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June 2002

Forecasting movie grosses - I've been discussing the topic with an amateur expert named Colby Cosh. You can reduce the entire prediction problem down to a simple formula (at least for movies that open in general release): Opening Weekend Gross times the "Legs" Multiplier. (In Hollywoodese, "legs" means how well business holds up, week after week.) For example, "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" opened with something like $57 million in its first three days (very good) and wound up with $113 million, for a  Legs Multiplier of just under 2.0 (very bad). In contrast, "Titanic" opened with $28 million and finished with 600 million, for a Legs Multiplier of 21.4 (very, very good).


As a critic, I'm interested in the Legs Multiplier. I think I can do a pretty decent job of estimating that. I spent years in the marketing research industry and they pound into your head that Not All Customers Are Like You, which is not something that most movie critics believe deep down. This respect for human differences is why I normally try to explain which market segments will most enjoy each movie I review. The inherent quality of the movie relative to its chosen market segments of the movie is most relevant to its Legs Multiplier. (For example, I didn't much like Titanic, but for the teenage girl market it was obviously the greatest movie of all time.) Unfortunately, the concept of the Legs Multiplier is not one that communicates itself as readily as "Thumbs Up" or other gimmicks.


On the other hand, to be able to accurately forecast the opening weekend, you have to pay attention to a lot of things that are just too depressing to contemplate. For example, judging from the Friday grosses, it appears that Adam Sandler's "Mr. Deeds" will beat $40 million this weekend, while the other wide release, "Hey Arnold," is tanking and won't make even $10 million. Whoopee ... But that has very little to do with the actual movies and everything to do with their marketing campaigns. Arguably, you could earn something about the eternal verities from studying the performance marketing concepts -- for example, judging from the first day success of Mr. Deeds, we can deduce that people like the idea of a shlub inheriting a fortune but managing to outwit the city slickers who try to take it from him. But, A. We already knew that, and B. Who knows if it will work the next time? Or will people just say, "That new movie just reminds me of that lame Adam Sandler movie from back in 2002"? Nobody knows when a formula will run out of steam or when it will revive. 



Here's an important chapter on why African-Americans have such a high illegitimacy rate from the estimable James Q. Wilson's recent book The Marriage Problem. It eventually courageously traces black illegitimacy back through slavery to African cultural patterns. 


Almost everybody else who writes about African-Americans treats them as if their ancestors had been created afresh, tabula rasa, when they got off the slave ships. Don't believe it. African patterns of life keep recurring among African-Americans. There's a wide variety of family structures found from tribe to tribe in Africa, but the bell curve is definitely shifted in the direction of low "paternal investment." In the tropics, women can grow enough food to feed themselves and their kids, so men can compete with each other to marry many women. Of course, that leaves a lot of horny bachelors left over. Since wives aren't kept in harems but are instead sent out to work in the fields, lots of assignations with bachelors leads to a low "certainty of paternity" for the not-very patriarchal patriarch, which further discourages men from investing much in kids who might, or might not, be theirs.


An anthropologist friend of mine and his wife were living with an African tribe. He and some tribal men went off on a trip. They were supposed to return on Wednesday, but they were making such good time on Tuesday that he proposed they drive through the night and get back to the village around midnight. "Very amusing," chuckled his African friends. "But wouldn't your wife be annoyed?" He insisted, and they became shocked at his rudeness. They finally explained, "A polite gentleman never returns home early and surprises his wife in the arms of another man!"


Another time, he was going off on a journey in lion country. His hosts kindly inquired to whom they should send his possessions in case he were to be eaten. He answered, "To my wife, of course." They were flabbergasted. "Your wife! Why would you not send it to your family?" In this society, with its low certainty of paternity, property descends down the matrilineal line. Your mother's children are at least your half siblings, which is genetically more than you can say about your nominal children.



The Supreme Court's 5-4 vote upholding vouchers - Why was this vote even close? The federal government has been subsidizing tuition at religious universities like Notre Dame and SMU for decades through reduced-interest student loans, grants, and the like. What's the difference?


That said, vouchers remain political poison for Republicans, no matter what the free market ideologues say. The reason 97% of these poor parents in Cleveland chose religious, primarily Catholic, schools is because they were the only ones who'd take the vouchers. Secular private schools and exclusive suburbs don't want a flood of impoverished kids wrecking their schools' shiny test scores. Voucher programs that extend beyond inner cities are anathema to suburban homeowners, who don't want their property values driven down by having their precious local schools jammed with slum kids waving vouchers. If the GOP alienates its natural base of suburban homeowners, it's doomed.


I'll be frank, the biggest reason why "bad schools" are bad and "good schools" are good is the quality of the students.


Also, giving taxpayer dollars so Islamic parents can send their kids to Islamic fundamentalist schools sounds like a losing proposition politically, as I pointed out last December.



World Cup mailbag - A reader explains why the same handful of countries always win the World Cup despite the high degree of randomness in individual games: A. It's not completely random, so at least one or two of the large, rich, and/or talented countries always get through. B. Early on, the pressure on the favorites is much greater than it is on the longshots. By the playoffs, however, the expectations of a nation are riding on the backs of the players from a Senegal, Mexico, South Korea, or Turkey. C. The teams with the best players start the World Cup more tired and less practiced as a team, since their stars (even the South Americans) have been playing late into the European championships.


Suggestions for making soccer more high-scoring and thus less flukish include: restricting goalies to only using their hands within the small penalty box around the goal rather than letting them grab balls way out away from the goal like they can now; enlarging the goal; or, most interestingly, letting offensive players punch the ball into the goal with their fists (like Diego Maradona's famous "hand of God" goal in 1986). Also, allowing on the fly substitutions like in ice hockey, perhaps combined with cutting the number of players on the field, would keep players from dogging it out of exhaustion, they way they do now.



The Fast Runner -- a low-budget epic about prehistoric Eskimos that combines adventure on the ice floes with soap opera in the igloos -- isn't quite the masterpiece that rapturous critics have been claiming. Still, while excessively long at 172 minutes, it's surprisingly entertaining. Because the movie is set in an all-Eskimo world, "The Fast Runner" avoids victimist clichés. The characters are as harsh as the Arctic environment they battle. Here's my review.



Federal Court Declares "Pledge of Allegiance" Unconstitutional for Containing Words "Under God" - Does anybody else find the fundamentalist fanaticism of these kind of judges embarrassing?



World Cup Final: Brazil vs. Germany. Just as I predicted, the winner will be either a big European power or from the Atlantic Coast of South America. I still don't understand how World Cup results can appear almost completely random, but the same old soccer powers always win in the end.




Andrew Sullivan graciously linked to my UPI article on the Supreme Court's decision sparing the low IQ from the death penalty and commented:


LIBERALS DISCOVER I.Q.: Good point noted by UPI's Steve Sailer. It's an article of faith among many liberals that I.Q. has no meaning, it's culturally constructed, and should never be used to judge people's intellectual ability. But suddenly, when I.Q. is the means by which to rescue retarded criminals on death row, I.Q. is just fine, thank you very much. For the record, I agree with forbidding executions of the mentally retarded. But then I believe in I.Q. as an important and often reliable gauge of intelligence. By the way: did anyone think to call former president Bill Clinton up to get his comments on the Supreme Court decision? He signed the execution warrant of a retarded man - as a critical part of his election campaign. Any second thoughts on that one, Bill?


When he was editor of The New Republic, Sullivan bravely published Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray's article introducing The Bell Curve. Doing that reportedly started the ball rolling toward Sullivan's subsequent firing. Publishing the article lead to the rebellion by the TNR staff, who insisted upon Sullivan printing 15 individual denunciations of Herrnstein and Murray's essay. "A howling mob of liberal commentators not knowing what in hell they are talking about is a dispiriting spectacle," summed up Dan Seligman. The staff rebellion against realism was a historic turning point from which neoliberalism, which had been invented by Kinsley et al specifically as the ideology for the clever, has yet to recover its relevance.


Sullivan's reference to Arkansas' execution of Ricky Ray Rector under Bill Clinton, however, is a little off the point. The Supreme Court's ban would probably not have applied to Rector who - at least presumably - was not retarded before age 18, which is a typical requirement in state laws deciding who is immune from execution. After murdering two people, RRR tried to blow his brains out but only half succeeded. He was such a vegetable after that that he asked if he could save his dessert from his Last Supper. But he wasn't like that before he became a murderer. This is one of those flukish man-bites-dog conundrums - like the unique Elian case - that fascinate so many people. I try to avoid thinking about them much, however, since they don't seem to illuminate any more general principles.



Here's my UPI article on that Supreme Court decision sparing murderers who score poorly on IQ tests from the death penalty: "IQ Defenders Feel Vindicated."


And here are excerpts from my interview with the world's #1 expert on IQ, Berkeley prof emeritus Arthur R. Jensen, who has published a staggering 400 papers in refereed scientific journals. My damn fax machine had a paper jam, so I didn't get his responses in time to include in my article.

ARJ: Since I am opposed to capital punishment in general, I think the Supreme Court's decision is a step in the right direction. But I also believe there should be more sentences for life without possibility of parole for the most serious crimes, regardless of the "IQ" or "sanity" of the convicted party.

SS: Is there a difference between low IQ and mental retardation?


ARJ: Yes. Virtually all persons properly diagnosed as "mentally retarded" have a low IQ, but not all persons with a low IQ are retarded. I heed what Alfred Binet, the inventor of IQ testing, once said: that, for adults, showing generally good judgment in the ordinary affairs of life should rule out a diagnosis of mental retardation.


SS: Does everybody with an IQ below 75 or 70 suffer from a clear organic syndrome?


ARJ:  Certainly not ... The vast majority of the population with IQs above 40 or 50 are biologically normal individuals; they are included in the larger part of the IQ bell curve that represents the range of normal variation in mental ability among humans. 


SS: Are people in the 50 to 70 IQ range generally unable to understand that murder is wrong?


ARJ: I don't know of any research directed at this specific question, but in my judgment most adults in that IQ range would understand that murder is wrong. ...In that low range of mental age in adults, however, passions and impulsiveness are more likely to override judgment than would be true for adults of average intelligence.


SS: What proportion of Sub-Saharan populations would be considered unable to fully understand the wrongness of murder?


ARJ: I don't know the answer to this from any actual evidence, but I know of no reason to believe it would be different from anywhere else in the world, although present research evidence shows an IQ average around 75 in some parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. The higher homicide rate in Sub-Saharan population than in most other parts of the world, I suspect, is most probably caused by factors other than IQ per se.



I'm only now realizing that a lot of otherwise smart pundits on the right seriously believe that if the West Bank became independent Palestine, it would launch a tank invasion of Israel. First, Israel currently has 4,000 tanks. The Palestine Authority has 0. Second, even if it were to somehow obtain thousands of tanks, they are useless in modern warfare without air supremacy. So, Palestine would have to build an air force that is better than Israel's. And you can't have air supremacy without electronics supremacy. How Palestine would obtain that is hard to explain.


One of the most important events in recent world history was the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon - not for what that accomplished strategically (if anything), but for the destruction of Syria's Soviet-made air defenses in the Bekaa Valley by the Israeli air force using American electronics. It made ground-based radar obsolete. Victory now belonged to whomever can stuff the most electronics into big AWACs-type jets and manage the battle from the air. By demonstrating that America's technowarriors ruled the skies, that rightly terrified the Soviet high command and led to the catastrophic attempt at reform by Gorbachev.


The funny thing is that a lot of the same thinkers who say that advanced air technology will make it easy for the U.S. to conquer and rule Iraq and other malefactors totally ignore that Israel has almost the same capabilities as the U.S., while its Arab enemies are falling ever more decades behind.



Question for my readers: In my movie review last week, I tried something that my wife's been pushing me to do: I predicted that "Minority Report" wouldn't break $135 million at the domestic box office, despite all the expectations that it would do $200+ million. She thinks including a forecast of total gross in each review would help get my reviews talked about.


What do you think? Email me.


I've been reluctant. Would it distract from the aesthetic purity of my reviews? Yeah ... right. More importantly, would I be embarrassed constantly? Nobody gets this stuff right very often. Still, it would certainly be a challenge. 


I knew "Minority Report" wasn't going to be the mega-blockbuster everybody in the media was predicting. It's certainly a far-above-average film, and should do nicely, but it will have a hard time even making it to the $135 million I forecast, much less the $200+ million that was being talked about. Its price on the Hollywood Stock Exchange game has plummeted since last week from $161 million to $98 million. (In other words, the HSX players' expectations for its domestic gross through its first four weekends has dropped from $161 million to $98 million. is a "stock market" game for entertainment products where players can buy or sell pseudo-shares of movies and albums based on how much money they expect them to make.) 


"Minority Report's" big problem is simply that's it's aimed at too high an IQ moviegoer to be a gigantic hit. My 85 year old Dad walked out, and today gleefully pointed out that Regis Philbin was also complaining that he couldn't make sense of it. 


Also, the intentionally depressing color scheme (the film was literally bleached) excited critics, but lots of regular folks found it, well, depressing. Psychiatrist Peter Kramer has pointed out that because so many artists have been depressives, especially manic-depressives, our high culture suffers from the bias that cheerful things can't be art. Spielberg, of course, is obviously not a depressive, so here he's just suckering the critics into giving him good reviews by pretending to be depressed, even though he honestly seems to find the idea of preventing crimes before they can happen quite a cheerer-upper. (Who wouldn't?)


To see Spielberg at his most honest and best, rent "Empire of the Sun," the tale of a cheerful English boy interned in a hideous Japanese camp during WWII. The lad experiences the horrors of war as one staggeringly beautiful, truly Nabokovian scene after another. It's one of the most profound and disturbing movies about the appeal of war to the young male imagination ever made.



The Gene Expression blog today has a ton of stuff from Razib, the computer guy with a masters in population genetics. Razib has to be not just one of the most profoundly informed (especially regarding the cross between history and religion), but also maybe the wisest 25-year-olds out there. Memo to science professors: Somebody should put together a deal that would make it financially tolerable for Razib to get out of computers and back into science. This kid has potential.



Is there any country in the world more hyper-patriotic when it comes to sports than South Korea, now in the World Cup semifinal? Granted, El Salvador invaded Honduras to avenge Honduras beating it in a World Cup qualifier. (It sounds funny, but it wasn't to the thousands killed in this insane little war). Still, in my limited experience, the South Koreans are in a class by themselves (although God only knows what the North Koreans are like). My introduction to South Korean sports fans was at the 1984 L.A. Olympics. At some early round boxing matches at the Sports Arena, I sat behind about 150 Koreans, including three Buddhist monks in saffron robes Through the first half of the scheduled card, they all sat absolutely impassively. The Koreans showed zero interest in boxing pour le sport. Even the most gallant display by a non-Korean boxer failed to inspire them to utter a peep of approval. Finally, the one Korean boxer of the afternoon was introduced. The fans exploded into an utter frenzy of flag-waving. The Buddhist monks jumped up and down and screamed. The mob howled its head off through the entire 45 seconds it took the Korean lad to get knocked cold. After their boy was hauled off on a stretcher, even though there were a half dozen fights left, the Koreans arose as one and silently filed out.



Are you ever baffled by all the new names for old ethnic groups that are constantly being trundled out by the High Priests of Sensitivity? Here's a quick quiz. What are the well-known old names for A. Saami; B. San; C. Roma; D. Haudenosaunee; and E. Numunuu? Two out of five is a good score. 


Does name-changing contribute more to understanding or to confusion and ignorance? Do the new politically correct names tend to be more racist than the old? I explore these issues in "The Name Game: 'Inuit' or 'Eskimo'?". (You can find the answers to the above questions in the article.)



How did the 90s produce so much greedy behavior in business?


After all, it was  the 80s, not the 90s, that were the Decade of Greed. Considering that we live in the Eon of Greed, how did the Deep Thinkers single out that one decade? Easy. A Republican was President during the decade. So, journalists and bureaucrats were on guard and pounced on people like Boesky and Milken. For example, my old company's planned 1987 merger with its arch-rival was shot down by the Reagan Justice Department on the grounds that it would raise prices. That all seems very quaint after the wide-open 90s.


In contrast, the 90s were the Decade of the New Economy. How did everybody know the 90s - which at the time looked an awful lot like the 80s, only more so - weren't another Decade of Greed? Easy. A Democrat was President. So, no need to be on guard against Greed. No sirree. That was a virtuous decade - see, we elected a Democrat!


Two of the stupidest obsessions in American intellectual life are 1. Decade Think (maybe nobody will ever come up with a name for this decade and that will put an end to this lazy fashion - we can only hope) and 2. The belief that whichever party holds the Presidency determines whether the decade is moral or immoral.



Randomness continues to reign in the World Cup, where the U.S. finally outplayed an opponent, but this time lost 1-0 to Germany. In the end, though, the same small club of big European or Atlantic coast South American countries always wins, so don't expect Senegal, or some other fun team, to break through and win it all. Psychologist Chris Brand writes from Scotland:


"Top Times columnist Simon Jenkins will be disappointed because he was backing the US to win the Cup and then have enough international clout to get the size of the goal increased to compensate for the increase in height of goalkeepers since the height of the goal was first decided in the 1840's. (At present soccer is too much of a game of chance, with only one shot at goal in 25 succeeding. But of course gambling interests like this; and the chance element helps give even the English the feeling they might win and thus fuels hysteria worldwide and thus the soccer industry.) How people can watch this slow and chancy game between hyper-muscled mixed-footed (thus low IQ) hunks when they can instead watch Anna Kournikova is quite beyond me."



Sure enough, the NYT Editorial Board weighs in with this ringing endorsement of IQ testing. "inflicting the death penalty on individuals with I.Q. scores of less than 70 who have little understanding of their moral culpability violates civilized standards of justice." Funny, I don't recall the NYT being so trusting of IQ tests in other contexts ...



The Supreme Court's 6-3 decision banning the execution of "mentally retarded" murderers (commonly assumed to be those who score below 70, or even 75, on an IQ test) is full of head-scratchers. For instance, the majority justified the decision on the grounds that there is a "national consensus" against executing the "retarded" (because 18 states - out of 50 - have banned it). Since when did it become the Supreme Court's job to interpret the "national consensus?" I was under the impression that was the job of elected politicians and the Supreme Court's job was to interpret the Constitution. And if there really is a "national consensus," why does the Supreme Court need to step in and make it the law of the land - unless they fear it's not really a national consensus.


Another amusing aspects is that all progressive, enlightened opinion is on the side of IQ testing here - but only here! Well-informed supporters of IQ testing are actually much more dubious of this use of IQ tests than is the average IQ-hater. Essentially, this ruling dehumanizes African-Americans, one out of six of whom score 70 or below, yet the vast majority of them are perfectly aware of how horrible murder is. More on this another time...



Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise team up to make "Minority Report." Here's my review. 


Also, here's something about the sci-fi movie, set in 2054, that all the critics are leaving out (for obvious reasons):


The backstory is that a new designer drug that appeals only to the educated rips through the upper middle class. Washington D.C.'s minorities flee from the millions of white drug addicts who pour into the slums of the Capital, where they are warehoused in crime-ridden federal housing projects three hundred stories high. The drug epidemic sends the murder rate soaring. 


By making Washington's slums mostly white, this clever setup solves a major problem faced by movies and television shows about urban cops. White audiences are embarrassed and bored by the depressing reality of what big city policemen mostly do: namely, arrest minorities (especially in D.C., where a black is 56 times more likely than a white to be imprisoned.) Instead, what interests white audiences is what Tom Wolfe called in his novel "Bonfire of the Vanities" the "search for the Great White Defendant." "Law & Order" became the most successful franchise in television history by taking Wolfe's satirical observation literally and concocting an alternative universe in which New York City's murderers are most likely found on Park Avenue.



A population geneticist writes:


There is a well-established finding that 1/8 of neutral genetic diversity is within large human populations and 7/8 between them, made famous by Lewontin but not original with him. Cavalli-Sforza published the same number several years earlier.


This is the same as the coefficient of kinship _within_ populations. This means that in a diverse world you are more related to someone of your own population or race than you are to a random human to precisely the same extent that you are more related to your own grandchild or nephew than you are to the neighbor's kid.



Here's an interesting article on an experiment showing that people tend to trust people who look like themselves more than they trust others: "Lisa DeBruine of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, said the results demonstrate a form of biological nepotism, which involves people having an innate tendency to share favours with strangers who might be distant relatives."


This is a reference to J.P. Rushton's Genetic Similarity Theory, which is an extension of W.D. Hamilton's famous kin selection theory. It certainly applied to my old marketing research company, where I saw four separate examples of top executives picking protégés who, in terms of looks, could easily have been their nephew or niece. I discussed the genetic logic behind this in my review of last year's Spy Game, which stars Robert Redford as mentor and Brad Pitt as protégé, which is the same relation they had in real life on A River Runs Through It.



Check out "Mahathir Slams Malays for Not Bucking Up." In Malaysia, the Prime Minister has long defended affirmative action for the majority on the grounds that the indigenous Malaysians (such as himself) are lazier and dumber than the 25% of the population who are Chinese. Now, he says that it was a mistake because the "bumiputras" aren't progressing economically. They just rush out and spend all the aid they're given. (On the other hand, Malaysia has had fewer anti-Chinese pogroms since they started this program in 1969 than neighboring Indonesia, so maybe it's not a total failure.)



The New Republic breathlessly worries, "Europe can survive Le Pen, Haider, and Fortuyn. But can it survive rising nationalism and xenophobia in Germany? John Judis reports." Memo to TNR: Whether or not Europe can survive Fortuyn is rather a moot point, since Fortuyn didn't survive the enraged forces of Euro-tolerance and Euro-sensitivity.


Judis' article claims that Germany's problem with Muslim immigrants stem from Germany's policies against assimilating immigrants. Of course, he fails to mention that France has the exact opposite policies, but has even worse problems with its Muslim immigrants. Perhaps the problem lies not so much with Germany's or France's laws, as with the Muslim immigrants themselves?


Look, there's a very simple solution to the problem of extreme right wing parties winning big vote totals by campaigning against high rates of crime and immigration. That's for mainstream parties to steal their vote-winning issues (as Chirac has done in France over the last two months, and as Tony Blair is doing in Britain). The flip side is for people like Judis to stop calling anybody who wants to get tough on crime and immigration an "extremist."



Gay priest youth-fondling scandal - I've been waiting to see if any of the enlightened ever apologize for denouncing the Boy Scouts of America for their decisive proactive steps to keep gay men from taking vulnerable boys into the woods. I'm not, however, holding my breath.


By the way, why does everybody assume that U.S. Catholic hierarchy covered up the scandal solely for politically weaselly but personally disinterested reasons? Why do we assume that no bishops or cardinals have their own youth-fondling skeletons in the closet that they were protecting? The Boys Scouts permanently throw out about 50 male volunteers per year for getting a little to close to the boys (out of hundreds of thousands of volunteers). Could it be that the BSA has a better record than the Catholic Church at rooting out bad guys precisely because its discriminatory hiring practices prevent its national leadership from filling up with homosexuals who are a little too sympathetic to abusers.



Joe "Anonymous" Klein of The New Yorker headlined an article in Slate: "The Unbearable Whiteness of Poland." Coming next in his series are essays on "The Unbearable Blackness of Nigeria" and "The Unbearable Yellowness of Vietnam."



If Spaniard Sergio Garcia overtakes Tiger Woods to win the U.S. Open, will that make him the first Hispanic national champion since Lee Trevino? Does anybody know whether Spaniards are Hispanics? (Interestingly, a Polish-born guy named Leibman got a huge tax break on buying a radio station once, because being Sephardic made him Hispanic, according to an appeals court.)


Of course, it's unlikely that anybody will catch Tiger, who is the greatest front-runner in the history of golf. Jack Nicklaus won 18 pro major championships to 7 (and counting) for 26-year-old Tiger, but Jack finished second 20 times. Tiger's never come in second in a major. Jack's problem was that he'd invent overly conservative game plans for himself, so he'd wake up Sunday morning 5 or 6 strokes behind. In desperation, he chuck his strategy and just start bombing away in the last round, which is what he should have done all along. He'd come roaring up from behind, but often wind up a stroke short. Tiger simply doesn't have any of Nicklaus' psychological flaws (and Nicklaus had fewer head problems than any golfer since Ben Hogan), so Tiger's mental supremacy is that much more remarkable. 



"Fighting 'Light Skin' as a Standard of Beauty" - This is an interesting NYT article about how Kenyan women spend lots of their limited money on semi-poisonous skin lightening creams. "Colonialism" is too blame, of course ... even though a preference for women with lighter skins is virtually universal - e.g., geishas in pre-1853 Japan. (And men are supposed to be "tall, dark, and handsome.") The cause is that, all over the world, women's untanned skin on average is about 10% fairer than men's untanned skin, as Peter Frost has documented. So, people associate fairness with femininity. This doesn't mean it's a good thing, though. Arms races are basically a waste of time, and wasting your money and health on dangerous skin lighteners doesn't do humanity any good overall. For a long time, "respectable" women organized themselves into a cartel whose members wouldn't compete that hard against each other for the opposite sex. This Kenyan woman in the article who is campaigning against bleaching creams is in that honorable tradition. (Of course, since the activist featured has "high yellow" skin herself, she may just be trying to lessen competition for herself!)



More and more people are coming around to my view that Israel must erect a Berlin Wall between itself and the West Bank. Even Sharon has (reluctantly) started work on it, although it appears that he envisions a "Gaza Solution" rather than the surer "Cyprus Solution" of complete separation. The fence around the Gaza Strip has been reasonably effective at keeping out suicide bombers, but the Israeli Army devotes inordinate resources to defending the 7,000 Jewish settlers who live in ostentatious relative luxury within that godforsaken slum. Machiavelli would have been contemptuous of the Israeli policy in Gaza. You deal with a conquered people by crushing all resistance early, he explained, then ameliorating their treatment as time progresses. Instead, the Israelis intentionally insult and annoy the Gaza Strippers on a daily basis, making their lives infuriating via Army checkpoints that make travel within Gaza a nightmare, all for zero strategic benefit. Still, as contradictory as the Gaza policy is, it's far more sensible than Israel's long-time West Bank policy of allowing West Bank Palestinians to stroll into Israel and blow up Jews.


That leads to the question of what Israel should do about its one million plus Palestinians who are citizens of Israel. I'm relatively optimistic about the ability of Israel's Arab citizen minority to get along tolerably well with its Jewish majority. The key difference between the Arab citizens within pre-1967 Israeli borders and the refugees in the West Bank and Gaza is that the Arabs who stuck it out on their ancestral property in 1947-1948 mostly got to keep their houses and farms when the fighting was over, while those who had fled from the Israeli army had their property permanently confiscated. This is the key distinction.


The refugees were then further radicalized in the nationalist hothouses of the camps. The natives of the West Bank and Gaza were in turn radicalized by the refugees' anger, plus, since 1967, the constant little annoyances of living under the Israeli thumb, as well as the long term fear, inspired by the Jewish settlements, that the Jews will ultimately take their property too.


In contrast, the Arab citizens within Israel property have to endure some Jim Crowish restrictions, plus the psychic pain of living under a state to whom they are, at best, fundamentally irrelevant. But they are living in the same houses their grandfathers lived in, tending the same olive orchards, so their emotions tend to be rationally mixed.


In the long run, however, the much higher Arab birthrate means that the Jewish State will probably need to offer financial incentives to get non-Jews to leave Israel.



In Defense of Political Correctness - The brouhaha over how high stakes tests for high schoolers like the SAT and the New York Regents feature bowdlerized reading comprehension excerpts to keep from shocking young test-takers with controversial material is one of the stupidest in recent memory. Of course testmakers should strive to test only reading comprehension, not the child's worldliness. Psychometrician Kimberly Swygert of Number 2 Pencil blog says it more authoritatively:


The test developers are right to remove as much potentially controversial material from the reading passages as possible. Yes, it can alter the meaning of the text; yes, it can make the reading experience less enjoyable. That's preferable to the alternative, which is putting kids in a high-stress situation and testing them on material that may be distracting or emotionally disturbing enough to interfere with their performance. This is not the same situation as teaching emotionally intense material in class (where I feel that altering or ignoring certain texts would indeed be censorship). Controversial reading material should be taught slowly and carefully in a classroom, so I don't see the benefit of presenting it suddenly and out of context in a high-stakes testing environment. A few indignant authors are nothing compared to the potential lawsuits from test takers.



Windtalkers has a great factual premise - the U.S. Marine Navajo code talkers who helped win the Pacific War with their indecipherable language. Does the John Woo-Nicholas Cage movie live up to this? Here's my review.



Why has Europe turned so sharply against Israel in the last couple of years? One overlooked factor is that Europeans see a distinct analogy between the West Bank and Kosovo. Consider: in 1997 a Muslim intifada began in Serbian (technically, Yugoslavian) owned Kosovo. In Kosovo, Muslims outnumbered Serbs about 2 million to 200,000, which is quite similar to the ratio in the West Bank. Legalistically, the Serbs had a better claim to Kosovo than the Israelis do to the West Bank, since "Yugoslavia's" sovereignty over Kosovo was universally recognized around the world. Further, the Serb population in Kosovo were not new settlers, but the rump of what had once been a larger Serbian population, which had been leaving as illegal Muslim immigrants poured in from Albania in recent decades.

The Muslim intifada in Kosovo was battled by Serbian troops, with about 2000 deaths total on both sides over the next two years. In 1999, NATO, led by the U.S., demanded an end to Serbian attempts to put down the rebellion in their sovereign territory of Kosovo. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright even demanded the Serbs agree to allow NATO to invade non-Kosovo Serbia. When the Serbs refused, NATO bombed Belgrade. Subsequently, the Serbs began throwing vast numbers of Muslims out of Kosovo. (There has been an enormous amount of lying about the order in which these events occurred over the last three years, as the aggressors try to rewrite history to make it seem as if the bombing was a response to Serbian ethnic cleansing, not the trigger. At the time, however, no one disputed that NATO struck first.) NATO proceeded to bomb Serbia's cities back into the industrial stone age. The Serbs eventually surrendered and NATO occupied Kosovo. Most of the Serbs and Gypsies were then ethnically cleansed from Kosovo by the triumphant Muslims.


All of this was accompanied by a vast campaign of ethnic hatred in Western Europe and America aimed at the Serbs and their elected leader Milosevic. You may recall the Newsweek cover photo of Miloscevic and the headline "The Face of Evil." Serbs have become Hollywood's all-purpose bad guys, as seen in "Bad Company" and "Behind Enemy Lines."


Now, is it all that surprising considering this recent history that so many Europeans see the Israelis as the Serbs and the Palestinians as the Kosovo Albanians? You say that the Israelis were slaughtered by the Nazis in WWII, so that makes things different? Well, try asking a Serb about what the Nazis and their Croatian allies did to the Serbs in WWII. Better hit the bathroom first, though, because you'll be there a long time. In reality, the Jewish losses were at least an order of magnitude larger. Still, Israelis and Serbs have long been sympathetic to each other because of their common victimization during WWII. Tel Aviv was quite sympathetic to Belgrade during the 1999 war.

Granted, there are major differences between Milosevic and Sharon. For example, Milosevic was indirectly responsible for a massacre of Bosnian Muslims by Bosnian Serbs that killed 7,000. The massacres that Sharon was indirectly or directly responsible for were one or two orders of magnitude smaller - the massacres of 800 or so Palestinians by Sharon's Christian Lebanese allies in 1982, and the massacre of 69 people in a Palestinian village by Sharon's Israeli army unit in 1953.


Personally, I argued strenuously at the time that the demonization of the Serbs was disastrous for the understanding how to prevent future conflagrations like the one that has engulfed the Balkans for the last eleven years. The Balkan wars were not caused by any race or person being exceptionally "evil." No, the violence was caused by a fundamental human problem that can happen anywhere. (See my National Post essay on the subject.) Fortunately, it can be managed, but only if we drop the intellectually lazy assumption that one side or the other is inherently evil.


The Balkan wars were caused by the collapse in 1991 of the "settled distribution of property." With the central Communist government of Yugoslavia gone, property rights because highly unsettled. People feared losing their property if they ended up on the wrong side of the new borders. So, they teamed up with their kin to try to preserve their property, and to prevent future threats to their property by driving their non-kin away.


Likewise, the distribution of property west of the Jordan River has been unsettled ever since WWI, when the Ottoman Empire was defeated, but the victorious British had made contradictory promises to both the Arabs and the Jews.

But this kind of dispassionate analysis seems to be something American neo-conservatives are largely incapable of. The same crew - Kristol, Kagan, etc. - who were beating the war drums for crushing Serbia's attempt to put down the intifada in Kosovo are baffled that Europeans might apply the same analysis to Israel's attempt to put down the intifada in the West Bank. Don't the Europeans realize, Kristol and Co. ask, that the Palestinians are evil? Don't they understand Moral Clarity? How could they not grasp this simple truth: Israelis Good - Palestinians Bad. Maybe the Europeans are evil, too! Yeah, that's the ticket. Everybody is Evil except for whomever is on my side!


"Can Diversity Survive Tolerance?" This is my big feature article on the Parsis, the remarkably educated and affluent Zoroastrian ethnic group from Bombay, whose collective survival is threatened, like that of the Jews, by too many outsiders wanting to marry their children.


Looking at the World Cup soccer standings, what jumps out at you is how close to random the results have been so far. Imagine that somebody used a random number generator to make up fictional results - if you hadn't been paying attention, could you tell the difference between the real standings and the made-up standings? Well, in the real world, traditionally mighty Brazil is 2-0 with a 6 to 1 advantage in goals, but otherwise, luck seems to be the order of the day. Everybody is going on and on about how amazing it is that 1998 defending champ France washed out completely in 2002. But, that's forgetting that France was even worse in 1994, when they didn't even qualify for the World Cup.


This randomness must be the secret to the appeal of the World Cup: on any given day, any two countries, no matter their differences in size, wealth, athletic talent, and organization, can battle to an exciting nil-nil draw. The low scoring greatly adds to the randomness of the results. It's as if baseball games were determined solely by the number of triples each side hits. In contrast, high scoring American football means the best teams almost always win. When the Nebraska Cornhuskers play, say, the Wittenberg Student Princes, and the underdog kicks a field goal on the first drive of the game, you know the score is still going to end up something like 77-3 Cornhuskers. Similarly, the U.S. Olympic basketball team finds itself in a close game about once every four Olympics. In the World Cup, however, randomness rules. I was sitting in a pub in Ballybunion in 1994 watching little Ireland (where few people actually care about soccer) play enormous Italy in the opening match of that World Cup. An Irishman (who was actually a Scotsman, but one grandparent came from Ireland, so he was eligible) scored on a freakish left-footed topspin lob and Ireland won 1-0. There was, shall we say, much celebrating in Ireland that night. So much so that my Aer Lingus 747 to Boston the next afternoon got postponed 24 hours because the flight crew was too hungover and/or still too drunk to fly. The airline had to pay for hotel rooms for most of the 900 passengers stranded in Ireland and Boston. But there are a lot worse places to get stuck for an extra 24 hours than Ireland.


What Israel needs is for Palestine to be a real state with a real army with real weapons and real professional officers. They'll never be a threat to Israel (all the Arabs combined were routinely beaten like a drum by Israel even when the Soviet Union was arming them), but they will serve as hostages to Israel retaliation. Professional generals hate having their nice shiny war machines routinely blown up. So, the Palestinian generals would crack down on the Palestinian terrorists to stop them from provoking the Israelis.


There's a new human biodiversity superblog called Gene Expression. It unites the blogging efforts of Razib and Godless Capitalist (I should point out to him that - as Max Weber noted - capitalism actually works better among the godly: they can trust each other more), along with three others. Lots of good stuff, although it would be easier to read if they put the author's name at the beginning of each post. 


Sum of All Fears is #1 again at the box office with $18+ million. There is much debate over whether its plausibility glass is half empty or half full. But that misses the point, which is that the glass is a lot bigger in Sum than in the average movie. This is a high-bandwidth film.


Here's a depressing WaPo article about how many American-born immigrant children aren't fluent in either English or their parents' language. With all the impressive individuals in the world to choose from, how come our immigration system saddles us with so many people who don't even talk to their children?


One big question about identical twins that I've never been confident in answering is whether they tend to be as high achievers as non-twins. Identicals make up about 0.8% of the population, so there should be, for example, about a half-dozen identicals in major league baseball right now (out of about 750 players). But says there have only been eight pairs to make it to The Show in baseball history. Currently, the Lidle twins come closest: Corey went 13-9 for the A's last season, while Kevin is in Triple A. Some caveats: some of these 8 pairs are probably fraternal twins (who outnumber identicals overall). Also, there are probably individuals who made the majors while their identical twin brothers did something else with their lives. To take a non-baseball example, Curtis Strange won two U.S. Opens in golf, while his identical twin gave up pro golf to be a successful businessman. Twins seem most common in basketball, where being dealt tall genes is so important.


So, it's hard to get a grasp on the actual statistics for identical twin achievement, so I await more definitive evidence. If true, it's been argued that identical twins tend to lack the egomania that drives individuals to claw their way to the top. Another theory is sharing a womb is slightly debilitating. It might be possible to decide between the  psychological and physiological theories by comparing achievement of male identical twins to male-female fraternal twins. Both Jim Thorpe and John Elway had female twins, so that might suggest (anecdotally) that sharing a womb didn't much slow down these two supreme athletes.  


By the way, Craig Sanders of has ample reasons to be interested in twins. Here's his self-description: "Craig co-created Twinstuff back in December, 1998 and has been managing it along with his twin brother since that time. He is married to Diane (twin sister of Darlene) and they have identical twin sons, Brady and Colby, who will turn one on June 7!" Happy birthday.


Craig Sanders of the interesting writes to say that although the number of fraternal twins is shooting up, identicals remain stable at about one of every 120 Americans. He points out something interesting: one reason Hollywood seldom uses real identical twins to play identical twin characters is that adult identicals often don't look enough alike for the purposes of the plot.


Chris Rock plays identical twins separated at birth in "Bad Company." Here's my review.


One other thing about the brilliant stand-up comic Chris Rock: He walks a fine and risky line because his patented facial expressions come straight from old blackface minstrel shows. He loves to bug out his eyes and bare his enormous teeth to contrast their whiteness with the darkness of his skin. Rock can get away with this because his stand-up material is so smart. But when all he has are the mediocre lines that this movie's script hands him, his Jim Crow mannerisms -- like Stepin Fetchit's irascible grandpa -- are disconcerting, to say the least.


Thanks to all my readers who answered my cry for help about movies about twins separated at birth. Here's a webpage devoted to movies with twin angles: One reader asked if twins ever play twins in movies. It looks like only the Olsen Twins have made a career of it, even though identical twins are commonly employed to play very young children, because the ordeal of being on a set for hours can be spread across two little kids. I suspect that identical twins find acting to be too emotionally stressful a career to both pursue, since they would constantly be competing with each other for the same roles.


By the way, the rate of twin births has almost tripled over the last 40 years, presumably due to fertility drugs. Among women 45-49 it's now almost 16%, which sounds exhausting. One baby is hard to deal with when you are 25, much less two at 45!


Now that everybody is realizing government agencies failed to go after terrorists adequately before 9-11 for fear of being accused of "racial profiling," I want to mention that on the evening of 9-11, I wrote an article saying worries over racial profiling might have contributed to the catastrophe. In fact, I wrote about Bush's attack on racially profiling Arabs in the fight on terrorism in order to hustle Arab votes in Michigan back during the 2000 election campaign.


Help! - I'm reviewing the new spy movie "Bad Company," in which Chris Rock has dual roles as identical twins separated at birth - one raised rich, one raised poor. It's an inherently interesting concept, as I discussed in my article on the famous Minnesota Twins study, but what other movies or plays have already used the separated identical twins gag? "The Parent Trap"? Was there a Gene Wilder comedy about the French Revolution with two pairs of separated twins? What else?



Amidst all the hoopla over the 30th anniversary of Title IX, which is interpreted to shut down male college sports like wrestling so that women can get an equal number of sports scholarships, an important question has gone unasked. Are grown women (say, age 25-40) actually playing the traditional sports covered by Title IX more today than in, say, the early Seventies?


I'm not at all sure that's true. First, women on average are fatter today than 30 years ago. Upper middle class women who are in the market for a man are in better shape, but that's a relatively small segment.


Second, where are all these adult women athletes? Thirty years ago you had to wait 1-2 hours at the Studio City park to get a tennis court, in large part because of the huge numbers of women who played. Today, the courts are mostly empty. I never see grown women playing organized team sports at my local park, although as I famously noted in my 1994 "Why Lesbians Aren't Gay," near my place in Chicago there were lots of sapphic softball teams in action. All those women's golf scholarships haven't seemed to increase the popularity of golf among white women under 40 one iota. In fact, it's almost certainly less fashionable today than in the 1920s. 


The big change I've see in my lifetime is the growth of non-traditional, mostly non-competitive forms of exercise among women - first jogging around 1973, then aerobics around 1977, then a vast variety of others - step, spinning, Pilates, Tae-Bo, martial arts, etc. Most of these are very carefully designed for body-shaping, not as a game that people would play for competitive fun. Did Title IX have anything to do with that?


I think young women probably engage more in nature sports (whitewater rafting, bungee jumping, and the like) more, but I just don't see the sports subsidized by Title IX having any long term impact on women's lives.

My wife's suggestion is that Title IX could be less destructive of male sports if female physical activities were simply declared sports. A big problem with Title IX is that it forces females into sports invented by males for males, even though there are lots of other things females would rather be doing physically. For example, many colleges now give out cheerleading scholarships. The physical demands about top level cheerleading are very high. There is a national cheerleading championship tournament each year that's more popular than many NCAA tournaments in minor sports. In other words, it walks like a sport and quacks like a sport, but for Title IX purposes, cheerleading is not a sport.


Similarly, schools that give out ballet or modern dance scholarships should be allowed to count those against Title IX. Schools should also introduce the lovely Olympic "sport" of rhythmic gymnastics.


The normally sensible Robert Samuelson thinks America is sure to win the World Cup real soon now because all his kids' friends play soccer. Sorry Bob, but your kids' friends aren't going to carry America to victory. America's international sports success is based not on your friends' kids greatness, but on us having more big, healthy black guys than any place else in the world. If short and skinny African Americans took up soccer intensively, sure, we'd win. Indeed, it would be smart for black kids who are too small for basketball or football to concentrate on soccer. But blacks are the most culturally conservative folks in America. (That's why they still drive Caddies and drink Scotch.) Upper middle class whites made their kids get into soccer because they thought that since soccer was European, that meant that it was sophisticated. (They'd evidently never been around European soccer fans). Blacks don't give a damn about stuff like that. 


Congratulations to little Senegal for upsetting defending champion France in the first round of the World Cup. I always root for the African teams, especially Cameroon, whose run in the 1990 World Cup, powered by Roger Milla, the oldest man in the Cup, was about as exciting as soccer has ever gotten for me. I'm always being asked if African teams will dominate the World Cup in the future. I hope so, but that's a long, long time off. These countries will have to get their acts together first. Africans tend to be a lot shorter than African Americans because their nutrition and health is so much poorer. Also, African sports teams are badly organized. (Even the mighty Kenyan Olympic running team is always on the verge of chaos, over charges of corruption and tribal favoritism.) Cameroon hired a German coach to instill order and discipline. Hope it works.


The NYT asks, 


"Should Pittsburgh recruit gay people to jump-start its economy? Should Buffalo — another fiscally flat-lining city — give tax breaks to bohemians? ... according to a new theory devised by Richard Florida, a professor of regional economic development at Carnegie Mellon University, towns that have lots of gays and bohemians (by which he means authors, painters, musicians and other "artistically creative people") are likely to thrive."


This book is getting lots of publicity, but there's an obvious question to ask about Dr. Florida's correlation analysis, which nobody else seems to be doing: do gays and bohemians cause cities to prosper, as Florida alleges, or do prosperous cities attract gays and bohemians?


Now that has turned into dot.bomb, and all the hype about 20-Somethings Changing the World is over, it's obvious once again that the most important demographic component of any serious technology company's workforce is married men with children. Nerds tend to be especially devoted family men, possibly because they find chasing women so painful due to shyness.


Diverse urban trendzones are good places for finding spouses. Eventually, though, young urban married couples realize that unless they are so rich that they can fully insulate their children from all that fashionable diversity around them - and its attendant problems of crime, drugs, and bad public schools - they'd better haul their kids off to the suburbs or exurbs.


The suburban high tech nerdistans (to use Joel Kotkin's phrase) are diverse in the sense that they are full of not only white nerds, but also Chinese and Asian Indian nerds. That's diversity of a kind, but not exactly what most pundits mean when they talk about Diversity.


Eventually, as a nerdistan evolves, the wealth created by the country club set and the pocket-protector set lures Florida & Gates' artsy set, who arrive to sell beautiful baubles to the wives of the businessmen and engineers. It's a virtuous cycle - that's how a civilization progresses aesthetically - but Florida & Gates shouldn't confuse correlation with causality. Similarly, low-skill immigrants show up to clean their pools and park their cars. Like Woodward & Bernstein, gays, bohemians, artists, and non-nerd immigrants follow the tech money more than the other way around.


The other obvious problem with Florida's research is that he's grouping together apples and oranges. Silicon Valley is a long way from Castro St, but he's lumping them altogether. The biotech centers of Ventura Co. are 90 minutes in normal traffic from West Hollywood. And on and on. 


Ron Unz points to this NYT article about how well Indian and Pakistani immigrants get along in NYC. How come?


Well, South Asian immigrants are an elite, one of (the only?) great success story of the U.S. immigration system at brain-draining another part of the world without taking in a lot of mediocre people as well (although that is changing due to family reunification and familial regression toward the mean).


Also, this is not really a clash of civilizations over there. The cultures of Indians and Pakistanis aren't radically different (and for Indian Muslims, their culture is almost identical to Pakistanis'). The presence of 150 million reasonably contented Muslims in India keeps the confrontation from being a clash of civilizations. Over here, Indians and Pakistanis find they share a lot in common (e.g., cricket, cuisine, Bollywood) that the other 99% of the population ignores. It's kind of like when I moved from L.A. to Houston to attend Rice U. I had been a fanatical UCLA fan and USC hater, but within a month I was rooting for both.


Further, nationalism isn't really deeply rooted among South Asians. Hindu identities are so wrapped up in regional subcastes that they didn't notice that the rest of the world saw India as a nation until Gandhi lived in South Africa in the 1890's, where he was shocked to find himself lumped in with all the other South Asians, no matter what their religion or caste. Pakistan is emotionally riven between tribal rivalries and Muslim universalism, with little room for Pakistani nationalism in the middle.


Unfortunately, it's precisely this lack of deep-rooted nationalism that makes the Kashmir problem so dangerous. Both states use the threat from the other to build nationalist emotions to hold their countries together. Without their giant rivals, each could dissolve into civil war. Consider, in contrast, the civil war in Nepal. It's supposedly a Maoist rebellion, but it looks a lot like the Shining Path revolt in Peru, which was at bottom a race war between the Indians at the bottom and the whites at the top of the social scale. The "Maoists" in Nepal are lower caste and non-Aryan. They've specifically targeted symbols of Aryan-domination, like schools that teach Sanskrit. 



Caste War in South Asia? - Sometimes I wonder whether India would fall apart into violence amongst the castes if the Hindus didn't have the Muslims to hate. Something like that seems to be happening in the civil war in Nepal. Carl Coon, former U.S. ambassador to Nepal and son of the great anthropologist Carleton Coon, writes about the "Maoist" insurrection in his "Letter from Kathmandu." He quotes an observer as saying, "There are many reasons for the successes of the Maoists so far. Their ideology of rage against the hereditary, and caste-based, elite of Nepal is an easy sell to many of the landless, low-caste, and tribal peoples of the country." Nepal's Maoist uprising sounds a lot like the supposedly Maoist Shining Path rebellion in Peru, which turned out to be more of a racial rebellion by impoverished Indians against their white masters than an ideologically motivated revolution like Mao's.


The Sum of All Fears (click here for my review) is the fourth straight strong, smart movie to be made from a Tom Clancy novel. None of the Jack Ryan movies is great, but they are all well above average. How many other novelists have that consistent a track record with movie adaptations?


Here's Henry Kissinger
on how the strategies of World Cup soccer teams provide "a fascinating reflection of national attitudes." Excerpt:


The German national team plays the way its general staff prepared for the war; games are meticulously planned, each player skilled in both attack and defense. ... Anything achievable by human foresight, careful preparation and hard work is accounted for. ... At the same time, the German national team suffers from the same disability as the famous Schlieffen plan for German strategy in World War I. There is a limit to human foresight; psychological stress on those charged with executing excessively complex maneuvers cannot be calculated in advance. If the German team falls behind, or if its intricate approach yields no results, its game is shadowed by the underlying national premonition that in the end even the most dedicated effort will go unrewarded, by the nightmare that ultimately fate is cruel — a nightmare reinforced by the knowledge that the German media are unmerciful when high expectations go unfulfilled. The impression is unavoidable that an outstanding national soccer team has not brought a proportionate amount of joy to a people that may not in its heart of hearts believe joy is the ultimate national destiny.


Good article by Joshua Micah Marshall in the Washington Monthly: "Bomb Saddam? How the obsession of a few neocon hawks became the central goal of U.S. foreign policy." The self-defeating problem with what he calls the "intellectual dishonesty" of the War Party is that - in the interest of keeping war fever pumped up - they've stymied public discussion of how to solve the obvious problems with their dreams. Last November I published an article "Seize Saudi Arabia Before Iraq?" that has proven highly prescient about all the nagging problems that have slowed us down so much in taking on Saddam. There may well be solutions to all these difficulties, but the War Party's attitude has been, "Problems, what problems?"


Samoan football players - Samoan boys are about 40 times more likely to reach the NFL than American mainland boys. Here's an ESPN article on the genetics. 



May 2002


"Learning while Black" - Time asks, "You've heard of racial profiling on the roads and in the skies. But are minority kids also being unfairly singled out for discipline in schools?" You'll be shocked, shocked to learn that in Modesto, CA black kids get expelled 2.5 times more often than white kids. What explanation could there be other than raw racism? 


Who Should be our Man in Baghdad? Our attack on Iraq remains stalled for all the reasons I outlined back on November 20, but let's assume we do invade and end up in possession of the place. Whom should we install as Proconsul? After WWII, Generals Douglas MacArthur and Lucius Clay did tremendous jobs setting Japan and Germany, respectively, on the road to democracy. Iraq would probably pose an even greater challenge, since unlike Germany and Japan, its peoples have shown no ability to work together in war or peace. So, who should play the MacArthur role in post-war Iraq?


Bad Latin - I've gotten lots of emails correcting the faulty Latin grammar in the last line of my NRO obituary for Stephen Jay Gould. Here's what one reader says it should have read: "Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine. Lux perpetua luceat eis." (It translates as follows: "Give them eternal rest, Lord. Let light perpetual shine on them." )


Well, I hope this is right - unfortunately, it's all Greek to me. 


Increasingly, Americans are holding back their little boys for a second year of kindergarten, so they'll be a year older - and thus bigger, stronger, and smarter - than their classmates for the rest of their educational careers. Would anybody who has considered this for their kid care to comment (for an article I'm planning) on what you see as the pros and cons ?


Calling all Parsis - I'm doing an article on the Parsis (Zoroastrian refugees who fled Persia after the Arab Muslim conquest and settled in the Bombay area) and their struggle to survive as a distinct people. They are extremely well educated, especially the women, and, perhaps consequently, have low marriage and birthrates, and high out-marriage rates, all leading to a declining population. I'm looking specifically for American Parsis to interview.


"Central American-Americans?" Is that what are we supposed to call immigrants from Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and the like? Is there a better term that won't set off the Repeated Word alarm in my MS Word Spelling and Grammar checker every time? The more important question I have about, uh, CAA's is whether there are significant political differences within the U.S. between CAA's and Mexican-Americans that non-Spanish speakers aren't aware of, kind of like how the Irish were once presumed to speak for the Italians and the Poles on the grounds that they were all Catholic immigrants? Or is it the opposite - with non-Mexican Latin Americans taking leadership roles - the way it long was with blacks, where West Indian immigrants quietly filled many of the top posts in civil rights organizations?


Here's my review of "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron," the quite attractive-looking animated movie about a non-talking cartoon horse, good Indians, and bad Americans in the Old West. I tried to answer the question: "Why do little girls like horses so much?" Thanks to all my readers who helped me understand that conundrum better.


Have we been focusing on the wrong conflict? The Holy Land's extraordinary ability to rivet the world's attention has distracted us from the perhaps scarier situation in Kashmir, a potential flashpoint between two nuclear-armed nations - India and Pakistan - who both possess real armies. In contrast, the balance of forces between Israel and Palestinian Authority is remarkably one-sided: Israel has something like 4,000 main battle tanks to zero on the Palestinian side. (Ratio are similar for warplanes and nuclear weapons.) 


Razib's view (5/19) is that India is now stable and mature enough to let the Muslim parts of Kashmir go without the rest of India rushing for independence, too, with the inevitable Balkanesque civil wars to follow.


The Nanny Diaries & Your Kid's IQ - This year's tell-all bestseller touches on the Park Avenue set's frantic effort to get their 4-year-olds to score higher on the Wechsler IQ test required of all applicants to Manhattan's elite nursery schools. Can you actually raise your child's IQ? In my article, intelligence gurus James "The Flynn Effect" Flynn and Howard "Multiple Intelligences" Gardner offer some sensible wisdom.


Brother Acts - Hollywood has recently become full of brother acts writing, directing and producing movies - the Coens, Farrellys, Weitzes, Hughes, Wachovskis, Wayans, etc. This seems like an odd trend - modern large-scale capitalism is supposed to make family relationships less important. In pre-modern societies without solid contract law, people need to rely on their brothers because they can't rely on the courts to enforce their contracts. Here we don't need our families as much. So why is this happening? Also, is this trend toward teams of brothers working together only happening in Hollywood or is it also showing up in other industries?


Here's my interview with the man called the Al Sharpton of Orange County, CA: Nativo Lopez. Ron Unz is aiding a campaign to have him recalled from the Santa Ana school board.


Here's the  most important article of the three in my series on race admixture: "How White Are Blacks? How Black Are Whites? It's the first profile published (outside of scientific journals) of the work of population geneticist Mark D. Shriver's laboratory at Penn St. Some highlights include:


- Shriver's most stunning discovery was what he learned about his own ancestry from his genetic analysis of his own blood.

- Around 50,000,000 American whites are actually part black.

- The average African-American's proportion of white ancestry appears to be 17%-18%, not the 25%-30% often assumed in the past.

- Only about 10% of self-identified adult African-Americans are more than half-white, which is less than many have assumed.

- There are surprisingly few Americans like Shriver who are more than 50%, but less than 90% white.

- Over 90% of all the African genes in Americans are in self-identified African-Americans.


From this data of Shriver's, I put forward a novel reinterpretation of the notion of "the social construction of race" - in the U.S., unlike Latin America, the "one drop of blood" definition of blackness and the restrictions on intermarriage actually constructed the genetic reality that Shriver observed of fairly little overlap between self-identified whites and blacks in terms of proportion of black ancestors. 


A reader writes:


There really are only two tribes of people in the Known Universe. The first can watch only American Graffiti, of all George Lucas's movies, with renewed and deepening pleasure every five years. The second actually watches the gizmo and mythology movies several times, studies them, and thinks about them way too much. We members of the first tribe call ourselves "The Sane People." I still cannot comprehend how George Lucas was so talented and achieved so much, so young.


I used to work with stage actors and directors in the early 1980s. They always wanted to 'update' Shakespeare. What they really meant by that was letting the costume and set designers go crazy with the budget and staging 'concept,' plus throwing in a few banal sexual reinterpretations of Shakespeare's characters that had already been done much better by Tyrone Guthrie in the 1930s. I used to argue with them: "Why don't you do it right and for real? Do what Lucas did, take Shakespeare's night-in-the-forest comedies and rewrite them for Southern California in the 1960s. Or whatever, but don't just add expensive costumes and a few perversions." Deaf ears. That would have taken talent, imagination and hard work.


So Lucas is my generation's Orson Welles. And we Sane People cannot comprehend how the other tribe has taken his high-tech wine commercials so seriously for so long.


Hugh Grant is hilarious in About a Boy. "He has wisely stopped playing the male ingénue characters that made women want to cuddle him and men want to punch him." - from my review.


"There is no point in attending Attack of the Clones if you are blind, since the plot is ponderous, the dialogue deplorable and the line-readings limp. Still, the latest Star Wars installment is worth seeing if you like bang-up action sequences and splendid sci-fi landscapes." - from my review.


What Happened to Mexico's Blacks? In 1810, over 10% of Mexico's population was officially called "Afro-Mestizo." Leading Mexican leftist patriots like Zapata and Guerrero were visibly part black. Where did Mexico's Africans go? The answer provides a fascinating contrast to America's racial reality and teaches a lesson about the surprising effects of America's "one drop" rule for defining blackness.


This article is #3 in my racial admixture series. Tomorrow, I'll post #2 - "How White Are Blacks? How Black Are Whites?" - which is the real killer article of the three. It offers some important scoops on the racial ancestry of Americans and reveals the best human interest story ever about a population geneticist.


A Diplomat asked me to recommend a movie about "American ethnic politics" to show to English-speaking students in a predominantly Chinese country. I'm drawing a blank, though, other than Spike Lee's Malcolm X. And movies with Asian-American themes are in particularly short supply. Any suggestions?


Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron - I'm going to review this Dreamworks animated feature next week, but I need to understand: Why do so many little girls love horses? Yeah, yeah, I know all about the smirky answer, but that doesn't explain why they are infatuated with horses before they've ever sat on one. Is it possible that boys used to be equally horse-crazy, but they've largely transferred their affections to cars, planes, bulldozers, and so forth?


Racial Admixture in North America - Here's the first of my three part series on new discoveries from genetics and the Census about the racial ancestry of Americans and Mexicans. This article points out that the percentage of U.S. children identified by their parents on the Census as being black and something else appears to be doubling every 12 years.


a Perceptive interview with Adrian Lyne of Unfaithful: Patrick Goldstein explains why only sexagenarian directors like Lyne make movies about sex anymore.


Was Pim Fortuyn correct in calling Islam "intolerant" of homosexuality? Perhaps. But if so, then why do many of Pim's friends in Europe's gay elite enjoy sex vacations in Morocco, where homosexual child molestation is big business? The great movie director John Huston reflected on the experience of filming The Man Who Would Be King in Morocco:


Marrakesh itself was an experience. The hotel was fine, the food was excellent, but the overall atmosphere was unsettling. It has since become the capital of the haute couture, I suppose partly because little boys are available in abundance. Depravity is looked upon with an understanding eye. It is not officially condoned, but neither is it discouraged. In fact, there is an understanding between boy prostitutes and the police that, following an encounter with a foreigner, the boy is to report it to the police along with whatever else he may have learned about his consort.


This kind of thing is not at all uncommon in the Islamic world. The warlike Pathans of Afghanistan, for example, frequently keep beardless youths as courtesans.


My Man Nicholas Wade has another fine article in the NYT, "In DNA, New Clues to Jewish Roots."


Bravo for Oakland mayor Jerry Brown
- The former California governor, now a political independent, has a technique that allows him to get away with saying politically incorrect things that would normally cause a firestorm of protest. His secret is to say them in such a rambling, inarticulate way that journalists can't play Gotcha and crucify him for telling the truth, because the incriminating quotes are too unreadable to put in the newspaper.


At the Milken Institute Global Conference on April 23, the mayor addressed the issue of the economic development of Oakland. His city enjoys one of the most fabulous urban locations in America, with warmer weather, more sunshine, and less severe terrain than San Francisco. Oakland's problem, though, has been that it's full of Oaklanders. Here, based on my less than perfect transcription, is some of what Brown had to say. It's hard to follow, but worth the effort:


"If you are in one situation and want to get into another, the problem is managing that transition. And when you are an old urban city, you are picking up from a 30 year trend of exits. (That's turned around over the last 10 years.) But as people leave, the population goes down, you … catch people who are not wanted anywhere else, or who can't go anywhere else. People who come out of mental hospitals, people who come off parole, people on minimum wage jobs, people who have different "issues" or just don't have a lot of income. So, then they gravitate toward what are now relatively inexpensively priced real estate … because these people have a lot of "challenges" in their life - that's the euphemism we use. Then you get a lot of social service industry to support those challenges under the guise of removing them, but actually intensifying them so the industry can grow. That's what I call "farming the poor." …


"Now, all of sudden if that starts turning around and things start getting more valuable and things start growing, that's called gentrification and that's viewed as a threat. In fact, some people have even given it the odious term of racial cleansing. (Which I think is completely inaccurate.) The problem is that from investor point of views, rents rising are viewed as a good, but from the tenants' points of view, rents rising can be experienced as a bad. So, how do you, in effect, have your cake and eat it too?


"Then we also have state rules that say you have to have a certain number of low income housing. And how do we know what that number is? Based on the ones you have. So, for those who are poor, you should continue to be poor, and expand your poverty. And for those out in the suburbs you don't have any poverty, you should continue to expand your wealth. And that's built into what they call "fair share of affordable housing," and that always sounds good - "fair" sounds good, "affordable" sounds good, "share" sounds good - but when you actually get down to the nitty gritty, it means "freeze the status quo." And if you are the place where if you can't go anywhere else, that's where you show up, and all of a sudden you want to engage in economic development and attract high tech, entrepreneurs, build up the downtown, you have to manage the transition, and I can say, you have to do it with a certain amount of deftness. [Coughs] Deafness? [Jokingly points to his ear] Deftness with a certain nuance and subtly.


"So, I don't know, that's very general because if I were anymore specific, then it would be so politically incorrect, that I would get more detriment out of this talk [inaudible]."


Brown also talked about his innovations for helping Oakland's poor, such as starting a military academy charter school that emphasizes excellence and discipline.


"What I've done in Oakland is to create two charter schools, one a military academy starting in the 7th grade being focused on 100% of the students going to a 4-year college. A military academy based on an extremely strict regime of study and extended hours. And then a second school, which is slightly different, a performing arts school where people are admitted based on an audition of their artistic talent. The two of them focus on something that's a little unusual - excellence as the number one objective. And it's ironic that in some of the cities, the only excellence you'll find is on the ballfield, but you start introducing it in other areas, people resist it as harsh."


You didn't think a big city mayor could say speak that bluntly? Well, other politicians should consider Brown's anti-quotation technique. Plus, in an era of fanatical partisanship, it's impressive to see an independent-minded politician who has learned so much over the years and is still trying to discover more.


Let' s not get too worked up over purported Iraqi or Israeli contacts with Mohammed Atta. Recently, Michael Isikoff in Newsweek cast doubt on the popular story that Atta met with an Iraqi official in Czechoslovakia. It turns out that the surveillance picture of the Arab who met the Iraqi doesn't look particularly like Atta.


In response to this partial debunking, William Safire wrote an unhinged-sounding column in the NYT saying that this article was part of a  C.I.A. and the Justice Dept. conspiracy to cover up the Atta-Iraqi connection: "Accordingly, high C.I.A. and Justice officials — worried about exposure of the agency's inability to conduct covert operations — desperately want Atta's Saddam connection to be disbelieved." Huh? Does that make any political sense? Bush, Rove, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfovitz would love for the CIA or Justice to pin the WTC on Saddam.  Am I missing something or is Safire's war lust making him go off the deep end? And, then Safire writes:


If the report proves accurate, a connection would exist between Al Qaeda's murder of 3,000 Americans and Iraq's Saddam. That would clearly be a casus belli, calling for our immediate military response, separate from the need to stop a demonstrated mass killer from acquiring nuclear and germ weapons. 


Meanwhile, Godless Capitalist wonders whether it would be a casus belli if those "Israeli art students" who lived in Hollywood, FL at same time as Atta knew what he was up to.


First, I'm not convinced the "Israeli art students" were an Israeli Intelligence operation at all. Maybe it really was just a scam. The Russian-Israeli mafia is quite extensive, although we don't hear much about its makeup in the U.S., for the same general reason the prestige press won't tell us about the "Israeli art students," which of course could lead to simple organized crime activities being attributed to Mossad. Censorship breeds paranoia.


Second, there's no evidence that any "Israeli art students" were keeping an eye on Atta. Lots of people lived in Hollywood, FL at the same time as Atta. None of them seemed to notice anything suspicious, according to voluminous press reports.


Third, even if Israel intelligence was wondering what Atta was doing, there's no evidence that they ever figured out his plan.


Both Safire and G.C. should recall that Lee Harvey Oswald was in the employ of the KGB for two years and was the son-in-law of a KGB officer. That's several orders of magnitude more evidence than we have for either an Iraqi or Israeli connection to the WTC. But, as far as anyone can tell, the KGB had nothing to do with the JFK assassination. Fortunately, we didn't declare Oswald's KGB links a casus belli and nuke the Russkies over it.


East Asians golfers have won the last two PGA events, and neither victor was named Tiger. Ever since I began following Woods' career (back in 1991, when he was 15), I've been saying that he's representative of the Next Big Thing in golf, but that's not black golfers (there are more blacks on the Senior Tour today than the regular Tour), but East Asian golfers. This is particularly true for women golfers. At the driving range near my house, Asian women golfers outnumber black women golfers about 100 to 1, although among men, the ratio is not more than 2 to 1 Asian over black. Here in Southern California, East Asians win about 50% of the championships in girls' high school golf, vs. only about 10% in boys' high school golf. For some reason, more East Asian than white or black teenage girls think golf is fashionable.


My Interview with Hernando De Soto, the famous Peruvian economist, on how to help the world's poor help themselves.


And Here's my Q&A with De Soto on Mexico. Vincente Fox's plan to get Pres. Bush to massively increase legal immigration from Mexico has run into a fundamental problem - the American people are against it. It's time for Fox to get on the stick and fix up Mexico's legal-economic system so that Mexicans can stay home with their families and make a living.


Despite dozens of clueless negative reviews, Adrian Lyne's Nabokovian Unfaithful recorded a highly respectable opening weekend of $14 million. (The smartest critics - e.g.,, Ebert, Wilmington, Sarris, Holden, and Gleiberman - tended to get it, though.) Look for Diane Lane to pick up the Best Actress Oscar next year.


Barbara Harris pays drug addicts $200 to get themselves sterilized or on long term birth control. What kind of person would do such a thing? One helluva woman, that's who. Here's my interview with her.


Finally ... I get to review a film that is a work of art: Unfaithful. One thing that has worried me in the 15 months I've been writing weekly movie reviews is that - while I can always find some intriguing implication about society or human nature in any movie (except The New Guy - I drew a complete intellectual blank on that one), I almost never experience anymore the artistic afterglow that first got me seriously hooked on movies two decades ago. I had been presuming that I was just too old to richly enjoy visually ravishing movies the way I did when I was a young man. (This is, by the way, a common phenomenon among novelists, who tend to start off with autobiographical novels lyrically sketching their poetically remembered childhood surroundings. As they age, they lose that gift but compensate for it by writing more complex and insightful social novels.) The alternative explanation, of course, is that I'm still big, it's just the movies that have gotten small. Unfaithful is so good that it lets me pretend that comforting thought is true.


A bit of literary-physiological speculation - I've long suspected that one reason so many creative writers become alcoholics (at least in America - Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Faulkner, O'Neil, etc.) is because when they are drunk, the world temporarily takes on once again that luminous glow it had for them everyday when they were young and in their lyrical prime. Of course, drunkeness doesn't do their writing any good, it just makes them imagine their youthful gift is within reach again.


What Milan Kundera called "the lyrical age" in his novel Life Is Elsewhere deserves scientific scrutiny. Vladimir Nabokov may have kept the gift longest in life, well into his late sixties, up through the wondrous first half of Ada (it sort of evaporates in the second half).


Did Fortuyn Have it coming? A lot of the Euro-elites are blaming the victim for being murdered. My commentary.


Prediction: Expect to see lots of spin about how Fortuyn's murder had nothing to do with the political climate in Europe since Le Pen's first round victory inaugurated open season on anti-immigrationists. It was just some animal rights nut who randomly picked Fortuyn out of all the other politicians because of some opinion on fur expressed somewhere in Fortuyn's voluminous writings or appearances. It was just a coincidence Fortuyn was murdered the day after the French election. The massive campaigns of demonization against Fortuyn and Co. had nothing to do with the murder. It could have happened to anybody. Yeah ... that's the ticket!


Breastfeeding & IQ - I've been recommending for a couple of years that the most promising way to narrow the white-black IQ gap of 15 points is to encourage breastfeeding among black mothers, who only breastfeed about 30% of the time, compared to 60% of the time in whites. (We could also do a lot to improve baby formula as well.) Here's a huge new Danish study that found about a 5 point benefit to breastfeeding more than 6 months versus not nursing. Uniquely, this study found that this often reported improvement endures into adulthood!  (It took 13 confounding factors into account, but, unfortunately, not the parents' IQs.) I'd guesstimate from this that if you could raise black breastfeeding rates to the current white levels, you'd narrow The Gap by about about 1.5 IQ points, or 10% ((0.6 - 0.3) * 5). This hasn't been fully proven, but we are getting close. If any zillionaires are reading this who would like to be known as the philanthropist who solved 10% of the biggest social problem in America, this is your chance.



Salon reports on that "Israeli Art Student" spy ring story that keeps getting spiked by the respectable press (although it was covered by the Jewish Daily Forward). I'm baffled as to why such a large operation to spy on American government agencies such as the DEA was mounted by Israelis. Salon speculates that it was a complex Mossad operation designed to distract attention from a smaller Israeli operation to keep track of Arab terrorists in America. I dunno. Seems like that would just call attention to itself.


I've long argued that the prestige press' refusal to touch this story just fuels anti-Semitic paranoia. Of course, it's also true that Israeli spying on America fuels anti-Semitic paranoia. 


Whatever was going on, this whole bizarre affair should remind American rightwing pundits of one lesson they seem to have a hard time remembering these days: Israel is a foreign country


Blood on the Establishment's hands? Did the two week festival of hatred directed at Le Pen cause the murder of Pim Fortuyn? Did the hysterical hate speech of the European and American political establishments stir up so much rage that some unbalanced man, driven into a frenzy by the anti-Le Pen campaign, murdered Le Pen's fellow anti-multiculturalist Fortuyn to save the world from those of us who oppose mass immigration? We don't know yet. People get murdered for a lot of reasons, many of them purely personal. But unless there is a cover-up of the killer's motive (which is certainly possible considering how shaming the revelation could be to the power structure of Europe), we shall know. Did the two week festival of hatred directed at Le Pen cause the murder of Pim Fortuyn? Did the hysterical hate speech of the European and American political establishments stir up so much rage that some unbalanced man, driven into a frenzy by the anti-Le Pen campaign, murdered Le Pen's fellow anti-multiculturalist Fortuyn to save the world from those of us who oppose mass immigration? We don't know yet. People get murdered for a lot of reasons, many of them purely personal. But unless there is a cover-up of the killer's motive (which is certainly possible considering how shaming the revelation could be to the power structure of Europe), we shall know.


My expert on caste  writes: 


The IQ for India is shown to be 81 in IQ and the Wealth of Nations. I am surprised that it is that high! India does have thousands of endogamous groups that don't intermarry (even apartheid South Africa had more intermarriage). Some groups such as Parsis, Brahmins and Baniyas (trader castes that make up the bulk of India's wealthiest and most of its overseas billionaires) are high IQ. However, the bulk of the population (about 80-90 percent) is undoubtedly made up of very low IQ groups.


I have had a chance to reflect on the possible implications of a freer economy for India's social fabric. And the implications are awful. Earlier, under socialism, most people were either desperately poor or just comfortable at best. With the economy more open now, the higher IQ groups have begun to amass wealth while the rest of the population remains in the dumps (as it has been for millennia). India is also a democracy and this creates an additional problem. If the current differences in wealth continue to grow (and they will if the trends are maintained), then India is in for some massive political turmoil.


I used to think that greater income differences resulting from freer markets in India was just a dire prediction coming from die hard leftists that absolutely hate the market. However, it seems some of those predictions were true. I have witnessed incredible increases in income differences in the country as I grew up in the 1990s. By the end of that decade parts of urban India were transformed beyond recognition and the rest of the country has remained at the rock bottom as before. If political turmoil results, democracy may have to give in to some other form of government. Because Democracy may be unworkable with free markets.


I certainly don't know enough about India to have an opinion one way or another, but this is definitely worth thinking about. Personally, I find Indian's caste system appalling. Yet, condemnation is hardly adequate. We need to scientifically understand what it has produced over several thousand years. 


We've all been reading a lot of scenarios lately warning that genetic engineering could rend the American social fabric by creating hereditary groups with much higher IQs than among the masses, with dire consequences for a political system based on the presumption that "All men are created equal." India, however, might already have arrived at something similar. Could it be that the caste system has operated over the millennia like a quasi-eugenic breeding system that creates ever larger IQ gaps between groups? And, in the future,  will wealthy Brahmins and Parsis resist using genetic engineering to boost their children just because the lower castes can't afford it?


On the other hand, the Indian social system appears remarkably stable. At various times all over the world, the lower IQ masses have risen up and attacked higher IQ minorities - e.g., Armenians in Turkey, Indians in Uganda, Chinese in Indonesia, Jews in Europe and the Middle East. Is this common in India, or is the caste system so deeply ingrained that rebellion doesn't occur to people on the bottom rungs. Or, is this an explosion just building up steam?


I think it's highly likely that better nutrition, schooling, and the like could do a lot to raise the IQs of the Indian masses. But, as we've seen all over the world, rising IQ scores (the Lynn-Flynn Effect) don't necessarily lead to convergence. It could be that the smart will keep on getting smarter. It's also possible that as the lower castes get more on the ball, they will become more, not less, rebellious. As Samuel Huntington pointed out in The Clash of Civilizations, Indian politics tended to be fairly harmonious as long as practically everybody below the elite was a downtrodden illiterate. But once more Indians could read newspapers, they developed stronger political opinions.


Why was  Pim Fortuyn murdered? -  It's always risky to speculate on an assassin's motive, but I'll give you 50-50 odds that the Dutch immigration-limitationist's murder was directly related to the Orwellian "Two-Week Hate" that all respectable Europeans had just directed, in the name of tolerance, at Emmanuel Goldstein, oops, I mean Jean-Marie Le Pen. It's getting scary out there, folks. The forces of love and acceptance are in a blood rage right now.


Fortuyn probably wasn't all that surprised as the six bullets slammed into his body. Complaining of being demonized by the mainstream politicians, he had recently said: "If something happens to me, the government is co-responsible," he said. "They created this climate."


Spider-Man beats Harry Potter - The new comic book movie debuts with with an insane opening weekend total of $114 million (estimated), breaking Harry Potter's mark by $24 million. This means 2002 will be by far the biggest domestic box office year in history. Before Spider-Man, receipts had been running far ahead of 2001, the previous record holder ... and there were practically no good movies so far. Now, along comes a half-decent flick and it rakes in the kind of bucks undreamed of just a half decade ago. 


American culture is now officially in the hands of the geeks. One might hope that the lesson that  Hollywood will take away from this weekend is to try to make movies that are - like Spider-Man - a little better than they need to be. But don't count on it. What the industry will actually learn from that $114 million number is to find properties appealing to lonely nerds, cultivate buzz on the Internet geek networks, then rake in that opening weekend bonanza.


Sally Satel's important NYT Magazine article "I Am a Racially Profiling Doctor" is finally out. I helped her with a few basic "What is race?"-type issues when she was writing it.


Dear WarBloggers:
I know you are all gung-ho to conquer Iraq and turn it into a middle class democracy ... but, don't you ever get a bit worried that we've already conquered Afghanistan, yet we don't seem to have a clue how to convert that country into a bourgeois republic? Maybe we ought to practice in Afghanistan until we get the hang of this nation-building thing before rushing into Iraq?


Derb has a fine piece in NRO on the difficulties of celibacy after the sexual revolution. I would only add to his cultural analysis that I bet there are fewer people with very low sex drives today due to improved nutrition and public health. 


On the other hand, Dear Abby/Ann Landers are still full of letters from wives execrating their husbands for wanting to do it two, even three times a week. Our popular culture is very pro-sex ... until people get married. Then it loses interest. Practically the only TV marrieds with a great sex life are Homer and Marge Simpson.


A request from one of America's great social scientists: 


"I need to talk to somebody who is familiar with the use of negative binomial regression models for count data, and, better yet, who is familiar with the options for negative binomial regression in Stata."


If you understand what he's talking about (I don't) and would like to help, email me, and I'll put you in touch with the mystery man.


John Edwards' Skeleton in the closet: The rich and handsome and young Senator (D-NC) is being talked up for the Democratic nomination for President in 2004 because he is, uh, well, because he is rich and handsome and young. But. then, so is Justin Timberlake, and from what I've seen of Edwards under pressure, I'd rather vote for the teeny bop idol. By any chance, did you see Sen. Edwards' appearance on Charlie Rose on the night of 9/11? My wife and I were astonished by how badly he performed. His utter light-weightness was painful to watch. He had no grasp of the seriousness of the situation or the need for a forceful response. He was verbally thrashed by novelist Tom Clancy, who was incredulous at Edwards' triviality. After seeing that, we wouldn't vote for Edwards to lead our kid's Cub Scout den. And the whole show still exists somewhere on videotape, so I don't think Edwards is going anywhere. His enemies can just buy 15 minutes of airtime and run the tape, and, poof, no more Edwards for Prez talk.

The Comic Book Guy

Spider-mania! - In my review of the guaranteed smash movie Spider-Man, I reflect on why American culture is increasingly dominated by the tastes of lonely comic book fans.


If you like Pundit Satire, you gotta read "Jonah Goldberg Concludes Quest for First 'Pope of All Islam'" - from The Texas Mercury. Here's a link to Jonah's deepthink column that they are satirizing: "Islamic Rites: Why Muslims Need a Pope." It never occurred to Jonah that there already was a man running for the job of leader of all Islam: Osama bin Laden.


Cousin marriages - I'm sure you've seen the news stories on how it's now A-OK to marry your first cousin on the grounds that it doesn't quite double your chance of having a child with a serious birth defect. This was announced in order to lessen prejudice against Muslim immigrants who bring cousin marriage with them from the Old Country (and look how wonderful life is in the Muslim Middle East!). 


Obviously, that's just spin - Is the inbreeding glass half full, like all the new articles are saying, or half empty? Both. 


Further, what none of the articles talk about are genetic problem caused by inbreeding that are not quite serious birth defects, but are still bad for your kid. Arthur Jensen devotes considerable time to "inbreeding depression" in his monumental The g Factor: He writes:


Studies in Muslim populations in the Middle East and India are especially pertinent. Cousin marriages there are more prevalent in the higher social classes, as a means of keeping wealth in family lines ... The degree of IQ depression for first cousins is about half a standard deviation (seven or eight IQ points).


That's not disastrous, but it would reduce your kid's IQ from, say, 100 to 92.5, which would take him from the 50th percentile down to the 31st. Marrying your first cousin has about the same expected effects on IQ as marrying an unrelated person with an IQ 37.5 points lower than your cousin. Cousin marriages also have fairly small but statistically significant effects on "fetal and infant viability, birth weight, height, head circumference, chest girth, muscular strength, resistance to infectious disease and dental carries, vital capacity, visual and auditory acuity, and rate of physical maturation. Inbreeding depression is also seen in visual and auditory times." As Sam Spade said: Maybe each of these isn't a good reason, but look how many of them there are!


The real reason Americans are so prejudiced against inbreeding is that outbreeding makes American society more unified and less divided by family rivalries. Americans don't like nepotism and inbreeding makes nepotism more powerful. In America, inbreeding is associated aristocrats and with hillbillies like the Hatfields and McCoys, who are bywords for pointless feuding. The fractiousness of the Muslim world has much to do with how inbred many leading clans are.


Please Help me out here - On Tuesday night, I'm off to review the movie everybody is talking about (well, not precisely everybody - nobody I know besides my family seems to pay much attention to movies at all): Spiderman. But, I'm baffled: why is everybody excited by Spiderman? So, please email me and explain: What's the deal with Spiderman? I mean, I finally understand that Superman is an FDR New Deal Democrat embodying the Superpowers of Democratic Government; and Batman is a tormented proto-Nixonian Republican demonstrating both the temptations and value of Private Sector Initiatives by the Rich; but why do people like Spiderman so much? Is it because he has neither superpower (like Superman) nor supermoney (like Batman)?


AT L.A.'s Ground Zero, Ten Years After:
The Florence & Normandie neighborhood, where the South Central LA riots ignited 10 years ago today, doesn't look much at all like ghettoes in other big cities. Here's my portrait of what life's like at the infamous intersection in 2002.


Hilarious news: Remember how scientist Craig Venter of Celera Genomics was quoted ad infinitum saying that the Human Genome Project proved "[W]e all are essentially identical twins - even more than I thought. … [R]ace is not a scientific concept"? Well, Nicholas Wade writes in the New York Times today:


"When scientists at Celera Genomics announced two years ago that they had decoded the human genome, they said the genetic data came from anonymous donors and presented it as a universal human map. But the scientist who led the effort, Dr. J. Craig Venter, now says that the genome decoded was largely his own."


So, what Dr. Venter actually discovered was that he is essentially an identical twin to himself! Who woulda thunk it?


Here is my article from last year pointing out the logical flaws in Venter's bloviations on race and genomes (or, as it turned, genome).


(By the way, NYT reporter Wade is a lot less of a fool about race and genetics than his more famous colleague Natalie Angier. Don't tell Wade's bosses at the NYT, but I think he actually gets it.)


A rather Grim NYT summary of the latest Pentagon plans for conquering Iraq says we won't be ready this year. I don't like bragging (yeah, right), but I outlined way back in November many of the difficult issues that must be resolved first that are now covered in this article. According to Pentagon insiders, this war would be a lot harder than Afghanistan. We'd need up to 250,000 troops. Saddam's internal opposition wouldn't be able to do the job for us as the Northern Alliance did against the Taliban. As of now, we still have no idea where to launch our invasion from. Saudi Arabia is out. Our current hope is that Kuwait will let us mass our troops in their little country on the grounds that we saved their butts last time - but that would seem to presume a lot more than history would suggest about Arabs' capacities for loyalty and gratitude. Also, the planners expect to use Turkey, but no one has asked the Turks yet. The Turks' main concern is with preventing the creation of a Kurdish state on their border. So to get their cooperation we'll probably end up driving the Kurds into Saddam's corner. Perhaps we can just mass enough aircraft carriers offshore to do the job. The Taiwanese, though, would find that awfully nerve-wracking.