February 6, 2010

My November 18 Super Bowl Prediction

I wrote in Taki's Magazine last November:

The things that we most like to argue about are those that are most inherently arguable ...

As you may have noticed by now, I’m like that: clueless about most subjects that most people are most desperate to discuss. Who will win the Super Bowl? Will the stock market go up or down tomorrow? Will the health bill pass? Which party will win the next election?

Don’t ask me.

Those questions concern competitive institutions that are structured in ways that make their outcomes hard to foresee … and therefore captivating.

Paradoxically, that means that my being profoundly ignorant about these concerns wouldn’t keep me from making quick predictions that would be almost as accurate as if I did nothing else but study the subject.

Who will win the Super Bowl? Well, two minutes on Google leads me to a betting site that says the New Orleans Saints are +360, while the Indianapolis Colts are +385. (I don’t even know what those numbers are supposed to mean.) Here’s another site that has the Colts at 3:1 and the Saints at 4:1, which at least I understand.

So, there you have my fearless forecast: the Saints will meet the Colts in the 2010 Super Bowl, and one of them will win.

You heard it here first.

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

February 5, 2010

America's Drunkest Cities

From USAToday:
Fresno, Calif. tops Men's Health magazine's list of America's "drunkest" cities while Boston, home to the "Cheers" bar where everyone knows your name, was deemed the "least drunk," besting even Salt Lake City.

I've been lied to by my Dropkick Murphys albums.

The magazine, which will publish the list of 100 major cities in it's March edition, drew upon such data as death rates from alcoholic liver disease, booze-fueled car crashes, frequency of binge-drinking in the past month, number of DUI arrests, and severity of DUI penalties.

"Drunkest" cities:

  1. Fresno, Calif.
  2. Reno, Nev.
  3. Billings, Mont.
  4. Riverside, Calif.
  5. Austin
  6. St. Louis
  7. San Antonio
  8. Lubbock, Texas
  9. Tucson
  10. Bakersfield, Calif.

"Least drunk" cities:

  1. Boston
  2. Yonkers, N.Y.
  3. Rochester, N.Y.
  4. Salt Lake City
  5. Miami
  6. Newark
  7. Durham, N.C.
  8. New York City
  9. Fort Wayne, Ind.
  10. Manchester, N.H.
See full list, including grades for each city from A to F.

Maybe somebody should pitch NBC on doing a new version of "Cheers" set in Fresno? With the track record of fine profit-making judgment that NBC's current management has, they might go for it...

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

February 4, 2010

"Temple Grandin" on HBO

On Saturday night at 8pm, HBO is putting on a biopic with Claire Danes playing Temple Grandin, the high-functioning autistic animal sciences professor who is so interesting from a sort of sci-fi point of view, like HAL 9000 come to life. Her view, however, is that autistic people tend to have brains that function not like computers but like animals -- they can't see the forest for the trees. Animals are constantly spooked by small visual details that don't bother non-autistic humans because we barely notice much of what goes on around us that isn't relevant to our main trains of thought.

Here's a very positive review of the Temple Grandin film by Dorothy Rabinowitz in the WSJ.

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

Kathryn Bigelow v. James Cameron

From my new Taki's Magazine column about the ex-spouses who are contending for the Best Director Oscar:
Is it a coincidence that in Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker the name of the hero, a technical genius who loves his job more than his wife, is "James?" Bigelow's great theme over the last two decades is male obsessiveness, and who embodies that more than James Cameron?

Or is it a coincidence that Bigelow rather resembles a real-life version of Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley, that classic nerd’s heroine in Cameron’s 1986 sci-fi film Aliens? Like Weaver (whom Cameron also cast in Avatar), Bigelow is almost six feet tall. (Unsurprisingly, Cameron, to whom too much is never enough, digitally rendered Avatar’s butt-kicking blue babe to be ten feet tall.)

Both Weaver and Bigelow are well bred, lady-like, and attractive, but Bigelow is also an expert at blowing stuff up. When doing publicity for Aliens and Avatar, the actress has had to bluff her way past all the fanboys who hope that Sigourney, who majored in English at Stanford, shares their techy obsessions.

