Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Anybody considered this?

Everyone who writes, or aspires to write, has had the experience of having a really great, really original idea - and then open a newspaper, magazine, website etc to find his/her great idea worked out in print under someone else's name.

This has happened to me more times than I can count. Most recently I found this article by Jonah Goldberg http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=ZTVjNGRmZmM0M2FmODgwZmFlYTEyODBlODcxMzAyNTY=

which expresses something I thought I was ahead of the curve on. Well, evidently not.

What Goldberg says is that he's the first to voice (though not to endorse - yet) what a lot of people who are more-or-less on the Right are thinking; the threat of jihadism makes differences between Republicans and Democrats seem so trivial, and since the Democrats show no signs of putting the welfare of the country ahead of making political points against the Republicans, maybe we should just elect them. "It's your problem now, what are you going to do about it?"

When an idea is in the air, points go to the first writer to pluck it out and put it down.

That's OK though, I've still got some ideas I can claim to be ahead of the curve on. One question I've been asking about for the past several years is finally being taken seriously. How many surplus Chinese men are there?

A perennial problem in Chinese history is that in famine times in China, families killed girl babies when they couldn't feed them. Boy babies were preserved because sons support their parents in their old age, while girls are married out and separated from their families and obligations thereto, forever. (Even widows' remarriage rights were controlled by their in-laws.)

What this means, is that a generation after a really widespread famine, there was a surplus of young men who couldn't get married because there weren't enough women. This to say the least, makes for social instablility. The last time this happened on a really massive scale, was before the T'ai Ping Rebellion, which set records for casualties that lasted well into the 20th century.

So... some years back when reading about the "one-child policy" of the Chinese regime, and how it had led to sex-selection of boy children through abortion, it occurred to me that this was having the same effect on Chinese demographics that famines used to. (Not to mention that they've had widespread famines under the communists as well.) That generation of boys should be coming to maturity in large numbers right about now.

So how many extra boys are there? For years I couldn't find a durn thing about it, until recently when I've begun to find some estimates in articles about China. I have no idea how accurate they are, but they run at around 20 million (!!!). That's 20 million frustrated, horney young men who have to turn gay, patronize whorehouses or sublimate their sex drives in ways young men usually do - in stupid risk-taking behaviour and violence, i.e. they kill each other off until the sex ratio is more even. They are also fertile breeding ground for any Cause that offers a chance for rapine and pillage.

Furthermore, I've read of a similar phenomenon in rural India; families selecting boys by abortion of female fetuses. What kind of sexual imbalance are they working on?

In other words, the most populated area of the Earth is going to be hideously unstable for at least another generation.

There is another idea I've never been able to get anyone to take a look at, and now it seems the question is moot anyway.

I think they found an important part of Saddam Hussein's WMD program the first week of the war - and looked right past it.

Within days of the coalition entry into Iraq, CNN showed an underground bunker with an entrance that looked like an Old West mine, full of 55 gallon oil drums. There was a brief stir of excitement, then jubilation in the Middle Eastern press when it turned out they were full of - insecticides.

What occurred to me was that insecticides are a handy chemical precursor to a servicable nerve gas. Commercial insecticides are what the Aum Shin Rikyo cult in Japan used to brew their home-made gas. Of course, they could have been meant for agricultural use - but then why store them in a bunker quite obviously meant to be concealed from aerial observation?

(For the record, I thought "Weasons of Mass Distruction" was a stupid term. Artillery and aerial bombardment are "weapons of mass destruction". War gases have been effective in only a very limited set of circumstances, usually when used against helpless civilians.)

I nosed this idea around and generated zero interest in any quarter, pro- or anti- Iraq war.

Ah-well, sic transit gloria blogger.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Policy and housekeeping

Welcome to a new blogger.

If you read the comments section of 'Racism, some questions' you've seen the comment by Plateau. I urge you to check out his blog Iranian Plateau here http://plateauofiran.blogspot.com/

His latest post has a translation of the proclamation of Cyrus the Great on the humane treatment of conquered nations and the rights of all men to choose their own religion and be secure in their property. He also writes about the desire of the Iranian people for regime change. Check it out.

