October 19, 2006

India vs. China again

The differences between the Chinese and the Indians are going to determine much of what the world of the 21st Century will be like, but we aren't supposed to talk about human differences, so this vast topic is seldom addressed fully. A reader writes:

I have been involved with Indian engineers for several decades. I was until my recentl retirement an executive in a software firm with an Indian outsourcing division and have spent time in India. I’ve always been impressed by their talent, but can confirm your observation that they tend to come from the upper castes.

Like you I’ve also wondered when the India ‘brain’ supply would run out. While the IQ=81 that you reference seems a bit too low to me, I think it likely that India’s billion is not a match for China’s.

(1) Unlike China, India has spent 50 years struggling with public education for the masses. This is not mere upper-caste disdain. Government school failure in Bombay looks a lot like what we see in our own inner-cities. The upper class and professionals from all castes avoid these schools and send their kids to private schools. (The concept of posh high price suburbs has not yet come to them). Lower IQ’s must play some role in this process even if the real gap is 10-12 points rather than 20.

(2) India lags China very badly in manufacturing. This aggravates (1) since manufacturing throws off tax revenues for schools and can provide decent jobs for people with 8-10 years of mediocre schooling.

IQ plays a bigger role in manufacturing than most people realize. As a consultant and software provider to American manufacturing, I saw the negative consequences in the 1975-1990 period. The hyper-aggressive expansion of U.S. college education siphoned off high IQ individuals from the blue-collar class. Having a few bright people on the shop floor makes a real difference. By 1985 the performance of the Japanese shop floor was well above the U.S.

Our glory days were during WW2 when we built, from scratch, a giant combat aircraft industry in 4 years and the incredible Manhattan project in 2 1/2. China performs such feats today filling the shelves of Wal-Mart

I predict that India’s failure to match China in (1) and (2) will hurt them badly in the next generation.

P.S. Your comment on the Parsees of Bombay is quite accurate. In fact the close parallel with the Ashkenazi of Europe is striking. How does a small isolated group raise (and maintain!!) its IQ high above the surrounding population? If you visit the best colleges in Bombay you will see among the paintings of “our founders” one or more Parsees.

I found the Parsees to be excellent as company and in conversation, full of intelligence and quite dignity. But if you want to spoil the evening bring up the subject of Muslims. The Muslims destroyed Zoroastrian civilization. Parsees discuss Muslims the way Armenians talk about Turks. Enough said.

Another reader writes:

Jeffrey Sachs is a famous economist (noted for his early tenure at Harvard and now leading the fight to poor more aid into Africa). His latest essay ( here) in Scientific American on the viability of social welfare states is a great example of what happens when one ignores human biodiversity.

As someone who thinks higher taxes and more welfare is not a good thing for the US, I'm struck by the straightjacket that the Axiom of Equality puts on the debate. If you assume that people in the Nordic countries have the same distribution of human capital as in the US, he has an argument that's hard to refute--unfortunately, we aren't allowed to assume otherwise in educated discussions.

Similarly, Brad DeLong and Tyler Cowen are mystified by the inability of NAFTA to pull Mexico up to US/Canadian standards (here for DeLong and here for Cowen). They both list many reasons why it didn't work as planned, but no one mentions the elephant in the room because, well, elephants don't exist. This also shows up in discussion of alleviating poverty in Africa, or pulling up reading scores in inner-cities.

The distribution of human capital is not the same between many groupings. Economists and journalists either don't believe it, or know it's political suicide to mention it, making these debates sterile

But you can mention it, and do, which is a public service in the true sense of the phrase. So I Amazoned you $50 today.

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

More on young rock stars:

As I said last night, my impression is that they ain't making new rock stars as young as they used to. With the help of readers, I'm going to ramble on that general theme, since there seems to be a lot that can be learned, although I'm not sure exactly what.

First, is that true? It's kind of hard to say. British invasion stars were typically 19-23 when they first hit it big. Here are the ages of famous 1950s rockers when they made their breakthroughs:

Elvis Presley recorded his first rockabilly tracks at 19 and became the biggest star in the history of the world in 1956 at 21.

Little Richard started recording at 18 and had a hit with "Tutti-Frutti" at 22.

Jerry Lee Lewis was 21 or 22 when "Whole Lotta Shaking Going On" became a hit.

Johnny Cash (more country than rock) had his first hits at 23.

Chuck Berry, however, was 28 or 29 at the time of "Maybellene."

