August 14, 2010

The Irony of Victory

If John McCain had been elected President, would we be out of Afghanistan by now? After all, McCain would have been much better situated politically than Obama to declare, "Nobody loves the smell of napalm in the morning more than John McCain, but even I recognize this is an increasingly pointless war, so we're outta there."

In general, it's easier for a President to betray his base than to overcome his opposition, so often people wind up with the opposite of what they thought they voted for.

By the way, for the newcomers, here's my September 26, 2001 essay predicting (before the shooting began) the course of the war in Afghanistan, based on my watching the 1975 movie The Man Who Would Be King several times on VHS:
In the last two weeks [i.e., since 9/11], a couple of contradictory assertions about Afghanistan have become commonplace in the press.

The first is that outsiders inevitably face horrifying defeat in Afghanistan.

The second is that the U.S. must not only kill Osama bin Laden and batter the Taliban regime, but should then take up the Imperial Burden in Afghanistan. The U.S., they say, should conquer and pacify the entire Texas-sized country, build a unified nation out of its warring ethnic groups, reconstruct its economy, liberate its women, calm its furious holy men, and make it a middle class democracy.

"The Man Who Would Be King" reminds us that neither despair nor utopianism is a realistic attitude for anyone contemplating a military incursion into that harsh land. ...

Those who advocate that we stay in Afghanistan long after Osama bin Laden and the Taliban are dealt with should ponder Kipling and Huston's parable.

August 13, 2010

Tom Wolfe's "Back to Blood"

For a number of years, it's been known that Tom Wolfe is writing a book about immigration set in Miami. For awhile, it was supposed to be published in 2009, then in 2010, and now in 2012. Wolfe will be over 80 by then, so, we'll see.

The working title is Back to Blood, presumably based on the following passage from Wolfe's 28 page proposal that got him a $7 million advance, as reported in New York Magazine:
So, my people, that leaves only our blood, the bloodlines that course through our very bodies and unite us. “La Raza!” as the Puerto Ricans cry out. “The race!” cries the whole world. The Muslims? Their jihad? Their Islam? All that is nothing but a screen, a cover story. What they are, is … Arabs! Forget the rest of it! Arabs! — once the rulers of all Asia and half of Europe! Once the world’s reigning intelligentsia- — and now left behind in the dust of modern history! Back to blood, muhajeen! They, like all people, all people everywhere, have but one last thing on their minds — Back to blood!” All people, everywhere, you have no choice but — Back to blood!

The hereditarian theme running through Wolfe's books is a persistent one. It probably goes back to his father, a professor of agronomy and editor of The Southern Planter, a journal about breeding for the well-bred. As far as I can tell, Wolfe is an unrepentant Southern white conservative who has found the last 45 years unsurprising but thoroughly entertaining.

Heredity is likewise a major theme in many of the 19th Century realistic novels Wolfe emulates. In particular, Zola, a favorite of Wolfe's, was obsessed with heredity, as a Richard Lewontin essay in the New York Review of Books entitled In the Blood pointed out:
In the twenty Rougon-Macquart novels that form the core of his literary work, Zola is preoccupied with a problem that motivates a good deal of English and French literature of the nineteenth century: the mystery of the origin of character. It is this problem that not only appears over and over again in the novels, but that motivates the entire structure of the cycle.

The problem of character is distinct from the issue of human nature [that's an intellectually unsophisticated distinction]. The latter concerns the commonalities of human temperament and motivation, of what it is to be human. Especially after the appearance of The Origin of Species in 1859 made evolution part of public consciousness, the role that our animal ancestry plays in forming our species nature was a subject for literary concern. But the problem of character, of the origin of differences among individual human beings in temperament, intellect, emotion, motivation, morality, was a concern of nineteenth-century literature, certainly from the appearance of Dickens’s first serious novel, Oliver Twist, in 1837. How are we to understand the contrast between the gentle, delicate, moral, grammatically impeccable Oliver, born and raised in the parish workhouse, and the crude, grossly shaped, and criminal Artful Dodger, whose upbringing was no worse? Why does Estella, raised by Miss Havisham to hate and take revenge on men, soften toward Pip in the end? And what of the extraordinary career of George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda, who starts life as a typical English milord and ends as a student of the Talmud who emigrates to Palestine?...

For Dickens, Eliot, and Sue, the solution of the mystery lies in an unquestioned belief in the power of blood over circumstance. Oliver is the child of middleclass parents, never seen by him; Estella is the biological daughter of the right-minded convict Abel Magwitch. Deronda turns out to be the son of a Jewish actress whom he meets only when he is an adult. 

