Archives for April 2012

Liberals Can’t Be Appeased

One thing that an observer of Russian politics can’t help noticing is the sheer impossibility of appeasing the Russian liberals. Here are two recent exhibits from the Moscow Times.

First, coming to the end of his Presidency, Medvedev pardoned some people in a list of political prisoners presented by the non-systemic opposition a few months ago. The choice of pardons seem justified on grounds of reason and proportionality although it is unclear to what extent, say, someone convicted to three years in prison for selling 70g of marijuana qualifies as a political prisoner (if that was a criterion for political repression, I wonder how many “political prisoners” are currently rotting in US jails?).

But predictably enough the liberals are far more concerned with Medvedev’s refusal to pardon Khodorkovsky without at least first receiving a petition requesting a pardon from the imprisoned. Of course one would also think that withholding many billions of dollars from the tax authorities and defrauding minority shareholders – as repeatedly established by not only the Russian justice system, but the ECHR – are far more serious crimes than selling weed even in a country as regressive in its attitudes to drugs freedoms as Russia. Not that Russia’s so-called “liberals” see it that way.

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Nils van der Vegte – The Political Crisis in the Netherlands: The Rise of the Reds?

Da Russophile readers will probably know of Nils van der Vegte. He is a Dutch scholar currently based in Arkhangelsk who runs the site Russia Watchers (with Joera Mulders), with whom I did a co-translation of an article on emigration to Belarus. He also has some strong opinions about politics in his native Netherlands. This article is about the possible political ramifications from the recent collapse of the Dutch government.

On Saturday the 21st of April the Dutch minority government fell after the populist Party of Freedom, under the leadership of Geert Wilders dropped out of the negotiations stating that the new proposed budget cuts would hit its electorate too hard. The question is, what now? New elections will be held in September or October 2012 but what will happen in the meantime? And what will “Brussels” and the financial markets say about the fall of the Dutch government? Some of my international friends asked me about the situation and as I have no blog to explain this, I am most grateful to Anatoly Karlin to provide me with an opportunity to do this.

The political system: A short history

Before I start with a short history of Dutch Politics, it is important to say something about our political system. This is not going to be a very detailed history of more than a hundred pages but to understand the problems of The Netherlands one needs to have some basic knowledge about how things work. The political system is sometimes defined as a consociational state: a mix of parliamentary representative democracy and a constitutional monarchy. My country does not have a president, it has a king or queen (during the last century we only had queens). The king does not have any real powers, his power sharply decreased following the introduction of Ministerial Responsibility in 1848, together with a new constitution. The Prime Minister is the most powerful figure in the government as, for example, in Britain. To form a government in The Netherlands, one needs 75+1 seat in the House of Representatives[1], which consists of 150 seats in total.

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Where Do The French Presidential Candidates Stand on Russia?

Le Nouvel Observateur recently compiled opinions on Russian democracy from each of the ten French Presidential candidates. While the Left is highly critical of the authoritarian Putin regime, the Right is more favorably disposed to the Russian President-elect. On the eve of the first round of the French Presidential elections, I provide a translation of Russie: Ce qu’en disent les candidats.

Nicolas Sarkozy

“After the crash of the 1990’s, it was at the cost of a takeover that the authority of the state was restored and the economy recovered. There was brutal repression in Chechnya, the war in Georgia, and most recently the contestations about the elections, even if they do not give cause to question the legitimacy of the next President. Today the Russians want political reform and I think it is the will of their leaders too. France’s role should be to encourage this movement, but not to read Russia lectures or stigmatize this great country which, despite our differences, is one of our major partners. Let’s not forget that it is only 20 years since Russia emerged from a long totalitarian night.”

Sarkozy is the current center-right President and head of the ruling UMP, who is likely to lose to Hollande in the second round according to opinion pollsters.

François Hollande

“Russia agreed to commitments, especially those of the Council of Europe, which she must respect. I especially wish this so that we can build the partnership with Russia which we need to create a growth-friendly environment in Europe and to construct other international balances. This is particularly the case in the UN Security Council where Russia cannot continue to go its own way, complicit in the massacres in Syria. Russian society is changing, as evidenced in the recent elections during which a real demand for democracy was expressed. It is now important that the Russian government pursue its announced democratization efforts. All over the world, France must support the rule of law, civil liberties, media independence, and respect for human rights, all while respecting the sovereignty of peoples. This requires a deep dialog and cooperation with Russia, which is a major partner for France and the EU, both economically and strategically.”

Hollande is the center-left head of the Socialist Party, and is the pollsters’ favorite to take the French Presidency.

