June 18, 2011

What I was trying to say

From commenter Big Bill on the amazingly well documented Vancouver riots:
The problem is cell phones with cameras.  
Remember the 16-on-one black gang rape of a 11 year old Hispanic child three months ago? 
The rapists took their own videos and emailed them to each other and their friends via cellphone to cellphone communications, just like the kiddie porn that white girls like to make in the privacy of their bathrooms and send to classmates and friends. Vancouver is merely a continuation of this trend. 
The sheer volume of Vancounver footage is amazing. I have already seen a nicely edited four-camera-shot of the entire cop car burning episode. 
The (chief of staff) surgeon dad of the arsonist apparently saw SOME of the footage of his kid, realized he would be shortly identified by others, lawyered up, and took the kid downtown. 
Dad is on record as saying his kid did not LIGHT the fire. Of course the now-assembled multi-camera shot shows the kid approaching with a lit lighter. 
Really, in any mob scene or gang violence situation from now on, one must assume that the entire event is being secretly filmed from multiple camera angles and that within days someone is going to be making courtroom quality trial graphics and posting them on the Internet for free. 
Even scarier, all the video is tagged not only with (1) the GPS location data for proving the camera location, but (2) time sync data to prove the video cuts were synchronized correctly and (3)cell phone data to permit the police to contact the videographer of the raw footage to testify as a witness. 
The evidence necessary for a bulletproof conviction was created by dozens of people at the very instant of the crime! 
What a strange world we live in.

Many kinds of crime are increasingly out-of-date. Hopefully, more and more would-be criminals will figure this out, too.

Who is more moderate?

Here's David Brooks's column, "Who Is James Johnson," in the New York Times on Gretchen Morgenson's new book on the mortgage meltdown, Reckless Endangerment.

And here's my VDARE column from 12 days ago on the same book. 

My question is: Who is more even-handed, non-partisan, reasonable, and just plain moderate on this crucial topic: David Brooks or me?

June 17, 2011

Facebook takes the fun out of everything

The blond kid who was photographed stuffing a rag into the gas tank of a police cruiser at the Vancouver defeat riot has supposedly been identified: a high school athlete who is on Canada's national Under 18 water polo team, son of a doctor. Cops tend to be persnickety about you trying to blow up their cars, so this doesn't bode well for his previously promising career.

The point of a riot is to enjoy the license allowed by the anonymity of the crowd, but that conflicts with the modern young person's urge to photographically document every single moment of socializing and put it on his or her Permanent Record.

Also, this guy's mom is probably giving him a hard time right now:

He should be Photoshopped into historic pictures of disaster, like the Hindenburg exploding.

The world's best organized riots are in South Korea:
The rioters all get issued color-coded two meter cop-whacking sticks. And there are vast numbers of riot police in South Korea because they are conscripts. Unlike other countries, where the first priority of the riot police is to prevent a riot from breaking out and the second priority is to quell rioting, in South Korea the riot police are there to Do Battle. A good time, apparently, is had by all.

Italian theater accidentally improves "Tree of Life"

Terrence Malick's movie The Tree of Life begins and ends boringly, but is pretty good (if plotless) in the middle. A movie theatre in Bologna, Italy managed to get the reels of film in the wrong order and showed a jumbled up version for nine nights in a row, to no complaints and, indeed, to applause from ticket-buyers (which it didn't get from the audience at the correctly ordered version I saw). I can well imagine that this version was a more enjoyable viewing experience than the one Malick picked.

It's not like the notorious critic's screening of Death Wish IV where the reels were shown out of order, so a character decapitated in one reel was looking hale and hearty in a later one. Much the same thing happens in Pulp Fiction, of course, but Tarantino has enough panache to make you wonder what transcendent reason there is for John Travolta to resurrect, other than that the film was pretty dull when Travolta wasn't on screen

Why isn't LeBron James a fresh face?

Part of the reason everybody is sick of NBA star LeBron James is because, even though he is only 26-years-old officially, he looks like Red Foxx's uncle. The guy is really wrinkly. What's the deal? Is this from maturing young? Or did he have some chemical help? Or is he really like three years older, which is why he was so awesome when he was nominally 16?

Back in the 1980s, there was a very scary slugger named Jeff Leonard who hit a lot of highlight reel homeruns  (although not that many homers overall). His nickname was Old Penitentiary Face.

In case of alien invasion ...

I've noticed that when I read the obituaries of prominent people in New York Times, I always check the last paragraph to see how many grandchildren they have. The replacement rate would be four, and lots of high-achieving people die without getting to that number. 

On the other hand, I just noticed that golfer Jack Nicklaus (who is not dead, by the way -- his name just comes up whenever there's a major championship), whose career record of 18 major championships is looking more secure each month (Tiger has been stuck on 14 for just under three years), has 21 grandchildren. 

Nicklaus, who was born in 1940, had six children, and his children have averaged 3.5 kids each, which is a lot for a celebrity's kids these days. (I suspect that bequests from Grandpa Jack have helped his offspring go forth and multiply.)

Nicklaus is an example of high all-around competence. For one thing, he was a fat white 5'10" kid who could dunk a basketball. He's also one of very few celebrities to lose a large amount of weight for cosmetic purposes in mid-career without hurting performance. 

I'm not sure that I'd want to have Jack Nicklaus as my next door neighbor. (I suspect he would roll his eyes in a marked manner at my lawn care efforts.) But, in case of, say, alien invasion, I would be glad that there were more rather than fewer copies of his genes floating around in the human race. 

It might be interesting for somebody to go through obituaries of high achievers and build a database of numbers of children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. 

"Moneyball:" The Movie

When I talk about the bizarrely large impact that Bill James has had on American culture, I'm thinking about, oh, that Brad Pitt is starring in a movie version coming in September of Michael Lewis's book Moneyball. Pitt plays Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane, whom Lewis celebrated for accepting the sabremetric revolution launched by James. Instead of looking for the best athletes, Beane found guys who can hit home runs and get walks.

Jonah Hill plays Beane's quant, Philip Seymour Hoffman is A's manager Art Howe, and it looks like Kevin Costner has a role as somebody because it's a baseball movie. Here's the trailer (via Jonathan Last), including exciting killer dialogue from Aaron Sorkin like, "Because he gets on base."

There's an alternative interpretation of Oakland's success in the early 2000s, which is that the franchise already had a history of playing Moneyball (i.e., guys who can hit home runs and get walks, such as the Giambi Bros., Michael Tejada, and David Justice) under the previous general manager Sandy Alderson (1983-1997), when Oakland went to three straight World Series (1988-90), which is three more than Billy Beane has accomplished. 

