May 27, 2006

Snow Crash and The Camp of the Saints

I just finished Neal Stephenson's famous 1992 sci-fi satire novel Snow Crash, which is kind of like The Da Vinci Code for smart people (although I imagine Dan Brown was inspired, if that's the word for it, more by Umberto Eco's 1989 bestseller Foucault's Pendulum).

It must have been a startlingly great book back in 1992. It's the early 21st Century in Los Angeles, and government has fallen apart just about everywhere in the world, except perhaps Japan. Private enterprise has taken over all the functions of the state. A few ethnic groups -- the Cantonese and the Sicilians -- are flourishing in the absence of public order (indeed the Mafia are pretty close to being the good guys in the novel). I guess a lot of libertarians see it as a utopian novel, but I doubt if Stephenson would agree. (Here's an interview with him in Reason magazine where he appears to be implicitly suggesting that libertarianism is another mind-virus.)

A major plot element in Snow Crash is the Raft, a vast agglomeration of flotsam, inhabited by impoverished south and southeast Asian refugees drifting inexorably across the Pacific, headed for California. Stephenson's description of The Raft is a pretty funny variation on the usual sentimental cant about how illegal immigrants have more gumption than us natives, and thus are just what us decadent Americans need:

"When [the Raft] gets to California, it will enter a new phase of its life cycle. It will shed much of its sprawling improvised bulk as a few hundred thousand Refus cut themselves loose and paddle to shore. The only Refus who make it that far are, by definition, the ones who were agile enough to make it out to the Raft in the first place, resourceful enough to survive the agonizingly slow passage through arctic waters, and tough enough not to get killed by any of the other Refus. Nice guys, all of them. Just the kind of people you'd like to have showing up on your private beach in groups of a few thousand." [p. 272]

Clearly, Stephenson picked up his idea for the Raft from Jean Raspail's 1973 novel The Camp of the Saints, which is about a similar ramshackle armada heading from south Asia to the south of France. So, I went to Google to read about the influence of Camp of the Saints on Snow Crash. As a cyberpunk novel, Snow Crash is, unsurprisingly, much discussed on the Internet, with 360,000 Google hits. Camp of the Saints shows up in 53,000 places.

And how many webpages discuss the overlap between them? As far as I can tell, exactly one.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Wonk War: the battle over CIRA numbers

The White House responded to Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation's bombshell analysis showing that the Hagel-Martinez act would allow in vastly more legal immigrants with a memo claiming it would really only be an eensy-teensy number, although the white House never gets around to saying what that number would be. Rector responds here.

It's important to keep in mind that neither side includes in their estimates the American-born children of the foreigners who would benefit from the law, which is a big, big number, as we saw from the Hispanic Baby Boom in California in the late 1980s and early 1990s following the last amnesty.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Another Job Americans Won't Do: Fireman

From the NYT:

With Illegal Immigrants Fighting Wildfires, West Faces a Dilemma
By KIRK JOHNSON Published: May 28, 2006

SALEM, Ore. — The debate over immigration, which has filtered into almost every corner of American life in recent months, is now sweeping through the woods, and the implications could be immense for the upcoming fire season in the West...

As many as half of the roughly 5,000 private firefighters based in the Pacific Northwest and contracted by state and federal governments to fight forest fires are immigrants, mostly from Mexico. And an untold number of them are working here illegally....

Other forestry workers say that firefighting may simply be too important — and too difficult to attract other applicants — to allow for a crackdown on illegal workers.

Being a fireman is a job Americans don't want to do? Oh, man, haven't they ever heard of the thousands of volunteer fire departments? Haven't they ever seen the long lines of applicants for paying fireman jobs? Haven't they ever watched little boys stare in awe at firemen?

Heck, in LA they even had some success recruiting black street gangs to fight brushfires. Men like to fight fires.

Here's part of a Sacramento Bee article on the incompetents we have recently begun to send out to fight fires:

Untrained migrants fight fires: Inexperienced, undocumented hired by private contractors.
By Tom Knudson -- Bee Staff Writer Published Sunday, May 7, 2006

As bright orange embers lofted through the forest, exploding into columns of smoke and flame, Mike Sulffridge and his crew of firefighters began to scramble. Their lives were in danger.

But the reaction of six Latino firefighters working near them could not have been more different. Despite the advancing flames, despite a volley of warning shouts, they did nothing.

"They did not understand English," said Sulffridge, who was hired to battle the wildfire in the Fishlake National Forest in Utah in 2000. "They did not understand what the fire was doing."

Ultimately, the men were rescued. But the fire took a toll. One man was burned badly across his face. "In another few seconds, those guys would have been burned up," Sulffridge said. "They would have died."

Firefighting has always been dangerous. But today, with the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies hiring more private contractors to do the work, a different kind of firefighter is in harm's way: migrant workers who have minimal experience and training, speak little or no English and often are in the country illegally.

Public records offer a glimpse of what crew inspectors have documented: underage workers, counterfeit IDs, falsified training records, a van roll-over, broken and dangerous tools, even a firefighter with only one lung who "went into convulsions ... and was having difficulty breathing," as one federal inspector in Washington put it.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Malcolm Gladwell admits his basketball statistics book review was given the razzberry by the cognoscenti

On his blog, Gladwell writes:

"I’ve noticed, in reading reactions to the book around the blogosphere, a certain residual skepticism, particularly among hard-core basketball fans."

He then makes some admissions about the shortcomings of the Wages of Wins book he hyped so credulously in The New Yorker. I guess it's good that after he publishes an article in The New Yorker he he goes and does the research he should have done the first time, but isn't that a little odd? Isn't he getting paid enough by The New Yorker (about $5 per word, roughly $10,000 for this 1,900 word review) to bother getting it right from the start?

By the way, Gladwell continues to claim:

"For instance, they show that the correlation between a team’s payroll and a team’s performance, in the NBA, is surprisingly weak. What that tells us is that the people charged with evaluating and rewarding ability and performance in the NBA do a lousy job."

Maybe, maybe not. One obvious factor that lowers the correlation between payrolls and wins is that one way to win in the NBA is to get a great young player in the draft who isn't yet eligible for free agency (which normally starts in the fourth year in the league). Then you can take the money that you save paying your young star less than market value and spend it on veterans, or simply pocket the savings as profit. For example, Miami can afford to pay veteran Shaquille O'Neal $20 million per year because they are paying star third year man Dwayne Wade only about $3 million. LeBron James has almost singlehandedly made Cleveland a respectable franchise, and he's only getting $4.6 million.

Gladwell notes that his three economists find Kevin Garnett to be the best player in the league in recent years, which seems pretty reasonable to me. But Garnett's Minnesota team has had very little playoff success because Minnesota's management can't afford to put good players around Garnett. What happened was that Garnett wasn't all that great in absolute terms his first three years in the NBA, when he wasn't making much money, so the Timberwolves weren't all that good then. The team didn't get that big of a premium in performance over what they were paying Garnett because he was so young during his first three years. But he was fantastically good for his age (19 through 21), and was obviously going to become one of the best players ever. So in his fourth year, he got a gigantic contract that increased from 14 million to 28 million per year by the time he was 27. But that just throttled Minnesota's chances of getting much help for him.

In contrast, Tim Duncan, who is probably most similar to Garnett in accomplishments, spent four years in college, so he was an instant outstanding contributor as soon as he arrived in the NBA. But the San Antonio Spurs got to pay him at below market rates for his first three years, during which they won the first of their three championships and built the foundation for two more.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

"Dynasty through Diversity: Why the Bush Administration is so adamant about amnesty"

is my new article in the June 19th issue of The American Conservative (subscribe here). Here's an excerpt:

The President's patent insincerity about controlling illegal immigration has catalyzed the realization among a rapidly growing number of conservatives that the Bush Administration's governing principles, such as they are, are at best only superficially conservative. Their common denominator is a lack of what Edmund Burke emphasized as a key conservative virtue: prudence.

The foreign, domestic, and economic policies of President Bush can be summarized as:

- Invade the world
- Invite the world
- In hock to the world

As far as Grand Strategies go, this is not the most seamless. There are palpable contradictions in combining pugnacity abroad with welcoming tens of millions of foreign newcomers at home while borrowing hundreds of billions from overseas to fund our budget and trade deficits.

How did the Bush Administration wind up with such clashing priorities?

The orgy of indebtedness with which the Administration is saddling future generations of Americans is a byproduct of the President's politically motivated profligacy. Increasing spending is popular among powerful interest groups. And so is cutting taxes. Why not do both at once? Why pay today what you can put off until tomorrow (or the next President's term)?

More mysterious remain the precise reasons behind the Administration's conversion from its 2000 campaign promise of a "modest" foreign policy that abstained from nation-building to its wildly ambitious neoconservative ideology of 2003.

In contrast, Mr. Bush's desire to boost immigration has never been in doubt.

While the President contended in his speech that his terms as a border state governor prove that he grasps the importance of enforcing illegal immigration laws, never during his 12 years in office has he displayed much eagerness to catch aliens.

For example, the "comprehensive immigration reform" of 1986 granted amnesty to 2.7 million current illegal aliens combined with staunch employer sanctions to eliminate the incentive for future illegal immigration. Unfortunately, politically powerful employers soon began corrupting the enforcement process. Still the nadir of negligence was not reached until this Administration. In 2004, only three employers were fined.

In the placid months before 9/11, Bush's highest priority, after tax cuts, was working out with Mexican president Vicente Fox an immigration deal -- although what he asked Fox to sacrifice, if anything, was never made clear. The President of Mexico wanted to dispose of his surplus uneducated poor and the President of the United States wanted to acquire them, perhaps on the theory that global dominance in the 21st Century goes to the country with the most manual laborers.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

May 26, 2006

Analyses of the Senate immigration vote:

On Gideon's blog:

GOP Senators facing the voters in their state voted largely against this bill. GOP Senators who want to be President voted largely in favor of this bill. That suggests a rather different balance of power between interests in the race for President as compared with the race for a Senate seat.

The would-be Presidential timbers no doubt are hoping that the liberal media will accord them paroxysms of Strange New Respect over their statesmanlike, rational, moderate cave-ins.

There's lots more worth reading.

One of Larry Auster's readers has the religious breakdown:

"Catholics voted 19-4 yes, with Bunning, Santorum, Sununu and Vitter voting no (Salazar did not vote). Jews voted 11-0 yes. The combined Catholic-Jewish vote was 30-4 in favor... Senate Mormons voted 3-2 in favor of the bill." [More]

That leaves the bill losing 29-30 among Protestants and All Other.

This 30-4 vote among Senators whose ancestors largely immigrated between 160 and 80 years ago shows the extraordinary power of Ellis Island ethnic nostalgia today.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

May 25, 2006

Almost beyond parody

Alex Tabarrok, author of that "open letter" of economists retailing all the hoariest sentimental tripe about immigration, now explains on his Marginal Revolution blog the reason that so many economists don't like to think hard about immigration: the moral superiority of economists!

I have an article in TCS today on why economists tend to be more in favor of immigration than the typical person. Surprisingly, the ethics of economists may be part of the answer! Here's an excerpt:

Economists...tend not to distinguish between us and them. We look instead for policies that at least in principle make everyone better off. Policies that make us better off at the price of making them even worse off are for politicians, not economists.

For centuries, economists have been explaining that you shouldn't trust people who say, "Trust me, my motives are pure." Self-rationalizations are typically motivated by self-interest. But, now, in a stunning breakthrough, economists have discovered the one kind of human being who is above such tawdry concerns, whose viewpoint is wholly Olympian and disinterested: economists!

I've outlined a counter-philosophy of citizenism not because it is perfect in all regards, but because it is less easily corrupted than the alternatives.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

The 66 million

Senate passes Virtual Open Border bill 62-36:

By Charles Hurt

The Senate easily approved an immigration bill that allows 10 million illegal aliens to become citizens, more than doubles the flow of legal immigration each year and will cost U.S. taxpayers an estimated $54 billion over the next ten years.

Even before the early-evening vote, the leaders of both parties are hailing its passage as a historic success. The bill passed 62-36.

"We've taken a bill, and we've made it better," said Majority Leader Bill Frist, the only member of the GOP leadership in the Senate to actually support the bill's final passage. "We've taken a bill that the American people would have concluded was amnesty and by my lights, we took the amnesty out while we put the security in."

As they prepared to vote, senators on both sides of the aisle tearfully congratulated one another and themselves for all their hard work in producing the legislation. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat and leading proponent of the bill, called it "the most far-reaching immigration reform in our history."

Several Democrats facing re-election this year joined Republican conservatives in opposing the first major overhaul of the nation's immigration system in twenty years. They said that the Senate is flatly ignoring clear public will and that the bill would have disastrous consequences for decades to come.

"We will never solve the problem of illegal immigration by rewarding those who break our laws," Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, said. "We must stop illegal immigration by securing the border and creating a temporary worker program that does not reward illegal behavior with a clear path to citizenship and voting rights."

Those who voted against the bill said it should have left out the "amnesty" provisions and instead focused solely on securing the border and enforcing the immigration laws that have been on the books for decades.

Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, said the bill "puts the cart before the horse" because it grants citizenship rights to illegals, grants full-blown amnesty to employers and opens the borders to millions of new immigrants each year.

"The horse here, that I've been hearing from my constituents, is we need a border security bill first," said Mr. Santorum, who spends much of his time campaigning for re-election this fall. "And we need a program that makes sure that our country's borders are secure and that they are not a threat either to our national security or economic security.

The bill also includes approval for 350 miles of new fencing along the border, 500 miles of vehicle barriers and authorization of 3,000 new border patrol agents this year.

But conservatives in Congress like many voters are skeptical that the federal government will make good on promises to secure the border and enforce the laws. They suspect that immigration reform is headed for a repeat of the 1986 reforms that granted amnesty to 3 million aliens and promised to seal the border. But the laws were never enforced and three million illegals were replaced with some 12 million.

"The amnesty provisions and the fact that the enforcement provisions will not kick in immediately mean to me that this will not solve the illegal immigration problem," Sen. David Vitter, Louisiana Republican, said today. "This will, in fact, make the illegal immigration problem much bigger."

But do those 62 Senators even know what they voted for?

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Legislative Negligence: The Senate Immigration Bill

With a few honorable exceptions, such as Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the U.S. Senate's performance over the last week and a half was a textbook example of legislative negligence. Today, Thursday, the Senate is expected to vote for a 614 page bill that is estimated to increase legal immigration over the next two decades from 19 million to 66 million, and yet few Senators appear to have taken time to study the bill and crunch the numbers.

The one Senator who clearly has given this monumentally complicated and important bill the attention it deserves, Sen. Sessions, was smeared by Washington Post star reporter Dana Milbank yesterday precisely for behaving responsibly. (You really need to read Milbank's article to believe it.)

A Christian Science Monitor reporter has outlined how little the Senators who support the Hagel-Martinez bill know about the potential effects of their law:

Surprises on Senate's path to immigration bill
By Gail Russell Chaddock

WASHINGTON – After months of emotional gridlock, US senators are pushing the pedal to the metal on the first overhaul of immigration policy in two decades.

The trouble is, no one is quite sure what's in it. The quickened pace in recent days has helped the Senate get to "yes" on the 614-page bill - a final vote is expected this week. And it's given senators a rare chance to actually legislate. But it's also produced several surprises that have caught members off guard.

… Keeping abreast of the bill's changes often overwhelmed members. The final hours of the Judiciary Committee's March 27 markup got so rushed that, at one point, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California asked: "Excuse me, but did we just vote to raise or lower the number of H-1B visas?" No one knew.

In the end, the Senate raised the number of visas for high-tech workers from 65,000 to 115,000 a year. But with an automatic 20 percent escalator clause in the bill that could mean an additional 3 million foreigners will compete with American workers for high-tech jobs in the US during the next 10 years.

"To do a bill like this on a forced march, it wasn't ready to come out," said Senator Feinstein, after joining 72 other senators to vote to end debate on the bill Wednesday. "I am very pro-high tech, but these are prize jobs in our economy. They really should be evaluated every year."

It's one of the many possibly unintended consequences in a bill that could have a vast impact on America's economy and society.

… In a key vote last week, Sens. Byron Dorgan (D) of North Dakota and Jeff Sessions (R) of Alabama - typically bookends on any vote on social policy - found themselves on the same losing side of a 69-28 vote to limit eligibility for the bill's guest-worker program to protect American jobs. "What on earth are we thinking? Can't there be some modicum of discussion about the effect on American workers?" said Senator Dorgan, introducing his amendment last week.

In support of that amendment, Senator Sessions introduced a new report by the Heritage Foundation that claimed that the Senate bill would allow 100 million new legal immigrants into the country over the next 20 years. He called for a demographic impact statement on the impact of the bill.

"There's been no discussion of the fiscal costs of amnesty or the plight of American workers in the Senate debate," said Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports limits on immigration.

Asked whether the Senate was "flying blind" on the demographic impact of this bill, Sen. John Cornyn (R) of Texas said: "We're not entirely blind."

Is the American Establishment too immature to legislate on immigration?

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

"My Favorite Sailerism:"

A med student writes:

My Favorite Sailerism: You make a lot of generalizations on your blog, and they tend to be surprisingly correct. But I think the most correct of all is that some time ago you said that you've never seen a woman in a book store reading a magazine from the so called prestige section.

I too have spent many hours in book stores reading magazines, perhaps more so than is normal or even healthy for a 23 year old. I first go for the car magazines, and then I read the Economist, AmCon, National Review, Time, Business Week, etc.

I have never, ever seen a woman reading one of these magazines. Nor have I ever seen a woman pick up one of these magazines in a doctors office or at the gym (to read while on the treadmill). I'll put money down that - given a choice between the two - a woman is more likely to pick up a Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue to compare herself to the pretty models than she is to pick up a Newsweek magazine.

No wonder they didn't let women vote for the longest time

Well, women keep the human race from falling apart, in part by reading self-help magazines, which allows men to think about stuff that doesn't affect them personally.

Meanwhile, Thrasymachus writes:

I don't get Mean Mr. Mustard's Da Vinci Code hate. He completely misses the real significance of the book. Its truth or falsehood doesn't matter: knowing a couple facts about The Da Vinci Code is a wonderful way to hit on girls reading books. I don't think I've ever seen one reading anything else.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

May 24, 2006

NR's Top 50 Conservative Rock Songs

It's mostly the work of John J. Miller: Good top 10 list:

1. "Won't Get Fooled Again," by The Who
2. "Taxman," by The Beatles
3. "Sympathy for the Devil," by The Rolling Stones (I hadn't realized that Mick Jagger wrote the lyrics after reading Mikhail Bulgakov's 1930s samzidat novel The Master and Margarita about the Devil's visit to Communist Moscow)
4. "Sweet Home Alabama," by Lynyrd Skynyrd.
5. "Wouldn't It Be Nice," by The Beach Boys.
6. "Gloria," by U2.
7. "Revolution," by The Beatles.
8. "Bodies," by The Sex Pistols.
9. "Don't Tread on Me," by Metallica.
10. "20th Century Man," by The Kinks.

For the other 40, click here.

Two great Berlin Wall songs are included ("Heroes" by David Bowie and "Right Here Right Now" by Jesus Jones), but not the third, "Holidays in the Sun" by the Sex Pistols, which I love for Steve Jones' tremendous riff. I didn't see either Dead Kennedys classic: "Holiday in Cambodia" or "California Uber Alles." LA bands are underrepresented: there's no "American Music" by the Blasters, the extremely politically incorrect "Los Angeles" by X, or "How Will the Wolf Survive?" by Los Lobos (Chicano conservatism).

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

The Da Vinci Code, women, and Catholicism

One of the more curious aspects of the cult of The Da Vinci Code is the lack of skepticism about novelist Dan Brown's contention that Catholicism was a vast plot to steal from women the feminist freedoms they had enjoyed under "the pagans" who worshipped "the Goddess."

First, pagans didn't worship the Goddess because if they had, they wouldn't have been pagans, they have been monotheists. Like his New Age feminist sources, Brown is a slave to the intellectual prestige of monotheism. Let's face it, real Greco-Roman paganism, as described in, say, Homer, has a tawdry People magazine Jennifer Aniston vs. Angelina Jolie battle over Brad Pitt quality to it. So, a bunch of goddesses get reduced down to the Goddess because monotheism just seems more respectable.

Second, Brown, with all his talk of "the sacred feminine," is being intentionally hazy about what pagans have tended to mean by it: i.e., fertility goddesses. Now, you can see a bit of a problem for modern feminists in praising ancient conceptions of women as most sacred when barefoot and pregnant, but Dan Brown and his 60 million readers apparently can't.

hostility to paganism -- that's what the Protestants, Jews, and Muslims complained about ... that Catholicism wasn't hostile enough towards paganism. It's hardly a surprise that the Renaissance started in Catholic Italy. Or that the Reformation was a reaction to the High Renaissance in Rome. Here's a minor modern example: my younger son's otherwise perfectly sane Lutheran school refuses to hold a Halloween party because that's too pagan, so it holds a "Harvest Festival." To a Halloween-loving Catholic like me, that sounds like nuts, but it makes perfect sense to Lutherans.

Fourth, doesn't anybody remember basic Roman Empire sociology? Early Christianity particularly appealed to women, especially widows. The pagans, and anti-Christian philosophers like Nietzsche ever since, blamed Christianity for making Rome too soft, too womanly to fight off the barbarians. Historian Rodney Stark says in an interviews:

"Christian women had tremendous advantages compared to the woman next door, who was like them in every way except that she was a pagan. First, when did you get married? Most pagan girls were married off around age 11, before puberty, and they had nothing to say about it, and they got married to some 35-year-old guy. Christian women had plenty of say in the matter and tended to marry around age 18.

Abortion was a huge killer of women in this period, but Christian women were spared that. And infanticide—pagans killed little girls left and right. We’ve unearthed sewers clogged with the bones of newborn girls. But Christians prohibited this. Consequently, the sex ratio changed and Christians didn’t have the enormous shortage of women that plagued the rest of the empire."

Fifth, the idea that the Catholic Church kept women down is pretty odd: What other monotheistic religion honored hundreds of women as saints? Made the Virgin Mary the second most revered person of all? What other religion made women writers like St. Theresa of Avila and St. Catherine of Siena part of the canon of religious literature? What other religion encouraged women to found and run giant hospitals? Protestantism? Judaism? Islam?

Here's what I think is the underlying reason this farrago of nonsense is so popular with book-reading modern women: Even though the Catholic Church was more favorable toward career women (e.g., abbesses of convents) than other religions, the Church distinctly stood against the now popular idea that "You can have it all!" -- i.e., a career and sex. The Catholic Church offered lots of careers for women, but the careers required chastity. The Church saw motherhood as a separate career that didn't combine well with other careers, which in the days before effective contraception was more or less true.

So, the real complaint in The Da Vinci Code is that The Pill wasn't invented until 1964.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Haaretz: Advice for America on building a border fence from an Israeli expert

Shmuel Rosner, Chief U.S. Correspondent for the prestigious Israeli newspaper Haaretz, listened to an anonymous Israeli expert on the fences the Jewish State has erected on the Gaza and West Bank borders offer advice to Americans on how to build and run a barrier on the Mexican border. The Israeli fences have been highly successful at cutting down on the number of suicide-bombers, who are (by definition) highly motivated.

"Israeli advice on the Mexico fence: be ruthless."

... Money: It will probably cost more than you think. Why? Because that's always the way it is with such projects. Americans, the Israeli says, tend to be very structured in their work, in a way that has many benefits but also some limitations. It means that they waste a lot of money on "process" and "management" and "studies" before they really act. They make no short-cuts, thus save no money. In the last issue of The National Journal, the Israeli fence is mentioned as the example to use when calculating the cost of such a fence (2000 mile fence = $6.4 billion dollars). The Israeli expert thinks the Americans will end up paying more.

Efficiency: It can work, the expert says and other Israeli know-hows agree. Don't buy the argument of liberal opponents who say "no fence can stop people from coming." If done in a proper way, the fence can work. It can achieve whatever goal the U.S. wants it to, "100 percent, 90 percent, 80 percent prevention. Just make the right commitment and you'?ll get results."

Tactics: Don't just rely on sophisticated machinery and equipment. You need people on the ground using the equipment to pursue the invaders. They need to react fast, they need intelligence, and they need to be tireless. It will only take a couple of months before the flow of immigrants will become much weaker.

Intelligence: Recruit people on the Mexican side to be your eyes and ears and to tell you what the smugglers are up to. Make sure you can communicate fast, and react even faster. Good intelligence can be the key factor for success.

Routine: The smugglers will be inventive and will look for ways around you. If you stick to some regulated routine, you'll end up wasting your time and your money. Surprise them where they don't expect you, make them understand that no place is safe, no route out of reach. "Don't police them, fight them."

Ruthlessness: Is it really important for the Americans? If it is, they should be prepared to show it. "Make the other side understand that this is no game - that life can be in danger," says the expert. "I know this is the toughest advice of all, but short of doing it the Americans will end up pretending to stop illegal immigrants rather than really doing it. At the end of the day, it is very simple: America is more powerful than the smugglers - meaning, it can deter them from doing what they do." But there's one condition necessary to keep this preponderance of power working: "It should be as important for America to stop the illegal new comers as it is for them to come."

Danger: You mean they have to shoot the smugglers? "No, they have to stop them. But if they run away they have to chase them, and if they resist they need to use force. Eventually, they'll end up doing things you don't want people to watch on television. I'm not sure if they have the resolve and the stomach to do it. Maybe it's not as important for them as they claim it is."

Conduct: Corruption can be a serious problem on the sealed border. As it gets tougher to enter the U.S, people will be ready to pay a high price for it, and the temptation to help those people in something one shouldn't underestimate. Take it into account while devising the system.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Patriotic Assimilation

The Inductivist writes:

Mexican immigrants do not value American citizenship: An reader wrote that illegals don't want to be citizens, but "Mexicans with benefits." What do the data say? GSS respondents were asked how important is it to them to be an American citizen. Only one-third of Mexican immigrants said this was important. Almost twice as many immigrants from all the other countries felt this way (60%). Eighty percent of native-born Americans value their citizenship.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Temporary Workers and the Davis-Bacon Act

A reader writes:

Excellent coverage of the "guest worker program," one of the most awful ideas anybody has proposed since the 1960s. However, it seems to me the Democrats have done us a favor:

The bill extends Davis-Bacon "prevailing wage" provisions — typically the area's union wage that applies only to construction on federal projects under current law — to all occupations (e.g. roofers, carpenters, electricians, etc.) covered by Davis-Bacon. So guest workers (but not citizen workers) must be paid Davis-Bacon wage rates for jobs in the private sector if their occupation is covered by Davis-Bacon. Presumably because Senate Democrats' union bosses thought this provision too modest, an amendment by Senator Barack Obama, approved by voice vote, extended Davis-Bacon wages rates to all private work performed by guest workers, even if their occupations are not covered by Davis-Bacon.

Doesn't this mostly neutralize the program, since no employer is going to import Pakistanis to work at $15 an hour? Maybe Microsoft can bring in a few more Indian programmers, but how do would-be sweatshop owners overcome this requirement? (Of course these rules might not be effectively applied. And it would obviously be better not to have indentured servitude written in our laws, even if it is neutralized by other provisions.)

I suspect the procurers can figure out a way around this, such as via upfront fees or kickbacks or whatever. For example, currently under the deal that farmworker procurer Motty Orian worked out with the UFW, his firm gets from the growers $4 per hour worked by guestworkers that they pocket. So, the cost to the growers is quite high, not far off the Davis-Bacon wage, I imagine.

If the government really enforced the Davis-Bacon law in the future, and I was him, I'd charge farmworkers back in their own country a big upfront fee to get into the program, then I'd pass on that $4 per hour to the workers and not collect an hourly fee. I'd come out about the same.

In general, once people are physically within the United States, the laws passed by Congress take a backseat to the Law of Supply and Demand.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Sen. Sessions commits the unpardonable: He's read the Senate immigration bill and crunched the numbers!

As Gail Russell Chaddock points out in the Christian Science Monitor today, "The trouble is, no one is quite sure what's in" the Senate's Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act.

Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) has distinguished himself as the Senate's leading statesman over the last two weeks for the simple reason that he has read the 614 page Hagel-Martinez bill and done the math. He has delivered a number of well-informed, carefully considered speeches on this hugely important subject. John O'Sullivan calls him "a hero of commonsense in this debate."

For this public service, he has been smeared by the Washington Post's top political reporter Dana Milbank:

Forget Politics. This Battle Is Personal.
By Dana Milbank Wednesday, May 24, 2006; A02

Alabama's Jeff Sessions sure knows how to nurse a grudge [boldface mine]. Talking about his family earlier this year, the Republican senator recalled that "Lincoln killed one of them at Antietam."

Now he is turning his prodigious anger on legislation the Senate is expected to approve on Thursday that would allow millions of illegal immigrants to become citizens. In the process, Sessions is taking on the White House, his leaders in the Senate, the Congressional Budget Office and business interests at home.

"This bill is one of the worst pieces of legislation to come before the Senate," he proclaimed at a news conference yesterday, his second on the topic in as many weeks.

My goodness, Sessions must be deranged if he's held two news conferences on the most far-reaching immigration bill of this generation. Maybe one news conference, but two? That's completely inappropriate!

He paused, unsatisfied with that superlative. "It's the worst piece of legislation to come before the Senate since I've been here."

A stream of epithets about the legislation flowed from his mouth and those of the two conservative scholars he brought with him. "Colossal error . . . absolute scandal . . . budget buster . . . fiscal disaster . . . catastrophe."

Linda Scott of PBS's "NewsHour" pointed out that the Alabama Farmers Federation takes the opposite view.

The senator fired back: "They want cheap labor and they're not considering the interest of the United States of America."

Sessions must be out of his mind with bigotry if he doesn't see the superior wisdom of those disinterested patriots, the Alabama Farmers Federation. What kind of vile insanity could lead a Senator to not immediately give in to a home state special interest group?

With the exception of some small victories -- Sessions persuaded his colleagues last week to support 370 miles of fence along the Mexican border and 500 miles of vehicle barriers -- the man from Alabama knows he has lost the battle in the Senate.

"We're heading to passage," he conceded yesterday, even as he readied a last-minute parliamentary maneuver to derail the bill today. Ultimately, he's hoping House Republicans, who have passed an immigration crackdown without legalization, will prevail in negotiations with the Senate.

"It will have to be rewritten," Sessions predicted of the Senate measure. "The bill is not fixable."

A short, wiry man with protruding ears, Sessions has become the Lou Dobbs of the Senate. He argues his points not with the courtly Southern tones of the late senator Howell Heflin (D), his predecessor, but with the harsh twang of a country tough -- which, in a sense, he is.

C'mon, Dana, don't be coy. Come right out and call Sessions the Ku Klux Klanner he obviously is for worrying about little details like how many tens of millions of foreigners will get into America under this bill.

Sessions was one of just nine senators to oppose a ban on torture. He has raised objections about renewing the Voting Rights Act.

As we all know, the Voting Rights Act is perfect beyond human comprehension.

In the days after Hurricane Katrina, according to Time magazine, Sessions, pushing for repeal of the estate tax, called a former law professor to see if he knew of any business owner who died in the storm.

And if his current fight in the Senate appears unwinnable, Sessions also knows how to turn defeat into victory. He sits on the same Judiciary Committee that in 1986 rejected him for a federal judgeship; opponents at the time cited his labeling of groups such as the NAACP as "un-American" and his prosecution of civil rights activists for voting fraud.

As we all know, civil rights activists like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are as honest as the day is long.

Sessions has joined the immigration debate with typical ferocity, impugning the motives of those who disagree with him. "We have quite a number of members of the House and Senate and members in the media who are all in favor of reforms and improvements as long as they don't really work," he said last week of those who opposed the 370 miles of fencing. "But good fences make good neighbors. Fences don't make bad neighbors."

The senator evidently hadn't consulted the residents of Korea, Berlin or the West Bank.

Killer line, Dana! Obviously, the residents of Korea or the West Bank would have lived in perfect harmony without those horrible fences keeping them separate. But why hold back, Dana? Point out that there was a fence around Auschwitz!

On Monday, he was on the Senate floor again, accusing his opponents of dishonesty. "The legislation has been crafted in a way that hides and conceals, even misrepresents its real effects," he said. "We should be ashamed of ourselves."

The Bush White House worries that the words of Sessions and like-minded lawmakers in the House will alienate Hispanic voters from the GOP. And, indeed, the senator's words can sound a bit harsh, as he fights to limit legal immigration, cut off tax benefits for those earning legal status and limit legal immigrants' ability to bring over family members.

"It's painful to bring people who are unable to speak English or to effectively take advantage of the opportunities our country has," he told his colleagues this week. "They tend to pull themselves apart and continue to speak their own language, and they don't advance and assimilate."

Forecasting a mass immigration of 73 million to 92 million over the next 20 years, Sessions described the process in extraordinary detail:

What a horrible, horrible man! He's read the bill and crunched the numbers. Unforgivable.

"The nuclear family that we bring in after five years, they become citizens, they bring in their parents. . . . The parents can bring in their parents if they're still alive. They really can. Maybe they're 90. They can bring in others -- their brothers and sisters. The uncles, all the uncles can come in with this through the parents here. And the wife can bring in brothers and sisters and then the wife brings in her brother, who brings in his wife and two children and she brings in her parents. And it just goes on."

Oh, my God! Sessions actually understands how this legislation would work. He must be destroyed!

This may not be the best way to broaden the Republican appeal, but that's not Sessions's worry. "I'm beyond politics," he said yesterday. His opponents would readily agree.

But seriously, folks. For a long time, I've been pointing out that the Establishment has been preventing the public from getting its way on immigration by ruling the entire topic out of public discussion, except in the most hazy, sentimental terms. Sometimes they dismiss the topic:

How do they keep winning? The articulate and affluent who profit from illegal immigration look down their noses at anyone who wants to reduce it. They don’t debate dissenters; they dismiss them. Their most effective ploy has been to insinuate that only shallow people think deeply about immigration. The more profound sort of intellect, the fashionable imply, displays an insouciant heedlessness about the long-term impact of immigration.

Other times, they angrily spew hatred at anyone who thinks rationally about immigration, denouncing him as a hate-filled lunatic for thinking about the facts and logic of immigration. Milbank's column is a classic example.

Southern Appeal has more on the story.

Dennis Dale writes on Untethered:

I'm well aware of the inherent evil of unsightly ears and an ectomorphic physique; but listening to Senator Sessions speak the other day I detected nothing of the "country tough" (which we're supposed to read as redneck cracker) in his speech. In fact, there's nothing "tough" in the senator's manner. I found myself wishing he had been a little more forceful. I suspect Dana Milbank has lead a sufficiently cloistered life that he thinks Michael Jackson looked tough in the Bad video.

Sessions was very hard on the legislation. Perhaps it's the tender virtue of the senate bill itself Milbank is concerned about. Indeed, singling out Sessions for abuse suggests Milbank finds reading the proposals before the Senate abusive. The poor legislation.

Still, not a single word of refutation of the senator's complaints. Milbank's message: pay no attention to a jug-eared redneck, and let the nice people with the dull, soothing, ill-defined words determine the course of the country. And don't forget: American Idol's on tonight!

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Basketball statistics and Malcolm Gladwell

In response to Gladwell's book review of The Wages of Wins in the New Yorker credulously accepting three economists' formula for ranking basketball players, an algorithm under which Allen Iverson came out 91st best in his MVP season and Dennis Rodman much better than Michael Jordan in their last season together, readers write:

If you want to understand basketball and stats, you're much better off reading the likes of John Hollinger (Pro Baskeball Forecast) and Dean Oliver (Basketball on Paper) and If you haven't already, that is.

In Hollinger's rating system, Iverson was the 13th best player per minute in 2001 (his MVP season), and he always plays a huge number of minutes per game (so a per minute ranking is a little unfair to him and to other little guys -- big guys often have to rest more, in part because of strain on the knees). And Jordan was #4 in 1998 while Rodman didn't make Hollinger's top 50 (which seems to underestimate Rodman, who led the league in rebounding).

My impression that Iverson, who is 6'0" and 165 pounds is clearly one of the world's greatest athletes, but it's a little less clear that he is one of the world's greatest basketball players, simply because he is of average size. Still, he is an awfully good basketball player, much better than Gladwell's gurus' stats claim.

For example, Hollinger points out that Iverson's true value is that he can create a shot at will. He doesn't depend on getting set up by others, which is highly useful for when the shot clock is running down. The downside is that he's a low-efficiency player [career .421 field goal shooting percentage]; Jordan was great because he was high-efficiency as well [career .497 shooting percentage], with a low turnover rate [career 2.6 per game vs. 3.7 for Iverson].

One question would be whether Iverson cooperates with his coaches. If a coach told him he wanted him to forego his six hardest shots in each game so that his final shooting line would end up as 8 made out of 18 shots instead of 10 out of 24, would he do it?

Something that is often forgotten about Wilt Chamberlain is that he'd do whatever his coach asked him (except show up for early morning practices!) One year, for example, he became the only center ever to lead the league in assists, because that's what the coach wanted. Chamberlain might have been a little too cooperative for his own good. In contrast, early in his Laker career, Magic Johnson organized a coup that got his coach fired (who'd already won a championship) and replaced with Pat Riley, who changed the team strategy to better suit Magic. They went on to win four championships.

Another reader writes:

I was shocked by Gladwell's acceptance of a flawed idea by mid-article. He seems, at first, to grasp perfectly well the complexity of rendering judgments about which it is uncertain which data to choose or how to weigh it. He notes well that the Rookie of the Year award is poorly judged. Since it's useless to anyone but the winner, and seems to depend on how bad your team needed a scorer, it's low hanging fruit. Fine.

However, he doesn't stop here. Gladwell is so impressed by the mental machinations of these economists that he's willing to suspend his own common sense and judgment, dismiss a career (Iverson's) that has many of the hallmarks of a great one, and abandon his prior skepticism about the limits of experimental design. He does this without presenting much evidence that the model has a shred of predictive value, or can adapt to changing attitudes....

Instead of accepting the limitations of current hoop accounting techniques, the idea we are left with is that we should trust the admittedly flawed data, and, as long as the economists do something really neat with it, not our own eyes. Sounds like a hot trend. Also, dismissing a man's life work in toto often cries out for one to make a rational case of one's own.

However, it would be very unsexy for Malcolm Gladwell to say "I can see the use of this model to improve the statistical measure of the following five elements of pro basketball." or "Here are five reasons why Allen Iverson's statistics are not particularly useful." Hell, he might have gotten a book with these guys out of the first. Rather, he seems to buy the whole thing, and uses bad examples to make an argument that shows other theory's weaknesses replacing it whole hog with a theory that at least he has not proven to be stronger in many areas.

Another reader comments:

I've had some success looking at team performance using two key metrics, scoring capacity and scoring efficiency. Scoring capacity is the point total a team would score if they hit all their shots. Scoring efficiency is a team's actual point total divided by their scoring capacity.

The University of Kentucky is a great test environment for this model, since they have detailed stats back to the 1940s and examples of great (and poor) performances over the years.

When Rick Pitino was coach at UK in the 1990s, his obvious strategy was to maximize his scoring capacity margin over his opponents. There are only three drivers for this: offensive rebound margin, turnover margin and 3PT attempt margin. Pitino coached a 14-14 team in 1989-90 to a scoring capacity margin of 24 points per game (unbelievable!) by shooting the 3PT, defending the 3PT, and full-court pressing to force turnovers. But that team had a 6 percentage point DEFICIT in scoring efficiency against the opposition. However, by 1992 Pitino had recruited better talent, so his 1991-92 team had a 21 point scoring capacity advantage over the opposition and was dead even in scoring efficiency.

If you look at that great Kentucky-Duke game in the 1992 East Regional Finals [Duke won 104-103 as they went on to win the national championship for the second straight year], it's the clash of two different basketball strategies. Kentucky maximized scoring capacity margin and Duke maximized scoring efficiency. That's what made it such a great game, Kentucky pressed, forced Duke into a boatload of turnovers, and had a much higher scoring capacity. Duke was extremely efficient, with Christian Laettner going 10-10 from the field and hitting the famous game winner. Duke was a big favorite but was lucky to win. Kentucky showed that scoring capacity matters and most analytical systems focus only on efficiency.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

May 23, 2006

"Temporary" Workers:

A reader writes:

This whole guest worker thing is bad no matter how you look at it. If the guest worker is tied to the job or employer, then you have at best a worker almost totally under the employer's thumb, sort of an indentured servant. Chances are you are going to see employers advancing these workers money to come to the US etc and they will end up "working it off" kind of like a drug-addicted prostitute who never seems to be able to pay back her pimp, who got her addicted in the first place.

If the guest worker can self-apply (if that's the correct phrase), then you run the risk of agricultural jobs becoming the portal job for everybody. Until the growers get cracking on mechanization, there will be a need for low level agriculture workers. What's to keep a worker from coming to the US as an AgWorker, working a short while, and then moving on to another job? (There that Runaway rate again!)

In the 1986 amnesty, they were expecting 400,000 applications for the SAW (Special Agricultural Workers) but got 1.8 million - plus lots of fraud. My favorite example was the Indian motel owner who worked the required 90 days (I think it was 90), went back to his motel with papers and never worked agriculture again. What's to keep any type of worker in the world from low skilled to highly skilled from doing this? As long as you can physically do the work, put in your time, get your papers, and then go work whatever you are qualified to do regardless of its impact on US workers

Another reader calls attention to more about Motty Orian, the farm laborer procurer who introduced Thai workers to the Yakima Valley. Then, after he lost his license to practice in Washington, he got back in business by signing a deal with the practically moribund United Farm Workers union to import H-2A guest workers from Mexico, not Asia.

Motty would rather use Thais, I suspect, since they are a better, harder-working and more docile workforce with no big ethnic group and agencies and NGO's in the USA to support them. Once the Senate bill goes into effect, he can dump the Mexicans, bring back Thais and not have to deal with UFW lawsuits challenging the visas he gets.

