June 20, 2009

"The Persian Conquest"

With Iran much in the news, it's interesting to take a look at the most influential Iranian community in the U.S.:
The Persian Conquest
Kevin West

While the Persian Jews of Beverly Hills certainly make (and spend) lots of money, it's not clear if the Oriental Jews of Beverly Hills will follow their Ashkenazi Jewish predecessors into more intellectual pursuits.

I don't know whether Beverly Hills High School's SAT scores were actually the highest among public schools in Los Angeles County back before the Persians arrived, but, having spent a lot of time competing in debate with Beverly Hills students (my debate coach at Notre Dame H.S. in Sherman Oaks in the San Fernando Valley was married to the BHHS debate coach), I certainly would have guessed that was true.

Yet, in 2004-2005, Beverly Hills High School was only 9th among Los Angeles County public schools in percent of students scoring at least 1000 on the Math+Verbal parts of the SAT. The top two schools only allowed in students by examination, but BHHS was still merely seventh among neighborhood schools at 62 percent above 1000 (which is easier since "recentering" in 1995) versus 89 percent at San Marino and 80 percent at La Canada, two sedate old money / new Asian satellites of Pasadena. Even Arcadia, a quite modest-looking suburb in the flatlands of the San Gabriel Valley (where my cousins grew up) d0es better than Beverly Hills these days.

The influx since then of ultra-ambitious affluent Chinese and Koreans into the San Gabriel Valley has propelled its schools up the list, but I wonder whether the Persian influx into Beverly Hills has had a negative effect on BHHS's standing?

I do recall when the Iranians in LA first made themselves prominent: in 1978-1981's huge demonstrations in front of the Federal Building in Westwood. With LAPD mounted cops keeping the Iranians separated from each other, on one street corner would be a big mob denouncing the Shah, on another corner would be a big mob denouncing the Ayatollah, and occasionally on a third corner would be a small mob with the good taste to denounce both of them.

My mother noticed the Iranian influx before I did, about 1974-75, when they started making themselves conspicuous at LA department stores. When I got my MBA at UCLA in 1980-82, I noticed lots of Iranians working at gas stations and at valet parking, but usually at the most expensive addresses. They seemed to feel that the way to get money was to be around money.

In general, I think Persians were able to take over Beverly Hills because they can put more adults in one house than Americans are willing to do. American adults generally can't tolerate living with adults they aren't married to, but Middle Easterners can have four or five paychecks living in one house. Thus, an Askhenazi extended family might see the grandparents in Beverly Hills, the children in Calabasas, and the grandchildren in Camarillo, while a Persian Jewish family would put them all in the Beverly Hills house. I'm not sure if Middle Easterners live more harmoniously with their relatives than Americans do, or if they just enjoy domestic stress more than we do.

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

Evolutionary impact of alcohol?

It's fairly obvious that when alcohol first hits a human population, whether Middle Easterners in the time of Noah and Lot or aboriginal populations in the New World, Pacific, and Australia in more recent times, it takes a terrible toll until gene frequencies and/or cultural traditions better suited for dealing with liquor emerge.

On the other hand, could the invention of alcohol allow for more far-reaching personality adaptations? By way of analogy, consider the theory proposed by both Jerry Pournelle and Temple Grandin: that the domestication of the dog allowed humans to offload to their canine companions much of the job of sophisticated smell cognition used in tracking game, thus freeing up valuable cubic centimeters of the brain for newer purposes.

Perhaps alcohol enables one individual to display a wider range of personalities than can be achieved through solely genetic means, thus allowing personalities to evolve farther in directions suitable for making a living, while still allowing people to display different traits in the evening.

What if the invention of alcohol allowed a single genome to exhibit different personalities at different times? Germans, say, could thus evolve personalities making them tend to be intense worrywarts, propelling their society into a model of technical competence. But who wants to be around other neurotics all the time? Yet, a couple of beers after work could allow the same Germans to turn into amiable, temporarily carefree companions, making social bonding more feasible.

Or the Japanese could evolve to be so intensely sensitive to the feelings of other Japanese that their culture becomes a byword for courtesy and politely vague conversations that don't hurt anybody's feelings or convey much explicit information. Yet, after a couple of shots of sake at one of their countless boys' nights out, the salaryman might suddenly feel free to tell his boss exactly how he's screwing up next year's sales forecast.

I presume this is just another evolutionary Just So story. But, it might be worth looking into through cross-cultural comparisons.

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

June 18, 2009

A tactical suggestion for the Sotomayor hearings

When it comes to racial preferences, Barack Obama and Sonia Sotomayor are ideological twins, although most Americans don't realize it yet. Unlike the master politician, however, Sotomayor tends to rub people the wrong way. Still, the Republican Senators are highly unlikely to be able to stop Sotomayor. And it's not clear that they should want to, since once on the Court, the mediocre and abrasive Sotomayor is unlikely to evolve into a William Brennan-like master backstage manipulator of the other Justices.

Still, a lengthy hearing over Sotomayor would be the best opportunity for the GOP to begin the process of enlightening the public that Obama isn't the post-racial President that David Axelrod has spun him as. Clearly, the New Haven firefighter reverse discrimination case of Ricci v. DeStefano should be central to the hearings.

Yet, old-fashioned chivalry and post-modern sensitivity both dictate that a bunch of white male conservative Senators like Jeff Sessions can't be seen asking too many probing questions of a lady / minority. The GOP needs a bad guy to pound in these hearings, but Judge Sotomayor isn't a guy.

So, the GOP Senators should subpeona a witness on the Ricci v. DeStefano case. They should subpeona and then roast alive on the witness stand the defendant, beady-eyed New Haven mayor John DeStefano (seen here), who engineered cheating Ricci and company out of their promotions. This will associate DeStefano's petty political machinations to please his main black supporter with Sotomayor, Obama, and racial preference supporters in general.

For examples of the kind of questions they could flail DeStefano with, just refer to the Supreme Court's oral questioning in the case. For example, Mayor DeStefano's city attorney claimed that the city had strong evidence for discarding the test as invalid after finding out the results by race. But Justice Samuel Alito pointed out the preposterousness of that claim in a scalding rhetorical question:
"[The city] chose the company that framed the test, and then as soon as it saw the results, it decided it wasn't going to go forward with the promotions. The company offered to validate the test. The City refused to pay for that, even though that was part of its contract with the company. And all it has is this testimony by a competitor, Mr. Hornick, who said—who hadn't seen the test, and he said, I could do a better test—you should make the promotions based on this, but I could give you—I could draw up a better test, and by the way, here's my business card if you want to hire me in the future.

“How's that a strong basis in the evidence?"

This could be fun.

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

Updated: Obama's financial regulation proposal

Everybody has an opinion on Obama's proposal for revamping financial regulation. I've been busy so I have no idea what's in the plan, so I don't have an opinion.

But, let me make one guess: I bet there's not a single word in the proposal -- nor, I presume, has there been a single word in all the commentary on the proposal -- about moderating the anti-redlining push for more mortgage lending to minorities with poor creditworthiness that was so central to the Sand State subprime mortgage meltdown that set off the financial crisis.

After all, how can anybody talk about reforming this when nobody will even talk about the fact that the federal Home Mortgage Disclosure Act database shows that 77% of subprime home purchase mortgage dollars in California in 2006 went to minorities?

Update: Well, I was wrong. The White House White Paper talks about the new Consumer Finance Protection Agency intensifying the push for more lending to minorities:
The Agency should enforce fair lending laws and the Community Reinvestment Act and otherwise seek to ensure that underserved consumers and communities have access to prudent financial services, lending, and investment.

A critical part of the CFPA’s mission should be to promote access to financial services, especially for households and communities that traditionally have had limited access. This focus will also help ensure that the CFPA fully internalizes the value of preserving access to financial services and weighs that value against other values when it considers new consumer protection regulations.

Rigorous application of the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) should be a core function of the CFPA. Some have attempted to blame the subprime meltdown and financial crisis on the CRA and have argued that the CRA must be weakened in order to restore financial stability. These claims and arguments are without any logical or evidentiary basis. It is not tenable that the CRA could suddenly have caused an explosion in bad subprime loans more than 25 years after its enactment. In fact, enforcement of CRA was weakened during the boom and the worst abuses were made by firms not covered by CRA. Moreover, the Federal Reserve has reported that only six percent of all the higher-priced loans were extended by the CRA-covered lenders to lower income borrowers or neighborhoods in the local areas that are the focus of CRA evaluations.

The appropriate response to the crisis is not to weaken the CRA; it is rather to promote robust application of the CRA so that low-income households and communities have access to responsible financial services that truly meet their needs. To that end, we propose that the CFPA should have sole authority to evaluate institutions under the CRA. While the prudential regulators should have the authority to decide applications for institutions to merge, the CFPA should be responsible for determining the institution’s record of meeting the lending, investment, and services needs of its community under the CRA, which would be part of the merger application.

The CFPA should also vigorously enforce fair lending laws to promote access to credit. Furthermore, the CFPA should maintain a fair lending unit with attorneys, compliance specialists, economists, and statisticians. The CFPA should have primary fair lending jurisdiction over federally supervised institutions and concurrent authority with the states over other institutions. Its comprehensive jurisdiction should enable it to develop a holistic, integrated approach to fair lending that targets resources to the areas of greatest risk for discrimination.

To promote fair lending enforcement, as well as community investment objectives, the CFPA should have authority to collect data on mortgage and small business lending. Critical new fields should be added to HMDA data such as a universal loan identifier that permits tying HMDA data to property databases and proprietary loan performance databases, a flag for loans originated by mortgage brokers, information about the type of interest rate (e.g., fixed vs. variable), and other fields that the mortgage crisis has shown to be of critical importance.

But, of course, the HMDA database is for prodding for more lending to minorities. Using it to check up on whether minorities are paying back their loans is unthinkable.

You can take Obama out of the ethnic shakedown racket, but you can't take the ethnic shakedown racketeer out of Obama.

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

Insider's explanation of racial quotas at Naval Academy

Here's a strikingly detailed explanation of the U.S. Naval Academy's racial quota system for admissions by an English prof at Annapolis who serves on the school's Admissions Board. It's rare for an insider to spill the beans about how quotas work this explicitly.
Published 06/14/09

The Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead announced in Annapolis recently that "diversity is the number one priority" at the Naval Academy. ...

The stunning revelation last week was that the Naval Academy had an incoming class that was "more diverse" than ever before: 35 percent minority.

Sounds good, only this comes with a huge price tag. It's taxpayers who bankroll the military. Yet nobody has asked us if we're willing to pay this price. Instead we're being told there is no price to pay at all. If you believe that, you probably also believe in the Tooth Fairy.

A "diverse" class does not mean the Naval Academy recruits violinists, or older students (they can't be 23 on Induction Day), or gay people (who are thrown out) or foreign students (other than the dozen or so sent by client governments).

It means applicants checked a box on their application that says they are Hispanic, African American, Native American, and now, since my time on the Admissions Board of the Academy, where I've taught for 22 years, Asians.

Midshipmen are admitted by two tracks. White applicants out of high school who are not also athletic recruits typically need grades of A and B and minimum SAT scores of 600 on each part for the Board to vote them "qualified." Athletics and leadership also count.

A vote of "qualified" for a white applicant doesn't mean s/he's coming, only that he or she can compete to win the "slate" of up to 10 nominations that (most typically) a Congress(wo)man draws up. That means that nine "qualified" white applicants are rejected. SAT scores below 600 or C grades almost always produce a vote of "not qualified" for white applicants.

Not so for an applicant who self-identifies as one of the minorities who are our "number one priority." For them, another set of rules apply. Their cases are briefed separately to the board, and SAT scores to the mid-500s with quite a few Cs in classes (and no visible athletics or leadership) typically produce a vote of "qualified" for them, with direct admission to Annapolis. They're in, and are given a pro forma nomination to make it legit.

Minority applicants with scores and grades down to the 300s with Cs and Ds (and no particular leadership or athletics) also come, though after a remedial year at our taxpayer-supported remedial school, the Naval Academy Preparatory School.

By using NAPS as a feeder, we've virtually eliminated all competition for "diverse" candidates: in theory they have to get a C average at NAPS to come to USNA, but this is regularly re-negotiated.

All this is probably unconstitutional. That's what the Supreme Court said about the University of Michigan's two-track admissions in 2003.

Once at Annapolis, "diverse" midshipmen are over-represented in our pre-college classes, in lower-track courses, in mandatory tutoring programs and less challenging majors. Many struggle to master basic concepts. (I teach some of these courses.)

Of course, some minority students are stellar, but they're the exception. Despite being dragged toward the finish line, minorities graduate at about a 10 percent lower rate than the whole class, which of course includes them (so the real split is greater).

Full column here.

I wonder if Professor Fleming had to swear to uphold the Constitution of the United States to get his job at the Naval Academy, and he took his oath literally. Perhaps the higher-ups forgot to clue him into the secret Fingers-Crossed Clause in the Constitution about how that all equal protection of the laws stuff doesn't apply in the case of Diversity.

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

June 17, 2009

Larry David: Alice in Blunderland

Here's my new culture column in Taki's Magazine. I offer a novel perspective on on the seemingly well-worn topic of: What are Larry David's Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm actually about?

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

June 16, 2009

The Iranian Election

As a pundit, it's my sworn duty to have an opinion on the Iranian election.

Unfortunately, I don't know anything about Iranian psephology, and it would no doubt take a huge amount of time to learn enough to formulate an opinion worth expressing, so I have no opinion to offer.

I'm sorry that I have failed in my obligations.

In my defense, I did mention several times back in 2006 that I was suspicious that the party of the left got ripped off in the Mexican election. But very few other people in the American press acted at all concerned about the validity of the Mexican election, so I guess that's no defense for me and my lack of an opinion on Iranian vote-counting. After all, Mexico is only our neighbor while Iran is obviously much more important, what with it being on the other side of the world and all.

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

A hilarious "oversight" in Nisbett's "Intelligence"

On the VDARE.com blog, I have a posting up about a striking omission in Richard E. Nisbett's book Intelligence and How to Get It.

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

June 15, 2009

Racial Gaps Drive School Policy, Part CMXXVII

In the wake of the Sputnik wake-up call in 1957, two of America's most distinguished technical managers, Admiral Hyman Rickover of the nuclear submarine navy and chemist James Conant, President of Harvard, debated how to improve schooling. Rickover advocated that America imitate the European system of separate schools for academic and vocational students based on ability testing. Conant countered by suggesting that rather than have separate schools, we should have large comprehensive schools with intensive tracking by ability within them. Conant won the debate (although one must wonder how much the advantage of large schools at winning football games played in the outcome). See historian Raymond Wolters' book Race and Education, 1954-2007 for details.

By the late 1960s, however, Conant's solution of tracking was coming under attack as concern shifted away from maximizing the individual potential of students and toward equalizing outcomes of racial groups.

The New York Times reports on one of the last vestiges of old-fashioned honest tracking:
Connecticut School District that Clung to Tracking Is Letting Go

STAMFORD, Conn. — Sixth graders at Cloonan Middle School here are assigned numbers based on their previous year’s standardized test scores — zeros indicate the highest performers, ones the middle, twos the lowest — that determine their academic classes for the next three years.

But this longstanding system for tracking children by academic ability for more effective teaching evolved into an uncomfortable caste system in which students were largely segregated by race and socioeconomic background, both inside and outside classrooms. Black and Hispanic students, for example, make up 46 percent of this year’s sixth grade, but are 78 percent of the twos and 7 percent of the zeros.

So in an unusual experiment, Cloonan mixed up its sixth-grade science and social studies classes last month, combining zeros and ones with twos. These mixed-ability classes have reported fewer behavior problems and better grades for struggling students, but have also drawn complaints of boredom from some high-performing students who say they are not learning as much.

Yeah, but who cares about helping high-performing students live up to their potential? What have smart, well-educated people ever done for the human race?

The results illustrate the challenge facing this 15,000-student district just outside New York City, which is among the last bastions of rigid educational tracking more than a decade after most school districts abandoned the practice. In the 1960s and early 1970s, Stamford sorted students into as many as 15 different levels; the current system of three to five levels at each of four middle schools will be replaced this fall by a two-tiered model, in which the top quarter of sixth graders will be enrolled in honors classes, the rest in college-prep classes. (A fifth middle school is a magnet school and has no tracking.)

More than 300 Stamford parents have signed a petition opposing the shift, and some say they are now considering moving or switching their children to private schools. “I think this is a terrible system for our community,” said Nicole Zussman, a mother of two.

Ms. Zussman and others contend that Stamford’s diversity, with poor urban neighborhoods and wealthy suburban enclaves, demands multiple academic tracks, and suggest that the district could make the system fairer and more flexible by testing students more frequently for movement among the levels.

But Joshua P. Starr, the Stamford superintendent, said the tracking system has failed to prepare children in the lower levels for high school and college. “There are certainly people who want to maintain the status quo because some people have benefited from the status quo,” he said. “I know that we cannot afford that anymore. It’s not fair to too many kids.”

Educators have debated for decades how to best divide students into classes. Some school districts focus on providing extra instruction to low achievers or developing so-called gifted programs for the brightest students, but few maintain tracking like Stamford’s middle schools (tracking is less comprehensive and rigid at the town’s elementary and high schools).

Deborah Kasak, executive director of the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform, said research is showing that all students benefit from mixed-ability classes. “We see improvements in student behavior, academic performance and teaching, and all that positively affects school culture,” she said.

Daria Hall, a director with Education Trust, an advocacy group, said that tracking has worsened the situation by funneling poor and minority students into “low-level and watered-down courses.” “If all we expect of students is for them to watch movies and fill out worksheets, then that’s what they will give us,” she said.

In Stamford, black and Hispanic student performance on state tests has lagged significantly behind that of Asians and whites. In 2008, 98 percent of Asian students and 92 percent of white students in grades three to eight passed math, and 93 percent and 88 percent reading, respectively. Among black students, 63 percent passed math, and 56 percent reading; among Hispanic students, 74 percent passed math and 60 percent reading.

This is obviously an utterly unique situation in Stamford. I've never ever heard of any other school district in the country where Asians do best, whites second, Hispanics third, and blacks fourth. I'm baffled by the rank order of these results. Maybe there's something in the water in Connecticut because the only similar test I've ever heard of producing results like this was the New Haven firefighter's test that Sonia Sotomayor so rightly threw out for producing unheard of numbers. Obviously, Stamford needs to spend a fortune on a customized test that will produce less bizarre outcomes.

The district plans to keep a top honors level, but put the majority of students in mixed-ability classes, expanding the new system from sixth grade to seventh and eighth over three years. While the old system tracked students for all subjects based on math and English scores, the new one will allow students to be designated for honors in one subject but not necessarily another, making more students overall eligible for the upper track.

The staff of Cloonan Middle School decided to experiment with mixed-ability classes for the last eight weeks of this school year.

David Rudolph, Cloonan’s principal, said that parents have long complained that the tracking numbers assigned to students dictate not only their classes but also their friends and cafeteria cliques. Every summer, at least a dozen parents lobby Mr. Rudolph to move their children to the top track. “The zero group is all about status,” he said.

Jamiya Richardson, who is 11 and in the twos’ group, said that students all know their own numbers as well as those of their classmates. “I don’t like being classified because it makes you feel like you’re not smart,” she said. ...

Cloonan teachers say they had not changed the curriculum or slowed the pace for the mixed-ability classrooms, but tried to do more collaborative projects and discussions in hopes that students would learn from one another. But Joel Castle, who is 12 and a zero, said that he did not work as hard now. “My grades are going up, and that’s not really surprising because the standards have been lowered,” he said.

A couple of things to notice: First, the policy change is driven by racial gaps. Tracking makes the racial gaps visible, so it must be done away with.

Second, note that they aren't getting rid of tracking completely, they're just going from three tracks to two tracks. They're going to have an Honors Track for the top 25% of the kids. As you might imagine, the parents of the top 25% in Stamford tend to be high-powered people who work in Manhattan or at hedge funds in Greenwich or at marketing consulting firms in Darien or the like, and they will not put up with having their kids tossed in with underclass kids.

But middle class kids, well, too bad for them. They should have chosen their parents more wisely.

What we see across the country is that tracking constantly reappears in the public schools under various guises, as long as it's not called tracking -- Advanced Placement classes, magnet schools, science academies with schools, and so forth. Eventually, the enemies of tracking, who aren't the sharpest knives in the drawer, figure out what's going on and stomp it out, only to have it reappear under a new name.

But it would be a lot more effective if we could track on a less ad hoc, less covert fashion. But we can't do that anymore because of racial gaps, which remain the single most dominant force in determining school policy.

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

The Testing Industry Gold Rush

One of the odder phenomenon is that as political correctness grows, so does that most politically incorrect of businesses, standardized testing. You might think that standardized testing would be a stagnant industry, what with the fact that it would appear to be the classic mature industry -- there haven't been fundamental innovations in testing since the middle of the last century -- and that the results it comes up with are viewed with deep suspicion by the courts and the media.

And yet, it's booming.

For example, when researching the Ricci case, I stumbled upon nine different firms that make up firefighters tests. And they are constantly being paid large amounts of money to make up customized new tests -- reportedly, New Haven paid $100,000 for the test that Frank Ricci took -- even though a national test would work fine.

Similarly, the passage of the Kennedy-Bush No Child Left Behind act led to the development of a huge number of new school achievement tests by each state. It was important to have new tests because the NCLB's mandate that federal aid to states would depend upon annual progress toward making every single student in the state above average by 2014 on the state's test could only be accomplished by massive fraud.

A frequent pattern was for a state to introduce a new test and make it initially extremely hard. When the first years' results were announced, the governor would declare an all-hands-on-deck educational crisis in the state. Then, the state would make the scoring progressively easier over the years, and the politicians would congratulate each other on how much they've improved schooling in just a few years. Unfortunately, on the various national tests such as the NAEP or the Iowa test, nothing much would change.

Now, the Administration of the husband of the test-phobic Michelle Obama is set to pour vast new amounts of taxpayer largess on this little industry to create new national tests to replace the state tests mandated by the NCLB, even though plenty of national tests have long existed. (I took the Iowa Test in California in 1966, for example.)

The AP reports:
U.S. to Spend Up to $350 Million for Uniform Tests in Reading, Math

RALEIGH, N.C., June 14 -- The federal government will spend up to $350 million to help states developing national standards for reading and math, Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced Sunday.

In the current patchwork of benchmarks across the nation, students and schools considered failing in one state might get passing grades in another. The Obama administration is urging states to replace their standards for student achievement with a common set.

Every state except Alaska, South Carolina, Missouri and Texas has signed on to the concept, but getting them to adopt whatever emerges as the national benchmark will be politically difficult.

Duncan said the government's spending will go for the development of tests that would assess those new standards.

The money will come from the Education Department's $5 billion fund to reward states that adopt innovations the Obama administration supports. ...

Any tests developed for the new standards would probably replace existing ones.

Asked to explain the money's focus on developing more tests, Duncan said developing the standards themselves would be relatively inexpensive.

Developing assessments, by contrast, is a "very heavy lift financially," he said, expressing concern that the project could stall without federal backing.

"Having real high standards is important, but behind that, I think in this country we have too many bad tests," Duncan said. "If we're going to have world-class international standards, we need to have world-class evaluations behind them."

So, what's the fundamental reason for why the government has been spending so much money on new tests in this decade? Because the politicians don't like the results, especially the continuing existence of racial gaps. They're behaving like a fat man who keeps buying more and more expensive bathroom scales because he doesn't like what the old scale tells him about his weight.

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

My VDARE.com review of Nisbett's "Intelligence" book

Here's an excerpt from my book review:
Intelligence and How to Get It by U. of Michigan psychologist Richard E. Nisbett seems to be set in some alternative universe in which James D. Watson’s heresies are the almost-unchallenged orthodoxy, Malcolm Gladwell is a pixel-stained wretch barely scraping by while I’m pulling in the big bucks making speeches to national sales conventions, and poor Nisbett is a dissident bravely speaking truth to power. ...

Nisbett never explains his bizarre rhetorical strategy. But, I suspect that after a few drinks, he might justify it like this: “Well, sure, a bunch of innumerate journalists and excited ideologues like Stephen Jay Gould convinced themselves and a lot of their more naïve readers that all this IQ stuff was hooey, but you know and I know that the kind of thing you write in VDARE.com about IQ is actually the conventional wisdom … among those few who know what they are talking about.”

Nisbett’s 2004 book The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently … and Why was an intriguing exploration of how Northeast Asians tend to think in terms of context and harmony while Americans are more object-oriented and innovative. Hence, I had some hopes for his new book as a critique of the views held by the best-informed.

Nisbett concedes vast swathes of normally disputed territory: IQ, according to Nisbett, is real and important; IQ tests measure it accurately; there are sizable racial gaps in IQ; and IQ tests are not culturally biased (which will come as a big surprise to Sonia Sotomayor). On many of the issues I covered in my FAQs on the subjects of IQ and race, we wouldn’t have much to disagree over.

Nisbett, however, tries to draw a line in the sand in two places by:

- Denying absolutely that heredity plays any role in the existing black-white IQ gap
- Asserting vociferously that IQ is highly malleable

... Unfortunately, Nisbett’s handling of the evidence in Intelligence and How to Get It undermines his own reputation. Terms like “cherry-picking,” “scattershot,” and “disingenuous” come to mind. Arthur Jensen and J.P. Rushton have already pointed out many of the ethical shortcuts Nisbett has taken in order to appeal to the Gladwellites, and an upcoming review by a Harvard psychology grad student named James Lee will also be damaging.

Moreover, despite his book’s self-help title, Nisbett hasn’t figured out an actual plan for increasing IQ among one’s own children, much less among the masses of black and Hispanic poor.

Depressingly, out of the countless educational experiments tried over the last five decades, he mostly trots out the same old handful of legendary preschool intervention studies whose claims of success have been debated back and forth for much of my lifetime: the Perry Preschool Program of the mid-1960s, the Milwaukee Project of the late 1960s, and the Abcedarian Project of the late 1970s. Even Nisbett laments, “a huge amount of research needs to be done to establish whether something like the Perry or Milwaukee or Abecedarian program would be effective and feasible if scaled up to national proportions.”

... Nisbett’s recounting of the lore of preschool IQ Improvement projects brings to mind a concern that nagged at Herodotus, the Father of History, back in the 5th Century B.C.: the older the tale he retold, the more miraculous the events it recounted. Rather than rehash the controversies over whether or not these storied endeavors actually worked in the distant past, the more relevant question in 2009 would seem to be: Why haven't their successes been replicated in the last 30 years?

It never quite dawns on Nisbett that educational projects aren’t exactly like chemistry experiments, which should be perfectly reproducible. Unusually successful schooling experiments are more like hit movies, which notoriously depend upon the temporary and highly unstable commingling of charismatic individuals. ...

Consider merely all the movies about dedicated teachers who overcome societal prejudices to make a difference in the lives of their students. (IMDB lists 31.) A few of them triumphed (for example, Maggie Smith’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie), while others fizzled (Michelle Pfeiffer’s Dangerous Minds). You might think that Hollywood would have a formula by now for reliably churning this genre of films out, but each new one remains a gamble.

Something vaguely similar is true with schooling.

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

June 14, 2009

"Il Divo"

Here's my full review from The American Conservative of the recent Italian film, which I'm posting to provide some perspective on my subsequent post, "The Deep State:"
Most movie critics are more concerned with film than with life, but my goal has been to help make movies, those pungent yet unreliable distillations of life, more compelling for the reader who is more interested in the world than in the cinema.

Consider “Il Divo,” a baroquely stylized biopic about Giulio Andreotti, seven times Prime Minister of Italy in the 1972-1992 era, and then a perpetual defendant in murder and Mafia trials in 1993-2003. Paolo Sorrentino’s “Il Divo” is clearly a film of aesthetic ambitions (the owlish politician inhabits a De Chirico Italy of sinisterly empty arcaded streets) and some historical significance.

Still, the labyrinthine “Il Divo” would be impenetrable to any American who hasn’t read up on Italy’s lurid recent past, in which Andreotti’s rival, ex-Prime Minister Aldo Moro, was kidnapped and murdered by the Red Brigades, various Vatican-connected bankers died in fashions that would have amused the Borgias, a Masonic lodge served as a seeming government-in-waiting for a post-coup Italy, and brave magistrates investigating the Mafia blew up.

Italian politics, with its constantly collapsing governments, strikes Americans as a joke. Yet, the fundamental questions of Italy’s Cold War years were deadly serious: Would the unruly joys of Italian daily life succumb to the grayness of a Communist state, the Cuban tragedy writ large? Yet, just how many Machiavellian machinations in the name of saving Italy from the Reds could be borne?

We often heard in 2002 that the U.S. did such a wonderful job reforming Germany and Japan after WWII that we were bound to accomplish the same in Iraq. Unmentioned went the 1943 American invasion of western Sicily. Needing to keep civil order without tying up troops, we turned control over to local anti-Fascist men of respect: i.e., Mafiosi who had been lying low during Mussolini's crackdown. It worked, but the blowback lasted 50 years. After the war, to keep Italy’s huge Communist Party out of power, the U.S. subsidized the Christian Democrats, who relied on Mafia get-out-the-vote capabilities in the South.

In the Anglo-American world, to label anything a “conspiracy theory” is to dismiss it out of hand. In Italy, in contrast, conspiracy theories are the default explanation for how the world works, because conspiracies are the main mechanism by which politicians get done what little they do. In Italy, the political is personal. To understand historical events, you need to tease out the occluded connections among the players.

As “Il Divo” demonstrates, Italy apparently needed to be led during those difficult decades by the least operatic politician imaginable, and can only now afford to revert to more stereotypically Italian showboats such as current Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Like a more cultivated, less bumptious version of the Daleys who have ruled Chicago for 41 of the last 54 years, Il Divo is not a diva. Andreotti doesn’t bluster from balconies, nor even bother to cut a stylish figure. He listens carefully, forgets nothing, and confines his own utterances to mordant witticisms. As portrayed by Toni Servillo of the recent Neapolitan mob movie “Gomorrah,” Andreotti is a thin, stoop-shouldered man who never talks with his hands. Telegraphing his introversion, he keeps his chin tucked to his sternum, his elbows tight to his ribs, and makes only the most primly clerical symmetrical gestures. Servillo’s characterization is reminiscent of Austin Powers’s nemesis, if only Dr. Evil were underplayed by Jack Benny.

Margaret Thatcher reminisced about Andreotti, “He seemed to have a positive aversion to principle, even a conviction that a man of principle was doomed to be a figure of fun.” “Il Divo’s” nightmarish depiction of Italian politics raises an unsettling point. In Andreotti’s defense, he at least was born into his system, while America is now led by a man who, with every opportunity in the world beckoning, carefully chose to make his career in our closest equivalent: Chicago politics.

Having been acquitted on a second appeal in the shooting of a journalist investigating Moro’s death, and saved by the statute of limitations from conviction for his 1970s alliance with the Sicilian Mafia, Andreotti is still influential as a Life Senator at 90. The unflappable maestro commented on “Il Divo,” "I don't agree with Sorrentino's portrayal of me, but I understand he had to make certain dramatic choices to make it interesting; my real life is actually quite boring." Unfortunately, an American would have to be as well-informed as Andreotti to make sense of “Il Divo.”

Unrated, but would be PG-13.

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

The Deep State

An intriguing concept almost unknown in America but common in political discourse in Mediterranean countries such as Italy and Turkey is the putative existence of a "deep state" whose members ultimately pull (or could pull) the strings. In Italian history, for example, its manifestations might include Mafia connections with politicians, the P2 Masonic lodge in Rome that was discovered in 1980, and NATO's Operation Gladio "leave behind" commando units that were intended to wage guerrilla war after a Communist takeover but may have been turned to less noble ends in the meantime.

Currently in Turkey, the ruling Islamic party is putting on trial many of its Kemalist and other enemies on charges of being part of a shadowy organization supposedly known as Ergenekon. Wikipedia says:
The Deep state (Turkish: derin devlet) is said to be a group of influential anti-democratic coalitions within the Turkish political system, composed of high-level elements within the intelligence services (domestic and foreign), Turkish military, security, judiciary, and mafia.[1][2] The notion of deep state is similar to that of a "state within the state". For those who believe in its existence, the political agenda of the deep state involves an allegiance to nationalism, corporatism, and state interests. Violence and other means of pressure have historically been employed in a largely covert manner to manipulate political and economic elites and ensure specific interests are met within the seemingly democratic framework of the political landscape.[3][4] Former president Süleyman Demirel says that the outlook and behavior of the (predominantly military) elites who constitute the deep state, and work to uphold national interests, are shaped by an entrenched belief, dating to the fall of the Ottoman Empire, that the country is always "on the brink".[5]

The ideology of the deep state is seen by leftists as being anti-worker or ultra-nationalist; by Islamists as being anti-Islamic and secularist; and by ethnic Kurds as being anti-Kurdish.[6] As pointed out by former prime minister Bülent Ecevit, the diversity of opinion reflects a disagreement over what constitutes the deep state.[7] One explanation is that the "deep state" is not an alliance, but the sum of several groups that antagonistically work behind the scenes, each in pursuit of its own agenda.[8][9][10] Rumours of the deep state have been widespread in Turkey since Ecevit's term as prime minister in the 1970s, after his revelation of the existence of a Turkish branch of Operation Gladio, the "Counter-Guerrilla".[11][12]

To the foreign observer, the Turkish belief in the deep state is an interesting social phenomenon, seemingly based on a confluence of fact and conspiracy theories.[2] Many Turks, including elected politicians, have stated their belief that the "deep state" exists.[13][14]

To the American mind, this way of thinking sounds terribly Byzantine, a part of a culture where the smartest guy in the room isn't the one who comes up with the simplest explanation but the one who comes up with the most complicated conspiracy theory.

And it also seems simplistic from an American/globalist perspective. Where would, say, Goldman Sachs fit into the Turkish model of a Deep State? Isn't the whole concept of a "state" rather obsolete-sounding in the age of Davos Man, more appropriate for old-fashioned patriotic Turks than for postmodern Westerners?

And, in the Turkish (much less American) context, does it even really exist? Is it excessive to give a portentous-sounding name to something that sounds like big shots scratching each others' backs?

Nonetheless, the notion of a deep state, although perhaps better conceptualized less as a top-down conspiracy than as an emergent phenomenon among insiders with overlapping interests, might prove useful to Americans in overcoming our native bias toward boyish naivete about the ways of the world.

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