June 21, 2008

Diveroli and Co. indicted on 71 counts

22-year-old international arms dealer Efraim Diveroli and three associates were indicted on 71 counts of fraud in the Awfully Alliterative Albanian Afghan Army AEY Ammunition uh ... Affair (bingo!). There doesn't seem to be much new in the story. So, it looks like it's turning out just like I said months ago -- not the exciting conspiracy that Goes Right to the Top that everybody was hoping for, but just a young hustler applying the bait and switch techniques he learned at his uncle's notoriously dodgey Botach Tactical gun shop on a $300,000,000 scale.

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

What "The Happening" is actually about

A few excerpts from my review of the eco-disaster film "The Happening" in the new issue of The American Conservative.

Spoiler Alert!!!! (Although, I'm not sure that "The Happening" is all that spoilable.)

M. Night Shyamalan, an Indian immigrant raised in suburban Philadelphia, is a Crunchy Con auteur who makes mild, relatively wholesome high-concept genre flicks. His 1999 ghost story, "The Sixth Sense," was an instant landmark, while his 2002 alien invasion movie "Signs" was another popular New Age parable about the need for faith and family. His lesser hit in 2004, "The Village," offered an empathetic fable about middle class flight from urban crime. ...

As the mass suicides spread throughout the Northeast, a Philadelphia biology teacher (Mark Wahlberg of "The Departed"), his wife (Zooey Deschanel), and math teacher best friend (John Leguizamo) flee randomly through the ominously verdant hay fields of rural Pennsylvania. After much brow-furrowing, Wahlberg discerns the horrible truth. We polluting humans are enduring the righteous vengeance of … plants.

... The aesthetics of "The Happening" are so unappealing that the entire movie, originally entitled "The Green Effect," might be a covert satire on greenhouse effect alarmism over global warming. The environmentalists in the film appear demented, and there's little sign of pollution. Pennsylvania looks plenty green.

But can a movie be a satire if it's not funny?

More plausibly, "The Happening" could be an allergy allegory. Every year, in the greener parts of America, plants do afflict millions, making them feel like life isn't worth living. Shyamalan burbled, "One of the things that I guess was in the back of my mind was that one in six emergency room cases for the United States is asthma-related. I'm going, "What? … Everybody's like wheezing and there's a line outside the nurse's office for an inhaler. What's that about? We're becoming allergic to what?"

Perhaps that's why Shyamalan has his normally likeable stars act as if their heads are stuffed up and they're just not in the mood to deal with the end of the world. With the state their sinuses are in, the apocalypse leaves them irked and ineffectual. Maybe they could cope if Armageddon were postponed until the pollen count is lower.

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

A Classic

Normally, I edit articles I post here down to just the good stuff, but I can't cut a word from this New York Times Magazine essay.

The New Pariahs?


Noah Feldman, a contributing writer, teaches law at Harvard and is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

No country is wholly free of anti-immigrant prejudice, whether it is the United States, where illegal immigration was a hot-button issue in the Republican primaries, or post-apartheid South Africa, where economic migrants were recently burned to death. But in many Western European countries today, something new and insidious seems to be happening. The familiar old arguments against immigrants — that they are criminals, that their culture makes them a bad fit, that they take jobs from natives — are mutating into an anti-Islamic bias that is becoming institutionalized in the continent’s otherwise ordinary politics.

Examples abound. The Swiss People’s Party sponsors ads in which three white sheep push one black sheep off the Swiss flag — and wins 29 percent of the vote. In Belgium, the Vlaams Belang deploys a clever variation, publicly praising Jews and seeking their support against Muslims, whom it tellingly describes as “the main enemy of the moment.” Meanwhile, the Dutch politician Geert Wilders calls Islam “the ideology of a retarded culture.”

Even Britain, which has afforded Muslims a more welcoming environment, has had some worrying moments. A few years back, a Labor M.P. called for an end to “the tradition of first-cousin marriages” among Pakistanis and other South Asians in Britain. The basis for her suggestion was the claim that Pakistanis in Britain were more likely than the general population to suffer from recessive autosomal genetic disorders. Of course, so are Ashkenazi Jews, but you can hardly imagine an M.P. proposing to limit Jews’ marriage choices for this reason, especially given the historic Nazi allegation of Jewish genetic inferiority.

What is so striking about these forms of prejudice, which go beyond ordinary anti-immigrant feeling, is that they are taking root in otherwise enlightened, progressive states — states where the memory of the Holocaust has often led to the adoption of laws against anti-Semitism and racism. The reasons, therefore, must surely go beyond economic or cultural insecurity.

One factor that cannot be ignored is the threat of terrorism, so closely associated today with radical Islam. In London, Madrid and Amsterdam, terrorist acts have been perpetrated by Muslim immigrants or (more worrisome still) their children. Yet it must be remembered that Europe has also suffered homegrown terrorist attacks, motivated by everything from national liberation (in the cases of the Irish Republican Army or the Basque E.T.A.) to radical leftism (Baader-Meinhof and the Brigate Rosse). Europeans are, therefore, to a degree acclimated to terror, undercutting its power as an explanation. And in the U.S., which on Sept. 11 suffered much greater terrorist damage than any European country ever has, anti-Muslim bias does not have the political weight that it does in Europe.

