July 7, 2007

Heinlein's "This I Believe:" The Derb posts sci-fi centenarian Robert A. Heinlein's 630-word contribution to Edward R. Murrow's 1950s "This I Believe" program:

I am not going to talk about religious beliefs but about matters so obvious that it has gone out of style to mention them. I believe in my neighbors. I know their faults, and I know that their virtues far outweigh their faults. [More]

Keeping the caution in mind that Heinlein, who was a creative writer rather than a dogmatist, didn't necessarily believe any one thing all the time, it's a good statement of the "high ideals" part of Heinlein's essential appeal: "High ideals and hard-headedness."

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

July 5, 2007

Heinlein's Starship Troopers v. Verhoeven's "Starship Troopers"

Paul Verhoeven promoted his 1997 version of Robert A. Heinlein's "Starship Troopers" as satirizing Heinlein's supposed Nazi views, but the reality is Verhoeven, who was born in 1938 in Holland, is the last working filmmaker to have been directly influenced by Nazi aesthetics during 1933-1945 (Ingmar Bergman now being retired). He has admitted that he got hooked on movies as a child watching Nazi propaganda films in Occupied Holland. Knowing that, it's easy to see the Nazi obsessions with blondeness and brutality that run through his films.

For example, Verhoeven has competed with eugenicist Jodie Foster to film the life story of Hitler's favorite directrix Leni Riefenstahl. Verhoeven boasted that Riefenstahl told him that Foster is "not beautiful enough" to player her, and "Leni's ultimate idea of herself is Sharon Stone in 'Basic Instinct,'" which is one of Verhoeven's films.

Verhoeven then spends a lot of time telling the press that he is actually satirizing the Nazi obsessions of _other_ people like Robert A. Heinlein, and a lot of credulous media-types believe him. For example, Verhoeven persuaded a lot of the critics that his casting an Ernst Roehm wet-dream- like Casper von Diehn as Juan Rico in "Starship Troopers" was a parody of Heinlein's Nazi tendencies.

Yet, anybody who has finished the book (which doesn't include Verhoeven, who said he read only a few chapters) knows that Heinlein played a brilliant trick by not revealing until the next to last page that his narrator-hero is a Tagalog-speaking Filipino.

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

A fun pop psychology article

From Psychology Today:

Ten Politically Incorrect Truths About Human Nature
Why most suicide bombers are Muslim, beautiful people have more daughters, humans are naturally polygamous, sexual harassment isn't sexist, and blonds are more attractive.

By Alan S. Miller and Satoshi Kanazawa

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

July 4, 2007

The Doctors Plot in Britain

Seven immigrant doctors and one doctor's lab technician wife have been arrested in the three recent attempted car-bombings in Britain, much to the befuddlement of the New York Times. Back in 2003, I wrote a VDARE column on how immigration can spur elite anti-Americanism. The parallels with the doctors plot aren't perfect, but it can help you understand the psychology.

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

More from my review of Lott's "Freedomnomics"

Here's another excerpt from my review in the Washington Times of economist John R. Lott's Freedomnomics: Why the Free Market Works and Other Half-Baked Theories Don't.

Dr. Lott is an even more fecund generator of plausible explanations than is Dr. [Stephen D.] Levitt [author of the bestseller Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything]. For instance, he suggests in Freedomnomics:

- The big mark-up on restaurant drinks stems from customers tending to linger longer over beverages than food, tying up valuable tables.

- The introduction of secret ballots lowered voter turnout. Why? They reduced vote-buying and thus voting. Crooked political operators could no longer be sure they got the votes they paid for.

Dr. Lott offers so many fascinating theories that Freedomnomics' ideas-per-page ratio is more daunting than that of the frothy Freakonomics, which Dr. Levitt's writing partner, journalist Stephen J. Dubner, optimized to not tax tired travelers' oxygen-deprived brains at 35,000 feet.

Is each of the hundreds of ideas in Freedomnomics true? Dr. Lott offers 63 pages of notes, but a more convenient solution would be for authors to post their footnotes on the Web with links to supporting papers.

Like Dr. Levitt, Dr. Lott is more an ardently creative thinker than a dispassionately judicious one. They are both apt to fall in love with their novel ideas and overlook alternatives. Yet, ultimately, so what? Ichiro Suzuki, the great singles hitter of the Seattle Mariners, doesn't drive many runs home, but he gets rallies started. Similarly, while Dr. Lott and Dr. Levitt are better at provoking controversies than at magisterially resolving them, they play valuable roles.

Dr. Lott argues that Dr. Levitt and Mr. Dubner "portray America's free market as a cut-throat environment in which consumers are constantly swindled by so-called experts. Habitually attributing economic anomalies to some kind of scam, the pair don't seem to realize that market forces exist that punish dishonest behavior." This is somewhat overstated -- Freakonomics is too attention-deficit disordered to have much of a theme beyond promoting Dr. Levitt as a "rogue" genius. Nonetheless, Dr. Lott's chapter on how the market encourages good behavior by penalizing bad reputations is insightful.

Still, Freedomnomics raises a fascinating conundrum it doesn't answer. If the free market is so wonderful, how in the world did Freakonomics become the nonfiction publishing sensation of the decade?

Maybe the book market rewards truth-telling less than helping customers feel good about themselves? To paraphrase the famous quote by Adam Smith about butchers, bakers, and brewers with which Dr. Lott launches Freedomnomics, "It is not from the benevolence of the economist, the journalist, or the publisher that we expect our cheesy bestsellers, but from their regard to their own interest." [More]

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

LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa needs a new last name

Los Angeles' ambitious mayor has one of those feminist names where he and his wife merged their surnames (his Villa, hers Raigosa) into Villaraigosa. As Bill Clinton had previously discovered, however, claiming to be a feminist can be a great way to get chicks. Mrs. Villaraigosa recently kicked him out of the Mayor's mansion in Hancock Park for having another affair, this time with an anchorette from Telemundo's Spanish-language news program. Blogger Luke Ford had much of the story back in January, months before the LA Times.

During a previous affair in 1994 while his wife was recovering from cancer surgery, a fax went around in LA Mexican-American political circles proposing about 100 new names for Villaraigosa, including Villapendejo, Villapitosuelto, Villaprimadonna, and Villahomewrecker.

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

July 3, 2007

Bill Gates no longer world's richest man

In the recent immigration debate, one of the clichés that was hardest to shake was the assumption that Mexico is a terribly poor country. In reality, it's above the world average in per capita GDP (measured in purchasing power parity terms).

Now comes words that Mexican telecom monopolist Carlos Slim has blown past Warren Buffet and Bill Gates to capture the top spot on the World's Richest Man chart, with $67.8 billion. Considering that most of Slim's wealth comes from operations within Mexico, while Gates extracts money from around the world, and the Mexican economy is only 1/11th as big as America's, then Slim piling up a nest egg equivalent to $3,000 per family of five in Mexico is quite a feat.

As the great traveler Alexander von Humboldt observed two centuries ago, “Mexico is the country of inequality. Perhaps nowhere in the world is there a more horrendous distribution of wealth, civilization, cultivation of land, and population.”

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

The Steve Sailer Independence Panhanding Drive!

It's been a half year since I last rattled the tin cup under your noses. In other words, my friends, I need help, your help. and now we have a little something to celebrate with the demise of the McCain-Kennedy-Bush Axis of Amnesty bill. Click Here to Pay Learn More Amazon Honor SystemThe papers today say nobody is giving to McCain anymore because of amnesty, so maybe I can divert a little cash my way.

If tax deductibility isn't relevant to you (e.g., you live outside the U.S.), you might find it simpler to donate directly to me. You don't need to have a PayPal or Amazon account already to donate, just a credit card. (Or you can E-mail me and I'll send you my P.O. Box number.)

Paypal and Amazon charge $0.30 per transaction and 2.9% of the total, so I only get to keep 41% of a $1 donation, but 96.8% of a $100 donation!

Anyway, it seems kind of nuts to hit you up while you are at the beach or the barbecue, but, then again, you might be a little drunk and in a mellow mood toward me.

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

John McClane is more popular than John McCain

From the San Jose Mercury-News:

McCain campaign has only $2 million
By Carl Hulse and Adam Nagourney
New York Times Article

The presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who once seemed poised to be his party's nominee, acknowledged that it was in a political and financial crisis as a drop in fundraising forced it to dismiss dozens of workers and aides and retool its strategy on where to compete.

The campaign said the decline in contributions had left it with $2 million. It said it had raised just $11.2 million over the past three months, despite McCain's pledge to do better than his anemic $13 million showing in the first three months of the year.

McCain's advisers laid blame for his most recent spate of problems on his close association with the recently defeated immigration bill, which prompted a sharp backlash against his campaign from conservatives already skeptical of his ideological credentials.

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

My review of Freedomnomics by John R. Lott Jr.

I don't see a link yet, but Tuesday is supposed to be the day my book review comes out in the Washington Times. The last time I reviewed an economics book for a daily newspaper, my review of Tim Harford's The Undercover Economist appeared in the New York Post on December 25, 2005, so the Third of July is a big improvement in terms of being a high traffic day.

Here's the opening:

Harry Truman longed for a one-armed economist who couldn't tell him, "But, on the other hand …" As the economic mismanagement of the 1970s is forgotten and the profession's confidence soars, however, the opposite has emerged: the two-fisted economist. These scholarly brawlers self-assuredly venture far beyond their traditional topics.

Steven D. Levitt's 2005 pop economics bestseller Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything featured his views on the Ku Klux Klan (he's against it), real estate agents (they're kind of like the KKK), sumo wrestling (it's dishonest), and, most famously, the legalization of abortion in the 1970s (it reduced crime in the 1990s by, in effect, pre-emptively executing unwanted babies more likely to become criminals).

Freakonomics, which sold three million copies, included a half page of scandalmongering about rival economist John R. Lott Jr., author of More Guns, Less Crime, who had attacked Dr. Levitt's abortion-cut-crime theory. Dr. Lott responded by suing Dr. Levitt for defamation. Now, Dr. Lott has struck back more constructively with his endlessly thought-provoking Freedomnomics: Why the Free Market Works and Other Half-Baked Theories Don't (Regnery, pp. 275, $27.95).

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

Juan Pierre's bunt double and a new baseball statistic

I went to the Dodgers baseball game tonight and saw something extremely rare in baseball: a bunt double. Speedy Dodger centerfielder Juan Pierre tried to dribble a bunt down the third baseline for a single, but popped it up over the head of charging Braves third baseman Chipper Jones. The mishit bunt landed a little past third base and trickled off into foul ground. Pierre reached second easily.

Here's a YouTube of Pierre getting a bunt double in an earlier season, although in the video he appears to be intentionally bunting the ball hard into left field. What I saw was a pure bunt executed poorly, but Pierre appeared to be the least surprised person in the stadium and exploited his luck nicely.

By the way, young Dodger catcher Russell Martin, who will start the All-Star Game a week from now, looked great with four hits and non-stop hustle on the basepaths.

That reminds me of a baseball statistic that doesn't exist, but should. Hitters' statistics are biased by the home ballpark they play half of their games in, so honors like Most Valuable Player and the All-Star Game often go to guys who just happened to be at the race place at the right time to drive in 130 runs. Everybody knows that Colorado Rockies hitters aren't as good as their eye-popping statistics suggest because of the mile-high elevation means fly balls travel farther and faster due to less wind drag, but it's hard to keep track of how the other 29 parks bias statistics. This is especially true because park factor can change from year to year. For example, Wrigley Field in Chicago is normally a terrific hitter's park because on hot days the wind from the south blows out to left field, turning outs into homers. But, in the summer of 1992, it was almost never hot in Chicago due to the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines the previous year spewing ash into the atmosphere.

Even statistically adjusting batters' performance for park factor (runs scored at home / runs scored away) has its problems because it's not all that stable: e.g., Dodger Stadium jumped from 25th best hitter's park to 10th best from 2005 to 2006. Was this due to some objective change in hitting conditions in Dodger Stadium or just because of luck (e.g., pitchers having worse outings at Dodger Stadium than in away games)?

On the other hand, dedicated fans can typically tell you with a lot of accuracy who is the most valuable player on their own team, not from statistics, but from the number of times he was the best or almost the best player in the game. For example, Russell Martin was clearly the best player on the field last night. If I attended, watched or listened to Vin Scully (now in his 58th year announcing Dodger games!) every night, I'd have pretty accurate impressions of who the best player on the Dodgers was, and by how big a margin.

This approach is independent of park factors. For example, back when the Houston Astros played in the old Astrodome, one of the worst hitters parks in history, they came up with a long string of terrific players like Jimmy Wynn, Rusty Staub, Cesar Cedeno, Bob Watson, and Jose Cruz. But only Joe Morgan made the Hall of Fame ... because he got traded to Cincinnati, a reasonable hitter's park. But Astro fans knew how good these guys were because they saw them holding their own night after night against competition who came to town with flashier statistics..

This kind of relative game analysis could be institutionalized. Right after the end of hockey games, the announcer traditionally proclaims the top three players in the night's games. I presume a few sportswriters make up the list. This could become an entertaining tradition in baseball as well. You'd then sum the game rankings over the entire season. (It would be best to rank all the players in the game, to prevent low-average sluggers from getting an unfair boost by just including games when they were in the top 3 and leaving out games when they didn't do anything.)

Or, you could do calculate the best players in each game statistically, giving a point for every total base and on-base, as in the OPS average.

Still, a subjective ranking for each game could be useful. For example, I followed the Dodgers closely in the 1971 pennant race, and it was clear that 38-year-old shortstop Maury Wills was their most valuable player, even though his statistics were merely average (.281-3-44 and 15 stolen bases). Night after night down the stretch he made the big plays that made him among the best players in many crucial games. That year he was well-recognized for his contributions, finishing 6th in the league in the MVP voting, but he was lucky because he was a famous old player with the spotlight of a pennant race on him, so the national media heard about his contributions. Less well known players could benefit from some kind of game-by-game ranking system.

It's a little bit like how you rate movie character actors. Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Frances McDormand, and Gary Oldman don't often get the big role that every star in Hollywood wants, or the best screenplays or best directors, but in whatever movie they are in, they more than hold their own relative to the other actors. For example, in 2005, Catherine Keener out-acted Sean Penn in The Interpreter, and held her own with Daniel Day-Lewis in the Ballad of Jack and Rose, Hoffman in Capote, and Steve Carrell in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. That's a pretty good year.

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

Bush amnesties Scooter Libby

Now, don't call it a "pardon," just as the late Senate immigration bill wasn't amnesty -- both Scooter and the illegals have to pay a fine!

Here are a couple of blog items on Scooter:

Scooter Libby, Mob Lawyer
The Scooter Libby-Marc Rich Connection

The basic question remains: why was this guy allowed to have a high-ranking government job in the first place?

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


A reader's question:

I have a suspicion that John Hostettler (Indiana Republican House Member from 1995-2007) was the Congressman who voted most frequently with Ron Paul. Are you aware of any website or database that allows one to run searches comparing votes of House members or Senators? What I am looking for is a percentage of time that any two given members vote the same way.

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

July 2, 2007


This romantic drama is kind of a lady actress equivalent of "The Departed," with a sterling cast of prestige actresses: Vanessa Redgrave, Glenn Close, Toni Collette, Natasha Richardson, and Claire Danes, plus one more. The film flashes back and forth between now, when a dying woman (Redgrave) who remembers her most important weekend as a young woman (when she is played by Danes) as the maid of honor at her best friend's high WASP wedding in 1956. In 2006 her daughters (Collette and Richardson, who is Redgrave's real life daughter) deal both with her imminent death and their own relationship problems.

The best casting is the little known young Mamie Gummer as the 1956 bride, not because she's great, but because she's a dead ringer for Meryl Streep. It's the best young-old look-alike casting for the same character since Ewan McGregor and Albert Finney as the salesman in "Big Fish." So, just as "The Departed" isn't over until Mark Wahlberg shows up again, "Evening" maintains some momentum waiting around to see if Meryl Streep shows up in 2006 as the bride plus 50 years. She finally does, and her warm, matronly widow (the exact opposite of her "Devil Wears Prada" character) is worth the wait, bringing the film some needed resolution. So, Streep wins the act-off. Is there any question anymore that she is the best actress in the history of movies?

The reason young Miss Gummer looks so much like Streep turns out to be because she's one of Streep's four children with sculptor Don Gummer.

I assumed Natasha Richardson, who won the Tony for the "Cabaret" revival of 1998, would be the granddaughter of both Sir Michael Redgrave on her mother's side, and another of the famous original five knights of acting, Sir Ralph Richardson, on her father's side. But her father, Tony Richardson, director of "Tom Jones," was not the son of Sir Ralph. (The other three were Gielgud, Guinness, and Olivier.)

"Evening" looks nice, especially the summer 1956 wedding at a "cottage" above the surf crashing on the rocks at Newport, RI. But the screenplay aims lower than you'd expect from the quality of actresses assembled. The aim seems to be to copy the success of the surprise hit "The Notebook" rather than something more artistically ambitious. I don't think it works as well as "The Notebook," but I'm not the target demographic.

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

My new VDARE.com column on Robert D. Putnam's long-awaited paper on diversity and community

Diversity is Disunity ... and Dumbness

One striking aspect of the last six weeks' debate is how decisively patriotic immigration reformers won the intellectual battle. The inanity of the other side's talking points, based as they were on mindless sentimentalism toward illegal immigrants and mindless hatred toward patriots, was never more obvious.

One of the roles that VDARE.COM plays in the broad immigration restrictionist coalition is to be the Research & Development arm. By choosing this untrodden path, far from the highway of political correctness, we're able to follow logical connections all the way through - an opportunity denied to all those who heed the big signs in their heads flashing "Uh-Oh, Better Not Go There, Bad for My Career."

Nothing illustrates the vapidity of mainstream intellectualizing about immigration than the ironic story of social science superstar Robert D. Putnam.

Last month. Putnam finally published an article about his lavishly-funded 2000 survey of 41 American communities that found that ethnic diversity, especially immigrant diversity, damages trust and "social capital."

Putnam's data is important, but the spin he worked on for five years to prevent it from being used by "racists and anti-immigration activists" is in some ways even more significant. ...

But Putnam's third section -- "Becoming Comfortable with Diversity" -- is even worse. It mostly repeats the Ellis Island clichés about how the immigration of a century ago all worked out fine and dandy, so what's to worry about the new immigration "in the medium to long run?"

But how can the “medium to long run” arrive to overcome the negative effects of diversity if the government continues to keep the pedal to the metal on letting in low human capital immigrants?

Not surprisingly, Putnam only vaguely mentions the immigration restriction acts of 1921 and 1924 that played such a huge role.

Furthermore, I am tired of intellectuals in Boston, New York, and Washington D.C acting as if Mexicans in America are such an utter novelty that nobody could possibly have any indication of how they will turn out, so who can say they won't progress just like Italians and Jews?

Well, anybody in the Southwest can. To presume there's no long-term data on Hispanics, like Putnam does, is just ignorant. ...

East Los Angeles, for example, has been heavily Mexican since the Mexican Revolution. PBS reported:

"Its present day population also has been one of the most entrenched and stable communities of the greater Los Angeles area over the past 50 to 75 years. East Los Angeles is … the largest Hispanic community in the United States."

East LA is not Detroit -- which the forest is partly retaking -- but hardly is it New Jersey, which the Ellis Island immigrants have made into one of the most successful states in the country.

Here's a good test of the chestnut that Mexican immigrants are going to turn out just like the old Jewish immigrants: Long ago, East LA had a Jewish immigrant community, which arrived about the same time as its Mexican immigrants. According to PBS, in East LA after WWI:

"In many instances, Jews and Mexicans went to school together, played sports together, traded with each other, and particularly among the left wing thinkers, met and organized together."

For some reason, though, eighty years later, the descendents of East LA's Jewish immigrants are living in Beverly Hills and Malibu, while the descendents of East LA's Mexican immigrants are in Van Nuys or still stuck in East LA.

In summary, the first rule of rationality when you find you are digging a hole for yourself is … stop digging.

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

Robert Heinlein week

The science fiction master was born July 7, 1907. I read all his books up through 1966's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (his most literary novel) as a kid, then reread them when I was on chemotherapy in 1997, then reread them again early in this decade.

- Sure, the future isn't what it used to be because transportation didn't keep getting faster and cheaper like it had since the invention of the steamship (although Heinlein's 1940 prediction that the 1960s-70s would be known to history as The Crazy Years was on the money.) But Heinlein's books really aren't about the future, they're about mid-20th century America, and that's a country I like a lot. In Heinlein's novels it's always late May 1942 as the shot-up Yorktown limps into the Pearl Harbor drydock while the Japanese fleet heads for Midway.

- There will be a lot of arguments this week over what Heinlein's ideology was. The simple answer is that he was a creative writer, and you shouldn't look for a consistent ideology in his fiction.

- Heinlein had had a lot of unsuccessful careers before he began writing at 32 in 1939, and he loved to explain how things work. He's comparable to James Michener, but with more interesting stories and snappier dialogue. (Heinlein's dialogue style was borrowed from the screwball comedies and film noirs of his time

- Between 1959 and 1966 Heinlein published three books that remain cult novels today. Remarkably, they are worshipped by three almost mutually exclusive audiences: Starship Troopers (military men), Stranger in a Strange Land (hippies and New Agers), and The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (libertarians).

Of these three cult books, "Moon" is the best plotted and best written (including Heinlein's most ambitious attempt at a new prose style, which was presumably influenced by the Russian slang in Anthony Burgess' 1962 "Clockwork Orange"). While, for some mysterious (probably hormonal) reason, I love "Starship Troopers" more, this book certainly is the ideal introduction to Heinlein's novels for adults. It's literary merits are all the more surprising considering both it's abundant slam-bang action and it's status as a treatise on libertarianism. Moreover, for a work of ideological propaganda, it is clear-eyed about what you'd have to put up with to live in a libertarian society. Without the government to look after you, Heinlein points out that you'd have to make sure you are on very friendly terms with all your neighbors. Extreme neighborliness is a requirement for a libertarian society (Charles Murray reiterated this point in his "What It Means to Be a Libertarian"). Personally, as a surly introvert, the lack of privacy and the social conformity required to function in a stateless society would get on my nerves so bad, that I'd probably make myself a nuisance to all my neighbors, and no doubt they'd be justified in eventually tossing me out an airlock. So, maybe I don't really want to live in a truly libertarian society. But, it's well worth visiting one in the company of a fascinating mind like Heinlein's.

- It's fun to see recent literary novels like Clockwork Orange show up in Heinlein's books. For instance, 1955's Tunnel in the Sky about how a class of high school students that's marooned on an uninhabited planet get themselves organized so they can survive in a civilized manner appears to be Heinlein's optimistic rejoinder to William Golding's 1954 Lord of the Flies. And the satirical description of the American high school curriculum in 1959's Have Spacesuit, Will Travel is prefigured closely in Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, which was first published in the U.S. in 1958.

- Heinlein's 1961 Stranger in a Strange Land evolved much like Nabokov's Lolita. Both writers began working on their respective scandalous magnum opuses about 1949, figuring that while they weren't publishable at present, American norms were changing fast enough that they would be publishable eventually. Both ended up long and self-indulgent.

- After a fast-paced opening, Stranger in a Strange Land bogs down badly. It reads like a few cokeheads lecturing some credulous potheads on everything under the sun. Still, what a great title it has, maybe the best by any novel ever. The Prophet Abraham's description of himself is borrowed to describe a new prophet, a human raised by Martians, who comes to a satirical America. And one plot detail -- how the First Lady's astrologer was influencing the President -- turned out to exactly foreshadow the situation under Ron and Nancy Reagan!

- Of the wonderful juveniles (books for teenage boys) Heinlein wrote between Rocketship Galileo in 1947 and Podkayne of Mars in 1963, perhaps the most underrated is "Spaceman Jones." Heinlein's spaceship adventures are basically sea stories in disguise (he was a Naval Academy grad and officer until he came down with tuberculosis after seven years), and this is the most explicitly devoted to explaining how life onboard is organized. After a long, fascinating expository main section, it builds to a great action climax. It also features the best of Heinlein's Han Solo characters. (George Lucas borrowed Heinlein's useful structure of having an innocent Luke Skywalker hero for the audience to identify with, a cynical Han Solo to explain how things work, and a wise Obi Wan-Kenobi to explain why they are as they are; but Heinlein didn't follow this scheme rigidly. There's no Obi Wan-Kenobi in "Starman Jones," for instance.)

- Heinlein worshipped H.G. Wells, who was an ardent eugenicist, and Heinlein's 1942 novel Beyond this Horizon is set in a future society organized around genetic engineering. Heinlein eventually stopped making eugenics explicit in his plots, but it's reasonable to read most of the rest of his novels as assuming genetic enhancement as one of the operative technologies of the era: almost all of his books have one or more characters with math skills that are off the charts by present human standards.

- Beyond This Horizon ignores the convention that humans will evolve into hyper-intelligent, 97 pound weaklings, androgynous pencil-necked geeks barely able to hold up their basketball-sized brains, a highly evolved species of altruistic pacifists. But which parents would choose these traits for their children? How could such kids compete for mates? In Beyond, the world is populated by highly intelligent but extremely sexy people straight out of a Hollywood casting call. The men are manly and the ladies lovely. The men are so macho in fact, that no gentleman would be seen without his gun, and duels are fought daily. This book is the source of Heinlein's saying, "An armed society is a polite society."

- The most brilliant, perhaps the most prophetic sci-fi story ever, was "Solution Unsatisfactory," which he wrote in 1940, well before the secret Manhattan Project had begun. In it, Heinlein predicted the U.S. would end the second world war in 1945 by dropping atomic weapons on an Axis city. He went on to predict that the Russians would quickly acquire their own weapons, then use a foolish American disarmament attempt to launch a sneak attack. The U.S. would win the short but apocalyptic war with the Soviets. To prevent anyone from ever again building their own atomic weapons, the U.S. would then set up a global strategic air command, with bombers circling over all the nations of the world, ready to annihilate them if they tried to threaten the monopoly. The man in charge found himself, against his will, to be the effective Dictator of the World. Hence the title, "Solution Unsatisfactory." The sneak attacks the following year on Russia and Pearl Harbor only reinforced Heinlein's views. As it turned out, deterrence worked better than Heinlein expected. But those who think deterrence is now kaput, and that America must take on the role of Dictator of the World, should definitely check out Heinlein's stories from the 1940s.

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

July 1, 2007

"Why doesn't evolution get rid of ugly people?"

asks Sharon Begley in Newsweek:

Why isn’t everyone beautiful, smart and healthy? Or, in a less-polite formulation, why haven’t ugly, stupid, unhealthy people been bred out of the population—ugly people because no one will have them as mates, meaning they don’t get the chance to pass their ugliness to the next generation;

Evolutionary geneticists try to explain this paradox by positing that mutations for disadvantageous traits keep popping up no matter how hard natural selection attempts to wipe them out, but in their more honest moments the scientists admit that in real life undesirable traits are way more common than this mechanism would account for; “ugly” mutations just don’t occur that often. In a groundbreaking study, biologists at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland have figured out why, at least in one species: genes that are good for males are bad for females and, perhaps, vice versa.

The scientists studied red deer, 3,559 of them from eight generations, living on Scotland’s Isle of Rum. They carefully noted each animal’s fitness, who mated with whom, how many offspring survived, which offspring mated and with what results. Bottom line: “male red deer with relatively high fitness fathered, on average, daughters with relatively low fitness,” Edinburgh’s Katharina Foerster and her colleagues conclude in tomorrow’s issue of the journal Nature. “Male red deer with a relatively high lifetime [fitness, which includes their reproductive success, the only thing evolution cares about] sired, on average, daughters with a relatively low [fitness].” The reverse also holds. Males that were relatively less successful in their reproductive success and fitness had daughters that were extra successful.

The reason is that any particular gene-based trait may have very different effects on males than in females. Extrapolating to humans (and oversimplifying, sorry) you might imagine that a particular shape of the nose or turn of the chin would look drop-dead hunky on a male, but horsey on a woman; dad got to mate because his looks attracted a female, but the result of their togetherness produced daughters whose pulchritude was less than obvious.

Do we see this in humans or not? It would seem like the kind of thing there would be some folk wisdom about, but I've never heard any.

A lot of good looks is just non-sex specific all-around healthiness. Mark Harmon, who remains a popular TV actor in his mid-50s ("NCIS") due to his handsomeness, is a good example of all-aroundness. Before going into acting, he was a fine Wishbone running quarterback despite being not particularly big. In his first game for UCLA in 1972, he led a famous upset of mighty Nebraska, which hadn't lost in 32 games. He's the son of Tom Harmon, perhaps the second most famous college football player (after Red Grange) of the pre-war era and starlet Elyse Knox. (Elyce's father was Frank Knox, Secretary of the Navy in WWII and Alf Landon's running mate in 1936. Old Man Knox wasn't so hot looking himself, but clearly Harmon is from a good blood, good bone kind of family.) A Sports Illustrated story in 1972 reported that when his teammates visited the family mansion, they all thought his mother was his sister and asked Mark for her phone number.

On the other hand, there may be some sex-specific good looks. I know a family with a handsome, strong-jawed manly son and a handsome strong-jawed manly daughter, so perhaps so.

On the other other hand, Warren Beatty and Shirley MacLaine are full siblings. In their younger days, they were both very good looking exemplars of their sexes, with Shirley tending toward the very girly pixieish side. On the other other other hand, Jane Fonda inherited a little too much of her father's All-American good looks. She's a very healthy woman, but nobody would confuse her with Audrey Hepburn for exquisiteness. John Cusack, with his unfortunate Cupid's bow lips, might be prettier than his sister Joan. Jon Voight had big lips for a leading man, which his daughter Angelina Jolie inherited to her advantage.

The three generations of Hustons who won Oscars started with the the conventionally handsome Walter, followed by director/actor John Huston, who was ultra-masculine but not particularly good looking (he had kind of the John Kerry-Herman Munster thing going -- here are the two together), followed by Angelica Huston, who took a little too much after her father in looks, but even though she wasn't conventionally pretty was woman enough to keep Jack Nicholson around for years.

Perhaps one way to test this is to see if pairs of sibling movie stars or parent-child pairs are less likely to be opposite sex than would be randomly expected. I suspect that may be true, although that may stem more from same-sex siblings (e.g., Luke and Owen Wilson) hanging out together more than opposite sex siblings spend time together.

Anyway, there are various genetic mechanism that could theoretically be at work. For example, consider the jaw. Having a big square jaw helps make, say, Christopher Reeve of Superman fame looking like a really handsome guy and having a petite jaw helps make Audrey Hepburn look like a really pretty girl.

- Now you could have a big square jaw because you inherited some big square jaw genes regardless of sex, so the men in your family would tend to be handsome and the women horse-faced.

- Or you could inherit some genes that set the average level of sex hormones relative to your sex above or below average. Once again, you'd see the same effect.

- Or you could inherit some genes that say, "Have more than the average level of male hormones if you are male and more than the average level of female hormones if you are female." You could call this the Beatty-MacLaine syndrome.

- Or, there could be lots other combinations, including more of both sexes' hormones than is typical for your sex (which might be more common than average in celebrities, such as David Bowie or Marelene Dietrich.).

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