Another points out that the Rogues Gallery of Motty Orian with GOP poobahs like Pres. Bush looks a little Photoshopped:

Of the photos of Mordechai Orian with politicians, , the two showing him with J.C. Watts and Tom Reynolds appear to be exactly identical shots of him, with just the person he's "with" (and the lighting on his face) changed. The one showing him with Reynolds seems computer-edited to put the two together in the same photo (look where their two suit jackets come together -- there isn't a natural demarcation); maybe the one showing him with Watts is too.

And another says:

This is the same stunt Henry Clay Frick used to pull his Pittsburgh steel mills. When one group wised up he'd fire them and import another.

Parapundit has come up with a modest proposal for squashing the Sunni insurgency in Iraq that's definitely in the spirit of the Senate's Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act.

Another reader notes:

There is another implication of the legalization of the Mexicans who have taken the law into their own hands by moving here that I have hardly ever seen discussed. Under current civil rights laws, as interpreted by our courts, an imbalance between the ethnic composition of an employers' workforce and the community where it is employed is prima facie evidence of discriminatory hiring practices that, in effect, places the burden of proof on employers when the lawsuit starts. Suddenly, not having enough newly-minted "temporary guest workers" on your payroll is legal problem of huge proportions. And that's just the tip of our nation's "affirmative action" iceberg.

Recall that a major force within the Democratic Party is that group we euphemistically call "trial lawyers." The reform movement is, inter alia, a jobs program for both left-wing plaintiffs' attorneys, and the defense attorneys the employers will be forced to retain.

One writes:

Isn't the solution to the immigration issue obvious? Have *Mexico* set up a guestworker program. They already have a free-trade treaty with the United States. The only reason they haven't been able to capture more of the textile trade, for instance, is that this is work that Mexicans won't do. So bring in Bangladeshis, Filipinos, Chinese and Vietnamese guestworkers (all countries with per-capita GDPs below Mexico's on a purchasing-power-parity basis) to work in *Mexican* sweatshops. The negative externalities to American citizens would be virtually nil, and the externalities to Mexican citizens would be substantially less than for a guestworker in America because Mexican public services are pathetic; the Chinese guestworkers would probably have to set up their own schools and hospitals at their own expense. Finally, in order to avoid being demographically transformed into an Asian country, Mexico would have to drop their current policy of exporting people and invite those emigrants northward who have not laid down deep roots in the United States to come home to Mexico, thereby solving our own illegal immigration problem. We even have a precedent: this is how Jordan is taking advantage of their free-trade treaty with the United States, as you yourself reported.

Relapsed Catholic says in The Trouble with Amnesty and Guest Worker Programs:

Most illegals don't want to become American citizens. They want to be "Mexicans with benefits."

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Another nail in the Freakonomics abortion-cut-crime theory

Here's the abstract from Ted Joyce's new paper (not online yet so far as I know):

Further Tests of Abortion and Crime

Ted Joyce
Professor of Economics
Baruch College, City University of NY
& National Bureau of Economic Research
May 2006

The association between legalized abortion and crime remains a contentious finding with major implications for social policy. In this paper, I replicate analyses of Donohue and Levitt (2001, 2004, 2006) in which they regress age-specific arrests and homicides on cohort-specific abortion rates. I find that the coefficient on the abortion rate in a regression of age-specific homicide or arrest rates has either the wrong sign or is small in magnitude and statistically insignificant when adjusted for serial correlation. Efforts to instrument for measurement error are flawed and attempts to identify cohort from selection effects are mis-specified. Nor are their findings robust to alternative identification strategies. A convincing test of abortion and crime should be based on an exogenous change in abortion that had a demonstrable effect on fertility. Thus, I analyze changes in abortion rates before and after Roe to identify changes in unwanted fertility. I use within-state comparison groups to net out hard to measure period effects. I also follow Donohue and Levitt (2004) and average the effects of abortion on crime over 15 to 20 years of the life of a cohort to lessen the impact of the crack epidemic. I find little support for a credible association between legalized abortion and crime.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

"Bush Losing Hispanics" Couldn't happen to a nicer guy

Over on the blog, I write:

“Bush Losing Hispanics:” Couldn’t Happen to a Nicer Guy. (Too Bad about GOP, Though)

The Washington Post runs a telling headline:

“Bush Is Losing Hispanics’ Support, Polls Show;
Surveys Find the Immigration Debate Is Also Alienating White Conservatives”

by Thomas B. Edsall and Zachary A. Goldfarb, May 21, 2006

The priority given Hispanics in this headline is another example of a consistent pattern of media bias. Hispanics cast only 6.0 percent of the vote in the last election, according to the Census Bureau. White conservatives, whom the Post admits are also alienated, account for roughly four to six times more votes than all Hispanics put together.

If you just went by what you read in the newspapers you’d have to assume that the Constitution had been amended to make minority votes count more heavily than white votes.

Still, Edsall and Goldfarb confirm what we’ve been saying for over a half decade: the Bush-Rove immigration strategy makes no political sense. They write:

“Cumulatively, the data underscore the perils for Bush and his party in the immigration debate churning on Capitol Hill, one that threatens to bleed away support simultaneously from the Republican base and from Hispanic swing voters, whom Bush strategists had hoped to make an important new part of the GOP coalition.”


In response, Bush and his GOP allies like Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) have been attempting to appeal to Hispanics by denouncing the GOP’s conservative base as “the political lowest common denominator” (in Hagel’s words last Thursday).

Not surprisingly, the spectacle of leading Republicans condemning the salt of the Republican Party isn’t making Hispanics trust Republicans more. [More]

For some reason, Bush and Hagel's attempt to reassure Hispanics that they should go for a ride with the GOP by denouncing more typical Republicans as anti-Hispanic racists reminds me of the famous opening scene in Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, where Hunter and his attorney, both deeply twisted on drugs, pick up a young hitchhiker in the desert and try to reassure him:

"We're your friends," said my attorney. "We're not like the others."

... Maybe I'd better have a chat with this boy, I thought. Perhaps if I explain things, he'll rest easy.

Of course. I leaned around in the seat and gave him a fine big smile ... admiring the shape of his skull.

"By the way," I said. "There's one thing you should probably understand."

He stared at me, not blinking. Was he gritting his teeth?

"Can you hear me?" I yelled.

He nodded.

"That's good," I said. "Because I want you to know that we're on our way Las Vegas to find the American Dream." I smiled. "That's why we rented this car. It was the only way to do it. Can you grasp that?"

... The kid in the back seat looked like he was ready to jump right out of the car and take his chances.

Our vibrations were getting nasty -- but why? I was puzzled, frustrated. Was there no communication in this car? Had we deteriorated to the level of dumb beasts?

Nobody answered. My attorney was cracking another amyl and the kid was climbing out of the back seat, scrambling down the trunk lid. "Thanks for the ride," he yelled. "Thanks a lot. I like you guys. Don't worry about me." His feet hit the asphalt and he started running back towards Baker. Out in the middle of the desert, not a tree in sight.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

More from my upcoming review of "The Da Vinci Code"

in The American Conservative:

Back when I wrote computer users' manuals, I'd try to break up the forbidding slabs of my pedantic prose by employing an EZ-2-Read Question & Answer format. Watching the similarly structured "The Da Vinci Code," I couldn't help musing about how my tome, "The HP LaserJet Code," would have turned out as a $125 million summer blockbuster:

Audrey Tautou (beseechingly): How do I print in Times Roman?
Tom Hanks (decisively): Insert the serif font cartridge.
Audrey (frantically): But the printer's not doing anything!
Tom (with steely resolve): Try plugging it in.

Having sat through "The Da Vinci Code," I'm confident that Audrey and Tom would have delivered my lines with more believability, charisma, and sexual tension than they mustered for screenwriter Akiva Goldsman's didactic dialogue.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

May 22, 2006

Malcolm Gladwell: Everything you know about the NBA is wrong

In the New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell reviews a new book by economists trying to horn in on the kind of analyses done by amateur sports statisticians. Gladwell pass along their debunking of the value of the famous 6'-0" Philadelphia guard Allen Iverson, a seven time All-Star and four time scoring leader:

In “The Wages of Wins” (Stanford; $29.95), the economists David J. Berri, Martin B. Schmidt, and Stacey L. Brook set out to solve the Iverson problem. Weighing the relative value of fouls, rebounds, shots taken, turnovers, and the like, they’ve created an algorithm that, they argue, comes closer than any previous statistical measure to capturing the true value of a basketball player. The algorithm yields what they call a Win Score, because it expresses a player’s worth as the number of wins that his contributions bring to his team. According to their analysis, Iverson’s finest season was in 2004-05, when he was worth ten wins, which made him the thirty-sixth-best player in the league. In the season in which he won the Most Valuable Player award, he was the ninety-first-best player in the league. In his worst season (2003-04), he was the two-hundred-and-twenty-seventh-best player in the league. On average, for his career, he has ranked a hundred and sixteenth. In some years, Iverson has not even been the best player on his own team. Looking at the findings that Berri, Schmidt, and Brook present is enough to make one wonder what exactly basketball experts—coaches, managers, sportswriters—know about basketball.

Or, then again, one might wonder what exactly three economists and Malcolm Gladwell know about basketball.

I'm sure that Iverson gets a lot of credit for being incredibly good for his size, and that he really isn't that valuable a player, but it's pretty silly to say he was only the 91st best player in the league in his MVP season, the year he carried a mediocre 76ers team to the NBA Finals.

Basketball is simply a hard game to understand statistically. One obvious problem is something that economists ought to be able to grasp: diminishing marginal returns on shooting. The three economists downgrade Iverson because, even though he scores a lot of points per game, he has a below average shooting percentage. But, clearly, one reason for that is because his teams don't have a lot of other offensive options, so the defense plays Iverson tightly, and he takes more desperation shots than his teammates because he is The Man on the team, and that's what The Man does.

Similarly, Wilt Chamberlain shot only .506 from the floor the year he averaged an incredible 50 points a game in 1961-62, compare to .727 in his last season, 1972-73, when he averaged only 14 points per game. Same guy, but completely different strategies led to very different results due to diminishing marginal returns on shooting.

Gladwell doesn't mention another conclusion that might make you wonder about the methodology. Matt Yglesias writes:

If you want to see a truly controversial claim, check out this 1999 paper by one of the book's authors looking at the 1997-1998 MVP race. The leading candidates were Michael Jordan and Karl Malone. They conclude that Malone had a superior season, worth 18.83 wins as opposed to Jordan's 16.44 wins. Fair enough.

They say Jordan actually only had the sixth-best season. Numbers four and five were David Robinson and Tim Duncan respectively. Then it gets a bit wild. Number three on the list is Jayson Williams! And number one on the list . . . better than Jordan, Barkley, Robinson, and even Malone -- Dennis Rodman whose 20.79 wins make him far and away the league's top player in the 97-98 season.

In 1998, Rodman led the league in rebounding with 15 per game, but averaged less than 5 points per game, which is awful. But Jordan was there to take up the offensive slack.

Rodman had been basically given away by San Antonio as a troublemaker three years before, but the Chicago Bulls picked him up cheap in the hopes that Jordan's vast prestige and formidable personality could intimidate Rodman into contributing to the team. And that's what happened, as Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman won three consecutive titles. As soon as Jordan retired for the second time after the 1998 season, Chicago got rid of the Rodman freak show. He played 35 games over the next two seasons, then retired.

One way (although certainly not the only way) to think about would be how would a team of all Jordans do and how would a team of all Rodmans do? Five Jordans would win the NBA championship. Five Rodmans would probably set the the NBA record for lowest number of points scored against, but they would certainly set the record for the least points scored because by 1998 Rodman couldn't shoot at all.

Here's their Basketball Win Score formula, and it's easy to see why Rodman gets overrated:

Points + Rebounds + Steals + ½Assists + ½Blocked Shots

– Field Goal Attempts – Turnovers - ½Free Throw Attempts - ½Personal Fouls

They overrate rebounders because there is nothing that gets subtracted from rebounding, so rebounding is treated as pure profit, whereas for other positive outcomes, they subtract the costs of generating those outcomes:

- whereas from Points they subtract Field Goal Attempts and 1/2 of Free Throw Attempts

- from Steals they subtract 1/2 Personal Fouls

- from Assists (and only 1/2 of assists!) they subtract Turnovers

- and from 1/2 of Blocked Shots they subtract Personal Fouls.

- But, there is no countervailing measure of what a player is sacrificing by concentrating on rebounding (other than 1/2 of the occasional loose ball foul). Thus, they overrate players like the late career Dennis Rodman who did very little on offense except rebound (and set screens). Because Rodman wouldn't take the open 12 footer because he concentrated solely on rebounding on offense, Jordan had to take a lot of fall-away 18 footers with both his own man and Rodman's man in his face. Thus, Jordan got subtracted from his Win Score a lot of Field Goal Attempts that he took because Rodman wasn't around to shoot. But there is nothing subtracted from Rodman's positive totals to account for this.

One way to account for this might be to subtract points scored less than average. For example, if the average team scored 100 points per game that year, that averages out to 20 points per man on the court (100/5=20). Rodman played about 3/4ths of each game that year, so he should have averaged 15 points per game if he was an average scorer. But instead, he scored less than 5 points per game, which is 10 points per game below what would be expected of the average player who plays 75% of the available minutes. So, subtract either the missing 10 points or some fraction of that.

In general, I've noticed that Ph.D. economists, who all have to be really good at dealing with abstract equations full of x, y, and z to get their doctorates, aren't as good as they need to be at thinking about how the human beings they model in their formulas actually behave.

Perhaps the authors have refined their methodology since this 1999 paper, but, in general, what I've heard of this new book reminds me a lot of Pete Palmer's 1984 book "The Hidden Game of Baseball," in that both of them used a single synthetic statistic for evaluating every player in history. Palmer's results were interesting and most of them reasonable, but his Holy Grail statistic ("linear weights") kept coming up with too many weird findings, like Roy Smalley Jr. being one of the best baseball players of all time.

Palmer's book was a heroic attempt but too ambitious for the sabremetric state of the art in 1984. Bill James' less ambitious methodologies were more productive at the time. I don't know enough about basketball statistics to say if the same is true for this new book that Gladwell takes on faith, but knowing Gladwell's track record in recent years, I'd have to be awfully skeptical of it.

In general, this sounds like another example of the arrogance of economists, which has always existed, but now examples of it get a lot more (and a lot more credulous) mainstream publicity in the wake of Freakonomics.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer