November 11, 2006

Most ironic "Borat" news story yet

The most annoying thing about the "Borat" mania is that we constantly get told that this isn't just a funny movie, like "Dumb and Dumber." No, "Borat" is Good For You, a landmark in the battle against prejudice, like "Schindler's List."

As I've pointed out, "Borat" isn't really about the Central Asian country of Kazakhstan. It's about reviving old Polish Joke stereotypes about Eastern Europe. As has often been mentioned, the "Kazakhstan" scenes weren't filmed in Kazakhstan, that supposed bastion of anti-Semitism and anti-Gypsyism, but in Romania.

Yet, while Romania is poor, how did the film makers come up with a village quite that dilapidated and feckless-looking?

From the UK Evening Standard:

Borat film 'tricked' poor village actors

When Sacha Baron Cohen wanted a village to represent the impoverished Kazakh home of his character Borat, he found the perfect place in Glod: a remote mountain outpost with no sewerage or running water and where locals eke out meagre livings peddling scrap iron or working patches of land.

But now the villagers of this tiny, close-knit community have angrily accused the comedian of exploiting them, after discovering his new blockbuster film portrays them as a backward group of rapists, abortionists and prostitutes, who happily engage in casual incest.

They claim film-makers lied to them about the true nature of the project, which they believed would be a documentary about their hardship, rather than a comedy mocking their poverty and isolation.

Villagers say they were paid just £3 each for this humiliation, for a film that took around £27million at the worldwide box office in its first week of release.

Now they are planning to scrape together whatever modest sums they can muster to sue Baron Cohen and fellow film-makers, claiming they never gave their consent to be so cruelly misrepresented.

Yeah, yeah, everybody wants to sue now that the movie is a hit.

But, here's where the story gets really interesting.

The comedian insisted on travelling everywhere with bulky bodyguards, because, as one local said: 'He seemed to think there were crooks among us."

Now why would an enlightened Cambridge grad like Sacha Baron Cohen, who wrote his thesis on Jewish aid to the black civil rights movement, be so prejudiced against some poor villagers? Oh, it looks like he had a reason:

Its 1,000 residents live in dilapidated huts in the shadow of the Carpathian mountains. Toilets are little more than sheltered holes in the ground and horses and donkeys are the only source of transport.

Just four villagers have permanent employment in the nearby towns of Pucioasa or Fieni, while the rest live off what little welfare benefits they get.

What kind of Eastern European village has an unemployment rate of 99%?

Have you figured it out by now? The funny thing is that the prejudiced Borat would have figured it out immediately:

The village, like others in the Dambovita region of Romania, is populated mainly by gipsies who say they are discriminated against by the rest of the country.

Indeed, when local vice-mayor Petre Buzea was asked whether the people felt offended by Baron Cohen's film, he replied: 'They got paid so I am sure they are happy. These gipsies will even kill their own father for money.'

In other words, Baron Cohen is making fun of, and 96% of the film critics of America are laughing along at, Gypsies, those other victims of the Holocaust.

The layers of irony are awfully thick here, aren't they?

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

November 8, 2006

Democrats win House vote 53-45. Or did they?

I make it a tradition to add up all the House votes to see which party did best in the midterm elections. Using the numbers on the Fox News website from about 24 hours after the polls closed, I come up with:

Democrats 36,648,024 51.2%
Republicans 33,262,303 46.5%
Other 1,660,487 2.3%
Total 71,570,814 100.0%

The problem with this, however, is that the Democrats had 30 seats where their House candidates were unopposed, so Fox didn't list a vote total, versus only 4 where the Republican candidates had a walkover. So, it was actually significantly worse for the Republicans. So, I decided to get the average number of votes for all parties for the 401 contested districts (178,481), and add that to the party totals for each walkover they had.

Democrats 42,002,449 54.1%
Republicans 33,976,226 43.8%
Other 1,660,487 2.1%
Total 77,639,162 100.0%

Now, that may exaggerate the Democrats' advantage because uncontested districts are likely to have lower turnout in general than competitive districts. So, if I assume that turnout would have been 80% of average in the 34 uncontested districts and the dominant party would have won 80-20, then I get:

Democrats 40,189,084 52.6%
Republicans 34,575,922 45.2%
Other 1,660,487 2.2%
Total 76,425,493 100.0%

Care to share your opinion on what is the best way to handle this methodological problem?

