July 17, 2010

Solid gold anchor babies

Washington Post reporter Keith B. Richburg, author of Out of Africa: A Black Man Confronts Africa, writes:
For many pregnant Chinese, a U.S. passport remains a powerful lure

SHANGHAI -- What can $1,475 buy you in modern China? Not a Tiffany diamond or a mini-sedan, say Robert Zhou and Daisy Chao. But for that price, they guarantee you something more lasting, with unquestioned future benefits: an American passport and U.S. citizenship for your new baby.


You can tell how great something is by the number of people stuffed within its boundaries, not by how many people are lined up waiting to get in (don't even think about that). That's why Arizona State is the most prestigious university in the country: because it has 67,082 students. That makes Arizona St. much more prestigious than piddling little colleges like Harvard and Caltech. (Of course, Arizona St. has a long way to go to catch up in prestige with the Allama Iqbal Open University in Islamabad, Pakistan, enrollment three million.)

Conversely, the Augusta National Golf Club made Bill Gates wait for years to become a member despite Warren Buffett sponsoring him, so who'd want to belong to Augusta? There's probably some golf club in Calcutta that has three million members and they each get one teetime per lifetime (but you get an additional teetime per reincarnation, so you've got that going for you, which is nice), and thus it would be much better to belong to Calcutta Municipal than empty old Augusta National.
Zhou and Chao, a husband and wife from Taiwan who now live in Shanghai, run one of China's oldest and most successful consultancies helping well-heeled expectant Chinese mothers travel to the United States to give birth.

The couple's service, outlined in a PowerPoint presentation, includes connecting the expectant mothers with one of three Chinese-owned "baby care centers" in California. For the $1,475 basic fee, Zhou and Chao will arrange for a three-month stay in a center -- two months before the birth and a month after. A room with cable TV and a wireless Internet connection, plus three meals a day, starts at an additional $35 a day. The doctors and staff all speak Chinese. There are shopping and sightseeing trips.

The mothers must pay their own airfare and are responsible for getting a U.S. visa, although Zhou and Chao will help them fill out the application form.

At a time when China is prospering and the common perception of America here is of an empire in economic decline, the proliferation of U.S. baby services shows that for many Chinese, a U.S. passport nevertheless remains a powerful lure. The United States is widely seen as more of a meritocracy than China, where getting into a good university or landing a high-paying job often depends on personal connections.

"They believe that with U.S. citizenship, their children can have a more fair competitive environment," Zhou said.

Such as qualifying for minority set-asides on U.S. government contracts and for low-interest SBA minority development loans. What could be more fair and competitive than that?
Zhou and Chao insist that everything they do is legal, noting that the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, passed in 1868, says anyone born on U.S. soil has the right to citizenship.

"We don't encourage moms to break the law -- just to take advantage of it," Zhou said. "It's like jaywalking. The policeman might fine you, but it doesn't break the law." ...

U.S. officials confirm it is not a crime to travel to the United States to give birth so that the child can have U.S. citizenship. "You don't deny someone because you know they're going to the U.S. to have children," said a U.S. Embassy spokesman in Beijing, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing embassy rules.

The spokesman, who said expectant mothers typically claim they are going to the United States as tourists, compared the baby consultancies to services that help foreign students apply for American universities: "If you have the money, they give you the service. They tell you how to prepare your dossier."

"I'm sure people in Congress would call it a loophole," the spokesman said.

Yes, because people in Congress are constantly sounding off about legal immigration abuses. I typed into Google:
"legal immigration abuses" Congress

and got back:
Your search - "legal immigration abuses" Congress - did not match any documents.

Richburg continues:
Many anti-immigration activists in the United States agree. Some argue that the 14th Amendment -- aimed at guaranteeing citizenship rights to freed black slaves -- was never meant to provide an instant passport to the children of people who are in the country illegally or who travel there expressly to gain U.S. citizenship for their child.

Richburg is an African-American who seems to think the 14th Amendment was passed to provide justice for his ancestors, not perks for random foreigners.
The Department of Homeland Security and the State Department have no specific regulations regarding pregnant foreign visitors, which critics see as an issue....
Zhou, a former marketing director, and Chao, a former television producer in Taiwan, said they have helped between 500 and 600 mothers give birth to American babies in the five years they have been in business. They started with themselves, when Chao went to the United States to give birth to their daughter Fiona, now 4. 
Now, they said, their clients include Chinese doctors, lawyers, business leaders, government officials, well-known media personalities -- most of whom do not want media attention and, Zhao said, would not agree to be interviewed. 
About 40 percent of their clients come from Shanghai, 30 percent from Beijing and the rest from Guangzhou and elsewhere, including Taiwan. Some, the couple said, were giving birth to their second child to skirt China's one-child policy. Most say they do not intend to live in the United States themselves.

In other words, they do not intend to pay taxes in the United States themselves, if they can avoid it.
And all are affluent, Zhou and Chao said. Unlike the poor illegal immigrants from Central America who try to cross the border to have their babies in America, Zhou said, these Chinese parents fly in on first-class seats.

"They also do some shopping," he said, "So they are contributing to the economy."

The reasons they want American passports for their babies are varied, but most come down to two key factors -- education and setting.

"The mainland [China] moms believe the U.S. has better educational resources," Zhou said. This year, 10 million students are battling for 6.6 million spots at Chinese universities and the chance for a better life. "The competition is too fierce on the mainland," Zhou said.

So, the education is okay in China, it's the competition that's too much (i.e., a whole bunch of Chinese kids).
In their pitch to prospective clients, Zhou and Chao point out that as a U.S. citizen, a child has access to free public education from primary school through high school and that a full education in the United States can be much cheaper than at the top Chinese private schools and universities. ...

Chuo, 35, said her brother and sister both studied in the United States and "my parents paid a huge amount of money for their education" because they were foreign students. Giving her newborn American citizenship, she said, would "provide one more choice for our baby."

And one less choice for an American kid.

Another reason is to get chain migration going uphill, get the kid to sponsor the parents, and the parents sponsor the grandparents, who can be stashed into old people's public housing. I used to live next to an old folks high-rise public housing project in Chicago, which was mostly occupied by non-English speaking Asians. Considering the type-of-neighbor alternatives in Chicago public housing, it wasn't so bad, but I could never see why American taxpayers ought to pay for the lodging and medical care of old people who had never paid taxes to America.
Equally important was the setting. "It's spacious and with no pollution," Christina Chuo said. "We thought it would put us in a good mood looking at the nice scenery, the hills and the water."

No kidding. Also, California has nice weather.
Chuo said she and her husband like living in Taiwan and are not interested in migrating to America, except, perhaps, when they retire. She said they got their visas by saying their purpose was tourism. But she worries it will not be so easy for others.

"I am afraid in the future, with more people going to U.S., it will be harder to get a visa," Chuo said.

I wouldn't worry about it.

Midyear iSteve panhandling drive rumbles on

I'd rather write than beg, but it's time to shake the tin cup again.

There are, at the moment, three ways to give me money so I can continue this career.

You can make tax deductible credit card contributions to me here (then, under "Steve Sailer Project Option" click on the "Make a Donation" button); or fax credit card details here (please put "Steve Sailer Project" on the fax); or you can snail mail checks made out to "VDARE Foundation" and marked on the memo line (lower left corner) “Steve Sailer” to:

VDARE Foundation
P.O. Box 211
Litchfield, CT 06759

Second: You can send me an email and I'll send you my P.O. Box address.

Third: You can use Paypal [fixed ... I hope ... seriously, I have no idea why these links always break down] to send me money directly, either by just using any credit card or if you have a specific Paypal account.

Or, if that link doesn't work, just click on the Paypal "Donate" button on the top of column to the right. (I have no idea why these links stop working. It's very frustrating.)

If you want to use your credit card, click "Continue" on the lower center-left to fill in your credit card info. If you have a Paypal account fill in your Paypal ID and password on the lower right of the screen.
Thanks. I appreciate it, deeply.

The evolution of nerdishness

A professor of psychology at the U. of Turin writes to say he found interesting my casual 1998 essay: "Nerdishness: The Unexplored Cornerstone of the Modern World." Here's the abstract of his new paper, which has some similarities to my thinking from a dozen years ago.

Department of Psychology, University of Turin, Italy
In this paper we present a new hypothesis on the evolution of autistic-like and schizotypal personality traits. We argue that autistic-like and schizotypal traits contribute in opposite ways to individual differences in reproductive and mating strategies, and have been maintained – at least in part – by sexual selection through mate choice. Whereas positive schizotypy can be seen as a psychological phenotype oriented to high mating effort and good genes displays in both sexes, autistic-like traits in their non-pathological form contribute to a male-typical strategy geared toward high parental investment, low mating effort, and long-term resource allocation. At the evolutionary-genetic level, this sexual selection hypothesis is consistent with Crespi and Badcock’s “imprinted brain” theory of autism and psychosis; the effect of offspring mating behavior on resource flow within the family connects sexual selection with genomic imprinting in the context of human biparental care. We conclude by presenting the results of an empirical study testing one of the predictions derived from our hypothesis. In a sample of 200 college students, autistic-like traits predicted lower interest in short-term mating, higher partner-specific investment, and stronger commitment to long-term romantic relations, whereas positive schizotypy showed the opposite pattern of effects.


What's the most resilient parasite? An Idea. A single idea from the human mind can build cities. An idea can transform the world and rewrite all the rules.
Leonardo DiCaprio, Inception

You know that nightmare you still have where you haven't studied all semester and you suddenly realize the test is today and you're doomed to flunk? You haven't been in school for years or decades, and you still have that dream where you feel guilty for not reading the textbook and not doing the homework?

Well, if the best minds of America really want to do something about the Achievement Gap in an increasingly Latino country, then they need to get to work right now on Project Incepcion  and implant that specific nagging dream, that superego, or whatever you want to call it, in the minds of millions of lackadaisical, complacent, guilt-free Mexican-American students.

July 16, 2010

China first, India next, Japan last

Last week, I wondered which Asian power is most likely to succeed the U.S. as the world's leading power in the distant future. A think tank started by an interested observer, the government of Israel, has been wondering the same thing, too. The Jewish People Policy Planning Institute writes in 2030: Alternative Futures for the Jewish People:
“The rise of Asian states, particularly China and India, may be very significant from a Jewish perspective since Asian countries do not share the Biblical religions and traditions, and therefore, have a radically different view of Judaism and the Jewish People than Christian and Islamic countries. Also, they do not have significant Jewish communities. This provides unprecedented opportunities for a Jewish global grand-strategy, as proposed in a JPPPI paper on upgrading relations between the Jewish People and China.” 

The JPPPI's priorities among Asian states are:
The first initiative focuses on China ... The next initiative will focus on India, and Japan will be considered at a later date. 

So, that sounds like a pretty good way to bet: 1. China 2. India 3. Japan.

The Ken Watanabe Gambit

Since movie director Christopher Nolan is exceedingly clever, I presume that he decided to give many of the critical lines explaining what's going on in Inception to Japanese star Ken Watanable -- who, over the course of a long career in Hollywood movies, has never learned to reliably pronounce English words comprehensibly -- so that audience members will come back a second time so they can listen harder.

My son's review: "A Christopher Nolan movie about sleeping (Inception) is a lot more exciting than a Christopher Nolan movie about not sleeping (Insomnia)."

"One Bride for Two Brothers"

Interesting NYT article on the decline of polyandry (one wife, multiple husbands) in the Himalayas, one of the few places where it was ever observed. In contrast, polygyny (one husband, multiple wives) is going strong (e.g., the President of South Africa, the late father of the President of the United States).
MALANG, India — Buddhi Devi was 14 when she was betrothed. In India, that is not unusual: many marry young. Her intended was a boy from her village who was two years younger — that, too, was not strange. But she was also supposed to marry her future husband’s younger brother, once he was old enough. 

Now 70 and a widow who is still married— one of her husbands is dead — Ms. Devi is a ghost of another time, one of a shrinking handful of people who still live in families here that follow the ancient practice of polyandry. In the remote villages of this Himalayan valley, polyandry, the practice of multiple men marrying one wife, was for centuries a practical solution to a set of geographic, economic and meteorological problems.

People here survived off small farms hewed from the mountainsides at an altitude of 11,000 feet, and dividing property among several sons would leave each with too little land to feed a family. A harsh mountain winter ends the short planting season abruptly. The margin between starvation and survival is slender.

“We used to work and eat,” Ms. Devi said, her face etched by decades of blistering winters, her fingers thick from summers of tilling the soil. “There was no time for anything else. When three brothers share one lady, they all come back to one house. They share everything.”

Polyandry has been practiced here for centuries, but in a single generation it has all but vanished. ... “Times have changed,” Ms. Devi said. “Now nobody marries like this.”

Polyandry has never been common in India, but pockets have persisted, especially among the Hindu and Buddhist communities of the Himalayas, where India abuts Tibet. ...

Sukh Dayal Bhagsen, 60, is from the neighboring village of Tholang. As a young man he joined his elder brother’s marriage to a woman named Prem Dasi. It was never discussed, but always assumed, that he would do this when he reached marriageable age, he said. “If you marry a different woman, then there are more chances of family disputes,” Mr. Bhagsen said. “Family property is divided, and problems arise.”

Three brothers married Ms. Dasi, who bore five children.

The logistics of sharing one wife among several men are daunting. All the children, regardless of who their biological father is, call the eldest brother pitaji, or father, while the younger brothers are all called chacha, or uncle.

“Each child knows who his father is, but you call your eldest uncle father,” said Neelchand Bhagsen, Sukh Dayal Bhagsen’s 40-year-old son.

The wife decides the delicate question of who is the father of a child, and her word in this matter is law.

“A mother knows,” Ms. Devi said, unwilling to discuss the sensitive particularities of this knowledge further.

The practice also acted as a form of birth control. Five brothers with a wife each could easily produce dozens of children. But polyandrous families seldom had more than six or seven children.

Although the society of the Lahaul Valley is patrilineal, the practice of polyandry gave women considerable sway over many matters.

“The wife’s voice is the dominant voice in the household,” Neelchand Bhagsen said....

Life in the Lahaul Valley has changed in ways people born in Raj-era India would never imagine. Roads carved into steep mountain slopes brought the outside world closer. Children started going to school. Men ranged farther for work, earning salaries for the first time. Suddenly, the necessity for brothers to share a wife disappeared.
One of the elder Bhagsen brothers, Bhimi Ram, was an early indication of this change. He got a job as a mason in Kullu, a town on the other side of the mountain pass connecting the valley to the rest of India. He bought a piece of land there, and eventually he decided to leave the marriage.

His brothers bought out his part of the family property. A daughter produced in the polyandrous marriage remained behind in their village, and Bhimi Ram went off to start a new life. When he attended his daughter’s marriage years later, it was as an ordinary guest, not as father of the bride.

“He got some money and wanted to move on,” Sukh Dayal Bhagsen said.

Unlike those in his father’s generation, who had no schooling at all, Mr. Bhagsen not only completed high school, but also got a bachelor’s degree and became a teacher.

He saved up enough money to buy a plot of land on the Beas River in the Kullu Valley, near the city of Manali. He built a sturdy brick house there to share with his wife and son, and planted a vegetable garden with radishes, beans and okra. He has prospered. This year he is adding a second floor to the house, to accommodate the many relatives who come to stay with him during the harsh valley winters.

His could be any suburban nuclear family, anywhere in the world. His life could not be further removed from the unusual family in which he grew up. No one, it seems, mourns polyandry’s passing.

“That system had utility for a time,” Mr. Bhagsen said. “But in the present context it has outlived its usefulness. The world has changed.”

This is a good example for my overall view of human nature. Rather than

- Everything in an arbitrary social construct; or,

- In contrast, there are absolute human universals

Instead, I say, there sure are a lot of patterns. But when it comes to proclaiming something as universal and immutable human nature, never say never ... at least not about the kind of thing people like to argue about (nobody is interested in the fact that air-breathing is a human universal).

Instead, there are tendencies. Polyandry goes strongly against human tendencies, but under some harsh conditions, it can exist as a cultural norm. But, as people get more money, they tend to rebel against the cultural construct of polyandry and live more in harmony with their natures.

9th Circuit <> American People Policy Planning Institute

From the LA Daily News:
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — So many women are murdered with impunity every year in Guatemala that a federal appeals court said Monday that they should be considered for political asylum, opening the possibility of U.S. citizenship to similarly situated women in other countries.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the deportation orders of two immigration courts that such a claim applies too broadly. The San Francisco-based court ordered the immigration judges in the U.S. Department of Justice to reconsider granting asylum to Lesly Yajayra Perdomo, an illegal immigrant in her mid-30s who settled in Reno, Nev.

Most important, the court ordered the Board of Immigration to determine whether all Guatemalan women can qualify — a decision that could open the door to similar claims from other countries such as El Salvador, Honduras and others with history of widespread gender abuse.

Or, how about Mexico (population 110,000,000), where as many as 5,000 women have been murdered in Ciudad Juarez alone since the 1990s? 
Such a determination would continue an expansion of asylum eligibility beyond the traditional claims of political and religious oppression. Successful asylum applicants have to show they were persecuted because of religion, political beliefs, race, nationality or membership in a particular social group.

Courts in recent years have granted asylum to an increasing number of people claiming persecution of a social group: women fearing genital mutilation, victims of domestic violence and other gender-based claims.

But courts have never opened the possibility of asylum to such a large social group as all the women of Guatemala, which has a population of 13.5 million.

More than 3,800 Guatemalan women have been murdered since 2000 and fewer than 2 percent of the crimes have been solved, according to the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at the University of California, San Francisco's law school.

"This is not a phenomena limited to Guatemala," said Karen Musalo, head of the center.

This is the first such case to reach this high in the United States' court system, which has grappled with determining gender-based claims for asylum, she said.

The timeline for resolving the issue is unclear because the courts aren't under any deadlines to act....
The Department of Justice didn't return a telephone call.

I can't imagine better American People Policy Planning than to decide that the more violent and criminal your relatives, your in-laws, and the kind of men you like to have sex with are, the more you have a legal right to permanently move to the U.S., along with your children (who are likely the offspring of your violent boyfriends). 

Why didn't we think of this three generations ago? America would be awesome by now -- it would be like a Mad Max movie.

July 15, 2010

"2030: Alternative Futures for the Jewish People"

From my VDARE.com column, which reviews the new book by the Israeli-American think tank known as the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute:
As a long-time admirer of Israel, I’ve come to envy especially the freedom of discussion that Israeli culture permits on fundamental questions of demographics.

Consider, for example, the new book 2030: Alternative Futures for the Jewish People [5 megabyte  PDF], which makes for eye-opening reading for anyone lulled by the pabulum of the American press. ... An intellectually serious effort, 2030 can serve as a template for all those thinking about improving the demographic prospects of their own peoples or parties.

For example, GOP leaders could read it and consider how its framework of analysis and its policy recommendations could be adapted to the task of growing more Republicans.

Founded in 2002, the Jerusalem-based Jewish People Policy Planning Institute has always been chaired by prominent Jewish-American diplomats. Its 2030 report was begun under Dennis Ross, chief U.S. negotiator at Bill Clinton’s failed Camp David 2 peace talks in 2000 between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Ross left JPPPI in 2009 to run the Obama Administration’s Iran policy. ...

Despite this American participation, the JPPPI is an offshoot of the Israeli government’s immigration arm, the Jewish Agency for Israel. (The  JPPPI’s #2 man is a former boss of Israeli military intelligence). It makes an annual presentation to the Israeli cabinet. And, because the JPPPI’s publications are not intended for non-Jewish audiences—this book has not, so far as I know, previously been reviewed in America outside the Jewish press—it suffers less from the timidity that emasculates intellectual discourse in America.

For example, the JPPPI’s 2030 observes:
“World Jewry today is at a historical zenith of absolute wealth creation. … one can say that Jewish wealth is higher than almost any other ethnic group worldwide.”

That’s not the kind of thing you read in the U.S. press every day…

It’s also informative to discover that the JPPPI views anti-Semitism at present “as a moral problem and an irritant, but not having any serious consequences.” ...

The 2030 project strives to identify the middle ground between the ephemeral and the permanent.

The JPPPI methodology is to boil the future down to merely A) internal factors (what it calls “Jewish Momentum” -- “quantity, quality, power, structures and leadership”) and B) external factors: “the well-worn notion of ‘good for the Jews or bad for the Jews.’”

This generates four alternative futures: “Thriving,” “Drifting,” “Defending,” and “Nightmare.” The think tank doesn’t try to predict which one will happen, but it does outline the various mechanisms pushing the global Jewish People in each direction.

If in 2030, Jews are self-confidently ethnocentric (have high Jewish Momentum) and the rest of the world loves them, then, according to the JPPPI, the Jewish People will be “Thriving”.

The opposite quadrant is called “Nightmare”—where Jews are both unpopular with outsiders and highly assimilated. Currently, Iran is the best (or worst) example of this.

The JPPPI classifies the American Jewish community as currently “Thriving” due to an extremely positive external climate for Jews in America and moderately high internal Jewish Momentum.

It worries, though, that Jews are so popular with other Americans that Jewish cohesiveness will be sapped over the next 20 years. A high rate of intermarriage could drive the American Jewish community into the Drifting quadrant, where “Demographic shifts including accelerated assimilation of the Jewish community in the US, and its decline relative to other groups in the US leads to decline in its political power.” ...

The opposite of “Drifting” is “Defending”—where Jews are besieged by anti-Semites, yet internally strong as a community. The JPPPI cites France, where Muslim immigration has led to pogrom-like incidents, as currently the closest to this alternative future.

The Jewish People Policy Planning Institute seems to prefer “Defending” to “Drifting”:
“While the Drifting future might be very pleasant and positive for Jews as individuals, it reflects an overall decline of the Jewish People as a whole. … a Defending alternative future demonstrates that even under strenuous external conditions, the Jewish People could become stronger.”

My review goes on to consider the demographic policy proposals of the JPPPI, which are analogous to my own for Republicans. Read the whole thing there and comment upon it below. 

What different countries are for

By nature, Belgium, with its ports, rivers, fertile soil, and coal, is one of the richest places on Earth, as it has been for most of the last 900 years. As a state, however, it's a failed 19th Century experiment in multiculturalism. The founding of the Kingdom of Belgium in the 1830s was popular with the Great Powers as a convenient neutral buffer zone between the great linguistic zones of Western Europe (Germanic and Romance) and/or a convenient place for Great  Powers to fight battles without messing up their own countries. And combining Catholics who spoke Flemish and Catholics who spoke French seemed to make sense.

Over time, religion became less salient, leaving language as the great divide. It's natural to sympathize with other people with whom you converse more than with other people with whom you can't as readily interchange thoughts. It's also easier to monitor them to make sure they aren't cheating you.

The rise of NATO and the European Union has made the sheer size of a country ever less important for warfare or trade. So, states increasingly exist in Europe today less as part of a great game to accumulate the most military-industrial might to conquer other states, but mostly as affirmations of nationhood and as a means to redistribute wealth, both to interests and to the pockets of the leaders of interests. 

In the past, both the aristocrats and the leading coal and iron regions of Belgium were French-speaking, so they had most of the money. Over time, however, the Flemish have become more productive, and resent having the wealth they earn taxed away and, net, given to Walloons. Both sides rightfully resent the corrupt rake-off by politicians, which is unusually high for northern Europe. My guess is that Belgium is not only unsurprisingly more corrupt than the Netherlands to the north but also more corrupt than France to the south, although I haven't looked into this for years.

Mixed ethnicity democracies tend to be crooked for what might be called the Lee Kwan Yew-FDR reason: You can't afford to vote out a corrupt SOB of your own group because while he might be an SOB, he's your SOB and -- at an admittedly high cost -- he protects you against the other guys' SOBs.

Belgium has been haltingly devolving toward a decentralized Switzerland model, but it might make more sense to just split the country into two countries along language lines with perhaps Brussels becoming the Vatican City of the EU.

But there's tremendous resistance to this sensible solution among the Euro-elites. The NYT says, reflecting the unthinking elite consensus: 
"Europe as a whole may be busy papering over its differences, burying cultural disparities and centuries of feuding. But not Belgium. It seems headed the other way."

In reality, the splitting up of Belgium would be a triumph for the European Union, showing that countries don't need to be big in Europe anymore to avoid being trampled on the battlefield or isolated economically, and can now afford to reduce themselves to sizes more congenial to honest, effective self-rule and national affirmations. But, that's too sophisticated of an idea for Euro-elites. They've been trumpeting themselves for 60 years as "burying cultural disparities and centuries of feuding," so they feel they can't afford to let Belgium, the proto-EU, break up, not matter how much better it would be for good government.

July 14, 2010

How to get into college

Russell K. Nieli writes:
A new study by Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade and his colleague Alexandria Radford is a real eye-opener in revealing just what sorts of students highly competitive colleges want -- or don't want -- on their campuses and how they structure their admissions policies to get the kind of "diversity" they seek. The Espenshade/Radford study draws from a new data set, the National Study of College Experience (NSCE), which was gathered from eight highly competitive public and private colleges and universities (entering freshmen SAT scores: 1360). Data was collected on over 245,000 applicants from three separate application years, and over 9,000 enrolled students filled out extensive questionnaires....

The box students checked off on the racial question on their application was thus shown to have an extraordinary effect on a student's chances of gaining admission to the highly competitive private schools in the NSCE database. To have the same chances of gaining admission as a black student with an SAT score of 1100, an Hispanic student otherwise equally matched in background characteristics would have to have a 1230, a white student a 1410, and an Asian student a 1550.  ...

Espenshade and Radford also take up very thoroughly the question of "class based preferences" and what they find clearly shows a general disregard for improving the admission chances of poor and otherwise disadvantaged whites. Other studies, including a 2005 analysis of nineteen highly selective public and private universities by William Bowen, Martin Kurzweil, and Eugene Tobin, in their 2003 book, Equity and Excellence in American Higher Education, found very little if any advantage in the admissions process accorded to whites from economically or educationally disadvantaged families compared to whites from wealthier or better educated homes. ...

At the private institutions in their study whites from lower-class backgrounds incurred a huge admissions disadvantage not only in comparison to lower-class minority students, but compared to whites from middle-class and upper-middle-class backgrounds as well. The lower-class whites proved to be all-around losers. When equally matched for background factors (including SAT scores and high school GPAs), the better-off whites were more than three times as likely to be accepted as the poorest whites (.28 vs. .08 admissions probability). 

Although grading standards might be lower at a working class white high school than at St. Poshington's.
Having money in the family greatly improved a white applicant's admissions chances, lack of money greatly reduced it. The opposite class trend was seen among non-whites, where the poorer the applicant the greater the probability of acceptance when all other factors are taken into account. Class-based affirmative action does exist within the three non-white ethno-racial groupings, but among the whites the groups advanced are those with money.
When lower-class whites are matched with lower-class blacks and other non-whites the degree of the non-white advantage becomes astronomical: lower-class Asian applicants are seven times as likely to be accepted to the competitive private institutions as similarly qualified whites, lower-class Hispanic applicants eight times as likely, and lower-class blacks ten times as likely. These are enormous differences and reflect the fact that lower-class whites were rarely accepted to the private institutions Espenshade and Radford surveyed. Their diversity-enhancement value was obviously rated very low.

Poor Non-White Students: "Counting Twice"

The enormous disadvantage incurred by lower-class whites in comparison to non-whites and wealthier whites is partially explained by Espenshade and Radford as a result of the fact that, except for the very wealthiest institutions like Harvard and Princeton, private colleges and universities are reluctant to admit students who cannot afford their high tuitions. And since they have a limited amount of money to give out for scholarship aid, they reserve this money to lure those who can be counted in their enrollment statistics as diversity-enhancing "racial minorities." Poor whites are apparently given little weight as enhancers of campus diversity, while poor non-whites count twice in the diversity tally, once as racial minorities and a second time as socio-economically deprived....

There are problems, however, with this explanation. ...

Besides the bias against lower-class whites, the private colleges in the Espenshade/Radford study seem to display what might be called an urban/Blue State bias against rural and Red State occupations and values. This is most clearly shown in a little remarked statistic in the study's treatment of the admissions advantage of participation in various high school extra-curricular activities. In the competitive private schools surveyed participation in many types of extra-curricular activities -- including community service activities, performing arts activities, and "cultural diversity" activities -- conferred a substantial improvement in an applicant's chances of admission. The admissions advantage was usually greatest for those who held leadership positions or who received awards or honors associated with their activities. No surprise here -- every student applying to competitive colleges knows about the importance of extracurriculars.

But what Espenshade and Radford found in regard to what they call "career-oriented activities" was truly shocking even to this hardened veteran of the campus ideological and cultural wars. Participation in such Red State activities as high school ROTC, 4-H clubs, or the Future Farmers of America was found to reduce very substantially a student's chances of gaining admission to the competitive private colleges in the NSCE database on an all-other-things-considered basis. The admissions disadvantage was greatest for those in leadership positions in these activities or those winning honors and awards. "Being an officer or winning awards" for such career-oriented activities as junior ROTC, 4-H, or Future Farmers of America, say Espenshade and Radford, "has a significantly negative association with admission outcomes at highly selective institutions." Excelling in these activities "is associated with 60 or 65 percent lower odds of admission."

Espenshade and Radford don't have much of an explanation for this find, which seems to place the private colleges even more at variance with their stated commitment to broadly based campus diversity. In his Bakke ruling Lewis Powell was impressed by the argument Harvard College offered defending the educational value of a demographically diverse student body: "A farm boy from Idaho can bring something to Harvard College that a Bostonian cannot offer. Similarly, a black student can usually bring something that a white person cannot offer." The Espenshade/Radford study suggests that those farm boys from Idaho would do well to stay out of their local 4-H clubs or FFA organizations -- or if they do join, they had better not list their membership on their college application forms. This is especially true if they were officers in any of these organizations.

Most admissions people are unimpressive, although I recently met the top guy at one famous private college and he was formidable. In response to an anxious parent's question whether they should send their kid to dig ditches for poor people in Guatemala this summer, he replied that there were plenty of ditches that could be dug in Los Angeles County, and that poor people in Guatemala are probably pretty good at digging ditches already, so he just rolls his eyes when he sees this kind of thing on a college application, but, apparently, other colleges don't have the same reaction.

A lot of admissions people seem to have Be Like Me motivations -- one reward of their pretty crummy job is that they get to pick out young people they like and make them happy. And they tend to like people who remind them of themselves. One job of the top guy, like the one I met, is to gently remind the lower level admissions people that the last kind of people the Alumni Drive of 2030 wants to send out fundraising letters to is poorly paid admissions officers, so the admissions officers had better hold their noses and let in some competitive smart preppie jock Republicans who will go to Wall Street and make a lot of money and give some of it to the college.

But small town Republicans? That, apparently, is a bridge too far.

All we have to do ...

We're constantly told that to make up for any minor inconveniences caused by letting in millions of uneducated illegal aliens, "all we have to do is fix the public schools." And this usually leads to some vague gesticulating in the direction of the Teach for America program.

Now, the Teach for America program is actually quite interesting, but not in an all we have to do sort of way. Here it's mission:
How are we helping to solve educational inequity? 
Teach For America provides a critical source of well-trained teachers who are helping break the cycle of educational inequity. These teachers, called corps members, commit to teach for two years in one of 39 urban and rural regions across the country, going above and beyond traditional expectations to help their students to achieve at high levels.

Michael Winerip writes in the NYT:
HOUSTON — Alneada Biggers, Harvard class of 2010, was amazed this past year when she discovered that getting into the nation’s top law schools and grad programs could be easier than being accepted for a starting teaching job with Teach for America. Ms. Biggers says that of 15 to 20 Harvard friends who applied to Teach for America, only three or four got in. ...

Evidently, all we have to do is to fire all the schoolteachers and replace them with the best Harvard graduates -- but not the run-of-the-mill Harvard grads. Just the best Harvard graduates.
Will Cullen, Villanova ’10, had a friend who was rejected and instead will be a Fulbright scholar. Julianne Carlson, a new graduate of Yale — where a record 18 percent of seniors applied to Teach for America — says she knows a half dozen “amazing” classmates who were rejected, although the number is probably higher. “People are reluctant to tell you because of the stigma of not getting in,” Ms. Carlson said. ...

Mr. Goldberg, Mr. Rosen, Ms. Carlson, Mr. Cullen and Ms. Biggers count themselves lucky to be among the 4,500 selected by the nonprofit to work at high-poverty public schools from a record 46,359 applicants (up 32 percent over 2009). There’s little doubt the numbers are fueled by a bad economy, which has limited job options even for graduates from top campuses. In 2007, during the economic boom, 18,172 people applied.

This year, on its 20th anniversary, Teach for America hired more seniors than any other employer at numerous colleges, including Yale, Dartmouth, Duke, Georgetown and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At Harvard, 293 seniors, or 18 percent of the class, applied, compared with 100 seniors in 2007. “...

In interviews, two dozen soon-to-be-teachers here in Houston, one of eight national Teach for America centers that provide a five-week crash summer course in classroom practices, mentioned the chance to help poor children and close the achievement gap as major reasons for applying....

But there are other more material attractions. Teach for America has become an elite brand that will help build a résumé, whether or not the person stays in teaching. And in a bad economy, it’s a two-year job guarantee with a good paycheck; members earn a beginning teacher’s salary in the districts where they’re placed. For Mr. Cullen, who will teach at a Dallas middle school, that’s $45,000 — the same he’d make if he’d taken a job offer from a financial public relations firm. [And Dallas is a lot cheaper place to live than Wall Street.]

While Teach for America is highly regarded by undergrads — Mr. Goldberg said Duke recruiting sessions typically attracted 50 students — it gets mixed reviews from education experts.

Research indicates that generally, the more experienced teachers are, the better their students perform, and several studies have criticized Teach for America’s turnover rate.

“I’m always shocked by the hullaboo, given Teach for America’s size” — about 0.2 percent of all teachers — “and its mixed impact,” said Julian Vasquez Heilig, a University of Texas professor. Dr. Heilig and Su Jin Jez of California State University, Sacramento, recently published a critical assessment after reviewing two dozen studies. One study cited indicated that “by the fourth year, 85 percent of T.F.A. teachers had left” New York City schools.
“These people could be superstars, but most leave before they master the teaching craft,” Dr. Heilig said. 

How can you expect them to stay? What's the career path in teaching? There isn't one. The only way to get a promotion is to stop teaching. You can get promoted to teaching teachers ("professional development"), which is a nice gig since you get to do it in child-free environments, but then you aren't actually teaching anymore. I'm sure some of these hyper-ambitious Harvard grads intend to wind up as educational consultants who teach the ex-teachers who teach the teachers, but that's awfully meta in its likely impact.

One thing that you might hope that Teach for America would have accomplished over its 20 years of existence is lead to a revolution in educational software and hardware. You can't expect superstars to stick around teaching forever, but you could expect that they and their experience would go to Silicon Valley and invent great educational software. Instead, we seem to have gone backwards in the focus on education software.

Almost nobody remembers that three decades ago Apple, with its initial Apple II computer, was primarily in the education hardware / software business. In the early 1980s, the Apple II was the schoolroom computer. In contrast, Apple's spectacular revival over the last decade has come about by abandoning education and focusing on already well-educated high income consumers. This is not a coincidence. (This is not to say that the Apple II's vast array of educational software was any good, just to say that that's what lots of smart people like Steve Jobs thought the market was for PCs: education.)

Similarly, what has Google done for mass education? You can see for yourself here.

And yet, educational software that's peddled to schools these days, two decades after the founding of Teach for America, is still mostly crud. There is some stuff that's half decent that tries to mimic a good tutor by giving more problems of the type the student got wrong, but mostly it's a fad driven business marketing junk.

I blame the achievement gap. When the highest priority is closing the achievement gap, and that appears to be virtually impossible to do without inflicting brain trauma on whites and Asians, well, that tends to mean that most of the products created will be bogus.

... Several of the new Teach for America members say it’s too early to know whether they’ll stick with teaching. Ms. Biggers, who was admitted to Harvard and Vanderbilt Law Schools, has deferred attending to teach elementary school in Houston for two years. She then plans to go to law school and, after finishing, says she hopes to do something in education.

To be accepted by Teach for America, applicants survived a lengthy process, with thousands cut at each step. That included an online application; a phone interview; presentation of a lesson plan; a personal interview; a written test; and a monitored group discussion with several other applicants.

A $185 million operating budget, (two-thirds from private donations, the rest from governmental sources) helps finance recruiters at 350 campuses to enlarge the applicant pool.

The 774 new recruits who are training here are housed in Rice University dorms. Many are up past midnight doing lesson plans and by 6:30 a.m. are on a bus to teach summer school to students making up failed classes. It’s a tough lesson for those who’ve come to do battle with the achievement gap.

Lilianna Nguyen, a recent Stanford graduate, dressed formally in high heels, was trying to teach a sixth-grade math class about negative numbers. She’d prepared definitions to be copied down, but the projector was broken.

She’d also created a fun math game [fun according to Ms. Nguyen, recently of Stanford], giving every student an index card with a number. They were supposed to silently line themselves up from lowest negative to highest positive, but one boy kept disrupting the class, blurting out, twirling his pen, complaining he wanted to play a fun game, not a math game.

“Why is there talking?” Ms. Nguyen said. “There should be no talking.”
“Do I have to play?” asked the boy.
“Do you want to pass summer school?” Ms. Nguyen answered.
The boy asked if it was O.K. to push people to get them in the right order.
“This is your third warning,” Ms. Nguyen said. “Do not speak out in my class.”

Schools can't get buy just on Stanford grads. You need to hire a few retired master sergeants with necks wider than their heads who like putting punks in their places. Providing some professional disciplinarians for teachers to send jerks to will do a lot to make the Stanford whiz kids more effective.

July 13, 2010

The philosophical significance of the Belly Button Theory

From Slate:
Can a black-white performance gap be hereditary but not racial?
By William Saletan
Uh-oh. Another study is suggesting a biological ability gap between blacks and whites.

The study, just published in the International Journal of Design and Nature and Ecodynamics, starts with a puzzle about racing sports: "More and more, the winning runners are black athletes, particularly of West African origin, and the winning swimmers are white. More and more, the world finalists in sprint are black and in swimming are white."

Swimming is a white herring in this discussion. I saw a black guy, Anthony Nesty, beat the great Matt Biondi for a gold medal in the 1988 Olympics, so blacks have been modestly competitive in swimming in proportion to the numbers who take it up seriously for a generation.

There are lots of obvious reasons blacks don't do all that well in swimming -- access to pools, fear of sinking and drowning that keeps them away from water (which is a reasonable fear for low body-fat young black males, who drown in motel pools in tragic numbers), opportunities in other sports, etc. -- and morphological differences is only one of them. Sure, there are very few blacks shaped like Michael Phelps, but then there aren't all that many whites shaped like him, either.

What we have a huge amount of data about is running (and not just sprinting).
The authors—Edward Jones of Howard University and Adrian Bejan and Jordan Charles of Duke University—attribute the two trends to a common factor: center of gravity. They explain:
Anthropometric measurements of large populations show that systematic differences exist among blacks, whites and Asians. The published evidence is massive: blacks have longer limbs than whites, and because blacks have longer legs and smaller circumferences (e.g. calves and arms), their center of mass is higher than that in other individuals of the same height. Asians and whites have longer torsos, therefore their centers of mass are lower.

These structural differences, they argue, generate differences in performance. Using equations about the physics of locomotion, they analyze racing as a process of falling forward. Based on this analysis, they conclude that having a higher center of body mass in a standing position is advantageous in running but disadvantageous in swimming.

Drawing on data from 17 groups of soldiers around the world, the authors note that in terms of upper body length, "the measurements of the group of blacks fall well below those of the other groups. Their average sitting height (87.5 cm) is 3 cm shorter than the average sitting height of the group of men with the same average height (172 cm)." From this, they calculate that "the dimension that dictates the speed in running (L1) is 3.7 percent greater in blacks than in whites. At the same time, the dimension that governs speed in swimming is 3.5 percent greater in whites than in blacks."

Measurements of women suggest a similar pattern:
[U]pper- and lower-extremity bone lengths are significantly longer in adult black females than in white females. For the lower-extremity bone lengths, the difference is between 80.3 ± 10.4 cm (black females) and 78.1 ± 6.2 cm (white females). This difference of 2.2 cm represents 2.7 percent of the lower-extremity length, and it is of the same order as the 3.7 percent difference between the sitting heights of whites and blacks.

The paper calculates that a 3 percent difference in center of mass—the average difference between blacks and whites—produces for the athlete with the higher center of mass
a 1.5 percent increase in the winning speed for the 100 [meter] dash. This represents a 1.5 percent decrease in the winning time, for example, a drop from 10 to 9.85 [seconds]. This change is enormous in comparison with the incremental decreases that differentiate between world records from year to year. In fact, the 0.15[-second] decrease corresponds to the evolution of the speed records ... from 1960 (Armin Hary) to 1991 (Carl Lewis). The 3 percent difference in L1 between groups represents an enormous advantage for black athletes.
For swimming, the conclusion is quantitatively the same, but in favor of white athletes. The 3 percent increase in [lower-body length] means a 1.5 percent increase in winning speed, and a 1.5 percent decrease in winning time. Because the winning times for 100[-meter] freestyle are of the order of 50 [seconds], this represents a decrease of the order of 0.75 [seconds] in the winning time. This is a significant advantage for white swimmers, because it corresponds to evolution of the records over 10 years, for example, from 1976 (James Montgomery) to 1985 (Matt Biondi).

Sure, but there are all sorts of other morphological reasons blacks tend to be faster at running, such as narrow pelvises on average, plus non-skeletal reasons involving thinner calves, higher muscle to fat ratio, biochemistry, etc.
Despite these caveats, the authors fear the consequences of acknowledging that heredity can produce differences in group averages. (I've wrestled with the same problem here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.) To avoid fueling bigotry, they've come up with a creative maneuver: removing the word race from theories of black/white group biology. At the outset of their paper, they write:
Our approach is to study phenotypic (somatotypic) differences … which we consider to have been historically misclassified as racial characteristics. These differences represent consequences of still not well-understood variable environmental stimuli for survival fitness in different parts of the globe during thousands of years of habitation. Our study does not advance the notion of race, now recognized as a social construct, as opposed to a biological construct. We acknowledge the wide phenotypic and genotypic diversity among the so-called racial types.

Duke's press release about the study draws the same distinction: The black/white performance gap stems from "athletes' centers of gravity," which "tends to be located higher on the body of blacks than whites. The researchers believe that these differences are not racial, but rather biological." [Emphasis added]

So, these racial differences aren't racial, they are biological.

Got it! As T.H. Huxley said upon reading The Origin of Species, "How stupid of me not to have thought of that."
This is a fascinating bit of finesse. There's nothing unusual about dismissing race as social construct. Racism watchdogs do it all the time. But they do it precisely to deny hereditary differences between blacks and whites. Bejan, Jones, and Charles are affirming hereditary differences. That's what they mean by "survival fitness in different parts of the globe during thousands of years." Evolution in Europe and evolution in Africa produced different results.

Taking "race" out of the equation makes a substantive difference: It focuses the conversation about heredity on populations, a more precise and scientifically accepted way of categorizing people. 

No, it's not. The word "population" is almost never used in this sense in, say, the newspaper. "Population" is only used to mean "racial group" when somebody is looking for a weasel-word to talk about race without mentioning race. Usually, the word "population" is used in contexts like, "World population is 6.7 billion" or "The population off the U.S. is 310 million" when it's intended to denote everybody. The great majority of people won't know what you are talking about when you use "population" in this tortured way. When people talk about "the population problem" they don't mean the same thing as when they talk about "the racial problem."

Look, the fundamental problem is that the upper crust of the public has been lied to by the "Race is only a social construct meme" and they fell for it. (I suspect the crucial moment in the propagation of this lie was Bill Clinton's announcement of the wrapping up of the Human Genome Project a decade ago.) So, rather than try to finesse our way out of this intellectual dead end with every more complicated euphemisms, why don't we start by not lying anymore? As a wise man once told me, "Always tell the truth. It's easier to remember."
In the press release, for example, Jones explains, "There is a whole body of evidence showing that there are distinct differences in body types among blacks and whites. These are real patterns being described here—whether the fastest sprinters are Jamaican, African or Canadian—most of them can be traced back generally to Western Africa." Western African ancestry differs genetically from Eastern African ancestry. Population, unlike race, captures that difference.

The common term "racial group" is superior to either. Anyway, it's not as if the Belly Button Theory doesn't also work to help explain the superiority of Kenyan distance runners, too. Sprinting is a subgroup of running, just as West Africans are a subgroup of sub-Saharan Africans.
The authors also help the conversation by pointing out that "environmental stimuli" caused differential evolution in different parts of the world. There's nothing inherently good or bad about being West African or Eastern European. All of us are evolving all the time. As environmental conditions change in each part of the world, they change the course of natural selection. Ten thousand years from now, the average center of body mass might be higher in Europe than in Africa.

But the authors' most intriguing contribution isn't in biology or physics. It's in linguistics. By removing the word race, they're trying to make the world safe for clearheaded consideration of theories about inherited group differences. What they've done is more than a series of engineering calculations. It's a political experiment. Let's hope it works.

Wouldn't it be simpler and more helpful for clear thinking overall if everybody just adopted my definition of a racial group: "a partly inbred extended family?"

"You lay off our women"

From an interview with actor Mark Ruffalo promoting "The Kids Are All Right," in which his character attracts Julianne Moore's character, the femme in a butch-femme lesbian household, into a heterosexual affair:
... Ruffalo says he has come up against some bizarre territory marking and paranoia in the real world as a result of the movie.

"I was doing an interview with a woman on tv and afterward the woman said, 'By the way, I'm a lesbian, and you lay off our women,'" Ruffalo recalls.

"At first I thought she was kidding and then I realized she was really serious," he adds. "She totally meant it. I was like, 'Are you kidding?'"

Ruffalo worried "she was going to arm wrestle me or something." He didn't think he'd fare well either: "Not against that passion."

"The Kids Are All Right"

From my review in Taki's Magazine:
The limited-release comedy The Kids Are All Right has driven critics into paroxysms of praise. For instance, the normally low-key A.O. Scott enthused in the New York Times as follows: “superlative,” “outrageously funny,” “heartbreaking,” “canny,” “agile,” “thrilling,” “vertiginous,” “anarchic energy,” “novelistic sensitivity,” “close to perfect,” “precisely measured,” “honestly presented,” “great,” and “extraordinary.”

Is this low-budget comedy truly the second coming of Lawrence of Arabia? If not, why does Scott appear to be plundering adjectives willy-nilly from Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers’ well-thumbed thesaurus of newspaper ad-friendly verbiage?

Annette Bening and Julianne Moore star as middle-aged lesbians whose domestic routines are flummoxed when Bening’s 18-year-old daughter and Moore’s 15-year-old son, who are half-siblings, contact their anonymous sperm donor father, played by Mark Ruffalo.

This film by television director Lisa Cholodenko (The L Word) may have been partly inspired by two stories notorious on the Hollywood lesbian gossip circuit: the vastly publicized Ellen DeGeneres-Anne Heche affair of the late 1990s and the quieter rumors about the conception of the two children of Oscar-winner Jodie Foster. ...

Casting as lesbians the girly Bening and Moore, who have four marriages, six children, and seven Oscar nominations between them, continues an old Hollywood tradition going back to the first gay domestic drama, 1969’s Staircase, which featured ladykillers Richard Burton and Rex Harrison (eleven marriages total).

Read the whole thing at Taki's and comment upon it below.

Is this a statistical optical illusion?

From the New York Times last week:
Biggest Defaulters on Mortgages Are the Rich

LOS ALTOS, Calif. — No need for tears, but the well-off are losing their master suites and saying goodbye to their wine cellars.

The housing bust that began among the working class in remote subdivisions and quickly progressed to the suburban middle class is striking the upper class in privileged enclaves like this one in Silicon Valley.

Whether it is their residence, a second home or a house bought as an investment, the rich have stopped paying the mortgage at a rate that greatly exceeds the rest of the population.

More than one in seven homeowners with loans in excess of a million dollars are seriously delinquent, according to data compiled for The New York Times by the real estate analytics firm CoreLogic.

By contrast, homeowners with less lavish housing are much more likely to keep writing checks to their lender. About one in 12 mortgages below the million-dollar mark is delinquent.

Though it is hard to prove, the CoreLogic data suggest that many of the well-to-do are purposely dumping their financially draining properties, just as they would any sour investment.

“The rich are different: they are more ruthless,” said Sam Khater, CoreLogic’s senior economist. 

This has been a popular topic lately, with Ross Douthat and Megan McArdle weighing in. 

What hasn't been interesting to people, however, is whether the the following isn't misleading: "More than one in seven homeowners with loans in excess of a million dollars are seriously delinquent, ... About one in 12 mortgages below the million-dollar mark is delinquent."

It's fun to think that the rich are worse than the rest, and they may well be. I'm sure there are a lot of "strategic defaults." But it strikes me that this 1/7th v. 1/12th comparison may be mostly the statistical equivalent of an optical illusion. And that can give a misleading view of recent history.

Let's even leave aside the excellent question of whether people who are underwater on their homes are now, or ever were, "rich" as opposed to "high roller."

No, what I think could be misleading here that isn't obvious to commentators is that they're probably comparing oranges to lemons when comparing total mortgages to million dollar mortgages. That's because until the last decade, there just weren't that many million dollar mortgages. And even in 2003-2007, there weren't that many million dollar mortgages in parts of the country where home prices weren't wildly over-inflated.  

The total set of mortgages that are still being paid off goes back to 1980 and is from all over the country. If you're paying off a $40,000 mortgage you got in Fargo in 1985, well, you've built up enough equity that you might as well not default. 

But there aren't a lot of mortgages from the 1980s in North Dakota among the ranks of the million dollar mortgages. Indeed, there aren't a lot of million dollar mortgages at all from North Dakota because there wasn't a housing bubble there in the last decade. In contrast, a large fraction of the million dollar mortgages that are delinquent had to have been originated in the Bubble Years (roughly 2003-2007) and in the Sand States, especially California.

Right now, even after the crash, 14% of the homes for sale in Los Angeles County, which is by far the nation's largest county with 10 million people, are listed for sale at >= $1 million. (That doesn't mean they'll get it, of course, and overpriced homes tend to be overrepresented on the MLS because they don't get delisted by being sold.)

In other words, a lot of the million dollar mortgage folks are people who bought in at the top of the market in time and place. People who have had a mortgage less than 6 or 7 years haven't built up much equity to lose, and have been gone way under water.

Take a look at the New York Times' graph:

Notice in the owner occupied left hand graph that the delinquency rate on total mortgages was running about 2 percent in the Bubble Years of 2005 and 2006. That's the default default rate, the actuarial rate, of people who can't pay because their lives have happened to fall apart and so they lose their houses.

In contrast, the delinquency rate million dollar mortgages was negligibly small in late 2005. Why? Because "the rich" had better personal character back then? 

Nah. It was because home prices were skyrocketing in the expensive parts of the country, like California, and everybody was doing everything they could to stay in the game of real estate appreciation. If your life fell apart in California in 2005 and you were out of cash, you could sell your house for a profit or refinance it. Now, however, if you have a million dollar mortgage, you probably got in 2003-2007 in a Bubble part of the country, and you're probably underwater now.

Does that make sense?

Harvey Pekar, RIP

Here's my 2003 review for The American Conservative of American Splendor, in which Paul Giamatti portrayed the underground comic book writer.

July 12, 2010

The belly button theory of sports

Scientists have found the reason why blacks dominate on the running track and whites in the swimming pool: it's in their belly-buttons, a study published Monday shows.

What's important is not whether an athlete has an innie or an outie but where his or her navel is in relation to the rest of the body, says the study published in the International Journal of Design and Nature and Ecodynamics.

The navel is the center of gravity of the body, and given two runners or swimmers of the same height, one black and one white, "what matters is not total height but the position of the belly-button, or center of gravity," Duke University professor Andre Bejan, the lead author of the study, told AFP.

"It so happens that in the architecture of the human body of West African-origin runners, the center of gravity is significantly higher than in runners of European origin," which puts them at an advantage in sprints on the track, he said.

Individuals of West African-origin have longer legs than European-origin athletes, which means their belly-buttons are three centimeters (1.18 inches) higher than whites', said Bejan.
That means the black athletes have a "hidden height" that is three percent greater than whites', which gives them a significant speed advantage on the track.

For example, I'm about the same height as Michael Jordan, but not exactly the same shape. But I am a better swimmer than Michael Jordan, in that I can swim. (Despite spending many years around luxurious swimming pools, Jordan is said to have never learned how to swim because he finds it unpleasant to immediately sink to the bottom of the pool.) In proportions, I'm closer to Michael Phelps, the Human Surfboard swimmer, who is tall but has relatively short legs.

All this is not exactly new news. O.J. Simpson gave a more detailed explanation of black and white physiological differences to Time Magazine in 1977.

July 11, 2010

"The Creativity Crisis"

The beginning of an article by Po Bronson in Newsweek:
Back in 1958, Ted Schwarzrock was an 8-year-old third grader when he became one of the “Torrance kids,” a group of nearly 400 Minneapolis children who completed a series of creativity tasks newly designed by professor E. Paul Torrance. Schwarzrock still vividly remembers the moment when a psychologist handed him a fire truck and asked, “How could you improve this toy to make it better and more fun to play with?” He recalls the psychologist being excited by his answers. In fact, the psychologist’s session notes indicate Schwarzrock rattled off 25 improvements, such as adding a removable ladder and springs to the wheels. That wasn’t the only time he impressed the scholars, who judged Schwarzrock to have “unusual visual perspective” and “an ability to synthesize diverse elements into meaningful products.”

The accepted definition of creativity is production of something original and useful, and that’s what’s reflected in the tests. There is never one right answer. To be creative requires divergent thinking (generating many unique ideas) and then convergent thinking (combining those ideas into the best result).

In the 50 years since Schwarzrock and the others took their tests, scholars—first led by Torrance, now his colleague, Garnet Millar—have been tracking the children, recording every patent earned, every business founded, every research paper published, and every grant awarded. They tallied the books, dances, radio shows, art exhibitions, software programs, advertising campaigns, hardware innovations, music compositions, public policies (written or implemented), leadership positions, invited lectures, and buildings designed.

Nobody would argue that Torrance’s tasks, which have become the gold standard in creativity assessment, measure creativity perfectly. What’s shocking is how incredibly well Torrance’s creativity index predicted those kids’ creative accomplishments as adults. Those who came up with more good ideas on Torrance’s tasks grew up to be entrepreneurs, inventors, college presidents, authors, doctors, diplomats, and software developers. Jonathan Plucker of Indiana University recently reanalyzed Torrance’s data. The correlation to lifetime creative accomplishment was more than three times stronger for childhood creativity than childhood IQ.

Like intelligence tests, Torrance’s test—a 90-minute series of discrete tasks, administered by a psychologist—has been taken by millions worldwide in 50 languages. Yet there is one crucial difference between IQ and CQ scores. With intelligence, there is a phenomenon called the Flynn effect—each generation, scores go up about 10 points. Enriched environments are making kids smarter. With creativity, a reverse trend has just been identified and is being reported for the first time here: American creativity scores are falling.

Kyung Hee Kim at the College of William & Mary discovered this in May, after analyzing almost 300,000 Torrance scores of children and adults. Kim found creativity scores had been steadily rising, just like IQ scores, until 1990. Since then, creativity scores have consistently inched downward. “It’s very clear, and the decrease is very significant,” Kim says. It is the scores of younger children in America—from kindergarten through sixth grade—for whom the decline is “most serious.”

Here's Wikipedia's description of the Torrance tests of creativity.

I'm not going to speculate much on this reported finding of a downturn after 1990. Besides the usual demographic changes, I'm wondering if play moved from physical to virtual around then and whether the tests could keep up. Also, cheap plastic toys from China started arriving around 1990, and perhaps kids spent less time dreaming of how they could improve their small number of toys and more time assuming that if they needed a better toy, they would just nag their parents to go to the store and buy it.

A modern child doesn't want some dumb fire truck that could be improved in 25 different ways. He wants a fully focus-grouped Transformers Inferno fire truck / alien robot that is part of a cartoon show and blockbuster movie series and that comes with dozens of other toys in the series to buy. If professional toy designers, researchers, marketers, McDonald's Happy Meal executives, screenwriters, advertising agents, and web people haven't taken dozens of meetings over the fire truck and exchanged countless Notes on how to make the entire branding concept more awesome, he doesn't want it.

Anyway, I do want to explain why IQ tests are more useful than creativity tests. We use IQ-like tests for all sorts of predictive purposes, such as law school admissions. The LSAT is pretty good at predicting whether you are smart enough to not flunk out of law school and to pass the bar exam. So, the LSAT can help you avoid disastrous life choices -- spending years studying a subject that's not really that much fun and is very expensive and end up still not being smart enough to be a lawyer.

The AFQT/ASVAB helps the Air Force figure out if it's worth sending you to avionics school or truck driving school. Neither one is all that much fun

In contrast, there isn't much need for tests to see how good you'll be at playing the guitar or playing tennis or whatever. Why not? It would be useful to have a genetic test that would tell the parents of young athletes how tall they'll end up being. But for most fun things, the best test of how good a guitar player or basketball player you'll be is to pick up a guitar or basketball, get some coaching, and practice, practice, practice. You'll figure out soon enough if you in the top half or the bottom half of the population distribution. And if you don't like playing tennis, it really doesn't matter if you have a high TQ score on some hypothetical test because people who do will be better at it, and why play a game you don't like? As for figuring out if you are in the 99.9999th percentile or 99.99999th percentile of tennis players, well that's what they hold Wimbledon for. Not test you take as a little kid is going to predict that.

Creativity is similar. The way to show you are creative is to be creative. The last thing we need are people claiming sinecures on the grounds that they have the proper creativity credential.

The whole subject of creativity is so vast and murky that I don't have all that much to say about it from a quantitative point of view. For example, Paul Johnson, who is vastly more cultured than I am, says the four most creative writers in the English language are Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dickens, and Kipling. I can kind of see where he's coming from with that, and it sounds at least as reasonable as anybody else's Top Four. Yet, still, would Dr. Torrance agree? On what grounds? Who knows?

I do want to talk about a great example of one particular type of creativity: inventing something new and important out of everyday stuff. A lot of new technology is invented because the state of the art has progressed to the point when somebody is going to do it pretty soon. Moore's Law is predicated on the assumption that some CPU engineer at Intel or Advanced Micro Devices is going to come up with breakthroughs pretty much on schedule. But it takes a huge infrastructure to give these guys what it takes to make the breakthroughs possible.

On the other hand, some inventions are of the "How stupid of me not to have thought of that?" variety. This is the kind of creativity that might seem more amenable to quantitative study.

Think of those yellow barrels full of increasing amounts of sand that Highway Departments place in front of bridge abutments and other deadly immovable roadside hazards that progressively slow crashing cars down. How many lives have they saved by now? A million?

Anybody could have invented garbage cans partially filled with sand anytime in the half century before 1955.

For forty years I've wondered who invented this system. I'd always assumed the inventor would be some obscure individual who had a random flash of insight. I finally looked it up, and it turns out not to have been an idea that happened to some little known inventor out of the blue, but as a result of the most spectacular catastrophe in the annals of automotive safety.

American race car driver Jon Fitch was the man:
In World War Two, after attending Lehigh University, Captain Fitch flew a P-51 Mustang and was credited with shooting down an advanced Messerschmitt Me 262 jet. Two months before the end of the war, he himself was shot down and spent the remainder of the war as a prisoner of the Third Reich.

After his return to the US, Fitch opened an MG car dealership and began a racing career that spanned more than 40 years. In 1953, Fitch competed in many European races and was named "Sports Car Driver of the Year" by Speed Age magazine. In 1954 Fitch began driving for the all-powerful Mercedes-Benz team along with some of the greatest drivers of the era including Juan Manuel Fangio, Karl Kling, and Stirling Moss, composing what some have called the most formidable racing team ever. 

But not before his personal involvement as a it-coulda-been-me bystander in the most horrific accident in racing history: 
In 1955, Fitch competed in the 24 Heures du Mans where he was paired with Pierre Levegh in a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR. He was in the pits when, with Levegh at the wheel, the 300 SLR was involved in a tragic crash that killed Levegh and more than 80 spectators. The incident sparked his lifelong interest in safety innovations for racing and highways.

As the car somersaulted into the stands, the hood spun off and decapitated spectators among much other carnage. Here's a two minute newsreel showing the magnesium-bodied SLR 300, the racing version of the legendary gull-wing doors sports car, burning like a torch in the grandstand.

In response, Fitch began inventing ways to make roads safer, founding Impact Attenuation Inc. During WWII, he's used trash cans full of sand to protect his tent from strafing by German planes, so he adapted that idea to roads.

Jon Fitch, like an awful lot of people whose lives have been saved by Fitch Barriers, is still alive.