»  National Review Online Diary

  October 2007

An outrageous month — a month of outrages, I mean. To pick a handful at random:

Outrage of the Month (1).      The crucifixion of James Watson. Nobody knows — nor will know, not for a century or so, anyway — what the human race owes to this brilliant scientist, one of the co-discoverers of the structure of DNA. He got the Nobel Prize for his work (sharing the prize with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins). Now the mangled corpse of his reputation is being dragged round the walls of the city behind a chariot, to the howling glee of people who aren't worthy to squeeze the paste onto Watson's toothbrush for him.

Cold Spring Harbor lab, which owes all its present prominence, not to mention most of its endowment, to Watson's efforts, has led the hyena pack, forcing Watson to resign from his position as Director. The Federation of American Invertebrates Scientists has pronounced anathema on him. He's had to cancel all his speaking engagements for fear the gibbering Morlocks of Political Correctness would show up and throw things at him. It is a horrible, shameful story, one of the ugliest to come out of the world of science for many years.

What did the old boy do? Bilk widows out of their life savings? Deliberately spread horrid diseases? Molest children? Strangle his wife and chop her up for a barbecue? Raid the poor box at St. Patrick's Cathedral? No; the cause of all the ructions is the following part of an interview Watson gave to his former student Charlotte Hunt-Grubbe in the October 14 Sunday Times (i.e. of London).

He says that he is "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa" because "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours—whereas all the testing says not really," and I know that this "hot potato" is going to be difficult to address. His hope is that everyone is equal, but he counters that "people who have to deal with black employees find this not true." He says that you should not discriminate on the basis of colour, because "there are many people of colour who are very talented, but don't promote them when they haven't succeeded at the lower level." He writes [i.e. in his new book, the U.K. promotion of which was the occasion of this interview] that "there is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically. Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so."

When asked how long it might take for the key genes in affecting differences in human intelligence to be found, his "back-of-the-envelope answer" is 15 years. However, he wonders if even 10 years will pass. In his mission to make children more DNA-literate, the geneticist explains that he has opened a DNA learning centre on the borders of Harlem in New York. He is also recruiting minorities at the lab and, he tells me, has just accepted a black girl "but," he comments, "there's no one to recruit."

Only two of the quoted remarks — the ones dealing with black hires — are outside the realm of science. Even with those, Watson's 39 years as Director at Cold Spring Harbor has presumably furnished him with plenty of experience at handling employees, so he is not speaking from ignorance. In any case, those were not the remarks that got him in trouble. The hot buttons here were "intelligence" and "intellectual capacities of peoples." Those are scientific topics, belonging to psychometry, anthropology, human phylogeny and ontogeny. I think it is fair to assume that a 79-year-old man who has spent his whole working life among top-flight researchers in the human sciences, probably knows something about those topics.

True, the science is not settled here; but it is none the less science. The dire condition of populations from sub-Saharan Africa ancestry is an observable fact about the world. It calls for some explanation. That these populations took paths through evolutionary space that left them less capable at dealing with modernity than other populations, is not scientifically implausible. It may be the case; or it may not; but … We are not permitted to talk about it? What is this, North Korea?

Canceling a scheduled talk by Dr. Watson, the London Science Museum issued a weasely statement including this, which belongs in the next edition of the Oxford Book of Weaselings:

The Science Museum feels that Nobel Prize winner James Watson's recent comments have gone beyond the point of acceptable debate and we are as a result cancelling his talk at the museum.

I have been following science since my childhood. I did not know that anything was "beyond the point of acceptable debate" in science. Well, well, we live and learn.

Outrage of the Month (2).     New York Governor Eliot Spitzer's scheme to give driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. Having actually once been an illegal immigrant in New York State, and having got a driver's license, I'm not sure I'm the right person to pass comment on this. Still, it's one thing for a smart, carefree, and — I'll admit it — irresponsible young man to game the system, and quite another for the Governor of the state to do so.

Among other things, the driver's-license flap has given New Yorkers an insight into how intemperate Spitzer is, and the contempt he feels for us, the Great Unwashed — the loathsome masses who didn't go to private school and Harvard Law, and didn't spend our entire adult lives among movers and shakers with expense accounts and chauffered limousines. In one of his eructations, Spitzer referred to opponents of his plan as "the rabid right." Since that would include 72 percent of New York State voters, as well as a majority of the state's County Clerks, we can pretty much see where we stand with ol' Eliot. But heck, what do we know? We didn't even go to law school.

What you see here is a phenomenon all too common among well-heeled liberals. They just don't like ordinary Americans. We're too ornery; we won't fall in line with their grand social-engineering plans. They long for some more malleable population to work with — some eggs that will be easier to crack for that omelette they are always planning to make. If you don't believe this — if you don't believe that Eliot Spitzer, in particular, regards ordinary American citizens with loathing and contempt — just try to catch his next TV appearance. The hatred shines from his face and echoes from his words. They are all the same, though — and I'm not just talking Democrats, either. Spitz is just less skillful at masking his arrogant elitism than most liberal politicians are.

Outrage of the Month (3).     Black Entertainment Television (BET) had an awards show for excellence in Hip Hop, whatever that is. Guess who was ushered on stage — to a standing ovation from the audience — to assist in giving the awards? Carwin Jones and Bryant Purvis, that's who. These were two of the six boys, the so-called "Jena Six," who knocked down fellow student Justin Barker, then kicked and stomped him unconscious, because he was white.

"By no means are we condoning a six-on-one beat-down," said emcee Katt Williams. So apparently a gang attack on a lone individual is sufficiently common in the circles Mr. Williams moves in that there is an ordinary vocabulary word for it: "beat-down." And if you do one of these "beat-downs" on an unwary member of the hated white race, you are a hero to the BET audience, even though the emcee doesn't "condone" what you did; and you get to help give Kanye West (whoever he is) an award for Hip Hop (whatever it is).

Apparently these two juvenile thugs, and the people who clapped and cheered for them, believe they were treated unfairly by the justice system. As compared to what? As compared to the way six young white men would have been treated if they had stomped a black fellow student unconscious for no reason but his color? The imagination boggles.

Riding the bus.     All right, enough outrage. Let's talk travel. Suppose you want to go from New York City to Washington DC and back — which I do, rather a lot. What are your options?

Well, let's see. You can fly a shuttle from La Guardia to Reagan for a list fare of $475, or from JFK to Dulles for $320. (With good lead time and flexibility, you can of course find lower fares.) Throw in airport taxis or parking, you're looking at five or six hundred bucks, city center to city center.

Hm. How about the railroad? That, at least, is city center to city center. Well, you can ride the Acela Express from New York's Penn Station to DC's Union Station for around $200 each way; or slower, less well-appointed trains for down to $69 each way. So here you're looking at $140 to $400.

That's better, and of course both planes and trains are acceptable options if it's an expensed trip, with the taxpayer/magazine/foundation picking up the tab. You're not spending, you know, real money.

What if the travel fare is coming out of your pocket, though? And if you survive, just barely, on some ill-paid and unreliable line of work like, oh, say, freelance writing? At this point, one of the Universal Laws of Human Existence kicks in. It's actually Law Number 417:

Universal Law of Human Existence #417.    If you want to save a buck, hang out with Chinese people, and buy where they buy.

Travel-wise, New York to DC-wise, this means taking a bus from East Broadway, in New York's Chinatown, to H Street NW in Washington's Chinatown. The Chinatown bus will cost you $35 round trip, city center to city center — a saving of better than 90 percent on air travel, and at least 75 percent on rail.

Had I been telling you this a month ago, I would have been imparting esoteric knowledge. Not many people know about the Chinatown bus. Around 80 percent of my fellow travellers have been Chinese, the rest a mix of black Americans and backpacking foreign students. Perhaps the Chinatown bus wasn't really that much of a secret; perhaps it was just the no-frills quality of the ride, and the, well, Chinese atmosphere around the termini — think rush hour in Guangzhou — that put people off. Still, I always used to ride with a little thrill of being in on something, of having got a bargain few people knew about.

Now the beans have been spilled. The Economist has run a story about the Chinatown buses. Well, there goes the neighborhood. Now all the Economist-reading riff-raff will be riding the Chinatown bus.

(The Economist piece provides some colorful background detail: "Competition soon became so intense that it prompted the 2004 'bus wars' in New York's Chinatown, in which buses were rammed and torched and a decapitated torso was left near a passenger loading zone..." You can't accuse Chinese entrepreneurs of not taking their business seriously. And a note of caution. Decapitated torsos aside, you get what you pay for with the Chinatown bus. Early this month I showed up at the H Street terminus for a 10 a.m. bus back to New York... which never showed up. Inquiring in the office, I was told curtly: "No 10 o'clock bus today! Canceled! Next bus 12 o'clock! OK?" Er, sure, OK... I guess.)

Rudy, Rudy.     Am I still a Rudy guy? Even though he obviously, still, and with all the reassuring comments he tries to offer, just doesn't get the illegal immigration issue?

Yes, reluctantly and resignedly, I am. It's true that Rudy doesn't get why so many of us are so steamed about the federal government's refusal to enforce immigration laws; but then, nobody in the ruling elites does. Do you think any of them gets it? McCain? Romney? Thompson? They have either bought in to the fables about illegal immigrants being good for the economy, or their brains are addled by white-liberal guilt, or they see the whole issue in terms of the cheerful, obliging Hispanics who keep their houses clean and mind their grandchildren, rather than in terms of, say, MS-13 or, say, Hispanic dropout rates.

I'll admit, however, that I cooled on Rudy some more when I read this item.

Giuliani told small-business owners he would not punish them for unwittingly hiring illegal immigrants.

Federal officials are "trying to put the responsibility for this on employers, on city government, on state government," the former New York mayor said during a conference call arranged by the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

"The simple fact is, nobody but the federal government can stop people from coming into this country illegally, and the federal government does a very bad job of that," Giuliani said.

Now, in theory, Rudy is quite right. This is a federal problem. It is primarily the federal government's responsibility to identify people here in our country illegally, and send them home. And yes, it is unfair to dump some portion of these responsibilities on small businesses, who already have far too much paperwork to contend with.

On the other hand, enlisting the vigilance of small business owners to make sure that people with no right to work here, don't work here, is far and away our best hope of draining the illegal-alien swamp. The feds can build border fences, they can institute better databases to track students and visitors, they can be more energetic in deporting illegal aliens who commit additional crimes. In all those cases, for "can" read "can and should." What they can't do is go dragging illegals out of their houses and apartments and hustling them into paddy wagons. Americans wouldn't stand for it. (Yes, yes, I would stand for it, and perhaps you would too; but let's not kid ourselves — Americans at large would not. Even in 1954 they didn't.)

Our best shot at getting the twelve, twenty, or whatever it is, million illegals heading back to their home countries, is to make it impossible for them to work; and the only way to do that, is by making it unpleasant and expensive for businesses to hire them. Attrition is, as Mark Krikorian keeps telling us, the only way to solve this; and the only people who can make attrition work are business owners. The feds certainly have a role, for example in making good databases available to business owners so they can check social security numbers as easily as swiping credit cards; but employers still have to do the checks. Without them, we're stuck with the illegals.

I suppose Rudy would respond that the illegals currently here must just be accepted and legalized; that the voting public won't tolerate this right now because the borders aren't secure; that he will make the borders secure so that we will accept amnesty and legalization. Perhaps he's right. My own strong preference, though, is for all illegals to go home; and that can't be done without imposing on American employers to some degree.

Math Corner.     Infinite series are always fun. Just to remind you, an infinite series is just an open-ended addition loop, together with some formula for turning one number into another:

[A].  Set N and S both to zero.
[B].  Add 1 to N.
[C].  Apply the formula to N, getting result X.
[D].  Add X to S.
[E].  Go to [B].

Most formulas will cause the sum S to increase without limit. Some will even cause it to increase and decrease without limit simultaneously — the formula X = (–2)N, for example. In lots of interesting cases, though, S will get closer and closer to some limiting value, without ever quite reaching it. Term of art: the algorithm will converge. With the formula X = (½)N, the limit is 2, a fact stated loosely but conveniently by the expression

1 + 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8 + 1/16 + 1/32 + …   =   2

The three dots there indicate that the addition goes on "for ever" in the same way, the addend halving each time.

Some of these infinite series have history and pedigree. This one, for instance:

1 + 1/2² + 1/3² + 1/4² + 1/5² + 1/6² + …

closes on a limit very close indeed to the number 1.644934. What is that number, though? Is it just any old number, or does it mean something? That was the famous Basel Problem of the early 18th century. The great Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler, whose tercentenary we are celebrating this year, attained Europe-wide fame in 1735 by proving that the mystery number is exactly and precisely π²/6.

Another term of art: The problem there was to find a closed form for the series. That's what Euler did. He found the closed form π²/6, as opposed to the open form (which any fool can just calculate by brute force) 1.644934...

This is one of those areas of math in which thinking up problems is way easier than solving them, as the Basel problem illustrates. Anyone with a basic grasp of the issue can think up a neat-looking infinite series, the closed form of whose limit (supposing a limit exists) (and supposing a closed form for it exists) it would take an Euler-scale genius to figure out.

That all leads up to the following conundrum, sent in by a reader. What, asked the reader, would be a closed form for

1/9 + 1/99 + 1/999 + 1/9,999 + 1/99,999 + 1/999,999 + …  ?

That, it seems to me, should be do-able … but I can't do it. Since the terms come out in decimal as 0.1111111111…, 0.0101010101…, 0.0010010010…, 0.0000100001…, and so on, the limit (which exists — that, at least, is easy to prove) is this thing:

d(1)/10 + d(2)/100 + d(3)/1,000 + d(4)/10,000 + d(5)/100,000 + d(6)/1,000,000 + …

where d(N) is the number of factors of N. (It's considered more stylish nowadays to refer to it as σ0(N), as here. And writing the thing in this form, you see an obvious generalization to number-bases other than ten.)

This is the kind of thing Ramanujan would have cracked in a jiffy. Perhaps he did. Or perhaps someone else did. If no-one did, I hereby christen it the Huntington Problem, after my place of domicile, and invite solutions.