Welcome to Blogolandia Plateau. But depending on where you live, you might keep identifying personal details out of your posts.

And speaking of identifying personal details and other matters...

My policy on comments:

Some blogger have a pretty strict policy on who gets to publish what, excluding abuse, insult, obscenity etc. or even disagreement. One I know sometimes displays the more grotesque attacks, but deletes the mildest reproofs and disagreements. Many edit for content and style.

I don't do that.

Insult me all you like. I figure that if I keep a fairly reasonable tone, rude or hysterical insult makes you look bad - and me look good by comparison. Plus, I have chosen to blog under my real name. Insult me anonymously and what kind of cowardly chickenshit do you think it makes you look like? Of course, if you use a pseudonym, nobody else will know. But you will.

Disagree with me all you like. Last I looked, disagree is what free men do. I am not God (gasp!) and I know for a fact that some of what I believe, must be wrong. (But what? That's what I lose sleep over.) "We find comfort among those who agree with us, growth among those who disagree." (Can anybody attribute that?)

Besides, differing opinions is where I get a lot of ideas for new posts.

Disturbing comments: Sometimes I get comments from people who enthusiasticlly agree with something I've said - and then state something deeply disturbing to me. These stand too. I am NOT responsible for what anybody else says in the comments.

Obscenity. If you send me a potty-mouth rant, I may edit the $%&*ing thing thusly.

Advertisements will be deleted mercilessly and an open contract taken out on the poster. (Just kidding - or maybe not...)

Threats will be saved for evidentiary purposes and the appropriate authorities notified.

I ask, that you stay on topic and keep comments reasonably short. How short? If you're writing comments that approach the length of a typical post - you should have your own blog. Send a short note with a link.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Racism, some questions

Everybody talks about racism these days, but has anybody actually gone back and defined what the heck it is they're talking about?

I mean, racism is a pretty serious charge these days. In certain contexts it can be a career-wrecking accusation.* And for anyone who writes seriously on subjects such as affirmative action or immigration policy, being accused of racism is almost a rite of passage.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the Human Language (online) defines racism as:

1. The belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others. 2. Discrimination or prejudice based on race.

OK, that's a pretty simple and straightforward definition. Of course from here you have to go back and define race - and that's where things get iffy.** Both the English and the Irish refer to an Irish "race", which doesn't make sense genetically but does make dislike of the Irish by the English, and vice versa, into a kind of racism. Though it doesn't work for me, Europeans often seem to view peoples of other language groups (Teutons, Slavs, Latins, etc) as different races or some sub-category of race. This would be kind of comical, it it weren't for the fact that from time to time they murder each other in large numbers over differences most Americans can't even see. And it's pretty much the same in Asia and Africa.

What I've noticed though, is that when talking about racism, everybody seems to assume that they're talking about the same thing, something pretty much like the dictionary definition.

But is it the same thing?

OK, we probably agree that a person who says their own "race" is superior in all ways to all others is a racist. (Eric Hoffer observed that the less a person is able to claim excellence for himself, the more likely he is to claim excellence for his nation or race.)

But what would you call someone who believes that a race not his own, is superior? I've read serious opinions by white Americans that Asians might be on average smarter than us. Is this "racism"? And is it racism if an Asian says it?

What about someone who believes that different racial groups have different abilities and disabilities - not superior/ inferior, just different? "Asians/whites/blacks... are better than (blank) at (blank)." Racist? Did Paul Robeson have such a magnificent deep voice because of his African ancestry? Do the Irish average better tenors? Is it racist to even ask?

What about someone who thinks that a certain race might have lesser intellectual gifts, on average, than another - but that that does not in any way justify oppressing them? Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln both might fall into that catergory. (At least at some point in their lives. What people tend to forget in assessing the attitudes of historical figures is, that people change their opinions over long, intellectually active lives.)

“You mean that whites are intellectually superior to blacks, and, therefore you have the right to enslave them? Take care again. By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet, with an intellect superior to your own.” (Lincoln: 1854 in Lincoln, Selected Speeches and Writings: Vintage: 1992)

“Suppose it is true, that the negro is inferior to the white, in the gifts of nature; is it not the exact reverse of justice that the white should, for that reason, take from the negro, any part of the little which has been given him?” (op. cit.)

So was Lincoln a racist?

Now consider this, take Lincoln with his attitudes, and any of a number of contemporaries who sincerely and completely believed in the equality of black people and their complete integration into white society - but who were pacifists on the subject of ending slavery by war. Now who do you think Frederick Douglas would have preferred as an ally?

What would you call someone who believes that another race is a superior one - and that for this reason they should be wiped out as a danger to their own? Dr. Joseph Mengele, the "angel of death" of Auschwitz, evidently believed that Jews and Germans were the two most superior races on Earth, and thus must be mortal enemies. And the motivation for his inhuman "medical experiments"*** on Gypsies was that he wanted to know why they were biologically so fit that their women could bear many healthy children while living rough all their lives.

Mengele's racism is a compliment of sorts - one I'd rather forego though.

Claims of racial superiority generally go with an obsession with "purity". They probably get this from an analogy with purebred domestic animals. But... our domestic animals are highly bred for highly specific purposes (milk, meat, riding etc) that may render them unfit to live in the natural environment. As the saying goes, "It's the purebreds that win the dog shows, but it's the mutts that win the fights."

Would you call someone a "racist" who believed in hybrid vigor, that "mongrelizing the races" was actually the best way to produce superior individuals?

So, when I hear that term tossed around so loosely, I've got to wonder if they really know exactly what the heck it is they're talking about?

* Which makes me wonder if anybody in academica has ever considered suing someone for libel who publicly calls them a racist? Libel suits rest on two premises, that 1) it's false, and 2) there was actual damage caused.

**Serious academic arguments about race tend to fall into three categories:

1) There ain't no such thing.
Subcategory: There used to be a seperate race, the Neanderthals. But they bred back into the main human line.

2) Lumpers: There are three (or four or five) races, based on inherited characteristics that are mostly climatological adaptations.

3) Splitters: There are dozens of specific racial groups.

***Near the end of his miserable life hiding in South America it is reported that what made the son-of-a-bitch most indignant, were not the charges of mass murder against him, but the fact that his old university had revoked his medical degree.

Monday, February 19, 2007

In the long run - it doesn't matter

I suppose I should address the current fol-de-rol in Congress about Iraq resolutions, attempts to cut funding for the war, demands for a phased withdrawl starting in 90 days, etc etc. So I will.
But first I'm going to tell you about an old girlfriend of mine.

Once, oh it must have been about 25 years ago, I took a young lady to visit with a friend of mine. For some reason or other, the talk got around to her sister, who had recently been busted with her live-in boyfriend for possession of pot, and had spent the weekend in jail before the family bailed her out.

My friend, though at that time a respectable small businessman, married with two fine kids, had in his callow youth done 18 months in various federal institutions for strong-arm robbery. So you could say he knew something about the reality of being incarcerated and was in a position to offer advice and commentary on my lady friend's sister's situation.

What my lady friend said was, "Oh my God, you should have seen the state she was in! I'm so glad we got her out in time, she couldn't have stood it for much longer."

My bud replied, "Of course she could have, she'd have learned to deal with it."

"You don't understand, she was hysterical. She'd have gone crazy if she'd had to stay in there much longer."

"And then maybe she'd have gone catatonic. And when she came out of it she'd still be there, and they wouldn't let her out. She might go through it all over again: hysterical, crazy, catatonic. And at the end she'd still be there - and they wouldn't let her out. However many times she went through it, she'd still be there, and they wouldn't let her out. She'd learn to deal with it, because she'd have to."

I think you can see how this relates to the war for civilization - if you believe that that is in fact what we're engaged in. If you don't - you will eventually. Because you'll have to. Because they won't let you out.

My friend Bob Bidinotto has a post on his blog I highly recommend:


"In the meantime, though, the worst message to send to all those enemy regimes and Islamists worldwide -- and to our own gallant fighting men and women -- is the sort of "no confidence" vote engineered in Congress this week by the Cut-and-Run Party and a handful of RINO fellow travelers. Make no mistake: Our enemies see this congressional vote as a raised white flag -- as a clear signal that, once again, America will capitulate and retreat whenever Islamists ramp up the costs in blood and treasure. And make no mistake: American soldiers can only be demoralized by such craven displays of division and defeatism while they are risking their lives on the front lines against radical Islam."

While agreeing with Bob on all points, I say that in the long run it doesn't matter.

Withdraw from Iraq and leave the jihadists in charge. They'll be jubilant and start making preparations for renewed assaults on America (in between murdering each other). Abandon Israel and force it to deal with Iran themselves. They'll blame us when Israel takes steps to assure their survival. Or when Israel is consumed in nuclear fire, they'll blame us for the deaths of the Palestinians in the conflagration. End all involvement in the Middle East, empty the treasury to build mosques in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan, have George W. Bush announce his conversion to Islam - it doesn't freakin' matter.

Because they won't let us out.

After we've gone through it all, once, twice, however many times it takes, they'll still be at war with us. And eventually everyone who balks even a little, at surrender to and dhimmi status within a jihadists state, will be convinced.

And when that day comes, I shouldn't like to be living in any of the countries that supply jihadist recruits and covertly support them. Nobody wages war as cruelly as a pacifist who has finally been moved to violence. (Consider Woodrow "too proud to fight" Wilson.)

"You're wrong, you're crazy, you're a monster!" I hear you say. Brother, you don't know how much I wish you were right. I find myself in the position of, if I'm right - I lose. Maybe the things that are more precious to me than my life. If I'm wrong - I win. My children won't be fighting this war, and our people won't be condemned by history for a slaughter we might have avoided if we'd seen the writing on the wall and acted sooner.

The day the man with the wide-brimmed hat nods over one of our cities, the day our people start to die in numbers comparable to the flu of 1918, the day a dirty bomb goes off in downtown Manhattan, is the day the world gets reminded that this fat, happy country of ours, this cheerfully hedonistic civilization, is also the most terrible engine of slaughter the world has ever seen.

And when that day comes the pacifists won't be condemning the slaughter - they'll be the butchers. There is after all, no prude like a reformed whore.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Happy Valentine's Day!

Happy Valentine's Day everyone.

I hope you guys had someone to give a Valentine to, and I hope you gals all got one.

I got my wife a chocolate assortment. She said, "But I didn't get anything for you." I told her that's not how it works. On this holiday guys give, girls receive. It's a nice way of reminding us to appreciate you more, and of reminding you that we really do - in our fashion.

It's a new custom imported from the West in Poland so she's not very familiar with it. I had a male student once who said, "It is not a traditional Polish holiday so I don't celebrate it." I told him, "Get used to it. The ladies like it so it'll become traditional in fairly short order. If you don't like it because it's an American commercial creation, I think it's actually Dutch."

Speaking of commercializing a holiday, my wife told me she'd rather have chocolate than jewelry. I explained to her that buying expensive jewelry for a Valentine was not an authentic American custom. "You wouldn't get that from the TV commercials" she said.

Call me old fashioned, but a man buying expensive jewelry for a woman not his wife just reminds me of those old miniseries on Jennie Randolph Churchill, Prince Edward and Lily Langtry. Giving expensive jewelry presents was how European aristocrats compensated the ladies whose favors they were privileged to enjoy, without treating them like streetwalkers.

Steve's important life skills tip: Guys, if you and your Valentine have a son, coach him to bring in the candy and/or flowers and say, "Happy Valentine's Day Mommy."