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

U.S. meddles in Nicaraguan election, gets burned

Former Sandinista boss Daniel Ortega was elected President of the Central American country, following a campaign in which the American ambassador repeatedly meddled in favor of an opposition candidate.

Interfering in Nicaragua during the Cold War was ugly but necessary during our struggle with the Soviet Union. But it's ridiculous to portray Venezuela as the new Soviet Union justifying American fiddling in countless minor countries. The current leftist surge in Latin America probably won't do Latin American any net good, but it's an indigenous response to very real problems in Latin America, and it needs to work itself out without the U.S. constantly interfering to prop up the wealthy white ruling classes of various little countries.

In reality, we're returning not to the Cold War but to the early 20th Century tradition of the U.S. government throwing its weight around at the behest of various special interests within the U.S. (See Marine Corps Gen. Smedley Butler's bitter "War is just a racket" speech about all countries he occupied to make more profits for specific American companies.) This is just like the sugar growers getting huge financial breaks from the American government -- it doesn't pay for you and me to organize to eliminate these favors because it would cut our sugar bill by a dollar a year or so per person, but it sure pays for the Fanjul family to buy some Congressmen to raise the price for them. Likewise, the impact of Nicaraguan economic policies, good or bad, on the overall American GDP is vanishingly small, but it does make a difference to certain interests within America.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

California going its own way

Republicans are doing fairly well out west. Arnold Schwarzenegger appears to be cruising to re-election, helped along by the Democratic candidate Phil Angelides bearing an unfortunate resemblance to Ichabod Crane from "The Headless Horseman" (and not the Johnny Depp Ichabod Crane from the Tim Burton movie). In California, that matters.

But, more strikingly, Tom McClintock, a genuine conservative, has a small lead for Lt. Governor. [Well, now he has fallen behind, but he's done well.]

It looks like Democrats will narrowly win most of the other Sacramento elective offices, but the Democratic Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante's bid to be Insurance Commissioner is going down in flames. Bustamamante could have been elected governor in the 2003 special election by just running as what he always was, a moderate to conservative Democrat, while letting Schwarzenegger and McClintock split the GOP vote. But, bizarrely, Bustamante decided to campaign as if he was running for gobernador de Mexifornia, making illegal alien appreciation the main theme of his campaign, with predictably disastrous results. This time, Cruz ran as the weigh loss candidate, making his recent diet the centerpiece of his campaign. His defeat might say something in favor of the seriousness and non-superficiality of California voters, if it wasn't for the fact that even after he lost all that weight, he's still ugly.

In the LA Times exit poll, illegal immigration was listed as the most important issue by Schwarzenegger voters. I doubt if Schwarzenegger will do much about it ...

According to the national exit poll, Schwarzenegger won 60% of the white vote, 59% of the Asian vote, an above average 26% of the black vote (California blacks are a little more conservative than nationally, but that's still good), but only 34% of the Hispanic vote. California Hispanics are a little to the left of the national Hispanic voter, so that's not too bad for Schwarzenegger, but not very good either, especially considering he's running as a liberal Republican. In California, the white-Hispanic gap was 26 points (60-34), compared to nationally in the House races where it is now 22 points (51-29 at last count). So, Schwarzenegger won big in California despite losing in a landslide among Hispanics. For the last decade, the media has promoted the implicit myth that Hispanics in California cast Magic Ballots, worth far more than other voters' ballots. In truth, they (still) count every vote the same.

The Asian figure is very good for a Republican these days.

We'll see if Schwarzenegger can stay interested in his job for the next four years until he is term-limited out. I would guess he'd run for Senator after that, being constitutionally unable to run for President, and probably not a likely candidate for Secretary-General, Pope, Dalai Lama, Galactic Overlord or other jobs suitable to his ego. Half the time I think that having a steroid-powered bodybuilder-action hero as governor of the biggest state is a sign that it won't take 500 years for the America of "Idiocracy" to arrive. And the other half of the time, I think that Schwarzenegger really is something special.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Well done, neocons!

