November 17, 2007

Who your relatives are matters

Henry Louis Gates writes in the NYT:

"I have been studying the family trees of 20 successful African-Americans, people in fields ranging from entertainment and sports (Oprah Winfrey, the track star Jackie Joyner-Kersee) to space travel and medicine (the astronaut Mae Jemison and Ben Carson, a pediatric neurosurgeon). And I’ve seen an astonishing pattern: 15 of the 20 descend from at least one line of former slaves who managed to obtain property by 1920 — a time when only 25 percent of all African-American families owned property.

"Ten years after slavery ended, Constantine Winfrey, Oprah’s great-grandfather, bartered eight bales of cleaned cotton (4,000 pounds) that he picked on his own time for 80 acres of prime bottomland in Mississippi. (He also learned to read and write while picking all that cotton.)"

Of course, he needs a control group of unsuccessful African-Americans to see if they are significantly less likely to be descended from black property owners (not to mention white property owners, who often tended to be the original source of wealth for their mulatto offspring who disproportionately made up the African-American middle class), but I would hardly be surprised that black people who make something of themselves today tend to be descended from black people who made something of themselves in the past. Similarly, economic historian Gregory Clark found that today's English tend to be descended from successful landowning farmers of the past, rather than from the propertyless poor who worked for them.

In summary, a lesson I've often pointed out is that we aren't self-made Ayn Rand heroes. Who your relatives are matters.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

"In the government yard in Trenchtown"

It's odd how certain lines from songs stick in the heads of lots of people. One of the stranger famous lines is from Bob Marley's 1975 hit "No Woman, No Cry," especially in its amblingly monumental live version:
I remember when we used to sit
In the government yard in Trenchtown

Trenchtown is a slum neighborhood in Kingston, Jamaica whose most distinctive feature was an open sewer trench. The government yard was a public housing project where Marley lived.

This doesn't sound like promising raw materials for a tourist attraction, but the second line is so ineffably memorable that, sure enough, Jamaicans are trying to make the government yard in Trenchtown into a museum. Apparently, tourists have been getting off planes for years and telling cab drivers they want to sit in the government yard in Trenchtown. The BBC reports:
"The public housing project where reggae legend Bob Marley lived is being re-envisioned as a historic site and tourist area. But high crime in the depressed neighborhood poses a challenge to dreams of a tourist-friendly shrine to Marley."

I can see how this could be a problem because the crime rate in Kingston scared the hell out of The Clash when they visited 30 years ago. As Joe Strummer recalled of their trip to Jamaica in "Safe European Home:"
I went to the place
Where every white face
Is an invitation to robbery
An’ sitting here in my safe European home
I don’t wanna go back there again

Didn't Bob have, like, a favorite beach or waterfall he liked to visit, maybe bring his guitar along and work on his songs? Tourists like beaches and waterfalls a lot more than they like housing projects. I'm just trying to be helpful here ...

The funny thing about the line's fame is that there's not a lot of catchy melody going on when Bob sings, "In the government yard in Trenchtown." I suspect the use of common English words to make up slightly puzzling phrases helped make it popular. But, clearly, the wistful, elegiac organ part behind the verses plays a huge role.

Now, where have I had heard the organ line in "No Woman, No Cry" more or less before? I certainly have negligible musical skills, but it's surely reminiscent of (without being exactly the same as) Procol Harum's famous bluesy organ part from their 1967 hit "A Whiter Shade of Pale." Procol Harum's organ line was inspired by J.S. Bach's "Air on a G String" and another Bach piece. (Here's a technical discussion of the Bach-Procol relationship, and here's the scene in Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing about how Bach, "that cheeky beggar," stole "A Whiter Shade of Pale.")

Marley's organ part is quite similar to Procol's, and adds a catchy descending resolution at the end, set to the words "No woman, no cry," that wraps it up nicely. (By the way, here's a quantitative description of why the live version of "No Woman, No Cry" is so much more popular than the trite studio version on Natty Dread -- it's slowed down from 99 beats per minute on the studio album to 78 beats per minute on the live album. This MeanSpeed site has calculated the beats-per-minute of 15,000 pop songs, and has developed some elaborate theories about how different speeds fit different emotions.)

So, I was pleased to find out that Procol Harum has noticed this too and uses this when they tour on the Baby Boom nostalgia circuit:

"When they did Whiter Shade ... Gary feinted with a couple of false starts, going once into No Woman, No Cry and once into When a Man Loves a Woman before doing the full three-verse version ('Said I'm home on shore leave...')."

Percy Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman" came out the year before and has a similar chord structure to AWSoP.

Although there was a long court fight among members of Procol Harum over whether the Bach-inspired organ part was original enough to merit a share of the songwriting credit (and thus the royalties), it would be tacky to sue the Marley estate for a share of "No Woman, No Cry" because Marley registered the song he wrote as being written by a friend named V. Ford who runs a soup kitchen -- so "No Woman, No Cry" is the charitable donation that keeps on giving.

I've always liked to see bands mashup songs by different artists that share elements in common, such as a backbeat or chord structure.

Even more fun is when musician and singer aren't in cahoots but can still follow each other. The best DJ in LA is Steve Jones, the Sex Pistols guitarist, a shambling, amiable old bloke who knows everybody in the music business. Despite all the made-up nonsense about how the (pre-Sid) Sex Pistols couldn't play their instruments (kind of like how "Seinfeld," the most intricately plotted sitcom in American TV history, is always described as a "a show about nothing"), Jones was a well-paid session guitarist for many years after the Sex Pistols broke up in 1978. So, Jonesy, who has been on the wagon for twelve years, does his two hour show each day on 103.1 FM with his acoustic guitar in his lap. It's fascinating listening to somebody who talks like an old duffer, yet whose music intelligence remains so sharp.

Last spring, his guest was Mika, a Beirut-born English pop singer with operatic training. So, Jonesy started by playing on his guitar Mika's latest hit for his guest to sing, then segueing into songs by Mika's influences, such as Freddie Mercury (an English Parsi gay) and George Michael (an English Greek/Jewish gay), then into songs that influenced Mika's influences, such as going from George Michael and Wham's "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" to Martha and the Vandella's Motown "Heat Wave." Mika valiantly followed Jonesy' lead, scat-singing when he couldn't remember the lyrics, turning ten minutes of live music into a seminar on a half century of one thread of pop history.

The Jonesy's Jukebox show is such a success that it seems very strange that I can't recall ever hearing before a rock DJ who plays guitar live on the air.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

My high school football article is finally out

Here's the beginning of my essay on high school football. The whole thing appears in the 12/03/2007 issue of The American Conservative:

Each year roughly 1,200,000 boys play and 100,000 men coach high school football. It's one of those social phenomena that are so big that nobody thinks much about it. Yet, prep football -- by uneasily combining the norms of the middle of the last century, which seemed in the 1940s to be the Century of the Common Man, and of our own Century of the Superstar, in which many watch but only a chosen few perform -- offers a window into America's past and future.

