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Gregory Cochran

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Inspired by Gregory Cochran’s recent review of Jared Diamond’s 20-year-old Pulitzer Prize winning tome Guns, Germs, and Steel The Fate of Human Societies, here’s my new column in Taki’s Magazine:

Rough Diamond
by Steve Sailer
September 06, 2017

… Why are some races of humans so much more economically and scientifically productive than other races?

Diamond charmingly phrased this as Yali’s Question, after a Melanesian cargo cultist the UCLA physiologist had met on a bird-watching trip to New Guinea:

“Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?”

It’s not that New Guineans don’t care about cargo. In fact, after observing American and Australian military men deposit upon jungle airfields vast quantities of delightful goods, they formed cargo cults to replicate the white man’s magic. As William Manchester recounted in Goodbye, Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War:

The native is no dummy. He can imitate any rite. He puts together a facsimile of a telephone with tin cans and string. He shuffles papers and speaks into the can; then he searches the sky, predicting, “Moni i kam baimbai.” (“Money he come by and by”)…

Frustrated, a New Hanover tribe formed a “Lyndon B. Johnson cult” in the 1960s. Even in New Guinea people knew that nobody was more effective with gadgets and telephones than Lyndon Johnson…. Somehow they amassed sixteen hundred dollars for a one-way ticket from Washington to Moresby and sent the ticket to the White House. Johnson didn’t arrive…. It seems a pity. LBJ would have made a marvelous king of the blackfellows, and he would have enjoyed the job immensely.

Read the whole thing there.

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Here’s Karen Kaplan’s profile in the Los Angeles Times of Gregory Cochran: “Jewish Legacy Inscribed on the Genes.” (It’s now the most emailed article on the LA Times website and the second most heavily viewed article.)

Gregory Cochran has always been drawn to puzzles. This one had been gnawing at him for several years: Why are European Jews prone to so many deadly genetic diseases?

Tay-Sachs disease. Canavan disease. More than a dozen more.

It offended Cochran’s sense of logic. Natural selection, the self-taught genetics buff knew, should flush dangerous DNA from the gene pool. Perhaps the mutations causing these diseases had some other, beneficial purpose. But what?

At 3:17 one morning, after a long night searching a database of scientific journals from his disheveled home office in Albuquerque, Cochran fired off an e-mail to his collaborator Henry Harpending, a distinguished professor of anthropology at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

“I’ve figured it out, I think,” Cochran typed. “Pardon my crazed excitement.”

The “faulty” genes, Cochran concluded, make Jews smarter.

That provocative — some would say inflammatory — hypothesis has landed Cochran and Harpending in the middle of a charged debate about the link between IQ and DNA.

They have been sneered at by colleagues and excoriated on Internet forums. They have been welcomed to speak at a synagogue and a Jewish medical society. They were asked to write a book; that effort, “The 10,000 Year Explosion,” was published early this year.

Scientists are increasingly finding that propensities for human behaviors — for addiction, aggression, risk-taking and more — are written in our genes. But the idea that some groups of people are inherently smarter is troubling to many. Some scientists say it has such racist implications it’s unworthy of consideration.

“What are their theories about those on the opposite end of the spectrum?” asked Neil Risch, director of the Institute for Human Genetics at UC San Francisco, who finds the matter so offensive he can barely discuss it without raising his voice. “Do they have genetic theories about why Latinos and African Americans perform worse academically?”

The biological basis for intelligence can be a thankless arena of inquiry. The authors of “The Bell Curve” were vilified 15 years ago for suggesting genes played a role in IQ differences among racial groups.

Read the whole thing.

And here’s Karen Kaplan’s LA Times’ article on John Hawks back in February.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Gregory Cochran, IQ 
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Here’s the opening:

This Thursday, February 12, 2009, marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, author of the 1859 book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection: Or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.

(I guess Darwin didn’t get the memo about race not existing. You’ll see vast heapings of praise in the press for Darwin this week. Keep in mind, though, that if he were alive today, the same people now lauding the dead Darwin would be denouncing the living one the same way they demonized James Watson in 2007.)