Besides helping get us into this election-losing war, you've also brought about a realignment of the small but influential Jewish electorate -- even farther away from Republicans! According to the national exit poll for the House elections, the GOP carried an extraordinarily weak 11% of the Jewish vote, losing 87-11. I doubt if the GOP House candidates lost 87-11 among Jews in 1936.

The only time a GOP Presidential candidate has done that close to that badly among Jews was George H.W. Bush in 1992, who lost 80-11 in a three way race. He had angered Israel-enthusiasts by trying to take steps against West Bank settlements, and Bush the Elder also had Ross Perot in the race as a third party candidate.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

WSJ: "The crucial role of Hispanics:"

A reader writes:

The Wall St. Journal in its news pages points to the "crucial role of Hispanics" in this election? Can you find me a few where that was the case?

Oh, jeez, that again. If you prodded a Washington political reporter awake from a deep sleep and told him to start typing, his fingers would automatically punch in "the crucial Hispanic swing vote." He probably has it on a macro.

Compared to the 2002 midterms, the GOP's Hispanic share of the vote dropped from 38% to 29%, 9 points down, while the GOP's white share dropped from 58% to 51%, or 7 points down. (Those numbers have changed slightly since my VDARE blog item of last night.) Since the Hispanic vote follows the white vote up and down, just about 20 points shifted toward the Democrats (it's not a swing vote, it's a vote that goes with the flow of the white vote), the relative loss for the GOP among Hispanics versus the last midterm was 2 percentage points, which it would be reasonable to attribute to the Fence. Multiply that 2 percentage point relative loss by the approximate 6 percent share of the vote that Hispanics made up in this electorate, and you've got an itsy-bitsy number: 0.12%.

In most of your big Hispanic states, California, Texas, Florida, New York, there weren't too many close major races. Schwarzenegger lost the Hispanic vote almost 2 to 1, but still won overall in a near landslide.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

November 7, 2006

"Borat" and the witch hunt for inappropriate remarks

From my upcoming review in The American Conservative:

"Borat," we are advised by film critics, is an Important Message Movie because it portrays Kazakhs -- and Red State Americans -- as anti-Semites... Manohla Dargis, movie critic for the New York Times, assures us the semi-scripted movie "will freeze your blood," exposing hidden anti-Semitism when Borat says something casually anti-Semitic to an American Southerner who fails to gasp with appropriate horror or to immediately perform a citizen's arrest and bundle the visitor off to a cultural sensitivity re-education camp. In truth, Borat must have struck most Americans not in on the joke as a harmless boob or a dangerous lunatic. In either case, humoring him would be the sanest strategy for getting him to go away.

And here's an essay that methodically works through just about every incident in the movie where Borat interacts with (presumably) real Americans:

Movie Review: Borat Makes America Look Good

Written by Al Barger

Here, I want to zero in on just one specific aspect: How the unwitting Americans came out. What I saw on the screen doesn't seem to quite jibe with what I'm reading in many stories about it. I keep reading that Cohen made fools of the Americans, setting them up to expose their dark sides, their racism and homophobia, etc. For example, Entertainment Weekly says "the people Borat talks to become the symbolic heart of America - a place where intolerance is worn, increasingly, with pride." But that's mostly not what actually showed up on the screen, by my best instant analysis...

But in the actual practice, the Americans he tricked into being in his film mostly acquitted themselves very well. None of these Americans seemed malicious or vicious, or even hateful. They were all pretty nice, and very open hearted. [More]

Sacha Baron Cohen's film crew shot so many hours of footage as they traveled across America that they even got a clip of a rodeo horse with a rider carrying an American flag falling down by accident (how often does that happen?), yet they weren't able to come up with much in the way of the red meat bigotry that so many film critics were so desperately hoping to see that they simply imagined it was there.

As for the most notorious Borat segment from the old Ali G show, when he gets some members of an audience in a country-western bar to sing along with the purported Kazakh song "Throw the Jew Down the Well," a clip which has been the subject of countless thumbsucking essays about the Meaning of It All, such as this one by Ron Rosenbaum in Slate, a participant in the Slate "Fray" responded:

Regarding the enthusiastic redneck responses to Borat's Jew-well-throwing songs--don't read too much into it. It's at least partly a product of editing. This is not to so that the sing-along barflies were not racist--hell, they probably were--but part of the genius of the Borat character originates in the editing room. It's not like he just walked out there, launched into a Jew-hating song out of nowhere, and the latently anti-semitic crowds joined right in. There's an article from the local AZ paper floating around the interweb somewhere, interviewing one of the bar patrons caught on camera singing along, who explained that, contrary to the way it looks in the edited clip, Borat had warmed the crowd up for some time, was pretty clearly doing a comedy routine, and had sung a number of pre-Jew verses about throwing your mother down the well, throwing your sister down the well, etc.

I haven't been able to find the original article to confirm this, but it certainly sounds more plausible than the conventional wisdom about the clip.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

November 6, 2006

The coolest thing about real Kazakhs

While lots of people hunt with falcons, Kazakhs also hunt with huge golden eagles. Stephen Bodio wrote about it in The Atlantic, and here's his book Eagle Dreams. By the way, here's what he has to say about the capital of Kazakhstan:

Sometimes it is very hard to convey the realities of Central Asia. People can just about get the idea of what remote parts of Mongolia are like-- they like the idea of "primitive".

But what about Almaty? It is a huge modern city with tree-lined boulevards and excellent restaurants and cyber-cafes, situated in the green foothills beween 14,000 foot peaks and steppes like the plains of Wyoming. It is inhabited by Kazakhs and Russians living in enviable harmony (and often intermarrying), Germans, Moslems, Orthodox Christians and Orthodox Jews. What's more, as a Russian friend says, "you can take public transport to snow leopards".

And the town is inhabited, thronged, by incredibly beautiful and stylish women. Everyone in the US seems to think Central Asian women look like East German Athletes or Stalinist WW II vets-- it ain't so! Renato Sala, an irreverent Italian archaeologist based in Almaty, once said to us through clouds of Gauloise smoke that " Kazakhstan has the MOST beautiful women-- Stalin or Chingizz or somebody must have killed all the ugly ones!" Only an Italian.

Dress is interesting too. Libby thought to bring "Cover Up" clothes in deference to both what we thought were local mores and to the season, but it was still hot (early September) and the local women were dressed in bare midriffs and slit skirts and very high heels.

And, if you want to know what Kazakhstan's models look like, here are photos from Fashion Week in Almaty. But I suspect women don't really dress like that in Kazakhstan.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


From my upcoming movie review in The American Conservative:

... Baron Cohen, who wrote his thesis at Cambridge on Jewish participation in the American civil rights movement, modeled Borat on an unintentionally funny Russian he had met. His character started out Moldovan and then became Albanian. There are plenty of scary Albanian gangsters in Western Europe who might have taken active offense, however, and Borat was relocated to far-off Kazakhstan in Central Asia.

In reality, Kazakhstan is an arid land of mostly Asian-looking people, but in Baron Cohen's imagination, it's a travesty of old stereotypes about Eastern Europe. The vulgar yet somehow innocent journalist's home was filmed 2500 miles away in an impoverished Romanian village so that Baron Cohen can indulge in traditional Ashkenazi anti-gentilism, the clever townsman's disdain for the slower-witted peasant.

"Borat" is a 21st Century version of the Polish jokes that Borscht Belt comedians like Henny Youngman once helped popularize. While Baron Cohen's Ali G was a milestone in contemporary social satire, the anti-Slavic depiction of Borat as the ultimate goyishe kop (he carries a chicken in his suitcase and has no idea what a toilet is for) is old-fashioned and purposeless.

Still, the film is awfully funny in its intentionally lowbrow way. ...

Fox's masterful hyping of "Borat" is in ironic contrast to how in September the studio drowned like an unwanted kitten the similarly crude and hilarious, but much smarter and more politically daring, "Idiocracy," the sci-fi black comedy about America's dysgenic future by the dazzling but diffident Mike Judge

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer