Monday, December 31, 2007

Night of the Living Dead

It's customary at year's end to reflect upon those who won't be joining us for the evening's festivities.

Farewell to Evel Kneivel and Bill Walsh, who both applied vector analysis in most startling ways.

Godspeed to Jerry Falwell, Norman Mailer, and Tammy Faye Messner, believers all. May you find what you'd been praying for, and dodge what you'd been fearing.

Best of luck in the void (if that means anything) to Kurt Vonnegut.

May history be kind to Ian Smith, Boris Yeltsin, and, Paul Tibbets, the man who pulled the lever over Hiroshima. May history also smile upon those two smiling ladies, Benazir Bhutto, who departed in an epic "blaze of glory," and Lady Bird Johnson, who drifted out long after most of us had assumed she was already gone.

I know nothing about Bhutto, other than the usual media-generated platitudes, but I do have one tidbit on Lady Bird, who, despite her genteel demeanor and love of flowers, is reputed to have been, beyond the public eye, quite the Tyrant Demon. A third-hand story has it that while visiting a well-connected political family here in Georgia, Lady Bird was called by a member of the household to breakfast. "I'll eat my breakfast when I'm goddamn good and ready," came the booming reply from behind the door. Or so it is alleged.

But of course one drawn, smoke-stained figure is, yet again, and perhaps unsurprisingly, still among the living. I speak of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, who doesn't so much cheat the Grim Reaper as stare him to a draw:

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, . . .

Donne may not have had The Stones in mind when he drew up these lines on Death, but then, he'd never heard "Sympathy for the Devil" or "Tumblin' Dice." "Say now, baby, I'm the rank outsider, You can be my partner in crime." Not yet, Keif. Not just yet.

Here's a 20-year-old interview from Finnish television. You'll note that Richards is even then sporting a visage that might still a Pale Horse, and chill its Rider. You might also enjoy, if that's the right word, his personal anthem. I suspect that Keif will be with us for yet some time.

And better then thy stroake . . .

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Man Who Would Be King

Since Africa has been a topic of some discussion lately, I thought it might be interesting to contrast two newspaper views of Jacob Zuma, the man likely to be South Africa's next president; that is, if he can survive corruption charges.

First, we have the New York Time's Survivor is Poised to Lead South Africa. Although by no means entirely flattering, it casts Mr. Zuma in a mostly favorable light, neglecting to mention, among other things, Mr. Zuma's rousing campaign anthem, "Bring Me My Machine Gun."

For another portrait of Mr. Zuma (including "Bring Me My Machine Gun") one naturally turns to The Daily Mail, whose profile of Mr. Zuma bears the spirited title, Machine Gun Man Takes Over The ANC - God Help the Rainbow Nation. Not the sort of title ever likely to be encountered in the Times.

The Daily Mail does cast a more critical eye on Mr. Zuma's "short-skirt" rape defense, his advocacy of post-coital showers as a prophylactic to HIV transmission, and his intent to "Africanise" the country.

If nothing else, these two articles do serve to illustrate that much of what matters in journalism is related simply to the selection process: what to include, and what to omit. I am not asserting that either version is more accurate than the other; let's just say they both reflect the journalistic temperament of their respective publications.

I'm off with the family for a few days in the mountains, watching the rain fall. Well, it's a a change of scenery. As the charming couple in the photograph above might so colloquially put it, Merry fookin' Christmas!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Paging Dr. Samuel Huntington

Gillian Gibbons, a 54-year old school teacher originally from Britain but now teaching seven-year-olds in Sudan, has been jailed for insulting the Prophet Mohhamed (PBUH).

From the Telegraph article:

Robert Boulos, the director of the school, told Reuters that Ms Gibbons set up the project as part of a British National Curriculum course to learn about animals. This year's animal was the bear, and Ms Gibbons asked the children to name the stuffed toy.

Mr Boulos said the children came up with eight names including Abdullah and Hassan, but Mohammed proved by far the most popular.

Each child was given a chance to take the bear home and write a diary about what they did with the toy, Mr Boulos told Reuters.

The website for the Sudanese Media Centre, which has close ties with the country's government, reported that Mrs Gibbons could be prosecuted under "faith and religions" legislation.

It states: "Khartoum attorney office opens a claim under article 125 of the criminal law (insult of faith and religions) against a British national female teacher named Julian (sic) working for unruly school in Khartoum.

"Head of the attorney offices Mutusim Abdallah told (SMC) that legal arrangements are under way to issue warrant of arrest against the suspect upon a complaint presented by the ministry of education.

"Abdallah said the suspect teacher printed the name of Prophet Mohammed PBUH on a doll in a shape of bear."

If I could offer a suggestion, the number of immigrants coming into this country from the nation of Sudan - unless it is zero - should be substantially reduced. We've got more than enough angry morons wandering the streets already.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

In Memoriam: Ian Smith, 1919 - 2007

Early this morning, I learned of Ian Smith's death. Soon thereafter, making my usual usual round of internet sites, I encountered a verse tribute to Smith penned (if we may use this word for lines tapped out on a keyboard) by Mencius, of Unqualified Reservations.

I was intrigued by the poem's opening:

The last great Englishman
Is dead, and fuck who disagrees.
He once said to Henry Kissinger,
"Is there no honor in the world
Any more?" This man whose face
Was half shot off in the RAF.
"No," replied good Henry, and
Went on to fuck him.

Reading these lines, I felt the quite infrequent touch of the Muse's hand upon my shoulder, and knew I would have to reply in kind.

My own tribute to Smith may be found in UR's comment section, but I'm never above quoting myself here in a cheap and easy bid to rack up another post. I have several Black Sea topics currently in mind, such as the life and work of Norman Mailer, but I'm not really sure I want to put the time into writing about the life and work of Norman Mailer.

Maybe I'll just go out on the street and head butt a stranger, then chronicle the repercussions - assuming I survive - as a form of "existential experience."

Anyway, in the meantime, my epitaph for Smith:

Ian Smith asked Henry
About the fate of Honour.
Henry smiled discreetly . . .
A sword soon fell upon her.

The White Man's Burden
On that day
Collapsed in bloody farce,
As Ian Smith told Henry
"You kiss my bloody arse."

Click here for an article about how Smith is remembered by those who worked his farm for him. Evidently, he didn't discuss politics with them, which of course is a grievous sin, but he did build for them free schools, and pay their medical bills, so perhaps he wasn't a complete monster.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Elementary, My Dear Watson

At this point, there's no need to recount the details of James Watson's transgression in England, and subsequent "retirement" from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in the wake of his comments regarding intelligence in Africa. I may have little to add on this topic, but I would like to toss my own small pebble into the water and hear the splash.

First, the claim that IQs in Africa, are, on average, lower than those in the Western World, and indeed, lower than those found globally, is from a scientific and statistical standpoint, about as conclusively confirmed as anything one could claim about human populations. IQ, which of course is an abbreviation of intelligence quotient, is a numerical score on an examination of intelligence. To be precise (or if you prefer, to split hairs) the question of what is meant by "intelligence" is one at least partially removed from the score a person receives on a given exam. To say that a math student received a score of 74 on a math exam neither validates nor invalidates the exam's accuracy in gauging comprehension of the math concepts in question. The score is simply the score; the exam itself may be good, bad, or somewhere in between.

While one may argue that a given IQ test, or all IQ tests, fail to accurately measure intelligence, there is the small problem that scores on validated and accepted IQ tests correlate quite strongly with academic outcomes, and, in the more complex professions particularly, such as law, engineering, and medicine, with professional outcomes. In other words, IQ tests do genuinely evaluate something closely-related to the capacity for complex thought. If the term "intelligence" is seen as too broad or imprecise, we could simply change the name to cognition quotient, rational-analysis quotient, intellectual-reasoning quotient. Whatever we call such tests, they have a by now well established capacity to measure general mental aptitude, and of course, there is a term for this as well, g. If you are interested in pursuing this point further, Jason Malloy, who writes at Gene Expression, has a rather long and detailed analysis of the completely uncontroversial (from a scientific standpoint) nature of Watson's recent claims. If I may be allowed to cite some information from Malloy's work:

Below I am adding 65 psychometric intelligence study citations for sub-Saharan Africa, collected in IQ & Global Inequality, Race Differences in Intelligence, and IQ & the Wealth of Nations. The citations cover 47% of SS African countries or 78% of the people by national population numbers. The studies vary in quality, sample size, and representativeness, but broadly agree in their findings. Representative studies of the school age population with large sample sizes do not exhibit higher scores, much less scores that approach anything like European norms.


Sub-Saharan Africa
Countries: 43
W/ data: 20 (47% coun/78% pop)
Studies: 65
IQ: 68

West Africa
Countries: 20
W/ Data: 6 (30% coun/65% pop)
Studies: 15
IQ: 67

Central Africa
Countries: 5
W/ Data: 3 (60% coun/80% pop)
Studies: 9
IQ: 64

East Africa
Countries: 8
W/ Data: 5 (63% coun/93% pop)
Studies: 16
IQ: 72

Southern Africa
Countries: 10
W/ Data: 6 (60% coun/76% pop)
Studies: 25
IQ: 69


For purposes of comparison, here are, by nation (although Hong Kong is not a nation), the top 50 average scores. The averages, of course, include all population groups within the nation. In other, words the average for Australia is comprised not only of scores for white Australians, but for all racial groups found there.

1 Hong Kong 107
2 South Korea 106
3 Japan 105
4 Taiwan 104
5 Austria 102
6 Germany 102
7 Italy 102
8 Netherlands 102
9 Sweden 101
10 Switzerland 101
11 Belgium 100
12 People's Republic of China 100
13 New Zealand 100
14 Singapore 100
15 United Kingdom 100
16 Hungary 99
17 Poland 99
18 Spain 99
19 Australia 98
20 Denmark 98
21 France 98
22 Norway 98
23 United States 98
24 Canada 97
25 Czech Republic 97
26 Finland 97
27 Argentina 96
28 Russia 96
29 Slovakia 96
30 Uruguay 96
31 Portugal 95
32 Slovenia 95
33 Israel 94
34 Romania 94
35 Bulgaria 93
36 Ireland 93
37 Greece 92
38 Malaysia 92
39 Thailand 91
40 Croatia 90
41 Peru 90
42 Turkey 90
43 Indonesia 89
44 Suriname 89
45 Colombia 89
46 Brazil 87
47 Iraq 87
48 Mexico 87
49 Samoa 87
50 Tonga 87

With some exceptions, one may notice in these figures a fairly consistent correlation between a nation's IQ score and its level of social organization, accomplishment, and prosperity. Again, we could quibble about the meaning of "social organization," but one can see that those societies which are identified worldwide by such terms as "advanced" or "developed" generally have higher scores. I suppose the one figure that stands out for many people is Israel's surprisingly low score of 94. It must be born in mind that in the West, our well-justified impression of high IQs among Jews is based upon the performance of Ashkenazi Jews (the reigning champs) whose average, if I remember correctly, is 113. Jews of Middle Eastern and African origin, of which there are many in Israel, score not nearly so high, and of course, the country also has a large and growing Arab population.

To return to my original point, if we compare the IQ averages of such countries as Malaysia, Colombia, and my own dear Turkey, whose scores represent more or less the global average, to the scores in sub-Saharan Africa, we see a substantial falling off, thus giving rise to the doubts which James Watson expressed concerning the potential of African nations to organize their activities and educate their citizenry at levels approximating global standards, much less Western standards. While this was, in and of itself, enough to earn Watson pariah status, his comments have implications beyond the development of Africa itself, and it is perhaps these implications that make Watson's observations so controversial.

Throughout the the world, in nation after nation, there are sub populations (minorities, if you prefer), which either under perform or over perform relative to national averages. When I say under perform or over perform, I mean this in any category you care to name, academics, income, journalistic output, athletics, longevity. Throughout the world, both over and under performance demand societal explanations. People living in heterogeneous populations will observe and attempt to understand why these variances occur. This is both inevitable, and, as we know, potentially dangerous. I suspect that educated readers require no historical examples here. You are welcome to supply your own, but a crucial point to remember is that both under and over performance are noted by the population as a whole and will be explained in some manner, however accurate or fanciful.

For the past half century, the default explanation among the educated in Western societies for the under performance of certain groups, those of African descent in particular, has been the racism of the larger society, the whites in particular. I believe there is little point in questioning that blacks in America have suffered under a racial caste system, and that the low estimation of their talents and potential, both among whites and among blacks themselves, has limited their options for achievement in various ways. The gradual acceptance of the default explanation (racism) for low levels of black achievement has brought home to most Americans some awareness of these injustices.

The default explanation has also resulted in a campaign, now at least as old as the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, to rectify these injustices and grant to blacks, and all other groups, the same rights and opportunities enjoyed by the majority. This, however, has led to some new, and unanticipated problems. It is difficult enough to ensure all citizens equal rights, though such an effort is worthy of any society wishing to consider itself "civilized." In other words, hard, but worth attempting, worth striving for.

Achieving equal opportunity is considerably more problematic. First, we must distinguish between perfect equality and attainable equality. There is no conceivable social or political system which can offer perfect equality of opportunity. In searching for a job, I may know someone you don't, who can offer me a job that both you and I want. On the other hand, you may be taller, or better looking, or more gregarious than I am, and this may provide you with an edge that I lack, even if we are both equally capable of performing a given job. Inequality of opportunity, at this level, is more or less inseparable from human nature, and we shall be a long time at trying to stamp it out, though you will notice that, in many quarters, we are trying rather hard.

Finally, we come to the most unrealizable ambition, equality of outcome. According to the reigning, though admittedly, now-threatened orthodoxy, any statistical variance to be found in any population group relative to its percentage of the overall population constitutes a de facto act of favoritism or injustice. If fewer than 50% of research engineers and molecular biologists are women, this is because women have been and are now discriminated against in education and hiring. If fewer than 12% of America's nuclear physicists are black, or more than 12% of America's prison inmates are black, this constitutes damning evidence of ongoing racial inequality. And of course, these are inequalities, that is, inequalities of outcome, which differ from inequalities of opportunity, which differ from inequalities of rights.

Most Americans, I believe, still endorse equality of rights, though, even under the best achievable conditions, there will still be cases in which citizen's rights are violated. Equality of opportunity is, at best, only partly achievable, and the achievable part significantly overlaps with equality of rights. An educational institution or place of employment cannot bar you simply on the grounds of your membership in a population group. This is hardly the same thing as saying, "everybody gets a equal shot in life," because everybody doesn't get an equal shot in life, and we might as well admit it. There is only so much that we can, and should do about this, as is illustrated when we move to equality of outcomes.

To be blunt, the pursuit of equality of outcome is incompatible with freedom. You cannot uphold the freedom of people to work where and when they will, to study for eight hours a day or eight minutes a day or not at all, to spend their money as they see fit, or to hoard their money in certificates of deposit or risk their money in high-growth funds, and expect equality of outcomes. It simply can't happen, even in unusually homogeneous societies. In Japan, for example, with its near-universal ethnic background (there is a Korean sub population, but whatever) and high average IQ, some people are still smarter, or more energetic, or more curious, or more acquisitive, or more future time oriented, or more gregarious, or more attractive, or more well-connected socially, or just plain more lucky, than are others. However much the Japanese may view themselves as a collective society, and they apparently do so more than those of us in the Western world ever will, they still experience inequalities of outcome.

Here, Watson's comments are of particular relevance. The now standard explanation for the poverty and turmoil of Africa is the after-effect of European colonialism. While this explanation may have seemed sensible 50, or 40, or 30 years ago, it is less so now. If colonialism had been the cause, then as chronological distance from the cause increased, the adverse consequences should have decreased. If something is making you sick, time away from that disease agent should allow you to recover, unless you are mortally-afflicted and beyond recovery. Since within human population groups, birth and death assure that nobody experiences the direct affects of anything like slavery or colonialism forever, the effects of these influences should diminish over time. Therefore, those who maintain that European colonialism has inhibited Africa's development have been forced into increasingly tortured logic to explain how this now historical process continues to produce such disturbing, and in may cases growing, problems.

Similarly, in America, those who argue that legacy of slavery and segregation fully explains the disparities in outcome between blacks and other groups have resorted to increasingly complex, and increasingly unconvincing, explanations as to how and why these differing outcomes have occurred. Again, as the decades pass, we are confronted with a political and social doctrine which, I suspect, Americans find increasingly unbelievable. Nevertheless, to publicly question such a doctrine, even in the most tentative ways, is personally and professionally risky, as the cases of Lawrence Summers, James Watson, and others will attest.

In other words, we continue, through force of social pressure, to mouth platitudes in which we no longer believe, and are not permitted open discussion of a doctrine which a great many have reason to question. The penalty for such discussion, while no doubt less severe than in times past, is nevertheless incompatible with a free society, as demand for equality of outcome in incompatible with a free society. You cannot allow people to live life as they will, making their own choices and charting their own course, and yet secure equal outcomes for all. The two are contradictory.

There are three further points that I would like to make.

One, which I have alluded to before, is that data regarding the IQs of various populations and nationalities is volatile and potentially dangerous information, in that it does have the potential to serve as ammunition for those who advocate racial hostility and oppression, and any fair-minded person engaged in this discussion should acknowledge as much. Furthermore, it has the potential to discourage even gifted members of lower scoring population groups from developing their talents.

Whether we admit it or not, we all see ourselves not only as individuals but as members of groups, including ethnic and racial groups. If, as I am, you are a fan of the TV series Seinfeld, you may remember the episode in which George, in a bid to convince his black supervisor that he isn't racially prejudiced, goes to absurd lengths, at one point claiming that he's never noticed that his best friend Jerry is white because, "I don't see race."

This is funny because of the transparent falsity of George's claim in contrast with the utterly unattainable expectation that he "not see race" if he is to be be absolved of the charge of racism. We all see race. Within the bounds of reasonable human expectation, this is not the same thing as saying that we are all racists, though in the current climate, to admit to seeing race is enough to bring down upon one's head the suspicion of racism. It's rather like insisting that you've never noticed that a co-worker is female in order to defend yourself against a charge of sexual harassment.

