May 8, 2010

Iron Man v. the Golem: Who would win in a fight?

A friend writes:
One of the most astonishing Jewish cultural transformations in the Australia of the last decade - which is also the decade in which the ultra-Orthodox Jews, mostly Eastern European in origin, started exercising serious muscle - has been the overall decline of Woody-Allen-type New York Jewish intellectuality (in my experience Seinfeld's Aussie following was almost wholly gentile), and the rise of Jewish mysticism in its weirdest, most quasi-cabbalistic forms.

Ten years ago Jewish artistic life, whenever an outsider like myself encountered it, was pretty much entirely Annie Hall, violin recitals by Jewish princesses in fashionable music clubs, and "my son the doctor". (Shades of the proverbial blue-rinse Catskills matron who is said to have complained about a production of Fiddler on the Roof: "It can't have cost much to put on that show. Look how cheap all the costumes were.")

But now, I have seen the future, and it is ... golems. That's right. Goodbye Podhoretz, hello Isaac Bashevis Singer. If you are a young Australian composer who wants to win an award for a new opera, you make your central character the Golem of Prague. Golems are sexy. With golems, you cannot fail, whatever the difficulties in terms of production costs of having a ten-foot zombie on stage.

I, too, had been thinking about the Golem of Prague, a giant dimwitted magic robot supposedly made out of clay by the Rabbi of Prague. Why is our popular culture suddenly besieged with golems? I think this is a good, not very sinister example of how the past (in this case cultural history) is always changing to fit the demands of the present. As Orwell said in 1984, "He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future."

I was thinking about golems because on Wednesday I was rereading parts of Michael Chabon's golem-centric Pulitzer Prize-winning novel from 2000, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, about two Jewish cousins in New York from 1939 onward who team up to create comic books about a superhero named the Escapist, whose true identity is the superWASPy Tom Mayflower.

There were a lot of now famous pairs of Jewish writers and artists who together created superheroes, such as Siegel & Shuster (Superman), so this is a rich vein for historical fiction. One of Chabon's many theses is that Jewish-American comic book creators were inspired by the purported legend of the Golem of Prague.

My kid took the Advanced Placement English Literature test on Thursday, and he had decided that if the third essay question turned out to be at all relevant, instead of writing about one of the recommended books, he would avail himself of the option of writing about another book "of comparable literary merit" and explicate the relevance of Kavalier and Clay to the assigned topicWhen I looked through K&C again, I realized the wisdom of his choice. Chabon had made his magnum opus relevant to almost any conceivable AP English Lit question. The only other book I've read that radiates so much authorial hard work at exemplifying every single "literary element" that the AP test might ask about is Alan Moore's graphic novel, The Watchmen. Both The Watchmen and Kavalier and Clay are attempts by very smart and industrious writers to vindicate the much-derided genre of comic books by creating extremely sophisticated superhero-related works.

Unfortunately, I found The Watchmen unpleasant. In contrast, Kavalier and Clay is a good read, with likable characters and lots of plot. (Chabon is outspoken about how literary fiction needs more and better storytelling.)

Not surprisingly, K and C proved red meat for this year's AP question, which turned out to be on the theme of "[oh, I guess I'm not supposed to talk about it]." [Whatever], golems, whatever you are asked to expound upon, K and C's got all your AP needs covered. Indeed, as Wikipedia's article on "Golem" explains:
One of the two protagonists, an amateur Jewish magician and escape artist named Josef Kavalier, arranges to smuggle himself out of Nazi Europe along with the famed Prague golem in a coffin. Kavalier comes to identify with the golem as a symbol of Jewish resistance against the Nazis, basing his comic book character The Escapist on his own revenge fantasies, and eventually enlisting in US service during WWII. The theme of vengeance against anti-Semites and subsequent regret of such pervades the novel, culminating in Kavalier's own drawing of a modern graphic novel centered around a golem.

Meanwhile, Kavalier's American cousin Sammy Klayman, the writer of the pair, change his name to Clay. ("Klayman" = "clay man" = golem. Get it?)

So, golems are everywhere in today's popular culture.

Why? In the past, Jews made up stories about WASPy superheroes with names like Clark Kent, but now Jews make up stories about Jews making up stories about WASPy superheroes. (Did you know that "irony" is an official AP literary element?)

The only problem with Golem Mania is that, well, the concept of a big lunk made out of clay just really isn't that awesome. (There's the other problem that the Golem of Prague story probably isn't an 18th century folktale as alleged, but was likely made up out of whole cloth in 1837.) 20th Century superheroes like Iron Man are a lot more fun than the Golem.

Or, more directly, let's compare 18th Century sci-fi stories (or pseudo-18th Century): the Golem of Prague v. Swift's Gulliver's Travels. Which one is more interesting? Which one is better? Who would win in a fight?

In the 20th Century, Jews in America and Australia would almost all say: Gulliver's Travels.

And that reflected a general pattern. Most educated Jews in the 20th Century tended to view medieval (i.e., pre-1800) Jewish culture as kind of boring and claustrophobic. There's something depressing about contemplating all that Ashkenazi talent spinning its wheels endlessly in the same old ruts. If you consider the life of, say, Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), it's really just more interesting and fun and broadly innovative than the life of almost any culturally Jewish European before they began to liberate themselves from medieval Jewish claustrophobia around the time of Franklin's death.

The 20th Century Jewish solution was to blame this pre-1800 history of cultural isolation and lack of artistic and scientific productivity on gentile discrimination. Obviously, that played a role, but a fairer reading would be that much of it was self-inflicted.

Europeans Jews tended to be richer, on average per capita, than Christians for much of this time period. Thus, they didn't see much they needed to borrow from the culture of their neighbors. In dozens of generations in Eastern Europe, for example, Yiddish-speaking Jews typically didn't bother learning more of their Slavic neighbors' languages than the minimum necessary for doing business.

In the later 18th Century, though, some German Jews, such as Moses Mendelssohn (the composer's grandfather) began to wake up to the progress made by gentiles and to their own increasing quasi-Malthusian impoverishment due to their vastly increased population.

But the problem in the 21st Century is that, say, Gulliver's Travels just isn't Jewish. Today, ethnic pride demands that a rich, powerful group have a rich, powerful, vibrant cultural history, even if it actually had a kind of dull, self-limited one.

So, Jewish artists at the elite level, and their funders, are turning inward. Thus, Golem Mania.

The good news is that there is still a huge amount of Jewish talent, such as Chabon. On the other hand, there was presumably a huge amount of Jewish talent in, say, the 17th and 18th Centuries. But how much good did it do?

May 6, 2010

How white are American blacks?

Razib features a nice graph from a new paper comparing a sample of 128 African Americans to some Africans and to some European Americans

Each vertical bar represent one of the 128 African Americans. Blue represents the estimated European admixture, which averages 22%. All but one of the 128 African Americans appear to have some European ancestry, but about nine out of ten African Americans are at least half African by ancestry. President Obama falls at about the 90th percentile of whiteness, although I'm not sure if he would even qualify to be in the study due to his atypical ancestry.

In other words, when it comes to handing out affirmative action goodies, self-identification appears to be good enough for government work.

Most of the African ancestry is Yoruban (red), with only marginal amounts being pgym (Mbuti) or Bushman (San).

Most of the small number of Europeans in the study cluster together (i.e., probably have no recent African ancestry), while two appear to have small amounts.

All this is pretty similar to what I heard from Penn State geneticist Mark Shriver eight years ago. He came up with about 18% white admixture in African Americans. The technology was more primitive then, but his sample size was about 20 times bigger. So, one-fifth appears to be a good rough estimate.

Fast-Breaking Caveman News

Here's the NYT's Nicholas Wade's article on the new finding by Svante Paabo that I hinted about on Sunday. Greg Cochran and Henry Harpending have been predicting this for quite a few years, most recently in The 10,000 Year Explosion. (By the way, although the NYT spells his name "Svante Paabo," Wikipedia spells it "Svante Pääbo," with double umlauts, giving him maximum heavy metal cred.)
Neanderthals mated with some modern humans after all and left their imprint in the human genome, a team of biologists has reported in the first detailed analysis of the Neanderthal genetic sequence.
The biologists, led by Svante Paabo of the Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have been slowly reconstructing the genome of Neanderthals, the stocky hunters that dominated Europe until 30,000 years ago, by extracting the fragments of DNA that still exist in their fossil bones. Just last year, when biologists first announced they had decoded the Neanderthal genome, they reported no significant evidence of interbreeding.
Scientists say they have recovered 60 percent of the genome so far and hope to complete it. By comparing that genome with those of various present day humans, the team concluded that about 1 percent to 4 percent of the genome of non-Africans today is derived from Neanderthals. But the Neanderthal DNA does not seem to have played a great role in human evolution, they said.
Experts believe the Neanderthal genome sequence will be of extraordinary importance in understanding human evolutionary history since the two species split apart some 600,000 years ago.

So far, the team has identified only about 100 genes — surprisingly few — that modern humans have evolved since the split. The nature of the genes in humans that differ from those of Neanderthals is of particular interest since they bear on what it means to be human, or at least not Neanderthal. Some of the genes seem to be involved in cognitive function and others in bone structure.

“Seven years ago I really thought that it would remain impossible in my lifetime to sequence the whole Neanderthal genome,” Dr. Paabo said in a news conference. But the Leipzig team’s second conclusion, that there was probably interbreeding between Neanderthals and modern humans before Europeans and Asians split, is being greeted with reserve by some archaeologists.

A degree of interbreeding between modern humans and Neanderthals in Europe would not be greatly surprising given that the two species overlapped there for some 15,000 years, from 44,000 years ago when modern humans first entered Europe to 30,000 years ago when the last Neanderthals fell extinct. Archaeologists have been debating for years whether the fossil record shows evidence of individuals with mixed features.

But the new analysis, which is based solely on genetics and elaborate statistical calculations, is more difficult to match with the archaeological record. The Leipzig team asserts the interbreeding they detect did not occur in Europe but in the Middle East and at a much earlier period, some 100,000 to 60,000 years ago, before the modern human populations of Europe and East Asia had split apart. There is much less archaeological evidence for an overlap between modern humans and Neanderthals at this time and place.  ...

Dr. Paabo said that episode of human-Neanderthal breeding implied by Dr. Reich’s statistics most plausibly occurred “in the Middle East where the first modern humans appear before 100,000 years ago and there were Neanderthals until 60,000 years ago.” According to Dr. Klein, people in Africa expanded their range and reached just Israel during a warm period some 120,000 years ago. They retreated during a cold period some 80,000 years ago and were replaced by Neanderthals. It is not clear whether or not they overlapped with Neanderthals, Dr. Klein said.

These humans, in any case, were not fully modern and they did not expand from Africa, an episode that occurred some 30,000 years later. If there was any interbreeding, the flow of genes should have been both ways, Dr. Klein said, but Dr. Paabo’s group sees evidence only for gene flow from Neanderthals to modern humans.

The Leipzig group’s interbreeding theory would undercut the present belief that all human populations today draw from the same gene pool that existed a mere 50,000 years ago. “What we falsify here is the strong Out-of-Africa hypothesis that everyone comes from the same population,” Dr. Paabo said.

Keep in mind that only the "strong" (absolutist) version of the Out-of-Africa hypothesis that is in trouble. The weak version (that most of our genes are descended from people whose ancestors were in Africa 100,000 or so years ago) looks pretty reliable. 
In his and Dr. Reich’s view, Neanderthals interbred only with non-Africans, the people who left Africa, which would mean that non-Africans drew from a second gene pool not available to Africans. Dr. Reich said that the known percentage difference in DNA units between African and non-African genomes was not changed by his proposal that some of the non-African DNA is from Neanderthals. 

Steve Hsu has links to the papers.

Assuming that these Neanderthal introgressions in non-African modern humans exist (the technical problems Paabo has had to deal with -- in particular, avoiding contamination by modern human DNA -- and the analytical problems are daunting), they probably aren't neutral or junk genes, which would tend to disappear over the last 1,000 or so generations. They are probably useful genes that give some Darwinian advantage or advantages in some environments.

But, what do they do? I don't know. (I haven't read the papers, so I don't know if anybody knows yet.) If they haven't spread back into Africa, that might suggest they aren't that useful in Africa. For example, they might be cold weather adaptations. For instance, one reason slavery faded out quietly in Northern states after the American Revolution was that slaves weren't all that profitable because their immune systems weren't attuned to cold weather diseases. As I wrote in VDARE in 2003:
Indeed, as Brandeis historian David Hackett Fischer pointed out in his famous Albion's Seed, these racial differences had an enormous impact on the history of America. He notes that the cold climate of colonial Massachusett:

"proved to be exceptionally dangerous to immigrants from tropical Africa, who suffered severely from pulmonary infections in New England winters. Black death rates in colonial Massachusetts were twice as high as whites' - a pattern very different from Virginia where mortality rates for the two races were not so far apart, and still more different from South Carolina where white death rates were higher than those of blacks. So high was mortality among African immigrants in New England that race slavery was not viable on a large scale, despite many attempts to introduce it. Slavery was not impossible in this region, but the human and material costs were higher than many wished to pay. A labor system which was fundamentally hostile to the Puritan ethos of New England was kept at bay partly by the climate."

Paging Tom Friedman

Thank God the U.S. has student visas and H1B visas for the cream of the world's students,  such as that Times Square would-be bomber:

 From the New York Times:
According to immigration officials, Mr. Shahzad arrived in the United States on Jan. 16, 1999, less than a month after he had been granted a student visa, which requires a criminal background check.

He had previously attended a program in Karachi affiliated with the now-defunct Southeastern University in Washington; a transcript from the spring of 1998, found in the garbage outside the Shelton house, showed that he got D’s in English composition and microeconomics, B’s in Introduction to Accounting and Introduction to Humanities, and a C in statistics.

GPA in Karachi = 2.0 = U.S. student visa!
He enrolled at the University of Bridgeport, where he received a bachelor’s degree in computer science and engineering in 2000, followed by a master’s in business administration in 2005.

From on the U. of Bridgeport:
SAT Scores of Enrolled Freshmen
SAT Math448 average
390-490 range of middle 50%
Score of 700 - 800
Score of 600 - 700
Score of 500 - 600
Score of 400 - 500
Score of 300 - 400
Score of 200 - 300
SAT Critical Reading447 average
400-490 range of middle 50%
Score of 700 - 800
Score of 600 - 700
Score of 500 - 600
Score of 400 - 500
Score of 300 - 400
Score of 200 - 300
SAT Writing442 average
390-480 range of middle 50%
Score of 700 - 800
Score of 600 - 700
Score of 500 - 600
Score of 400 - 500
Score of 300 - 400
Score of 200 - 300
ACT Scores of Enrolled Freshmen
ACT Composite19 average
16-22 range of middle 50%
Score of 30 - 36
Score of 24 - 29
Score of 18 - 23
Score of 12 - 17
Score of 6 - 11
Score of 5 or Below

In January 2002 Mr. Shahzad obtained an H1B visa, a coveted status meant for highly skilled workers and good for three years, with a possible extension. Records show that Elizabeth Arden, the cosmetics giant, applied for a visa for Mr. Shahzad; he worked there as a temporary clerk in the accounting department in 2001, through an employment agency called Accountants Inc., according to a timecard found in his trash. 

Granted, he tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square, but in return for the H1B visa, Elizabeth Arden got a "highly skilled" "temporary clerk in the accounting department." Sounds like a good deal to me! The economy would collapse if there weren't an endless supply of temporary clerks to keep wages down. As Tom Friedman has tirelessly pointed out, how can we possibly keep ahead of the Chinese unless we let all the rich families in the Islamic world unload their dumbest sons on us?

May 5, 2010

"How an Ordinary American Became a Terror Suspect"

From the Toronto Globe and Mail:
How an Ordinary American Became a Terror Suspect
Man arrested in Times Square bomb plot was born into elite Pakistani family

 No comment.

Sexual selection in the Sudan

Some of the tallest peoples in the world are also some of the most oppressed: the black Dinka and Nuer tribes of the South Sudan, who fought a long civil war against the brown Arab-speaking government in Khartoum. Charles Darwin's theory of sexual selection driving racial differentiation appears to be at work here. From the LA Times:
The man in the orange sunglasses and a fur hat with earflaps seemed more like a jazz musician on a cigarette break than a tribal chief, but as soon as he spoke, village men gathered for a lesson on brides, poor boys and cattle.

The shade was just right. John Modi Jubek crossed his legs, striking as regal a pose as a chief can when he's sitting in a plastic chair. It was odd to him that a stranger didn't know the Mundari tribe smiles more upon tall women than on short ones. A father may love his diminutive daughters, but affection does not bring longhorns and riches.

"Tall girls fetch more cattle because their daughters will quickly grow and can be married off to fetch even more cattle," said the chief, shooing a stubborn fly. "A tall girl can command 60 to 100 cattle from a suitor. A short girl may get 20 head, and, sometimes, short girls overstay their welcome in the father's home and end up fetching only five cattle. By then, a tall girl has already borne five children."

The chief paused, letting daughter-cattle ratios sink in. The men shook their heads at his calculations.

The chief was wise, cool in the late morning heat, watching sunflower-high women brush beneath the branches of a big tree with jugs and food sacks balanced on their heads. They strode past a man selling padlocks and Jesus calendars; they glided beyond a short sister wobbling in the sunlight with a numb smile and alcohol on her breath.

"Things get competitive for a tall girl," said the chief. "Once she reaches 12 years of age, men come to the father and promise many cattle. Of course, a suitor with no cattle will never marry. Our laws forbid that. He is single for life. If he sleeps with someone's daughter or gets her pregnant, he'll be killed."

What do tall women think about marriage and cattle?

The chief bit his lip, bafflement drifting across his face.

"Women have no say," he said.

May 4, 2010

Country Boy Scientists & Conservative Conservation

From my new column in Taki's Magazine:
Edward O. Wilson’s new book, Anthill: A Novel, is, in many ways, a traditional first novel: it’s primarily a quasi-autobiographical fictional retelling of the author’s childhood and young manhood. Anthill is the tale of Wilson’s alter ego, a bug-loving Eagle Scout with the venerable Southern name of Raphael Semmes Cody, who grows up exploring nature in an old growth wilderness outside Mobile, Alabama.

On the other hand, most first-time novelists aren’t octogenarians. Nor are they, typically, the world’s top expert on ants. They haven’t been famous / notorious since the 1975 publication of their scientific masterwork, Sociobiology, either. Nor are they the chief inventor of the influential cause of preserving biodiversity.

And, generally speaking, autobiographical novels don’t include a 73-page centerpiece narrating the genocidal wars between ant colonies that young Raff tracks for his Insect Study merit badge. Or at least they don’t recount them from the ants’ point of view, with dialogue exchanged via chemical secretions: “The signals now proclaimed, Food, food. I have found food, follow my trail!” (While “ant fiction” sounds odd, to say the least, Wilson, a two-time Pulitzer winner, is a crackerjack storyteller. His ant chapters are as dramatic as the finest nature documentaries.)

And while many novelists are nostalgists, few are as thoroughly pro-conservative as E. O. Wilson. When it comes to sympathetic portrayals of white Republican Southerners, Wilson’s Anthill makes the recent Sandra Bullock hit movie The Blind Side seem like a Paul Krugman op-ed.

Particularly moving is the depiction in the first third of the book of the often-tense marriage between Raff’s redneck father, who works to instill in his son the best aspects of the good ole boy code of honor, and his old money mother, who names him after the Confederate admiral in her genteel family tree.

Read the whole thing there and comment upon it here.

May 3, 2010

Protective Stupidity

A timely excerpt from 1984:
... the speculations which might possibly induce a sceptical or rebellious attitude are killed in advance by his early acquired inner discipline. The first and simplest stage in the discipline, which can be taught even to young children, is called, in Newspeak, crimestop. Crimestop means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc, and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction. Crimestop, in short, means protective stupidity.

"The Limits of Policy"

David Brooks's latest NYT column, "The Limits of Policy," continues his pattern of picking up on my ideas, but expressing them gingerly enough to keep his job. There is a lot of good stuff in here, but enough Crimestop, too, so he doesn't get Stephanie Graced.
Roughly a century ago, many Swedes immigrated to America. They’ve done very well here. Only about 6.7 percent of Swedish-Americans live in poverty. Also a century ago, many Swedes decided to remain in Sweden. They’ve done well there, too. When two economists calculated Swedish poverty rates according to the American standard, they found that 6.7 percent of the Swedes in Sweden were living in poverty.

In other words, you had two groups with similar historical backgrounds living in entirely different political systems, and the poverty outcomes were the same.

A similar pattern applies to health care. In 1950, Swedes lived an average of 2.6 years longer than Americans. Over the next half-century, Sweden and the U.S. diverged politically. Sweden built a large welfare state with a national health service, while the U.S. did not. The result? There was basically no change in the life expectancy gap. Swedes now live 2.7 years longer.

Again, huge policy differences. Not huge outcome differences.

This is not to say that policy choices are meaningless. But we should be realistic about them. The influence of politics and policy is usually swamped by the influence of culture, ethnicity, psychology and a dozen other factors.

Which is precisely why one kind of policy -- immigration policy -- is so important. Minnesota is rather like Sweden. In contrast, New Mexico (state motto: "Thank God for Mississippi!") is still somewhat like Old Mexico, even after generations within the U.S. with relatively little additional immigration since the 1600s.
You can observe the same phenomenon when looking within the U.S. Last week, the American Human Development Project came out with its “A Century Apart” survey of life in the United States. As you’d expect, ethnicity correlates to huge differences in how people live. Nationally, 50 percent of Asian-American adults have a college degree, compared with 31 percent of whites, 17 percent of African-Americans and 13 percent of Hispanics. Asian-Americans have a life expectancy of 87 years compared with 79 years for whites and 73 years for African-Americans.

Even in struggling parts of the country, Asian-Americans do well. In Michigan, for example, the Asian-American life expectancy is 90, while for the average white person it’s 79 and for the average African-American it’s 73. Income and education levels are also much higher.

The region you live in also makes a gigantic difference in how you will live. There are certain high-trust regions where highly educated people congregate, producing positive feedback loops of good culture and good human capital programs. This mostly happens in the northeastern states like New Jersey and Connecticut. There are other regions with low social trust, low education levels and negative feedback loops. This mostly happens in southern states like Arkansas and West Virginia.

I've written about trust a lot, and there's something quite peculiar about describing "New Jersey and Connecticut -- i.e., Greater New York City -- as a "high-trust region." I think New Yorkers would find that term insulting. Conversely, Arkansas and West Virginia are not precisely "low social trust." All else being equal, New Jerseyites tend to be lower in trust, in most senses of the word, than Arkansawyers. C'mon, New Jersey probably has more Sicilians than any other state. Sicilians were the classic representation in the social science literature (see Edward Banfield's study of Sicily, Moral Basis of a Backward Society) of "amoral familism."

But all else is not equal, especially the number of very bright, very motivated people who flock to the region to make and spend money.

Arkansas isn't Lake Wobegon or Provo when it comes to trust -- in 1991 I once accidentally wandered up a deadend Ozark hollow while trying to get from Walmart headquarters to the Fayetteville airport and the locals sitting on their front porches looked at me like I might be a revenooer. On the other hand, Sam Walton built one of the most successful corporations in the world in Arkansas.
If you combine the influence of ethnicity and region, you get astounding lifestyle gaps. The average Asian-American in New Jersey lives an amazing 26 years longer and is 11 times more likely to have a graduate degree than the average American Indian in South Dakota. When you try to account for life outcome differences this gigantic, you find yourself beyond narrow economic incentives and in the murky world of social capital. What matters are historical experiences, cultural attitudes, child-rearing practices, family formation patterns, expectations about the future, work ethics and the quality of social bonds.

Sure, but, clearly, genetics also play some role in why the poor Sioux in South Dakota tend to drop dead young from alcoholism and diabetes. They didn't evolve with much alcohol or sugar around, and, hence, they have a hard time dealing with alcohol and sugar today. We ought to be sympathetic toward their genetic problems and look for ways to ameliorate them, not treat them as shamefully unspeakable.
Researchers have tried to disaggregate the influence of these soft factors and have found it nearly impossible. All we can say for sure is that different psychological, cultural and social factors combine in myriad ways to produce different viewpoints. As a result of these different viewpoints, the average behavior is different between different ethnic and geographic groups, leading to different life outcomes.

