary edition of his disastrously influential book Orientalism, Said complains that the recent Iraq Attaq was made possible by his old whipping boys, the traditional "Arabist" scholars. These were American and English researchers who lived for years in Arab-speaking lands studying every aspect of cultures they found fascinating.

 

In reality, Said gets it exactly backwards. The Arabists got shunted aside in D.C.  for Middle Eastern experts with ties to the Likud party of Israel. And Said played a significant role in that development.

 

Beginning 25 years ago, Said led a successful campaign to demonize the Anglo-American Arabists, even though these scholars were "crazy in love with the Arabs," in David Landes' phrase. (In fact, more than a few of them had been crazy in love with individual Arab boys, most notably Lawrence of Arabia who confided that he undertook the liberation of the Arabs from the Ottoman Empire as a present for a teenaged waterboy named Daoud.) Most of these men were gentiles who sympathized with the Arabs in their struggles with Israel.

 

In their place, Said created an entire generation of "post-colonial studies" academics who concentrate not on Arabs but on writing snidely about Westerners who wrote about Arabs. We ended up with professors who A. Don't know anything about what's really going on in the Arab world.  B. But do know they hate the U.S. 

 

Not surprisingly, the extinction of scholars who love both Araby and the U.S. meant that the White House would increasingly turn for advice on the Middle East to people who hate the Arabs, such as Richard Perle.

 

8/6/03 16:23

 

I have a pretty sophisticated "gaydar" as I demonstrated back in 1994 with my National Review article "Why Lesbians Aren't Gay," which listed three dozen dimensions on which gay men and lesbians tend to differ. In the last few years, however, I've become increasingly reluctant to show this talent off in published articles because I worry that the public's ever-improving gaydar is causing "straight flight" (a term coined by Derb last week) away from many of the arts of civilization. 

 

The aristocratic and religious arts that make up the high culture of Western Civilization were part of a huge project to restrain the unbridled masculinity of all those Conan the Barbarians who poured into the old Roman Empire at the beginning of the Dark Ages. Warriors were slowly converted into knights, who were supposed to know not only how to fight, but also how to appreciate the finer forms of music, painting, sculpture, theatre, dance, conversation, and dress.

 

Inevitably, the arts attracted a higher proportion of male homosexuals. But nobody particularly noticed because all attention was focused on matters of class -- if you wanted your family to move up in society, you (or your children) needed to learn something about the arts.

 

Today, though, a lot of forces have converged to sap the life from the traditional aristocratic arts. We claim to be a classless society, so that the social pressures to study them are much less. 

 

With the decline of class pressures, the problem of gay ghettoization or straight flight becomes much worse. As straight American males become more aware of which fields gays flock to, they increasingly shun them. This just increases the gay percentage in them, and the cycle gets worse.

 

Let's make up some plausible sounding numbers about Broadway. Let's say that 50 years ago, 30% of the leading creative talent on Broadway was gay, but today 80% is gay. Thus, the Tony Awards ceremony increasingly looks like a stationary gay pride parade. One of the big winners this year was a gay fantasy about gay big league baseball players cavorting naked in the locker room.

 

Obviously, there is a lot of gay talent, but there isn't enough to compensate for this huge dropoff in straight participation, which is a big reason why the quantity and quality of Broadway plays has declined so dramatically, or even theatrically.

 

Somewhere out there, there are straight youths with the talent to become the next Richard Rodgers, Bob Fosse, or Jerry Orbach, but now they aren't going to go to musicals now that they and all their buddies know the score about Broadway. Instead, they'll show off their straightness by dressing like slobs and listening to gangsta rap. When they grow up, they won't go to Broadway, they'll go to Hollywood and help make movies with lots of explosions in them, and take their paychecks and buy yellow Hummers.

***

 

 

Permalink: Aug. 12, 2003 18:23:20

Liberal literary critic Judith Shulevitz and conservative highbrow Chris Caldwell (that's a compliment, Chris) discuss Evelyn Waugh in Slate -- Shulevitz reads Scoop, Waugh's 1937 masterpiece of a satire on journalists covering the Ethiopian war, for the first time ever and is surprised that she's blown away by it:

 

"Waugh accurately—even prophetically—nails the ways in which the modern European and American press behave far more barbarically than the inhabitants of whatever supposedly primitive place they happen to be covering: One by one he skewers the lunatic reductivism of journalistic code ("CONSIDER ISHMAELITE STORY UPCLEANED" reads one cable); the ups and downs of editorial interest that bear strictly no relationship to what's actually going on; the overhyping of stories that winds up creating the international crises that the press then gleefully and callously covers. Waugh also turns out to have been completely right about the moral equivalence of left- and right-wing political methods; the brutality of post-colonial African governments; the horrors of modern tourism; and just about everything else you can think of. Scoop is so dead-on it makes a girl think that there might be even more to Waughian disgust with modernity than she was ever willing to admit."

 

Scoop, of course, also has purely aesthetic merits. The prose style of Waugh's narration is perhaps the most elegant in 20th Century English literature and creates a hilarious contrast with the tawdriness of the setting. And Waugh's ear for dialogue ranks with that of the best Hollywood screenwriters. I've probably read Scoop more often than any other book and I look forward to rereading it every two years for the rest of my life.

 

Caldwell, who has been trying in recent years to ingratiate himself with the liberal cultural establishment, turns against the Waugh he worshipped when he was a bow-tied conservative twerp. He attacks Black Mischief, Waugh's 1932 novel inspired by his first visit to Ethiopia to see the crowning of Haile Selaisse, for "racism." Black Mischief isn't as likeable or funny as Scoop, but for accurate prediction of world-historical developments, it is the greatest work of prophecy of 20th Century literature. Think about it: In 1932, Waugh showed quite accurately why the decolonization of Africa would be a catastrophic failure, something that it took the rest of the intellectual world a minimum of a half century longer to realize. I guess his being right about the future of Africa just proves he was a racist.

 

Then, Caldwell says something childish about Waugh's small 1948 Hollywood satire, The Loved One:

 

"I've always hated this novel. Dennis [the visiting English poet] spends the whole book as a hapless, troubled, but ultimately decent person, before quite forthrightly declaring to the fragile Aimée Thanatogenos, who paints the faces of corpses at Whispering Glades cemetery, that he plans to sponge off her for the rest of his life, and ridiculing her when she demurs. It makes no sense..."

 

No, it makes perfect sense. That the genuinely gifted English poet turns out to be more heartless than all the figures of fun in Hollywood is a brilliantly insightful twist. The moral (or, more accurately, amoral) of the story is that artists like Dennis are not typically "decent" people. In reality, artists routinely exploit those around them, especially women, to get what they need to create their art. Think of Shelley, Brecht, Sartre, or Picasso. 

 

Waugh was similarly selfish, but with one big difference, which accounts for his undeservedly terrible reputation as a human being. (Compared to Brecht, he was a saint, but so is just about anybody.) Unlike all these other artists, though, he couldn't convince anybody around him that he was anything special. He couldn't exploit anybody. He lacked the personal charisma that so many lesser artists have in abundance that gilds over their sins. He was an unprepossessing little man whom it was fun to despise.

 

He went through life being treated as a lightweight. We now know that he was as great a novelist as England produced in the last century, maybe the finest in the English language in his lifetime, but nobody knew it at the time. Except, I imagine, Waugh. That must have been a painful awareness for him to bear.

09/05/07 05:14:53 PM

***

09/05/07

Here's a fascinating NYT Magazine profile of the top young economist Steven Levitt, who studies all sorts of unorthodox but practical questions like whether imprisoning lots more people lowered the crime rate (yes); and how much does your real estate agent cheat you when you go to sell your house by lowballing the price in order to make a quick sale (2%). My wife's aunt called her to say that Levitt sounded just like me. That seems about right -- if I'd gone into economics as a career (I'd majored in it at Rice), I'd probably be doing about the same thing Levitt is. We even look a little bit alike.

 

We make an interesting comparison. The strength of economics is also its weakness -- its narrowness of focus. Levitt works way out at the far edge of what's considered acceptable for an economist in terms of subject matter and types of evidence, but I'm much more catholic than even him in generating ideas. A good example of that came in my 1999 debate in Slate.com with Levitt over his theory that the legalization of abortion in the 1970s contributed to the decline in crime in the later 1990s. My second and concluding contribution puts the entire question in a perspective that's far more comprehensive than any economist could achieve.

***

Link: 09/05/07

Paul Cella writes on how two early 20th Century English Catholics foresaw our current situation. Here is Hillaire Belloc:

 

"... I cannot but believe that a main unexpected thing of the future is the return of Islam. Since religion is at the root of all political movements and changes and since we have here a very great religion physically paralyzed but morally intensely alive, we are in the presence of an unstable equilibrium which cannot remain permanently unstable."

 

And here is G.K. Chesterton adumbrating Osama bin Laden:

 

"A void is made in the heart of Islam which has to be filled up again and again by a mere repetition of the revolution that founded it. There are no sacraments; the only thing that can happen is a sort of apocalypse, as unique as the end of the world; so the apocalypse can only be repeated and the world end again and again. There are no priests; and this equality can only breed a multitude of lawless prophets almost as numerous as priests. The very dogma that there is only one Mohamet produces an endless procession of Mohamets."

 

I just bought Chesterton's Heretics and Orthodoxy, which I haven't read since I was 14. My recollection is that Chesterton is utterly brilliant to the point of being exhausting.

***

 

Link: 09/05/07 17:14

Film review: 'Secret Lives of Dentists'

By Steve Sailer

LOS ANGELES, July 31 (UPI) -- "How can they afford that place?"

 

How often have you asked yourself that while gaping at the sheer square footage of the homes used in movies and TV shows? Imagine how these vast apartments and suburban homes with fifty-foot wide living rooms must engender envy and resentment in foreign viewers who assume Americans actually live like that.

 

Compounding the unreality is the tidy emptiness of these supposedly modern American homes. Where's the surly profusion of possessions that litters real rooms in this Age of Costco? We almost never see on screen that hallmark of 21st Century household futility: the living room clogged with perpetually half-assembled closet organizers and modular storage systems.

 

Refreshingly, in the "The Secret Lives of Dentists," an indie infidelity drama with an unrepresentatively comic name, Allan Rudolph, the veteran art house director of Robert Altman-style ensemble films (such as 1984's charming "Choose Me"), shows us real estate reality. A married couple, both dentists, and their three little girls dwell in what appears to be a quite nice 2,500 sq. ft. four bedroom house stuffed with all the teeming paraphernalia of upper middle class family life.

 

The result, though, is a cluttered, even claustrophobic-looking movie. There is, it turns out, a fundamental reason why filmmakers rent huge houses and then knock down walls to allow themselves even more expansive camera angles: the bigger and blanker the stage, the more vividly the characters can stand out.

 

In "Dentists," the husband (played by Campbell Scott of "Rodger Dodger") seems hemmed-in, his manliness encumbered by all the domestic trappings. Nor does it enhance what's left of his aura of masculinity that he and his wife (Hope Davis, who was Jack Nicholson's daughter in "About Schmidt") are equal partners in their dental firm, and that when they get home, he does half (or more) of the housework. The audience, therefore, is less surprised than he is when he glimpses his wife in the arms of another man.  [More...]

***

 

Question: Can anybody explain this paradox?

 

In general, there is a positive correlation between how repetitious a sport is and the educational level of its enthusiasts. Sports where you make subtle adjustments in your technique and then do the same thing over and over (such as distance running, swimming, bobsledding, etc.) appeal to high IQ people. Rowing, for instance, is highly popular in Cambridge, MA and Cambridge, England but not too many other places. In contrast, sports where you have to make non-stop decisions like basketball and boxing appeal strongly to people at the bottom of the educational ladder. How come?

***

 

A new VDARE column, on Brazil, at left.

***

 

Q&A: 'Out-of-state agitator' Ward Connerly

By Steve Sailer, UPI National Correspondent

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 1 (UPI) -- The life of Ward Connerly, the University of California regent and prominent activist against racial preferences, kicked into overdrive this summer. The Supreme Court's June 23 decision endorsing the University of Michigan Law School's use of race as a factor in choosing among applicants inspired Connerly to launch the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, modeled on the successful referendum campaigns he led to ban reverse discrimination by the state governments of California and Washington.

 

Connerly's effort so outraged Democrat John Dingell, who has represented Michigan in Congress since 1955, that he sent the Californian a letter that sounded rather like a Jim Crow sheriff telling Northern civil rights demonstrators to stay out of Mississippi. "The people of Michigan have a simple message to you: go home and stay there," Dingell wrote Connerly. "We do not need you stirring up trouble where none exists. Michiganders do not take kindly to your ignorant meddling in our affairs. We have no need for itinerant publicity seekers, non-resident troublemakers or self-aggrandizing out-of-state agitators."

 

One irony is that Dingell is white and Connerly part black. He's also part-white and part-American Indian. Connerly, his children, and their children don't fit well into the checkboxes that government agencies use to classify Americans by race and ethnicity. This gives him personal, as well as political and philosophical, reasons to oppose quotas and the racial data that undergird them. [Click here for interview with Connerly.]

***

 

Does anybody know why South Asians are so nuts for P.G. Wodehouse (the comic genius author of the Bertie and Jeeves stories)? Here's an article on the debt "Hinglish" owes to Wodehouse.

***

 

Milestone: Back in May, Patrick Johnson, a half-Irish, half-Australian Aborigine sprinter ran the 100 meters in 9.93 and became the first man who is not of subSaharan African descent to break the 10 second barrier. (Blacks have broken it 258 times, according to Peter Larrson's comprehensive track times website.)  In 2004, he's likely to become the first non-black since the Olympic boycott year of 1980 to qualify for the final eight in the Olympic 100m. (I've long been interested in the athletic potential of Australoids, who are quite muscular on average.)

***

 

 

 

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