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December 2003



Looking waaaay ahead: Who are the frontrunners for the GOP nomination for President in 2008? The 2004 election is shaping up pretty drearily, so maybe it's time to focus on 2008. Jeb Bush has been putting on weight lately, looking for all the world like a man passively-aggressively rebelling against his dynastic duty to run against Hillary in 2008. So, who will Bush-Rove anoint? And who could challenge the Annointed One? All the big names within the current Administration are either old (Powell, Rumsfeld, Cheney) or inept (Condi). Senators don't win anymore, so I guess that leaves GOP governors, the most prominent of whom (Arnold) is ineligible.


Update: A reader writes: "Do you think even Karl Rove seriously believed that the public would tolerate three Presidents from the same family? Once George W. Bush won the GOP nomination Jeb's presidential chances were dead in the water. It is unfortunate since Jeb looks the best of the Bush's to me.


"I think the Bush team had decided that Tom Ridge would be the 2008 nominee, the idea being that the Homeland Security brief would make someone look like a strong competent protector type. Unfortunately the reality of the post is that it makes the occupant seem like a nervous worrier.


I"'m guessing that plan B is for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to be the nominee, however I think the National Review types will want Bill Owens of Colorado. In fact I'm pretty certain that the next President will be called Bill, because if the Democrats see sense after the looming Dean debacle I think their most likely 2008 candidate is Bill Richardson of New Mexico."



A persuasive portrait of Paul Wolfowitz from a reader:


"About the neo-cons, Iraq and Israel. It's a commonplace that the neo-con advocates of war are motivated by their desire to produce a more congenial regional environment for Israel. It's a commonplace, but I think it's off-base. That's not to say that Israel doesn't figure in the thinking of guys like Wolfowitz or, certainly, Perle (who I find much more objectionable; Wolfowitz has a kind of earnest liberalism about him that I find appealing even when I think he's being stupid). But talk to Israelis and they will tell you that, after the first Gulf War, no one much worried about Saddam anymore. Israelis are much more worried about Iran's nukes and about what to do about Arafat than they are about Saddam. Assad was even higher on their worry list than Saddam. And the notion that Gulf War II, like Gulf War I, would suddenly bring the various parties to the table to talk a la Madrid never made much sense. So even if you want to ascribe base motives to the neo-cons (and I do not think that is at all warranted), the story doesn't make sense.


"A lot of anti-war folks seem to think that Wolfowitz was itching for war to provide cover for Sharon. I think the opposite is true. I think Wolfowitz specifically has a species of white man's guilt about the Arabs. Remember, he advocated leaving Saddam in power after the first Gulf War, and watched Saddam butcher the Shiites and Kurds in the wake of that decision. He's never gotten over it. Moreover, remember that Wolfowitz is an advocate of a Palestinian state, and has been for some time, and opposes Israel's settlement policy. (The latter is a mainstream American position, but the former is a novelty, as the American foreign policy establishment has historically been very leery of Arafat, the PLO and the Palestinian cause generally, preferring to resolve matters through existing Arab states. It's only because Israel took a flier on Oslo that America shifted position and resigned itself to a Palestinian state.) In any event, Wolfowitz feels guilty about Arab suffering, guilty about American complicity in Arab dictatorship, guilty about Israel's suppression of the Palestinians. He needed America to be a liberator of the Arabs because that is the only way he can assuage his guilt. He's not serving Israel's interests, but I do think he's blinded by his own. What I guess I'm saying is that he's sincerely self-deluded.


"But be that as it may, Wolfowitz didn't author the war with Iraq, and Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush didn't go to war for Israel. What I think can be said is that they underestimated the costs of war because of the efforts of Wolfowitz and that crew, but they realize that now and for that reason I think they are being pushed aside by their bosses, and folks like James Baker are being brought back into the picture."


If we had simply shot a hundred looters in April, we would be in much better shape today. But Wolfowitz, with his happy-clappy ideas about Iraq, set up an atmosphere redolent of a 1960s progressive elementary school.



It's always been hard to picture democracy blooming in Iraq, and one key reason is that the place has too much oil: a few trillion dollars worth of reserves. Thus, the payoff for making yourself Despot of Iraq is, more or less, a trillion dollars. Think about the top 1% most aggressive and greedy men you've ever know. What would they do for a trillion dollars? (Indeed, what would you do, gentle reader, for a trillion smackeroos?) Well, there are about 125,000 men in Iraq who fall in the 99th percentile of avariciousness.


Sure, Saddam ultimately ended up in a hole in the ground, but, from the point of view of the 99th percentile, he also had a helluva good run beforehand playing with his billion megabucks.


So, the oil exercises a toxic effect on the future of Iraq, encouraging every nasty bastard in the country to think about getting his hands on the trillion dollars. What we need is a plan to put the oil wealth irretrievably in the hands of the people of Iraq. Has anybody proposed one yet? All I know is that privatization probably won't do it, as the disastrous Russian example shows.



Here are a couple of thoughtful reviews of Charles Murray's Human Accomplishment by John Derbyshire and Jonah Goldberg:


A surprising and interesting observation by Jonah:


"This is an astoundingly neoconservative book. Back in the days before the left transmuted the word "neoconservative" to mean war-mongering Jew, a prevailing understanding of the term was that it referred to a certain group of intellectuals who imported the sociological method to conservatism. What made, say, the Public Interest a neoconservative magazine was that it attacked issues of public policy with social science--then the lingua franca of the serious left--in order to reach conservative conclusions."


This is an important point, because, by recalling the good old days of neoconservatism, it demonstrates the dismaying decline in the intellectual quality of neoconservatives. Until just the last few years, I was proud to call myself a neocon because I associated the term with master empiricists of my youth such as Daniel Patrick Moynihan, James Q. Wilson, Andrew Greeley, and Nathan Glazer. I was dismayed to see the term come to be associated with the chest-thumping know-nothings who plunged us into a guerilla war in Iraq through intentional ignorance.



Does anybody know War Nerd Gary Brecher's personal email address? The only one I have goes through his editor in Moscow.



In our continuing search for Kwanzaa songs, a reader points to Tim Meadows' SNL appearance as the Santa Claus equivalent: Kwanzaa Timmy. Unfortunately, the only lyrics to "Kwanzaa Timmy" I've found so far are:


Tell me, Kwanzaa Timmy

Whatcha gonna gimmee?



One striking difference in crime patterns between the U.S. and Britain is by now well known: America has a higher murder rate but a lower burglary and home invasion rate. Presumably, this relates to the larger number of guns in America, which makes break-ins riskier to felons. A second difference, however, is less well understood. In Britain, urban criminals are far more likely to drive long distances out to the posh suburbs and villages to commit property crimes than are their counterparts in America. It's not uncommon for yobs from Birmingham or Manchester to drive 50 or 100 miles one-way to do a job. In contrast, sheer distance provides much better protection in the U.S. For example, several of the lowest crime rate communities in America are in Ventura County, only about 40 miles from South Central Los Angles.