Oh, so that explains why Usain Bolt and all those other men of West African descent on three different continents have broken 10 seconds in the 100 meter dash so much more than the rest of the world combined: viewpoints! It's all in Usain's viewpoint. A more accurate way to phrase it is that researchers have made progress in disaggregating these soft factors, but the findings aren't very popular.
It is very hard for policy makers to use money to directly alter these viewpoints. In her book, “What Money Can’t Buy,” Susan E. Mayer of the University of Chicago calculated what would happen if you could double the income of the poorest Americans. The results would be disappointingly small. Doubling parental income would barely reduce dropout rates of the children. It would have a small effect on reducing teen pregnancy. It would barely improve child outcomes overall.

So when we’re arguing about politics, we should be aware of how policy fits into the larger scheme of cultural and social influences. Bad policy can decimate the social fabric, but good policy can only modestly improve it. 
But, all of the above suggests that immigration policy is the single most powerful policy tool, for good or bad. But when will Brooks ever follow out his logic and mention that?
Therefore, the first rule of policy-making should be, don’t promulgate a policy that will destroy social bonds. If you take tribes of people, exile them from their homelands and ship them to strange, arid lands, you’re going to produce bad outcomes for generations. 

Is Brooks talking about the movie industry in arid Hollywood, CA? "Bad outcomes for generations" is an interesting way to characterize the totality of their output.

Oh, sorry, he seems to be talking about American Indians in South Dakota. My mistake.
Finally, we should all probably calm down about politics. Most of the proposals we argue about so ferociously will have only marginal effects on how we live, especially compared with the ethnic, regional and social differences that we so studiously ignore. 

Except for immigration policy, right? That, according to this column's evidence and logic, should be the Big One. But only Angry, Evil People know anything the effects of immigration policy, so it must never be spoken of again.

May 2, 2010

The Rage of the Privileged Classes

Here's the opening of my new column:
Freud noted that human beings like to "project"  their own undesirable feelings onto others. The wisdom of that observation became clearer than ever last week as a mounting hysteria infected the elites of the English-speaking world. The rage of the privileged classes was on full display as they projected onto citizens their own vices: ignorance, resentment, and irrational anger.

- The signing of the Arizona immigration law, followed by the slow realization from opinion polls that it was broadly popular, elicited paroxysms of hatred for the American people from the Establishment.
For example, veteran New York Times columnist Frank Rich’s May 1 op-ed included a full helping of the standard code words that enraged members of the media traditionally use to denounce voters who aren’t obeying their rightful masters: "angry," "virus," "hysteria," "vicious," "bigoted," "apoplexy," "slimed," "snarling," "notorious," "incendiary," "rage" and so forth and so on.
- Meanwhile, in Britain, Prime Minister Gordon Brown called a cheeky voter "bigoted" after she dared question his immigration policy. 

- And in Massachusetts, , the dean of the Harvard Law School, Martha Minow, one of President Obama’s oldest confidantes, denounced one of her own students for writing an email expressing open-mindedness on the forbidden topic of race and IQ.

Bizarre as it may seem, the potential Supreme Court nominee publicly condemned a private message to a few acquaintances written six months ago—even though it had only been dug up and leaked to the Black Law Students Association by a romantic rival in a petty catfight!

In other words, citizens are winning the debates, so elites would rather demonize than discuss.

Yet, as comical as the last week has been, the power of elites to shut down freedom of speech, to ostracize, to impose dumb dogmas as loyalty tests, must never be underestimated.

Arizona’s SB1070 and immigration: by the end of a tumultuous week, Democratic Party leaders were in disarray as their efforts to turn the illegal immigration controversy into a racial struggle between Hispanics and whites had badly backfired.

The Democrats have long tried to goad Latino voters into viewing enforcement of the laws as a racial insult. But there has never been overwhelming evidence that the average Hispanic-American citizen really shares the Latino Democratic elites’ obsession with opening the border.

For example, in 2006 Arizona voters passed—over the usual bipartisan opposition of the states’ elites—Proposition 200, which required individuals to furnish proof of citizenship when applying for benefits or to vote. Latinos gave it 47 percent support. That’s far more than you would expect from elite assumptions that Hispanic voters' race makes them mindlessly biased in favor of illegal immigration.

Read the whole thing there and comment upon it here.

The Neanderthal Within

I hear that if you want the background on a big story in the science news that will break later this month, check out chapter 2 of Cochran and Harpending's 2009 book, The 10,000 Year Explosion.