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


I have a new disgusting personal habit.

I am prone to sinus infections, and have been since I was a kid. I've tried every over-the-counter medication available. The old reliable Vicks Vapo-rub still rules, but when the sinuses really shut down it feels like I've got concrete setting in my forehead and I get the urge to beat myself around the face with a ball peen hammer to break it up.

Well, I've found something that works better than anything else, a nose wash. I'd heard of it before, when reading about some of the weirder yoga practices, but never had the desire to try it. Anyone who has inhaled water through the nose in a swimming pool will understand why.

Anyhow, I went to the clinic last time I had an infection, and the doctor recommended this. A simple saline (baking soda optional) solution squirted up the nose. She was of Vietnamese origin, so perhaps the stereotype image helped me overcome my distaste for the idea. (Those Asians know all about exotic healing methods don't you know).

But I went one better. I went to The Earth (local health foods store) and got a Neti pot. Evidently this practice is old enough to have a name in Sanscrit, or whatever. It's rather like a tea pot with the end of the spout rounded so it can comfortably fit up your nostril.

Pour it in one nostril and out the other, then alternate. It's surprisingly easy to get used to and it's wonderfully entertaining for small children to watch.

I won't describe the immediate effects, but suffice to say it clears the nose and helps sinuses drain. I use bottled water and warm it to skin temperature in the microwave. I've read that there are more advanced practices involving oils and such.


There is a new Sonic drive-in being built in town. Just across the street there is another Sonic, which is right next to a 50's Drive-in. Less than three miles down the street is another Sonic - one of three on that side of town.

Drive-ins, and Sonic in particular, are a booming business. Did we all get hyper-busy all of a sudden or what? I mean, I like Sonic just fine but I didn't think a medium-sized town could support that many.

When we travel, we like to stay off the interstates whenever it's convenient and stop for meals in any place in a small town that isn't part of a chain. We've had some great meals and it's a great way to show my wife the real America.

She is not, by the way, a Euro-food snob. I courted my wife with American food: BLTs, chilli, pork and beans, real American hamburgers and my home made beef jerky. We used to hold hamburger parties for our friends to show them that the real American hamburger is more than MacDonalds, it's high art.

I used to get requests to bring my chilli for pot luck suppers, and recently I got a phone call from the Russian-Polish joint venture I used to work for, demanding my beef jerky process.

Did you ever hear of the four stages of intimacy classified according to food? Stage 1) sharing cold drinks, 2) sharing hot drinks, 3) cold food, 4) hot food. The theory is that each successive stage takes more effort to prepare, indicating increasing intimacy.

Speaking of food and intimacy, I remember one of the wittiest observations from Louis L'Amour, writer of first-rate potboiler Westerns. He advised that when you travel in a land where you do not speak the language, you must first learn to say two things. You must learn how to ask for food, and you must learn to tell a woman that you love her. And of these, the second is more important, because if you tell a woman you love her she will certainly feed you.

My students (mostly adult women) used to love that one.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

If I were a terrorist.... part 3: Futureweapons of terror

Nearly ten years ago when I first got to thinking along these lines I asked myself, exactly what is a weapon?

A weapon is of course, anything used to cause harm to life and property. I tried to get more specific and came up with a further definition: A weapon is any device used to deliver kinetic energy to a target.

Of course, this doesn't work with poisons and diseases, so I'll have to amend that to "a conventional weapon is..." (OK, what about incindiaries, explosives, etc? Fire is kinetic energy on the molecular level, same for futuristic energy weapons.)

The first weapons used the mechanical advantage of levers, such as a club or staff, to magnify the kinetic energy that could be delivered by muscle power. Soon after it was discovered that if one took the same energy and delivered it to a smaller area you could create more damage - thus edged weapons were invented. Putting a fighting man on a horse gave him more mass and speed behind his lance and a higher platform to swing a sword from.

Until men learned to harness chemical energy, all weapons used mechanics to amplify muscle energy. Bows and catapults use the tension stored in flexible materials, and devices like trebuchets use the potential energy of heavy weights to store and release kinetic energy rapidly. Conventional weapons in whatever configuration, are designed with a tradeoff between mass and speed. Large mass/slow speed, for maces axes etc, smaller mass/high speed for slingstones, arrows, bullets, shrapnel, etc.

So what has this entertaining digression got to do with terrorism?

Just this, the progress of science and technology has immeasurably improved and enriched the quality of our lives, not to mention lengthening them. But it has also provided everyone with the means of aquiring or making more and more powerful weapons. Just consider what a deadly weapon your car is when in the control of someone who doesn't care about his own life.

This has had some favorable consequences. Firearms are probably the single most important factor in the spread of that institution we call liberal democracy. When the dominant weapon system is cheap enough for common folks to acquire and doesn't require a lifetime of practice to learn to use effectively, warrior aristocracies go the way of the dinosaurs.

The samurai in 16th century Japan realized this right away, and succeeded in isolating their nation and halting development of firearms for two-and-a-half centuries. The end result was that a single US naval flotilla was able to sail into Edo Bay and dictate terms to a nation many times more populous. They found the Japanese shore batteries were "Quaker cannon" (painted wood) and the samurai were still using matchlocks.

The downside of this is that ever-greater destructive power is devolving to ever-smaller groups, even to the level of the disaffected individual. Advancing technology is only going to increase this problem, as far as we can foresee.

In other words, terrorism is a problem we are going to have to live with, most probably forever.

Some speculations for the purpose of illustrating this point:

Suitcase nuclear weapons are something we've imagined for a while, and I'm nearly 100% certain that it's something we're going to have to deal with eventually. But it doesn't (yet) meet the category of cheapness and ease of acquisition outlined in the earlier posts.

But did you ever hear of fuel-air explosives? If not, go here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuel-air_explosive

A fuel-air explosion is what happens when any flammable liquid is vaporized into a cloud and set alight. Or even when a cloud of dust is ignited, as in a grain-elevator explosion. It's why a gasoline container with only a bit of fuel and a lot of empty volume is so dangerous. The rule of thumb I remember is, one cup of gas vaporized = four sticks of dynamite.

We all know about car bombs. Load a few hundred pounds of explosive into a car and drive it somewhere you want to blow up. Now how about a device the size of a flashlight that you could put into the gas tank of any car that would expel the contents of the tank into a cloud of droplets and ignite it? A lot easier to smuggle across borders and checkpoints than a ton of explosive wouldn't you say? Probably cheaper too, once you got it into production.

Well, perhaps someday we'll be driving electric cars. That waits on the development of capacitors that can store large amounts of energy, recharge quickly and discharge it rapidly. Some say that day is a long time coming, though there is one company that say's it'll have a commercially viable product on the market quite soon. That'll solve that problem, right?

Ever hear of a rail gun? See here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rail_gun and if you're still curious you can follow the links to coil gun and mass driver. Basically they are all devices to accelerate projectiles to incredibly high speeds with electro-magnetism rather than chemical explosions. The military is interested in them, but the problem is the power source. Solve that and a five-inch naval gun's range is increased from 15 miles, to 200 miles.

So, after we get the car batteries that will make our big city air breathable again, what are we going to do when it becomes possible to make a gun that'll shoot a projectile to the horizon, through any building that's in its way, out of parts you can get in a hardware store and your car battery?*

These examples are intended as illustrations, which may or may not prove feasible. But I'm sure we could think of a host of possibilities on any beer-fueled evening with a gang of technologically literate buds. It would be strange if none of them panned out.

A comment to part 2 maintained that it is irresponsible to discuss these things in a public forum. With respect, I beg to differ. It is irresponsible not to discuss these things while they are still only possibilities, and it is both irresponsible and foolish to leave the planning for these eventualities to groups of official experts - there are no experts on this problem. This is a societal problem that requires more brainpower than even a government can muster, and more imagination than governments ordinarily possess.

Remember United 93? The civilians on board had to overrule all official doctrine on what to do during a hijacking. They won immortal glory that we will remember with grief and pride as long as our nation lives. But what if there had been just a little thought devoted to the previously unimaginable possibility of a suicide-hijacking? Maybe we'd still have them around to enjoy their bragging rights.

If we want to be around to brag to our grandchildren about how we saved civilization, we'd better start thinking about how to meet threats to it now.

*Robert Heinlien first wrote about the use of mass drivers as a weapon in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress about forty years ago.

Monday, February 05, 2007

What do we look like?

My wife just mentioned to me that our son looks kind of weird to her.

By now I know what she means by that, so I said, "You mean, not Polish?" "Yes."

Jerzy has brown hair and very dark eyes. Monika thinks he's a beautiful boy (as do other people not even related to us) and that he's exotic-looking. Now while I think he's a good-looking kid, "exotic" is not a word that comes to my mind. But then, I think Polish people look like they come from Ohio (aside from the startlingly large percentage of nines and tens you see on the streets of any Polish city).

When I first started to learn Polish, I practiced, as you'd expect, in shops and markets. (As Kipling observed, there are few linguistic barriers between a willing buyer and a willing seller.) People asked me if I were Austrian, Yugoslavian or even Russian! And my students would ask me, "You're part Spanish, right?" "Was your mother Greek?" "Are you an Indian?"

Finally I asked my senior class, "I get it now. I don't look like you people do I?" Blank looks. "No Steve, you don't look Polish at all." It had taken months for it to occur to me, that because people around looked pretty familiar to me, that didn't mean that I looked commonplace to them. In fact, I fit in better on physical appearance alone in Bulgaria or even Saudi Arabia.

(My son's English godmother told me, "Anyone can see you're a Black Highlander." That's a group which originally migrated from Iberia during the Bronze Age, so Spanish is perhaps not so far-fetched.)

My wife comes from an ethnicly homogenous country, and as is often the case in such countries, whoever looks foreign seems exotic and attractive. She says that she's really happy our son doesn't look like a typical Polish kid - because in a homogenous population typical can mean well, pretty typical.

Europeans tell me they can tell each other apart by looking - and I've heard this from Germans and Poles about each other for example. I'm not sure though how much of this is differences in subtle body language cues. A friend of mine once recognized a Chinese-American - in China, from the way she carried herself. And a Russian woman in Lithuania once swore to me that she could tell I was American across the room in the dark.

However, genetic markers used to track descent do tend to cluster within language groups. And I suppose that when you have a national group of no more than a few tens of millions intermarrying for a while, you're bound to start getting family resemblances. Because after a while you ARE all family. And of course, in the 20th century this was exacerbated by disastrous reductions of the gene pool due to the wars and state-murders. Poland lost 20% of it's population in WWII for example.

Here in America, we've had groups merrily mixing for a few centuries, something remarked on by both St. John de Crevecoeur and de Tocqueville. I've joked with foreign colleagues that if we hear of any group of people in the world that has not contributed some immigration to America, we must immediately send for some!

I remember when the flood of young Asians, refugees following the fall of Vietnam, the Chinese students who sought asylum after Tien An Min square, mixed children of war brides etc, started showing up on university campuses in huge numbers. And I remember seeing how the Okie boys were sniffing after these lovely girls and thinking that our next generation was going to look a little more Asian.

And yet, with all this diversity Americans somehow come to look like... I dunno, Americans. A few months ago I was standing with two girls from Germany and Austria looking at a photo display of student journalists, mostly women. There were Black girls, Hispanics, blue-eyed blonds and Asians, yet one remarked, "American girls look like they were poured from a mold."

I had to laugh. A while after I brought my family to Oklahoma I asked my wife what her impression of the people on campus was. After growing up in a homogeneous population I wondered what her impression of our very heterogeneous student body was.

She said, "Well maybe I'd notice it more if they weren't all dressed alike."