In this subversive view, the man who introduced Moneyball to Oakland wasn't Beane or Alderson or whomever, it was Jose Canseco, "the Typhoid Mary of steroids."

I like Bill James and Michael Lewis, but these journalists made a lot of money by not mentioning the elephant in the baseball living room: steroids. 

June 16, 2011

Defeat Riot

The point of a riot is that if enough other people are breaking the law, you feel like you can get away with it too. A few hours after Martin Luther King was murdered, by future wife looked out the window at her street in the Austin neighborhood of the West Side of Chicago: "Hey, Mom, look! Everybody's getting free TVs. Let's get one!" Her mother nailed the door shut.

Sports rioting traces back at least as far as the clashes between the fans of the Blue and Green chariot racing teams in Constantinople that almost overthrew the Emperor Justinian the Great in 532 AD. The concept of the Victory Riot after the local team wins the championship was largely unknown in the U.S. until the Chicago Bulls with Michael Jordan won their second consecutive NBA championship in 1992, a little over a month after the Rodney King riot in LA. 

The Michael Jordan riots caught everybody by surprise, since the accepted narrative of urban riots going back to the Watts Riots of 1965 had been that they were set off by Urban Anger. But everybody in Chicago was happy. And there hadn't been riots when the Bulls had won the year before. The MJ Riots were worst in the 'hood, where a couple of Arab shopkeepers were murdered, but even the exquisite little Stuart Brent Bookstore on the Magnificent Mile was looted by white yuppies who stole coffee table art books. The next year, the cops were out in force on horseback, but there was still a fair amount of rioting in Chicago. But when the Bulls won their second threepeat in 1996-98, nothing much happened. So, there's a high degree of randomness. Plus, there's target hardening. For example, the Niketown store that opened on Michigan Blvd. in Chicago after the MJ riot is a fortress designed to be unlootable.

Now that I think about it, I suspect there would have been riots after the Chicago Bears won the Super Bowl in 1986 if the temperatures hadn't been subzero. There were scary incidents on Division Street, and then during the official Loop victory parade a few days later when it was still no more than zero, a mob charged a high school marching band and bent their brass instruments. Why? Well, the point of a riot is Why Not?

Never having won anything, Vancouver (a.k.a., Loserville, North America) has no tradition of the Victory Riot. It does have a tradition of the Defeat Riot going back to the 1994 Stanley Cup Final. I suspect, however, that some of yesterday's Vancouver rioters are undergoing an agonizing reappraisal of this whole riot and post pictures on Facebook idea. For example, this guy with the blond crewcut who was photographed setting a police car on fire. My guess is that the police really don't like you setting their cars on fire, and therefore will find him.


A reader who plays a lot of basketball alerts me to the name of an 8th grader often at the gym where he plays: Mickey Mitchell, a 6'7" point guard who can do a 360 dunk. And he's white. Here's a highlight reel

I played on my elementary school's basketball team in 8th grade. Our center was 6'2" and got an athletic scholarship to a private school. Mickey Mitchell would have beaten us playing 1 on 5.

He's also the top quarterback prospect in the 8th grade. It will be interesting to see which route he chooses.

How old is this 8th grader? He looks like a high school Homecoming King. Does he drive himself to elementary school?

Back in 2002, I wrote an article giving the pros and cons of "redshirting" your little boy by holding him back for a second year of kindergarten so that he'll be older as he goes through school. I still get emails from undecided parents about it, but I don't have much new to add. Has anybody done a big multiple regression or natural experiment study of this? There's a lot of interest out there.

It's something of a market failure that there aren't many direct ways to make money off of social science studies. There are a whole bunch of young parents who would pay, say, a $100 for some good advice on this topic, but there doesn't exist any particular way for this market demand to fund a social science project.

Caitlin Flanagan on Cesar Chavez

Here's an amusing reminiscence by Caitlin Flanagan in The Atlantic, The Madness of Cesar Chavez, about growing up in Berkeley in the 1960s: 
In the history of human enterprise, there can have been no more benevolent employer than the University of California in the 1960s and ’70s, yet to hear my father and his English-department pals talk about the place, you would have thought they were working at the Triangle shirtwaist factory. ...
I spent a lot of my free time working for the United Farm Workers. 
Everything about the UFW and its struggle was right-sized for a girl: it involved fruits and vegetables, it concerned the most elementary concepts of right and wrong, it was something you could do with your mom, and most of your organizing could be conducted just outside the grocery store, which meant you could always duck inside for a Tootsie Pop. The cement apron outside a grocery store, where one is often accosted—in a manner both winsome and bullying—by teams of Brownies pressing their cookies on you, was once my barricade and my bully pulpit. 

Most of the article is devoted to how Chavez, like a lot of people successful in the 1960s, went nuts in the 1970s, but the bigger story is in this paragraph:
In fact, no one could be more irrelevant to the California of today, and particularly to its poor, Hispanic immigrant population, than Chavez. He linked improvement of workers’ lives to a limitation on the bottomless labor pool, but today, low-wage, marginalized, and exploited workers from Mexico and Central America number not in the tens of thousands, as in the ’60s, but in the millions. Globalization is the epitome of capitalism, and nowhere is it more alive than in California. 

Chavez is an official saint of the state of California, but a lot of the reason for all the strenuous celebration of Chavez is that there aren't that many other Mexican-American heroes to celebrate. All of his anti-illegal immigration activities have disappeared down the memory hole.

Finnish Content

From Slate:
And the city with the best quality of life is … Helsinki! 
At least, that’s what British magazine Monocle declared after taking a look at a number of urban centers around the globe. The magazine bases its annual top-25 list on a variety of factors, aiming to find the city that is the best to call home. 
Helsinki moved up four spots from last year’s rankings, beating out Zurich (no. 2) and Copenhagen (no. 3) for the top spot. The full list will be published later this summer. 
Helsinki has only about 600,000 residents, allowing for a tight community and a certain “Finnish way to do things” that remains intact despite highly influential global trends. Helsinki is also spared some the problem of suburban sprawl that many other cities do, allowing for easy escape to one of the many islands off Finland’s coast. 
Finnish design also had a lot to do with the selection, as would be expected from an international news and design magazine. “An unorthodox but well-deserving champion, the Finnish capital stands out for its fundamental courage to rethink its urban ambitions, and for possessing the talent, ideas and guts to pull it off,” the magazine writes.

Hmmhmmmhmm, a bunch of Finns who like the "Finnish way to do things" sounds pretty suspicious to me. Isn't there some sort of EU regulation against that?

Anyway, one interesting point that progressives have a hard time wrapping their heads around is that ethnic homogeneity, such as Finland enjoys relative to most other modern countries, is conducive to disinterested reform and progress. In a diverse polity, in contrast, ethnic score settling contributes to gridlock. If Helsinki decides to "rethink its urban ambitions," well, it's a lot easier to get everybody on board than it is in a diverse community where ethnic activists all have their hands out.

"Super 8"

Super 8, written and directed by the talented and crowd-pleasing J.J. Abrams (2009's Star Trek) and produced by Steven Spielberg, is a nostalgic homage to Spielberg's E.T., which was the highest-grossing movie ever for a decade after its 1982 release. But I never really got E.T. -- I'm not sure it would make my Top 10 Spielberg films -- and it's not clear I was all that wrong. Spielberg re-released it with a lot of hype in 2002, hoping to make a lot of money the way the Star Wars re-releases did on their 20th anniversaries, but nobody much cared. (Here's my 2002 review of the re-release.) 

In an isolated industrial town in Ohio in the summer of 1979, some 13 year old boys are filming a zombie movie on Super 8 film under the direction of an ambitious fat kid who looks like J.J. Abrams (b. 1966). 

The best scene in the movie is when they draft a classmate played by Elle Fanning, Dakota's little sister (and the closest thing to a movie star in Super 8), to play the detective hero's wife. They give her a speech to read and by the end the boys are all gaping, having really noticed, for the first time, talent / emotions / girls / actresses / blondes / shiksas and other things that will cause them no end of trouble for the next few decades.

Then some sci-fi stuff happens, but the kids have a hard time focusing on that because, well, they're 13. The sci-fi stuff is rather like M. Night Shyamalan's 2002 hit Signs, but that had star power in the form of Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix. Plus, Shyamalan is such a dope that you can see him talking himself into believing his own dopey theory about the cause of crop circles, while for Abrams, the sci-fi is just meta -- it's not supposed to make sense, it's a 45-year-old's recollection of what a bunch of 13-year-olds in 1979 would have thought was cool.

It's a popcorn movie in the sense that you spend a lot of time wondering if you'd find it more galvanizing if you got up and got a box of popcorn. Then, when the popcorn is digesting, you start wondering if maybe a box of Whoppers wouldn't do the trick. It's a little dull and unengaging

But it's a nice little movie, so if you lower your expectations, and sneak in a lot of free snacks from home, you might enjoy it.

By the way, that reminds me that my review of X-Men: First Class might have been a little harsh. I called it a "hodge-podge," which it is, but it's a hodge-podge of energetic and interesting elements. Comic book movies make so much money these days that they can afford a lot of talent. Sometimes, they manage to get the right tone to blend everything together (e.g., Iron Man) and a lot of times they don't (Iron Man II and X-Men: First Class), but you still get a lot of first class script doctoring for your ticket price. Super 8, in contrast, is a personal project, but seems a little underpowered. I came home from First Class and wrote two pages of notes. I came home from Super 8 and realized 24 hours later that I hadn't thought of much of anything to say about it.

June 15, 2011

"Porn Star"

Here's a suggestion that will never, ever be taken up: Can we stop using the term "porn star," which implies, well, sure, I'm in porn, but I'm a star!

My recommended replacement term: "porn whore."

Another recommendation: Gay Pride Parade be renamed Gay Narcissism and Exhibitionism Parade.

Then there's the dysphemism Single Mother that gets applied to Widowed Mothers and Divorced Mothers as well as genuine Single Mothers (i.e., were unmarried when they gave birth). For example, J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter author (who seems like a highly admirable person), is always described as having been a Single Mother when she started writing, but when I finally looked into the details, it turned out she was actually a Divorced Mother. 

June 14, 2011

"Popular Crime" by Bill James

For a long time, Bill James, the famous baseball statistics analyst, has been promising books on non-baseball subjects. Now, he's delivered one, Popular Crime, on the history of crime stories. I review it in my new column in Taki's Magazine.
It’s a read-250-books-and-write-another-one effort. James summarizes scores of notorious killings from Lizzie Borden through JonBenét Ramsey. He has a proven record of pattern recognition ability and solid sense, so anything he writes is of some interest. 
For example, did Bruno Hauptmann really kidnap Charles Lindbergh’s baby in 1932? The evidence of his guilt is overwhelming, says James. What about Dr. Sam Sheppard, whose controversial 1954 murder trial inspired The Fugitive? Guilty, although not as charged; James figures he hired a hitman to kill his wife. O.J.? Oh, c’mon … 

Read the whole thing there.

But the real reason to read Bill James is not to watch him recount single events but to watch him draw inferences from masses of data. But there's a structural problem with the whole project: popular crime stories are popular precisely because they are Man Bites Dog stories. James is perfectly aware of that (pp. 36-37), but it seems to get him down because he's always coming up with observations about crime in general that aren't true about popular crime and thus he can't use the stories about criminals in his book to illustrate his observations.

For example, he went on The Colbert Report and mentioned in passing that murderers don't tend to be good looking. A reviewer on Amazon was very offended by that: What about Ted Bundy? What about Robert Chambers, the Central Park Preppie Killer? I think this is a pretty common reaction outside of hardcore baseball statistics fans.

What James needed was to start Popular Crime with a chapter describing Unpopular Crime. He needed to synthesize typical examples of run-of-the-mill crimes that don't get books written about them. For example, the typical acquaintance killing might be a few people are drinking, one guy says something insulting to another guy, the girls laugh at him, so the humiliated guy gets so mad he goes home and gets his gun. What's his plan for getting away with premeditated murder? He kinda hopes the cops don't notice the dead body.

James needs that kind of frame for his book.


Last night, I was reviewing baseball statistician Bill James's new book Popular Crime for TakiMag, and I typed in something like, "As a prose stylist, James is an outstanding argumentalist." Wait a minute, I wondered, is that a real word? Sure it is, I discovered. In German. I eventually tried "argumentativist," which sounds pretty ridiculous in how the word just keeps going on and on, but, yes, there were a bunch of articles on the philosophy of argumentativism as advocated by argumentativists.

Today, in fact, there's an article in the NYT on argumentativism.
Reason Seen More as Weapon Than Path to Truth 
For centuries thinkers have assumed that the uniquely human capacity for reasoning has existed to let people reach beyond mere perception and reflex in the search for truth. Rationality allowed a solitary thinker to blaze a path to philosophical, moral and scientific enlightenment. 
Now some researchers are suggesting that reason evolved for a completely different purpose: to win arguments. Rationality, by this yardstick (and irrationality too, but we’ll get to that) is nothing more or less than a servant of the hard-wired compulsion to triumph in the debating arena. According to this view, bias, lack of logic and other supposed flaws that pollute the stream of reason are instead social adaptations that enable one group to persuade (and defeat) another. Certitude works, however sharply it may depart from the truth. 
The idea, labeled the argumentative theory of reasoning, is the brainchild of French cognitive social scientists, and it has stirred excited discussion (and appalled dissent) among philosophers, political scientists, educators and psychologists, some of whom say it offers profound insight into the way people think and behave. The Journal of Behavioral and Brain Sciences devoted its April issue to debates over the theory, with participants challenging everything from the definition of reason to the origins of verbal communication. 
“Reasoning doesn’t have this function of helping us to get better beliefs and make better decisions,” said Hugo Mercier, who is a co-author of the journal article, with Dan Sperber. “It was a purely social phenomenon. It evolved to help us convince others and to be careful when others try to convince us.” Truth and accuracy were beside the point. 
Indeed, Mr. Sperber, a member of the Jean-Nicod research institute in Paris, first developed a version of the theory in 2000 to explain why evolution did not make the manifold flaws in reasoning go the way of the prehensile tail and the four-legged stride. Looking at a large body of psychological research, Mr. Sperber wanted to figure out why people persisted in picking out evidence that supported their views and ignored the rest — what is known as confirmation bias — leading them to hold on to a belief doggedly in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence. 
Other scholars have previously argued that reasoning and irrationality are both products of evolution. But they usually assume that the purpose of reasoning is to help an individual arrive at the truth, and that irrationality is a kink in that process, a sort of mental myopia. Gary F. Marcus, for example, a psychology professor at New York University and the author of “Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind,” says distortions in reasoning are unintended side effects of blind evolution. They are a result of the way that the brain, a Rube Goldberg mental contraption, processes memory. People are more likely to remember items they are familiar with, like their own beliefs, rather than those of others. 
What is revolutionary about argumentative theory is that it presumes that since reason has a different purpose — to win over an opposing group — flawed reasoning is an adaptation in itself, useful for bolstering debating skills. 
Mr. Mercier, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, contends that attempts to rid people of biases have failed because reasoning does exactly what it is supposed to do: help win an argument. 
“People have been trying to reform something that works perfectly well,” he said, “as if they had decided that hands were made for walking and that everybody should be taught that.”

Imagine a prehistoric hunting party arguing over how best to approach the deer they've spotted. The deer isn't going to be influenced by the charisma of their arguments, so they have an incentive to come up with the best decision because they are hungry. On the other hand, the various participants also have their own special interests, short term (e.g., I want a strategy where I make the kill because I'll get a bigger slice or I want a lower risk strategy because I'm not that hungry) and long term (I want to win the argument because I want to build a reputation as a smart decision maker so I'll have political capital). 

But keep in mind that arguing consumes times, energy, and scares away the deer. It's often better to minimize the number of decisionmakers in a tactical situation. So, it makes more sense to argue for fun in the evening, to spar for dominance verbally by demonstrating a quick wit in oral combat or explain a complicated plan when there's time for others to listen. And everybody has an incentive to listen in to figure out whose likely to make good decisions on the spot in the morning with life or death in the balance. You need to know who to trust.

On the other hand, making good decisions about how to catch deer is hard, so ambitious men have incentives to use arguments that philosophers would consider not cricket to persuade other men to follow them. And even if those arguments aren't objectively better at catching deer in isolation, they might be subjectively better at unifying the team, and thus, in the bigger picture, be objectively better at catching deer.

All this is pretty inevitable. What I think is bizarre is that the Ancient Greeks started treating argument not just as a sport, but as one with objective fair play rules for deciding who wins. Consider Zeno's Paradoxes that were brought to Athens by Parmenides and Zeno when Socrates was a young man: the arrow can't reach the target because it first must go 1/2 the distance, then 1/4 the distance, etc. I think in most times and places, Zeno would have eventually got himself punched in the face. But the Greeks thought it was important to figure out why he was wrong. 


From the comments:
Apparently, the Lesbian dude #2 was the one who busted the Lesbian dude #1. As Steve asked in the previous post, what would the world do without us straight white guys? When you need something accomplished, you've got no choice but to call in one.

What college application essays are really for

According to "Mixed-Race Students Wonder How Many Boxes to Check" in the NYT, the endless demands from college admissions offices for essays from applicants Just what cynics figured. First, some throatclearing:
And yet these days, white students are now only 43 percent of the student body at Rice [University in Houston], where an applicant’s racial identification can become an admissions game changer. This can be especially true during the “committee round” in early spring, when only a few dozen slots might remain for a freshman class expected to number about 1,000. 
At that stage, a core group of five to seven bleary-eyed admissions officers will convene for debate around a rectangular laminate table strewn with coffee cups and half-eaten doughnuts as the applications of those students still under consideration are projected onto a 60-inch plasma TV screen. 
For most of the nearly 14,000 who applied this year, the final decision — admit or deny — was a relatively straightforward one resolved early on, based on the admissions officers’ sampling of factors like test scores, grades, extracurricular activities and recommendations. 
But there are several thousand applicants whose fate might still be in limbo by the committee round because their qualifications can seem fairly indistinguishable from one another. This is when an applicant’s race — or races — might tip the balance.

Oh, come on, this is the oldest myth in the college affirmative action book: that quotas only "tip the balance" when applicants "seem fairly indistinguishable." The white-black SAT gap at Rice back during the 400-1600 scoring days was 271 points, according to The Bell Curve. That was the biggest gap found out of a couple of dozen college. Of course, as the Rice president irritatedly pointed out to me when I called Rice's distinction to his attention at an alumni fundraiser, Rice is the smallest school to play Div. I football, so the proportion of football players' SAT scores counted under the black total is larger at Rice than elsewhere. But, still ...

One reason colleges can pull the wool over the public's eyes on this is that very few people think in systems terms about how this works. It's hard to think about the effect of more than one college doing this at a time. If Rice was the only college in the country to have a quota, then, sure, it could fill its quota with black applicants who are "fairly indistinguishable" from the white norm. 

But, funny thing is, Harvard also has a quota, so all those black applicants are going to Harvard instead of Rice. And the black students who are just below the Harvard-bound are going to Stanford and MIT on quotas instead of Rice. So, Rice takes the blacks who would be going to Texas A&M if nobody had a quota, and Texas A&M takes ...

The whole system winds up pretty accurately reproducing at each college the one standard deviation gap seen in the whole population. But that's really hard for most people to grasp.

So, what are the essays for?
“From an academic standpoint, the qualifying records, the test scores, how many AP courses, they may all look alike,” said Chris Muñoz, vice president for enrollment at Rice since 2006. “That’s when we might go and say, ‘This kid has a Spanish surname. Let’s see what he wrote about.’ Right or wrong, it can make a difference.” ... 
Still, Rice knows that however much it emphasizes that students should be guided by the honor principle in making such calls, some will seek to stretch the new definitions to their own gain. 
“There are players out there,” said Julie Browning, the longtime dean of undergraduate admission at Rice. 
Mindful of that, Rice admissions officials try to reconcile whatever boxes an applicant may have checked with the rest of the application. 
For example, in its customized supplement to the Common Application, Rice asks an essay question about “the unique life experiences and cultural traditions” that a student might bring.
“If they care about their cultural heritage, it comes through,” Ms. Browning said. “If they’re lukewarm about it, and they’re trying to make it something they care about, it comes through.”

Of course, many of these application essays are written by professional essay writers or the like, so I guess it all evens out in the long run. 

Anyway, the message from Rice U. is: If you've got it, play the Race Card. Over and over again. Be as authentically nonwhite as you can. (We can tell!) You've got to feel deep down that you deserve this quota spot. So, don't forget to mention how special your Quinceanera made you feel, especially if you are a boy.

One commenter once noted that Dreams from My Father sounds like the President's monstrously enlarged Diversity Essay. 

Unfortunately, the Times' article seems pretty confused about the concept (or concepts) of "multiracial":
And yet, at Rice, the chances that a multiracial applicant might be admitted have climbed over the last five years to 23 percent this year. (By contrast, the admission rate for the freshman class as a whole this year was about 19 percent.) 
Adding to the confusion in admissions offices is that there is no standard definition, in higher education or elsewhere, of what it means to be mixed race. But the hundreds of colleges, including Rice, that accept the Common Application have allowed students to mark more than one box for several years now. 
Over the last five years, the number of applicants to Rice who characterize themselves as of more than one race has skyrocketed to 564 from 8. Multiracial students now account for about 6 percent of the freshman class at Rice, nearly as many as those who identify themselves as “black or African-American.” (Nationally, about 3 percent of Americans identify themselves as mixed-race.)

The reporters' notion that colleges treat "multiracial" as one entity seems highly naive and provincial. I can't imagine any California college treats applicants who check 1. Black and 2. White (You're like, omigod, Obama!) the same as applicants who check 1. Asian and 2. White (Yeah, so what else is new?)

I know from personal experience of a highly marginal case that they're going to treat applicants who assert any black ancestry as BLACK. The black legislators in Sacramento don't ask Berkeley for pictures of the students, they just want to know the numbers. 

I am extremely doubtful of the NYT's interpretation in this passage:
Mr. Muñoz, who is ultimately responsible for Rice’s effort to promote diversity on campus, says he has been guided by the template of his own mixed-race family. He is Mexican-American, the first in his family to go to college, while his wife is of Irish descent. They have three grown children. 
“I am honoring, best I can, how the students see themselves,” Mr. Muñoz said. “If they say they’re mixed, I’m not going to say, ‘Oh no, you’re black.’ I’m going to say, ‘You’re mixed.’ Isn’t that O.K.?” 
And, he added, “We’re not out to play ‘gotcha.’ In all things there is an element of trust.”
Still, he acknowledges, such questions give applicants (and their families) wide latitude. 
An applicant’s final determination of what to say about race is often made in consultation with a college counselor. Many counselors will convey to families that a multiracial applicant — like one who is black and Chinese — often has a better chance of being admitted to a highly selective college than those in any other racial or ethnic category.

Maybe in the case of an extreme exotic like a black-Chinese mix, a multiracial would be more desirable to admissions offices than just plain black, but the whole tenor of this article -- that admissions offices treat "multiracial" as a group -- is doubtful. For getting into college, black is best, and the one drop rule applies to who gets called black, so anybody who credibly claims to be part black will be treated as black for quota / bragging rights purposes. 

I know a young man who is not noticeably black, unless you are looking for it, who wasn't going to put down on his Berkeley application that he was black because he was having an argument with his New Orleans Creole of Color light-skinned father and identified more at the moment with his Armenian mother. He finally did, and then not only he got into Berkeley with below average test scores, but he got a huge scholarship from the African-American Alumni Association. 

The more interesting questions are part Hispanics and part Asians. 

The federal government has never created a mixed-ethnicity category for people who are part Hispanic. In fact, in the 2010 Census, the feds abolished the concept of ethnicity in general, and didn't bother to provide any conceptual justification for demanding to know if you are Hispanic or Not Hispanic. You just had to tell them because they have more guns than you have.

So, Mr. Munoz should have been asked what he's going to put down on his half-Mexican kids' college applications.

By the way, here's a picture of the President of Mexico with Mexican students at Stanford. Nobody looks like that guy in Machete.

The most interesting question to NYT subscribers is probably what to do if you are part Asian. That gets into the whole question that the NYT hasn't much dealt with: do colleges discriminate against Asians, and if they do why?

June 13, 2011

"On the Internet, everybody knows you're a lesbian"

From the Washington Post:
‘Paula Brooks,’ editor of ‘Lez Get Real,’ also a man 
By Elizabeth Flock and Melissa Bell 
Just one day after the author behind a popular Syrian lesbian blog admitted to being a married, American man named Tom MacMaster, the editor of the lesbian news site Lez Get Real, with the tag­line “A Gay Girl’s View on the World,” acknowledged that he is also a man. 

I think that last bit should read: "... he, also, is a man." But you get the general idea.
“Paula Brooks,” editor of Lez Get Real since its founding in 2008, is actually Bill Graber, 58, a retired Ohio military man and construction worker who said he had adopted his wife’s identity online. Graber said she was unaware he had been using her name on his site. ... 
Graber said he started the site to write about gay issues after seeing the mistreatment of close friends who were a lesbian couple. He said the site was “done with the best of intentions.” As a former Air Force pilot, he also said he used the site to argue in favor of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal. 
“I didn’t start this with my name because... I thought people wouldn’t take it seriously, me being a straight man,” he said. ... 
In the guise of Paula Brooks, Graber corresponded online with Tom MacMaster, thinking he was writing to Amina Arraf. Amina often flirted with Brooks, neither of the men realizing the other was pretending to be a lesbian.

I can't top that line, short of revealing that "Steve Sailer" is actually a fictitious character, so let me, Selena Gomez, change tone. Something that we ought to have learned from the proliferation of Internet opinionizing over the last 15 or so years is that the conventional wisdom that there was all this diverse pundit talent out there who were being held down by the old boys network of white male privilege was about 179 degrees wrong. It turned out that the people with interesting opinions on the Internet were more white and male than the people who were paid to offer opinions on TV and in print. When you take away how pundits look and how they speak and just get down to the words they have to say, it turns out that the big discoveries were ... a whole bunch of white guys. To take one example, the Internet revealed that the best sports pundit in America was a white guy named Bill Simmons.

Logic in Soros and Sandler Land

From ThinkProgress.org:
Dirk Nowitzki And The Virtues Of Immigration 
By Matthew Yglesias on Jun 13, 2011 at 10:04 am 
What’s more, Nowitzki’s skills are to a considerable extent complementary to the skills of other workers employed by the Mavericks. ... And Nowitzki, in particular, offered a extremely unusual skillset — a seven-foot-tall player who can shoot accurately with range.

So, therefore, because uniquely talented immigrants are useful, the logical implication is that the U.S. must continue to take in tens of millions of unskilled short guys with grade school educations. Got it!
America Needs More Demand For Goods And Services, Not More Labor Supply 
By Matthew Yglesias on Jun 13, 2011 at 11:45 am 
But at the moment we’re suffering from a huge shortfall in aggregate demand due largely to the huge gap in personal consumption. Lots of different kinds of policies could close that gap or substitute for closing it, but increasing the supply of labor won’t.

Nothing Yglesias's recommendation of a 165,000,000 more immigrants won't cure.

Why are white American basketball players mostly hicks from the sticks?

The triumph of a tall white guy in the NBA Finals might start the press wondering about an underexploited basketball resource: the 100,000,000 white guys in America, some of whom are quite tall, too. But don't count on it. That's not the kind of thing our society can focus upon.

A reader crunches the data on where white college basketball players come from:
Looking down the Rivals 150 list for the high school class of 2011 (roughly, the ranking of the top 150 high school seniors/entering college freshmen), I'm counting eight or nine white players.  I didn't necessarily look at all of them -- mostly the ones where I had any question.  (For example, I didn't bother to look at a picture for LeBryan Nash, who goes to Lincoln High School in Dallas -- given his name, and the fact that I know Lincoln to be almost entirely black and Hispanic, I don't really need to see a picture to know that he's black.)  Why eight or nine?  Well, there's no picture for Patrick Connaughton, but given that that name sounds very Irish, and that he's from Danvers, MA (which is less than 2 percent black), I'm guessing he's a white guy.  Naturally, Patrick is going to Notre Dame in the fall.

Yeah, Connaughton's kind of a miniature Kevin McHale -- a long armed Irishman.
Of more interest, though, is where these nine players are from.  Aside from Connaughton, the others are: 
- Cody Zeller, from Washington, Indiana (0.5% black) -- signed with Indiana
- Kyle Wiltjer, from Portland, Oregon (6.4% black -- very low for a major city) -- signed with Kentucky
- Alex Murphy, from Southborough, Massachusetts (0.9% black) -- signed with Duke
- Marshall Plumlee, from Warsaw, Indiana (2.0% black) -- signed with Duke (*Rivals lists him as being from North Carolina, but he goes to a prep school there; he's actually from Indiana)
- Hunter Mickelson, from Jonesboro, Arkansas (15.7% black) -- signed with Arkansas
- Josh Oglesby, from Cedar Rapids, Iowa (4.6% black) -- signed with Iowa
- Paul Jesperson, from Merrill, Wisconsin (0.2% black) -- signed with Virginia
- Jarrod Uthoff, from Cedar Rapids, Iowa -- signed with Wisconsin 
What immediately jumps out, of course, is that all of them (except Mickelson) are from some very, very white places.  (I looked up Mickelson's high school, Jonesboro Westside, and it turns out that his school is 97% white and only 1% black.  Mickelson is also 6'10".) 
And, this isn't a one-year blip.  Jimmer Fredette, the white college star of 2011, is from Glens Falls, New York (which is 2.3% black.)  Aside from Fredette, there's one other white American player projected to go in the first round of the draft -- Duke's Kyle Singler, who's from Medford, Oregon (0.6% black.)  Thinking back to 2006, you had two really good white players in college: Adam Morrison, from Spokane, Washington (2.1% black), and J.J. Redick, from Roanoke, Virginia (26.7% black -- but Redick went to a high school that was 91% white.)  Mike Miller of the Miami Heat is from Mitchell, South Dakota (0.4% black.)  And, of course, Larry Bird is from French Lick, Indiana (7.5% black.)  (David Lee, who averaged 16.5 ppg for the Warriors this season, seems to be the exception that proves the rule.  Lee is from St. Louis.) 
My theory is that athletic white kids growing up around a bunch of black kids are actively discouraged from playing basketball.  When I was in high school, I noticed that other high schools which were around 15-20% black often had one or two white guys on the end of the bench.  Schools that were 30% or more black often had all-black teams.  I had a friend in college who went to a high school that was 60% black, and he told me that his high school basketball coach wouldn't even let white guys try out.  And yeah, I know that it's all about the AAU circuit these days -- but if you can't even make your high school team (or you're on the end of the bench), why would you even bother trying out for an AAU team? 
On the other hand, high school basketball coaches in places like Iowa probably have the same prejudices about white players, but they might have only one or two black males in the entire school to work with, so naturally they're going to have to take on some white players.  So, if you take a white high school freshman who's 6'2" (presumably, he might grow to 6'6" or 6'7" by his senior year), and put him in Memphis, Tennessee, he's probably not even going to bother with basketball.  On the other hand, if he's going to high school in Iowa, he might try out for the basketball team, figure out that he's pretty good at it, and decide to pursue the sport. 
So what's happened to the white American star is, basically, he probably decides in high school that he's not going to bother with basketball and go play football or baseball.  Still, white kids from relatively homogeneous areas of the country at the very least get a chance to prove that they're good at basketball -- which white kids in more diverse areas basically don't.  The problem is, of course, that most of the remaining areas of the country that are homogeneous are sparsely populated. 
While it's true that a lot of basketball recruiting takes place very early, most college programs below the Big Six conferences (the BCS conferences in football) don't really fill their scholarships for the coming year until the spring before the freshmen enter college.  So while a "late bloomer" probably won't get a scholarship offer from a powerhouse program, they might still be able to catch on with a mid-major program and make a name for themselves there.

Most of the white athletic talent in America doesn't grow up in small towns, of course, it grows up in suburbs. If you look at white quarterbacks, they are typically sons of business managers, coaches, or ex-athletes. In the case of Andrew Luck, the golden boy Stanford QB who was runner-up in the Heisman last fall and is expected to be the #1 draft choice next year, his father is all three -- a former NFL quarterback, who then earned a law degree, and who has enjoyed a long list of high-paying executive jobs in sports management in the U.S. and Europe while coaching youth teams in his spare time.

One interesting question is: what's the cultural difference between football and basketball that makes for a less hostile environment for whites in football? My guess is that it's coaches coach in football, while recruiting is an even bigger part of the game in basketball. There's also a lack of AAU showcases for hotshots in football.

My impression is that American-born baseball players also tend to be from upscale backgrounds these days. For example, when I checked a couple of years ago, there appeared to be more good Jewish MLB players these days than possibly at any other time.

A few other notes on the 2011 Rivals 150: nine of the 150 have African surnames, two Spanish surnames, one (Martin Bruenig) is from Germany but looks like he's mixed.

June 12, 2011

Hot lesbian Syrian martyr blogger turns out to be 40-year-old white American guy

The Washington Post has today's least surprising story:
For nearly a week, the world followed the saga of Amina Arraf, the blogger who was celebrated for her passionate, often intimate writings about the Syrian government’s crackdown on Arab Spring protesters. Those writings stopped abruptly last Monday, and in a posting on her blog, “A Gay Girl in Damascus,” a cousin said Amina had been hauled away by government security agents. 
News of her disappearance became an Internet and media sensation. The U.S. State Department started an investigation. But almost immediately skeptics began asking: Had anyone ever actually met Amina? On Wednesday, pictures of her on the blog were revealed to have been taken from a London woman’s Facebook page. 
And Sunday, the truth spilled out: The gay girl in Damascus confessed to being a 40-year-old American man from Georgia.

White guys ... What would the world do without us? We're the straw that stirs the drink.

A commenter notes: As Donald Rumsfeld would say, pudgy white American nerd bloggers will stand down when hot lesbian Syrian bloggers are ready to stand up.

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

Where are the white American NBA stars?

With Dirk Nowitzki of Germany winning the NBA Finals MVP award tonight, my new VDARE article asks in timely fashion:
So that raises other questions almost never discussed in public: What happened to the NBA’s white American stars? Why are there so many more foreign white stars? Does this disparate impact amount to evidence of discrimination against whites in American basketball before they can reach the professional level? 
We can quantify the shortfall of white American players relative to white foreigners by looking at the list of the 50 best active players in terms of cumulative career achievement as measured by Win Shares on Basketball-Reference.com. 
There are nine white players out of the top 50, eight of whom grew up abroad: #3 is Nowitzki, #8 Steve Nash, #14 Pau Gasol, #22 Peja Stojakovic, #25 Manu Ginobili, #36 Andrei Kirilenko, #37 Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and #47 Hedo Turkoglu. 
Only one American white is in the top 50:  #28, Brad Miller, a 35-year-old center.  He’s the last white American to play in two NBA All Star games, back in 2003 and 2004. Like Larry Bird, Miller grew up in a small town in Indiana.
Why are there so few white American players? 

Read the whole thing there.

A few comments on the NBA Finals:

With 30 teams in the league, it's hard for any one player to win a championship. The random odds of winning are 1/30th for each year of your career and nobody's career lasts 30 years.

Obviously, a star is supposed to make it a lot likelier for his team to win, but how much likelier? Jason Kidd just won his first title after 17 years as a starter. He's second all time on the assists list behind John Stockton and third all time on the steals list behind Stockton and Michael Jordan. He's really good. Nowitzki just won his first title after 13 years in the league. He's really good, too.

So, the Kidd/Nowitzki average so far in their impressive careers is one title every fifteen years, or that a Hall of Famer will double the odds per year of a team winning the title over an average player.

This is an extremely small sample size, but it sounds kind of right. At hitting a baseball, Babe Ruth was 2.06 times as good as the average player over his entire career, Ted Williams 1.90 times, and Barry Bonds 1.81. In other words, it's really, really hard in baseball to be twice as good as the average player: only Babe Ruth has done it. Does being twice as good equate to twice as likely to win it all? Eh, now that I think about it, probably not. But I don't know whether it's more or less likely. Ruth didn't win a ton of World Series until he got a sidekick named Lou Gehrig, who was the 4th best hitter ever. Williams/Bonds only made it to two WS and didn't win either.

In basketball, I haven't found a statistic that quite matches up to OPS+ in baseball. I suspect it's easier in the NBA to be twice as good as the average as in the MLB, but it's still really hard. Team sizes are smaller in basketball than in baseball: 5 versus 9, and players go head to head sometimes as in Hakeem Olajuwon v. David Robinson and Patrick Ewing in the mid-90s Finals. The dominant player usually winds up the Finals MVP. Michael Jordan, for example, went to six Finals, won six, and won six Finals MVP awards.

So, the Finals MVP award is a big deal. The only guy who ever won it on a losing team was Jerry West of the Lakers in 1969 versus Bill Russell's last Celtics team.

But West's career shows how unusually great MJ was. West went to, I believe, ten Finals, and the Lakers won one (1972). He was 0-7 versus the mighty Boston Celtics and 1-2 v. a wonderfully balanced New York Knicks.

Yet, West was extremely good. He scored huge numbers of points, dished out lots of assists, and stole the ball frequently. He even regularly blocked shots from behind -- a memorable skill because the stripped shooter would continue with his jump shot routine as in a pantomime as a shocked look spread over his face as he realized that West was heading for a layup at the other end. He was smart -- as GM of the Lakers he landed Shaq and a 17-year-old Kobe in the same offseason. And West was intensely competitive,  a ferociously driven bastard, like Jordan. His admirers are happy and a bit surprised that he's lived into his 70s without self-combusting.

Yet, he won a grand title of one championship in 14 years, most of those years with Elgin Baylor on his team, some of those years with Wilt Chamberlain, a few of those years with Elgin and Wilt. Ironically, the year he won, 1972, he was terrible in the Finals. The Lakers were carried by Chamberlain. West was furious at himself.

So, I'm not terribly shocked that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh only managed to lose a quite close Finals in their first year together. West, Baylor, and Chamberlain couldn't win in two years together. West finally won when the knee surgery-slowed Baylor retired in the fall of 1971, letting the Lakers turn into a running team.

So, I'm not hugely surprised that in their first year together, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh merely lost a very close Finals, winding up only the 2nd best out of 30 teams.

LeBron has been famous for so long that a lot of people are kind of sick of him by now, but by the standards of NBA stars he seems like an okay guy. These days, everybody loves old dead guys with gaudy statistics but not many rings, like Wilt and Ted Williams. Maybe LeBron doesn't match up to Michael Jordan as a ruthless winner, but he's a lot more of a team player than Wilt or Ted.

European Creativity

My upcoming VDARE article is about the NBA finals between the Miami Heat's Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh versus the Dallas Maverick's Big One of Dirk Nowitzki, but I finally found a picture to illustrate why the seven-foot German's fall-away jumper is, despite its awkward look, so hard to block. 

For a righthander, the right foot is the more adroit one, the one you prefer to balance upon while doing something delicate. For example, a righthanded baseball batter puts his weight on his back (right) foot while beginning his swing. Once he's committed himself, his weight shifts to his less-coordinated left foot. Similarly, if you are going to balance upon one foot while accurately hurling a ball overhand, whether shooting a basketball or throwing a baseball, the natural combination is to start by balancing more on the right foot. (When throwing a baseball pitch, a righthander pushes off his right foot but ends standing on his left foot. But the right foot is the dominant foot for a righthander).

During Nowitzki's NBA career, however, this righthander developed a a radically different shot where he takes a step back with his left foot, lifts his right leg, and jumps off his "wrong" (left) foot. 

One advantage to jumping off the left foot is you can get your right hand higher off the ground, so it's normally used in, say, open-court dunks. But the point of a dunk is to cut down on the need for precision by not releasing the ball until its inside the basket. So, for the difficult one-footed fall-away jump shot, using the left foot as the dominant foot is awkward.

The big advantage in leaping off the left foot, I believe, is that Nowitzki can simultaneously raise his right leg as a shield to keep the defender farther away. 

This picture, where the non-jumping defender is almost getting kicked in the groin by Nowitzki, represents an extreme example -- normally the defender leaps and Nowitzki keeps his knee bent more, his foot down, and his right leg more perpendicular to the flight of the ball so he doesn't get called for an offensive foul -- but the general principle is the same: Nowitzki's raised right leg keeps the defender too far away too block the shot. If the defender hits his upraised right leg, the ref might give Nowitzki two free throws. And even if the ref allows the defender some contact, Nowitzki's raised leg is more like a shock absorber than the torso or arm, so the bump is less likely to affect his aim.

Say you release your shot right-handed from above your right ear. If, like a normal step-back fall-away jump shooter, you jump off your right foot, you could try raising your left leg as a shield, but to get it in front of you where it's effective, you have to twist your body more unnaturally than when Nowitzki jumps off his left foot and raises his right leg. (Try it.)

Somebody must have tried shooting like this in the past, right? But I can't find any mention of it. Is it just too hard for most people to do accurately? Do you have to be kind of ambidextrous? Or do you just look too gawky doing it for it to be cool in America? Has anybody started to imitate Nowitzki? He's been hugely effective doing this.

Of course, just because a shot is effective doesn't mean it will be imitated -- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar poured in about a million skyhooks on TV between 1966 and 1990 and the rest of basketball treated the shot as if Kareem has the intellectual property rights to it tied up until 70 years after his death. The skyhook is the ultimate example of jumping off the left foot to maximize the right hand's height.

Interestingly, Nowitzki says he came up with this shot on his own, not with his off-season coach, physicist Holger Geschwindner,

From an interview with Geschwindner on the unusually high arc on Nowitzki's shots:
The reflection behind it is quite simple. How do you have to throw the ball so that, despite committing as many mistakes as possible, it still finds its way through the net? It’s a question of error tolerance. But every college student should be able to make the same calculations. Take differential and integral calculus. Make some derivations and create a curve. Everybody can do it. It’s no secret. The optimal angle depends on the player’s height and the distance. I’ve calculated it for Dirk and my other players.

My impression is that European basketball players have generally been more creative than American players. This goes back to the first European I can recall, BYU center Krešimir Ćosić of Yugoslavia, who battled Bill Walton of UCLA in the NCAA tournament in the early 70s. Walton was an amazing basketball thinker, but the big Croatian made him look like a stick-in-the-mud when it came to on-court weirdness. As a convert to Mormonism, presumably Ćosić wasn't smoking as much dope as Walton was, but you couldn't tell from watching his game, which consisted of shots that maybe were old hat in Zagreb but weren't standard operating procedure in Pauley Pavilion and looked like something out of an H.R. Pufnstuf version of basketball.

I'm certainly not up to date on basketball, but my impression is that the 1970s conventional wisdom of black players as innovative and white players as fundamentalist was already outdated by the 1990s, partly because of the arrival of goofy Europeans, partly because blacks got much better at fundamentals, partly because white Americans got increasingly winnowed down to the ones who had something extra in their repertoire (not just Larry Bird -- anybody remember Jeff Hornacek and all the bizarre-looking shots he took?)

Forty years ago, Earl Monroe was doing all sorts of crazy spin moves, but I don't see that much statistical evidence they were overwhelmingly effective, which is why he remains a legend -- he didn't have that many successful followers. Moving laterally along the court in unexpected ways is cool, but it's mostly a distraction from moving up and at the rim. I watched a lot of Michael Jordan and, sure, he had a lot of "How did he do that?" plays, but not as many "How did he think of that?" ones. Jordan's game was fundamentally sound and (until, after his baseball exile, when he developed an effective fall-away jumper to save his body--here's MJ's video tutorial on shooting his two-footed fallway), his predominant instinct was the predictable but most rational one: to head for the rim.