January 31, 2009

They're just not making white supremacists like they used to

The New York Times Editorial Board is enraged at conservative activist Marcus Epstein, denouncing him as a "white supremacist." (See Mr. Epstein's picture at right, which, being a world-class investigative journalist, I was finally able to unearth on MarcusEpstein.com after about 15 seconds of Googling. Maybe if Carlos Slim had given the New York Times another $200 million, the Editors would have had the journalistic resources to find it themselves.)

His thought crime? He put together a press conference on the politics of immigration last week, in which conservative intellectuals and leaders dared to suggest that running more John McCains is not the road to GOP electoral triumph.

As part of its Two Minutes Hate, "The Nativists Are Restless," the NYT's editorial board fulminated:
It included Bay Buchanan, former adviser to Representative Tom Tancredo and sister of Pat, who founded the American Cause and wrote “State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America.” She was joined by James Pinkerton, an essayist and Fox News contributor who, as an aide to the first President Bush, took credit for the racist Willie Horton ads run against Michael Dukakis.

Actually, Jim Pinkerton always gives the credit to Al Gore, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, for first bringing up Dukakis's Willie Horton problem during the 1988 campaign. He also gives credit to the Pulitzer Prize committee for awarding the Pulitzer to the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune for their 175 stories on Dukakis's prison furlough scandal.
So far, so foul. But even more telling was the presence of Peter Brimelow, a former Forbes editor and founder of Vdare.com, an extremist anti-immigration Web site. It is named for Virginia Dare, the first white baby born in the English colonies, which tells you most of what you need to know. The site is worth a visit. There you can read Mr. Brimelow’s and Mr. Buchanan’s musings about racial dilution and the perils facing white people, and gems like this from Mr. Epstein:
“Diversity can be good in moderation — if what is being brought in is desirable. Most Americans don’t mind a little ethnic food, some Asian math whizzes, or a few Mariachi dancers — as long as these trends do not overwhelm the dominant culture.”
Ahhhh-ooooo-gahhh! Crimethink Alert! Ahhhh-ooooo-gahhh! When it comes to immigration, only extremists call for moderation!

It is easy to mock white-supremacist views as pathetic and to assume that nativism in the age of Obama is on the way out. The country has, of course, made considerable progress since the days of Know-Nothings and the Klan. But racism has a nasty habit of never going away, no matter how much we may want it to, and thus the perpetual need for vigilance.

It is all around us.

Beyond parody ...

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

Computer nerds never change

In 1822, English mathematician Charles Babbage came up with the idea of a steam-powered computer, the difference engine, which he was able to somehow talk Parliament into funding. When it was close to being finished, however, he lost interest in his original invention and began working on a more advanced, programmable "analytic engine" (with the programs written on punch cards -- a technology I used as late as 1981), so Parliament stopped giving him money. Babbage was, apparently, too much of a genius ever to finish anything.

What's amusing, though, is the continuity of the classic computer nerd personality. From Babbage's 1864 autobiography:

On two occasions I have been asked, – "Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?" In one case a member of the Upper, and in the other a member of the Lower House put this question. I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.

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

Who are these people?

ABC News reports:

The California woman who gave birth to octuplets on Monday, although once married, apparently had all 14 of her kids out of wedlock by artificial means -- and various public records raise questions about the family's ability to support them.

ABC News has learned through San Bernardino Superior Court Records that the 33-year-old California woman, whose name is Nadya Doud or Nadya Suleman (she filed to have her name changed to Nadya Suleman in 2001 -- though it was not clear if the request was granted), divorced her husband, Marcos Gutierrez, in January 2008.

Okay, "Doud" is both a British name (e.g., Ike's mother-in-law) and an Arab name. Since her father says he used to be an Iraqi military man and that he was born in Iraq, I'm assuming that it's Arab. The grandfather is very Iraqi-looking.

Suleman is a Middle Eastern name -- King Solomon, Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, tennis player Harold Solomon.

Gutierrez is a Hispanic name.

Whittier, where Nadya lives with her parents, who, by the way, are divorced but still together, is now the suburb of choice in the LA area for affluent Mexican-Americans.

The document indicates "no children of the marriage," suggesting that Gutierrez was not the father of Doud's previous six children.

Meanwhile, the woman's mother, Angela Suleman, said her daughter has been obsessed with having children since she was a teenager, according to an interview she conducted late Friday with The Associated Press.

"Angela" sounds Christian, so I'm guessing Assyrian Iraqi Christian. Or maybe Angela is Hispanic and she married an Arab? Kind of a longshot, but you couldn't rule it out -- like Salma Hayek, who is half-Arab, half-Mexican.

Angela Suleman told the AP that all 14 children were conceived through in vitro fertilization, because her daughter had always had trouble conceiving because her fallopian tubes were "plugged up.'' She said that while all the kids came from a single sperm donor, the donor is not Marcos Guitierrez.

An AP review of birth records identified a David Solomon as the father of the oldest four children.

Could it be that "David Solomon" used to be "David Suleman?" And then these octuplets could be the product of Iraqi cousin conceptions! Which might bring about the Grand Convergence of iSteve Obsessions, causing the universe to begin imploding upon itself, the purpose of its existence fulfilled.

Doud lived with Gutierrez for about three-and-a-half years from August 1996 until January 2000, when she moved back with her parents, Edward Doud Suleman and Angela Suleman, living at several addresses, records show. The parents were granted a divorce in Las Vegas in 1999, but evidently still live together.

What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.

You got to give Mr. Gutierrez credit for having the brains to bail out before the craziness got a full head of steam.

After leaving Gutierrez, Doud began having her 14 children.

Another set of court documents may raise the question of whether Doud will be able to afford care for all those kids. The public records indicate that Doud's mother filed for bankruptcy in March 2008.

The family currently lives in a three-bedroom home in suburban Los Angeles. Bankruptcy court records show that, as of March 2008, the family owned a second home in the same area.

As of March, Edward Doud Suleman, apparently the octuplets' grandfather, was working in Iraq, according to the bankruptcy filing. The couple's combined monthly income was listed as roughly $8,740, but the filing indicated that Angela Suleman expected their income would rise from her husband's employment. It said that he would earn $100,000 a year. The document did not specify Suleman's husband's occupation, but Suleman told the Los Angeles Times that her husband was a contractor.

The LA Times says grandpa is in Iraq working as a translator, which fits with his being an Iraqi native.

Not surprisingly, the British press has juicier details. (Warning: not all juicy details in Fleet Street newspapers are necessarily accurate). John Harlow of The Times of London reports:

THE single mother of octuplets born in California last week is seeking $2m (£1.37m) from media interviews and commercial sponsorship to help pay the cost of raising the children.

Nadya Suleman, 33, plans a career as a television childcare expert after it emerged last week that she already had six children before giving birth on Monday. She now has 14 below the age of eight.

Although still confined to an LA hospital bed, she intends to talk to two influential television hosts this week — media mogul Oprah Winfrey, and Diane Sawyer, who presents Good Morning America.

Her family has told agents she needs cash from deals such as nappy sponsorship — she will get through 250 a week in the next few months — and the agents will gauge public reaction to her story. ...

US public reaction has been mixed: many have asked how an unemployed single mother can raise 14 children, as her first six have already strained the family budget. Angela and Ed Suleman, Nadya’s parents,bought her a two-bedroom bungalow in the suburb of Whittier in March 2007, but soon after got into debt and had to leave their own home.

They filed for bankruptcy and moved in with their daughter and grandchildren. Last week her father said he would return to his native Iraq to work as a translator and driver.

Angela Suleman, who is caring for the first six children — one of whom is autistic — while her daughter is in hospital, said yesterday that she had consulted a psychologist over Nadya’s “obsession with children”.

Nadya Suleman, who describes herself as a “professional student” living off education grants and parental money, broke up with her boyfriend before the birth of her first child seven years ago.

The identity of the octuplets’ father remains unknown, but local reports suggest they were conceived with frozen sperm donated by a friend she met while working at a fertility clinic. He is the father of her twins, born two years ago.

Michael Tucker of the Georgia Reproductive Clinic, Atlanta, said Suleman’s story stunned him. “We are policed by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, which frowns upon implanting more than two or three embryos at a time. It is remarkable that any practitioner would undertake such a practice.”

The babies, born nine weeks prematurely by C-section, were attended to by 46 medical staff, who expected seven babies. When the eighth — a boy — appeared, doctors were “confounded”.

Meanwhile, the New York Times Magazine has an article by Emily Bazelon about how wonderful it is that so many more college-educated women are choosing to be single mothers: "2 Kids + 0 Husbands = Family."

According to data compiled by Lucie Schmidt, an economist at Williams College, the birthrate for unmarried college-educated women has climbed 145 percent since 1980, compared with a 60 percent increase in the birthrate for non-college-educated unmarried women. The number of first births for unmarried college-educated women reached a high of 47,000 in 2005, the last year for which numbers are available, compared with about 670,000 first births to non-college-graduates. “Even though the absolute numbers are small, what’s striking is how fast the birthrate to the college-educated group has increased,” Schmidt says.

No, that's just the oldest Stupid Journalist Trick in the book -- you take something that's fairly rare, that had a very small denominator, and announce that it went up an amazing umpty-ump percent. Journalists just have to be clever enough, though, not to take it too far and say things like, "Since 2000, the number of Chinese players in the NBA has increased infinity percent!" Judging from the statistics above, college-educated women made up only 6.6% of all women having a first birth out of wedlock in 2005, which isn't much.

Bazelon continues:

No one has shown, however, that there are similar risks for the children of college-educated single mothers by choice. In research that’s not yet published, McLanahan has found that college-educated single mothers generally experience less instability and stress related to men than other single mothers.

Fortunately, Nadya Suleman has a college degree, so everything is presumably copacetic. In fact, she is more or less working on a Master's in counseling! From ABC News:

Records show that Nadya Suleman (a.k.a. Doud) held a psychiatric technician's license, though it was not clear if she was currently employed. She holds a 2006 degree in child and adolescent development from California State University, Fullerton, and as late as last spring she was studying for a master's degree in counseling, college spokeswoman Paula Selleck told the Long Beach Press-Telegram.

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

Paging Dr. Malthus: Insolvent Iraqi immigrant's 8 illegitimate infants

UPDATE: This octuplets story really puts the capstone on the Bush years. It's beyond the powers of parody. It's got everything that made the Bush Years the Bush Years: Iraqis, immigrants, illegitimacy, and insolvency.

The hospital is claiming it expects to spend $3.2 million on care for the eight babies.

A number of people have wondered how I can claim the unidentified woman is an Iraqi immigrant. From CBSNews:

"The grandfather, she adds, is apparently going to head back to his native Iraq to earn money for the growing family. He told CBS News he's a former Iraqi military man"

Iraqi military man ... those are the kind of genes we definitely want to see spreading at such a rapid rate! When we go to invade Iran in a few generations, our new soldiers will get about two miles across the border, then bog down for eight years.

By the way, here's my 2006 article on the LA illegal immigrant woman with six kids who had fertility treatments, but she only then had quadruplets, so she's a piker compared to this lady.

From the LA Times:

The family of octuplets born in Southern California this week has a history of financial problems, including a bankruptcy, tax liens and a foreclosure, according to court records.

The 33-year-old Whittier woman, who has not been publicly identified, gave birth to the octuplets at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Bellflower on Monday and already has six young children, including a set of twins, said her mother, Angela Suleman.

She lives with her parents in a 1,550-square-foot home in Whittier, where television trucks and camera crew continued to roam the quiet cul-de-sac Friday. This afternoon, the children's grandfather returned to the home with four toddlers and did not speak to the throng of media, other than to ask for privacy.

Last March, Suleman filed bankruptcy, claiming nearly $1 million in liabilities — mostly because of a bad house investment, her attorney said. Countrywide Home Loans approved a $492,000 mortgage for Suleman in 2006 for a second home she bought in Whittier for $615,000. In 2008, the bank began foreclosure procedures. The house was sold in August for $369,375.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times on Thursday, Suleman said her daughter did not expect to have octuplets, but that all the implanted embryos "happened to take."

She acknowledge that supporting a family with 14 children would be difficult, but that her daughter felt like she had little choice.

"What do you suggest she should have done?" Suleman said. "She refused to have them killed."

To help support the family, the woman's father works in Iraq as a contractor, where he earns at least $100,000 annually.

Fertility experts, including the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, have raised concerns about the number of embryos implanted and whether it was within medical guidelines.

"I cannot see circumstances where any reasonable physician would transfer eight embryos into a woman under the age of 35 under any circumstance," said Arthur Wisot, a fertility doctor in Redondo Beach. "I cannot imagine that any of the mainstream practices in the Los Angeles area were involved in this. I would guess — and it's a pure guess — that she either went out of the country or went to a practice that flies below the radar."

The California Medical Board, which investigates doctors, and the California Department of Public Health Services, which licenses clinics and hospitals, said no doctors or facilities are currently being investigated regarding the births. A spokesman for the state health agency said there is no indication the implantations occurred at a facility they license.

For much more on the Octuplet Family, see my update "Who Are These People?"

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

January 30, 2009

Don't mention the Luo!

The New York Times frontpages a long and peculiar story on the Kenyan election a year ago: Secrecy Surrounds Kenyan Election Poll. As you'll recall, controversy over the vote-counting ended with a 1000 people getting killed before a powersharing agreement in which the Kikuyu president gave the Luo tribe's paladin, Raila Odinga, the #2 job in the government.

The main point of interest to Americans in this whole story is, of course, that President Obama is half-Luo. Indeed, Odinga claimed during the fighting he launched, after one of Obama's calls to him, that Obama is his first cousin (which is dubious). But the New York Times never mentions the words "Luo" or "Obama" in the entire 1900-word article!

I suspect this is the beginning of a trend. We'll continue to hear more and more about the inner workings of Kenyan politics without ever being told why they are so important, kind of like how the New York Times devotes more coverage to Israel than to Mexico, without explaining why Israel is more interesting than the country next door.

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

James Q. Wilson on "The DNA of Politics"

James Q. Wilson writes in City Journal on The DNA of Politics: Genes shape our beliefs, our values, and even our votes (the picture is of Polish president Lech Kaczyński, right, and former prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczyński, who are identical twins):

Children differ, as any parent of two or more knows. Some babies sleep through the night, others are always awake; some are calm, others are fussy; some walk at an early age, others after a long wait. Scientists have proved that genes are responsible for these early differences. But people assume that as children get older and spend more time under their parents’ influence, the effect of genes declines. They are wrong.

Identical twins tend to get more dissimilar looking as they age due to random wear and tear and a desire to assert one's individuality (e.g., the Kaczyńskis style their hair differently). But they often get more similar in behavior as they spend less time together. For example, say one identical twin is at the 92nd percentile in dominance / leadership while the other one is at the 90th percentile. Growing up together, the second twin will tend to see himself as having a subordinate personality, but when they stop spending all their time together, he will start to realize that other people tend to defer to him and expect him to lead. (Robert A. Heinlein's novel "Time for the Stars" provides a detailed example of this in action.)

For a century or more, we have understood that intelligence is largely inherited, though even today some mistakenly rail against the idea and say that nurture, not nature, is all. Now we know that much of our personality, too, is inherited and that many social attitudes have some degree of genetic basis, including our involvement in crime and some psychiatric illnesses. Some things do result entirely from environmental influences, such as whether you follow the Red Sox or the Yankees (though I suspect that Yankee fans have a genetic defect). But beyond routine tastes, almost everything has some genetic basis. And that includes politics. ...

There are two common ways of reaching this conclusion. One is to compare adopted

children’s traits with those of their biological parents, on the one hand, and with those of their adoptive parents, on the other. If a closer correlation exists with the biological parents’ traits, then we say that the trait is to that degree inherited.

The other method is to compare identical twins’ similarity, with respect to some trait, with the similarity of fraternal twins, or even of two ordinary siblings. Identical twins are genetic duplicates, while fraternal twins share only about half their genes and are no more genetically alike than ordinary siblings are. If identical twins are more alike than fraternal twins, therefore, we conclude that the trait under consideration is to some degree inherited. ...

The gene-driven ideological split that Alford and his colleagues found may, in fact, be an underestimate, because men and women tend to marry people with whom they agree on big issues—assortative mating, as social scientists call it. Assortative mating means that the children of parents who agree on issues will be more likely to share whatever genes influence those beliefs. Thus, even children who are not identical twins will have a larger genetic basis for their views than if their parents married someone with whom they disagreed. Since we measure heritability by subtracting the similarity among fraternal twins from the similarity among identical ones, this difference may neglect genetic influences that already exist on fraternal twins. And if it does, it means that we are underestimating genetic influences on attitudes.

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

For the record ...

This is of no relevance to anything, but it's striking to me how much history from pre-Internet years isn't really on the Internet yet, and may never be.

For example, so that there will now exist a record on Google, I've assembled, from memory and from bits and pieces in record books, a brief description of one of the greatest games in college baseball history:

Texas v. Rice on March 27, 1977.

The Longhorns started the season with 34 consecutive victories, a record that hasn't yet been broken. Then, the Owls stopped the streak, winning 4-3 in 14 innings, with their ace, fireballing sophomore Allan Ramirez, throwing, I was told that evening, 242 pitches in his victory. (Nowadays, mature major league pitchers are seldom allowed to throw more than 130 pitches in one game to avoid doing permanent damage to their arms.)

I don't think Ramirez was ever quite the same after that epic performance, but he was still good enough to finish his college career with 39 complete games, sixth on the NCAA all-time list today, and to to wind up with a major league record of 4-4 with a 3.47 ERA. It's possible that winning that one game cost Ramirez a multi-million dollar big league career.

That's the kind of thing that you ought to be able to look up on the Internet.

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

January 29, 2009

Can you predict who will be a good NFL quarterback?

One of the starting quarterbacks in Sunday's Super Bowl, Kurt Warner, famously wasn't drafted out of college, so he had to bag groceries, then became an Arena Football League quarterback, then an NFL quarterback, then a league MVP and Super Bowl winner, then he became a has-been, and now he's back in the Super Bowl at age 37.

This kind of thing is not hugely uncommon in the NFL (consider the career of Jeff Garcia, who didn't make it to the NFL until he was 29, has been twice given up on, and still was 9th in the NFL in passer rating this season at 38), even though, as the top job in American sports, a huge amount of expertise is devoted to evaluating potential quarterbacks.

In the New Yorker, Malcom Gladwell says:

This is the quarterback problem. There are certain jobs where almost nothing you can learn about candidates before they start predicts how they'll do once they're hired. So how do we know whom to choose in cases like that? ... The problem with picking quarterbacks is that [U. of Missouri quarterback] Chase Daniel's performance can't be predicted. The job he's being groomed for is so particular and specialized that there is no way to know who will succeed at it and who won't. In fact, Berri and Simmons found no connection between where a quarterback was taken in the draft—that is, how highly he was rated on the basis of his college performance—and how well he played in the pros.

From that, Malcolm extrapolates that we should completely change the way teachers are selected in America. Which may or may not be a good idea, but, let's first figure out if he's right about NFL quarterbacks.

When Malcolm makes a quantitative statement, it's usually time to fire up Excel and check for yourself. I went to Pro-Football-Reference.com and looked up all 277 quarterbacks chosen in the NFL draft in the 1980s and 1990s. (I wanted recent QBs but not so recent that we can't get a sense of how there careers will turn out.) Here are the average career achievements (keeping in mind that some, like Peyton Manning and Donovan McNabb, aren't done yet):

# of QBs
Pro Bowls Seasons Starting Games Yards
7 Number 1 Picks 4.1 11.0 171 37,089
17 Top 5 Picks 2.4 7.8 124 25,480
23 Top 10 Picks 1.8 6.1 103 20,296
31 Top 20 Picks 1.6 5.6 97 18,643
54 Top 50 Picks 1.5 5.1 91 17,338
43 Picks 51-100 0.3 2.1 57 6,461
70 Picks 101-200 0.2 1.1 32 4,307
110 Picks >200 0.1 0.3 13 1,531
In other words, seven quarterbacks were chosen first overall in the draft, and, on average, they earned 4.1 Pro Bowl recognitions each, started for 11 years, played in 171 games, and threw for 37,000 yards. On average, the QBs picked number #1 ended up being worth it, although not necessarily to the teams that drafted them (e.g., Vinnie Testaverde's two Pro Bowl selections came at age 33 and 35, with his third team, and he started six games as a 44-year-old -- an odd career, but a pretty good one).

In contrast, 110 quarterbacks were chosen 201st or worse in their draft year, and, on average, they achieved 0.1 Pro Bowl selections, 0.3 years as a starter, a 13 game-long career, and threw for 1,531 yards.

For these two decades, draftees can be lumped into roughly four categories:

- the seven #1 overall picks (Tim Couch, Peyton Manning, Drew Bledsoe, Jeff George, Troy Aikman, Vinnie Testaverde, and John Elway), who had 29 Pro Bowl appearances among them. Hall-of-Famer Steve Young might have been another first-player-chosen in the NFL draft if he hadn't signed with the upstart USFL. (He was the #1 choice in the NFL's subsequent "supplemental draft" of USFL players, as was Bernie Kosar the next year.) On the other hand, the quarterbacks taken first overall in the entire draft in this decade (Michael Vick, David Carr, Carson Palmer, Eli Manning, Alex Smith, and JaMarcus Russell) probably won't match their predecessors. So far, they only have five Pro Bowl appearances.

- Picks in each draft from #2 to #50 overall. The two top yardage quarterbacks fall here: Dan Marino was the 27th player picked his year, and Brett Favre the 33rd. Gladwell's contention was closest to truth here, where there didn't seem too much of a trend between being a #2 and being a #50. The quarterbacks who were picked 51-100th went to 12 Pro Bowls, while the guys who were picked 1-50th went to 81, so, when Gladwell says, "there is no way to know who will succeed at it and who won't," don't believe him. There are ways. They are far from perfectly reliable, but 81 to 12 is a pretty good indication that the NFL guys aren't just throwing darts. There is some bias in most of the statistics toward the high draft picks in the sense that once a team makes a big investment in a quarterback, they often feel obligated to play him. But the Pro Bowl statistics are fairly objective.

- Picks from #51 upward -- Lots of good quarterbacks were taken down here, like Rich Gannon (#98), Mark Brunell (#118), Matt Hasselbeck (#187) (and Tom Brady went #199 in 2000) but the average achievement level is low because the pyramid is so broad. The lowest drafted quarterback during these two decades to make the Pro Bowl was Doug Flutie at #258. He was also no doubt the shortest Pro Bowl quarterback.

- And then there are the undrafted quarterbacks, such as Warner, Garcia, Tony Romo, Jake Delhomme, and Jon Kitna (and Warren Moon back in the late 1970s), who emerged out of the couple of thousand or so college quarterbacks who went undrafted during these two decades. No doubt there were other undrafted quarterbacks who, with the right breaks, could have been stars in the NFL, but the percentages have to have been very low -- the pyramid gets very, very wide down here.

In conclusion, contra Gladwell, the NFL teams can predict quarterback performance in the NFL a lot better than random chance would dictate. And yet, considering the huge amount of effort that goes into selecting the most promising college quarterbacks in the NFL draft, there is much that remains delightfully unpredictable, as Kurt Warner's career demonstrates.

One of Malcolm's biggest problems is that he has very little sense of where he is on a bell curve. He looks at people on the 99.999th percentile (top 50 draftees) and says that nobody can predict who will make it to the 99.9999th percentile, and, therefore, we should throw out prediction methods. Well, swell, but that doesn't mean that you can't predict ahead of time with some degree of accuracy who will wind up at roughly the 10th, 50th, and 90th percentiles out of the general population. But, Malcolm just doesn't get it.

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

NYT: Portland is most European of American cities

From a New York Times story, "The Great Gay Hope," on the latest Portland, Oregon mayor who can't keep his hands off the teenage help:

Portland is The City That Works, a slogan not just emblazoned on official vehicles, but taken to heart by its citizens. It is perhaps the most European of American cities, literate and small-scale urban, a pleasant surprise around every corner. And it is often a city of firsts, doing things well and sensibly before any other.

Could Portland being the most European of American cities have anything to do with it being, by far, the most European-American of cities?

Nah, it's got to be just a coincidence.

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

Why are big banks bad banks?

There are a lot of little banks that are doing okay right now, but the biggest financial institutions keep needing gigantic bailouts. Why is that?

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

January 28, 2009

Tom Wolfe on Roy Cohn

One of the odder figures in 20th Century American history was Sen. Joe McCarthy's chief counsel, Roy Cohn, whose infatuation with another McCarthy staffer, handsome young G. David Schine, was used by Dwight Eisenhower to destroy McCarthy in 1954. Cohn went on to become a prominent NYC shady attorney before dying of AIDS in 1986 and then becoming a character in various gay Broadway plays, such as Angels in America. In 1988, shortly after publishing Bonfire of the Vanities, which is largely set in the Bronx County Courthouse where Cohn got his education, Tom Wolfe reviewed two biographies of Cohn. I will quote Wolfe at length for no particular reasons other than the pleasures of finding fugitive Wolfeiana and the inherent interest of the subject.

''I went to work for Joe McCarthy in January 1953,'' Roy Cohn told Sidney Zion, ''and was gone by the fall of '54."

Less than two years. But a lifetime was packed into it, and more if obituaries tell the tale. "Does anybody doubt how mine will open? 'Roy M. Cohn, who served as chief counsel to Senator Joseph R. McCarthy . . .' Which is exactly how I want it to read.'' He got his wish. That was exactly how it did read, all over America, when he died of AIDS in August of 1986 at the age of 59. But now the post-mortems have begun, and the picture we get is stranger by far than that of a baby-faced 26-year-old anti-Communist who somehow managed to dominate the front pages in the 1950's.

If Mr. Zion's ''Autobiography of Roy Cohn'' and Nicholas von Hoffman's ''Citizen Cohn'' have it right, Roy Cohn was one of the most curious child prodigies ever born. Moreover, he was trapped throughout his life inside his own early precociousness. Many others were trapped with him along the way. One of them was Joe McCarthy. McCarthy never knew what he was dealing with. He didn't destroy himself, as it is so often put. He was unable to survive Cohn's prodigious obsessions....

Most child prodigies are pint-sized musicians, artists, poets, dancers, mathematicians or chess players. Their talents, however dazzling, have no direct effect on the lives of their fellow citizens. But Cohn was a child political prodigy. His talent was not for political science, either. It was politics as practiced in the Bronx County Courthouse, in the 1930's, where the rules of the Favor Bank, with its i.o.u.'s and ''contracts,'' were the only rules that applied.

By his own account, as well as Mr. von Hoffman's, Cohn had no boyhood. He was raised as a miniature adult. His father, Albert Cohn, was a judge in the Bronx and a big makher, a very big deal, in the Bronx Democratic organization, which in turn, under the famous Edward J. (Boss) Flynn, had a pivotal position in the national Democratic Party. Cohn grew up in an apartment on Walton Avenue, just down the street from the courthouse, near the crest of the Grand Concourse, watching big makhers coming and going through the living room, transacting heavy business with his father....

Cohn says he was 15 when he pulled off his first major piece of power brokerage. Using his uncle Bernie Marcus's connections, he acted as intermediary in the purchase of radio station WHOM by Generoso Pope, father of one of Cohn's schoolmates. According to Cohn, Pope gave him a $10,000 commission, and Cohn kicked back a portion of it to a lawyer for the Federal Communications Commission - an F.C.C. kickback at age 15. By age 16 or 17, according to Mr. von Hoffman, Cohn thought nothing of calling a police precinct to fix a speeding ticket for one of his high school teachers.

Using speed-up programs designed for veterans, Cohn got both his undergraduate and law degrees at Columbia in three years. He was not yet 20. The day he got word he had passed the bar examination [his 21st birthday], he was sworn in as an Assistant United States Attorney. ...

In the United States Attorney's office the little prince moved in on major cases immediately. He played a bit part in the prosecution of Alger Hiss and developed his crusader's concern with the issue of Communist infiltration of the United States Government. As Cohn told Sidney Zion, this was by no means a right-wing tack at the time. Anti-Communism and its obverse, loyalty, were causes first championed after the Second World War not by Joseph McCarthy but by the Truman Administration.

By age 23 Cohn was at center stage for the so-called Trial of the Century, the prosecution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for delivering atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. For a start, says Cohn, at the age of 21 he had taken part in a complicated piece of Favor Banking, involving Tammany Hall and one of its men's auxiliaries, the mob, to get Irving Saypol his job as United States Attorney. Saypol became the prosecutor in the Rosenberg case and made Cohn his first lieutenant. Next, says Cohn, he did some Favor Banking for an old family friend, Irving Kaufman. Al Cohn had played a big part in getting Judge Kaufman a Federal judgeship. Now Judge Kaufman was dying to preside at the Trial of the Century. Cohn says he went straight to the clerk in charge of assigning judges to criminal cases, pulled the right strings, and Judge Kaufman was in....

It was the sons of two established Democratic Party families who vied for the position of chief counsel to McCarthy's Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security. One was Roy Cohn. The other was Bobby Kennedy. Cohn won out because, among other considerations, he had, at age 26, vastly more experience as a prosecutor. Kennedy signed on as an assistant counsel, and Cohn treated him like a gofer, making him go out for sweet rolls and coffee refills, earning his eternal hatred. What did McCarthy in was his attack on the United States Army. It was Dwight Eisenhower's Army, and by now, 1953, Eisenhower was President of the United States. And who got McCarthy into his last, ruinous tarball battle with the Army? The little prince.

Cohn had brought aboard the McCarthy team, as an unpaid special investigator, one G. David Schine, the rich young handsome blond son of a hotel-chain operator. Mr. Schine's only qualification for the job was that he had written an amateurish tract entitled ''Definition of Communism'' and published it with his own money. Not even McCarthy knew why he was there. He only kept him on to make Cohn happy. McCarthy seemed to think that Cohn, in addition to being bright and energetic, was highly organized, tightly wound, cool and disciplined as well.

He wasn't. What baby autocrat would live like that? Cohn and Mr. Schine proceeded to become a pair of bold-faced characters in the gossip columns, two boys out on the town, throwing a party that stretched from the Stork Club in New York to various dives, high and low, in Paris - where they arrived during a disastrous European tour, supposedly to monitor the work of United States Government libraries abroad. The European press mocked them unmercifully, depicting them as a pair of nitwit children.

What did Cohn see in Mr. Schine? Almost immediately there were rumors that they were lovers and even that McCarthy himself was in on the game. Cohn's obsession with Mr. Schine, in light of what became known about Cohn in the 1980's, is one thing. But so far as Mr. Schine is concerned, there has never been the slightest evidence that he was anything but a good-looking kid who was having a helluva good time in a helluva good cause. In any event, the rumors were sizzling away when the Army-McCarthy hearings, the denouement of Joe McCarthy's career, got under way in 1954.

McCarthy's investigation of the Army's security procedures had taken place the year before. Now Eisenhower loyalists on McCarthy's subcom-mittee joined with Democrats to conduct hearings on the subject of - Roy Cohn.

David Schine was draft age. He had been classified 4-F because of a slipped disk, but now the highly publicized hard-partying lad was re-examined and reclassified 1-A. Cohn went to work. He tried to get the Army to give Mr. Schine an instant commission and a desk on the East Coast from which he could continue to serve the subcommittee and the Dionysian gods of the Stork Club and other boites.

Cohn made calls to everyone from Secretary of the Army Robert Stevens on down. He made small talk, he made big talk, he tried to make deals, he tendered i.o.u.'s, he screamed, and he screamed some more, he spoke of grim consequences. When all of this blew up in the form of a detailed log leaked to the press, Cohn was genuinely shocked. What had he done that any high official of the Favor Bank, any self-respecting makher, wouldn't have done for a friend? All he had done was try to advance a few markers, make a few contracts, and scare the pants off a few bureaucrats who were so lame as not to have an account at the Favor Bank in the first place.

But he was no longer dealing with the courthouse crowd in the Bronx or even lower Manhattan. He didn't know it, but he was dealing with Ike, and Ike had had enough. The thrust of the Army-McCarthy hearings was that McCarthy's attack on the Army had been nothing but an insidious attempt to get favored treatment for Cohn's friend Mr. Schine.

So what? Cohn remained confident that he could win against any odds. But, as he would later admit to Mr. Zion, he was no match for the Army's counsel, the veteran Boston trial lawyer Joseph Welch. The hearings became a television drama that stopped America cold. The entire nation seemed to take time out to watch. The hearings had two famous punch lines, and Welch delivered them both....

But that was not the line that got under Cohn's skin. That one came in an exchange concerning a picture of Mr. Schine and Army Secretary Stevens that Cohn had put into evidence. It turned out that the photograph had been cropped. Welch began going after one of McCarthy's staffers about the source of the altered picture: ''Did you think it came from a pixie?''

McCarthy interrupted: ''Will the counsel for my benefit define - I think he might be an expert on that -what a pixie is?''

Welch said, ''Yes, I should say, Mr. Senator, that a pixie is a close relative to a fairy. Shall I proceed, sir? Have I enlightened you?'' To Roy Cohn this was not funny.

By the way, in 1957, G. David Schine married the Swedish Miss Universe and they had six children. He never spoke publicly about McCarthy or Cohn again.

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

"Why were all the writers on the Sid Caesar Show young Jews?"

Larry Gelbart, creator of MASH and the Broadway musical City of Angels, was asked why he and all his fellow writers on Sid Caesar's Show of Shows in the 1950s (including Neil Simon, Carl Reiner, and Mel Brooks -- see the movie "My Favorite Year" for a fictionalized version of this famous confluence of talent -- and Woody Allen briefly worked for Sid Caesar a few years later) were young Jews. He responded:

"Because our parents were old Jews."

That reminds me of the George Carlin joke:
"I’d like to mention something about language, there are a couple of terms being used a lot these days by guilty white liberals. The first is “Happens to be” ‘He happens to be black’ “I have a friend, who happens to be black” like it’s a #%!@in accident ya know. Happens to be black? Yes, he happens to be black. He has two black parents? Oh yes, yes he did. And they #%!@ed? Oh indeed they did. So where does the surprise part come in? I’d think it’d be more unusual if he just happened to be Scandinavian."

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

A win-win proposition

From the Los Angeles (actually, San Fernando Valley) Daily News:

Too broke to buy a ticket home, Valley's immigrant day laborers just hang on

by Tony Castro

They are down and out in the United States and homesick for Guatemala. And El Salvador. And Honduras. And Mexico.

And they would go back without even an American penny in their pocket if only they had enough to get home.

They are the discouraged and disillusioned Central American and Mexican day laborers who, in a sign of how hard times are in this economy, find themselves so broke they can't send much, if any, money back to loved ones they haven't seen for years.

"We have lost our reason for being here," laments Jose Perez, 42, a Guatemalan living in the San Fernando Valley who vows he will be back home by next Christmas - and wishes he could leave sooner....

A glance at Ochoa's and Perez's decline in earnings over the past year underscores how far their dream has fallen.

For months, both have been averaging one day of work a week, earning from $60 to $80 a day. They used to work up to seven days a week at that rate.

"We didn't realize how good it was until it was gone," said Perez.

"In Guatemala, I could live with my family at my parents' house," Ochoa said.

"I would find some kind of work. I might not make much more a week there than I do here working only one day a week. But I would be home. I wouldn't be a stranger in another country."

But now Guatemalan day laborers wishing to go home face the task of saving $400 or more for the airfare to return home.

"If you're from Guatemala and you want to go home, it has to be by plane," said Ochoa. "We're not trying to be picky. But it's not a trip that can be done safely by bus."

Turning themselves into U.S. immigration authorities for speedy deportation is no easy answer. Illegal immigrants often languish for months as prisoners in detention centers. When they are deported, they may end up hundreds of miles from their home towns, families and friends.

Perez suggested a novel solution for how immigrant day laborers could return to their homelands even quicker.

"If those people and groups who are crusading to get immigrants out of the United States would offer the air fare for us to go home, we would," he said, making direct reference to members of the anti-illegal-immigration Minuteman Project.

The long journey through Mexico, especially with the ongoing violence of the drug wars in that country, is especially intimidating to Central Americans.

"It's not like there's any great love there," said Perez. "If you're Guatemalan, Salvadoran or Honduran, you want to fly home.

"If we're going to go home, we want to make sure we get there alive."

Sounds like a good way to stimulate the airline industry. I'm sure paying to send unemployed illegal immigrants home (after being photographed and fingerprinted), because it's so much cheaper for all concerned, is included in President Obama's 800 bazillion dollar stimulus bill, right? I mean, it's got to be in there somewhere. Oh, well, probably just an oversight. I'm sure the Democrats will put in such a humane and sensible measure as soon as their mistake is pointed out to them.

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

January 27, 2009

The late John Updike's insights into the Obama family

In my reader's guide to the President's autobiography, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, I point out the many parallels between the Obama family's history and the fictional life story of an African leader in the late John Updike's delightful 1978 novel about Africa, The Coup, in which the novelist ventured far from his Atlantic Seaboard comfort zone. It's testimony to Updike's powers that he could shed so much light on three people he had never heard of at the time: Barack Obama Jr. and his parents.

For example, Updike's African scholarship student Hakim Félix Ellelloû bigamously marries a white American coed after a pregnancy scare in 1959, much as Barack Obama Sr. bigamously married a pregnant white American coed in 1961.

From my chapter on "Obama as a Man of Letters:"

Because Obama is a literary man, this is a rather literary analysis of his life and works. I've been intermittently comparing the Obama family saga to its eerie analog in John Updike's 1978 novel The Coup. Written at the gleeful height of Updike's powers, The Coup consists of the verbally dazzling memoirs of a hyperliterate American-educated official in the fictitious African country of Kush. The Coup was based on Updike's prodigious research into the lives of post-colonial African elites very much like Barack Obama Sr.

Two of Updike's children have since married black Africans. Updike's 1989 essay “A Letter to My Grandsons” is addressed to his daughter’s half-African children. In it, Updike explains to them that there’s “a floating sexual curiosity and potential love between the races that in your parents has come to earth and borne fruit and that the blended shade of your dear brown skins will ever advertise.” (I'm not sure that Updike's children and grandchildren truly wanted to read that, but if Updike is to churn out a book a year, in his voracious search for material he must occasionally mortify his progeny.)

After four seemingly pleasant years at an American college, Updike's protagonist, Hakim Félix Ellelloû, returns to Africa, winds up with a total of four wives, including his white American college sweetheart, turns against America and capitalism in the Cold War, and (here is where the lives of Ellelloû and Obama Sr. diverge) deftly climbs the ladder of government, becoming dictator in the late Sixties.

Ellelloû attempts to impose upon his homeland of Kush the three ideologies he acquired while studying in America: Marxism, Black Muslimism, and Islam (all of which have interested Obama Jr. to some degree).

Written at the nadir of American power and prestige during the Carter years, Updike audaciously prophesied American victory in the Cold War for the hearts and minds of the Third World. Ellelloû's radicalism destroys what little economic activity Kush ever had, and he's overthrown by pro-American forces in the titular coup.

Thirty years later, The Coup can now be read as a kind of Obama Clan Alternative History. In our world, Obama Sr.'s career back home in decolonized Kenya got off to a fast start in the Sixties, then foundered. What if, however, like Ellelloû, Obama Sr. had instead possessed the abstemious, observant, and cautious personality of Obama Jr.? It would hardly have been surprising if the elder Obama, if blessed with his son’s self-disciplined character, had become president of Kenya.

The Coup has been one of my favorite books since I first read it in 1980. I always considered Updike's comedy, however, fundamentally preposterous. Politicians and literary men were simply breeds apart.

Updike recognizes that problem, having his protagonist narrator explain, unconvincingly: “… there are two selves: the one who acts, and the ‘I’ who experiences. This latter is passive even in a whirlwind of the former’s making, passive and guiltless and astonished.” The idea of a head of government with an overwhelmingly literary sensitivity and sensibility was an amusing conceit of Updike's, I thought, but not something we would ever see in the real world.

I'm not so sure anymore.

In America's Half-Blood Prince: Barack Obama's "Story of Race and Inheritance," I note that Updike's novel can sometimes help us put ourselves in the shoes of Obama's parents even better than can Obama's Dreams from My Father:

The Coup, Updike's novel about a brilliant African government official—one remarkably similar to Barack Obama Sr.—who acquired a white wife at an American college in 1959, offers some insight into what the Eisenhower Era campus romance of Barack Sr. and Ann might have been like. Fifteen years of unhappy polygamous marriage later, Candy (like Ann, the daughter of a Midwestern salesman), tells her African husband, Colonel Hakim Félix Ellelloû:

“You know what everybody at college used to say to me? They said I was crazy to put myself at the mercy of a Negro.”

“You needed to prove them right,” Ellelloû said, bothered by a certain poignant twist in her body, … implying … an ambivalent torque of the soul—in Candace’s case, between taunting and plea, a regret that even in her extremity of rage she should taunt her husband with the blackness that had made him fascinating and herself noble and the two of them together undergraduate stars…

It’s not clear when Ann discovered that Barack Sr. was already married. In the 1980s, she told her son: “And then there was a problem with your father’s first wife…he had told me they were separated, but it was a village wedding, so there was no legal document that could show a divorce….”

(As an anthropologist dedicated to cultural relativism, Ann could hardly dismiss the legitimacy of a “village wedding.”)

Did Barack Sr. marry Ann under false pretenses? Or did he warn her ahead of time of his prior encumbrance?

In Updike's alternative universe version of the Obama family saga in The Coup, the latter was true. Years later, Candy admits to Hakim that she paid no attention to his warnings. “I couldn’t believe it. When I met Kadongolimi here, when I saw she really existed, I nearly died. How could you do that to me?—have such a big fat wife. I thought you were making her up.”

Similarly, Ellelloû's fascination with the Black Muslim teachings of Elijah Muhammad in 1950s Chicago can help the reader understand the deep interest Obama took in the editorials of Louis Farrakhan in 1980s Chicago (see, among much else, pp. 195-204 of Obama's first memoir).

As I point out in America's Half-Blood Prince: Barack Obama's "Story of Race and Inheritance:"
The Black Muslims are, of course, those gentlemen in the bow ties who preach that, in prehistoric times, the vile Dr. Yacub genetically engineered Europeans to be a race of human wolves. In Updike’s The Coup, this creation story is explained to Ellelloû by a black Chicago student at his American college in the late 1950s:
It took, according to the Prophet Mr. Farrad Muhammad, two hundred years of regulated eugenics to create a brown race from the black, two hundred more to produce from that a red race, two hundred more to produce a race of yellow folk … and from this a final deuce of centuries to the ultimate generation and supreme insult to Allah, the blond, blue-eyed, hairy-assed devils…

Intrigued, Ellelloû attends Temple Two in Chicago to hear Elijah Muhammad himself speak: “The Messenger … was a frail little filament who burned with a pure hatred when he thought of white men and lit up our hearts.”

Obama’s long dialogue with the Black Muslims began in Hawaii. It started, according to Dreams' uncertain chronology, when “Ray” (one of Dreams’ half-fictional black militant characters; he was based on the actual half-Japanese non-militant Keith Kakugawa), whom Obama uses as a mouthpiece for his own anti-white feelings, opens Barry’s eyes to the reality of white supremacy in 1970s Hawaii: “It’s their world, all right? They own it, and we in it.”

The young Obama responds to Ray’s insight in his own bookish way:
I gathered up books from the library—Baldwin, Ellison, Hughes, Wright, DuBois. … I would sit and wrestle with words, locked in suddenly desperate argument, trying to reconcile the world as I'd found it with the terms of my birth. I kept finding the same anguish, the same doubt; a self-contempt that neither irony nor intellect seemed able to deflect. [pp. 85-86]

Fortunately, one of the classic African-American authors is different. He isn’t some loser litterateur. He projects power:
Only Malcolm X's autobiography seemed to offer something different. His repeated acts of self-creation spoke to me; the blunt poetry of his words, his unadorned insistence on respect, promised a new and uncompromising order, martial in its discipline, forged through sheer force of will. [p. 86]

The secular and self-absorbed young Obama isn’t interested in the Muslim part of the Black Muslims—just the Black part:
All the other stuff, the talk of blue-eyed devils and apocalypse, was incidental to that program, I decided, religious baggage that Malcolm himself seemed to have safely abandoned toward the end of his life. [p. 86]

Similarly, Updike's Ellelloû is less concerned with Dr. Yacub’s putative historicity than with what the Nation of Islam teachings mean for him. Elijah Muhammad informs Ellelloû “that the path to freedom is the path of abnegation. He taught me nationhood, purity, and hatred: for hatred is the source of all strengths, … so Ellelloû held to a desiccated, stylized version of the faith …”

One furious concern for the Black Muslims was the “problem” of mixed-race ancestry. Ellelloû recounts Elijah’s denunciation of how the white man, “through the agency of rape had so mongrelized the American black man that not a member of this audience was the true ebony color of his African fathers.”

In young Obama’s self-tortured mind, the Black Muslims represent both racial purity and a personal reproach. For years, they loom over Obama as the ultimate authorities on Black Enoughness. They symbolically cast doubt upon the career path his mother launched him upon. How can he become a black leader if he’s not all that black?
And yet, even as I imagined myself following Malcolm’s call, one line in the book stayed me. He spoke of a wish he’d once had, the wish that the white blood that ran through him, there by an act of violence, might somehow be expunged. I knew that, for Malcolm, that wish would never be incidental. I knew as well that traveling down the road to self-respect my own white blood would never recede into mere abstraction. I was left to wonder what else I would be severing if and when I left my mother and my grandparents at some uncharted border. [p. 86]

Obama’s mixed blood can’t as easily be wished away as Malcolm’s. His white grandfather didn’t rape his black grandmother; instead, his black father seduced and impregnated his white 17-year-old mother, then abandoned her and their child. Obama could try to make the issue disappear. (“I ceased to advertise my mother’s race at the age of twelve or thirteen, when I began to suspect that by doing so I was ingratiating myself to whites.”) Nevertheless, it must have sometimes seemed a hopeless quest as he read The Autobiography of Malcolm X in his bedroom in his white grandparents' highrise apartment in their nice neighborhood within walking distance of his prep school.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X was hugely popular with white liberals in the 1960s because Malcolm ultimately disowns Elijah, and on a pilgrimage to Mecca, he sees whites and blacks walking together in Allah. In contrast, Obama’s enthusiasm for Malcolm’s celebrated change of heart away from black racism is restrained, to say the least: “If Malcolm’s discovery toward the end of his life, that some whites might live beside him as brothers in Islam, seemed to offer some hope of eventual reconciliation, that hope appeared in a distant future, in a far-off land.”

Moreover, Updike explains much about the temptations of playing the Big Man, an occupational hazard that Obama Sr. fell prey to:
Kenyan politics is a serious affair, because so much of the country’s wealth is at stake. As Updike‘s Ellelloû lectures his mistress, “The difficulty with government in Africa, my dear Kutunda, is that in the absence of any considerable mercantile or industrial development the government is the only concentration of riches and therefore is monopolized by men who seek riches.”

The outstanding feature of African politics is the Big Man, of whom Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya remains the archetype. In The Coup, Updike burlesques the species in the voice of Ellelloû, the puritanical Muslim Marxist who can’t abide his Kenyatta-like neighbor “Wamphumel Komomo, President-for-Life of Zanj: height six foot six, weight three hundred seventy pounds.”

Ellelloû gleefully snipes at The Coup’s stand-in for Kenyatta:
Not a tuck in his patriarchal robes ungarnished by private gain, which he extracted from the toubab [European] corporations as blithely as his forebears the cannibal chiefs extracted hongo from the Arab slavers …

(Obama's Kenyan family hated Kenyatta, a Kikuyu who withheld the blessings of crony capitalism from the Obamas' Luo tribe.)

Theodore Dalrymple, who practiced medicine in Africa in the 1970s, offers a more sympathetic appraisal of the burdens of being a Big Man:
The young black doctors who earned the same salary as we whites could not achieve the same standard of living for a very simple reason: they had an immense number of social obligations to fulfill. They were expected to provide for an ever expanding circle of family … and people from their village, tribe, and province.

... Similarly, when the dictator Ellelloû visits the French colonial villa that his first and most traditional wife, the equivalent of Obama Sr.‘s Kezia, had seized and which was now populated by an entire village of his extended family from the Salu tribe, Updike explains (in a couple of sentences more convoluted than even Obama can produce):
Nephews, daughters-in-law, totem brothers, sisters by second wives of half-uncles greeted Ellelloû, and all in that ironical jubilant voice implying what a fine rich joke, he, a Salu, had imposed upon the alien tribes in becoming the chief of this nation imagined by the white men, and thereby potentially appropriating all its spoils to their family use. For there lay no doubt, in the faces of these his relatives … that nothing the world could offer Ellelloû to drink, no nectar nor elixir, would compare with the love he had siphoned from their pool of common blood.

Dalrymple points out that the ever-increasing number of relatives a Big Man is supposed to support explains "… the paradox that strikes so many visitors to Africa: the evident decency, kindness, and dignity of the ordinary people, and the fathomless iniquity, dishonesty, and ruthlessness of the politicians and administrators."

“Dr.” Obama loved to play the Big Man. His son Sayid recounted to Barack Jr.: “You know, your father was very popular in these parts. Also in Alego. Whenever he came home, he would buy everyone drinks and stay out very late. The people here appreciated this. They would tell him, ‘You are a big man, but you have not forgotten us.’” [pp. 389-390]

When Obama Jr. finally visits Africa around his 27th birthday, his emotions, as described in his Dreams from My Father, are much like Ellelloû's:

Obama’s first trip to Kenya (apparently in 1988, before he began Harvard Law School) got off to an angry start, what with all the white people he kept running into.

Initially, he stopped off for a three-week tour of the cultural wonders of Europe that left him psychologically devastated: "And by the end of the first week or so, I realized that I'd made a mistake. It wasn’t that Europe wasn’t beautiful; everything was just as I'd imagined it. It just wasn’t mine." [pp. 301-302]

Then, on the flight to Nairobi, he sat next to a young English geologist who was continuing on to work in the mines of apartheid South Africa. The Englishman insulted Obama’s racial dignity by rationalizing his trip to that international pariah with this simple comparison: "The blacks in South Africa aren’t starving to death like they do in some of these Godforsaken countries. Don’t envy them, mind you, but compared to some poor bugger in Ethiopia—"

After his unwelcome seatmate falls asleep, Obama starts to read a book, most likely David Lamb‘s bestseller The Africans, the 1983 book by the Los Angeles Time's Nairobi correspondent, which Obama describes as “a portrait of several African countries written by a Western journalist who’d spent a decade in Africa; an old Africa hand, he would be called, someone who apparently prided himself on the balanced assessment.” But the picture that emerges of Africa freed from Europe’s control—“Famine, disease, the coups and countercoups led by illiterate young men wielding AK-47s …”—leaves Obama too irate and humiliated to read more of this white man’s book about the results of misrule by Obama’s black brethren.
"I set the book down, feeling a familiar anger flush through me, an anger all the more maddening for its lack of a clear target. Beside me the young Brit was snoring softly now … Was I angry at him? I wondered. Was it his fault that, for all my education, all the theories in my possession, I had had no ready answers to the questions he’d posed?" [pp. 300-301]

As always in Dreams, the central conundrum is his racial identity, “my own uneasy status: a Westerner not entirely at home in the West, an African on his way to a land full of strangers.” The quiet rage that flows through Dreams stems from Obama having invested his sense of self-worth in the identity his mother had chosen for him as a black race man, exacerbated by his gnawing suspicion that the multiculturalist conventional wisdom taught him by his mother, his professors, and his beloved Black History Month documentaries is increasingly obsolete. His inability to wholly exterminate the quiet voice of crimethink inside his head, to reassure himself that the failures of blacks in the late 20th Century can be blamed solely on white racism only spurs him to redouble his efforts to win personal political power to help in his people’s struggle.

Upon arrival, Obama tours Nairobi with his half-sister Auma, who teaches German at the university. At the marketplace, surrounded only by blacks, Obama finds a moment of peace, free at last from “white people’s scorn.” In this de facto segregated environment, Obama reflects,
You could see a man talking to himself as just plain crazy, or read about the criminal on the front page of the daily paper and ponder the corruption of the human heart, without having to think about whether the criminal or lunatic said something about your own fate. Here the world was black, and so you were just you; you could discover all those things that were unique to your life without living a lie or committing betrayal. [p. 311]

At the restaurant of the ritzy New Stanley Hotel, however, Obama Jr. experiences the same outrage as his father 23 years before, who complained in his anti-capitalist article, “when one goes to a good restaurant he mostly finds Asians and Europeans …” Obama Jr. writes, sounding very much like Updike's tourist-phobic Ellelloû:
They were everywhere—Germans, Japanese, British, Americans … In Hawaii, when we were still kids, my friends and I had laughed at tourists like these, with their sunburns and their pale, skinny legs, basking in the glow of our obvious superiority. Here in Africa, though, the tourists didn’t seem so funny. I felt them as an encroachment, somehow; I found their innocence vaguely insulting. It occurred to me that in their utter lack of self-consciousness, they were expressing a freedom that neither Auma nor I could ever experience, a bedrock confidence in their own parochialism, a confidence reserved for those born into imperial cultures. [p. 312]

Likewise, when Ellelloû discovers tour buses from Komomo's Zanj (Updike's fictionalized stand-in for Kenyatta's Kenya) are crossing the border into his xenophobic and impoverished Marxist Islamic state, he rants that Komomo "was flooding my purified, penniless but proud country with animalistic buses stuffed full of third-echelon Chou Shmoes, German shutterbugs, British spinsters, bargain-seeking Bulgarians, curious Danes, Italian archaeologists, and trip-crazed American collegians bribed by their soused and adulterous parents to get out of the house and let capitalism collapse in peace …”

Obama and his sister are outraged when the black waiter gives quicker service to the white Americans sitting nearby. Auma complains, “That’s why Kenya, no matter what its GNP, no matter how many things you can buy here, the rest of Africa laughs. It’s the whore of Africa, Barack. It opens its legs to anyone who can pay.” Auma's accusation is a less colorful version of Ellelloû's denunciation of Komomo's Zanj as “decked out in the transparent pantaloons of neo-colonialist harlotry.”

Obama reflects on his half-sister’s outburst:
I suspected she was right … Did our waiter know that black rule had come? Did it mean anything to him? Maybe once, I thought to myself. He would be old enough to remember independence, the shouts of “Uhuru!” and the raising of new flags. But such memories may seem almost fantastic to him now, distant and naive. He’s learned that the same people who controlled the land before independence still control the same land … And if you say to him that he’s serving the interests of neocolonialism or some other such thing, he will reply that yes, he will serve if that is what’s required. It is the lucky ones who serve; the unlucky ones drift into the murky tide of hustles and odd jobs; many will drown. [pp. 314-315]

Lamb points out in The Africans:
Under [Kenyatta] a generation grew up accepting peace and possible economic gain as a normal part of life. Its members had only to look across Kenya‘s border to what the alternatives were. Ethiopia and Uganda were wracked by bloody chaos, socialistic Tanzania was stagnating, and Marxist Somalia was slipping backward. Only Kenya had come close to fulfilling the promises of independence.

Crucially, Kenyatta and Mboya accepted a high level of white and Asian participation in the Kenyan economy. Lamb writes:
What had Kenyatta done differently than other African presidents? Almost everything. While Zaire’s Mobutu was chasing away the whites, expropriating their plantations and businesses, Kenyatta had been encouraging Kenya‘s whites to stay because they had the technical and managerial skills that Africans had not yet learned. The result was that Kenya operated far more efficiently than most African countries, and foreign investment and tourists from the West have poured into the country, providing great economic stimulus. ...

In Dreams, Obama cribs Lamb‘s assessment, but puts his own sour spin on it, sounding like Updike‘s Ellelloû on Valium:
[Kenyatta] had immediately assured whites who were busy packing their bags that businesses would not be nationalized, that landholdings would be kept intact, so long as the black man controlled the apparatus of government. Kenya became the West’s most stalwart pupil in Africa, a model of stability, a useful contrast to the chaos of Uganda, the failed socialism of Tanzania. [p. 312] ...

As far as I can tell, no reporter has ever asked Obama if he has read Updike's satire. It would be surprising if Obama hadn’t started it, considering that The Coup spent 15 weeks on the bestseller list when Obama was 17 and its subject matter is extraordinarily relevant to his life. He may not have finished The Coup, though, just as he found Lamb's The Africans too truthful to endure. In fact, Dreams sometimes reads like Obama’s response to The Coup: not so much a parody of a parody as a de-satirized satire. Dreams often seems like The Coup if Ellelloû didn’t have Updike's sense of humor.

You can click here to buy my America's Half-Blood Prince: Barack Obama's "Story of Race and Inheritance."

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

Gov. Blago threatens to squeal on lots of Illinois politicians

Shouting Thomas points out that John Kass, Mike Royko's successor as Chicago tough guy columnist, has been writing about how Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is not going peacefully into that good night. Already, Blago has wormed his appointee Roland Burris into the U.S. Senate. Can he save himself?

Blago has been trying to head off impeachment by threatening to squeal on a wide array of Illinois politicians. Kass writes:

He also lobbed a few warning shots toward the Obama White House, saying he could prove his innocence, if only the Illinois Senate would allow him the right to question the president's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, about discussions concerning appointments for Obama's old Senate seat.

... It's also laughable to see others who know better denounce him as a psycho. They just don't get it. As I've said before, the governor is of clear mind.

On "The View" he issued a threat to his estranged father-in-law, Ald. Dick Mell (33rd), the man who made him. The governor said his political problems began after he blocked an illegal landfill supported by Mell. That may have slipped past all the pretend Chicago political experts, but it didn't slip past Chicago politicians. They know a threat when they hear it.

Yet it is what Gov. Nosferatu told NBC over the weekend that surely terrifies Illinois politicians:

"And for me to just quit because some cackling politicians want to get me out of the way because there's a whole bunch of things they don't want known about them and conversations they may have had with me . . . would be to disgrace my children when I know I've done nothing wrong," said the governor.

I've got an idea for a show like "The View" that would be so scary, our politicians would demand emergency government subsidies for Depends.

Instead of lumpy comics touching his hair, how about four tough, bright female federal prosecutors in the U.S. attorney's public corruption squad interviewing a cooperating Gov. Nosferatu for hours in the federal building?

Mayor Richard Daley and the other "cackling politicians" could watch. Taxpayers might think it a comedy, but politicians know that true horror can be just a witness away.

Obama and Blagojevich never liked each other much, but they both were close friends of Tony Rezko, so Blago just might have something on Obama from his days in the Illinois Senate.

One of the scandals for which Rezko is currently in jail is for owning via bribery five of the nine members of a Illinois state commission that has veto power over plans to build hospitals in the state, allowing Rezko to push through a giant hospital construction plan. Until Illinois Democrats swept to power in the 2002 elections, with Blago becoming governor and Obama becoming chairman of the state senate Health and Human Services committee, there were 15 members of the commission, so Rezko only owned a minority. But a 2003 bill, Senate Bill 1332, was introduced to cut the number commissioners from 15 to 9 and referred to Obama's committe. The Obama committee recommended it to the floor where it passed. Six anti-Rezko commissioners were then dropped from the commission and Rezko had his illicit majority of five of nine.

Did Obama understand what his old friend, fundraiser, frequent lunch partner, and property co-buyer in 2005, was up to?

Obama's not stupid. He'd known Rezko since 1990. Obama knew all along how the game was played in Illinois. He never wanted to change the rules of the game, just win at it. He chose to move to Chicago, twice, to make Chicago politics his career.

Could Blago take Obama down over this?

It seems highly implausible. I strongly doubt that Obama put anything about the bill in writing, and probably would never have said anything on any phone line that might have been tapped more incriminating than "I have understood you."

Could Rezko take Obama down? What if, to speculate irresponsibly, Rezko testified in return for a sentence reduction,
"I told him, 'Barack, old buddy, this bill cutting the number of commissioners from 15 to 9 is the big one for me. I need this favor bad. You play ball on the panel and I'll return the favor for you down the road.' And Obama replied with a smile to me, 'I have understood you.'"
Federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has already arrested two Illinois governors. He's got courage. But the idea that he'd go after the Promised Prince, a sitting President of the United States, with swindler Tony Rezko as his main witness against The One, with the Riot Veto hanging over his head, seems wildly improbable. If he can use Blago to take down, say, Mayor Daley, well, that would put Fitzgerald up at the top of the all-time prosecutor hall of fame, ahead of Thomas Dewey, Rudy Giuliani, and Vincent Bugliosi. That would seem enough for one lifetime.

So, Obama should be able to rest easy over Blago. His chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who succeeded Blago as the House member for the mobbed up western suburbs of Chicago, well, maybe not so much.

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

John Updike is dead

The great American novelist has died at 76.

I reread his 1978 book The Coup while writing America's Half-Blood Prince: Barack Obama's "Story of Race and Inheritance" because of the extraordinary parallels between his protagonist's life and the Obama family saga. The Coup is an absolute comic joy to read, better than Evelyn Waugh's Black Mischief and the equal of Waugh's Scoop, which is my all-time favorite book. Like most political books, including Scoop, the plot gets preposterous toward the end, but so what?

Updike was a combination of the lyric poet (a talent that skews young) and the social novelist (a talent that skews old), so his peak came right in the middle, in his forties with The Coup and Rabbit Is Rich (1981).

Updike described his apogee with Rabbit Is Rich, the third in his four-book Rabbit series, in a 1990 essay:

When the time came, when 1979 came - each novel, by the way, was written in a different house, as it turned out, at a different address - I was in a different town, I had a different wife, a different sense of myself. I was full of beans, really, looking back on it from my present relatively beanless condition. I was in my mid-40's, just a kid. The town we lived in, I should say, was away from the sea and in size and social atmosphere reminded me of the town in Pennsylvania, Shillington, that I had grown up in. The house was even the same shape - long and narrow, with a deep backyard. From the room I wrote in, I saw rows of yellow school buses. I was at home in America, all right.

I needed a hook, into 1979. I mean, what can you say? Although the first novel had had a few overheard news items in it, it wasn't really in a conscious way about the 50's. It just was a product of the 50's; it was a helplessly 50's kind of book written by a sort of helplessly 50's guy. The 60's were much more self-conscious, much more conscious of themselves as a decade. The 70's seemed somewhat amorphous.

But we happened to be in Pennsylvania, staying with some friends of my wife's, and it was June, and there was some anxiety about our getting away because there were terrible gas lines all over the state. And my host was so hostly, or else so keen on our departure, that he rose very early in the morning and got in my car and went and waited in a gas line to get me gas to get out of there. So the gas crunch became my hook: running out of gas, which is the first phrase in ''Rabbit Is Rich.'' The general sense of exhaustion, inflation, Jimmy Carter's fainting during one of his trots - all that seemed to add up to a national picture.

The paradox was that although the theme was running out of gas, I was feeling pretty good. And so the book is kind of an upbeat book in spite of itself. It's really a cheerful book, very full, it seems to me insofar as I can be a critic, of itself and its material. I really had to cut it short at the end - it was threatening to go on forever. Tennyson said what he wanted was a novel that would go on forever, but it's not what I want. So I moved briskly to the arrival of Angstrom's granddaughter in his arms; the book is really about his becoming a grandfather, written years before I myself became one. He is rich in a number of ways, and discovers of course that to be rich is just another way of being poor, that your needs expand with your income and the world eventually takes away what it gives.

But it's a big, basically bouncy book that won prizes. Why some books win prizes and others don't is a mystery. In part it was that by this time, I'd been around so long, and was obviously working so hard, that people felt sorry for me and futhermore hoped that if Rabbit and I received a prize we would go away and put an end to this particular episode in American letters. But no, I've felt obliged to produce a fourth!

Updike's career arc as a writer looks a lot like a great baseball player's, such as Greg Maddux, who came up to the big leagues in 1986, peaked in 1994-1995 with two of the best seasons a pitcher ever had, and then slowly reverted to being a journeyman. An athlete gets credit for piling up career totals, such as Maddux's 355 wins, but a writer's career tends to be judged by his peaks, which can be obscured in the short run by the profusion of other books he published before and after.

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

January 26, 2009

Little Blue Book of Quotations from Chairman Obama

The History Company is out with a hilariously deadpan Pocket Obama little blue book, which the editors explain is:

Printed in a size that easily fits into pocket or purse, this book is an anthology of quotations borrowed from Barack Obama's speeches and writings. POCKET OBAMA serves as a reminder of the amazing power of oratory and the remarkable ability of this man to move people with his words. His superb and captivating oratory style has earned comparisons to John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and this collection presents words that catapulted his remarkable rise to the American Presidency. Includes themes of democracy, politics, war, terrorism, race, community, jurisprudence, faith, personal responsibility, national identity, and above all, his hoped-for vision of a new America. This book is truly a primer for readers who want to examine the substance of his thought and reflect on the next great chapter in the American story. It is an unofficial requirement for every citizen to own, to read, and to carry this book at all times.

On each page is a brief extract from an Obama speech, seemingly chosen for its soporific effect. For example:

The true test of the American ideal is whether we're able to recognize our failings and then rise together to meet the challenges of our time. Whether we allow ourselves to be shaped by events or history, or whether we act to shape them.

The book is currently sold out on Amazon. I wonder how many of the purchasers get the joke?

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