I’m pleased that a new book, The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution, demonstrates that Darwin has two worthy 21st Century successors of comparable insight and ambition: co-authors Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending. (They’ve set up an official website for here).

On a rather less epochal note, the publication of And that’s where Greg and Henry got to know each other! Peter Brimelow recently called to my attention that the inscription on the Westminster Abbey tomb of concert impresario J.P. Salomon reads, “He brought Haydn to England …” Perhaps my gravestone will read, “He introduced Cochran to Harpending.”

Henry Harpending, a professor at the University of Utah and member of the National Academy of Sciences, is one of the few field anthropologists (he lived for 42 months with hunter-gatherer peoples in Africa, such as the tongue-clicking Bushmen) with the mathematical skills to grapple with the current deluge of genetic data.

(Here’s Henry’s hair-raising tale of going hunting with Bushmen for the most lethal African game animal, the Cape buffalo.)

Greg Cochran, a physicist turned evolutionary theorist, is a polymath who might be the most ferociously brilliant idea man of his generation in America.

Obviously, I’m biased about their Cochran the conversationalist is at his acerbic best in a five part interview on the 2Blowhards blog: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, and Day 5.

On the first page of “There’s been no biological change in humans in 40,000 or 50,000 years. Everything we call culture and civilization we’ve built with the same body and brain.” Stephen Jay Gould

The co-authors then announce that they will undermine this standard presumption:

“We intend to make the case that human evolution has accelerated in the past 10,000 years, rather than slowing or stopping, and is now happening about 100 times faster than its long-term average over the 6 million years of our existence. The pace has been so rapid that humans have changed significantly in body and mind over recorded history. Sargon and Imhotep were different from you genetically as well as culturally.”

As Greg quips, “The past may never be the same again.”

More here.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
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Michael B. is conducting an interview all week with Gregory Cochran, co-author of The 10,000 Year Explosion, out in bookstores today.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
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You can read it here at Marginal Revolution.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
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Greg Cochran and Henry Harpending now have a website up for their new book The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution.

They’ve posted four outtakes from the book that didn’t make the final draft for reasons of length. Here’s part of a section intended to help readers understand what it must have been like for early humans to hunt big game with just spears:

Probably most of our readers don’t have personal experience with old-fashioned, Pleistocene-style big game hunting. The only place in which it is still possible – not for much longer, at that – is Africa, where the big game had a chance to adapt as mankind gradually became formidable hunters and thus managed to survive until today. Without that experience, it’s hard to realize how remarkable Neanderthals were, how difficult hunting bison and elk with thrusting spears must have been. It’s not easy to appreciate the risks stone-age hunters had to take when they went after mammoths, rhinos, or Cape buffalo: it’s not exactly safe today, even with modern weapons. One of us, however (Henry Harpending) does have that experience, and the following note gives a flavor of what it’s like – particularly when you don’t have the faintest idea what you’re doing.

Encounter with a Buffalo

When I (HCH) was a graduate student in the 1960’s I spent a year and a half in the northern Kalahari desert doing fieldwork with !Kung Bushmen, foragers who lived by foraging wild foodstuffs and hunting game animals. With several other graduate students we had a base camp near the border with Southwest Africa (now Namibia) about 100 miles south of the Caprivi Strip on the northern border of Botswana. The nearest source of supplies was a two-day trip from their camp by four wheel drive truck.

Several weeks after the rainy season ended there were reports in the neighborhood of a cape buffalo that was harassing people and animals. Often older males lose rank and leave herd to wander by themselves, angry and uncomfortable. They are a threat to people and stock, especially horses.

We were out of meat in our camp, and so with the confidence and foolishness of youth we decided to hunt down the buffalo. We had visions of steaks and chops as well as many pounds of dried meat for travel rations and dog food. At that time permits for Buffalo were only a few dollars from the Botswana game department, and we had several. Although there were stories of Buffalo being aggressive and dangerous to hunt, to my eye they were simply large cattle. Bushmen never hunted them with their poison arrow and spear technology, but they too were naïve and had great faith in our high-powered rifle.

One morning we set off to where the animal had last been reported. The party was a colleague, several young Bushman males, and myself. We soon picked up its tracks and for several hours followed its wanderings through the low thorny scrub. To me the tracks looked exactly like those of a cow but the Bushmen never hesitated. When it was apparent at one point that there were no tracks at all in view I asked, and the Bushmen told me that there was no point in following the tracks since they knew exactly where it was going. We often saw this hunting with Bushmen­–they used actual tracks as a guide but knew the habits of animals so well that they often proceeded on their own to pick up actual tracks later on.

This went on for hours until, suddenly, a young man grabbed my shoulder and said “there it is.” I looked long and hard until I saw it, well camouflaged behind several yards of thick brush, sideways, staring hard at us with its bright pig eyes. It was about forty yards away.

As I brought the rifle up I was dismayed to realize that it still had a powerful telescopic sight. I should have removed it and use open iron sights in thick bush but I had forgotten. With the magnification of the scope I saw a black mass surrounded by brush. It took a moment to locate the front legs, then the chest. Oriented, I aimed and fired. “Bang-whump”, the bang from the rifle and the whump as the bullet struck the buffalo. He jerked a little, then simply stood there staring at me. “Bang-whump, bang-whump” as I fired two more rounds.

Now he tossed his head and snorted, then started running toward us. Buffalo charge with their nose high, only lowering their head to use their horns on contact. I fired one more round at the charging animal, head on, simply pointing at him because he was so close, then turned and ran. We discovered later that the bullet had struck his shoulder, ricocheted off his scapula, and exited through the skin on his side. It certainly didn’t slow him down at all: I might as well have been shooting at a railroad locomotive.

There were three of us running away now from the charging animal: my colleague, our camp dog, and myself.

You can find out what happened here.

To see how tough cape buffalo are, at the bottom of their excerpt is a Youtube of the now-famous “Battle at Kruger” video of a baby cape buffalo’s encounter with hungry lions and crocodiles.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Gregory Cochran 
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Amazon now has a listing for Greg Cochran and Henry Harpending’s book, which should be out in January:

The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution

Much of humanity’s past is a mystery. Until recently, we had only bones and artifacts to help us understand prehistoric human life. But today we have a new window into the past: the historical record that survives in our genes. We can now examine material from our own genomes and analyze it in light of evolutionary theory—a combination Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending call evolutionary genomics. The overwhelming surprise emerging from this new field of research is that human evolution did not stop with the emergence of Homo sapiens. Instead, it sped up—and has continued accelerating into historical times.

The 10,000 Year Explosion is the first book to introduce the new ideas coming from evolutionary genomics that will revolutionize humanity’s understanding of its past. Harpending and Cochran reveal the genetic changes that led to behaviorally modern humans and that allowed our ancestors to adapt to new environments. The majority of these changes, including adaptations to physical and social inventions such as agriculture and urban environments, seem to have started in a huge burst only 10,000 years ago. Cochran and Harpending make clear that many of the important transitions in human history involved biological changes that were the products of natural selection.

Full of revelatory and wondrous findings, The 10,000 Year Explosion proves that humanity’s genetic inheritance can change remarkably fast—and that our own civilization can cause the change.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
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Here’s the link for “Recent acceleration of adaptive human evolution” by Cochran, Harpending, Hawks, Moyzis, and Wang:

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Darwinism, Gregory Cochran 
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From the LA Times:

Study finds humans still evolving, and quickly

By Karen Kaplan, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
2:44 PM PST, December 10, 2007 The pace of human evolution has been increasing at a stunning rate since our ancestors began spreading through Europe, Asia and Africa 40,000 years ago, quickening to 100 times historic levels after agriculture became widespread, according to a study published today.

By examining more than 3 million variants of DNA in 269 people, researchers identified about 1,800 genes that have been widely adopted in relatively recent times because they offer some evolutionary benefit.

Until recently, anthropologists believed that evolutionary pressures on humans eased after the transition to a more stable agrarian lifestyle. But in the last few years, they realized the opposite was true — diseases swept through societies in which large groups lived in close quarters for a long period.

Altogether, the recent genetic changes account for 7% of the human genome, according to the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The advantage of all but about 100 of these genes remains a mystery, said University of Wisconsin-Madison anthropologist John Hawks …

Most of the genetic changes the researchers identified were found in only one geographic group or another. Races as we know them today didn’t exist until fewer than 20,000 years ago, when genes involved in skin pigmentation emerged, Hawks said. Paler skin allowed people in northern latitudes to absorb more sunlight to make vitamin D.

“As populations expanded into new environments, the pressures faced in those environments would have been different,” said Noah Rosenberg, a human geneticist at the University of Michigan, who wasn’t involved in the study. “So it stands to reason that in different parts of the world, different genes will appear to have experienced natural selection.”

Hawks and his colleagues from UC Irvine, the University of Utah and Santa Clara-based gene chip maker Affymetrix Inc. examined genetic data collected by the International HapMap Consortium, which cataloged single-letter differences among the 3 billion letters of human DNA in people of Nigerian, Japanese, Chinese and European descent.

The researchers looked for long stretches of DNA that were identical in many people, suggesting that a gene was widely adopted and that it spread relatively recently, before random mutations among individuals had a chance to occur.

They found that the more the population grew, the faster human genes evolved. That’s because more people created more opportunities for a beneficial mutation to arise, Hawks said.

In the last 5,000 to 10,000 years, as agriculture was able to support increasingly large societies, the rate of evolutionary change rose to more than 100 times historical levels, the study concluded.

Among the fastest-evolving genes are those related to brain development, but the researchers aren’t sure what made them so desirable, Hawks said.

There are other mysteries too.

“Nobody 10,000 years ago had blue eyes,” Hawks said. “Why is it that blue-eyed people had a 5% advantage in reproducing compared to non-blue-eyed people? I have no idea.” [MORE]

And from The Telegraph in Britain:

Humans ‘evolving to have children later’

By Roger Highfield, Science Editor
Last Updated: 10:01pm GMT 10/12/2007

Good news for future generations of career women: we are evolving to have more children later in life, according to a recent study.

Humankind has evolved more rapidly in the past 5,000 years, at a rate roughly 100 times higher than any other period of human evolution. And an author of the study predicts that this suggests humans will further evolve to have more children later in life. [MORE]

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Darwinism, Gregory Cochran 
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Here’s the abstract and last paragraph of the big paper. (Click the title in blue for the 8 page PDF of the full paper.)

Recent acceleration of human adaptive evolution

The last paragraph of the discussion:

It is sometimes claimed that the pace of human evolution should have slowed as cultural adaptation supplanted genetic adaptation. The high empirical number of recent adaptive variants would seem sufficient to refute this claim. It is important to note that the peak ages of new selected variants in our data do not reflect the highest intensity of selection, but merely our ability to detect selection. Due to the recent acceleration, many more new adaptive mutations should exist than have yet been ascertained, occurring at a faster and faster rate during historic times. Adaptive alleles with frequencies under 22% should then greatly outnumber those at higher frequencies. To the extent that new adaptive alleles continued to reflect demographic growth, the Neolithic and later periods would have experienced a rate of adaptive evolution more than 100 times higher than characterized most of human evolution. Cultural changes have reduced mortality rates, but variance in reproduction has continued to fuel genetic change. In our view, the rapid cultural evolution during the Late Pleistocene created vastly more opportunities for further genetic change, not fewer, as new avenues emerged for communication, social interactions, and creativity.

Linda Seebach has a column about it:

The old story was that around the time agriculture started to replace hunting and gathering as a way of life for human beings, biological evolution faded into insignificance because it was so much slower. There’s hardly been enough time – only about 10,000 years or so – for human biology to have changed enough so’s you’d notice.

Not so, as studies of the human genome are demonstrating. When people began domesticating animals, planting crops, and living in settled communities, they created environments for themselves quite different from any environments the human species had occupied before, and natural selection proceeded, as it always does, to favor survival and reproductive success for individuals who were, by chance, better adapted to those environments.

The marquee example is retaining the ability to digest milk into adulthood, which is nearly universal among people of European descent, and quite rare elsewhere.

But the shift to agriculture was also important, Cochran said, because agriculture can support a larger population. Any individual might be the next one to draw a winning ticket in the genetic lottery, and the human species was suddenly buying a lot more lottery tickets.

Think of the genes as a crew of thousands of extras, swarming around the sets and the studio lots, auditioning for jobs. They play more than one role, in lots of different movies, for different directors, as circumstances permit.

One day on the set where they’re filming a swords-and-circuses epic, the director spots a spear-carrier who has given an especially elegant performance, impaling a charioteer.

“You there, with the spear? Could you do that again? Yeah?! I’m gonna make you a star!” And – for a quick glimpse into how biology and culture drive each other – if the spear-carrier proves to be bankable, he’ll get more roles, the director will get more movies, the studio will tilt toward making more epics and the extras with good spear-carrying traits will be more likely to succeed in that environment.

Success, in the gene world, is reproductive success – leaving descendants – but given the role of the casting couch in Hollywood, maybe that’s not pushing the metaphor too far.

On the next set over, the director is casting a chick flick. He says to his assistant, “see that looker over there, the one with the purple eyes? Ask her whether she can ride a horse.”

Now the aspiring starlets competing with Elizabeth Taylor for a role in “National Velvet” can take riding lessons. But they can’t do anything to give themselves violet eyes.

The hunter-gatherers competing with pastoralists for food resources could certainly have learned to keep domesticated animals. But if they and their children could not digest milk much past the average age of weaning, it wouldn’t do them any good. In hard times they’d starve while the meek drinkers of milk inherit the earth.

Or at least a broad swath of it from Iceland to South India.

Accelerated biological evolution in humans doesn’t mean that we’re turning into aliens, but there is evidence that hundreds of human genes are under selection pressure, having to do with such things as diet, vitamin metabolism, the functioning of the central nervous system, disease resistance, hair, skin and eye color, the shape of the skeleton and behavioral traits better suited to living in large groups. “We’re tamer,” Cochran said.

I asked him why we’re not developing floppy ears like the silver foxes bred for tameness. [MORE]

Co-author John Hawks is promising an FAQ about it later on Monday evening.

The indefatigable Jason Malloy of offers this summary of initial media reaction:

First wave of media articles:

"Science fiction writers have suggested a future Earth populated by a blend of all races into a common human form. In real life, the reverse seems to be happening.

People are evolving more rapidly than in the distant past, with residents of various continents becoming increasingly different from one another, researchers say."

"Genes have evolved relatively quickly in Africa, Asia and Europe but almost all of the changes have been unique to their corner of the world."

Eureka] Genome study places modern humans in the evolutionary fast lane

"Adds Hawks: "We are more different genetically from people living 5,000 years ago than they were different from Neanderthals.""

"Asked about James Watson's controversial claims that intelligence evolved less effectively in people of African descent, Harpending said the study wasn't designed to test such characteristics. He also cautioned against interpreting the findings as suggesting that people are becoming fundamentally better...

"Evolution is a double-edged sword," he said. "What evolution cares about is that I have more offspring. If you can do it by charming and manipulating, and I'm a hardworking farmer that's going to feed the kids ten years down the road, then you're going to win. Hit-and-run, irresponsible males are reproducing more. That isn't good for anyone except those males, but that's evolution.""

UK] Why the human race is growing apart

"Armand Leroi, Reader in Evolutionary Biology at Imperial College, London, said: "In principle, this could have led to speciation if it had continued, but in practice, it has got to be the case that that cannot happen now. The reason is that this study has looked at largely separated populations in the past, but everything about human history since the industrial revolution weighs overwhelmingly against separation and thus against speciation too. Huge increases in gene flow are going to wipe this trend out.""

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Darwinism, Gregory Cochran 
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Here’s an excerpt from the second part of Michael Blowhard’s interview with Gregory Cochran:

2B: As far as Mideast policy goes, how could we do better than we do?

Cochran: I think we have little chance of running a practical Middle East policy. The political class is ignorant and / or crazy (and also lazy) and seems to enjoy being manipulated by groups whose interests are not closely aligned with those of the United States. For example, Bush Senior had Prince Bandar try to prepare Junior for the world stage. Why the hell would anyone pick a fat Saudi thief as a political science instructor? Why not someone on our side? And when Rudy has Norman Podhoretz as a foreign policy adviser — Norman who wants to invade Arab countries that haven’t even been discovered yet — well, I tremble for my country.

2B: So what’s the right general course of action for the US as the world’s premier power?

Cochran: Do little. Stay strong — although this can’t possibly require the current high level of military expenditures. If I were picking an actor to represent the right policy, it’d be Jimmy Stewart — a nice guy that you never, ever want to threaten. A mix of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Winchester ’73.”

2B: What are some basic things that you wish more Americans understood about the mid-east, and about their own government?

Cochran: 1. Iraq is a Seinfeld war — a war about nothing. 2. The Mideast isn’t that important. 3. The people running the country have no idea what they’re doing.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Gregory Cochran, Iraq 
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As I’ve mentioned before, although I was highly skeptical of the Iraq Attaq in 2002, my big mistake was that I didn’t trust my friend Greg Cochran’s assessment that Iraq had no functioning nuclear weapons program. (Here’s an email from Cochran that Jerry Pournelle posted on his website on October 14, 2002.)

Here on the one hand were the assembled ranks of the Great and the Good telling us that we had to worry intensely about the possibility of Saddam building the Bomb in his underground laboratories, and there on the other hand was Greg Cochran saying that a quick look at publicly available information shows that no way could Saddam afford to build a Bomb. Now, I reasoned, obviously, Greg is smarter than the average big shot in government and media. In fact, he might be smarter than anybody in government and media. But is he smarter than all of them put together?

As we know now, when it came to the great question upon which the history of this decade hinged, the answer was: Yes; yes he was.

Michael Blowhard of 2Blowhards thinks we ought to try to learn from how Cochran figured it out, and is conducting a two part interview with him. Here’s an excerpt from the first part:

2B: When did you start to make sense of the current mess?

Cochran: I knew enough about nuclear weapons development to make my own estimate of what was going on in Iraq. It was obvious to me that Administration was full of shit back in late 2002, either lying and/or totally deluded.

2B: How did you know that?

Cochran: I looked at freely available evidence. For example, when the Feds started telling us that Iraq was a nuclear menace, I knew that the hardest step in making a bomb is obtaining fissionable materials, and I knew what the four ways of making those fissionable materials were (breeder reactors, gaseous diffusion plant, centrifuge, calutron), their costs and difficulty, and it seemed to me that none of them were possible (while remaining undetected) in Iraq, considering sanctions, inspections, aerial recon, negligible local talent, and being stony broke.

Since I read the paper every single day, I knew roughly how much oil Saddam was smuggling out by truck and how big a kickback he was getting on the oil-for-food exports. A horseback guess said that the whole Iraqi state was running on a billion dollars a year. Took about fifteen minutes of Googling to determine that. Not much to pay for an army, secret police, palaces out the wazoo, and an invisible, undetectable Manhattan project. Which was right on the money, as later laid out in reports by Duelfer and Paul Volcker.

I’m told that the CIA doesn’t do this kind of capacity analysis, why, I dunno. I’ve also heard that they had only one guy in the entire agency who knew enough to do the technical-capacity analysis I just mentioned and that he was working on something else. They don’t have a lot of physicists, partly because they pay peanuts, partly because it’s a hateful place to work where you need a key to go to the bathroom. Sheesh, they don’t even play “Secret Agent Man” in the elevator. There were plenty of people at DOE who could have done that kind of capacity analysis — but the Administration refused to listen to the technical experts.

2B: What do you hear from your friends in the field?

Cochran: They tell me that there’s not one political appointee in the government who could do that analysis. Likely true. That must always have been the case. However, the Bush people seem to pay no attention to technical expertise, ever. They don’t believe in it. As far as I can tell, their position is that everything ever said by anybody is propaganda. Projection? Ad Hominem rules ok, there is no other argument. Steve Sailer calls it “marketing-major post-modernism.”

2B: How did your reasoning proceed?

Cochran: When I began to hear people claiming that Iraq was a big backer of international terrorism, in particular, anti-American terror, I knew that every single article touching upon this subject in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal over the past twenty years said otherwise. When I checked later, official US-GOV statements did too, up until late 2001. The stories I remembered had Saddam down as the fourth-largest funder of the one of the main Palestinian organizations and, once upon a time, a backer of one of the less memorable factions in Lebanon, nobody you’ve ever heard of. Everything I’d ever heard said that the Mukhabarat spend most of its time looking to whack Iraqi exiles.

In other words, never a big player in that game, too busy with the Iran-Iraq war in the ’80s, too broke in the ’90s. Everybody knew that the Baathists had been a spent force, nothing that would attract any young and coming hothead, for at least thirty years.

When I heard people talk about how civilized and secular and educated Iraq was, I started out remembering how they’d torn the Hashemite royal family to bloody pieces in the streets back in ’58. As I said, not a real middle East aficionado, but that incident is hard to forget. When Wolfowitz talked about literacy, I looked it up in the online CIA Factbook: 60% adult illiteracy, worse than any of their neighbors. When he said they didn’t have pesky holy cities as in Saudi Arabia, I thought to myself “Karbala? ” — I guess I did remember something from those medieval histories.

And of course I noticed when the IAEA inspectors followed up about 30 of our tips and every one came up dry. I figured our entire case was wrong, a product of fantasy.

Judging from the Israeli occupation of Lebanon, I figured low-level guerrilla resistance in Iraq was more likely than not. Partly came to that conclusion because of recent examples in the Middle East, partly because of what I’ve read of the long-running story of nationalism and anti-colonialism over the last hundred years and more: books like Alistair Horne’s “A Savage War of Peace,” accounts of the Boer War, the Philippine Insurrection, Maximilian in Mexico, Portugal’s endless colonial wars in Africa, and Vietnam of course.

2B: What are some of the reasons so many observers went so wrong?

Cochran: I think that most people writing about international politics don’t have much useable history. They keep making the same two analogies (everything is either Munich or Vietnam) because they simply don’t know any other history, not that they really know much about Vietnam or WWII either.

I also think that they have zero quantitative knowledge. Comparisons of Saddam’s Iraq and Hitler’s Germany used to bug me, since Germany had the second largest economy in the world and was a real contender, while Iraq had the fortieth largest GNP and didn’t have a pot to piss in.

I once assumed people were deliberately lying, but now I think that they simply don’t have any quantitative picture of the world at all. One, two, three — many! In the same way, people who equate the dangers of jihadism with that of Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union really don’t know big from small, don’t know anything about the roots of national power. I think most writers and columnists are innumerate, just like the average American. Perhaps more so. If they could count, why the hell would they have gone into opinion writing?

2B: Is everyone involved in the great game inept?

Cochran: I think that some of the Washington lifers know what they’re doing, particularly in less-technical areas. There are plenty of people in DOE — Los Alamos and Livermore and Sandia — who know exactly what they’re talking about. As for the generals, a mixed bag. Some knew what they were talking about, some were downright dense. I’d say that Tommy Franks was effectively stupid. So was Sanchez, so was Odierno, who is still there as #2. In different ways. I’m not sure that any commander we’ve tried is what you’d call smart, in the sense that Sherman, Grant, Nimitz and Spruance were smart. Since Bush wanted people who “believe in the mission,” it was hard to get good execution, considering that mission is and always was stupid.


(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Gregory Cochran, Iraq 
Steve Sailer
About Steve Sailer

Steve Sailer is a journalist, movie critic for Taki's Magazine, columnist, and founder of the Human Biodiversity discussion group for top scientists and public intellectuals.

The “war hero” candidate buried information about POWs left behind in Vietnam.
The evidence is clear — but often ignored
The unspoken statistical reality of urban crime over the last quarter century.
The major media overlooked Communist spies and Madoff’s fraud. What are they missing today?
What Was John McCain's True Wartime Record in Vietnam?