December 22, 2007

"The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"

Here's my full-length review from The American Conservative:

While Hollywood is routinely scorned as a haven for illiterates, the modern movie industry's clean little secret is its inordinate veneration of writers. Increasingly, screenwriters are allowed to direct their own scripts, turning the Auteur Theory into a reality a half century after it was concocted by fantasizing Frenchmen ignorant of how Golden Age Hollywood had actually worked.

No movie illustrates film folks' infatuation with the written word more than the accurate, intelligent, and magnificent-looking, yet unentertaining art Western "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," in which Brad Pitt plays the celebrated outlaw and Casey Affleck (Ben's brother) is the sniveling young protégé who shot him in the back of the head in 1882. Writer-director Andrew Dominik has filmed the most faithful adaptation imaginable of Ron Hansen's eloquent and obsessively researched but interminable 1983 historical novel. In Hansen's vast portrait of "the old, weird America," we learn, for example, that Jesse was 5'8" and 155 pounds while his battle-axe mother was 6'0" and 228 pounds.

Hansen is an admirable rarity among literary novelists. Besides attending Mass daily and playing golf weekly, he chooses inherently interesting subjects, such as Hitler's Niece. Hansen deserves a less reverent adapter than Dominik, who lifts vast slabs of voice-over narration straight from the book. Moreover, although "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" is a reasonable title for an ambitious novel, whose highbrow readers likely possess some vague awareness of what happened, but movie audiences can't be expected to know any history, so the title becomes a post-modernist gimmick that cheats the film of suspense.

Dominik's impressive but dolorous effort about the Missouri murderers seems modeled on Terrence Malick's remarkable 1973 movie "Badlands" recounting Charles Starkweather's nearby 1959 crime spree. Unfortunately, its dirge-like pacing makes it more reminiscent of Malick's excruciatingly slow 2005 version of the Pocahontas tale, "The New World."

Still, while Malick was stuck with the pseudo-star Colin Farrell to play Captain John Smith, Dominik at least has a genuine matinee idol to portray his American legend. I suspect that Brad Pitt's career goal has always been to become a respected character actor like, say, Paul Giamatti. But cruel nature has condemned him to be a famous leading man. So he's best cast as a glamorous psychopath, such as Tyler Durden in "Fight Club," Achilles in "Troy," and now as the intuitive, mercurial gunman Jesse James.

As Farrell's deservedly obscure 2001 Jesse James flick "American Outlaws" showed, Jesse and Frank James began as Confederate guerillas. Overall, our Civil War was fought as honorably as any war in history, but the worst exception was the vicious Iraq-like struggle in Missouri and Kansas. Their long career illustrates the often blurry lines between freedom fighters, terrorists, and gangsters. Resentful of peace, the James Brothers turned to robbing banks and trains. Jesse, an outspoken Democrat with a flair for publicity, spun their felonies as an anti-Republican and anti-corporate insurgency. Indeed, they flourished because they swam in a sea of disgruntled ex-Confederate farmers. They failed catastrophically only in 1876 when they tried to raid the bank in Northfield, Minnesota and were defeated by the staunchly Unionist armed citizenry.

After lying low for three years, Jesse returned to robbery in 1879. But the end of Reconstruction in 1877 had deprived him of his putative cause. To replace the brutal but formidable ex-guerillas, such as the three Youngers, who had once made up his war-forged band of brothers, he had to recruit an untrustworthy rabble of "petty thieves and country rubes" motivated only by money and juvenile dreams.

The new film begins in 1881 with 19-year-old Robert Ford insinuating himself into the gang around Jesse, whom he had idolized as a boy reading dime novels. But why murder unarmed train conductors when he could grab for the brass ring of celebrity by shooting Jesse himself?

Meanwhile, Jesse begins downsizing the gang, killing an accomplice he fears will betray him for the $10,000 price on his head. Who will shoot whom next? "The Assassination …" resembles the paranoid last 20 minutes of "Goodfellas" dragged out over 160 minutes.

A few days after Jesse's death, Oscar Wilde visited his house in St. Joseph, which was being pulled apart by "relic hunters." He marveled, "The Americans are certainly great hero worshippers, and always take their heroes from the criminal classes," which hasn't changed much in our age of The Sopranos and gangsta rap.

Rated R for some strong violence and brief sexual references.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

December 21, 2007

Updated: "Please, sir, I want some more IQ."

From the world of useful-but-not-exactly-stunning findings, the NYT reports that growing up in the notoriously awful orphanages of Romania isn't good for your brain, but commenter Bill figures out something important that's not included in the press coverage. Hint: What kind of people in Romania are most likely to give up their children to a Romanian orphanage?

The NYT reports:

The authors of the new paper, led by Dr. Charles H. Zeanah Jr. of Tulane and Charles A. Nelson III of Harvard and Children’s Hospital in Boston, approached Romanian officials in the late 1990s about conducting the study. The country had been working to improve conditions at its orphanages, which became infamous in the early 1990s as Dickensian warehouses for abandoned children.

After gaining clearance from the government, the researchers began to track 136 children who had been abandoned at birth. They administered developmental tests to the children, and then randomly assigned them to continue at one of Bucharest’s six large orphanages, or join an adoptive family. The foster families were carefully screened and provided “very high-quality care,” Dr. Nelson said.

On I.Q. tests taken at 54 months, the foster children scored an average of 81, compared to 73 among the children who continued in an institution. The children who moved into foster care at the youngest ages tended to show the most improvement, the researchers found.

The comparison group of youngsters who grew up in their biological families had an average I.Q. of 109 at the same age, found the researchers, who announced their preliminary findings as soon in Romania as they were known.

The really interesting thing here is not the perfectly plausible 8 point gap between the poor kids stuck in Romanian orphanages (73) and the ones raised by carefully screened foster parents (81) (and the gap was larger if they had been in foster care longer than average), but the gigantic 28 point gap between the foster care group and the control group of children raised by their biological parents (109). There is probably a selection effect going on with the 28 point gap as well as an environmental effect: smarter people probably are less likely to let their kids wind up in Romanian orphanages.

Update: Mystery solved! In the comments, Bill points to this 2001 article in The Economist:
"The rise in the number of children given up to orphanages also reflects worsening conditions: 75% of children in Romanian orphanages are given up by Gypsy mothers."

Gypsies (or "Roma," which is confusingly similar to "Romanian") have notoriously low average IQs, with very large proportions of their children in special ed programs due to low test scores. The average IQ of Eastern European Gypsies is said to be "below 80." Similarly, The Guardian reported:
"In the Czech Republic, 75% of Roma children are educated in schools for people with learning difficulties ... In Hungary, 44% of Roma children are in special schools... In Slovakia, Roma children are 28 times as likely to be sent to a special school than non-Roma..."

I found an earlier study that one of the co-authors of this study, Charles A. Nelson, did of a sample of institutionalized children in Bucharest, which appears to be the same group:
"Of the 136 institutionalized children included in the study, 78 are of Romanian ethnicity (57.4%), 36 are Rroma Gypsy (26.5%), 1 is Turkish (0.7%), 1 is of subcontinent Indian extraction (0.7%), and the remaining 20 (14.7%) could not be classified. ...

The control group with the 109 average IQ is much different in ethnicity:
"Of the 72 who consented to participate, 66 children (91.7%) were Romanian, 4 children (5.6%) were Rroma, 1 child was Spanish, and 1 child was Turkish."

In summary, major selection effects seem to be driving part of the almost two-standard deviation IQ gap between the foster care and biological family groups.

There are roughly as many Gypsies as Jews in the world today, but the two groups differ by several orders of magnitude in their number of scientists and intellectuals. It will be interesting to track how the adopted Gypsy children turn out.

The good news is that moderate early damage to children sometimes ameliorates with age. There is a lot of evidence that environment can impact early childhood IQs, but the effects of the environmental disparities decline with age as people come to choose their own environments more and more. That is one theory for why identical twins become more similar in IQ as adults (although perhaps the greater reliability and accuracy of adult IQ tests is another reason).

But this doesn't mean that Romanian orphanage-style treatment of kids is okay, even if, as is unlikely, they fully grew out of it and their IQs caught up as adults. First, being a kid is a big part of anybody's lifespan. Second, I suspect that having an IQ of 81 instead of 73 as a kid can make a difference in things like whether or not you learn to read.

The NYT reports:

Any number of factors common to institutions could work to delay or blunt intellectual development, experts say: the regimentation, the indifference to individual differences in children’s habits and needs; and most of all, the limited access to caregivers, who in some institutions can be responsible for more than 20 children at a time.

“The evidence seems to say,” said Dr. Pollak, of Wisconsin, “that for humans, we need a lot of responsive care giving, an adult who recognizes our distinct cry, knows when we’re hungry or in pain, and gives us the opportunity to crawl around and handle different things, safely, when we’re ready.”

That certainly makes sense, since women certainly evolved to be responsive care givers to small children. As I wrote in my 1998 review of Judith Rich Harris's The Nurture Assumption:
Finally, why do mothers care so much? Disappointingly for a Darwinian, Mrs. Harris blames it on The Media. She hopes her book will encourage parents to fret less, but it will likely have little impact on mothers, since natural selection has crafted them so that "'Worry' is a mother's middle name."

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

"No Country for Old Men"

My full review of "No Country for Old Men" from The 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 solitary vice, has been a cultural black hole. Game-inspired films, for instance, have mostly 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.

Josh Brolin (Barbra Streisand's stepson) plays the Pac-Man being pursued, the trailer park protagonist, with the blue-collar likeability of character actor John C. Reilly and the technical resourcefulness of TV hero MacGyver. A skilled welder, he's smarter than he looks, but not quite ruthless enough. He could have made a clean exit with the $2 million, but instead, after telling his wife, "I'm fixin to go do something dumbern hell but I'm goin anyways," returns to save the last survivor of the drug deal shootout he had stumbled upon.

This act of mercy unleashes upon his trail a pitiless "Ghost," a hit man played by Spanish actor Javier Bardem as a Terminator-style juggernaut. Like Schwarzenegger's cyborg, he even performs surgery upon himself after a shootout.

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.

"No Country" inverts numerous elements from "Fargo." The crime in that 1996 film, for instance, was solved by a wonderfully unlikely sheriff, a polite and very pregnant Frances McDormand. Here, however, Tommy Lee Jones is typecast as the archetypal Texas sheriff, yet he proves frustratingly ineffectual at stopping the mayhem. Thus, the plot winds up as anti-climactically as most video game plays, with the (male) viewer wanting to try it again so the hero won't make the same mistakes twice.

For reasons I don't fully understand (and am not sure I really want to think about), most of us guys, no matter how blameless our lives, enjoy doing some contingency planning about how we'd handle it if we ever had to climb into that white Bronco and make a run for the border. Thus, many men hated the great Chick Flick "Thelma and Louise" less for its supposed feminism than for how dopily Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon let their feelings botch up their escape from Arkansas to Mexico. I quickly worked out for them an itinerary for their getaway over the Rio Grande to Matamoros, but they weren't equally serious about route selection and ended up in northern Arizona, where they fell, deservedly, into the Grand Canyon.

You can rest assured that the hero and villain in "No Country for Old Men," a Guy Movie if there ever was one, wouldn't miss Mexico by 500 miles.

Rated R for strong graphic violence and some language.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

The View from Istanbul: The Future Is Ottoman

A reader in Istanbul responds to my suggestion, in the wake of the Mark Steyn censorship case in Canada, that the world will increasingly look like the Ottoman Empire: diverse but boring.

A few details about the "Ottoman" model.

As I've said a couple of times before, the world is a naturally multi-cultural place. But what is called a "multi-cultural" society is hardly that -- since that is impossible by definition. A society cannot exist where multiple tribes live entirely isolated lives without ever running into each other and clashing. The actual reality is "poly-ethnicism" and, therefore, "hetero-culturalism." And to be able to deal with the chaotic outcome of that, an oppressive "meta- culture" has to be put in place. By which I mean the masquerade of "civility" that passes for "liberal culture" when those multiple ethnies have to cohabit under a single geopolitical administrative unit.

In fact, under that configuration, not even the constituent groups are at peace with, or within, themselves. In order to deal with inter-group rivalry, everyone has to develop stealthy ways to push their agenda, even to survive. For example, "statism" is greatly favored (paradoxically) by all since that monopoly on violence is viewed as the guaranteed and the ultimate tool for protecting even so-called "natural" rights. That's because if one group "naturally" excels at anything, it instantly becomes visible to other groups and easily becomes a matter of dispute. So, what you would consider what is rightfully yours under conditions of "normalcy" becomes artificially tainted with the protection of the state, and becomes viewed as a "privilege."

Each group has to learn to be secretive (e.g. about how much property, influence, connections, etc. they have) in order to avoid the "evil eye" of the others.

If a member of one group develops a close relationship with a member of another group due to perfectly natural reasons (such as sharing the same educational, professional, residential environment), this is immediately interpreted as having a tendency to "sell out" your co-ethnics.

All in all, everyone ends up having to develop an extremely "polite" code of conduct to minimize tensions. As a result, "civilization" becomes equated and identified with "civility," and that in turn with "civil niceties." You won't believe how mind-numbingly polite -- and/or "artificially" spontaneous (read "extra inclusive") -- everyone is, especially in "elite" circles.

Moves like these of so-called Islamic "councils" -- whatever that is -- in places like Canada is the knee-jerk reaction of ethnies that are accustomed to this warped, reduced, and very narrow notion of "civilization." Since "politeness" for them is the same thing as being "civilized," and since that in turn is a kind of truce-making ("let's stop murdering each other because it is too expensive for both parties; let's, instead, continue hating each others' guts by devising intrigues and insidious games of back-stabbing with kid-gloves"), they naturally perceive any "criticism" of Islam -- or even just the Muslims and their frequently ethnically traditional ways -- not as any honest attempt to "improve" or "reform" it (God forbid) but as an attack on the group. Criticism? How uncivilized!

One of the consequences of this is the dumbing down of "critical thought." Remember the extreme example of the impact of the environment on IQ that you give now and then, Steve? Locking up someone in the basement and throwing away the key? Well, I'm not saying this to counter the data that the ex-Ottoman land's IQ average appears to be 88-90 -- in fact, that is likely to be skewed since the sample is probably from the urban environment; more likely, it is at best around 85 among the population at large. But there *is* the fact of social mechanisms and culture -- otherwise each and every European country (Germany, France, Netherlands, Italy, etc.) would be identical not only in the number but in the types of scientific and artistic advances and their historical order. So, think of this over-riding and heavy-handed culture of politeness as one form of locking you up in a social atmosphere and throwing away the key. If everyone around you is a member of this or that tribe/ethny, faith/sect, or culture, whatever you say, you'll end up offending someone, so the only thing the "elites" in the Ottoman lands is equating civilization with blandest and the blankest form of politeness. Which is hardly conducive to creativity and discovery.)

All my youth, I have fantasized that one day I could escape this stultifying pseudo-civility; that over there, on the other side of the pond, I could one day have my MLK moment. Instead, the whole world seems to be swinging in the other direction, and becoming Ottoman -- i.e. a civilizational quagmire behind the facade of a cheap, perfumed eclecticism of grandiosity barely breathing (with a case of halitosis) under the dank and oppressive pseudo-intellectualism of politeness.

It seems we -- the undead and the unescaped -- will die as slaves to this pseudo-civility.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

December 20, 2007

Hu's Rule in Action

The Republican Establishment has long assumed that they would someday get back to winning the Asian-American vote, like they did in the 1992 Presidential race. After all, Asians are the model minority, prosperous, business-owning, legal immigrants, often victims of Communism. If they aren't going to vote GOP, what major immigrant group will?

Arthur Hu, however, explained the basic rule of Asian-American voting to me back in 2000:

"Asian Americans traditionally vote slightly more conservatively than their neighbors do - exactly as optimistic Republicans assume. The problem for the GOP, however, is that Asians tend to have highly liberal neighbors. Currently, 45% of all Asian-born immigrants live in three heavily Democratic metropolitan areas: San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City."

And, American-born Asians are increasingly driven by the political climate on elite campuses, with their obsession with minority victimhood.

Ben Adler of reports "Asian-American youth trend Democratic." He begins with the example of a University of Southern California Chinese-American co-ed who is changing her registration from Republican to Independent. USC used to be the epitome of the private college for the, shall we say, "well-rounded" children of wealthy Republicans: the "University of Spoiled Children" we called it when I was at UCLA 1980-82. When the USC football team would come on the field for the big game against UCLA, we Bruin fans would all pull credit cards from the pockets of our Calvin Klein designer jeans and wave them in the air in the direction of the USC fans. Ha-ha! What a clever jibe at the wealth of the USC students! (Of course, now that I think of it, all us UCLA students back during the Carter Administration apparently already had credit cards to wave at the USC students, so maybe the class contrast wasn't quite as obvious as we had imagined at the time.)