Well-meaning Europeans sometimes argue that unlike the U.S., their countries are traditionally “homogeneous” and have little experience with immigration. Generalized anti-immigrant feeling, they suggest, has come to rest on Muslims simply because they are increasingly visible. In France, the specter of the “Polish plumber” undercutting French workmen’s wages played a role in recent votes, suggesting the possibility of an equal-opportunity bias. But hostility to Eastern European migrants, though real enough, still does not run as deep as corresponding hostility to Muslims.

The perception of cultural difference may help explain this disparity. Muslim immigrants are depicted in European political rhetoric as not merely backward but also illiberal, contradicting Europe’s now-prevalent commitment to tolerance of homosexuality and sex out of wedlock. At the same time, Muslims are thought to be forcing their children to maintain practices like the head scarf, which is banned in many French schools.

Certainly it is reasonable for free societies to encourage immigrants to adopt their own liberal values. A Dutch requirement that potential immigrants view a film depicting topless bathers and gay couples may seem a little childish, but it is not a human rights violation, and it may even help prepare immigrants for the different world they are poised to enter. Schools should teach the values of the surrounding society, including respect for different lifestyles. Nevertheless, a hallmark of liberal, secular societies is supposed to be respect for different cultures, including traditional, religious cultures — even intolerant ones. There is something discomfiting about a selective respect that extends to the Roman Catholic Church, with its rejection of homosexuality and women priests, but excludes Islam for its sexism and homophobia.

This leaves another, more controversial explanation for anti-Muslim attitudes in Europe: even after 60 years of introspection about the anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust, Europeans are not convinced that culturally and religiously different immigrants should be treated as full members of their societies. European anti-Semitism between the world wars featured accusations of criminality, religious backwardness, genetic inferiority and, above all, the impossibility of assimilation. And it is no coincidence that significant numbers of the Jews in Western Europe were immigrants or children of immigrants from farther east.

The U.S. had its own terrible legacy of legalized racism in the form of the Jim Crow laws, which Hitler imitated for his own purposes. In the aftermath of World War II, however, we began slowly and agonizingly to come to terms with this past. Racial bias is still with us, but so is self-consciousness about our problems and how they must be overcome.

In Europe, by contrast, Hitler’s horrifying success at killing so many Jews meant that the burgeoning postwar societies of the continent never had to come to terms with difference, because it was to a great extent eradicated. Today, as the birthrate for European Muslims far outstrips that for their neighbors, it is as if Europe’s discomfort with difference is being encountered for the first time. In theory, Europe remembers the Holocaust. But the depth of that memory may be doubted when many Europeans seem to have forgotten that their continent was home to other outsiders well before the arrival of today’s Muslim minority.

See what I mean? If I'd put in a single ellipsis, you'd naturally assume that that's where I edited out the part where Feldman says, "Ha ha, just kidding, this is all a parody. Nobody could be living this far in the past!"

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

June 20, 2008

Obama's latest ad: The Promised Prince

Obama's new 60 second TV spot, entitled "Country I Love," continues his central campaign theme of running for President based on his biography. Unfortunately for Obama, he wrote a 442 page autobiography that shows that much of this commercial is a tendentious distortion of his life story. Fortunately for Obama, the book is too boring to hold anybody's attention.

The new commercial emphasizes his white relatives (Matthew Yglesias says the the title of the ad should be "My Mom's White! And I'm From America!"). It's part of his effort that began in 2004 to promote himself as the promised prince, the long-awaited offspring of a historic marital alliance, who, just as Henry VIII's birth of Lancastrian and Yorkist parents ended the War of the Roses, will end the War of the Races by unifying blacks' and whites' divergent interests in himself.

“I’m Barack Obama. America is a country of strong families and strong values. My life’s been blessed by both.

Huh? He wrote tens of thousands of self-pitying words about how bad his family life was. He only spent one month with his father that he can recall. His mother dumped him twice on her grandparents so she could go back to Indonesia to work on her 1067 page anthropology Ph.D. dissertation on peasant blacksmithing.

I was raised by a single mom and my grandparents.

If he was blessed with such a strong family, why was his mother a "single mom?" Actually, his mother was married about 90% of the time up through his 18th birthday, assuming that you count her bigamous marriage to Barack Sr. as "being married." She just despised her second husband, Lolo, in part for his being too pro-American and too pro-capitalist for her tastes, unlike her beloved pro-socialist first husband (who had abandoned her and little Barack because the New School for Social Research, which had offered a scholarship ample enough to support the three of them, wasn't as prestigious as Harvard -- now that's a strong family!)

We didn’t have much money ...

He attended Hawaii's most famous prep school from 5th grade on and lived mostly in a Honolulu highrise with a fabulous view. But to the extent that it's true that they didn't have much money, it's because he wasn't from a "strong family."

but they taught me values straight from the Kansas heartland where they grew up.

The Chicago Tribune's article "Mother not just a girl from Kansas" gives a much more accurate picture of her Seattle-area upbringing as a leftist, feminist, and atheist who told her high school friends that marriage and children weren't for her, but surprised them all by getting knocked up at age 17 by a 24-year-old married man. He was from the Third World, so I guess that made it okay.

Accountability and self-reliance. Love of country.

Oh, come on ... His mother married two foreigners and spent most of her adult life in foreign countries. She dumped her son on his grandparents twice because she preferred to live abroad without him than in America with him. His mother angrily refused to attend her Indonesian second husband's business dinners with Americans because, as she shouted, "They are not my people" (italics Obama's). She was shattered to discover Indonesia was no longer the anti-American leftwing state she'd heard about, but was now a pro-American rightwing one.

Working hard without making excuses. Treating your neighbor as you’d like to be treated. It’s what guided me as I worked my way up — taking jobs and loans to make it through college. It’s what led me to pass up Wall Street jobs

His "international business consultant" job he got out of college was actually being a copy editor at a low-rent newsletter sweatshop. (By the way, I've never seen much evidence, pro or con, on whether Obama's quantitative skills come anywhere close to his superlative verbal skills. Anybody know? That might explain why he wasn't snapped up by an investment bank when he graduated from Columbia in booming 1983. Judging from the kind of job he accepted, he would have taken a high-paying Wall Street job if anybody had offered him one.)

and go to Chicago instead, helping neighborhoods devastated when steel plants closed.

The intended implication here is that he went to Chicago to help steel workers with names like Stan Grabowski. No, he went to politically organize blacks, and only blacks, to build himself a black power base in a city where blacks had just gotten the powerful mayor's office.

That’s why I passed laws moving people from welfare to work,

In the 442 pages of his 1995 Dreams from My Father, there's not a single word of criticism of welfare. The word "welfare" only appears twice (plus once in the 2004 preface), and neither time implies anything bad about it. This book was written at the height of the debate over welfare in the mid-1990s, so the lack of criticism of welfare is intentional.

cut taxes for working families and extended health care for wounded troops who’d been neglected.

This is an extremely accurate depiction of his political emphases!

I approved this message because I’ll never forget those values, and if I have the honor of taking the oath of office as president, it will be with a deep and abiding faith in the country I love.

Obama has a deep and abiding faith in Obama.

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

Return of the New Mulatto Elite

Awhile back, a British TV talent show was won by a dumpy-looking guy named Paul Potts who wowed the crowd by singing Puccini's "Nessun Dorma" aria from Turandot.

Americans don't know anything about opera anymore, so they don't realize how thrilling it can be. (The British viewers were probably vaguely familiar with the aria from the connection between soccer and the Three Tenors, "Nessun Dorma" being more or less Pavarotti's theme song.) So it was only natural for the American Idol-style show "America's Got Talent" to have as the anchorman of their season premiere this week an American contestant singing "Nessun Dorma." Neil E. Boyd, an insurance salesman of Pavarotti-like girth, floored the audience, making him the frontrunner.

I imagine the producers of the show auditioned a lot of part-time opera singers to find the one they were going to anoint as the American Paul Potts. The fellow they came up with, Boyd, is (not too surprisingly) part black, with a white mom with whom he is very close.

A couple of years ago, my wife predicted early in the American Idol season that Jordin Sparks, the daughter of an NFL cornerback and a redhead, would win, since she could sing both black and white.

I think there's a general lesson emerging: whites like blacks, but black teens these days don't like much of anything they consider white. They like just hip-hop and basketball (and, okay, football, too). Almost everything else is considered a violation of keeping it real.

Even though blacks may tend to have a natural advantage at creating resonant vocal tones, the very idea of singing opera is totally off their radar. Sure, there were big time black opera singers like Marian Anderson as far back as between the Wars, but black youths aren't interested in that kind of acting white anymore.

So, the small number of mulattos who grew up with one non-black parent and thus get introduced to a wider range of cultural options beyond rap and hoops are disproportionately taking the plums that people a generation ago assumed blacks in general would be achieving.

Back in 1968, when the top American rock guitarist was Jimi Hendrix and top American tennis player was Arthur Ashe, everybody assumed that integration meant that blacks would continue to show up near the top in an ever wider variety of fields.

Today, though, superstar rock guitarist Tom Morello is the great-nephew of Jomo Kenyatta; and the second best American men's tennis player James Blake has a black father. But they both have white mothers. Similarly, five different black golfers won 23 PGA tournaments between 1961 and 1986, but since then Tiger Woods is the only player of any visible fraction of African ancestry to win a tournament.

There's somebody who's an even better example of this rise of the new mulatto elite, but I can't quite think of his name at the moment.

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

If Hillary become Veep, what's Bill's title?

If Michelle's the First Lady, then Bill would be the Second Gentleman, right?

But, then, who's the First Gentleman?

Sure, it sounds silly, but it points out the problem that was never addressed in terms of either Hillary for President or for Vice President: what's Bill's role? Because we were all supposed to celebrate Hillary's candidacy as this great triumph for women that all patriotic Americans were supposed to take pride in (kind of like those bogus women's team sports competitions that corporate America puffs up when American women win even though the only competition is China and Norway), nobody was supposed to mention that Hillary was running for President only because her husband was term-limited out of office, just like in banana republics like Argentina.

I, Ectomorph
After all that has happened, [Obama] must feel that he has earned the nomination in his own right and won't govern effectively if the press is constantly preoccupied with whatever the Clintons are up to at One Observatory Circle (the little-known VP residence that would suddenly be a lot better known if Socks the Cat moves in). ... If he needs to have her onside, then he'll have the common sense to promise her a job in the new administration that she can be fired from.

And since Obama can't fire Hillary if he makes her VP, he doubly can't fire Hillary's husband from his ill-defined but inevitably large role as the Looming Presence or whatever. An Obama-Clinton administration would be the best thing that ever happened to the gag writers for late night talkshow hosts, but Obama would be nuts to saddle himself with the Hill and Bill Show. Just imagine Obama getting all geared up to promote some boring carbon emissions bill, when it suddenly leaks out that the Vice President is divorcing the ex-President. Nobody would pay any attention to the President for months.

Bill is the exact opposite of the ideal husband of a lady leader, Denis Thatcher, a convivial man not very interested in politics or the spotlight. He was 10 years older than his wife, and so was winding down his business career as she reached the top of her political career. He had enough money and wasn't particularly on the prowl for more. Mr. Thatcher only gave short speeches and never gave interviews.

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

Iowa reminds NYT of New Orleans

A curious headline on a New York Times article bylined "Iowa City:"

For Bush, a New Town, a New Disaster, but Always the Memory of New Orleans

Mass outbreaks in Iowa of looting, rape, cops fleeing, and even cops looting? Who knew?

Poking around on Google News for 15 minutes, though, I have found some stories like this:

WATERLOO, Iowa - Two Waterloo teenagers have been accused of looting at some apartments that were evacuated because of flooding.

Authorities say police, acting on a tip about a suspicious noise, found Darryel Schwarz Jr. and Erin Schmidt, both 17, in the lobby of the apartment building early Monday.

So, it's clearly exactly the same as New Orleans in 2005.

By the way, Dennis Mangan has an email from a reader from Cedar Rapids comparing the two cultures' responses to flooding.

Audacious Epigone wonders whether there will be another flood in New Orleans when all the water gets there down the Mississippi.

Beats me. One thing to keep in mind is that the population of New Orleans has changed substantially since 2005. The population is way down. When I spent a couple of days in New Orleans in 2007, almost all of it in the wealthy old above-sea level parts, most of the people I saw looked like they had trust funds.

Indeed, New Orleans is turning into a college town, with Tulane and a few other colleges now accounting for a sizable fraction of the population. The Tulane campus police are now authorized to patrol for a mile off campus. Tulane students have organized their own ambulance service to take sick members of the Tulane community to the Tulane Medical Center downtown.

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

June 19, 2008

Libertarian snarkfest over fertility

From Reason magazine (which really ought to look into changing its name to something more appropriate, such as Smugness):

Baby Bust!
The world is panicking over birthrates. Again.
Kerry Howley

As a historical example of panicking over birthrates, we read:
"Waves of birthrate anxiety swept through France at the beginning of the 19th century...

And, of course, all that French hysteria over Germany having a higher birthrate and thus being able to field a bigger army turned out to be just a hallucination as the Germans never ever bothered France again.

The article includes three mentions of Mark Steyn's America Alone, without mentioning the ongoing court battle in Canada over whether the leading newsweekly up there has the legal right to print part of it.

And, of course, there is zero mention in the article of the most prominent public calls for maintaining the quantity and quality of the race -- from Jews.

For example, Elliott Abrams, who served during the first Bush II adminstration as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director on the National Security Council for Near East and North African Affairs and then was promoted to Deputy National Security Advisor for Global Democracy Strategy, spent the Clinton Administration years trying to keep Jews from marrying shikses. Abrams wrote in Slate in 1999:
"But the accommodationists are wrong. Intermarriage is both inevitable in our open society, and immensely threatening to Jewish continuity here. The Jewish community must avoid excuses and circumlocutions, and recognize that only a powerful Jewish identity built on the faith and practice of Judaism can enable young American Jews to resist the temptation of intermarriage. Only that faith can explain to them why they should resist the melting pot and build a family that takes its place in the covenant of Abraham."

Putting a race warrior like Abrams in charge of America's Near East policy was a little like making Rev. Bob Jones III ambassador to Nelson Mandela's South Africa. But nobody seemed to notice the joke. That's just one of those things you aren't supposed to talk about, especially in Reason.

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

"Be Kind Rewind"

Here's my American Conservative review from February of "Be Kind Rewind," which is now out on DVD:

A new satirical website called Stuff White People Like has earned three million visits in the last ten days by offering dead-on deadpan analyses of status symbols among the under-40 upper middle class. Listed along with such de rigueur affectations of the more-sensitive-than-thou set as "Apple Products," "Threatening to Move to Canada," and "Barack Obama," is "Michel Gondry," the French director of Bjork's music videos and "such white classics as 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.'"

Christian Lander, who masterminds the site, helpfully advises:

"[Mentioning Gondry] can be used to help find common ground with white people. Talk about how you wanted to direct music videos after you saw Michel Gondry’s video for “Around the World” by Daft Punk. Then make a joke about how foolish you were at that age and everyone will have a good laugh. But they will also feel your pain about sacrificing your artistic dreams."

Like much of the stuff white people like, there is something to be said for the ingenious and ingenuous Gondry, whose video autobiography is aptly entitled "I've Been 12 Forever." His twee trademarks are childlike sets and props that he might have made out of cardboard and other junk he found in his dad's garage. Indeed, I found Gondry's surrealist comedy "The Science of Sleep," with Gael García Bernal as a boyish graphics designer who can't tell his waking and dreaming lives apart, the most delightful movie of 2006.

Yet, while Apple can charge $800 extra for a laptop, movie tickets all cost about the same, so having a small upscale fan base doesn't do much financially for Gondry. To escape the status-striver's ghetto and connect with the American mass market, Gondry is recycling the do-it-yourself aesthetic of "Science" in "Be Kind Rewind." It stars part-time heavy metal singer Jack Black and part-time rapper Mos Def. Unfortunately, although not surprisingly, American lunkheadedness and French condescension make an ineffectual combination.

While Mos Def is #68 on the Stuff White People Like site, Jack Black's reputation is in decline. Here, he plays the same character as in "School of Rock" and all his other films, the pop culture-obsessed loser. Yet, the suspicion is growing that perhaps Black isn't a genius who understands the common mind -- maybe he just has the common mind.

The premise of "Be Kind Rewind" is even more rickety than that of "Science." Mos Def is the mild-mannered clerk at Danny Glover's dusty VHS-only video store in the slums of Passaic, New Jersey. While the owner is on vacation, the assistant's paranoid friend (Black) tries to sabotage the next-door power plant. The electro-magnetic pulse erases all the videotapes.

To prevent the owner's dotty friend (Mia Farrow) from tattling when she finds out that "Ghostbusters" is blank, they reshoot it in an afternoon: "I'll be Bill Murray; you be everyone else." Soon, the whole neighborhood wants to appear in their 20-minute zero-budget remakes of famous movies.

"Be Kind Rewind" is a tribute to the You Tube generation's devotion to making stuff up themselves -- albeit, an inordinately expensive accolade to amateurism. Gondry, who spent only $6 million on "Science," somehow squandered $20 million here. The endless credits list for this elephantine trifle include 16 drivers and a "second second assistant director."

There wasn't enough in the budget, though, for a good script doctor. Gondry's amusing trilingual screenplay for "Science of Sleep" showed that the screenwriting Oscar he won for co-authoring "Eternal Sunshine" with the great Charlie Kaufman wasn't wholly a gift. Yet, as talented as the auteur is, it's asking too much of the visually-oriented Frenchman to expect him to write witty dialogue in English.

Still, "Rewind" raises the question of whether, with an infinite number of choices in free entertainment (some of it as good as Stuff) just a click away, can going to the movies survive?

I think so. First, trying to perfect anything visual requires endless work (as the film's three-month shooting schedule suggests). This means the nonprofessionals who have enough time and energy to shoot their own movies are generally so young they haven't had a life yet, and can merely parody the pop culture rattling around inside their heads.

Second, one big reason Americans still spend $9.7 billion annually on movie tickets is to be forced to sit still and watch a single story for two hours without the nagging sense that you could (and thus should) be surfing to something else cooler.

Rated PG-13 for some sexual references.

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

June 18, 2008

"Iron Man"

From my review in The American Conservative:

In contrast to the manga-addicted Japanese, Americans don't actually like comic books much. Sales have been sluggish since the collapse of the speculator-driven collectible bubble in the early 1990s. The fundamental flaw of comic books is that by using pictures to dispense with time-consuming verbal descriptions, they quickly chew through countless plot permutations, exhausting all but the most obsessive readers.

What Americans like instead, as the $100 million opening weekend for the entertaining "Iron Man" shows, are comic book movies. Two hours is the right amount of time for the tragic death of the parents of the superhero, his dawning awareness of his powers for good and evil, a bruising fight with an older supervillain in the skies over a megalopolis, and an epilogue setting up the sequel.

Granted, Hollywood is scraping the bottom of the comic book barrel with Iron Man, a name more famous as the title of the thudding heavy metal classic by Black Sabbath. (Was the song inspired by the superhero? Nobody seems to know -- you try getting a straight story out of an elderly English rock star about what he was thinking in 1970.) Yet, Iron Man's obscurity didn't prove a marketing problem because, as Canadian journalist Colby Cosh has noted, "The public adores the familiar, even if all they know is that it should be familiar."

Iron Man was dreamed up by Stan Lee in 1963 as Marvel Comics' answer to DC's Batman. Like Bruce Wayne, Tony Stark lacked superpowers, but he made up for it by being a billionaire playboy inventor a la Howard Hughes. That was an era of engineer heroes, such as Hyman Rickover of the nuclear navy, Wernher von Braun of the space program, and Kelly Johnson of Lockheed's Skunk Works. In contrast, today's most celebrated tech tycoon is Apple's Steve Jobs, whose specialty is simplifying user interfaces (while the boring manufacturing is subcontracted off somewhere overseas).

Rather than fighting crime like Wayne, Stark's focus was foreign policy. While prototyping a new Stark Industries weapons system for our advisors in Vietnam, he was captured by "red guerilla tyrant" Wong Chu, who put him to work building a superweapon for some nefarious purpose. Stark, though, secretly banged together a robot exoskeleton (probably inspired by the mobile infantry powers suits in Robert A. Heinlein's 1959 novel Starship Troopers) and smashed his way out.

The movie is transplanted to Afghanistan in 2008. The villain isn't the Taliban (there are a lot of Muslim potential ticket-buyers out there), but a freelance warlord who has assembled a multicultural gang of mercenaries from across the Eurasian steppe, from Hungary to Mongolia, to rebuild the empire of Genghis Khan. (How using Stark's high tech weaponry to pillage one mud brick village in the Hindu Kush gets him closer to world domination isn't explained.)

In most action movies, the bad guys' henchmen are suicidally devoted to the cause, even if they are just in it for money. In a clever touch of realism in this consistently enjoyable film, however, the hired goons are just bullies who flee in terror from what looks like a man wrapped in pick-up truck bumpers.

Soon, the engineering genius is back in his workshop in his John Lautner-designed Iron Mansion in Malibu, building a more advanced suit to track down who is bootlegging his firm's weaponry. "Iron Man" is a refreshing throwback to the pre-virtual age when heroes forged tools out of metal, rather than just tap on a computer keyboard. It's the most loving tribute to machinery since James Cameron vanished.

Casting the twice-imprisoned Robert Downey Jr. as the hero was a risk because the leading man in a $186 million production must be insurable, and his work ethic should provide a role model for the crew. That's one reason Cameron made Arnold Schwarzenegger a huge star, even though he can barely speak English. Downey, in contrast, is blessed with the most nimble articulation of any American actor since James Woods. He could whip through Hamlet in three hours. Indeed, one of the more intriguing what-ifs of recent American theatre history was the drug-cancelled 2001 production of Hamlet, in which Downey was to be directed by his friend Mel Gibson.

Sober for half a decade, Downey remains the master of the throwaway line. Watch how lightly he tosses off his inevitable last line, "I am Iron Man," just before Black Sabbath's power chords clang over the credits.

Rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and brief suggestive content.

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

June 17, 2008

NYT tonguebath of Mrs. O.

The New York Times runs a comically biased "article" about Michelle Obama's all-around wonderfulness, but if you can make it to the third page, you'll find out a few things:

By 2001, Mrs. Obama, married for nine years and the mother of two daughters, had taken a job as vice president of community affairs at the University of Chicago Medical Center. She soon discovered just how acrimonious those affairs were.

Hospital brass had gathered to break ground for a children’s wing when African-American protesters broke in with bullhorns, drowning out the proceedings with demands that the hospital award more contracts to minority firms.

The executives froze. Mrs. Obama strolled over and offered to meet later, if only the protestors would pipe down. She revised the contracting system, sending so much business to firms owned by women and other minorities that the hospital won awards.

Which awards? Diversity Racket Victim of the Year? How many of these non-lowest bid contracts went to potential political allies of her husband? The Obamas were using other people's money to build their power base.

She also altered the hospital’s research agenda. When the human papillomavirus vaccine, which can prevent cervical cancer, became available, researchers proposed approaching local school principals about enlisting black teenage girls as research subjects.

Mrs. Obama stopped that. The prospect of white doctors performing a trial with black teenage girls summoned the specter of the Tuskegee syphilis experiment of the mid-20th century, when white doctors let hundreds of black men go untreated to study the disease.

So, rather than educate blacks about why they should help with a medical study that had the potential to help all of humanity, Mrs. Obama, who has zero qualification in any scientific field, stopped medical research from taking place. Swell ...

A reader writes:

"Wasn't organizing bullhorn-wielding protestors part of Barack Obama's job description as an ACORN-Alinskyite "organizer"? Heck, she might of known the protestors from cocktails at the Ayers'..."

The Obamas' allies protest, and in return the Obamas get paid to give them other people's money to get them to go away for awhile. It's a perpetual motion machine. Nice work if you can get it.

Speaking of the Ayers couple, why does the hubby get all the publicity? Sexism? After all, the wife, Bernardine Dohrn, told 400 people at a Weatherman convention in 1969, in reference to the Manson Family murders of Sharon Tate and others:

"Dig it! First they killed those pigs and then they put a fork in their bellies. Wild!"

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

Gay marriage in California

California is the ideal place to experiment with a fundamental redefinition of society's foremost building block, marriage. After all, there are only 38 million people in California, Californians are famously level-headed and rational, and Californians don't have any influence over the media. So, if it turns out a generation from now to have been a bad idea, no harm done!

My concern, since 2001, is that more gay men would be interested in getting married (i.e., in a theatrical ceremony) than in being married (i.e., sexual monogamy). We're talking about some awfully flamboyant folks: Gay Pride parades could more honestly be renamed Gay Narcissism parades.

So that the long term danger from gay marriage would likely be to make more straight guys reluctant to go through the already punitive process of getting married. Being the groom in a wedding ceremony is a pretty uncomfortable thing already, but at least it's a guy thing, not a gay thing. As John Derbyshire quoted me in 2003:

On the other hand, there's a process of gay ghettoization that goes on when straight men recognize that some institution is disproportionately attractive to male homosexuals. Broadway, for example, has gone from a popular national institution to a largely gay ghetto in recent decades. It's hard to get a serious discussion going of this since nobody wants to be accused of being homophobic, but I see it everywhere. I don't think marriages will be popular enough among gays to start this process, but I worry that weddings will be. It wouldn't take much to get the average young man to turn even more against participating in an arduous process that seems alien and hostile to him already. If some of the most enthusiastic participants become gays, then his aversion will grow even more.

The subheadline in the LA Times today reveals a campaign by gay leaders (and, no doubt, their allies in the media) to keep the ceremonies toned down until after the November California initiative vote:

"Flamboyant images from same-sex ceremonies, activists say, could be used by opponents to convince California votes that gays and lesbians shouldn't have the right to marry."

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

"Forgetting Sarah Marshall"

Here's my review from The American Conservative of the comedy from a couple of months ago:

Ever since the collapse of the Hollywood studio system, film productions have become expensive and time-consuming to get off the ground because each new movie is an independent business enterprise demanding complex negotiations.

If Shakespeare were a film auteur today with all the public acclaim he'd deserve, so much of his time would be tied up taking meetings that he'd be lucky to get a bare dozen of his scripts ever made into movies. Hollywood insiders would gossip about Bill Shakespeare's legendary unfilmed screenplay about Falstaff: every time his people finally hammered out a deal with a funny fat guy -- whether John Belushi, John Candy, or Chris Farley -- the star would drop dead.

Comic screenwriter and producer Judd Apatow has been pursuing a lower cost and quicker business model for making movies. Apatow's resembles a theatre company in which scripts are written to fit the pre-existing talents of his ensemble. When putting together the critically acclaimed but shortlived television series Freaks and Geeks (about high school students) and Undeclared (college students), he assembled a team of funny (but rather funny-looking) young men such as Apatow's alter ego, actor Seth Rogen. When the shows were canceled and nobody else in the business rushed to employ them, Apatow taught them to write screenplays for themselves to star in.

The first film Apatow wrote and directed, 2005's "40 Year Old Virgin" (which took in $109 million at the domestic box office on a lean $26 million budget), featured his team in supporting roles. Rogen finally became a star last year in Apatow's "Knocked Up" ($149 million). Meanwhile, Rogen had outgrown the screenplay he'd co-written about high school seniors, "Superbad," so Rogen's role was taken by his alter ego, Jonah Hill, who looks like his little brother. When it earned $121 million in U.S. theatres, Apatow was declared a brand name.

Now, another Apatow protégé, Jason Segel (Rogen's tall stoner housemate in "Knocked Up"), has penned the consistently funny and sometimes appealing romantic break-up film "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." Segel stars in it himself as a boozy, self-pitying schlub whose TV starlet girlfriend has left him for a cretinous but laciviously charming rock star (played by English comic Russell Brand in his first, and definitely not last, American role).

The cultural import of Team Apatow's popular sex comedies has been much debated among 20-somethings. 20th Century artists and entertainers tended to see their role as shocking the bourgeoisie, but will there eventually be any left to shock? Apatow both continues that trend, concocting news lows in raunchiness, while also preaching ever more openly his traditional values of monogamy, sobriety, and industry.

On the one hand, sounding like a Weimar Era manifesto-writer, Apatow recently proclaimed, "America fears the penis, and that's something I'm going to help them get over… I'm gonna get a penis in every movie I do from now on." Hence, in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," we are treated to the frontal sight of a naked Jason Segel bawling as his girlfriend, played by Kristen Bell of Veronica Mars, dumps him. (Segel recalls that when this actually occurred in his own life, as he emerged from the shower, "All I kept thinking was, 'This is the funniest thing that's ever happened to anybody. I cannot wait until she leaves so I can start writing this down.'")

On the other hand, the plot of "Sarah Marshall," like most films sponsored by Aptaow, a devoted family man, offers an endorsement of bourgeois values, particularly the threat of venereal diseases spread by the promiscuous likes of Sarah's new boyfriend.

Similarly, "Sarah Marshall" is even more adamant than "Knocked Up" in pushing the diligent Apatow's crusade against marijuana. Apatow has said, "My main intention is to show that drugs lead them on the road to nowhere. … . Every guy I worked with who smokes pot is less funny, or their music got lame." Thus, veteran Apatow ensemble member Paul Rudd plays a Hawaiian surfing instructor whose brain is so baked that his character is not even amusing.

Is Apatow a force for good or bad in our society? Apatow himself can't say. He admits, "And I find that people don't pick up on that [anti-marijuana] message… even if I hit it really hard." More likely, the bongheads sitting on their couches watching his characters sit on their couches smoking dope conclude that their lives must also be worthy of being on DVD.

Rated R for sexual content, language and some graphic nudity.

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

June 16, 2008

Another approach to estimating Indian IQ

Godless Capitalist, a co-founder of GNXP, suggests an approach for getting real achievement data by caste background for Indians in North America that's similar to what Nathaniel Weyl and Stefan Possony did in the 1960s: surname analysis. Weyl and Possony made up lists of surnames that tend to belong to one ethnic group, like Clark is English, Wallace Scottish, Sullivan Irish, Lloyd Welsh, Schmidt German, and so forth; then figure out what percentage of the population has each surname from Social Security Administration data; then compare the base percentages to how frequently these names show up among lists of high achievers.

GC suggests you could do the same thing with social networking sites like Facebook where people put down their colleges, degrees, and jobs by comparing achievement levels to names associated with different castes and regions. For details of how to do it, see here.

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

Golf's human scale

Rocco Mediate, a short-hitting 45-year-old from Pittsburgh, will face Tiger Woods in an 18 hole playoff Monday for the U.S. Open title, after the journeyman outplayed the greatest ever from tee to green on Sunday. It's nice that golf, unlike most other prominent sports, has enough randomness in it and tests a wide-enough array of skills that a guy who looks like the district sales manager still has a fighting chance now and then.

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

June 15, 2008

The dynastic appeal of Barack Obama

In my new VDARE.com column, I respond to Kenan Malik's criticism in Prospect of my definition of race. His assumption that it's absurd to call the British royal family a racial group got me thinking about dynasticism again, and I finally figured out something about the essence of Barack Obama's appeal that should have been obvious to me a year ago.

It's absurd that in a huge country like America that a Bush or a Clinton has been on every national ticket since 1980. I viewed Obama's victory over the Clinton dynasty as a defeat for the forces of dynasticism, but now I realize I was being naive, that has brilliantly tapped into the public's dynastic logic, just on a larger and subtler scale.

Here's an excerpt, but you'll have to read the whole article to see how.

How to Think About Race — and Barack Obama

By Steve Sailer

A new but characteristically confused debate over whether race is a biological reality reminds me of the value of having a simple definition of "race" in mind.

Left-leaning British-Indian science journalist Kenan Malik's latest book, Strange Fruit: Why Both Sides are Wrong in the Race Debate, has so far only gone on sale in the U.K. But he argues online: "Race is not a real biological entity."

In a hostile review of Malik's book in Prospect, the fine British intellectual magazine, Mark Pagel, a British evolutionary biologist, lands a flurry of blows:

"Malik knows these facts about our genetics, but wants to insist that, unless 'race' corresponds to absolute boundaries, it is a useless and damaging concept. But to deny what everybody knows and to swap the word race for something less politically charged like ‘group’ is just an act of self-denial and certainly no more accurate than the dreaded ‘r’ word. It is also patronising—I would like to think we are all grown up enough to accept the facts and ready ourselves for the deluge to come. I say deluge because the more we measure, the more genetic differences we find among populations …"

Unfortunately, Pagel doesn't deliver a knockout punch because he lacks a definition of race. Like Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart wrote in his famous opinion in a pornography case, Pagel can't define race, but he knows it when he sees it.

Malik responded in Prospect by noting, with some justice, "The debate over race has moved on. To judge from his review of my book, Mark Pagel hasn't noticed."

To illustrate the state of the art thinking among the race realists he opposes, Malik writes:

"In the 19th and early 20th centuries, races were viewed as fixed groups, each with its own distinct behaviour patterns and physical characteristics. They could be ranked on an evolutionary hierarchy, with whites at the top and blacks at the bottom. Today, with a few exceptions, race realists reject the idea that there are essential, unbridgeable differences between human populations, or that differences signify inferiority or superiority. So how do they define a race? Usually as 'an extended family that is inbred to some degree' in the words of Steve Sailer of the Human Biodiversity Institute. ... But once everything from the British royal family to the entire human population can be considered a race (because each is an "extended family inbred to some degree"), then the category has little value."


Along these lines, here's an update of an update of Richmond's speech concluding Shakespeare's Richard III about the dynastic marriage to end the War of the Roses between the Yorks and Lancasters:

We will unite the white rose and the black:
Smile heaven upon this fair conjunction,
That long have frown'd upon their enmity!
What extremist hears me, and says not amen?
America hath long been mad, and scarr'd herself;
The rev'rend shouted his congregation's ire,
The consultant plotteth Will Horton ads
The undiverse fleeeth to the exurbs
All this divided White and Black
Divided in their dire division,

But then Barack Sr. and Stanley Ann
The true succeeders of each racial house,
By God's fair ordinance conjoin together!
And let their heir, God, if thy will be so.
Enrich the time to come with smooth-faced peace,
With smiling plenty and fair prosperous days!
Abate the edge of racists, gracious Lord,
That would demand both parties make borders secure,
And make America less inclusive
Let them not live to taste this land's increase
That would with insensitivity wound this fair land's peace!
Now civil wounds are stopp'd, peace lives again:
That she may long live here, God say amen!

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