A reader writes:

Just reading over the "young rockstar" post, and I thought how far back this goes, if true. I looked up the ages of various grunge and pop-punk stars when they became famous:

Billie Joe Armstrong (Green Day) = 22 ('72, '94)
Zack de la Rocha (Rage Against the Machine) = 22 ('70, '92)
Rivers Cuomo (Weezer) = 24 ('70, '94)
Kurt Cobain (Nirvana) = 24 ('67, '91)
Scott Weiland (Stone Temple Pilots) = 25 ('67, '92)
Billy Corgan (The Smashing Pumpkins) = 26 ('67, '93)
Jerry Cantrell (Alice in Chains) = 26 ('66, '92)
Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam) = 28 ('63, '91)
Dexter Holland (The Offspring) = 29 ('65, '94)
Chris Cornell (Soundgarden) = 30 ('64, '94)

Recently: Brandon Flowers (The Killers) = 23 ('81, '04)
Julian Casablancas (The Strokes) = 23 ('78, '01)
Pete Doherty (The Libertines) = 23 or 25 ('79, '02 or '04), since first album was success but second made them superfamous
Kele Okereke (Bloc Party) = 24 ('81, '05)
Alex Kapranos (Franz Ferdinand) = 32 ('72, '04)

Also, most of these people started playing and/or already had record label deals by their late teens or early 20s, but didn't achieve stardom until the dates above. Eddie Vedder and Chris Cornell, for example.

A reader writes:

As to UK rockstars who came up in the '60's, you may want to consider that in the good old days most kids over there left school at 15, except for the small percentage that was being groomed to go on to university. Someone might make it as a rockstar (at least in the sense of no longer needing a day job) at 19 after already spending a couple of years full time in the work force. Roger Daltrey was a sheetmetal worker, Ozzy Osborne worked (I think) in a slaughterhouse, Van Morrison was a window washer (see his nostalgic song "Cleaning Windows"). I think a lot of the kids in that cohort who went off to art school started that at 15 or so, since it was not the same track as proper university so you didn't need the last couple years of academic preparation.

Yes, it could be that the British Invasion skewed particularly young because so many kids were thrown out of school -- Tom Wolfe went to Carnaby Street in the mid-1960s and wrote an article specifically about that: how so many working class English kids could afford to be in The Life (the whole Austin Powers Swinging London scene) at age 16 or 17.

So, maybe what's going on is largely the decline of British (and Irish) rock bands in American music from their extraordinary peak of 1964 into the 1980s. The huge role played by British bands over the Beatles to U2 era (when I first saw them in 1981, Bono was 21 and Edge 20) may have skewed the sample younger due to British policies that kicked lots of kids out of school at 16.

There's also the British emphasis on "mateship" that means most of their big artists, with the exception of David Bowie, are bands rather than solo artists. In contrast, a higher percentage of big American acts (Dylan, Hendrix, Springsteen, Prince, etc.) have been solo artists or star plus subordinated band. This could skew British artists younger in that it might be easier to start off as part of a band than as a solo star. You can start young as a solo star if you're being packaged by a music industry svengali, but that's more of a pop than a rock approach.

In contrast, the CBGB punk-new wave scene of the 1970s in New York wasn't that young. Johnny Ramone was at least 25 before the Ramones started playing at CBGB in 1974, with Joey and and Dee-Dee being a little younger. Deborah Harry of Blondie was in her early 30s before their first album came out in 1976. The Talking Heads members (probably the most famous American art schoolers) were in their mid-to late 20s when they got their first album in 1977. Before then in NYC, Lou Reed was in his mid-20s when the Velvet Underground first had an impact.

I guess the explanation is that the world in general was ready for Elvis in 1956 and the Beatles in 1964, but wasn't ready for the Ramones until about 20 years later, when "Blitzkrieg Bop" became a standard in TV commercials.

I'm a bit surprised that you have extrapolated a trend from so few data points. You might be right, but it's not hard to find counterexamples from earlier generations. As you acknowledge, Chuck Berry was almost 29 when Maybelline came out, and if you go back into the blues Muddy Waters was well into his 30's and Howlin' Wolf was past 40 before they got records out. Patti Smith was 29 when Horses came out. Billy Zoom of X was 31 or 32 when Los Angeles came out, although Steve McDonald was 12 or 13 when the first Redd Kross album came out around the same time -- punk had a pretty broad range that way. I also assume there's lots of youngsters putting out debut LPs (or whatever the heck the kids call them -- debut downloads?) today.

So, while the earlier stars tended to be younger, the real difference is that when the earlier stars became famous they became vastly more famous. After Elvis was 21, American culture was never the same again. On the post-1990 list, only Kurt Cobain could be considered in the same breath as the sub-Elvis and sub-Beatles icons of the 1950s and 1960s in cultural impact. It's hard to invent rock and roll all over again, although for a couple of decades they often almost managed to.

A reader writes:

I can't prove it, but I suspect that home video games have also delayed the maturation of musicians. Many future rock stars are dexterous and sociable but prefer indoor activities to outdoor (think guitar vs. skateboard). I think a lot of them nowadays put in plenty of hours playing video games that might previously gone to experimenting and jamming.

A reader writes:

My wife and I have often discussed why rockers today trend older. We went to see ZZ Top a few months ago and the place was full of kids with their parents. That's the problem. Teenagers today lead pre-programmed lives. They have no time to sit around picking guitars, experimenting with the piano or putting together a garage band, they are too busy with music lessons and other organized activities. They don't get freedom from parental programming until university, so they start later, albeit with better formal preparation.

A reader writes:

If there are fewer young rock stars right now, I think it is generally because rock music right now is kinda in the doldrums with not many dynamic new ideas. That's just my opinion, though, so whatever.

Here are some youngish rock stars for ya, though:

Brandon Flowers, lead singer for The Killers, was 23 when their first hit album was released in 2004.

The band members of Jet ranged between 22 and 24 when their first album was released in 2003.

Brandon Boyd (Incubus) was 23 when their first hit album was released in 1999.

Chester Bennington (Linkin Park) was the oldest band member, at 24, when their album Hybrid Theory was released in 2000.

Jacoby Shaddix (Papa Roach, ugh) was 24 when their hit album was released in 2000.

A reader writes:

On a related note, is it just me, or do rock bands produce work at a much slower rate nowadays? A quick internet discography search shows that in the first eight years of their recording careers, the Beatles put out 13 original albums (not including greatest hits, live albums, or, in the case of the Beates, Yellow Submarine), the Stones 10, the Beach boys 14, Dylan 9. Even the notoriously fussy Who put out 6, in addition to a whole slew of singles. Nobody matches that output anymore.

Similarly, the Clash released 120 tracks from 1977-1982, the equivalent of about ten albums worth, most of it good, then burned out completely. Joe Strummer said later that they should have just decided to take a year off, but it never really occurred to them at the time, so they tore each other to pieces in their exhaustion. I believe it's more common to take "sabbaticals" today as a way to maintain a longer career.

It might be that rock music has jumped the pop-shark somewhat. This may sound strange to you but relative to other contemporary pop music, rock requires a certain degree of effort on the part of the listener, sometimes it has to be listened to more than once to be 'gotten'. Rap on the other hand is a more natural choice, combining the danceibility and the immediately pleasing sounds of that were formerly found only soul and disco with the hard edge that teens used to look to rock to provide. Rock is becoming the choice of the semi-alienated intellectual teen rather than the anthem of the masses. Currently, the most important online music review site is this pitchforkmedia.com; it looks as if it is written by and for the pretentious future humanities professors of america, rock seems to have started attracting a better educated crowd, and that's a sure sign that it is losing the pop war.

Another reader brings up John Stuart Mill's notorious worry:

People often say that music is infinite in combinations, but that's nonsense. Only a few combinations are pleasing, and there are a much more limited number of rhythms that one can employ.

Rock forms and conventions allow an extremely limited number of chord progressions so we have to use the same ones over and over. Given that repetition, the number of good melodies that you can generate from a simple chord progression is, again, limited.

The problem for the modern rock artist is that everything has pretty much been done by the time he picks up his instrument.

There are a few strategies a good composer can employ to try and break up this logjam such as using offbeat rhythms like 5/4, 7/4, or combinations of different time signatures but one has to be very clever to make such things swing and produce catchy tunes or pleasant "hooks".

Also, having great chord vocabularies would help, but most guitar musicians I see hardly know their fretboards or how to use dominant seventh chords which helps change obvious tonalities.

Also, few groups have any idea of vocal harmony and how absolutely atractive that is to the human ear.

The recent spate of boy bands used harmony but their tones were ugly, whiney and nasal; yet in spite of that, they had huge success.

There simply is nowhere for pop music to go except continuous recycling with the occasional tune that catches your ear and fancy.

Serious concert music has a similar problem.

I put forward a similar theory in a 2001 article "Where Did All the Catchy Tunes Go?" I just don't know if it's true. I don't have anywhere close to enough musical talent to justify my theorizing on this topic.

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

Is India starting to scrape the bottom of its high-IQ barrel?

For a number of years, I've been largely alone in raising the question of just how deep are the supplies of high IQ people in India. There are a billion people in India, but how many of them are smart enough to become, say, American-quality systems analysts? Are they evenly distributed throughout the vast population or are they concentrated in certain castes and regions that have already been well-exploited?

India is way too complicated for me to provide an answer to these questions, but there is a certain amount of evidence that suggests that India has a much more divergent IQ distribution than China, so that the widespread American assumption of an unlimited supply of high IQ workers in India may be faulty.

Now the NY Times reports that smart workers are in short supply in India:

Skills Gap Hurts Technology Boom in India

As its technology companies soar to the outsourcing skies, India is bumping up against an improbable challenge. In a country once regarded as a bottomless well of low-cost, ready-to-work, English-speaking engineers, a shortage looms.

India still produces plenty of engineers, nearly 400,000 a year at last count. But their competence has become the issue.

A study commissioned by a trade group, the National Association of Software and Service Companies, or Nasscom, found only one in four engineering graduates to be employable. The rest were deficient in the required technical skills, fluency in English or ability to work in a team or deliver basic oral presentations.

Is this temporary or is it the beginning of a permanent problem for India. I don't know, but it's an important question. As I wrote in 2002 in my review of Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen's IQ and the Wealth of Nations:

The IQ structures of the two giga-countries, China and India, demand more intense study, in part because the future history of the world will hinge in no small part on their endowments of human capital. The demography of India is especially complex due to its caste system, which resembles Jim Crow on steroids and acid. By discouraging intermarriage, caste has subdivided the Indian people into an incredible number of micro-races. In India, according to the dean of population genetics, L.L. Cavalli-Sforza, "The total number of endogamous communities today is around 43,000…" We know that some of those communities - such as the Zoroastrian Parsees of Bombay - are exceptionally intelligent.

But we can't say with any confidence what is the long run IQ potential of Indians overall. Their current IQ score (81) is low, especially compared to China (100), the other country with hundreds of millions of poor peasants. Yet, keep in mind just how narrow life in rural India was for so long.

As I wrote in VDARE.com in 2004 in "Interesting India, Competitive China:"

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the variance in IQ is greater in India than in China. There may be more geniuses in India than in China but the average level of competence seems lower.

However, putting together a nationally-representative sample is harder in India than anywhere else on Earth. The caste system, by discouraging intermarriage, has in effect subdivided the Indian people into an incredible number of micro-races...

So I would keep an open mind on just what the IQ of India is. And, of course, better nutrition, health care, education, and more outbreeding could all work to raise it.

China focuses on giving the masses a solid basic education that prepares them for manufacturing jobs. The Chinese are building superb infrastructure to support their manufacturing economy. Indeed, the Chinese are building factories so fast, that more than a few observers have joked and/or warned that the Chinese intend in the future to manufacture everything in the world. They won't ever quite get there, but the trend is remarkable … and alarming.

This could have dire consequences for America's current political and military hegemony. But the cult of free trade, combined with the fact that nobody in the American media cares about factory work, means that the long-term Chinese challenge is seldom discussed. You might think that if America had to shed manufacturing jobs, we would prefer they go to Mexico to keep down the illegal immigration rate rather than to China, America's strategic competitor. But no one seems to care enough to discuss this either.

If the Mexican political elite wasn't so inveterately anti-American, they would have proposed a grand bargain to Washington: America would raise tariffs on Chinese goods, sending Wal-Mart to NAFTA-partner Mexico for its endless appetite for cheap stuff, in return for Mexico whole-heartedly supporting American's foreign policy. If Tony Blair is President Bush's poodle, then Vicente Fox should have become President Bush's Chihuahua in return for lots of manufacturing jobs.

India, outside of cyberspace, remains chaotic and impoverished. India focuses more on giving outstanding university educations to the meritocratic elite. The top Indian colleges are by now probably the most selective in the world.

And because they teach in English, their graduates are more of a competitive threat to American journalists and their spouses and friends than are the Chinese, who are merely hammering blue collar Americans. And who cares about them?

Accordingly, over the last year, the press has devoted far more coverage to outsourcing white collar jobs to India than the loss of blue collar jobs to China—or, of course, the insourcing of jobs in America to immigrants, legal and illegal.

Apparently, reporters instinctively sense that Indians in Bombay could do their jobs of rewriting press releases into news articles.

This is exactly the kind of issue that business magazine should be covering for their executive readers, but the ban on the dread letters "IQ" makes that unthinkable.

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

Why are new rock stars older today?

The October 2005 debut album by the Australian power trio Wolfmother is striking both because it sounds straight out 1969's dawn of heavy metal and, despite the band's lack of stylistic originality, it's awfully exciting (and I never much liked metal).

These guys were 28 or 29 when their first full album came out. They've all had what were were more like careers than day jobs in non-musical fields. I believe that's pretty common today, but by the standards of the 1960s-1970s, late 20s is rather old. In contrast, Robert Plant was 20 and Jimmy Page, already a prominent veteran of the Yardbirds and studio work, had just turned 25 when Led Zeppelin's first album came out in 1969.

Similarly, the Beatles were between 20 (George) and 23 (John and Ringo) when they appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were 21 when they released "Satisfaction" in 1965. Roger Daltrey was 21, Pete Townshend 20, and Keith Moon 19 when The Who recorded "My Generation" in 1965. Mick Jones was 21 and Joe Strummer was 24 when they released "The Clash" in 1977. Elvis Costello was 22 when "My Aim Is True" came out.

Among Americans, John Fogerty was 23 when the first Creedence Clearwater album was released, as was Bruce Springsteen. Brian Wilson was 20 when the first Beach Boys album came out, as was Bob Dylan. Kurt Cobain was 22 at the time of Nirvana's first album, and 24 on "Nevermind." Prince was 19 or 20 at the time of his first album. Jim Hendrix was 24, which seems rather late for such a talent.

I wonder why the debut age of rock musicians has gone up?

A reader writes:

"It's much harder to get record deals today. Record sales are way down. A lot of bands have played for a long time on the club circuit before they score a major label deal."

Okay, makes sense, but record sales only dropped off a few years ago due to Napster. My vague impression is that this trend goes back 15 or 20 years.

The British Invasion superstars tended to be guys born during the WWII Baby Bust who enjoyed the advantage of less competition from their cohort and a vast number of Baby Boomers coming up behind them to buy their records.

There is a big new metal band from Virginia called Lamb of God. You'd never guess that several of the members (3 I think) are graduates of the University of Virginia. I guess we all go to college now to burn 4 years...even if what we really want to do is play heavy metal music. In sum, in several cases, you can now add +4 to the ages you listed for the Pages and Plants of the 60s.

Whatever happened to when rock stars used to be art school dropouts?

It's a paradoxical legacy of the 1960s, which taught subsequent generations not to grow up as fast as previous generations, who were often parents by, say, 22. Ironically, now, people don't even become rock stars at 22!

A reader writes:

It's because rock is getting to be a fairly mature form. There are fewer wild innovations out there for rockers to do. So it rewards less the green and rebellious and rewards more those who have studied everything that has come before them. So, older dudes.

It may be that there are huge breakthroughs waiting out there to be, uh, broken through. I hope so. But right now there isn't a lot of new happening, at least I don't think so. In ten years we'll be able to look back and know better of course.

I think that probably is a big part of the story.

In general, things don't seem to be changing as fast. I was discussing with my son the interconnected events of the year 1968 -- the protests and unrest in America, Paris, Prague, Belfast, etc. He asked, "Was feminism a big part of 1968?" I replied, "No, feminism, while an offshoot of the 1960s, only became a hot topic in 1969, or maybe early 1970." Then I stopped and thought about how bizarre that particularity by year sounds compared to how much slower social movements proceed today.

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

October 18, 2006

The number of bullets fired in Iraq

How many bullets are we shooting daily at somebody in Iraq? Whatever it is, the Pentagon isn't eager for civilians to know. I've been looking on Google for a few hours now, with some frustration.

The military's annual need increased from 733 million small arms rounds (.50 caliber or less) in 2000 to 1,790 million rounds in 2005, but training requirements were greatly increased, so it's hard to figure out how much of the 1,057,000,000 bullets increase in annual demand goes to combat operations.

It's not clear the military even knows. A 2005 master's degree thesis at the Army War College by Lt. Colonel Dean Mengel entitled "AMMUNITION SHORTAGES EXPERIENCED IN OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM – CAUSES AND SOLUTIONS" reported:

On the surface, the problem of how much ammunition is needed for current operations in Iraq seems to be fairly easy to determine. If the theater reported the weekly or monthly expenditure through the established reporting system to HQDA, these could be used to determine a monthly requirement. ... Unfortunately, all the reports and records that would allow HQDA to track use and anticipate shortages have not been used or maintained accurately with any level of confidence. This has been the case since preparation for OIF [Operation Iraqi Freedom] commenced and continues today. ... The fact that a conference is being held in Kuwait to address the problem of ammunition reporting, after nearly two years in theater, is a sad testament to how this issue has been handled.

Only in one document have I found a breakout of small caliber ammo usage between training and combat, and that's a little too informal for complete confidence. In testimony before the House of Representatives on June 24, 2004, references were made to "less than 10 million rounds per month being expended in hostilities" and an annual expenditure of "a hundred million for the war" outside of training. The first 12-15 months of the war was said to account for 72 million rounds, or 5.5 million per month. But after the invasion there was a lull in fighting, so usage probably increased as the insurgency cranked up. Those numbers may exclude branches besides the Army, but might include the smaller war in Afghanistan, which means they might roughly balance out. (I don't think this includes training exercises inside Iraq, but I could be wrong.)

So let's call it 100,000,000 bullets per year or 8.3 million fired per month in Iraq in mid-2004.

So, that's about 275,000 bullets fired in anger per day by U.S. forces (assuming all the ammo consumed was fired -- some may have been stolen). Larger, more deadly explosive rounds of 20 to 40 mm are in addition to this (total demand for medium caliber ammo runs around 20 million rounds per year, including training.) And then there's the big shells from tanks and artillery plus aerial bombs.

That's a big number. Of course, the vast majority of bullets fired never hit anybody, but you can imagine the psychological impact on Iraqis of having 275,000 American bullets per day flying around their county trying to kill somebody. The .50 caliber rounds from the old M-2 machine gun are particularly alarming -- they can fly for several miles and at close range can punch through several walls. It's kind of hard to win the hearts and minds of Iraqis when you are firing a quarter of a million bullets per day in their homeland, some of them winding up in random living rooms.

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

October 17, 2006

The S Words

Reporter Jeff Stein of Congressional Quarterly reveals in an NYT op-ed that many of the Bush Administration officials and Congressional committee chairmen he's interviewed are extremely hazy on the differences between Sunnis and Shi'ites.

This is part of a more general bit of bad luck plaguing our Middle Eastern adventures: the spelling similarities of the two most important pairs of words for grasping the basic realities of that part of the world. Americans can't readily remember the differences between foreign words that begin with the same letters, and thus we tend to conflate Sunnis and Shi'ites and Iraq and Iran more than we would if we had to deal with, say, Junnis and Yi'ites and Araq and Uran. Intelligent imperial policy always makes use of the divide-and-rule ploy, but when many Americans can't recall that Iraq didn't take the American embassy hostage in 1979, we're headed for big trouble.

Representative Jo Ann Davis, a Virginia Republican who heads a House intelligence subcommittee charged with overseeing the C.I.A.’s performance in recruiting Islamic spies and analyzing information, was similarly dumbfounded when I asked her if she knew the difference between Sunnis and Shiites.

“Do I?” she asked me. A look of concentration came over her face. “You know, I should.” She took a stab at it: “It’s a difference in their fundamental religious beliefs. The Sunni are more radical than the Shia. Or vice versa. But I think it’s the Sunnis who’re more radical than the Shia.”

Did she know which branch Al Qaeda’s leaders follow?

“Al Qaeda is the one that’s most radical, so I think they’re Sunni,” she replied. “I may be wrong, but I think that’s right.”

I'm actually sympathetic to Rep. Davis's confusion over which ones are the radicals, because the conventional wisdom has changed so many times on the subject. As I wrote in July:

Please remind me again: Which ones are the Good Muslims: Shunnis or Si'ites?

For many years after the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979-1981, the American press would authoritatively inform us that there were two kinds of Muslims, the crazy radical bad Shi'ites and the calm traditional good Sunnis. Then some Sunnis blew up the WTC and so we invaded Iraq and the Sunni insurgents kept trying to kill us and the Shi'ites kept winning all the elections that we set up in Iraq, so that meant the Shi'ites were democratic and thus good, because we wouldn't have invaded Iraq just to let the bad kind of Muslims take power, right? But now some Sunnis in Iraq are asking us to stay around to keep the Shi'ite government from killing them and the Shi'ites in Iran elected Amenisaidagain and now the Shi'ites in Lebanon are at war with Israel, while the Sunni dictatorships that we were supposed to be against in 2005 are hinting that it's more or less okay with them if the Israelis whomp on the Shi'ites for a little while, so now I guess the Sunnis are good and the Shi'ites are bad. Or did I get that backwards?

Do we really know what we are doing over there?

And the answer to that question is becoming more obvious. As I wrote in VDARE.com on the fifth anniversary of 9/11:

Whether you're a Pollyanna optimist or a paranoid pessimist, it's still an oddly comforting assumption that somewhere, behind all the nonsensical propaganda, there is somebody smart who is secretly pulling the strings to achieve his goals, whatever they may be.

That there's an Inner Circle comprised of profoundly competent men plotting the course of history is one of the most popular staples of science fiction. In Star Wars, the Jedi Knights battle each other to determine the fate of the galaxy. In Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy, psychohistorian Hari Seldon has scientifically grasped what will happen for the next 1,000 years.

The same pattern is found in science fiction by "serious" authors. The climaxes of both famous English mid-century dystopian novels, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and George Orwell's 1984, are didactic dialogues in which omniscient and omnipotent Inner Circle representatives proudly explain to the idealistic main characters the sinister logic behind the regime's disinformation...

So—has America's policy since 9/11 been dictated by benevolent Obi-wan Kenobis and Hari Seldons or by evil Mustapha Monds and O'Briens?

"Neither," suggests Gregory Cochran, the physicist and geneticist, who correctly pointed out in 2002 that Saddam Hussein was too broke to have a nuclear bomb program. "There is no Inner Party like in 1984 in our government. They just don't know what they are talking about."

The reality, in Cochran's view, is more like Idiocracy, the new Mike Judge movie.

Does this really matter? Chicago Boyz advises complacency:

Old, Old News
Lexington Green

Glenn Reynolds quotes Roger Simon who notes that “People like Reid, Hastert, Pelosi are complete mediocrities” and that “something is fundamentally wrong” that such people are in the upper reaches of government. Reynolds concludes that “Politics is not attracting our best people.”

This has been an accurate complaint since immediately after the Founding generation. But, still, the whole thing worked anyway, and always has.

Lord Bryce, in his classic American Commonwealth (1888), had a famous chapter entitled Why the Best Men do not Go into Politics...

Having mediocre politicians is a consequence of our having a superb private economy. We are, actually, fortunate that we have some relatively competent and public-spirited people in public life at all.

This is not a problem with a solution, but a permanent, structural condition.

Nor is it one that needs to concern us much.

Okay, but in the 1880s when Lord Bryce was writing, America wasn't trying to execute an ambitious, complicated, and dangerous foreign policy. Chester Arthur didn't invade Iraq.

Foreign policy is simply much more complex than domestic policy. The Daleys in Chicago, for example, can understand domestic policy well enough (if LBJ had made Richard J. Daley his domestic policy czar, the country would have been spared a lot of grief), but foreign policy is too complex for "Mayberry Machiavellis." In an administration that's mostly profoundly ignorant of the outside world, pseudo-intellectual fools like Paul Wolfowitz and Doug Feith wind up with way too much influence.

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

October 16, 2006

The long-expected convergences of the New York Times and the Onion is finally at hand

Reality has become so ridiculous that many of the stories in today's NYT already appeared in the Onion in years past:

From the newspaper of record:

Boy Madonna Wants to Adopt Leaves Malawi

A 1-year-old boy whom Madonna and her husband are seeking to adopt left for England on Monday, flying first on a chartered plane to South Africa, then on a regularly scheduled flight to London, where the singer has a home.

The boy, David Banda, was accompanied by two Britons and two Americans, one of whom listed her occupation as nanny, according to an immigration official at the airport in Malawi who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

A woman carried the child through Johannesburg international airport to board the plane for London. Three male bodyguards tried to prevent reporters from photographing the boy, whose face was shielded by the woman's hand.

A statement from Liz Rosenberg, Madonna's publicist in New York, said the child was issued a passport and a visa Monday. She said the family expected to be reunited in coming days.

''She's going to do her best to not make it a public circus,'' Rosenberg said. ''It's not my sense that she would want to expose the whole thing to public scrutiny.''...

The Malawi High Court granted preliminary custody to Madonna and her film director husband Guy Ritchie on Thursday, even though the law requires would-be parents to live in the country for a year while social welfare officers investigate their ability to care for a child.

And, from America's finest news source in 2005:

Angelina Jolie Coming For Your Baby

MALIBU, CA—Angelina Jolie has filed for adoption of your newborn baby, sources close to the actress reported Tuesday. "Angelina loves your baby, and you should be honored that she has chosen it," said publicist Jacqueline Silver, citing the growing collection of babies Jolie has culled from families worldwide. "Color, creed, whether your child is wanted—none of it matters. Angelina has fallen in love, and through legal means or force, your baby will soon be hers." Immediately after acquiring your child, Jolie will dress it in Betsey Johnson infant wear, give it a faux-hawk, name it after a random passage from the The Tibetan Book Of The Dead, then resume her relentless search for babies.

From the NYT op-ed page:

Halloween on Heels

ALL I wanted was a pair of mouse ears. It is Halloween season, and to the delight of my children, I promised to dress up as the country mouse. I was a recent transplant to rural life, so it made sense. Besides, I already owned the overalls and the flannel shirt. I just needed the ears. And maybe a wedge of plastic cheese.

So my girls, 4 and 6, and I went to Target, which has much better lighting than Wal-Mart — and Isaac Mizrahi. It wasn’t long before I discovered that the only ears on offer at the Target Festival of Fright were of the “sexy cat” variety. Sexy cat is fine if you are in your 20’s, unimaginative and trying to persuade people that you possess latent feline qualities. As I am neither latent nor in my 20’s, I continued down the Adult Costume aisle.

I walked past the displays for the sexy devil and the sexy bunny and the sexy leopard — which, confounding logic, was already sold out — before happening upon the wall of full adult costumes. The first was Tavern Lady, an off-the-shoulder dress and faux-leather vest. It was followed by French Maid (ruffled mini-dress with matching headpiece), Cheerleader (pleated micro-mini and fitted vest) and Wonder Woman, which had not only a nearly invisible skirt but also red vinyl boot covers that reached to the thigh.