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A Meeting With A Demographer

Today I had the pleasure of meeting up with Nick Eberstadt, an analyst at the AEI who specializes in Korea and Russian demography. He was dropping by SF and we had drinks at the excellent Samovar Tea Lounge.

As readers will know, we do obviously have many disagreements on Russia demography, with Eberstadt representing the “pessimistic” side and myself, the more optimistic one; and his assumptions and methods have at times been objects of criticism at this blog. If I may be so bold, recent data – population growth since 2008, and perhaps even a natural increase this year – has, at least thus far, favored the “optimistic” variants more than the “pessimistic” ones (though one can validly argue that the “echo effect” of the 1990’s baby bust has yet to make its play).

Nonetheless, I should emphasize that he is a deeply knowledgeable and conscientious scholar, who is receptive to new data and convincing counter-arguments, and a very interesting and entertaining conversationalist in person. It would be good for Russia watchers in general to meet up more often, as online interaction just isn’t the same thing. If you’re ever passing by the Bay Area, feel free to drop me a line.

Assange @RT: Russia Provides A Platform To Western Dissidents

As I noted before, the symmetry is amusing to say the least. Anti-regime characters such as Nemtsov and Navalny, who are marginal in Russia (both in popularity and media presence – as is logical, nothing undemocratic about that), are treated as Genuine Voices of the Russian People by the Western media. In its turn, Russia has wised up and returns the favor by providing a platform to Western dissidents such as Julian Assange, who by any halfway objective standards meets the definition of a political prisoner.

As of today, he has begun a 12 part series of interviews hosted by RT (the first one, an interview with Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah, is linked to above; Kevin Gosztola provides an excellent summary). Whatever one’s personal attitudes towards Wikileaks, Hezbollah, Israel, the US, etc. it is beyond dispute that this is of public interest and as such, valid journalism. No wonder then that Independent Western Journalists (who as Greenwald repeatedly shows are nothing of the sort, being consistently deferential to state power in the West) and assorted blowhards like the plagiarist hack Luke Harding, Konstantin von Eggert, and the SWP Hive are all doing double time to condemn Assange, and RT for daring to give him a voice.

That is of course their prerogative, but it does cast a very unflattering light on their self-appointed status as champions of universalist dissidence and free speech. Obviously RT isn’t quite that either, but then again, it doesn’t claim to be. In other words, it has enough decency to avoid Western-style moralistic hypocrisy.

Peter Savodnik: Portrait Of A Democratic Journalist

I recently had the dubious pleasure of engaging in an extended Twitter exchange with Peter Savodnik. Peter is a consummately credentialed journalist based in New York. He is also a classical representative of the well-paid prostitute class otherwise known as Independent Western Journalists in polite (i.e. doublethink) society, as well as of that emigre clique which delights in smearing their former homeland at every opportunity (as with Julia Ioffe, Miriam Elder, etc). So nicely does he encapsulate the dinner suit-wearing, respectability-laden double standards, Western chauvinism, ingrained authoritarianism, and deep vein of conspiratorial paranoia that characterizes Western Independent Journalism that I think it useful to lay out our conversation in full.

Because protesting sky-high education costs and corporate corruption is so much more morally repugnant than defiling one of a country’s most sacred places.

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Through A Glass Ceiling Darkly: Racial IQ Disparities And The Wealth Of Nations

Now that I’m done with the Necessary Caveats, it’s time we had a look at why exactly HBD/IQ theories are both valid, and relevant to the real world. As I see it, their main import (as interpreted by me) can be distilled into a few logically consecutive, falsifiable statements:

  1. IQ tests are a valid, culturally fair measure of cognitive ability.
  2. It is hereditary.
  3. Race is real.
  4. There are racial/ethnic differences in average IQ that cannot be explained merely by reference to socio-economic or cultural factors.
  5. The US is an excellent “laboratory” to ascertain the average genetic IQ ceiling of different races and ethnicities.
  6. Average IQ influences prosperity, and general living standards.
  7. Consequently, knowing the racial constraints on average IQ’s – i.e., the IQ ceilings – we can estimate the relative development potential of different countries and regions.

All of them have have acquired a great deal of supporting evidence, even though they – or in particular, their linkage – remains taboo for the media and wider public discussion. By the numbers:

1. There is typically a large degree of correlation between various IQ tests, and academic achievement scores (1, 2). Nobody has yet discovered a test which has a negative correlation with a battery of other tests. This implies that there is a common “g factor” behind all types of cognitive ability.

Obviously this allows for very big variations within a single person. But within a group, someone who does well in one test will most likely also do well in another.

The argument that IQ tests are culturally biased is frequently made on the basis that they show differences in performance between racial/ethnic groups. This is a fallacy. In any case, there are IQ tests designed to be culturally fair insofar as they eschew words and test pattern recognition, such as Cattell Culture Fair III and Raven’s Progressive Matrices. These tests have a high correlation with the battery of other tests, i.e. they are valid reflections of g.

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Evolutionary Roots Of Homophobia?

Russia is in something of a homophobic fever. Four regions (including Saint-Petersburg) have banned the dissemination of “gay propaganda” to minors, it may yet go federal, and disassociated itself from a G8 statement on gay rights. It’s obviously not like in many Middle Eastern countries where homosexuality is illegal (as in the USSR) but attitudes do resemble those of the US or the UK in the 1980’s.

This got me thinking on another tangent, however. Why would a straight person be homophobic anyway?

From the POV of straight dudes, more gays means less competition for chicks.  (Lesbians are mostly bisexual so it doesn’t apply in reverse, and besides, homophobia tends to focus on gays anyway). That is one reason why I don’t mind gays apart from my general live-let live attitudes. The incentives for chicks aren’t as clear-cut as for dudes, as they’d have to try harder to find permanent partners, but upside is they are much less likely to wind up with a closet homosexual.

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Race Denial vs. Racism – A False Dichotomy

This may be the article I’ve hesitated longest over publishing. Its subject matter has always hovered as a specter over my writings on the close relation between human capital and economic growth; an obvious but studiously ignored presence*. I am talking, of course, about race and IQ. Of racial differences in IQ, to be precise.

Why now? First, it’s a propitious moment to raise the issue, what with the recent publicity surrounding the Trayvon Martin case and the firing of John Derbyshire from The National Review (for writing an article in another magazine whose recommendations most liberals follow in private even as they denounce it as incorrigibly racist in public). But my purpose isn’t to get attention as such. On these matters, it tends to come from unwelcome quarters, either from the PC police (who regard any discussion of race other than to deny it as crimethink), or from the reactionary White nationalist crowd, who think they’ve stumbled on ideological soul-brethren (thanks but no thanks, or to quote Robert Lindsay, “We’re never getting a boarding pass. Never!”). I suspect being a liberal race realist is somewhat akin to being a Jew before anti-Semitism went out of fashion. You get fired on from all sides. Not fun.

The second, more substantive reason, is that the issue matters. If it was an irrelevance, I obviously wouldn’t bother (though tellingly, most people have no problem discussing genetic causes for relatively unimportant things, such as the preponderance of Kenyan marathoners, or East Asians’ lack of alcohol tolerance). But there is a mountain of evidence indicating that IQ levels have a very real and direct influence on the world, from the life earnings potential of individuals to the wealth and poverty of nations.

This is a futurist blog, and it has never shied away from inconvenient but pertinent observations that go against Establishment orthodoxy, e.g. that the world is finite, and industrial growth in its current form is unsustainable. As regards its distribution, my views on the sources of prosperity would discomfit both left and right; contrary to theorists from both camps, it is mainly determined by levels of human capital, both within nations and internationally (the two major outlier groups, countries with resource windfalls or central-planning legacies, are exceptions that prove the rule). A corollary is that if there are genetically rooted differences in IQ between races that go beyond the power of racism or exploitation to explain, then there would be variegated ceilings on the extent to which human capital can be developed in different nations and different societies. It would also mean that major inequalities in global development are here to stay.

But first, a much-needed definition of terms to clarify why Race Realism (or “Human Biodiversity”) is not coterminous with Racism.

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Is Khodorkovsky A Political Prisoner? Read The ECHR Judgments Before Quacking

It’s one thing if Western journalists and Yukos PR henchmen – if there is indeed any difference – shill for all they’re worth about the travails of Khodorkovsky, the former oligarch doing time for fleecing the Russian Treasury to the tune of billions of dollars, charges he sooner boasts about than denies when given the opportunity to address Russians on national TV. It’s quite another when many ordinary Russians begin to lap up their lies, with a disturbing 10% describing him as a political prisoner in a recent VCIOM poll, and opinions are split 50/50 on a Presidential pardon. Congrats to the PR team, I guess.

Fortunately, at least some court systems still keep their judgments partitioned from the demands of self-interested businesspeople, their PR hacks, libertarians who believe that money should be able to buy a Not Guilty verdict, liberals operating under the delusion MBK is a popular and legitimate political opponent of Putin, etc. According to four (by my count) judgments to date, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) is one such institution. The Yukos team managed to get their cases heard at Europe’s highest court of appeal, and they decided that – barring a few administrative irregularities, for which Khodorkovsky was awarded a paltry $35,000 – there was no proof for any of his allegations that the case was politically motivated. This is despite the fact that the ECHR can in no sense be having a Russian government-friendly stance, given the numbers of judgments that have gone against it there.

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