May 24, 2014

Rice U. and insider trading

Rice U. in Houston has long had a large endowment per student. It didn't charge tuition until the 1960s, and when I attended in the 1970s, tuition was substantially lower than at comparable private universities such as Duke, Northwestern, or Carnegie-Mellon.

It started off with a large endowment from William Marsh Rice, although that took a decade and a lot of spectacular legal effort to collect because the old man was murdered by his butler and doctor and they substituted a forged will making themselves the beneficiaries. (Yes, the butler did it.)

(Rice U. and forged wills seem to go together: the famous first Howard Hughes' will that Melvin Dummar produced just as I was on my way to Rice cut Hughes' old college in for a share. Unfortunately, Dummar's handwritten will, the subject of Jonathan Demme's movie Melvin and Howard, was ruled a forgery in 1978.)

But Rice U. got really rich with the discovery of the East Texas Oil Field in 1930 because Rice U. had just bought a lot of piney woods acreage in the middle of nowhere. Why? Because George R. Brown of the Brown & Root oil services firm (which is sort of a predecessor of Halliburton) was on the Rice board. And Brown had told his fellow trustees that the exploratory drilling that B&R was servicing in East Texas looked very, very promising.

Was this insider trading? Well, until 1933, there wasn't much of a law against insider trading, so it didn't really come up, legally speaking. But it sure saved my parents a lot of tuition, so thanks for the tip, Mr. Brown.

Is it possible that the way Rice U. grew its endowment in 1930 has something to do with how Harvard, Yale, and Princeton generate above-market returns on their endowments in the 21st Century?

No, of course not. As Thomas Piketty explains, HYP beat the market "By economies of scale in portfolio management."

First iSteve fundraising drive of 2014

Dear Readers:

It's time for my first fundraising drive of 2014. I last asked you to help support my work back in December, and you were quite generous. I'd like to thank everyone who chipped in last winter.

Since I last announced a fundraiser, I've made 596 posts here at iSteve in 2104. This year, my blog has accounted for 3,242,658 pageviews and 117,821 hours of reading time. Those are not insignificant numbers. iSteve represents a 21st Century perspective that's becoming harder to ignore. 

To help me continue to put in the long hours required, I am asking for your support. I would greatly appreciate any contribution you can make.

I apologize for my recurrent need to come up with different ways to transfer me money after Paypal, Amazon, and WePay have all been turned off for my use. 

I currently have five ways to send me money. They have all been tested and proven workable over the last week during the soft opening. (I am grateful to those who volunteered to be guinea pigs.)

The latter three methods have been shown to work inside America, but those abroad may have troubles. (I shall look into this. The first two should work everywhere.)

I would appreciate suggestions for other methods.

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Steve Sailer
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Google Wallet works from both a website and a smartphone app (Android and iPhone -- the Google Wallet app is currently available only in the U.S., but the Google Wallet website can be used in 160 countries).

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Piketty and college endowment ROI

An economist points out:
There is a gem in Piketty's book for you on page 447. Piketty discusses returns on university endowments. Harvard, Princeton and Yale earned an average of 10% real return 1980-2010 while smaller colleges got 6-8%. Piketty shows that normal colleges invest in normal assets like bonds and stocks, while the abnormal returns for the elite colleges come from "alternative investment strategies" such as private equity, unlisted stocks, real estate etc with inside deals.  
Economics professor Pikettys naively concludes: “How can these facts be explained? By economies of scale in portfolio management.” 
This interpretation is fairly important to Piketty's model, which assumes the rich earn higher rates of return due to economies of scale in portfolio management. His evidence is college endowments. For investments funds, there is no evidence size relates to returns.

When it comes to beating the market, shouldn't it work the other way around -- with declining chances to beat the market as the number of billions goes up -- according to the Efficient Markets Hypothesis? It’s easier to beat the market if you are investing only in the highest alpha investments you've dredged up, which often are odd little assets that aren't on the radar of the Big Boys. But if you are, say, Vanguard, you can’t expect to beat the market because you kind of are the market.

If you put just $10,000 into Vanguard's index mutual fund, they'll give you a microscopic expense ratio. Warren Buffett puts some of his heirs' trust funds into Vanguard because he wants in on Vanguard's economies of scale in portfolio management. But, Vanguard won't beat the market.

Maybe some guys can beat the market regularly, but is their secret sauce really "economies of scale?"

And maybe, exclusive colleges are an interesting phenomenon because they have something to trade for tips, something that doesn't get reported on the books.

Back in February 2008, I blogged "Here's a Hypothesis, You Do the Work." There seemed to be a correlation between how hard it was to get into a college and how well its endowment manager did.
I'm sure [Yale's endowment manager is] really good at his job, but I'm wondering, though, if there might not be another factor at work in the most exclusive colleges getting the highest returns on their investments. 
Maybe they've just been piling on the excessive risk and one of these years it will all come crashing down. Maybe. 
Or, maybe, the top universities' fund managers are getting a little help, maybe they are being passed a tip or two about future financial news by the parents of no doubt worthy but not quite exceptional children in return for a little pull at the admissions office?

I haven't seen anybody look into this, so maybe I'm nuts to assume some insider trading, but it sure seems like there are wheels within wheels, and Harvard and Yale are more likely to be in an inner club than Cornell, which is more likely to be in an outer club than Gonzaga.

2000: "Seven Dumb Ideas about Race"

Back in 2000, I read a disingenuous book review by Jared Diamond in the New York Times about how the leading population geneticist of the 1990s, L.L. Cavalli-Sforza, was “demolishing scientists' attempts to classify human populations into races in the same way that they classify birds and other species into races.” In response, I wrote for VDARE "Seven Dumb Ideas about Race." 

With lots of very old dumb ideas flying around in response to Nicholas Wade's A Troublesome Inheritance, here are the first three dumb ideas from 14 long years ago. Since then, a vast amount of new genomic data has poured in, so it's about time we get over these Clinton Era mistakes:
If races exist, then one must be supreme. 
Much of the Race Does Not Exist cant stems from the following logic (if you can call it logic): “If there really are different racial groups, then one must be The Master Race, which means — oh my God – that Hitler Was Right! Therefore, we must promote whatever ideas most confuse the public about race. Otherwise, they will learn the horrible truth and they'll all vote Nazi.“ 
Look, this is one big non-sequitur: Of course, there are different racial groups. And of course their members tend to inherit certain different genes, on average, than the members of other racial groups. And that means racial groups will differ, on average, in various innate capabilities. But that also means that no group can be supreme at all jobs. To be excellent at one skill frequently implies being worse at something else. So, there can't be a Master Race. 
Sports fans can cite countless examples. Men of West African descent monopolize the Olympic 100m dash, but their explosive musculature, which is so helpful in sprinting, weighs them down in distance running, where they are also-rans. 
Similarly, there are far more Samoans in the National Football League than Chinese, simply because Samoans tend to be much, much bigger. But precisely because Samoans are so huge, they'll never do as well as the Chinese in gymnastics. 
Every person falls into a single clear-cut racial group. 
This one is so silly that I doubt that anybody who has thought about race in the real world for more than ten minutes believes this. Nobody can agree on how many racial groups there are, exactly who is in each one, or what to call them. 
Since nobody can agree on how many racial groups there are, exactly who is in each one, or what to call them, then race does not exist. 
This one's equally daft. Outside of mathematics, and of human inventions like the law, categories almost always fall across continuous dimensions. Where does “young” end and “old” begin? It all depends on the situation. For example, among female gymnasts, 18 is “old.” Among architects, 45 is “young.” Yet that does not mean that “age” is meaningless. Further, categories are typically fuzzy. Few people are 100% “sick” or 100% “well.” But “health” is still a useful concept. 
The best example of the fuzziness of natural categories is the concept of “extended family.” All the criticisms made about the fuzziness of racial groups apply in spades to extended families. How many extended families do you belong to? Well, at least two: your mom's and your dad's. But they each belonged to their parents' two extended families, so maybe you belong to four. And your grandparents each belonged to two … 
And what are the boundaries of your various extended families? If the question at hand is who you'd give a spare kidney to, you'd probably draw the limits rather narrowly. But, when making up your Christmas card list, you probably toss in the occasional third cousin, twice removed. And exactly what's the appropriate name for all these extended families anyway? 
In fact, extended families are even less clear-cut than racial groups. Yet, nobody goes around smugly claiming that extended families don't exist. 
But why is extended family such a perfect analogy for race? Because it's not an analogy. They are the same thing: kin, individuals united by common descent. 
There`s no natural law defining where extended families end. A racial group is merely an extended family (often an extremely extended family) that inbreeds to some extent. It's this tendency to marry within the group that makes racial groups somewhat more coherent, cohesive, and longer lasting than smaller-scale extended families.

Read the whole thing there.


From the Santa Barbara shooter's manifesto:
"I'm going to enter the hottest sorority house of UCSB and I will slaughter every single spoilt, stuck-up, blonde s**t that I see inside there."

The top sorority house at UC Santa Barbara is pretty much the top of the blonde heap in America. Maybe USC these days now that crime is down and it's fashionable, maybe Tulane, maybe SMU, maybe some college in the SEC or northern Florida, but you couldn't be too far off betting on good old UC Santa Barbara.

UCSB is less than 40% white among undergrads, but that still makes it The Blond School by UC standards. For example, UC Irvine down in the Beach Boys' Orange County is only 17.5% white.

So, targeting for slaughter this sorority is an extremely intentional racial hate crime. But how much do you think we're going to hear about that? As Sapir and Whorf might have said, if a term doesn't exist in our vocabulary, it's hard to think about the concept.

You'll find this interesting

From The Daily Mail:
A gunman went on a drive-by shooting rampage in a Santa Barbara student enclave and at least seven people were killed, including the attacker, authorities said. 
Investigators believe a 22-year-old named Elliot Rodger driving a black BMW acted alone in the shootings around 9:30pm Friday night in Isla Vista near the University of California, Santa Barbara. 
Rodger is thought to be the son of Peter Rodger, assistant director of the Hollywood film franchise The Hunger Games.  

This whole thing is drenched in popular culture tropes.
Authorities are examining a video posted on social media by the shooter in which he rants about women who supposedly rejected his advances.  
The video is called Elliot Rodger's Retribution. 
Rodger, a Santa Barbara City College Student

So he wasn't at UC Santa Barbara, but was at the junior college at age 22.
and Isla Vista resident, according to his social media accounts unleashed a tirade about his 'loneliness, rejection, and unfulfilled desires,' and blames women for preferring 'obnoxious brutes' to him, 'the supreme gentlemen.' 
'I'm 22 years old and I'm still a virgin. I've never even kissed a girl,' he says in the video. 
'College is the time when everyone experiences those things such as sex and fun and pleasure. But in those years I've had to rot in loneliness. It's not fair. You girls have never been attracted to me. I don't know why you girls aren't attracted to me."

Maybe they could kinda tell?
"But I will punish you all for it,' he says in the video, which runs to almost seven minutes. 
He repeatedly promises to 'punish' women and lays out his plan for 'retribution.'
'I'm going to enter the hottest sorority house of UCSB and I will slaughter every single spoilt, stuck-up, blonde s**t that I see inside there."

"Anti-blondism" isn't a word, but it's definitely a live current in our contemporary culture.
"All those girls that I've desired so much, they would've all rejected me and looked down on me as an inferior man if I ever made a sexual advance towards them,' he says. 
'I'll take great pleasure in slaughtering all of you. You will finally see that I am, in truth, the superior one. The true alpha male,' he laughs like a maniacal movie villain. 'Yes... After I have annihilated every single girl in the sorority house I will take to the streets of Isla Vista and slay every single person I see there. All those popular kids who live such lives of hedonistic pleasure...' 
Rodger's Twitter account has only two tweets, posted on April 19 and 20.
'Why are girls sexually attracted to obnoxious, brutish men instead of sophisticated gentlemen such as myself? #girls #perverted #sex #unfair,' reads the first. 
Rodger was a website forum called, which describes itself as the 'Anti-Pickup-Artist Movement' and aims to reveal 'the scams, deception, and misleading marketing techniques used by dating gurus and the seduction community to deceive men and profit from them.' 
Its members are all men who have spent a lot of time and money on books and seminars and other materials that claim to help men 'pick-up' women - but failed. 
The bitter, often misogynistic threads are full of tales of woe from men who don't know how to get women to date them and blame the women themselves for the problem.  
He posted in 2013, 'If you could release a virus that would kill every single man on Earth, except for yourself because you would have the antidote, would you do it? You will be the only man left, with all the females. You would be able to have your pick of any beautiful woman you want, as well as having dealt vengeance on the men who took them from you. Imagine how satisfying that would be.'

In Taki's Magazine, I wrote in 2012 a column entitled "Monsters of Egotism:"
One possible explanation for the spread of mass shooters is feedback effects. Perhaps the urge to be a star has expanded as the technology grew to accommodate it. In the song “James Dean,” the Eagles sang, “And I know my life would look all right if I could see it on the silver screen.” (More subtly, the true-crime genre of literature didn’t exist until Truman Capote’s famous 1966 book In Cold Blood.) Creeps who have been ignored because there is something wrong with them try to make themselves interesting with a gun.  
Bill James states that after the tawdry media circus of the 1935 trial of the Lindbergh kidnapper, American press barons reached a gentleman’s agreement to improve the tone of their newspapers by mutually forswearing tabloid crime coverage. He argues that this lack of attention paid to crime helped American elites become liberal and unserious about the cost of crime, paving the way for the 1960s rise in crime.  
On the other hand, this cartel against sensationalism may also have discouraged those who might have sought publicity through crime. If your murder spree would only get you below-the-fold coverage, well, maybe it wasn’t worth shooting all those innocent people after all. By the 1960s, though, the rise of live local TV news began to offer new avenues for the sort of fame [Charles] Whitman pioneered. 
The mass killers who become famous seem to generally be monsters of egotism. There are a lot of people with a lot of problems out there, but even shooters very, very rarely randomly kill large numbers in a bid for our attention. 

NYT: Japan needs a higher illegitimacy rate

The New York Times editorializes that Japan needs more illegitimate births.

Back in 1989, I attended a Goldman Sachs lunch organized to encourage investment in the then sky high Japanese stock market. The main speaker was former U.S. ambassador to Japan (and former Democratic Senate Majority leader) Mike Mansfield, then in his late 80s. 

(Mansfield had a remarkable biography: He had joined the Navy during World War I at age 14. After a couple of years of dodging U-boats in the North Atlantic, they noticed and kicked him out, so he enlisted in the Army. After a couple of years, the Army noticed he still wasn't 18 yet so they kicked him out too. Then when he finally reached 18 he became a Marine, serving in the Far East. Then he worked for 8 years in a blue collar mining job in Butte. When he got married, his bride convinced him to go to college at about age 30, even though he'd never gone to high school. He wound up a professor of political science.)