Unlike Weaver, Bigelow is a real Ripley. For example, like the Explosive Ordinance Specialists specialists whom The Hurt Locker portrays, Bigelow disdains typical Hollywood gas fireball explosions. She strove to make her blasts “a very dense, black, thick, almost completely opaque explosion filled with lots of particulate matter and shrapnel.”

Bigelow can talk explosions and lenses all day long. And that’s what The Hurt Locker is: soldiers filmed in Baghdad-like Amman, Jordan through telephoto lenses that deliver the exact opposite of Avatar’s famously immersive 3D.

The telephoto effect compresses the apparent distance between the near and the far. For instance, in this typical street scene, if an Improvised Explosive Device were concealed within that hulk of the car behind the U.S. G.I., would he be within the blast zone? The viewer can’t even guess how far away the car is from the soldier due to the telephoto lens foreshortening distance.

Thus, this art house action flick transpires in a disorientatingly flat and cluttered pictorial space. Bigelow’s telephoto shots keep the viewer from being able to discern what’s safely far away from the three heroes and what’s close enough to kill them, much like the potentially lethal environment confronting the soldiers as they try to disarm IEDs of unknown magnitudes.

Read the whole thing there and comment upon it here.

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

February 1, 2010

New York City's IQ Testing Mania

For years, I've been pointing out that the irony that so many of the New York City media types who are always pooh-poohing the entire concept of IQ in the press are simultaneously paying lots of money to have tested the IQs of their four-year-olds (four-year-olds!). Almost every prestigious private elementary school in NYC requires that applicants for kindergarten take the Wechsler IQ test, and the public gifted and talented schools use the more achievement test-like Otis-Lennon. It's a pretty hilarious irony.

Now, Jennifer Senior has a long article in New York, The Junior Meritocracy, questioning the wisdom of handing out lifetime prizes at age four. Surely, she asks, wouldn't it be better to, say, test at age seven, when IQ testing is more accurate?

I'm familiar with a public high school program only open to kids with stratospheric IQs of 145 or higher. Within the school there tend to be two groups of kids: those who scored >=145 on an IQ test in 8th grade, who are really smart; and those who got into this program's feeder programs in third grade. The kids who are in this high school because they scored >=145+ in second grade tend to be smart, but often not outlandishly smart, simply because of the lower accuracy in testing at earlier ages and a tendency toward regression toward the mean over time. Testing 4-year-olds just exacerbates all this.

My guess is that testing at age 4, despite its high degree of arbitrariness, is popular with New York City parents because it lets them decide whether they will stay in Manhattan / Brooklyn or move to a suburb where the open enrollment schools have good students on average. If your kid gets into an exclusive public program or into a famous private school, then we'll stay in the city. Otherwise, Fort Lee, here we come!

The summer before he starts school is a pretty easy time to move a kid. After that, he'll have school friends, and he'll be old enough to complain more.

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

"The Prince of Darkness"

I recently read The Prince of Darkness, the 2007 autobiography of the late Washington reporter and TV commentator Robert D. Novak, who died last August. It's a quite distinctive memoir that nicely conveys Novak's love of ferreting out individual facts -- it's a book that will prove useful to future historians of politics and the press in understanding how reporters got scoops and what their incentives were -- and his aversion to the kind of Big Picture synthesizing that's the norm in an autobiography.

It's the opposite of Dreams from My Father: Novak realizes the reader is mostly interested in accounts of what the big names he met over the years (from JFK through GWB) were really like, and limits himself to giving his side of various historical events he was involved in, such as the Valerie Plame affair, and recounting data about himself that is useful in understanding the media.

Although he dislikes summing up, Novak is candid that getting a scoop (and Novak probably got more Washington scoops, large and small, than anybody) depends upon serving the self-interest of whoever is doing the leaking. (Lead and Gold has more about Novak's book here.) Still, knowledge is better than ignorance.

For example, Novak reports how much money he made at various points in his life: e.g., when he works for the AP in Omaha in 1954, he made $68 per week. In a characteristic touch that I've never seen in any other autobiography, Novak almost always adjusts his income for inflation. That mythological-sounding $68 per week turns out to be the rather more prosaic equivalent of "$512 in 2006 purchasing power."

On the last page, Novak writes:
Memoirists often are explicit in reporting their skimpy salaries in their early years and become reticent when monetary success comes. Breaking that pattern, I will disclose that my adjusted gross income for 2004 reached a high of $1.2 million.

The dyspeptic Novak's general impressions are few but worth recounting. After leaving sportswriting, the first major politician he ever met as a political reporter, the governor of Nebraska, turned out to be "considerably less impressive than the athletic coaches who up until then had been my most intimate news sources. But so were nearly all the legislators. This first impression of the political class did not change appreciably in a half century of sustained contact. ... I did not find the caliber of politicians in Washington generally any higher than what I had encountered in Indianapolis and Lincoln."

The President who seems to have impressed the conservative journalist the most for general caliber is one he liked little politically: Bill Clinton. Strikingly, Novak's blunt opinions extended to himself. He recounts sitting next to Clinton for four hours at a Gridiron Club dinner during the Monica Lewinsky year. Clinton deftly talked to Novak about his passion, college basketball, but mostly talked to the guest on his other side, conservative press baron Conrad Black (who later went to jail over his finances), about Black's interest, FDR. Novak modestly writes:
That night, these two strong, complicated men enjoyed themselves talking about another strong complicated man. Beyond that, I think Clinton and Black liked each other because they both were intelligent, reckless, charismatic risk-takers. I simply was not in their class.

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

"The Class"

I never got around to posting my old review from The American Conservative of the 2009 French movie "The Class." So, for completists:
“The Class,” a slice-of-life drama tracking a year in an inner city Parisian junior high school, has been greeted rapturously, winning the top prize at the Cannes film festival. The critical acclaim stems mostly from “The Class” not being Hilary Swank’s 2007 “Freedom Writers” or all those other tiresome Nice White Lady movies in which heroic teachers overcome “the soft bigotry of low expectations” and turn their charges into Nobel Laureates.

In contrast, this French film offers a refreshingly realistic depiction of the frustrations of teaching. It’s not wholly plausible—as in all school movies, there is only a single class in “The Class”—but it’s almost unique in suggesting that student quality matters.

“The Class” is based on an autobiographical novel by schoolteacher François Bégaudeau. In the manner of WWII hero Audie Murphy, who played himself in the film version of his memoir “To Hell and Back,” Bégaudeau portrays a teacher named M. Marin. “The Class” could be called “To Heck and Back” because “inner city” doesn’t mean quite the same thing in Paris as it does in Detroit. The French like their cities, so the riotous public housing projects are out in Paris’s dreary suburbs. The Parisian 14-year-olds in “The Class” aren’t gun-packing gangbangers, as in Hollywood movies. They’re just mouthy adolescents, lazy, not terribly bright, and full of ressentiment at the dominance of elitist French culture.

M. Marin’s French literature class is half-French and half-minority, with the unrulier Muslims, black and white, absorbing most of his attention. The smartest and most respectful student is a Chinese immigrant, while the worst troublemaker is Souleymane from Mali in sub-Saharan Africa. One well-spoken lad who hopes to win admission to the elite Lycée Henri IV goes largely ignored in the turmoil caused by his less intelligent classmates. They constantly monitor whether they are being disrespected, so they can get off task. Griping about being dissed is more fun than being forced to reveal to the other kids that they can’t do the work. Marin banters with them, but he’s too genteel to thrive amidst all the dominance struggles.

Now in his fifth year, Marin is no longer an idealist. When a naive colleague suggests that Marin should assign Voltaire’s Candide, he demurs, “The Enlightenment will be tough for them.” Marin tries to get the class to read The Diary of Anne Frank instead (which, in “Freedom Writers,” turns teacher Erin Gruwell’s slum students into prodigies of literary creativity), but it mostly annoys Marin’s heavily Muslim class.

The triumph of multiculturalist ideology is less complete in France than in most other Western countries. Having successfully assimilated European immigrants by immersion in the French language, the French tend to assume that these latest newcomers must eventually wake up and appreciate the inherent superiority of French culture. In his grammatical examples illustrating the imperfect subjunctive (which is employed solely in upscale written French), Marin uses only European names. (That’s a habit that has been drilled out of American teachers.) The students, however, subscribe to American ideas about multiculturalism. An obnoxious girl of North African descent objects to the teacher’s Eurocentric names as “Honkies, Frenchies, Frogs!”

And why do they need to learn the imperfect subjunctive, anyway? “It’s bourgeois,” the children argue, parroting generations of celebrated French leftist intellectuals, not realizing that you can’t get to be a celebrated French leftist intellectual unless you’ve mastered French grammar.

At a teacher’s meeting attended (bizarrely) by two bored student representatives who giggle in the back row, the faculty plots to suspend Souleymane. Marin urges mercy, arguing that Souleymane's not bad, he’s just reached his limits academically. The two students sit upright, scandalized that a teacher would suggest that any student is below average in intelligence. The next day, the girls start a brouhaha in class over this, which worsens when Marin responds using grammar too sophisticated for them to interpret correctly. In the ensuing melee, Souleymane unintentionally smacks a bystander in the eye.

After he is expelled, the classroom atmosphere improves. Still, by the end of the year, only the smart students have learned much.

“The Class” is filmed in that unattractive quasi-documentary style—claustrophobic close-ups on cheap digital video—that has become de rigueur for prestige films. There’s no music on the soundtrack, and almost no humor, either. The slow “real-time” pacing effectively conveys the boredom felt by many students, but the opportunity cost is that there’s no room for an engaging plot.

Rated PG-13 for language.

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

January 31, 2010

The Edsall Strategy

From my new VDARE.com column:
Among the most interesting of the countless postmortems on Republican Scott Brown’s victory over Martha Coakley in the Massachusetts Senate race was veteran Democratic journalist Thomas Edsall’s Ghost Story in The New Republic on January 20, 2010.

Edsall’s article is one of the more realistic (if inadvertent) works of political advice the GOP has received—outside of the pages of VDARE.com. From a tsk-tsking Democratic perspective, Edsall outlines the inexorable logic of what Peter Brimelow calls the Sailer Strategy: as the non-white percentage of the electorate increases, the Republicans must (and can) win a growing share of the white vote.

Of course, the Republican leadership (such as it is) will find Edsall’s insights offensive rather than illuminating. They are less likely to appreciate them than to try to refute them, by more brilliant stratagems such as making Michael Steele head of the Republican National Committee.

Edsall writes:
"As everyone knows, the United States is undergoing a profound demographic transformation. Non-Hispanic whites are likely to become a minority by the year 2042. This shift underlies the theory of a Democratic realignment: Pro-Democratic groups are growing while the pro-Republican white population is declining."

Edsall goes on, however, to note that just twelve months of the Obama Administration demonstrated to many white voters even in liberal Massachusetts that they might not be happy with their ordained future. Over the course of 2009, he says, "White, middle-class voters ceased to think of Obama as a protector of their interests."

Over the years, Edsall has repeatedly tried warned liberals that the diabolically clever Republican leadership is going to attempt to please the white majority by acting as "a protector of their interests."

That would make sense. But I’ll believe it when I see it. ...

Edsall wrote in Chain Reaction in 1992:
"Together, the twin issues of race and taxes have created a new, ideologically coherent coalition by pitting taxpayers against tax recipients, by pitting the advocates of meritocracy against proponents of special preference, by pitting the private sector against the public sector, by pitting those in the labor force against the jobless, and by pitting those who bear many of the costs of federal intervention against those whose struggle for equality has been advanced by interventionist government policies. "

Personally, I’ve long felt that Edsall’s alarums sounded like an awfully good strategy for the GOP—politically, but also morally. After all, what’s the point of majority rule if not to benefit the majority?

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

Presidential timber

A reader objects to my statement in VDARE.com:
If Obama’s father were white, he no more would have been considered Presidential timber than if the last President’s father had been named Smith.

He writes:
Surely, you meant "Presidential timbre."

I tried both phrases in a search engine, and found about 20 times more examples of "Presidential timber" than "Presidential timbre." Here's a debate between an English teacher and a Reuter's copy editor over the question.

My offhand guess would be that the phrase started out as "Presidential timbre," but all the lumber-related Presidential folklore -- Washington chopping down the cherry tree, Lincoln splitting rails -- led to a change in spelling over the years.

On the other hand, almost all cute etymological theories like this turn out to be wrong.

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