August 7, 2010

The Tyranny of Guilt

From a review by Eric Kaufman in the fine British magazine Prospect of French intellectual Pascal Bruckner's The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism:
There is more, too, to be said about guilt itself. Could it be that making guilty noises signals sophistication and status, with the high priests of the left earning psychic wages equivalent to bankers’ bonuses? Or, given the collapse of ideology, are we witnessing a new form of spontaneous guilt, where ideas such as socialism give way to knee-jerk impulses like “my comfort makes me guilty.”

Personally, I don't think we need particularly sophisticated psychological theories about "white guilt." I haven't noticed many people particularly wracked by personal guilt over race. Instead, it's more an effective tool for people to get what they want from other people, money, power, admiration, or to reassure themselves that they are better than other people. For lots of people, the mentality of white guilt is simply the substance in which they swim, and they are no more inclined to stop and think about it than a fish thinks about water.

Which brings us to yet another Associated Press article, this one from mid-day Saturday, carefully sifting for evidence for the role of white racism in causing the Manchester Massacre.

The Associated Press delivers to its subscribers plain-vanilla news reporting from its reporters across the country, so these articles represent how plain vanilla journalists perceive how they are supposed to think in 21st Century America. These articles display the conceptual water in which these fish thoughtlessly swim.

Although the evidence dredged up so far appears to have been in the stupid and resentful mind of a thieving mass murderer, he was a black stupid and resentful thieving mass murderer, so attention must be paid. 
NEW HAVEN, Conn. — To those closest to him, Omar Thornton was caring, quiet and soft-spoken. He was excited to land a well-paying job at a beer delivery company a few years ago and his longtime girlfriend says they talked of marrying and having children.

But underneath, Thornton seethed with a sense of racial injustice for years that culminated in a shooting rampage Tuesday in which the Connecticut man killed eight and wounded two others at his job at Hartford Distributors in Manchester before killing himself.

"I know what pushed him over the edge was all the racial stuff that was happening at work," said his girlfriend, Kristi Hannah. ...

Thornton, who grew up in the Hartford area, complained about racial troubles on the job long before he worked at Hartford Distributors.

"He always felt like he was being discriminated (against) because he was black," said Jessica Anne Brocuglio, his former girlfriend. "Basically they wouldn't give him pay raises. He never felt like they accepted him as a hard working person."

One time Thornton had a confrontation with a white co-worker who used a racial slur against him, she said. Thornton changed jobs a few times because he was not getting raises, Brocuglio said.

"I'm sick of having to quit jobs and get another job because they can't accept me," she said he told her.

Brocuglia, who said she dated Thornton until eight years ago, said Thornton helped her become a certified nursing aide. She said he never drank or smoked and remained calm, even when she would yell or grab him.

"He was such a caring person," said Brocuglia, who is white. "He showed me so much love. He was like a teddy bear."

Brocuglio's sister, Toni, said Thornton would come home and say co-workers called him racial slurs. He was also upset by comments made by passers-by about the interracial couple, she said.

"He just didn't understand why people had so much hatred in their lives," Toni Brocuglio said.

Brocuglio said Thornton put her family up in a hotel after a fire at her house and was "like a second dad" to her children.

"Omar was the best man I ever met in my life," Brocuglio said.

Thornton ran into his own troubles a decade ago when he filed for bankruptcy protection.

His debts were discharged in 2001 and the case was closed.

Around that time, Thornton was hired as a driver with Chemstation New England, a chemical company in South Windsor. But he was let go after 10 months, unable to master the mechanical skills involved handling the equipment, said Bruce LeFebvre, the owner.

"He was a real nice kid when he was with us," LeFebvre said. "Certainly I would never have expected anything like this from him."

... Thornton and his mother were especially excited when Barack Obama was elected the first African American president, Hannah said. He listed Obama and the gun range among his interests on his Facebook page.

But Hannah said he showed her cell phone photos of racist graffiti in the bathroom at the beer company and overheard a company official using a racial epithet in reference to him, but a union representative did not return his phone calls. Police said they recovered the phone and forensics experts would examine it.

"Nothing else bothered him except these comments he would make about them doing the racial things to him," Hannah said. 

Attention Must Be Paid, Part VI

It's not over until the press says it's over. From the Associated Press on Friday afternoon:
HARTFORD, Conn. — The man who fatally shot eight co-workers at a Connecticut beer distributor told a 911 operator before he killed himself that he was avenging racism.

Omar Thornton's employer, his union and the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities all say there has never been a formal racism complaint against the Manchester company — from Thornton or anyone else.

State and Manchester police will not say whether Thornton's racism claims are figuring into their investigation of the shootings, which occurred early Tuesday when Thornton was confronted with video evidence he had stolen beer and was forced to resign.

Manchester police say they plan to have experts examine his cell phone, which was found in his car outside the Hartford Distributors warehouse.

His girlfriend, Kristi Hannah, said Thornton used his phone to photograph slurs and a noose scrawled in a company bathroom, though police will not say whether they are searching the phone specifically for those purported images. ...

The allegations have upset many friends and family members of the victims and the Hollander family, which owns Hartford Distributors and is well-regarded in greater Hartford.

... Some experts said Friday that, although nothing justifies Thornton's killing spree, the allegations of workplace racism should be investigated so they can either be dealt with or laid to rest.

"You have to investigate it," said employment lawyer Kelly Scott, adding that racial harassment in the workplace is often a crime.

"Any chance you have to make your workplace a better place, a safer place, you have to take it," Scott said. "If there are people who have these attitude problems or a problem dealing with other races, they should lose their jobs."

Dig 'em up and fire 'em is what I say. Shooting's not good enough for the likes of them.
Sharon Toomer, founder of the website, called it "an accountability issue."

"If he didn't (report harassment), that's great. He's just a nut case," she said. "If he did go and nobody did anything, then the company's hands are not clean."

Messages seeking comment about a potential investigation into Thornton's racism claims were left Friday for the Hartford State's Attorney's Office, the FBI's New Haven office, the chairman of the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, and for the president of the Connecticut NAACP.

On the federal side, a spokesman for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said the agency is barred by law from confirming or denying the existence of any discrimination investigation.

And the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which investigates whenever workplace fatalities occur, reviews compliance with federal workplace law, a spokesman said. Though it is investigating the shootings, OHSA'S jurisdiction is safety and health issues, not personnel issues, spokesman Edmund Fitzgerald said Friday.
Associated Press National Writer Jesse Washington in Philadelphia contributed to this report.

It sounds like there is zero news here, but the reporters are furiously dialing numbers of random agencies ("Hello Occupational Health and Safety Administration, wouldn't you say that white racism is bad for occupational health and safety?"), trying to keep the white racism story alive. Because that's what they are built to do. They are unstoppable white racism-sniffing out cyborgs from the future.

August 6, 2010

Morris Dees' Poverty Palace

The Montgomery Advertiser has a 60-photo lifestyle spread on "The home of Morris Dees and Susan Starr in Montgomery, Ala." Mr. Dees is, of course, the founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, and poverty has been very, very good to him, judging by the staggering amount of expensive bric-a-brac he and Ms. Starr have accumulated.

I'm not precisely sure what Morris' wife is wearing in this photo (Barbarella's coronation gown? Or, as a reader suggests, a shower curtain trimmed with fake fur?), but the caption reads "Susan Starr models a jacket she made in her studio at her home in Montgomery, Ala."

This shiny thing-a-mabob with the #20 on it is described as "A poolside rickshaw at the home of Morris Dees and Susan Starr in Montgomery, Ala," because nothing screams Equality! like a fancy rickshaw.

It would probably not occur to you to acquire what might possibly be a matador's outfit to hang next to the washstand in an office bathroom of your compound, but then you aren't the main man behind America's most lucrative poverty organization, now are you?

This white and beigeish picture is described as "Guest house living area at the home of Morris Dees and Susan Starr in Montgomery, Ala.," but the contents remain enigmatic. What exactly is on the coffee table? A nest of writhing snakes? A ton of old horseshoes? And what's that spherical object behind the fuzzy couch? A giant ball of twine?

And then there's this objet d'art. I wonder how much hate Morris had to spew and foment to get the donations to pour in to pay for that?

For some reason, the article accompanying the 60 pictures seems to have largely vanished, but it began:
Mediterranean living: Couple’s renovated showplace reflects owners’ world travels, varied tastes

It is hard to believe the home Susan Starr and Morris Dees purchased upon their marriage 11 years ago was once a very small cottage originally built in 1923.

Nah, by this point, I can believe anything about Morris.

"Attention Must Be Paid"

I have a post up on the blog that begins:
In various blog posts about the Connecticut Massacre (here, here, here, and here), I’ve quoted at length from a half dozen news articles giving the “he said / she said” two sides of the story about whether the nine middle-aged white men murdered by Omar Thornton, the Connecticut truckdriver who went on a racial rampage after being fired for stealing and selling his deliveries, were white racists.

The press has industriously reported both sides of the story, graciously allowing the white survivors chances to defend their murdered friends and relatives from charges of racism. For example, the AP made sure to include quotes from friends of the murder victims defending the murder victims:
“Craig, who was active as a coach in town with all kids — all races of kids — for years, he didn’t care. He just worked with the kids,” Ted Jenny said. “There was no way Craig Pepin was racist.”

Of course, in 21st Century America, who would believe the friend of an accused white racist? What kind of sick, twisted person is this Ted Jenny, who was friends with a man accused of white racism?

Granted, in this particular allegation, the accuser was a thieving mass murderer. But, as we can see from all the column inches devoted to Thornton’s allegations, the point is that he was a black thieving mass murderer. So, attention must be paid.
Sure, Omar Thornton was the worst black person in America, but ... he was black! Hence, this media inquiry and hence the very earnest responses to Thornton's charges by the white survivors.

And that’s one major lesson of the bizarre news coverage of the Connecticut Massacre ...

Read the whole thing there and comment upon it here.

August 5, 2010

What's a hate crime?

Here's the beginning of the transcript of Omar Thornton's 911 call:
Dispatcher: State Police.

Thornton: Yeah, this 911?

Dispatcher: Yeah, can I help you?

Thornton: This is Omar Thornton, the, uh, the shooter over in Manchester.

Dispatcher: Yes, where are you, sir?

Thornton: I'm in the building. Uh, you probably want to know the reason why I shot this place up. This place here is a racist place.

Dispatcher: Yup, I understand that

Thornton: They treat me bad over here, and they treat all the other black employees bad over here too, so I just take it into my own hands and I handled the problem — I wish I coulda got more of the people.

If you go to Google News and type in:

you get this busy page and at least nine more like it

But, if you go to Google News and type in:


You get crickets chirping. To be exact, you get two links back, but both to public comments, not to reporting. If you type in:

"hate crime" manchester

You get those two comments, plus three more miscellaneous webpages that don't have anything to do with Omar Thorton shooting ten middle-aged white men and then explaining "the reason why I shot this place up. This place here is a racist place." After all, that can't be a hate crime. The first question that must be asked about whether something is a hate crime is always "Who? Whom?"

From the Associated Press:

ENFIELD, Conn. — A woman hiding under her desk tells an emergency dispatcher that a co-worker is in the midst of a shooting spree. The dispatcher presses for any information about the man.

"I don't know anything," the woman says, according to a 911 tape released Wednesday. "He's a tall black guy. He's like the only black guy that works here."

Family and friends say Omar Thornton was only too painfully aware of that distinction, as he claimed he was subjected to racial discrimination while working as a union driver at Hartford Distributors in Manchester. ...

A union official described Thornton as a dissatisfied worker whose first targets were the three people in his disciplinary meeting: Steve Hollander, 50, a member of the family that owns the company, who was shot twice but survived; Bryan Cirigliano, 51, president of Teamsters 1035 and Thornton's representative at the hearing; and Louis Felder, 50, who news reports described as the company's operations director.

Other victims were Doug Scruton, 56; Bill Ackerman, 51; Francis Fazio Jr., 57; Edwin Kennison, 49; Craig Pepin, 60; and Victor James, 60. Jerome Rosenstein, 77, was wounded and was in serious condition Wednesday at Hartford Hospital.

Friends and family of those who died said they couldn't imagine their loved ones discriminating against Thornton.
One driver who was killed, Kennison, had mentioned Thornton before but never in a derogatory way, said Mark McCorrison, a close friend. Kennison was not the type to make bigoted remarks, he said.

"I can tell you right now: Eddie is not that person," McCorrison said.

Pepin, also a driver, was never angry, let alone someone who showed any hint of racism or bigotry, said a neighbor who knew him for 25 years.

"Craig, who was active as a coach in town with all kids -- all races of kids -- for years, he didn't care. He just worked with the kids," Ted Jenny said. "There was no way Craig Pepin was racist."
The only complaint Thornton ever made to the union was when he asked to be promoted from an entry-level job to a driver, said Gregg Adler, a union lawyer. The union explained to him that because of seniority rules, he would have to wait his turn until a job opened up. Eventually it did, and he was promoted about a year ago, Adler said.

Michelle T. Johnson, a diversity consultant and former employment lawyer, said workers who face discrimination are often reluctant to file a formal complaint, even if the misconduct is serious.
"Once a person of color raises an issue of discrimination, the reaction they can get just makes it very stressful," she said.

It's never too early to discuss what should be done if evidence of white racism emerges in this investigation. Should the dead white racists be dug up and shot again? Or perhaps the grieving relatives of the late Mr. Thornton should get to shoot some of the relatives of the dead white racists who weren't nice to Mr. Thornton?

Breaking News!

More stunning revelations today from the ongoing investigation into white racism that is galvanizing the mainstream media. From the Associated Press:
Shooter in Conn. massacre claimed racism in call

By STEPHEN SINGER (AP) – 49 minutes ago

HARTFORD, Conn. — The man who went on a shooting rampage at a beer distributor calmly told a 911 operator that it was "a racist place" and that he had taken matters into his own hands to "handle the problem."

Omar Thornton, 34, called 911 after shooting 10 co-workers — eight fatally — on Tuesday morning at Hartford Distributors. He introduced himself as "the shooter over in Manchester" and said he was hiding in the building, but would not say where.

"You probably want to know the reason why I shot this place up," he said, his voice steady. "This place is a racist place. They treat me bad over here. They treat all the black employees bad over here, too.

"So I took into my own hands and handled the problem," he said. "I wish I could have got more of the people."

Connecticut State Police released the audio of the 911 call on Thursday, the same day company and union officials rebutted suggestions that the company had ignored Thornton's complaints of racism.

Thornton went on his rampage moments after he was forced to resign when confronted with videotaped evidence that he had been stealing beer and selling it.

His relatives and girlfriend had suggested his anger was fueled by racial bias in the workplace, but the 911 call confirmed Thornton believed he was avenging racist treatment.

Hartford Distributors president Ross Hollander said there was no record to support claims of "racial insensitivity" made through the internal anti-harassment policy, the union grievance process or state or federal agencies.

"Nonetheless, these ugly allegations have been raised and the company will cooperate with any investigation," Hollander said.

The union said 14 of 69 dock workers, or 20 percent, were racial minorities — four black, nine Hispanic, one Asian.

Clearly, we must drop everything and investigate these allegations of racism. The EEOC, for a start, should calculate whether this employment pattern violates their Four-Fifths Rule. If only Hartford Distributors had hired more blacks, this whole inappropriate event could have been avoided.

More Pavlovian News Analysis

Hartford Shooter: Clues in Workplace Violence Sprees
Humiliation Can Trigger Rage, Experts Say; Gunman Believed Racists Were Targeting Him

Aug. 4, 2010

The allegations of racial harassment that Omar Thornton told his family about may have been what finally sent him over the edge and on his fatal rampage, according to mental health experts. 

From NECN, a ComCast Network:
Shooter's girlfriend: Company should be held accountable for racism

(NECN) - Kristi Hannah, says her boyfriend Omar Thornton was harassed at work prior to this week's shootings.

Kristi spoke with NECN's Brian Burnell Thursday, but did not want her face shown.

"There were racial things being said to him, and there was drawings on the bathroom walls," says Hannah.

She said the drawings included a stick figure hanging, and racial slurs. She says he had called his union rep two times, and never got a call back. ...

She said she is speaking out because, she wants, "everybody to know that Budweiser should be held accountable for the racism stuff.

I'm not just cherrypicking absurd news stories. This is a sizable theme of the coverage. The MSM is trying to get to the bottom of this pressing issue of whether white racism led this guy to shoot eight people. From CNN just one hour ago on Thursday afternoon, we learn that the answer to the burning question of whether we can blame this unfortunate incident on the scourge of white racism is, so far, no:
Company says Connecticut gunman never filed race complaint
By the CNN Wire Staff

Story Highlights:
    * NEW: Company president said no racial complaints were filed
    * Omar Thornton brought two guns with him in a lunch box, police say
    * Authorities believe at least some of the victims were targeted
    * Thornton's girlfriend says he was racially harassed at work

(CNN) -- The president of a Connecticut beverage distributor said Thursday a man who went on a shooting rampage this week never filed a claim alleging racial discrimination.

The girlfriend of Omar Thornton, who killed eight people and then himself, told CNN that he was being racially harassed at work.

But Ross Hollander, whose family owns Hartford Distributors, said there were no grievances filed with the company or Thornton's union.

"I can state to you unequivocally no racism claim was ever alleged," Hollander said at a news conference. "Nevertheless, these ugly allegations have been raised and the company will cooperate with any investigation."

Kristi Hannah, Omar Thornton's girlfriend, said he first told her about racial harassment at work last summer.

Hannah said her mother told Thornton to take pictures of the alleged harassment with his cell phone. He took two pictures in the men's bathroom at work, she said. She described one as his name written on a cartoon, and the other as a drawing of a hangman with a noose around its neck. Connecticut state police have the phone.

Hannah's mother, Joanne Hannah, said she had heard of the cell phone photos. She said Thornton heard a co-worker say he "wanted that n****r out of there." She said Thornton told his girlfriend he had reported harassment to a company supervisor and a union representative, but nothing was done about it.

"There is nothing on record of any complaints from Omar, and there had been no disciplinary actions with him prior to this," said Chris Roos, secretary and treasurer of Teamsters Local 1035.

Manchester, Connecticut, police have said they have found no evidence of racial discrimination.

While I'm glad to see that the police are devoting time to this crucial question, we must always ask: Is absence of evidence truly evidence of absence of white racism as the cause of the recent unpleasantness?

P.S. I can't find from "Google News" any references to:
Hartford "hate crime"

"Crossing Over"

Like most people, I totally missed the Weinstein Brothers' Crash-like undocumented worker movie Crossing Over. It stars Harrison Ford as a heroically conscience-stricken border control officer, scary-looking Ray Liotta as an evil conservative, Ashley Judd as a nice white lady, and Cliff Curtis from New Zealand as, of course, some kind of Middle Easterner and/or Hispanic. It was directed by Wayne Kramer, an immigrant from South Africa. 

When it came out in 2009, it reaped less than $500,000 at the box office. To understand the chasm between what the Weinsteins think the public thinks and what the public actually thinks, you must watch its trailer.

Mark Twain: "Concerning the Jews"

I had never seen until very recently this fascinating article "Concerning the Jews" from the March 1898 issue of Harper's by Mark Twain. Twain wrote it during the 18 months he spent in Vienna, where his daughter was receiving advanced musical training. Twain entered actively into the quite Jewish intellectual life of the Austro-Hungarian capital, met Freud and other local luminaries, was annoyed by the low-level anti-Semitism of Central Europe at the time, and consequently urged Jews to organize politically.

Twain ventured a vague proto-version of the Cochran-Harpending theory of the evolution of Jewish intelligence:
In all the ages Christian Europe has been obliged to curtail his activities. If he entered upon a mechanical trade, the Christian had to retire from it. If he set up as a doctor, he was the best one, and he took the business. If he exploited agriculture, the other farmers had to get at something else. Since there was no way to successfully compete with him in any vocation, the law had to step in and save the Christian from the poor-house. ...

Trade after trade was taken away from the Jew by statute till practically none was left. He was forbidden to engage in agriculture; he was forbidden to practise law; he was forbidden to practise medicine, except among Jews; he was forbidden the handicrafts. Even the seats of learning and the schools of science had to be closed against this tremendous antagonist.

Still, almost bereft of employments, he found ways to make money, even ways to get rich. Also ways to invest his takings well, for usury was not denied him. In the hard conditions suggested, the Jew without brains could not survive, and the Jew with brains had to keep them in good training and well sharpened up, or starve. Ages of restriction to the one tool which the law was not able to take from him - his brain - have made that tool singularly competent; ages of compulsory disuse of his hands have atrophied them, and he never uses them now. 

Twain downplays religious theories explaining anti-Semitism in favor of business competition theories.

Twain was an enthusiastic capitalist himself (although he tended to lose money at his many business ventures), an admirer of capitalists (e.g., A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court), and a critic as well (e.g., The Gilded Age).

His retelling of the famous Chapter XLVII in Genesis about what Joseph, great grandson of Abraham, did as the servant of the pharaoh after his dream of the seven fat and seven lean years is stunning to me in the how-stupid-of-me-not-to-have-thought-of-that mode. Twain recounts it from the perspective of a 19th Century observer of robber baron maneuvering to corner markets:
In this connection I call to mind Genesis, chapter xlvii. We have all thoughtfully - or unthoughtfully - read the pathetic story of the years of plenty and the years of famine in Egypt, and how Joseph, with that opportunity, made a corner in broken hearts, and the crusts of the poor, and human liberty - a corner whereby he took a nation's money all away, to the last penny; took a nation's livestock all away, to the last hoof; took a nation's land away, to the last acre; then took the nation itself, buying it for bread, man by man, woman by woman, child by child, till all were slaves; a corner which took everything, left nothing; a corner so stupendous that, by comparison with it, the most gigantic corners in subsequent history are but baby things, for it dealt in hundreds of millions of bushels, and its profits were reckonable by hundreds of millions of dollars, and it was a disaster so crushing that its effects have not wholly disappeared from Egypt to-day, more than three thousand years after the event.

Is it presumable that the eye of Egypt was upon Joseph the foreign Jew all this time? I think it likely. Was it friendly? We must doubt it. Was Joseph establishing a character for his race which would survive long in Egypt? and in time would his name come to be familiarly used to express that character - like Shylock's? It is hardly to be doubted.

Let us remember that this was centuries before the crucifixion. 

Twain continues:
Religious prejudices may account for one part of [anti-Semitism], but not for the other nine. Protestants have persecuted Catholics, but they did not take their livelihoods away from them. The Catholics have persecuted the Protestants with bloody and awful bitterness, but they never closed agriculture and the handicrafts against them. Why was that? That has the candid look of genuine religious persecution, not a trade-union boycott in a religious disguise.

The Jews are harried and obstructed in Austria and Germany, and lately in France; but England and America give them an open field and yet survive. Scotland offers them an unembarrassed field too, but there are not many takers. There are a few Jews in Glasgow, and one in Aberdeen; but that is because they can't earn enough to get away. The Scotch pay themselves that compliment, but it is authentic. 

In the days of Andrew Carnegie and many others, the Scots were among the most dynamic people on earth.

It's an insightful article by a sympathetic gentile. I strongly doubt anything similar could be published in Harper's today, though.

August 4, 2010

Elena Kagan's brother's school melts down over quotas

I'm often accused of being obsessed with race, but the truth is, I'm amused by race. It's my field of professional expertise. I've been following it at an intellectual level since 1972, and, frankly, I've seen it all before. The same patterns keep playing out over and over, just on a larger and larger scale due to demographic changes.

On the other hand, when I read the New York Times, I notice that an awful lot of other people actually are emotionally obsessed by race. See, I've tried to learn about race, so nothing much surprises me anymore. But, if you are good person, however, you don't learn, so that makes your life much more surprising!

Here's a new NYT story about the elite NYC public high school from which Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan graduated and where her mother taught and where her brother teaches. They're having yet another crisis over race. Kagan's brother was apparently involved in mounting a coup attempt against the principal's boss, who didn't want quotas. (Maybe somebody should have asked Elena Kagan about whether she was for or against quotas at her old high school? Nah, that would have been Too Interesting.)

Of course, this story is unfolding in a predictable, ho-hum fashion: there's a fancy NYC public high school that requires applicants to take an objective exam. Asians are coming to dominate the school, and some people are demanding quotas for blacks and Hispanics because otherwise "you must believe that the Upper West Side, Bayside and Flushing are intrinsically more intelligent than the South Bronx, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Washington Heights."

It's the same old, same old.

But, to the people involved at the school, they're acting as if it's the most unique and flabbergasting events in the history of the world.
Kagan’s High School in Turmoil Over Diversity and Leadership

With one of its alumna, Elena Kagan, poised for confirmation as a justice on the Supreme Court, it should be a triumphant season for Hunter College High School, a New York City public school for the intellectually gifted.

But instead, the school is in turmoil, with much of the faculty in an uproar over the resignation of a popular principal, the fourth in five years. In her departure speech to teachers in late June, the principal cited several reasons for her decision, including tensions over a lack of diversity at the school, which had been the subject of a controversial graduation address the day before by one of the school’s few African-American students.

Hours after the principal’s address, a committee of Hunter High teachers that included Ms. Kagan’s brother, Irving, read aloud a notice of no confidence to the president of Hunter College, who ultimately oversees the high school, one of the most prestigious public schools in the nation.

The events fanned a long-standing disagreement between much of the high school faculty and the administration of Hunter College over the use of a single, teacher-written test for admission to the school, which has grades 7 through 12. Faculty committees have recommended broadening the admissions process to include criteria like interviews, observations or portfolios of student work, in part to increase minority enrollment and blunt the impact of the professional test preparation undertaken by many prospective students.

Eliminating the test, essentially unchanged for decades, is not on the table, said John Rose, the dean for diversity at Hunter College, in part because it is an integral part of a school with a stellar college admissions profile — about 25 percent of graduates are admitted to Ivy League schools — and outstanding alumni like Ms. Kagan and Ruby Dee.

Actress Ruby Dee graduated from this high school pre-Pearl Harbor, so Hunter High doesn't appear exactly to be keeping up with today's youth.
... As has happened at other prestigious city high schools with only a test for admission, the black and Hispanic population at Hunter has fallen in recent years. In 1995, the entering seventh-grade class was 12 percent black and 6 percent Hispanic, according to state data. This past year, it was 3 percent black and 1 percent Hispanic; the balance was 47 percent Asian and 41 percent white, with the other 8 percent of students classified as multiracial. The school system as a whole is 70 percent black and Hispanic.

When Justin Hudson, 18, stood up in his purple robes to address his class in the auditorium of Hunter College, those numbers were on his mind. He opened by praising the school and explaining how appreciative he was to have made it to that moment.

Then he shocked his audience. “More than anything else, I feel guilty,” Mr. Hudson, who is black and Hispanic, told his 183 fellow graduates. “I don’t deserve any of this. And neither do you.”

They had been labeled “gifted,” he told them, based on a test they passed “due to luck and circumstance.” Beneficiaries of advantages, they were disproportionately from middle-class Asian and white neighborhoods known for good schools and the prevalence of tutoring.

“If you truly believe that the demographics of Hunter represent the distribution of intelligence in this city, then you must believe that the Upper West Side, Bayside and Flushing are intrinsically more intelligent than the South Bronx, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Washington Heights, and I refuse to accept that.” 
The entire faculty gave him a standing ovation, as did about half the students. ...

In a sense, Mr. Hudson’s message came from the faculty. To ease the pressure on its students, the school does not name a valedictorian; instead, it invites seniors to write graduation speeches and a faculty committee selects one to be read. This year, it chose Mr. Hudson’s, to his surprise.
The day after the speech, Dr. Coppola, a Harvard-trained urban education expert in her first job as a principal, told the staff on June 25 that she was leaving, making it clear that she did not want to. She cited a “culture of fear” from above and “untenable working conditions,” several faculty members present said.

Apparently, Harvard-training in urban education didn't prepare her for reality.

Anyway, on and on the story goes.

What else is new? Whaddaya whaddaya?

The main thing that has changed since 1972 is the scale. Scale matters.

Did the Hartford Massacre victims have it coming?

Inquiring minds in the MSM want to know!

From the Christian Science Monitor:
Is racism at heart of Connecticut shooting? Answer still unclear.

The Connecticut shooting Tuesday, in which nine people died at Hartford Distributors – including the suspected shooter – comes at a time of heightened racial tension in the US.

By Patrik Jonsson, Staff writer / August 4, 2010

In a phone call to his mom after in the early hours of Tuesday morning, the man suspected of shooting eight of his co-workers at Hartford Distributors in Manchester, Conn., reportedly said, "I killed the five racists that were bothering me." Then he took his own life.

The deaths at the beer distributor plant is the largest-scale workplace shooting since the killing of 13 people at Fort Hood last year.

Union officials claim that there's no record of the alleged shooter, Omar Thornton, making any official complaints about racism. Company spokesmen deny that employees harbored racist views.

But the suggestion that racism led Mr. Thornton to kill eight of his coworkers comes during a summer when race has often been at the front of the American conversation – from allegations against the "tea party" movement to the saga of Shirley Sherrod.

Reports indicate that, to Thornton at least, race was an issue at Hartford Distributors. He told friends and relatives that coworkers had scrawled racist epithets on a bathroom wall and a hung a stick-figure effigy in a miniature noose.

From the New York Times:
... On Wednesday, Mr. Thornton’s girlfriend expanded on claims he was motivated by anger and frustration at what she said was the racist treatment he was subjected to at the company.

Officials with the union that represents workers at plant said Mr. Thornton never mentioned racial harassment but had indeed grown frustrated a year ago at the fact that he had not risen to become a driver of the company’s delivery trucks, and that the local union president, Bryan Cirigliano, had successfully worked to secure that promotion for him.

“Our understanding is Bryan intervened,” union attorney Gregg Adler, said, adding that Mr. Cirigliano “assisted in getting him that training and he got the training and he became a driver, which is a preferred job for some people.”...

Kristi Hannah, his longtime girlfriend, tried again to largely blame Mr. Thornton’s bosses and union representatives for the massacre because of what she described as racist behavior and a refusal to deal with his repeated complaints about it.

Ms. Hannah, 26, wept on the front porch of her mother’s two-story house in the working class town of Enfield as she described Mr. Thornton’s problems.

She said that last fall Mr. Thornton called her from the men’s room at the plant to let her hear his boss and a colleague he identified as a union representative say they were going to get rid of him, using a racial slur. Ms. Hannah said she could hear the comments clearly because of how they echoed in the bathroom. She said that even though Mr. Thornton brought the case to his union representative several times, the union never followed up.

“I know they pushed them; they did this to him,” Ms. Hannah said. “I know what was said, and I know it was very hurtful, and I know it bothered him a lot.”

She added that Mr. Thornton’s frustration with his job had been growing for many reasons. He had been frustrated by the inability to quickly become a driver; she said workers filled his truck with so many deliveries that he often worked much later than his co-workers, sometimes until 1:30 a.m. One longtime driver at the company, however, said it was normal for the newest drivers to get the worst and longest shifts.

Ms. Hannah’s brother, Ryan Conway, 13, echoed his sister’s sentiments. “Omar was a great guy,” Ryan said. “This thing was brought on by people who don’t treat each other as equals.”

At a news conference outside the Local 1035 union hall a few blocks from the warehouse, a union lawyer, Gregg Adler, and its secretary-treasurer, Christopher Roos, said the shootings had struck at the heart of a small, tight-knit union. “We have 70 employees,” Mr. Adler said. “We lost 10 percent of our members.”

Mr. Adler dismissed the accusations of racism, saying Mr. Thornton had never filed any complaints with the union, nor did he know of any complaints filed by other employees.

“The allegations were news to us,” he said. Mr. Adler said Mr. Thornton appeared to have targeted those who were at his disciplinary meeting. “The other people were at the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said. ...

Mr. Thornton’s family, after spending much of Tuesday defending him, avoided reporters on Wednesday.

Wilbert Holliday, Mr. Thornton’s uncle, said that only Mr. Thornton’s mother would speak in the future, and that she would decide when the moment was right. “We’re all victims here,” Mr. Holliday said.

Omar Thornton: "I Killed the Five Racists"

MANCHESTER, Conn. (CBS/WFSB/AP) Family members say Omar Thornton, the man suspected in the Tuesday morning massacre at Hartford Distributors, was a quiet, hard-working man who wasn't a violent person, but was pushed to the breaking point by harassment at work.

Thornton's mother, who lives in East Hartford, said she received a phone call from him shortly after 7 a.m. Tuesday.

According to CBS affiliate WFSB, she says he told her he had shot several people at the beer distribution plant where he worked, and that he planned to take his own life. She said she spent 10 minutes trying to talk to her son, pleading with him to change his mind, but she said she couldn't.

Minutes later, Thornton was dead.

"He said, 'I killed the five racists that was there bothering me,'" said Will Holliday, Thornton's uncle. "He said, 'That's it. The cops are going to come in so I'm going to take care of it myself.'"

Holliday said Thornton had been complaining to relatives that in the several years he worked at Hartford Distributors he was confronted with blatant racism.

Holliday said, "He had some instances of racism at the company. They were hanging nooses in the bathroom and writing stuff like that. They were singling him out because he was the only black person there in that area."

Thornton's family said he had taken pictures of the threats and said they believe he just snapped Tuesday morning.

They said they expressed condolences to the families of the victims, but they said they were mourning, too.

"This all could have been avoided," Holliday said. "He went to the Union a couple of times with issues concerning what was going on, and it was not dealt with appropriately."

By the way, this reminds me of my 2002 UPI article that began:
More than a few members of Europe's political establishment appear to believe that Pim Fortuyn -- the frank anti-immigration Dutch politician who was assassinated Monday, allegedly by a leftist activist -- had it coming.

Racism, Schmacism Illustrated, Part 2

My old pal Dave Weigel continues his series on Slate today filling in more examples to illustrate themes in James Edwards' book Racism, Schmacism, which I reviewed for on Sunday

On Sunday, I wrote:
But, in general, conservatives fatally remain vulnerable to panic over accusations of racism. Edwards points out a recurrent weakness of conservative organizations:
"In a futile attempt to pander to blacks and get the media to stop calling them ‘racists,’ they elevate just about any black person that shows up to a position of prominence. As soon as they come on board, the white leadership starts promoting them in the vain hopes the movement won’t get called racist, which never works.”

Michael Steele, the inept chairman of the Republican National Committee, is only the most obvious example of this. Edwards writes:
“Then the black ‘conservatives’ start talking about how the Democrats are the real racists who want to keep blacks on the liberal plantation, etc., etc., etc., and before you know it, the whole movement has been derailed, and the focus turns to how the other guys are more racist than we are, and we’re better for blacks than the liberals are, etc.”

In Slate today -- after explaining yesterday about how if Republicans were to cite the concurrent corruption trials in the House of two famous House Democrats, Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters, the first House trials of sitting members since the 1980s, it would be racist -- Weigel writes:
Black Tea
African-American conservatives explain that the only racists are those who worry about race-based prejudice.
By David Weigel

Posted Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2010, at 7:26 PM ET

When the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People introduced a resolution calling on the Tea Party movement to "condemn extremist elements," I wondered what possible good it would do. How might it help liberals who felt frustrated, increasingly, that their attacks on "racism" in the new conservative movement were never taken seriously?

The resolution didn't do much for the NAACP, but it did plenty for liberals. Three weeks later, after the Shirley Sherrod mess, and after the implosion of Mark Williams, spokesman for the Sacramento-based Tea Party Express, conservatives are still bristling at the charge of Tea Party "racism." On Wednesday morning, Williams' old organization organized a two-and-a-half-hour event at the National Press Club in order to rebut the charge the best way it knew how—with a chorus line of black conservatives attacking anyone who dared call the Tea Party racist.

Of course, Alan Keyes was there. After all, what's a more proven winning tactic for Republicans than rolling out Alan Keyes? Just ask Illinois state senator Barack Obama (D-Hyde Park) who thought he had the U.S. Senate seat wrapped up in 2004 until the canny GOP unleashed current U.S. Senator Alan Keyes (IL-R) on him.

Back in the Fifties, the GOP slogan was "Unleash Chiang" (referring to that unstoppable military juggernaut Chiang Kai-Shek, by then huddling on Formosa 200 miles offshore behind the U.S. Navy). In this century, the GOP motto is "Unleash Keyes."

(Personally, I liked George H.W. Bush's peptalk to himself while playing tennis: "Unleash Chang!" It was a tribute to 1989 French Open Champ Michael Chang.)

August 3, 2010

South-Central's serial killers

Here's a horrifying story from the Los Angeles Times about South-Central LA in 1984-1994 (recently renamed South LA to shed some memories):
Multiple killers, more than 100 victims
By Scott Gold and Andrew Blankstein
During a 10-year period beginning in 1984, several serial killers operated in South Los Angeles, all of them targeting young, poor, African American women.

... The recent arrest of another man accused of being a serial killer active in that era, Lonnie David Franklin Jr. — allegedly the long-sought Grim Sleeper — prompted jubilation and noisy public pronouncements. The celebrations served to obscure, once again, a terrible truth about South Los Angeles: During a 10-year period beginning in 1984, multiple serial killers operated there, all of them targeting young, poor, African American women.

All told, between 1984 and 1993, more than 100 women, almost all African American, were killed by men targeting more than one victim in South L.A. and the surrounding neighborhoods, police say. So far, police have positively linked 30 of those deaths to five men:

Franklin, 57, has been charged with 10 counts of murder. Turner, 43, is on death row after raping and strangling 10 women, one of whom was six months pregnant. Louis Craine was convicted of strangling four women between 1984 and 1987; he later died in prison, at 31. Michael Hughes, 54, was accused of killing eight, four in South L.A. and nearby Inglewood. And Daniel Lee Seibert confessed to killing 13 across the United States, two of them in South L.A.; he died in prison, at 53, in 2008.

Biological evidence suggests that at least two more men, who have not been apprehended, were each responsible for at least four more deaths, officials said. That would mean at least seven serial killers were preying on women in the same neighborhood at roughly the same time.

During the years in which they were active, the South Los Angeles killers never earned the noir nicknames of the region's other infamous killers — the Night Stalker, the Hillside Strangler.

Those other crimes were notorious sagas that gained national attention and had parts of the metropolis in a state of panic. By contrast, few people in South L.A., including parents of victims, were even aware of a serial killer operating in their neighborhood — much less five or more. While the more publicized cases had distinctive hallmarks, in South L.A. there were so many people being killed, almost all of them from the margins of society, that it was difficult for neighbors or police to pinpoint any patterns.

The rapes and murders of dozens of young women were, effectively, lost in the crime wave.

"Could you imagine — more than 100 women killed and nobody notices?" said Margaret Prescod, who founded an organization 24 years ago to press for a more aggressive response to the killings and now hosts a radio show. "Could you imagine it in Beverly Hills? Palos Verdes?"

This reminds me of a theory I've been noodling with: that the domino-like impetus for much of the recent Housing Bubble/Bust began, more than anywhere else, in the LA Basin south of the Santa Monica Freeway. A lot of people who were already there were trying hard to get out (for reasons readily understandable from this article) and a lot of people in other countries were trying hard to get in.

In the very long run, the gentrification of South-Central LA will be a huge deal -- the climate is too nice for it not to happen someday. (Financial Warning: Someday may not come until after you are broke.)

Pre-Emptive Accusations of Racism

In Slate, Dave Weigel engages in one of the funnier rituals of modern day politics: the pre-emptive accusation of racism:
Will the GOP play the race card on Rangel and Waters?

By David Weigel

The commercial that keeps Democrats up at night does not exist yet. If or when it does, they expect it to look like this.

Fade-in to black-and-white image of Rep. Whiteguy Bluedog, looking sleazy and pale as he messily eats a sandwich.

NARRATOR: What is your congressman trying to hide?

Images of Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., and Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., appear behind the congressman, looking just as sleazy, but much less pale.

NARRATOR: Why hasn't he returned the $1,000 he took from Harlem Democrat Charlie Rangel, who's facing a trial for cheating on his taxes? Why did he oppose investigating Democrat Maxine Waters, who got a tax break for her husband's business and says that American spies invented crack cocaine?

The images of Waters and Rangel fade and are replaced by slow-motion footage of two members of the New Black Panther Party, stalking outside of a polling place in 2008.

NARRATOR: Why did he support Barack Obama's lawyers when they dropped a case against the racist New Black Panther Party, a hate group that threatened voters in the last election?

The image of the Panthers fade, and the congressman morphs into Barack Obama.

NARRATOR: What is he trying to hide? Is there something about him we should know?

Since last week's double shot of rotten ethics news—the investigations into Rangel and Waters, both of whom refuse so far to settle—Democrats have contemplated two potential nightmares. The first is that Republicans will use the troubles of Rangel and Waters to try to depress the Democrats' African-American base, making them less likely to come to the rescue of endangered incumbents. The second is that Republicans will use the embattled committee chairs the way that they once used Willie Horton, as Halloween masks in TV ads.

"In 2006, the Democrats could have put out ads about Mark Foley, and it wouldn't have made a difference whether they used pictures of him or not," says Bob Shrum, a Democratic strategist for multiple presidential campaigns who now teaches at New York University and warns of Republican race-baiting in the weeks ahead. "In 2010, if Republicans put up photos of Rangel or Waters, they're putting them there to elicit another kind of response. That would be fear among white voters."

The Democratic angst comes, in part, because they know they're facing a whiter, older electorate this year than they faced in 2008. The electorate that put Obama into office and pulled in new, vulnerable Democrats was 74 percent white, and 53 percent were older than 45. In 2006, the last midterm election and a fine year for Democrats overall, the electorate was 79 percent white, and 63 percent were 45 or older. Will an older, whiter electorate in Nov. 2010 be susceptible to a racially-tinged message from the GOP?

Uh, oh, say well-trained Republican "strategists" as they read this, We'd better not criticize two of the most famous Democrats in the House ... because they're black. Also, we'd better not criticize the most famous Democrat in the country, because he's black, too. We wouldn't want to be like George H.W. Bush in 1988 and win. Heavens, no. It's so much nicer to be like John McCain in 2008 not mentioning Rev. Wright and lose.

"Racism, Schmacism: How Liberals Use the “R” Word to Push the Obama Agenda"

From my column in
In  George Orwell’s novel 1984, the Ministry of Truth was hard at work on the creation of  Newspeak, a new language to intended replace English by 2050. Orwell explained:
“The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc [English Socialism], but to make all other modes of thought impossible.”

Fortunately, Orwell’s novel was not itself written in Newspeak, because it would be hideously boring: “Ultimately it was hoped to make articulate speech issue from the larynx without involving the higher brain centers at all”.

Newspeak was carefully designed to make its speakers stupider:
“A heretical thought … should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words.”

And, of course, thought—at least thought of any complexity—is indeed highly dependent upon words, especially published words.

Words are central to political battles, not only because they are necessary for rational thought, but also because they can obliterate rational thought. They can take on emotional associations from past victories and defeats, developing magical, incantatory powers.

For example, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the term “un-American” was highly useful to politicians who wielded it.

Yet, today, it is seldom used by conservatives. Now, “un-American” is mostly a term used by liberals, who brandish it less as a logical contention than as a symbol of their triumph in the culture war over what is remembered about Communists in the U.S.

Here are some recent examples from Google News:
“Not only would removing birthright citizenship be cruel, it would also be fundamentally un-American” -- Ezra Klein of the Washington Post

“Most Democrats hailed the decision, saying Arizona's SB 1070 was ‘un-American and unconstitutional…’” -- Politico

“New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says it would be un-American to investigate a mosque that is planned for construction near where the World Trade Center once stood” -- AP

“Rangel: Resigning now would be un-American” -- The Hill

But in the Newspeak reigning in America today, no word has more totemic power to suppress rigorous thinking than “racism.”

The intellectual sophistication of today’s conventional thinking about race is at the Newspeak level. To label your opponent a racist is to declare him, in Newspeak's useful term, a “doubleplusungoodthinker.” And what more needs to be said? As Orwell put it:
“But the special function of certain Newspeak words, of which oldthink was one, was not so much to express meanings as to destroy them. … In Newspeak it was seldom possible to follow a heretical thought further than the perception that it was heretical: beyond that point the necessary words were nonexistent.”

To accuse someone of “racism” is no longer to express any particular conception, but instead merely to declare your victim a loser and yourself a winner.

Contemporary uses of the word “racism” are explored in the crisply-written new book Racism, Schmacism: How Liberals Use the “R” Word to Push the Obama Agenda by James Edwards, the young host of the weekly radio talk show The Political Cesspool. 

Read the whole thing there and comment upon it here.

"Get Low"

Get Low, a dramedy starring venerable elders Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, and Cissy Spacek, is promisingly based on a prime slab of Old, Weird Americana: the true 1938 story of an elderly hillbilly (played by Duvall) who hired an undertaker (Murray) to throw him a huge funeral before he died. The Southern period setting is reminiscent of two of the most imaginative films of the last decade: the Coen Brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Tim Burton’s Big Fish. Not surprisingly, Get Low has garnered 100 percent positive ratings among Top Critics on

Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter Alice said of her spotlight-loving father, “He wants to be the bride at every wedding, the corpse at every funeral, and the baby at every christening.” In this same spirit, the illiterate Tennessee codger Felix Bushaloo Breazeale decided to enjoy hearing his own eulogy.

Breazeale’s whim captured the fancy of the nation. Soon, he had a publicity agent and newspapers were treating the faux funeral like the biggest news in Tennessee since the Scopes Monkey Trial. About ten thousand people from 14 states swarmed the festivities. A two-mile long traffic jam left Uncle Bush late for his own funeral.

The “living corpse” savored every moment of the “doin’s and goin’s on,” chuckling “Folks, I’m tellin’ ya, this business of having your funeral before you die beats sparkin’ in a buggy.” Afterwards, he autographed fans’ programs with his “X.” The 74-year-old backwoodsman then went to New York and appeared on Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Radio Show, but reported back that big city “victuals weren’t worth a dern.” He lived on another half decade, entertaining his numerous visitors by having his mule (named “Mule”) perform tricks....

The 79-year-old Duvall is being talked up for a second Oscar, based, apparently, on the Commutative Property of Film Appreciation. See, last year Jeff Bridges got his first Oscar fpr Crazy Heart, another ornery coot movie in which Duvall played the best friend. So, this must be Duvall’s turn, right? He might indeed win for Get Low, because Duvall here delivers Acting for the Sake of Acting in the Oscar-grabbing tradition of Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman.

To find out whether Get Low is as good as it's cracked up to be, read the whole thing at Taki's and comment below.

Obama: African-Americans a "mongrel people"

From The Hill:
President Obama waded into the national race debate in an unlikely setting and with an unusual choice of words: telling daytime talk show hosts that African-Americans are “sort of a mongrel people.”

The president appeared on ABC’s morning talk show “The View” Thursday, where he talked about the forced resignation of Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod, his experience with race and his roots.
When asked about his background, which includes a black father and white mother, Obama said of African-Americans: "We are sort of a mongrel people."

"I mean we're all kinds of mixed up," Obama said. "That's actually true of white people as well, but we just know more about it." The president's remarks were directed at the roots of all Americans. The definition of mongrel as an adjective is defined as "of mixed breed, nature, or origin," according to

Obama did not appear to be making an inflammatory remark with his statement and the audience appeared to receive it in the light-hearted manner that often accompanies interviews on morning talk shows. 

This continues a theme that is central to Obama's self-conception, one emphasized as the Final Lesson in Dreams from My Father when Obama takes it to the point of absurdity by arguing that Africans in Africa aren't really 100% authentically African, so why can't he, who was brought up sequestered out in the Pacific Oceans thousands of miles from any black community, become a successful African-American leader through sheer desire to be a successful African-American leader? From my reader's guide to the President's memoir:
The Epilogue to Dreams from My Father begins after that graveside soliloquy with a less soggy but equally obtuse summing up that a novelist would have blue-penciled out of his first draft. The Epilogue features a scene where, just before he leaves Kenya, Obama visits a wise old woman historian named Rukia Odera, who had known his father. Here is the Other Big Lesson of Obama’s Kenyan sojourn: 
I asked her why she thought black Americans were prone to disappointment when they visited Africa. … “Because they come here looking for the authentic,” she said. “That is bound to disappoint a person. Look at this meal we are eating. Many people will tell you that the Luo are a fish-eating people. But that was not true for all Luo. Only those who lived by the lake. And even for those Luo, it was not always true. Before they settled around the lake, they were pastoralists, like the Masai. … Kenyans are very boastful about the quality of their tea, you notice. But of course we got this habit from the English. … Then there’s the spices we used to cook this fish. They originally came from India, or Indonesia. So even in this simple meal, you will find it very difficult to be authentic—although the meal is certainly African.” ... I licked my fingers and washed my hands.

“But isn’t there anything left that is truly African?” “Ah, that’s the thing, isn’t it?” Rukia said. “There does seem to be something different about this place. I don’t know what it is. … Or maybe it is that we have known more suffering than most. Maybe it’s just the land. I don’t know. ...My daughter, ... her first language is not Luo. Not even Swahili. It is English. When I listen to her talk with her friends, it sounds like gibberish to me. They take bits and pieces of everything—English, Swahili, German, Luo. Sometimes, I get fed up with this. Learn to speak one language properly, I tell them.” Rukia laughed to herself. “But I am beginning to resign myself—there’s nothing really to do. They live in a mixed-up world. It’s just as well, I suppose. In the end, I‘m less interested in a daughter who’s authentically African than one who is authentically herself.” [pp. 433-434]

Obviously, the main reason “black Americans were prone to disappointment when they visited Africa” is not because Africa isn’t “authentic.” That’s just laughable. Granted, it’s too much to expect Obama to admit that the main reason African American tourists like him are prone to disappointment with Africa is because it is disappointing. They go hoping to see what the black man has accomplished without the white man holding him down, and, well ... (For an honest discussion, see the 1998 book Out of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa by Keith B. Richburg, who was the Washington Post’s Nairobi-based chief African correspondent from 1991-1994.)

Yet, why did Obama feel compelled to bring this question up and feature Rukia’s nonsensical answer so prominently as the Climactic Insight of His Life? Because her answer, ridiculous as it is, at least validates the central concern of Obama’s existence: to prove he’s black enough. If even Africans in Africa aren't authentic, as this learned African scholar says, then his being half-white and brought up in a wholly non-black environment doesn’t disqualify him from being a black leader.

He’s finally exorcizing the Black Muslim challenge he’s fretted over ever since reading the Autobiography of Malcolm X: that he lacks sufficient black-enoughness. So, take that, black nationalists! According to this African scholar, even Africans aren’t authentically African; therefore, Obama can be a leader of African-Americans!

With Obama, it’s always about Obama.


The Freudian concept of projection is pretty useful. For example, the Southern Poverty Law Center is constantly enraged about "hate" among white people. Yet the highest paid hate-stokers of the SPLC (whose initials, probably not coincidentally for purposes of fundraising, are easily confused with Martin Luther King's SCLC, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference) are about as white as their counterparts in the Ku Klux Klan, just much more lucratively compensated.

For pictures of the SPLC's highest paid employees, see Watching the Watchdogs.


Jonathan Haidt is one of the more interesting thinkers around. Here's the transcript of a general talk he gave on his work at an Edge conference called The New Science of Morality. He talks about two other articles that have helped instill some caution and humility in him:
So, the first article is called "The Weirdest People in the World," by Joe Henrich, Steve Heine and Ara Norenzayan, and it was published last month in BBS. And the authors begin by noting that psychology as a discipline is an outlier in being the most American of all the scientific fields. Seventy percent of all citations in major psych journals refer to articles published by Americans. In chemistry, by contrast, the figure is just 37 percent. This is a serious problem, because psychology varies across cultures, and chemistry doesn't.

So, in the article, they start by reviewing all the studies they can find that contrast people in industrial societies with small-scale societies. And they show that industrialized people are different, even at some fairly low-level perceptual processing, spatial cognition. Industrialized societies think differently.

The next contrast is Western versus non-Western, within large-scale societies. And there, too, they find that Westerners are different from non-Westerners, in particular on some issues that are relevant for moral psychology, such as individualism and the sense of self.

Their third contrast is America versus the rest of the West. And there, too, Americans are the outliers, the most individualistic, the most analytical in their thinking styles.

And the final contrast is, within the United States, they compare highly educated Americans to those who are not. Same pattern.
All four comparisons point in the same direction, and lead them to the same conclusion, which I've put here on your handout. I'll just read it. "Behavioral scientists routinely publish broad claims about human psychology and behavior based on samples drawn entirely from Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic societies."  The acronym there being WEIRD. "Our findings suggest that members of WEIRD societies are among the least representative populations one could find for generalizing about humans. Overall, these empirical patterns suggest that we need to be less cavalier in addressing questions of human nature, on the basis of data drawn from this particularly thin and rather unusual slice of humanity."

An awful lot of theories in evolutionary psychology, for instance, are tested by giving questionnaires to UC Santa Barbara students.
As I read through the article, in terms of summarizing the content, in what way are WEIRD people different, my summary is this: The WEIRDer you are, the more you perceive a world full of separate objects, rather than relationships, and the more you use an analytical thinking style, focusing on categories and laws, rather than a holistic style, focusing on patterns and contexts. ...

Computer programmers call this "object orientation."
Well, let's turn to the second article. It's called, "Why Do Humans Reason?  Arguments for an Argumentative Theory," by Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber. The article is a review of a puzzle that has bedeviled researchers in cognitive psychology and social cognition for a long time. The puzzle is, why are humans so amazingly bad at reasoning in some contexts, and so amazingly good in others?  ...

Why is the confirmation bias, in particular— this is the most damaging one of all—why is the confirmation bias so ineradicable?  That is, why do people automatically search for evidence to support whatever they start off believing, and why is it impossible to train them to undo that?  It's almost impossible. Nobody's found a way to teach critical thinking that gets people to automatically reflect on, well, what's wrong with my position?

And finally, why is reasoning so biased and motivated whenever self-interest or self-presentation are at stake?  Wouldn't it be adaptive to know the truth in social situations, before you then try to manipulate?

The answer, according to Mercier and Sperber, is that reasoning was not designed to pursue the truth. Reasoning was designed by evolution to help us win arguments. That's why they call it The Argumentative Theory of Reasoning. So, as they put it, and it's here on your handout, "The evidence reviewed here shows not only that reasoning falls quite short of reliably delivering rational beliefs and rational decisions. It may even be, in a variety of cases, detrimental to rationality. Reasoning can lead to poor outcomes, not because humans are bad at it, but because they systematically strive for arguments that justify their beliefs or their actions. This explains the confirmation bias, motivated reasoning, and reason-based choice, among other things."

That why I love the documentary on Sir Andrew Wiles proving Fermat's Last Theorem so much. I particularly like how in 1994 the publication referee Nick Katz devoted two months to reviewing, line by line, Wiles' first manuscript, finally finding a single error that threatened the whole edifice. And Wiles eventually agrees with Katz that his life's work is ruined. (Then, he spends a year before solving the problem, providing a happy ending.)

That ain't natural. Mathematics isn't exactly a social construction, but the culture of mathematicians is, and it's an impressive accomplishment of the human race.

Where did this culture of objective argument begin? The Greeks? The Babylonians before them? How did it get started?

August 2, 2010

Jim Manzi's new article

Jim Manzi, the marketing researcher turned social commentator (not the Jim Manzi who headed Lotus Development Corporation), has a book coming out. Here's a chapter  summarized in his City Journal article:
What Social Science Does—and Doesn’t—Know
Our scientific ignorance of the human condition remains profound.

Just like me, Jim is a marketing researcher turned pundit, so our thinking runs along the similar lines. As a test marketer, he wants to promote more rigorous experimentation in the social sciences, which is fine. 

However, being older, lazier, and stupider than Manzi, I've perhaps gotten a little farther toward grasping some simple underlying principles, since I'm not smart enough to get by without figuring them out. He writes:
Unlike physics or biology, the social sciences have not demonstrated the capacity to produce a substantial body of useful, nonobvious, and reliable predictive rules about what they study—that is, human social behavior, including the impact of proposed government programs ...

Another way of putting the problem is that we have no reliable way to measure counterfactuals—that is, to know what would have happened had we not executed some policy—because so many other factors influence the outcome. This seemingly narrow problem is central to our continuing inability to transform social sciences into actual sciences. Unlike physics or biology, the social sciences have not demonstrated the capacity to produce a substantial body of useful, nonobvious, and reliable predictive rules about what they study—that is, human social behavior, including the impact of proposed government programs.

The missing ingredient is controlled experimentation, which is what allows science positively to settle certain kinds of debates. How do we know that our physical theories concerning the wing are true? In the end, not because of equations on blackboards or compelling speeches by famous physicists but because airplanes stay up. Social scientists may make claims as fascinating and counterintuitive as the proposition that a heavy piece of machinery can fly, but these claims are frequently untested by experiment ...

That all sounds plausible, but I've been a social science stats geek since 1972, when the high school debate topic that year was education, so I'm aware that Manzi's implications are misleading.

First, while experiments are great, correlation studies of naturally occurring data can be extremely useful. Second, a huge number of experiments have been done in the social sciences.

Third, the social sciences have come up with a vast amount of knowledge that is useful, reliable, and nonobvious, at least to our elites.

For example, a few years, Mayor Bloomberg and NYC schools supremo Joel Klein decided to fix the ramshackle admissions process to the gifted schools by imposing a standardized test on all applicants. Blogger Half Sigma immediately predicted that the percentage of Asians and whites admitted would rise at the expense of blacks and Hispanics, which would cause a sizable unexpected political problem for Bloomberg and Klein. All that has come to pass.

This inevitable outcome should have been obvious to Bloomberg and Klein from a century of social science data accumulation, but it clearly was not obvious to them.

No, the biggest problem with social science research is not methodological; it’s that we just don’t like the findings. The elites of America don’t like what the social sciences have uncovered about, say, crime, education, discrimination, immigration, and so forth.

What we’ve learned are things like:

- IQ matters
- Race matters
– Sex matters
– Class matters
– Heredity matters
– Character matters
– Discipline matters

And, judging by what I read every day, the attitude of the dominant people in America toward this knowledge is mostly fear and loathing. Those who explain how to use the knowledge uncovered by the social sciences are routinely vilified. Men of outstanding character, heroes of the human sciences such as Charles Murray and Arthur Jensen are subjected to massive campaigns of demonization.

In reality, after a century of experimentation and analysis, we know an awful lot about several major human conditions, such as IQ. What we don’t know about IQ is how to intervene to reliably narrow racial gaps in average educational achievement (other than hitting Asian and white kids on the head with a ballpeen hammer).

Much the same is true regarding many other topics. Manzi's article gets better as he gets toward his conclusion:
First, few programs can be shown to work in properly randomized and replicated trials. …

Second, within this universe of programs that are far more likely to fail than succeed, programs that try to change people are even more likely to fail than those that try to change incentives.

And third, there is no magic. Those rare programs that do work usually lead to improvements that are quite modest, compared with the size of the problems they are meant to address or the dreams of advocates.

Given all that, you can readily arrive at my oft-repeated point of view, which is that the one potential government policy that is likely to have reliable major long term effects on social problems, for good or for bad, is immigration. Since government policies can seldom change people, government policy should select immigrants who will likely benefit the current citizens of the nation and keep out those who likely won’t. When you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is to stop digging.

This has been the philosophy of Canada’s immigration system for decades, and it has worked fairly well for them. Yet, advocates of a Canadian-style immigration policy philosophy for America are routinely subjected to Two-Minutes Hates in this country. Thus, social policy discourse in the U.S. makes much less progress than social science research.

Why movies are better than TV

You hear often these days about how continuous plotline television dramas, such as Mad Men, are better than movies. Their endless length allows for novelistic detailing, etc etc.

But one great thing about movies can be that they begin and then they end. Take The Hurt Locker. You meet some soldiers in Iraq who dismantle bombs for a living. That's pretty  interesting. But, after a couple of hours, even dismantling bombs is starting to get a little old. Suddenly, in five memorable minutes, it's over. Sgt. Will James comes home from Iraq, gets lost in the supermarket, talks to his baby son about why he loves his jack-in-the-box, and makes a decision about how he wants to live his life. Cue the Arab heavy metal and it's a wrap. 

Granted, Hollywood hates making movies that end, stand-alone movies that aren't origins stories for trilogies. But they still do make stand-alone movies. And even the Lord of the Rings trilogy is about an order of magnitude shorter than Mad Men will turn out to be.

Stand-alone movies are especially suited for romances: boy meets girls, boy loses girl, boy wins girl. They live, presumably, happily ever after. That's awfully appealing.

At the end of North by Northwest, for example, which, like Mad Men, is about a tall, dark, and handsome Madison Avenue advertising man with a confused identity, Cary Grant is about to fall from Abraham Lincoln's nose on Mt. Rushmore. Thirty seconds later, all plotlines are resolved and he's on his honeymoon with Eva Marie Saint. Now, that's an ending!

But, television series like Mad Men just go on and on, turning into soap operas. So, mostly what happens in a series like Mad Men as it gets long in the tooth is that, to keep up interest and please enthusiasts, everybody sleeps with everybody, which is yucky.

Now, I'm sure Mad Men's creator Matthew Weiner would respond by citing detailed research he's done into the growth of STD rates in the 1960s, but, still ... yuck.

By the way, I suspect the obsessiveness about not revealing in reviews any "spoilers," which seems to have became dogma around the time of The Sixth Sense, has hurt the relative status of movies versus longform TV shows in elite discourse. Longform TV dramas such as Mad Men are discussed at vast length online the day after each episode, but movie reviews are stilted by the spoiler taboo.

The Hurt Locker is, once again, a good example: the power of the film depends upon the last five minutes, in which the adage that Character Is Destiny is illustrated with extraordinary economy. But reviewers aren't supposed to "spoil" the end of a film, so practically no reader could puzzle out from all the published verbiage about The Hurt Locker why it was a very good movie, or why he should even see it, which led to mass bafflement when it won the Best Picture at the Academy Awards ceremony.

To explain why The Hurt Locker may well have deserved its Best Picture Oscar, you really have to recount the contrast between the bulk of the movie in Baghdad and the few scenes close to the end back stateside (oops, I just revealed a spoiler). The Baghdad street scenes are shot through telephoto lenses that both illustrate the tunnel vision focus the bomb techs need to do their job, while simultaneously compressing the apparent distance between the near and the far into a disorientating, flat, and cluttered pictorial space that keeps the viewer from being able to discern what’s safely far away from the heroes and what’s close enough to kill them, which is, of course, the same question the heroes are constantly wondering about.

Then, near the end there's [SPOILER ALERT! AHHHHOOOGGGAAA! SPOILER ALERT!] a great fisheye lens shot in an endless breakfast cereal aisle of ex-Sgt. James befuddled by his new civilian duty of having to choose one box of cereal out of hundreds of offerings. (I spent an hour searching online last winter during the Academy Awards season for a still of that scene to illustrate the key to the movie, but none were available -- No Spoilers!)

A few minutes later, Sgt. James is shown back in The Suit in another super-telephoto shot of Baghdad, likely doomed, yet also fulfilled by choosing the fate his personality craves.