At $49.99, Wonder Woman was among the priciest costumes, along with the Geisha — both $20 more than Stewardess, which consisted only of a polyester wrap dress with a plunging neckline.

A quick trip to Wal-Mart and Kmart revealed the same dubious selections. While the hemlines were slightly lower on the Kmart French Maid and Cheerleader, Wal-Mart hewed to form with a saucy Red Riding Hood and a naughty rag doll, advertising a “sultry vinyl bodice and thigh highs ... lollipop not included.”

A theme was emerging. And it wasn’t Halloween. Since when did Halloween costumes become marital aids? The hobo has turned into the Hillbilly Honey. The traditional vampire is now the Mistress of Darkness. I have nothing against playing erotic dress-up, or even mass-market fetishism. I’d just prefer it didn’t converge with a family holiday (and wasn’t sold next to the dryer sheets). If you want to play cheerleader at home, go team. But trick-or-treating with your children in anything featuring latex and cleavage seems like a little too much trick. [More]

Mahalanobis points me toward this old Onion item:

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

October 15, 2006

A Prediction

The lesson the media will take away from the Foley Follies is the need for ... more gay liberation. Similarly, in the 1980s, when it was discovered that the gays of San Francisco and New York City were giving each other a fatal venereal disease in their bathhouses, the conventional wisdom became that the root cause of the AIDS epidemic was discrimination and intolerance toward gays.

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

Economist Andrei Shleifer demoted by Harvard

It appears, now that his best friend, Larry Summers, is no longer Harvard president, that Harvard has finally slapped the wrist of superstar economist Andrei Shleifer for costing the university $26 million in fines, plus enormous legal fees. The Boston Globe reports:

Harvard strips economist of title for violating ethics rules
By Marcella Bombardieri. Globe Staff

Star Harvard economist Andrei Shleifer has been stripped of his honorary university title, following an investigation into whether he violated the university's ethical rules while advising the Russian government.

This morning, the entry for Shleifer in the on-line campus directory changed from "Whipple V.N. Jones Professor of Economics," to simply "Professor of Economics." A Harvard spokesman confirmed that the new title was accurate.

[By the way, that's a great name for an Old Harvard Man: Whipple VanNess Jones. He was founder of the Aspen Highlands ski mountain. (Does that make him a mogul mogul?) The name "Whipple Jones" was borrowed for a character on the soap opera The Bold and Beautiful]

The title, known as a "named chair," is an honor bestowed upon a distinguished senior professor. However, at Harvard, named chairs are generally not tied to salary, so the loss of the title doesn't mean that Shleifer will be penalized financially. The title "professor," indicates that he will retain tenure.

"I was a Professor of Economics last week, and I am a Professor of Economics this week," Shleifer said in a written statement. "My students, my colleagues and my work are what matter to me."

It is unclear if he faces other punishments. Shleifer was found by a judge to have conspired to defraud the federal government by making personal investments in Russia while advising the country on the United States' behalf. In a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, he agreed to pay $2 million. Harvard agreed to pay $26.5 million, and a former Harvard staff member, Jonathan Hay, agreed to pay between $1 million and $2 million.

Harvard's interim dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Jeremy R. Knowles, acknowledged this week that the university had concluded its investigation, and said "appropriate action" had been taken. But he said Harvard would not comment on the nature of the action. Shleifer issued a brief statement Thursday saying he was "delighted" to have the matter behind him.

Controversy over Shleifer hurt former President Lawrence H. Summers, because some professor suspected he had intervened on behalf of his fellow economist, a close friend, even though Summers recused himself from the case.

Neither his critics nor his supporters were pleased by the change in Schleifer's title.

"Does that place him in an extraordinarily embarrassing position? I don't think so," said mechanical engineering professor Frederick H. Abernathy, who has denounced Harvard's handling of the case. "If students put two or three lines in a paper without a proper quote, they are hauled before a [disciplinary] board and they are often given six month off."

Economics professor Lawrence F. Katz called the disciplinary action gratuitous.

"Andrei Shleifer is one of the finest social scientists on the planet, a huge magnet for students and a wonderful colleague," he said. "I don't think we should be playing games with names of chairs."

So, will the economics profession ever discipline Shleifer for his role in the looting of Russia, or is he too connected? In 2003, in the middle of the scandal, he was appointed editor of the Journal of Economic Perspectives by the American Economics Association. Fellow big name Harvard economist Edward Glaeser denounced prominent investigative journalist David McClintick's Institutional Investor report on Shleifer as "a potent piece of hate creation—not quite 'The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,' but it's in that camp."

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