Anyway, the point is that in 1989 the American Establishment (e.g., Goldman Sachs) loved Japan because investors had been getting rich off it. Shortly thereafter, the absurd Japanese real estate and stock bubble popped. Now, the American Establishment despises Japan because they haven't made money off it in decades, so they are constantly trying to think of ways to fix Japan. For example, Wall Street has prospered in America as the illegitimacy rate goes up up up, so, obviously, that would fix Japan too. 

Offering advice like this is just being neighborly.

Problems with Piketty

The Financial Times has pointed out several data-manipulation errors made by French economist Thomas Piketty in his new bestseller about how the rich get richer. I'm not going to attempt to adjudicate a technical issue. 

Some of the problems appear to stem from Piketty building giant models in Excel spreadsheets, which tend to turn into giant hairballs over time. (One unkind theory about Nate Silver's frequent career changes is that his elaborate Excel spreadsheets get too convoluted to maintain, so he's off to something new.) Here's a white paper on "Code and Data for the Social Sciences" with advice on how analysts can learn from professional programmers to make their work more maintainable.

I’m always fascinated by the dynamics of reputation. For example, when Christopher Foote and Christopher Goetz demonstrated in late 2005, a half year after the publication of Freakonomics, that Steven D. Levitt’s most famous theory — that legalizing abortion cut crime — was the result of Levitt’s sloppiness in writing Stata code (not Excel, by the way), the impact on Levitt’s career was negligible. His reputation only started to decline a few years later with the publication of SuperFreakonomics in which Levitt didn’t demonstrate complete fidelity to the climate change orthodoxy.

Basically, there was no money to be made in showing that the facts didn't support Levitt's conclusion. In contrast, there is a lot of money arrayed against Piketty, so we'll hear more about it. 

Malcolm Gladwell’s reputation took a major hit from insisting upon tangling with Steven Pinker over a bad NYT review, when Gladwell persisted in defending an overstated article he had written about how it was impossible to predict a college quarterback’s performance in the NFL. But what really hurt Gladwell was misspelling a statistical term (see Dan Quayle's career).

What really makes you unpopular is being right. When Arthur Jensen died a couple of years ago, we had to organize an email campaign to finally get an obituary for him in the New York Times. Jensen's crime was publishing a meta-analysis in 1969 suggesting that the vast social spending to help blacks Close the Gap with whites wasn't going to be very effective. The subsequent 43 years of Jensen's life showed him a prophet, which made him hated.

Conversely, the high repute of Jensen's semi-innumerate critic Stephen Jay Gould is only very slowly being worn down by an inundation of evidence that Gould was, at best, wrongheaded about much.

The Lysenko Prize

Ron Unz reviews Nicholas Wade's A Troublesome Inheritance in his Unz Review:
But a year or two ago, when I heard smart intellectuals still citing [Stephen Jay] Gould, I asked a prominent academic how that would possibly be the case. He explained that whereas in the 1990s, probably 99% of intellectuals believed in Gould, the massive revelations of recent years had merely reduced that support to 95%, leaving Gouldism almost as entrenched as ever. Whereas worldwide support for Stalinism substantially collapsed following Khrushchev’s 1956 “Secret Speech” Gouldian nonsense seems to have largely avoided that fate.

In the comments, James raises the possibility of awarding a posthumous Lysenko Prize to Gould. Ogunsiron replies:
James says:
May 22, 2014 at 5:09 pm
Brilliant. I hope to get many to read it, and Wade’s book. BTW, did anything come of the idea of awarding a Lysenko Prize for which I recall S.J.Gould was to be the first recipient?
ogunsiron says:

May 22, 2014 at 6:23 pm
did anything come of the idea of awarding a Lysenko Prize for which I recall S.J.Gould was to be the first recipient?
It’s in french but it’s the same idea :)
They gave a Lyssenko prize to the french equivalent of Gould.
Jacquard was the go-to man of the intelligentsia and media on genetics and related topics.

That's pretty enterprising of those Frenchmen, because the French generally feel that Darwin was a perfidious Albion who ripped off the great Lamarck.

May 23, 2014

Over- and Under-Performers Relative to IQ

Occidentalist has created a graph of countries with estimated average IQ along the horizontal axis and a composite of 52 measures of social progress along the vertical axis:
It's interesting to look at outliers that do better or worse than expected from estimated IQ. For example, Sweden, which sometimes seem more like a sort of machine for scoring high on indices of social progress, does well relative to its estimated IQ. Costa Rica also stands out, as does Panama and Jamaica. I hadn't been paying attention to Panama until a reader told me was moving to the Pacific side, which is breezier than the Caribbean side. 

The underperformers include China, Cambodia, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Sudan, Burundi and Chad.

"Norman Rockwell Captures the Art Market’s Eye"

Not exactly Ted Williams (1939-1960)
meets Carl Yastrzemski (1961-1983),
but Bostonians like to think so
From the NYT:
Norman Rockwell Captures the Art Market’s Eye 
MAY 23, 2014

“Rockwell’s greatest sin as an artist is simple: His is an art of unending cliché.” 
In that Washington Post criticism of a 2010 exhibition of Norman Rockwell paintings at the Smithsonian, Blake Gopnik joined a long line of prominent critics attacking Rockwell, the American artist and illustrator who depicted life in mid-20th-century America and died in 1978. 

As I blogged in 2010: "If you want a picture of Mr. Gopnik's ideal future, imagine a boot stamping on Norman Rockwell's face -- forever. (But not, let me hasten to add, a well-painted realist picture of a boot stamping on a face. Instead, say, a picture of a surrealist boot stamping on a cubist face with Jackson Pollock-like blood splatters on the floor.)"
“Norman Rockwell was demonized by a generation of critics who not only saw him as an enemy of modern art, but of all art,” said Deborah Solomon, whose biography of Rockwell, “American Mirror,” was published last year. “He was seen as a lowly calendar artist whose work was unrelated to the lofty ambitions of art,” she said, or, as she put it in her book, “a cornball and a square.” The critical dismissal “was obviously a source of great pain throughout his life,” Ms. Solomon added. 

It should always have been obvious that Rockwell was a great popular image creator in the mode of a movie director. (He also had tremendous technical skill as a painter, of course, but it's his narrative creativity that stands out.) Rockwell (1894-1978) reminds me of Frank Capra (1897-1991), although Capra worked from others' scripts.

This doesn't necessarily mean it makes sense to pay lots of money for a painting that was created to be reproduced. Similarly, while it would be kind of cool to own the original master reels of It's a Wonderful Life that Capra worked on himself, I'm not really into saint's relics and would rather buy a DVD of Capra's masterpiece for $15. But, then, the same could be said for a lot of works of art, which often are underwhelming when you are standing there finally looking at it in person, but your feet are hurting. (Noteworthy exceptions: cathedral architecture and Michelangelo's 13' tall statue of David.)

One reason why paintings by famous artists sell for so much to rich guys these days even though interest in painting is declining, is that most paintings were actually touched by a brush held by the great man himself. In contrast, Silicon Valley is likely full of guys who would like to compete with each other to own The Original Star Wars, but nobody is exactly sure what it is.
But Rockwell is now undergoing a major critical and financial reappraisal. This week, the major auction houses built their spring sales of American art around two Rockwell paintings: “After the Prom,” at Sotheby’s, and “The Rookie,” at Christie’s. “After the Prom” sold for $9.1 million on Wednesday; “The Rookie” for $22.5 million on Thursday. 
In December, “Saying Grace” set an auction record for Rockwell, selling at Sotheby’s for $46 million. 
Rockwell isn’t yet at the level of Francis Bacon (top price at auction: $142.4 million), Picasso ($104.5 million) or Andy Warhol ($105.4 million) — all of whom critics eventually embraced — but he’s poised to join a select handful of artists whose work is instantly recognizable not just for its artistic quality but, for better or worse, the many millions it took to acquire one. 
Apart from any critical reappraisal, Rockwell’s paintings show that in art, as well as in the stock market, it can pay to be a contrarian. Rockwell’s paintings have turned out to be a singularly good investment. ... “Rockwell was so out of favor, there was ample room for appreciation,” Mr. Moses said.  ...
The explanation for the sudden and, to many, improbable surge in the price of Rockwell paintings dates to at least 2001, when the Guggenheim Museum mounted a major retrospective of Rockwell’s work. Coming just after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the show may have touched a nerve with an American public hungering for the reassurance of traditional American values captured by Rockwell’s vision. “That was the big turning point,” Ms. Solomon said. “He finally was getting art world recognition.” Still, some critics were incensed by the exhibition. “It shows the Guggenheim further trashing the reputation won for it by generations of artists,” Jerry Saltz wrote in the Village Voice.

The role of simple junior high school-style ethnic animosity in the decades of trashing Rockwell should not be overlooked.
But the show set an attendance record. 
The year after the Guggenheim show, “Rosie the Riveter,” one of Rockwell’s most famous images, sold for close to $5 million at Sotheby’s, setting a record for the artist. The painting was later sold again for an undisclosed price to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark., the museum founded by the Walmart heiress Alice Walton. 
In 2006, “Breaking Home Ties” set another record, selling for $15.4 million, far above its $4 million to $6 million estimate. (The buyer is believed to have been H. Ross Perot, the former presidential candidate and founder of Electronic Data Systems. The painting has been seen hanging in his office.) 
Rockwell also gained a Hollywood stamp of approval. Two of the country’s most famous film directors, George Lucas (“Star Wars”) and Steven Spielberg (“E.T.”) were acquiring Rockwells. Rockwell “is a great story teller, and he used cinematic devices,” Mr. Lucas told an interviewer for the Smithsonian, which mounted the exhibition of his and Mr. Spielberg’s Rockwell collections, “Telling Stories,” in 2010. “He ‘cast’ a painting,” Mr. Lucas said. “It wasn’t just a random group of characters.”

I wonder when we'll see Norman Rockwell fakes selling for millions on the art market, like the fake Jackson Pollock that a Chinese guy in Queens made for a hundred dollars but then was auctioned off to a hedge fund guy for $17 million. Or maybe the return on investment in faking Rockwell's isn't high enough because they'd take too much work?

The only known Rockwell forgery was done by his friend Don Trachte, a professional illustrator, who had bought Breaking Home Ties from Rockwell for $900 in 1960. As part of a messy divorce settlement, Trachte painted a duplicate for private display and hid the original inside his wall until his heirs discovered it in 2006 and sold it to Perot for $15 million.

Washington Post review of "Troublesome Inheritance"

In the Washington Post, Seth Shulman writes:
Book review: “A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History,” by Nicholas Wade

By Seth Shulman, Friday, May 23, 5:10 PM E-mail the writer 
Is there a topic more divisive than race? If so, perhaps it’s the pairing of science and race. After all, recent generations have seen odious prejudices exploited under the guise of scientific legitimacy to justify discrimination, sterilization and even genocide.

You've got to give the Washington Post reviewer credit for waiting one more sentence than the New York Times reviewer before referring to Hitler.
... He musters a good deal of persuasive evidence that, as he puts it, “human evolution has been recent, copious, and regional.” It stands to reason that this should be so. After all, as evolutionary biologists have shown for countless species, the geographic separation of a population over time results in adaptations to specific environments. And, for many thousands of years, most human populations were separated into diverse geographic and social settings. ...
Wade gets into trouble, however, in the latter half of the book, which he describes as more “speculative.” A whole chapter is devoted to the subject of Jewish intelligence, in which he argues that the disproportionate number of Nobel Prizes awarded to people of Jewish descent can be traced to the fact that Jewish money-lending in the Middle Ages required levels of literacy and numeracy far beyond those in the general population. That specialization, and the wealth it brought, he argues, conferred upon the Ashkenazi Jews of Europe an evolutionary advantage that became encoded in complex ways in their genes. 
There is little solid evidence to support this hypothesis; moreover, the combinations of genes conferring intelligence — if there are any — are unknown. 

"if there are any"? I'd be interested in hearing Shulman's speculation on how there might not be any genes conferring intelligence.
While Wade demonstrates a good deal of mastery over many of the technical issues involved, he strikes a remarkably cavalier note about the obvious social and political unease such research might engender. 
Brushing aside Jews’ sensitivities to this kind of research, for instance, he blithely proclaims: “The days of pogroms are past, and to ignore every difficult subject would serve only the forces of obscurantism.” And even though he offers a chapter on what he calls the “perversions of science” that led to eugenics and ultimately to the Holocaust, he never satisfyingly grapples with the reality that strictures against this type of research remain in place for a reason: namely that the science of racial differences presents an affront to our relatively fragile and hard-won political understanding (widely sanctioned internationally) that all people deserve equal treatment under the law. 
In an America still struggling with glaring disparities in opportunity between whites and blacks, for instance, it is hard to know what to make of Wade’s attempt to sweep aside such issues by simply proclaiming that “fears that the evolutionary understanding of race will promote a new phase of racism or imperialism are surely exaggerated. The lessons of past abuses are still vivid enough.” Or that “opposition to racism is now well entrenched, at least in the Western world.” Despite Wade’s seeming command of the science involved, statements like these set a tone that often makes him seem like an over-eager debater so keen to score points that he ultimately loses the larger argument.
In conclusion, we don't like your tone, young man.

Identical twins raised apart

Veteran twin researcher Nancy L. Segal, who was part of the academic team for Bouchard's "Minnesota Twins" study of twins reared apart, writes in the NYT:
The Closest of Strangers
MAY 23, 2014

... Twins who have been reared apart present a fascinating natural experiment, since they share genes but differ in environment, allowing us to identify how much of our behavioral and physical traits are guided by each factor. (Identical twins share all their genes; fraternal twins share half their genes, on average.) But the complex, often intimate, sometimes uneasy associations between reunited twins fascinate me even more. 
In the case of identical twins, research shows that they share an unusually close bond. My laboratory has found that identical twin children are more successful at joint puzzle completion than fraternal twins, and that identical twins do better at shared problem solving. More recently, I showed that identical twins who are aunts and uncles invest more in caring for the children of their twins (their “genetic” sons and daughters) than do fraternal twins. And in continuing studies, I have found that identical twins mourn the loss of their twin siblings more intensely than do fraternal twins. 
To explain this close bond, psychologists frequently look to environmental factors: Identical twins, growing up in lock step, share most of the same experiences (they are often even treated the same by others) and therefore develop their unusually strong connection.

Sibling rivalry can be more intense among identical twins since they are so evenly matched.
But my research on reunited twins challenges this theory. I have found, for example, that reunited identical twins report feeling greater closeness to each other than do reunited fraternal twins. And I have found that a reunited twin generally reports feeling closer to the twin he only recently met than to a genetically unrelated sibling with whom he was raised. 
Given that reunited twins were not reared in the same environment, genetic factors are surely relevant to these bonds. But how do shared genes result in an immediate sense of connection? 
One possibility is the genes’ contribution to a similar physical appearance, but this does not seem to be the case. I recently studied “look-alikes”: pairs of genetically unrelated people who happen to be dead ringers for each other. Most look-alikes, after being introduced to their duplicate, indicated low to modest levels of anticipated friendship and feelings of familiarity upon meeting, with decreases over time. In contrast, most reunited identical twins said they expected to become best friends — and indeed most did so, as strong initial feelings of familiarity grew stronger. 
A more likely possibility is that a perceived behavioral resemblance is the basis for the sense of connection between reunited twins. And genes do contribute to behavioral similarities: Identical twins raised apart match closely on genetically influenced traits such as intelligence and personality. In fact, identical twins raised apart are as similar in personality as are identical twins raised together. In contrast, biologically unrelated siblings (i.e., when one or both are adopted) show little behavioral resemblance despite their shared rearing. 
Recognizing your same traits in another person may set off emotional and cognitive processes that facilitate bonding. Consider the case of the identical twin Brent Tremblay. Inadvertently switched with another baby at birth, Mr. Tremblay grew up with adoptive parents and their adopted son, while his twin brother, George Holmes, was raised by their biological parents with a child the family believed to be his fraternal twin. In a remarkable twist of fate, the real twins met by chance at age 20 and eased into a friendship that Mr. Trembley described as “natural and effortless.” They were friends for more than a year before discovering they were twins.

That's pretty wild.

Dr. Segal is the author of the 2012 book Born Together - Reared Apart: The Landmark Minnesota Twin Study.

Jay Leno hosts first "Jewish Nobel Prize" ceremony

From the NYT:
JERUSALEM — Two very, very rich Americans who recently left very, very high-profile jobs flew to Israel this week, each on a private plane. The less-rich one hosted a ceremony Thursday night where the more-rich one got a $1 million prize from a quartet of Russian oligarchs. Then he gave it back. 
If that sounds like something Jay Leno might have poked fun at on “The Tonight Show,” well, Mr. Leno — whose net worth is estimated at $250 million to $350 million — was the host. Michael R. Bloomberg, the billionaire businessman who served three terms as mayor of New York, was the one receiving — and then returning — the first-ever Genesis Prize, which honors achievement steeped in what it calls “Jewish values.” ... 
Mr. Leno, 64, is not Jewish and had not been to Israel before Tuesday, when he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 
“This is just like a Hollywood awards show but with fewer Jews,” Mr. Leno cracked Thursday night. ... 
The Genesis Prize aspires to be a kind of “Jewish Nobel.” “Shows what I know,” Mr. Leno said. “I thought the Nobel Prize was the Jewish Nobel Prize. Does anybody else ever win this thing?”

Candidates for the $100,000 prize need not be Jewish, though the video promoting it showcased an all-Jewish cast of achievers, including Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Marc Chagall, Levi Strauss, Mark Zuckerberg and Sarah Silverman.

From Albert Einstein to Sarah Silverman? That doesn't sound like a promising trend.

On human nurture

From the University of Chicago Magazine, an article on philosophy professor Jesse Prinz:
On human nurture
By Michael Washburn 
Prinz never suggests that genetic and biological considerations should be absent, but cautions against overreliance on such explanations. Near the end of his least technical book, Beyond Human Nature: How Culture and Experience Shape the Human Mind (W. W. Norton, 2012), he writes, “Every cultural trait is really a biocultural trait—every trait that we acquire through learning involves an interaction between biology and the environment.” But in chapters on human intelligence, language, gender, and more, Prinz makes the case that culture’s influence dwarfs that of biology. 
Culture, history, and experience form the environment that, for Prinz, shapes what we become. He contends that those external factors determine everything about us—everything, down to such biological fundamentals as fear. “I think everything I do is an entry into the nature-nurture debate,” he says. “More specifically, I’m interested in nurture. I think human behavior is interesting precisely because it’s so plastic.” 
He conceived Beyond Human Nature, in part, as a response to Stephen Pinker’s How the Mind Works (W. W. Norton, 1999), one of the more influential examples of what Prinz terms a “cultural syndrome which might be called biocentrism.” The biocentric view, he says, “is to say when we encounter human behavior our first line of explanation should be ‘it’s in the genes, it’s in our evolutionary history, it’s fixed in us,’ as opposed to a more culturally oriented view.” 
The notion Prinz opposes has a lot of intellectual traction in the popular imagination. Books like Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus (Harper Collins, 1992) sell in the millions. Genetic explanations are applied to more and newer aspects of human behavior. In a New York Times column last year, “Are Our Political Beliefs Coded in Our DNA?,” Thomas Edsall explored genopolitics, an ascendant area of study trying to tease out biological underpinnings of our political beliefs, and the Atlantic published an online adaptation from Avi Tuschman’s touted book on similar questions, Our Political Nature: The Evolutionary Origins of What Divides Us (Prometheus Books, 2013). Prinz’s contrary position can provoke controversy. 
“Jesse’s a smart guy,” Pinker wrote in an e-mail, “and his arguments for influences of culture are intelligent and have to be taken seriously, but I think his view of the ‘broader cultural syndrome’ is exactly backwards.” 
Pinker, the Johnstone Family professor in Harvard’s psychology department, continued, “By far the dominant cultural syndrome is that children are blank slates and that culture and parenting inscribe it,” and he noted that concept’s own acceptance in the cultural mainstream. “You’ll read hundreds of articles on economic inequality in the Times, the New Yorker, and so on, and never will there be even a mention of the possibility that smarter, more ambitious, or more disciplined people might be more successful.” Contra Prinz, Pinker concluded, “I think it’s Jesse who’s defending the broad cultural syndrome.” 
In response Prinz hits a more moderated note, saying, “I think the truth is there are two broad syndromes, and that is partially why we have a nature-nurture debate.”

More fundamentally, we have a nature-nurture debate because the influence of nature v. nurture on various phenomenon is a highly worthy subject for us to debate. Both nature and nurture are important and disentangling their effects is challenging.
But genetic, biological, and evolutionary explanations of behavior attract enormous interest, and “many more books have been published by popular presses defending evolutionary psychology than defending cross-cultural psychology.” 

A franker response would be that Prinz is gunning for Pinker not because Pinker represents the conventional wisdom (he doesn't) but because Pinker is the top gun at present, so he's a worthy challenge to try to take down. If you can out-argue Pinker, you've really done something.

Similarly, I'd rather out-argue Jared Diamond than T-N Coates or Michael Lewis than Malcolm Gladwell.

A general problem for the smarter defenders of the academic conventional wisdom like Prinz is that his allies don't want to give up their assumption that their Nurture side has a higher average IQ than the Nature side. So, Prinz has a hard time coming out and say, "Look, most of the brainpower and good ideas lately have been on the Nature side, so I'm trying to up the game of the Nurture side."
The influence of “nurture” on a wide range of human behavior and pathology, Prinz believes, awaits empirical proof. “My bet is that, when it comes to violence, addiction, IQ, many psychiatric disorders, and values, we will find that culture has a significantly bigger impact,” he says. “But there are traits for which the relative contributions of nature and nurture are less well understood (such as personality), and much science is still needed to establish exactly how culture impacts behavior when it does.” 
A survival emotion like fear, for example, has deep biological roots long proven to prompt the fight, flight, or freeze responses in humans and animals alike. But, Prinz points out, the cultural context influences how humans express it. In ancient Rome, where one of the cardinal virtues was heroism in the face of mortal danger, the embodiment of fear was quite different. For a Roman citizen the idea that you would flee or freeze, he says, is ludicrous. “We can see how an emotion that’s really deeply rooted in our biology could immediately give rise to a very different action.”

But of course the Romans remain famous for how unusual they were at overcoming their fears to allow them to be successful at organized violence. To win as many battles as the Romans did, they invested enormously in training to overcome natural flee or freeze responses to danger, as well as the opposite responses such as out-of-control rage that made tactical control difficult. (The Spartans were a similar and even more extreme famous example of nurture in action.)

This hardly means that Nurture was unimportant. After all, the Romans conquered much of the world. It just means that the discussion will go on. Occasionally, we might even move from thesis and antithesis to synthesis in some areas.

May 22, 2014

Learning from New Yorkers, Hapless Schlemiel Fall Guy Div.

A recurrent theme here at iSteve is that Americans should pay careful, respectful attention to how New Yorkers have rebuilt their city in recent decades because there is much that can be learned from New York. Of course, New Yorkers are tireless in offering advice to the rest of America, but the public verbiage seldom has much to do with what actually works in New York. For example ...

When I was looking for a job in New York City in 1982, I stayed on 14th Street between 4th and 5th Avenue. The rule of thumb back then about the Lower East Side was that 3rd Avenue was fine, and the west side of 2nd Avenue was okay, but you wouldn't want to cross 2nd Avenue (unless, I suppose, you were looking to buy drugs). Beyond was, presumably, 1st Avenue and a legendary set of north-south avenues beginning A, B, C known as Alphabet City, but nobody I was staying with was a drug addict so they'd never actually been there. 

These days, of course, much is different, for which New York speaker of the Assembly Sheldon Silver can take some of the credit for blocking construction of public housing for Puerto Ricans on the Lower East Side for decades. But while doing so, always make sure to have lined up a hapless shlemiel to be your fall guy when the political winds shift.
Assembly Speaker Finds Fall Guy: Another Sheldon Silver

To Sheldon Silver, the powerful speaker of the New York State Assembly, it was nothing but a simple case of mistaken identity. 
In the 1970s, Mr. Silver, a Democrat, worked with a new nonprofit group, the United Jewish Council of the East Side, to block low-income housing on a large, barren site in his district on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the beginning of a decades-long effort that was described in a recent article in The New York Times. 

From that article describing the ancient alliance between Speaker Silver and William E. Rapfogel of the publicly-supported Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty:
The long-ago walk [in 1977] was the first public display of an alliance that became central to the lives and careers of both Mr. Rapfogel and Mr. Silver. They worked together across the decades while climbing parallel ladders: Mr. Silver to Assembly speaker and Mr. Rapfogel to leadership of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, a large, publicly financed charity. 
But their long affiliation came to an abrupt end last year when Mr. Rapfogel, 59, was arrested and charged in a scheme that had allegedly looted more than $7 million in kickbacks from Met Council’s insurance broker over the years. He is due back in court in April. 
The arrest cast new light on a relationship about which little was known beyond the obvious: Mr. Silver has funneled millions of public dollars to the organization that Mr. Rapfogel led, and he employs Mr. Rapfogel’s wife, Judy, as his chief of staff. 
A primary focus of their alliance had been a struggle to preserve the Jewish identity of the neighborhood they delivered for Mr. Koch all those years ago.
Their battleground was some 20 barren acres along the southern side of Delancey Street, where, in 1967, the city leveled blocks of rundown apartment buildings. More than 1,800 low-income families, largely Puerto Rican, were sent packing and promised a chance to return to new apartments someday. Now, nearly 50 years later, the land is still a fallow stretch of weed- and rat-ridden parking lots, though in the waning days of the Bloomberg administration, the city announced that the land would finally be developed into a complex called Essex Crossing, to include retail markets, restaurants, office and cultural space. And new apartments. ...

The future Essex Crossing
But this glossy development on Avenues A and B on the street to the Williamsburg Bridge won't exactly be public housing.
But an extensive review of the archives of four mayors and more than two dozen interviews show Mr. Silver and Mr. Rapfogel diligently working behind the scenes to promote specific plans and favored developers. Mr. Rapfogel made clear that the goal was to maintain the area’s Jewish identity, seemingly at the expense of other communities.

Mr. Silver and Mr. Rapfogel steadfastly opposed any mention of affordable housing, which would have altered the demographics of the neighborhood and put Mr. Silver’s political base in question. And Mr. Silver appears to have occasionally misrepresented the desires of his Chinese and Hispanic constituents in conversations with city officials to quash housing plans for the site. 
“They’re the reason that this site has been empty for 50 years,” said Edward Delgado, known as Tito, who was a teenager when the city cleared the blocks and his family was evicted. He has been advocating for affordable homes at the site in the decades since.

From today's follow-up article:
Those actions, Mr. Silver insisted after the article was published, were actually taken by another man: Sheldon E. Silver, a Minneapolis-born lawyer who moved to Brooklyn in the early 1970s and died in 2001. 
“I was forever confused with this guy,” Mr. Silver said at a breakfast he hosted on Thursday at the state Democratic Party convention. “Even after he left there, I got phone calls from people who I knew.” 
Mr. Silver’s spokesman, Michael Whyland, said in an email that the other Mr. Silver “was a counsel to U.J.C. in the ’70s and early ’80s.”

“You can understand why he would be upset,” Mr. Whyland said in a subsequent telephone call. 
But the documents cited in the article make clear that Speaker Silver — a master at distancing himself from controversies and scandals in his chamber — was in fact the person who pressed New York City officials to allow an international mall to be built on the site, instead of low-income housing. The letter quoted was written on his official stationery from the Assembly. And minutes of the meetings with city officials clearly identify Mr. Silver as the lawmaker, not the similarly named lawyer from Brooklyn. 
After Mr. Silver’s office saw those documents, it dropped its request for a correction on which Mr. Silver pressed for the mall in the 1970s. 

West African Officials Apologize For Role In U.S. Slave Trade

From the Chicago Tribune in 2000:
Benin Officials Apologize For Role In U.S. Slave Trade 
May 01, 2000|By From Tribune News Services. 
RICHMOND, VIRGINIA — Officials from the West African nation Benin apologized during a ceremony here for their country's role in once selling fellow Africans by the millions to white slave traders. 
The group is making several stops in Virginia and Washington, D.C., to publicize President Mathieu Kerekou's recent apologies for his country's participation in the slave trade.

"We cry for forgiveness and reconciliation," said Luc Gnacadja, minister of environment and housing for Benin. "The slave trade is a shame, and we do repent for it." 
Benin, a country of 4.7 million people, was called Dahomey in the 17th Century, when it was a major supplier of slaves for white exporters shipping from what was called the Slave Coast. Some accounts say Dahomey rounded up more than 3 million people for sale to slave traders. 
Gnacadja spoke Saturday at a James River dock where, before the Civil War, slaves were shipped into Richmond, unloaded and marched across a bridge to downtown holding pens to await auction.

An island where Africans act like Asians

Whenever you mention that African-Americans seem to have brought with them some sub-Saharan African behavioral patterns, it's now traditional for somebody to say: "Africans are the most genetically diverse people on earth" and/or references to the dazzling diversity of African cultures. In reality, with famous exceptions like the Bushmen and Pygmies, Africa is a fairly homogeneous place for its vast size. As genetic anthropologist L.L. Cavalli-Sforza summed up in his 1994 book The History and Geography of Human Genes, “… differences between most sub-Saharan Africans other than Khoisan and Pygmies seem rather small.” Similarly, sub-Saharan cultures tend to be variations on a rather limited number of themes.

There are some exceptions, however, John Reader's Africa: Biography of a Continent provides a fascinating example of a not very African place in the heart of Africa: the island of Ukara in Lake Victoria in northwest Tanzania, in which a favorable environment leads to a Malthusian trap, which seems to lead to more Eurasian-like behavior.

The population has been around 16,000 for a century, with about one percent of the population annually moving to the mainland, a rate of increase unusual in Africa until recently.

Ukara has a few major advantages over the surrounding mainland of Africa: no tsetse flies to spread sleeping sickness. No lions and no elephants, either, to compete with humans. Life (and death) is presumably less random than on the African mainland, so hard work and investment pay off more reliably.

Life on Ukara sounds rather like life in a poor Southeast Asian peasant society rather than in most of Africa. A 1968 aerial survey showed that 98.6 percent of the land on the island was in use. In contrast to the typical pattern of land use rights in Africa, almost every resource on the island, including each tree, is privately owned, which has prevented deforestation. (Here's a description of Ukara from a libertarian perspective.) People on Ukara practice much more intensive and sophisticated agriculture than elsewhere in Tanzania, supposedly working ten hours per day, every day.

I spent some time looking for accounts by recent tourists visiting Ukara Island, but it became apparent that very few people go there, which is not surprising since people on holiday generally visit big cities or go to less crowded places to relax. We tend to think of islands as being less crowded (and thus more relaxing) than mainlands because they are less convenient to get to, but in Africa, apparently, things work the opposite. Being inconveniently far out in Lake Victoria makes life healthier and less risky than being on the mainland.

Has the Ukaran culture spread with the steady flow of Ukarans to the mainland of Africa? Evidently, no. Phil Raikes wrote in 1986:

This provides a very clear example of Esther Boserup's contention that necessity in the form of population pressure is the mother of agricultural innovation. Further evidence for this comes from the fact that Ukara Islanders who migrate to the mainland, where population density is far lower, promptly drop their labour-intensive methods (over ten hours per day throughout the year) for the much easier methods practised on the mainland.

I'm not sure what the ultimate lessons are from Ukara Island, but the place is worth thinking about.

Africa and the Malthusian Wringer

Nicholas Wade is in trouble for trying to bring up the topic of the selection pressures felt by Africans in Africa. That's not a topic we are supposed to think about. Instead, we are supposed to nod along as T-N Coates informs us that the reason African-Americans have lower property values than white Americans is solely because of bad things done by white Americans since 1619 so white must pay reparations. No history from before 1619 is imaginable. 

But as Wade wrote in The Spectator:
More specific evidence that evolution has shaped human social behaviour in the recent past comes from a third major social transition, from agrarian to modern economies. 
This transition is usually known as the Industrial Revolution. Before the Industrial Revolution, almost everyone in agrarian economies but the rich lived near the edge of starvation. Whenever any improvement in farming technology raised productivity, more children were born, the extra mouths ate up the surplus and semi-starvation soon reigned again. This harsh regime is known as a Malthusian economy after the Revd Thomas Malthus, who described it in his 1798 ‘Essay on the Principle of Population’. As it happened, the Malthusian regime was nearing an end at the very time Malthus was writing because of the vast increase in productivity that was the essence of the Industrial Revolution. 
The cause of the Industrial Revolution is the central issue of economic history, yet economic historians have arrived at no consensus as to what that cause or causes may have been. Their preferred candidates are institutions of various kinds, or access to resources. For a quite different explanation, step back to Malthus for a moment. It was from Malthus that Darwin derived the idea of natural selection. 
Darwin perceived that if people were struggling on the edge of existence, as Malthus described, then a person with the slightest advantage would have more children and bequeath this advantage to them. ‘Here then I had at last got a theory by which to work,’ Darwin wrote in his autobiography. 
If the English population provided the example from which Darwin intuited the idea of natural selection, that population was surely being subjected to the same force. The question then is what traits were being selected for. The economic historian Gregory Clark, of the University of California, Davis, has documented four behavioural changes in the English population between 1200 and 1800 AD. 
The level of violence declined, literacy increased, and so did work hours and the propensity to save. The effect of these changes, Clark notes in his 2009 book Farewell to Alms, was to transform the violent peasant population of 1200 into the disciplined workforce of 1800. Because the nature of the people had changed, productivity soared, and for the first time an increase in population failed to drag down the standard of living. 
Clark not only documents the behavioural change in English society but also provides a plausible mechanism of hereditary transmission. From the study of wills he finds that the well-off had more surviving children than the poor. Since the size of the English population remained fairly constant, many children of the rich must have dropped in social status, diffusing the genes and values that had made their parents wealthy into the wider-population. 
The same process presumably occurred in other agrarian populations, which is why the Industrial Revolution spread so easily to other European countries and later, after political obstacles had been removed, to the countries of East Asia. 
With all three transitions, an evolutionary change is plausible but remains a hypothesis nonetheless: proof awaits discovery of the relevant genes. ...
Persistently poor countries, particularly those that are still tribally organised, have not been through the Malthusian wringer experienced by agrarian populations and may therefore find the transition to a modern state that much harder. 

Jared Diamond made a lot of money off his 1997 book Guns, Germs, and Steel documenting how different the environment was in Africa than in Eurasia. But when in 2002 during a previously congenial conversation I brought up the obvious implication of his book, as I put it in my 1997 review in National Review: "Diamond makes environmental differences seem so compelling that it's hard to believe that humans would not become somewhat adapted to their homelands through natural selection," his face fell, he gathered his things and hustled out of the auditorium. Diamond isn't dumb.

The lack of a Malthusian Trap in most of Africa during most of pre-history is a central theme in the best book I've read on Africa, John Reader's Africa: A Biography of the Continent. The concept of a Malthusian Trap is hard enough to grasp, so it's particularly braintwisting to come to grips with the implications of the lack of a Malthusian Trap. So, please allow me to repeat what I blogged in 2010:

Reader writes on p. 249:

The human population of Africa has never approached the size that the continent seems capable of supporting. ... An FAO survey published in 1991 reported that only 22 percent of land in Africa suitable for agriculture was actually in production (the comparable figure for south-east Asia is 92 per cent).

Reader offers a long list of discouraging factors, such as disease burden, poor soil, and wild beasts, especially elephants. We think elephants are cute, but they're huge and thus quite capable of eating a farmer's crop. Africa tended to be populated in a patchwork fashion. In some regions, enough people could be concentrated to drive off elephants, while other areas were conceded to elephants until enough human numbers could be assembled. Somewhat similarly, stronger herding tribes would tend to drive farming tribes (who use less land per person) into refuges in the mountains or islands. 

So, intensive agricultural use of land was rare, which meant that men didn't have to work terribly hard at farm work as long as they had women hoeing weeds for them. 

Reader writes:

From the time that Europeans first set foot in Africa, travelers have commented upon what they saw as an excessive interest in sex among Africans.

Think of this from the perspective of the Malthusian Trap. Europeans already tended to voluntarily keep their populations below Malthusian limits by practicing the moral restraint that the Rev. Malthus famously advised in 1798. From 1200-1800, the average age of first marriage for an Englishwoman was 24-26. Rich women tended to marry at younger ages, poor women at older. Illegitimacy rates were in the lower single digits. 

Thus, due to this sexual restraint, Europeans tended to be in a less Malthusian situation than, say, the Chinese, who tended to marry younger. Consequently, Europeans tended to be richer while working less hard than the Chinese. If the European population didn't grow as fast during good times as the Chinese population did, they didn't experience quite as many vast die-offs from famine during times when good government broke down (e.g., as recently as the early 1960s during Mao's crazy Great Leap Forward). England, for example, hasn't had a major famine in over 600 years.

So, Europeans developed cultural forms that attempted to sublimate sexual urges in more restrained and refined directions. Traditional Europeans dances like the minuet didn't feature a lot of pelvic thrusting, for example.

In Africa, however, conditions of life were such that the Malthusian Trap was not an active worry. More people were needed, so African culture -- dance, song, and so forth -- tended to encourage mating now rather than to encourage delay. Listening to Top 40 radio today, this pattern seems to have carried over from Africa.

Larry David on Leon Black's worldview

Larry David (played by Larry David) and Leon Black (played by J.B. Smoove) discuss Michael J. Fox, Parkinson's disease, and Leon's predominant perspective on human existence.

35 seconds. Language NSFW. 

Coates: "The Case for Reparations"

Five and half years into the Obama Presidency, the problems plaguing black people (and their neighbors) haven't disappeared, and in fact appear to be about the same as they've been on average over the last 40 years or so. 

This has created an ever greater demand for ever more detailed explanations for why this is all White People's Fault. Thus, Ta-Nehisi Coates has become the go-to guy for Glenn Beck-like deep dives into old books to explain why History demonstrates that white people are at fault for black people being poor.
The Case for Reparations 
Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole. 
Ta-Nehisi Coates

Please keep in mind, however, that acceptable History is extremely circumscribed. History began in 1619. Nothing about African people in Africa before the arrival of white people is admissible. A book like John Reader's illuminating Africa: A Biography of the Continent is simply not to be considered. Instead, Africans were a blank slate solely written upon by white people.

Also, you may have noticed that liberals, black and white, have dominated racial policy in the United States for the last half century or so. Well, that's not History, either. 

For example, much of Coates' article is devoted to Chicago real estate, a topic about which I know a little. But Coates' history mostly peters out about the time liberals took charge of housing policy.

Alyssa Katz, an NYU journalism professor and contributor to Mother Jones, published a fascinating history, Our Lot, a half decade ago that explained, among much else, what liberalism did to Chicago's housing. From my 2009 review in VDARE: 
Alyssa Katz` Our Lot: A Liberal Perspective On How Political Pressure To Boost Minority Homeownership Helped Blow Up The Economy 
By Steve Sailer on August 30, 2009 
Our Lot: How Real Estate Came to Own Us by Alyssa Katz, a liberal journalist and NYU journalism professor who writes for Mother Jones, is the best book yet on how the sacred cause of “diversity” merged with pedal-to-the-metal capitalism to bring us the Great Mortgage Meltdown. 
The book hasn't garnered the attention it deserves—probably because it makes clear the bipartisan responsibility of both her opponents on the Right and her friends on the Left. 
Our Lot focuses equally on the misdeeds of both capitalists and leftists. But I won't give the boiler room boys as much attention in this review because they're a more familiar tale, while Katz`s reporting on the role of her side is compelling “testimony against interest.“ 
Katz is remarkably frank about how government programs and political pressure to boost minority homeownership helped blow up the economy. She`s particularly good at explicating how leftist housing activists, such as ACORN and Gale Cincotta, the godmother of the Community Reinvestment Act, worked with Democratic politicians such as Bill Clinton, HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros, and Jim Johnson, CEO of Fannie Mae, to lay the groundwork for the Bubble and Bust. 
Katz doesn`t devote quite as much depth to the Bush Administration`s culpability (which, to my mind, is even greater). Perhaps she lacked Republican contacts to give her the kind of inside story she got on her own party`s mistakes. 
Still, Our Lot makes clear that on housing policy, the Clinton-Bush years form a single continuum with one overarching plan: boost the minority homeownership rate by lowering credit standards. I call it the Era of Multi-Culti Capitalism. 
And there's little reason to think that its lessons have been learned yet. 
Katz begins her book in 1972, in the collapsing Austin neighborhood on Chicago`s Far West side, where Gale Cincotta was a Greek-American housewife. 
Fortuitously for me, Our Lot fills in the political backstory of my own in-laws` lives. My wife grew up in Austin, which had been a peaceful, densely populated working class where small children could play safely on the crowded sidewalks. 
Suddenly, in the late 1960s, middle class blacks began buying into the neighborhood. 
Friends warned my late father-in-law, a classical musician and union leader, to flee, that underclass blacks would follow. But he and my late mother-in-law, a schoolteacher, resolved to show that integration could work. 
After my future wife was mugged twice and her younger brother once, however, my in-laws finally sold in 1970—losing half their life savings. They moved 63 miles out of Chicago, to a dilapidated farm where they lacked running water for their first two years. (And my father-in-law started voting Republican.) 
How did this disaster hit Austin? Katz demonstrates that it was the direct result of a 1968 change in the Federal Housing Administration, which set off a bubble and bust in America's inner cities, like a smaller precursor of this decade. As in 2005, 
“In 1972, in Chicago and in every other city in the nation, almost anyone could get a home mortgage, including borrowers who didn't earn enough to pay them off, on just about any house, for any reason. … And just like the recent adventure in lending beyond any rational limits, the mortgage disaster of the early 1970s was born from a lofty ideological conviction that enabled the basest of crimes and most foolish of gambles under its cover, insulated from almost any scrutiny until the damage was already done.” 
Franklin D. Roosevelt had started the Federal Housing Administration to insure home loans, and Fannie Mae to buy loans from lenders. Together, these agencies created the familiar template of 30-year-year fixed rate mortgages with a moderate down payment that underpinned the growth of home-owning suburbanites after WWII. 
FDR's FHA, however, was reluctant to back loans in black neighborhoods—a practice that Cincotta later dubbed “redlining.” Eventually, in 1968, liberal Illinois Republican Senator Charles Percy and the Johnson Administration revamped the FHA in a more politically correct direction. Katz explains: 
“The FHA was now, in effect, a front in the War on Poverty. … Under the new regime, homebuyers living in Chicago and other inner cities weren`' just eligible for loans. Lenders who signed up to sell FHA-insured mortgages were asked to do everything they could to make sure the buyers got them.” 
Of course, the results of the Federal government encouraging mortgages with down payments of never more than $500 were absolutely predictable: 
“Across the country, neighborhood destruction became a booming business, financed by the federal government. In Chicago they called it `panic peddling.` In New York, it was `blockbusting.` … The FHA-insured loans threw gasoline on that smoldering fire. … Indeed, the insurance made it profitable to seek out the most impoverished and unreliable borrowers, since the sooner a borrower defaulted on a loan, the more quickly the lender would get paid back in full by FHA.” 
In Chicago, Gale Cincotta started a national coalition of “community activists,” who helped pass the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act of 1975 and the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977. Cincotta remains a heroine to the author, although she can't quite make clear Cincotta's logic. If the feds encouraging lending to minorities had destroyed Austin, how was more hair of the dog that bit you supposed to fix Austin? 
Sadly, Austin remains unfixed. On a visit to Chicago earlier this month, my wife drove by her old house. Her former home had no doorknob, just an empty hole in the front door. But at least it was still standing, unlike two large apartment buildings on her old block, which are now just crabgrass-covered vacant lots. 
Cincotta died in 2001—across the municipal border from Austin in Oak Park. In telling contrast to Austin, that prosperous suburb that had succeeded in saving its famous district of Frank Lloyd Wright homes (where my father was born in 1917) by limiting the number of blacks allowed to move in through its notoriously illegal but effective “black-a-block“ quota
Katz notes that Cincotta`s organization of the left, combined with the invention of mortgage securitizing by investment banker Lewis Ranieri in 1983, made possible the disasters of this decade.

Cincotta began siccing her “pushy capitalist radicals” on Fannie Mae, which remained reluctant to buy the dubious mortgages of likely deadbeats. Still, Katz writes, “The reality was that to meet its growth objectives, Fannie Mae needed these poor people as much as the poor people needed them.” 
Looking back from 2009, Katz asks: 
“How did Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac … turn into the world`s biggest funders of Wall Street-backed subprime mortgages? … It all started with the best of intentions, with … the activists who demanded bank loans for the poor and urban.”