June 13, 2009

Is Osama bin Laden even alive?

We're still futzing around in Afghanistan, but nobody seems to know whether Osama is living. National Security Advisor Jim Jones said in May that the evidence is "inconclusive" on his continued existence.

Why don't we do this: announce that if Osama doesn't show up on videotape within a week reading from today's newspaper, then we're going to assume he's either dead or a coward.

If he doesn't show, we could then declare Mission Accomplished.

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

The Obama family and the CIA

President Obama's parents appear to have had a lot more contact with the CIA or with people in contact with the CIA than most Americans' parents have had. And they had more brushes with violent skullduggery than most would want to endure.

The following facts about Barack Obama's background may well have no important implications, but, then again, they might be worth thinking about since, after all, he is President of the United States.

Consider Barack Obama Sr.

In Kenya in the 1960s, the three main power players were

- the elderly Kikuyu leader Jomo Kenyatta, whose closest ties were with the British

- the dynamic young Luo politician Tom Mboya, who was publicly funded by the American AFL-CIO and was widely believed to be on the CIA payroll

- and the Luo prince and Kenyan Vice-President Oginga Odinga, who sent his son Raila Odinga (the current Prime Minister, who claims, dubiously, to be Obama's first cousin) to college in East Germany and negotiated a huge arms deal with the Soviets.

Kenyatta used Mboya to squeeze out of power his fellow Luo, Odinga. Then the Kikuyus turned on Mboya since he appeared to be the aging Kenyatta's natural successor.

Obama Sr., a Luo, got to Hawaii on the Tom Mboya Airlift, a sizable Cold War initiative to provide young Kenyan elites American college educations. (The Kennedy clan put up some of the money for the second wave of the Tom Mboya Airlift.)

Obama Sr.'s ideology was well to the left of Mboya's, at least when he was in America (and when he was in closest contact with the President's mother). In 1965, back in Kenya from Harvard, he published an attack on Mboya's centrist economic plan. Obama Sr. called for much more rapid expropriation of European and Asian properties in Kenya:
It is mainly in this country one finds almost everything owned by non-indigenous populace. The government must do something about this and soon.

As I wrote in America's Half-Blood Prince: Barack Obama's "Story of Race and Inheritance:"
Fortunately for Obama Sr., the equally confident Mboya didn’t seem to much mind the young upstart’s critique. Obama Sr. eventually wound up working for Mboya, perhaps united by their shared emphasis on nationalism over tribalism. With Odinga out of the picture, Mboya appeared the logical successor to the elderly Kenyatta as the biggest big man in Kenya. But Obama Sr.'s drinking—his custom was to walk into San Chique, a Nairobi nightspot, and immediately order four shots of Jack Daniel’s—and Kenya’s growing tribalism worked against his advancement.

Having sidelined Odinga‘s Luo Left, Mboya‘s Luo Right was now expendable too. Kenyatta and his fellow Kikuyu insiders were getting very rich indeed. Why should the gravy train halt and somebody else’s relatives get on just because the old man died?

On the morning of July 5, 1969, Obama Sr. happened to run into Mboya on a shopping street in Nairobi. They joked briefly and parted. Minutes later, as Mboya emerged from a pharmacy, a Kikuyu gunman murdered him. The killer is said to have asked the police after his arrest, “Why don’t you go after the big man?” Yet, nobody bigger was ever arrested. (Most Mboya fans today blame the murder on a conspiracy among Kikuyu insiders, but generally don’t implicate the aged Kenyatta himself.)

Obama Sr. was called to testify at the trial. Five years later, according to the Boston Globe, he told a friend “that he had seen Mboya‘s killer and claimed to be the only witness who could identify him.” (I am not aware of corroboration for that assertion from other sources, however.) Obama Sr. would say he was shadowed by Kenyatta‘s security agents.

Mboya's name is mentioned only once, in passing, in Dreams from My Father, which might be a significant elision considering the role Mboya played in his father's life and the eyewitness role his father played in Mboya's death.

Obama's remarried mother had a job at the CIA-infested U.S. embassy in Indonesia in the later 1960s, following the bloody right-wing coup of 1965. "The Americans were mostly older men, careerists in the State Department, the occasional economist or journalist who would mysteriously disappear for months at a time, their affiliation or function in the embassy never quite clear." (I.e., Obama is implying that the itinerant economists and journalists had CIA or other U.S. intelligence connections.)
Over lunch or casual conversation they would share with her things she couldn’t learn in the published news reports. They explained how Sukarno had frayed badly the nerves of a U.S. government already obsessed with the march of communism through Indochina, what with his nationalist rhetoric and his politics of nonalignment-he was as bad as Lumumba or Nasser, only worse, given Indonesia’s strategic importance. Word was that the CIA had played a part in the coup, although nobody knew for sure. More certain was the fact that after the coup the military had swept the countryside for supposed Communist sympathizers. The death toll was anybody’s guess: a few hundred thousand, maybe; half a million. Even the smart guys at the Agency had lost count.

I was thinking that Obama's parents probably knew a lot more people who knew CIA people than, say, my parents did. (However, now that I think of it, my parents were old friends with Lockheed Skunk Works aircraft designer Henry Combs and his wife. Combs is "the irascible genius" (according to his boss Ben Rich in Skunk Works, which you should read) who designed the superb "double-delta" shape of the SR-71 spy plane in the early 1960s, still the fastest airplane ever. Combs also worked on the U-2 spy plane in the 1950s. The CIA was the main client for both of his planes, so my parents had one degree of connection to the CIA.)

A major problem with thinking about the influence of the CIA and other intelligence organs down through history is that discussion tends to polarize between those who see the CIA as the puppetmaster pulling the strings everywhere through carefully organized plans, and those who scoff at such thinking as "conspiracy theorizing."

But what if there's a more realistic middle ground for conceptualizing the influence of the CIA? Perhaps CIA agents are less master conspirators and more just participants in an international version of what Tom Wolfe in Bonfire of the Vanities memorably described as the Favor Bank operating among New York civil servants (cops, prosecutors, file clerks, etc.):
“Everything. . . operates on favors. Everyone does favors for everyone else. . . If you make a mistake, you can be in a whole lot of trouble, and you're going to need a whole lotta help in a hurry. . . But if you have been making your regular deposits in the Favor Bank, then you’re in a position to make contracts. That’s what they call big favors, contracts.

In fact, Mr. and Mrs. Obama were, in a sense, exactly the CIA's kind of people: leftists, but not Communists, who were well connected in foreign capitals (Nairobi and Jakarta, respectively). Perhaps the CIA had a friendly interest in them? Strengthening an anti-Soviet Left by subsidizing leftist intellectuals had been a prime mission of the CIA since the 1950s. And perhaps they had their eye on young Obama Jr. as the right kind of person to know, as well.

The most mysterious period in Obama's life is from 1981 to 1985, beginning with his trip to Pakistan to stay with Occidental college friends from that crucial country's political elite (he vacationed on the estate of the politician who was briefly head of state in 2008) through his transfer to Columbia's high-powered international relations program (e.g., Zbigniew Brzenski's was based there at the time) where he roomed with a rich Pakistani, through his only real job working for Business International, a newsletter firm that set up meetings between American CEOs and foreign leaders. His description of those years in Dreams from My Father is considered vaguely unsatisifactory by readers of the book from many different political points of view.

Various theories have been put forward to explain the paucity of information on Obama's New York years: Obama claims he was monastically reading philosophy and taking long walks. Other have suggested, with varying levels of credibility:
- that Obama was depressed (his visiting sister Maya asked his mother, “Barry’s okay, isn’t he? I mean, I hope he doesn’t lose his cool and become one of those freaks you see on the streets around here.”)
- that Obama was, like The Clash (a band who broke up in 1983 in large part due to the devastating amount of cocaine readily available in New York at the time), binging on drugs;
- that Obama couldn't afford to socialize because he'd blown his grandmother's whole allowance on drugs when he first got there;
- that Obama was monastically fighting to stay off drugs by avoiding socializing during a drug-dominated era in NYC;
- that Obama was committing crimes with Bill Ayres;
- that Obama was depressed because he dumped his white girlfriend for anti-miscegenation reasons;
- that ghostwriter Bill Ayres' just plugged in an account of an old girlfriend of Ayres's;
- that Obama had gone gay;
and so forth and so on.

Another possibility, now that I think about it, was that if, say, Obama's early 1980s life involved some favor banking (e.g., his mom or dad asking for help from their old Agency contacts in getting him transferred to Columbia in return for which, perhaps, he'd stay friendly with sons of the Pakistani elite and occasionally report in on what Pakistani inner circles were thinking), well that might be something he wouldn't have wanted to mention in his 1995 memoir written to impress Hyde Park liberals.

Now all this is 110% pure conjecture, but it might help explain a number of things about the President. For example, his two-decade long fondness for Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., who sermonizes about how the CIA did this and or did that (invent aids, introduce crack to kill African Americans, etc.). For most Americans, that just sounds ridiculous, but for members of the Obama family, the CIA wasn't just some mythical beast, it was a living presence in their lives.

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

Why are we still in Afghanistan?

I confess to having let my attention stray from American foreign policy, but why are we still in Afghanistan?

We've been fighting there for seven and a half years. Isn't honor served by now?

And who are we fighting? More and more it looks like we're just fighting the Pashtun people, of whom the Taliban are a political expression. There are something like 40 million Pashtuns in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and they like to fight. It's what they do.

The Pashtun are disagreeable bad-tempered back-stabbers. But, they live there. And we don't.

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

June 11, 2009

Speaking of Rev. Wright ...

From the Norfolk Daily News:
In an exclusive interview at the 95th annual Hampton University Ministers' Conference, Wright told the Daily Press that he has not spoken to his former church member since Obama became president, and he implied that the White House won't allow Obama to talk to him.

"Them Jews ain't going to let him talk to me," Wright said. "I told my baby daughter that he'll talk to me in five years when he's a lame duck, or in eight years when he's out of office. ...

This, of course, has caused a bigger controversy than Wright writing in December 2007 about Italians' having "garlic-noses" and calling Jesus's Crucifixion "a public lynching Italian style."

(To Wright, the Bible, and almost everything else, is just Chicago ethnic politics writ large.)

Wright goes on to say:
"They will not let him to talk to somebody who calls a spade what it is. ... I said from the beginning: He's a politician; I'm a pastor. He's got to do what politicians do."

Wright also said Obama should have sent a U.S. delegation to the World Conference on Racism held recently in Geneva, Switzerland, but that the president did not for fear of offending Jews and Israel. He specifically cited the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, an influential pro-Israel lobbying group.

"Ethnic cleansing is going on in Gaza. Ethnic cleansing (by) the Zionist is a sin and a crime against humanity, and they don't want Barack talking like that because that's anti-Israel," Wright said. ...

In the interview after a nighttime sermon Tuesday at the ministers conference, Wright offered that he has no regrets over the controversy that resulted in a severed relationship with Obama, a former member of the Chicago church of which Wright was the longtime pastor.

"Regret for what ... that the media went back five, seven, 10 years and spent $4,000 buying 20 years worth of sermons to hear what I've been preaching for 20 years?

"Regret for preaching like I've been preaching for 50 years? Absolutely none."

Wright said that when he went to the polls, he did not hold any grudge against Obama.

"Of course I voted for him — he's my son. I'm proud of him," Wright said. "I've got five biological kids. They all make mistakes and bad choices. I haven't stopped loving any of them.

"He made mistakes. He made bad choices. I've got kids who listen to their friends. He listened to those around him. I did not disown him."

According to their 2005-2007 tax returns, Senator and Mrs. Obama donated $53,770 to Rev. Wright's church after his election to the U.S. Senate.

From America's Half-Blood Prince: Barack Obama's Story of Race and Inheritance:"

It’s sometimes argued in Obama’s defense that, while this kind of thing sounds crazy-left to white people, it’s actually merely on the left half of the mainstream among blacks. For example, Jodi Kantor wrote in the New York Times in 2007, “Mr. Wright‘s church, the 8,000-member Trinity United Church of Christ, is considered mainstream—Oprah Winfrey has attended services, and many members are prominent black professionals. But the church is also more Afrocentric and politically active than standard black congregations.”

Oprah, however, quit. As Allison Samuels reported in Newsweek:

[Oprah] Winfrey was a member of Trinity United from 1984 to 1986, and she continued to attend off and on into the early to the mid-1990s. But then she stopped. A major reason—but by no means the only reason—was the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. According to two sources, Winfrey was never comfortable with the tone of Wright‘s more incendiary sermons …

Unlike Obama, Oprah could quit because she’s black enough. Newsweek goes on:

Friends of Sen. Barack Obama, whose relationship with Wright has rocked his bid for the White House, insist that it would be unfair to compare Winfrey’s decision to leave Trinity United with his own decision to stay. “[His] reasons for attending Trinity were totally different,” said one campaign adviser, who declined to be named discussing the Illinois senator’s sentiments. “Early on, he was in search of his identity as an African-American and, more importantly, as an African-American man. Reverend Wright and other male members of the church were instrumental in helping him understand the black experience in America. Winfrey wasn’t going for that. She’s secure in her blackness, so that didn’t have a hold on her.”

Conversely, according to Obama’s campaign adviser’s logic, Obama is insecure in his blackness so he couldn’t quit.

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

"Benjamin Schwarz's laments the end of California's modest dream"

In the new July-August Atlantic, Benjamin Schwarz reviews the latest volume of Kevin Starr's history of California: Golden Dreams: California in the Age of Abundance: 1950-1963. It makes me nostalgic for what once was. Schwarz is a half-decade younger than me and, I would guess from this, had a similar San Fernando Valley upbringing:
It was a magnificent run. From the end of the Second World War to the mid-1960s, California consolidated its position as an economic and technological colossus and emerged as the country's dominant political, social, and cultural trendsetter. ... In 1959, wages paid in Los Angeles's working-class and solidly middle-class San Fernando Valley alone were higher than the total wages of 18 states.

It was a sweet, vivacious time: California's children, swarming on all those new playgrounds, seemed healthier, happier, taller, and -- thanks to that brilliantly clean sunshine -- were blonder and more tan than kids in the rest of the country. For better and mostly for worse, it's a time irretrievably lost. ...

Starr consistently returns to his leitmotif: the California dream. By this he means something quite specific -- and prosaic. California, as he's argued in earlier volumes, promised "the highest possible life for the middle classes." It wasn't a paradise for world-beaters; rather, it offered "a better place for ordinary people." That place always meant "an improved and more affordable domestic life": a small but stylish and airy house marked by a fluidity of indoor and outdoor space ... and a lush backyard -- the stage, that is, for "family life in a sunny climate." It also meant some public goods: decent roads, plentiful facilities for outdoor recreation, and the libraries and schools that helped produce the Los Angeles "common man" who, as that jaundiced easterner James M. Cain described him in 1933," addresses you in easy grammar, completes his sentences, shows familiarity with good manners, and in addition gives you a pleasant smile."

Until the Second World War, California had proffered this Good Life only to people already in the middle class -- the small proprietors, farmers, and professionals, largely transplanted midwesterners ... But the war and the decades-long boom that followed extended the California dream to a previously unimaginable number of Americans of modest means. Here Starr records how that dream possessed the national imagination ... and how the Golden State -- fleetingly, as it turns out -- accomodated Americans' "conviction that California was the best place in the nation to seek and attain a better life." ...

This dolce vita was, as Starr makes clear, a democratic one: the ranch houses with their sliding glass doors and orange trees in the backyard might have been more sprawling in La Canada and Orinda than they were in the working-class suburbs of Lakewood and Hayward, but family and social life in nearly all of them centered on the patio, the barbecue, and the swimming pool. The beaches were publicly owned and hence available to all -- as were such glorious parks as Yosemite, Chico's Bidwell, the East Bay's Tilden, and San Diego's Balboa. Golf and tennis, year-round California pursuits, had once been limited to the upper class, but thanks to proliferating publicly supported courses and courts (thousands of public tennis courts had already been built in L.A. in the 1930s), they became fully middle-class. This shared outdoor-oriented, informal California way of life democratized -- some would say homogenized -- a society made up of people of varying attainments and income levels. These people were overwhelmingly white and native-born, and their common culture revolved around nurturing and (publicly educating) their children. Until the 1980s, a California preppy was all but oxymoronic. True, the comprehensive high schools had commercial, vocational, and college-prep tracks (good grades in the last guaranteed admission to Berkeley or UCLA -- times have definitely changed). But, as Starr concludes from his survey of yearbooks and other school records, "there remained a common experience, especially in athletics, and a mutual respect among young people heading in different directions."

To a Californian today, much of what Starr chronicles is unrecognizable. (Astonishing fact: Ricky Nelson and the character he played in that quintessential idealization of suburbia, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, attended Hollywood High, a school that is now 75% Hispanic and that The New York Times accurately described in 2003 as a "typically overcrowded, vandalism-prone urban campuse.") Granted, a version of the California Good Life can still be had -- by those Starr calls the "fiercely competitive." That's just the heartbreak: most of us are merely ordinary. For nearly a century, California offered ordinary people better lives than they could lead perhaps anywhere else in the world. Today, reflecting our intensely stratified, increasingly mobile society, California affords the Good Life only to the most gifted and ambitious, regardless of their background. That's a deeply undemocratic betrayal of California's dream ...

Basically, that was my quite lovely childhood in the San Fernando Valley 1958-1980: ping-pong on the screened-in porch, swimming, backyard barbecues at my relatives' houses, Yosemite, long hours at the library two blocks away, tennis at the park three blocks away, golf on municipal courses, and UCLA (for my MBA). The only minor differences from the picture Starr and Schwarz paint are that I went to Catholic grade school and high school, and away to Rice for college.

If you want to understand where I'm coming from politically, this is a good start.

That reminds me: Bill James once wrote a book about the politics of getting elected to baseball's Hall of Fame. He wound up focusing on two statistically marginal members of the HoF: shortstop Phil Rizzuto of the New York Yankees and pitcher Don Drysdale of the Los Angeles Dodgers. James concluded that Rizzuto is in the Hall of Fame because New York in the late 1940s and early 1950s was seen as a magical place, the newly undisputed capital of the world.

I think the same argument could be made about Drysdale. LA in the early 1960s was something special, and the huge fame of Drysdale, a 6'6" blond surfer born in the San Fernando Valley in 1936, was because he was the exemplar of this national notion that life in Los Angeles was better. (One of Drysdale's teammates at Van Nuy High School in the 1950s was Robert Redford.)

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

Logic and Luck

The root of Obama's Sotomayor Problem is this: Having decided for political reasons that he wanted a female Hispanic who was liberal on affirmative action and not too old and had plausible credentials, Obama then ran into a reality that is unpleasant but was logically inevitable: There just aren't that many Wise Latinas (whether self-proclaimed or not) out there. After all, if there were, then they wouldn't need affirmative action to avoid the "cultural biases" that cause disparate impact, now would they? If there were lots and lots of very smart Latinas, then they wouldn't be an aggrieved interest group demanding that the Supreme Court continue to protect their special legal privileges.

So, that left Obama with exactly one name: Sonia Sotomayor, Esq.

But, it turns out, she doesn't have the kind of oily personality that allowed Obama to slip-slide through a 20 month Presidential campaign with only a few brief snags during the Rev. Wright contretemps. Nor, does being a Puerto Rican give her the kind of anti-skepticism race card Kryptonite that Obama's claim to being an African American gave him. Finally, in the worst bit of bad luck, she had gotten the Ricci case, which puts the issue of affirmative action on the kind of personality basis that average Americans can understand.

Of course, I presume, she'll wind up on the Supreme Court anyway, but it has been a bit of an eye-opener for the naive.

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

June 10, 2009

Sotomayor on affirmative action

From the New York Times:
Judge Sonia Sotomayor once described herself as “a product of affirmative action” who was admitted to two Ivy League schools despite scoring lower on standardized tests than many classmates, which she attributed to “cultural biases” that are “built into testing.”

On another occasion, she aligned with conservatives who take a limited view of when international law can be enforced in American courts. But she criticized conservative objections to recent Supreme Court rulings that mention foreign law as being based on a “misunderstanding.”

Those comments were among a trove of videos dating back nearly 25 years that shed new light on Judge Sotomayor’s views. She provided the videos to the Senate Judiciary Committee last week as it prepares for her Supreme Court confirmation hearing next month.

The clips include lengthy remarks about her experiences as an “affirmative action baby” whose lower test scores were overlooked by admissions committees at Princeton University and Yale Law School because, she said, she is Hispanic and had grown up in poor circumstances.

“If we had gone through the traditional numbers route of those institutions, it would have been highly questionable if I would have been accepted,” she said on a panel of three female judges from New York who were discussing women in the judiciary. The video is dated “early 1990s” in Senate records.

Her comments came in the context of explaining why she thought it was “critical that we promote diversity” by appointing more women and members of minorities as judges, and they provoked objections among other panelists who pointed out that she had graduated summa cum laude from Princeton and been an editor on Yale’s law journal.

But Judge Sotomayor insisted that her test scores were sub-par — “though not so far off the mark that I wasn’t able to succeed at those institutions.” Her scores have not been made public.

“With my academic achievement in high school, I was accepted rather readily at Princeton and equally as fast at Yale, but my test scores were not comparable to that of my classmates,” she said. “And that’s been shown by statistics, there are reasons for that. There are cultural biases built into testing, and that was one of the motivations for the concept of affirmative action to try to balance out those effects.”

Judge Sotomayor’s approach to affirmative action has been the subject of intense scrutiny. Conservatives have criticized her remarks in speeches that her personal experiences will influence her judging, and they have focused on her vote to uphold a decision by New Haven to throw out results from a firefighters’ exam because not enough members of minorities scored well.

In the program, Judge Sotomayor also rejected the proposition that minorities must become advocates of “selection by merit alone.” She said diversity improved the legal system — like having a Hispanic judge in a case where a litigant and his family is Hispanic, and who can translate what is happening into Spanish.

“Since I have difficulty defining merit and what merit alone means, and in any context, whether it’s judicial or otherwise, I accept that different experiences in and of itself, bring merit to the system,” she said, adding, “I think it brings to the system more of a sense of fairness when these litigants see people like myself on the bench.”

Judge Sotomayor also mentioned her personal involvement in challenging testing in a 1994 interview. Reflecting on her 12 years on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund before she became a judge, she recalled helping change its policy focus from voting rights and bilingual education to economic issues, like “cases attacking civil service testing and issues of union admissions.”

So, Judge Sotomayor appears to be basically a hard-working grind. Obama wanted a liberal female Hispanic, so he had to take what he could get. There just aren't that many Wise Latinas out there (if there were, they wouldn't need affirmative action to avoid disparate impact), so Obama got stuck with the Second Coming of Harriet Miers.

But it's not as if brilliance is a necessity for being on the Supreme Court. It's more helpful lower down the hierarchy where you have to explain yourself well in the hopes that the Supreme Court will like your reasoning. Once you are a Supreme, however, you don't have to think cogently, you just have to vote. Sandra Day O'Connor's majority ruling in the Grutter affirmative action case is inane, but, so what? O'Connor's maunderings are the law of the land.

At age 54, Sotomayor's undoubtedly got more on the ball cognitively than 89-year-old liberal Justice John Paul Stevens. His opinion in Johnson v. California showed him to be an elderly fool. But so what if Stevens is 89? He's on the Supreme Court, ain't he? Stevens' vote counts just as much as that of somebody not in his dotage.

Obviously, Sotomayor was no more able to vote objectively on Ricci than Michelle Obama would have been. Sotomayor's ego, personal and ethnic, is tied up in her remaining convinced, against the overwhelming weight of evidence, that there must be "cultural biases built into testing." If not, how else could tests have disparate impact? (The only other logical possibility would be too horrible to contemplate.)

But once you make it on the Supreme Court, little things like bias and brains are insignificant. When you are a Supreme, we're talking Who? Whom? time now.

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

June 9, 2009

Affordable Family Formation is a huge political issue in ... Iran

Time reports:

Hekmati's experience is typical of young Iranians, who are finding themselves increasingly priced out of the marriage market. During the tenure of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, real estate prices have soared across the country, but especially in Tehran, where they have risen as much as 150%. Economists have blamed the spike on Ahmadinejad's disastrous economic policies. The President flooded the economy with capital through a loan scheme, cut interest rates 2% and embarked on huge state construction projects that drove up the price of building materials. Those changes prompted many investors to move out of the stock market and the banking system and into real estate, which was considered a safer bet. Apartment prices in the capital more than doubled between 2006 and 2008. (See pictures of health care in Iran.)

The real estate boom was a disaster for middle-income Iranians, particularly young men seeking marriage partners. And many of those who have married and moved in with in-laws are finding that inflation is eating away at their savings, meaning it will take years, rather than months, to get their own place. The resulting strains are breaking up existing marriages - this past winter, local media reported that a leading cause of Iran's high divorce rate is the husband's inability to establish an independent household. Many others are concluding that marriage is best avoided altogether. (See the Top 10 Ahmadinejad-isms.)

Ahmadinejad's government response to the crisis included a plan, unveiled in November 2008 by the National Youth Organization, called "semi-independent marriage." It proposed that young people who cannot afford to marry and move into their own place legally marry but continue living apart in their parents' homes. The announcement prompted swift outrage. Online news sites ran stories in which women angrily denounced the scheme, arguing that it afforded men a legal and pious route to easy sex while offering women nothing by way of security or social respect. The government hastily dropped the plan.

As Iranians head to the polls on Friday, Ahmadinejad faces the prospect that the very same broad discontent with the economy that propelled him to victory in 2005 could now help unseat him. Samira, a 27-year-old who works in advertising, recently became engaged and is among the millions of young Iranians who are eyeing the candidates through the lens of their own marital concerns. "Ahmadinejad promised he would bring housing prices down, but that didn't happen at all," she says. If left to their own salaries, she explains, she and her fiancÉ will never be able to afford their own place. That's a key reason they're voting for Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the leading reformist candidate, who has made the economy the center of his platform. Like many young Iranians, they hope a new President will make marriage a possibility once more.

It's striking how obvious the logic of what I call Affordable Family Formation is to Iranians, while the vast majority of social analysts in the U.S. remain oblivious to the obvious.

Different social norms mask the situation somewhat in the U.S. Here, high housing prices tend to discourage child-bearing merely among the prudent but not among the imprudent (as satirized in the opening scene of "Idiocracy.") As I reported in VDARE.com: "From 2005 to 2007, the number of babies born in the United States to married women declined 0.3 percent. In contrast, the number born to unmarried women grew 12.3 percent."

Still, you'd have to say (at least from this one example) that political discourse in America compared to Iran, whether due to our country's well-padded safety margins or due to greater indoctrination by the media, is less in touch with the basic logic of human existence.

P.S. Obviousl

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

Obamacare needs to move us closer to Canada, literally

From the Washington Post:

Take the case of Miami vs. La Crosse, Wis. In 2006, using inflation-adjusted figures, Medicare spent $5,812 on the average beneficiary in La Crosse, compared with $16,351 in Miami. Yet an examination of health status in both places, adjusted for age, finds no evidence that the extra spending resulted in better care, Weinstein said.

"That's the enigma here," he said. "Less is more, and more isn't better."...

Many fear that the push to contain costs will result in rationing.

In today's system, "we don't ration care, we ration people," said Donald M. Berwick, president of the independent Massachusetts-based Institute for Healthcare Improvement. "We know that if you are black and poor or a woman, there are all sorts of effective interventions you are not going to get."

Though the transition would be painful and the politics treacherous, Berwick said it is possible to spend less on medical care and have a healthier nation.

"If we could just become La Crosse, think of how much better off we would be," he said.

This reminds me of Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan's last well-known essay, "Defining Deviancy Down" in 1993:

Leroy L. Schwartz, M.D., and Mark W. Stanton argue that the, real quest regarding a government-run health system such as that of Canada or Germany is whether it would work "in a country that has social problems that countries like Canada and Germany don't share to the same extent." ...

In a 1992 study entitled America's Smallest School: The Family, Paul Barton came up with the elegant and persuasive concept of the parent-pupil ratio as a measure of school quality. Barton, who was on the policy planning staff in the Department of Labor in 1965, noted the great increase in the proportion of children living in single-parent families since then. He further noted that the proportion "varies widely among the states" and is related to "variation in achievement" among them. The correlation between the percentage of eighth graders living in two-parent families and average mathematics proficiency is a solid .74. North Dakota, highest on the math test, is second highest on the family compositions scale - that is, it is second in the percentage of kids coming from two-parent homes. The District of Columbia, lowest on the family scale, is second lowest in the test score.

A few months before Barton's study appeared, I published an article showing that the correlation between eighth-grade math scores and distance of state capitals from the Canadian border was .522, a respectable showing. By contrast, the correlation with per pupil expenditure was a derisory .203. I offered the policy proposal that states wishing to improve their schools should move closer to Canada. This would be difficult, of course, but so would it be to change the parent-pupil ratio.

I suspect, by the way, that there may be a health-related selection effect involved with oldsters in Eau Claire and in Miami. Perhaps the hardier or more stoic elderly in Wisconsin tend to stick it out in the frozen north while the more fragile or demanding tend to move to Florida?

I also wonder if the number of lawyers correlates with the expensiveness and inefficiency of services in a region? For example, the seemingly sizable number of lawyers in Los Angeles, combined with the deep pockets of the Los Angeles Unified School District, means that public education in LA appears to be badly hamstrung by consent decrees and by school administrations' not unrealistic fears of more lawsuits. Thus, school discipline is lower on the priority list than not getting sued over disciplining some kid whose mom is likely to sue.

Does Miami have a lot of lawyers?

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

June 7, 2009

In response to Nicholas Kristof

UPDATE: Greg Cochran says he's offered to make a Julian Simon-Paul Ehrlich-style bet with Nicholas Kristof over whether the ideas offered in Richard Nisbett's book Intelligence and How to Get It will prove true or not. Greg would take the "Not" side.

Since a lot of people are visiting from Nicholas D. Kristof's column in the New York Times, here's an excerpt from my new VDARE.com column that is now posted:
For example, Kristof punditized today in the Times:
Rising Above I.Q.

In the mosaic of America, three groups that have been unusually successful are Asian-Americans, Jews and West Indian blacks — and in that there may be some lessons for the rest of us. … These three groups may help debunk the myth of success as a simple product of intrinsic intellect, for they represent three different races and histories.

Who actually advocates a "myth of success as a simple product of intrinsic intellect"?

I don’t even say that!

Everybody knows that a strong work ethic matters.

The controversial questions are about whether you should be allowed to even mention the existing cognitive differences between groups when discussing, say, the Ricci case. And if you are allowed to bring up the racial gaps in intelligence, must we then all assume for purposes of public policy that they can somehow be made to quickly vanish? Or will we get kicked to the curb like Nobel laureate James D. Watson for assuming that they will be around for at least a fairly long time?

Of course, Kristof’s emphasis upon the importance of hard work would logically suggest that Non-Asian Minorities (NAMs) are achieving less on average in school and the workplace because they aren't working hard enough. But Kristof, who presumably likes his job at the NYT and wishes to keep it, won't say that, so he ends up repeating by rote irrelevant talking points about spending more on education:
What’s the policy lesson from these three success stories?

It’s that the most decisive weapons in the war on poverty aren’t transfer payments but education, education, education. For at-risk households, that starts with social workers making visits to encourage such basic practices as talking to children.

Exactly how do these conclusions about policy follow from Kristof’s premises about Asians, West Indians, and Jews?

Did the Czar send social workers around to encourage Jewish mothers to talk to their children?

Much more in response to Kristof at VDARE.com.

And, if newcomers are interested in what I have to say about these controversies, in 2007 I put together Frequently Asked Question lists about IQ and race.

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