Carmen Wong, 21, is a Chinese-American senior at the University of Southern California. Her parents are Republicans and she used to be one, too, but she recently switched her voter registration to independent.

Although Wong is fiscally conservative, she is socially liberal and has turned against the Iraq war. She would vote for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for president, and she’s not sure who she’ll support if he is not the Republican nominee. But she likes Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

Wong epitomizes a recent trend among young Asian-Americans: their widespread abandonment of the Republican Party.

The Institute of Politics at Harvard University recently released data from an online survey of 2,525 18- to 24-year-olds. Among the survey’s more notable statistics are those concerning party affiliation among Asian-Americans: 47 percent identify themselves as Democratic, 15 percent Republican and 39 percent independent — making them more Democratic than any other ethnic group except African-Americans in the survey.

Betsy Kim, 44, a Korean-American who is executive director of the American Majority Partnership, the Democratic National Committee’s constituency outreach program, sees a clear generational shift toward Democrats among Asian-Americans.

Kim said that Asian-Americans her age and younger lean Democratic because “Democrats do more to benefit communities of color.”

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Free speech is not a human right in Canada

Rather like those polygamous Mormon separatists who live right on the Utah-Arizona border and build their houses on skids so they can drag them just across the dividing line when the state police are coming to arrest them, Voltaire spent his last two decades on the French-Swiss border in the village of Ferney, near Geneva, just in case.

Canadian native Mark Steyn lives in a small American town, not far from the Canadian border. The wisdom of residing in a country with a constitutional protection for free speech (or should I say, the country?) was pointed out by his being called before Canada's Human Rights Commission to account for the crime of publishing an excerpt from his bestseller America Alone
in Maclean's, Canada's leading newsmagazine. Apparently, freedom of speech is not a human right in Canada.

The Canadian Islamic Council that filed the nuisance suit may not win against somebody as globally-connected as Steyn, but the lesson for anybody actually living in Canada is clear.

This abuse isn't as severe as what psychologist J.P. Rushton had to put up with a decade and a half ago in Canada -- he was under police investigation for over half a year. But, it is indicative of how diversity and civil liberties are increasingly in collision.

The future of the world may well look like the old Ottoman Empire writ large: multiculturalism on a remarkable scale, but public liberty close to non-existent -- it was simply too dangerous in such a diverse community.

In the short run, we may be able to slow down the arrival of the long run by organizing boycotts of tourism and conferences in countries, such as Canada, that are throttling free speech.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

The Steve Sailer Christmas 2007 Panhandling Drive

As we've seen once again with the James Watson Show Trial, there aren't enough writers willing to stand up and say, "We don't need to be terrified of truth. Knowing how the world works is better for the human race than not knowing."

Of course, there's a reason so few will do this -- it doesn't pay well.

I was thinking of making some much-needed money by getting a big advance for a financial self-help book, but the only title I could come up with was The Miracle of Negative Cash Flow. So, instead, I'm turning once again to you, my readers.

There are four ways to give me money.

First, if you've been thinking, gee, I've had too much income in 2007 for tax purposes, do I have a deal for you! You can make credit card contributions here (click on the first "Make a Donation" button you come to on the screen); or fax credit card details here (please put my name on the fax); or you can snail mail checks made out to "VDARE Foundation" and marked on the memo line (lower left corner) “Steve Sailer” to:

VDARE Foundation
P.O. Box 1195
Washington, CT 06793

Second: You can send me an email and I'll send you my P.O. Box address.

Third: You can use Amazon. Just click here.

Fourth: You can use Paypal, but I can't figure out how to get the link to Paypal working at the moment. If you know, please email me.

Thanks. I appreciate it, deeply.

Merry Christmas.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Christmas forecast: Sunny and 67 degrees

The weather forecast for December 25, 2007 in LA is typical for this time of year: sunny and 67 degrees (19 degrees Centigrade). (The mild winter temperatures are not purchased at the expense of cruel summers, either: the average high on the Fourth of July in downtown LA, 18 miles from the beach, is only 83 degrees.)

But fewer and fewer Americans are enjoying Los Angeles's routinely amazing weather. The LA Times reports:

More flee state than move in

Population is up thanks to births and foreign immigrants, but rest of U.S. isn't California dreamin' like it was.

... In Los Angeles County alone [in fiscal 2007], nearly 115,000 fewer residents came from other states and California counties than moved to other states and counties. The county ended up with a total increase in population thanks to 91,000 births and an influx of 70,000 residents from foreign countries. (The county now has roughly 10,294,000 residents).

Since 2000, about 500,000 more people have left Los Angeles County than have moved here from other parts of the U.S. and California, the figures show.

Of course, a huge fraction of the births are to immigrants.

Why exactly is America following a policy of driving American citizens out of mainland America's most pleasant climatic zone?

By the way, have the strategic business geniuses at the LA Times ever noticed that their plummeting sales figures are linked to the replacement of English-literate Angelenos by foreigners who can't read English, and often can't read at all? (According to a recent United Way study, 53% of adults in LA are functionally illiterate.)

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

"Michael Clayton"

Here's my full-length review of the Golden Globe-nominated "Michael Clayton" from 11/19/07 issue of The American Conservative:

Last year, the NBC Nightly News edited a segment to make it appear that I was debating George Clooney over whether moviegoers were interested in his social conscience. As an admittedly biased observer of the dispute, I'd say that Clooney's roguish charm absolutely crushed my tiresome logic.

Now, Clooney's anti-corporate thriller "Michael Clayton" is one of the best-reviewed films of the year, with critics ecstatically comparing it to their favorite anti-Establishment films of the 1970s. And, indeed, it is competently made. Yet, it has generated little excitement at the box office [$39 million after 12 weeks].

"Michael Clayton" illustrates how dull even natural stars like Clooney and intelligent filmmakers like Tony Gilroy (moving up to direct after writing the "Bourne" trilogy) can be when they set out to make "serious" (i.e., self-important) and "political" (leftist) movies. "Michael Clayton" is a domestic "Syriana," the morose 2005 film about an evil oil company that won Clooney an Academy Award for growing a beard and putting on 30 pounds. (Hey, I did that years before George even thought of it.)

In "Michael Clayton," Clooney plays a Queens-born lawyer with a Fordham degree working at a top Manhattan corporate law firm otherwise staffed by WASP and Jewish Ivy Leaguers. They won't make him a partner because he's outclassed intellectually, but when high finance turns tabloid, only he, a former prosecutor with a brother in the NYPD, can tap the municipal "favor bank." If a CEO client hits a jogger with his Jaguar and runs off, Clooney / Clayton is brought in as the fixer.

The screenplay, though, fails to exploit the intriguing ethnic angles. Rather, it churns out the same old plot about a murderous multinational rubbing out whoever gets in its carcinogenic way.

Tilda Swinton, so aristocratic and androgynous that she makes Cate Blanchett look like Angelina Jolie, plays the corporate counsel for UNorth, which peddles its cancer-causing herbicide in 62 countries. She pays Clooney's law firm tens of millions to fight weed-killer lawsuits, but then their lead defense attorney (Tom Wilkinson of "In the Bedroom") goes all Howard Beale of "Network," ranting about how working for UNorth has put blood on his hands while stripping naked during a deposition.

This sounds entertaining, but isn't, because auteur Gilroy ignores even the ripest targets for satire, such as the plaintiffs' contingency fee attorneys, always a colorful subspecies (Homo avaricious vulgaris). Instead, he maintains a steady tone of doleful indignation.

Our common law doesn't work well with cases in which blame can only be assigned statistically. Say the defendant's herbicide raises the chance of cancer by 50 percent. So, one out of three customers who get cancer are victims of the company, while two out of three aren't; but science can't tell which is which. The contingency fee attorneys bring suits from everybody who might have been harmed, while the defense tries to insinuate to the jury that the plaintiff deserved to get cancer. It's an ugly but fascinating slice of modern Americana, but not one you'll hear anything about from the one-sided "Michael Clayton."

Clooney's fixer has to get the litigator back on his manic-depression medicines so the firm can stiff some more widows and orphans for UNorth. This plunges him into a dark night of the soul, which Clooney portrays by moping around sullenly for two hours. Can somebody please tell George that he's not an actor -- he's a movie star? If I want to see somebody looking tired, ineffectual, and beaten down by life, well, I've got a mirror.

Then, Swinton calls in a Blackwater-like executive outcomes firm to murder Wilkinson before the renegade defense attorney spills UNorth's secrets. Next, she has a bomb placed in Clooney's car.

Swinton can play over-the-top villains such as the White Witch in "Narnia" and an Archangel Gabriel in league with his former colleague Lucifer in "Constantine." Here, though, she realistically embodies a common type, the lady lawyer whose biological clock is barely ticking. She's fine at it, but the authenticity of her performance combined with the absurdity of Gilroy's plot wrecks the movie because corporate yuppettes don't kill people.

Only at the very end does Clooney finally turn on the charisma, and that's just to point out the stupidity of the storyline. He explains to Tilda Swinton that he's having her arrested because, "I'm not the guy you kill. I'm the guy you buy off!" Good point, George, but it's a little late to be bringing it up…

Rated R for language.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

December 19, 2007

Performancing-Enhancing Drugs, Part II

Malcolm Gladwell can seldom give up an argument with me, so now he's back to ask what would be so bad about this example:

"An aging pitcher is suffering from a variety of persistent injuries. They are healing slowly. He is depressed and lethargic, and anxious about his career. He goes to see his doctor. The doctor finds that the patient's testosterone count is low. He prescribes the pitcher a small dose of testosterone, as part of his rehab. The patient is desperate, and the doctor agrees to experiment with testosterone, and see if it speeds recovery."

He argues:

"But since the league's policies clearly can't govern drugs prescribed legally by a physican--particuarly if they are undetectable-- it has the effect of only preventing the use of drugs obtained illegally."

Sure, baseball will always have a hard time preventing marginal cheating. But baseball's big problem over the last dozen or so years has not been players taking modest doses under a doctor's supervision.

That's a problem, but it's hardly as big a problem as the full-fledged circus freak shows that have overwhelmed baseball going back to 1988 when juicing evangelist Jose Canseco became the first player to hit 40 homers and steal 40 bases in one season, and led the Oakland A's to the first of three straight World Series. Other freak shows include the late Ken Caminiti suddenly starting to take mega-blasts of steroids at the All-Star Break in 1996 and carrying the Padres on his acne-scarred back to the World Series and himself to the MVP; or McGwire and Sosa "returning the innocence to the game" in their ultra-hyped homer record duel of 1998; or Barry Bonds, with his head the size of a basketball, breaking the career homer record last summer; or Roger Clemens having the best ERA of his career (relative to the league and adjusted for park effects) at age 42 in 2005.

So, if the rules that baseball has finally put into effect could keep players down to the levels of juicing that a legitimate doctor might prescribe, baseball could still spare itself a lot of these humiliations in the future.

Of course, none of these guys suffered from some sort of innate deficiency in testosterone production that kept their testosterone levels below that of the average male and thus medically justified a prescription. They were all studly specimens to begin with.

Indeed, that's why baseball is a big business: it's a showcase for masculinity.

If Malcolm was looking for a better example, he could Google "golfer beta blocker."