Why? My theory is that this disparity is caused by the higher utility of racial profiling in America. Most British criminals are white, so they blend in better in the exurbs. Four young white blokes in a car driving through Sunningdale looking for a mansion to burgle are less likely to be given the gimlet eye by the local bobbies than are four young black guys in a car cruising through Thousand Oaks. 


If you know a better explanation, please tell me.



Regarding ethnic differences in alcoholism: a reader writes:


"Is it not likely that the very strict Muslim rules on alcohol were a response to the spread of liquor to the Arab hinterland, whose people had no genetic defenses? And if these rules have remained roughly in place for, oh, 1300 years, isn't it likely that Arabs have an Indian-like vulnerability to alcoholism? And if they do not, why not?"


Good question. In the Fertile Crescent, Jesus drank wine, but, living far to the south in the stony wadis, did Mohammed? Why was he so against it?



Here are a couple of recent War Nerd columns:


A Body Count Xmas -- "One of the beauties of the whole suicide-bomber tactic is that the attacker kills himself--the enemy can’t even claim the kill. It’s a nice clean way to use up one of your soldiers. He won’t be a POW. and he’s not likely to spill anything the enemy can use during interrogation, because nobody’s figured out a way to interrogate kung-pao sized chunks of burnt Jihadi scattered over a 20 square meter blast radius."


Burundi: Heightism Rears Its Ugly Head -- "The Tutsi weren’t just tall, they were serious badasses, the Vikings of East Africa. They killed the Hutu kings and made the Hutu peasants into slaves, and settled down to a nice happy life raising cattle to buy wives or raising wives to buy cattle, depending on which was in short supply on a given day. The Tutsi claimed all the land, on the legal basis that if you objected they’d kill you."



Dave Barry's annual Annual Wrap-up: "It was the Year of the Troubling Question. The most troubling one was: What the heck happened to all those weapons of mass destruction that were supposed to be in Iraq? Apparently there was an intelligence mix-up. As CIA director George Tenet noted recently, ''Our thinking now is that the weapons of mass destruction might actually be in that other one, whaddycallit, Iran. Or Michigan. We're pretty sure the letter ``i'' is involved.''



"Generation E.A.: Ethnically Ambiguous" trumpets the NYT, although they seem to be scraping the bottom of the barrel for evidence for this trend if this is the best list of movie stars they can come up with: "Or consider the careers of movie stars like Vin Diesel, Lisa Bonet and Jessica Alba, whose popularity with young audiences seems due in part to the tease over whether they are black, white, Hispanic, American Indian or some combination." Exactly what career does Lisa Bonet, who peaked in 1984 with The Cosby Show and has been in only four movies since 1995, have?


The odd thing is that this list is much less star-studded than  one you could make up from the early 1960s of big names whose careers were built on being ethnically ambiguous: Yul Brynner, Anthony Quinn. and Omar Sharif. Back then, studios worried less about ethnic protests if they cast somebody who is from a different ancestry in a major "ethnic" role. I think what happened is that nowadays, you aren't allowed to cast, say, an Italian-American as a Mexican Jew even if the character is a famous self-portraitist and the actress looks just like her (as happened to Laura SanGiacomo when she was prevented from playing Frida Kahlo by protests by Mexican-Americans). Performers can still get away playing other ethnicities if they are character actors. For example, the New Zealand Maori Cliff Curtis has played many Latin Americans and Arabs and nobody protests, but he's always about the seventh from the top in billing.


UPDATE: More old-time ethnically ambiguous stars: Anglo-Indian Merle Oberon; and Charles Bronson, of Lithuanian (or Polish?) descent, but must have had some Mongol or something like that.



Aboriginals and alcohol: One of the tragedies of the modern world is the toll that alcohol takes on so many indigenous peoples: e.g., American Indians, Eskimos, and Australian Aborigines. Even the reasonably successful Maoris of New Zealand suffer terribly from drink and its accompanying problems such as wife-beating and child abuse.


It's always seemed to me that this is clearly in part a genetic difference caused by Darwinian selection responding to cultural differences. Peoples who ancestors have had ample access to alcohol for the most generations have the fewest problems with it. Here in the U.S., Jews have the lowest alcoholism rates, followed by Italians, which parallels the spread of winemaking from the Fertile Crescent to the Mediterranean during the Neolithic. Presumably, they went through alcohol-related problems long ago (e.g., as in the Biblical story of Noah getting falling down drunk), and the people whose genomes were least resistant to drink died before mating or couldn't get spouses. 


The farther north you go in Europe, the worse drinking problems get. The Scandinavian states, for example, have all sorts of restrictions on liquor sales, which the European Union, dominated by countries less damaged by binge drinking, is trying to get rid of. 


Finally, the peoples who didn't have any experience with alcohol until Europeans brought it to them post-1492, seem to be hit the hardest of all, as you would expect because they have had the fewest number of generations to evolve defenses. 


Still, as obvious as this pattern seems, I've had the devil's own time finding any scientific survey's of the topic. Here, for example, is an article about the gene mutation that contributes to Israel's low alcoholism rate. Drinking problems are going up in Israel as immigrants from sodden Russia arrive, but recent Russian immigrants are also less likely to be 100% Jewish, as many Orthodox rabbis in Israel have complained. 


So, does anybody know of a solid global overview of the topic?



In his bestseller The Mismeasure of Man, Steven Jay Gould famously denounced the concept of g -- the hypothesized "general factor" of intelligence that could account for the positive correlation among almost all mental skills -- as "The chimerical nature of g is the rotten core of [Arthur] Jensen's edifice, and of the entire hereditarian school." The funny thing about Gould's argument is that the concept of "g" is not at all needed to make IQ a useful tool for everyday decision-making. Consider this simple analogy (or, perhaps, homology). Assume there is no correlation between SAT-Math and SAT-Verbal scores. (In other words, no equivalent to g.) Elite colleges would still prefer applicants who scored highest on the sum of the two uncorrelated parts. Admissions committees would still prefer students who were strong in both areas over students who were strong in only one area.


In the real world, of course, there is quite a bit of correlation between SAT-M and SAT-V. That probably reflects, in part, the workings of g. But, the impact on how elite colleges behave in assessing applicants is negligible: they still prefer those who score highest on the sum of the two parts, whether they are correlated or uncorrelated. So, from a practical point of view, IQ scores are useful for selecting people whether or not the component tests are correlated. So, Gould was just flapping his gums and his acolytes had never thought independently about the entire question. But, you already knew that.



What's fascinating about Kwanzaa is that its relentless advance in official recognition is solely a product of the Left's "march through the institutions." African-Americans who aren't part of the bureaucracy themselves don't seem to care much about it - at least not enough to download free MP3s of Kwanzaa songs. Have you ever heard a Kwanzaa song? To find out if any actually exist, I logged on to an MP3 song file-sharing network. (Note to the Recording Industry of America Association's mongoose-like lawyers: This was purely for journalistic research purposes.) I found 5,053 tracks with "Christmas" in the file name, a huge proportion of them performed by blacks. In contrast, there was not a single copy of an MP3 out there that had "Kwanzaa" in the title.


In contrast, I found many references to "Kwanzaa songs" on Google, but they all turned out to be tools for adults to use in indoctrinating defenseless children with Kwanzaa Awareness, not songs that anyone in his right mind would inflict upon himself.



We often hear that because the U.S. did such a good job reforming Germany and Japan after WWII, we're bound to do the same for Iraq. Strikingly, though, we never hear much about the long-term impact of the 1943 American invasion of western Sicily, which Patton rolled through so easily while Montgomery struggled up the east coast. 


The U.S. government long refused to release documents that could confirm or disprove the story that the military made a deal with the Sicilian-born mobster Lucky Luciano to ease the invasion, but Italian experts on the Sicilian mafia date that organization's comeback to 1943. When the Fascist state evaporated in Sicily, we needed to keep civil order without tying down scores of thousands of our troops. (Sound familiar?) So, we turned local control over to patriarchs of families not contaminated by ties to Fascism, men of respect within their own communities, friends who had friends who could keep things quiet and keep out the Communists: i.e., mafioso who had been lying low during Mussolini's crackdown on the mob. Some of this was naiveté on our part, some of it was rigged by well-connected individuals among the 15% of our invasion force that was of Sicilian descent, and some of it was realpolitik.


You don't hear much from the neocons about how regime changes so frequently unleash mafias (as in Kosovo and Russia), but organized crime is non-ideological, so they aren't very interested in it.


It will be interesting to see if any parallels to this history emerge in Iraq. I predicted almost a year ago that within a few years we'll be hearing about "the Iraqi mafia," and I don't see any reason to withdraw that forecast.



My theatre expert writes, regarding the ubiquity of standing ovations on Broadway these days:


"Yes, as Broadway theater has become essentially a gay therapy exercise, Broadway audiences have adopted the customs of college drama departments and cultish experimental theaters. Everyone in the orchestra seats is an actor or wannabe actor or a friend of the actors, dutifully providing emotional support for the hopes or delusions of the cast."



Merry Christmas!



It's as hard to kill as the Monkey's Paw! And just as malign. From the WaPo:


"President Bush plans to kick off his reelection year by proposing a program that would make it easier for immigrants to work legally in the United States...Lobbyists working with the White House said Bush is developing a plan that would allow immigrants to cross the border legally if jobs are waiting for them. The sources said the administration also wants to provide a way for some undocumented workers in the United States to move toward legal status... The White House plan is being designed by Bush's senior adviser, Karl Rove... Sources said the White House's biggest concern is that the new mechanism not penalize people who had followed the law and reward those who had not ... by creating a new type of visa for previously undocumented workers who would be allowed to live in the United States legally for three years. Then the workers could apply for the temporary worker visa, which would be the path to a green card, or legal permanent residency. That would amount to a three-year advantage for those who entered legally.



An amusing NYT article on how standing ovations have become mandatory on Broadway, even for the lamest shows. Favorite digression: "Fans of the 19th-century ballerina Fanny Elssler were said to have boiled and eaten her slipper." The essayist, however, overlooks how standing ovations are now scripted into the climax of almost every movie more upbeat than Mystic River. That must be what modern Americans want out of life: a standing ovation.



The inherent tension between fighting terrorism and fighting dictatorship was demonstrated by our deal with Libya, which is likely to make secure Gaddafi's son's eventual accession to his father's throne by getting Libya's economy back on its feet.


Gaddafi was a very bad boy back in the 1980s, invading Chad and sponsoring terrorists. But every foreign adventure he tried turned into a fiasco: Reagan bombed his tent for the disco-bombing of 1986, Chad's fleet of armed pick-up trucks demolished his tanks in 1987, and the Lockerbie airplane bombing of 1988 led to ruinous sanctions. Eventually, he (or perhaps his heir) woke up to the fact that he owned an OPEC state, and that anything he could gain abroad (e.g., the most uninhabitable chunks of Chad) was vastly outweighed by what he and his family would likely lose at home (e.g., everything) if he continued to make himself an international nuisance. So, since the early 1990s, Gaddafi's been trying to ingratiate himself with the world to get the sanctions lifted. Now, he's on the brink of succeeding, clearing the way for American oil companies to return and for his son to reign on after him.



My favorite part of the latest Strom Thurmond comedy: His daughter is writing a book about herself and her dad, which, her lawyer-agent Frank Wheaton told WIS TV, "is sure to become an all-American classic once it reaches bookstores and certainly a monumental epic for television or screen. … 'The key is to see what publisher will grant her the greatest opportunity to tell her story, to share her story with the American public who seem to be so interested and fascinated with it.' Wheaton also said he thinks Halle Berry would be a good choice for the starring role if a movie is made of the story." Is this a great country, or what?



Cold Mountain - It wouldn't be my choice to win the Best Picture Oscar, but I wouldn't complain much if it was nominated for that award. The best thing about this production of the Civil War novel is that it's financed on a lavish enough scale that it can use Renee Zellwegger, who is almost always a leading lady, in a scene-stealing character role as the hillbilly who teaches Southern belle Nicole Kidman how to farm. It's like when the Dodgers realized two years ago that they had enough starting pitching that they could afford to move Eric Gagne to the bullpen, where he won the Cy Young. Like Gagne, Zellwegger is better suited for supporting roles. She's a little funny looking to be a leading lady, especially when matched with Kidman (who is far better cast here as a genteel damsel than in The Human Stain, where she was supposed to play a farm worker). As the taciturn but soulful Confederate deserter making his way back to Kidman, Jude Law is a bit of a snooze (his beard and silence make him resemble Tom Hanks in Cast Away), but Philip Seymour Hoffman has a lot of fun playing a defrocked minister in the manner of Orson Welles.


It might turn out to be a successful date movie, but, then again, it's awfully violent for a chick flick.


T-Bone Burnett oversaw the period music. The most interesting is the shape note (a.k.a., Sacred Harp) singing in the church scene. Shape note is an indigenous American Protestant style that has gotten remarkably little attention, but it sounds fresh in the movie, although I would guess that a little can go a long way. My wife sang it a few times, and I attended one session. It causes some some interesting vibration effects going in your breastbone. She said "That's what all American music would sound like if there were no black people in America." That's not a compliment, but shape note is different.



The two most most optimistic recent analogies to the capture of Saddam are the sharp diminishment of the Kurdish and Inca ethnic rebellions after the arrest of their leaders Ocalon and Guzman, respectively. In captivity, both men called for their supporters to stop fighting, which they largely did. Could we get Saddam to do the same? How? If so, would the rebels listen? Would the Shi'ites and Kurds figure we had sold them out to the Sunnis and start rebelling themselves? (The historical experience of both the Shi'ites and Kurds is that, in the long run, conquerors always wind up having the Sunnis run things, not them.)



Are jobs coming back? A few years ago, I started a free email group for former employees of the marketing research firm I used to work for. The number of job openings advertised on it this month has been quite high. Hey, it's just one data point, but it could mean something.



Who first used Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq? There's seems to be some uncertainty on the matter, but it was probably not Saddam in 1988. Apparently, he was beaten to the punch by Winston Churchill, back when he was British Minister of War. Conrad Black's Churchill-admiring London Telegraph reported:


"The League of Nations mandated Iraq to Britain at the San Remo conference in April 1920. Within weeks, this provoked a brutal uprising and the declaration of a jihad against the British in the Shia holy city of Kerbala. The revolt spread and it took 20,000 British troops and four squadrons of RAF bombers nine months of hard fighting - and 425 deaths - to restore control.


"The British were driven to consider extreme methods. T E Lawrence wrote to The Observer saying: "It is odd that we do not use poison gas on these occasions." The RAF asked Churchill for permission to gas the rebels. "I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas," he replied. "I am strongly in favour of using gas against uncivilised tribes." The RAF failed to master the technology of gas bombs and they were never used. The British did, however, bombard Shia rebels with gas-filled artillery shells. After crushing the rising, Churchill again recommended withdrawal and was again overruled."


Now, I'm a big Churchill fan. This was not necessarily considered an "extreme measure" at the time, since the British had recently been gassing the Germans, and vice-versa. The Geneva Protocol of 1925 outlawed poison gas, so it was not yet against international law. But, civilized opinion was moving in that direction. 


The relevant point is that if a good guy like Churchill could be driven to using WMD in Iraq, it's just another bit of evidence that what it takes to rule Iraq is not necessarily truth, justice, and the American Way.



The new Winter issue of the classy quarterly The National Interest features my long but amusing essay on "Revolutionary Nepotism." You can't read it for free on-line, but I've stopped apologizing for publications trying to make money off my work (and so should Colby Cosh). Us pixel-stained wretches need money to live and so do the periodicals that pay us.


On the other hand, you can read for free Adam Bellow's Newsweek article on the leading nepotists of the year.



I'm not going to write a full review of "Return of the King," so here's a brief summary: If you aren't very familiar with the story, don't worry about getting lost. Peter Jackson and Co. are ace tale-tellers and Tolkien's superbly crafted plot consists of variations on thousands of years of northwestern European  stories. Every twist is both surprising, yet satisfyingly inevitable to someone raised in the West.


Fans should know that the Scouring of the Shire episode at the end has been omitted. But, please, this glass is 95% full as well as being 5% empty.


Everybody should keep in mind that the movie is 3:20 long, so try to get an aisle seat. Also, the final 20 minutes are an extended and rather downbeat coda after the end of all the fighting, so just expect to relax and unwind.


Favorite performer: Liv Tyler is on screen only for about 2% of the film, but, no longer having to be the trendy ass-kicking babe she had to play in the first episode, she illuminates her scenes with feminine stillness.


Favorite scene: the lighting of the mountain-top signal fires.


Reader comments on the LOTR trilogy:


The only criticism I have of the LOTR books is that Tolkien preaches an anti-modernist theme without acknowledging what that means. That is, the Hobbits live in a pre-industrial agrarian society that shuns machines, yet  they suffer none of the consequences: no disease, no infant mortality, etc, 
etc. Also, Sauron, Saruman, the Orcs and other baddies all embrace technology, and their areas are environmental hellholes. But is that how things really work out? The U.S. and Europe are the most advanced countries, but they have far better environments than do Third World nations.


It is interesting to see that Tolkien is honest when describing anarchy. His Shire has almost no government at all, but it can be this way because its society is both homogenous and conformist. Interestingly, when Aragorn takes the throne he orders the borders of the Shire to be closed to all non-Hobbits.



LotR the book was written by a Christian. There is a very interesting dynamic in the book between free will and a higher level of seemingly fated action. That the ring is found by its enemies is seen as a sort of providential action; similarly many other coincidences. Yet, at the same time, people (of all races) have free will, and what they do matters. In FotR, Jackson gets this more or less right. In particular he focuses on Frodo's decisions and keeps them real. And he has Galadriel voice the theme: even the smallest person can change the future.


In TTT, Jackson takes away a lot of the judgement and decision-making from his characters, especially minor characters. The most egregious example of this was the castration of Entmoot (the meeting of the Ents), which in the book resulted in them collectively deciding to go to war. In the movie the meeting had no result other than to use up celluloid, and I imagine its presence must have been a bit mystifying to many viewers ("what was that about?"). There are many other examples of characters deprived of their decisions by Jackson's script, most of them rather small. But collectively they add up to a different world view. Jackson's view of the world is modern and mechanistic by comparison to Tolkien's. For Jackson, real decisions are made by only the most elite leaders, not the rank and file, who just follow orders. Even the elite leaders rarely make hard decisions; mostly they just follow paths laid out for them by circumstance.


LotR is racialist (and I don't mean that in the modern sense of "evil and taboo", just "a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities"). To Tolkien, blood will tell; however, there are still decisions to be made, problems to be faced, both by the inherently noble and the inherently base. He shows this by giving real decisions not just to Gandalf and Sauron and Aragorn, but to everyone, including such minor characters as the Ents, Hama, Wormtongue, Haldir, Eowyn, Eomer, Faramir, Beregond, and even a few orcs. Many of these, IMO, would have required little or no more film time than what Jackson shows. I suppose Jackson et al must think that having minor characters make decisions is confusing to the audience. But I think it is a grave loss for the movies. I'm still enjoying them, of course, especially #1. I'm hoping #3 will be as good.



I think the immense popularity of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings is, in part, a form of displaced white racial consciousness and European cultural pride. Tolkien drew heavily on Celtic and Germanic mythology, adding Christian themes as well. In other contexts, these themes are under attack today from multiculturalism, but Tolkien escapes the censors because he wrote a fantasy and avoided any explicit political message.



From my review of last year's "The Two Towers:"


"The Two Towers" left sci-fi novelist Jerry Pournelle awe-struck. As a fantasy plot craftsman and Tolkien-lover, he was impressed by how Jackson and Co. altered Tolkien's story just enough to make a tremendous movie out of it, yet no more. "I think they could not have done it any other way," he commented.


Further, he admired how the film caught two sides of Tolkien's world view: the cold grandeur of the Scandinavian and Finnish myths Tolkien studied vs. the merciful warmth of the Catholicism he professed. Nor does Jackson try to modernize the arch-hereditarian politics of the trilogy, where blood will always tell.


The main failing of both movies is that Jackson's interests are too techno-contemporary to do full justice to Tolkien's very English Tory/hippie love of farms and forests. "After reading Tolkien, I knew I had to move to the country," said Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, whose "Ramble On," with its alternating folk melody verses and hammer of the gods heavy-metal choruses evokes both Tolkien's English and Nordic sides.


In contrast, while Jackson is superb with the video game violence of the battle of Helm's Deep, his plotline of the talking tree lamenting to the two minor hobbits the destruction of the woods is not up to rest of this movie, just as the pastoral opening in the Shire got "The Fellowship" off to a slow start.



Analysis: Movie awards seldom pay off

By Steve Sailer
UPI National Correspondent

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 17 (UPI) -- The movie awards season begins in earnest with the announcement Thursday morning of the nominations for the second most prominent set of prizes, the Golden Globes.


For the next 10 weeks, breathless entertainment reporters will assert that nominations and statuettes, especially Oscars, are worth a fortune at the box office.


This conventional wisdom propels the film industry to release the majority of the year's quality movies just before the Academy Award qualification period closes Dec. 31. This leaves the rest of the year a wasteland for discerning adults.


Strikingly, Hollywood decision-makers have grown skeptical of their own hype. Tired of bleeding their marketing bugets running trade-journal advertising campaigns costing up to $10 million per Oscar contender just to entice voters, the Academy decided last spring to hurry up and get the awards season over and done with this winter. The Oscar broadcast has been moved up three weeks from its traditional late March date to Feb. 29.


Winning the 1999 Best Picture honor turbocharged "American Beauty's" box-office haul. The Dreamworks drama had stalled at $75 million until the nominations were announced, after which it took in another $55 million domestically. This example helped spark the Oscar wars of this decade, but "American Beauty" now looks more like an anomaly than a trendsetter.


A review of weekly box office data suggests that the ego-driven Oscar arms race has become increasingly unprofitable, in part because opening weekend revenue has grown in importance. For example, New Line's majestic "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" is the Best Picture Oscar favorite. If it wins, though, the prize's impact on its massive earnings is likely to be relatively small. Last year's second episode in the Tolkien epic, "The Two Towers," had already pocketed $321 million, 94 percent of its ultimate total, by the time it received a Best Picture nomination on Feb. 11, 2003.


Oscar's surprisingly slight impact is most clearly seen among the few recent Best Picture challengers that came out before the fourth quarter. "Gladiator," the Best Picture winner for 2000, went back in the theatres after scoring 12 nominations in February 2001 ... and added a grand total of $1 million to the $187 million it had already earned. Similarly, by the time "Moulin Rouge" picked up a Best Picture nod in February 2002, its cumulative box office stood at $57.2 million. Over the next 10 weeks, it took in an additional $200,000.  [More...]



Analysis: Golf suffers recession

By Steve Sailer
UPI National Correspondent


MOORPARK, Calif., Dec. 8 (UPI) -- In late October, 100-foot-high walls of flame raced through the foothills of Moorpark, Calif., an affluent suburb 48 miles northwest of Los Angeles, only to be stymied when they reached the sprinklers of the town's three new golf courses.


Two months later, the emerald fairways contrast eerily with the blackened hillsides. Many trees on the edges of the courses struggle for life, green on one side, charred on the other.


The future of the $62 billion per year golf business is similarly uncertain. Long-term trends -- such as environmentalism, new club and ball technology and an increased desire among golfers for spectacular golf holes -- have been making the game an increasingly expensive and time-consuming near-luxury when the business cycle and, perhaps more potentially harmful demographic trends have been working against golf's popularity.   [More...]



You probably were struck, like I was, by how much Saddam lived and looked like the Unabomber (except that Saddam had an even shaggier beard). My wife now calls Saddam the Sunnabomber.



The Return of the King -- I saw it with Jerry Pournelle and we both found it extremely well done. Unfortunately, I find it harder to review movies with no obvious flaws, so if you have any clever themes regarding The Lord of the Rings books or movies that I can riff on for my review, please email 'em to me.



Noah Millman argues at Gideon's Blog:


"I don't think Steve Sailer's "thug-entrepreneurs" theory accounts for the suicide bombers either. Sailer thinks that the attacks are primarily coming from younger Sunni Arabs who are making a play for power in a post-Saddam, post-occupation Iraq; therefore, he argues, we won't be able to decapitate the guerillas, because they have no single head, and we will face more attacks post-Saddam than we did when there was a chance he would come back. That's not a bad theory, and it's probably partly true. But freelance thugs are not going to get people to blow themselves up."


Noah contends that suicide bombing typically requires a religious motivation, which seems generally true (although I'm not terribly sure about what motivates the notorious bombers of the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka). Now, the vast majority of attacks are not by suicide bombers, although they do a substantial amount of the killing, especially of Iraqi collaborators. So, there are probably multiple kinds of insurgents.


Has anybody seen anything resembling objective numbers on who the thousands of Iraqis we have in custody actually are? I've never seen anything resembling a thorough quantitative analysis of the breakdown of who they are, just bits and pieces of information. The government must have the data, but they don't seem willing to release it unmassaged.



For anybody on your Christmas list who thinks golf is for wussies too housebroken to engage in bloodsports, there's Humberto Fontova's very funny The Hellpig Hunt: A Hunting Adventure in the Wild Wetlands at the Mouth of the Mississippi River by Middle-Aged Lunatics Who Refuse to Grow Up. In case that title's insufficiently descriptive, here's Humberto's previous book's title: The Helldivers' Rodeo : A Deadly, Extreme, Scuba-Diving, Spear Fishing Adventure Amid the Offshore Oil-Platforms in the Murky Waters off the Gulf of Mexico. The Hellpig Hunt resembles what you'd get if Hunter S. Thompson went hunting with Bluto and the rest of the gang from Animal House. Plus, Humberto tosses in philosophical asides on the predatory nature of the human male from Camille Paglia, Edward O. Wilson, and the head philosopher of hunting, Jose Ortega Y Gasset of Revolt of the Masses fame.


Personally, I've only hunted once, and we didn't see a single bird the entire time. I did catch a 7 foot marlin out of Cabo San Lucas in 1985, while my father was catching a 9 foot marlin. The photo of us on the dock weighing in these vast brutes is my favorite one of my dad and me.


A couple of years ago I tried to explain to Humberto the appeal of golf: "You see, it's a like a suburbanized form of hunting. It's a battle against nature played out in an ideal landscape for hunting." My little dissertation appears to have been refracted back through Humberto's twisted brain on p. 138 of his tome:


"'Then why don't more men hunt?' you ask.


"'Lack of opportunity,' I answer. "They turn to golf for the same reason men turn to sodomy in prisons and Arabic countries.'"


Gee, Humberto, thanks for phrasing my idea like that.



A new column at left.



"Christopher Edley, a Harvard Law School professor who crafted former President Bill Clinton's "mend it, don't end it" policy on affirmative action, has been named as the new dean of the prestigious Boalt Hall School of Law at UC Berkeley, university officials said Wednesday night."


Does anybody remember any instances of Edley & Clinton mending a damn thing about affirmative action? Did Edley get his wonderful new job as a reward for making up a rhyme?



Edward Rothstein of the NYT reviews a book by Arthur Crompton called "Homosexuality and Civilization," which is a denunciation of Christianity for persecuting homosexuality. A key paragraph:


"Mr. Crompton offers a very different interpretation from the influential theory outlined by the French philosopher Michel Foucault. In Mr. Crompton's view, the concept of homosexuality was not something created in 19th-century Europe when it was first considered a medical condition, nor was it, despite cultural variations, so drastically different in other times and places."


Now, I'm not Foucault's biggest fan, but I've come believe that it's pretty clear that he was on to something, that homosexuality in First Century AD didn't have much to do with homosexuality in the Twentieth Century. 


Indeed, Crompton looks back on what he evidently considers the good old days:


"In ancient Greece, homosexuality was philosophically praised and institutionally sanctioned, associated with virtues of courage and mentorship. In ancient Rome, it was primarily cultivated in relationships between masters and slaves... In Japan, for example, before the mid-19th-century Western influence, homosexuality was "an honored way of life among the country's religious and military leaders so that its acceptance paralleled, and in some respects even surpassed, ancient Athens." It was common among Buddhist sages, part of samurai culture and an accepted aspect of the Kabuki theater world."


From this description, it's pretty clear that back then homosexual behavior wasn't much at all like modern Castro Street homosexuality. To a very large extent, it was an indulgence practiced by the powerful on the weak: what we think of as child molestation, prison rape, and sexual harassment. (Modern homosexuals often fail to realize that they would have been scorned in Athens as womanish for wanting to please another man.) Even at it's least abusive, ancient homosexuality reflected youthful male-male infatuations that only flourished when women were sequestered or despised. The triumph of Jerusalem over Athens came both by negative sanctions on vice but also by the increased status of women under Christianity, which made companionate marriage the ideal


My best guess is that due to the success of Christianity at stigmatizing homosexual vice, we are left then, largely, with men who are innately homosexual. But that also explains why Christians and orthodox Jews have a hard time agreeing that homosexual behavior stems from innate homosexual orientations -- in their historical experience, most homosexual behavior was not an innate orientation, but was controllable by social sanctions.



Will the resistance give up now that Saddam has been captured, or will it get stronger, as it did after his sons, the Gruesome Twosome, were killed? It's pleasant to think of Saddam as being the mastermind behind the insurgents, but the initial evidence suggests the opposite -- the Saddam that was dragged, dazed and disoriented, out of his hole in the ground looked like a depressed old fart who had been left far behind by the fast moving tides of history. But, we shall see. A more hopeful analogy than Uday and Qusay is that the bloody Kurdish rebellion in Turkey came to an end when the Kurdish leader Ocalan was captured in 1999. Another optimistic example is the capture of the Shining Path leader in Peru. Of course, those two were actually leading these insurgencies, unlike Saddam.


My concern has always been that the Iraqi resistance has been motivated less by a desire to put Saddam back on his throne than by the entrepreneurial urges of a lot of different Iraqi males to be bigshots in the New Iraq. These would-be leaders understand that the surest way to be important in Iraq after the Americans leave, whether as a politician or as a gangster or both, is to have your own armed gang, and the surest way to recruit a gang is to appeal to angry young men who resent the occupation. That would explain why the more cards we catch in the deck of old leaders, the more resistance there has been. By removing the old hierarchy, we are opening up opportunities for new men to claw their way to the top, especially now that the resistance is no longer tainted by the fear of putting Saddam back in power.


As for Americans leaving, Saddam's capture certainly strengthens the hand of Bush advisers such as Karl Rove and Andy Card who want to declare victory and bring the boys home before the election. The biggest political nightmare facing Bush was that Saddam would return to power, making the entire war look absolutely pointless. Now that we know that won't happen, Bush's need to stick around in Iraq is reduced, and the Ronald Reagan Bug-Out Strategy looks even more attractive. As you will recall, Reagan quickly yanked out the troops he'd sent to Lebanon after the 1983 truckbomb attack on a Marine barracks. Lebanon returned to chaos, but practically nobody in the U.S. cared. After all, it wasn't our country. (Just as no voters in America care about any thing that could happen in Afghanistan, other than the possibility of capturing Osama -- or proving him dead.) Reagan was soon after re-elected in a landslide. Rove isn't a genius, but, trust me, he remembers that bit of political history.



If you are interested in Bell Curve-related issues and like statistics-dense treatises, this little-known 1999 paper (in pdf format) by Charles Murray (which, for some reason I had never seen before) "The Secular Increase in IQ and Longitudinal Changes in the Magnitude of the Black-White Difference: Evidence from the NLSY" is a blockbuster update on TBC. Lots of fascinating stuff from a fantastic nationally representative database, including IQ scores in 1996 for the children of the teens tested in 1979!



Tim Burton's Big Fish opens today in extremely limited release in NYC and LA. It's not for everybody, but I think in the long run it will turn out to be the Groundhog Day of 2003. My review explaining the unfashionable things the movie is doing will be in the upcoming American Conservative. It won't be online, because the magazine wants you to subscribe in return for the pleasure of reading my reviews. And so do I. 



A reader points out that our new Iraq policy of "imprisoning the relatives of suspected guerrillas" would appear to be a war crime under the Fourth Geneva Convention: "Article 33. No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited."



My big review of Charles Murray's Human Accomplishment in The American Conservative is finally online, here



"In northern Kirkuk, eight people were killed and 80 wounded by shots fired in the air during celebrations of the capture, said hospital official Shehab Ahmed. 'I'm very happy for the Iraqi people. Life is going to be safer now,' said Yehya Hassan, 35, of Baghdad. "


Safer, that is, unless they get some more good news, in which case the lead rain will come again ...



A belated RIP to Bob Bartley, who made the WSJ Editorial Page into the biggest force in opinion journalism, one that played an important role on the world affaris during the turning point years of 1979-1981. R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. of the American Spectator points out:


"He encouraged me to revitalize The American Spectator. Despite illness and all his other obligations he presided over the magazine's redesign, encouraged new emphases appropriate to the changing times, and took a look at the business side. His long-time friend, the investment banker Ed Yeo, believed that along with all Bob's other talents this student of economics and commerce also had a stupendous aptitude for business."


That's a key point. Bartley's organizational skills were unusual in a profession marked by fractiousness. The last I heard, the Editorial Page had 31 full time employees, an enormous number, relatively speaking. But, Bartley was able to justify it to Dow Jones, as Jack Shafer of Slate points out:


"'Journalistically, my proudest boast is that I've run the only editorial page in the country that actually sells newspapers,' [Bartley] said in 2002, and he was absolutely right. Wherever editorial pages take a genuine stand on an issue instead of pondering the complexity of the world for 600 words before recommending further study, you have Bartley to thank. Wherever editorial pages report a story or break news, wherever editorials read as if they were written by a human instead of an institutional voice, you probably have Bartley to thank, too. And wherever an editorial page serves red meat instead of tapioca, no matter what the page's politics, its writers should pay royalties to the Bartley estate."


On the other hand ... Shafer notes:


"The cultural tide turned for Bartley's page and the conservative movement in 1980 when Ronald Reagan took the presidency in a landslide and Bartley won a Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. How much more inside could Mr. Outside get? But there's something about victory that drives conservatives insane—they are the sorest winners ever recorded in history. As many of Bartley's ideas gained ascendancy, his page became shriller, unable to give Clinton proper credit for getting control of spending. There's a thin line between hard-hitting opinion journalism and character assassination, a line that Bartley frequently erased. Instead of serving as a sophisticated and credible spokespage for classical liberalism—like the Economist—his page descended all too often into the dishonesty and hackery one associates with politicians."



I realize that I'll probably be expelled from the ranks of patriotic American conservatives for suggesting that there's anything that's better in Europe than in America, but I just have to blurt this out: Europeans have more freedom to drive really fast, as the American Spectator explains. If you want to preserve America's small towns from depopulating, then you need to let their residents have the right to now and then see their hometowns disappearing in their rearview mirrors at 120 mph. If Great Plains residents could drive from the Dakotas to Jackson Hole or the Chicago suburbs in four hours, they'd be a lot more likely to keep coming back home to live.


It's remarkable how little organized demand there is for transportation liberty in the U.S., despite our vast empty spaces. Here's the only website I've found devoted to campaigning for Americans to enjoy the freedom of Germans: American Autobahn.



Orrin Judd calls attention to a new attempt to make sense of America's electoral geography: The 10 Regions of American Politics.



Tim Burton's Big Fish opens today in extremely limited release in NYC and LA. It's not for everybody, but I think in the long run it will turn out to be the Groundhog Day of 2003. My review explaining the unfashionable things the movie is doing will be in the upcoming American Conservative. It won't be online, because the magazine wants you to subscribe in return for the pleasure of reading my reviews. And so do I. 



I don't complain all that much about bias in the New York Times, especially since I don't pay to read it. It just shows up for free every midnight Eastern time on my web browser in all its massiveness. (As a professional journalist, I think it's very bad for the business for the premiere product to give itself away, but I won't look a gift horse in the mouth.) I think any grown-up can figure out its biases (although the President seems to want to exclude himself from that category), and they aren't monolithic -- reporters like Nicholas Wade and John Tierney are highly independent minds.


Still, one of the NYT's predispositions is so flagrant as to be funny: the continuing We Hate Switzerland theme. You might think that the NYT would approve of Switzerland for proving that a multiethnic state can be peace-loving, prosperous, democratic, and strong on civil liberties, but instead the NYT traditionally portrays Switzerland as if it were the last province of Nazi Germany still holding out from the Allies. You've got to read this article by Alan Cowell, "Switzerland Is the Odd Piece in Continent's New Mosaic," to believe it.



Last week, I asked: In Shakespeare's plays, are there any gays (in the contemporary "Queer Eye" sense of the word)? Several readers nominated a foppish courtier, whose actions offstage are described onstage with contempt by the virile Harry Hotspur in the third scene of the first act of Henry IV, Part I: 


My liege, I did deny no prisoners.
But I remember, when the fight was done,
When I was dry with rage and extreme toil,
Breathless and faint, leaning upon my sword,
Came there a certain lord, neat, and trimly dress'd,
Fresh as a bridegroom; and his chin new reap'd
Show'd like a stubble-land at harvest-home;
He was perfumed like a milliner;
And 'twixt his finger and his thumb he held
A pouncet-box, which ever and anon
He gave his nose and took't away again;
Who therewith angry, when it next came there,
Took it in snuff; and still he smiled and talk'd,
And as the soldiers bore dead bodies by,
He call'd them untaught knaves, unmannerly,
To bring a slovenly unhandsome corse
Betwixt the wind and his nobility.
With many holiday and lady terms
He question'd me; amongst the rest, demanded
My prisoners in your majesty's behalf.
I then, all smarting with my wounds being cold,
To be so pester'd with a popinjay,
Out of my grief and my impatience,
Answer'd neglectingly I know not what,
He should or he should not; for he made me mad
To see him shine so brisk and smell so sweet
And talk so like a waiting-gentlewoman
Of guns and drums and wounds,--God save the mark!--
And telling me the sovereign'st thing on earth
Was parmaceti for an inward bruise;
And that it was great pity, so it was,
This villanous salt-petre should be digg'd
Out of the bowels of the harmless earth,
Which many a good tall fellow had destroy'd
So cowardly; and but for these vile guns,
He would himself have been a soldier.
This bald unjointed chat of his, my lord,
I answer'd indirectly, as I said...


The difficulty, especially for us in the 21st Century when traditional class roles have worn away, is to distinguish between the effeminate and the effete. Aristocracy had a tendency toward effeteness (think of Bertie Wooster or the Scarlett Pimpernel's foppish public facade), which wasn't necessarily the same thing as effeminacy. Or maybe it was. It's hard to be clear on this. One reader wrote:


"Another gayish title character is Richard II, the poet-king. But then, half of Shakespeare's royal characters were probably on the verge of this sort of thing. Basically, when you write about aristocrats, who do not have to do anything to earn a living, who have youth and plenty of money, and who hang around with people like themselves, you are pretty close to the affluent, unmarried, urban world that is producing the metrosexual today. I mean, what was a European king or noble supposed to do? He could spend his life hacking up his fellow nobles in wars or succession intrigues, or he could hang around the palace contemplating his own navel (or someone else's navel). Boredom and leisure explain a lot. But I definitely think you are on to something when recalling the old perspective of regarding homosexuality as a behavior, rather than a hard-wired category."



Funny, But I Do Look Jewish -- Joseph Epstein writes a nice essay about how he keeps getting more Jewish looking as he ages. Me, if I put on a black coat and black hat, I look like a rabbi, but there are other times I don't think I look Jewish at all. It's a lot like how Tiger Woods looks black if you think of him as black, but he looks Thai if you think of him as Thai -- M.C. Escher should have drawn him.



A reader points out that our new Iraq policy of "imprisoning the relatives of suspected guerrillas" would appear to be a war crime under the Fourth Geneva Convention: "Article 33. No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited."



Kin reprisals: American forces in Iraq "have begun imprisoning the relatives of suspected guerrillas, in hopes of pressing the insurgents to turn themselves in." Here in America, we don't think of throwing people in jail because they have a cousin who is a bad guy, but, predictably, we're learning the ancient logic of how to grab and hold power in the Middle East, a logic in which kin reprisals have always played a useful role. But are these lessons we, as Americans, really want to have to learn?



How to improve the BCS college football championship game: After #1 ranked Oklahoma got thrashed Saturday night, USC moved up to a solid #1 in both the coaches and sportswriters' polls. Yet, the Trojans, who have evolved into one of the most offensively gifted teams of all time over the last two months, have been shut out of the national championship game, which will match up Oklahoma and LSU. The problem is that the computer polls that dominate the BCS ranking don't consider margin of victory. USC's only loss, back in September to Cal, was in triple overtime, and it beat every other team by at least 17 points.


The BCS should add a fans' poll. After the last game of the regular season, they should have a marketing research team do a phone survey of 1500 fans and see which teams the public wants to see. From online polls, it's clear that the majority of the public wanted to see USC-LSU in the Sugar Bowl. Oklahoma-LSU, which is what we'll get, was the least popular of the three possibilities. Bowls games exist for the fans, so let them have a voice.



A new column at left.



A reader writes:


"I read your review [of the Tom Cruise movie "The Last Samurai"] in the American Conservative and was very impressed. I'm always struck by the difference between Japanese and  American film portrayals of the Samurai. The Americans are almost always reverent, even if acknowledging the violence, such as in the film adaptation of James Clavell's Sho-Gun, whereas the Japanese films I've seen usually portray them as either thugs or unworthy leaders, especially in the animé features I've seen. The "noble" samurai seems to be something of an exception."


I guess the ancestors of most Japanese alive today got pushed around a little too much to subscribe to the West's naive view of the wonderfulness of the Samurai. It's a little like the standard political point of Westerns -- A gunslinger's physical courage was admirable, but in the long run it's better to turn the frontier into a civilization where women and children and men who aren't killers are safe.



Twin studies  are the best tools we have for studying nature-nurture questions (along with adoption studies), but a correspondent points out two problems with twin studies. Fortunately, these two problems operate in opposite directions, tending to partially cancel each other out.


"The worst single problem for twin researchers is always that those monozygotic (identical or "MZ") twins who are pretty similar are much more interested than other twins in twinning, genetics and participating in twin research: i.e. one of them can relatively easily drag the similar co-MZ along to the laboratory when a research is advertised. Thus identical-fraternal differences heritability estimates become inflated to a hardly assessable degree...


In other words, if both identical twin think getting tested is a wonderful idea, they'll get tested. But if they disagree, they won't get tested. So, the sample size will fill up with identical twins who tend to agree with each other. On the other hand, the same is true for fraternal twins and non-twin siblings, and heritability is measured by the relative difference between identical and fraternal twins, so maybe this isn't such a huge problem?


"The second biggest problem is that, often sharing the same chorion, identical are competing with each other specially hard from Day 1 -- and get driven into dissimilarities by influences that simply don't arise for singleton or fraternal twin children, thus artificially lowering heritability estimates" 


For example, identical twins often can't play the same position on sports teams, so they are encouraged to take on different positions and styles. One must play center while the other plays power forward, or one plays quarterback while the other plays wide receiver. Or they can't develop the same style because the team can't overload on one kind of player. Thus, basketball star Harvey Grant was the shooter (and played small forward), so his twin Horace Grant became the rebounder (and played as a thin power forward). Often, one identical twin becomes the dominant "idea man" and the other twin routinely goes along with it. It cuts down on time-wasting, stressful arguments, and, after all, the ideas that the dominant twin comes up with probably are about what the other one would have come up with anyway.



From my review (not on line) in the 12/15/2003 issue of The American Conservative (which should be on newsstands about now) of the new Tom Cruise action blockbuster The Last Samurai:


Perhaps the most memorable character created by Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz for that quintessential 80s' television show thirtysomething was the "samurai advertising man" Miles Drentell, a sinister executive who justified each new swindle with parables drawn from the martial moralists of Japan.


Drentell proved less satiric than prophetic. Today, two-thirds of a century after the Rape of Nanking, these feudal philosophies of violence occupy a revered place in American media culture. Now, Zwick is back (with script assistance from Herskovitz), directing Tom Cruise as an American cavalry captain hired in 1876 to train Japanese peasant soldiers to put down General Saigo's samurai rebellion, but who instead learns to admire the old-fashioned "way of the warrior." The Last Samurai is a lovely looking but staggeringly reactionary $100 million elegy for the good old days when an insulted aristocrat could restore his honor by decapitating an insolent commoner on the spot.


This is the fifth military movie Zwick has made. He obviously loves war, but his liberal conscience requires him to inject into each film some multiculturalist moralizing. His first and best war flick, Glory, was a deserved tribute to the black soldiers who fought in the Civil War. Unfortunately, his subsequent efforts, such as Courage Under Fire (about a ferocious Desert Storm chopper pilot played by, of all people, Meg Ryan), have been more or less silly.


Zwick's spin machine faces its greatest challenge in The Last Samurai because it's essentially an ode to Japanese militarism. Rather than just revel in the cruelty of the samurai tradition, like Quentin Tarantino does in Kill Bill, Zwick tries to justify his fascination with superb swords hacking human flesh by concocting a clever rationalization for why the Meiji Emperor's destruction of the samurai was actually America's fault. Yet, as David St. Hubbins pointed out in Spinal Tap, there's such a fine line between clever and stupid.


To find out how Zwick completely distorts samurai history to make it politically correct, see my review in The American Conservative.


By the way, the most detailed source I've been able to find says the climatic battle scene in the movie between the samurai, armed only with swords and wearing their traditional armor, and the peasant conscripts armed with American-made guns, is a crock: "The samurai were armed with Enfield muzzle loading rifles and could fire approximately one round per minute. Their artillery consisted of 28 mountain guns, 2 field guns (15.84 pounders), and 30 assorted mortars. ... The samurai attempted to dress in a similar manner to give the appearance of uniformity. Their dress consisted of their own clothes and armor was not worn, except by a few officers who wore a breastplate. Saigo and some of his officers wore their military uniforms. Each samurai wore a white cloth on his upper arm so that they could identify themselves."


One additional note: the movie's most authentic aspect -- the touch of male hysteria in the intense relationship between Cruise's character and the Saigo character, a little bit like that of Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif in Lawrence of Arabia, is an accurate, if unspoken, reflection of the reputation of the samurai schools, especially in Saigo's southwestern corner of Japan, for fostering homosexual "romantic friendships" between warriors. (The famous and sinister bisexual novelist Yukio Mishima, who started his own private army and committed seppuku after the failure of his 1970 rightwing coup, is a recent example of the traditional connection between militarism and homosexuality in pre-modern Japanese culture.)



Was Foucault on to something? French arch-intellectual, Michel Foucault, who died of AIDS in 1984, claimed that homosexuals didn't exist before the 19th Century. Certainly, there was homosexual behavior, but did the modern gay personality (the various stereotypical but very real traits testified to by the very existence of the term "metrosexual") even exist before recent centuries? In the classical pagan world, homosexual behavior was more common than today, but these guys don't sound much at all like contemporary Castro Street gays. (I listed three dozen tendencies of modern gay men here.) Most ancient homosexuality would seem to resemble either society-sanctioned versions of child molestation, prison rape, or Brideshead Revisited infatuations. Not many of those who engaged in ancient gay sex seemed terribly gay in personality.


Here's a test: Shakespeare's plays offer a spectacular diversity of human types, and Shakespeare spent his life in the London theatre, where gays are common today, but are there any characters in his works who are clearly modern gays? I'm not expert on Shakespeare, but, if not, why not?



You read a lot these days about how the Japanese are going to die out due to a low birth rate (currently, 1.32 babies per woman) unless they open the floodgates to immigration, but my man in Japan says that nobody talks about it there:


"I mentioned this to my students this morning but they were not the least bit worried. They think it is a temporary problem and the population will stabilize at a lower level eventually."


I assume the Japanese think, with some reason, that their islands are too crowded and that their descendents would be better off with more living space per capita. Temporarily reducing the birthrate seems an eminently better solution than the one the Japanese came up with the last time they decided they wanted more lebensraum, back in 1941: conquest.


My correspondent, an American with a Japanese wife and child, went on to say: "Actually, there has been almost no discussion of this issue in Japan. A well-known commentator who brought up the issue on a Sunday morning talk show last week was shut down immediately by the host."


How come?


"You can understand Japan better by thinking in terms of "flocking" or "schooling" behavior in animals. I am told that the flocking behavior of birds can be simulated quite easily with algorithms that say "try to maintain a constant distance from the virtual center of the flock" or something like that.


"Meetings in Japan are quite mysterious until you think in these terms. Each member makes vague probing remarks trying to determine where the center is. After a while, the position of the center emerges spontaneously, and people maneuver to their preferred position in relation to that center.


"Since the questions of population loss and immigration have not been put on the table for discussion yet, there is no center. Thus people feel uncomfortable discussing the subject."




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