The second point follows from the first. Given the volatility and potential for abuse that information about race and IQ implies, a question naturally arises: why, even if true, should we call attention to difference in IQ among populations? Why not just quietly acknowledge this reality, but conceal it as far as possible from the general consciousness (in other words, the untutored masses), so as to avoid a reversion to the Jim Crowe era of the past? This question deserves a legitimate answer. I would argue that this answer revolves around what I have termed above the "default explanation."

If you and I meet at a dinner party, and you have an advanced degree in economics and work for an investment firm and earn in excess of $500,000 per year, and I dropped out of college, work at a bookstore, and earn $20,000 per year, it is indeed crass of you to point out the intellectual demands of your training and your work, and how they are reflected in your substantial earnings. However, if, at that same dinner party, I maintain that you earn more than twenty-five times as much as I do simply because you have rigged the system in your favor, and because you are engaged in my exploitation, and because we live in a fundamentally unjust society which has pressed-ganged me into a condition of economic serfdom, then your references to the high qualifications necessary for your position take on a different hue. You either accept my default explanation, with which you probably disagree, or you present a counter-argument. The current, and increasingly unconvincing mainstream narrative on differences in racial outcomes demands a counter-explanation rooted in something other than absolute sin on the hand, and absolute self-righteousness on the other.

Furthermore, the now current mainstream narrative justifies all manner of government intrusion into the practices and lives of its citizens and institutions, and it is therefore easily understandable, though hardly desirable, that government agencies and individuals favor the institutionalization of a point of view consistent with the expansion of their powers. Again, equality of outcome as a social pursuit is utterly incompatible with freedom.

The final point is that we are frequently told that someone is to blame for the inequalities of outcome between blacks and others, and that, if we make reference to differences in IQ (by the way, the African-American IQ, at 85, is substantially higher than the African IQ) then we are, in effect, blaming blacks for their own lack of success. I disagree, in a couple of different ways. First, people want different things from life, and more importantly, are willing to make different sacrifices to pursue what they want in life. We probably really can't know how satisfied or dissatisfied a given person is with his or her "success." For example, lots of people, and I am one of them, are constitutionally incapable over the long haul of a career of sitting in a cubicle all day and interacting with a computer. I know this because I used to do this, and though I started out well enough (the intrigue of the unfamiliar) the people who eventually fired me from this job would attest to my long-term unsuitability for this work.

I was, from an intellectual standpoint, able to do the work, but I was, from a temperamental standpoint, unwilling or unable to pay the necessary price in boredom to do the work. It was best for all concerned that I drifted into something else. In other words, not everybody really wants to be a Microserf with a heavily g- loaded job. (I wasn't a Microserf, by the way, though my job had a certain meager intellectual cachet, I guess, if you'd never actually done it.)

At this same workplace, I often chatted with a black colleague who worked in the Accounting department. Though she had attained a position of considerable professional responsibility, and would have, I guess, fallen very much at the higher end of intelligence and accomplishment for African Americans, it's safe to say that she hated the place at least as much as I did.

With regard to the question of who is to blame, no one deserves credit or blame for the IQ they have. A lower-than-average IQ is not the result of laziness, and I suppose it goes without saying that we have all known people of below average intelligence who have put together admirable and satisfying lives and who contribute to the lives of others, and we've all known people of high intelligence who've manage to piss away the opportunities that this wholly-unearned biological gift has bestowed upon them. There's no reason here to go into the hows and whys of all of this, though it is interesting to speculate. Suffice it to say that an IQ score in isolation doesn't really dictate the course of one's life. Honesty, however, compels us to admit that while intelligence alone is not a sufficient condition for all that much, it is, for a great many pursuits and employments, a necessary one. This is reality.

Our attempts to grapple with this reality, particularly in the area of race, have produced outcomes both tragic and humorous. First, to the tragic, I would again encourage readers of this site to look at this article which chronicles the downfall of a University of Illinois professor of public policy, Stuart Nagel, who in class one day observed that "black businesses in Kenya were uncompetitive against Indian-run enterprises since blacks were too generous in granting credit to friends and family." Nagel had been a consultant to the government of Kenya on methods to improve business training for black Kenyans, and his comment was based upon this experience. Though he in no way touched upon the issue of intelligence among Africans, so inflamed are our sensitivities on matters of race, and so timid are our educational establishments in supporting anything approaching open inquiry and discussion, that Nagel was, rather ritualistically, I believe, sacrificed to the gods of political correctness.

Perhaps failing to see the absurdity of the whole proceeding - or seeing it all to clearly - Stuart Nagel soon thereafter committed suicide. No one who has even the slightest regard for the ostensible function of the university in our society can fail to be chilled by this episode, though evidently, a great many people working and learning in universities would simply prefer not to think about it.

For those who can - without resort to suicide - see the absurdity in such a witch hunt, and who can further see the absurd lengths to which advocates of "the default explanation" now go in elucidating differing racial outcomes, the following conversation between Garrett Morris and Julian Bond may prove entertaining, particularly if you are familiar with the relative skin tone of the two participants:

Garrett Morris: Good evening, and welcome to "Black Perspective". I'm your host, Garrett Morris. Tonight our guest is Mr. Julian Bond, and we'll be talking about the myths surrounding black I.Q. Specifically, the myth that whites are inherently more intelligent than blacks.

Julian Bond: Good evening, Garrett.

Garrett Morris: Now, Julian, perhaps you could explain something to me. In all these studies comparing black I.Q. to white I.Q., what kind of test is used to measure I.Q.'s in the first place?

Julian Bond: Well, this is the major problem with these studies. The measurements of I.Q. which form the basis of comparison come from tests composed by whites for whites. The tests are culturally biased; it's not surprising that whites would score better than blacks.

Garrett Morris: Could you give us an example of what you're talking about?

Julian Bond: Certainly. Here are some questions that have appeared on recent I.Q. tests. Number one: "You have been invited over for cocktails by the officer of your trust fund. Cocktails begin at 4:30, but you must make an appearance at a 6:00 formal dinner at the Yacht Club. What do you do about dress?
A. Wear your blue-striped seersucker suit to cocktails and change into your tuxedo in the bathroom, apologizing to your host for the inconvenience.
B. Wear your tuxedo to cocktails, apologizing to your host for wearing a dinner jacket before 6:00 PM.
C. Walk to the subway at Columbus Circle and take the "A" Train uptown."

Garrett Morris: Uh.. I guess I'd choose the last one.

Julian Bond: I'm sorry, that's incorrect.

Garrett Morris: Damn.

Julian Bond: Here's another: "When waxing your skis for a cross-country run, you should..."

Garrett Morris: [ interrupting ] Well, I think I understand the problem with the tests. But the fact is that people have been saying that white people are smarter than black for hundreds of years. We've only had I.Q. tests for 20 or 30 years. How did the idea of white intellectual superiority originate?

Julian Bond: That's an interesting point. My theory is that it's based on the fact that light-skinned blacks are smarter than dark-skinned blacks.

Garrett Morris: [ not sure he heard that right ] Say what?

Julian Bond: I said I think it might have grown out of the observation that light-skinned blacks are smarter than dark-skinned blacks.

Garrett Morris: I don't get it.

Julian Bond: It's got nothing to do with having white blood. It's just that descendants of the lighter-skinned African tribes are more intelligent than the descendants of the darker-skinned tribes. Everybody knows that.

Garrett Morris: This is the first time I've heard of it.

Julian Bond: Seriously? It was proven a long time ago.

Garrett Morris: Well, I still don't quite understand. We're out of time right now, but perhaps you could come back on the show again and explain it further.

Julian Bond: There's very little to explain - it's just like I told you.

Garrett Morris: Well, we are out of time. Good night. [ to Julian ] If you could repeat it just once more..

[ logo up: "Black Perspective ]

[ fade ]

Those interested in this topic might wish to take a look at further information and/or discussions at the following locations:

The specter of difference: what science is uncovering, we will have to come to grips with, by John Derbyshire

Gene Expression

Unqualified Reservations

Half Sigma

Steve Sailer

And my own previous posts:

The Code of Silence

No Child Left Behind: Two Views

You might also want to take a look at this piece about what now consititutes "freshman orientation" at some American universities, and why you might not want to subject your kids to life in dorm:

"Students who agreed with ResLife’s views on “diversity, homosexual rights (and more subtly, politics)” were hired as RAs, writes Dan Lenker, a former RA, on SayAnything. Then RAs were trained in how to pressure students to accept the program’s “unarguable dogma,” such as the fact that “racist” applies to all whites in the U.S. “regardless of class, gender, religion, culture or sexuality.” Over time, “ridiculous and poorly designed” programs became “more belligerent” in pushing students to accept the approved beliefs, Lenker writes. While older students realized they could skip dorm meetings, “gullible” freshman believed RAs who said they had to participate."

Sunday, October 14, 2007

What I've Been Reading

Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq
by Thomas E. Ricks

note: The link to the title above includes a short interview with Ricks.

Jacket Blurb:
"Drawing on the exclusive cooperation of an extraordinary number of American military personnel, including more than one hundred senior officers, and access to more than thirty thousand pages of official documents, many of them never before made public, Thomas E. Ricks has written the definitive account - explosive, shocking, and authoritative - of the American military's tragic experience in Iraq."

Well-written and researched, and well worth the time if you're interested in understanding something substantive about the administration's failures in Iraq. Some - but not a great deal of - information about why the US invaded. Perhaps the "whys" are currently beyond the conclusive reach of any journalist.

Despite Ricks' talents and thoroughness, about a third of a way through the book (439 pages) monotony sets in. It's difficult to read about an endless string of arrogant blunders without becoming first incredulous, then angered, then irritated, and finally bored.

Last week, I made the mistake of watching fragments of the Atlanta Falcons v. Tennessee Titans football game. Joey Harrington, after throwing an interception returned for a touchdown, was replaced by Byron Leftwich, whose play only made clear why the Falcons had been starting Harrington to begin with. At one point, the Falcons had the ball, first and goal on the Titans' one yard line, from which point they repeatedly failed to score.

Reading this book is something like watching that first-and-goal series re-run in endless variation over the entirety of a three hour game. After a while, you're frustration sort of melts into contempt and indifference, leaving aside the absurdity of the whole undertaking. It 's not easy to read about people repeatedly fucking up over 439 pages.

David Petraeus comes off quite well in Ricks' estimation, probably better than anybody else associated with the US effort in Iraq. People like Rumsfeld, Brimmer, Gen. Odierno, and Gen. Sanchez (who recently called Iraq "a nightmare with no end in sight") don't, but then again, you wouldn't expect them to. Bush is strangely absent from most of the proceedings. I guess he just set the wheels in motion and then moved on to the crafting of other disasters. After all, the guy's only got eight years.


"What the hearing would be most remembered for was Wolfowitz's own attack - on the American press corps in Baghdad. There was a lot of good news to report, he insisted, but the reporters were too cowardly to get out there and cover it.

Gen. Meyers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, insisted that 'great progress' was being made in Iraq. 'I think we're on the brink of success' he told the House Armed Services Committee.

Several months later, Gen Myers stepped down as chairman of the Joint Chiefs. In September, 2005, on his final day of Congressional testimony in that position, Sen John McCain questioned Myers's record of rosy assessments. 'Things have not gone as well as we planned or expected, nor as we were told by you, Gen. Myers,' the Arizona Republican said.

Myers responded that he had never been all that positive about the situation. 'I don't think that this committee or the American public has ever heard me say that things are going very well in Iraq,' he said, inexplicably."

Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush
by Robert Draper

Jacket Blurb:
"In this ambitious work of political narrative, Robert Draper takes us inside the Bush White House and delivers an intimate portrait of a tumultuous decade and a beleaguered administration. Virtually every page on this book crackles with scenes, anecdotes, and dialogue that will surprise even long-time observers of George W. Bush."

Lo these many years, I've developed a mild forensic curiosity as to the mind and manner of George W. Bush. My investment in this book represents an attempt to slake that curiosity, not that I believe that I'll ever fully "understand" or even wish to "understand" our president. Still, one can't help but wonder what cognitive mechanisms lie behind the dopey smile and peevish pout, which seem to be the two alternate extremes of the president's expressive range.

This book thus far has only strengthened my suspicion that Bush is pretty much the man he appears to be on TV, whatever you think that man is. Is Bush a verbal dyslexic with ADD, or a crafty politico working the system? Or is he just an unexceptional man with peerless ancestral Rolodex and a certain feral instinct for political combat?

In my opinion, watch the guy on TV, and if that's your idea of an intelligent or savvy or Machiavellian statesman, then I guess, for you, that's what he is. If he appears to be stumbling his way through endless verbal gaffes as he estranges everyone still sentient enough to realize that we're all (excluding of course the president and his circle of similarly situated worthies) going to wind up paying for these crimes and blunders someday, then for you, that's what he is. Nothing I've encountered in this book so far (I'm only on page 87) would contradict this conclusion.

There's some interesting and illuminating stuff here, but Draper's attempts at "colorful" writing are a constant distraction. He leans heavily on the adjectives, struggles with his metaphors (sometimes mixing them), and generally employs a prose style suggesting in its laborious "cleverness" that even he believes the revelations of his story, aren't - on their own - nearly enough to keep someone awake and reading on a weekday night. The book begins: "The motorcade lurched to life just after seven on the morning of Monday, June 14, 1999. Like an ungainly serpent, it negotiated its bulk through the studied quaintness of Kennebunkport, Maine, clogging the narrow artery of Route 9."

Or we might just say that the Bush motorcade made its way through the narrow streets of Kennebunkport.

Draper's "imaginatively-encumbered" prose style is a shame, because he did get Bush and his handlers to talk to him, and the portrait of the president that emerges (or is emerging, remember I'm still early into the book) is well worth the reading. I just wish Draper could have remembered that the title of his book is not, Painting Pictures with Words!


George W., speaking about his father:
"He knows as an ex-president, he doesn't have nearly the amount of knowledge that I've got on current things. I mean, I get briefed every day, twice a day sometimes. He knows that. And plus, once the president gets a strategy in mind - I mean, there's no need to argue about the Freedom Agenda! I'm sure he subscribes to a lot of it. Now, the rumors are that he and his people don't. But I don't necessarily think it's true. But look, you can't talk me out of thinking that freedom's a good thing!"

Draper on Bush campaigning for the New Hampshire primary in 1999, which Bush lost to John McCain:
"The local staff said he needed to do radio shows. During one call-in program, on a Keene station, a fellow grilled Bush on abortion. The governor recited his pro-life stance. The next caller grilled him further. 'I've said all I'm going to say on that,' Bush pushed back, 'my position's clear. I'd like to talk about education, some of the other things we've done in Texas . . . '
But because the press had been all over Bush about abortion and whether he would apply a Roe v. Wade litmus test to judicial nominees, the radio grilling continued, and Bush was unable to get back on message. In frustration, the governor flung the phone at a local aide. 'You got any more bright ideas, smart guy,' the governor snapped."

To which one wishes the aide had replied, "Yeah, I'm going to go work for McCain."

Draper on Bush's victory in the South Carolina primary:
"South Carolina had earned its reputation as a firewall that immolated underdogs."

Do firewalls immo- . . . ? Oh well, never mind.

Draper on Bush's spiritual anointing from his presidential predecessors:
"The White House could be a creepy place. . . On this particular evening, Poppy and Bar were away for the evening. For the first time ever in his life, Bush had the run of the White House. . . . The usher had turned out most of the lights. Bush took a few strides down the hallway and found his steps slowing. At the entryway to the Lincoln bedroom, he froze. Something? No. Nothing? No.
Ghosts. He saw ghosts - coming out of the walls!
Or were they portraits?
Or ghosts coming out of the portraits?
Rubber-legged, he retreated to his bedroom and shut the door.

When he told that story later to an acquaintance in 1992, George W. Bush had neither the ambition nor the wherewithal to be the future inhabitant of the White House. For the most part, he possessed a normal man's sensibilities and a normal man's resume. The ghosts in the Lincoln bedroom Bush took as further proof of Washington's inhospitability to normal life."

What is one to make of Bush's ghostly White House vision? That the president is:

a) the first ex-drunk in the history alcoholic recovery to have undergone D.T.s five years after laying down the bottle.
b) clinically delusional and in need of psychiatric care
c) so full of shit his eyes have turned brown
d) all of the above

The Camp of the Saints
by Jean Raspail

Jacket Blurb:
"This is an apocalyptic novel, a philosophical dissection of the erosion of Western civilization . . . . Rich and varied (and often discomforting) imagery, symbolism, and points of view amplify the theme, relating it to such 'lessons of the past' as the Book of Revelation, Paradise Lost, and the fall of the Byzantine Empire. This book will succeed in shocking the complacent, contemporary mind."

If you're going to write a tract, write a tract. If you're going to write a novel, write a novel.


"Then, after a while, there were too many poor. Altogether too many. Folk you didn't even know. Not even from here. Just nameless people. Swarming all over. And so terribly clever! Spreading through cities, and houses, and homes. Worming their way by the thousands, and in thousands of foolproof ways. Through the slits in your mailboxes, begging for help, with their frightful pictures bursting from envelopes day after day, claiming their due in the name of some organization or other. Slithering in. Through newspapers, radio, churches, through this faction or that, until they were all around you, wherever you looked. Whole countries full, bristling with poignant appeals, pleas that seemed more like threats, and not begging now for linen, but for checks to their account. And in time it got worse. Soon you saw them on television, hordes of them, churning up, dying by the thousands, and nameless butchery became a feature, a continuous show, with its masters of ceremony and its full-time hucksters. The poor had overrun the earth."

"To appreciate the West's opinion of the refugee fleet - or, for that matter, of anything new and unfamiliar - one essential fact must be borne in mind: it really couldn't give less of a damn. Incredible, but true. the more it discovers about such things, the more fathomless its ignorance, feeble its interest, and vulgar its own self-concern. The more crass and tasteless too, its sporadic outbursts, fewer and farther between. Oh yes, to be sure, it indulges in flights of sentiment now and again, but cinema style, like watching a film, or sitting in front of a TV screen, poised for the serial's weekly installment. Always those spur-of-the-moment emotions or secondhand feelings, pandered by middlemen. Real-world drama, served in the comfort of home by that whore called Mass Media, only stirs up the void where Western opinion has long been submerged. Someone drools at a current event, and mistakes his drivel for meaningful thought. Still, let's not be too quick to spit our scorn its way."

No, one wouldn't want to be hasty.

Venice, Frail Barrier: Portrait of a Disappearing City
by Richard de Combray

Jacket Blurb:
"Venice: 'The last complete artifact of a time when profit was translated into grace.' Now this beautiful and unique city is quietly disintegrating, and its poignant story is told in this remarkable volume. Cheerful, colorful, lively paintings - never before reproduced - by the previously unknown eighteenth century artist Gabriella Bella are juxtaposed against the somber and melancholy reality of the contemporary city as photographed by the author."

I'm not so much reading this book as reliving it. This book has been out of print for some time, but I made use of an Amazon gift certificate to acquire a secondhand copy.

When I was a kid in the 70s, I used to ride my bike up to the library, or pester my mom into giving me a lift there. Wandering the stacks, I coped as best I could with what I was then only dimly sensing would be an inescapable aspect of my looming adulthood. That is, of course, the boredom we can only sporadically evade, no matter how far we run, nor how many guises we adopt.

This is one of the books I happened across in that public library, and which I checked out so often and so frequently that I probably should have just gone ahead and stolen it. In my adolescent gloom and reverie, Venice, Frail Barrier and a tattered copy of National Geographic together supplied me with the necessary photographic and prose material to concoct a fantasy that routinely eclipsed in its insubstantial appeal everything actually going on at that moment in my real life. This fantasy was simply that my family had relocated to Venice as a result of my father having taken up architectural consulting work there (unlikely, to put it mildly), and I was thus coming of age surrounded not by stacks of books in a public library, but rather among the labyrinthine waters and mossy stones of The Most Serene Republic.

Pathetic, you may say, that a (seemingly) normal suburban lad would idle away his time spinning Venetian fantasies like some androgyne out of Thomas Mann. Yeah, well, fuck you. You had your back issues of Rolling Stone and your Aerosmith albums, and I had my Venice, Frail Barrier and my National Geographic.

My adolescence, like yours, was - if anything - too comfortable and secure. Sadly, comfort and security don't always suffice. Richard de Combray's enchanting book held out, to my uneasy, fifteen-year-old self, the possibility of something more.


"How slowly the gondola reaches you, with barely a sound. Another passenger appears from the shadows, steps on board, and steadies himself against your shoulder as the gondola rocks, turns, heads across the Grand Canal, across water now as black as the boat itself. The methodical slicing of the oar to tug you forward is a comfort. And there, just ahead, is Byzantium. No person, no one generation could have conceived of it; nothing matches, everything leans, the elements of accident and imperfection characterize it as they do every masterpiece."

"The men who collect the garbage go about their business cheerfully enough. So knowledgeable are they about the rudiments of the city that when there is an empty apartment available - if such a phenomenon occurs - they are the first to know. When they do their work, there is no hurl and clatter, no defiantly leftover debris as there is on the streets of New York. Theirs is a job, not a mischance of justice."

"Not long ago, during the course of a Venetian winter afternoon tea, I watched at Florian's two ex-monarchs, heavily furred, mother and daughter: the one briefly Queen of Greece and the other, the ex-Queen of Yugoslavia. They gossiped with mild animation next to beautifully dressed young French couple, either just married or its equivalent who could not cease caressing each other's hands long enough to hold their teacups. Outside, it was snowing, and across the Piazza a gaunt Christmas tree, with an archaic system of pulleys, was gradually assuming a perpendicular position. The harmony was of such perfection, so timeless, that when a newsboy came in thrusting the latest headline into the air, everyone jumped.
The waiters at Florian's do not smile. They set down their trays as efficiently as nurses, the little chit tucked discreetly underneath the crystal water carafe. It is a place that has often given me an intense, graceful pleasure."

"Gradually, the seams of how you behave in your society give way. The concern over where you have been, what you have done and what you are now doing lifts. These things are of no interest here. You think of the monologues endured at smart gatherings in other cities, the opinions aired, the inside information accumulated, the climb to the summit and the ultimate conquest, like the planting of the flag at Iwo Jima, of the most clever, the best-informed, the most stylish persons at that gathering to claim as their personal triumph. Here, you are asked to recount an excursion to Burano.
On your way home, you find yourself nodding to acquaintances, stopping to chat, wondering idly whether it would be possible to erase the tape of your life and start over again, knowing all the while that you have a return ticket to somewhere in your bureau."

I've been to Venice twice, once alone and once with my wife and daughter. I know about the hordes, and the prices, and the mediocre food, and the stage set atmosphere. I watched with mounting distaste from a restaurant booth as drunken divorcee from Texas embarrassed her teenage son into a besieged silence - much like a scene from a John Cheever story - before she absentmindedly, or perhaps intentionally, walked out on the dinner bill.

I've checked my email in an internet cafe overlooking a murky canal, and listened to the orchestras play into the chill September night at the Piazza San Marco. On my last trip there, my wife and I encountered an enormous ship tied up near the Doge's Palace, which we took to be a marine research vessel and only months later learned, while watching Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, was actually Paul Allen's 416 foot personal yacht, Octopus.

I realize that Venice is today less a city than a cross between a museum and a water park, and that it embodies in its bridges and its stones a tragic dissolution that Jean Raspail can only thinly, though apocalyptically, allude to in his "The Camp of the Saints." I know that, other than in vestigial and purely commercial terms, Venice stands nearly purposeless in the modern world. But I also know that, well after sunset, sitting near the back of the vaporetto as it follows the turnings of the Grand Canal through an improbable spectacle of darkness and water and light, you may, at that moment, recognize yourself for what you are, a transient witness to the most exquisite artifact ever fashioned by man.

Friday, October 12, 2007

"Just Trust Us"

Hugh Hewitt: I’m going to be talking with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff after the break. Just in anticipation of that, do you think they’ve turned around public distrust of their handling of Border issues yet in the Bush administration?

Mark Steyn: I think they’re in a kind of difficult mess here, because on the one hand, they’re trying to argue that we need a kind of national security, orange alert war on terror state, and at the same time, they’re saying well, there’s nothing we can do about itinerant peasants breaching our Southern Border. Essentially, those two arguments are incompatible. One may be correct. The other may be correct. But they can’t both be right, and I think that’s the problem for Homeland Security, that you can’t be on orange alert and then just say well, 30 million people can penetrate the Border, and there’s nothing we can do about it.

"I think the American people — I hope the American — I don't think, let me — I hope the American people trust me."
—George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., Dec. 18, 2002

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Code of Silence

A while ago, Patrick Deneen had on his blog, What I saw in America, a post contrasting the upcoming appearance of Ahmadinejad at Columbia with the retracted invitation of former Harvard president Larry Summers to speak at the University of California, Davis. Deneen's post deserves to be read in full, but the crux of his point is made here: "It's pretty evident that Summers stated the one unspeakable thing; it's evidently more acceptable on today's campuses to raise questions about the Holocaust than over the equality of the genders."

While I'm not particularly animated about the Ahmadinejad issue (I'm not sure that it much matters), I've always got something to say about Larry Summers. And so I launched forth, into a lengthy comment, and then into an even longer response to sombody else's comment. Finally, I concluded that rather than take up more and more space on Patrick Deneen's blog, I should probably write about this topic on my own. And then of course, I got lazy or distracted, and wrote about something else, such as a swastika-shaped naval barracks. But now I'm back on track!

Rather than start over on this topic from scratch (the laziness factor again), I've copied my comments from What I Saw in America, and I'll probably clean them up a bit along the way.

My first comment to Deneen's post:

The speech which originally landed Summers in such trouble, and which is available in full on the internet, was in subsequent media coverage often sloppily summarized, probably through a combination of moral outrage, sheer laziness, and journalistic incompetence (i.e. difficulty in following Summers' argument) An example of such sloppiness may be found here, in which the article concludes, "Two years ago, Lawrence Summers, the president of Harvard University, was forced to resign after suggesting that women were naturally bad at sciences."

In fact, Summers never claimed that women were "naturally bad at sciences." He cited research results which indicate that in tests of mathematical and scientific ability, men are disproportionately represented at both the high AND low extremes, whereas female test results cluster closer to the mean. The point he was trying to make is that, since math, science, and engineering professors at elite universities are drawn from a pool of individuals three or perhaps even four standard deviations above the mean, they are necessarily drawn from a very disproportionately male population.

If I may quote a crucial paragraph from Summers' speech:

"There are three broad hypotheses about the sources of the very substantial disparities that this conference's papers document and have been documented before with respect to the presence of women in high-end scientific professions. One is what I would call the . . . high-powered job hypothesis. The second is what I would call different availability of aptitude at the high end, and the third is what I would call different socialization and patterns of discrimination in a search. And in my own view, their importance probably ranks in exactly the order that I just described."

The point which I wish to make here is that Summers' observations do in fact pose a greater threat to contemporary orthodoxies than do the opinions of Ahmadinejad.

Note that of the three factors which might explain the disparity between men and women in the sciences, Summers gave greatest weight to the obstacle of family obligations. And yet this was not the point which drew fire against him.

The greater female commitment to child-rearing might of course be explained by social conditioning, and even if this is biological, it in a sense speaks to greater communal responsibility on the part of women, in other words, it points to a virtue. Thus, this wasn't really the point of contention.

It was Summers' analyses of the second and third causes that led to his downfall. In effect, he was arguing that biological differences play a greater role than patterns of discrimination in explaining this disparity. A mighty dangerous thing to say.

The most disturbing aspect of this claim - from the orthodox point of view - is the growing body of scientific evidence which supports it.

Pope Urban VIII was not pleased to hear Galileo's arguments that the Earth was in orbit around the sun. The fact that there was rational evidence to support this claim made those arguments more, not less, problematic.

Ahmadinejad only poses a threat equivalent to that of Summers if he can bring to bear persuasive evidence that the Holocaust is a Jewish or a Western fraud, and very few academics believe that he can. Summers, on the other hand, had to be silenced because his opponents knew how dangerous it was to allow this line of inquiry to continue.

Investigation into the role of brain physiology and its effect on identity, behavior, and aptitude is going to do to the 21st century what the theory of evolution did to the 20th. The results will rock a great many boats, and not everyone will handle these results humanely, wisely, or well.

The Summers affair is, more or less, our era's Scopes Monkey Trial. Only in this case, the academics are defending the biblical version of creation.

September 22, 2007 8:13 AM

Anonymous said...

Summer's fall was only peripherally related to the speech. It provided ammunition for a long list of grievances. Always helpful to keep that in mind when speculating on the implications of his defeat at Harvard. Now, the UC Board of Regents seems to be another kettle of fish entirely.

September 22, 2007 9:15 PM

Black Sea said...

From what I've read, there were people at Harvard who didn't like Summers style and were looking for reasons to take him down.

A fair enough point, but this hardly explains the vitriolic attempt, national rather than local in scope, to discredit Summers as a public intellectual. Nor does it explain why Summers comments would so quickly be taken up by his intra-Harvard opponents as effective ammunition in their battle against him.

These people understood immediately that such comments were the weapon they had been waiting for, because they understood the broader intellectual and cultural climate. Not surprising, since they're the ones who help shape it.

That Summers' comments not only undid him at Harvard but triggered more widespread condemnation says something about contemporary culture that we should not lightly dismiss.

Furthermore, the recent events at UC Davis only confirm that it is his comments, rather than his allegedly abrasive personal style, that continue to cause Summers trouble. People want to censure the guy because they are deeply disturbed by what he said. He said something that educated, right-thinking people are taught from childhood neither to think nor to say. That empirical evidence may confirm his comments only makes them that much more more disturbing.

Summers may have lacked the necessary political instincts and social graces to be a well-liked, or even an effective, university president. Maybe he's all the obnoxious things that his critics claim. But in an atmosphere of timid conformity to the intellectual pieties or our time, he presented a well-considered analysis of the disparate numbers of men and women at the highest levels of science and engineering, all the while making clear that the questions he had raised merited further research:

"Let me just conclude by saying that I've given you my best guesses after a fair amount of reading the literature and a lot of talking to people. They may be all wrong. I will have served my purpose if I have provoked thought on this question and provoked the marshalling of evidence to contradict what I have said."

Evidently, "thought on this question" was not what the attendees at NBER Conference on Diversifying the Science & Engineering Workforce were keen on pursuing. Rather than the marshalling of evidence to contradict Summers' admittedly provisional claims, it proved more efficacious to simply force his resignation as president of Harvard.

Finally, lest readers come away from this exchange with the idea that these issues constitute yet one more inconsequential academic dispute, I will link to an article that I first discovered on Unqualified Reservations.

For anyone concerned about the fate of open inquiry, or indeed, of any inquiry, on university campuses, it will prove chilling, though instructive, reading.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Fascism Follows Function . . .

Or, further proof, as if any were needed, that we've become a nation of narcissistic brats:

I think both Woody Allen and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could get some mileage out of this one. From today's New York Times:

The Navy plans to spend $600,000 for “camouflage” landscaping and rooftop adjustments so that 1960s-era barracks at the Naval Base Coronado near San Diego will no longer look like a Nazi swastika from the air.

The resemblance went unnoticed by the public for decades until it was spotted in aerial views on Google Earth.

But Navy officials said they became aware of it shortly after the 1967 groundbreaking, and had decided not to do anything.

“There was no reason to redo the buildings because they were in use,” a spokeswoman for the base, Angelic Dolan, said. She added that the buildings were in a no-fly zone that is off limits to commercial airlines, so most people would not see them from the air.

“You have to realize back in the ’60s we did not have the Internet,” Ms. Dolan said. “We don’t want to offend anyone, and we don’t want to be associated with the symbol.”

The Anti-Defamation League in San Diego has objected to the shape of the buildings.

“We told the Navy this was an incredibly inappropriate shape for a structure on a military installation,” said Morris S. Casuto, regional director of the organization. He added, however, that his group “never ascribed evil intent to the structures’ design.”

Mr. Casuto praised the Navy for recognizing the problem and “doing the right thing.”

Actually, the right thing for the Navy to do would have been to respond to the Anti-Defamation League's complaints with the old Arab saying: "Go fuck yourself, by yourself."

If such response were deemed insensitive, then the Anti-Defamation League could alternatively have been told that, since they found the shape of the building so objectionable, they were welcome to cover the cost of any "'camouflage' landscaping and rooftop alterations" from their own budget. Although this reply might have been judged more offensive still.

While we're altering government architecture to appease everyone's rice-paper sensibilities, I've got a few more candidates:

In our nation's capital, there's this a well-known military facility in the shape of pentagon. In case you didn't know it, a pentagon is a type of pentagram, a shape long associated with Satan worship.

This loaded geometrical symbolism might well explain why this structure was attacked by a cadre of suicidal religious fanatics six years ago. Reason suggests that they found this "an incredibly inappropriate shape for a structure on a military installation," although some will argue that, to the contrary, they considered it an incredibly appropriate shape. In any event, it's provocative and needs to be changed.

We've also got, again in our nation's capital, this weird, obelisk-shaped structure honoring our first president. According to Wikipedia, "Obelisks were a prominent part of the architecture of the ancient Egyptians, who placed them in pairs at the entrance of temples. . . . The obelisk symbolized the sun god Ra and during the brief religious reformation of Akhenaten was said to be a petrified ray of the aten, the sundisk. It was also thought that the god existed within the structure."

I'm sorry, but we can't have the American people inadvertently worshipping the sun god Ra, so this thing is going to have to be torn down or converted to a more appropriate use, such as an airship mooring point or something.

Now that I think about it, Washington D.C. is veritably dotted with these Greco-Roman temple-like buildings meant to honor various presidents from our nation's history. Greek and Roman temples were bastions of pagan worship, and we are by no means a pagan people. What's worse, both the ancient Greeks and Romans practiced slavery, and surely this ignoble act of oppression seals the deal. These monuments must come down, or again, undergo conversion to more appropriate uses, such as astronomical observatories, surround-sound theaters, or grandiose fried chicken shacks.

But what really puzzles me in all of this is, what is it about the California sunshine that so infantilizes the imagination of its Jewish residents that they take offense over a naval barracks which bears an accidental resemblance to a swastika only when viewed from the air? And what does it say about the moral anxiety of a nation that it shells out $600,000 rather than simply telling them to grow up?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

An American Dream

Not that many foreigners "get" America in all its hog-stomping glory. I've never quite known what Tom Wolfe meant by "hog-stomping," but I suppose he meant it in the best possible sense.

They (foreigners) satirize our swagger, denigrate our caloric cuisine, and rail against our foreign policy. By "foreign policy" I mean our penchant for involving ourselves in other people's wars when it suits our interests. By "our interests" I mean the interests of people whose offspring will never run the slightest risk of being maimed, disfigured, or killed in such involvements.

But most of all, they (foreigners) dread our military policy. By "military policy" I mean our penchant for instigating wars when it suits our interests. By "our interests" I mean the interests of those who. . . .

But hey, some foreigners do get it. Sarkozy (energetically), Schwarzenegger (glandularly), John Derbyshire (indisputably), Bernard-Henri Levy (sort of, maybe) Chris Hitchens (alcoholically). Well, you can add one more luminary to the list:

“America is not only for the whites , but it is for all. Who is the America? The American is you, me and that. When we go to America we will become Americans and there is no a race or nationalism called America and the Americans are those Africans, Indians, Chinese, and Europeans and whoever goes to America will become American . . . . American is for all of us and the whole world had made and created America. All the people all over the world had made America and it shall accordingly be for all of us. I will never feel ashamed when I claim for my right in America and it will not be strange when I raise my voice in America.”

- Col. Moammar Gadhafi

I ran across this quotation in a comment made by a person called "Carter" on Daniel Larison's blog, Eunomia. My thanks to them both.

P.S. You just can't make this stuff up.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The International Language?

I'm sick of reading, writing, and thinking about Iraq. Tragic sacrifice and manly grief I can handle (vicariously, of course) but this blood-splattered farce . . .?

Moving on to gentler themes, what about music? Does it really serve as an international language, or is it just another impenetrable barrier between cultures?

Years ago, I knew and occasionally socialized with a group of Eastern European students, most of whom were aficionados of classical music, and one of whom was a commercially-recorded cellist. I would listen rather disinterestedly as they lamented the superficiality of American popular music and our continent-wide ignorance of the great classical tradition. And I did, in some measure, agree. Why bother to dispute the claim that contemporary popular music, which is essentially American popular music, constitutes an uncanny mechanism for profiting from the continuous recalibration of humanity's lowest-common denominator?

I did, however, point out to these would-be elitists that not all of American music could so easily be dismissed. To which they readily agreed. There was no denying that American music, though often abysmal, occasionally attained a certain poignant grace. Who, after all, could deny the sublime fusing of lyric and melody achieved in the works of that American tour de force known as . . . Metallica?


That's right. The one towering exception to the wasteland of musical mediocrity surrounding us was Metallica. Whose soul was so shallow that he could not feel his own torments given voice in the deep, interior longings of "The Unforgiven"? Could one ever say enough about the group that had produced such masterful albums as "Kill 'Em All" (originally titled "Metal Up You Ass"), "Ride the Lightning," and the one which my Eastern European contacts most particularly prized, "Master of Puppets"?

Well, OK, this wasn't exactly what I had in mind* as I sought to point out that American music encompasses of a good bit more than the troubled pop princess pictured above, but, let it stand. Perhaps they had heard something in James Hetfield's dark musings that escaped me. Indigenous American poetry, if you will:

They dedicate their lives
To running all of his
He tries to please them all
This bitter man he is

Throughout his life the same
He's battled constantly
This fight he cannot win
A tired man they see no longer cares
The old man then prepares
To die regretfully
That old man here is me

What I've felt
What I've known
Never shined through in what I've shown
Never be
Never see
Won't see what might have been

What I've felt
What I've known
Never shined through in what I've shown
Never free
Never me
So I dub thee “Unforgiven”

Well, if you've ever hung around Eastern Europeans, the affinity isn't a complete surprise.

But of course, there is more. I used to know some Turkish students who could for hours entertain their guests by performing soulful Turkish folk songs on the guitar and baglama. But, the singing couldn't go on forever, and as the evening wore down, we gave ourselves over to the eating of sweets and the drinking of tea, accompanied, invariably, by the dulcet tones of Whitney Houston reverberating from the CD player. I mean, these guys didn't just love Whitney Houston's music, they loved, or imagined that they loved, Houston herself.

I will ask in passing, what is there in the Islamic soul that finds itself so fatefully drawn to Whitney? Is it the chirpy, teeny-bopper innocence, or the lonely struggle with the crack pipe? I've never known. And as you may have read, Osama Bin Laden himself has quite a thing for Whitney. He's quipped to at least one of his wives that he might have to one day arrange for Bobby Brown's "removal." No word as to Mrs. Bin Laden's reaction.

While living in Turkey, I developed a fondness for certain Turkish musicians. But sadly, and despite their indigenous following, they always turned out to be the "wrong" musicians, if you know what I mean.

The first of these would have to be Ibrahim Tatlises. Oh, I hardly knew the depth of the waters I was stepping into. We have no exact equivalent to Tatlises in America. He is perhaps best described as an amalgam of Frank Sinatra, Jerry Lee Lewis, Leadbelly, and 50 Cent.

Tatlises is either venerated or despised in Turkey, with few people taking an intermediate position. He sings in the Arabesque style, which, though it sounds nothing like blues music, plays the role of blues in Turkish culture. It is, to be blunt, considered declasse, and the lyrics are, unsurprisingly, about lost love, loneliness in the big city, and being done wrong in multitudinous ways, though with a decidedly Turkish twist.

My wife and I were once listening a Tatlises concert being broadcast live on TV. (One might more accurately say that I was subjecting her to it.) I asked her to translate some of the lyrics, which went roughly as follows:

When I die,
When I die
Bring her to my grave.
When I die,
When I die,
Bring her to my grave.
When I die,
When I die,
Bring her,
Dragging her by the hair,
To my grave
And show her what she's done to me.

At the sound of "dragging her by the hair," the crowd erupted. Oh, come on. It's only a song.

Since I would like to finish this post sometime before nightfall, I won't go into all of the reasons why Tatlises is considered by many a vulgar enthusiasm, but I can relate one. Tatlises has had in his many years a long string of semi-celebrity girlfriends, frequently singers and belly dancers. If (when) one of them has had enough of his "old-fashioned" approach to romance and attempts escape, he's been known to pull some underworld strings and have her shot in the foot, a well-known mafia punishment in Turkey. This form of retaliation (think of it as a sort of love letter) was once actually filmed by the Turkish paparazzi. Tatlises' former-lover, the renowned belly dancer Asena, had stepped from a car and was on her way into a nightclub, the flashbulbs popping, when a young man appeared from out of the frame and busted one in her ankle.

Oh, come on. It was only her ankle. Tatlises dismissed the whole incident by proclaiming "it's only over when I say it's over."

Anyway, when Tatlises appears on TV, which is frequently, my Turkish father-in-law typically changes the channel in disgust. He has a long list of reasons for disliking Tatlises. But I realized this only after I'd several times concluded my channel surfing by settling on Tatlises' well-mustachioed face. That's what I mean by the "wrong" sort of music.

Sample Tatlises for yourself. You may wind up agreeing that he does exude a certain Saddam Hussein-like charm. Here is the video of Aramam, which in Turkish means I Won't Call. No, he won't call, but that's no guarantee that he won't have you shot in the lower extremities.

Having learned of my error, I avoided Ibrahim Tatlises while in my father-in-law's presence, and moved on to what I though was a Turkish musical enthusiasm more in line with his tastes. This guy, Kivircik Ali, "Curly" Ali, was on TV almost as much as Tatlises, but with a lower profile and possessing a very different sense of style. I soon acquired an appreciation for this traditional baglama player with a plaintive voice, and I felt confident that my father-in-law would endorse this evolution in my aesthetic sensibility.

I remember once listening to a particular dirge by Kivircik Ali, and asking my wife (yet again) what was being sung. Without bothering to look up from her magazine, she replied indifferently, "Oh, something about 'when the angel of death comes to take you to your grave.'"

I was sold right there.

Only later did I learn that my passion for "Curly Ali" (I'm guessing it's a joke about the thiness on top) was again not quite right, rather like a foreign visitor to the America of my youth expressing an unseemly interest in the Dolly Parton show. Why, my in-laws wanted to know, did I want to watch this sort of thing? The consensus eventually arrived at was that I was - out of sheer politeness - feigning an interest in the local culture. This interpretation seemed to reslove the problem, and my wife never bothered to explain that I am not really that polite.

Just to round out my survey of Turkish music, I am including a video by Tarkan, sometimes referred to as the Turkish George Michael, with - so some claim - all which that implies. I'll offer no opinions there. Tarkan is probably the most commercially-successful Turkish pop star, achieving the benign OK-ness to which decent pop musicians aspire. He was really awful at the beginning of his career, and he still struggles with the dancing. He's no Curly Ali, but I won't try to explain that to my in-laws.

And finally, for those whose tastes lie further on the wild side, I am closing with the sinuous gyrations and unabashed lip-synching of Fatih Urek, whom I shall not endeavor to describe. I believe that Ibrahim Tatlises' expression early in the video clip says more than I possibly could.

*What I did have in mind was sharing with my Eastern European students something genuinely, even jarringly, American, a little like the atmosphere of a half-deserted coal town, its inhabitants slowly washing out of the valleys and on toward the West.

That feeling - if it is a feeling - is perhaps captured in songs such as this stark duet by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, "Time (The Revelator)." If you only bother to sample one song from this long-winded post, this would be the one.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

No End in Sight

I'm not much of a moviegoer. The last film I saw in a theater was the Tom Cruise warrior-epic, "The Last Samurai." I wasn't expecting much, and I got what I expected. There was some nice scenery.

However, today I decided to break from my own indolence and commemorate 9-11 by taking in a matinee showing of Charles Ferguson's documentary, "No End in Sight: The American Occupation of Iraq." After purchasing my ticket, I walked into a completely empty screening room. It was a matinee, after all.

The following synopsis of Ferguson's film is taken from its website:

The first film of its kind to chronicle the reasons behind Iraq’s descent into guerilla war, warlord rule, criminality and anarchy, NO END IN SIGHT is a jaw-dropping, insider’s tale of wholesale incompetence, recklessness and venality. Based on over 200 hours of footage, the film provides a candid retelling of the events following the fall of Baghdad in 2003 by high ranking officials such as former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, Ambassador Barbara Bodine (in charge of Baghdad during the Spring of 2003), Lawrence Wilkerson, former Chief of Staff to Colin Powell, and General Jay Garner (in charge of the occupation of Iraq through May 2003) as well as Iraqi civilians, American soldiers, and prominent analysts. NO END IN SIGHT examines the manner in which the principal errors of U.S. policy – the use of insufficient troop levels, allowing the looting of Baghdad, the purging of professionals from the Iraqi government, and the disbanding of the Iraqi military – largely created the insurgency and chaos that engulf Iraq today. How did a group of men with little or no military experience, knowledge of the Arab world or personal experience in Iraq come to make such flagrantly debilitating decisions? NO END IN SIGHT dissects the people, issues and facts behind the Bush Administration’s decisions and their consequences on the ground to provide a powerful look into how arrogance and ignorance turned a military victory into a seemingly endless and deepening nightmare of a war.

Most of this won't come as a shocking revelation at this point. George W. may be the last remaining person on Earth stubbornly unaware of the monumental bloodbath he has unleashed in Iraq. That he remains unaware can largely be attributed to his gift for ignoring unwelcome news, such as detailed intelligence documents that fail to buttress his "gut-instincts" on the war. Of course, I don't suppose we can call it a war, since major hostilities ceased in 2003.

A few teasers from the film:

The Chairman of the National Intelligence Council recalls that Bush dismissed his agency's Report on the State of the Insurgency in Iraq as mere guesswork. Bush's critique of the report was itself a matter of guesswork, since - according to the Chairman - Bush hadn't bothered to read the document. He hadn't bothered even to skim the report's one page Executive Summary. (see clip) Oddly, during this same period, the President found time for those endorphin-pumping mountain bike rides that seem to have so warped his judgement.

The decision to disband the Iraq Army was made from Washington in the space of about a week without any consultation of people on the ground in Iraq. As we know from the current debate, it is unclear whether or not the President was aware of this change of policy. The decision was made by people who, in the main, had never been to Iraq, and against the advice of just about everybody physically present there.

I recommend this film. It's always something of a comfort to see one's worst suspicions confirmed. I'm just sorry that there were so few of my fellow citizens there to share the experience. However, by the film's end, I was not entirely alone. When the lights came up, there was one other person in the theater. He rolled out of the room in a wheelchair. He looked to be in his late 50s or early 60s, and I couldn't help but wonder if he hadn't seen this story before.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Levant

"These countries were so small! One of the more marvelous atrocities of our time was the way in which the self-created problems of these countries, and their arrogant way of dealing with them, made them seem larger, like an angry child standing on its tiptoes. They were expensive to operate, too; they had vast armies; they indulged in loud and ridiculously long-winded denunciations of their neighbors. All this contributed to the illusion that they were massive. But no, they were tiny, irritating, shameless, and vindictive; and they occupied the world's attention way out of proportion to their size or importance. They had been magnified by lobbyists and busybody groups. Inflation was the theme here, and it was just another tactic for quarrelsome people to avoid making peace."
--Paul Theroux, The Pillars of Hercules

Thursday, August 9, 2007

A Firm Grasp of the Painfully Obvious

This is Michael Ignatieff.

His illustrious biography reads as follows:

Ignatieff is the son of Canadian diplomat George Ignatieff and Alison Grant, and the grandson of Count Paul Ignatieff, Minister of Education to Tsar Nicholas II and one of the few Tsarist ministers to have escaped execution by the Bolsheviks. His Canadian antecedents include his maternal great grandfather, George Monro Grant, the dynamic 19th century principal of Queen's University. His mother's younger brother was the political philosopher George Grant (1918-1988), author of Lament for a Nation. His great-grandfather was Count Nikolay Pavlovich Ignatyev, the Russian Minister of the Interior under Tsar Alexander III.

In 1976, Ignatieff completed his PhD in History at Harvard University. He was an assistant professor of history at the University of British Columbia from 1976 to 1978. In 1978 he moved to the United Kingdom, where he held a Senior Research Fellowship at King's College, Cambridge until 1984. He then left Cambridge for London, where he began to focus on his career as a writer and journalist.

In 2000, Ignatieff accepted a position as the director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He taught at Harvard until 2005, when on August 26, it was announced that Ignatieff was leaving Harvard to become the Chancellor Jackman Visiting Professor in Human Rights Policy at the University of Toronto. Ignatieff has received nine honorary doctorates.*

*Author's note: I've copied all the above from Wikipedia because I'm not going to waste a lot of time on this.

Michael Ignatieff was a keen supporter, or maybe just a prominent supporter, of the invasion of Iraq. Ignatieff has now concluded that his support was ill-conceived, but explains his misplaced enthusiasm thusly: "An Iraqi exile friend told me the night the war started, that it was the only chance the members of his generation would have to live in freedom in their own country."

That's OK, Michael. Anyone can make an honest mistake. Lots of intelligent, well-intentioned, globally aware and morally attuned human beings were suckered into the Iraq "Extreme Makeover" project, and now regret their fundamentally idealistic, though admittedly misguided, enthusiasm.

Michael is one such person, and after four years of sometimes painful, though ultimately enriching reflection, he has hit upon some hard-earned life-lessons which he would like to share with the rest of us. Thank you Michael, for opening a window onto your mind, your thoughts, and your soul.

Fifteen lessons learned from the bitter disappointment of Iraq:

1. I’ve learned that acquiring good judgment in politics starts with knowing when to admit your mistakes.

2. Politicians live by ideas just as much as professional thinkers do, but they can’t afford the luxury of entertaining ideas that are merely interesting. They have to work with the small number of ideas that happen to be true and the even smaller number that happen to be applicable to real life.

3. In academic life, false ideas are merely false and useless ones can be fun to play with. In political life, false ideas can ruin the lives of millions and useless ones can waste precious resources.

4. I’ve learned that good judgment in politics looks different from good judgment in intellectual life.

5. In politics, everything is what it is and not another thing.

6. Politicians cannot afford to cocoon themselves in the inner world of their own imaginings. They must not confuse the world as it is with the world as they wish it to be.

7. As a former denizen of Harvard, I’ve had to learn that a sense of reality doesn’t always flourish in elite institutions. . . . Bus drivers can display a shrewder grasp of what’s what than Nobel Prize winners.

8. The only way any of us can improve our grasp of reality is to confront the world every day and learn, mostly from our mistakes, what works and what doesn’t.

9. A sense of reality is not just a sense of the world as it is, but as it might be. Like great artists, great politicians see possibilities others cannot and then seek to turn them into realities.

10. Procrastination is even costlier in politics than it is in private life. The sign on Truman’s desk — “The buck stops here!” — reminds us that those who make good judgments in politics tend to be those who do not shrink from the responsibility of making them.

11. In politics, learning from failure matters as much as exploiting success.

12. Roosevelt and Churchill knew how to do wrong, yet they did not demand to be judged by different ethical standards than their fellow citizens did. They accepted that democratic leaders cannot make up their own moral rules . . . They must live and be judged by the same rules as everyone else.

13. In my political-science classes, I used to teach that exercising good judgment meant making good public policy. In the real world, bad public policy can often turn out to be very popular politics indeed.

14. Good judgment in politics is messy. It means balancing policy and politics in imperfect compromises that always leave someone unhappy — often yourself.

15. People with good judgment listen to warning bells within.

Re: The Above Observations:
No shit, Sherlock.

Note the patronizing faux humility of observation number seven, on the shrewdness of bus drivers (actually, the whole piece is patronizing). Perhaps Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government should consider recruiting at the Greyhound bus depot.

Furthermore, it would seem that lesson thirteen contradicts lesson two. Tragically, politicians do sometimes venture beyond the confines of "the small number of ideas that happen to be true and the even smaller number that happen to be applicable to real life" in order to engage in "bad public policy [which] can often turn out to be very popular politics indeed."

Isn't politics just a right old mess?

Why do I feel that I have been carried - on wings of cliche and Thorazine-induced prose - back to a sixth grade Civics class? The whole fucking article reads like something written with little thought and less effort by a clever(ish) 19 year old enrolled at Georgia Southwestern State University.

Who was Ignatieff teaching at Harvard anyway, the custodial staff?

Michale Ignatieff, no longer at Harvard, is now usefully applying these nuggets of insight in his new role as Canadian MP and deputy leader of the Liberal Party. I eagerly await Ignatieff's pearls of wisdom plucked from the inner sanctum of the Canadian Parliment.

A foretaste:

1. I've learned that Ottawa, not Toronto, is the capital of Canada.

2. I've learned that politicians sometimes promise more than they can deliver.

3. I've learned that stupidity, real or feigned, is an effective way to deflect difficult questions. It is possible to bore one's interlocutors into silence.

4. I've learned that promising more than one can deliver sometimes works (only in a crassly political sense, mind you), but it is still bad, except for when it inspires (deceives) the public into taking risks which I think are good, in which it case, maybe it is good.

5. I've learned that the road to hell really is paved with good intentions!