Beta blockers are completely legitimate drugs that save huge numbers of people from dying of heart problems. They also seem to have the side effect of calming the jitters, which could be very useful in putting. Beta blockers are said to be used by classical musicians with stage fright. A number of professional golfers, especially on the age 50+ Champions Tour where "the yips" making putting troublesome, have beta blocker prescriptions. The Tour doesn't want to ban beta blockers because it doesn't want players keeling over on the green because they aren't allowed to take the medicine. (Some players who have taken beta blockers complain that they make them too calm, and hurt their tee-to-green game.)

The differences between beta blockers and testosterone, though, should be fairly obvious: First, beta blockers make the people who need them healthier overall, such as extending life expectancies. Second, they don't make players better than they would be if they didn't have a specific medical problem. (Nobody starts taking beta blockers and suddenly has years better than in their prime.) Third, like laser eye surgery, the side effects are not such that only fanatics would use them. They are used by millions.

Fourth, most popular sports are to some extent, in effect, a test of testosterone. (The Geezer Golf Tour ranks pretty far down the list of popularity, in part because of that.)

Fans admired Roger Clemens because he is a fine specimen of rampant masculinity. If he had had a low testosterone count to start with, he never would have put on the 235 pounds of solid muscle that allowed him to go 24-4 in 1986. When Clemens's testosterone count naturally dropped with age to the point where he could no longer compete up to his standards, he should have retired to the golf course and let the young bucks have their day, just as his elders once got out of the way and let him have his day.

Friedrich at 2Blowhards put his finger on part of the reason why we object to juicing:

The best answer I've been able to come up with is an evo-bio one. To wit, that most people unconsciously view sports as a display of reproductive fitness, not merely one more entertainment option among many. And those people don’t want their athletic displays of reproductive fitness being fiddled with by chemical means.

If you make this assumption, it sorts out what is really different about performance-enhancing drugs from other training aids. It’s okay to allow athletes to train for competition, because the discipline and capacity for hard work are also sexually desirable, inheritable traits. It’s okay to build up your body with weights, because the ability to maximize your muscularity is again an inheritable trait. And being crafty about your training regimen is a tribute to the athlete’s intelligence, another capacity transmittable to one's offspring.

Steroids, on the other hand, are clearly not inheritable and thus 'cheating'. A less reproductively fit athlete, one likely to produce less capable offspring but who is taking steroids can appear better than a more reproductively fit athlete who isn’t juicing.

Friedrich says:
Granted, if you would allow all the athletes to juice, presumably the most genetically gifted would still shine through relative to the other elite athletes.

No, because ever more juicing, Ken Caminiti-style, would still be tempting, so baseball becomes just a test of foolhardiness.

The best policy is to ban the major performance-enhancing drugs outright and institute rigorous testing. There will still be cheating, but it will be on a less ludicrous scale and the honest players will still have a chance to make the team without cheating.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Slippery Slopes and Tipping Points

Malcolm Gladwell blogs in defense of baseball players who claim they only used Human Growth Hormone to get over injuries:

"Let's assume, for a moment, that what Vina said was true--that he only took HGH because he was trying to recover from an injury. Let's assume the same of Pettitte and Bennett. I think we can also agree that there is reasonable evidence that Human Growth Hormone speeds recovery.

So what, exactly, is wrong with an athlete--someone who makes a living with their body--taking medication to speed their recovery from injury? Is it wrong to take ibruprofen? Is it wrong to ice a sore elbow? For that matter, is it ethical or even legal for Major League Baseball--or indeed any employee or governing body--to deny an employee access to a potentially beneficial medical treatment?" [More]

Well, is it wrong for a ballplayer to hang out with professional gamblers and bookies? Is it wrong for him to bet on sports other than baseball? Is it wrong for him to bet on other baseball teams, but not his own? Is it wrong for him to bet on his own team to win? Is it wrong for him to bet on his own team to lose? Is it wrong for him to throw games, like the 1919 Black Sox?

The last is catastrophic to the welfare of baseball, so to minimize temptation, the game has walked its rules about betting a long way back up the slippery slope.

Similarly, once players start taking HGH to help them over nagging injuries (and all players over a certain age, and probably all starting pitchers of any age, have nagging ailments), how likely is it that they will stop? Why not keep going with the HGH until your head has swelled up to Barry Bonds's current size and you're trashing the record book by setting the all time mark for career homers?

By the way, the reason I've always been more interested in the impact of steroids than in Human Growth Hormone is because steroids are sex hormones, and thus provide unnatural experiments in the biological differences between the sexes. They are called "anabolic steroids" because they try to remove the other virilizing effects besides muscle-building, but they still have other side effects. Of course, products like the synthetic testosterone that Andrew Sullivan takes are even more closely related to natural male hormones in effect.

In contrast, Human Growth Hormone isn't as interesting as a test of, say, feminist theory.

By the way, I tend to believe Yankee pitcher Andy Pettite's claim that he only briefly used HGH. The product tends to make your jaw swell up, and Pettite has the kind of particularly narrow face on which the effects would be most visible.

It seemed fairly likely at the 1996 Olympics that veteran superstar Carl Lewis had gone on HGH because his normally clean-cut features [1992 photo] were suddenly ridiculously misshapen [1996] -- he looked like a squirrel carrying nuts in his cheeks. My wife and I saw Carl on TV recently, and she was shocked at how his face had gone a long way back to its original form.

Lots of sprinters during the 1990s who were in their 20s and even 30s suddenly got orthodontic braces on their teeth, because their faces were changing shape due to HGH, causing their teeth to point in weird directions. There weren't HGH tests in the 1990s, so it was a popular alternative.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

December 18, 2007


Is any Presidential candidate running on the issue: "No bailout for subprime lenders and borrowers"? This seems exactly like an issue where the public's moral prejudices are in sync with economic theory, yet the special interests seem likely to get bailed out at the taxpayer's expense.

Or, how about: "No bailout for fraudulent lenders and borrowers"? Is that too much to ask?

We've moved from the age of the Invisible Hand to the age of the Invisible Thumb on the Scale.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

December 17, 2007

Whatever happened to American Indian athletes?

The New York Times has a big story, "Sequoyah High's Success Engergizes Tribe," on an "all-Indian" high school in Oklahoma that has won the state girls' basketball championship three years running. The article focuses on the star guard of the Lady Indians, a Cherokee named Angel Goodrich, and implies that she undermines the stereotype that American Indian girls aren't good at basketball.

There's only one little problem with the theme of the article, which you might notice by glancing at Angel's picture. (The NYT runs a picture of Angel with her little sister, who looks just like her.)

That got me to thinking about how there used to be a stereotype that American Indians were good at sports. Jim Thorpe was the most famous all-around athlete in America ninety years ago. He was, roughly, half-American Indian and half-white and grew up on a reservation. Thorpe wasn't unique at the time -- there were a fair number of Native American baseball stars, such as Chief Bender, the half-Chippewa Hall of Fame pitcher for Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics. Another Hall of Famer was outfielder Zack Wheat of the Dodgers, who was half-Cherokee:
"In an era that also produced Jim Thorpe and Chief Bender, Wheat's Indian blood was thought by some to be the primary reason for his excellence. "The lithe muscles, the panther-like motions of the Indian are his by divine right," Baseball Magazine wrote in 1917."

But where have the American Indian athletes gone since then?

Notah Begay (who was on the most interesting college golf team of all time at Stanford, along with the semi-crippled Casey Martin, who won the right to ride in a golf cart in pro tournaments in a famous Supreme Court decision, and some guy named Eldrick Woods Jr.) is a rare full-blooded Indian athlete (Navajo and Pueblo). He won four times in his first two years on Tour (1999-2000), but has run into drunk-driving and back pain problems. (Tiger, by the way, is 1/8th American Indian, via his late father Earl Woods. The Green Beret colonel was always said to be half black, one quarter American Indian, and, oddly enough for somebody born in Kansas in 1932, one-quarter Chinese.)

Sonny Sixkiller was a quarterback when I was kid, and certainly had a cool name, but there sure haven't been many other Indian athletes recently.

American Indians make up 0.8% of college students, but only 0.3% of college athletes.

Here's a table that quantifies my impression: Baseball Almanac lists 49 American Indian major leaguers, out of which 43 of them began their careers from 1897-1946. Some of the more prominent names on the list include Indian Bob Johnson, hard-hitting and hard-drinking Rudy York, Yankee reliever Allie Reynolds, and Pepper Martin, the Wild Horse of the Osage. (Note that I haven't investigated these claims.)

So, there have been only six Indians to begin their careers in the big leagues in the 60 years since 1947.

Rookie pitcher Joba Chamberlain, who was practically unhittable in 24 innings for the Yankees this year is probably the best known Indian baseball player to enter the majors since the fall-off in 1947. He is half-Winnebago, but wasn't raised on the rez. Selena Roberts wrote in the NYT in "Chamberlain Offers His Tribe Hope:"

"With every pitch, Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain peels back the stereotypes of the American Indian athlete as problematic, as fearful of success, as self-loathing."

Perhaps, American Indians just married into white America more and stopped identifying as Indian as much after 1946. For example, Hall of Fame Johnny Bench is said to be 1/8th Choctaw.

Or maybe Indians got fatter when the economy picked up after WWII? They tend to have a lot of trouble with diabetes these days.

Wait a minute ... what happened in baseball in 1947?

Jackie Robinson.

I bet that explains part of why the rate at which big-leaguers identified on the list as Indians entered the big leagues dropped by almost an order of magnitude after Jackie Robinson: some of these Indian ballplayers were Indian like Angel Goodrich is Indian.

Indeed, 16 of the 34 Indians to enter the big leagues from 1909 to 1946 were Cherokee. The Cherokee may have been the most culturally advanced tribe. Sequoyah invented an alphabet for them and they had their own newspaper in the 1820s before Andy Jackson kicked them out of the Southeast and down the Trail of Tears into Indian Territory. One aspect of their enthusiastic embrace of white American culture was that they kept black slaves. Earlier this year, the Cherokee Nation kicked 2800 people out of the tribe for being descended from black slaves rather than from Indians.

It's a clever theory, but I haven't yet found photos of Indian ballplayers who looked particularly black.

We do know of one example where a black ballplayer posing as an Indian was exposed. As I wrote in "How Jackie Robinson Desegregated America:"

In 1901, [Hall of Fame manager John J. McGraw] almost succeeded in smuggling a light-skinned black second baseman onto his team as a full-blooded Cherokee named "Chief Tokohama.''

It might seem exciting to do some digging and find out which "Indian" ballplayers of this era were significantly black, since you could then claim you had discovered somebody who had "broken the colorline before Jackie Robinson." That sounds like a big deal, but it's not, because there were several blackish Cuban ballplayers in the 1930s, such as Bobby Estalella, who came up in 1935 with the Washington Senators. The point of what Robinson did was to break the color line publicly.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Deirdre McCloskey Endorses The Wisdom of Repugnance; or, Too Many Damn Steves!

Deirdre McCloskey, who is probably the most prominent female economist in America, issues a peeved review of economic historian Gregory Clark's "A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World." Dr. McCloskey writes:

"Clark most engagingly summarizes an enormous scientific literature, and if he gets any substantial number of noneconomic intellectuals innocent of economic history to grasp what we other students of such matters all know happened 1600 to the present we will in our great-heartedness forgive him for the rest. The trouble with this hope is that his distinctive hypothesis is going to appeal only to the Steve Sailers, Stephen Pinkers, and Seth Roberts of the world and is going to repel everyone else."

It's amusing to hear the former Donald McCloskey, of all people, appeal to what Leon Kass calls "The Wisdom of Repugnance."

By the way, I don't know who Seth Roberts is, but the story behind McCloskey lumping "the Steve Sailers" and "Stephen [sic] Pinkers" together is that McCloskey is part of a cabal of high IQ transsexuals, including computer scientist Lynn Conway (pictured here towering over Brent Scowcroft) and ecologist Joan Roughgarden, who have waged a vicious smear campaign against Northwestern U. psychologist J. Michael Bailey. Bailey's unforgivable sin was publishing a book that included a theory of transsexualism at odds with the I-always-felt-like-a-little-girl-inside story promoted in public by most transsexual intellectuals, such as McCloskey, who was the captain of his high school football team.

As part of their jihad, McCloskey and Co. have tried to smear anybody, such as Pinker or myself, who has ever written anything positive about Bailey. Not surprisingly, the transsexuals teamed up with the Southern Poverty Law Center in their attempt to shut down all heresy on the subject and wreck the careers of anyone sympathetic toward Bailey. The New York Times exposed the nastiness of McCloskey and Co.'s censorship and guilt-by-association campaign earlier this year.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

December 16, 2007

The Economist on the Cochran, Harpending, Moyzis, Hawks, Wang paper

An excerpt from "Darwin's Children" in The Economist:

Dr Moyzis's paper suggests ... that Homo sapiens is continuing to undergo local evolution. He and his colleagues reckon they can both estimate the rate of evolution and identify many of the evolving genes, by using a trick with the clumsy name of linkage disequilibrium.

Genes are linked together in cell nuclei on structures called chromosomes. These come in pairs, one from each parent. However, when sperm and egg cells are formed, the maternal and paternal chromosomes swap bits of DNA to create a new mixture. The pieces of DNA swapped are complementary—that is, they contain the same types of gene. But they may contain different versions of the genes in question, and these different versions can have different biological effects.

Over the generations this process of swapping mixes the genes up thoroughly, and an equilibrium emerges. If a new mutation appears, however, it will take quite a while for that thorough mixing to happen. This means recent mutations can be spotted because they are still linked to the same neighbouring bits of DNA as they were when they first appeared. Moreover, the size of these neighbouring blocks gives an indication of how long ago the mutation in question emerged; long blocks suggest a recent mutation because the mixing process has not had time to break them up.

All this has been known for decades, but it is only recently that enough human DNA sequences have become available for the technique to be used to compare people from different parts of the world. And this is what Dr Moyzis and his colleagues have now done.

What they have found is that about 1,800 protein-coding genes, some 7% of the total known, show signs of having been subject to recent natural selection. By recent, they mean within the past 80,000 years. Moreover, as the chart shows, the rate of change has speeded up over the course of that period. (The sudden fall-off at the end is caused because the linkage-disequilibrium method cannot easily detect very recent mutations, rather than by a sudden reduction in the rate of evolution.) The researchers put this acceleration down to two things. First, the human population has expanded rapidly during that period, which increases the size of the gene pool in which mutations can occur. Second, the environment in which people find themselves has also changed rapidly, creating new contexts in which those mutations might have beneficial effects.

That environmental change itself has two causes. The past 80,000 years is the period in which humanity has spread out of Africa to the rest of the world, and each new place brings its own challenges. It has also been a period of enormous cultural change, and that, too, creates evolutionary pressures. In acknowledgment of these diverse circumstances, the researchers looked in detail at the DNA of four groups of people from around the planet: Yoruba from Africa, Han Chinese and Japanese from Asia, and Europeans.

Various themes emerged. An important one was protection from disease, suspected to be a consequence of the increased risk of infection that living in settlements brings. In this context, for example, various mutations of a gene called G6PD that are thought to offer protection from malaria sprang up independently in different places.

A second theme is response to changes in diet caused by the domestication of plants and animals. One example of this is variation in LCT, a gene involved in the metabolism of lactose, a sugar found in milk. All human babies can metabolise lactose, but only some adults can manage the trick. That fact, and the gene involved, have been known for some time. But Dr Moyzis's team have worked out the details of the evolution of LCT. They suspect that it was responsible for the sudden spread of the Indo-European group of humanity about 4,000 years ago, and also for the more recent spread of the Tutsis in Africa, whose ancestors independently evolved a tolerant version of the gene.

The pressures behind other changes are less obvious. In the past 2,000-3,000 years, for example, Europeans have undergone changes in the gene for a protein that moves potassium ions in and out of nerve cells and taste buds. There have also been European changes in genes linked to cancer and Alzheimer's disease. Chinese, Japanese and Europeans, meanwhile, have all seen changes in a serotonin transporter. Serotonin is one of the brain's messenger molecules, and is particularly involved in establishing mood.

The finding that may cause most controversy, however, is that in the Asian groups there has been strong selection for one variant of a gene that, in a different form, is responsible for Gaucher's disease. A few years ago two of the paper's other authors, Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending, suggested that the Gaucher's form of the gene might be connected with the higher than average intelligence notable among Ashkenazi Jews. The unstated inference is that something similar might be true in Asians, too.

The Ashkenazim paper caused quite a stir at the time. It was merely a hypothesis, but it did suggest a programme of research that could be conducted to test the hypothesis. So far, no one—daring or foolish—has tried. Eventually, however, such questions will have to be faced. The paper Dr Moyzis and his colleagues have just published is a ranging shot, but the amount of recent human evolution it has exposed is surprising. Others will no doubt follow, and the genetic meaning of the term “race”, if it has one, will be exposed for all to see.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

My Race FAQ

On, I offer a Frequently Asked Questions list about the the basic concept of race.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer