I'm on the radio from 8:30 pm - 9:30 pm (PST) Saturday night to talk about my book, America's Half-Blood Prince: Barack Obama's 'Story of Race and Inheritance.'
January 16, 2009
With the world celebrating the calm heroism of Capt. Chelsey Sullenberger who piloted his powerless jetliner into a safe landing in the Hudson River near Times Square, I wanted to recall the 1991 story of a less admirable captain of a sinking ship and the magician who took command after he fled. From People:
On Saturday evening, Aug. 3,  as a 50-mph gale buffeted their ship, passengers aboard the Greek cruise liner Oceanos gamely made their way to the main lounge for the evening's entertainment. No sooner had they settled in than the lights went out. The 492-foot ship, suddenly without power, tossed in high seas off South Africa's aptly named Wild Coast. For 361 weekend tourists, one of the most harrowing nights of their lives had just begun. The Oceanos was sinking.
Disgracefully, many of the 184 crew members clambered aboard the lifeboats ahead of some of the passengers and paddled to the safety of tankers and trawlers that had drawn nearby. At daybreak on Sunday, South African Air Force helicopters joined the rescue operation. But to the astonishment and anger of the 217 passengers still aboard, Capt. Yannis Avranias grabbed the second chopper off the ship. With no one clearly in charge, an unlikely hero emerged among the remaining crew: Robin Boltman, 31, the ship's magician.
Giving the performance of his career, Boltman entertained and calmed passengers throughout the pitch-black night. In the morning he ascended to the bridge and maintained radio contact with rescuers. Finally, at 11:30 A.M., after all other passengers and crew had been removed to safety, Boltman was lifted from the ship by a helicopter. At 1:45 P.M. the luxury liner nosed into the Indian Ocean and disappeared under the waves. [More]
A professor at the Yale Medical School named Sydney Spiesel writes in Slate:
About this time every year, the CDC issues its annual statistical report about sexually transmitted diseases in the United States. The surveillance report for 2007 has just come out (it takes about a year to compile and process the statistics). It is long—almost 170 pages—and, as usual, disquieting. Our uncomfortable feelings about sexuality have caused STDs to be stigmatizing ...
Now, I'm not a doctor, but it's my impression that rather than our "uncomfortable feelings about sexuality" that "have caused STDs to be stigmatizing," it's more the oozing sores.
Later on the good doctor notes, without specifying any facts, "the very different case rates between ethnic groups." He doesn't explain what those differences are, but looking in the government report, I find that it looks like STD rates are quite similar to crime rates in their racial ratios. For example, the CDC says: "In 2007, the gonorrhea rate among black men was 26 times higher than that in white men," although that is anomalously high -- the usual black-white ratio for the various diseases is more like 8 to 1, with the Hispanic to white ratio typically in the 2 or 3 to 1 range, and Asians the same or healthier than whites.
In Slate, Spiesel asks plaintively:
Are the germs really ethnically and geographically prejudiced?
Haven't the germs heard about Obama yet? We live in an era of post-racial transcendence. Get with the times, germs!
Across Difficult Country coins a useful addition to the Orwellian vocabulary:
The deranged babblings of an SPLC apparatchik inspired me to coin the word hatefact. Hatefacts are unquestionable facts about immigrants, blacks, women, homosexualists, et al., that the SPLC and those sharing its ideological inclinations deem “hate” or “hateful” to mention.
January 15, 2009
Our gigantic trade deficit must, obviously, fall. It would be a lot nicer if part of the decrease consisted of America exporting more rather than just importing less. How can the government help? Well, one way is for the U.S. to stop being the Dudley Do-Right of international business. From an article by Don Lee in the Los Angeles Times:
When Pasadena-based Avery Dennison wanted to build its road and traffic business in China a few years ago, it hired people like Lily Tang. The Beijing homemaker had an asset the company craved: political connections.
Tang's husband, Chen Qi, is a senior official at the China Communications and Transportation Assn., a quasi-governmental group led by former ministers. That connection, said current and former Avery managers in China, helped the company win contracts for thousands of dollars' worth of government projects.
In one case, according to interviews and a copy of a signed contract reviewed by The Times, Avery received an order to supply $375,000 worth of reflective safety products for highway jobs in Tianjin, east of Beijing, and paid a commission of about 8% to an enterprise operated by a friend of Chen's.
Chen's friend, Guo Longjun of Beijing, said he had passed the money on to "experts," whom he wouldn't identify.
Such payments may be part of an ongoing federal investigation into whether Avery violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits U.S. businesses from bribing foreign officials.
Avery reported possible violations on its own in 2005. It characterized them as relatively minor and said it had taken corrective measures. Though it is by no means the only U.S. company involved in a corruption investigation of its business dealings in China, its experience provides a case study of the pitfalls American firms face as they try to capture a piece of the Chinese market.
Justice Department officials say enforcement of the FCPA is second only to fighting terrorism in terms of priority. Currently, at least 91 cases are open, triple the number four years ago, according to a report issued last month by Shearman & Sterling, a New York-based law firm that tracks FCPA cases.
China is getting more attention. Of 25 criminal prosecutions under the law in the last two years, six involved activities in China -- the largest number after Iraq and Nigeria. Among the companies involved were Lucent Technologies, which agreed to pay a $1-million penalty for supplying about 315 trips to the U.S. by Chinese officials.The company recorded some of them as "factory inspections," but they were in fact visits to places such as Disneyland, Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, the Justice Department said.
The trips, plus educational expenses for a Chinese government employee, were valued in the millions of dollars, federal officials said. At stake were contracts worth at least $2 billion.
I'm sorry, but this kind of nit-picky stuff should be up to the Chinese to police. If they want to shoot minor Chinese officials for going to Disneyland on an American vendor's dime, that's fine with me, but I think it's counter-productive for the U.S. Justice Dept. to worry about whether a trip to Disneyland was a bribe or a legitimate business entertainment expense. It should be up to the customer to regulate its purchasing officials' behavior in the manner it sees fit.
The two most impressive companies I called upon in my corporate career were Wal-Mart and Procter & Gamble. Wal-Mart had a fanatical policy about never letting anybody trying to sell anything to Wal-Mart spend a dime on a Wal-Mart employee. Wal-Mart felt that most retailers had been corrupted by vendors with NFL skyboxes and the like. So, you were not allowed to see Wal-Mart employees in restaurants (which is why the finest restaurant in Bentonville in 1991 was a Ponderosa steakhouse filled with world-class salesmen in $1500 suits and great haircuts, sitting alone, morosely chewing their $3.95 chicken-fried steaks). All negotiations were conducted in windowless interrogation cells. After a few hours of relentlessly being hammered by Wal-Mart employees, not only would you be willing to lower your price to Wal-Mart by 20 percent, but you'd leap at a chance to sign a confession that you were part of a Trotskyite wrecker cell attempting to assasinate Comrade Stalin if only they'd promised to make it all stop.
In contrast, dealing with P&G was civilized. You took them out to nice restaurants. But, much as you tried to ply them with Italian cuisine and fine wine, they never took their eye off the ball.
... U.S. firms are widely considered to operate with higher ethics than Chinese and Western competitors -- in large part because of stringent laws such as the FCPA, which took effect in 1977, and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002.
Still, in the last couple of years, Chinese state-run media and court records have identified such U.S. business icons as IBM, McDonald's and Whirlpool as companies connected to bribery cases in China.
Like Avery, more American companies are reporting possible FCPA violations by their own employees. In October, cosmetics company Avon Products Inc. said it had begun an internal investigation to determine whether its China operations had incurred illegal travel, entertainment and other expenses.
Faced with the choice between bribing officials and losing business, some U.S. firms have turned to middlemen, often from Hong Kong or Taiwan, to grease the wheels for them. And they often set aggressive targets for their Chinese employees without making it clear that certain behavior is prohibited in reaching those goals, said Amy Sommers, a Shanghai-based attorney for Squire, Sanders & Dempsey who has advised clients and conducted workshops on the FCPA. ...
In China, it isn't unusual for a government agency to own profit-generating companies to raise money for research and other efforts. But their legal structures, finances and relationship with government officials are murky. "They are in a gray area and very likely breed corruption," said Hu Xingdou, an economics professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology.
And the fact that much of Chinese business is organized in such a way that incentives aren't aligned with proper behavior is the U.S. Justice Department's problem ... how?
Like I’ve been saying all along, exciting mass transit infrastructure projects have proven to be largely incompatible with the notion of “stimulus.”
Most of the stimulus spending is going toward bailing out state and local governments, spending which I’ve long suggested be renamed “human infrastructure” to make it sound sexier and obscure the fact that Obama’s whole “infrastructure stimulus” idea has turned out to be largely a flop. Liberals have spent the last forty years making it excruciatingly slow to bulldoze anything big in the Blue States. They made their beds and now they are lying in them.
Now that progressives have gotten a bitter taste of the delays inherent in environmental regulation, it's time for the Obama administration to call for a major review of how those regulations can be made less onerous and time-consuming. Don't junk environmentalism, but make it more efficient. Mend it, don't end it!
This review should extend to how can we get the hand of government off the throats of our export industries. We desperately need ways to stimulate our exports to pay for our enormous imports from China and oil producers. We should look at ways to make our exporters more globally competitive by reducing upon them the burdens imposed by environmental, affirmative action, and disability regulations. You can keep forcing domestic industries to subsidize lots of politically favored groups, but let's not indirectly tax exporters to the same degree.
My book, America's Half-Blood Prince: Barack Obama's "Story of Race and Inheritance," can be ordered here.
The Indianapolis Colts football coach Tony Dungy has retired at age 53, after setting the NFL record for making the playoffs 10 years in a row with the Colts and Tampa Bay Bucs.
January 14, 2009
“Hey, dark ‘n lovely!”
Gotta love the brothers who show their affection for the dark-skinned girls, even if they are hollering out the window of a passing car.
Gotta love it even more when the brother is the president, and the object of his affection is front and center for the world to see.
It’s true: A lot of black women fell for Barack Obama the moment they saw his wife.
If a black president represents change, a dark-skinned first lady is straight-up revolutionary.
I won’t apologize for taking note of Michelle Obama’s physical appearance. Plenty has already been said about how she, with her double Ivy degrees, six-figure salaries and two adorable daughters, is crushing the image of the struggling black single mother. She is a real life Clair Huxtable! But the true breakthrough here is that sisters who look like Michelle Obama seldom become cultural icons, aesthetic trendsetters—a proxy for the all-American woman.
And don’t roll your eyes and ask why we have to go there; we haven’t completely gotten over our prejudices about skin tone and hair texture. Despite years of scholarly, literary and popular debate—from Dr. Kenneth Clark’s baby-doll tests, to Toni Morrison’s tragic characters in The Bluest Eye, to the showdown between [racial term that doesn't appear in iSteve] in Spike Lee’s School Daze—too many of us continue to accept a standard of beauty that does not favor ebony-hued skin, woolly hair and full lips (and not those surgically enhanced smackers, either).I know from first-hand experience. I remember being taunted and shunned by some people who didn’t believe that old saying about the blacker the berry. Back when we were Negroes, the word “black” was used to describe the dark-skinned among us, usually not with affection. My mama assured me that I was a pretty black girl, but it was the brothers on the streets, cooing such compliments as dark ‘n lovely, chocolate drop, brown sugar, who convinced me.
I'm not sure how to break the news to this writer, but being a good enough-looking woman to have black guys shout stuff at you while you walk by is a pretty low hurdle...
But consider the complexions of most of the black women who smile or stare seductively at the world from the covers of celebrity and beauty magazines—cream, café au lait, golden honey. Gorgeous sisters, yes, but we come in other good flavors, too. The failure to showcase dark-skinned beauties feeds the notion that pretty black girls are an exception. Not so much dark and lovely as dark but lovely.
The light-skinned, long-hair aesthetic reigns.
I think of India.Arie’s song from a few years back.
"I’m not the average girl from your video
And I ain’t built like a supermodel
But I’ve learned to love myself unconditionally
Because I am a queen.”
An empowering anthem,
but even Arie acknowledges that many of us who don’t look like Barbie dolls—even chocolate-coated Barbie dolls—are not convinced of our beauty.
“I don’t know if young women necessarily think that certain women they see on TV are beautiful, but they do see that certain women are financially rewarded by looking a certain way and therefore that image is reinforced,” Arie told me via e-mail. She thinks that Michelle Obama’s presence on the national stage will “jump-start the challenge of those long-held beliefs. Not only is she naturally and uniquely beautiful, but she demonstrates a great deal of poise, class and style, which I think has and will continue to help capture the nation’s attention in a positive way.”
As much as we’d like to think that everyone will be instantly enlightened, the truth is it might not have much of an immediate or noticeable impact.
Really? Ya think?
A huge amount of female journalism consists of demands that society must be reorganized so that the author is considered more sexually attractive. (This is hardly the most egregious specimen of this vast genre.)
I've always thought that Mrs. Obama was a handsome woman, who spends a lot on her four sessions with her personal trainer each week. Still, there are those expressions .... You'll definitely want to check out the expression on Mrs. Obama's face in the picture that The Root chose to illustrate Michelle's loveliness. Let's just say that when a husband sees his wife staring up at him with that expression, he knows he's in for a world of trouble.
Barack Obama's autobiography ends with his wedding to Michelle. The last line in this self-pitying book is:
"And for that moment, at least, I felt like the luckiest man alive."
The Luckiest Man Alive would seem like a pretty realistic self-description, but, judging from That Look she's apparently giving him in this picture, maybe he's not ...
Basically, we're broke because for the whole decade we've been buying more stuff from abroad than they've been buying from us. So, what can a President do to help us sell more stuff overseas?
Screwing in lightbulbs and filling potholes won't do it. But what will?
Similarly, the easiest way for the states and localities to save money on social services is for the federal government to pay for unemployed illegal immigrants to go home.
Funny, though, simple ideas like that don't seem to come up much.
January 13, 2009
Matthew Yglesias denounces the actions of class traitor Sidley Austin, Michelle Obama's old law firm, in using the environmental laws to slow down environmentalists' plans for that SWPL favorite, light rail. (Trolleys without right-of-ways are barely more efficient than buses, but SWPLs can imagine themselves taking a trolley, but they shudder at the thought of riding a bus with all those ... uh, well, you know ...)
One thing law firms do is take cases on a pro bono basis. You get some prestige for doing so, and it helps underscore the legal profession’s self-conception as serving the higher calling of the law. The general idea here, of course, is that you’re supposed to be helping out indigent clients or some kind of do-gooder causes.
Meanwhile, in DC’s Maryland suburbs we’re inching ever closer to actually starting work on the Purple Line light rail. This would connect several destinations that are already served by transit and walkable transit-oriented development, provide transit access to the University of Maryland’s main campus, and also create the possibility of new transit-oriented development at additional stops along the way. It’s a good idea that will help reduce congestion on the Beltway, reduce carbon emissions, and enhance the region’s ability to keep growing in a sustainable manner. Every environmental group in the city is for it. But a group of NIMBYs centered around the town of Chevy Chase, MD and the Columbia Country Club are trying to block it in order to keep the riffraff out and are offering some spurious environmental claims to try to block construction.
They’ve engaged the large DC firm of Sidley Austin to help them in their fight. And Sidley’s doing the work pro bono — for free — as charity. No doubt in part this is because Joseph Guerra is both a partner in the firm and the husband of the woman co-chairing the NIMBY effort. Perhaps some of the firms partners are members of the Country Club as well. Who knows? But this is certainly a strange definition of charitable work. They might want to ask some of the people working for the firm on the bottom rungs — the janitors and so forth — if they really appreciate these kind of “charitable” efforts to deny poor people any better commuting options than the bus?
Why can’t Sidley Austin figure out that environmental laws are only supposed to slow down bad people, like conservative developers, but not nice liberal people who are trying to build stuff that Matthew Yglesias wants?
Progressives didn’t spend 40 years setting up a vast web of environmental and other land use regulations that make it glacially slow to build anything on either coast in order to hurt progressives. Therefore, environmental laws should _not_ apply to progressives. Any law firm that uses environmental laws to frustrate Matthew Yglesias’s desires is a traitor and should be dealt with. As Lenin said, the eternal question is always “Who? Whom?”
Bulldoze, baby, bulldoze!
You can’t have a bunch of environmentalist red tape holding back Yglesias’s Robert Moses-like ambitions to bulldoze anything standing in the way of his vision of a better future. Now that progressives have power, they must deregulate the environment so nobody can slow down their efforts to save the environment.
And while they're at it, progressives should deregulate all the affirmative action minority set-aside contract regulations that slow infrastructure construction so badly.
January 12, 2009
Since the cost and the environmental impact of a construction project don't matter anymore as long as Barack Obama is for it, here's a green infrastructure plan expensive enough even for Paul Krugman's taste: The North American Water and Power Alliance (NAWAPA):
Let's generate huge amounts of carbon-free hydroelectric power and turn the western half of the USA green (in the literal sense) by diverting a small fraction of the water from Canada's vast but almost-useless rivers that flow north into the Arctic Ocean. While we're at it, we can turn northern Mexico green, too. (Here's a promotional video from the 1960s.) Thayer Watkins writes:
The North American Water and Power Alliance (NAWAPA) is a project for diverting to the western U.S. and northwestern Mexico water from rivers in Alaska and Canada which now flow into the Arctic Ocean. In addition to providing irrigation water to arid parts of North America NAWAPA would also generate considerable amounts of power and provide some subsidiary benefits such as stabilizing the level of the Great Lakes. The project was formulated by the Los Angeles engineering firm of Ralph M. Parsons Company and got some attention in Congress, particularly from Senator Frank Moss of Utah, but is not politically feasible.
Canadians were outraged that Americans were planning to steal their precious bodily fluids, and were angry when George W. Bush mused about buying water from Canada in 2001. But, that's POT (Pre-Obama Thinking). We don't need that kind of negativism anymore, now that we have Obamagic.
In terms of engineering the project is feasible. A series of dams on the headwaters of the Yukon, Copper, Kootenay, Fraser, Peace, and Columbia Rivers can divert their flows into reservoirs. Included among these is the 500 mile long Rocky Mountain Trench, a natural formation which has 16 times the capacity of Lake Mead on the Colorado River. From the Rocky Mountain Trench the water would flow into Montana and central Idaho. The dams would generate electrical power but not all of it would be marketable. Some of the power would be required to pump the water over some mountains in Idaho to a canal where it would flow south along the border area of Utah and Nevada. Here the water flow would be divided into two branches. One would go southwest to Nevada, California, and northwestern Mexico. The other would go east to Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. This is the main element of the project. A subsidiary part would take water from the Peace River by canal to the Great Lakes and thereby linkthe praire provinces of Canada with the St. Lawrence Seaway. Other subsidiary elements could link the system to the Pacific Ocean at Vancouver, British Columbia and link Lake Manitoba to the Hudson Bay.
As envisioned by the R. M. Parsons Co. the system would deliver 120 million acre-feet of water annually; 78 million to the U.S., 22 million to Canada, and 20 million to Mexico. According to Parsons this would enable Mexico to triple her irrigated acreage, irrigate an additional 40 million acres in the U.S. and 7 million in Canada. NAWAPA would generate 70 million kilowatts of power; 38 million for the U.S., 30 million for Canada and 2 million for Mexico. Parsons estimates that all this would cost $100 billion in 1964 dollars. In 1989 dollars that would be about $339 billion.
Heck, Paulson and Bernacke can burn through $339 billion in just a few of their wild weekends.
Stanford computer scientist John McCarthy wrote about a decade ago:
We won't need any such grand projects for the forseeable future, but when and if our descendants need enormous increases in water supply, they can get them, perhaps at expense comparable in relation to per capita GDP to the expense our immediate ancestors spent on water projects. Probably the expense in proportion to the GDP of the region benefitted will not be as great as the 1904 Owens Valley aqueduct was in proportion to the GDP of Los Angeles at the time.At that time, the population of Los Angeles was 200,000 and the per capita income for the U.S. was $1100. The cost of the project was $23 million. Therefore, it corresponded to 1/10 th of a year's income for the inhabitants of the area. 1/10 th of a year's GDP for the U.S. would come to $800 billion. It doesn't look like we will have to spend that much for increased water supply in the near future, but we'll do it if we have to. ...
Around 1900 people thought in large terms. Recently, it has become fashionable to think small.
The website for the new book by Greg Cochran and Henry Harpending, The 10,000-Year Explosion, includes "deleted scenes" -- chunks of text that were dropped for reasons of space. Some are digressions, such as Henry's encounter with the charging cape buffalo, while others consist of fairly well-known background info, but are worth reading for the level of insight that you won't find in other works. Here's one subsection of a long essay, "Prelude," on the various traits that evolved at some point since humans broke off from apes. I'll just highlight the section on how well humans get along with members of their own sex. Personally, I have two fluffy bunnies living in the backyard, two neutered male rabbits who wouldn't hurt a fly, but we have to keep them separated like the Israelis and Palestinians with a series of fences to keep them from ripping each other to shreds.
Groups of pair bonds - Some primates form durable mating male-female pairs, but the only ape to do so is the gibbon. Other arrangements like harems or troops are more common both among larger primates and among mammals in general.
In a harem there is one reproducing adult of one sex and more than one of the other sex. Gorillas and hamadryas baboons are mostly organized into one-male harems. African Cape Dogs live in one-female harems with a number of males that are related to each other. Troops contain adult reproductive individuals of both sexes, among whom there may be complex competitive games and strategies to achieve access to the other sex. Common baboons live in troops as do chimpanzees. The baboon troop, like troops of most mammals, is predominately a matrilineage, related females, while the males have entered the troop from another troop. Chimpanzee troops, on the other hand, are patrilineages, groups of related males, with females having come from elsewhere. Chimpanzee troops are ordinarily dispersed over a large territory while the more familiar usage of “troop” refers to a group that moves together.
Durable male-female pairs usually live away from other pairs, and when they do join larger groups, they are members of a flock, not involved or minimally involved in social interactions with others of the flock. Almost all the social interaction is between members of the pair. Animals in harems or troops, on the other hand, spend most of their time in same-sex interactions. Ordinarily these would be some variant of social competition for food among females and competition for females among males.Humans, remarkably, have the ability to maintain durable pair bonds with reproductive exclusivity while living in larger social groups in which most of the day to day social interaction is with members of the same sex (Rodseth et al., 1991). Gibbons almost certainly could not do it: males are intolerant of the presence of other males and females of other females. Something special and now occurred in human evolution the led to our peculiar capacity to maintain pair bonds embedded in larger social groups.