The new age of elitist high school football was epitomized by the nationally televised game played September 15 between USA Today's #2-ranked squad, the well-drilled Dragons from exurban Southlake Carroll, winner of three straight Texas championships, and the star-packed #1-ranked Bulls of inner city Miami Northwestern, the 2006 Florida titleholders.

And yet, this type of made-for-television exhibition remains more the state-of-the-art exception to the conservative rule that, at least compared to basketball, high school football hasn't changed culturally all that much since Paul Brown was coaching the Massillon, Ohio Tigers to glory in the 1930s. For instance, close to 20,000 fans showed up November 2 for the 73rd meeting of Garfield and Roosevelt, two all-Latino high schools in East Los Angeles that seldom send players to college programs. This "East L.A. Classic" remains one of the countless local football rivalries that thrive despite the homogenizing dominance of the national media.

High school football continues to be a repository of many of the authority-respecting and communal virtues of the WWII-winning Greatest Generation. On the high school football field, America's old struggle between nurture and nature -- between the faith that winners can be molded out of the common folk versus the ever-spreading sneaking suspicion that success is mostly in the genes and in private tutoring -- can still battle it out on relatively equal terms.

Foreigners have long been astounded by the extravagant number of players on American football teams and by the expensive armor in which they are encased. And yet, because only the most carefully rehearsed teamwork can prevent chaos on the gridiron, their numbers and anonymity have helped retard the growth of superstaritis in football.

In contrast, basketball, with its fewer and more recognizable players, can be dominated by one or two stars freelancing. Successful coaches increasingly emphasize recruiting genetic anomalies over training normal kids. For instance, USC basketball coach Tim Floyd recently promised full scholarships to two eighth graders!

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

"No Country for Old Men"

Here's an excerpt from my review of the new action movie, which appears in the 12/3/07 American Conservative:

Developing video games is consuming more and more of today's creative talent, with little benefit to show for it in the broader culture. Traditional art forms such as poetry, music, and painting tended to inspire each other forward in a virtuous cycle, but video gaming, a mostly solitary vice, has been a cultural black hole. Game-inspired films, for instance, have largely failed, because watching a movie star frenetically shoot bad guys is missing the point of playing, which is to shoot them yourself.

Finally, Joel and Ethan Coen ("Fargo" and "The Big Lebowski"), the most gifted of the many brother-act frauteurs making films today, have figured out how to bring the pleasures of a problem-solving first person shooter game to the movie theatre. Strangely enough, they've done it in their first literary adaptation, a faithful rendition of "No Country for Old Men," the 2005 novel by Cormac McCarthy, an acclaimed master of American prose.

Despite the 74-year-old McCarthy's august reputation, his book is a surprisingly high-energy art-pulp Western. It's essentially a chase featuring two highly competent antagonists: a West Texas good old boy (who, while antelope hunting, finds $2 million among the bullet-riddled bodies of Mexican drug-runners) tracked by a relentless killer hired to retrieve the money. ...

The Coen Brothers have discovered that the paradoxical key to making a video game movie is to slow down the action, allowing the viewer to think along with the hero and villain. Not since the sniper scene that makes up the second half of Stanley Kubrick's Vietnam film "Full Metal Jacket" has a movie played fairer with the audience in detailing the physical puzzles confronting the characters. How, for example, could you best hide two cubic feet of $100 bills in your motel room? And how could your enemy find such well-concealed money?

I know I've seen a well-crafted film when I walk out of the theatre yet still feel like I'm living in the movie. Leaving the amnesia thriller "Memento," for example, I was convinced I'd never remember where I'd parked my car. With "No Country," this post-movie spell lasted longer than I can ever recall. Even the next night, every car that passed me on a quiet street seemed an eerie, sinister harbinger of sudden violence.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

November 16, 2007

New paper on the speeding up of human evolution coming

There will be a milestone scientific paper out soon on PNAS summarizing evidence that human evolution has been -- in contrast to the conventional wisdom -- speeding up over the last 50,000 years. It also offers a simple "Why-didn't-I-think-of-that?" theoretical reason why that would be likely. It's co-authored by a Murderers' Row of big names: Greg Cochran, Henry Harpending, John Hawks, Robert Moyzis, and Eric Wang.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Craptocracy: C. Van Carter covers the election

I often feel amiss because, unlike all the other bloggers, I'm having trouble getting interested in any of the countless Presidential candidates, other than Obama (who at least has a felicitous prose style). Fortunately, C. Van Carter, author of the unique Across Difficult Country blog, is meeting all your electioneering news needs with his blog Craptocracy. A sample:

Amusingly named journalist Foon Rhee reports Mitt Romney has received the endorsement of fellow cultists The Osmond family. What took them so long?

At a campaign stop at Google headquarters in Silicon Valley Sen. Barack Hussein Obama compared his “metoric rise” to that of Google’s. What could Barry possibly mean by that? Does he really think Google got to where it is today by being black? Maybe he does.

Signs of John McCain’s mental decline were evident at a campaign event in South Carolina after an American patriot asked John McCain “How do we beat the bitch?". Instead of correctly answering 'with a stick,' the doddering Senator incoherently replied:

"That's an excellent question," he added. "I respect Senator Clinton. I respect anyone who gets the nomination of the Democratic Party."

Later McCain further reminded voters he’s a tired old man by recycling a tired old joke from the 1990’s about CNN standing for the “Clinton news network”.

In Charleston, South Carolina Fred Thompson awoke from a nap mumbling something about wanting “a "million-member" ground force that includes 775,000 in the Army and 225,000 Marines,” but fell back asleep before explaining why. In unrelated news, Canada's oil reserves are now second only to Saudi Arabia.

Hillary Clinton arrived in Las Vegas for a Democratic debate. Despite the proximity of the Vegas Strip, the boring former first lady said she was too busy to do any gambling, drinking, or dancing, and would instead spend most of her time in her hotel room prepping for the debate and having lesbian sex.

Rudi Guliani is also in Las Vegas. At a brief appearance he criticized the Democratic candidates for having “impractical ideas” then headed out for dinner with some friends.

Exactly as experts warned, Senator Hillary Clinton is using her outward resemblance to a woman to deflect legitmate criticism (or "playing the gender card", as all the original thinkers in the mainstream media describe it).

DC is buzzing like a great big buzzy bee with high murder rate and a Washington monument about a major sex-scandal involving one of the Presidential candidates. There is some speculation the scandal involves a lesbian affair between Hillary Clinton and her aide, the suspected Saudi Arabian intelligence asset Huma Abedin. (Some theories are even stranger.)

People love little Denny Kucinich and his wife, at least until they find out he's running for president.

More from Craptocracy here.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

This is just pathetic

The LA Times reports on the latest Bush Administration's waste of time: building a "nice" fence on the Border that won't actually do the job:

A fence without offense
Strong but not lethal, effective but not ugly: The U.S. is looking for a barrier along the border with Mexico that will say 'keep out' -- nicely.
By Richard Marosi

... "They want to make it seem like you could shake hands through the fence," said Peter Andreas, a political science professor at Brown University who studies border security issues.

If you can shake hands through it, you can pass drugs through it.
Whether the new fencing meets aesthetic standards remains an open question. Except for a five-mile stretch of steel-plate barriers outside San Luis, most of the new fencing is made of mesh or steel tubing.

The new structures are taller and more imposing than the landing-mat fencing. But then much of the new fencing has gone up in rural areas.

"There are very few people that can see the new fence, which may be why we're not getting reports of people not liking it," said Jeremy Schappell, a Border Patrol agent who works in the San Luis area.

One of the Fence Lab barriers that agents seem to like best so far is a double-mesh barrier made of thick welded wires in a tight honeycomb-like design. The tiny holes between the wires make climbing difficult. Axes and crow bars are useless because the layers give under pressure. Blow torches get through, but it takes more than 15 noisy minutes to cut both layers.

Still, this summer a similarly constructed double-mesh fence went up along seven miles of border in Naco, Ariz., and within days Mexican smugglers had found a way to defeat it. By inserting screwdrivers into the holes to use as handholds, they are able to scale the fence as if it's a pegboard.

"They get over in about 15 seconds," said John Ladd, 52, whose 14,000-acre ranch abutting the border is trampled daily by migrants.

Look, keeping criminals out really isn't that complicated. There's this 19th Century invention that was put up in 1914 in Europe and kept the German, French, and British armies out of each other's lines until 1918. You might have heard of it: it's called barb wire. You intertwine coils of razor wire with stronger steel elements and concrete structures, backed up with quick response, and ... it works. The Israeli fence has been keeping out suicide bombers for years, and they are a lot more motivated than coyotes.

Jeez, if the Bushies would come visit the Mexican neighborhoods in the San Fernando Valley, they'd see that the Mexican homeowners are themselves putting up deadly fences topped with lethal finials designed to impale any other Mexican who tries to climb into their yard. C'mon, folks, Mexicans understand that the purpose of a fence is to keep people out, and they don't need it sugarcoated. If you've ever been to Latin America, you'll bring back memories of all the walls around yards with broken bottles embedded in the cement along the top. Latinos aren't into friendly-looking security partitions. They're into fences that say: This will inflict life-threatening pain upon anybody stupid enough to try to climb over into our property.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

The Ron Paul neo-nazi smear job

Various neocons and liberals, such as James Kirchik, who is some kind of New Republic blogger, have been denouncing GOP Presidential candidate Ron Paul for cashing a $500 campaign contribution check from some guy named Don Black who is, it turns out, a big wheel in the small circle of neo-Nazis. The New Republic and the like have been up in arms about it, demanding that Rep. Paul return the money.

Returning contributions from Bad People is common. For example, Anti-Arab prejudice was so strong that in 1984 Democratic Presidential nominee Walter Mondale returned campaign contributions from Arab-Americans to avoid alienating Jewish-Americans.

Of course, returning contributions like Mondale did tacitly admits you are a whore. To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, once you start returning donations, you've already established that you're a political prostitute, and we're just trying to decide who you will whore for.

Dr. Paul is, relative to the other candidates, nobody's whore. He's been in and out of Congress for over 30 years, and everybody knows he's going to do what he thinks is right, which might not be what you or the rest of the world think is right, but it will be what he thinks. What, is the New Republic worried that if a Nazi gives him $500, President Paul will invade Poland? What's his aksing price for invading Russia: $1000? (Of course, the ways things are going now, it likely won't be long before the New Republic is demanding the U.S. Army invade Russia.)

In contrast, nobody is talking about the sainted Sen. Barack Obama's connection to a man linked to Louis Farrakhan and Col. Gaddafi: the the radical Afrocentrist minister Rev. Jeremiah T. Wright, Obama's spiritual adviser for the last two decades.

Obama knows he has a big problem with the Rev. -- that's why Obama "disinvited" him at the last moment from giving the invocation at Obama's campaign kickoff last winter. And the Rev. knows he's a big problem for Obama. (For one thing, he's a loose cannon who loves to be in the spotlight.) According to the NYT:

"When [Obama's] enemies find out that in 1984 I went to Tripoli [in Libya]" to visit Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, Mr. Wright recalled, "with [Black Muslim leader Louis] Farrakhan, a lot of his Jewish support will dry up quicker than a snowball in hell." [March 6, 2007 Disinvitation by Obama Is Criticized By Jodi Kantor]

Wright didn't give Obama $500, he gave Obama's life meaning.

If Obama gets on the Democratic ticket, the GOP operatives will make the Rev. Wright famous, and fast. If Obama wants to be taken seriously as Presidential or Vice-Presidential timber, he needs to do a public Sister Souljah on his spiritual adviser, and soon.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

The Myth of the Rational Voter

In my review of the Chilton Williamson-edited book Immigration and the American Future from Chronicles Press, I started off with a detour:

Economist Bryan Caplan has been getting a lot of good press for his recent book The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies, which argues that voters should have less power because they make bad decisions compared to experts, such as (to pick a random example) economists.

Thus, Caplan wrote in the online journal of the libertarian Cato Institute:

"Consider the case of immigration policy. Economists are vastly more optimistic about its economic effects than the general public. The Survey of Americans and Economists on the Economy asks respondents to say whether ‘too many immigrants’ is a major, minor, or non-reason why the economy is not doing better than it is. 47% of non-economists think it is a major reason; 80% of economists think it is not a reason at all." [The Myth of the Rational Voter, November 6th, 2006]

This is a particularly foolish argument—because, of course, immigration is the single political issue on which the American elite most gets its way over the American people.

And Caplan's belief that “experts” should be deferred to on the wisdom of open borders is even more self-contradictory because the vast majority of economists surveyed are not at all experts on immigration. The true expert economists on immigration, such as labor economist George Borjas of Harvard (described by the New York Times last year as "the pre-eminent scholar in his field") tend to be very dubious indeed about the economic benefits of our current policy—much less about the benefits of more unskilled immigration.

Caplan himself has displayed over the years on his blog little awareness of objective facts about immigration. He does, however, possess a formidable dogmatic faith in the theories of the late Julian Simon about how immigration ought to be benefiting us.

I was reminded of this remarkable imbalance in empirical knowledge between the two sides in the immigration debates while reading Immigration and the American Future, edited by long-time contributor Chilton Williamson, Jr., a fact-crammed collection of 14 essays from Chronicles Press, which is affiliated with Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture of Rockford, Illinois. [ note: Chronicles fans will prefer to buy through the magazine].

In this book Professor Borjas is himself represented by a long interview with VDARE.COM editor Peter Brimelow. The two veteran students of economics share a laugh over how the opinion divide on immigration policy between the rich and the rest can be explained by an old economic concept that Dr. Caplan has overlooked: class self-interest.

Borjas: "Who exactly is lobbying for guest workers? Is it you and me? No, it's employers, right? Why would employers tend to go to Washington and expend their resources lobbying for something that doesn't benefit them?

Brimelow: "It can all be explained in rather crass Marxist terms, can't it? The class analysis works.

Borjas: "Of course! Of course! The Marxist analysis works."

In other words, pro-immigration arguments are so shameless and stupid that they are rehabilitating the reputation of Karl Marx.

[Click here for the rest of my review of Immigration and the American Future]

November 15, 2007

A "Courageous Conversation" about "White Privilege" at Smiling Jack O'Connell's Racial Achievement Gap Summit Conference

This article from From News10 in Sacramento is so much fun I have to mine two blog posts out of it.
Educators Confront Achievement Gap; Is "White Privilege" to Blame?
Written by Karen Massie, Reporter
Written by Dana Howard, Anchor/Reporter

One of the stars of this conference called by the politically ambitious California state superintendent of schools, Democrat Jack O'Connell, is O'Connell's chief consultant on racial sensitivity training, Glenn Singleton. The SF Chronicle wrote:

Also on center stage will be Glenn Singleton, the coach O'Connell hired for the Education Department's racial sensitivity classes. Singleton runs a San Francisco consulting firm called Pacific Educational Group and is the author of "Courageous Conversations about Race: a Strategy for Achieving Equity in Schools."

So, let's listen in on one of those "courageous conversations" brought to you by News10 in Sacramento:

For many people, especially white Americans, there were two words brought up at this week's summit as the principal cause for the achievement gap -- words that will sting. They are "white privilege."

The mention of such a term often brings a plethora of sighs and groans, while at the same time inciting others to say, 'It's time somebody called it like it is.

News10 brought together a group of presenters at the summit. Bill Huyett is the superintendent of Lodi Unified School District, where he has told his faculty and staff they must deal with the issue of 'white privilege' if they are to close the achievement gap.

Also at the table was a Lodi Unified Schools board member Ken Davis. Nicolina Hernandez is a college student who joined us along with Glenn Eric Singleton, a professor and education analyst who specializes in systems of inequity within school districts. What follows are quotes from that conversation on whether "white privilege" is at the core of our schools achievement gap.

HUYETT: It becomes clear that we've got to talk about white privilege. We've got to talk about race in our schools. We've got to address this issue.

SINGLETON: I often refer to it as the Disneyland reference. When you walk around the Magic Kingdom, you don't see a lot of people of color. And so all of those references, "It's a Small World after all," are not what we come to school with. We come to school with other references and so which references are chosen determines who gains access to the curriculum, and who gains access to the curriculum determines who achieves at a high level.

DAVIS: I went to Little Rock Central High School and when I went to class, there was a teacher who stood in the door way and said, "The law says that you have to be here, but I don't have to teach you." I'm not seeing teachers standing in the doorway saying that, but what I am seeing is what I identify as that attitude, that "I have you in my class, but I don't have to teach you" attitude.

SINGLETON: We see it within groups of color. Lighter-complected black people experience greater privilege. We don't need to talk across color lines to understand the notion of privilege.

NICOLINA: Within the structure of the school itself, you have more white teachers, more counselors that are white and don't speak Spanish and I think we struggle a lot with that as well.

HUYETT: If you look at our Latino kids, our African American kids, and in our district, our Asian kids, and the difference between their achievement and white kids, it's a significant gap. And then you look at the data, is it poverty? When you take the poverty out, it's still a huge gap.

SINGLETON: It's absolutely true that some of us can overcome some of the challenges, but it does not in any way dismiss the notion that there is an advantage in society.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Closing the racial achievement gap one 1980s movie at a time

Remember this week's 4,000-educator conference convened by California state superintendent of schools (and potential 2010 gubernatorial candidate) Jack O'Connell to close the racial achievement gap?

As a number of commenters pointed out earlier this week in "Beyond Parody," O'Connell's conference featured actor James Edward Olmos, whose qualification was that he had played famed teacher Jaime Escalante in the 1988 movie "Stand and Deliver." Unfortunately, the conference wasn't able to get Denzel Washington (currently appearing in "American Gangster"), who had starred in the 1987 TV movie "The George McKenna Story" about a tough principal who fixes up Washington High in LA (which is where the late Tookie Williams had founded the Crips gang in 1971). So, the attendees were stuck with the real George McKenna himself, who is not quite as handsome as Denzel. In fact, the real George McKenna looks less like Denzel Washington than he looks like Will Ferrell playing anchorman Ron Burgundy. (In case you are wondering, it's some sort of New Orleans thing.)

News10 in Sacramento is all over the story:

Educators Confront Achievement Gap; Is "White Privilege" to Blame?
Written by Karen Massie, Reporter
Written by Dana Howard, Anchor/Reporter

There weren't enough chairs to seat everyone when George McKenna, assistant superintendent in the Pasadena School District, facilitated a workshop on Education as a Civil Right for Historically Underachieving Students.

McKenna sprang onto the national scene when he took over Washington Preparatory High School in Los Angeles, turning the gang-infested school into an institution where 80 percent of its graduates went to college.

McKenna said asking students what they think about school is important. "They know who the strongest teachers are." McKenna said. "Students know who is giving them the benefit of the doubt and who's challenging them. We can't enable students to be mediocre and dumb it down and act like that's the best they can do."

He added, "We use data to help improve test scores. We need to use the data to keep the teachers who really want to help the students. The data will also tell us which teachers don't need to be in the classroom."

Whatever it was that McKenna did at Washington Preparatory High School in the 1980s, it doesn't seem to have made much difference these days. Speaking of data, I found this helpful database of the SAT scores for every public school in the 10,000,000 resident Los Angeles County.

In 2004-2005, of Washington's 404 remaining non-dropout seniors, 212 took the SAT and they averaged 369 Verbal and 362 Math, which is, like, not good. Only 8 of the 404 seniors scored 1000 or higher on the SAT (M+V), which is roughly the dividing line between kids likely to actually graduate from college versus kids likely to end up wasting a few years before dropping out of college..

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

George Koval and Joe McCarthy

Just this weekend, we poor dumb Americans finally learned for the first time about one of the most important Soviet atomic bomb spies: George Koval, a GRU-trained agent who penetrated the Oak Ridge and Dayton atomic bomb manufacturing plants, then fled back to the Soviet Union in, apparently, 1948.

The U.S. government interviewed people who knew him, but then swore them to secrecy. In other words, there was a U.S. government cover-up of this horrific breach of security that lasted for over half a century until this month, according to the NYT:

"On Nov. 2, the Kremlin startled Western scholars by announcing that President Vladimir V. Putin had posthumously given the highest Russian award to a Soviet agent who penetrated the Manhattan Project to build the atom bomb."

And, it seems highly likely that Koval's handler or handlers within our government are still being covered up for. So, is it time to rewrite the history of the McCarthy Era as well?

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Null set Google search: "Watson's defender"

A month after the James Watson witch hunt, doing a Google search on the entire WWW for "Watson's defender" brings up zero hits, while "Watson's defenders" brings up one page. "In defense of James Watson" finds one page, as does "In defense of James D. Watson."

On the other hand "'James Watson' racist" brings up 173,000 hits.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

November 14, 2007

Paging Dr. Putnam! Paging Dr. Putnam!

A year ago, prominent Harvard political scientist Robert D. "Bowling Alone" Putnam let slip that according to a massive survey of American communities he had completed 5 years before:

In the presence of [ethnic] diversity, we hunker down. We act like turtles. The effect of diversity is worse than had been imagined. And it’s not just that we don’t trust people who are not like us. In diverse communities, we don’t trust people who do look like us.

He told Financial Times columnist John Lloyd: "“Prof Putnam found trust was lowest in Los Angeles, ‘the most diverse human habitation in human history.’”

Apparently wishing to validate Dr. Putnam's finding, a parents' school advisory board in LA has been putting on a clinic in diverse distrust:

Discord roils L.A. Unified parent panel: Acrimony with racial overtones has plagued the advisory council. The key issue: whether meetings in Spanish should be allowed.

By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
November 10, 2007
For months, parents on a Los Angeles Unified School District advisory council have disagreed over whether their meetings should be conducted in Spanish or English. Such arguments became so abusive that district officials canceled meetings for two months and brought in dispute-resolution specialists and mental-health counselors.

But Friday morning's gathering of the District Advisory Council proved dysfunctional in any language.

By one vote, parents censured their own chairman for alleged bad behavior, leading to a walkout of most Spanish-speakers. The rebuked chairman, Roberto Fonseca, followed them out of the room. Most voting for the censure were African American, adding racial overtones to the back-and-forth hectoring.

Friday's dispute, at the district's downtown Parent Community Services Branch, was the latest in a year of acrimony at the council, which was elected by parents at schools throughout the district. They offer advice on -- and oversight of -- the expenditure of $385 million on federally funded programs for students from poor families.

The goings-on raise another round of questions about parent participation in the nation's second-largest school system, which has been repeatedly criticized by auditors for inconsistent and ineffective parent involvement and outreach. Critics say the district rarely seeks true parental input and instead uses parents to rubber-stamp budgets and programs. District officials insist they are determined to change this perception and are making progress.

Friday's chaos had been building since February, when Fonseca, who is bilingual, started to give his chairman's report in Spanish. Some in the audience objected; arguments and recriminations ensued, and school police rushed over amid concerns that a fistfight would break out, witnesses said.

Police have been present ever since, and on Friday, they escorted several parents outside for what one administrator termed a "timeout."

After the February dispute over language, the district canceled March and April meetings, using the time to develop a Code of Civility, which reads almost like the rules in some classrooms: "Treat one another with respect, without ridicule or criticism. . . . Listen attentively while others are speaking. . . . Under no circumstances, threaten or engage in any verbal or physical attack on another individual."

There was some resistance to this code, because parents had not approved it themselves, district staff said.

When meetings resumed, parents set up a bylaws subcommittee to take on language and other matters. The current bylaws stipulate that parent meetings across the district must be held in English. A school-district lawyer, however, concluded that this rule is illegal and impractical. Many parents serving on local school councils don't speak English. Some meetings consist entirely of Spanish-speakers in a district where more than 266,000 students (and probably many more parents) are English-learners out of a student population of about 694,000.

The bylaws committee never completed its full review but had tentatively decided to leave the English rule in place. District staff, in turn, notified schools and offices that the English rule would not be enforced.

When participants on the advisory council aren't at odds, meetings can be a model of bilingualism. When someone speaks in Spanish, English speakers put translation headsets to their ears and vice versa. And many Latino participants do speak English. The council united to oppose a recent cut in district translation services, a position that Fonseca politely announced to the Board of Education.

Latinos appear to hold the majority of council seats, although African Americans are well represented. A handful of seats are occupied by people of other ethnicities. The council has 63 members, but it will have more than 100 after local elections are complete.

Some observers have described the battle over language as a stand-in for a larger dispute. Federal Title 1 funding started during the civil rights era largely as a mechanism to help impoverished blacks who occupied vast swaths of South Los Angeles. The federal money has yet to eliminate low-academic achievement among African Americans.

But Latinos now have larger numbers in many formerly black-majority schools. And Latino parents are not content to oversee only those funds set aside for English-learners -- these are generally much smaller pots of money than the federal poverty-relief dollars.

Still, the mini-wars at the advisory committee may have more to do with difficult personalities and in-room ethnic tensions than citywide racial politics or competition over resources, others said.

Fonseca, in particular, has been a polarizing figure, although on Friday he kept his cool initially, when a black woman walked up to the podium and shouted in his face: "You are totally out of order!"

Later, though, on one motion, an impatient Fonseca tried to shut down public comment. "I will not allow members of the public to speak," he said.

Chris Downing, an administrator with the parent branch, intervened, as he frequently has: "The chairperson does not have the right to violate the law." Downing then turned to the unruly audience: "Raise your hand if you want to have a nice calm meeting. . . . Take a deep breath."

Later, Fonseca ruled that a two-thirds vote would be needed to censure him. The district's lawyer, John Walsh, disagreed, but Fonseca spoke out again and again: "Two-thirds! Two-thirds! Two-thirds!"

The resolution stated in part that Fonseca "recognized only those who upheld his views and denied the opposition the right to speak."

Those who walked out included Guadalupe Aguiar, one of the parents who felt that Fonseca was treated unfairly, especially because Friday was the last meeting before new elections. She added that she considers it racist when parents are told that, in America, they have to speak English.

In some respects, though, Aguiar spoke for a clear majority of parents.

"I am here to bring information to my school," she said in Spanish. "So far, I have not brought anything. It was the same thing last year and the year before. . . . Your children are failing just as mine are."

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

New data! Judging fairly how well states are doing at educating their children

One of the reasons that so much bilge is spewed about public school performance is that almost all objective data on educational achievement is overwhelmingly dominated by crude racial demographics: the more Non-Asian Minorities (NAMs), the lousier the test scores.

The facts are obvious, boring, and depressing, so people make up silliness to have something to say. For example, here are two smart guys trying to wink out in Morse code the real reason for differences in state test scores without getting Watsoned. As George Will coyly hinted in his obituary for Daniel Patrick Moynihan:

"The Senate's Sisyphus, Moynihan was forever pushing uphill a boulder of inconvenient data. A social scientist trained to distinguish correlation from causation, and a wit, Moynihan puckishly said that a crucial determinant of the quality of American schools is proximity to the Canadian border. The barb in his jest was this: High cognitive outputs correlate not with high per-pupil expenditures but with a high percentage of two-parent families. For that, there was the rough geographical correlation that caused Moynihan to suggest that states trying to improve their students' test scores should move closer to Canada."

S-u-r-e, Dan and George! It must be proximity to Canada!! Everybody knows that playing hockey makes people monogamous and smart!!!

One big problem with this is that we therefore don't have any fair ways to judge the performance of school administrations relative to what they have to work with. Take a look at SAT scores for public schools in Los Angeles County, the nation's largest county. People hear that at San Marino H.S. near Pasadena, 89% of these public school students get over 1000 on the SAT, while at Compton H.S. south of Los Angeles, only 1% crack the 1000 barrier, so they start assuming that San Marino's administration is doing a great job and Compton's a terrible job. Then they come up with brilliant plans like Compton should imitate San Marino and offer fewer remedial courses and more AP courses.

Is this correct? Maybe, but maybe not. After all, San Marino is 70% Asian, and not just any Asians -- it's where Hong Kong zillionaires stash their families in case the Communist hammer comes down too hard on Hong Kong. Compton, in contrast, is all NAMs.

However, if you are willing to work hard enough with the data, you actually can start to remove the overwhelming influence of race and start to get at measuring the schools' value added.

Audacious Epigone takes the best crack I've seen yet at measuring how good a job public schools are doing in each state, by ranking the states on the change in the federal government's National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores for 4th graders in 2003 versus 8th graders in 2007. (The idea is to look at roughly the same children over four years of schooling. Of course, they aren't exactly the same, and in states undergoing rapid demographic change, such as North Carolina, this could affect the numbers.)

His list is interesting and he may be getting pretty close to measuring the actual performance of the public schools:

The five states that did best at improving test scores from 4th to 8th grade from 2003-2007 are Washington D.C. (even though the public school system there is ferociously criticized), Massachusetts (traditionally, a top performer), North Dakota, Montana, and Maryland.

The bottom five are (from bottom up) West Virginia, North Carolina, Connecticut, Michigan, and New Hampshire.

It's fun to see, for once, a ranking of school performance that's not obviously dominated by demographics. Off the top of my head, I can't see what the states at the top have in a common with each other, nor what the states at the bottom share. So, we may actually be finally getting at institutional effectiveness.

Still, demographic change could be biasing this list. So, I'd like to see this same list, but for each race. I suspect that North Carolina's poor performance is driven by heavy Hispanic immigration in this decade, but looking at just white performance could show I'm wrong.

Washington D.C.'s strong performance might be driven by the on-going driving out of African-Americans by immigrants and by white gentrifiers.

It's interesting to look at the two superstates with contrasting reputations for educational effectiveness: Texas, with its positive stereotype, does a little better than average, but still only ranks in 23rd place. California, with its negative stereotype (especially the LAUSD) does a little worse than average, but still only ranks in 36th place. So, the stereotypes are supported, but not dramatically so.

Here's the rest of Audacious Epigone's list.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


I know this will sound callous, but what's the deal with Darfur? Why are so many people in America all worked up over Darfur, when only the War Nerd has paid attention to all the other terrible African wars that have happened recently or are still happening: Congo, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Liberia, etc.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Who's who in science

A reader asked how well represented Italian-Americans are in science.

I finally realized I could simply look up the answer in Nathaniel Weyl's endlessly fascinating 1989 book Geography of American Achievement, which compares ethnic surname from various reference books listing different kinds of big shots compared to the total number of those surnames on the Social Security rolls in 1984. We can't identify every surname by ethnicity but we can know that just about everybody named, say, "Caruso" is descended from Italians in at least the direct male line, while somebody named "Weber" has a German name.

In the 1985 book listing 127,000 American Men and Women of Science, people with ten specific Italian surnames were represented only 54% as often as their fraction of the total American population. However, in a more elite book listing 16,700 prominent scientists, Frontier Science and Technology, Italians were 98% of the average.

So, that may suggest that Italian-American culture isn't as science-oriented as the American average, but that those Italians who do go into science do just as well as the national average.

In case you were wondering about other ethnic groups based on characteristic surnames, here are some (but not all) of the groups as of the mid-1980s, with the national average as 100. The broader database of professional scientists listed first and the more elite listing of top scientists second:

Broad Elite
Sikhs 736 757
Chinese 620 784
Jews 424 592
Other Indians 381 573
Japanese 351 391
Swedes 141 176
Germans 140 138
Hungarians 117 145
English 111 93
Norwegians 98 68
Scots 96 97
Slavs 82 41
Irish 77 68
French 60 77
Spanish/Hispanic 6 NA

In case you were wondering, Weyl notes:

"The higher achievement index of Swedes and Danes than of Norwegians is not a statistical aberration, but a reality. This is indicated by the magnitude of the difference and by the fact that Swedes lead Norwegians by significant numbers in the great majority of those rosters of achievement in which the comparison could be made."

Alert Garrison Keillor!

Names from the British Isles were statistically adjusted to exclude the impact of African-Americans (Weyl used the name "Washington," which is now found among blacks about 85%-90% of the time to estimate the African-American coefficients of achievement.) Names from the British Isles are likely to also include various non-British people of European descent, such as, to list a couple of non-scientists, John Kerry and Woody Allen.

As you might expect, the Sikhs in Weyl's study were all named "Singh" and the Koreans all named "Kim." The Sikh/Singh sample size is pretty small (only 22,000 Singhs in the Social Security database, so there are about 75 Singhs in the broader reference work of scientists), but most of the other sample sizes are more reliable, such as 295,000 Italians, 804,000 Jews and 1,937,000 Scots.

(The size of Weyl's SS samples depend in part on how diverse names are within an ethnic group because Weyl only used a limited number of names for each group that he could be sure belonged to members of that group. For example, there are fewer Jewish-Americans than Italian-Americans in America, but there are fewer Jewish than Italian names (for example, there are almost three times as many people in the U.S. with the last name of Cohen in the U.S. as there are with any single Italian surname).

Of course, Weyl's choice of surnames to focus upon could bias the national indices to some extent. One of Weyl's most amazing findings is that people with old English clerical names (Clark, Clarke, and Palmer) that indicate their direct male line ancestors were literate around the time surnames were adopted (about 1300) are 50% more likely to show up on lists of high achievement than people with other English names.

He also found that people with the kind of surnames common among 19th Century Chinese immigrants (e.g., Chan and Chang) tended to perform at a lower level than those with the surnames common among 20th Century Chinese immigrants (e.g., Chen and Cheng). Earlier Chinese immigrants were more often recruited to be laborers, while more recent immigrants were often students.

Immigrants are not necessarily representative of the countries from which they came. For instance, the mediocre achievement indices of Franco-Americans stems from the snootier sort of Frenchman's horror at the idea of emigrating to unrefined America (Jacques Barzun is close to being the exception that proves the rule), so Franco-Americans tend to be descended from French Canadian fur-trappers, lumberjacks, and the like.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

November 13, 2007

What Jacques Barzun has learned over the last 100 years

Cultural historian Jacques Barzun will turn 100 on November 30, 2007 at his home in San Antonio, Texas. His parents ran a salon in pre-War (that's pre-Great War) Paris where, according to Arthur Krystal's New Yorker essay
many of Europe’s leading avant-garde artists and writers gathered: Varèse played the piano, Ozenfant and Delaunay debated, Cocteau told lies, and Apollinaire declaimed. Brancusi often stopped by, as did Léger, Kandinsky, Jules Romains, Duchamp, and Pound.

Artistically, Barzun feels, it's been pretty much all downhill since the Archduke was assassinated, back when precocious little Jacques was six, and who am I to say he is wrong?

In his 2000 bestseller From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present, published when he was 92, Barzun suddenly stopped on p. 654-656 to briefly discuss what he's learned from a lifetime of learning:
"... history cannot be a science; it is the very opposite, in that its interest resides in the particulars."
Still, he goes on to list a dozen "generalities" to show "how scanning the last five centuries in the West impresses on the mind certain types of order." Here are five of them (I'll leave it to you to fill in examples):

- An age (a shorter span within an era) is unified by one or to pressing needs, not by the proposed remedies, which are many and thus divide.

- A movement in thought or art produces its best work during the uphill fight to oust the enemy; that is, the previous thought or art. Victory brings on imitation and ultimately Boredom.

- "An Age of --" (fill in: Reason, Faith, Science, Absolutism, Democracy, Anxiety, Communication) is always a misnomer because insufficient, except perhaps "An Age of Troubles," which fits every age in varying degrees.

- The historian does not isolate causes, which defy sorting out even in the natural world; he describes conditions that he judges relevant, adding occasionally an estimate of their relevant strength.

- The potent writings that helped to reshape minds and institutions in the West have done so through a formula or two, not always consistent with the text. Partisans and scholars start to read the book with care after it has done its work.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

How the writers' strike of 1919 led to Hollywood's liberal monoculture

Intellectual property rights are a snooze-inducing topic for everybody except, apparently, rabid libertarians who hate to pay for their entertainment, but they can have far-reaching consequences. Here's an excerpt from my 2005 American Conservative article on "Hollywood's Skin-Deep Leftism:"

Keep in mind that Hollywood's relationship with the outside world is tenuous. It's a self-absorbed community and its politics are skin-deep, serving functions within the industry that aren't always obvious to outsiders. Today's liberal monoculture is in large part an outgrowth of the compromise resolution to the ancient struggle between studio executives and screenwriters that culminated in the endlessly discussed but little understood blacklist of Marxists in the 1950s.

One of the blacklist's main roots has disappeared down the memory hole because it doesn't the burnish the heroic image created to flatter the Communist victims.

A 1919 theatre strike won the playwrights of the Dramatists Guild the right to retain copyright in their works. To this day, dramatists own their plays and merely license them to producers. Further, they have the right to approve or reject the cast, director, and any proposed changes in the dialogue. Contractually, a playwright is a rugged individualist, an Ayn Rand hero.

With the introduction of the talkies in 1927, Hollywood began importing trainloads of New York dramatists. Salaries were generous and the climate superb, but the dramatists found the collaborative nature of moviemaking frustrating, even demeaning. Screenwriters were employees in a vast factory, which owned their creations. The studios could, and generally would, have other hired hacks radically rewrite each script, all under the intrusive supervision of some mogul's half-literate brother-in-law.

In the 1930s, Hollywood's Communist Party, under the command of its charismatic commissar, screenwriter John Howard Lawson, improbably but enthusiastically championed the intellectual property rights of script-writers. The ink-stained wretches found the Marxist concept of "alienation" described their plight. They felt just like the once psychologically fulfilled hand-craftsmen forced into becoming dispossessed factory drones who cannot recognize their creativity in their employer's output.

Insanely ironic as it seems now, many screenwriters became Communists because they despised the movie business' need for cooperation. How turning command of the entire economy over to a dictatorship would restore the unfettered joys of individual craftsmanship was a little fuzzy, but, hey, if you couldn't trust Stalin, whom could you trust?

The possibility of studios blacklisting writers first surfaced in the 1930s when the moguls' cartel turned aside the leftist screenwriters' push to align themselves with the Dramatists Guild by threatening to fire union supporters. "It wouldn't be a blacklist because it would all be done over the telephone," Jack Warner explained.

Decades later, after the formal Blacklist era, this labor-management conflict was eventually resolved by a tacit compromise. The blacklisted writers were elevated in the collective memory to the role of martyrs. Their leftism (but not their Stalinism, which was conveniently forgotten) was enshrined as the appropriate ideology of all respectable movie folk.

In return, the producers damn well hung on to their property rights in screenplays.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Hollywood as a union town

From my 2005 American Conservative article on "Hollywood's Skin-Deep Leftism:"

Hollywood is a union town in a traditionally anti-union metropolis, and, while that makes industry workers more Democratic, it also has paradoxically conservative effects. The creative artists' unions such as the Writer's Guild keep the movies from being an utterly death or glory business like the music industry, where countless wanna-bes work for years for almost nothing in the hopes of becoming one of the few superstars. The film guilds help those who have made it into the inner circle stay there long enough to raise a family.

At the blue collar level, the Teamsters (the most GOP-leaning union, by the way) are widely despised as lazy goldbrickers, but most of the other crafts unions are considered team players whose members, while generously-paid, are competent and hustle when needed.

A production company recently rented my mongrel front lawn to shoot a few seconds of a beer commercial ... About 60 technicians swarmed all over my street, the great majority of them white males, a proportion normally unheard of in Southern California where so much of the blue collar work is done by illegal immigrants. The movie and TV unions are pretty much all that's keeping what's left of L.A.'s American-born blue collar workers from being driven out of California by illegal aliens willing to undercut their wages.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

November 12, 2007

It's time to rewrite the history books

From the New York Times:

A Spy’s Path: Iowa to A-Bomb to Kremlin Honor

He had all-American cover: born in Iowa, college in Manhattan, Army buddies with whom he played baseball.

George Koval also had a secret. During World War II, he was a top Soviet spy, code named Delmar and trained by Stalin’s ruthless bureau of military intelligence.

Atomic spies are old stuff. But historians say Dr. Koval, who died in his 90s last year in Moscow and whose name is just coming to light publicly, was probably one of the most important spies of the 20th century.

On Nov. 2, the Kremlin startled Western scholars by announcing that President Vladimir V. Putin had posthumously given the highest Russian award to a Soviet agent who penetrated the Manhattan Project to build the atom bomb.

The announcement hailed Dr. Koval as “the only Soviet intelligence officer” to infiltrate the project’s secret plants, saying his work “helped speed up considerably the time it took for the Soviet Union to develop an atomic bomb of its own.”

Since then, historians, scientists, federal officials and old friends have raced to tell Dr. Koval’s story — the athlete, the guy everyone liked, the genius at technical studies. American intelligence agencies have known of his betrayal at least since the early 1950s, when investigators interviewed his fellow scientists and swore them to secrecy.

The spy’s success hinged on an unusual family history of migration from Russia to Iowa and back. That gave him a strong commitment to Communism, a relaxed familiarity with American mores and no foreign accent. ...

Over the years, scholars and federal agents have identified a half-dozen individuals who spied on the bomb project for the Soviets, especially at Los Alamos in New Mexico. All were “walk ins,” spies by impulse and sympathetic leaning rather than rigorous training.

By contrast, Dr. Koval was a mole groomed in the Soviet Union by the feared G.R.U., the military intelligence agency. Moreover, he gained wide access to America’s atomic plants, a feat unknown for any other Soviet spy. Nuclear experts say the secrets of bomb manufacturing can be more important than those of design.

Los Alamos devised the bomb, while its parts and fuel were made at secret plants in such places as Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Dayton, Ohio — sites Dr. Koval not only penetrated, but also assessed as an Army sergeant with wide responsibilities and authority.

“He had access to everything,” said Dr. Kramish, who worked with Dr. Koval at Oak Ridge and now lives in Reston, Va. “He had his own Jeep. Very few of us had our own Jeeps. He was clever. He was a trained G.R.U. spy.” That status, he added, made Dr. Koval unique in the history of atomic espionage, a judgment historians echo.

Washington has known about Dr. Koval’s spying since he fled the United States shortly after the war but kept it secret.

“It would have been highly embarrassing for the U.S. government to have had this divulged,” said Robert S. Norris, author of “Racing for the Bomb,” a biography of the project’s military leader. ...

George Koval was born in 1913 to Abraham and Ethel Koval in Sioux City, Iowa, which had a large Jewish community and a half-dozen synagogues. In 1932, during the Great Depression, his family emigrated to Birobidzhan, a Siberian city that Stalin promoted as a secular Jewish homeland.

Henry Srebrnik, a Canadian historian at the University of Prince Edward Island who is studying the Kovals for a project on American Jewish Communists, said the family belonged to a popular front organization, as did most American Jews who emigrated to Birobidzhan.

The organization, he said, was ICOR, a Yiddish acronym for the Association for Jewish Colonization in the Soviet Union. He added that Dr. Koval’s father served its Sioux City branch as secretary.

By 1934, Dr. Koval was in Moscow, excelling in difficult studies at the Mendeleev Institute of Chemical Technology. Upon graduating with honors, he was recruited and trained by the G.R.U. and was sent back to the United States for nearly a decade of scientific espionage, from roughly 1940 to 1948.

How he communicated with his controllers is unknown, as is what specifically he gave the Soviets in terms of atomic secrets. However, it is clear that Moscow mastered the atom very quickly compared with all subsequent nuclear powers.

In the United States under a false name, Dr. Koval initially gathered information about new toxins that might find use in chemical arms. Then his G.R.U. controllers took a gamble and had him work under his own name. Dr. Koval was drafted into the Army, and by chance found himself moving toward the bomb project, then in its infancy.

The Army judged him smart and by 1943 sent him for special wartime training at City College in Manhattan. Considered a Harvard for the poor, it was famous for brilliant students, Communists and, after the war, Julius Rosenberg, who was executed for conspiring to steal atomic secrets for the Soviets. ...

Something else about him stood out, Dr. Kramish said — he was a decade older than his peers, making everybody wonder “why he was in this program.”

Meanwhile, the Manhattan Project was suffering severe manpower shortages and asked the Army for technically adept recruits. In 1944, Dr. Koval and Dr. Kramish headed to Oak Ridge, where the main job was to make bomb fuel, considered the hardest part of the atomic endeavor.

Dr. Koval gained wide access to the sprawling complex, Dr. Kramish said, because “he was assigned to health safety” and drove from building to building making sure no stray radiation harmed workers.

In June 1945, Dr. Koval’s duties expanded to include top-secret plants near Dayton, said John C. Shewairy, an Oak Ridge spokesman. The factories refined polonium 210, a highly radioactive material used in initiators to help start the bomb’s chain reaction.

In July 1945, the United States tested its first atomic device, and a month later it dropped two bombs on Japan.

After the war, Dr. Koval fled the United States when American counterintelligence agents found Soviet literature hailing the Koval family as happy immigrants from the United States, said a Nov. 3 article in Rossiiskaia Gazeta, a Russian publication.

In 1949, Moscow detonated its first bomb, surprising Washington at the quick loss of what had been an atomic monopoly.

But in a comment on the article, NYT reader James Haygood writes:

This is a fascinating article, to be sure. But it strikes me as what Nixon's aide John Ehrlichman would have called a "modified limited hangout."

We are asked to believe that George Koval, one of over ten million World War II draftees, "by chance found himself moving toward the bomb project." Then, despite being "a decade older than his peers, making everybody wonder why he was in the program,” Koval somehow received top secret security clearance. How could the background check have failed to reveal the eight-year gap in his resume while he was studying in the Soviet Union, and the fact that his parents were living in Siberia?

Koval's access to multiple bomb plants as a safety inspector was an obvious breach of compartmentalization, in which links between secret plants should have been restricted to top brass. A final preposterous fillip is that a G.R.U.-groomed, top-level Soviet spy would have been outed by "Soviet literature hailing the Koval family as happy immigrants from the United States" ... and that U.S. authorities who failed to detect this during the issuance of his security clearance suddenly woke up and exclaimed, "Oh, right, that's George's folks!"

This fanciful chain of one-in-a-million coincidences points to one logical explanation: namely, one or more Soviet operatives placed in the Army command to steer Koval into the atomic bomb project, despite his obvious security disqualifications. Let us hope that William J. Broad goes on to reveal the full picture behind this entertaining but hardly credible official cover story, which had to be concocted in a hurry after the Russians went public.

Broad's deadpan delivery of this highly-decorated confabulation seems to conceal a big Cosmic Wink.

— James Haygood, Nanuet, NY

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Michelle Obama: Stereotype Threat keeping her husband down in polls among black voters

From NewsBusters:

MIKA BRZEZINSKI: The polls are showing your husband is trailing Hillary by 46% to 37% in the African-American community. What's going on here?

MICHELLE OBAMA: First of all, I think that that's not going to hold. I'm completely confident: black America will wake up, and get [it]. But what we're dealing with in the black community is just the natural fear of possibility. You know, when I look at my life, the stuff that we're seeing in these polls has played out my whole life. You know, always been told by somebody that I'm not ready, that I can't do something, my scores weren't high enough. You know, there's always that doubt in the back of the minds of people of color. People who've been oppressed and haven't been given real opportunities. That you never really believe. That you believe that somehow, someone is better than you. You know, deep down inside, you doubt whether you can do it, because that's all you've been told, is "no, wait." That's all you hear, and you hear it from people who love you. Not because they don't care about you, but bcause they're afraid. They're afraid that something might happen.

BRZEZINSKI: It's interesting that you say that, excuse me. Because a stewardess yesterday, a 52-year old African-American, and I asked her if she was interested in Barack Obama, if she would vote for him. And she said, like this, she said: "I don't think so, because he probably can't win, because he's black."

OBAMA: That's right. That's the psyschology that's going on in our heads, in our souls, and I understand it. I know where it comes from, and I think that it's one of the horrible legacies of racism and discrimination and oppression.

Now, how hard would it have been for Mrs. Obama to say something like, "This race isn't about race. Mrs. Clinton's the front-runner and my husband's the underdog. Everybody knows that. But I believe that as voters start paying more attention to the issues, my husband will be moving up in the polls among all Democrats"?

But, maybe it really is all about race with Mrs. Obama and with Sen. Obama's spiritual adviser for the last two decades, the Rev. Jeremiah T. Wright. And it certainly was all about race with Obama himself when he wrote his autobiography in 1995, which he aptly subtitled A Story of Race and Inheritance because there's nothing in his memoir about anything else.

I hope he started to get over it when he was humiliatingly rejected by black voters in 2000 and did some soul searching for the year afterwards. I hope that he learned just to be himself (the preppie from paradise) rather than constantly obsessing over whether he was black enough as he did throughout his autobiography. But nobody has had the courage to ask him about it.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer