June 25, 2010

Sixty Years On

The Korean War began sixty years ago today.

Sixty years on, the Korean War is almost completely forgotten, we're still fighting a land war in Asia, and the President is firing his General, 

The Universal Conspiracy

Here's an important ground-level view of the Housing Bubble that I didn't see when it came out in 2009, showing how much minority homeownership promotion reflected what could be called a bipartisan consensus (or a cross-ideological conspiracy) among leftist community organizers, the Bush Administration, the Fed, Wall Street, realtors, mortgage brokers, boiler room financial operators, Congress, faith-based organizations, civil rights leaders, anti-discrimination litigators, and  on and on: all the most respectable elements of society;
Financial Times
By Simone Baribeau
Published: September 12 2009

The game of finding someone to pin the blame on for the US housing market collapse has gone on long enough. Are the bankers responsible? The analysts who didn’t see it coming? The McMansion mums who bought homes that they couldn’t afford? No. I did it. It was me. In 2003, I worked for one of those well-meaning organisations that promoted home ownership in low-income communities. Our line – like that of hundreds of non-profit organisations across the US – was that people who bought their own homes could gain increased financial security, freedom from the landlord … the American dream.

But I was not like the people running the organisation. I knew full well that buying a house could be a financial time bomb. I hadn’t drunk the home-ownership-leads-to-prosperity Kool-Aid. But I had drunk enough cola to rot my teeth. I led people down the road to financial collapse – and I did it for the dental insurance.

It all started out innocently enough. In March 2002, fresh out of college, I got a job at the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) in Washington, DC. Soon after, one of the co-directors, Dean Baker, began looking into soaring housing prices, and, by the end of the summer, he had begun railing against the housing bubble....

Dean’s argument was compelling: if house prices rose significantly faster than rents, that meant people were buying homes as an investment, not for shelter. As more people saw housing as an investment vehicle, prices would rise, even though the underlying value of the property would not. It was the textbook definition of a bubble – and even if others weren’t taking him seriously, I was. But after more than a year at CEPR, I had itchy feet. I had gone straight from the suburbs of Washington to an Ivy League university to an economic think-tank. For a fist-in-the-air activist, it was all a bit ivory tower. I wanted experience working with the people getting screwed by bad economic policy before – inevitably, I assumed – I spent my life as a policy wonk.

So, like any good leftie from a privileged background, I started my job search on idealist.org, where I ran across a posting for an associate position at an Individual Development Account programme in Los Angeles. IDAs are an anti-poverty measure to encourage low-income individuals to buy “productive assets” – purchases meant to provide financial security for the future and encourage a habit of saving. The programmes encourage savings by providing financial education classes and “match savings”. In the case of the LA programme, for every $1 someone saved, up to $1,000, the person would receive a $4 match. Participants, who had to be referred through government-funded agencies serving low-income residents, could use the money to start a small business, go to school or buy a home. The buy-a-home option should have raised a red flag. But I was eager to get a “grass roots” job, and I reasoned that people who met the programme’s incredibly low-income requirements – no more than about $36,200 per year for a family of four – were in no position to buy a home, $5,000 in savings or not.

So I wiped the problem from my mind, unaware that easing lending standards would make loans accessible to people who would never have qualified for a mortgage before. Besides, the job sounded great.  ... I was hired as a financial counsellor and flew out to LA to get a sense of the place.

The Community Financial Resource Center (CFRC) is located in South Los Angeles [4600 S. Figueroa, a couple of blocks from the LA Coliseum, home of the USC Trojans. It's right off Martin Luther King Blvd. but now most of the billboards are in Spanish)] – formerly known as South Central, a name that conjures up images of gangs and riots. The almost-windowless building stood across from a windowless food-aid office. Barbed wire protected the parking lot. ...

It didn’t take long for reality to set in. By the time I joined the centre, many of the clients had been roped in to the programme by their case managers. “To buy a home or to start a business sounds too good to be true, too hard to believe!” one letter told members of a family development network – and that they were eligible for an “exciting opportunity” where they could be helped to do just that.
But the programme still wasn’t full, so my manager and I gave orientation sessions. Mostly, we’d describe the programme, but invariably the benefits of home ownership would come up. We sold the American dream to willing buyers. We even told them, on a fact sheet about the scheme, that “this same thinking has been behind government initiatives like the Homestead Act of the 19th century and the GI Bill following World War II”.

A productive asset – the focus was most frequently on a home – was “something of value that is likely to return substantial long-term benefits to its owner – benefits like security, stability and opportunities for more income”. And not all of the benefits were financial – home ownership gives you freedom. Buy a home and you can have a yard! You can paint your walls any colour you want! You can have a pet! Little wonder, then, that half of the people participating planned to buy a home.

Yet people’s finances were worse than I had imagined. Few of our clients even approached the income cap. They tended to have a lot of debt. Encouraging people who had so little to buy what to me was clearly overpriced property was unconscionable, I thought. I decided to quit. I would load up my car and drive back to DC, consequences be damned. Two weeks after I had started my job, I would take the same type of principled stand that had got me arrested at a protest in the lead-up to the Iraq war, except this time it wouldn’t be futile. I would live my ideals. Of course, this was all in my mind. In reality, my teeth hurt.

... But since I was a new employee, I wouldn’t qualify for dental insurance for another three months. I started giving the financial education classes.
Participants had to start saving $30 to $60 a month and attend six 90-minute classes. Later, if they were interested in home ownership, they’d give up a Sunday to learn about buying a house. But in the meantime, the financial-education classes had some value. We helped participants develop plans to pay off bills, and if we found mistakes on people’s credit reports, we’d help to rectify them. I clearly amused the clients in my classes. I hadn’t a clue how to teach, and much of the material was so basic I couldn’t figure out how to stretch it out to fill the lesson. And I hated actually giving out advice. In the budgeting class, we talked about cutting down on unnecessary expenses, but our backgrounds were so different, and their luxuries so modest – cable television, for instance – that I felt it wasn’t my place to suggest where they cut back.

For the most part, I enjoyed teaching. The students were smart and hard-working – and badly wanted a home. I started trying to find ways to justify the programme. Maybe, I thought, the housing bubble didn’t apply in low-income areas. So I went about investigating. The most reliable information I could find was from Rand California, but it was expensive. I could get it free on a limited-use computer at the public library, but I couldn’t e-mail it to myself. Instead, I’d have to print it up. So, after a trip to the library, I spent my spare time typing in years’ worth of monthly data from hundreds of zip codes into an Excel spreadsheet.

A couple of weeks later I had an answer. Even in the lowest-income areas in LA, real home prices had, on average, risen by more than 20 per cent over the previous seven years. I e-mailed Dean, the CEPR economist, who immediately suggested we write a short paper on it. What do I have to lose? I thought. Just my teeth.. . .
I wasn’t yet qualified to teach the home-ownership class, but I went along anyway to observe and help out. The teachers explained how to get approved for a mortgage or types of insurance, and again and again the people attending heard about the financial benefits of buying a home. First, there were the tax breaks for home owners. But they would almost certainly not apply to the low-income clients of the IDA programme. And non-existent tax advantages were barely a blip on the financial mess that home ownership – in my mind – would so clearly become.

It wasn’t as though Angelinos – as Los Angeles residents are known – were unfamiliar with real-estate bubbles. Housing prices rose by more than 67 per cent between 1987 and 1990 – and then plummeted by 21 per cent during the next five years. Those who bought at the height of the bubble would have to wait a full decade to see their houses recover even their nominal value. But still attendees were told that housing was a good long-term investment. Paying rent was like throwing money away each month, but with a mortgage, some of your payments went towards equity. When it became clear that a client would be unable to afford a mortgage, he or she was encouraged to consider the other options in the programme. And no one at CFRC encouraged people to take out an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM), wait until it was due to change and then refinance or sell, taking out the inevitable equity that would have built up. In South LA, such advice was the norm, and CFRC steadfastly eschewed it. No one at CFRC denied that in the short term, house prices could fall.

But nobody seemed to take seriously the idea that there were times when housing prices had inflated to a level that buying a home was not a good investment. Housing prices were seen as inherently unpredictable and also of little importance, since, over time, there was a general upward trend. Fed chief Alan Greenspan was calling any analogy between a stock-market bubble and a housing-market bubble “pretty stretched”, and said it was “really quite unlikely” that house prices would fall nationally.

Meanwhile, in June 2002, with the September 11 terrorist attacks still fresh in the national consciousness, President George W. Bush began tying home ownership and economic security to national security. “Part of being a secure America is to encourage home ownership so somebody can say, ‘This is my home. Welcome to my home’,” he had said, introducing a new programme designed to narrow the racial home ownership gap by getting 5.5 million new non-white Americans into homes by 2010. It was exactly the wrong moment.

If the people in the programme weren’t going to benefit, I was convinced someone was. Banks, I was sure, must want foreclosed property on their books – to what end, I had no idea. But there was profit in it for them somehow. (I had no idea about the complex securitisation which – for a short time – would allow banks to profit from riskier and riskier products.) Banks used the IDA classes to find an audience to pitch their products to. One volunteer recalls a bank pitching a zero-down-payment mortgage to one of the classes.

“Several banks affiliated with CFRC wanted to present the products. We’d allow them to do that,” said Tara Taylor, now CFRC’s chief financial officer. But, she said: “When it came time for people to make their loan decisions, we weren’t there to steer people anywhere.”

They advised people away from the zero-down-payment products – which, they were concerned, would quickly leave people in negative equity. Instead, they felt they’d be safer if they took out mortgages where they’d put 1 to 3 per cent down....

I couldn’t quit, but I couldn’t stay silent either. Teeth be damned. I was going to convince people that buying a home was a bad idea. I made a chart plotting Los Angeles home prices versus rents over several decades. It showed that every time home prices rose significantly above rental prices, they’d fall back in line with rentals again. It showed that – even including the late 1980s – never had home prices been so far out of line with rental prices.

I started showing it to my classes. I showed it to them whether their case managers were there or not. I showed the chart to my manager and told her I was explaining it to my class. It felt like open mutiny, but nobody seemed to mind. There I was, a 23-year-old telling a group of mainly middle-aged women that little they had ever heard about home ownership was true. The graph, which I labelled “LA housing prices versus rents”, proved it. In fact, it showed that financial devastation was looming for anyone who bought a home.

My classes listened politely. I also added a table to my presentation, showing how much money could be lost on a home when housing prices started falling. Occasionally, one of the people in my class would mention investing for the long term. Mostly, people said nothing. I was being a financial counsellor in the only way I knew how – and I sounded like an economics textbook.

In mid-August 2003, a few days after Dean published “Homeownership in a Bubble: The Fast Path to Poverty?”, and put me down as a co-author, I headed to a Hilton Hotel in Washington for a five-day course that would qualify me to teach the homebuyer education classes. I had hoped to leave before having to do this training, but the dental insurance wouldn’t kick in until September 1. I knew that many of the attendees at the conference would be working for non-profit organisations looking for ways to recruit people into homebuying. But I wasn’t prepared for the orgy of homebuying promotion that I sat through over the next five days. Try to get ministers to talk about the benefits of home ownership during their sermons … Tell people that a house is like a savings account, whereas when you pay rent it’s like throwing your money away … People can now use their section 8 vouchers – housing-welfare payments – to buy a house. Hoorah – even the homebuyers manual was called “Realizing the American Dream.”

What a mess, I thought. My manager called me on the last day of the course to find out if I had passed the certification test. I had. She sounded relieved that I’d be able to start teaching the homebuyers class. Meanwhile, I was plotting my resignation.

The day I got my dental insurance, I gave two weeks’ notice.

Simone Baribeau works as a web editor at the FT’s offices in New York

June 23, 2010

The Unbearable Whiteness of Soccer

Here's the opening of my article in Alternative Right:
I’ve been following the World Cup since Pelé went out with a bang in 1970. Over the decades, the rhetoric that quadrennially accompanies the soccer championship has grown ever more strident in its insistence that the reason most Americans find soccer less than galvanizing as a spectator sport is that they … fear diversity!

In reality, soccer, both at the international superstar level and at the park league level in America, is whiter than football, basketball, or baseball. ...

Let’s look at ESPN’s list from earlier this year of the “Top 50 players of the World Cup.” The five best players in the world -- Lionel Messi of Argentina (who is of Italian descent), Christiano Ronaldo of Portugal (a Tim Tebow-lookalike), Wayne Rooney of England, Kaka of Brazil (who is from an upper middle-class family), and Xavi of Spain --are white.

Out of the top 10, eight are white and two from West Africa. Out of the top 50, the proportions look similar. Judging from their pictures, I would say 10 are black, one is mostly white but clearly part black, and the other 39 look more or less white. None of the top 50 are East Asian or South Asian, and I don’t see any that are as mestizo-looking as, say, Diego Maradona, the star of the 1986 World Cup.

In contrast, only one American-born white guy has been selected to the NBA All Star game in the last half dozen years. Most of the prestige positions in the NFL other than quarterback are dominated by blacks.

Of the soccer top 50, 24 are white guys from the six sunny powers of Spain (9 of the top 50), Italy, Portugal, Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. In other words, almost half of the global soccer superstars are Southern Europeans. As baseball discovered back in the days of Joe DiMaggio, it doesn’t really hurt your sport’s popularity to have stylish Mediterranean guys as stars. ...

FIFA could change the rules to make soccer more a test of explosiveness and sprinting ability, like American sports...

Read the rest there and comment upon it below.

Not this again!

See if you can spot the fallacy in the following. I'll explain what's wrong with this logic afterwards.

From Inside Higher Ed:
New Evidence of Racial Bias on SAT

A new study may revive arguments that the average test scores of black students trail those of white students not just because of economic disadvantages, but because some parts of the test result in differential scores by race for students of equal academic prowess.

The finding -- already being questioned by the College Board -- could be extremely significant as many colleges that continue to rely on the SAT may be less comfortable doing so amid allegations that it is biased against black test-takers.

"The confirmation of unfair test results throws into question the validity of the test and, consequently, all decisions based on its results. All admissions decisions based exclusively or predominantly on SAT performance -- and therefore access to higher education institutions and subsequent job placement and professional success -- appear to be biased against the African American minority group and could be exposed to legal challenge," says the study, which has just appeared in Harvard Educational Review (abstract available here).

The existence of racial patterns on SAT scores is hardly new. The average score on the reading part of the SAT was 429 for black students last year -- 99 points behind the average for white students. And while white students' scores were flat, the average score for black students fell by one. Statistics like these are debated every year when SAT data are released, and when similar breakdowns are offered on other standardized tests.

The standard explanation offered by defenders of the tests is that the large gaps reflect the inequities in American society -- since black students are less likely than white students to attend well-financed, generously-staffed elementary and secondary schools, their scores lag.

In other words, the College Board says that American society is unfair, but the SAT is fair. And while many educators question that fairness of using a test on which wealthier students do consistently better than less wealthy students, research findings that directly isolate race as a factor in the fairness of individual SAT questions have, of late, been few.

The new paper in fact is based on a study that set out to replicate one of the last major studies to do so -- a paper published in the Harvard Educational Review in 2003, strongly attacked by the College Board -- and the new paper confirms those results (but using more recent SAT exams). The new paper is by Maria Santelices, assistant professor of education at the Catholic University of Chile, and Mark Wilson, professor of education at the University of California at Berkeley. The earlier study was by Roy Freedle of the Educational Testing Service.

The focus of both studies is on questions that show "differential item functioning," known by its acronym DIF. A DIF question is one on which students "matched by proficiency" and other factors have variable scores, predictably by race, on selected questions. A DIF question has notable differences between black and white (or, in theory, other subsets of students) whose educational background and skill set suggest that they should get similar scores. The 2003 study and this year's found no DIF issues in the mathematics section.

But what Freedle found in 2003 has now been confirmed independently by the new study: that some kinds of verbal questions have a DIF for black and white students. On some of the easier verbal questions, the two studies found that a DIF favored white students. On some of the most difficult verbal questions, the DIF favored black students. Freedle's theory about why this would be the case was that easier questions are likely reflected in the cultural expressions that are used commonly in the dominant (white) society, so white students have an edge based not on education or study skills or aptitude, but because they are most likely growing up around white people. The more difficult words are more likely to be learned, not just absorbed.

While the studies found gains for both black and white students on parts of the SAT, the white advantage is larger such that the studies suggest scores for black students are being held down by the way the test is scored and that a shift to favor the more difficult questions would benefit black test-takers.

Ready? Here goes:

By definition, blacks and whites are equally good at randomly guessing on multiple choice questions. So, the more difficult the question and thus the higher the percentage of students who randomly guess, the narrower the white-black differential.

If you made all the questions impossibly esoteric, so that everybody would guess on everything, then the white-black gap would disappear. If you made all the questions unbelievably easy, the white-black gap would also disappear. But when you make them a reasonable mix of difficulty in order to maximize the predictive value of the SAT, you wind up with a white-black gap -- because there is also a white-black gap in real world performance.

Smoking in LA County

When I moved into a dorm at Rice U. in 1976, roommates were matched, in part, on whether they smoked. But only 3 out of 250 guys smoked, a startlingly low fraction in a society in which smoking was then common. So, while the Kool Kids tended to smoke back then, the Nerds already did not. The Triumph of the Nerds is one of the main cultural changes of my lifetime.

Here are some stats on smoking in LA County today. In summary, smoking is most common in downscale locations, with one exception: West Hollywood, the gay district, where, perhaps, dying of lung cancer eventually is less of a concern than dying HIV soon.
Nearly a quarter of adults in Quartz Hill -- 21.9% -- are smokers, followed closely by its Antelope Valley neighbor, Lancaster, where 21.7% of adults smoke, according to the report.

These are mixed-race blue collar high desert exurbs.
The report, the first neighborhood-level analysis of smoking by county health officials, also found higher levels of smokers in West Hollywood [gay], South Los Angeles [black and Hispanic] and parts of the South Bay [Southeast Asian and Polynesian?].

Males in L.A. County were almost twice as likely as females to smoke, 19% to 10%. The study's authors also found distinct racial disparities; 25% of blacks in L.A. County are smokers, compared to 15% of whites, 12% of Latinos and 11% of Asian Pacific Islanders. 

I was under the impression that black youths didn't smoke much at all, so are these older blacks? LA has a lower percentage of black ladies who are fat than other parts of the country (where I live, virtually every black woman, most of them affiliated in some way with the entertainment industry, is slender and stylish), so maybe LA blacks smoke to keep their weight under control?
Affluent communities were more likely to have fewer smokers. Overall, residents who have college degrees and higher incomes were less likely to smoke.
Joining Quartz Hill and Lancaster with high rates of adult smoking were: West Hollywood, 19.6%; Lake Los Angeles, 19%; the South L.A. council district represented by Bernard Parks, 19%; Palmdale, 18.5%; Hermosa Beach, 17.4%; and Redondo Beach, 16%.

The cities with the lowest adult smoking rates: San Marino, 5.3%; Malibu, 5.8%; La Cañada Flintridge, 6.4%; Calabasas, 7.3%; Palos Verdes Estates, 7.4%; Agoura Hills, 7.7%; Westlake Village, 7.9%; and Walnut, 8.8%. 

These are all Suburban Utopias.There is a definite positive correlation between smoking rates and mortgage default rates. I think Lake Los Angeles had the highest foreclosure rate in LA County.
Overall, about 14% of Los Angeles County residents are smokers -- well below the national rate. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 20.6% of Americans smoke.
Nationwide, metropolitan areas with the highest rate of smokers are in the South, Appalachia, Montana and Wyoming [so, all those Marlboro Man commercials were demographically accurate!], according to the CDC. Those with the lowest rates are in California [health nuts], Florida [old people], Utah [Mormons] and suburban Connecticut and Maryland [upscale].

June 22, 2010

"Toy Story 3"

From my movie review in Taki's Magazine:
In 1965, Gordon Moore of Intel noted that silicon chips had been quickly doubling in transistor density, and forecasted that computers would continue to get twice as powerful every 18 months to infinity and beyond! (Or words to roughly that effect—”Moore’s Law” soon entered the realm of urban legend.)

Pixar’s computer animated Toy Story 3, released 15 years after the first mature computer animation movie, 1995’s landmark Toy Story about a little boy’s playthings who come to life when he’s not looking, has thus benefited from about ten subsequent doublings in computer firepower. So, is the latest sequel 1024 times better than the original?

Advances in technology eventually call forth artistic geniuses, but the lag time is unpredictable. The first commercial electric guitar, for example, went on sale in 1932, but it was initially used mostly to just make louder plinking sounds. It was 35 years until Jimi Hendrix’s performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.

Arts apparently progress in S-shaped curves. At first, nothing publicly notable happens (for instance, the electric guitar’s 1930-1940s). Then there’s a rapid takeoff (rock music in the 1950s-1970s). And finally a period of diminishing marginal returns (the 1980s-2000s).

Unlike the surprising ascent of the electric guitar, the potential of computer animated movies was relentlessly foretold.

Read the whole thing there and comment upon it here.

June 21, 2010

Canadian Crimethink

One of the odd things about the topic of immigration is that the Canada, that beau ideal of progressivism, has always officially subscribed to the notion that the purpose of immigration policy is not to benefit immigrants but to benefit current Canadians, whereas in the U.S., that idea is considered almost unmentionable. Here, it's considered just plain racist to point out that even illegal immigrants' posterity aren't likely to be big contributors to the common weal.

From MacLean's:
Who doesn’t get into Canada

Emphasis on applicants from Asia, as opposed to, say, the Caribbean, has drawn fire. Are we engaged in country profiling?

by Charlie Gillis 

Midway through last summer, when much of official Ottawa was away at the cottage, a revealing document landed on the desk of Canada’s top immigration bureaucrat, deputy minister Neil Yeates. Prosaically titled “Social and Economic Outcomes of Second Generation Youth,” the four-page memo showed little regard for the political correctness typical of government correspondence. “Chinese and South Asians are the most likely to have university degrees or higher, and to be employed in high-skilled occupations,” observed the summary, which was prepared by departmental bureaucrats and released recently through access to information. Second-generation youth of Caribbean and Latin American origin don’t fare so well, the memo went on; they tend to obtain lower levels of education than native-born Canadian kids and wind up in less skilled jobs.

To Richard Kurland, the Vancouver-based immigration lawyer who dug it up, the document confirmed “what everybody in the business has known for a long time.” For years, the government has been gathering data on the performance of newcomers and their children based on ethnicity, he notes, and while immigration officials deny they use information to identify the best countries from which to recruit, the numbers tell a different story. Since 1999, China and India have been the top two source countries for immigrants to Canada, averaging about 60,000 landings per year, while the number coming from the Caribbean has fallen sharply. Immigration from the West Indies had fallen 45 per cent below levels seen in the early 1990s, according to figures compiled by Statistics Canada, when more than 16,000 from that region were entering the country annually.

And these days, equipped with new legislative powers, the government is able to pick and choose more aggressively than ever. Bill C-50, passed in late 2008, allows the minister to delay the processing of applications from specific missions abroad in order to speed those from others, and so far the results have been stark. The average wait time for someone wishing to bring a spouse into the country through Kingston, Jamaica has ballooned to 15 months, fully three times the processing time in 2006. A similar application lodged in New Delhi takes just six months.

It would be simplistic to call this profiling. China and India are better represented in Canada’s intake statistics, a senior government official told Maclean’s, because they are rich in skilled, educated people willing to emigrate—not because of ethnic traits, real or imagined: “It’s a matter of basic supply and demand.” As for the memo, a spokeswoman for Citizenship and Immigration Canada would say only that it reflects the department’s ongoing concern for groups “experiencing less positive outcomes from an immigration, settlement and a multiculturalism perspective.”

Still, both the memo and numbers reflect a preoccupation that has come to define the Harper government’s approach to immigration: which applicants offer the greatest long-term value—now or a generation or two down the line? 

In America, thinking about "which applicants offer the greatest long-term value—now or a generation or two down the line?" is just not done.

Lots more of interest in the article on the politics of immigration: immigrants are particularly attractive to politicians because they vote as blocs. In contrast, native-born citizens are likely to evaluate whom to vote for in a less herd-like manner, which makes them revolting to politicians.

It's also amusing that the author is concerned about the Harper government's lack of enthusiasm for letting immigrants' parents and grandparents immigrate. Immigration is publicly justified in Canada as providing the young workers who will pay for the pensions and free government health care of old Canadians. But, the immigrants themselves keep demanding that their aged parents and grandparents (!) be let in to provide them with uncompensated (and thus untaxed) child care.

As usual with articles about immigrations, the comments are especially acute and informative.

By the way, here's my 2001 article "Canada Doesn't Want Me" in which I see whether I'm good enough to be allowed to emigrate to Canada.

The Chinese Housing Bubble

From the LA Times:
China's housing boom has created a woefully frustrated class of bachelors.

Home prices in major cities including Beijing and Shanghai have easily doubled over the last year as families and investors rush to grab a piece of the Chinese dream. A typical 1,000-square-foot, two-bedroom, one-bath apartment in the capital now costs about $274,000. That's 22 times the average annual income of a Beijing resident.

Unlike in the United States, where home buying traditionally takes place after marriage, owning a place in China has recently become a prerequisite for tying the knot. Experts said securing an apartment in this market signals that a man is successful, family-oriented and able to weather challenging financial circumstances. Put succinctly, homeownership has become the ultimate symbol of virility in today's China.

"A man is not a man if he doesn't own a house," said Chen Xiaomin, director of the Women's Studies Center at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law. "Marriage is becoming more and more materialistic. This is a huge change in Chinese society. No matter how confident a woman is, she will lose face if her boyfriend or husband doesn't have a house."
... "People's values have changed," he said. "It doesn't matter if you're a nice guy or you're fun or good natured or have a sense of humor. They don't care. All they care about is a house."

I don't know, but, somehow, I suspect marriage has always been a little materialistic in China. 

By the way, housing prices have been inching upwards for about a year in Southern California, and they were still way too high a year ago in most of California for locals to afford them. I wonder if the Chinese housing boom is spilling over into California? It apparently is spilling into Australia, so why not California?

The Eternal Obsession

From today's Washington Post:

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 21, 2010 

As a snapshot of ballet in this country, the six-day, nine-company Ballet Across America series at the Kennedy Center, which concluded Sunday, offered some good news but little revelation. The primary take-away is that whether you're talking Memphis or Tulsa, Seattle or Charlotte, there's an impressively high level of skill among the nation's ballet dancers.

The companies are also overwhelmingly white and dotted with Europeans -- as they have always been. Diversity in ballet remains a serious problem for the small companies as well as the large, on the coasts as well as in the heartland. In the 21st century, we can put a black man in the White House, but as last week's survey shows, we can't put a black ballerina in the Opera House. Clearly, not enough work is being done to foster African American dancers. But with public money in their coffers, ballet companies -- and the local, state and federal funders -- need to make equal opportunity in the dancer ranks a priority. 

I'm always struck by how white people are constantly admonishing each other that they must lure more blacks into difficult, low-paying, low chance of success careers. Being a ballerina, which typically demands you go pro out of high school and where you'll probably be physically washed up before you hit 30, is the kind of career that shouldn't be shoved on girls with no family money to back them up.

The type of middle class African-American girl who would be interested in being a ballerina rather than,  say, a video vixen generally already has a lot of options in life, including going to college.

What are the career paths for ballerinas after 30? Basically, two: opening a ballet studio to teach upscale little girls or marriage, ideally to a rich man needing a lovely, graceful wife and hostess. Both require being comfortable in upscale networks. Marriage is particularly tricky for retired ballerinas since most men who have ever paid attention to them dancing are either gay or are married and attend ballets with their wife and daughters.

So, ballerinas need to be plugged into social networks where rich ladies stay on the lookout for, say, a fellow who has just made partner at her husband's law firm who now needs a wife. You can imagine how this would be harder for blacks, but white people never stop to put themselves into the shoes (or slippers) of their intended affirmative action beneficiaries.

World Ends

The opening of my new VDARE.com column:
We keep  satirizing this, but now a Washington Post news story really is headlined:
Minorities hit harder by foreclosure crisis
“Minority homeowners have been disproportionately affected by the foreclosure crisis and stand to lose homes at a faster pace than white borrowers in the future, according to a report released Friday by a nonprofit research group. … The ‘analysis suggests dramatic differences in how the foreclosure crisis has affected racial and ethnic groups,’ the report said. ‘African American and Latino borrowers have borne and will continue to disproportionately bear the burden of foreclosures.’"

If you translate this out of the evasive passive voice and into the active voice, you come up with something more informative, namely:
African American and Latino borrowers defaulted disproportionately.

But defaults couldn’t possibly be the fault of the defaulters, if the defaulters are minorities, could they? So instead, Felix Salmon of Reuters asks:
Are foreclosures racists?

“If you’re a high-income Latino with a mortgage, you’re almost twice as likely to be facing foreclosure than a high-income non-Hispanic white person. And in general, the foreclosure crisis is hitting blacks and Latinos much harder than it is whites, according to a startling new report from the Center for Responsible Lending.”

Now, you might think that foreclosure rate has something to do with, say, blacks and Hispanics having remarkably fewer financial assets to use as safety cushions in case housing prices don’t continue to rise. After all, a 2007 Federal Reserve Board report to Congress noted:
“Black and Hispanic families are less likely than non-Hispanic white families to have any financial assets, so the disparity in median financial assets for all families (rather than just those with financial assets) is even larger, with the overall medians for black and Hispanic families roughly 5 percent to 7 percent of the non-Hispanic white median.”

Moreover, African-Americans and Latinos are less likely than whites to have prosperous relatives who can help them out with a loan if they are in danger of defaulting.

You might think that, but being aware of those facts just shows you are a racist. Salmon writes:
“I’ll hazard a guess and say that this probably has something to do with a lot of middle- and high-income Latinos in California and Arizona being sold subprime mortgages, even when they qualified for a prime loan.”

Read the whole thing there and comment upon it below.

June 20, 2010

"The right way to assess teachers' performance"

Everybody now says we must evaluate teachers based on how much value they add to their students' performance, but nobody has actually done this. It can take a long time to work out a good statistical system -- e.g., it took Bill James 25 years to work out his Win Shares statistic for evaluating baseball players. Michelle Kerr, a teacher who thinks statistically, takes a first crack at some of the necessary conditions in this Washington Post op-ed.

Another tricky issue is what to do about teachers' aides, special ed aides, handicapped students' companions, and other adults who might be in the classroom with the teacher. The more adults the better (hopefully), but not all adults are of equal value to the teacher. Under a value-added system of pay, teachers will finagle even more than now to get the most useful aides in their classrooms. Those who win the political battles for the most and best aides will get paid more unless the aides' inputs can be taken into account.