The rest of the article is not online. My vague recollection is that Lewontin rather disapproves of all this, although he's a bit stuck trying to look down his nose at giants of world literature. He's left implying that, after all, we know so much more today about the unimportance of heredity! Oh wait, ... well, the point is too be sniffy, not to be right.

In general, most English lit types just avoid the whole topic. 

When you stop to think about it, though, it's hard to imagine how a social novelist like Zola, Dickens, or Wolfe could not be interested in heredity. But, that doesn't come up much in contemporary thought, so nobody has much noticed what Wolfe has been up to over the last 45 years.

August 12, 2010

"The Other Guys"

Despite both a forgettable title and the fifteen years in which Will Ferrell and writer-director Adam McKay have been beating their brand of comedy into the ground since they first teamed up at Saturday Night Live, The Other Guys is an implausibly funny movie....

This buddy cop spoof begins with the triumphant exploits of the NYPD’s coolest cops. In cameos played by Samuel L. Jackson, as the same character he’s done since Pulp Fiction, and Dwayne Johnson, the genial half-Samoan, half-black ex-pro wrestler formerly known as The Rock, the two supercops wreak $12 million in property damage to Manhattan while arresting a smalltime weed dealer. Then Jackson and Johnson take a victory lap around the police station, tossing their unfilled-out paperwork to “The Other Guys,” the precinct’s most pathetic desk jockeys, played by Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg, who become the movie’s main characters.

The Other Guys could have been more memorably entitled The White Guys. Much of comedy these days, especially funny TV commercials about doofus dads, gingerly deals with the paradox of a culture in which white guys have seemingly been dethroned from the top of the masculinity pyramid. Yet, the people who have the really good jobs making the movies, TV shows, and ads poking fun at white guys remain, overwhelmingly, white guys like McKay and Ferrell.

Read the whole thing there and comment upon it below.

The movie industry's crypto-conservatism

Here's an old (2005) cover story I wrote for The American Conservative that's finally posted in full on the web. An excerpt:

To those of us who care about more than partisan politics, however, the Hollywood of today in some ways confirms historian Robert Conquest’s first law: Everyone is conservative about what he knows best. The mainstream audience restrains Hollywood’s leftist affectations, and the vicissitudes of making movies teach filmmakers hard-headed lessons in how the world really works, making the actual politics in the movies closer to Tom Hanks’s than Michael Moore’s. 
Contemporary Hollywood movies approve of manly men and womanly women, guns, violence in self-defense, anti-drug laws, true love, marriage, big weddings, big houses, and moms and dads spending time with their kids. The worst sin is parental adultery, because Hollywood’s target audience of teens dreads anything that could break up their homes. And film heroines don’t have abortions. 
Many of the right-wing attacks on Hollywood stem from it not toeing the pseudo-conservative line of worshipping some of the less conservative forces in history, such as war, laissez faire, and George W. Bush. Movies such as Oliver Stone’s “Platoon,” Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan,” and Mel Gibson’s “We Were Soldiers” have done America a service by taking war films to a new level of bloody realism. While neoconservative jingoes have worried that revealing the effects of combat too honestly will induce second thoughts about World War IV, veterans have typically been pleased that moviegoers can now get a better sense of the sacrifices they made in the service of their country. Nor is it Hollywood’s fault that the Bush administration didn’t learn anything about the dangers of occupying a Muslim country from “Black Hawk Down,” the minutely detailed 2001 depiction of our Special Forces’ desperate battle in Somalia. 
There are few conservatives in Hollywood, but at least there aren’t many neoconservatives either. When the GOP wanted to feature a movie star at the 2004 convention in New York, the best the party could come up with was Ron Silver, who once played, uh ... c’mon, Google ... Alan Dershowitz in “Reversal of Fortune.”

As lavishly paid members of the private sector, filmmakers admire public sector workers, such as soldiers, cops, and firemen, who risk their lives for the kind of annual pay that a Beverly Hills matron might spend on feng shui consultations. For example, Hanks passed up tens of millions in movie earnings to produce patriotic miniseries about the GIs of World War II and the astronauts and engineers of the space race.

And if movies tend to be skeptical that unbridled capitalism automatically produces the utopia foreseen by University of Chicago economists, well, filmmakers have all had some first-hand experience with just how far human beings will go to get rich. In Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey rages at the subterfuges of the banker, Mr. Potter, not because Capra was a pinko [he was an anti-FDR Republican] but because the director had similarly raged at his own boss Harry Cohn’s nefariousness. 
Cinema, a medium of the visible, is innately ill suited for explaining the wonders of the invisible hand. But the movie’s basic message about business—that the magic of the market is no substitute for individuals making moral choices—isn’t necessarily anti-conservative. Capitalism is a terrific system, but it doesn’t absolve capitalists from the need for ethics

Read the whole thing there and comment upon it below.

August 11, 2010

Shame, sanity, and boredom finally triumph in Omar Thornton story

The highlight of press coverage of Omar Thornton's racist rampage a week ago Tuesday was this AP non-story from 3.5 days later desperately trying to keep alive the white-racism-is-to-blame paint-by-numbers storyline, "Cops mum on probe of Conn. shooter's racism claim," which frantically concluded:
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.

Here it is, five days later, though, and everybody is still mum. It's a conspiracy, I tell you! It goes right to the top.

Slate: All We Have To Do is fire 2.8 million out of 3.5 million teachers

Columbia Business School professor Ray Fisman explains in Slate in "Is firing (a lot of) teachers the only way to improve public schools?" that All We Have To Do to fix the public schools is to get rid of the bottom 80 percent of teachers (2.8 million) and replace them with a different 2.8 million who are just as effective at raising test scores as the top 0.7 million teachers currently are:
How many teachers would school reformers have to fire in order to get American schools performing at their best? That's the question researchers Doug Staiger and Jonah Rockoff set out to answer in a study they presented at the Columbia conference.

The researchers went through a simulation exercise, building on prior findings about the impact that great teachers have on their students, the fraction of incoming teachers who turn out to be strong performers in the classroom, and the "signal-to-noise" ratio in a teacher's performance during her first couple of years (i.e., how hard it is to tell whether a teacher is bad or just unlucky).

When they ran the numbers, the answer their computer spat out had them reviewing their work looking for programming errors. The optimal rate of firing produced by the simulation simply seemed too high: Maximizing teacher performance required that 80 percent of new teachers be fired after two years' probation.

After checking and rechecking their analyses, Staiger and Rockoff came to understand why a thick stack of pink slips are needed to improve schools. There are enormous costs to having mediocre teachers burdening the school system, and once they get their union cards, we're stuck with them for decades. The benefits of keeping only the superstars is enormous, such that it's better to risk accidentally losing some of the good ones than to have deadwood sticking around forever.

Is an 80 percent dismissal rate practical? One issue is whether there would be enough new recruits to replace all the teachers you'd be firing. Teach for America has been able to fill its ranks with Ivy League graduates year after year, so we know there are lots of college grads who are willing to devote at least a couple of years of their lives to teaching, and 63 percent of TFA alumni remain in the field of education afterward.

Similarly, think how good the LA Lakers would be if they fired all their players besides Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol and replaced them with guys who are just as good as Kobe and Pau. They'd be epic! Speaking of firing all the deadwood, why do they let idiots like Phil Jackson and Mitch Kupchak run the Lakers when they could just hire some economists who are good with SAS to figure it all out?

Black people like being black

Farhad Manjoo in Slate gingerly considers why blacks play such a large role on Twitter in pushing certain "hashtags" to popularity in How Black People Use Twitter:
Instead, the ones that seem to hit big are those that comment on race, love, sex, and stereotypes about black culture. Many read like Jeff Foxworthy's "You might be a redneck …" routine applied to black people—for instance, last December's #ifsantawasblack (among the tamer contributions: "#ifsantawasblack he wouldnt say ho ho ho, he would say yo yo yo") or July's #ghettobabynames (e.g., "#ghettobabynames Weavequisha.") The bigger reason why the Dozens theory isn't a silver bullet is that a lot of people of all races insult one another online generally, and on Twitter specifically. We don't usually see those trends hit the top spot. Why do only black people's tweets get popular? ...

Now for the caveats. There is an obvious problem with talking about how black people use Twitter, as many of the black Twitter users I spoke to took pains to point out: Not all black people on the service are participating in these hashtags, and there are probably a great many who are indifferent to or actively dislike the tags. "It's the same issue I have with certain black comedy shows," says Elon James White, a comedian who runs the site This Week in Blackness. "They put out these ideas of blackness that—if it were someone of another race saying them—you'd go, 'Whoa, that's racist!'" ...

Given that these hashtags are occurring in a subgroup of black people online, it is probably a mistake to take them as representative of anything larger about black culture. "For people who aren't on the inside, it's sort of an inside look at a slice of the black American modes of thought," says Jonathan Pitts-Wiley, also a former writer at The Root. "I want to be particular about that—it's just a slice of it. Unfortunately, it may be a slice that confirms what many people already think they know about black culture." 

Whenever I read the conventional wisdom about how the solution for black misery is to send black youth a bunch of Teach for America Ivy Leaguers so that the immiserated black youth of America can learn "middle class" (i.e., white) culture, I have to wonder about the basic premises behind this widespread white assumption.

For one thing, how much do blacks want to act white?

As far as I can tell, blacks, on the whole, have a blast being black.

They not only like being black, they like to talk about being black with other blacks. They have one of the more homogeneous cultures in the world, in part because they are constantly discussing being black with each other.

The assumption that black students will look at their workaholic white Teach for America teacher and say, "Man, that's the life for me!" seems a tad naive.

The reigning theory is that white culture will rub off on blacks by osmosis, but there is precious little evidence to back it up. Indeed, exposure to white people just makes blacks focus more on their blackness.

I've had this discussion with New Zealand professor James Flynn (of The Flynn Effect), who provides the conventional wisdom with whatever social science heft it has. If, like Flynn, you really want to change the environment for blacks enough to raise their IQ scores, well, then, you would have to make them embarrassed about acting black. You would have to make them want to compete for the regard of white people by acting white, the way Berry Gordy had his Motown stars, like The Supremes, take lessons in proper decorum.

And, these days, which whites, exactly, are volunteering for the job of making blacks feel ashamed that they aren't acting white? How much prestige and social approval would you receive for taking on that onerous task?

Instead of blacks competing for white approval, whites today compete with each other over how much they approve of blacks.

Not surprisingly, that doesn't do much to improve black behavior.

In Defense of the Hard Sciences

In the comments, Noah responds to my complaints that physicists haven't done any better than social scientists at delivering the impossible:
Whine whine whine.

Your teleporter and your faster-than-light starship are too expensive. Your time machine was always impossible, we told you that.

As for your antigravity device, we're working on it, but you wouldn't want to use it because it would cause you to be flung out of the Earth's orbit.

Come on, man, we gave you lasers, pain rays, moon rockets, flying cars (if the govt. would let you buy one), jet packs, and absurdly good data storage, not to mention the aforementioned city-vaporizing asskickery. WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT???

August 10, 2010

Teachers' Pay

Over at Your Lying Eyes, Ziel has some scatter charts up correlating, for all 50 states, teacher's pay (relative to the state's median income and the state's median white income to account for the sizable cost of living adjustments of today) with NAEP 8th grade reading scores for white students (to take the whole race thing out of play for once in educational statistics.) 

The correlation between teacher pay and student performance is fairly low. And it's negative. (Click on the graph to see it readably large.)

Oddly enough, the best bargains would appear to be found in four unionized Atlantic seaboard states: Maryland, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. (It could be that unionized states spend more on pensions and benefits: I don't know.) Of course, those are states containing suburbs of three high income / high IQ metropolises: DC, NYC, and Boston. The worst pay-performance bargain, by far, is in West Virginia. In other words, we see the Lucky Jim Rule in action again: "There was no end to the ways in which nice things are nicer than nasty ones." If you have a lot of smart, highly paid people in your state, life is good.

If you look at teacher's pay relative to overall income, California looks like it's getting a bad deal, with mediocre white student performance and teacher's pay the third highest relative to the state's median income. But California's median income is very low relative to its cost of living due to all the fast food workers the federal government, in its infinite wisdom, has allowed into California over the years. If you compare teacher's pay to the median income of white households (which I think is a more reasonable comparison for a college grad's job -- granted, not always the hardest major to degree in), then California is merely mediocre, although Texas is still getting a better deal.

California's essential problem is that a huge fraction of Californians can't afford to live in California.

In general, I think much of the hoopla over the educational impact of teachers' unions is overstated. Are teachers' unions really keeping NAM students from living up to their unlimited potential? I dunno ...

The whole teachers' union topic is so popular to argue about in part because it gives white people something to blame each other for without mentioning the quality of the students.

Whistling Straits

With the PGA Championship returning this week to Whistling Straits, a spectacular pseuo-Irish Pete Dye golf course on Lake Michigan north of Milwaukee, I thought I'd link to this review I wrote of the course when it was new in 1999.

(For my 2005 magnum opus on the art of golf course architecture, see here.)

Also, Michael Agger is writing a long series this week in Slate on innovations in the study of golf statistics, which looks pretty good.

For example, one finding is that tour players are more risk averse in their tactics than is optimal. They try harder to avoid a bogey than to make a birdie, but they get paid by the total strokes for the week, so that doesn't make much sense.

In terms of the applicability of moneyball techniques, one issue that distinguishes team sports, such as baseball, from individual sports, such as golf, is that baseball teams can have both statistics-driven training and selection techniques available to them, while individual golfers have only training. Touring pros can't deselect themselves, without taking up an exciting new career in giving golf lessons at the country club.

For example, the Bill James revolution in baseball encouraged teams to start asking their players to try to walk more and hit more home runs, even at the cost of additional strikeouts. Sometimes hitters could change their style, sometimes they couldn't. If they couldn't, teams became more likely to get rid of them. (See the career of Raul Mondesi, who was worshiped as a god of the diamond until more sophisticated baseball stats came into fashion.)

Golf moneyball could, theoretically, be very useful for that fraction of players whose personalities are amenable to changing approaches. In baseball, we've seen some players adapt to the new statistics by getting more walks, but we've seen a lot of other players fail to do that. I suspect that the current aversion of pro golfers to statistical analysis is not wholly obscurantist. When advanced statistics do become fashionable in golf, we will likely see some pretty good golfers fall apart as they attempt to incorporate the insights of the new golf statistics and, in the process, ruin the delicate balance of their games and psyches.

August 9, 2010

In Defense of the Social Sciences

Allow me to refer once again to Jim Manzi's article in City Journal:
What Social Science Does—and Doesn’t—Know
Our scientific ignorance of the human condition remains profound

Manzi complains that the social sciences never come up with anything useful and "nonintuitive" compared to physics and other hard sciences. That's because, according to Manzi, social scientists don't use the right methodology: experimentation. (By the way, Manzi's company, Applied Predictive Technologies, will sell you the right methodology. Just dial 1-877-400-2559.)

And, indeed, physicists get a lot of respect, especially since they built the atomic bomb. (Nothing makes people respect you more than the ability to vaporize them en masse.)

In reality, though, the social sciences have uncovered a huge amount of useful knowledge about humanity. The vast field of cognitive testing, for example, which has, for better or worse, greatly altered American life over the last century, is a triumph of the social sciences.

Or consider hydrogen bomb-designer Stanislaw Ulam's challenge to economist Paul Samuelson: Tell me something you econ fellows have come up with that is both true and non-trivial. Samuelson puzzled over that one for years, then finally came up with Ricardo's theory of comparative advantage. But Spearman's g-Factor theory of 1904 is worth comparing to comparative advantage in  nontriviality.

What social scientists can't do is the same thing as physicists can't do: the impossible.

Just as social scientists have failed to figure out how to eliminate many social and racial disparities, physicists have failed to make possible many desirable technologies lovingly imagined in the science fiction novels of my youth.

Where's my teleporter? Where's my faster-than-light starship? Where's my anti-gravity device? Where's my time machine? 

C'mon, physicists, there must be something wrong with your methodologies!

Obama's Affordable College Speech & Bush's Affordable Housing Speech

Barack Obama went to Austin today and gave a speech demanding the country increase the number of college graduates by eight million that is eerily similar to the one George W. Bush gave at a similar point in his first term (October 15, 2002) demanding the country increase the number of minority homeowners by 5.5 million.

Obama's rhetorical spin is more conservative than Bush's (compare the emphasis on race), but the political intention is similar: a payoff to constituencies, a plan for increasing costs in the name of "affordability."

Obama said:
That’s why I’ve set some ambitious goals for this country. ... And producing 8 million more college graduates by 2020 so we can have a higher share of graduates than any other nation on earth.

In a single generation, we’ve fallen from first to twelfth in college graduation rates for young adults. That’s unacceptable, but not irreversible. We need to retake the lead. If we’re serious about making sure America’s workers – and America itself – succeed in the 21st century, the single most important step we can take is to offer all our kids – here in Austin, here in Texas, and across this country – the best education the world has to offer. ...

But we also know that in the coming decades, a person’s success in life will depend more and more not on a high school diploma, but on a college degree, on workforce training, on a higher education. And so, today, I’d like to talk about the higher education strategy we’re pursuing not only to lead the world once more in college graduation rates, but to make sure our graduates are ready for a career; ready to meet the challenges of a 21st century economy.

The first part of our strategy has been making college more affordable. I don’t have to tell you why this is so important – many of you are living each day with worries about how you’re going to pay off your student loans. We all know why. Even as family incomes have essentially flat-lined over the past thirty years, college costs have grown higher and higher. Over the past decade, they’ve shot up faster than housing, faster than transportation, even faster than health care costs. No wonder the amount student borrowers owe has risen almost 25 percent over the past five years.

So, how exactly is the government massively stimulating demand for college going to reduce the price of college? Similarly, the Bush Administration's 2002 campaign to reduce the downpayment required for homes in the name of fighting racism helped drive home prices to stratospheric heights.
This isn’t some abstract policy matter to me; I understand it personally. Michelle and I had big loans to pay off when we graduated – and I remember what that burden felt like. That’s why I’m absolutely committed to making sure that here, in America, no one is denied a chance to go to college, no one is denied a chance to pursue their dreams, no one is denied a chance to make the most of their lives because they can’t afford it. We are a better country than that, and we need to act like it.

And that no one is denied an opportunity to accumulate massive tuition debts.
...The third part of our higher education strategy is making sure every student completes their course of studies. Over a third of America’s college students, and over half our minority students, don’t earn a degree, even after six years. So, we don’t just need to open the doors of college to more Americans; we need to make sure they stick with it through graduation. Community colleges like Tennessee’s Cleveland State are redesigning remedial math courses, boosting not only student achievement, but graduation rates. And we ought to make a significant investment to help other states do the same.

Because the Chinese are quaking in their boots over what inspired engineering marvels Cleveland State Community College of Tennessee's remedial math students are going to invent.

Here are excerpts from Bush's speech at the 10/15/2002 White House Conference on Minority Homeownership. You'll notice from the garbled syntax that Bush, unlike Obama, isn't just reading off the teleprompter. He's winging this one from his heart:
THE PRESIDENT: …. I appreciate your attendance to this very important conference. You see, we want everybody in America to own their own home. That's what we want. This is -- an ownership society is a compassionate society.
More and more people own their homes in America today. Two-thirds of all Americans own their homes, yet we have a problem here in America because few than half of the Hispanics and half the African Americans own the home. That's a homeownership gap. It's a -- it's a gap that we've got to work together to close for the good of our country, for the sake of a more hopeful future.
We've got to work to knock down the barriers that have created a homeownership gap.
I set an ambitious goal. It's one that I believe we can achieve. It's a clear goal, that by the end of this decade we'll increase the number of minority homeowners by at least 5.5 million families. (Applause.) … And it's going to require a strong commitment from those of you involved in the housing industry. …
I appreciate so very much the home owners who are with us today, the Arias family, newly arrived from Peru. They live in Baltimore. Thanks to the Association of Real Estate Brokers, the help of some good folks in Baltimore, they figured out how to purchase their own home. Imagine to be coming to our country without a home, with a simple dream. And now they're on stage here at this conference being one of the new home owners in the greatest land on the face of the Earth. I appreciate the Arias family coming. (Applause.) ...

All of us here in America should believe, and I think we do, that we should be, as I mentioned, a nation of owners. Owning something is freedom, as far as I'm concerned. It's part of a free society. And ownership of a home helps bring stability to neighborhoods. You own your home in a neighborhood, you have more interest in how your neighborhood feels, looks, whether it's safe or not. It brings pride to people, it's a part of an asset-based to society. It helps people build up their own individual portfolio, provides an opportunity, if need be, for a mom or a dad to leave something to their child. It's a part of -- it's of being a -- it's a part of -- an important part of America.
Homeownership is also an important part of our economic vitality. If -- when we meet this project, this goal, according to our Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, we will have added an additional $256 billion to the economy by encouraging 5.5 million new home owners in America; …

To open up the doors of homeownership there are some barriers, and I want to talk about four that need to be overcome. First, down payments. A lot of folks can't make a down payment. They may be qualified. They may desire to buy a home, but they don't have the money to make a down payment. I think if you were to talk to a lot of families that are desirous to have a home, they would tell you that the down payment is the hurdle that they can't cross.....
Secondly, affordable housing is a problem in many neighborhoods, particularly inner-city neighborhoods. … I'm doing is proposing a single-family affordable housing credit to encourage the construction of single-family homes in neighborhoods where affordable housing is scarce. (Applause.)

Another obstacle to minority homeownership is the lack of information. You know, getting into your own home can be complicated. It can be a difficult process. I had that very same problem. (Laughter and applause.) ...
And, of course, one of the larger obstacles to minority homeownership is financing, is the ability to have their dream financed. Right now, we have a program that all of you are familiar with, maybe our fellow Americans are, and that's what they call a Section 8 housing program, that provides billions of dollars in vouchers to help low-income Americans with their rent. It encourages leasing. We think it's important that we use those vouchers, that federal money to help low-income Americans go from being somebody who leases to somebody who owns; that we use the Section 8 program to not only help with down payment, but to help with continuing monthly mortgage payments after they're into their new home. It is a -- it is a way to help us meet this dream of 5.5 million additional families owning their home.

I'm also going to encourage the lending industry to develop a mortgage market so that this script, these vouchers, can regularly be used as a source of payment to provide more capital to lenders, who can then help more families move from rental housing into houses of their own. …
Last June, I issued a challenge to everyone involved in the housing industry to help increase the number of minority families to be home owners. And what I'm talking about, I'm talking about your bankers and your brokers and developers, as well as members of faith-based community and community programs. And the response to the home owners challenge has been very strong and very gratifying. Twenty-two public and private partners have signed up to help meet our national goal. Partners in the mortgage finance industry are encouraging homeownership by purchasing more loans made by banks to African Americans, Hispanics and other minorities.

Representatives of the real estate and homebuilding industries, through their nationwide networks or affiliates, are committed to broadening homeownership. ...

The other thing Kirbyjon told me, which I really appreciate, is you don't have to have a lousy home for first-time home buyers. If you put your mind to it, the first-time home buyer, the low-income home buyer can have just as nice a house as anybody else.

For awhile, at least.

August 8, 2010

Carbon Emissions and Immigration Reduction

From my new column:
Of the millions who claim to be deadly serious about Saving the World from global warming by limiting carbon emissions, how many are truly sincere?

There’s one surefire test: Do they demand reductions in immigration to the U.S.?

Answer: almost none of them do.

A Google search for “carbon emissions” brings up 3,680,000 web pages. (August 8, 2010). Add “immigration reduction” to the search, however, and the hit count falls to 114. [Try it yourself now by clicking here.]

The causes of global warning are disputed, but let’s assume for the sake of analysis that human output of “greenhouse gases” does indeed cause global warming. It ought to be close to self-evident that immigration to America increases this country’s—and the world’s—output of those gases.

The logic is very simple: If immigrants from poor countries successfully assimilate to American norms of earning and consuming, they, and their descendants, will emit vastly more carbon than if they had stayed home.

According to the UN’s International Energy Agency, residents of America in 2007 put out an average of 19.1 tons of carbon dioxide, the chief greenhouse gas, by fossil fuel combustion—e.g., by driving around, by being warm in winter and cool in summer, and by watching TV.

In contrast, the residents of, say, Mexico each emit 4.1 tons per year. In other words, the typical inhabitant of America churns out 4.6 times as much carbon dioxide as the typical inhabitant of Mexico.

So, if an average Mexican immigrates to the U.S. and fully assimilates to average American patterns of earning and spending, he will emit 4.6 times as much carbon dioxide as if he stayed home in his own country. (Even more important are the impact of his descendants, which we’ll get to below).

This table gives a sampling of the carbon emissions per capita of immigrant importing and exporting countries.

... So let’s examine some logical objections to my argument for the benefit of global warming worriers.

Consider a very simplified model in which an immigrant from Mexico will either succeed or fail at assimilating to American norms on two dimensions: Earning and Consuming.
Let’s start with the upper left hand corner of this quadrant: American Dream. In this scenario, the typical Mexican who immigrates to the U.S. achieves the American Dream. He succeeds at consuming like an American (e.g., big SUV, big air-conditioned house in the suburbs, big TV, and so forth) and also (this is important) earning like an American. Therefore, his contribution to global greenhouse gas emission will be vastly greater than if he stayed home in Mexico. Even more importantly, so will his descendants’ carbon emissions. ...

In the lower left corner is the unspoken liberal assumption about the impact of Mexican immigration: Ecotopia. This logical possibility is the favorite of the sort of white liberals who have farm simulators on their iPhones. Of course, it is the least logical or possible.

They assume Mexican immigrants rapidly achieve American levels of income to pay the taxes for all the social programs that progressives favor. Yet, for unexplained reasons, the Mexican immigrants and their progeny choose to live like Portland trustfunders whose hobby is a “sustainable” lifestyle based on driving their vegetable oil-powered Toyota Prius hybrid to Whole Foods for heirloom tomatoes.

The Ecotopia assumption is the only logical way to square enthusiasm about immigration with alarmism about greenhouse gases.

Of course, ...

Read the whole thing there (including data on the burning question of how many Priuses do Mexicans buy) and comment upon it here.

Rushton & Jensen v. Flynn on Flynn Effect

Here are the abstract of papers in Intelligence debating the relevance of the Flynn Effect to the white-black IQ gap. J. Philippe Rushton and Arthur R. Jensen write:
In this Editorial we correct the false claim that g loadings and inbreeding depression scores correlate with the secular gains in IQ. This claim has been used to render the logic of heritable g a “red herring” and an “absurdity” as an explanation of Black–White differences because secular gains are environmental in origin. In point of fact, while g loadings and inbreeding depression scores on the 11 subtests of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children correlate significantly positively with Black–White differences (0.61 and 0.48, Pb0.001), they correlate significantly negatively (or not at all) with the secular gains (mean r=−0.33, Pb0.001; and 0.13, ns, respectively). Moreover, heritabilities calculated from twins also correlate with the g loadings (r=0.99, Pb0.001 for the estimated true correlation), providing biological evidence for a true genetic g, as opposed to a mere statistical g. While the secular gains are on g-loaded tests (such as the Wechsler), they are negatively correlated with the most g-loaded components of those tests. Also, the tests lose their g loadedness over time with training, retesting, and familiarity. In an analysis of mathematics and reading scores from tests such as the NAEP and Coleman Report over the last 54 years, we show that there has been no narrowing of the gap in either IQ scores or in educational achievement. From 1954 to 2008, Black 17-year-olds have consistently scored at about the level of White 14-year-olds, yielding IQ equivalents of 85 for 1954, 82 for 1965, 70 for 1975, and 81 for 2008. We conclude that predictions about the Black–White IQ gap narrowing as a result of the secular rise are unsupported. The (mostly heritable) cause of the one is not the (mostly environmental) cause of the other. The Flynn Effect (the secular rise in IQ) is not a Jensen Effect (because it does not occur on g).

Here's Rushton's article on his latest paper with Jensen.

Flynn responds:
The ranking of Wechsler subtests in terms of their g loadings is equivalent to ranking them in terms of the cognitive complexity of the tasks measured. Lower performing groups do not always fall behind higher performing groups the more complex the task. But that is the general rule, no matter whether the cause of the lower performance is genetic or environmental. Complex tasks tend to be more affected by genetic differences in inherited traits, have higher heritability, and be more sensitive to inbreeding depression. Therefore, the method of correlated vectors sheds no light on the race and IQ debate. It is irrelevant that black/white score differences on Wechsler subtests rise as their g loading, heritability, and inbreeding sensitivity rise.

Here's my review of Flynn's book on the Flynn Effect on VDARE, which Flynn thought did a pretty good job of making Flynn's thinking accessible.

Flynn always uses basketball analogies in arguing against the necessity of genetic causes in IQ differences, but that obviously raises issues unhelpful to Flynn's cause. Other sports can provide better examples. For example, in golf, it's widely acknowledged that the hardest clubs to hit well are the long irons. And the long irons are precisely where Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, the two greatest golfers, distanced themselves from the field, by reaching par-5 greens accurately in two to give themselves putts for eagles. Nature or nurture? Well, certainly a lot of both, but the exact balance is hard to say.
Flynn sums up that he doesn't believe either his own Flynn Effect or Jensen's g-factor analysis is very persuasive in determining the nature-nurture breakdown in the racial IQ gap:
American blacks are not in a time warp so that the environmental causes of their IQ gap with whites are identical to the environmental causes of the IQ gap between the generations. The race and IQ debate should focus on testing the relevant environmental hypotheses. The Flynn Effect is no shortcut; correlations offered by Rushton and Jensen are no shortcut. There are no shortcuts at all.

Flynn has a Blind Side / Stolen Generation-style theory that black culture doesn't lead to strong cognitive demands, although he's leery about spelling out the policy implications, although you can see it made a little more explicit in the increasing enthusiasm in, say, the New York Times Sunday Magazine for taking black children away from their mothers as many hours per day as possible and turning them over to Ivy League Teach for America workers to raise in a white-run world.

Maybe it will work, I dunno. Yet, I suspect we'll just be seeing in a few decades a replay of the Australian experience, with whites issuing an apology to blacks for the "Borrowed Generation."

Gallup: "Young, Less Educated Yearn to Migrate to the U.S"

From an April 30, 2010 posting on
Young, Less Educated Yearn to Migrate to the U.S.
Canada more attractive to older, more educated adults
by Neli Esipova, Julie Ray, and Rajesh Srinivasan
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Fifteen countries attract about 500 million of the roughly 700 million adults worldwide who say they would like to relocate permanently to another country if they could. Gallup finds the U.S. is clearly the No. 1 desired destination among these potential migrants, with more than 165 million saying they would like to move there, and neighboring Canada is a distant second with 45 million.

Gallup's findings on adults' desire to move to other countries are based on interviews with 347,713 adults across multiple surveys in 148 countries between 2007 and 2009. The 148 countries represent more than 95% of the world's adult population.

Together, the number of potential migrants who would like to move to the United States, which represents 24% of adults who would like to move overall, and Canada, which represents 7%, make Northern America the most desired region to move to in the world. But individually, both countries appeal to people from different parts of the world. Gallup finds the U.S. appeals more to the youngest and least educated adults, while those who choose Canada are on average slightly older and more educated.

These differences may partly reflect the emphasis each country's immigration policy places on different categories of migrants.