July 25, 2008

MSM starts to notice Obama's biography gap

Gabriel Sherman's article "End of the Affair" in The New Republic recounts a lot of gripes reporters have with the arrogance and secrecy of the Obama campaign. Most of it is the usual dull whining, but this is interesting:

"Reporters who have covered Obama's biography or his problems with certain voter blocs have been challenged the most aggressively. "They're terrified of people poking around Obama's life," one reporter says. "The whole Obama narrative is built around this narrative that Obama and David Axelrod built, and, like all stories, it's not entirely true. So they have to be protective of the crown jewels." Another reporter notes that, during the last year, Obama's old friends and Harvard classmates were requested not to talk to the press without permission."

Better late than never, I suppose ...

By the way, can you imagine being asked not to talk to the press about some guy you went to school with without his permission?

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

July 24, 2008

Shiller: The New Cosmopolitans

A friend recommends economist Robert J. Shiller (who called the housing bubble years ago more energetically than just about any other prominent economist) article from 2006 on "The New Cosmopolitans."

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

Sorry, I've been sick

Sorry about not answering emails for 36 hours, I've been sick.

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

July 22, 2008

Sailer on CNN.com on Obama

CNN.com runs an article by John Blake, "Could an Obama Presidency Hurts Black Americans," which adapts quotes from my first Obama article, back on January 2, 2007 in VDARE.com:

Steve Sailer, a columnist for The American Conservative magazine, wrote last year that some whites who support Obama aren't driven primarily by a desire for change.

They want something else Obama offers them: "White Guilt Repellent," he wrote.

"So many whites want to be able to say, 'I'm not one of them, those bad whites. ... Hey, I voted for a black guy for president,' " Sailer wrote.

Sailer cited another reason why many whites want Obama as president:

"They hope that when a black finally moves into the White House, it will prove to African-Americans, once and for all, that white animus isn't the cause of their troubles. All blacks have to do is to act like President Obama - and their problems will be over."

It wasn't my most sophisticated take on Obama, but here's the context from my VDARE article, "White Guilt, Obamania, and the Reality of Race," for the quotes in the CNN article:

The Barack Attack phenomenon is similar to the Colin Craze of 1995. Of course, General Powell had better qualifications. He'd been intimately involved in managing a successful national enterprise, the Gulf War of 1991. And he had articulated a thoughtful, cautious policy for when and how to conduct military operations, the Powell Doctrine, the wisdom of which subsequent events have only underlined.

Supporting Obama for President, like supporting Powell a decade ago, is seen by many whites as the ultimate in White Guilt Repellent.

It's important to understand, however, that White Guilt is very different from, say, Catholic Guilt, which consists of straightforward feelings of personal moral failure.

In comparison, I don't recall ever meeting any white person who personally felt guilty for the troubles of African-Americans. But I've known many whites who want to loudly blame other whites for black difficulties.

Some whites at least heap guilt upon their own ancestors, but many who publicly proclaim the reality of White Guilt aren't averse to noting that their own forefathers arrived at Ellis Island long after slavery was over.

In other words, White Guilt is just another ploy in the Great American White Status Struggle. Minorities are merely props for asserting moral superiority over other whites.

Finding and punishing Guilty Whites has become a national obsession. One notorious current example: the framing of the Duke lacrosse players by Durham district attorney Mike Nifong (with the enthusiastic assistance of the New York Times) in the endless hunt for what Tom Wolfe called "the Great White Defendant."

So, many whites want to be able to say, "I'm not one of them, those bad whites, like that guy on Seinfeld. Hey, I voted for a black guy for President!"

Plus, I suspect there's an even more hidden reason many whites wish Obama is elected President: They hope that when a black finally moves into the White House, it will prove to African-Americans, once and for all, that white animus isn't the cause of their troubles. All blacks have to do is to act like President Obama—and their problems will be over!

It's a seductive vision. And it plays right into our national dream that race is just skin deep, that it's all in our heads, that the solution for all racial conflict is simply thinking right thoughts, etc. etc.

"All blacks have to do is to act like President Obama—and their problems will be over!" is funnier with an exclamation point.

Somebody better tell David Brock at Media Matters right now, so he won't lose any time getting his panties in a twist again over somebody daring to quote me.

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

$1.25 per gallon

The Honda Civic GX runs on compressed natural gas, which supposedly only costs about the equivalent of $1.25 per gallon of gasoline. Downsides include the tank only holds the equivalent of eight gallons of gasoline, so range is half of the gasoline version. And if you run out between the rare CNG filling stations, you'll need to be towed to one. Plus, you only get 113 horsepower, instead of the 140 in the basic gasoline Civic. And the MSRP is a hefty $24,590, a couple of thousand more than the 110 horsepower Civic Hybrid.

My question is whether this is one of those rare cases where it pays more to get in early on a new technology. If 15 years from now, half of America is driving around in a compress natural gas vehicle, will the current large price gap between CNG and gasoline narrow considerably due to more demand for CNG?

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

Obama wants to escalate in Afghanistan

In September 2001, I advocated overthrowing the Afghan government in punishment but not trying to transform the country as well (arguing my case in the guise of a review of "The Man Who Would Be King"). Remind me again, though, what exactly are we doing there seven years later that we've now got to do more of it, according to Senator Obama?

From the Washington Post:

Sen. Barack Obama, on his first and likely only overseas trip as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has remade the campaign's foreign policy playing field, neatly sidestepping Republican charges that he has been naive and wrong on Iraq and moving to a broader, post-Iraq focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan. ... Chief among them, he said, are the "need to refocus attention on Afghanistan and to go after the Taliban, including putting more troops on the ground, and to put more pressure on Pakistan to deal with the safe havens of terrorists."

Do we have any sort of offer on the table to the Taliban (e.g., hand over Osama and Mullah Omar and change your name to something else, and we'll go home and let you locals duke it out in your time-honored manner)? Or is it our national grand strategy to be screwing around in Afghanistan until the whole place finally calms down, which will be the day after the sun explodes in 5,000,000,000 AD? (Your Lying Eyes argues the case for Afghan Ennui here.)

And do we really have any clue what to do with Pakistan? The last thing I remember was everyone in the U.S. media announcing, right after Benazir Bhutto's assassination, that the whole place was about to explode in chaos. But then it more or less didn't, at least compared to how chaotic it normally is. So, does Obama have some special insight into how Pakistan works (perhaps from spending a couple of weeks there 25 years ago?), or is he as clueless as, apparently, everybody else in America is about the place?

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

Obama's paper trail

I hear Stanley Kurtz has been in Illinois digging up Obama's paper trail for upcoming articles in the Weekly Standard and National Review. I have no idea what he's found, but it's certainly about time that somebody went looking.

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

July 21, 2008

A reductionist theory of humor

Why do we laugh?

Lots of theories have been constructed to answer this question, but most haven't been terribly successful because we laugh at so many different things. (Here's a New York Review of Books essay on some of them.) So, let me try out a two-stage theory, which I haven't actually tested yet against all the different kinds of humor, but it may be promising:

Stage One: Let's start out with a negative but useful definition of humor: it's not serious.

The more something seems serious but is not serious, the funnier it is.

King Lear topples rigidly to the ground -- uh-oh, that's serious. Buster Keaton topples rigidly to the ground -- oh, good, that's not serious, ha-ha.

A young husband and wife get into an argument over who, exactly, is the father of her unborn child. Generally speaking, that's not funny. It's serious.

A young husband and wife get into an argument before her parents come for dinner over whether you should set the salad fork to the right of the main fork or across the top of the plate. They start yelling, but eventually start laughing at themselves for yelling because it's a silly thing to get worked up over. It's not serious.

Laughter happens more in public than in private. To say, as readers often do, that A Confederacy of Dunces or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas are "laugh out loud funny" is to admit, via the logic of the exception that proves the rule, that the great majority of books don't provoke loud laughter in solitary readers. In contrast, to say that the recent Katherine Heigl romantic comedy "27 Dresses" is "laugh out loud funny" is ho-hum praise because any movie labeled a comedy is supposed to set the audience in the theatre off laughing.

Public laughter can serve as an expression of relief and mutual reassurance that something that could be serious -- e.g., the bride's bedraggled ex-boyfriend crashes into the church just before she says "I do" to the rich guy who doesn't really love her -- isn't serious, it's just, say, romantic comedy behavior. Weddings are almost omnipresent in movie comedies these days because we have so few formal ceremonies anymore where A. Americans are supposed to act like proper protocol is all-important; and B. It really isn't.

In mildly stressful social occasions, such as at cocktail parties, people laugh constantly at things other people say that aren't very funny. (Social scientists have taped and transcribed run-of-the-mill repartee and it's usually pretty dire). When my feeble witticisms elicit constant giggling, that is people laughing to reassure each other that it's not serious.

That's laughing-with-you humor, which isn't normally terribly funny to an outside observer. Professional comedians tend to use laughing-at-somebody humor, which often is. The point of hostile humor is to show us (the audience) that they (the objects of ridicule) aren't serious. They are ridiculous. It's reassuring.

Top comedians, of course, tend to be notoriously hostile. In the 1990s, a friend once had dinner with Jackie Mason, who spent the entire evening complaining morosely about how Ed Sullivan had ruined his career in 1964. (That's pretty funny, but only because it wasn't serious: Mason went on to have a highly successful career, and thus it was funny that he was bitterly lamenting the incident 30 years later. If he had never gotten another break, it wouldn't be funny, it would be sad.)

Perhaps the positive feeling we enjoy when something is funny has evolved as a sort of brain candy to reward us for realizing when something is not serious. Hunter-gatherers can better afford to be ornery because they can just leave when other people get on their nerves too much. Settled humans living in dense populations need other mechanisms for coping with frustrations, such as a sense of humor to reward them for deciding something isn't really a big deal. Thus, we are primed to search out funny experiences.

Stage Two: Assuming that we evolved a craving for the feeling that's something is funny, then that kind of positive reinforcement could then have evolved to apply to other helpful things. For example, pattern recognition is, generally speaking, a good thing from a Darwinian point of view. So, it's not surprising that a lot of humor involves pattern recognition.
Q. How many lesbians does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

A. That's not funny!
That was funny the first time you heard it (1983) because it crystallized for you something you'd observed evidence for -- that lesbians are likelier to be humorless and irritable -- but hadn't yet recognized consciously. Like a trainer teaching Shamu a new trick at Sea World, your brain tossed you some brain candy as a reward for noticing something new. The joke is not very funny now, however, because you already knew lesbians tend to be like that. (By the way, here's a hilariously unfunny Wikipedia article on Lightbulb Jokes.)

So, that's the theory. Does it account for all types of humor? Well, you can more or less extend stage two indefinitely: Puns are funny because our brains reward us for noticing ... uh ... incongruity. Or maybe our brains toss us some brain candy for noticing that things that seem alike (e.g., homonyms) might not be actually alike (i.e., puns are the inverse of pattern recognition humor).

Of course, like most Darwinian explanations, this starts getting unfalsifiable the more you push it.

But that leads to the question:

- If pattern recognition is funny;

- And if Steve Sailer is good at pattern recognition (e.g., this blog post);

- Then why isn't Steve Sailer funny (e.g., this blog post)?

For example, consider my 1994 article "Why Lesbians Aren't Gay," which includes a table of three dozen traits upon which lesbians and gay men tend to differ. This prodigious exercise in pattern recognition includes bits and pieces that could be incorporated into dozens of stand-up comedy routines and Saturday Night Live skits. But my article on the whole isn't funny. Indeed, it tends to get readers angry.

Lots of funny people read my stuff (e.g., Stephen Colbert or one of his writers), because I'm good at coming up with the raw material for observational humor. But, I generally don't choose to be very funny myself.

How come? Well, I suspect there's a conflict between the Stage Two type of humor (pattern-recognition) and Stage One ("It's not serious").

The problem is: I am serious.

An observational comedian says, "Have you ever noticed ..." and then mentions something paradoxical. "Why is that?" he adds with a look of exasperation and confusion, and then rushes on to some other wry observation.

With me, though, the question "Why is that?" leaves me dead in my tracks, goggle-eyed in fascination. "I bet I can figure that out," I say to myself, even though nobody cares. It's already been established that it's not serious and that's enough for most people. Me, I've got to be Mr. Explainer.

I can be funny in short bursts (here's a 1992 American Spectator parody I wrote that was pretty funny at the time), but I find it hard to maintain the needed level of scattershot hostility for too long. I'm too empathetic toward people (at least those below the top 0.001%), too interested in understanding what makes them tick, too disinterested and philosophical to be terribly funny.

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

SWPL: Internships

Christian Lander writes:

In most of the world when a person works long hours without pay, it is referred to as “slavery” or “forced labor.” For white people this process is referred to as an internship and is considered an essential stage in white development. ...

You would assume that the most sought after internships would be in areas that lead to the greatest financial reward. Young White people, however, prefer internships that put them on the path for careers that will generally result in a DECREASE of the material wealth accumulated by their parents.

For example, if you were to present a white 19 year old with the choice of spending the summer earning $15 an hour as a plumbers apprentice or making $0 answering phones at Production Company, they will always choose the latter. In fact, the only way to get the white person to choose the plumbing option would be to convince them that it was leading towards an end-of-summer pipe art installation.

It's interesting how the upper middle class has increasingly barricaded off entry into a lot of different occupations by insisting upon unpaid internships, which discourages young people who need the money from a summer job.

Now that his Stuff White People Like book has been on the NY Times bestseller list for a couple of weeks, I'll finally mention that, not surprisingly, Christian was a veteran iSteve.com reader from way back.

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

Hair of the dog that bit us

A reader comments:

"My fiancee is a successful real estate broker here in Orange County, CA. She attends industry meetings twice or more a week. She tells me that the "hot topic" in real estate sales circles is how the US must import more Asians, Hispanics, and other foreigners to get us out of the housing slump."

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

Toyota Prius

The funny thing about the fashionable Toyota Prius is that it would get good gas mileage even it weren't a hybrid. It has a very aerodynamic shape that provides a reasonable amount of interior room. Take out the weight added by the battery and electric motor, but keep things like the modest 0-60 acceleration, the use of aluminum rather than steel in places, and the real time miles per gallon gauge and you'd still have an efficient economy car. (And since the Prius has been built in Japan rather than America, you'd get Lexus-quality factory workmanship.)

But nobody would buy it. After all, the Prius is very similar in shape (just smaller) to perhaps the most unfashionable car of the decade, the Pontiac Aztek (introduced in 2001, now discontinued). The picture above is of an Aztek, not a Prius.

Conversely, nobody gets very excited over the Honda Civic Hybrid, because it doesn't look like you're saving the world by driving it. It just looks like you're some loser who can only afford a Civic. In contrast, when you are driving a Prius, everybody can instantly recognize it's a hybrid.

Basically, people choose cars to advertise themselves on the mating market. That's fine, I've got no problem with that ... except for the tens of millions of car-buyers who aren't supposed to be on the mating market because they're already married. Consider all the soccer moms who refused to buy aerodynamic minivans because they're too mom-shaped. Instead, they bought squared-off SUVs, which get much worse mileage than minivans of similar capacity, because they felt they made them look sexier.

So, you have to give Toyota a lot of credit for figuring out how to trick us knuckleheaded Americans into wanting to eat our vegetables.

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

The circular logic of the bubble economy, 2002-2007

Hire illegal aliens to build new houses in the exurbs for people wanting to get their kids out of school districts overwhelmed by the children of illegal aliens.

It's the road to national prosperity. What could possibly go wrong?

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

July 20, 2008

NFL IQs: The Picture

Graphical data analyst Ben Fry takes some old data provided by NFL scribe Paul Zimmerman of Sports Illustrated on the average Wonderlic IQ test scores by position of draft prospects (which I'd published in VDARE in 2003) and plots it with offense in blue, defense in red, and the radius of the circle proportional to the scores.

You can convert them to IQs assuming that 21 correct answers = 100 and add or subtract 2 IQ points for each answer above or below 21. So, quarterbacks averaged 24 right for a 106 IQ. Tailbacks averaged 16 for a 90.

Don't get too excited about minor differences between positions: I've seen other listings of averages by position and they differed slightly. But the overall pattern was the same.

Marginal Revolution explains the graph as "The closer you are to the ball, the higher your score."

Okay, but why is that?

Because the closer you start out to the ball at the time of the center snap, the more crowded the field is around you. So, close to the ball, the more important upper body strength is and the less important footspeed is. If you are the center, say, there just isn't much room to run and you don't have anywhere in particular to go. You might dash a few yards forward to block the middle linebacker or backpedal a few yards to protect the quarterback, but that's about it. On the other hand, if you are a defensive lineman, you want to get to the quarterback before he releases the ball, so footspeed is important on defense. A defensive end might take the long way around and sprint 20 yards to sack the quarterback.

Upper body strength is relatively equally distributed between the races, but footspeed most definitely is not. So, tailbacks, wide receivers, and defensive players have a need for speed, so they are disproportionately black. I haven't checked recently, but in most recent years since Jason Sehorn's retirement, none of the 64 NFL starting cornerbacks at the start of the season were white, and none of the 32 starting tailbacks were white. (For some reason, this never gets as much publicity as the perceived lack of black quarterbacks.)

As we all know, there is about a 15 point difference IQ gap between whites and blacks, so positions that are black dominated tend to have lower average IQs than positions that are more integrated (or that are white monopolized, such as placekicker and punter).

Another (also oversimplified, but useful) way to think about it is like this: talents are arrayed in a pyramid, with only a few people at the top.

Imagine you have a whole bunch of guys who are about 6-5 and 280 pounds. You then sort them by 40 yard dash times. The handful of extremely fast ones at the top of the pyramid of footspeed are assigned to play defensive end because they have the best chance of sacking the quarterback. The pretty fast ones in the next layer down play defensive tackle because they might sack the QB.

That leaves a lot of not very fast big guys to play offensive line. At any level of footspeed in the lower part of the pyramid, there are more people than at the top of the pyramid.

So, to differentiate among the average speed guys, you start looking more at other skills.

First, you tell them to gain 40 pounds because for pass-blocking you need inertia more than acceleration. Not surprisingly, lots of them find that why, yes, they can eat more pancakes if it means a chance to play in the NFL.

So, now you have a whole bunch of 320 pound guys who aren't that fast. So, you look for the ones who are coordinated and relatively nimble and send the clods home. And then you look at the ones who have a lot of desire, who can play through pain, and so forth and so on.

Somewhere along in there, you look at IQ, which is useful in learning the playbook, in learning to play other positions in the offensive line, in keeping out of jail, in not getting caught taking steroids, and so forth.

Overall, because there are more people physically able to play offensive line, there is more selection pressure on non-physical attributes, such as IQ.

That then allows coaches to devise more cognitively difficult tactics for offensive linemen to execute than for defensive linemen, which in turn reinforces the need for IQ among offensive linemen. Or perhaps causality runs more in the opposite direction and the offensive line is inherently more IQ demanding than other positions. It's kind of a chicken or egg problem.

But the important thing to keep in mind is that IQ is a relatively minor factor in the NFL relative to the ability to generate force: mass times acceleration. If you are over 220 pounds and can run the 40-yard-dash in under 4.40 seconds but have an 80 IQ, they'll try to explain the playbook to you very slowly. There are 150 million people in America with 3 digit IQs, but only a tiny number of them have the combination of size and speed to play in the NFL.

The Mortgage Bubble: The Diversity Cover Story

From my new VDARE.com column:

Traditionally, markets work by balancing greed and fear. Why was greed allowed to outrun fear so badly this time?

One clue comes from looking at the places with the sharpest decline in home prices, such as California, South Florida, Arizona, and Nevada. For example, the median price of homes sold in California last month was $328,000, down 31.5 percent from a ridiculous $484,000 in June 2007. Almost 42 percent of all homes sold in California were in foreclosure.

Why did the housing bubble get out of control in many heavily Hispanic regions?

Because many important people wanted it to.

A widely overlooked reason behind this economic disaster is that the politicians, real estate interests, and financiers told the public that they weren't speculating wildly on the insane hope of home prices rising forever. No, they were actually helping minorities share in the American Dream!

A percipient April 13, 2007 article in the nonprofit San Diego Voice by Kelly Bennett, Foreclosure Wave Said to Hit Latinos Hard, reported:

"This decade, a national push to increase homeownership among Latinos coincided with one of the longest, most dramatic periods of appreciation for home values. Latino mortgage and real estate professionals put forth aggressive outreach campaigns in the community, while lenders reached out to huge, untapped sections of the market by loosening qualifying standards. …

"Because a widened lending gate allowed many more Latinos and other minorities into the housing market than had entered previously, lawmakers and special interest groups championed the lenders' efforts to extend homeownership to those groups." …

Diversity served as the perfect politically correct excuse for rampant irresponsibility. It gave insiders a rationale for putting their thumb on the scales of the vast lending market in the sacred name of anti-discrimination. Who dared be so racist as to argue that blacks and Hispanics should get fewer loans per capita because they were less likely to pay them back? That's "the soft bigotry of low expectations."

Today's San Diego Union Tribune article sums up what will be the verdict of history on America in this decade:

"Typically, a severe housing slump is preceded by a recession and job losses, but that is not the case this time around, [John Karevoll of DataQuick] said. 'So now all us number crunchers are scratching our heads. This wasn't caused by a recession, but by stupidity.'"

But it's not just the fault of stupid borrowers, although a national policy of importing more of them by not enforcing the immigration laws clearly worsened the problem.

Stupidity extended all the way up the hierarchy—and that was intentional.

Political correctness makes people stupid, so diversity provided the ideal cover story for financial crime of the century.


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