May 15, 2010

Haim Saban

Haim Saban, the Israeli (technically, a dual citizen of Israel and the U.S.) Hollywood mogul who unleashed upon us the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers ("five retards in spandex" according to to their owner), is the leading fundraiser for the Democratic Party.

He is profiled by Connie Bruck in the current New Yorker. This is evidently part of Bruck's on-going series on politically connected rich guys such as casino mogul and GOP/Likud power broker Sheldon Adelson and subprime mortgage monger Angelo Mozilo.
The Influencer
An entertainment mogul sets his sights on foreign policy 
He remains keenly interested in the world of business, but he is most proud of his role as political power broker. His greatest concern, he says, is to protect Israel, by strengthening the United States-Israel relationship. At a conference last fall in Israel, Saban described his formula. His “three ways to be influential in American politics,” he said, were: make donations to political parties, establish think tanks, and control media outlets. In 2002, he contributed seven million dollars toward the cost of a new building for the Democratic National Committee—one of the largest known donations ever made to an American political party. That year, he also founded the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, in Washington, D.C.  

The weird thing is how little this kind of influence upon the world's only superpower costs. According to the article, Saban has a net worth of $3.3 billion. Bruck lists his key donations as $7 million to the Democratic Party, $5 million to the Clinton Foundation, and $13 million to the Brookings Institute. Those are Israel-size handouts. In Russia, in contrast, $25 million in payoffs might buy you a little protection, but if you want influence, you'll need to pony up a lot more.

C'mon, T. Boone Pickens has given $165 million to the Oklahoma St. athletic department.

Presumably, it's not the initial donation that buys influence, it's the promise of lots more maintenance donations and the recipients' fear of not getting the subsequent donations.

Plus, the big advantage is not, say, the $13 million dollars worth of sub-think tank he bought at Brookings, but the implicit veto he bought himself over the rest of Brookings. That's a big advantage of giving $13 million to Brookings to set up the Saban Center for Middle East Policy instead of spending it setting up his own stand-alone think tank: it inevitably sends a warning to the Brookings Institute management that if they do something to displease Saban, they might not get another penny from him. But, he can't buy that kind of veto power over them without giving them the first penny.

Or is it the free private jet trips for big shots that buy influence? (Or am I overthinking all this, and the real influence doesn't come from the public donations but from suitcases full of unmarked bills?)
He considered buying The New Republic, but decided it wasn’t for him. He also tried to buy Time and Newsweek, but neither was available. He and his private-equity partners acquired Univision in 2007, and he has made repeated bids for the Los Angeles Times.

A friend writes:
The New Yorker is properly incurious as to how Saban will deploy Univision [the chief Spanish language television network in the U.S.] while observing his personal primary directive, not just "is it good for the Jews?" but "is it good for Israel?" What did they give it, two or three paragraphs on the deal itself after about 8000 words of history? (By the way, shouldn't a piece like this lead with the interest--his current political machinations--and then do the history? it's almost like they want people to quit articles before they get to the weenie*).
The preternaturally canny Saban went 10 bil in the hole to buy Uni at the top of the market [the subprime boom made outlets for Spanish-language advertising very profitable back in 2007]. I think he sees Uni first as a business opportunity--a guy who made his bones ferreting out unappreciated licensing revenue potential [in the publishing rights to music used in cartoons] might see the sprawling Uni and the Latin market a virtual playground for that kind of stuff. But what will he say to the Spanish-speaking population of North America (again, observing the prime directive)? Personally, I'm hoping he loses enough money to sicken of it and sells.
I'm thinking of that "where is the Hispanic Obama" theme the msm took up early in the post-Arizona hysterics. Reporters are exquisitely conditioned--they take on faith that a "Hispanic Obama" is just what we need! (I used to be disgusted...) Saban probably thinks it's a good idea too--with none of the delusional sentiment of our tel-luminati.

* The lede buried at the end of the article:
Several days before the opening of the Forum, Saban appeared on the Israeli “Meet the Press,” on Channel 2, which is owned by Keshet. Until a year earlier, Saban had been one of the owners of Keshet. The interviewer, Dana Weiss, warmly told Saban, “You really are our rich uncle in America, and we can rely on you.” Still, she noted that he had wanted to become the largest donor to the Democratic Party, and pointed out that, in Israel, “businesspeople’s desire for access to the political system immediately raises our suspicions.” 

Surely, she said, there must be potential for abuse when capital and government are linked. “Didn’t you ever see a politician that you had to stop?” Weiss asked. “Who was in your pocket?"

“Let me give you an example of this access, and why it’s completely O.K.,” Saban responded. “I hosted the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, in my home. I was informed that he refused to sign a letter to Obama, which was signed by most of the senators, supporting Israel, before the speech in Cairo. . . . I got the message on Saturday and he was at my house on Sunday. I asked him, ‘Why didn’t you sign?

“So he said, ‘Because I don’t sign other people’s initiatives,’ as the leader, as head of the Democratic Party.
“I said, ‘So send a letter of your own.’ ” And, Saban added, smiling, and with hesitation, as though he did not like to boast, “He did.”
He continued, “I won’t say that nobody abuses it. But I’ve been active in American politics for over fifteen years, and I’ve never abused it. No one ever wrote that I abused it. Everything is fine. We can look for something,” he added, laughing. “But we won’t find a thing.”

The article makes clear that Saban vastly preferred Hillary over Obama, and that he therefore flirted with McCain, but Saban couldn't bring himself to go GOP. But then Hillary got to be Secretary of State, so he can't be too unhappy.

In many ways, the growing role in American political life of Israelis such as Saban, Sheldon Adelson's latest wife, and Zev Chafets, author of that amusingly ironic article on the putative Hispanic Obama, is (or, at least, ought to be) an intellectually liberating one, since Israeli culture is so in-your-face frank that Israelis find it hard to resist at least hinting at what they really think.

The kind of semi-sincere Winston-Smith-loved-Big-Brother doublethink that we saw on display in the Stephanie Grace affair is the kind of thing that comes more naturally to Newton Minow's daughter. Can you image what Haim Saban would have said if he were the dean of Harvard Law School? I can't, but it's amusing to try.

May 14, 2010

What It Takes

In The Ask, the celebrated new comic novel by Sam Lipsyte (son of leftist sportswriter Robert Lipsyte), narrator Milo Burke is a failed painter now employed asking rich people for money for the arts programs of what Milo calls the Mediocre University at New York City:
People paid vast sums so their spawn could take hard drugs in suitable company, draw from life on their laptops, do radical things with video cameras and caulk. Still, the sums didn't quite do the trick. Not in the cutthroat world of arts education. Our job was to grovel for more money. We could always use more video cameras, more caulk, or a dance studio, or a gala for more groveling. ...

An ask could be a person, or what we wanted from that person. If they gave it to us, that was a give. The asks knew little about the student work they funded. Who could blame them? Some of the art these brats produced wouldn't stand up to the dreck my three-year-old demanded we tack to the kitchen wall. But I was biased, and not just because I often loved my son. Thing was, I'd been just like these wretches once. Now they stared through me, as though I were merely some drone in their sight line, a pathetic object momentarily obstructing their fabulous horizon. They were right.

When Milo tells the presumptuous daughter of a donor what he actually thinks of her art, he loses his job for hate speech. With nothing to do, he spends a lot of time at the Post Office:
I bought pistachios, ate them in line at the post office. Or on line at the post office. I could no longer recall which phrase came naturally. Either way, there was always a line at the post office, people with enormous packages bound, I assumed, for family in distant, historically f----d lands. What were they sending? TVs? TiVos? Hamburgers? Hamburger Helper? ... The line hardly moved. People couldn't fill out the forms. Others did not comprehend the notion of money orders. Come on, people, I thought-beamed. I'm on your side and I'm annoyed. Doesn't that concern you? Don't you worry your behavior will reduce me to generalizations about why your lands are historically f----d? Or does my nation's decline make my myopia moot?

That's a terrific passage, but that's not an unemployed painter worrying about whether he is in line or on line, that's an unemployed writer. Milo is never truly believable as a not-quite-good-enough painter, as, say, Charles Ryder was in Brideshead Revisited. Waugh had clearly thought a lot about the visual arts, while Lipsyte's obsessions are restricted to text and music, to putting some punk rock rhythms into his carefully crafted prose. Lipsyte is just repackaging his experiences in Creative Writing classes as painting classes without actually thinking like a painter.

So, The Ask's glass is only half full, but it's full of some fine sentences. Lipsyte is receiving much acclaim this spring for the excellence of his prose, a sentiment I share.

On the other hand, I wouldn't proclaim him a better prose stylist than, say, Dennis Dale of Untethered. Of these two slightly similar personalities, Lipsyte is somewhat funnier because he's more hostile, but Dennis has a superior eye. To pick a shard off the top of Untethered today:
Summer. Nineteen eighty-something. We were parting the traffic on the 605 southbound for Huntington Beach; I was wearing nothing but shorts and sandals, one hand holding on to the motorcycle seat, the other cradling a six-pack of beer, football-style. We leaned headlong into the wind like a pair of ski-jumpers, as P. effortlessly weaved the stodgy Honda CB350 through the cars, rendering them still as haystacks. I peered into them as we passed, looking for girls. My head rocked with spontaneous energy, to some silent beat, the effect of the youth spending itself within me. The exquisite expiration of childhood. We shouted back and forth in the gale we carried along with us, laughing through mouths windswept into lunatic grins; we cheerfully harried the odd fellow who was momentarily abreast and sharing our direction. We turned with the road into a direct and endless path toward a sun that will never set...

That paints a more memorable picture with words than anything Milo Burke does.

Sam Lipsyte's hostility is likely partly heritable. Here's a paragraph from the author's father, Robert Lipsyte, a sportswriter who takes pride in hating athletes, that I noticed while looking through his The elder Lipsyte explains his reaction to the Columbine massacre thusly:
The Jock-Outsider gap became a Sunday morning discussable after the 1999 Columbine massacre. I weighed in with a New York Times column on the shootings as a response to the arrogant, entitled behavior of high school athletes, as encouraged by the adults who lived vicariously through them.

The man has some issues.

The younger Lipsyte's narrator has similar anger issues, but Sam is self-aware enough to be self-loathing. The Ask is a minor masterpiece of amorphous Jewish hostility in the tradition of Portnoy's Complaint and Annie Hall.

I want to end by quoting from a useful section of The Ask, Lipsyte's fourth book, where he is sincere about what it takes to be a novelist. Milo is remembering when he asked his painting professor at college to compare him to the other top painter at his school. She replies:
"Okay, fine. I know you think you're a better artist than Billy Raskov, but you're just a better draftsman. That's something. But there are mentally handicapped people who draw and paint with far more technical skill than either of you. So, like I always say, it all comes down to how much you need to inflict yourself on the world. You're good enough. If you kiss the right ass, you could certainly make a career. Get some shows. Teach. Like me, for instance. I'm not a failure. I'm in a very envied position. You have some big-dick fairy-tale idea of the art world, so you don't understand this yet, but hanging in, surviving, so you can keep working, that's all there is. Sure, there are stars, most of them hacks, who make silly amounts of money, but for the rest of us, it's just endurance, perdurance. Do you have the guts to perdure? To be dismissed by some pissant and keep coming? To be dumped by your gallerist? To scramble for teaching gigs? It's not very glamorous. Is this what you want? You're good enough for it. You're not the new sensation, but you're good enough to get by. But you have to be strong. And petty. That's really the main thing. Are you petty enough?"

May 13, 2010

The return of Human Signs

Back in 2005, I pointed out that the proliferation of people standing on street corners in Southern California jiggling big arrows pointing to real estate open houses personified the Cheap Wage / Expensive Land economy:
The real estate salesperson's commission, at six percent, on a $600,000 house is $36,000. That pays for a lot of sign twirlers.

But it also raises more questions than it answers about the long-term prospects for our economy and for our once solidly middle-class society—in a 21st Century where the well-off increasingly make their living selling houses to each other; and the less lucky make their living, such as it is, jiggling signs.

Then, Human Signs disappeared for awhile when the economy crashed.

Lately, though, they are back. Human Signs are less often advertising real estate now and more often advertising cellphones or what not, but they're back. Obama should give a self-congratulatory speech on a street corner in front of a bunch of newly re-employed Human Signs twirling big arrows that spell out "Mission Accomplished."

A new term: "The Full Bullock"

Few topics generate more bipartisan consensus among elites than the need to devote more of the resources of nice white ladies to closing the Nurture Gap among the races, whether via Head Start or having teachers work endless hours at KIPP charter schools or all the way up to adoption. 

From now on we shall call that ultimate option on the continuum of nurturist solutions The Full Bullock, as in, "You know, these half measures aren't accomplishing much, so to close The Gap, we may have to go ... The Full Bullock."

We are of course honoring Sandra Bullock, who won the Best Actress Oscar for playing a rich white lady who adopts a giant black youth in The Blind Side. And then, in real life, the adorable actress adopted from New Orleans a remarkably menacing-looking baby. (Thanks to WWTDD for that characterization).

May 12, 2010

Arizona v. New Mexico

Here's a pretty funny article from the NYT about how much saintlier New Mexico is than (Boo! Hiss!) Arizona. It reflects the conventional wisdom that illegal immigration has virtually no real world consequences and should be thought of solely as a test of the morality of white folks, exposing who are the nice white people and who are the not nice white people.

As you read it, try to guess the real reason why there is less anti-illegal immigration sentiment in New Mexico than in Arizona.
ALBUQUERQUE — As the Arizona Legislature steamed ahead with the most stringent immigration enforcement bill in the country this year, this state’s House of Representatives was unanimously passing a resolution recognizing the economic benefits of illegal immigrants.

While the Arizona police will check driver’s licenses and other documents to root out illegal immigrants, New Mexico allows illegal residents to obtain driver’s licenses as a public safety measure.

And if Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona, a Republican, has become, for now, the public face of tough immigration enforcement, Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, a Democrat, has told any interviewer who will listen about his effort to “to integrate immigrants that are here and make them part of society and protect the values of our Hispanic and multiethnic communities.” 

Normally in news stories, Bill Richardson is identified in these contexts as "Hispanic" (he's 3/4ths Mexican [or, to be precise, 2/4ths Mexican and 1/4th Spanish], 1/4th preppy WASP -- his dad ran Citibank's office in Mexico City for decades and the politician spent his first 13 years among the Mexico City elite before going off to boarding school in New England; he spends a lot of time at Mexican beach resorts working on his Aztec Sun God look to remind Hispanic voters that he's not just another pasty white guy with a WASP name.). But, here, Richardson is described by name but not by ancestry so that he can be positioned as the Nice White Person in contrast to Jan Brewer as the Not Nice White Person.
They may sit side by side on the border, they may share historical ties to Mexico; they may have once even been part of the same territory, but Arizona and New Mexico have grown up like distant siblings.

People on all sides of the immigration debate have taken notice.

“If a burglar breaks into your home, do you serve him dinner? That is pretty much what they do there with illegals,” said State Representative John Kavanagh of Arizona, a Republican. Mr. Kavanagh is one of the staunchest supporters of the new law there, which will give the local police broad power to check the legal status of people they stop and suspect are in the country illegally.

But Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a liberal group in Washington that advocates reworking immigration law, offered New Mexico as a model of balancing a push for border security — Mr. Richardson once declared a state of emergency there — with coping with the illegal immigrants already in this country.

“Richardson has got it,” Mr. Sharry said.

Even supporters of Arizona’s law here — and there are some — agree that such a measure would never pass in New Mexico, given the outcry among legislators and immigrant advocates that the police in Arizona might detain and question Latinos who are legal residents and citizens but are mistaken for illegal immigrants
Why the difference?

First, New Mexico (population two million) has the highest percentage of Hispanics of any state — 45 percent, compared with 30 percent in Arizona (population 6.5 million), and they historically have commanded far more political power than their neighbors do. The New Mexico Legislature is 44 percent Hispanic, a contrast to the 16 percent in Arizona, according to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

Both were once part of Mexico and, later, the same United States territory. But since they became states in 1912, New Mexico has had five Hispanic governors (including Mr. Richardson, whose mother is Mexican), and Arizona has had one, according to the group.

New Mexico’s legislators embrace the civil rights protections in the state’s Constitution — including so-called unamendable provisions akin to a Bill of Rights that historically protected Spanish-speaking citizens of the former Mexican territory — and often mount a “protective stance” toward immigrants regardless of legal status, said Christine M. Sierra, a political science professor at the University of New Mexico.

“When the community at large feels threatened, folks close ranks and join in solidarity to protect the group,” Professor Sierra said, noting that Arizona Latinos have struggled to assume the same kind of a power in a state where a greater influx of Anglos (the general term for non-Hispanic whites) over the decades has diluted their strength. ...

Finally, a clue!
Though concerns about immigration and the border arise, particularly in the southern “boot heel” of New Mexico, the burner setting is low.
“It’s not that there isn’t social tension between Hispanics and non-Hispanics,” said Jose Z. Garcia, a political scientist at New Mexico State University. “We just have learned to tolerate each other and get along.” ...

But New Mexico’s patience could be tested, and some fear that the Arizona law will push more illegal immigrants into the state, though they typically go where the most jobs are found. 

Another clue!

Richardson gets the last word in the article (and, not surprisingly, it's the N Word: "Nativist")
Mr. Richardson, who believes that illegal immigrants should pay back taxes, learn English and take other steps as a condition of getting legal status, makes no apologies for seeking to integrate them, calling them a net plus for the state.

“I just have always felt that this is part of my heritage,” he said, noting his early years spent in Mexico City. “There is a decided positive in encouraging biculturalism and people working and living together instead of inciting tension. The worry I have about Arizona is it is going to spread. It arouses the nativist instinct in people.” 

And we all know that the real problem is "the nativist instinct in people," well, at least the nativist instinct in certain people.

So, what's really going on that explains Arizona v. New Mexico? Some paragraphs in the middle of the article give hints:
The flow of drugs and illegal immigrants over the sparsely populated, remote border here, moreover, pales compared with that in Arizona, whose border, dotted with towns and roads facilitating trafficking, registers the highest number of drug seizures and arrests of illegal crossers of any state.

The estimated 460,000 illegal immigrants in Arizona, whose population explosion of the past few decades has been a magnet for low-wage work, is more than eight times that of the estimated 55,000 here in Albuquerque, where the economy turns more on government, military and high-skill jobs.

In other words, there is much more illegal immigration into Arizona than into New Mexico, which is why there is much more concern about it in Arizona.

And that raises a fundamentally important question: Why don't illegal immigrants want to go to New Mexico when it's full of Hispanics and nice white people? Why do illegal immigrants prefer to go to Arizona, with its relative shortage of vibrancy and its Not Nice White People? Why, indeed, have illegals preferred states like Georgia in recent years over New Mexico?

Because New Mexico is economically stagnant and backward.

When Richardson was running for the Democratic nomination for President, on Meet the Press Tim Russert gave Richardson a hard time about his state:

"They rank states in a whole variety of categories from one being the best, 50th being the worst. This is New Mexico’s scorecard, and you are the governor. Percent of people living below the poverty line, you’re 48. Percent of children below, 48. Median family income, 47. People without health insurance, 49. Children without health insurance, 46. Teen high school dropouts, 47. Death rate due to firearms, 48. Violent crime rate, 46."

New Mexico's state motto ought to be "Thank God for Mississippi!"

And why, despite large amounts of federal spending there since the Manhattan Project, is New Mexico too economically stagnant and backward to attract many illegal aliens?

Partly, because it is so lacking in water. My vague impression is that water is in even more short supply in New Mexico than in Arizona.

But a big reason is that, with Santa Fe having been founded by conquistadors in 1609, New Mexico is backward for much the same reason Old Mexico is: all that vibrant Hispanic culture, 401 years of it, has left New Mexico backward.

So, why does the NYT want to turn the rest of America into New New Mexico?

Think of it from the perspective of poor Mexican illegal immigrants: Once all of America turns into Greater New Mexico, would-be illegal immigrants from Old Mexico will have nowhere to go! Think of the Old Mexicans!

May 11, 2010

IQ & Harvard Law School

The Dean of the Harvard Law School who condemned law student Stephanie Grace's private email displaying openmindedness on the heritability of IQ differences is not the same person as the HLS Dean nominated by Obama to the Supreme Court yesterday -- Martha Minow was Elena Kagan's replacement as Dean when Kagan became Obama's Solicitor General. 

It's hard to imagine, though, Dean Kagan acting less weaselly about IQgate than Dean Minow did. A Senator should ask Kagan what she thought of her successor's actions (although I doubt that will happen, since the growing tradition is to make Supreme Court nomination hearings as soporific for the public as possible).

But, where do such people as Elena Kagan come from?

Why, in her case, from a public grade school and high school!

Of course, it's a rather different kind of public school, one that you have to pass an I.Q. test to get into when you are in nursery school. From the NYT:
Tenth graders at Hunter College High School in Manhattan had a substitute teacher in their American history class on Monday for an unusual reason: Their regular teacher, Irving Kagan, was in Washington, watching his sister, Elena, accept President Obama’s nomination for a seat on the Supreme Court.

Both siblings attended Hunter, and Mr. Kagan returned to be a social studies teacher there. Their mother, Gloria, taught for years at the affiliated elementary school. So it was with a special sense of pride that students and teachers in the schools on East 94th Street welcomed the news that Ms. Kagan, the nation’s solicitor general, had risen even higher on the school’s long list of notable alumni.

Hunter College High School is highly unusual among public schools in New York City. Affiliated with Hunter College, part of the City University of New York, the high school is publicly financed and managed, but not run by the city’s Department of Education.

To attend the elementary school, children must excel on an I.Q. test and in a class observation to win one of its coveted 50 kindergarten seats. The high school starts in the seventh grade, and attracts some of the brightest students from around the city. Cram schools have popped up to help students prepare for the combined math, reading and essay test required for admission.

For those who get in, the competition does not let up. Juniors and seniors fret over a phenomenon common to high-achieving schools: Among so many outstanding students, it is hard to distinguish oneself.

Dozens of seniors this year were National Merit Scholarship Program semifinalists. “It’s like embarrassing if you aren’t a National Merit winner,” said Joseph Pearl, 16. About a third of graduates go to Ivy League schools. 

Do you ever get the impression that there is a certain conflict between what elites, such as Harvard Law School deans, say about IQ and what they really believe deep down? Perhaps the witch-burning fervor they display against heretics stems from their desire to cover up their own Doubts?

"Iron Man 2"

Here's the opening of my column in Taki's Magazine:
A couple of weeks before the release of Iron Man in May 2008, the American public started to realize that casting Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark, a Howard Hughes-like inventor turned superhero, was a great idea. After all, why does Hollywood bother existing if not to make a big American movie about a big American comic book character starring an actor fated to be either a big American star or our most spectacular flameout?

Iron Man wound up the most entertaining of all the superhero blockbusters, at least for my tastes. The Iron Man comic, created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and two other Marvel staffers, first appeared in 1963, which is as far back as I can remember. (Perhaps that explains why I’ve enjoyed the two Iron Man movies so much.) Iron Man 2 displays the usual signs of sequelitis, but at its (frequent) best, it’s an autumnal screwball comedy that challenges a host of fine actors—such as Mickey Rourke as a villainous old Soviet physicist—to try to counter Downey’s verbal velocity.

Comic book adaptations tend to appeal to American guys of a certain age. While Avatar, the state of the art blockbuster, earned 68 percent of its revenue abroad, movies about traditional superheroes such as Iron Man and The Dark Knight still tend to reap a majority of their box office domestically. Not surprisingly, the new Iron Man 2’s $133 million opening weekend audience was 60 percent male and 60 percent over age 25.

Tony Stark is a throwback, too. He’s a billionaire grease monkey who gets his hands dirty building machines (such as his flying armored suit) rather than structuring derivatives. Moreover, he’s a hedonistic reactionary—much like Downey, who has noted, “…you can’t go from a $2,000-a-night suite at La Mirage to a penitentiary and really understand it and come out a liberal. You can’t.”

Jon Favreau’s Iron Man adaptations are nominally set in the present, but spiritually, they take place in 1963-64 at the peak of the Cold War arms race in which my father, like Tony Stark's, was employed (at a rather lower-paying level, unfortunately).

Read the whole thing there and comment upon it here. 

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

May 10, 2010

"Welfare system could cause Israel to collapse, economist warns"

From Edmund Sanders in LA Times:
Nearly one in five Israeli men between the ages of 35 and 54 do not work, including Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews, says Dan Ben-David. As their numbers rise, so does the economic peril, he says.
When people talk these days about Israel's economy, they use words like booming, resilient, even "miracle." ...
But one Israeli economist is warning that beneath Israel's back-patting lurks a hidden peril — fueled by demographic trends and political choices — that could eventually mean an end to the country.

Armed with a Power Point presentation he's been showing to lawmakers, newspaper publishers and anyone else who will listen, Dan Ben-David, executive director of Jerusalem-based Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel, says the problem is simple: Not enough Israelis are pulling their own weight.

According to Ben-David, nearly one in five Israeli men between the ages of 35 and 54 — a group that he believes has "no excuse" for not working — are not part of the labor force. That's about 60% higher than the average among nations in the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, an international forum fostering market-based economies that Israel joined Monday.

Officially, Israel's unemployment rate is about 8%. But that doesn't include Israeli citizens who are not trying to find work, either because they feel disenfranchised, such as many Arab Israelis, or because they've chosen a life of state-subsidized religious study, such as many ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Nearly 27% of Arab men and 65% of ultra-Orthodox Jews don't work, government figures show. The non-employment rate for ultra-Orthodox men has tripled since 1970, Ben-David said. ...

What worries Ben-David most is that the nonproductive part of Israel's population, which survives largely on welfare, is also the fastest growing.

Today Arabs and the ultra-Orthodox together make up less than 30% of the population, but they account for nearly half of school-age children. ...

"Eventually it's going to break the bank," the economist said. "We're on trajectories that are not sustainable." ...

Reasons differ for the non-employment of Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Over the last 30 years, the percentage of working ultra-Orthodox men has decreased because of government programs that subsidize their religious study, experts say.

Such programs are now facing a backlash from Israel's secular and non-Orthodox citizens. A radio talk-show host recently described ultra-Orthodox Jews as "parasites." Tel Aviv's mayor said the fast-growing ultra-Orthodox community was "endangering" the economic strength of the "silent majority."

But defenders of the ultra-Orthodox credit them with preserving Israel's Jewish identity, saying that without the high birth rates of ultra-Orthodox families, Israel could see an Arab majority in future generations. ...

"If I were Jewish, it would have been much easier to find work," said Salwa Idreis, 30, an Arab Israeli from Jerusalem who, despite earning a law degree, has been unable to find a job for five years.

"People don't trust us because we are Palestinian," said the mother of four. Even Arab-owned law firms won't give her a job because they think Jewish attorneys will draw more customers, she said.

So, arrested rappers, mafiosi, and Palestinians all agree: "Get me a Jewish lawyer!"

Ultra-orthodox men on the dole doesn't really sound like a terribly insoluble problem for Israel. Israelis have the huge advantage over us here in the land of the free and the home of the brave that they are allowed to publicly discuss the implications of demographic trends without using the word "vibrant."

The first Hispanic President?

Who Is Julián Castro and Why Is He Being Touted as the Next Minority President?

By Steve Sailer

Last week’s New York Times Magazine article by former Israeli Likud Party spokesman Zev Chafets, The Post-Hispanic Hispanic Politician (web posted May 3), breathlessly anoints the 35-year-old mayor of San Antonio, the ambitious and suavely blank Stanford and Harvard graduate Julián Castro, as a potential U.S. President—the Hispanic Barack Obama:
"Mark McKinnon is prepared to be more explicit about the long-term stakes. An early member of George W. Bush’s inner circle in Austin, he knows Texas political talent when he sees it. "Julián Castro has a very good chance of becoming the first Hispanic president of the United States," he says flatly."

Just as Obama (Harvard Law ’91) enthralled Chicago lakefront fundraisers, consultants, and journalists by finally fulfilling their Sidney Poitier fantasies dating back to old Stanley Kramer movies, Castro (Harvard Law ’00) strikes America’s elites as their kind of Hispanic.

The wonderful thing about Chafets’ article, however, is that the veteran reporter, who was born in Michigan but then served in the Israeli military and worked for the late Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin, appears to get his own joke about just how funny this Castro-for-Governor in 2014 / Castro-for-President in 2016 boomlet really is—even as he’s helping concoct it.

A half-decade in the Begin government appears to have permanently cured Chafets of the clueless and humorless naiveté about ethnicity that pervades most American political discourse. (Chafets’s 2007 article on the rich, fertile, and almost sociopathically clannish Syrian Jews of Brooklyn is particularly memorable. [The Sy Empire, October 14, 2007]) But, lacking Chafets’ worldliness, most NYT subscribers will fail to notice his subtly irreverent attitude.

Yet, the way he checks off a long list of my own personal obsessions—SAT scores, identical twins (Julian’s brother Joaquin—the one with the more lopsided head—is a Democratic state legislator), and the Bush dynasty’s hopes for young George P. Bush to beat Castro to the White House as the first Hispanic President—suggests that Chafets knows the score. 

Julian and Joaquin Castro are the twin sons of Rosie Castro, a prominent San Antonio 1960s Chicana college militant. ...

Rosie was a radical activist in the La Raza Unida Party co-founded by José Angel Gutiérrez, the son of a Texas doctor and author of A Chicano Manual on How to Handle Gringos. ...

Gutiérrez co-authored the 2007 book, Chicanas in Charge: Texas Women in the Public Arena, which devotes Chapter Nine to Rosie Castro.

Gutiérrez also proclaimed in a speech in San Antonio in 1969—around when Castro was first getting involved in his organization—"We have got to eliminate the gringo, and what I mean by that is if the worst comes to the worst, we have got to kill him." (He later claimed he was speaking about killing gringos in self-defense, although his firebreathing reconquista rhetoric inclines toward a rather aggressive view of self-defense.) ...

In 2003, Gutiérrez said: "The best advice I could give a 20-year-old: Get a job, get an education and go paint the White House brown as soon as you can."

Interestingly, despite being marinated in this climate of radical Chicano organizing while growing up, Mayor Julian Castro doesn’t speak Spanish. Chafets helpfully points out:
"Although he pronounces his name ‘HOO-lee-un,’ he doesn’t really speak Spanish—a fact he isn’t eager to advertise. … A Mexican-American with statewide political aspirations needs to be able to do more than pronounce his name correctly."

"Early in his administration, Castro assigned his chief of staff, Robbie Greenblum—a Jewish lawyer from the border town of Laredo whose own Spanish is impeccable—to discreetly find him a tutor. Rosie Castro’s son is now being taught Spanish by a woman named Marta Bronstein. Greenblum met her in shul."

(Which reminds me of a scene in Sam Lipsyte’s new comic novel, The Ask. The narrator watches an Ivy League debate on the Middle East involving an American Likudnik intellectual: "One of the experts said the Palestinians were irrational and needed a real leader, like maybe a smart Jewish guy.")

Chafets, a veteran of Holy Land ethnic struggles over land and legitimacy, amuses himself by pushing the Castro family’s buttons over San Antonio’s Alamo:
“To Rosie, the Alamo is a symbol of bad times. ‘They used to take us there when we were schoolchildren,’ she told me. ‘They told us how glorious that battle was. When I grew up I learned that the “heroes” of the Alamo were a bunch of drunks and crooks and slaveholding imperialists who conquered land that didn’t belong to them. But as a little girl I got the message—we were losers. I can truly say that I hate that place and everything it stands for."

In contrast, Rosie’s son Julián is almost as polished and even more opaque than Obama:
“‘The Alamo?" he said. ‘It’s the largest tourist attraction in Texas. And tourism is one of San Antonio’s major economic engines.’ …

“‘The curator called it a shrine.’

Castro considered that briefly, then nodded. ‘There are people for whom the Alamo is a sacred place.’ he said without any discernible emotion.”  

Read the whole thing here and comment upon it below.

By the way, one oddity of the NYT article is that while much space is devoted to the mayor's mother Rosie Castro, a single mother who gave her last name to her twins, there's no mention of who the Castro twins father might be. I started to read other articles about Mayor Castro, and noticed the same omission. Everybody keeps talking about the wunderkinds' mom, but nobody ever mentions who their dad is.

After awhile, I found a vague reference by Joaquin to an unnamed father as "a retired teacher," and Rosie's explanation that she and the unnamed father broke up when the boys were about eight.

It all seemed odd. Were they keeping the father's identity hidden because he was somebody intriguing?

More research revealed that two fairly prominent men had been friends of Rosie Castro from long before the birth of her sons in 1974: Jose Angel Gutierrez, the radical Chicano professor, and Henry Cisneros, the moderate former wunderkind Kennedy School professor, mayor of San Antonio, Clinton HUD secretary, and coconspirator with Angelo Mozilo in the Minority Mortgage Meltdown. Both might be described in some sense as "retired teachers." Gutierrez co-wrote a seven page biography of Rosie in 2007 that celebrates her sons' triumphs. And Cisneros, who went to kindergarten with Rosie, dispenses avuncular advice to her sons on how to climb the political ladder.

Interesting ...

I then spent many hours trying to see if the chronologies of either celebrity's life might fit with the few clues Rosie had revealed about her time with her ex-boyfriend.

Just when I felt like I was on the verge of a huge scoop, I stumbled upon a 2005 newsletter of the Edgewood Independent School District, which featured a picture of Julian Castro making a speech. The caption read:
Councilman Julian Castro served as keynote speaker at the recent Retiree Banquet. ... Castro shared in the celebration as his father, Jesus Guzman, a Memorial High School teacher for 30 years, also retired.
Oh ...

So, their father wasn't mentioned in most of the articles not because he was somebody exciting, but because he was somebody ordinary. Oh, well ...

The free market eugenics nonproblem

From the New York Times:
Demand for human ova has been growing in recent years, fueled by infertility treatments and increased investment in stem cell research. Young women at top colleges and universities, long a prized source of eggs, are now being recruited not just through advertising in student newspapers but on Web sites like Facebook and Craigslist, even on highway billboards.

But a study in the most recent issue of The Hastings Center Report, a leading bioethics journal, found that the compensation being touted in ads aimed at young women often exceeded industry guidelines. The study is the latest development in a long-running debate over how much — or even whether — egg donors should be paid.

In the study, Dr. Aaron Levine, an assistant professor of public policy at the Georgia Institute of Technology, examined more than 100 egg donation ads from 63 college newspapers. He found that a quarter of them offered compensation exceeding the $10,000 maximum cited in voluntary guidelines issued by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, a professional association.

The guidelines state that payments of $5,000 or more above and beyond medical and related expenses “require justification” and that payments above $10,000 “are not appropriate.” Ads in newspapers at Harvard, Princeton and Yale promised $35,000 for donors, Dr. Levine found, while an ad placed on behalf of an anonymous couple in The Brown Daily Herald offered $50,000 for “an extraordinary egg donor.”

“The concern is that some young women may choose to donate against their own best interests,” Dr. Levine said. “They’ll look at the money on offer and will overlook some of the risks.” 

Uhhmmm, so the solution to the existences of downsides to egg donation is to pay the donors less? Isn't that exactly backwards?

This whole things sounds like when the NCAA periodically announces that its star basketball players should continue to play for them for free instead of playing for the NBA for millions. Of course the NCAA would say that. It's in their financial self-interest. And of course the medical-industrial complex would argue that young women should donate eggs for less than the medical-industrial complex would have to pay on the open market.
The study noted the possibility that the ads represented a “bait and switch” strategy, with large offers primarily designed to lure donors but with prices negotiated downward once they respond. 

That was my reaction to the $50,000 ad at Brown about a decade ago -- somebody in the business was trying to get a lot of cheap publicity by theoretically offering a super high price for the "perfect" donor, but would tell most would-be donors that they only would get a lesser amount. It's a little sleazy, but not really a big deal.
In addition to limiting compensation, the society’s guidelines forbid paying additional fees to egg donors for specific traits. But the study found that every 100-point difference in a university’s average SAT scores was correlated with an increase of more than $2,000 in the fees advertised for potential egg donors in the campus newspaper. 


Look, people who can't make babies the old-fashioned way therefore have to select somebody else's eggs or sperm. And that means they have to be practicing eugenicists. (The only alternative is to have somebody else select for you, such as in the bad old days when doctors asked medical students to do the honors on their assumption that M.D.s were the eugenic Master Race.) For example, when Jodie Foster decided she wanted babies but didn't want to have a man touch her, she had to choose somebody's DNA. Being Jodie Foster, Superwoman, she went, perhaps, a little over the top, looking for months before settling on a tall handsome scientist with a 160 IQ.

Our high culture has devoted so much effort to demonizing eugenics in recent decades that it allows self-interested operators to free ride. In a sensible culture, of course egg purchasers should pay more for eggs from donors with more desirable traits. That's how we get more donors with desirable traits to donate.
Fertility clinics, which maintain registries of potential egg donors, tended to observe the guidelines in their ads. Egg donation agencies or brokers, who act as middlemen by linking donors with prospective recipients, were far more likely to advertise the higher payments. Unlike egg donation agencies, fertility clinics are generally members of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, which is affiliated with the A.S.R.M., and are therefore expected to abide by the guidelines.

Ruthie Rosenberg, who graduated from Brown last year, said the ads initially startled her but were so common that she became used to them.

“At first, it was totally shocking to me that people would target specifically what they were looking for, like religion, SAT score and hair color,” said Ms Rosenberg, 22. “But like anything else I was first exposed to at college, the shock wore off.” 

Egg donation is restricted or banned in many industrialized countries. In the United States, by contrast, close to 10,000 children were born through the use of donor eggs in 2006, almost double the number in 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Critics say they fear that young women may not understand the potential physical and long-term psychological risks, including how they might feel years later about the experience. 

The government should mandate "informed consent." But all this logically implies that donors should be paid more to compensate them for the risks, not less.
Sean Tipton, a spokesman for the reproductive medicine society, said that the group had little authority over egg brokers and that concerns expressed about donation smacked of sex discrimination. “It’s interesting to me that people get upset about egg donation in ways they don’t get upset about sperm donation,” he said. “You never hear discussions about, ‘Oh, the sperm donor is going to regret it some day that they have a child.’”

He should also pound the table about Women's Right to Choose.
A typical payment for sperm donation is under $100, and providing the sample is quick. The egg donation process, in contrast, takes weeks.

First, a series of hormone injections stimulate the ovaries to produce 10 or more ova in one cycle. Next, the eggs are extracted surgically, under local anesthesia. The fee received by the donor is for all the eggs produced in the cycle. Once the eggs are fertilized, one or more embryos are implanted in the infertile woman, while the rest are usually frozen for future use.

Donation can cause abdominal swelling, mood swings and hot flashes. The most significant risk is ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, which can cause bloating, abdominal pain, and, rarely, blood clots, kidney failure, and other life-threatening ailments. 

And therefore young women should risk all this for less money than they are getting now? Is that what bioethicists consider ethical?

Two gaps

A reader writes:
By the way, your observation that it'd be simpler, cheaper, and more beneficial to society to raise everyone's test scores slightly than to raise black and Hispanic test scores enough to close the racial achievement gap got me thinking about the interesting differences in how American society handles a parallel gap in the area of gender and health--the fact that women have an average life expectancy over 6% greater than men.

A few comparisons, with the gender life expectancy gap listed first, the racial achievement gap listed second:

- no big deal vs. national scandal;

- caused by biology + cultural factors too deepseated to be worth attempting to change vs. no biological contribution, the primary causes being malleable features of socioeconomic environment + racial prejudice and racial insecurity;

- near-term goal is general advance for all vs. near-term goal is advancement solely of lowest-performing group/s;

- ultimate goal is that everyone achieve the longest life expectancy he or she is capable of vs. ultimate goal is that everyone be perfectly equal;

- "cure" sought through targeted and control-grouped experimentation of ways to mitigate damage done by known contributing factors vs. "cure" sought through sweeping programs with weak controls and a high romantic theorizing-to-empirical verification ratio