Paperwork Against the People

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

The hope of some of the French revolutionaries was that paperwork would rationalize the state, Rob Horning says, citing Ben Kafka’s The Demon of Writing, and that it would destroy the corrupt networks of aristocratic influence:

Kafka quotes from a 1791 French administrative directory that advised that “letters of recommendation will be perfectly useless” in petitioning the government and “might even become dangerous, in that they can foster the belief that one is soliciting a favor or a grace that one does not have the right to obtain through justice.” As Kafka puts it, “A world of privilege was becoming a world of rights; the personal state was becoming the personnel state.”

Paperwork was also to be the means for allowing all of a nation’s people to scrutinize government activities, an intention enshrined in Article 15 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen: “Society has the right to ask all public agents to give an accounting of their administration.” This mirrors the contemporary enthusiasm for open government and transparency among some activists and is the apparent raison d’etre for WikiLeaks. The idea was taken to astounding (and absurd) lengths by the Jacobins, who mandated that “all relations between all public functionaries can no longer take place except in writing.”

While this desire can turn documentation into what Kafka calls a “technology of political representation” by which citizens can track whether the state is serving their interests, it also makes paperwork into a voracious medium that authorizes blanket surveillance of citizens and their reconstitution as vulnerable data sets as a condition of citizenship. You are no one without your permanent file. Part of Kafka’s achievement in The Demon of Paperwork is to show how readily revolutionary optimism is undone by administrative surveillance, even when it’s adopted in the revolution’s name. Revolution promises to wash away the most intractable social problems, but then paperwork rears itself to show that these problems have only been displaced to an impersonal and intractable medium.

Instead of optimism, the specter of paperwork permits cynicism to flourish. Privilege may temporarily disappear into the meticulous procedures of paperwork, which become recognizable rituals of impartiality, even if no one is satisfied with their actual performance. Anyone who has ever visited the DMV has taken part in this grand democratization of frustration. In a state where the DMV is the model institution, everyone is equal in that they are equally miserable. But paperwork also opens new avenues for the exercise of influence that are just as opaque as any earlier systems abused by elites. As documentation proliferates, so too do auditors auditing the clerks, and auditors auditing those auditors, and on and on to theoretical infinity. This network of data and overtaxed inspectors and processors has the effect of creating a miasma of competing claims for legitimacy, as well as ample opportunity for doling out preferential treatment, circumventing the law, subverting authority, serving oneself. Information becomes obfuscation, particularly under the pressures of “surveillance and acceleration,” which Kafka isolates as the contradictory demands of state power. The state needs to know more to function fairly, but with more information comes more urgency to process it all, yielding even more information to process and sending fairness further over the horizon.

(Hat tip to Foseti.)

Why do we have to take this class?

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

When Bill H. was asked by some Berkeley professors to develop simulations of democracy versus dictatorship in Latin America, he remembered his days teaching government in high school:

Early on, a student had asked the inevitable question: “Why do we have to take this class?” And of course, as seniors they had to pass it to graduate. I didn’t know why it was specifically required, so I looked it up. State legislatures made government and US History required classes for graduation after the Korean War where some American POWs were induced to renounce democracy and the US. The methods used by the North Koreans were diabolical and relevant, so I described this to the Berkeley profs and said I could create a simulation in class around this. This was the simulation following some of the things the North Koreans did, with my own additions.

The professors handed out a survey the first day of class about government, one of the questions being “Do you believe Democracy is the best form of government in the world?” Nearly 100% said yes. The next class, the professors told the students that as this was a class about government that they would be asked to take responsibility for operations in class. Student leaders would be responsible for giving participation points [twenty percent of their grade] as well as points for attendance. The student leaders would also be responsible for operations in the class such as handing out and collecting papers and the behavior of the other students. The professors told students they wanted this system to be efficient.

Then the professors asked for two leaders and sat down. More than 80% of the classes had leaders volunteer with no discussion, no voting. They just presented themselves to the professor as the leaders. The professors told the leaders, in front of the class, that they could chose sub-leaders for groups of students if they wanted. Some did, some didn’t.

Then the class was told that the leaders would be given X amount of participation points and attendance points to give out, enough to give each student 5 points per class for participation and 1 point for attendance. Here we did what the North Koreans did: We gave the leaders 30% more participation and attendance points than needed. The professors told the leaders they could use or not use the points as they saw fit. He expected things to run efficiently and if he had to intervene to get things done, they would lose points.

In 90 percent of the classes, the following happened: The leaders gave themselves and sub-leaders more points from the extras. Students found the leaders `repressive’ but said nothing, even when the often very unequal points were posted. Students that challenged the leaders either lost points or were bribed with points to remain quiet.

Students complained to the professor, who referred them back to the leaders. In about a third of the classes, students asked the professors how they could `get rid of the leaders’. [The students' phrase in most cases.] This possibility was anticipated from reading about the POW camps. The instructions were that if five students stood and declared the leader `dead’, they were removed. However, if they did this, the leader would not receive any participation points. The students came up with the word `assassination.’ And of course, nothing happened in class until new leaders came forward. At times, that didn’t happen very quickly…

This was the situation in all but one class out of ten after just two weeks or six class sessions. The professors were `astonished and disturbed’ by the results. So were the students. A number came to the department head to complain. And of course, the students from different classes were talking, so things like assassinations `caught’ on and leaders from different classes were trading `techniques’ to hold power and avoid being assassinated. Half the classes had assassinations. In the POW camps, in all but two cases, it was simply intimidation or a physical assault that led to the leader `stepping down.’

The simulation was ended after two weeks, and this process was scripted too, by the professors announcing the end of the `system’, even though unstated, students thought it would go on for the entire class.

The basic point of the simulation was that if a group accepts `efficiency’ as the prime value in a government, instead of `fairness’, some form of dictatorship will usually follow. While the professors `knew’ this intellectually, it was quite another thing to see it in action among democratic-loving students. They were not only disturbed by the effectiveness of the simulation, but now they had to `turn it around’ so students wouldn’t be `psychically damaged’ as one professor put it.

We scripted that too. The professors pointed out that the democratic process wasn’t used to chose the leaders or run the class, though no stipulation was made about the form of governance. They all either acquiesced to the uneven distribution of points or turned to assassination to change leaders. It was also pointed out that this was done even when they felt that democracy was the best form of government.

The Mandarins

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

Foseti wonders what to do about the mandarins, who have clearly lost touch with the common people.

Charles Murray argues that the upper class needs to resume preaching what it practices, even if this isn’t likely to have much effect.

Handle remembers reading a story about Irving Kristol:

In 1942 he was in full Enquiry Radical Trotskyist Leftist “US Socialist Workers Party” mode and really believed all that idealistic nonsense about the uncorrupted virtuous purity of the proletariat, yadda yadda. Then he joined the Army (as a Private with the 12th Armored Division, though he had graduated from New York City College two years prior and could have been an officer) and met a lot Chicago underclass on the way through training and to war.

He had already met his share of working men as a machinist in the Brooklyn Navy Yard — but it was common for smart and educated men to work in such field in the Great Depression-WWII era, so that experience had not quite prepared him for the real, unfiltered exposure to the proles that the Military was about to provide him.

And upon actual having real long-term undiluted exposure to the proletariat, he realized that, in fact, a lot of them were lousy human beings you didn’t actually want to live around.

Personally, I’ve met my share of “potential elites” from white upper middle class upbringings, that, through the military, or certain other professions — social work, ghetto urban teachers, etc. — get direct exposure to the underclass for an extended stretch of time, and while there’s been a great deal of similar “delusion shattering” and “true learning and understanding about the life and problems of the underclass,” the result is burnout, contempt, and flight and struggle to live and work amongst one’s “true peers,” and not at all an enhanced sympathy or better ideas for policy.

The military is still the only semi-feudal-aristocratic type of organization I know where (at least in the idealized version) you give a smart, educated individual a group of average men and immense power to run their lives and the good incentive to run those lives well to maintain the capability and effectiveness of the overall unit purpose — all built on reciprocal loyalty.

The “power to run their lives” bit is key. Ideally, your society has a system of acculturation and social conditioning in the virtues to hand you working material that, mostly, is able to take care of itself. Otherwise, you have to act the tyrant to make the uncivilized grunts behave.

Look, I think the Mandarins are gradually coming to these realizations. They don’t like the stupid proles, and need immense power — through government — to intervene in every aspect of their lives because they are like children who can’t handle things on their own.

Anyway, the question really is, especially if you’re a mandarin yourself, “Why care about the proles anyway?” And the answer is really that all but the most successful Mandarins end up spending every dime of their disposable income bidding up the land-price of housing in scarce, low-underclass (or gentrifying that way) neighborhoods. Maybe you’re at the 85th percentile, but if your society become Brazil, and you can’t afford the gated fortress on the hilltop, then you’ve got to put up with the favela right outside your door.

If the high mixed with the low more, they’d remember their responsibility to lead and care for the low, right? Handle disagrees:

This is simply not true. Every time I’ve seen this happen I’ve witnessed precisely the opposite. See my comment above.

There are plenty of people from ruling class stock who grow up as idealistic goodie-goodies taught to really care and sympathize with the plight of the poor and the low (not so much the ordinary or the middle).

They really believe that class is a matter of accident of birth or societal oppression (racism, sexism, or some form of bigotry, almost always), and that a poor, lower class person, is just like them, or, conversely, that they themselves would be just like that poor person were the situations reversed. They really believe that, if only someone like them, pure, smart, dedicated, could bestow upon them poor people a bit of smart leadership and inspiration, they could easily lift them up from their unfortunate station in life and solve their problems. Why, the power of their example alone is supposed to civilize and turn a bunch of street hoodlums into budding Shakespeares, “Dangerous Minds”-style (and a few dozen copycats — Hollywood loves this plot, precisely because a certain audience so desperately wants to believe it could be true. “Waiting For Superman” is the real-life version.)

In short, they believe a deluded fairy tale despite all the evidence unanimously to the contrary. You see this fairy tale currently playing out with the whole universal preschool push despite the failure of Head Start to accomplish anything. Legions of upper-class youth are encouraged to go into things like social work and ghetto teaching to work their fairy-dust magic. And … nothing.

What that exposure actually does varies, but hardly creates some kind of lingering sense of loyalty, duty, and affection — which is what you seem to be claiming.

A few of these (inevitable) burn-outs switch parties and/or ideologies. But most don’t! Most just manage to maintain a state of cognitive dissonance about it while, in their own practical life, they try to isolate themselves and their children as much as possible from these “hopeless” people (and pay through the nose to do so.)

The conclusion that they inevitably come to (that The Cathedral encourages them to come to) is that, it just wasn’t enough (and it’s the fault of those greedy conservatives, naturally). There’s just too much oppression out there and not enough “investment” from a benevolent government to get the job done. Clearly, I must shift my focus to politics to “make impacts” and “generate awareness” to marshal more support to dump more resources down this black hole into this critical, life-changing area.

What nearly none of these people have is someone out there that gets past their trust-bubble filters and antibodies who can readily provide them with the ugly but true alternative.

Fast Friends Protocol

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

Relationship researchers have developed a fast friends protocol, which helps establish a feeling of closeness between strangers in about 45 minutes:

Researchers give people working in pairs three sets of 12 questions written on index cards. The questions must be answered in order, with partners taking turns answering each question.

Questions in the first set are only slightly personal (“Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say?” “When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?”). In the second set, they are a little more personal (“What is your most terrible memory?” “Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?”). The last set is personal (“When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?” “Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find the most disturbing?”). Each set of questions also includes a relationship-building exercise (“Tell your partner what you like about them”).

The point is to build connection gradually, even if it’s happening in a 45-minute window.

“You want to be slow and reciprocal,” says Arthur Aron, professor of psychology at Stony Brook University, in New York, who developed the protocol. “If you disclose too much too fast, you put someone off.”

A Berkeley version of the protocol includes two lists of questions.  Here’s the first:

  1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
  2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?
  3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?
  4. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
  5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
  6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
  7. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
  8. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
  9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
  10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
  11. Take 4 minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.
  12. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?

Here’s the second:

  1. Do your close friends tend to be older or younger than you?
  2. Does living as if you control your own destiny lead to a more powerful life?
  3. If you could choose the sex and physical appearance of your soon-to-be-born child, would you do it?
  4. What would your ideal or perfect life be like?
  5. How many times a day do you look at yourself in the mirror?
  6. Would you be willing to have horrible nightmares for a year if you would be rewarded with extraordinary wealth?
  7. What sorts of things would you do if you could be as outgoing and uninhibited as you wished?
  8. What important decision in your professional life have you based largely upon your intuitive feelings? What about in your personal life?
  9. While on a trip to another city, your spouse (or lover) meets and spends a night w/ an exciting stranger. Given they will never meet again, and you will not otherwise learn of the incident, would you want your partner to tell you about it?
  10. Do you judge others by higher or lower standards than you judge yourself? Why?
  11. How do you feel when people like you because they think you are someone you are not?
  12. How many children do you hope to have? Do you know what you will name them? If yes, what?

How Black America Has Predicted Our Future

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

Athlone McGinnis describes himself as “an Ivy League-trained thinker of Caribbean-American descent” — which allows him to discuss how Black America has predicted our future across racial lines:

1. Concerned about growing obesity rates? Black American women already lead the nation here. 41% of those over 18 are obese, compared to just under a quarter of White American women in the same age range. African-American women are 70% more likely to be obese than non-Hispanic white women.

You think white girls are getting fat? You’ve got a long way to go.

2. Concerned about illegitimacy and rampant out of wedlock births? Black America has already been there and done that. The illegitimacy rate within that community has long been close to 70%. The nightmare scenarios being predicted in much of the manosphere regarding increased out of wedlock births and the complete breakdown of the family have already been played out there. Everyone else is playing catch-up.

There is great concern about the potential for the young men of the future to grow up without a father in the picture. For most black men (including myself), this is simply routine.

3. Concerned about the spread unchecked hypergamy is having on the dating market? Worried that it could lead to unrestrained bad-boy worship? Want to see where all of this is going?

Once again, look no further than black America. There may be no female more hypergamous than the average black american girl and, interestingly, there is no female with a lower rate of marriage. The culture places a tremendous emphasis for men on the possession of traits matching those of urban masculine culture (read: “swag”, aggression, edgy appearance, etc).

In no culture are decent guys and more academically inclined males more marginalized and insulted than they are in Black American culture.

You think the sexual market value of the average white or asian nerd is low? Try being their black equivalent and having your entire culture essentially disown you and claim that your intellect makes you an insult to the culture/race.

Bad-boy love and the extreme form of hypergamy that comes with it has ruled the black community for a couple of generations now. That nightmare is reality there.

4. What happens when men in a certain culture are marginalized and their households become largely matriarchal?

Long Answer: Men will have high unemployment and incarceration rates, and young boys will be prone to violence, academic reticence, and poor performance in school. Nearly 70% of undergraduate and graduate degrees will be earned by females, while their men practically disappear from the higher echelons of the professional world and leave those women without suitable mates. These women will then proceed to ponder where all the good black men went.

A culture hostile to academia will arise, excessive male posturing (see modern urban gang culture and the media that imitates it) will become the norm to compensate for the lack of productive pursuits among the men and the next generation will live out a cycle characterized by generally dysfunctional behavior.

Short Answer: Black America will happen.


It wasn’t always like this. Black Americans used to have more stable families and much lower illegitimacy rates (on par with or somewhat lower than those of modern white Americans). They had thinner women and lower crime rates. Their men were valued once, less marginalized and expendable than they are now considered to be and not as frequently incarcerated either.

In other words, there was a time in which Black America was a much closer parallel to the White America we know.

(Hat tip to Foseti.)

New Whale Species Unearthed in California Highway Dig

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

Thanks to a highway-widening project in California’s Laguna Canyon, scientists have identified several new species of early toothed baleen whales:

“In California, you need a paleontologist and an archaeologist on-site” during such projects, Rivin says. That was fortuitous: The Laguna Canyon outcrop, excavated between 2000 and 2005, turned out to be a treasure trove containing hundreds of marine mammals that lived 17 million to 19 million years ago. It included 30 cetacean skulls as well as an abundance of other ocean dwellers such as sharks, says Rivin, who studies the fossil record of toothed baleen whales. Among those finds, she says, were four newly identified species of toothed baleen whale—a type of whale that scientists thought had gone extinct 5 million years earlier.

The earliest baleen whales still had teeth.

10 Sci Fi and Fantasy Works Every Conservative Should Read

Monday, February 25th, 2013

China Miéville recently compiled a list of 50 Sci Fi and Fantasy Works Every Socialist Should Read.

In response, Samuel Goldman has comprised a list of 10 Sci Fi and Fantasy Works Every Conservative Should Read — ignoring too-obvious examples, like The Lord of the Rings, and not limiting himself to conservative works so much as works that raise issues conservatives might address:

David Brin, The Postman

Very different from the awful movie starring Kevin Costner.

Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Also very different from the movie (which is in this case excellent).

William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, The Difference Engine

A revision of Disraeli’s “State of England” novels for the information age.

Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers

Classical republicanism meets interstellar warfare

Joe Haldeman, The Forever War

Out of alphabetical order, but an essential companion to Starship Troopers.

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

The classic depiction of Nietzsche’s Last Men, who enjoy “happiness” without ever questioning the meaning of their lives.

Robert E. Howard, Conan stories

“Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.”

H.P. Lovecraft, anything really, but particularly the “Cthulhu cycle”

To quote Rick Brookhiser: “One way to think of Lovecraft is as a demented anticipation of Russell Kirk. Kirk praised the permanent things. The permanent things in Lovecraft are revolting monsters from outer space or undersea who, it turns out, have been here for eons, and sometimes have interbred with us. Connecting with the past in Kirk guides and inspires us. Connecting with the past in Lovecraft makes us lose our minds.”

Walter M. Miller, Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz

What if some calamity destroyed modern civilization, and its knowledge were preserved as incoherent fragments? Here, the Catholic Church reprises its historical role as the conservator of civilization through a new Dark Age

Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash

Although it is best known for its pioneering depiction of virtual reality, the most interesting feature of Snow Crash is its depiction of anarcho-capitalism.

What Martial Arts Does Batman Use?

Monday, February 25th, 2013

What martial arts does Batman use? From the beginning, he has used a mix of boxing, jiu-jitsu, and various other arts.

Batman Training Robin in Boxing and Jiu-Jitsu

Did a Murderer in Waiting Go Undetected Because She Was a Woman?

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

We vastly overestimate our ability to spot “red flag” behaviors and get dangerous individuals into treatment. Take Amy Bishop, the neurobiologist who shot up a faculty meeting at the University of Alabama in Huntsville:

Amy Bishop shot her own brother, after all. She punched a woman at a pancake restaurant. She stood accused of mailing a bomb to one of her supervisors at Harvard. Red flags don’t get much brighter than that. Yet, nobody stepped in.

Why not? Collective denial — and the fact that she was a woman:

In her article, MacFarquhar relates gruesome tales of so-called Black Widows (women who murder their husbands or lovers) and Angels of Death (women who kill those placed in their professional care). These women often skirt suspicion and kill prolifically because it doesn’t occur to the cops until much, much too late that a female could be capable of such a thing. In retrospect, the crimes seem gallingly obvious: Genene Jones, an Angel of Death who worked as a pediatric nurse in Texas, is believed to have murdered as many as forty-six children before authorities caught up with her, in 1983. But as the murders are actually being committed, investigators prove far too ready to attribute the mounting body count to accidents, medical error, or a male perpetrator.

Education’s Priorities Problem

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013

Adam Gurri discusses education’s priorities problem:

Colleges, of a sort, have been around for a very long time — in Oxford’s case, almost a millennium. Both Clay Shirky and Alex Tabarrok mention this in their praise of online alternatives to traditional education. To those of us with an eye to innovation, the cycle of the old being replaced by the new appears to be the natural way of things. Cassettes killed vinyl, CDs killed cassettes, MP3s killed CDs.

However, many of the technologies we think of as killing off older technologies are mostly replacing things that haven’t been around for very long. The amount time that a technology has been around is actually a good proxy for its resilience, rather than a sign of how outdated it is. The fact that college education of a certain kind has been around for longer than almost any other currently standing institution makes a strong case for its continued existence well beyond the lifetimes of the descendants of those currently debating its fate.

Colleges are not likely to vanish any time soon, but it’s not really traditional colleges that are in trouble — it’s the overstuffed, overfunded, one-size-fits all credential-industrial complex that has characterized college education for most people only quite recently. Shirky sketches out this system with the precision of an anatomist. Tabarrok points out that the majority of college students today are taught by low-paid associate professors and grad students.

Focusing on MOOCs in particular or online education in general, however, is entirely besides the point. Alternatives to traditional college education are many, and have been increasing in quantity and quality long before we all migrated to the web. I’m not talking about distance learning or community colleges; I mean professional development courses and certifications, and other low brow methods of bettering oneself for less than $10,000 a semester for eight semesters in a row.

The college institutions that we so revere were not originally meant to be tools for career advancement or, as Tabarrok puts it, information transmission (measured in “kilobytes transmitted from teacher to student per unit of time”). College is where you went to become a Person of Quality, so you could become a priest or a scholar, or at least sound scholarly when talking to your rich friends.

Education policy debates tend to focus on the goal of giving people options — that is, material options. Career possibilities. But ironically we have taken a one-size-fits-all approach to achieving this end — pumping billions of dollars in payments and enormously subsidizing student loans to push more and more people into colleges.

We’re culturally conditioned to think that education is one big conveyor belt, from K-12 to college to career path, with possibly some grad school in there as well. K-12 education has much more in common with college than it does with any sort of vocational schooling or professional development, so when we send our children there by default, it’s to be expected that they will be taught to seek more of the same.

When I express skepticism about the value of cramming everyone into education of this type, I usually receive an answer in the same category as “what, do you want everyone to be stuck working at gas stations?” As though spending 16 years reading Shakespeare and learning about the Founding Fathers provides the necessary skills to have a career in engineering, management, sales, or anything other than literary analysis and history.

Culture is a wonderful thing, and I love Shakespeare and history more than most. But spending billions of dollars on institutions that prioritize them above learning practical skills is not the most effective way to help people improve their material lot.

Birth of a Nation

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

Django Unchained has brought D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation back to the fore. Richard Brody calls it disgustingly racist yet titanically original:

The movie, set mainly in a South Carolina town before and after the Civil War, depicts slavery in a halcyon light, presents blacks as good for little but subservient labor, and shows them, during Reconstruction, to have been goaded by the Radical Republicans into asserting an abusive dominion over Southern whites.

I don’t think you need to be “disgustingly racist” to see recently freed slaves “as good for little but subservient labor,” and it seems perfectly natural that such recently freed slaves would “have been goaded by the Radical Republicans into asserting an abusive dominion over Southern whites.” The North won the war, after all.

The movie asserts that the white-sheet-clad death squad served justice summarily and that, by denying blacks the right to vote and keeping them generally apart and subordinate, it restored order and civilization to the South.

I think both sides, at the time, agreed that the South needed to restore order and civilization. The powerful Northern Republicans wanted radical reconstruction, and the powerless Southern Democrats wanted a straightforward restoration of their old way of life — which they did not get.

I can imagine the Sunnis in Iraq feel the same way.

Sunset Boulevard’s Origins in an Evelyn Waugh Novel

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

Sunset Boulevard’s origins in an Evelyn Waugh novel have been forgotten, Steve Sailer says:

That Waugh’s The Loved One kick-started Sunset Boulevard wasn’t originally a secret. Although an extensive Google search finds almost no mention of the connection in recent years, Sunset Boulevard‘s cinematographer John Seitz told film historian Kevin Brownlow of Waugh’s influence on the movie, saying that Wilder and producer Charles Brackett “had wanted to do The Loved One, but couldn’t obtain the rights.”

And this isn’t just hindsight. After playing herself in Sunset Boulevard’s final scene, gossip columnist Hedda Hopper burbled on June 15, 1949:

It was mighty grim on the Sunset Boulevard set after Gloria Swanson shot and killed Bill Holden.… Billy Wilder… was crazy about Evelyn Waugh’s book The Loved One, and wanted the studio to buy it. Thought it would make another Lost Weekend. Waugh wrote it while he was here as a guest of Metro. The studio officials were trying to make up their minds if his book, “Brideshead Revisited” could be filmed.

The main characters in both The Loved One and Sunset Boulevard are young but washed-up screenwriters who live with older Hollywood has-beens from the silent-movie era in their fading houses with empty swimming pools.

The unmistakable giveaway is that Waugh’s Dennis Barlow works for a pet cemetery, while Wilder’s Joe Gillis is mistaken for the man from the pet cemetery when he first stumbles into Norma’s mansion.

Here’s a clip from the 1965 film rendition of The Loved One, with Robert Morse as Dennis the animal undertaker and Milton Berle and Margaret Leighton as his bereaved clients. And here’s the corresponding clip from Sunset Boulevard, where Norma (Swanson) informs Joe (Holden) of the expensive coffin she wants him to deliver for her dead chimpanzee. (Interestingly, the film adaptation of The Loved One gives the matron with the dead dog a pistol and a hysterical manner in apparent parody of Swanson.)

Why has awareness of Waugh’s influence on Wilder disappeared?

The Loved One is a minor Waugh novel, although not without some spectacularly funny pages. And the ambitious but uneven 1965 movie version is more a curiosity than a success. Most Waugh adaptations tend to be overly faithful to their hallowed sources, but The Loved One was directed by Tony Richardson at the nadir of Waugh’s reputation and, following his Best Picture Oscar for Tom Jones, the brief apex of Richardson’s. Thus, the intermittently funny film is stuffed with over-the-top material invented by Terry Southern of Dr. Strangelove notoriety.

Bush Market

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

If you fight the poor, you become poor, Zenpundit noted:

Grinding poverty itself is a tax upon the invading force. There are no resources for your army to commandeer or buy, no skilled manpower to requisition or hire, no infrastructure for them to use. All of that must be imported and built at great expense by the invader whose troops are accustomed to far less spartan environs. The local population is usually malnourished, illiterate, ignorant, suspicious of outsiders and rife with disease; their living habits and water sources unsanitary and endanger the troops. Caring for the locals, even minimal administration of humanitarian aid, becomes a bureaucratic and logistical burden consuming time and diverting resources away from urgent military needs.

The United States under George Bush the Elder, entered into Somalia, a land beset by violent anarchy and it’s people in the grip of a terrible famine and was driven out shortly thereafter under Bill Clinton. The last scenes there being the emaciated Somali followers of a two-bit warlord, Mohammed Farah Aidid, gleefully swarming over and looting our military’s former… garbage dump.

When the enemy has a land so poor that he treasures and makes use of the crap you throw away, the economic spillover of your logistical supply lines will fund his war against you. Used to surviving on bare subsistence, the invader’s presence becomes an economic bonanza for resistance and collaborator alike. Sort of a highly kinetic form of military Keynesianism. The war itself and the occupation become an irreplaceable cornerstone of their economy. They hate you being there, but can’t afford to defeat you and drive you out either — making a “quagmire” irregular conflict their ideal economic equilibrium to maintain.

Now Kabul vendors of stolen U.S. goods are fretting about a future without our scraps:

If a case of soap is pilfered from a U.S. military base here or pinched from a NATO shipping container, it will probably, sooner or later, end up for sale in the Bush Market, a sort of thieves’ outlet mall in central Kabul.

Named after George W. Bush, the U.S. president who launched the war in Afghanistan, the bazaar has flourished for more than eight years, thanks to the long presence of foreign troops that provided war booty aplenty. But in the Obama era, with its steady withdrawal of U.S. forces, the good times are ending in the sprawling hive of vendors who hawk mountains of Pop-tarts and enough Head & Shoulders shampoo to combat the dandruff of untold army divisions.


Several vendors said sales have already fallen by 50 percent since last year as the “surge” troops that began arriving in 2009 have departed. The amount of military goods available to be pilfered has dropped, they said, and prices have gone up. Also, fewer foreign development workers come to shop for familiar Western brands.

(Hat tips to Tyler Cowen and our Slovenian Guest.)

Fist Stick Knife Gun

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

In Fist Stick Knife Gun, Geoffrey Canada offers a personal history of violence, going back to his childhood in the Bronx in the late 1950s:

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Steve Sailer discusses genetics’ effect on intelligence and society

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

I just got around to reading Joseph Cotto’s Washington Times interview with Steve Sailer on genetics’ effect on intelligence and society:

If you read history books from 1945 to about 1970, you’ll notice that this “Eugenics caused the Holocaust” meme that we are all so familiar with today is largely absent. This assertion only became popular as the decades passed after the actual events. This sort of spin was largely dreamed up in the 1970s by publicists such as Stephen Jay Gould for their own ends.

For Gould and company, it was a club with which to discredit previous generations of academics and intellectuals, since most progressives (for example, John Maynard Keynes, George Bernard Shaw, and H.G. Wells) had been enthusiastic about the potential of eugenics. For instance, the two main founders of Silicon Valley, Fred Terman and William Shockley, were ardent proponents of eugenics.

That doesn’t mean Stanford invaded Poland, however.


Stephen Jay Gould was perhaps the world’s leading expert on a couple of genera of snails. He also possessed a mellifluous prose style, a strong urge to express himself, and a high opinion of his own capabilities. He had a definite knack for telling literary intellectuals what they wanted to hear in the way they wanted to read it. He was not, however, a psychometrician.

Gould offers a striking example of what Freud called “projection:” the tendency to ascribe one’s own flaws to others. Gould constantly denounced other scientists for bias, bigotry, poor math abilities, and inadequate experimental technique.

For example, in his 1981 bestseller The Mismeasure of Man, Gould famously lambasted an obscure 19th century scientist named Samuel Morton for being biased when conducting a study of skull sizes. Finally, in 2011, though, a team of six physical anthropologists replicated Morton’s work (something Gould never got around to doing) and discovered that Morton was more accurate than Gould. A 2011 New York Times editorial concluded:

“Ironically, Gould’s own analysis of Morton is likely the stronger example of a bias influencing results,” the team said. We wish Dr. Gould were here to defend himself. Right now it looks as though he proved his point, just not as he intended.


When looking at different neighborhoods, your real estate agent will explain to you that, all else being equal, the higher the locals students’ test scores, the more expensive the homes. There are a lot of reasons for this, such as that smart neighbors tend to do fewer stupid things like celebrating New Year’s Eve by shooting their guns off in the air.

In 21st Century America, the worst thing about being poor is not that you can’t buy enough stuff, it’s that you can’t afford to get away from other poor people.