February 24, 2007

The President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister: Three Who Changed the World by John O'Sullivan

"Changed the World" is the hottest phrase in titling books these days. We have books with titles like "The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology." I'm hardly the first to notice this. Richard Adams wrote in The Guardian in 2005:

Anyone contemplating writing a book on current trends in the publishing industry might consider this as a catchy title - Book: the book about the book that changed the world about the fish that changed the world. It's the fault of American author Mark Kurlansky. In 1999 he wrote a book that set off the fashion for what Waterstone's categorises as "biographies of things", called Cod: a biography of the fish that changed the world… According to the trade press, a whole army of "changed the world" titles is ready to be launched. In September we will be able to buy a book on concerts subtitled "gigs that changed the world". In June we can get our hands on a book about the sheep that changed the world. And next month there's the chance to buy a book on gunpowder, the explosive that changed the world (presumably by blowing up bits of it). The list goes on and on - anyone fancy a forthcoming text with the subtitle "the 1976 wine tasting that changed the world"?

At last, though,we have a book where the subtitled is justified: The President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister: Three Who Changed the World by John O'Sullivan, the former editor of National Review and a long time aid to the Prime Minister in the title. It's a triple biography of Ronald Reagan, John Paul II, and Margaret Thatcher and how they won the Cold War, with a particular focus on Poland.

O'Sullivan pays a lot of attention to the view from within the Kremlin. I hadn't realized how early the Soviets had felt the cold wind of doom blowing over them. O'Sullivan argues that at the time of Solidarity's rise in August 1980, the Soviets believed their economy too weak to absorb the sanctions that would result from an invasion of Poland in the style of 1968 or 1956. So they bluffed the West into thinking that eventual December 1981 crushing of Solidarity by the Communist Polish general Jaruslewski was an act of forbearance by the Soviets, when in reality it was the best they could have hoped for.

There's lots more of interest in this fine, wide-ranging, quick paced book.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

February 21, 2007

Pre-Oscar movie reviews

Here are some of my film reviews from The American Conservative:

Casino Royale

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

Educational reform and friction

Every time there is a new school "reform," there turns out to be a lot of unexpected collateral damage. For example, a new required course to graduate from high school will be added, but some sizable fraction of the students won't get the class added to their schedules. The bureaucracy drops the ball, the kids drop the ball, and their parents drop the ball. So, marginal students don't graduate from high school. Military strategists have a concept called "friction" or random negative events that prevent the plan from being carried out as written. Something like that happens with school reforms, too. So, these fads like No Child Left Behind wind up having large human costs that nobody anticipates.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

February 20, 2007

Feminism leads to more nepotism

The rise of two career couples in recent decades has increased the importance of who-you-know relative to what-you-know. The huge increase in working women has increased the opportunities for nepotism because, if you come from a well connected family, you now have virtually double the number of powerful people you are related to. The term "nepotism" originated in Italy, where the nephews of Popes tended to do very well for themselves. But now, if you come from a high ranking family, you can have not only powerful uncles but also powerful aunts as well, nearly doubling your chances of being related to somebody with pull in your field. On the other hand, if you come from a family with no connections, well, two times zero is still zero, so you are no better off.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

February 19, 2007

Lady tennis players, Obama as post-Teenybopper idol; cousin marriage

Around the Web:

- In Slate, economist Steven Landsburg reviews a study showing that female pro tennis players choke more (make more unforced errors on critical points) than do male pros. That women tend to be more at the mercy of their emotions hardly sounds implausible, but there could be a couple of other explanations: (A): Women pros tend to be younger; and (B) There may be less competition to be a female pro than a male pro, since so many women with good muscle tone would prefer to be dancers than athletes -- so, women tennis players are subject to less selective pressure, so negative traits like choking aren't as fatal to making it on tour.

- Obama as the new Justin Timberlake: In the Nation, a 24-year-old girl plants an 800-word big wet one on the handsome kisser of the junior Senator from Illinois.

- Stanley Kurtz on cousin marriage in the Middle East in National Review: Here's Part 1:

So to understand the kinship structure of a traditional society is to make sense of a good deal of life there. Unfortunately, our contemporary thinned-out notion of kinship has made it tough to recognize just how profoundly societies are shaped by variations in marriage practices. That’s why we’re far more comfortable making sense of the war on terror through the lens of a familiar phenomenon like religion, than in the light of something alien, like cousin marriage.

Part 2:

If we want to change any of this, it will be impossible to restrict ourselves to the study of religious Islam. The “self-sealing” character of Islam is part and parcel of a broader and more deeply rooted social pattern. And parallel-cousin marriage is more than just an interesting but minor illustration of that broader theme. If there’s a “self-sealing” tendency in Muslim social life, cousin marriage is the velcro. In contemporary Europe, perhaps even more than in the Middle East, cousin marriage is at the core of a complex of factors blocking assimilation and driving the war on terror.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

"The Lives of Others"

When the Soviet submarine film "The Hunt for Red October" appeared in 1990, a magazine headline described it with a sigh of relief as "The Last Cold War Movie." And that proved largely prophetic. While the movie industry continues to mine the Third Reich's dozen years, the much longer era of Communist tyranny in Eastern Europe has seemingly disappeared down the media memory hole.

In Germany, "It's forbidden by law to deny the crimes of the Nazis," observes historian Hubertus Knabe, "But it's almost forbidden by custom since reunification to really discuss the crimes of the regime that turned East Germany into a prison." Hence, a huge hit in Germany was "Good Bye, Lenin!" -- a sweet comedy inspired by the misbegotten Ostalgie fad (nostalgia for the East).

The German drama "The Lives of Others" shows what we've been missing. Perhaps the best movie of 2006, this debut by a 33-year-old, 6'9" writer-director with the heel-clickingly Teutonic moniker of Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck depicts life in 1984 under the eyes of the Stasi secret police. They employed one percent of the East German workforce directly and two percent as secret informants.

In a masterful opening segment, Wiesler, a thin-lipped, middle-aged Stasi functionary, conducts a textbook interrogation of a hapless citizen accused (and, in effect, already convicted) of not snitching on a neighbor planning to escape to the West. When the prisoner protests his innocence, Wiesler replies, "If you believe we arrest people on a whim, that alone is enough to justify your arrest." The secret policeman is played with charismatic restraint by East German actor Ulrich Mühe (who had discovered in his Stasi files in the 1990s details about himself reported by his wife). [More in the issue]

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

February 18, 2007

Latest VDARE.com column: NCLB

Why “No Child Left Behind” Is Nuts
By Steve Sailer

A reader who teaches math in a public high school in northern Orange County, California recounted the following dialogue with one of his students:

Student: "My mom is 28 years old."

Teacher: "How old are you?"

Student: "Fifteen."

Teacher: "So, your mother had you when she was thirteen?"

Student: "Wow! You can do that in your head that fast?"

Teacher: "Uh, well, uh, don't worry about it. That's why I'm a math teacher!"

And his student went away happy, self-esteem reassured by knowing that only nerdy math teachers can quickly subtract 15 from 28.

Meanwhile, America's Great and Good carry on making plans for America's schools based on assumptions that wouldn't survive an hour in an average classroom. (Not that they would ever send their kids to a typical school.)

The Aspen Institute's bipartisan Commission on No Child Left Behind, co-chaired by former governors Tommy Thompson and Roy E. Barnes and paid for by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (among others), has just issued 75 recommendations for improving the NCLB legislation when it comes up for renewal by Congress this year.

Despite the many small reforms advocated in the Commission's report "Beyond NCLB: Fulfilling the Promise to Our Nation’s Children" (222 page PDF), not one word of criticism is uttered against the original legislation's most important and implausible requirement: "that all children should reach a proficient level of academic achievement by 2014" in math and reading. The report declares this goal of 100 percent proficiency by 2014 to be "audacious … morally right … and attainable."

What they don't mention about this demand: It's nuts. [More]

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer