August 4, 2012

Gabby Douglas's hair

One of the more baffling recent controversies has been over the hair of Olympic all around champion girl's gymnast Gabby Douglas. As far as I can figure out, she has been widely criticized on Twitter for not having her hair conked, but instead just taking her natural sub-Saharan hair and tying it back out of the way.

Why has the White Man been dumping on this poor black girl's hair? Well, obviously, virtually no straight white man has even noticed her hair, and those who have since been made aware of this burning issue have tended to approve of her spending the time practicing instead of messing about with noxious hair-straightening chemicals. 

Almost all the critics of her hair were presumably black, either black women or black gays. Douglas is a member of the Borrowed Generation, living with a white family in Iowa so she can train with a superstar coach. Presumably, her white hosts didn't get the crucial importance of a conk. 

"Was Milton Friedman a Secret Admirer of Keynes?"

Asks Don Boudreau in the WSJ.

My impression was that Friedman was a public admirer of Keynes. (Here's a brief video of Friedman saying nice things about Keynes.) John Maynard Keynes was, obviously, a genius. Bertrand Russell, who didn't like Keynes, said of him:
Keynes's intellect was the sharpest and clearest that I have ever known. When I argued with him, I felt that I took my own life in my hands, and I seldom emerged without feeling something of a fool. I was sometimes inclined to think that so much cleverness must be incompatible with depth, but I do not think this feeling was justified.

None of this means that Keynes was necessarily right in his macroeconomics or that Keynes' self-proclaimed followers are right about what to do in novel situations two-thirds of a century after his death, just that it's silly to treat Keynes as less than a heavyweight.

August 3, 2012

Edward Abbey: "Immigration and Liberal Taboos"

In 1988, the New York Times commissioned, then rejected an op-ed on illegal immigration from Edward Abbey (1927-1989), the acclaimed novelist and radical environmentalist. Abbey's "Immigration and Liberal Taboos" remains excellent reading today:
The only acceptable euphemism, it now appears, is something called undocumented worker. Thus the pregnant Mexican woman who appears, in the final stages of labor, at the doors of the emergency ward of an El Paso or San Diego hospital, demanding care for herself and the child she's about to deliver, becomes an "undocumented worker." The child becomes an automatic American citizen by virtue of its place of birth, eligible at once for all of the usual public welfare benefits. And with the child comes not only the mother but the child's family. And the mother's family. And the father's family. Can't break up families can we? They come to stay and they stay to multiply.

I'd tell you to read the whole thing, but then I couldn't mine it for good arguments myself.

Jared Diamond's frustration with his intellectual heirs

In the New York Review of Books, celebrity economists Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson write in to complain that reviewer Jared Diamond wasn't quite rapturous enough about their new book attributing virtually all differences in national wealth to their unfalsifiable theory that it's all caused by the White Man hogging the good institutions: rich countries, by definition, have good institutions and poor countries have bad institutions, which is the fault of European colonialists, so all that poor countries need to do is get themselves some of those good institutions.

In response, Diamond patiently explains once again what ought to be obvious concepts, such as that geographic differences, including the prevalence of tropical diseases, actually do play a role:
Even while they are still alive, workers in the tropics are often sick and unable to work. Women in the tropics face big obstacles in entering the workforce, because of having to care for their sick babies, or being pregnant with or nursing babies to replace previous babies likely to die or already dead.

While I appreciate Diamond fighting the good fight here, I have to reflect that he helped bring Acemogluism on himself with his impressive but disingenuous Guns, Germs, and Steel. When you think to yourself, "I'm going to shade the truth a little to make some money, but surely future generations will rectify the misleading impression that political correctness persuaded me to make," it may well turn out that instead you just motivate a new generation like Acemoglu to try to make lots of money like you not by putting forward more accurate theories, but instead trying to top you by putting forward far more stupid theories.

August 2, 2012

Olympic medal predictions

Economist Tyler Cowen has an article in Grantland predicting long-run trends in Summer Olympic medals totals based on population growth rates, age, and income. Cowen explains:
Economists have taken time out of their busy schedules of destroying the world to provide insights into which factors help make countries successful in their bids for Olympic glory. 
The first factor is population. If athletic ability is roughly equally distributed around the globe, the more citizens you have, the more great athletes you are likely to have.

"If athletic ability is roughly equally distributed around the globe" then Tyler must be watching different Olympics than I have been watching since the 1960s. (Here's my summary of the impact of human biodiversity on the 2008 Olympics.) There's a less derisible way to phrase the notion that Tyler wants to make: "The more citizens you have, all else being equal, the more great athletes you are likely to have." No need to assert a hypothesis that's obviously sizably untrue, just trot out ceteris paribus, front and center.
It stands to reason, for example, that Australia will likely win more medals than New Zealand, simply because it has five times the population.

And that's why India wins 50 times as many medals as Australia. And then, as jody reminds us, there's always Bangladesh, population 150,000,000. From Wikipedia's striking article "Bangladesh at the Olympics:"
Bangladesh has competed in seven Summer Olympic Games. They have never competed in the Winter Games. 
No Bangladeshi competitor has ever qualified for the Olympics; the country sends representatives to the Games thanks to the wildcard process.[1] Bangladesh is the most populous country in the world never to have won an Olympic medal. 

Not only no medals, but "No Bangladeshi competitor has ever qualified for the Olympics ..."

It looks to me more like the countries that win a lot of medals are the countries that A) want to win a lot of medals and B) are pretty competent at what they do. The East Germans used to win a lot of medals, for example, but then, they'd almost conquered the world. Compared to invading Poland, systematically doping their women swimmers was child's play. 

Moreover, it helps to have a lot of power and tradition to get your favorite sports treated well by the Olympics. You'll notice, for instance, that the Olympics hand out a ton of swimming medals, which benefit the U.S. and Australia in the medal counts. In track, there are medals for running and a couple for walking, but in swimming there are medals for four separate strokes, even though one, the butterfly is obviously inferior to the crawl (freestyle) on all dimensions. It's like if they gave out gold medals in track for a couple of silly walks choreographed by John Cleese.

From Cowen's summary on his blog:
1. Medal totals will become more diversified over time. The market share of the “top 10″ countries will continue to fall (it was 81 percent in 1988) as economic and population growth slows in the rich world. The developing world has greater room for rapid economic growth, and most parts of the developing world also have higher population growth. The Olympic playing field will get more and more level. 

That's an easy prediction to make. My guess is that it will be less true than Cowen thinks. My prediction is that there will be a countervailing trend. In some ways, the Summer Olympics will become even more like the Winter Olympics: a refuge for the global upper middle class, who have the resources to pick obscure sports for their scions and then pay for intensive tutoring as a path to get them into American colleges.

In contrast, the burgeoning ranks of the global poor, will obsess over a handful of big money sports, especially soccer in Africa, but also cricket in South Asia, neither one of which is a good way to pile up a lot of Olympic medals. The word "diversity" tends to freeze the brains of people these days, but an obvious global cultural trend is away from diversity in sports toward soccer uber alles.

Most of the major sports in the world today were institutionalized by English-speakers. The Victorian Anglosphere had the right combination of eccentricity, cooperativeness, fair-play, and cultural prestige to impose their favorite games upon the world. There was a second efflorescence centered in post-War California that's now institutionalized in the X Games. Today's global poor are unlikely to have a similar creative impact. They are more likely to be followers rather than innovators in sport.

Many of today's Olympic sports will increasingly become museum pieces that will remain alive because wealthy people like the idea of their kind of people having an opportunity to win an Olympic gold medal.
2. Japan will continue to fade, mostly because of aging and population shrinkage. 

Actually, rather than continuing to fade like it did in 1988 through 2000, Japan made a big comeback in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics. After finishing no higher than 14th in total medals from 1988 through 2000, Japan finished 5th and 8th in the last two Olympics.  This is continuing today, with Japan having 24 medals already in 2012.

The Japanese will always have the problem that they are rather small in stature, but I have this vague hunch that the particular Japanese problems in the late 20th Century were twofold: the rise of China brought them added competition in events friendly to their racial physiology; second, they once seemed to have a lot psychological with choking, perhaps caused by the growth of suffocating media pressure in Japan. An American friend who has taught college in Japan for decades wrote me in 2000:

When Japanese athletes compete in the Olympics they feel they are representing, not only their country, but also their race and all its members. When a Japanese is leading in a race the announcer's voice becomes flushed with emotion. When interviewed after competition, swimmers and judo-ists say they can't remember what happened, so great was their emotion. In fact in the moments leading up to a competition, Japanese seem almost paralyzed by nervousness. They are not competing for themselves, but for their coach, their team, their family, and everyone. If they win, it was not because of their own effort, but because of everyone's support. Their greatest emotion then is relief from the relentless pressure. If they lose, they have let everyone down. They cannot be good sportsmen and congratulate their opponents with a smile because their minds are elsewhere thinking about how they will apologize to their supporters.

Perhaps the Japanese are learning to deal with this kind of pressure better.
3. Italy will follow Japan for similar demographic reasons, as well as because the Eurozone crisis will continue to cut into budgets, training and otherwise.

Perhaps, but Italy has had low birth rates for awhile, and yet their Olympic medal performance has been better in the last four Summer Olympics than in 1988-1992. I'm not saying that the general mechanism Cowen identifies isn't a factor, just that if you are going to cite two examples -- Japan and Italy -- you ought to bother to go to Wikipedia and find examples that have actually been in decline already. It makes your argument sound more plausible.
4. Since Rio is host to the next Olympics, Brazil should do better than expected due to the “pre-host” bump.

Maybe, but Brazil is close to the ultimate in soccer obsession. We'll see. The home country bump mostly has to do with host countries investing in boring minor sports to pick up easy medals (especially doubly easy women's medals). We'll see if the Brazilians care enough to bother.
5. Many African nations will rise. Currently about half of the approximately 1 billion people in Africa have a cell phone, and the middle class is growing. The chance that an African star will be spotted and trained at the appropriate age is much higher than before. Africa also continues to grow in population, and that means lots of young people. Most of us still think of African nations as very poor, but infant mortality has been falling and per-capita income rising across Africa for the better part of a decade now.

Is there much evidence that African countries are getting better at winning men’s Olympic medals? Sure, it sounds plausible in theory, but where’s the evidence? Ethiopia has been winning distance running medals since 1960 and Kenya since 1964, so this isn’t exactly a hot, late-breaking trend. In the sprints, the African Diaspora continues to do better than African themselves.

Nigeria, for example, started getting better at wining Olympic medals in 1992, but it still only averages three medals per Summer Olympics in this century, which isn't much for a country with 162 million West Africans. In contrast, Cuba has averaged 27 medals per Olympics in this century. Cuba wins a lot of medals because it's a totalitarian state with a sports-crazed dictator who is still waging the Cold War. Plus, it's a country with a lot of West African-descended athletes but the system is mostly run by white people, kind of like the SEC in college football.

My guess is that as more Africans get television in their homes, they’ll become even more obsessed with soccer and the World Cup rather than with the Olympics. Soccer experts have been predicting a major African breakthrough in the World Cup for a long time now, but it hasn’t happened yet.
6. China will level off and then decline as a medal powerhouse. In less than 15 years, the typical person living in China is likely to be older on average than the typical person living in the United States, in part due to the country’s one-child policy.

I think it will depend upon whether the Chinese state keeps pushing Olympic medals for nationalistic reasons. Even if they don't, the Chinese upper middle class might intelligently exploit obscure Olympic events as a way into American colleges. A big question is whether the Chinese will continue to get taller, making them more competitive in tall person's sports like swimming.

I'll make a lame prediction: the easy way to win medals is in women's events. Various countries and cultures will exploit this, although in an unpredictable fashion. In general, rich countries have pushed hard for adding more medals for women to pad their own totals. If the Olympics still had the same distribution of events as in, say, 1952, poor countries would win a larger percentage of medals. Training women for some obscure macho sport is a luxury that only rich countries and dictatorships can do.

One interesting question is what impact demographic trends will have on the U.S. Down through history, U.S. medal totals have been heavily carried by Californians, either natives or students / alumni of UCLA, USC, Stanford, etc. In 2008, Sports Illustrated counted 175 Californians on the U.S. Olympic team, versus 176 from the next seven states combined.

There are lots of reasons for this: California and Australia are similarly outdoorsy. California's culture has always been open to eccentric sports. California was a center of innovation in performance enhancing drugs going back to the 1950s. L.A. hosted summer Olympics in 1932 and 1984.

The new populations in California, however, aren't terribly athletic, however. There are 50,000,000 Latinos in the U.S. but they comprise only a small % of the U.S. Olympic team. Similarly, Mexico is a long term underachiever both in the Olympics and the World Cup, relative to its large population (113,000,000 within the borders of Mexico alone) and moderate income. And this is despite hosting both the 1968 Olympics and the 1986 World Cup.

2012 India Olympic medal count

India is off to a relatively good start in the 2012 summer Olympics, with a single bronze medal so far. Granted, the other giga-country, China, has 34 total medals. But that one bronze puts India roughly on pace to come close to its total of 3 medals in 2008 and beat its totals of one medal in each of the 2004 and 2000 Olympics.

In defense of high-fashion handbags

One of the seeming oddities of the high end of the fashion world are purses and handbags that can cost well over $1000. (Here's Vogue UK's list of its current hot 100 handbags, prices in pounds.) 

From a simple sociobiological perspective, it's hard to explain why any women would compete over something like an expensive purse that straight men simply aren't going to notice. Why not spend the money on getting hair extensions or giant implants or something else that will catch heterosexual men's eyes? So, one theory popular among straight men is that straight women are victims of a gay male conspiracy to brainwash them into competing with each other over stuff that doesn't attract men. 

No doubt there is some truth to this, but let's look at it from the perspective of the women who do want to upstage other women by having the newest and most expensive of this season's handbags. Who are they? Typically, they are women with rich husbands. And that means they aren't particularly desperate to hook a new man because the one they've got is paying for their expensive gew-gaws. Moreover, they don't want to associate socially with women desperate to hook a good catch because their own husbands are good catches. So, they prefer to associate with other women who have rich husbands, too. 

Women with rich husbands tend to have a competitive streak, which is how they snagged a rich husband in the first place, but they don't want to constantly replay the Darwinian struggle for a mate with the other women in their social circle. They are looking for a hobby they can compete with their peers in without ruining marriages. 

So, women with rich husbands will often compete over things like handbags, a contest to impress other rich women and gay men, but not to arouse their friends' husbands into breaking up their marriages. It's a cartel with rules to keep the competition from getting out of hand.

It's like how a construction worker might go to Las Vegas and win or lose $20,000 while a the rich husband of one of these women is more likely to go to his golf club and win or lose a (largely symbolic) $20 bet on a golf game. As Freud suggested, the higher bourgeois classes tend to have more sublimated, less destructive hobbies.

August 1, 2012

"Women's" gymnastics: The World's Best Pixie Contest

Back in 2005, Michael Blowhard offered the best explanation I've heard in response to the perpetual heterosexual male question about why fashion models look like fashion models (i.e., tall, bony) rather than like strippers. All those 5'10" 120 pound Slovakians in the ads in women's magazines appeal to female readers' fantasies about being more gravity resistant, about being less weighted down by mortal flesh:
My own modest theory is that fashion magazines are to women what magazines about computers (and porno) are to guys -- they're fantasy books. It's just that women's fantasies -- many women's fantasies, anyway -- concern being photographed (ie., desired) and looking glamorous (ie., desirable). Where guys seem to enjoy imagining what they'd do to and with what's in the picture, women seem prone to imagine being what's pictured. 
There's an additional fantasy element too, which is autonomy. Part of what women fashion-magazine fans seem to enjoy imagining is the fantasy of being found glamorous purely for its own sake. They seem to want to forget about the pleasing-guys element. There's a little defiance in the fantasy -- and you can see the defiance in many of the kicky poses and attitudes the models strike. 
Perhaps something that helps explain the appeal of these images is that not only do many women enjoy imagining looking like these models, they enjoy imagining feeling like them too. I think guys often forget what a weighty and earthbound thing it can be, being a gal. There's so much dreariness to contend with: fatbags, hormones, moods, emotional agonies, etc. Women are weighed down by a lot of burdens, or at least they feel that they are, which is good enough for the purposes of my attempt at an explanation here. 
The gals in the pages of fashion magazines and catalogs aren't weighed down by anything, not even flesh. They burst out of cabs, they leap onto sidewalks, they let loose with irrepressible guffaws, they're caught by insistent cameras looking their klutzy-but-charming best; they're tall and slim, and they're feelin' good and they're lookin' ready to dazzle. The girls in the pix get to enjoy the champagne-and-cocaine fun parts of being a grownup woman. They aren't saddled with fat asses and wobbly upper arms, with PMS, with no-good boyfriends and lecherous bosses, with imperfect features, with senseless mood swings, etc. 
What the fashion mags are selling is, to some extent, a fantasy of play and freedom. 
Which, come to think of it, is (in a general sense) pretty much what men's magazines sell too. Many guys enjoy indulging in fantasies about utopia -- a male utopia full of gadgets and sex-without-consequences. Many gals love indulging in fantasies about utopia too -- a female utopia, where the fantasizer is carefree and irresistably desirable 24/7. 
My hunch: perhaps superslim-and-supertall are a visual representation of carefree-and-desirable.

By the way, that suggests an insight into why fashion models almost always say in interviews that they were tomboys who weren't interested in clothes and makeup when they were young. It's because it's sort of true. Females tend to stop growing in height at puberty, so very tall women tend to be the ones who reached puberty later, and thus kept growing for an extra year or two in adolescence, which is the time period they remember.

Gymnastics in the Olympics offers its huge number of female viewers a similar fantasy of weightlessness, but in a more presexual version of Twirling Tweens. It's a contest to identify the World's Best Pixie, just as the Winter Olympics figure skating finds the World's Best Princess.

Indeed, the Olympics had to impose a minimum age limit of 16 to keep the event from being dominated by little girls (Nadia Comaneci, for instance, was 14 in 1976 when she won all those gold medals). Not surprisingly, most of the winning American team this year is 16. Adult women are built more for comfort than speed.

Gymnastics currently seems to select for girls who, like fashion models, go through puberty late, but who, unlike models, stay short.

Can Evolution Account for the Arts?

From my new column in Taki's Magazine:
In "Art Over Biology," literary critic Adam Kirsch questions in The New Republic how the arts can be explained in terms of survival of the fittest:  
In his early story “Tonio Kröger,” Thomas Mann created a parable of one of the central modern beliefs, which is that the artist is unfit for life.…Love and marriage and parenthood are barred to Tonio, because he has an artist’s soul…. 
You may not have been aware that, on average, artists are relatively lacking in sexual opportunities. But just ask artists and they’ll tell you -- maybe over a drink up at their place while they are showing you their etchings -- all about the sacrifices they make for their art. “The artist’s decision to produce spiritual offspring rather than physical ones is thus allied to the monk’s celibacy ...” asserts Kirsch, who evidently hasn’t met many artists (or monks).

Read the whole thing there.

Speaking of Thomas Mann's Tonio Kröger, here's L.A. singer-songwriter Tonio K's 1978 single Life in the Foodchain.

Our other first Latino President

From Yahoo News, on the chairman of the upcoming Democrat Convention:
Is Antonio Villaraigosa poised to be America's first Latino president? 
LOS ANGELES — When Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa gavels the 2012 Democratic National Convention into session in Charlotte this September, his role as prominent cheerleader for President Obama will be clear. 
It is less clear, for now, if Villaraigosa has designs on the ultimate convention role in 2016--taking center stage to accept his party's nomination on the final night.

I would think that a major downside in Villaraigosa's mind when he considers the pros and cons of being President is the age of the news reporterettes who would cover him in the White House. Villaraigosa can never keep his hands off the lady media types assigned to him, but in L.A. they tend to be young ex-Miss USAs who have day jobs in local news while they try to break into the movies. (And here's a previous reporterette who proved to be the last straw for the ex-Mrs. Villaraigosa.) But, in the White House, he'd be covered by veteran women who have clawed their way to the top over the decades, like Cokie Roberts and Helen Thomas. So, really, what's in it for him, hot babe-wise? As Pascal, or maybe Woody Allen, said, the little head has its reasons of which the big head knows nothing.

A reader writes:
The media is scared that Romney is going to crush Obama in the white vote, and that the slip in the Hispanic vote is going to be enough to hurt Obama in southwestern swing states. These articles are discussing two city mayors, who both have flaws, as potential POTUS candidates in 4 years, which would be laughed out of the building in another time or western democracy. These articles are code for literate Hispanics to recognize that they are Democrats and must get in line like other members of the coalition of victims voting party.

Another possible motivation for these two articles so closely released is that it can focus on their Mexican roots, and deflect the possibility that the GOP just nominated a Cuban-American Hispanic for Senate over the establishment white guy in Texas and might be nominating a Cuban-American Hispanic for VP within the next month. It would be bad optics for the Dems if the GOP has two, great success stories involving Hispanics this month. Our mainstream media wants to focus on the difference between the GOP Hispanics and the Dem Hispanics, kind of like calling George Zimmerman a white Hispanic. They do this with female candidates. "Sure, the GOP rewards Latinos, but they aren't really Latino". After all, no one mentions how the GOP has 4 female govs to the Dems 2. The identity game is all disgusting, but the worst part is how it works.

This is also a stretch but a 3rd motivation is this: the Dems have no bench right now for the POTUS race in 2016. I've seen articles mention Cory Booker as apotential 2016 POTUS candidate (he'll run for US Sen in 2014). Booker's problem is that he is single, in his 40s, and despite being an Ivy educated and wealthy black man, just hasn't found the right girl. That rumor is why black voters threw every rumor at him they could when he first ran for mayor of Newark because they couldnt publicly say, "we don't like him because we think he's gay".

No worries about Villaraigosa on that regard!
Booker is the mayor of Newark, which is an absolute hell hole. The Dems have few statewide office holders that have the gravitas for the POTUS position (Govs of Oregon/Colorado are weird) or that the media could plausibly argue has gravitas as they did with Obama. That is why there is a lot of talk about Clinton running at the age of 69. She is all they have, but I think HD TV would destroy her visually unless they give her the Barbara Walters filter. 
Not quite, as they will have Gov. Andrew Cuomo sitting in the catbird seat as a two term governor with smarts, some lib bonafides, budgetcuttign bona fides and an aggressive attitude that his father never had. The Dem establishment doesn't like Cuomo, but they may have to run him. He'd be a Romney type candidate for the Dems in 2016 (only there because of his dad). I actually don't mind Cuomo, but he has a real big problem: he has a smarmy face you just want to punch. Smiling blank screen Latinos might be the way go to!

July 31, 2012

Dems setting up Hispanic blank screen to run in 2016

From the Washington Post:
Julian Castro, Latino mayor of San Antonio, to keynote DNC convention
By Nia-Malika Henderson, Tuesday, July 31, 6:01 PM 
Eight summers ago, a fresh faced politician took to the podium for a keynote address at the Democratic convention that launched him onto the national stage and a path to the White House. 
Among the viewers of then Sen. Barack Obama's national debut was Julian Castro, now mayor of San Antonio, who will follow in Obama’s footsteps as keynote speaker at the Democratic convention this year in Charlotte. 
In picking Castro, Democrats are acknowledging the power of the Latino vote in the 2012 race for the White House and the changing demographics across the country. In attempting to fill Obama’s shoes, Castro, 37, is set to raise his national profile and lay the foundation for possible statewide or national ambitions. 
“He could be the first Latino President or Vice President and it would be reasonable to suggest that Julian would be well positioned to be the Democratic nominee for Texas Governor, ” said Walter Clark Wilson a professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio. 

Back in May 2010, I wrote a article about Castro as the next Obama-like Blank Screen to be touted for President, and pointing out what a joke this all was:
Despite all the national hype about Mayor Castro, he holds a largely meaningless job with few duties. "The daily business of San Antonio is conducted by a professional city manager," Chafets notes. Indeed, San Antonio's city manager is paid $275,000 annually, while the mayor earns about $3,000. Not surprisingly, only 9.83 percent of San Antonio's registered voters bothered to vote in the Mayoral contest last year.

July 30, 2012

The Gender Gap in Olympic-style events has been stable since 1983

Here's a 2010 study in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine making the same point about a wide array of Olympic events that I made about track in my 1997 National Review article:
Valérie Thibault, Marion Guillaume, Geoffroy Berthelot, Nour El Helou, Karine Schaal, Laurent Quinquis, Hala Nassif, Muriel Tafflet, Sylvie Escolano, Olivier Hermine and Jean-François. Toussaint 
© Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (2010) 9, 214 - 223 
Sex is a major factor influencing best performances and world records. Here the evolution of the difference between men and women's best performances is characterized through the analysis of 82 quantifiable events since the beginning of the Olympic era. For each event in swimming, athletics, track cycling, weightlifting and speed skating the gender gap is fitted to compare male and female records. It is also studied through the best performance of the top 10 performers in each gender for swimming and athletics. A stabilization of the gender gap in world records is observed after 1983, at a mean difference of 10.0% ± 2.94 between men and women for all events. The gender gap ranges from 5.5% (800-m freestyle, swimming) to 18.8% (long jump). The mean gap is 10.7% for running performances, 17.5% for jumps, 8.9% for swimming races, 7.0% for speed skating and 8.7% in cycling. The top ten performers' analysis reveals a similar gender gap trend with a stabilization in 1982 at 11.7%, despite the large growth in participation of women from eastern and western countries, that coincided with later- published evidence of state-institutionalized or individual doping. These results suggest that women will not run, jump, swim or ride as fast as men.

Signs of Intellectual Progress!

Back in the 1990s, I frequently read that women athletes were Closing the Gap with men; if trends continued, in the 21st Century Olympics, women would be just as fast as men. So, I did a big quantitative study on the size of the gender gap in track in all Olympics for a 1997 article in National Review entitled Track and Battlefield:
Everybody knows that the "gender gap" in physical performance between male and female athletes is rapidly narrowing. Moreover, in an opinion poll just before the 1996 Olympics, 66% claimed "the day is coming when top female athletes will beat top males at the highest competitive levels." The most publicized scientific study supporting this belief appeared in Nature in 1992: "Will Women Soon Outrun Men?" Physiologists Susan Ward and Brian Whipp pointed out that since the Twenties women's world records in running had been falling faster than men's. Assuming these trends continued, men's and women's marathon records would equalize by 1998, and during the early 21st Century for the shorter races. 
This is not sports trivia. Whether the gender gap in athletic performance stems from biological differences between men and women, or is simply a social construct imposed by the Male Power Structure, is highly relevant both to fundamental debates about the malleability of human nature, as well as to current political controversies such as the role of women in the military. 
When everybody is so sure of something, it's time to update the numbers. 

I discovered, however, that the narrowing was only up through 1988. The fall of the Berlin Wall and better testing for artificial male hormones had caused the Olympic track gender gap to grow from the 1988 Olympics to the 1996 Olympics. 

Slowly, my argument has carried the field over the last 15 years. Thus, when a Chinese woman swam the last 50m of her race on Saturday night faster than Ryan Lochte, the men's gold medalist, swam his last 50m of the men's version of the race, the New York Times reporter did not celebrate it as a Breakthrough for Female Equality, but instead treated it as presumptive evidence of something fishy going on:
China Pool Prodigy Churns Wave of Speculation
At 16, the Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen is one of the youngest competitors in the Olympics and so far the most remarkable. What she has done in the pool is the water-based equivalent of what Usain Bolt did on the track four years ago in Beijing. 
On Saturday night, Ye not only shattered the world record in the 400 individual medley, winning gold in 4 minutes 28.43 seconds, she also swam the final 50 meters faster than Ryan Lochte did in winning the men’s race.

It was really a little less amazing than it sounds -- Lochte was apparently taking it easy on the last length after blowing away the field earlier. But still ...
On Monday, Ye returned to the pool and set an Olympic record of 2:08.39 in the semifinals of the 200 individual medley, her best event. 
There is nothing to indicate that she is anything more than a great swimmer from a country that holds about a fifth of the world’s population, a teenager who relies on the latest scientific training and the kind of adolescent certainty that makes her unaware of any limitations. The Chinese have pledged to obey the rules. And Ye dismissed any concerns about doping. 
Yet women’s swimming does not permit itself naïve and untempered adulation. Not after the systematic East German doping of the 1970s and ’80s. Not after Chinese scandals in the 1990s. Not after Michelle Smith of Ireland won four medals at the Atlanta Games in 1996 under disputed circumstances and was later barred from competition for tampering with a urine sample. 
The response to unsurpassed achievement now falls somewhere uncomfortably between amazement and incredulity, that gray area between celebration and suspicion. 
“That’s pretty unbelievable,” David Sharpe, a Canadian swimmer, said of Ye’s finishing kick on Saturday, in which she covered her final 50 meters in 28.93, faster than Lochte’s 29.10. “No one really understands how that happened.” 
Ye swam her final 100 meters of the 400 I.M. in 58.68 seconds. Lochte was only three-hundredths of a second faster. No one could immediately remember a woman closing faster than 61 seconds. 
“Interesting,” said Natalie Coughlin, an American with 12 Olympic medals.
“Insane,” said Stephanie Rice of Australia, the 2008 Olympic champion and former world-record holder in the 400 I.M. “Fifty-eight is out of control.” 
Lochte made a cordial joke about being outkicked. On Monday, Michael Phelps, who finished fourth in the men’s 400 I.M., smiled at a question about Ye’s closing speed and said: “She almost outswam me, too. We were all pretty shocked. It’s pretty impressive that she went that fast.” 
No swimmers accused Ye, who is 5 feet 8 inches and weighs 141 pounds, of using illicit substances to fuel her kick. Medalists and, at random, other athletes are tested at the Games. 
But John Leonard, an American who is executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association and has long voiced suspicions of doping in China, told The Guardian on Monday that he found Ye’s performance “disturbing.” 
Caitlin Leverenz, an American who finished third in Ye’s heat in the 200 on Monday, said: “The Chinese have had a history in the past of doping, so I don’t think people are crazy to point fingers, but I don’t think that’s my job to do right now. I’m just trying to do my best.” 
Frank Busch, national team director for USA Swimming, was more gracious, calling Ye’s final 100 meters on Saturday “more than remarkable, phenomenal.” 
Was he concerned that what Ye had done was not legitimate? 
“I would never go there,” Busch said.

Fifteen years ago, this healthy skepticism would have been rare.

Bandar is back! (And maybe gone, too)

In the Weekly Standard, Elliott Abrams -- who was convicted of lying to Congress in Iran-Contra, pardoned by George H.W. Bush, and then became the Go-To Guy on the Middle East in the GWB Administration, and remains an in-law of the Podhoretzes -- blogs enthusiastically:
For 22 years, Bandar bin Sultan was Saudi Arabia’s influential, irrepressible ambassador in Washington. After years in eclipse, he has just been named as head of the kingdom’s intelligence service. What does it all mean? 
Prince Bandar lived large: Not only did he have the official ambassador’s residence, but also his own 32-room mansion in Aspen

In 1992, I had meetings down the street from Bandar's Aspen place at my boss's 17,000 square foot house, which was the size of Bandar's guest house. The Saudi's main house was 55,000 square feet. I talked to a whitewater rafting guide who had once had a construction job installing the deadman security system in the Ambassador's driveway. If suicide terrorists driving a truck bomb shot their way past the guardhouse, so nobody could hold their hand on the safety switch, giant steel spikes would automatically shoot up from the pavement to stop the terrorists' vehicle.
and a 2,000 acre estate in England. He was a very visible figure from 1983 to 2005 as the Saudi envoy in Washington. This was partly due to the parties he gave, and the very wide network of connections he built, but also because he was an effective diplomat. Spanning the Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and second Bush presidencies, he made sure Saudi views were known, dealt directly with officials at the top of the U.S. government (including presidents), and could get things done. ... Now they may return, with an energetic and experienced player who can match anyone in the Arab world for charm, a network of contacts, and the financial resources of a rich government. Bandar is a spinner of webs, a dealmaker, a man who—assuming he is healthy—can bring Saudi views and interests back to the center of Arab decision making as well as the inner circles in many other world capitals.

On the other hand, there's a rumor going about in the Israeli newspapers that Bandar has already been assassinated by the Syrians in retaliation for organizing, with American help, the July 18 bombing in Damascus that killed some of Assad's inner circle.

Obviously, anybody who wonders about Saudi-raised Hilary adviser Huma Abedin's contacts is some kind of lunatic conspiracy theorist. Everybody knows there are no such things as conspiracies, especially not in the Middle East. That Syria was once part of the Byzantine Empire doesn't mean there is anything Byzantine about affairs of state there.

Anyway, if this really is the end for Bandar (and who knows?), I hope there is a safe deposit box somewhere in Switzerland containing a final draft of The Autobiography of Prince Bandar bin Sultan. I bet even the thought that such a manuscript might conceivably exist makes numerous Important People sweaty.

Associated Press: "U.S. Sees Israel, Tight Mideast Ally, as Spy Threat"

From the AP:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The CIA station chief opened the locked box containing the sensitive equipment he used from his home in Tel Aviv, Israel, to communicate with CIA headquarters in Virginia, only to find that someone had tampered with it. He sent word to his superiors about the break-in. 
The incident, described by three former senior U.S. intelligence officials, might have been dismissed as just another cloak-and-dagger incident in the world of international espionage, except that the same thing had happened to the previous station chief in Israel. 
It was a not-so-subtle reminder that, even in a country friendly to the United States, the CIA was itself being watched. 
In a separate episode, according to another two former U.S. officials, a CIA officer in Israel came home to find the food in the refrigerator had been rearranged. In all the cases, the U.S. government believes Israel's security services were responsible. 
Such meddling underscores what is widely known but rarely discussed outside intelligence circles: Despite inarguable ties between the U.S. and its closest ally in the Middle East and despite statements from U.S. politicians trumpeting the friendship, U.S. national security officials consider Israel to be, at times, a frustrating ally and a genuine counterintelligence threat. 
In addition to what the former U.S. officials described as intrusions in homes in the past decade, Israel has been implicated in U.S. criminal espionage cases and disciplinary proceedings against CIA officers and blamed in the presumed death of an important spy in Syria for the CIA during the administration of President George W. Bush. 
The CIA considers Israel its No. 1 counterintelligence threat in the agency's Near East Division, the group that oversees spying across the Middle East, according to current and former officials. Counterintelligence is the art of protecting national secrets from spies. This means the CIA believes that U.S. national secrets are safer from other Middle Eastern governments than from Israel.

This kind of stuff tends to get shoved down the memory hole -- literally, in the case of Carl Cameron's five-part series on Fox News in November 2001, which was quickly deleted. (Fortunately, a number of citizens recorded it and you can find it here and there: here's Part I).

For some perspective on the AP article, here's a blog post at XX Committee (for an explanation of the historical reference, see here) by a professor at the Naval War College who was in counter-intelligence:

Aggressive Israeli spying on the U.S. is something polite people are never, ever supposed to discuss; mentioning it will not get you invited to the right Georgetown parties.
But there was nothing in the piece which was exactly news to anyone who knows how the global intelligence game is actually played. That CIA considers Israel to be the number-one spy threat in the Middle East is a revelation only to neophytes. Counterintelligence officers for decades have been aware of the extent of Israeli espionage against the U.S., at home and abroad, though politicos are customarily wise enough to never mention it. Indeed, CI experts for years have spoken of the Big Four threats to the USG: Russia, China, Cuba, and Israel.  

I prefer my spies to look like this …
Russia remains as big a spy threat to the West and the U.S. as it was at the height of the Cold War. Their operations are as aggressive as ever, and their playbook is the same. Although the round-up of a bigRussian illegal network in the U.S. two years ago was treated as a comic-opera affair in the media, with emphasis on hot redheads (and, let me say, who doesn’t like hot redheaded spy-vixens?), that story justifiably caused deep concern in CI circles and indicated big problems, including possible penetrations of U.S. intelligence.
The Chinese spy threat is less popularly understood, and there is a lot less written about it, with some happy exceptions, but Beijing’s espionage against the USG has risen in recent years and shows no signs of abating, rather the contrary. That said, Chinese HUMINT operations are seldom successful outside their ethnic millieu – though that may be cold comfort given the size of the overseas Chinese community in the West today.
The inclusion of Cuba on the Big Four list may surprise, given the comically pathetic condition of that country, but Havana’s intelligence agencies have long punched above their weight in the global spy game. Cuban operations against the USG are widespread and pernicious, including long-term penetrations of our intelligence agencies. Castro’s case officers for decades have had no trouble recruiting spies among Cuban exiles – usually they have more volunteers than they can handle – and Cuban-American groups are deeply penetrated (usually the crazier and more right-wing an exile pontificates, the more likely s/he is a mole for Havana). Not surprisingly, Florida is a hotspot for Cuban espionage. Neverthless, like the Chinese, the Cubans operate best among ethnic kin, save the occasional oddball lefty Anglos who actually lose money spying for Cuba.
The Israeli espionage threat to the United States, however, is different, because DC and Tel Aviv are such close partners, and Israel is the world’s biggest recipient of American aid dollars.  In the real world, allies do spy on each other. Per the counterspy’s mantra: There are no friendly intelligence agencies. Yet America’s closest intelligence partners, the Five Eyes of the Anglosphere(U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, and usually New Zealand), have preserved a remarkable amount of the sincere spy-friendship borne of shared hardship in World War II, and come pretty close to being friends who don’t spy on each other.

Not like this.
Israel emphatically is not that sort of spy-buddy. The AP article included glimpses of just how aggressive and duplicitous Israeli HUMINT operations against American interests actually are, and have been for decades. Anyone who has looked closely at the infamous Pollard case, including Israel’s continuing lobbying to get their boy out of his jail cell, gets some sense of how the Israelis play the game.
It’s no secret inside the Beltway that Israel spies on everybody, America included, and uses its close partnership with the USG to further its espionage against it. None of this is new, and as far back as 1954 Israeli dirty tricks targeted the U.S., including the false-flag bombing of the U.S. Information Agency office in Egypt, the so-called Lavon affair. Espionage is a messy business, to be sure, but what sets the Israelis apart is that they act so aggressively even towards their closest friends.
One thing that's interesting about U.S. politics is that the size of the bribes (at least of the folks who get caught) tends to be paltry (e.g., $90,000 in a Congressman's freezers relative to how rich politicians can get in, say, Mexico or Russia. (Here's Putin's Palace, which, I must admit, is in surprisingly good 18th Century taste. I suspect Putin sees himself as a 21st Century Enlightened Despot.) 

If the carrots aren't terribly large in America, maybe the sticks are bigger. We're a fairly moralistic country, so maybe our politicians are best controlled by fear of having their scandals leaked. Carl Cameron devoted some of his lost series to how Israeli companies control a lot of the market in America for communication software and it wouldn't be too hard to build into the software backdoors for Israeli intelligence to use. But, that's just speculation.

My old articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

July 29, 2012

Everclear: The Affordable Family Formation band

By the time the rock band Everclear made it big in the mid-to-later 1990s, I was too old and too busy working to support a family to pay much attention to music anymore. But it slowly seeped into my awareness that Everclear was the rarest of groups on MTV, one that told you what life in your 30s is really like: in a word, expensive. 
Lyrics for I Will Buy You a New Life. (There are lots of country songs like this, but rew rock songs.)

And here's Everclear leader Art Alexakis's song about the anti-Ernie Sailer:
Lyrics for Father of Mine.

"Who? Whom?" Awareness Month

Ed West blogs in The Telegraph about Romney's "Anglo-Saxon" gaffe:
But if this was dog-whistle racism, then Obama’s 2008 campaign was a blaring Klaxon horn of race. Forget the “post-racial candidate” (© the entire mainstream US and European media), Obama was in reality the “multi-racial” candidate, one who signified the end of white demographic dominance. That’s post-racial in the sense that the majority are becoming a minority, but it would be absurd to pretend that race was not a huge factor in the election of this not-very-experienced junior senator – illustrated by the fact that 96 per cent of African-Americans voted for him. 
Obama’s underlining foreign policy narrative was that, being half-Kenyan and with an emotional attachment to people of colour, he would be able to form a better rapport with Africans, Arabs and the rest of the non-white world. But if that’s the argument, then logically Mitt Romney, who’s not just white but the whitest man in the world, will have the same appeal to Europeans. If non-whites are so basic and ethnocentric that it takes one of their own to make them see America kindly, isn’t it the same for everyone? And the fact is that, in his foreign policy, Obama has had a very cool attitude to Britain, which tends to suggest that the changing demographics of the US will influence its foreign-policy direction. 
America’s vast contradictions and hypocrisies concerning race still rest on the idea that some groups are supposed to be post-racial, while others are encouraged to celebrate their identity, and to fight for the interests of their group. For example, lots of self-appointed Hispanic leaders want America to be more Hispanic, to have more of their countrymen. No one in the media accuses them of racism or chauvinism, and instead presents people wishing to maintain the status quo as hatemongers. Yet why is it necessarily more wrong for Anglo-Americans to want the country to be more full of people like them? Some people advancing the interests of their group are racists; some people advancing the interests of their group are anti-racists. 
And why is it acceptable for every ethnicity in America to take pride in its roots, apart from the ethnic group that founded the 13 colonies, bequeathed it their language and laws, and established the political philosophy and liberal institutions? ...
Among the many English-Americans were almost all of America’s founding fathers, including its greatest, Thomas Jefferson, who used the Anglo-Saxons as a political model, and often (like many Whigs and proto-Whigs before) saw the conflict within the British world as one between latter-day Normans (Tories) and Saxons (Whigs). 
Jefferson even traced the English (and so American) tradition of representative government back not just to the Anglo-Saxon Witenagemot but to the forest councils of the Saxons on the continent (one of the many popular pseudo-historical ideas that sprung out of the Teutomania that followed the rediscovery of Tacitus in the 16th century). He was so obsessed with the idea that he even learned some Old English. 
It is only in recent times, many years after the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act made America a truly diverse society, that making such a statement has stopped being a bland statement of historical fact and become a virtual hate crime.