March 6, 2010

The End of a Silver Age

The triumph of Avatar at the box office suggests than a pleasant era is ending that we didn't even notice.

Going to the movies has been one of the few things that hasn't gotten more complicated. Seemingly everything else in my life has gotten complicated due to the number of choices available to me. I hate choices.

In contrast, at least since the financially foolish over-expansion of the number of movie theatres in the 1990s, going to the show has been a pleasantly simple-minded way to get out of the house. You don't have to mark it on your calendar. It always costs about ten bucks per person no matter how good or bad the movie; there are few special discounts or coupons that you'd feel bad if you missed out on; no reservations are needed; theaters are seldom sold out; you don't have to choose seats until you walk in the door; you don't need any special apparati to watch the movie, etc.

And then along comes Avatar to end this era of mindless ease of choice (not to mention, to exacerbate those feelings of personal inadequacy and ineffectuality that James Cameron always induces in me).

I saw it back in January, and what an ordeal it was just to get in. First, it was showing in four different flavors of dimensionality and digitality. When I eventually figured out which one I wanted to see, I realized those few theatres were always sold out. And the closest one charged $9 just to park. After a few weeks, I finally paid $18 per ticket (plus a $4 service charge) online and wound up in a theatre where the only seats left were in the front row at the bottom of an immense Imax screen, which would give me a headache, so I got (most of) my money back. I came back the next night an hour early, but still ended up worrying all evening whether I'd chosen the optimal row to sit in. It felt like I was sitting one row off the sweet spot, and for the $49 my wife and I had paid plus all the hours we'd invested in getting there, that we should be sitting in the exact seats that Cameron would have instantly chosen for himself.

And then there's the glasses you have to wear over your glasses, which induces a kind of tunnel vision. So, I sat there wondering, "Should I get laser eye surgery so I don't have to wear two sets of glasses to see 3D movies? Has James Cameron had laser eye surgery? Of course, he's had laser eye surgery. He's James Cameron. He probably invented a new improved laser and, using a mirror, operated on his eyeball himself, like Arnold in Terminator."

By the way, here's the story of the Soviet surgeon at the South Pole who had to took out his own appendix.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Oscar Prediction

Doubling the number of Best Picture nominations without doubling the number of Best Director nominations simply predestined five of the ten Best Picture nominees to be Honorable Mentions.

Everybody in the Academy, most of whom are either character actors or technicians, gets to vote on nominations for the ten Best Picture nominees, but only directors get to vote for the five Best Director nods. Since the directors are the guys who most know what they're talking about, overall, I would have to imagine the rest of the Academy would follow their lead in ignoring An Education, Up, A Serious Man, The Blind Side, and District 9.

That leaves Precious, Up in the Air, and the Big 3 of Avatar, The Hurt Locker, and Inglourious Basterds. Harvey Weinstein ought to be able to maneuver Tarantino's movie to the Best Picture Oscar, or he should hang up his Academy-manipulation title. It's Goldilocks's choice: Avatar made too much money ($714 million domestically) and The Hurt Locker too little ($13 million), while Inglourious Basterds made just the right amount for a Best Picture Winner ($121 million).

Moreover, I.G. has all sorts of themes and layers and dimensions to appeal to different constituencies among voters, especially older voters. I would position it against Avatar as the anti-digital tribute to the glories of old-fashioned film stock, and I would position it against The Hurt Locker as the anti-shaky cam, anti-documentaryish traditional, expensive looking movie movie. I would sell it to actors as a film in which Tarantino gives the actors lots of clever lines and then gives them time to show off as if they were on stage. I would sell it to old make-up people, costumer, set designers, and the like as a triumph of traditional crafts, in contrast to "Avatar" employing a million young computer geeks (few of whom are yet Academy voters).

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

March 5, 2010

From "The Underground History of American Education"

John Taylor Gatto writes:
I’ve yet to meet a parent in public school who ever stopped to calculate the heavy, sometimes lifelong price their children pay for the privilege of being rude and ill-mannered at school. I haven’t met a public school parent yet who was properly suspicious of the state’s endless forgiveness of bad behavior for which the future will be merciless.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

The Teacher Training Paradox

From the NY Times Magazine "Building a Better Teacher," which argues for better training of teachers:

Lemov himself pushed for data-driven programs that would diagnose individual students’ strengths and weaknesses. But as he went from school to school that winter, he was getting the sinking feeling that there was something deeper he wasn’t reaching. On that particular day, he made a depressing visit to a school in Syracuse, N.Y., that was like so many he’d seen before: “a dispiriting exercise in good people failing,” as he described it to me recently. Sometimes Lemov could diagnose problems as soon as he walked in the door. But not here. Student test scores had dipped so low that administrators worried the state might close down the school. But the teachers seemed to care about their students. They sat down with them on the floor to read and picked activities that should have engaged them. The classes were small. The school had rigorous academic standards and state-of-the-art curriculums and used a software program to analyze test results for each student, pinpointing which skills she still needed to work on.

But when it came to actual teaching, the daily task of getting students to learn, the school floundered. Students disobeyed teachers’ instructions, and class discussions veered away from the lesson plans. In one class Lemov observed, the teacher spent several minutes debating a student about why he didn’t have a pencil. Another divided her students into two groups to practice multiplication together, only to watch them turn to the more interesting work of chatting. A single quiet student soldiered on with the problems. As Lemov drove from Syracuse back to his home in Albany, he tried to figure out what he could do to help. He knew how to advise schools to adopt a better curriculum or raise standards or develop better communication channels between teachers and principals. But he realized that he had no clue how to advise schools about their main event: how to teach.

But are the failures in these examples ones of teaching or of discipline? Perhaps teachers need more institutional support in disciplining their students? Individuals who are skilled at both teaching a useful subject matter and at outwitting knuckleheads in mind games in struggles for personal dominance have better jobs available to them (such as being head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers).

Our society doesn't much emphasize training people in exercising authority anymore, so schools could use more specialization by hiring as Assistant Deans of Discipline the kind of guy who likes putting young punks in their place.

Unfortunately, the trend in public schools, exacerbated by disparate impact lawsuits over suspensions and expulsions falling more heavily on protected classes, has been in the opposite direction toward putting most responsibility for discipline on the shoulders of teachers, who are supposed to call parents.

But the parents of troublemakers are typically overwhelmed themselves, and would often appreciate some help from society's institutions.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

March 3, 2010

NYT: "Human Culture, an Evolutionary Force"

NYT genetics reporter Nicholas Wade has a new article with the self-explanatory title "Human Culture, an Evolutionary Force," using good old lactose tolerance as an example. It features a picture of a beautiful Kenyan highland meadow that might make even me want to take up long distance running. (Kenyan herdsmen are sort of "horseless cowboys" who hunt down strays on foot, so distance running ability is a useful trait for them.)

One question is why favorable traits such as lactose tolerance often don't reach fixation.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

March 1, 2010

Samuel Eliot Morison uses an exclamation point

In volume 2 of the Oxford History of the American People, written in 1964, Samuel Eliot Morison speculates in a section on James K. Polk's Presidency:
Had Henry Clay become President in 1845, he would undoubtedly have managed to placate Mexico, and with no Mexican War there would have been no Civil War, at least not in 1861.

But would Clay have acquired California?

California! The very name connoted mystery and romance. It had been given to a mythical kingdom "near the terrestrial paradise," in a Spanish novel of chivalry written in the lifetime of Columbus. President Polk did not read novels, but he wanted California much as Don Quixote wooed Dulcinea, without ever having seen her, and knowing very little about her. The future Golden State, with forests of giant pines and sequoias, broad valleys suited for wheat and narrow vales where the vine flourishes, extensive grazing grounds, mountains abounding in superb scenery and mineral wealth, was then a Mexican province, ripe for the plucking.

My vague impression is that California loomed largest in the national imagination in the years around 1964. The introduction of commercial domestic jet travel in 1959 integrated California, which had previously been thought of by East Coast elites as attractive but remote (somewhat the way Australia and New Zealand are thought of today), into the life of the leadership class.

Today, however, the word "California" is usually not used with an exclamation point.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Another Campus Hate Hoax

In the latest Noose News, the University of California at San Diego, that cauldrom of white supremacy, where white undergrads make up about 30% of the campus, has been roiled by charges of racism, with the campus administration joining in -- see their official rabble-rousing website: BattleHate.UCSD.Edu.

Not surprisingly, as this Two Weeks Hate against white students built to a climax, a noose was discovered in the library to vast and completely credulous publicity, despite the long history of Hate Hoaxes on campuses.

Also, not surprisingly, the Administration wouldn't reveal the racial identity of the young woman involved. Today, I called a UCSD PR flack, and she confirmed that the student involved with the noose was a minority.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

The future of spectator sports

The opening of my new Taki's Magazine column:

What’s the long-term future of spectator sports?

With the conclusion of the Winter Olympics, some trends have come into focus. The Olympics, for instance, have established a niche as the Exception to the Rules of Sports Fandom: they’re the athletic event for people who like watching sports in highly limited doses, a couple of weeks every couple of years.

The audience for the Winter Olympics was 56 percent female. For women viewers, the Olympics in the 20th Century served as a prototype for the 21st Century reality television shows, with their human interest stories about a small group of good-looking rivals vying for a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Figure skating, for example, long let spectators indulge themselves in watching the backstage dramatics that have become a staple on reality shows such as Survivor. But unlike the contestants on Survivor, Olympians are highly disciplined professional athletes, so most aren’t as amusingly prone to hissy fits as reality show contestants, who, like Dr. Evil, will do anything for One Million Dollars.

Will audiences continue to demand all the expensive pomp and circumstance of the Olympics if the current trend in popular culture toward shameless gratification of audience urges continues?

Back in Baron de Coubertin’s day, people wanted a high-class pretext for enjoying spectator sports, so the Olympics were ostentatiously rooted in the “Glory That Was Greece”. Similarly, horseracing, which was long the most popular sport in America as measured by attendance, was drenched in classiness. You weren’t really supposed to admit what horseracing was all about (gambling). You were supposed to talk about “the sport of kings” and ponder pedigrees longer than those of most royal families.

Read the rest there and comment upon it below.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

February 28, 2010

Samuel Eliot Morison

Here's the opening of my new column:
As I've been rereading Professor Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison's three-volume Oxford History of the American People from 1964, I've been thinking about the old Protestant Establishment.

Morison (1887-1976) was himself a leading member of the Protestant Establishment (liberal Boston Brahmin wing). His extraordinary career as a Pulitzer Prize-winning Harvard historian (for his biography Columbus, Admiral of the Ocean Sea, for which he had organized a research expedition by sailing ship from Spain to the New World) turned middle-aged fighting naval officer exemplifies how an old-fashioned Establishment that self-confidently viewed itself as holding its country in trust for its posterity felt it ought to behave.

Of course, you aren’t supposed to think like that anymore. Hence, the top people now treat America like a short-term transaction rather than a long-term investment.

I was reminded of Morison when I read neoconservative David Brooks’s thoughtful February 18th New York Times column, The Power Elite, about the historic shift in clout from what he calls the “inbred” Protestant Establishment to what he somewhat euphemistically designates as the new “meritocratic” elite:
“Sixty years ago, the upper echelons were dominated by what E. Digby Baltzell called The Protestant Establishment and C. Wright Mills called The Power Elite. … Since then, we have opened up opportunities for women, African-Americans, Jews, Italians, Poles, Hispanics and members of many other groups.”
More here.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer