Judging Skating: An irony of the figure skating pairs controversy is that one of the flagrantly biased NBC announcers, Scott Hamilton, was the beneficiary of one of the most rigged decisions in skating history. Coming into the 1984 Games, Scott had been World Champion three years in a row. Everyone knew that if he won the gold, the personable (and heterosexual!) American would be a great ambassador for the sport. So, even though at Sarajevo Hamilton was sick and skated a weak final program, blowing off two triple jumps, he still was handed the gold.
Similarly, Sale and Pelletier, the supposedly martyred Canadian pairs skaters, were only in gold medal contention because the judges decided to not penalize justly their catastrophic double fall at the climax of their short program.
I sort of sympathize with this "cumulative" approach to judging, which tries to lessen the general problem with the Winter Games, which is that it's damn slippery out there. Thus, too many events turn on almost-random mistakes rather than on talent. The skating judges try to smooth out the results by voting for the competitors who have shown themselves the best over the years. Of course, on the other hand, that lends skating its aura of bogusness.
February 13, 2010
Watching biathlon, which combines cross country skiing and rifle target shooting, it occurred to me that the way to make men's figure skating a little less twirly is to combine it with that ultimate regular guy sport, paintball. Each competitor would get one shot at the rival of his choice:
Scott Hamilton: "And now Plushenko's going to try his quad toe loop. Here he goes --"
Scott Hamilton: "Johnny Weir has shot Plushenko!"
Dick Button: "Right between the shoulder blades at the top of his jump. Plushenko did a complete face plant in the ice."
You would think it would be easy to make money on a sporting event where you don't pay the athletes in anything except glory, but after the 1984 LA Olympics, which made a fortune by using old stadia, it hasn't worked out like that.
February 12, 2010
23 and under (10 pts); 23-25 (8 pts); 25-27 (6 pts); 28-29 (4pts); 29-32 (1 pt); 32 and above (0 pts)
26-32 (10 pts); 32-36 (8 pts); 23-26 (6 pts); 36-40 (4 pts); 20-23 (1 pt), the rest 0 pts
Place of Origin
Female Place of Origin
Prefecture level city (10 pts); average provincial capital city (8 pts); first-line cities (6 pts); county seat (4 pts); small town (1 pt); rural 0 pts
Male Place of Origin
Europe or America (10 pts); Singapore, Hong Kong (8 pts); Korea (6 pts); China city (4 pts); other (1 pt); rural 0 pts
Bachelor’s Degree in popular major (10 pts); 211 Bachelor’s Degree (8 pts); Associate’s Degree (6 pts); high school or vocational school (4 pts); Either third-rate Bachelor’s Degree or Doctorate and above 0 pts
Famous university MBA (10 pts); “sea turtle” returnee (8 pts); Famous university Bachelor’s Degree (6 pts); 211 Master’s Degree (4 pts); 211 Bachelor’s Degree (1 pt); third-rate Bachelor’s Degree and under 0 pts
Fair skin, beautiful appearance (10 pts); fair skin, proper/correct features (8 pts); fair skin, features collectively are relatively harmonious (6 pts); beautiful appearance, poor skin (4 pts); proper/correct features, poor skin (1 pt); poor skin, features not harmonious (0 pts)
45-50kg (10 pts); 50-55kg (8 pts); 40-45kg (6 pts); height 165cm and above 55-60kg (4 pts); height 158cm and below 35-40kg (1 pt); the rest 0 pts
Front protrudes, back perky, waist and legs distinct (10 pts); long legs, ample breasts (8 pts); fine and well proportioned (6 pts); airport + proportionate (4 pts); plump and smooth skinned + relatively poor proportions (1 pt); Either long waist and short legs, out of proportion, entire body dull, etc. 0 pts
Relatively handsome (10 pts); proper/correct features (8 pts); average (6 pts); relatively ugly (4 pts); extremely ugly (1 pt); no such thing as zero points for men’s appearance
165-172 (10 pts); 158-164 (8 pts); 172-174 (6 pts); 155-158 (4 pts); 174-176 (1 pt); the rest 0 pts
178-183 (10 pts); 183-186 (8 pts); 175-178 (6 pts); 170-174 (4 pts); 186-189 (1 pt); the rest 0 pts
CN (20 pts), Not-CN (-20 pts)
Male Sexual Ability
No ED (20 pts), ED (-20 pts) [ED = erectile dysfunction]
Rich/powerful family (10 pts); high-ranking government child (8 pts); parents have high positions in companies (6 pts); civil servant household (4 pts); relatively well-off (1 pt); the others 0 pts
Profitable entrepreneur (10 pts); small family business (8 pts); back office civil servant (6 pts); medium to high position in company (4 pts); low-level white-collar worker (1 pt), the rest 0 pts
10 million or above (10pts); 5-10 million (8 pts); 2-5 million (6 pts); 1-2 million (4 pts); 500k-1 million (1 pt); less than 500k 0 pts
N [many/multiple] houses (10 pts); 2 or more hoouses (8 pts); 1 un-mortgaged fully owned house (6 pts); currently paying mortgage (4 pts); paying 3k or above rent (1 pt); the others 0 pts
Audi A6 or better (10 pts); Passat-grade (8 pts); Elantra-grade (6 pts); Peugeot 307, Fit-grade (4 pts); Geely, Chery-grade (1 pt); other 0 pts
Gentle, considerate (10 pts); gentle, a little temper (4 pts), not gentle 0 pts
February 11, 2010
The writer-director brother act is relatively new in Hollywood history. Before the Coens emerged in the 1980s, the the only fraternal writing team I can think of were the Epstein identical twins (Casablanca). (There were acting teams like the Marx Brothers, and lots of brothers in various roles behind the scenes such as the Warners and the Selznicks.)
Since then, there have been frauteurs like the Farrelly, Wachowski, Wayan, Hughes, Weisz, and Polish Brothers. My guess is that the modern writer-director job often tends to be too hard for one individual to do, so brother pairs have flourished.
On the other hand, this trend may be dying out. I'm not sure if many new Coen-like brother acts have emerged in the movie business since early in the last decade -- perhaps because the end of the Baby Boom in 1964 reduced the average number of brothers the typical guy has.
But the question remains: do brothers who work together tend to get along better or worse?
There are a lot of examples in popular music history of brother acts -- the Jacksons, the Osmonds, the Everlys, Van Halen, the Kinks, the Beach Boys, Creedence, Oasis, Allmans, AC/DC, Bee-Gees, Radiohead, the Blasters, Dire Straits, Toto (who used to play in my baseball league at the park), the Dorseys, and so forth. (There might be an even higher proportion of sister acts, but I'll put that aside for another time.)
Many of these brothers squabbled something fierce, but then most musical acts do, so it's hard to tell whether brothers get along better or worse. The Van Halen brothers seem to get along better with each other than with their bandmates (which isn't necessarily saying much in absolute terms), while the Fogertys of Creedence got along worse.
My guess would be that show biz, with the seeming arbitrariness of fame, is even more destructive of fraternal comity than most occupations.
In my Taki's Magazine column, I compare the Coen Brothers to Quentin Tarantino. The opening:
Inflation in the number of Best Picture Oscar nominees from five to ten means that to have any hope of keeping them all straight in your head, you’ll need to group them. Fortunately, the Best Picture nods fall into five obvious pairings:
— The Easily Confused Titles: Up and Up in the Air.
— The Movies about 350-Pound Black 16-Year-Olds: Precious and The Blind Side. (Two films that, together, teach us that if you are going to be an impoverished but colossal teen, it’s better to be a guy than a girl.)
— The Foreign Films That Aren't Going to Win: An Education and District 9.
— And, finally, The Battle of the Aging Wunderkinds: Quentin Tarantino’s violent Jewish heroes in Inglourious Basterds vs. Joel and Ethan Coen’s passive-aggressive Jewish villains in A Serious Man.
Obviously, that wasn't the most crucial issue of our times, but it does say something when a super-rich and powerful near monopolist surreptitiously engages in petty political vendettas.
I concluded, "Ridicule is the best medicine."
And ridicule seems to have worked. Buchanan is now second on Google among the "Pat B" prompts, well ahead of the immortal Pat Buttram.
North Carolina, with a student body that is nearly 60 percent female, is just one of many large universities that at times feel eerily like women’s colleges. Women have represented about 57 percent of enrollments at American colleges since at least 2000, according to a recent report by the American Council on Education. Researchers there cite several reasons: women tend to have higher grades; men tend to drop out in disproportionate numbers; and female enrollment skews higher among older students, low-income students, and black and Hispanic students....
And then there's this:
Jayne Dallas, a senior studying advertising who was seated across the table, grumbled that the population of male undergraduates was even smaller when you looked at it as a dating pool. “Out of that 40 percent, there are maybe 20 percent that we would consider, and out of those 20, 10 have girlfriends, so all the girls are fighting over that other 10 percent,” she said....
Has this ever actually been studied? A huge fraction of psychology studies are done on college students under the often dubious assumption that they are representative of humanity, so why not actually study college students qua college students?
The U. of North Carolina is probably one of the top ten state flagship universities, so its male s students are not exactly losers in the big picture of things. And, no, there are no engineers on campus:
Stephen M. Farmer, North Carolina’s director of admissions, said that the university has a high female presence in part because it does not have an engineering school, which at most schools tend to be heavily male. ...
One of the things that's going on here is age: Many of these U. of North Carolina coeds who won't pay any attention to half the male undergrads would be charmed by the same guys if they were a half dozen years older, more experienced, and more prosperous. But 19-year-old male undergrads strike them as callow. (The rule of thumb for Hollywood movies is that the hero should be around age 35. The heroine should be considerably younger.)
At colleges in big cities, women do have more options. “By my sophomore year, I just had the feeling that there is nobody in this school that I could date,” said Ashley Crisostomo, a senior at Fordham University in New York, which is 55 percent female. She has tended to date older professionals in the city. [Probably some of whom are Fordham grads.]
But in a classic college town, the social life is usually limited to fraternity parties, local bars or coffeehouses. And college men — not usually known for their debonair ways — can be particularly unmannerly when the numbers are in their favor.
Our society uses the educational system to stratify by IQ. At the same time, the school system winds up stratifying socially by age, lumping males and females of the same birthyear together. And it maintains that age stratification longest for the highest IQ people (e.g., people who go to law school, grad school, and the like).
Most other cultures have had less stratification of socializing by birth-year. A quick search suggests that in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, that ultimate authority for all this kind of top-of-the-head evo psych generalizing, Elizabeth Bennett is 20-years-old, while Mr. Darcy is 28.
February 10, 2010
So, I'd never seen a picture of Norman Finkelstein, until I idly clicked on the review ("Is This a Man Who Sheds Light, or Simply Sets Fires?") of a documentary about him in today's NYT. To my surprise, Professor Finkelstein turns out to be a remarkably formidable looking 56-year-old, who could be credibly cast as the colonel of an elite commando squad in a big budget war movie.
Novelists used to be obsessed with the correlation between looks and personality. Dashiell Hammett, for example, goes on at great length in The Maltese Falcon describing Sam Spade's looks, which turned out to be the exact opposite of Humphrey Bogart's: Hammett's Spade was a 6'-3" blonde Scandinavian. In a world where images were expensive, conjuring up images through words were part of what a writer was paid for. It's still a part of high-end literary writing, but for the modern day equivalents of meat and potatoes novelists like Hammett, it's a losing proposition: the idea is to get Leonard DiCaprio and Tom Cruise into a bidding war for the movie rights to your novel, not to dissuade anybody from thinking they could play the part.
But, it was also that old time novelists believed there was a link between looks and personality. I've never paid that much attention to the idea, in part because I have a hard time decoding the facial terminology that old writers used, so I tend to skim over those long sections. For instance, Hammett writes:
Samuel Spade's jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting v under the more flexible v of his mouth. His nostrils curved back to make another, smaller, v. His yellow-grey eyes were horizontal. The v motif was picked up again by thickish brows rising outward from twin creases above a hooked nose, and his pale brown hair grew down-- from high flat temples--in a point on his forehead. He looked rather pleasantly like a blond satan.
I just can't call up a coherent image from these sentences, but, evidently, a lot of readers used to be able to do that.
(By the way, Hammett looked just like another alcoholic novelist, William Faulkner. Who was copying whom?)
How much research been done on questions of the correlation of looks and personality? For example, just from the pictures of Dershowitz and Finkelstein, could people guess at better than random chance which one would take the popular and which one the unpopular side of a political controversy?
Unf0rtunately, that lack of accountability extends to systems that aren't at all as smooth-operating as the NFL playoffs, the systems that we find boring and depressing to think about. So, we allow magical thinking to run amok. For example, a few years ago the Gates Foundation pressured the gigantic Los Angeles Unified School District into making it a requirement for graduating from high school that students pass Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II, a course so far over the cognitive capabilities and needs of a large fraction of perfectly nice kids who deserve to go through life as high school graduates that they might as well get a letter from Bill Gates telling them to drop out now and beat the rush.
The notion that students who haven't mastered fractions yet should be taking algebra is the kind of idea that can flourish only in areas of society that are deeply crippled by taboos.
From Education Week:
"Algebra-for-All" Push Found to Yield Poor Results
Spurred by a succession of reports pointing to the importance of algebra as a gateway to college, educators and policymakers embraced “algebra for all” policies in the 1990s and began working to ensure that students take the subject by 9th grade or earlier.
A trickle of studies suggests that in practice, though, getting all students past the algebra hump has proved difficult and has failed, some of the time, to yield the kinds of payoffs educators seek.
Among the newer findings:
• An analysis using longitudinal statewide data on students in Arkansas and Texas found that, for the lowest-scoring 8th graders, even making it one course past Algebra 2 might not be enough to help them become “college and career ready” by the end of high school.
• An evaluation of the Chicago public schools’ efforts to boost algebra coursetaking found that, although more students completed the course by 9th grade as a result of the policy, failure rates increased, grades dropped slightly, test scores did not improve, and students were no more likely to attend college when they left the system.
• A 2008 paper by the Brookings Institution suggested that as many as 120,000 students nationwide were “misplaced” in algebra programs, meaning they had test scores on national exams that put them about seven grades below their peers in algebra classes. Further, it said, states with a high proportion of students taking algebra in 8th grade didn’t necessarily outperform other states on national math assessments.
“Simply sticking students in courses without preparing them ahead of time for the class does not seem to work as an intervention,” said Chrys Dougherty, the author of the Arkansas and Texas analysis, published last month by the National Center for Educational Achievement, in Austin, which is owned by the test publisher ACT Inc. “It seems to work with adequately prepared students, but not for the most challenged students.” ...
What Mr. Schmidt found was that the learning gains were greatest for students who moved from either a general math class or a prealgebra class into a full-blown algebra class.
His findings are in keeping with a larger body of studies from the 1990s and early 2000s that suggested algebra was, for many students, the primary gateway to advanced-level mathematics and college. The problem was that too many students—particularly those who were poor or members of disadvantaged minority groups—were turned away at the gate, screened out by ability-grouping practices at their schools. ...
“For the high-achieving kids, there was a big change in the classroom composition, so that changes the quality of classes,” said study co-author Elaine M. Allensworth, the interim co-executive director at the consortium, an independent research group based at the University of Chicago. “That means you have to have teachers who can teach to all classes, and it also means you don’t have an elite group of students who may be getting better advising in smaller classes.”
Can't have that! What elite groups of students who get better advising ever contributed to humanity?
“Meanwhile, the kids who weren’t taking advanced classes before are taking them now,” she said, “but they’re not very engaged in them. They have high absence rates and low levels of learning.”
As the trends became evident, the school system in 2003 began requiring 9th graders who scored below the national median on standardized math tests in 8th grade to take an algebra “support” class in addition to a regular algebra class. Students who scored higher continued to take a single period of algebra.
For the Chicago consortium’s study, the researchers compared outcomes for students just above and below the cutoff for the “double dose” classes.
Worried about the potential for reintroducing tracking, the district also provided professional-development workshops and other resources to the teachers of the support classes, according to Ms. Allensworth.
“Because teachers had more time and resources, the instructional quality in those classes improved quite a bit,” she said. “But the classes ended up concentrating more students with attendance and behavioral problems.”
In the end, the study found, failure rates increased for both the targeted students and for their peers in single-period algebra classes. On the other hand, algebra test scores rose substantially for the students in the double-dose classes.
“The district thought [the double-dose initiative] was a failure because it did not improve pass rates, but our analysis showed that test scores improved a lot,” Ms. Allensworth said.Part of the problem, the Chicago researcher said, is that schools have little guidance on how to structure algebra programs to serve all students.
Because it's hard to do. It's easier to teach tracked classes, but that's out of fashion ... unless you call them AP classes. Then they are the height of fashion.
Tom Loveless, the author of the report from the Washington-based Brookings Institution on “misplaced” math students in algebra, said the issue is even more complex.
“No one has figured out how to teach algebra to kids who are seven or eight years behind before they get to algebra, and teach it all in one year,” said Mr. Loveless, who favors interventions for struggling students at even earlier ages.
Giving the dumb kids more time to learn the times tables by rote would be a good idea for a start.
Nationwide, research findings may diverge because testing content varies—the TIMSS test has more algebra content than many state exams taken by 8th graders—and because course content varies from classroom to classroom.
“If you take what’s called algebra class, and you look at the actual distribution of allocated time, you find that many of those teachers spend a very large portion of that year on basic arithmetic,” said Mr. Schmidt, who is a distinguished university professor of education at Michigan State’s East Lansing campus. His research on U.S. classrooms has found, in fact, that nearly a third of students studying algebra are using arithmetic books in their classes.
As well they should.
Low intelligence among top heart health risks
LONDON (Reuters) - Intelligence comes second only to smoking as a predictor of heart disease, scientists said on Wednesday, suggesting public health campaigns may need to be designed for people with lower IQs if they are to work.
This works both ways: sickly people tend to less smart in the first place (maybe some have lower IQs because their heart and circulatory system don't deliver enough blood to the brain?), and being sick and/or old cuts your IQ. So, it is the duty of smart people in the medical industry to think hard about to make everything simpler for patients. Instead, a lot of practices in medicine (like those pages of tiny type in magazine ads for prescription drugs listing side effects) are done to appease smart lawyers rather than to make life better for baffled patients.
Similarly, as the recent cases of patients being fried by overly large doses of radiation therapy and scanners show, programmers need to build in safety measures to keep low IQ and/or sleep deprived medical personnel from messing up.
Research by Britain's Medical Research Council (MRC) found that lower intelligence quotient (IQ) scores were associated with higher rates of heart disease and death, and were more important indicators than any other risk factors except smoking.
Heart disease is the leading killer of men and women Europe, the United States and most industrialised countries.
According to the World Health Organisation, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes accounted for 32 percent of all deaths around the world in 2005.
It is well known that people with poorer education and lower incomes often face higher risks of ill health and a range of diseases. Studies have pointed to many likely reasons, including limited access to healthcare and other resources, poorer living conditions, chronic stress and higher rates of lifestyle risk factors like smoking.
The MRC study, which analysed data from 1,145 men and women aged around 55 and followed up for 20 years, rated the top five heart disease risk factors as cigarette smoking, IQ, low income, high blood pressure, and low physical activity.The researchers, led by David Batty of the MRC and Social and Public Health Science Unit in Glasgow, Scotland, said there were "a number of plausible mechanisms" which might explain why lower IQ scores could raise the risk of heart disease -- in particular a person's approach to "healthy behaviour."
Judging by the number of people I see jogging in the most expensive parts of town, versus the few joggers in the rest of town, I often wonder whether "energy" -- both physical and mental -- has a sizable general factor.
February 9, 2010
... the percentage of married people ages 35 to 44 has declined precipitously over the last 40 years: from 88 percent of men and 87 percent of women in 1960 to 66 percent of men and 67 percent of women in 2005. Since first marriages after age 45—when a woman’s fertile years are finished—are statistically rare, almost everyone who is ever going to marry is already married by that age. The percentage of children growing up in fatherless families—a chief risk factor for social pathologies—has risen concomitantly: from 9 percent of all households with children in 1960 to 26 percent today. On the plus side of the ledger, these negative trends don’t affect the college-educated as severely. College-educated women have significantly higher rates of marriage and lower rates of divorce than women without college degrees. The bad news is that such women, who tend to marry late, have far fewer children. In 2004, according to the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, 24 percent of women ages 40 to 44 with bachelor’s degrees were childless, in contrast to 10 percent of women without a high school diploma. Marriage is slowly becoming a preserve of the elite, who pay a price in severely reduced fertility. ...
Some argue, though, that it is actually beta men who are the greatest victims of the current mating chaos: the ones who work hard, act nice, and find themselves searching in vain for potential wives and girlfriends among the hordes of young women besotted by alphas. That is the underlying message of what is undoubtedly the most deftly written and also the darkest of the seduction-community websites, the blog Roissy in DC. Unlike his confreres, Roissy does not sell books or boot camps, and his site carries no ads. He also blogs anonymously, or at least tries to. (Purported photos of Roissy circulating on the Internet show a tall unshaven man in his late 30s with piercing blue eyes and good, if somewhat dissolute, looks.) ...
If Roissy has anything resembling a mentor, it is F. Roger Devlin. Trained as a political philosopher—he has a doctorate from Tulane—Devlin holds no academic post, and his oeuvre, besides a published version of his doctoral thesis on Alexandre Kojève, consists of a series of essays and reviews concerning relations between the sexes for the Occidental Quarterly, a paleoconservative publication whose other contributors tend to focus obsessively on the question of which ethnic groups belong to which race.
“The sexual revolution in America was an attempt by women to realize their own [hypergamous] utopia, not that of men,” Devlin wrote. Beta men become superfluous until the newly liberated women start double-clutching after years in the serial harems of alphas who won’t “commit,” lower their standards, and “settle.” During this process, monogamy as a stable and civilization-maintaining social institution is shattered. “Monogamy is a form of sexual optimization,” Devlin told me. “It allows as many people who want to get married to do so. Under monogamy, 90 percent of men find a mate at least once in their life.” This isn’t necessarily so anymore in today’s chaotic combination of polygamy for lucky alphas, hypergamy in varying degrees for females depending on their sex appeal, and, at least in theory, large numbers of betas left without mates at all—just as it is in baboon packs. The aim of Mystery-style game is to give those betas better odds."
By the way, Devlin recently reviewed at VDARE.com Tatu Vanhanen's The Limits of Democratization: Climate, Intelligence, and Resource Distribution.
The authorities do not know exactly how many people have been killed warbling “My Way” in karaoke bars over the years in the Philippines, or how many fatal fights it has fueled. But the news media have recorded at least half a dozen victims in the past decade and includes them in a subcategory of crime dubbed the “My Way Killings.”
The killings have produced urban legends about the song and left Filipinos groping for answers. Are the killings the natural byproduct of the country’s culture of violence, drinking and machismo? Or is there something inherently sinister in the song?
By the way, Wikipedia asserts: "In the Philippines it was believed that Vicious' version was inspired by deposed dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos, where in the first part of the song Vicious attempted to imitate the voice of the late dictator." I suspect this Manila Urban Legend says more about Filipinos' obsession with "My Way" than it does about the late Mr. Vicious, whom I can't imagine had much of an idea who Ferdinand E. Marcos even was.
There's an old tradition in Southeast Asia of men suddenly "running amok." Wikipedia writes:
Whatever the reason, many karaoke bars have removed the song from their playbooks. And the country’s many Sinatra lovers, like Mr. Gregorio here in this city in the southernmost Philippines, are practicing self-censorship out of perceived self-preservation.Karaoke-related killings are not limited to the Philippines. In the past two years alone, a Malaysian man was fatally stabbed for hogging the microphone at a bar and a Thai man killed eight of his neighbors in a rage after they sang John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”
Although commonly used in a colloquial and less-violent sense, the phrase is particularly associated with a specific sociopathic culture-bound syndrome in Malaysian culture. In a typical case of running amok, a male who has shown no previous sign of anger or any inclination to violence will acquire a weapon and, in a sudden frenzy, will attempt to kill or seriously injure anyone he encounters. ...A Malay will suddenly and apparently without reason rush into the street armed with a kris or other weapons, and slash and cut at everybody he meets till he is killed. These frenzies were formerly regarded as due to sudden insanity. It is now, however, certain that the typical amok is the result of circumstances, such as domestic jealousy or gambling losses, which render a Malay desperate and weary of his life. It is, in fact, the Malay equivalent of suicide. The act of running amuck is probably due to causes over which the culprit has some amount of control, as the custom has now died out in the British possessions in the peninsula, the offenders probably objecting to being caught and tried in cold blood.
February 8, 2010
Slowly, the story is coming out in court cases. My guess is that the answer will turn out to be: Yes, but only in certain times and places, often depending upon the whim of local gang leaders.
From the LA Times' ace crime reporter Sam Quinones:
Six Florencia 13 gang members sentenced to life in prison
Court action may close the door on a rampage that began in 2004 and evolved into what some residents saw as a race war.By Sam QuinonesThe sentencing of six Florencia 13 gang members to life in prison appears to bring to a close a prolonged and terrifying spate of violence in the Florence-Firestone district allegedly brought on by orders from a prison gang member in solitary confinement 700 miles away.
Beginning in 2004, the unincorporated Los Angeles County area north of Watts [unincorporated parts of LA County are patrolled by LA Sheriffs rather than LAPD] was the site of one of the region's worst gang sieges since the early 1990s, evolving into what some residents felt was a race war.
The violence left dozens of people dead, including many with no gang affiliation, and required enormous county resources to combat. ...
U.S. District Judge David Carter sentenced Florencia member Francisco Flores, 24, to life in prison on Wednesday, saying that he "preyed on victims because they were black and for no other reason," according to a U.S. attorney's office news release. ..
Their trial, which took place in federal court in Santa Ana in 2008, grew from an indictment of 104 Florencia gang members on charges that included racketeering, conspiracy to sell drugs and murder.
Of those indicted, 94 have pleaded guilty or have been convicted. Four more await trial; two have died and four are fugitives.
The case showed the remarkable power the Mexican Mafia prison gang holds over Southern California Latino street gangs. Prosecutors alleged that Mexican Mafia member Arturo "Tablas" Castellanos essentially created a crime wave in the Florence-Firestone district.
Castellanos was not indicted because he is already serving a life prison term in a maximum security cell in Pelican Bay State Prison. He hasn't been on the streets since 1979.
Yet he wrote letters, introduced as evidence at the trial, that presumed to control a street gang, most of whose members had never seen him.
Castellanos ordered gang members to stop rampant infighting; to tax drug dealers in their neighborhoods, as well as prostitutes, fruit vendors and vendors of phony ID cards in nearby Huntington Park; and to funnel the proceeds to him and other mafia members. He also ordered the gang to attack the local Crips gang, whose members are black.
"The Mexican Mafia has a powerful grasp on these [Latino] gangs," said Peter Hernandez, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case.
"The prison system is a segregated place. Those rules and letters from Castellanos attempted to adhere those prison rules to the street," he said.
As Castellanos' letters appeared on the street in the fall and winter of 2004, Florencia 13 erupted in a spate of violence against African Americans.
"They just went out and started shooting" at black people, Hernandez said.
East Coast Crips responded with shootings of their own, often targeting Latinos who were not gang members.
Few actual gang members died. Instead, residents said, they lived amid a race war.
Tapped cellular phone calls introduced as evidence at the trial tracked Florencia members driving the streets looking for people to shoot.
Black men, in particular, reported not walking to the store for groceries or riding bikes.
Florence-Firestone, with a population of 60,000, had 43 homicides in 2005.
In contrast, there have only been three homicides in Florence-Firestone neighborhood over the last seven months, so the situation there is much improved.
And here's Quinones's latest, on the testimony of a different Mexican Mafia leader, one who must have watched The Godfather trilogy a lot. I bet he identified with Al Pacino's character:
Real tried to break from his family and go straight, even receiving First Communion alone at 17, he said. But, "every time I try to get out, they pull me back in.
Quarterback strategies and execution are now starting to reach a similar point where the big story of the Super Bowl was the lone interception thrown in the game.
One way of getting around these various methodological problems in thinking about racial differences in crime: look closely at homicide victimization rates of 15-29 year-old males. This approach can seem unkind because it assumes there is some correlation between the odds of getting killed and the odds of causing trouble. But among young men, unfortunately, that assumption has some validity.
Over the last two weeks, I’ve read the LA Times’ write-ups on hundreds of young male victims, and tracked down additional details on many of them elsewhere on the Internet, such as from their MySpace pages. It’s depressing work, but it puts human faces on the statistics.
Many of the victims were wholly innocent, such as the Long Beach engineer who chased teenaged thieves stealing his iPod into an alley, where they shot him down. Some, such as black high school football star Jamiel Shaw Jr., were apparently murdered at random due to their race as part of the low-intensity ethnic cleansing struggle in South Central L.A.
On the other hand, more than a few of the 1,257 male 15-29-year-old homicide victims appear to have been knuckleheads shot down by cops during crimes or by rival gangs as payback, or who lost their lives in fights they started.
Most killings in L.A. County involve acquaintances rather than strangers. Perhaps due to the spread of pervasive video surveillance in stores, robbery killings are now down to a small fraction of the total number of victims, and a very small sliver of young male victims.
This means that victimization rates of young men can give us some clue about crime rates.
Among 15-29 year-old males killed since the beginning of 2007, I count:
* Hispanics: 794 victims out of 611,789 young men in the 2006-2008 Census estimates
* Blacks: 380 victims out of 96,676 young men
* Non-Hispanic Caucasians: 47 out of 247,173
* Asians: 28 out of 129,716
* Pacific Islanders: 8 out of 3,510
* American Indians: 0 out of 6,088
* Total L.A. County: 15-29 year old males: 1,257 out of 1,108,268
A few technical notes: I’m counting 22 Spanish-surnamed victims as Hispanic even though the county coroner listed them as white, plus four others where there is evidence that they identified ethnically as Latino.
Not surprisingly to anybody who follows the local police blotter, 14 of the 47 Caucasian victims were of West Asian descent, and nine of those 14 Armenians. Only 1.7 percent of the population of Los Angeles County is Armenian, but some of them are a bit lively, rather like Sicilians in a Scorsese movie: enterprising and affluent, but with an Old World code of honor. Suspects in killings of Armenians are often described as vanishing into the night in BMWs or Lexuses. Judging by the Old Country first names of the Armenian victims, most were immigrants or the children of immigrants rather than from the pre-1924 wave of Armenian immigrants.
Using the Census Bureau’s estimates of the numbers of 15-29-year-old males in L.A. County in 2006-2008, we can calculate—relative to non-Hispanic whites—the homicide victimization rates among young men:
* Whites: 1.0 times the white rate (by Census definition)
* Asians: 1.1x the white rate
* Latinos: 6.8x
* Pacific Islanders: 12.0x
* African-American: 20.7x
* Total L.A. County: 6.0x
February 7, 2010
To Be Young, Gifted, and White in Hollywood
The blogosphere is a-twitter about Vanity Fair’s latest “New Hollywood” cover. Specifically, its stark lily-whiteness. As Dlisted put it, this year’s annual Annie Leibovitz shot “makes a BYU class picture look like a Benetton ad.”
Bloggers have pointed out a few obvious, non-white actresses who could have been included, like Gaby Sidibe, who is featured in the portfolio inside the magazine, but not on the cover.
The star of Precious weighs 300 pounds. No woman is going to be drawn to make an impulse purchase of a fashion and lifestyle magazine because there's a 300 pounder on the cover.
There’s also Zoe Saldana, who starred in the two biggest sci-fi movies of the year, Star Trek and Avatar.
This Dominican-American is really good in Avatar as Manute Bol's big blue sister, or whatever she's supposed to be. On the other hand, would anybody who saw her in Avatar recognize her?
Nobody gives credit to acting performances in special effects blockbusters, but it's probably technically harder to act well in a huge movie than in a low budget film where you get to act with other people and do more lines per day on the set. A big challenge in acting is adrenaline management. It's easiest in the theater where you just have to be on from 8 to 10pm each evening. You can arrange your day to peak then. It might be hardest in technically complicated films where its hard to foresee when they'll finally be ready for you back on the set after a long day of the crew twiddling with technology. On the other hand, maybe part of Cameron's new techniques are ones to make it easier on actors?
Yes, Saldana was featured on the cover of the 2008 Hollywood issue—behind the gatefold, natch, along with Alice Braga and America Ferrera—but then, they put ScarJo on the cover of the Hollywood issue THREE YEARS in a row. (2004, ‘05, and ‘06.) And can I make a retroactive vote for Charlyne Yi? Admittedly, I don’t think she glams up all that often, but the prospect is so delicious.Hmmhmm, why would Nina Shen think Charlyne Yi should be put on magazine covers?
Try to play this game too long, though, and you run out of steam. After all, as Dodai Stewart points out on Jezebel, it’s not as if Hollywood is exactly teeming with hotly-tipped [excuse me?] young actresses of color. Maybe it’s just a numbers thing, and those of us who feel angry at VF really are just shooting the messenger. Most American movie ingénues, after all, are white, pretty, and thin. But it’s a chicken-and-the-egg kind of scenario. Is Hollywood to blame for not putting more actresses of color in its movies? Or are magazines like VF to blame for perpetuating the idea that young, worthy actresses are naturally thin, pretty, and Ivory soap-white?
Or maybe the overseas market, which now accounts for a large majority of American box office, is to be blamed? Maybe the Japanese, the world's #2 movie market, just like looking at Scarlett Johansson more than they like looking at Charlene Yi? (And in foreign markets where American films are dubbed into the local language, audiences don't have to listen to Scarlett's grating voice.)
Or maybe actresses of color should be blamed for not being, on average, glamorous and talented enough to sell as many movie tickets? Nah, by definition, it couldn't be that!
As momentarily satisfying as it feels, I also don’t feel entirely comfortable cherry-picking actresses of color and then waving them around, yelling, “Here’s one you could have put in there!” It makes it sound like we’re pushing for a kind of tokenism, some quota-based notion of “diversity,” when really it’s just sad that someone could look at an image like that and not see race written all over it.
I was chatting with a friend about the brouhaha today, and she was reminded of this line in Adam Gopnik’s recent New Yorker obit of J.D. Salinger:
In American writing, there are three perfect books, which seem to speak to every reader and condition: “Huckleberry Finn,” “The Great Gatsby,” and “The Catcher in the Rye.”
Now, I happened to hate The Catcher in the Rye, and The Great Gatsby left me cold when I finally read it, years and years after I should have. So maybe Gopnik and I have different literary tastes. That’s all fine and good; I’m not obligated to buy his assertion that these are “perfect” novels. But the notion that these books should “speak” to me and my “condition”—that I will naturally find something resonant and familiar in the experiences described therein—makes me feel strangely claustrophobic. (And I can only imagine what a black person who finds Huck Finn deeply problematic is supposed feel.) It’s not that I think Gopnik should have added some books with minority characters to that short list. It’s just upsetting to be reminded that “white and male” is still seen as some kind of universal solvent—a category that everyone else can be dissolved into.