May 13, 2006

The Great Pundit Meltdown of 2006

A reader comments:

You wrote: "Do you get the feeling the WSJ op-ed boys aren't on their game right now?"

It strikes me that a lot of pundits seem to be off their game lately, and some of them are in full-fledged meltdown mode, like Richard Cohen bashing Stephen Colbert for being mean to Bush or Mark Steyn writing the same columns he wrote in 2002.

In a way, the implosion of the Bush presidency has been worse for the pundits than for Bush. Sure, Bush would rather be popular than not, but no matter what his poll numbers are, he's President and no one can take that away from him (except by impeachment and nobody's going to do that), and he cares more about just being President than actually doing anything worthwhile. But the pundits look like complete fools: the conservative pundits who decided to become Bush cultists in 2002-4 are now forced to grapple with the fact that they've been defending a complete failure, and the milquetoast "liberal" pundits -- the ones who wrote that Bush was basically a good guy, beloved by all, and the Democrats needed to go along with the Iraq war but pledge to do it more competently (the TNR/Washington Post type of "liberals") -- are also looking like idiots.

Among the mainstream punditariat I'm now seeing a certain amount of incoherent rage, usually directed at the "isolationist right" (if the pundit's conservative) or the "angry left" (if the pundit's liberal). It's the rage of bubble-dwelling pundits who can't forgive the "extreme" left and right for having been right all along while they were busy writing about what a swell guy Bush is.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

"Mission: Impossible III"

Excerpts from my review in the upcoming American Conservative: (subscribe here):

With Tom Cruise, the glass is always about five-eighths full. Sure, as an actor he's memorable merely as the personification of youthful energy, and as a celebrity, the Scientologist has turned into a pest as his once-bulletproof public relations skills have broken down.

Yet, Cruise's movies are consistently better than they need to be. Since 2001, he's made the artistically ambitious science fiction films "Vanilla Sky" and "Minority Report," the silly but magnificent-looking "Last Samurai," and the limited but effective "Collateral" and "War of the Worlds." Only Russell Crowe's films have been consistently better, but offscreen he seems too, uh, tired and emotional (as the Brit tabloids like to say) to work as often as Cruise. Hollywood likes its leading men to set an example for the whole film crew. "Superstars do not get where they are by throwing temperamental fits, malingering on the set, or not following directions," a talent agent explained to reporter Edward Jay Epstein...

Since 1983's "Risky Business," the boyish Cruise has epitomized the shift in American preferences about the age of its heroes that began with the replacement of the wise Dwight Eisenhower by the vigorous John F. Kennedy. Many 1930s actors, especially hard drinkers like Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable, looked older than their years, while today's health-crazed male leads (with the exception of that throwback, George Clooney) seem almost adolescent. (Cruise, however, isn't quite Dorian Gray: like many 43-year-olds, his nose keeps growing.)

Maybe you just need more energy to remain a star these days.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

I'll be on WBAL

in Baltimore (AM 1090) from 3:15 to 4:00 EDT today, Friday, May 12, to discuss my column on the hunt for the Great White Defendant in the Duke Lacrosse case with Ron Smith.

You can listen live here.

Update: Good conversation. We went on 30 minutes longer than planned. Ron Smith is a big fan of my work.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Glaivester's thought for the day

Is Evolution Your Science or Your Religion?

Whenever [a liberal] denigrates evolutionary psychology, what they really mean is "I thought the whole point of evolution was just to deny God. I didn't think it was actually supposed to tell us anything."

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Cochran and Parker Try to Figure Out Why Bush Hates America

Parapundit offers Greg Cochran's list of theories of why the President is trying to ruin our country ("Maybe he's a Skoptsy"), and then adds his own. Readers are invited to see if they can be more creative.

"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we." - George W. Bush

A reader writes:

I think when he was young and crazy, he took one too many lost week-ends South of the Border. Knowing that this was the scion of a famous political family, W was captured by agents of the Mexican government. After months of torture and reconditioning he was dumped in a Houston apartment complex parking lot in the middle of the night - with no memory of the ordeal - but an unbreakable agenda burned into his broken spirit. Run for President and unite the populations of the US and Mexico.

He was to become ''The Muchacho Candidate''.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Great article: The genetics of nepotism and neposchism in Shakespeare's history plays

William D. Hamilton's kin selection calculus strikes again!

Study: Royal Executions Followed Pattern

By Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News

A study of British royal executions has determined that the killings followed consistent patterns that correspond to Charles Darwin's "survival of the fittest" theory.

The study helps to explain why so many British royals killed family members, particularly over a 200-year period called The Cousins' Wars that spanned the 14th to the 16th centuries.

It also suggests that human behavior, even family murders, can be consistent with patterns of survival under circumstances in which resources are scarce, yet highly valued, life-supporting and gained only through inheritance.

According to the researchers, such conditions existed after Edward III's death in 1377. The king and his wife produced five sons and three daughters who survived to adulthood and who all had their eyes on the crown.

Richard II, Edward's successor and eldest son, proved to be a weak, despised leader. Richard's cousin, Henry IV, executed the king and began the apparently Darwinian Cousins' Wars.

"Darwin's major contribution to science was selection -- natural and sexual, which depend upon competition between individuals and their choices," explained Kathleen Heath, who worked on the study, which has been selected for publication in The History of the Family journal.

Heath, an associate professor of anthropology at Indiana State University, added, "Those who adapt best -- better than his/her competitor -- in a particular environment are favored by natural selection, that is, live longer and have a better chance of passing on their genes to the next generation."

Heath and her colleagues determined that the murdering royals never sacrificed lineal relatives. Of the 47 killed, only five were not cousins. These included one brother, two uncles and two nephews.

The researchers assigned genetic relatedness values to each individual, so that a parent, for example, is 50 percent, or .5, related to a child, while a full first cousin is .125.

Using these values, the scientists found that executioners never killed in excess of their own nuclear relatedness, meaning the total value assigned to the individual and his or her children.

If they had killed in excess of this amount, it "would have been the equivalent of evolutionary suicide," according to the researchers, since the killers would have been eliminating, instead of furthering, their genetic family line.

Finally, the study found that the longer an individual lived and served as monarch, the more people he or she killed. Elizabeth I, whose long, stable reign ended the Cousins' Wars, wound up killing five cousins, all of which were perceived threats to her life and throne.

"Some royals killed as a simple insurance policy -- the poster boy for this is Henry VIII, who would not allow anyone to come close to his son's claim to the throne," Heath told Discovery News. "As a mother is violent when her children are in danger, there is an inherent drive to protect one's offspring/lineage by whatever means -- love or murder."

She said non-royal wealthy families had to devise other means for reducing inter-family competition for resources. These tactics included sending relatives off to military service, on quests, to the priesthood or to a nunnery.

David Zeanah, graduate coordinator of archaeology at California State University, Sacramento, and graduate student Henry Lyle told Discovery News that the researchers were "ingenious" in "finding a source of data where the consequences of human behaviors for reproductive success can be evaluated."

Zeanah and Lyle added, "This not only offers tremendous potential benefits for Darwinian approaches to studying human behavior, but promises new insights into the ultimate, Darwinian causes of historical events that have previously been understood in terms of proximate causation alone."

Not surprisingly, Dr. Heath got her Ph.D. in Anthropology at the U. of Utah, the department that is home to Henry Harpending and many other independent minds.

By the way, awhile ago I asked readers to coin a term for exactly this flip side of nepotism, this tendency to struggle most with one's own kin for resources, what I'd been calling "sibling rivalry writ large." Ideally, the terms would form a handy pair like Galton's "nature and nurture."

I particularly liked one suggestion: nepotism vs. "neposchism".

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Birthday bias in the the National Hockey League: Nature vs. Nurture

World Cup soccer players (typically the top 20 or so players from each of the top soccer countries) are born in equal amounts in the first half and last half of the year (although misreported in the New York Times by guess who?). Yet, there is a birthday bias among NHL hockey players, currently running at 59-41 for those born in the first half of the year compared to the second half.

Let me try to sum up the implications of the hockey example and relate them to Dr. Levitt’s ambitious statements about the relative importance of nature and nurture.

To be drafted by the NHL at age 18, a Canadian youth must pass through an ever narrowing funnel of selection. In particular, he must distinguish himself in youth hockey competitions at the national and world levels that are restricted to 17-and-under players. This gives an advantage to those 17-year-olds who are almost 18 compared to those 17-year-olds who have just turned 17.

Let’s assume for the moment that this 59-41 difference in first half versus last half of the year birthdates in the NHL reflects a genuine difference in mature performance level rather than a market inefficiency, and that it stems solely from the early-born people getting better nurture than the late people.

So, does this fact settle the nature vs. nurture debate inaugurated so long ago by Sir Francis Galton?

Well, the nature glass is part full and part empty, just as the nurture glass is part full and part empty. But, what are the proportions?

Very roughly speaking, one in every ten thousand Canadian males between 18 and 40 is playing in the NHL.

One factor influencing who gets into the NHL appears to be the luck of the birth date. Somebody born in January is about 1.7 or so times more likely to make the NHL than somebody born in December. So, the odds for somebody with the good luck to be born early in the year might be 1/7,500 versus 1/12,500 for somebody born late in the year. (These are just back-of-envelope estimates of relative magnitude.)

So, that is a significant role for nurture, but not an overwhelming one, since in a national sport like hockey in Canada subtle opportunity effects matter mostly to the far right edge of the bell curve for athleticism.

I'm sure there are a huge number of other nurture factors like quality of coaching, parental fanaticism, and so forth. But, let's take a rough swing at estimating the magnitude of nature and nurture in the chances of a Canadian making it to the NHL.

I think it’s safe to say that nobody in the NHL is less than one standard deviation above the mean in natural hockey athleticism, which eliminates 84% of the population. The best training in the world will never make a mediocre or below average athlete into an NHL player.

Further, I would guess that almost nobody in the NHL is less than two standard deviations above the mean (although I could be wrong), so that would be 97.7% of the population that doesn’t have a chance.

Among the remaining 2.3%, however, I would imagine that nurture is highly important.

This is not to say somebody at the 99.9999th percentile in natural talent has no better chance than somebody at the 97.3rd percentile. For example, here is Wikipedia's profile of the early years of The Great One, Wayne Gretzky. Although Gretzky was born January 26th, that made little difference in his youth career since he constantly played against older athletes.

Taught by his father Walter, Gretzky was a classic prodigy. At age 6 he was skating with 10-year-olds. At age 10 he scored 378 goals and 139 assists in 85 games, and the first story on him was published in the Toronto Telegram. At 14, playing against 20-year-olds, he left Brantford to further his career and signed with his first agent.

He played a season in the Ontario Hockey League at the age of 16 with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds...

He became the youngest player to compete in the World Junior Championships, when he participated in Montreal in 1978 at age 16. Despite being the youngest player in the tournament by far, he finished as the tournament's top scorer, was voted to the All-Star team and Best Forward of the tournament.

That year (1978-79) he signed with the Indianapolis Racers of the World Hockey Association (WHA) as an underaged player. The National Hockey League (NHL) does not allow the signing of players under the age of 18, but the WHA had no rules regarding such signings. Racers owner Nelson Skalbania signed the 17-year-old to a personal contract worth between 1.12 and 1.75 million dollars US over 1 to 2 years.

While I was living in Houston in 1979 or 1980, a college roommate told me that everybody in Canada knew that this teenager named Wayne Gretzky was going to be the the greatest hockey player of all time, and the only question was whether he was already the great player.

Keep in mind, though, that ice hockey in Canada is of course one of the most competitive selection environments in the world. In less popular sports, however, flukes of environment matter far more. The chance of an American kid making it to the NHL is much more driven by things like geography (e.g., a Minnesotan is a lot more likely to make it than a South Carolinian).

To take an extreme example of the dominance of nurture over nature, in the 1970s an American college student read that Team Handball would be an official sport at the 1976 Olympics. So, he convinced his fraternity brothers to take up the game and practice it for a few years. The fraternity qualified en masse to represent America in Team Handball in Montreal, and presumably had a blast (at least while they weren’t getting thrashed on the court by countries that actually cared about the sport).

The mean natural athleticism of those fraternity brothers was probably only slightly above average, but in the utterly non-competitive environment of Team Handball in the USA 30 years ago, they were able to leverage their nurture advantage to become the best in America.

So, this comparison reflects a general principle that the the more meritocratic and competitive a competition becomes, the more nature outweighs nurture.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

May 12, 2006

Diversity Doings at the University of Chicago

A reader writes:

I thought you might be amused by an event I recently attended here at the Univ. of Chicago. I'm gay ... I recently went to a gay student meeting where a new student center was being discussed. The U. of C. is building a new and expensive minority center, for blacks, gays, latinos (the most expensive construction per square foot on campus, we were told, even after including the advanced nuclear research facilities we have).

The meeting, thrown by a university bureaucrat, and apparently the nth meeting on this subject, was at first obscure to me as to its purpose because the language was so indirect, pc, and esoteric. Eventually it came out: the blacks don't want the gays in the same building with them...

It took fifty minutes for the word "homophobia" to be raised in connection with "persons of color."

An uncomfortable pause.

Then an immediate backtrack: perhaps it's only that a few individuals failed to see how their actions could be perceived to be homophobic. There was also some unpleasant ruminations as to why the black student association did not raise objections until after the project and funding had been approved. Could it be that they calculated they'd be more likely to win approval for the project that way--but that they never had any intention of sharing the building? (gasp). No, it couldn't be.

Long disquisitions on the difficulties of being black, and how what is making them uncomfortable is losing their safe space--with their people, people of color: sharing it with queers is not the issue, but once again not having a safe space (i.e. it's not that you're gay, but that you're a cracker).

Some unpleasant discussion of floor plans followed: But we'd be confined to the third floor--wouldn't they be okay with that? (Apparently not.)

Somehow this hasn't made it into the press, and as the bureaucrat said, this is "not one of those issues that would be helped by a vote."

Also, one has to have some respect for the virtues of the bureaucrat in steering through this minefield. At one point he said, people of the two communities need to talk with one another, and of course there are a wide variety of views in each group, it's not monolithic, and there are many who belong to both communities, and he looked around. Unfortunately, there were no persons of color in the room. I think that took some face to pull off.

I wonder when this thing will finally get so ridiculous donors will stop giving money, but South Park hasn't caught up with the donors yet.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Levitt: "Maybe the World Cup Wasn’t the Best Example"

On their Freakonomics blog, Levitt and Dubner step back from their claim in the New York Times that World Cup soccer players are mostly born in the first six months of the years. They offer some persuasive data that NHL hockey players, however, tend to be born in the first half of the year by a 59-41 ratio. A good discussion ensues.

A reader sent me the following showing a 58-42 bias toward first half of the year births in the NHL's top ten draft picks.

He wrote:

You had asked if anyone had any data on Hockey players. Well, I did some non-scientific research of Birthdays of the Top Ten drafted players from each of the last 10 drafts. And this is what I found:

Jan 11
Feb 14
Mar 8
Apr 14
May 6
Jun 5
Jul 3
Aug 7
Sep 14
Oct 7
Nov 7
Dec 4
Sum 100

A few pieces of trivia about Hockey players that might have some affect on who gets drafted.

- Few players get drafted after the age of 18. A few players get overlooked and then shine in college or elsewhere, but this is not often.

- You can not be drafted before the age of 18.

- Three leagues/tournaments play a huge role in who gets the most attention:

* The Canadian Major Juniors (OHL, WHL and QMJHL)

* The Under-18 Tournament (U-18)

* The World Junior Championships (WJC)

If you do not make a major showing at one of these places, you will not be a top draft pick. The only exception would be a European/Soviet-Bloc player who plays in one of their Elite leagues but was injured for the WJC.

I should also note that I did not factor for NHL success. That is, there are plenty of players who are drafted in the top ten who never make it in the NHL because they never mature/improve. With some more time this could be done though. Simply go to and view each draft, the site has their career stats with total number of games played. This is not that helpful for recent picks, but would be helpful for player drafted in the late 80’s early 90’s.

Anyway, here is where I got my data: (warning: lots of pop-ups)

So, in hockey, both in Canada and abroad, there appears to be a severe bottleneck to advancement at roughly ages 17-18, which gives a big advantage to boys who were born in January and thus are 11 months older than boys born in December.

We see a lot of the same thing in horseracing, where the Kentucky Derby is restricted to 3-year-olds. I recall watching a fictional TV show as a kid about horsebreeders with a mare going into labor on New Year's Even, so they trucked her across the time zone line so she would give birth in the right year so that her foal would be 364 days more mature when he was eligible for the Kentucky Derby.

So, the question I raised on Levitt's blog is: Is this bias in the NHL a self-esteem effect as Levitt theorized, or a market inefficiency?

David Kane posts on Freakonomics:

The more that I look at this, the more it seems clear that, while Dr. Levitt is correct that more NHL players are born in the first half of the year, this has nothing to do with the stars-are-made-not-born thesis of the article. In other words, the reason that there are more early-births is not that early-births get more practice against better opponents. Instead, early-births are more likely to get high profile spots which give them exposure for the NHL draft. They are more likely to be drafted than a similarly talented late-birth because the coaches and GMs have seen them play as (more highly developed) teenagers.

In other words, the hockey draft is inefficient. Teams should draft fewer early-births and more late-births.

How might we test this? Easy. The better the cohort of players, the less inefficient the market will be. Among the best players (those who get lots of ice time for several years in the NHL), there will be no meaningful difference in early-versus-late births. These players are judged accurately on their adult skills.

Instead, the effect will be much greater in the bottom of the NHL pool. Younger players with not a lot of ice time are more likely to be judged and retained on the basis of their (inaccurately measured because of birth-month issues) performance in youth leagues.

If I am correct, the effect will be smaller and/or non-existent among older, better players. Alas, I can’t get any of these data sources to provide a clean test of this hypothesis, but I was able to split the data into two portions: Jan-Jun and Jul-Dec birthdates. When you do this, the default sort is by points scored.

I picked 30 points as a reasonable threshold. Turns out that, among the 174 NHL players who have scored at least 30 points this season, 140 were born in Jan-Jul and 134 in Jul-Dec. (Of course, points scored is not the best measure. What about goalies and defensemen? And so on.)

But, big picture, there is no birth-month effect among the top 1/3 of NHL players. This suggests to me that the birth-month effect is much more likely to be a draft inefficiency. You don’t see this in other sports because the draft process is better.

A very interesting analysis. We know now that there were a number of market inefficiencies in baseball, as identified by Bill James from 1975 onward. So, this is at least theoretically possible. But I don't know anything about hockey statistics. I wouldn't say Kane's tabulation is terribly definitive (after all, there is a small effect in the direction of Levitt's theory), but this is a good example of what blogging can accomplish.

UPDATE: Kane adds:

Using the site, it seems that the birth-month effect is just as strong among older players as it is among young players. For example, of the 284 players who are 30 years old or older, 161 were born in the first half of the year and 123 were born in the second.

Hmmm. I would have guessed that older players would be evaluated more efficiently than younger players and so we should not see a birth-month effect. Then again, a different way of looking at the problem is to note that all 30+ year olds had to go through the same inefficient draft.

As I said, I don't know how this will shake out empirically. I suspect there is a bottleneck effect that varies by sport and by position. For example, if you have potential to make it to the major leagues as a baseball outfielder, you are almost certain to get a lot of playing time in high school, since very, very few high schools have four outfielders with major league potential .

On the other hand, only one quarterback can start at a time. The most famous quarterback bottleneck of all time was on the San Francisco 49ers from 1987-1992, when they had both Joe Montana and Steve Young, who just might be the two best quarterbacks ever. If Montana had been more durable, who knows if Young would ever have gotten a chance to show what he was capable of?

So, there's a definite "opportunity effect." For example, the younger brother of a friend of mine was a standout high school quarterback, and got a scholarship to Stanford. But Stanford had a quarterback named John Elway, so he sat on the bench for three years. Finally, Elway graduated, so he became the starter for Stanford his senior year ... and didn't deliver. So, the NFL didn't show any interest. He went into minor league baseball when he got drafted in the 14th round by the SF Giants. Maybe he never really was that good at quarterback. But maybe he just needed a year to stink up the joint and learn from his mistakes, so if he'd gone to, say, a Utah St. and been able to start as a sophomore, he would have been pretty good as a senior.

If you want to be an NFL quarterback, it can seem like a good idea to attend a quarterback factory high school like mighty Hart H.S. in Southern California. (Here's an extremely objective Wikipedia article on Hart grad and NFL quarterback Kyle Boller.)

But, that’s a more severe bottleneck because you might very well end up sitting on the bench throughout your entire high school career because another NFL potential quarterback is starting ahead of you. And if you don't start in high school, it's hard to get a scholarship to a football factory college, which makes it really hard to get to the NFL.

Thus, it can be very helpful if your parents redshirt you as a child, making you spend two years in preschool, so you'll then be a year older than your classmates for your entire childhood. For example, this year's most hyped high school junior QB, Jimmy Clausen of Oaks Christian in Westlake, CA, who just signed with Notre Dame, "started kindergarten at six and repeated sixth grade, "to gain maturity," says his mom, Cathy."

This raises the related issue of whether you are best off having less competition or more when growing up. For example, Jimmy Clausen is both older than other high school quarterbacks, and his parents sent him to a small school that plays only other small high schools. So, comes out and throws four or five touchdowns in the first half, then sits out the second half. This is great for his self-esteem, but is it toughening him up enough? When he's at Notre Dame and playing USC and with three minutes left in the game he's completed only 11 of 29 for 122 yards with three interceptions and he's got to drive the Fighting Irish 80 yards for a touchdown, is all that self-esteem in high school going to do him a lot of good? Well, ND coach Charlie Weis seems to be more focused on Clausen's Dan Marino-like release than such issues. So, talent matters.

Here's my 2002 article "Redshirting: A Kindergarten Arms Race" on the trend toward American upper middle class parents trying to give their kids a leg up on the competition by holding them back for a year.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

May 11, 2006

South Korean birthrate hits 1.08 babies per woman:

South Korea's birth rate has fallen to its lowest level on record in 2005, sparking concern about a shrinking population and aging society.

The birth rate, which represents the average number of children a woman is expected to have during her reproductive lifetime, stood at 1.08 in 2005, down from 1.16 in 2004, the National Statistical Office (NSO) said Monday.

The rate is the lowest in the 30-member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the club of leading democracies, it said.

The NSO said more women were putting off marriage to a later age, with many reluctant to have children.

Despite incentives from the government to boost the birth rate, young South Koreans regard children as an expensive burden on their lifestyles and careers.

The striking thing about this horrific number is that South Korea is not one of those effete, lazy Eurotrash countries that Mark Steyn is always going on and on about. It's the home of the Work Hard, Riot Hard ethos. In 2001, South Koreans worked 500 hours more per year than Americans, and we work long hours compared to Europeans or even Japanese.

Sheer population density must be one cause: among countries with populations over 10 million, South Korea is third (behind Bangladesh and Taiwan) at 491/km. France is at 110 and the U.S. at 30.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Who cares about protecting human biodiversity when there is flora and fauna biodiversity to protect?

You might recall the movie "Gorillas in the Mist" with Sigourney Weaver as Dian Fossey, in which the villains were the local pygmies. Personally, while I like apes, I like my fellow human beings more, especially if they are only 4'6".

AFP reports:

Rwandan pygmies fight for survival in eco-sensitive times

BWEYEYE, Rwanda (AFP) - In this remote corner of southern Rwanda, Twa pygmies are fighting a losing battle against the modern realities of environmentalism that are robbing them of their traditions.

Sandwiched between the Burundian border and the edge of the dense Nyungwe rainforest, the village of Bweyeye is on the frontline of an increasingly divisive struggle between the diminutive Twa and the long arm of Rwandan law.

Forced to abandon their centuries-old hunter-gatherer lifestyle by a ban on such activity in the maze of giant tropical trees, towering ferns and tiny orchids, many Twa have descended into crushing poverty and alcoholism.

Nyungwe, home to chimpanzees and other monkey species, is a stretch of rainforest in this central African region and Rwandan officials are keen to exploit its eco-tourism potential by protecting it.

But the Twa say the restrictions are destroying their community... "This ban on setting foot in the forest is a problem because our ancestors lived from the forest, they even used to hunt elephants there," he said, adding that, once, the meat from an elephant could sustain a family for a month. "Now we will soon die of hunger," Hakizimana tells AFP.

In addition to providing food, the vast 970-square-kilometer (375-square-mile) Nyungwe forest used to provide the Twa with essential fuel and raw materials such as wood for building.

But no longer.

While the forest ban is not new -- it was first imposed by the 1973-1994 regime of president Juvenal Habyarimana that ended with Rwanda's infamous genocide -- it is now being enforced with vigor, they say....

"We used to be potters, but you can't get the clay any more now," Munyemanzi complains. "It's tempting to go out and steal." The Twa insist that if and when they do go into the forest it is simply to collect firewood, but privately some admit to catching monkeys, baboons and forest rats.

Bweyeye local administrator Octave Rukundo is well aware of the hardships the ban has caused but is adamant that the law be respected. "They say they go to get wood for fuel, but in fact they also take wood to sell," he told AFP.

"They hunt the animals," Rukundo says. "They make traps, they dig holes two meters (six feet) deep and place branches over the top so that animals fall in. "They make fires to get smoke to chase bees away and collect their honey, but those fires can then burn the forest," he said, noting there had been two forest fires so far this year...

Like other Rwandans, the Twa, who make up about one percent of the country's 8,000,000 population, used to own land, but as long as they had the forest it was of little importance and plots were sold off to their Hutu and Tutsi neighbors. It was only when the forest ban began to be enforced that they realized the importance of farming their own land and then it was too late.

When the Twa here can get work it is usually on their neighbors' land and the pay is a pittance.

"Sometimes I get work cleaning up my neighbor's plot," says Esperance Gashugi, a 50-year-old mother of five children who earns 200 francs (about 20 US cents, 16 euro cents) per day for the backbreaking labor.>>

In despair and frustration, some Twa have turned to drink.

"The real problem," one non-Twa inhabitant of Bweyeye says, "is that these people don't want farmland, they don't want development projects. What they want is to be able to go hunting in the forest again and that's not going to happen."


In more late-breaking hunter-gatherer news, 80 members of the Nukak Indian tribe have emerged from the jungle in Colombia and are living in a clearing outside a town, where they gnaw on such favorite dishes as boiled monkey heads.

The NYT reports:

What everyone agrees on is that the Nukak of Aguabonita must avoid the fate of the Nukak who came here in 2003 and now live in a clearing called Barrancón.

Now in their fourth year in the area, the Nukak in Barrancón lead listless lives, lolling in their hammocks awaiting food from the state. They do not work, nor have they learned Spanish. They also have no plans to return to the forest...

Are they sad? "No!" cried a Nukak named Pia-pe, to howls of laughter. In fact, the Nukak said they could not be happier. Used to long marches in search of food, they are amazed that strangers would bring them sustenance — free.

What do they like most? "Pots, pants, shoes, caps," said Mau-ro, a young man who went to a shelter to speak to two visitors...

One young Nukak mother, Bachanede, breast-feeding her infant as she talked, said she was happy just to stay still. "When you walk in the jungle," she said, "your feet hurt a lot."

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

May 9, 2006

Affordable Family Formation and college debt

A reader writes:

I've read your articles about the political impact of family formation costs with interest.

Last Sunday, 60 Minutes had a piece about the rising number of people who begin their adult lives with enormous student loan debt. It occurred to me that, for those living with the problem, this is probably as significant an obstacle to family formation as any, and thus would have a leftward influence on the student-debtor population.

This may help explain another political trend that’s been taking place over the past 20 years or so. Forgive me for not having the statistics handy, but I’ve read that political conservatism used to be significantly, positively correlated with education and that this is no longer the case. Could it be that it isn’t having acquired a college education that makes those with more schooling veer leftward; it’s that paying for it keeps those people from starting families sooner? Add to this the fact that net debtors of all types have historically been sympathetic to the left, and it’s possible that student debt could be quite significant in shaping political leanings.

It’s easy to make too much of such things, but there might be something there.

Can anybody think of a data source to check this hypothesis?

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Credulous Levitt gets nailed by an alert reader on his own blog

To support an ambitious argument that the importance of nature compared to nurture is overrated, economist Steven D. Levitt and writer Stephen J. Dubner started their New York Times "Freakonomics" column entitled "A Star Is Made" (i.e, "Made," not "Born") by claiming:

The Birth-Month Soccer Anomaly

If you were to examine the birth certificates of every soccer player in next month's World Cup tournament, you would most likely find a noteworthy quirk: elite soccer players are more likely to have been born in the earlier months of the year than in the later months.

They didn't offer any documentation for this, but Dubner later pointed to a study of the 1990 World Cup rosters. They then went on to claim:

If you then examined the European national youth teams that feed the World Cup and professional ranks, you would find this quirk to be even more pronounced. On recent English teams, for instance, half of the elite teenage soccer players were born in January, February or March, with the other half spread out over the remaining 9 months. In Germany, 52 elite youth players were born in the first three months of the year, with just 4 players born in the last three.

What might account for this anomaly? Here are a few guesses: a) certain astrological signs confer superior soccer skills; b) winter-born babies tend to have higher oxygen capacity, which increases soccer stamina; c) soccer-mad parents are more likely to conceive children in springtime, at the annual peak of soccer mania; d) none of the above.

Anders Ericsson, a 58-year-old psychology professor at Florida State University, says he believes strongly in "none of the above." He is the ringleader of what might be called the Expert Performance Movement, a loose coalition of scholars trying to answer an important and seemingly primordial question: When someone is very good at a given thing, what is it that actually makes him good?...

Their work, compiled in the "Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance," a 900-page academic book that will be published next month, makes a rather startling assertion: the trait we commonly call talent is highly overrated. Or, put another way, expert performers — whether in memory or surgery, ballet or computer programming — are nearly always made, not born. And yes, practice does make perfect. These may be the sort of clichés that parents are fond of whispering to their children. But these particular clichés just happen to be true...

If nothing else, the insights of Ericsson and his Expert Performance compatriots can explain the riddle of why so many elite soccer players are born early in the year.

Since youth sports are organized by age bracket, teams inevitably have a cutoff birth date. In the European youth soccer leagues, the cutoff date is Dec. 31. So when a coach is assessing two players in the same age bracket, one who happened to have been born in January and the other in December, the player born in January is likely to be bigger, stronger, more mature. Guess which player the coach is more likely to pick? He may be mistaking maturity for ability, but he is making his selection nonetheless. And once chosen, those January-born players are the ones who, year after year, receive the training, the deliberate practice and the feedback — to say nothing of the accompanying self-esteem — that will turn them into elites.

But, as so often with Dr. Levitt, the crucial question is: Is what he's saying really true in the first place?

It's not at all surprising or even terribly interesting that junior players in age-limited competition are more likely to be born on January 1 than on December 31 of any particular year. Those born earlier in the year are bigger and have more experience. Levitt and Dubner's attempt to draw vast inferences about nature versus nurture from this are laughable.

But it would be quite surprising if there was a sizable effect on the star professionals who play in the World Cup. Levitt's proposed mechanism turns out to be silly when you actually think about what world class athletes’ childhoods are like, you’d realize that, say, future NBA stars don’t waste all that much time hanging around on the basketball court humiliating other kids their own age. They spend much of their free time playing with kids, and even grown men, much older than themselves, because they are the only ones who can give them the level of competition they need to fulfill their potential.

Fortunately, on Levitt's own Freakonomics blog, Bill L. Lloyd has reviewed all the birthdates for recent World Cup soccer players he can find on Wikipedia. He's been working a lot harder on this question merely to post comments on a blog than Levitt and Dubner worked to write the most emailed article of the day in the Newspaper of Record. Here is Lloyd's summary:

My summaries show that from a sample group of 1,302 players in four World Cups (1982, 1986, 1998, 2006), 638 (49%) were born in the first half of the year, while 664 (51%) were born in the second half of the year.

Yet Levitt and Dubner wrote:

“If you were to examine the birth certificates of every soccer player in next month’s World Cup tournament, you would most likely find a noteworthy quirk: elite soccer players are more likely to have been born in the earlier months of the year than in the later months.”

The only evidence they can point to for this claim is that the 1990 World Cup ran 55%-45% in favor of [earlier-in-the-year] births.

Countering that, I noted that

- 1982 was 50%-50% [144 born in first half of year versus 144 born in second half]

- 1986 was 50%-50% [261 versus 261]

- 1998 was 47%-53% in favor of later year births [191-212],

- 2006 (with a small sample size) was [47%-53% or] 42-47 [out of 89 people on the four teams Lloyd looked at], again in favor of later-year births.

Dubner cites only the 1990 World Cup to back up their thesis [which was 55%-45%]. Levitt stands by Dubner’s citation in an e-mail to me, and says that he knows the hockey data best, and the data there is “quite robust”.

But he and Dubner didn’t write about hockey, they wrote about soccer. Two totally different sports might well have two totally different rates of birth month frequencies among pros.

I’ve pointed out to them repeatedly on this comment board that their thesis statement is incorrect, and they don’t seem one bit interested.

Everyone makes mistakes, but some people correct their mistakes. Levitt and Dubner, it appears, just hope they go away.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Three piles of punditry I don't need to read

Here are the three op-eds on today's, the WSJ Editorial Page's online site.

On the Editorial Page
Mike Hayden or Tom Cruise, does it matter?

Americans should be happy that oil companies are making money.

Calling for talks with Iran is just cheap talk.

Do you get the feeling the WSJ op-ed boys aren't on their game right now?

By the way, it's fun to check in with Pollkatz now and then to see how Bush's approval-disapproval rating is doing in the 15 polls tracked. The last few weeks have been very bad for Bush.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Rationality in the Middle East?

Back in 2002, when I tried to imagine what could go wrong after we invaded Iraq, the first thing I usually thought of was a clash between Kurds and Turks. The Kurdish uprising within Turkey that ended in the 1990s cost something like 37,000 lives over many years. The Turkish government didn't then want to see an independent Kurdistan form in Iraq, especially if it got control of the northern Iraqi oil fields and thus could subsidize a new Kurdish rebellion in Turkey.

And yet, this is one aspect of the Iraq Goat Rodeo that has worked out fairly well ... at least so far. A reader asserts:

The Iraqi Kurds (at least according to the people I know over there) see the prize of independence within reach and are trying very, very hard not to screw it up. Successfully, for the most part. They are working with the Turks, the Israelis, and some annoyed Syrians without telling the US too much, trying to clamp down on the jihadist fruitcakes as quietly as they can. They too [like the Turkish military] see Iran as the larger problem.

The Turks just want things to settle down enough with the Turkish Kurds to be able to say "yes, we have killed exactly zero dissidents in the last 30 days" to make the EU weenies happy, and are willing to make nice with the Iraqi Kurds to make this happen...

Well, the Turkish military has been working outside of the constitution again. The Turkish military has been working as carefully as possibly with the Kurds and the Armenians and the Azeris and the Georgians (yes, all at the same time), trying to get a feel for what the Iranians are up to and trying to prop up the ex-Soviet kleptocrats in Georgia and Armenia who are not making a very graceful transition to a market economy. I think that our misadvanture in Iraq is a sideshow for the Turks, who see their major issues in terms of Iranian-sponsored chaos and maintaining some reasonable trade for Turkey in the region (the trade the US basically cut off when the Turks backed GHW Bush in the second Gulf War, the first one we were in).

The Turks I know socially are all non-typical (educated, secular, military families) and they think that the Islamists in Ankara have been living on borrowed time. A secular Turkish military regime might go ahead and work to negotiate a permanent Kurdish settlement. Sort of an "only Nixon could go to China" deal. If that is the case, I would expect something similar with Armenia. That would make the Turks look very good, despite the EU membership being torpedoed by the military coup. It would also settle some old issues with very bitter neighbors.

A lot of interests are lining up between some very unlikely parties to try to cleanly carve up Iraq (if an Armenian-Turkish-Kurdish-Azeri-Georgian unofficial military alliance in support of a secular Middle East isn't a platypus of realism, I don't know what would be) and let the Sunni and Shiite Arab parts burn out their religious fervor in the rest of Iraq, ideally bankrupting the Syrians and the Iranians. I see nothing similar on the other side (like, our side) trying to stop this from taking place.

And maybe that isn't such a bad thing after all in the end.

I think that even your readers may be missing a lot of the context, but go ahead.

The takeaway I guess is that

- The Turkish military at the lower levels is planning intelligently for the future, and the top Turkish military leadership and the Islamists may not be part of that future. Good.

- The Kurds have a lot at stake and want to make sure to come out with a little bit of something, as opposed to a whole lot of nothing, which has been their lot to date. Good.

- While the Azeris want to torment the Armenians and vice versa, the Azeris are far more interested in getting their co-ethnics out of Iran and the Armenians are trying to set up alliances to keep from being invaded on a regular basis. Good.

- Neither the Armenians nor the Azeris are interested in the Islamic Republic except as a problem to be solved; the Armenians are Christian and the Azeris are very secular Muslims, like the Kurds, so working with Turkey against Iranian hegemony is a good plan for both. Good.

- And no one wants the Georgian state to collapse (more) because no one wants the Chechens to become even more of a pest than they already are. Good, especially when the US is helping pick up the tab in Georgia.

- The Israelis would really like to have more allies, and all they really want are people to stop killing them. Also good, and they have allies in the Turks and rather positive feelings in Kurdistan towards Israel due to Israeli volunteer medical assistance to the Kurdish rebels over the last 30 years.

So, anything that bottles up (and potentially nibbles away at) Iran, cuts loose the Kurds (at least a little bit), stabilizes the Armenian borders, unites Azerbaijan, keeps Georgia on life support as a buffer for the Chechens, and gives the Islamist fruitcakes a target other than Israel would be pretty much a win/win deal for everyone concerned, right?

The Kurds and Turks want to come out of this mess alive, and the Israelis are cool with that. The Armenians and Azeris are starting to figure this out and may do the right thing in the end. Georgia? Well, think of Georgia as the Teddy Kennedy of the region. Still, they are very uncomfortable with the Chechens on their border and that has proved to be a powerful motivator to act intelligently at least some of the time.

So where does the US vision of a unified Iraq fit in?


I don't see this as a conspiracy, as such. I just don't see how a unified Iraq is in anyone's interest here, and the major players either could care less or would benefit from walking away from a supporting role in the whole Bush family psychodrama playing out right now in Iraq. Of course, my sources are biased (and of course their contacts would be reasonable people -- the top of most organizations are reasonable even if everyone below is stark raving nuts), and the region as a whole is a swirling mass of aliances and betrayals that change on a daily basis. But I see stability in the future. I just don't think that it will be anything close to what the Bush people were planning on.

I would be interested in what people who don't have Turkish military and Kurdish militia contacts have to say. I don't hear these opinions at all in the US press, especially the possibility of another brief period of military rule in Turkey popping up again.

Gregory Cochran isn't impressed. He points out:

- Hey, about the Turks shelling the PKK Kurds lately?

- Kurds want Mosul oil fields in Iraq.

- Azeris are over-represented in Iranian military and other elites, like the Big Guy himself, Khameini, and so is the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, so why would the Azeris state want to get the Iranian Azeris out of Iran? The Azeris have more or less dominated the Iranian state for centuries. This sounds like a neocon talking point. Joe Stalin tried to break off the Azeri region of Iran after WWII and flopped.

Is there any Iranian-sponsored chaos affecting Turkey?

Can these Young Turk secular officers really get their Muslim enlisted men to move against the Islamic government?

Is Iran really that fragile that it will fall apart along ethnic lines? It didn't fall apart during its 8 year war with Iraq, which is better than, say, the Austro-Hungarian Empire did over 1914-1918.

And why would any ethnic minority other than the Kurds want to get out of Iran right now with Iranian oil at $70 per barrel (unless they could take the oil with them)?

A reader writes:

As a Neocon Iranian let me tell you that the notion Azeri separatism is a joke. Azeris in Iran are as likely to secede as are Scott-Irish in the US. Most Azeris in Iran don’t even speak Turkish, are Shia Muslim, and barely have an ethnic identity (other than traditionally being the butt of most jokes in Iran). Iranians, including Azeris, are extremely nationalistic. The US will not find support in invasion or internally toppling the regime, aerial bombing is the way to go with Iran.

Beside the Kurds also the Beluchi have a strong ethnic identity, but that’s it, and both groups are small and weak. Iranian Kurds are more assimilated than Turkish and Iraqi Kurds (majority would support seceding, but only a minority would fight for it, unlike Iraq).

Having said that don’t overestimate the importance of oil. Iran has 70 million people, even with oil (temporarily) at 70 $ that’s 1000$ per person (Iran exports slightly below 1 billion barrels each year).

So, maybe rationality isn't breaking out in the Middle East after all.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Is this the lamest Levitt-Dubner column yet?

The most emailed article on the NY Times is a Sunday magazine column by Freakonomist Steven D. Levitt and his verbal caddy Stephen J. Dubner. Not surprisingly, it is so popular because it is slavishly devoted to telling the American public exactly what the public wants to hear:

A Star Is Made

When someone is very good at a given thing, what is it that actually makes him good? ...

This success, coupled with later research showing that memory itself is not genetically determined, led Ericsson to conclude that the act of memorizing is more of a cognitive exercise than an intuitive one. In other words, whatever innate differences two people may exhibit in their abilities to memorize, those differences are swamped by how well each person "encodes" the information...

the trait we commonly call talent is highly overrated. Or, put another way, expert performers — whether in memory or surgery, ballet or computer programming — are nearly always made, not born. And yes, practice does make perfect. These may be the sort of clichés that parents are fond of whispering to their children. But these particular clichés just happen to be true.

Ericsson's research suggests a third cliché as well: when it comes to choosing a life path, you should do what you love — because if you don't love it, you are unlikely to work hard enough to get very good. Most people naturally don't like to do things they aren't "good" at. So they often give up, telling themselves they simply don't possess the talent for math or skiing or the violin. But what they really lack is the desire to be good and to undertake the deliberate practice that would make them better.

"I think the most general claim here," Ericsson says of his work, "is that a lot of people believe there are some inherent limits they were born with. But there is surprisingly little hard evidence that anyone could attain any kind of exceptional performance without spending a lot of time perfecting it." This is not to say that all people have equal potential. Michael Jordan, even if he hadn't spent countless hours in the gym, would still have been a better basketball player than most of us. But without those hours in the gym, he would never have become the player he was."

The quote above, which is the heart of the article, consists of a flagrant non-sequitur. That Michael Jordan had to practice extremely hard to be Michael Jordan! is almost utterly irrelevant to the question of whether or not "there are some limits they were born with." If Michael Jordan had been 5'-6" instead of 6'-6", the best career he could have had in the NBA was Spud Webb's, and he probably wouldn't have been that good. Jordan was the best basketball player out of all the men in American history who were at least two standard deviations taller than the median, but that's less than one in 40 men.

Personally, I'm not all that much shorter than Michael Jordan, and I probably spent more time practicing basketball up through age 12 than he did (baseball was his favorite sport then), but the high point of my organized basketball career was being the third string center on my elementary school team. If I had worked as hard then as Jordan did later in life, I easily could have made it to second-string, but that's about it.

Don't fashionable economists do even the simplest reality checks on their ideas before publishing them in the New York Times? Don't they have any self-respect? Simon Cowell on "American Idol" is more honest and realistic than Steven D. Levitt because Simon tells a lot of contestants to give up their dreams of a singing career because they will never, ever be good, no matter how much time they waste practicing.

Is it really that important to Levitt and Dubner to be popular and rich that they will demean themselves like this by spouting pretty much the same old Oprahesque tripe about how you can be anything you want if only you want it hard enough?

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

May 7, 2006

The Hot White Defendant

James Fulford on the Blog provides a rough count of the demographic breakdown of the bad guys on the LAPD's most wanted list:

Looking at the the names on the LAPD Most Wanted list, there are three categories of names: What Archie Bunker called “regular American,” random foreigners, (did you know there are Armenian gangs in LA?) and Hispanic. I count, unscientifically, about 20 random foreigners, 28 regular Americans [white and black], and 180 Hispanics.

One thing that jumped out at me from scanning the Most Wanted list was how few black criminals are left in LA. Whether that means they have reformed or have merely, under pressure from all the Hispanic criminals, moved elsewhere in the country, is unclear.

What is clear is that real LA criminals don't look much at all like the many Great White Defendants on the crime shows filmed in LA.

However, I did notice one striking exception: Miss Vanessa X:

Sex: F
Descent: White
Height: 5' 09"
Weight: 125 pounds
Hair: Blonde
Eyes: Hazel
Date of Birth: May 12, 1972
Oddities: French Accent

Grand Theft Property-
Suspect deposited into her personal bank account two stolen and forged checks in the amount of $136,500.00. The suspect withdrew the funds prior to the discovery of the theft and fraud.

The suspect is articulate and claims to work in fashion design. The suspect dresses in very expensive looking clothes and speaks with a French accent. The suspect speaks five languages fluently: English, French, Italian, Thai and Spanish. The suspect can also speak some Arabic. The suspect is known to frequent the following areas: The Fairfax District in Wilshire and Hollywood Areas; Hollywood; Ocean Front Walk in Pacific Area; and West Hollywood.

Suspect is known to be in the company of Ilan Schachar, (Male, White 07-08-57) who currently has an outstanding warrant from the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department for 459 PC - Burglary.

I bet the LAPD has no shortage of cops volunteering to borrow the Department's Ferrari and go undercover to try to entrap this dangerous criminal in a sting operation.

Vanessa X just made my most wanted list. She speaks six languages, dresses sharply and has excellent penmanship (as evidenced by check forgery to the tune of $136K). What’s not to like? ...
When Vanessa is caught she will reinforce my stereotype, built from years of movie watching, that all female prisoners are total hotties who take showers all day when they aren’t getting into topless catfights or being mistreated by a corrupt lesbian warden. And of course, a wrongly-imprisoned hottie will eventually orchestrate a dramatic jailbreak (somehow leveraging Vanessa’s language and forgery skills), but not before giving the warden a taste of her own medicine.

UPDATED: 6/27/2011: Today, I received an email from a law office
My office represents Vanessa X. Ms. X was the subject of your blog entry on May 7, 2006, entitled “The White Hot Defendant.”  
Actually, my post was called "The Hot White Defendant," but I kind of like your version better.
In your blog entry you discuss Ms. X's fugitive status.  In August, 2007, Ms. X appeared before the Los Angeles Superior Court. The grand theft charges against Ms. X were dropped due to lack of evidence linking her to any of the crimes committed.  
Unfortunately, she is still being affected by the unsubstantiated charges as whenever her name is entered into the Google search engine, your blog entry comes up in the first five hits.   This has greatly limited Ms. X's ability to gain employment as all potential employers that search her name think she is a wanted fugitive.

I am writing this email to request that you remove your entry regarding Ms. X's fugitive status so that she can move past that unfortunate period in her life.

Always happy to be of service. In fact, let me offer some career advice: Miss X should contact Cameron Diaz's people about selling the rights to her life story in case the star of Bad Teacher wants to follow up her momentum with more sociopath roles. Alternatively, I'd probably rather watch Miss X in Bad Teacher 2 than Cameron Diaz.

"The Hot White Defendant"

James Fulford on the Blog provides a rough count of the demographic breakdown of the bad guys on the LAPD's most wanted list:
Looking at the the names on the LAPD Most Wanted list, there are three categories of names: What Archie Bunker called “regular American,” random foreigners, (did you know there are Armenian gangs in LA?) and Hispanic. I count, unscientifically, about 20 random foreigners, 28 regular Americans [white and black], and 180 Hispanics.

One thing that jumped out at me from scanning the Most Wanted list was how few black criminals are left in LA. Whether that means they have reformed or have merely, under pressure from all the Hispanic criminals, moved elsewhere in the country, is unclear.

What is clear is that real LA criminals don't look much at all like the many Great White Defendants on the crime shows filmed in LA.