Blow, Kristof and Collins

Mr. Blow addresses “The Meaning of Minority” and says the browning of America is very real and unrelenting. Our task is to find our way into this new Ecru Era with as much ease and grace as we can muster.  Mr. Kristof usually makes sense, but today isn’t one of those days.  In “It’s a Smart, Smart, Smart World” he says no wonder his loyal readers have such high I.Q.’s. The “Flynn Effect” explains it all.  The “Flynn Effect” sounds like a HUGE pile of crap, and it led Kristof to produce this sentence:  “The average American in the year 1900 had an I.Q. that by today’s standards would measure about 67.”  I wonder if he was drunk when he wrote that?  Ms. Collins considers “Another Boom Year” and says look no further, people! She’s got all the zombie news that’s fit to print in one column right here.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

America’s white majority just bought itself another year.

According to census figures released Wednesday, 2043 is now the year that whites will no longer make up the majority of Americans. That’s one year later than previous projections.

But one year is nothing in the grand sweep of things. We as a society must begin to consider now what this change will mean for a nation mired in a majority/minority swamp of privilege, expectations, historical benefits and systematic discrimination.

The browning of America is very real and unrelenting. Our task is to find a way to move into this new Ecru Era with as much ease and grace as we can muster.

An April 2011 report from the Metropolitan Policy Program (M.P.P.) at the Brookings Institution found that all but two of the 10 largest metro areas in the country have child populations in which white children are a minority. (Boston and Philadelphia were the exceptions.) Of the remaining eight metro areas, Hispanic children are the largest demographic in six, and blacks are the largest in the other two.

As Hua Hsu, a professor at Vassar College, posited in The Atlantic in 2009: “What will the new mainstream of America look like, and what ideas or values might it rally around? What will it mean to be white after ‘whiteness’ no longer defines the mainstream? Will anyone mourn the end of white America? Will anyone try to preserve it?”

These are epic questions about a seismic shift in American demography. How should we consider a waning majority when their privilege of numbers gives way to what many other Americans have experienced as the minority plight?

On election night, Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly said that “the white establishment is now the minority.” The question is whether this should be a reason for lamentation or celebration. Or neither.

In September, a white student named Matthew Heimbach at Towson University caused a bit of an uproar when The Baltimore Sun reported that he was “gathering support” to start a white student union on campus. The newspaper pointed out: “His former group, Youth for Western Civilization, had sparked controversy with its public displays against Islam, same-sex marriage and multicultural education. That group disbanded after it lost the support of its faculty sponsor, but Heimbach said he hopes his new organization will promote white identity without disparaging other people.”

(It should be noted that Towson’s campus is in Maryland, one of the states in which the M.P.P. found the white child population to be less than 50 percent, and is on the outskirts Baltimore, where whites are only 31.5 percent of the population, according to the Census Bureau.)

Now, putting Youth for Western Civilization’s intolerance aside for a moment (if that’s possible), we must ask: when will public displays of white pride become culturally acceptable? Will they forever be freighted with the weight of history — tantamount to gloating about privilege? Or should all racial and cultural pride be viewed more or less the same?

The Sun quoted Heimbach as saying, “It comes a point where we’re not directly involved in what happened centuries ago and our culture just perpetuates the guilt cycle.” He continued, “We want to provide a positive view of white identity.”

Is that offensive? Or fair play in light of where the country is heading?

And what of O’Reilly’s “white establishment”? Power is a precious commodity. It is rarely voluntarily surrendered, particularly by those who believe they have earned it. The task is to expand the franchise without casting some people as givers and others as takers. That is harder than it sounds.

There will most likely be a growing rub between traditional power structures and emerging ones, much of which will be visible along racial lines but also along gender and sexual identity lines. A great deal of that friction boils down to simple economics. As a July 2011 Pew Research Center report pointed out: “The median wealth of white households is 20 times that of black households and 18 times that of Hispanic households.” Women and gays also earn less than their male and heterosexual counterparts.

This wealth disparity plays into the national debate about the role of government, appropriate spending levels and rates of taxation.

And on a worrisome note, a recent Associated Press poll showed that since Barack Obama was elected in 2008, prejudice toward blacks has increased. According to the report: “In all, 51 percent of Americans now express explicit anti-black attitudes, compared with 48 percent in a similar 2008 survey. When measured by an implicit racial attitudes test, the number of Americans with anti-black sentiments jumped to 56 percent, up from 49 percent during the last presidential election. In both tests, the share of Americans expressing pro-black attitudes fell.”

Furthermore, The A.P. found: “Most Americans expressed anti-Hispanic sentiments, too. In an A.P. survey done in 2011, 52 percent of non-Hispanic whites expressed anti-Hispanic attitudes. That figure rose to 57 percent in the implicit test. The survey on Hispanics had no past data for comparison.”

The last thing we need is a racial and ethnic backlash in this country. Now is the time to move forward with sensitivity and respect and with a watchful eye on how we behave and what we expect as the traditional American majority becomes just another minority.

Next up is Mr. Kristof’s piece of nonsense:

Before I get to the dreary budget debates in Washington, here’s a bright spot of good news: We’re getting smarter.

My readers are all above average. But if I ever had average readers, they would still be brilliant compared with Americans of a century ago.

The average American in the year 1900 had an I.Q. that by today’s standards would measure about 67. Since the traditional definition of mental retardation was an I.Q. of less than 70, that leads to the remarkable conclusion that a majority of Americans a century ago would count today as intellectually disabled.

The trend of rising intelligence is known as the “Flynn Effect,” named for James R. Flynn, the New Zealand scholar who pioneered this area of research. Countless other scholars worldwide have replicated his findings, and it is now accepted science — although there is still disagreement about its causes and significance.

The average American I.Q. has been rising steadily by 3 points a decade. Spaniards gained 19 points over 28 years, and the Dutch 20 points over 30 years. Kenyan children gained nearly 1 point a year.

Those figures come from a new book by Flynn from Cambridge University Press called “Are We Getting Smarter?” It’s an uplifting tale, a reminder that human capacity is on the upswing. The implication is that there are potential Einsteins now working as subsistence farmers in Congo or dropping out of high school in Mississippi who, with help, could become actual Einsteins.

The Flynn Effect should upend some of the smugness among those who have historically done well in global I.Q. standings. For example, while there is still a race gap, black Americans are catching up — and now do significantly better than white Americans of the “greatest generation” did in the 1940s.

Another problem for racists: The country that tops the I.Q. charts isn’t America or in Europe. It’s Singapore, at 108. (The reason may have to do with Singapore’s Confucian respect for learning and its outstanding school system.)

None of this means that people today are born smarter. While I.Q. measures something to do with mental acuity, it’s a rubbery and imperfect metric. It’s heavily shaped by environment — potential is diminished when children suffer from parasites or lead in air pollution. As a result, the removal of lead from gasoline may have added 6 points to the I.Q. of American children, according to Dr. Philip Landrigan, a pediatrician and epidemiologist at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

Flynn argues that I.Q. is rising because in industrialized societies we give our brains a constant mental workout that builds up what we might call our brain sinews.

“The brains of the best and most experienced London taxi drivers,” Flynn writes, citing a 2000 study, have “enlarged hippocampi, which is the brain area used for navigating three-dimensional space.” In a similar way, he argues, modern life gives our brains greater exercise than when we were mostly living on isolated farms.

It’s not that our ancestors were dummies, and I confess to doubts about the Flynn Effect when I contemplate the slide from Shakespeare to “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Likewise, politics does not seem to benefit: One academic study found a deterioration in the caliber of discussions of economics in presidential debates from 1960 to 2008.

But Flynn argues that modern TV shows and other entertainment can be cognitively demanding, and video games like those of the Grand Theft Auto series probably require more thought than solitaire. (No, don’t call the police. My teenage kids are not holding me hostage and forcing me to write this paragraph.)

Back to the debates in Washington. To me, the lesson from this research is the vast amount of human potential globally that is available if we can nurture and stimulate kids who now get neglected.

One challenge is to preserve foreign aid. Some 61 million children around the world still don’t attend even primary school, and President Obama in his 2008 campaign was right to propose a global education fund, in part as an alternative to extremist religious schools. I’m hoping the idea doesn’t get dropped forever.

The even greater challenge is nation-building at home at a time when funding for schools is being slashed, about 7,000 high school students drop out every day, and there are long waits to get into early-childhood-enrichment programs like Head Start. Literacy programs can help break cycles of poverty and unleash America’s potential — and a single F-35 fighter could pay for more than four years of the Reading Is Fundamental program in the entire United States.

As we make hard budget choices, let’s remember that the essential fact of the world is that talent is universal and opportunity is not. I hope we’re finally smart enough to try to remedy that.

Last but not least here’s Ms. Collins:

It appears that a lot of people believe the world will come to an end next Friday, possibly during a zombie apocalypse.

Now that I have your attention, let’s proceed with a discussion of how various accounting principles are influencing Congressional negotiations over the “fiscal cliff.”

Just kidding! We are going to talk about the end of the world and the zombie apocalypse. Honestly, this is a big deal. The Web, which always knows what is really important, is full of it. Panic buying has popped up in Russia. At an antiterrorism summit meeting in San Diego this year, law enforcement officials got to see a demonstration on what to do in the event that Southern California is taken over by zombies.

Also, there have been quite a few recent developments that might well be interpreted as a sign of the end of days:

• The 5,125-year-long Mayan calendar stops on Dec. 21.

• Scientists report the discovery of an elephant that speaks Korean.

• Rick Perry says he might be considering another run for president.

All right, the elephant has a very limited vocabulary. But ever since the world failed to come to an end in 2000, apocalypse aficionados have been looking at December 2012 because of the Mayan calendar thing. I believe the zombies were added on simply because, right now, zombies are really popular. There’s a high-rated zombie TV series, “The Walking Dead,” a whole bunch of best-selling zombie graphic novels, and an upcoming Brad Pitt movie, “World War Z.”

The movie isn’t being released until June, which suggests that Brad Pitt doesn’t have much faith in the Mayans.

What is it about zombies that everybody likes so much? As villains, they aren’t particularly well-rounded. They don’t plan, so the plot options are pretty limited. You can’t develop a forbidden relationship with one. You don’t see a handsome male zombie fall in love with a teenage human and then announce that sex is out of the question because of the threat of neck-biting and, therefore, all he wants to do is cuddle and talk about feelings.

That actually may be the key. Zombies never want to talk about feelings. I’ll bet nine-tenths of the world’s zombie fans are guys.

These days, if you want to sell something, you add zombies. If you’ve got a supply of pup tents you can’t get rid of, re-label them “zombie survival shelters” and they’ll fly out the door. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been trying to get people interested in emergency readiness by repositioning the advice as “Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse.” Organizers of that counterterrorism summit meeting in San Diego said they featured a section on zombie fighting to brighten up an otherwise pretty grim five days of meetings on homeland security.

Zombies. Always the life of the party.

People do love a good apocalypse. The National Geographic Channel feels it’s got a big hit in “Doomsday Preppers,” which is sort of a “Project Runway” for people with fallout shelters.

Every week, “Doomsday Preppers” visits folks who are getting ready for a cataclysm — terrorists, earthquakes, the collapse of the Greenland ice sheet, nuclear war. The program is sponsored by a brand of “gourmet emergency food” and it features a team of experts who grade this week’s survivalists on their preparations. “Your score is 63 out of 100; you have 10 months’ initial survival time,” they told a guy who was making weapons and growing algae to feed his five children in case of a collapse of the world financial system.

Scientists at NASA have taken the whole end-of-the-world thing seriously enough to post answers to a list of Frequently Asked Questions, beginning with the biggie. (“The world will not end in 2012.”) The Mayan calendar, NASA says, just ends like the one on your desk. Also, as long as they have your attention, they want you to know that there is no planet named Nibiru hurtling to Earth and that “a reversal in the rotation of Earth is impossible.” Just in case you were worrying. Toward the end of its Q-and-A, NASA takes up the issue of whether Earth will be hit by a meteor in 2012, assuring readers: “We have already determined that there are no threatening asteroids as large as the one that killed the dinosaurs.”

My bar for comfort on the threatening-asteroid issue is way lower than the dinosaur extinction level. NASA is sounding a little like Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev of Russia, who told his nation that he didn’t believe in the whole end-of-the-world scare, then added: “At least, not this year.”

Scientists, if the topic is potential cosmic calamities, think about your bedside manner. When discussing life-extinguishing meteors or planet-eating black holes, never say “highly unlikely.” Remember, you are talking to a nation of people who kept buying Powerball tickets even after the odds passed 1 in 175 million.


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