May 7, 2005

How Freakonomics Was Marketed onto the Bestseller List:

The Book Standard reports:

Getting a Buzz On: How Publishers Are Turning Online to Market Books May 06, 2005 By Rachel Deahl

“Buzz” is close to supplanting “love” as an overused, devalued—but very effective—term. In the book world, it’s credited with being the reason some titles become bestsellers while others, well, don’t... These kinds of success stories have driven publishers like William Morrow, which recently launched a successful marketing campaign to promote one of its latest titles, Freakonomics, to focus on generating buzz for a book above all else. And to do it online.

Published April 12, Freakonomics has found a larger-than-expected audience, due partly to publisher William Morrow’s strategically placed advance copies, some with industry professionals, but perhaps more importantly, with bloggers.

The book, which melds pop culture with economics to answer riddles such as why most drug-dealers live with their mothers, undoubtedly benefited from positive pre-publication reviews such as Kirkus Reviews and release-date reviews in the Wall Street Journal, Time magazine and others. Nor does it hurt that the book’s high-profile co-authors are Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner (the two met when Levitt, a young economist, was being profiled by Dubner, a prominent journalist working on a piece for the New Yorker), has gotten a big push from support within the blogosphere.

Publicists for the book sent galley copies of the title to over a hundred bloggers who, in turn, profiled or reviewed the book on their sites. The result—Freakonomics has sold 34,000 copies to date, according to Nielsen BookScan—has been overwhelmingly positive. Dee Dee DeBartlo, a publicist at Morrow, says the house has targeted bloggers in previous campaigns, but never so strategically.

Freakonomics also got a boost from a similar campaign launched by a company that has styled itself as a buzz-specialist. As part of a 12-week marketing blitz engineered by Boston-based BzzAgent, Inc., advance copies of the title were mailed to a thousand possible supporters. BzzAgent, which works on generating word-of-mouth for various products, contacted a targeted group of “agents”—all of whom have registered with the site, listing their interests and tastes—to read the book. BzzAgent uses its member base for all its campaigns, tapping into an audience that can, theoretically, champion any product. Like Morrow’s blogger outreach, the success of the BzzAgent campaign rested wholly on recipients taking it upon themselves to advertise and recommend the book.

Established in 2001, BzzAgent had an exclusive contract with Penguin until last year. Now, with a focus on books, the company is working with various publishers and, according to Kelly Hulme, BzzAgent’s head of publicity, these campaigns work precisely because they’re about generating good feedback instead of simply manufacturing it. “Books have been our main focus because publishers seem very interested in the honest feedback of readers,” she says. “And because, obviously, word-of-mouth is one of the ways a book catches on.”

Lynn Grady, Morrow’s associate publisher, said Freakonomics got another push from its exposure on the Little Big Mouth List. An industry version of the list BzzAgent used, the tool was established two years ago by the Young Publishers Group (YPG), a networking organization founded by the American Association of Publishers for junior publishing professionals. This list is essentially a collection of members who’ve indicated that they want to receive advance copies of certain genre titles that they will, in turn, recommend to other industry professionals and to the general public. According to the AAP’s Katie Blough, the Little Big Mouth list currently includes 900 members from 50 different houses. Although organized by the AAP, the publishers themselves distribute their titles directly to the “little big mouths,” who have selected the types of books they like, from over 20 genres.

Meanwhile, Dean Soxblog Barnett, who wrote that embarrassingly effusive review of Freakonomics for The Weekly Standard is in a tizzy that I mentioned:

One reason that a number of bloggers are wetting themselves with joy over Freakonomics is because Levitt's publicists put together an innovative PR campaign that made bloggers feel appreciated.

Barnett wants to make it very clear that he didn't qualify for any of the lists of people even marginally influential enough to get a free book. Point taken, Dean!

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Explaining the Flynn Effect?

One of the more dubious sounding implications of the mysterious Flynn Effect -- i.e., rising raw IQ scores -- is that if you go far enough back into the past, the average person would have been a complete idiot, and the greatest genius of the age would have been no smarter than George W. Bush or John Kerry.

That's not very plausible. Maybe the reality works more like this:

As Flynn & Dickens say, people mold their own environments based on their genetic predilections, so genetically smart people choose more mentally stimulating environments, which makes them even smarter. But as Steven Johnson points out, mental stimulation, even if it's just watching television or figuring out what the buttons on your new gadget do, is a lot cheaper today than in the past.

So, consider two individuals in, say, 1665 in England. One is a farm laborer, who spends much of his time in the fields not talking to anyone and goes to bed not long after it gets dark. He gets little mental stimulation. He'd like more -- he went to a play once about a prince and a ghost who was his dad who wants him to kill his uncle, and he liked it, especially the fighting part at the end where everybody dies -- but players seldom come through his village and they are expensive when they do. He would score, say, a 60 on a modern IQ test, although he did his duties better than a 60 IQ person would today. He just wasn't practiced at solving novel problems. in 2005, with the telly on six hours a day, he might score 90.

Living near him in 1665 is a young man who has been sent down to his country home from Cambridge University because an outbreak of the black plague has made urban centers dangerous.

Unlike the local yokel, this student brings his own incredibly stimulating environment with him inside his head. Like the farm laborer, he occasionally sees an apple fall from a tree, but when he does, that gets him thinking about the mathematics of gravity. Indeed, what the student needs to bring his smartness to superhuman levels is not more mental stimulation, but the peace and quiet that 18 months at home will afford him. Talking to himself makes him smarter than talking to other people does, because, compared to himself, they just don't have much worth saying.

How would Isaac Newton have done back then on a modern IQ test? I suspect that with a bit of practice to familiarize himself with the novelty of it, he'd max out any IQ test.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

May 6, 2005

"Freak Out!" Advises The Weekly Standard

Another small step in Steven D. Levitt's abortion-cut-crime theory becoming conventional wisdom is the ecstatic review of Freakonomics on The Weekly Standard's website. Dean "Soxblog" Barnett writes:

STEVEN D. LEVITT CLAIMS that physically he is the "weakest human being alive." He may also be one of the most courageous.

Along with his coauthor Stephen Dubner, Levitt has written a book called Freakonomics, which details his innovative and brilliant way of looking at the world. Levitt's mind works in the following manner: First he asks questions that few have the creativity to ask; then he follows a rigorous statistical analysis to find the answers.

Some of Freakonomics' conclusions are fearlessly contrarian. To wit, Levitt posits, among other things, that some teachers are cheaters, real estate agents tend not to serve their clients' best interests, successful parenting has a lot more to do with who the parents are than how they actually parent, and crime rates dropped in the 1990s as a direct result of 1973's Roe v. Wade decision. In spite of the controversy that Freakonomics is almost certain to cause, Levitt has produced a work full of stunning insights that can rightfully be called genius.

One reason that a number of bloggers are wetting themselves with joy over Freakonomics is because Levitt's publicists put together an innovative PR campaign that made bloggers feel appreciated. The flacks apparently Googled up a list of bloggers who had mentioned Levitt previously and mailed them free copies of the book about a month before it came out.

As I pointed out when word came out that the Department of Education had given columnist Armstrong Williams almost a quarter of a million dollars in bribes, that seemed like suspicious overkill: you could buy scores of columnists' affections for a fraction of that price. Just show 'em a little love -- e.g., invite them to speak at your conference and nod appreciatively -- and they'll be your golden retriever. Bloggers apparently come even cheaper -- just send them a copy of your book!

[Barnett writes to say he bought his copy of the book at Amazon.]

Back to Barnett, whose blogname is James Frederick Wright:

FREAKONOMICS IS MOST LIKELY to become controversial (and perhaps notorious) because of its chapter on crime and abortion...

Levitt convincingly argues that the fortuitous drop in crime of the late 1990s was due to 1973's Roe v. Wade decision.

Here is Levitt's theory boiled down to its essence: "Decades of study have shown that a child born into an adverse family environment is far more likely than other children to become a criminal. And the millions of women most likely to have an abortion in the wake of Roe v. Wade--poor, unmarried, and teenage mothers for whom illegal abortions had been too expensive or too hard to get--were often models of adversity . . . Just as these unborn children would have entered their criminal primes, the rate of crime began to plummet." Levitt goes on to support this assertion with an almost unassailable statistical analysis (although given the discomfiting nature of his argument, it is likely to be vigorously assailed

The link, nicely, is to my follow-up page of blog items and data further debunking Levitt's theory. (Linking to my original article would have made more sense, but perhaps The Weekly Standard doesn't want to deign to acknowledge The American Conservative's existence.)

Still, I get irritated by the constant assumption that I object to Levitt's theory because I find it "discomfiting." All these Jack Nicholsons of the keyboard insinuate to me, "You can't handle the truth!"

Okay, okay, fine, I'm a politically correct wimp. But the reason I object to Levitt's theory is that it doesn't appear to be true. If the evidence was on Levitt's side, a wimp like me sure wouldn't get into this uneven fight with the glamour boy of the whole economics profession.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

May 5, 2005

Why legalizing abortion didn't cut crime

A reader writes:

I have been following this debate with some interest. It seems to be that most internet commentators merely draw attention to your critique without adding their own thoughts. Perhaps, they are scared of Dr. Levitt.

Obviously, all the commentators who have endorsed Levitt's theory haven't looked hard at the actual crime numbers. But, I suspect they just assume that Levitt is fleshing out an idea they've long had about the effects of abortion. As another reader writes:

I heard this on the Howard Stern radio show 15 years ago

Q. What do you call an abortion clinic in Harlem?
A. Crimestoppers.

So Levitt's chapter is a joke in more ways than one.

To be honest I can't see how abortions haven't reduced crime to a degree. What if all the abortions that took place since 1973 never happened? We would have disproportionately more poor black males being born and hence more crime in all categories except insider trading and spying for the Soviet Union, Israel or China.

That kind of racial eugenics thinking is clearly the reason so many people assume Levitt is right, even when I show his theory badly fails its obvious tests. They understood that Levitt's "wantedness" theory is a euphemism for legal abortion cutting down on the number of blacks (a point Levitt made more explicitly in his 1999 first draft paper, written with John J. Donohue).

But the reality turns out to be much more complicated, when you first realize that legalized abortion led to almost 30% more pregnancies. Indeed, legalized abortion appears to have hollowed out the black middle and working classes, while expanding the black underclass.

The effects at the bottom of the social scale of legal abortion are very hard for someone at the top of the social scale to predict, as this reader shows:

Before I became a lawyer I was a social worker in a major urban area, handling an AFDC caseload. Almost all my clients were similar in that they had at least one child, usually born out of wedlock. But there were big differences when it came to having additional babies. The clients who had fewer out of wedlock children generally were the more intelligent, competent, and organized people in my caseload.

Obviously, I'm speaking in relative terms here. Most of my clients weren’t big brains. But there are gradations of intelligence and ability among welfare clients, as in any group of people. And some members of my caseload clearly were better at learning from life than were others.

For my more able clients, having the first baby sometimes served as a wakeup call. They now realized how difficult it was to raise a kid. They also had an incentive to better themselves through work experience and education so they could support the child and claw their way into the middle class.

By contrast, the less intelligent and less competent often seemed to be "unwakeupable." Learning from experience was not their strong suit. Our office's clients included drug-addicted mothers with multiple babies who had seen one child after another taken away and put into foster care. That didn’t stop them from having more.

Given what I saw as a welfare worker, I'd say that trying to gauge the impact of abortion on crime by making assumptions about "wantedness" makes no sense at all.

Clients who had abortions didn’t necessarily want to do so. They often felt sad, even bitter, about the experience. But they saw themselves as being forced into it by circumstances.

Clients who had multiple out-of-wedlock babies may have "wanted" them, but their attitudes toward childbearing bore no resemblance to middle class notions of "planned parenthood." Many clearly got pregnant intentionally, but for reasons that middle class observers would find incomprehensible. They often thought having a baby would give them status with their friends, or make their boyfriends love them, or provide them with a child who would always need them.

In short, the clients in my welfare caseload who had abortions tended to be reasonably competent and devoted caretakers of their existing children, while those who had additional babies were more likely to be immature and clueless. From what I can tell, my caseload was entirely typical for urban areas throughout the country. I wish someone could explain how this real-world experience fits with Levitt's theory that abortion somehow culls potential criminals.

Many people who subscribe to the idea that abortion cuts crime seem to be thinking something along the lines of the following (though they won’t admit it in polite company): Blacks commit more crimes than whites. Blacks also have more abortions than whites. Culling all those black babies must be cutting crime.

But this is racist nonsense of the worst sort. Not all blacks commit crimes, only a small subset of them do. Is that crime-prone subset having most of the abortions? My experience says no.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

The Flynn Effect & Basketball:

Continuing iSteve's nonstop coverage of what high-IQ Steves are thinking about, in Wired, Steven Johnson writes in "Dome Improvement":

The classic heritability research paradigm is the twin adoption study: Look at IQ scores for thousands of individuals with various forms of shared genes and environments, and hunt for correlations. This is the sort of chart you get, with 100 being a perfect match and 0 pure randomness:

The same person tested twice: 87
Identical twins raised together: 86
Identical twins raised apart: 76
Fraternal twins raised together: 55
Biological siblings: 47
Parents and children living together: 40
Parents and children living apart: 31
Adopted children living together: 0
Unrelated people living apart: 0

After analyzing these shifting ratios of shared genes and the environment for several decades, the consensus grew, in the '90s, that heritability for IQ was around 0.6 - or about 60 percent. The two most powerful indications of this are at the top and bottom of the chart: Identical twins raised in different environments have IQs almost as similar to each other as the same person tested twice, while adopted children living together - shared environment, but no shared genes - show no correlation. When you look at a chart like that, the evidence for significant heritability looks undeniable.

Four years ago, Flynn and William Dickens, a Brookings Institution economist, proposed another explanation, one made apparent to them by the Flynn effect. Imagine "somebody who starts out with a tiny little physiological advantage: He's just a bit taller than his friends," Dickens says. "That person is going to be just a bit better at basketball." Thanks to this minor height advantage, he tends to enjoy pickup basketball games. He goes on to play in high school, where he gets excellent coaching and accumulates more experience and skill. "And that sets up a cycle that could, say, take him all the way to the NBA," Dickens says.

Now imagine this person has an identical twin raised separately. He, too, will share the height advantage, and so be more likely to find his way into the same cycle. And when some imagined basketball geneticist surveys the data at the end of that cycle, he'll report that two identical twins raised apart share an off-the-charts ability at basketball. "If you did a genetic analysis, you'd say: Well, this guy had a gene that made him a better basketball player," Dickens says. "But the fact is, that gene is making him 1 percent better, and the other 99 percent is that because he's slightly taller, he got all this environmental support." And what goes for basketball goes for intelligence: Small genetic differences get picked up and magnified in the environment, resulting in dramatically enhanced skills. "The heritability studies weren't wrong," Flynn says. "We just misinterpreted them."

Flynn is, personally, a great guy, he does important research, and this explanation is not implausible. For example, it helps explain why identical twins tend to become more alike in IQ as they get older -- as they grow apart, they mold their environments to fit their genetic makeups better. Most notably, their environments are no longer distorted by having to play an unnatural role distinct from that of their identical twin (such as leader or follower, which many twin pairs adopt just so they get things done). For example, two extremely tall identical twins on one high school basketball team can cause problems because both are natural centers, but one has to play power forward. If they go to different colleges, they might both then play center -- i.e., their environments become more appropriate for their genetic codes.

Still, Flynn needs to lose this pseudo-example about NBA players. Living in New Zealand, he seems to have forgotten that NBA basketball players are not distinguished by just a 1% biological advantage over non-NBA individuals.

Now and then, I run into movie and TV stars on the street -- Tom Hanks, Robin Williams, Geena Davis, etc. -- and when dressed to be inconspicuous, they are fairly inconspicuous. Most screen stars are not obvious genetic marvels, although they are clearly above average in looks and talent. So, Flynn's 1% genetic advantage theory might, or might not, be true for Tom Hanks.

(Although it's definitely not true for Robin Williams, at least not as a stand-up comedian, where he's about seven standard deviations from the mean. Dana Carvey tells the story about how, long ago, as a young man trying to get his courage up to try comedy, he went to an open-mike night, and promised himself he'd get up on stage if he thought he was better than the other amateurs on the list before him. Dana was feeling very good about himself, until the guy before him did his act: "Oh, no, I'll never, ever be even close to him!" he lamented. That amateur was Robin Williams.)

But Flynn's assertion doesn't work at all for the NBA stars I've run into: Wilt Chamberlain, Patrick Ewing, Bill Walton, Dennis Rodman, Horace Grant, Mark Eaton, etc. These guys are astonishing physical specimens.

For example, a few years I was walking down Rush Street in Chicago on a Friday night when out of a restaurant ahead of me comes Bill Walton, the greatest white center ever. He always insisted on listing himself at 6'-11", but he's one of the rare basketball players who is considerably taller than his official height. What was more surprising is how impressive the breadth of his shoulders and his overall musculature were even at about age 50. He was going my way, so I trailed about 30 feet behind him for quite a few blocks to watch the amusing reaction of pedestrians passing him. Many seemed stunned by his size, especially women, few of whom recognized him.

More seriously, the Flynn and Dickens model is not very exciting in its implications. All it says is that people create their own environments to suit their genetic strong suits. For example, I've molded my life so I spend a lot of time crunching data and very little time with a wrench in my fumble-fingered hands. If I spent lots more time trying to repair stuff, I'd be a little bit better at it, but, so what? I'd never be as relatively good at it as I am at crunching data, so why spend my life butting my head against my genetic brick wall?

Similarly, if Flynn and Dickens are serious about altering the environments of blacks enough to put a sizable dent in the white-black IQ gap, they would call for a police state that bans all manifestations of hip-hop, that executes Jay-Z and Dr. Dre as bad examples, that puts minor rappers and black celebrities in concentration camps, etc. I doubt if that would work, but it's at least a semiserious proposal for grappling with a problem of this magnitude. But, Flynn and Dickens aren't serious at all about closing the IQ gap so they don't call for serious measures, just token ones that their own analysis shows are insufficient.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

May 4, 2005

Gregg Easterbrook Falls for Levitt's Abortion-Cut-Crime Theory

Gregg Easterbrook Falls for Levitt's Abortion-Cut-Crime Theory: Easterbrook, who ought to know better, writes in the Washington Post:

Consider Levitt’s notion of a relationship between abortion access and the crime drop. First, “Freakonomics” shows that although commonly cited factors such as improved policing tactics, more felons kept in prison and the declining popularity of crack account for some of the national reduction in crime that began in about the year 1990, none of these completes the explanation. (New York City and San Diego have enjoyed about the same percentage decrease in crime, for instance, though the former adopted new policing tactics and the latter did not.) What was the significance of the year 1990, Levitt asks? That was about 16 years after Roe v. Wade. Studies consistently show that a disproportionate number of crimes are committed by those raised in broken homes or who were unwanted as children. When abortion became legal nationally, Levitt theorizes, births of unwanted children declined; 16 years later crime began to decline, as around age 16 is the point at which many once-innocent boys start their descent into the criminal life. Leavitt’s clincher point is that the crime drop commenced approximately five years sooner in Alaska, California, Hawaii, New York and Washington state than it did in the nation as a whole. All legalized abortion about five years before Roe.

No, youth violent crime started going up, not down, 16 years after legalization (1970 in cities where crack got started about 1986, 1973 in the rest of the country, where the bad stuff arrived about 1989).

A reader writes:

Regarding the press's effusive response to Levitt's theory that legalized abortion has cut crime rates:

Many members of the educated classes probably believed this about abortion long before Levitt ever formalized the argument. His book has just made it more acceptable to talk about the subject openly. Poking holes in Levitt's argument does not change minds among the educated elite because his theory happens to fit so well with their view of the world.

For the educated, the process of having a child activates the same decision making skills as making a major career move. They can't even imagine doing it without considering timing, finances, impact on their professional lives, and a host of other factors.

They realize that accidents happen, of course -- and that's where abortion comes in. Abortion corrects family planning mistakes. It also allows the careless lower orders to catch up with themselves, the responsible users of birth control.

The educated assume that, with abortion available to eliminate errors, live births surely must represent children that are planned (or at least actively wanted by the time they're born). Given these assumptions, it just seems obvious to elites that abortion must be cutting crime by reducing the number of babies in the "unwanted" category.

Maybe the chattering classes would find it less obvious if they could see the issue from evolution's point of view -- one in which planning and wantedness have nothing to do with reproduction.

As far as nature is concerned, producing offspring is the default position. It's just what living things do. Beating nature at her own game takes intelligence, foresight, and planning -- all of which tend to be in short supply at the bottom rungs of society and among the low IQ population.

Every means of avoiding baby production -- abstinence, contraception, abortion --requires some level of self control, active decision-making, or competence. By contrast, producing a baby requires nothing more than having sex and waiting.

Thus, it is almost inevitable that many babies will be born to women who are among the most impulsive, the least capable, and the least intelligent. How could it be otherwise? No need to even consider the issue of wantedness. It's just evolution winning again.

Inopportune pregnancy obviously has been around for a long time. During the 15th through 19th centuries, many European countries apparently dealt with the resulting babies by dumping them into foundling homes, where the vast majority died from disease and malnutrition. Sarah Blaffer Hrdy discusses this in horrifying detail in her book *Mother Nature,* where she estimates that millions of babies were abandoned throughout Europe. Some foundling homes even installed revolving barrels so that parents could drop off infants anonymously.

My guess is that the foundling home system, brutal as it was, probably was much more efficient than modern day abortion at culling the crime-prone and otherwise "least likely to succeed" babies.

In past centuries, women who failed to acquire adequate economic resources through marriage or work would also have failed to keep their offspring alive. Without welfare available, unwed or poor mothers would have had little choice but to give their infants up to the foundling home, and to likely death. Thus, most women who successfully raised children would have been at least minimally competent in a social and economic context.

By contrast, today's "abortion + welfare" system virtually ensures that many of the most incompetent and least intelligent women will give birth and raise their children to adulthood. The likely result is an increase in crime, not a decrease.

Many of those discussing Levitt's argument coyly refer to it as "controversial," while clearly thinking it's a bit of a giggle. I wonder if they would find it so amusing to see what a really effective "preemptive execution" system looked like.

Let me try to model this with numbers. The model that Levitt wants you to assume, even though he knows it's not true, is something like the following:

- Assume before the legalization of abortions that there are 100 conceptions and thus (ignoring miscarriages) 100 births.

- Assume that abortion is legalized and the 25 "most unwanted" pregnancies are aborted.

- Assume that "most unwanted" is roughly synonymous with "least promising."

- So, now only the 75 most promising fetuses are born and the 25 least promising never grow up to mug you. As J. Stalin liked to say while signing death warrants, "No man, no problem."

Now, it's easy to see the lack of realism is these assumptions. The assumption that the 25 who get aborted will be the 25 least promising is grossly over-optimistic. For example, women are seldom making decisions on abortion not based on where their unborn children would come out relative to the other 99 but on other, more personal grounds. There might be a certain tendency in that direction, but it's going to be attenuated.

But, that's just the surface of what's wrong with this model. It's actually radically fallacious because it doesn't account for the vast increase in unwanted pregnancies, which is ethically sleazy of Levitt, because he knows all about what actually occurred.

Here's what really happened, according to Levitt's own statement in Freakonomics: "Conceptions rose by nearly 30 percent, but births actually fell by 6 percent …"

Thus, what happened looked more like this.

- After legalization, there were now 129 conceptions, not 100, and 35 abortions, leaving 94 births instead of 100.

- But who were those 94 births? This is where it gets terribly murky.

--- Some of those births will be of the 29 who wouldn't have been conceived without legalization. Women got pregnant assuming, consciously or unconsciously, that they'd have an abortion, then didn't get one for any of a host of reason. Will these kids turn out better or worse than the ones who are getting aborted? Who knows?

The 94 births could have turned out more promising, less promising, or the same. Nobody knows, including Dr. Levitt.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

The Notoriously Anti-American FBI Arrests Patriot Who Only Wanted to Help 51st State

The AP reports:

The FBI arrested a Pentagon analyst Wednesday on charges that he passed classified information on Iran to employees of a pro-Israel lobbying group. Larry Franklin, 58, of Kearneysville, W.Va., turned himself in Wednesday morning, FBI spokeswoman Debra Weierman said.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Michael Blowhard on "Weirdos and Culture:"

The suave and cheerful cofounder of 2Blowhards reacts to Terry Castle's hilarious memoir on Susan Sontag, the one that I noted awhile back, with an essay on the kind of people he has met in his three decades in the culture industry:

When I came to NYC in the late '70s and sneaked into the culture-and-media world, I was under the sway of a lot of Romantic-'60s ideas about art, inspiration, and madness. My reasoning -- too dignified a term for what was really a set of adolescent feelings and fantasies -- went along these lines: you have to be a little crazy to commit substantial life-resources to the culture world. The culture-life is impractical and quixotic, after all. But that kind of craziness is good! It's sweet! It's generous! It's a gift! It's all about the giving and the getting of pleasure! And pleasure is a wonderful, indeed priceless, thing! ...

It took me ages to understand that many of the people I was encountering in the cultureworld weren't charming eccentrics or engaging oddballs. What I finally woke up to was the simple fact that many people in the cultureword are real weirdos -- people who are so deeply off as to be close to mentally ill, if not actually mentally ill. They aren't crazy with a small c -- crazy as in eccentric. No, they're Crazy with a great big C -- crazy as in loony-bin-worthy, or something close to it.

I also woke up to the fact that many inhabitants of the cultureworld aren't sweetly nuts. They're destructively nuts. In my clueless smalltown way, I'd had trouble imagining that anyone -- anyone short of a Hitler, a Stalin, or a Jeffrey Dahmer -- might wish the general run of humanity ill. Yet what I found was that a fair number of people in the American cultureworld seethe with bile and contempt towards the mainstream. [More]

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

May 3, 2005

The Failure of Eugenic Breeding

Enormous amounts of money are spent to acquire the best breeding stock for thoroughbred horse racing. The average time of the winning horse in the Kentucky Derby dropped steadily up through middle of the 20th Century (as shown in the red line above), yet there has been virtually no overall improvement in average time since 1950 (as shown in the blue line). If the improvements seen from 1896-1949 had continued, the average winning time today would be about three seconds faster.

Instead, Secretariat's 1:59.4 back in 1973 remains the Kentucky Derby's record, and only one other winner broke two minutes.

In contrast, in most human races (e.g., running, swimming, etc.), where there is no organized artificial selection, times have improved significantly since 1973.

This lack of improvement in thoroughbred racing is sometimes attributed to too much inbreeding: all thoroughbreds are descended from three Arabian stallions and 20 English mares.

Genetic variations are still possible, however. According to the leading veterinary pathologist, Secretariat's heart was twice as big as the average thoroughbred's and 30% bigger than the next largest he had ever seen in thousands of autopsies. This may explain why Secretariat was something of a bust as a stud: he must have had a unique combination of genes providing both a freakishly large heart and the optimal infrastructure to support it.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

"A Latticework of Mental Models"

In support of my argument below that the more, and more accurate, mental models you hold in your head, the easier it is to remember facts and make connections, a reader sent me to the first chapter of a book called Investing: The Last Liberal Art by Robert G. Hagstrom. It starts off with a talk given by Charlie Munger, who is the brains behind the brains at Berkshire Hathaway. Warren Buffet's vice chairman, Munger told USC students:

Rather than discussing the stock market, he intended to talk about "stock picking as a subdivision of the art of worldly wisdom." ... He challenged the students to broaden their vision of the market, of finance, and of economics in general; to see them not as separate disciplines but as part of a larger body of knowledge, one that also incorporates psychology, engineering, mathematics, physics, and the humanities.

In this broader view, he suggested, each discipline entwines with, and in the process strengthens, every other. From each discipline the thoughtful person draws significant mental models, the key ideas that combine to produce a cohesive understanding. Those who cultivate this broad view are well on their way to achieving worldly wisdom, that solid mental foundation without which success in the market - or anywhere else - is merely a short-lived fluke.

To drive his point home, Charlie used a memorable metaphor to describe this interlocking structure of ideas: a latticework of models. "You've got have models in your head," he explained, "and you've got to array your experience - both vicarious and direct - on this latticework of models." So immediate is this visual image that latticework has become something of a shorthand term in the investment world, a quick and easily recognized reference to Munger's approach...

This makes us not only better investors but better leaders, better citizens, better parents, spouses, and friends.

Well, I'm certainly not living evidence that this approach makes you a better investor! But I do like to think I'm a better citizen because I try to look at events through a variety of fairly simple models. For example, I've noticed that, generally speaking, it's easier to select individuals of a desired type than to social engineer random individuals into the desired type, so it's easy to see that much of the conventional wisdom -- e.g., going to Harvard makes you smart -- is bollocks.

Striving to find simple, broadly applicable models opens me up to charges that I believe in stereotypes, I'm a bigot, yada yada yada. Worse, it violates the key maxim of professional intellectuals: KICS: Keep It Complicated, Smartie. If there really are simple, broadly applicable truths, does the world need to pay for so many professionals devoted to making up and elaborating complicated lies?

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Sharansky Resigns to Protest Sharon's Gaza Pullout:

Unlike the physically attractive West Bank, the Gaza Strip is widely considered a leading candidate for The Worst Place in the World, a densely-packed seaside slum running out of fresh water. Israel conquered Gaza back in 1967 and has occupied it ever since. About 7,000 Israeli settlers live in fortified compounds in the Gaza Strip, mostly, as far as I can tell, to stick a thumb in the eye of their Palestinian neighbors by flaunting their power and wealth. Because Israel fenced Gaza off in 1994, it was not an important contributor of suicide bombers during the recent intifada, but the Jewish settlers within Gaza require a huge commitment of Israeli Army forces vastly disproportionate to their numbers and contribution (if any) to Israel's well-being.

Ariel Sharon, that notorious anti-Semitic pacifist wimp, has decided that it is in Israel's national interest to uproot the Gaza settlers, paying them hundreds of thousands of dollars per family to leave.

Now, President George W. Bush's guru of democracy, Natan Sharansky, author of Bush's new favorite book The Case for Democracy, has resigned from Israel's cabinet to protest Sharon's pullout plan. Sharansky predictably cited as his justification for continuing the settlements in the god-forsaken Gaza Strip the Palestinians' also predictable failure to become a fully-functioning democracy complete with women's rights, a free market, and full security for dissenters (according to Joel Rosenberg in National Review). That the Palestinians recently held a reasonably fair election isn't good enough for Sharansky or National Review.

Back in February, I pointed out that Sharansky's purported democracy fetish smelled like a hoax and a trap:

Sharansky is a former housing minister of Israel, with strong ties to the settler movement. His book saying that the solution to the Israel-Palestine problem is for Palestine to become a democracy is widely seen as idealistic, but a more cynical interpretation is that Sharansky is trying to set the bar so high that Israel will never have to deal with the Palestinians and can continue their settlements in the West Bank indefinitely.

It turned out I wasn't cynical enough. Sharansky is now playing the "democracy" card not just to save the quarter-million West Bank settlers from having to return to Israel, but to preserve the 7,000 Gaza Strip settlers as well!

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

May 2, 2005

What's Wrong with Sherlock Holmes' Theory of Knowledge

After reading about how ignorant Harvard gradsA Study in Scarlet (chronologically the first Sherlock Holmes/Dr. Watson story) that has interested me since I was a boy: were about practical astronomy, a reader sent me a passage from Arthur Conan Doyle's

[Sherlock Holmes'] ignorance was as remarkable as his knowledge.

Of contemporary literature, philosophy and politics he appeared to know next to nothing. Upon my quoting Thomas Carlyle, he inquired in the naivest way who he might be and what he had done. My surprise reached a climax, however, when I found incidentally that he was ignorant of the Copernican Theory and of the composition of the
Solar System. That any civilized human being in this nineteenth century should not be aware that the earth travelled round the sun appeared to be to me such an extraordinary fact that I could hardly realize it.

"You appear to be astonished," he said, smiling at my expression of surprise. "Now that I do know it I shall do my best to forget it."

"To forget it!"

"You see," he explained, "I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order.

It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones."

"But the
Solar System!" I protested.

"What the deuce is it to me?" he interrupted impatiently; "you say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work."

In terms of time, there's some truth to this idea -- time spent reading astronomy books is time that can't be spent studying how to distinguish between the scores of brands of cigar ash that killers might leave at the scene of the crime.

Nonetheless, I think Holmes' view is fundamentally fallacious. The more and more accurate models you have in your head, the easier it is to remember facts because the truth all fits together. You can crosscheck facts and ideas more easily.

For example, these Harvard grads have a model in their head that says that if their new employers send them off to the New Zealand office in July, they should have take their swimsuits and tropical weight business suits because the earth is closest to the sun in July. Maybe they've heard that it's winter in the Southern Hemisphere when it's summer in the Northern Hemisphere, but facts are a lot easier to remember if they function as examples for a theory in your head, rather than as just random bits of data.

For example, it's hard to remember what your previous phone number was because it's meaningless digits. In contrast, it's not that hard to remember the atomic weight of, say, carbon or oxygen if you understand why the periodic table of elements is laid out the way it is.

Similarly, you can remember a lot more facts about modern life if you keep simple models in your head about certain taboo topics such as race, gender, and IQ. If you think honestly, you can think better because the truth all fits together, one fact leading to another. In contrast, politically correct myths are all intellectual dead ends.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

"A Private Universe"

The video from the late 1980s of graduates at the Harvard commencement explaining why it's hotter in summer than winter (because the Earth is closer to the sun!) is available online for free here -- click on the VoD symbol in the lower right corner. To be precise, it appears that 21 of 23 randomly interviewed Harvard graduates, professors, or alumni got wrong at least one of two astronomical questions (Why are there seasons? and Why are there phases of the moon? Because the Earth's shadow falls on the moon!)

One thing you'll note from the video is that the Harvard grads sound much, much more confident in their wrong answers than the working class kids at the local high school. I guess that's the Harvard Edge!

One thing I've noticed is that most people don't have much sense of when sunset comes at different times of the year, even though that directly affects their lives. I have a pretty good knowledge, probably because golf courses charge lower rates in the later afternoon, so it's important to golfers to know how much daylight there is to tell whether you can finish on time. For example, if the cheaper twilight rates begin at 1pm in January, that's actually a worse deal than twilight rates beginning at 2pm in May, because you are unlikely to finish 18 holes in January, but will have plenty of time in May. Yet, few golfers have much specific sense of how long the days are.

Another problem people have is getting terrible sunburns in spring because they don't realize how strong the sun is. I recall going with a bunch of Rice science and engineering majors to the beach at Galveston on April 9th and we all got fried because nobody put on any suntan lotion. That made me realize that even though April 9th seemed like a long time before summer, the sun is actually as high in the sky then as on the Labor Day weekend (i.e., 19 days after the vernal equinox is the equivalent of 19 days before the autumnal equinox, or about September 2). May 1, being about 40 days after the spring equinox is the equivalent of mid-August in terms of sun strength, so even if the weather is cool, watch out for how strong the sun is.

During the first energy crisis in late 1973, Time Magazine ran an editorial saying it was completely obvious that we should have year-round daylight savings. Congress complied, and a few months later Time ran another item denouncing Congress as complete chowderheads for not realizing how late the sun came up in winter. Didn't they look at an almanac? There was no mention of Time's endorsement of year-round daylight saving less than half a year before.

Year-round daylight savings time was quickly junked. Now, Congress is now considering adding a month more to daylight savings time in the fall and another month in the spring. I suspect adding a month in fall is a poor idea because DST already goes five weeks past the autumn equinox, so mornings will be awfully dark by Thanksgiving, but adding to it in the spring makes sense because it currently doesn't start until 2 weeks after the spring equinox.

The reason for the current asymmetry in daylight savings time is that it's generally colder on, say, the spring equinox (about March 21) than on the autumn equinox (about September 21) because temperature lags behind amount of sunlight. Still, I suspect, the current seasonal asymmetry in daylight savings time is too large and adding a few weeks in the earlier spring would be a net benefit.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

May 1, 2005

New Rumor about the Niger Yellowcake Forgeries:

Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi writes in The American Conservative's (now available to electronic subscribers -- try five free issues here) May 23rd intelligence gossip column:

... a former CIA officer ... claims that he was present at discussions relating to the forgery of the incriminating document. Over drinks one evening, two very senior retired CIA Directorate of Operations officers who served extensively in the Middle East and Africa decided that it would be entertaining to make George Tenet, then the Director of Central Intelligence and a man they despised, look bad. This was the post-9/11 world, and they decided that the best way to make Tenet appear ridiculous would be to create a document tying Iraq to a nuclear-weapons program. They were convinced that Tenet, in their eyes the ultimate political sycophant, would jump at the information uncritically to feather his own nest with the White House, which badly wanted to devise a casus belli against Iraq. They hoped that Tenet would be humiliated and would be forced to resign after it was subsequently determined that the document was a fake.

Forging the document was easy, using authentic copies of documents from the government of Niger as models... The problem was introducing the forgery into the intelligence system in a credible way. One of the forgers was a close friend of a neoconservative Washington think-tank scholar who in turn had a long-established relation with the Italian military intelligence service, SISMI. The scholar, believed to have been on SISMI's payroll for many years, had access to place the false information. He also thought that the document might well serve his personal agenda to bring about a war against Iraq...

Unfortunately, the forgery was not transparent enough [although it was later disproved using that top-secret tool, Google, by showing that Niger cabinet ministers named on the document hadn't been in office for years] and the information was viewed as credible in some U.S. government circles that badly wanted to believe that Saddam Hussein was pursuing a nuclear device. This led to the statement in President Bush's State of the Union address accusing Saddam of seeking to buy the yellowcake uranium, which eventually became part of the justification for going to war against Iraq.

Interesting... I'm not sure if I believe it. Do all the pieces fit together? Would one of the hoaxers really use a "close friend" to pass on the forged document, thus exposing that international man of mystery to ridicule in columns like this? (Of course, that think-tanker always has the option of clearing his name by using his SISMI contacts to search, like OJ, for the real forgers.)

Still, the basic notion that the yellowcake fraud was an obvious hoax that was supposed to blow up before we marched off to war but the Bush Administration was too stupid and morally bankrupt to recognize makes a certain amount of sick sense.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Gregory Cochran on "What Education Crisis?"

Amazing Facts about American Voters: Gregory Cochran explains in new May 23rd issue of The American Conservative (now available to electronic subscribers -- try five free issues here) that education isn't getting worse: few kids ever learned much and almost nobody retains any in-depth learning from middle school and high school into adulthood:

- About 50 percent of Americans know that the Earth orbits the Sun in a year.

- Less than 10 percent know what a molecule is, while only 20 percent have some vague idea what DNA is.

- Some years ago researchers interviewed a random sample at Harvard graduation, asking them what caused the seasons. Twenty-one out of 23 interviewed were wrong, and worse yet, they all had the same wrong idea: they thought that the Earth's orbit is egg-shaped and that winter comes when we're farthest from the Sun...

- In recent years, 45 percent thought the phrase "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs" was in the Constitution.

- Half thought an accused person must prove his innocence and that the president has the power to suspend the Constitution.

- Only one in seven Americans between 18 and 24 could even find Iraq on the map in 2002.

Obviously, the typical citizen votes by intuition -- or possibly by sense of smell.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

"3-Iron" - Korean, Kim Ki-Duk

Korean director Kim Ki-Duk, who directed last year's Buddhist monk import "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter ... Spring" (here's my review), is back with another near-silent parable.

"3-Iron" appears to be inspired by the Rita Rudner (?) joke about how the law shouldn't declare people "criminally insane" for breaking into your house and raping and killing you. No, "criminally insane" should be reserved for the ones who break into your house and do your laundry. In "3-Iron," a young man, who bears a distracting resemblance to Speed Racer, breaks into empty homes in Seoul, does the laundry, fixes any appliances on the blink, then leaves. In one house he finds an abused wife. When her nasty husband comes home and tries to rough her up some more, the hero pelts him with golf balls driven with the hubby's own Callaway Steelhead 3-iron.

Is he a criminal? A saint? A performance artist? A ghost? A golfer?

I have no idea what it all means, but it's clever, cute, and short.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

"The Interpreter" -- Sean Penn, Nicole Kidman, Sydney Pollack

An excerpt from my review in the May 23rd issue of The American Conservative, available to electronic subscribers tonight:

"The Interpreter," starring Sean Penn as a Secret Service agent charged with protecting a Robert Mugabe-style African dictator visiting the United Nations and Nicole Kidman as a translator who overhears a plot to assassinate the kleptocrat, received a rather warm welcome from critics and opening weekend audiences because 2005 has been so lacking in Hollywood movies for grown-ups. One suspenseful set-piece tracking a terrorist on a Brooklyn bus temporarily justifies the movie's thudding, screeching score, but, overall, this portentous, inane, and interminable film gives maturity a bad name.

Directors seldom ripen with age, and the septuagenarian Sydney Pollack, maker of "Three Days of the Condor" and "Out of Africa," is no exception. We like to imagine that directors are artists with profound insights into the human predicament, but they more resemble battlefield commanders relying upon the charismatic confidence and sleepless energy of the prime of life, not the wisdom of age, to make countless quick decisions.

Imagine that after months wheedling permission to be the first to film inside the UN, it's the day to shoot the crucial encounter between Penn, so florid and furrowed, and Kidman, so pale and smooth. But your leading lady shows up with a pimple, and all that your make-up artists can do is powder it down to a not-quite-subliminal blemish on her otherwise flawless complexion.

So, do you call Kofi Annan and beg to be allowed back in a week when Nicole's lip has healed? Or do you throw out your planned close-ups? Or maybe you could backlight her? Your 120 or so highly-paid crew members are looking to you for decisions.

Pollack, though, just tiredly plows ahead, making uninspired choices that fail to encourage suspension of disbelief in the frequently ludicrous plot.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Hobbits or Pygmy Negritos?

Japan Today reports:

Indonesian scientists have found a community of Pygmy people in the eastern island of Flores, near a village where Australian scientists discovered a dwarf-sized skeleton last year and declared it a new human species, a newspaper said Thursday.

Kompas daily reported the community had been found during an April 18-24 expedition in the village of Rampapasa, about 1 kilometer from the village of Liang Bua, where the species called Homo floresiensis was found in September. The newspaper quoted Koeshardjono, a biologist who discovered the village, as saying that in the expedition, 77 families had been found living in the village.

A reader writes:

There is a common aphorism in medicine, 'When you see hoof prints, think horses - not zebras.' Maybe some of our paleo-anthropologists need to think pygmies, not hobbits.

Curiouser and curiouser ...

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Is Sharon Begley as Dim As She Sounds?

Or does feminist ideology just get in the way? From La Begley's "Science Journal" column "Evolutionary Psych May Not Help Explain Our Behavior After All" in the April 29 Wall Street Journal (online only for subscribers)

But as Prof. Buller, a professor of philosophy at Northern Illinois University, dug deeper, he concluded that the claims of evo psych are "wrong in almost every detail" because the data underlying them are deeply flawed. His book "Adapting Minds," from MIT Press, is the most persuasive critique of evo psych I have encountered...

On a lighter note, evolutionary psychology claims that men prefer fertile, nubile young women because men wired for this preference came out ahead in the contest for survival of the fittest. The key study here asked 10,047 people in 33 countries what age mate they would prefer. The men's answer: a 25-year-old.

But the men were, on average, in their late 20s. One of the most robust findings about human behavior is that people prefer a mate who matches them in education, class and religious background, ethnicity -- and age. The rule that "likes attract" is enough to explain why young men prefer young women. Besides, if you scrutinize the data, you find that 50-ish men prefer 40-something women, not 25-year-olds, undermining a core claim of evo psych.

So that's why 45 year old strippers make so much more money than 25 year old strippers!

No, Sharon, if you scrutinize the data, or just read People magazine, you'll find that rich older men are much more likely to marry much younger women than rich older women are likely to marry much younger men.

The argument that Stone Age women preferred good providers, and that today's women are therefore wired to see a big bankroll as the ultimate aphrodisiac, is also shaky. Among some hunter-gatherers today, young mothers receive more food from their mothers than from their husbands. That makes even the theoretical basis for the claim -- that women who sought good providers had an evolutionary edge -- problematic.

No, but the more food they receive from their husbands, the more ahead of the game they are. Anyway, grandmother-provisioning only can take the place of husband-provisioning where women can gather food year round (e.g., in the wet tropics), but not in cold climates where plant food disappears under the snow every winter or in an extremely seasonal desert like the Kalahari. In more difficult climates, men must hunt part of the year or everybody starves.

The big problem with evolutionary psychology is something that has never occurred to the Sharon Begleys: it is terrified of admitting the existence of human biodiversity.

The empirical basis is no better. On average, 25-year-old women say they prefer 28-year-old men, even though 50-year-old men have much more of the high status and resources that evo psych says they are wired to lust after. Again, likes attract more than "good providers" do.

They are also wired to lust after muscles that can protect them and their children from other men and catch game for them. Anyway, raise status and resources of the 50-year-old man high enough and see how he does with young women compared to a 50 year old woman with equal status and resources.

Begley's fundamental problems with thinking are starkest in her conclusion:

Evolutionary psychology has a more fundamental problem than the shakiness of its data and the fact that the data can be interpreted in more than one way. Why, if child abuse by stepfathers is such a great evolutionary strategy, do many more stepdads love and care for their stepchildren than abuse them? And why, if rape is "such an advantageous reproductive strategy, [is it that] there are so many more men who do not rape than who do," asks primatologist Frans de Waal of Emory University, Atlanta.

No, it's saying that life is very complicated, but that evolutionary psychologists have identified one set of influences that account for some limited but positive fraction of all behavior.

This kind of thinking is like saying that because the majority of males under 30 don't commit rape, that it isn't true to say that being male and under 30 makes one more likely to commit rape than being female or over 30. Or that because the majority of big league hitters aren't left-handers that being left handed couldn't give you an advantage at hitting a baseball (which it does).

I see the same kind of Begleyesque thinking all the time in people announcing that race can't possibly have any influence on human behavior because, according to Richard Lewontin, 85% of the human genetic variety is within racial groups and 15% between them.

No, that's like saying that human population genetics is like a casino where the roulette croupiers are either black or Native American, and 85% of the spins of the roulette wheel are random, but the other 15% of the time the ball winds up in the black when there is a black croupier and in the red when there is an Indian croupier. Kind of useful info, no?

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Tony Blair Feared Being Tried as a War Criminal:

The Sunday Times of London has obtained the minutes of a secret meeting in July 2002 at which the British Prime Minister and his advisors tried to hash out a way to help Bush start a war without ending up in the dock at the International Criminal Court. Michael Smith writes:

AS a civil service briefing paper specifically prepared for the July meeting reveals, Blair had made his fundamental decision on Saddam when he met President George W Bush in Crawford, Texas, in April 2002.

“When the prime minister discussed Iraq with President Bush at Crawford in April,” states the paper, “he said that the UK would support military action to bring about regime change.”

Blair set certain conditions: that efforts were first made to try to eliminate Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) through weapons inspectors and to form a coalition and “shape” public opinion. But the bottom line was that he was signed up to ousting Saddam by force if other methods failed. The Americans just wanted to get rid of the brutal dictator, whether or not he posed an immediate threat.

This presented a problem because, as the secret briefing paper made clear, there were no clear legal grounds for war.

“US views of international law vary from that of the UK and the international community,” says the briefing paper. “Regime change per se is not a proper basis for military action under international law.”

To compound matters, the US was not a party to the International Criminal Court, while Britain was. The ICC, which came into force on 1 July, 2002, was set up to try international offences such as war crimes...

The man who opened the secret discussion of Blair’s war meeting was John Scarlett, chairman of the joint intelligence committee...

His assessment reveals that the primary impetus to action over Iraq was not the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction — as Blair later told the country — but the desire to overthrow Saddam. There was little talk of WMD at all.

The next contributor to the meeting, according to the minutes, was “C”, as the chief of MI6 is traditionally known.

Sir Richard Dearlove added nothing to what Scarlett had said about Iraq: his intelligence concerned his recent visit to Washington where he had held talks with George Tenet, director of the CIA.

“Military action was now seen as inevitable,” said Dearlove. “Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD.”

The Americans had been trying to link Saddam to the 9/11 attacks; but the British knew the evidence was flimsy or non-existent. Dearlove warned the meeting that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy”.

It was clear from Dearlove’s brief visit that the US administration’s attitude would compound the legal difficulties for Britain. The US had no patience with the United Nations and little inclination to ensure an invasion was backed by the security council, he said.

Nor did the Americans seem very interested in what might happen in the aftermath of military action. Yet, as Boyce then reported, events were already moving swiftly...

At the least the US saw the use of British bases as “critical”, which posed immediate legal problems. And Hoon said the US had already begun “spikes of activity” to put pressure on the regime.

AMID all this talk of military might and invasion plans, one awkward voice spoke up. {Attorney General Jack] Straw warned that, though Bush had made up his mind on military action, the case for it was “thin”. He was not thinking in purely legal terms.

A few weeks later the government would paint Saddam as an imminent threat to the Middle East and the world. But that morning in private Straw said: “Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran.”

It was a key point. If Saddam was not an immediate threat, could war be justified legally? The attorney-general made his position clear, telling the meeting that “the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action”.

Right from the outset, the minutes reveal, the government’s legal adviser had grave doubts about Blair’s plans; he would only finally conclude unequivocally that war was legal three days before the invasion, by which time tens of thousands of troops were already on the borders of Iraq.

There were three possible legal bases for military action, said Goldsmith. Self-defence, intervention to end an humanitarian crisis and a resolution from the UN Security Council.

Neither of the first two options was a possibility with Iraq; it had to be a UN resolution. But relying, as some hoped they could, on an existing UN resolution, would be “difficult”.

Despite voicing concerns, Straw was not standing in the way of war. It was he who suggested a solution: they should force Saddam into a corner where he would give them a clear reason for war.

“We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors,” he said.

If he refused, or the weapons inspectors found WMD, there would be good cause for war. “This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force,” said Straw.

From the minutes, it seems as if Blair seized on the idea as a way of reconciling the US drive towards invasion and Britain’s need for a legal excuse.

“The prime minister said that it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors,” record the minutes. “Regime change and WMD were linked in the sense that it was the regime that was producing the WMD . . . If the political context were right, people would support regime change.”

Blair would subsequently portray the key issue to parliament and the people as the threat of WMD; and weeks later he would produce the now notorious “sexed up” dossier detailing Iraq’s suspected nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programmes.

But in the meeting Blair said: “The two key issues are whether the military plan works and whether we have the political strategy to give the military plan the space to work.”...

The meeting concluded that they should plan for the UK taking part in any military action. Boyce would send Blair full details; Blair would come back with a decision about money; and Straw would send Blair the background on the UN inspectors and “discreetly work up the ultimatum to Saddam”.

The final note of the minutes, says: “We must not ignore the legal issues: the attorney-general would consider legal advice with (Foreign Office/Ministry of Defence) legal advisers.”

It was a prophetic warning.

Also seen by The Sunday Times is the Foreign Office opinion on the possible legal bases for war. Marked “Confidential”, it runs to eight pages and casts doubt on the possibility of reviving the authority to use force from earlier UN resolutions. “Reliance on it now would be unlikely to receive any support,” it says.

Foreign Office lawyers were consistently doubtful of the legality of war and one deputy legal director, Elizabeth Wilmshurst, ultimately resigned because she believed the conflict was a “crime of aggression”.

The Foreign Office briefing on the legal aspects was made available for the Downing Street meeting on July 23. Ten days ago, when Blair was interviewed by the BBC’s Jeremy Paxman, the prime minister was asked repeatedly whether he had seen that advice.

“No,” said Blair. “I had the attorney-general’s advice to guide me.”

But as the July 23 documents show, the attorney-general’s view was, until the last minute, also riven with doubts.

Three years on, it and the questionable legality of the war are still hanging round Blair’s neck like an albatross.

The legal problem for Blair would appear to be not the decision he made in this July 2002 meeting to push Saddam to readmit the UN weapons inspectors, which seems quite reasonable, but the subsequent one he made in early 2003 to be party to starting a war of aggression even though Saddam had admitted the UN inspectors and they had found nothing at all at any of the sites to which America's Chalabi and Curveball-concocted "intelligence" directed them. I'm no expert on international war crime law, but it would appear that the Prime Minister has a lot to worry about should he ever lose the immunity of office. Similarly, I suspect top Bush Administration officials will not spend their retirement years vacationing in countries that are signatories to the International Criminal Court.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer