April 6, 2005

Predatory Democracy

"Predatory Democracy" -- S.J. Masty writes at Social Affairs Unit on the tendency for South Asian democracies to become consumed by corruption:

Poor, terminal Nepal is the worst South Asian case of all. King Gyanendra recently suspended democracy, locked up many politicians for unassailable corruption, and promises to focus his attention on the Maoist civil war largely ignored for the past decade by swiftly rotating governments obsessed with rent-seeking. Nepalese friends and visitors there report that the public is relieved to be rescued from a Predator Democracy. As one educated, travelled Nepalese explained to me five years back:

When we were an absolute monarchy we had only one set of leeches to support. Our political parties add two sets more than we can afford.

Regardless of whether this king bungles the job, democracy has failed in Nepal. Yet the pious, ideologically-propelled West - particularly America, Britain and the Scandinavian countries - do nothing more than scold Nepal on the supposed moral superiority of democracy and threaten to withhold foreign aid...

When confronted by people suffering and dying under Predator Democracies, most Western pro-democracy ideologues make little tut-tutting sounds, nod in what looks like sincerity and condescendingly tell us that it will take some time for all those supposedly backward brown and black people to advance to our present magnificent condition. They ignore a distinct possibility that our countries are earlier on the evolutionary chain, while Predator Democracies are more advanced than we.

If you apply game theory, and assume that the purpose of governance is the most efficient allocation of loot, then the South Asian model of a Predator Democracy is the most efficient. It uses the smallest and shortest-lived majority to capture and allocate the greatest quantity of spoils. It cannibalizes nations, but it is devastatingly efficient. And, looking at the political spoils systems advanced under Clinton, Bush and Blair, is anyone really certain that our political future doesn't resemble Bangladesh?

My South Asian friends have thousands of years of tradition behind them when most of them assume, with neither shame nor doubt, that it is the right of any maharajah, born or elected, to reward his supporters from the public purse. Conversely there is close to one thousand years of Anglo-Saxon traditions, reflected in common law and statute, attempting to keep governance free from favouritism.

These two very different roots grow much deeper than any form of government, and they are nourished by two very different cultural concepts of fairness, neither of which can be changed easily or swiftly. But that won't stop the West's shallow, undereducated ideologues, the punch-drunk Whigs and self-satisfied Wilsonians insisting that tyranny can be eradicated and that democracy and its prerequisite values can be installed with the ease and speed of a plug-and-play computer programme off a CD-ROM. Or at gun-point.

Something that Bush could use his bully pulpit for is to lecture the world that, as my son pointed out, "democracy" in Greek means "rule by the people" not "rule by the majority," so democracy presupposes among a nation's citizens that they will be patriotically willing to sacrifice for the good of all by learning to compromise, to be good losers, to rule honestly, and so forth. But perhaps Bush isn't the best man to lecture on good government...

Fifteen years ago, Francis Fukuyama announced the End of History, but what he really meant, translating from his weird Hegelian jargon, was the End of Ideology. History churns on, but it has gone back to what it was about before the French Revolution introduced ideology: Who? Whom? Who gets to use the government and who gets used by the government? A perpetually interesting question, no?

Meanwhile, Randall Parker at Parapundit reports Corruption Seen As Bigger Threat Than Insurgency In Iraq. Transparency International says, "If urgent steps are not taken, will become the biggest corruption scandal in history."

The economy of Iraq resembles the Congo's: the people don't produce much that's taxable, so it doesn't pay for rulers to invest in the betterment of the people. The only thing in the country that pays is getting checks from the mineral extraction firms, and who those checks are made out to depends solely on who can amass the most armed force within the country. At $50 per barrel, it will pay a lot to be the ruler of Iraq.

And therefore the various contenders for the role of Owner of the Oil will be willing to shell out a lot to acquire the military force they'll need to gain and secure the prize. Since the United States military is likely to be the strongest single player in the coming struggles to own the oil of Iraq, it's likely that American politics will be heavily corrupted by enormous sums paid out to American politicians, journalists, and the lobbyists by by various would-be Iraqi oil lords trying to win American intervention on their sides.

Just as the Russian robber baron oil firm Yukos promised AEI a big payout (big by a think tank's standard, but a pittance by the standards of an oligarch who auctioned 2% of the world's oil reserves off to himself for $159 million), it might be a good time, from a financial perspective, to start a Washington think tank specializing in schmoozing insiders over Middle Eastern oil issues. From the perspective of the health of your immortal soul, however, well...


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

Ali G's cousin on Autism and Sex Differences

Simon Baron-Cohen is a Cambridge scientist who studies autism, and, yes, he's the cousin of Sacha Baron, Cohen the comedian who plays Ali G. Here he advances his theory that autism might be caused by assortative marriage between nerdy men and nerdy women who both have "systematizing" minds, as opposed to the typical "empathizing" feminine mind which is interested in understanding individual relationships rather than general rules.

Of course, he's getting resistance from feminists who would rather that people went on suffering from autism than challenge their ideological orthodoxy about differences between men and women stemming solely from social conditioning.

Also included are responses from worthies such as Steve Pinker and Armand Marie Leroi.

Interestingly, Baron-Cohen points to differential exposure to male hormones in the womb. He should look into Ray Blanchard's research into the same subject. Blanchard has shown that the more older brothers a man has, the more likely he is to be homosexual. Blanchard speculates that this is caused by reactions between the mother's body and the hormones of the male fetuses that builds up with each gestation of a male. It would be very useful to see where autistics, who tend to be male, tend to fall in the birth order.

One important complication in Baron-Cohen's theory that I've been bringing up for seven years and Carole Hooven echoes is that there are two kinds of masculinity: Big Men and Nerds. Hooven writes:

A big-picture, evolutionary analysis of the Assortative Mating theory reveals somewhat of a paradox between conventional notions of masculinity, and the newer notions of "cognitive masculinity." Testosterone can be thought of as promoting behaviors that are traditionally masculine, preparing males physically and psychologically to bias energetic investment toward mating effort. In adult males, high testosterone levels are associated with status-seeking behaviors and the pursuit of mating opportunities. In men, confidence and social dominance (which would require a relatively high social facility) are predicted by high testosterone. The case of the classic nerdy scientist conjures up images of the stereotype of the low testosterone, but in the current context "cognitively masculine," man — a scrawny male who, although he may be successful in the world of technology, is a miserable failure socially and romantically.

The paradox of the two notions of masculinity raises questions about the role of testosterone in shaping psychological traits, such as status-seeking behavior and spatial ability, in utero and in adulthood. With my colleagues Chris Chabris, Peter Ellison and Steve Kosslyn, I've investigated the role of testosterone in solving spatial problems. We have found that although high testosterone males outperformed low-testosterone males on mental rotation tests, the high performers gained their advantage not because they were better at internally transforming objects, but, as the evidence suggested, because they were more confident in their decisions about the similarity of objects. Perhaps the paradox can be at least partially resolved by furthering our understanding of testosterone's role in affecting performance on cognitive tests.

These findings on individual differences in mental rotation performance, along with a relative lack of robust findings on the effects of perinatal testosterone, remind us that picture of how testosterone affects cognition is still far from complete.

Finally, I don't know why nobody ever talks about the possibility that autism could be caused by an infection. If the disease is truly growing rapidly in number of victims (which seems likely, although I'm not convinced), the most likely cause would be the introduction into America of a germ of foreign origin, just like AIDS wasn't caused by some sudden genetic shift, but by the arrival of an African germ.

People point to the supposed high number of autistic children in Silicon Valley as evidence for the assortative mating theory, but Silicon Valley is unusual in a number of ways, including its higher number of immigrants from Asia.

Autism is such a terrible disease that we need to look at all the possibilities and not rule out unpleasant ones just because we might find the truth disturbing.

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

April 5, 2005

"Flesh-Eating Bacteria Consumes Leg of Canadian Political Leader"

That story from a decade ago about the strange fate of Quebec premier Lucien Bouchard, who had his leg amputated after being infected with Streptococcus pyogenes, must have set some kind of record for combining American headline writers' all-time favorite phrase ("Flesh-Eating Bacteria") with their all-time most snooze-inducing phrase ("Canadian Political Leader").

No wonder I'd never heard of this incident until Kevin Michael Grace (The Ambler) brought it up today to illustrate how little interest Americans take in Canadians.

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

Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin's Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior -- This book is a lot of fun.

Everybody talks about the importance of diversity in academia, but Dr. Grandin, an animals sciences professor at Colorado St., truly represents intellectual diversity. She is a high functioning autistic. Possessing a brain that both doesn't work right yet is extremely intelligent gives her a man from Mars perspective that offers novel insights. She is America's leading designers of cow and pig feedlots, and she believes that animals tend to have brains that function rather like an autistic persons -- they can't see the forest for the trees. Animals are constantly spooked by small visual details that don't bother non-autistic humans because we barely notice much of what goes on around us that isn't relevant to our main trains of thought.

Her book includes lots of fascinating stories about all the things that can go wrong when breeding animals for a particular trait. For example, don't expect Lassie to figure out anymore that the way to rescue Timmy from the quicksand is by extending a long branch -- since WWII, collie breeders have been trying to give collies narrower and narrower snouts because they look so elegant that way. Unfortunately, they made their skulls so narrow there is no room left for brains and collies are now dumb as a box of rocks.

That reminds me that one reason the Theory of Natural Selection was discovered in Britain by Darwin and Wallace (and a few other people in Britain figured out a lot of it earlier but didn't make much of it) was because the social elite was so interested in artificial selection (i.e., animal breeding). Nowhere else has the aristocratic class every been as interested in scientific farming as in 19th Century Britain. Animal breeding was hip in Victorian England, but it's not anymore, which is one reason 21st Century Americans have such a hard time accepting evolution.

It's necessary to point out, however, that the recent view that has been getting a lot of press, such as a cover story in Newsweek, claiming that autism isn't a disease, it's just a way of being "different," is a lot of hooey. First, the majority of autistics are severely retarded. Second, even if you are as smart as Dr. Grandin, and she must be awfully smart indeed to have accomplished so much, it's still an awful way to be. For example, she recounts the moment when she was a teenager when she finally realized that her family's cats didn't want to be petted as roughly as she'd been petting them for years -- it hadn't dawned on her that they had their own points of view, something that normal children figure out a decade or more before.

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

UC starting to obey the law?

"UC Reduces Its Low-SAT Acceptances" - Reports the LA Times. Last year, we found out that the University of California system was accepting quite a number of non-athletes with SATs under 1,000 while rejecting large numbers of students with SATs over 1400 (i.e., two standard deviations higher). Obviously, this was just a subterfuge to violate the California constitution, which outlaws racial preferences. The Chairman of the UC Board of Regents, John Moores, raised a stink and he apparently got some action. So say not that the struggle nought availeth ... especially if you are a billionaire with an important official position. But even Moores had to put up with being censured for his actions attempting to enforce the state constitution. by his own Board. (Here's my profile of Moores.)

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

April 4, 2005

Movie Questions:

A reader asks:

1. Why does France have a lot of first-rate femme directors, who make clever, insightful, professional films about la condition humaine [e.g., the new comedy "Look at Me," which I review in the new April 25th edition of The American Conservative, while the liberated US doesn't? (Insult to injury: their films are clumsily adapted in Hollywood, usually by oafish male directors, who pervert the original ideas--see three men and a baby".)

2. Why did sexist old post-war Italy produce a group of total woman, magnificent, steamy, strong actresses (magnani, loren, lolobrigida, cardinale, others) who didn't scare men, but the liberated US doesn't?

3. Why does extremely sexist China produce goddesses like Gong Li but the liberated US produces Julia Roberts?

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

The Three Assassination Attempts of 1981

Although nobody has ever fully explained why, The Sixties began on Nov. 22, 1963 with the assassination of the President. That ill-starred decade's worst year was 1968, marked by the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy. For some reason, during my lifetime, assassinations strengthened the forces of despair and disorder.

The long decay of the West continued during the 1970s, but by 1981 there was finally reason for optimism, due to the recent elections of strong leaders such as Reagan, Thatcher, and John Paul II. Then the President was shot in March, the Pope in May, and Anwar Sadat in October.

It's not reassuring to contemplate how much worse the last quarter of a century would have gone if all three had died, instead of just Sadat. (Mrs. Thatcher's hotel room was blown up in October of 1984, but she survived too, due to needing less sleep than mortals. Although by then, the victory of the West over Communism had become much more likely.)

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

Dumbing Boys Down

"Wrong Answer" In my new VDARE column, I note that the WSJ declares that Larry Summers was wrong. Their proof? English boys have been getting stupider about math:

The math gender gap has closed largely by English boys becoming more ignorant.

What Whalen and Begley don't mention is that in recent decades, millions of Britain's young males have adopted a philosophy of "laddism." Being "one of the lads" is proven by one's dedication to cutting school, machismo, brawling, drunkenness, soccer hooliganism, anti-intellectualism, and property crime. The lads of Britain have been increasingly turning against schoolwork and honest jobs, with disastrous effects on society as a whole—as seen in the sky-high property crime rates in what used to be one of the world's most law-abiding societies.

This is a significant omission, because way back in 2000, the BBC inquired into the same phenomenon as Whalen and Begley … and came to very different conclusions:

“Britain's academics are asking why girls now outperform boys at A-Level. Their conclusion? The UK's anti-intellectual ‘lad culture’ and our, now notorious, lads' mags…

“Two British academics have blamed a culture of ‘laddism’ where successful male students are ‘geeks;’ and a cultivated indifference to intellectual pursuits is as de rigueur as having a mobile phone.

“Tony Sewell, a lecturer in education at Leeds University says a 'black youth culture' which prizes trainers [athletic shoes] and CDs over exam grades has now captured the imaginations of boys across the board.

“Dr Mary James of Cambridge University says such a climate is being stoked by so-called ‘lad mags,’ which in the absence of other male role models help define the teenage understanding of ‘masculinity.’”

The brilliant British comic Sacha Baron-Cohen famously parodies white and Pakistani youths' infatuation with black American gangsta rappers with his character Ali G, a canary yellow sweatsuit and gold chain-wearing idiot.

Britain’s crime rate is now substantially worse than that of the U.S. For example, the 2000 International Crime Victimization Survey reported that for every 100 people, there were 55 crimes committed in Britain compared to 40 in the U.S.

Immigrants, especially West Indians, have contributed heavily to this inglorious record. But the most important cause has been a moral collapse among Britain’s white working class males—who in the first half of the 20th Century were famous for their honesty. The British prison psychiatrist who writes under the nom de plume Theodore Dalrymple has vividly described the decay of the working class in his book Life at the Bottom.

Not surprisingly, the massive government effort to feminize math classes praised by the WSJ women appears to have made the lads even less inclined to study math.

It's a reflection of how messed up feminists' priorities are that Whalen and Begley salute this latest triumph of "laddism" as a victory for women.

Those poor English schoolgirls, whatever their math scores, are going to have to live the rest of their lives with those dumbed-down English lads. [More]

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

Worst cathedral EVER

"We've got the worst cathedral ever," groaned my wife as the local newscasts displayed crowds of the Catholic faithful gathering before magnificent cathedrals around the world but ended up at our brand new L.A. Cathedral, which looks less like a place of worship than a secret police headquarters. It resembles a more angular, more awkward version of the Bastille.

Why does the Catholic Church, of all institutions, feel the need for novelty in architecture? Innovation is all very fine in things that cost less than $170 million and are supposed to last for less than centuries, but with countless wonderful traditional styles of churches to draw from, what are the odds that a new design will also prove to be a good design? And why choose an intellectualized design (it is supposed to deconstruct and abstract the design elements of the Spanish Mission style) for a congregation that is not among the best-educated? Why not use the indigenous Spanish Mission style?

A reader writes:

And remember, there is nothing that cures banal architecture like plenty of tall, full trees with lots of foliage. Trees have done wonders for I. M. Pei's East Wing of the National Gallery on the mall.

A few redwoods would fix everything.

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

On Woody Allen

Woody Allen's "Melinda and Melinda" and the fine Woody Allenesque French comedy "Look at Me" are reviewed by me in the April 25th issue of The American Conservative (now available to electronic subscribers). An excerpt:

Although the New York critics once hailed him as a genius, Woody Allen was never a Stanley Kubrick-style prophet of the cinema occasionally coming down from the mountaintop with a wholly original new film. Instead, we can see now that he's always been a talented, hardworking craftsman who churned out a prodigious number of pretty good movies before finally colliding with the law of diminishing returns in this decade.

Allen is an upscale, limited edition version of his mass-market idol, the late Bob Hope, from whom he borrowed his film persona as the cowardly but self-absorbed schlemiel who somehow always gets the girl. Indeed, watching one of Hope's ancient "Road" comedies these days generates the odd feeling that Bob Hope is impersonating Woody Allen. Similarly, the post-modern touches in Allen's films trace back to Hope's wildly self-referential late 40s comedies.

Like Hope, Allen is an alpha male off-screen (he was captain of his high school basketball team). Blessed with Hope's indefatigability and efficiency, Allen makes a movie every year for what the Wachowski Siblings probably spent on the "Matrix" sequels' catering. Allen can land big stars on hiatus between their high-paying projects because they know he always finishes on schedule.

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

April 3, 2005

Tierney on cars and votes

"Your Car: Politics on Wheels:" John Tierney writes in the NYT:

It has always been tempting to think you can figure out who a person is and what he thinks by what he drives. That subject was raised recently by Chely Wright in her country and western hit, "Bumper of My S.U.V.," in which she tells of a "lady in a minivan" giving her a vulgar hand gesture for driving a car with a Marines bumper sticker:

"Does she think she knows what I stand for/Or the things that I believe/Just by looking at a sticker for the U.S. Marines/On the bumper of my S.U.V.?"

The lady in the minivan might not know, but some of the finest minds in market research think they do. By analyzing new-car sales, surveying car owners and keeping count of political bumper stickers, they are identifying the differences between Democratic cars and Republican ones.

Among their findings: buyers of American cars tend to be Republican - except, for some reason, those who buy Pontiacs, who tend to be Democrats. Foreign-brand compact cars are usually bought by Democrats - but not Mini Coopers, which are bought by almost equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans. And Volvos may not actually represent quite what you think.

As Volvo's advertising has stressed performance in addition to safety, more and more Republicans are buying Volvos. The CNW survey last year showed that Democratic buyers of Volvo cars outnumbered Republicans by only 32 percent to 27 percent.

"Volvos have become more plush and bourgeois, which is a Republican thing to be," said Mickey Kaus, a dual expert in politics and cars as the author of the Kausfiles and Gearbox columns for Slate. "Subaru is the new Volvo - that is, it is what Volvos used to be: trusty, rugged, inexpensive, unpretentious, performs well, maybe a bit ugly. You don't buy it because you want to show you have money; you buy it because you have college-professor values."

The CNW survey, which measured political affiliation not just by make but also by model, found that a Jeep Grand Cherokee S.U.V. was more than half again as likely to be bought by a Republican than by a Democrat, at 46 percent to 28. Among Hummer buyers, the Republican-to-Democrat ratio was a whopping 52 to 23...

he survey also found that minivans skewed blue, just as Chely Wright surmised in her song. At first glance, this might seem odd, because Republican car buyers tended to have more children - 3.5 on average, versus 1.7 for the Democratic buyers. Explaining this apparent contradiction offers a look into the increasing exactitude marketers seem to be applying to the question of who drives what.

"You might think with all the kids, they'd want the practicality of a minivan," said Art Spinella, the president of CNW. But practicality was not the Republican customer's highest priority, as Mr. Spinella's company discovered by tracking the customers throughout the buying process.

"There is a certain resistance that male new-car buyers have to minivans even in a household with two or three kids," Mr. Spinella explained. "For the most part, red-state households are more male-dominated when it comes to decision-making for a vehicle. In blue states, it's more of a joint decision-making process." Because the Democratic women get more of a say in the decision, their families end up with more minivans than S.U.V.'s.

,,Midsize and large American cars skew Republican, and so, of course, do big American pickup trucks. That may have something to do with American car companies marketing themselves through one of the great symbols of Republicanism, Nascar, which is enormously popular in the red states.

"Nascar has an American-made-only requirement for cars and a variety of other rules that discourage foreign makers from competing," said Steve Sailer, a conservative journalist who has analyzed the red-blue divide. "Toyota has dipped its toe into Nascar's truck-racing series with its American-made trucks, but there isn't a lot of demand for Japanese participation.

"In truth, a lot of fans would be sore about ending the all-American monopoly. Nascar has become a covert ethnic-pride celebration for red-state whites of Northern European descent." [More]

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