September 14, 2007

David Brooks: "The Waning of IQ"


September 14, 2007

Op-Ed Columnist

The Waning of I.Q.


A nice phenomenon of the past few years is the diminishing influence of I.Q.

For a time, I.Q. was the most reliable method we had to capture mental aptitude. People had the impression that we are born with these information-processing engines in our heads and that smart people have more horsepower than dumb people.

And in fact, there’s something to that. There is such a thing as general intelligence; people who are good at one mental skill tend to be good at others. This intelligence is partly hereditary. A meta-analysis by Bernie Devlin of the University of Pittsburgh found that genes account for about 48 percent of the differences in I.Q. scores. There’s even evidence that people with bigger brains tend to have higher intelligence.

But there has always been something opaque about I.Q. In the first place, there’s no consensus about what intelligence is. Some people think intelligence is the ability to adapt to an environment, others that capacity to think abstractly, and so on.

Then there are weird patterns. For example, over the past century, average I.Q. scores have risen at a rate of about 3 to 6 points per decade. This phenomenon, known as the Flynn effect, has been measured in many countries and across all age groups. Nobody seems to understand why this happens or why it seems to be petering out in some places, like Scandinavia.

I.Q. can also be powerfully affected by environment. As Eric Turkheimer of the University of Virginia and others have shown, growing up in poverty can affect your intelligence for the worse. Growing up in an emotionally strangled household also affects I.Q.

One of the classic findings of this was made by H.M. Skeels back in the 1930s. He studied mentally retarded orphans who were put in foster homes. After four years, their I.Q.’s diverged an amazing 50 points from orphans who were not moved. And the remarkable thing is the mothers who adopted the orphans were themselves mentally retarded and living in a different institution. It wasn’t tutoring that produced the I.Q. spike; it was love.

Then, finally, there are the various theories of multiple intelligences. We don’t just have one thing called intelligence. We have a lot of distinct mental capacities. These theories thrive, despite resistance from the statisticians, because they explain everyday experience. I’m decent at processing words, but when it comes to calculating the caroms on a pool table, I have the aptitude of a sea slug.

I.Q., in other words, is a black box. It measures something, but it’s not clear what it is or whether it’s good at predicting how people will do in life. Over the past few years, scientists have opened the black box to investigate the brain itself, not a statistical artifact.

Now you can read books about mental capacities in which the subject of I.Q. and intelligence barely comes up. The authors are concerned instead with, say, the parallel processes that compete for attention in the brain, and how they integrate. They’re discovering that far from being a cold engine for processing information, neural connections are shaped by emotion.

Antonio Damasio of the University of Southern California had a patient rendered emotionless by damage to his frontal lobes. When asked what day he could come back for an appointment, he stood there for nearly half an hour describing the pros and cons of different dates, but was incapable of making a decision. This is not the Spock-like brain engine suggested by the I.Q.

Today, the research that dominates public conversation is not about raw brain power but about the strengths and consequences of specific processes. Daniel Schacter of Harvard writes about the vices that flow from the way memory works. Daniel Gilbert, also of Harvard, describes the mistakes people make in perceiving the future. If people at Harvard are moving beyond general intelligence, you know something big is happening.

The cultural consequence is that judging intelligence is less like measuring horsepower in an engine and more like watching ballet. Speed and strength are part of intelligence, and these things can be measured numerically, but the essence of the activity is found in the rhythm and grace and personality — traits that are the products of an idiosyncratic blend of emotions, experiences, motivations and inheritances.

Recent brain research, rather than reducing everything to electrical impulses and quantifiable pulses, actually enhances our appreciation of human complexity and richness. While psychometrics offered the false allure of objective fact, the new science brings us back into contact with literature, history and the humanities, and, ultimately, to the uniqueness of the individual.

I couldn't agree more! Obviously, judging from laws like No Child Left Behind, our political and pundit classes have spent quite enough time studying and publicly elucidating the subtleties of the science of IQ. C'mon, guys, enough is enough with all the IQ expertise on display in the press! We're into diminishing marginal returns on IQ knowledge by now.

Aren't we all sick of hearing George Will and Thomas Friedman harp on and on about Spearman's Hypothesis about the g factor on every Sunday morning talk show? And how many dozens of articles about IQ and the Wealth of Nations can The Economist run in one decade? And by now haven't we've all heard NPR explain ad infinitum that the reason that young whites have an 80% higher combat death rate in the Iraq War than young minorities is in large part because the military's well-validated devotion to IQ testing makes it much harder for minorities, with their lower average IQs, to enlist? And do we really have to see Arthur Jensen and Linda Gottfredson on the evening news every week being asked to give an IQ expert's perspective on every social issue under the sun? Can't we ever debate immigration without Dana Milbank of the Washington Post reminding us of the lower average IQ of illegal immigrants?

And when will critics of IQ research ever get any media attention whatsoever? Will the little-known paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, who died in poverty because of persecution by the all-powerful IQ Establishment, ever get any recognition for his (admittedly obscurantist) critique of IQ?

And when will all the Schools of Education stop requiring all future teachers to spend a semester studying The Bell Curve? Wouldn't 8 weeks be enough to spend on that one book?

Brooks is right! Enough of the never-ending IQ-this and IQ-that in the media!

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

September 13, 2007

"Borat" - Somebody else finally gets it

As I pointed out during the insane "Borat" frenzy of a year ago, Sacha Baron-Cohen's character is basically one giant old-fashioned Polish Joke, with a few updatings for the age of political correctness. For example, to make Eastern Europeans look primitive and backward, they filmed Borat's home village in a dilapidated, feckless Romanian Gypsy village. But, the movie then makes the point that one of the many faults of Eastern European gentiles is that they are prejudiced against ... Gypsies! Yet, almost nobody noticed that "Borat" was based on old Yiddish anti-Polish jokes.

So, I was glad to find a review on IMDB by a scholar who did her Ph.D. dissertation on Polish-Jewish relations (probably not a prudent choice, considering that the world's most famous living author can't get his two-volume history of Russian-Jewish relations published in New York) who noticed the same thing. Danusha V. Goska writes:

There's more going on here, and I know I'm risking a lot by pointing this out.

Borat speaks Polish. Only speakers of Polish will get that. He says "Dzien Dobry," "jak sie masz," "dziekuje" and other Polish phrases. The film's opening and closing scenes were shot in a real Eastern European village. Real Eastern European folk music is played on the soundtrack.

With "Ali G," Baron Cohen exploited vicious stereotypes of Blacks. With "Borat" Baron Cohen is not targeting Kazaks. He's exploiting a centuries-old, contemptuous and hateful stereotype of Eastern European peasants that can be found in various Western cultures - witness the American "Polak joke" - - and is common in one thread of Jewish culture. In this stereotype, Poles, and, by extension, Eastern European Christian peasants, are, like Borat, ignorant, bestial, and disgusting. A good précis of the stereotype can be found in a famous passage in Isaac Bashevis Singer's "The Slave." It can be found in the "Golem" article on my website.

In fact, "Borat" has a lot in common with Marian Marzynski's controversial film "Shtetl." In both, cameras invade an impoverished Eastern European peasant village. Villagers who are not sophisticated or worldly are conned into appearing on camera to perform for us as if they were trained monkeys. We laugh at them, or feel disgust at them, because they are dirty, because they are poor, and because they keep pigs. In any case, gazing at these lesser peasants, we know that we are superior. Perhaps Baron Cohen will try this technique next in a Darfur refugee camp or a homeless shelter. Poor, unsophisticated people can be so amusing.

Baron Cohen speaks of women as if they were less than dirt. Don't misunderstand him. He's not mocking misogyny. He's milking misogyny. The things Baron Cohen says about women in this movie are grotesque; they are brutal. He makes fun of mentally retarded people. He makes fun of white, Christian Southerners, a group everyone feels safe mocking.

Reviews, and no doubt many viewers, are telling you that "Borat" is a fearless laugh riot that punctures political correctness and makes you laugh till you cry. It's that very description that made me want to see it. I thought I'd be getting something like the Colbert Report.

I've gotta think I'm not the only one, though, who found looking at Baron Cohen's hatred for an hour and a half to be an icky, profoundly unfunny experience.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

"La Vie en Rose"

Here's my review for The American Conservative of the musical biopic about singer Edith Piaf:

Why is the "struggle with inner demons" such a staple of movies about musicians and actors?

Part of the reason is selection bias: producers aren't dying to make "The Johann Sebastian Bach Story" because composing a new masterpiece for Sunday church services each week while raising 20 children didn't leave Bach much time for self-inflicted drama.

Nonetheless, on average, performers really do live more chaotic lives than the rest of us. The detective novelist and screenwriter Raymond Chandler explained in The Little Sister, his novel about a troubled actress: "If these people didn't live intense and rather disordered lives, if their emotions didn't ride them too hard -- well, they wouldn't be able to catch those emotions in flight and imprint them on a few feet of celluloid ..."

Nobody lived a more intense and disordered life than Edith Piaf (1915-1963), the Parisian chanteuse depicted in the melodramatic and moving French film "La Vie en Rose." While her contemporary Judy Garland became an icon to male homosexuals (the gay liberation movement began in 1969 when drag queens returning from Garland's funeral rioted at New York's Stonewall bar), Piaf was a national heroine, as French as Johnny Cash was American.

Although many showbiz biopics punch up the drama with fiction, writer-director Olivier Dahan's big problem was what to leave out to keep "La Vie en Rose" down to 140 minutes. Amusingly, he omitted World War II, which Piaf spent in German-occupied Paris. (The embarrassing reality is that while Piaf did help the Resistance, her career, like many French culturati's, flourished during the Occupation, which was easier in Paris than elsewhere -- the more Francophilic and civilized German officers tried to wangle assignments there.)

Many pop stars concoct hardscrabble mythologies to blur their privileged upbringings. For instance, the lead singer of the great leftist punk rock band The Clash gave himself the macho prole name Joe Strummer to obscure that he was the son of a diplomat.

Piaf's childhood, however, was the real thing. Abandoned as an infant by her mother, a street singer and prostitute, her father, a circus contortionist, dumped her with his madam mother to grow up in a bordello. When the little girl went blind from conjunctivitis, the whores with hearts of gold chipped in to send her on a pilgrimage to Lisieux to pray at the grave of St. Therese. Her sight restored, she began singing in her father's street corner act.

Dahan chopped up the storyline of "La Vie en Rose" chronologically, perhaps because Piaf's life was such a string of catastrophes that a straightforward retelling would have left punch-drunk audiences giggling at the one-damn-thing-after-anotherness of it all.

At 18, she had an illegitimate child, who soon died, and she fell under the thumb of a pimp. Piaf was discovered singing on the street at age 20 by a nightclub owner (played by the formidable Gerard Depardieu), but he was murdered and the police at first accused her. The great love of her life, middleweight world champion boxer Marcel Cerdan, died in a plane crash on his way to a rendezvous with her in New York. A painful car crash turned her into a morphine junkie, and cancer killed her at 47, before which she looked to be 80.

Perhaps due to childhood malnutrition, she only grew up to be 4'-8". (Despite being over ten inches taller, Marion Cotillard somehow portrays Piaf with spectacular verisimilitude.) Like Dick Cheney, her head inclined to the right. Out of this sparrow-like frame emerged an enormous voice, magnificent and nasally piercing, perfect for belting out "Le Marseillaise."

In these days of easy electronic amplification, it seems strange that for centuries the great challenge to professional musicians was to generate enough sternum-vibrating volume to blast the full emotional and physical power of the music out to a large paying audience.

By the time of Piaf's discovery in 1935, Bing Crosby had revolutionized singing by introducing a quieter, more conversational style suited to the microphone, but she mostly stood by the old loud mode. At her peak in the 1950s (despite all her woes, she continued to improve as an interpreter of songs), she could sound lovely, but the film chooses to emphasize her more stentorian style. To 21st Century audiences Piaf might sound like a curiosity, a pocket battleship Ethel Merman. Still, "La Vie en Rose" is one of the best musical biopics.

Rated PG-13 for substance abuse, sexual content, brief nudity, language, and thematic elements.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

September 12, 2007

"A Mighty Heart"

Here's my review for The American Conservative of the Angelina Jolie flick that got the critics all excited but died at the box office.

Thirty seconds into Angelina Jolie's explanatory voice-over that opens "A Mighty Heart," the critically-acclaimed film about the pregnant wife of the Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped and beheaded by Muslim terrorists in Pakistan, the dozen corn-rowed young men sitting near me got up, put on their gang-colors jackets, and filed out of the theatre to go find something more entertaining to watch.

Who was right about "A Mighty Heart" -- the Critics or the Crips?

After Angelina Jolie first surfaced playing a lesbian junkie supermodel who dies of AIDS in 1998's "Gia," she stood out from Hollywood's fungible ranks of blonde and bland starlets by being dark and demented. After lurid years of soul-kissing her brother and wearing around her neck a vial of then-husband Billy Bob Thornton's blood, however, Jolie has been trying to recast herself as a globe-trotting humanitarian, a sexy Albert Schweitzer. Not surprisingly, she has brought the same demonic energy she once devoted to playing with knives to adopting orphaned children from different countries, resembling an obsessive Pokemon player who's gotta catch 'em all.

Jolie's first attempt to embody her newfound ideals in a film, her 2003 tribute to international relief workers, the romantic drama "Beyond Borders," was a respectful snore. Now, she's trying again in a much-acclaimed performance as the saintly Mariane Pearl, a French radio journalist whose bestselling memoir recounted her four heartbreaking weeks in 2002 trying to piece together clues to her husband's disappearance, until a video emerged of her husband's head being hacked off.

Ever since, her former father-in-law, UCLA professor Judea Pearl, has tirelessly promoted his son as the Anne Frank of the 21st Century, recruiting Bill Clinton for the Honorary Board of his Daniel Pearl Foundation that promotes "cross-cultural understanding." A competing film project based on the insufferable French intellectual Bernard-Henri Levy's book Who Killed Daniel Pearl?, with Josh Lucas as the martyred reporter, has been announced, but Jolie's movie won the race to the screen.

Giving "A Mighty Heart" a bad review seems churlish, since the film is so factual that any harping might appear to reflect upon the poor widow. Nonetheless, the critics were wrong and the gangbangers right: this police procedural is one of the more futile films in memory.

Mrs. Pearl says, "To me, it's a story about Danny being held by extremely intolerant people. And yet we, in that house in Pakistan—Christian, Hindu, Jew, Buddhist, Muslim—came together to find him."

But failed, badly. While we can admire the film's refusal to pretend that the Pakistani and American investigators ever came close to rescuing Daniel Pearl, its lack of suspense makes for a pointless 100 minutes.

And then there are the colorless characters. I still have no idea who the "Mighty Heart" of the film's title is supposed to be. Pearl appears to have been a nice guy and a dedicated professional who died bravely, but he never claimed to be an oversized personality. Newspapermen were once, according to "His Girl Friday," sozzled misanthropes too crude to remove their hats while pounding out copy on their Underwoods, but modern reporters, like Mr. and Mrs. Pearl, tend to be sober and self-effacing. Indeed, this murder mystery isn't much interested in the victim, as illustrated by the casting of the obscure Dan Futterman opposite Jolie.

The film's focus on Mariane Pearl might suggest she's the mighty heart. Yet, the emotionally restrained Mrs. Pearl, who meditates in front of her personal Buddhist shrine to maintain her inner harmony during her ordeal, doesn't make much of an impression either. She's too culturally sensitive to vent her wrath against the men who slaughtered her husband.

Although widely praised for not chewing the scenery, Jolie, who studied Method acting and won her Oscar for playing a sociopath mental patient in "Girl, Interrupted," lacks the theatrical training that Helen Mirren used to subtly delineate an undemonstrative character in "The Queen." So, we're left with plenty of time to admire the elegant curve of Jolie's profile from her eyebrows down to the tip of her nose.

Nor does the movie teach you much. Pakistan is an astonishingly complex and potentially crucial country, but the filmmakers are so loathe to stereotype that all we learn about the place is that it's really crowded.

Ultimately, the tedium of "A Mighty Heart" is due to the devotion of all involved to the modern religion of non-judgmentalism.

Rated R solely for language. The beheading is not portrayed on film.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

September 11, 2007

The Great White Trash Defendants

Several readers have pointed out that this story is likely to get more national coverage than similar local crime cases. I wonder why ...

Details emerge in W.Va. torture case

By JOHN RABY and TOM BREEN, Associated Press Writers 34 minutes ago

For at least a week, authorities say, a young black woman was held captive in a mobile home, forced to eat animal waste, stabbed, choked and repeatedly sexually abused — all while being peppered with a racial slur.

It wasn't until deputies acting on an anonymous tip drove to a ramshackle trailer deep in West Virginia's rural hills that she was found. Limping toward the door with her arms outstretched, she uttered, "Help me," the Logan County sheriff's office said.

Six people, all white, including a mother and son and a mother and daughter, have been arrested and could face federal hate crime charges in the suspected attack on 20-year-old Megan Williams, who remained hospitalized Tuesday with injuries that included four stab wounds in the leg, and black and blue eyes.

Damn. If only they were lacrosse players, or yachtsmen, or something else like all the bad guys on "Law & Order," then the New York Times would be all over this story. Heck, even Jayson Blair would have gotten off his couch and gone to West Virginia for real for that story.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Jim Manzi reviews the Levitt-Lott feud

In National Review, Jim Manzi reviews economist John R. Lott's Freedomomics and takes a look at Steven D. Levitt's Freakonomics as well:
"Levitt wrote that Roe is "like the proverbial butterfly that flaps its wings on one continent and eventually creates a hurricane on another." He ought to be more careful with his similes: Surely he knew that he was echoing meteorologist Edward Lorenz's famous evocation of a global climate system--one that had such a dense web of interconnected pathways of causation that it made long-term weather forecasting a fool's errand. The actual event that inspired this observation was that, one day in 1961, Lorenz entered .506 instead of .506127 for one parameter in a climate-forecasting model and discovered that it produced a wildly different long-term weather forecast. This is, of course, directly analogous to what we see in the abortion-crime debate: Tiny changes in the data set yield vastly different results. This is a telltale sign (as if another were needed) that human society is far too complicated to yield to the analytical tools that Lott and Levitt bring to bear. Nobody in this debate has any reliable, analytically derived idea of what impact abortion legalization has had on crime. "
I didn't know that about the famous "butterfly in Brazil" effect, but that is what I've been saying about Levitt's abortion-crime theory since 1999: it's beyond the power of contemporary social science to determine.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

"The Year of the Dog"

Now out on DVD.

Here is my review from the May 7, 2007 issue of The American Conservative:

"The Year of the Dog," with Saturday Night Live veteran Molly Shannon as a spinster secretary looking for love, sounds like just another romantic comedy, such as "The Truth about Cats and Dogs" or "Must Love Dogs." Yet, this sympathetic portrayal of the making of an animal rights activist / pest turns out to be one of the odder and more memorable movies of the year so far.

In recent years, the typical Hollywood filmmaker's career path has been first to write screenplays for others, and then move on to directing. Not every verbalist, however, is an equally adept visualist. First time director Mike White, screenwriter of "School of Rock" and "The Good Girl," is so unimaginative with images -- he mostly just plunks his actors dead center in the frame and has them stare goggle-eyed into the camera -- that his little quasi-comedy stumbles into a neo-Egyptian monumentality.

Fortunately, White has a strong cast, anchored by the disconcertingly intense Shannon, the diva of discomfort. Her Peggy is Shannon's SNL signature character Mary Katharine Gallagher, the Catholic schoolgirl with Asperger's Syndrome, grown a quarter century older and sadder, but no wiser. Now 42, Shannon plays awkward Peggy without makeup, every wrinkle in her delicate Irish skin exposed by the fluorescent office lighting.

Peggy's only friend besides her beagle Pencil is her fellow secretary, the contrastingly outgoing Layla (a scene-stealing Regina King, who was Cuba Gooding Jr.'s wife in "Jerry Maguire"). While black-white masculine friendships are far more common in cop movies and commercials than in daily life, Peggy and Layla's closeness is realistic: pink-collar working women enjoy the warmest interracial bonds of any class. Her black pal is conducting a publicly passionate affair with the office lothario, while Peggy displays the traditional Hibernian uneasiness over sex.

"The Year of the Dog" then introduces two disparate men into her life to make the point, a bit formulaically, that sexual and social attraction are often at odds. The older and less hormone-driven we get, the harder it is to find somebody of the opposite sex who fits the rut we've dug for ourselves.

One night, Peggy's beloved beagle gets into her neighbor's yard, eats some snail poison, and dies. To cheer her up, the construction worker next door, played by the currently omnipresent regular guy character actor John C. Reilly (Will Ferrell's sidekick in "Talladega Nights"), invites her out to dinner. Layla is ecstatic that Peggy finally has a date. Unfortunately, he turns out to love hunting, which Peggy can't abide.

Then, a handsome but effeminate man from the animal shelter offers her a vicious German shepherd who is otherwise doomed to be put down. A vegan, he instructs Peggy in the horrors of factory farms, and soon she's in love. Peter Sarsgaard, who normally plays strong, silent types like the sniper in "Jarhead" and Chuck Lane, the long-suffering editor of Marty Peretz's New Republic, in "Shattered Glass," portrays the pet person as a little too obviously gay -- to everybody except Peggy, whose heart gets broken.

With men letting her down, she turns even more to dogs for consolation, becoming a strident PETA-style activist. Strikingly, the script shows her losing the arguments she starts. Peggy assumes, though, as most people do, that she gets out-debated not because she's wrong, but because she's not glib enough.

She forges her boss's signature on a check to a farm animal rescue charity, adopts 15 dogs off death row at the pound, and ruins the fur coats of her insufferable sister-in-law (Laura Dern). Peggy is on the path to being a crazy old lady with too many pets in her squalid house, but "The Year of the Dog" asks whether being an animal addict is worse than sane loneliness.

PETA fanatics are the one sort of progressive that everybody loves to look down upon. After Dutch immigration restrictionist Pim Fortuyn was gunned down in 2002, the European center-left establishment immediately proclaimed (wrongly, as it turned out) that their vilification of anti-immigrationists had nothing to do with Fortuyn's murder. The assassin was just some animal rights loony!

And yet, the animal rights cause is likely to triumph partially. As the world gets richer, the worst abuses of factory farming will become less tolerable. Moreover, while we deplore Koreans' taste for dog, hardheaded Paul Johnson has suggested that our descendents won't understand how we complacently devoured the comparably intelligent pig. Too bad they're so tasty …

Rated PG-13 for some suggestive references.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

New jargon sighted: "glbttsqqi"

From a U. of Washington press release:

"David Kopay's generous gift to the Q Center is both an act of forgiveness and a clear directive to the UW regarding the health and well-being of its glbttsqqi [gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, two-spirit, queer, questioning and intersex] students, faculty, and staff ," says Jennifer Self, director of the Q Center.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

More from 2Blowhards' Cochran interview

Here's an excerpt from the second part of Michael Blowhard's interview with Gregory Cochran:

2B: As far as Mideast policy goes, how could we do better than we do?

Cochran: I think we have little chance of running a practical Middle East policy. The political class is ignorant and / or crazy (and also lazy) and seems to enjoy being manipulated by groups whose interests are not closely aligned with those of the United States. For example, Bush Senior had Prince Bandar try to prepare Junior for the world stage. Why the hell would anyone pick a fat Saudi thief as a political science instructor? Why not someone on our side? And when Rudy has Norman Podhoretz as a foreign policy adviser -- Norman who wants to invade Arab countries that haven't even been discovered yet -- well, I tremble for my country.

2B: So what's the right general course of action for the US as the world's premier power?

Cochran: Do little. Stay strong -- although this can't possibly require the current high level of military expenditures. If I were picking an actor to represent the right policy, it'd be Jimmy Stewart -- a nice guy that you never, ever want to threaten. A mix of "It's a Wonderful Life" and "Winchester '73."

2B: What are some basic things that you wish more Americans understood about the mid-east, and about their own government?

Cochran: 1. Iraq is a Seinfeld war -- a war about nothing. 2. The Mideast isn't that important. 3. The people running the country have no idea what they're doing.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

September 10, 2007

What to do about global warming

As you may have noticed, I don't write much about global warming. It's a complex subject that would take me a long time to master and I don't see much evidence that I would contribute anything novel and important if I ever did.

That said, I do have a suggestion for a straightforward way to lessen future harm caused by global warming that I haven't seen mentioned elsewhere:

Bring down the birthrate in Bangladesh, fast.

The logic is this:

If global warming is happening severely enough to partially melt polar ice caps and thus raise sea levels, the most severely impacted country would likely be Bangladesh, which topographically resembles the Mississippi Delta that took such a hit from Katrina in 2005: low-lying land vulnerable to big storms off the ocean. The current population of Bangladesh is 150 million and the total fertility rate is 3.09 babies per woman. The U.S. Census Bureau forecasts that the population of Bangladesh will almost double between now and 2050, when it will reach 280 million, assuming half of them aren't washed out to see in a big cyclone.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Is this the gayest-looking graph ever?

Here's the ultimate graph from General Petraeus's long-awaited testimony about Iraq, and, just looking at it, aren't you ashamed to be an American?

I have no idea what it means (if anything), but all those little mincing stars with question marks ... Christ, almighty. This guy's a general? It's bad enough that Powerpoint seems to be more important than winning wars in determining who gets promoted in the Pentagon these days, but if we're going to have Powerpoint Warriors, can't they at least put together macho Powerpoints?

Somebody should do a Powerpoint version of Patton's speech in front of the huge American flag, like the Powerpoint version of the Gettysburg Address.

Graph via Kevin Drum.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

My review of "The Hoax"

The Hoax

Reviewed by Steve Sailer for The American Conservative

April 23, 2007

In the 1970s, billionaire Howard Hughes's name was as omnipresent as Donald Trump's is today, even though the paranoid recluse was never seen. Since then, Hollywood has treated Hughes's legend well, with Martin Scorsese's masterful 2004 film "The Aviator" delivering an admiring look at the early life of the engineer and movie mogul. Jonathan Demme's "Melvin and Howard," which won a couple of Oscars in 1980, offered a gentle, oblique perspective on the national nuttiness that followed Hughes's death in 1976, such as the "discovery" of 40-odd purported wills.

Now, "The Hoax" rounds out cinematic Hughes lore with a comic biopic of novelist Clifford Irving, the scamster who brought the world's Howard Hughes obsession to a crescendo in 1971-72 when he extracted huge advances from the greedy and credulous New York publishing and magazine industries for The Autobiography of Howard Hughes. Irving claimed it was based on taped interviews with Hughes. In truth, Irving had never had any contact with Hughes (who in "The Hoax" appears only in documentary footage.)

"The Hoax" isn't in the same class as "The Aviator" and "Melvin and Howard," but it's significantly better than typical April releases. As Irving, Richard Gere ("Pretty Woman"), who normally competes with Bruce Willis for the title of Most Morose Star, revives much of the energy and charm that made him a delight in the underrated 1983 American remake of Godard's "Breathless." Now 57, Gere is still credible as the 40-year-old Irving. Indeed, in "The Hoax," Gere looks a lot like former leading man Alec Baldwin did at age 35, which might explain why Gere is still a name-above-title star, while Baldwin had merely a character role as a villain in "The Aviator,".

Irving purloined a copy of an unpublished manuscript by Hughes's business manager, Noah Dietrich. This provided his project with some minimal verisimilitude, which Irving embroidered with sheer effrontery. It's always fun watching a good actor like Gere play a con man who must improvise ever more barefaced concoctions to parry each challenge to his credibility.

It's even more entertaining to see an excellent actor like Alfred Molina, who was painter Diego Rivera in "Frida," portray an inept liar. In "The Hoax," Molina plays Irving's Sancho Panza, researcher Dick Susskind, a man more at home digging up facts than retailing fabrications. In meetings with McGraw-Hill brass suspicious of the duo's honesty, he stares bug-eyed and sweats as he tries not to forget the simple bit of business Irving assigned him, only to blurt out at the most disturbing moment, "Howard Hughes gave me a prune!"

Director Lasse Hallström ("Chocolat") and screenwriter William Wheeler have included in their press notes an unusually frank list of what's fictional in "The Hoax." What they don't reveal, however, is more interesting: how they've reworked Irving, the perfect 1970s anti-hero, to make him more sympathetic to 21st Century audiences.

Today's moviegoers admire marital stability, so "The Hoax" forgets to mention that Irving's wife Edith, who eventually went to jail for trying to cash the publisher's advance check to "H.R. Hughes" under the name "Helga R. Hughes," was his fourth. Contemporary Americans especially dislike adultery by parents, so Irving's two small children with Edith were written out of the picture. In the film, Irving cheats on Edith once with the folk singing Danish baroness and movie starlet Nina Van Pallandt and bitterly regrets his moral slip. The real Irving, however, was using his supposed meetings with Hughes abroad to cover frequent vacations with his mistress.

Exciting more controversy is the film's claim that Irving's fake autobiography helped inspire the Watergate break-in at the headquarters of Democratic National Committee chairman Larry O'Brien, who, possibly not coincidentally, had been Hughes' chief lobbyist.

While overstated, this is not wholly implausible. Nixon had several shady links to Hughes, such as the tycoon's unsecured $205,000 loan to his brother Donald's Nixonburger restaurant chain. Nixon believed the revelation of this dubious deal may have cost him the exceedingly close 1960 election. A decade later, according to his chief of staff H.R. Haldeman, Nixon was irrationally obsessed with plumbing the relationship between Hughes and O'Brien.

The truth is that we still don't really understand Watergate, mostly because, in sharp contrast to the JFK assassination, the media haven't been all that interested in finding out precisely what happened. The good guys won and bad guys lost, they reason, so why bother with details that might muddy the glorious memory?

Rated R for language and nudity.

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My review of "The Wind that Shakes the Barley"

The Wind that Shakes the Barley

Reviewed by Steve Sailer for The American Conservative

April 9, 2007

Neoconservatives who extol Winston Churchill's adamancy never mention that in 1921, after Britain suffered no more than 700 army and police deaths in Ireland, he played a key role in negotiations with insurgents that resulted in Britain suddenly cutting and running from southern Ireland after 700 years of occupation.

Why did the UK, which sent 20,000 Tommies to their deaths on the first day of the Battle of the Somme a half decade earlier, not stay the course in Ireland? Ken Loach's film about Irish Republican Army gunmen in 1920-22, "The Wind that Shakes the Barley," which won the top prize at the 2006 Cannes festival, graphically conveys why the English, a civilized people, went home. Defeating a guerrilla uprising broadly supported by the local populace requires a level of frightfulness that does not bear close inspection.

Loach, the 70-year-old English movie director, is an old-fashioned lefty of the didactic Marxist sort. His films include "A Contemporary Case for Common Ownership" and "Which Side Are You On?" Not surprisingly, these haven't made him a big name in America, but "Barley" is worth a watch. Loach is neither the most fluid of filmmakers nor the most historically trustworthy, but "Barley" is consistently informative about the Anglo-Irish War, if spectacularly wrong-headed about the subsequent Irish Civil War among the victors.

In recounting the history of a rebellion, with its endless alternations of terrorism and reprisal, you have to start the story at some particular incident, which inevitably biases your allocation of blame. Loach's sympathies are heavily with the IRA, the more radical the better, so he begins in 1920 when the Black and Tans (tough demobbed British WWI vets sent to Ireland to augment the police, but given little appropriate training) rough up some fine Irish lads enjoying a game of hurling, killing a boy for the crime of speaking only Gaelic.

If he wanted to be more even-handed, Loach could have commenced the previous year when the IRA began attacks on the Royal Irish Constabulary, necessitating the dispatching of the Black and Tans.

Or, then again, he could have begun with any date going back to 1167, when the first English soldiers arrived (at the invitation of an Irish king to assist his war with another local king). Compared to England, the Emerald Isle was smaller and rockier, so less populated. It was also more chaotic (no national king ever emerged), leaving at its well-organized neighbor's highly limited mercy until its sons could win her freedom.

"Barley" tells of two fictional County Cork brothers, Damien, a doctor (played by Cillian Murphy), and Teddy, a natural leader of fighting men (portrayed by Padraic Delaney), who withstands having his fingernails ripped out without spilling the IRA's secrets. (Unfortunately, the Cork accents are so impenetrable for the first half hour that I didn't realize until the end of the movie that they are brothers.)

The brothers roughly represent, transformed to merely a local scale, those initial partners and eventual enemies in Irish revolution, Éamon de Valera, the math professor and intellectual turned future president, and Michael Collins, the postman turned general. (In 1996's "Michael Collins," they were played by Alan Rickman and Liam Neeson, respectively).

Murphy, the dark-haired young actor from Cork with the alarming cheekbones and oddly pale blue eyes, is best known as the villain in "Batman Begins." His looks make him easy to pick out in a crowd of Irishmen, which is useful since Loach doesn't adequately distinguish between the supporting characters. When an IRA man tremulously announces after a firefight with the Black & Tans that "Gogan's dead!" it's not as moving as Loach intends because we had never gotten straight in our heads that Gogan was alive in the first place.

Murphy's skull-like head and intense eyes (he'd make an ideal Lenin) become more suited to the role of Doctor Damien as the healer turned killer, a Hibernian Che Guevara, grows ever more fanatically radical. He denounces his brother for supporting the compromise peace that Collins brokered with Churchill and David Lloyd George, and demands that the Irish guerillas, with their 3,500 rifles, fight the entire British Empire to the death in the name of socialism. (Loach's better dead than not red mindset perversely mischaracterizes the stance of the anti-Treaty fighters led by the deeply Catholic de Valera.)

In Loach's worldview, a resemblance to Lenin is to be cherished, but less bloodthirsty viewers will increasingly sympathize with Damien's brother Teddy, the man of violence who chooses peace for his people, but at a terrible price to his family.

Not rated, but would be R for language and torture.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

My review of "Amazing Grace"

The Scourge of Slavery

Amazing Grace

Reviewed by Steve Sailer in The American Conservative
March 26, 2007

Since 1991, conservative film critic Michael Medved has been pointing out that R-rated films do worse at the box office on average than family fare, but Hollywood keeps making more R-rated films than financial logic would suggest.

Billionaire Philip F. Anschutz, a devout Presbyterian, has been placing large bets on the family-oriented film business recently, hitting it big with "Ray" and huge with "The Chronicles of Narnia." Anschutz's latest, "Amazing Grace," the biopic of the amiably saintly William Wilberforce, the evangelical Anglican Member of Parliament who battled for two decades to abolish the slave trade before finally succeeding two centuries ago in 1807, won't match their returns, but it's a worthy and intelligent (if not quite exceptional) effort.

It features a fine cast of British stage actors, including such high class hams as Albert Finney as Wilberforce's religious mentor John Newton, Michael Gambon as his Whig Parliamentary ally, the old sinner Charles James Fox, and Ciaran Hinds as Lord Tarleton, chief bribe-dispenser for the slave interests. Unfortunately, the three look rather alike, especially when wearing powdered wigs, exacerbating the difficulty of deciphering the subtle political maneuvering.

The budget for "Amazing Grace" was limited enough that not much of the horror of the slave trade could be shown. Instead, we watch Wilberforce talking about it, eloquently, with the abolitionists Thomas Clarkson and Oloudaqh Equiano, the Nigerian-born ex-slave who published a bestselling autobiography in 1789.

The film's historical accuracy is above average. One forgivable slip is that while Newton, a former slave trader who repented, did indeed pen the great hymn's words -- "I once was lost but now am found, Was blind, but now, I see" -- his verses weren't joined to the current melody of "Amazing Grace" until 1832.

Also understandable is casting handsome Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd ("Fantastic Four") as Wilberforce, although he was actually only 5'-3" due to curvature of the spine, and almost blind to boot. Still, Gruffudd's looks sap the romantic tension, just as casting the exquisite Keira Knightley as the sensible Elizabeth Bennett in the most recent version of "Pride and Prejudice" undermined that famous story. "Amazing Grace" is organized around the night the 20-year-old Titian-haired beauty Barbara Spooner (Romola Garai) fell in love with the 37-year-old Wilberforce as he told her the story of the political struggle in which he'd ruined his health. On-screen, though, it seems inevitable that they'll marry, since they are the two most beautiful people in England.

Unfortunately, complex historical stories like this are better suited to the leisurely pace of the television mini-series because a two-hour film has to leave out much. For instance, "Amazing Grace" fails to mention that Wilberforce was a Tory or that his religious enthusiasm was quite unfashionable during the deistic Enlightenment.

Moreover, banning the slave trade in 1807 made the abolition of slavery in the British Empire in the 1830s relatively painless. The West Indian sugar planters had routinely worked their slaves to death and thus needed fresh slaves from Africa to prosper. In contrast, slaves multiplied on the less harsh tobacco and cotton plantations of America, so slave owners still thrived after Congress ended the trade in 1808.

Contemporary audiences so lack historical knowledge that veteran director Michael Apted ("Coal Miner's Daughter") and writer Steven Knight decided that there's no point in even trying to make clear who is whom in the film. For the first hour, for example, no effort is made to explain who Wilberforce's best friend Billie (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) is, or why in the world Billie thinks (correctly) that he can become Prime Minister at age 24. He's just some guy named Billie who is Prime Minister for two decades. Explaining that Billie's father, William Pitt the Elder, had been the dynamic war leader during the Seven Years War would only annoy the public, so why bother?

The Cheap Labor Lobby that plagued Wilberforce has hardly vanished. The government of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. possession in the Pacific, paid disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff $9 million to persuade former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay not to let the House crack down on its guest worker program under which tens of thousands of Asian women were imported to toil in sweatshops within barbed wire enclosures. Some who became pregnant were forced to have abortions by their employers. Others were assigned to bordellos.

Now, the Bush Administration wants to create new guest worker programs for the American mainland.

But where is our Wilberforce?

Rated PG for thematic material involving slavery, and some mild language.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

September 9, 2007

2Blowhards interviews Gregory Cochran on Iraq

As I've mentioned before, although I was highly skeptical of the Iraq Attaq in 2002, my big mistake was that I didn't trust my friend Greg Cochran's assessment that Iraq had no functioning nuclear weapons program. (Here's an email from Cochran that Jerry Pournelle posted on his website on October 14, 2002.)

Here on the one hand were the assembled ranks of the Great and the Good telling us that we had to worry intensely about the possibility of Saddam building the Bomb in his underground laboratories, and there on the other hand was Greg Cochran saying that a quick look at publicly available information shows that no way could Saddam afford to build a Bomb. Now, I reasoned, obviously, Greg is smarter than the average big shot in government and media. In fact, he might be smarter than anybody in government and media. But is he smarter than all of them put together?

As we know now, when it came to the great question upon which the history of this decade hinged, the answer was: Yes; yes he was.

Michael Blowhard of 2Blowhards thinks we ought to try to learn from how Cochran figured it out, and is conducting a two part interview with him. Here's an excerpt from the first part:

2B: When did you start to make sense of the current mess?

Cochran: I knew enough about nuclear weapons development to make my own estimate of what was going on in Iraq. It was obvious to me that Administration was full of shit back in late 2002, either lying and/or totally deluded.

2B: How did you know that?

Cochran: I looked at freely available evidence. For example, when the Feds started telling us that Iraq was a nuclear menace, I knew that the hardest step in making a bomb is obtaining fissionable materials, and I knew what the four ways of making those fissionable materials were (breeder reactors, gaseous diffusion plant, centrifuge, calutron), their costs and difficulty, and it seemed to me that none of them were possible (while remaining undetected) in Iraq, considering sanctions, inspections, aerial recon, negligible local talent, and being stony broke.

Since I read the paper every single day, I knew roughly how much oil Saddam was smuggling out by truck and how big a kickback he was getting on the oil-for-food exports. A horseback guess said that the whole Iraqi state was running on a billion dollars a year. Took about fifteen minutes of Googling to determine that. Not much to pay for an army, secret police, palaces out the wazoo, and an invisible, undetectable Manhattan project. Which was right on the money, as later laid out in reports by Duelfer and Paul Volcker.

I'm told that the CIA doesn't do this kind of capacity analysis, why, I dunno. I've also heard that they had only one guy in the entire agency who knew enough to do the technical-capacity analysis I just mentioned and that he was working on something else. They don't have a lot of physicists, partly because they pay peanuts, partly because it's a hateful place to work where you need a key to go to the bathroom. Sheesh, they don't even play "Secret Agent Man" in the elevator. There were plenty of people at DOE who could have done that kind of capacity analysis -- but the Administration refused to listen to the technical experts.

2B: What do you hear from your friends in the field?

Cochran: They tell me that there's not one political appointee in the government who could do that analysis. Likely true. That must always have been the case. However, the Bush people seem to pay no attention to technical expertise, ever. They don't believe in it. As far as I can tell, their position is that everything ever said by anybody is propaganda. Projection? Ad Hominem rules ok, there is no other argument. Steve Sailer calls it "marketing-major post-modernism."

2B: How did your reasoning proceed?

Cochran: When I began to hear people claiming that Iraq was a big backer of international terrorism, in particular, anti-American terror, I knew that every single article touching upon this subject in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal over the past twenty years said otherwise. When I checked later, official US-GOV statements did too, up until late 2001. The stories I remembered had Saddam down as the fourth-largest funder of the one of the main Palestinian organizations and, once upon a time, a backer of one of the less memorable factions in Lebanon, nobody you've ever heard of. Everything I'd ever heard said that the Mukhabarat spend most of its time looking to whack Iraqi exiles.

In other words, never a big player in that game, too busy with the Iran-Iraq war in the '80s, too broke in the '90s. Everybody knew that the Baathists had been a spent force, nothing that would attract any young and coming hothead, for at least thirty years.

When I heard people talk about how civilized and secular and educated Iraq was, I started out remembering how they'd torn the Hashemite royal family to bloody pieces in the streets back in '58. As I said, not a real middle East aficionado, but that incident is hard to forget. When Wolfowitz talked about literacy, I looked it up in the online CIA Factbook: 60% adult illiteracy, worse than any of their neighbors. When he said they didn't have pesky holy cities as in Saudi Arabia, I thought to myself "Karbala? " -- I guess I did remember something from those medieval histories.

And of course I noticed when the IAEA inspectors followed up about 30 of our tips and every one came up dry. I figured our entire case was wrong, a product of fantasy.

Judging from the Israeli occupation of Lebanon, I figured low-level guerrilla resistance in Iraq was more likely than not. Partly came to that conclusion because of recent examples in the Middle East, partly because of what I've read of the long-running story of nationalism and anti-colonialism over the last hundred years and more: books like Alistair Horne's "A Savage War of Peace," accounts of the Boer War, the Philippine Insurrection, Maximilian in Mexico, Portugal's endless colonial wars in Africa, and Vietnam of course.

2B: What are some of the reasons so many observers went so wrong?

Cochran: I think that most people writing about international politics don't have much useable history. They keep making the same two analogies (everything is either Munich or Vietnam) because they simply don't know any other history, not that they really know much about Vietnam or WWII either.

I also think that they have zero quantitative knowledge. Comparisons of Saddam's Iraq and Hitler's Germany used to bug me, since Germany had the second largest economy in the world and was a real contender, while Iraq had the fortieth largest GNP and didn't have a pot to piss in.

I once assumed people were deliberately lying, but now I think that they simply don't have any quantitative picture of the world at all. One, two, three -- many! In the same way, people who equate the dangers of jihadism with that of Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union really don't know big from small, don't know anything about the roots of national power. I think most writers and columnists are innumerate, just like the average American. Perhaps more so. If they could count, why the hell would they have gone into opinion writing?

2B: Is everyone involved in the great game inept?

Cochran: I think that some of the Washington lifers know what they're doing, particularly in less-technical areas. There are plenty of people in DOE -- Los Alamos and Livermore and Sandia -- who know exactly what they're talking about. As for the generals, a mixed bag. Some knew what they were talking about, some were downright dense. I'd say that Tommy Franks was effectively stupid. So was Sanchez, so was Odierno, who is still there as #2. In different ways. I'm not sure that any commander we've tried is what you'd call smart, in the sense that Sherman, Grant, Nimitz and Spruance were smart. Since Bush wanted people who "believe in the mission," it was hard to get good execution, considering that mission is and always was stupid.


My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

My new column:

Pierre Manent: Facing The National Question In France

By Steve Sailer

The French have so assiduously cultivated their knack for glib philosophizing that most Americans less credulous than professors of English literature have lost all interest in French intellectual life. They sense that the French are more interested in expounding novelties than truths.

This state of affairs is doubly unfortunate. That handful of contemporary French thinkers who are immune to the Parisian infatuation with fashion and fads are heirs to a grand tradition, including Montesquieu and Tocqueville. Moreover, the French language may be more conducive to lucid rationality than any other tongue.

Finally, as irritating as French arrogance can be, it's often rooted in a genuine and admirable national pride, a patriotism seldom found in other European countries in the 21st Century.

Among the most acute and sagacious French political philosophers of our era is Pierre Manent. He began his career as the assistant to Raymond Aron, the liberal intellectual who served during the 1960s as the tribune of common sense in a France in love with insane ideologies—epitomized by Aron’s École nationale d'administration classmate and life-long rival, the pro-Communist existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre.

Over the last decade, Manent has turned from the study of the great thinkers of the past to grappling with new problems—above all the European grandees' attempt to suffocate national self-rule within the bureaucratic European Union.

Manent's forthcoming work from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute is a short (103 pp) and highly readable book entitled Democracy Without Nations: The Fate of Self-Government in Europe, translated by Paul Seaton. It’s of particular interest to readers and to anyone concerned with the National Question—whether the nation-state can survive as the political expression of a particular people.

Elite opposition to nations, and thus to self-government, is not confined merely to Europe. On September 11, 2001, the Melbourne Age reported on former President Bill Clinton's speech to an Australian confab:

"'[Clinton] discussed the immigration issue in Australia and he took a position on it,'" said Tom Hogan, president of Vignette Corporation, host of the exclusive forum. 'The president believes the world will be a better place if all borders are eliminated—from a trade perspective, from the viewpoint of economic development and in welcoming [the free movement of] people from other cultures and countries,' Mr. Hogan said. Mr. Clinton … said he supported the ultimate wisdom of a borderless world for people and for trade."["Open borders to all:" Clinton, By Garry Barker, Melbourne Age, September 11, 2001]

Manent's reaction to 9/11 was similar to that of—we cited a once-famous poem by Rudyard Kipling:

The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return."

Manent writes:

"In my view, the most deeply troubling information conveyed by the event … was this: present-day humanity is marked by much more profound, much more intractable separations than we had thought. … Before that fateful day we spoke so glibly of ‘differences’ … [which] could only be light and superficial, easy to combine, easy to welcome and accommodate in a reconciled humanity whose dazzling appearance would be enlivened by these differences. This was such an aesthetic vision—a tourist's view of human things!"

The contrast between Manent's French clarity and the intentionally opaque and woozy ideas rationalizing the growing dominance of the EU can be striking. He continues:

"Today, all of us—at least in Europe—are moved and even carried away by … a passion for resemblance. It is no longer simply a matter of recognizing and respecting the humanity of each human being. We are required to see the other as the same as ourselves. And if we cannot stop ourselves from perceiving what is different about him, we reproach ourselves for doing so, as if it were a sin." [MORE]

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Whatever happened to the federal civil service exam?

In its mid-20th Century prime, the federal government matched up reasonably well in efficiency and effectiveness against, say, Sears-Roebuck. Today, however, it's blown away by Wal-Mart's relentless improvements. From my American Conservative article:

For example, in June, while the Senate was blithely considering mandating a convoluted new immigration system for the federal bureaucracy to administer, the State Department's nearly century-old responsibility for issuing passports was melting down under the strain of merely a moderate increase in demand predictably caused by a law passed three years before. In an era of cheap networked computing, many Americans still had their summer travel plans ruined by federal incompetence. ...

Clearly, growing economic inequality leaves the civil service hard pressed to compete for the finest workers versus Goldman Sachs's bonuses and Google's stock options.

Ameliorating the pay gap would be expensive. Much cheaper, yet seemingly unthinkable in the current climate, would be for the federal government to do a better job of choosing among it job applicants by employing a tool used by both colleges and the military in picking whom to take: standardized testing.

In fact, the feds themselves once had an excellent test for entry-level job applicants. One of the last malignant relics of the Carter Administration is the enduring hash it made of civil servant hiring by abolishing the Professional and Administrative Career Examination (PACE) in January 1981.

That this disastrous step has disappeared down the memory hole exemplifies the reigning prejudice in modern America against publicly discussing how best to select people. In private, selection is increasingly an obsession, with the competition to win admission to elite colleges (and even, among the New York media class, elite preschools) ever-growing. Ironically, one of the most popular hobbies to emerge in recent decades has been "fantasy football," which is nothing but selection: fans draft players and then see whose "team" has the best statistics each Sunday.

Yet, nobody wonders about how to select better civil servants. ...

Testing has been shown to work well for selecting federal white-collar employees as well. A 1986 study by Frank L. Schmidt of the federal Office of Personnel Management found that hiring "on valid measures of cognitive ability, rather than on non-test procedures (mostly evaluations of education and experience), produces … a 9.7% increase in output among new hires." Indeed, problem-solving skills may be more useful in government than in private industry because having a salesman's personality is less important.

Compared to soldiers, testing for entry level hiring is perhaps even more crucial for civilians because civil servants are notoriously hard to fire. Moreover, the feds mostly promote from within, seldom headhunting for middle level managers from the private sector.

Hence, government workers are rather like students at the top universities, who are almost never flunked out. At Harvard, 98 percent of freshmen are allowed to graduate, which puts intense stress on Harvard's admission process to not let in clunkers. So, despite the SAT's infamous political incorrectness, Harvard demands high SAT scores, with incoming students averaging about 1500 out of a possible 1600. Whatever their other failings, their SAT scores ensure they have the smarts to make it through Harvard.

Similarly, the federal civil service once invested in increasingly sophisticated brainpower tests to identify young people who could prove competent senior managers in future decades. The Junior Management Assistant test debuted in 1948, followed by the Federal Service Entrance Examination (FSEE) in 1955, a test roughly comparable to the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) now required by grad schools.

In 1972, a lawsuit claimed that that the FSEE was biased because blacks and Hispanics didn't score as well as whites on average. So, the Nixon Administration deep-sixed it and introduced the sophisticated PACE, which was elaborately validated as predicting performance in 118 federal jobs. The PACE consisted of multiple subtests, which could be weighted differently for each post.

Frustratingly, despite PACE's impressive predictive power, blacks and Latinos continued to tally lower on it. In another federal discrimination case, the defeated Carter Administration signed a consent decree in January 1981 agreeing to abolish PACE. Workarounds were "temporarily" implemented until a non-discriminatory general test could be devised.

Twenty-six years later, the Luevano decree's makeshifts still control federal hiring procedures. (No such new test has proven feasible.) Federal hiring has devolved into a decentralized hodge-podge. There is some job-related testing, but most agencies emphasize credentials, and assess them in a mindlessly mechanical fashion to boot. ...

But, hey, nobody seems to mind. Evidently, it's good enough for government work.

Upcoming review: "In the Valley of Elah"

By the way, for some reason, Hollywood is releasing a few October-like movies in September, so my next review will be "In the Valley of Elah," a heavy-duty Iraq War aftermath drama from Paul Haggis of "Crash," with Tommy Lee Jones, Susan Sarandon, and Charlize Theron.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

"Lawrence of Arabia" on DVD

Here's an excerpt from my review in the American Conservative magazine:

When your television dies, a trip to the home entertainment showroom, with its massed ranks of the latest monitors all displaying the same glorious nature documentary for convenient comparison shopping will quickly convince you that your initial plan of buying a modestly larger replacement tube for $299 was a naïve delusion. How could you ever be satisfied with a pathetic 32 inch CRT when the gazelles gamboling on the Serengeti are so luminous on a plasma screen, so detailed on an HDTV, and so humongous on a 56" screen?

But when you bring your visual technology breakthrough home, you notice that you seldom actually watch nature documentaries. You mostly just watch people talking, and the thousands of dollars you spent isn't making David Letterman's interview of Richard Simmons any less depressing.

To postpone disillusionment, TV buyers should also pick up a grand movie on DVD. And what better than the two-disk version of "Lawrence of Arabia?" Unlike just about every other film you might buy rather than rent, you could watch "Lawrence" a second time.

Approaching its 45th anniversary, "Lawrence's" place in the pantheon is secure. Director David Lean, cinematographer Freddie Young, and composer Maurice Jarre complement a tremendous cast, especially Alec Guinness as astute Prince Feisal, the future king of Iraq, and Anthony Quinn as choleric Auda, the prototypical Big Man.

Often extolled as the film that must be seen in the theatre, "Lawrence" is actually better from your couch, because you can then pause it to look up whether Medina is north of Mecca or vice versa. (Inexplicably, there are no maps in the 217-minute war movie). And (don't mention this to your cinephile friends) you can fast-forward through the second dozen times Peter O'Toole, as WWI archaeologist-warrior T.E. Lawrence, gallops his camel through the stark desert scenery he found so much more "clean" than damp and overgrown England. (Perhaps the British were better at empire than Americans have proven so far because it gave some of their best men the chance for fun in the sun that our West furnishes domestically?)

Movie critics today are obsessed with sniffing out the political implications of the latest releases, such as the suspicion that the sex comedy "Knocked Up" was insufficiently pro-abortion or that the Xbox mannerist Spartans of "300" were ancient Republicans.

Few attempt, however, to draw lessons from the handful of classic films that would reward serious analysis. Among its numerous virtues, "Lawrence" provides insight into America's quandary in Iraq by offering a vivid primer on what William S. Lind calls "asymmetrical" war.

By the way, I bought the $299 old-fashioned tube TV a couple of years ago, and am perfectly satisfied.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer