March 25, 2011

Irony alert: Illegal v. legal

From the LA Times:

by Ching-Ching Ni
From the outside, they looked like other recently built San Gabriel townhouses — two stories, Spanish style, with roofs of red tile. Inside they were maternity centers for Chinese women willing to pay handsomely to travel here to give birth to American citizens.

Southern California has become a hub of so-called birthing tourism. Operators of such centers tend to try to blend in, attracting as little attention as possible. But on quiet, residential Palm Avenue, neighbors had noticed an unusual number of pregnant women going in and out, and some complained about noise.

On March 8, code enforcement officials shut down three identical four-bedroom townhouses functioning as an unlicensed birthing center. The homes, officials said, had been converted into maternity centers. Inside, they found about 10 mothers and seven newborns.

... The city fined the manager of the property, Dwight Chang of Arcadia, $800. He was cited for illegal construction and ordered to acquire permits and return the buildings to their original condition. "They had moved walls around without proper permits. They did interior work that can sometimes create unsafe environments afterwards," Davis said. "And it's a business in a residential neighborhood. They are not permitted to operate there."

All that stuff is just plain illegal. No way no how can you move walls around without proper permits.

On the other hand, random foreigners grabbing lifelong U.S. citizenship for their children -- including such perks as 13 years of free public education in an upscale San Gabriel Valley school district, cheap tuition at UC Berkeley, low interest SBA loans, government contracting minority preferences, the right to import their parents and put them on Medicare and in public old folks homes, and other goodies -- through these scams is, legally speaking, A-OK, 100% on the up and up:
It is not illegal for pregnant women to travel to the U.S. to give birth. Birthing centers advertise in wealthier Chinese cities, where some women can afford the thousands necessary to make the trip to America for a few months. Most of the women go back to China after giving birth. But they know their children can return easily in the future to enjoy such benefits as free public education.

The No-Drive Zone

Obviously, the "No-Fly Zone" in Libya is a bit of a euphemism: it's really the "We Fly, You Die Zone."

What will actually decide the war is the "No-Drive Zone." The linear nature of Libyan geography and the lack of forest makes it fairly easy to starve out the government-held cities in the oil fields of eastern central Libya by bombing supply vehicles heading east from Kaddafi's Surt. Of course, starvation will be tough on the civilians in those cities whom Obama supposedly started this war to protect, but the election is coming, so whaddaya gonna do?

Obama's Libyan end game isn't really that confusing

Obama's "Don't Look at Me, I Don't Make the Decisions around Here, I'm Just the President" act is wearing thin. The press has finally woken up to the fact that very little that the Administration has said about Mr. Obama's War makes much sense. The lead article in today's New York Times, "Allies Are Split on Goal and Exit Strategy of Libya Mission," is full of fun phrases:
inchoate ... remains divided ... complicated the planning ... ill defined for now ... days of public quarreling ... divisions among the alliance’s members ... frayed almost immediately ... papering over the differences ... questions swirling ... larger strategic divisions ... reservations percolated in Congress... In fact, Mr. Obama has not made clear what will happen ...

Yet, the bottom line about what will happen isn't really all that confusing. What matters most is that Obama has an election coming up in 19 months. He can't afford to go into the campaign known as The President of the United States Who Started a War with Muammar Gaddafi and Failed to Win. He'd be better off getting the word LOSER tattooed on his forehead.

So ... Obama is going to keep dropping bombs on Libya until Khadafy is gone.

That's it. That's the goal / strategy / end game / whatever: don't lose the election by losing the war.

I'm not saying that Obama had this all figured out from the moment he agreed to start the war or that he's even figured it out after a week, but it will eventually dawn on him that his alternatives are now:

1) Lose to Crazy America-Hating Terrorist Moamar Khadaffy, or
2) Drop More Bombs.

So he will choose what's behind Door #2.

Of course, after Qadafi is gone, a whole bunch more stuff will happen in Libya, but, seriously, who cares? How much does Obama care about Libya versus how much does he cares about his fabulous career? It's Libyatown, Jake.

March 24, 2011

Amazing Maps

The New York Times now has a remarkable interactive set of maps of 2010 Census data regarding ethnicity that scales from the whole country down to Census tracts of a few thousand people.
For example, in the Valley Glen neighborhood in the center of the San Fernando Valley, I was struck a few years ago by the unbelievably elaborate security fences with lethal finials that were being built around typical little SFV post-War tract houses. How can Mexicans afford them, I wondered. On a second visit, it dawned on me that the people turning their homes into fortified bunkers weren't mostly Mexican, they were Armenians and / or other newcomers, newly arrived from the ex-Soviet Union or West Asia. Sure enough, you can see on the highest resolution map that, say, Census tract 123304 has seen its white population increase by 77% over the last ten years, while its Hispanic population fell by 1 percent. The classiness of the get-away cars in Valley Glen gang shootings has increased correspondingly over the last decade, with Beemers and Lexi now favored.

By hitting View More Maps, you can see each map in 12 different flavors of information conveyed.

Hillaire Belloc on the Libya War

Whatever happens, we have got
The JDAM bomb, and they have not.

March 23, 2011

Libyan Liberation leads to ethnic cleansing

One of the first things the Kosovo Liberation Army did after Bill Clinton bombed Serbia back to the industrial stone age for them in 1999 was ethnically cleanse Serbian-speaking Gypsies, on the grounds that A) They spoke Serbo-Croatian and thus probably sympathized with the Serbs, and B) Hey, they're Gypsies. This Wikipedia account says 90,000 Roma were expelled from Kosovo by the KLA.

David Zucchino reports from the rebel capital of Benghazi for the LA Times that something similar is, unsurprisingly, happening in Libya:
For a month, gangs of young gunmen have roamed the city, rousting Libyan blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa from their homes and holding them for interrogation as suspected mercenaries or government spies.

Over the last several days, the opposition has begun rounding up men accused of fighting as mercenaries for Kadafi's militias as government forces pushed toward Benghazi. ...

One young man from Ghana bolted from the prisoners queue. He shouted in English at an American reporter: "I'm not a soldier! I work for a construction company in Benghazi! They took me from my house … "

A guard shoved the prisoner back toward the cells.

"Go back inside!" he ordered.

The guard turned to the reporter and said: "He lies. He's a mercenary." ...

The opposition has acknowledged detaining an unspecified number of sub-Saharan Africans on suspicion of serving as Kadafi mercenaries. Human Rights Watch has described a concerted campaign in which thousands of men have been driven from their homes in eastern Libya and beaten or arrested. ...

One of the accused shown to journalists was Alfusainey Kambi, 53, a disheveled Gambian wearing a bloodstained sport shirt and military fatigue trousers. He said he had been dragged from his home and beaten by three armed men who he said also raped his wife. A dirty bandage covered a wound on his forehead.

Khaled Ben Ali, a volunteer with the opposition council, berated Kambi and accused him of lying. Ali said Kambi hit his head on a wall while trying to escape.

You know, that while-trying-to-escape thing happens a lot.
He commanded the prisoner to comment on his treatment in the detention center. Kambi paused and considered his answer. Finally, he glanced warily up at Ali and spoke. "Nobody beat me here," he said in a faint, weary tone. "I have no problems here."

And don't you forget it.

The Neverending Story, Continued

Seven black city firefighters passed over for promotion because they did not score high enough on a written exam will rise to captains' ranks and get cash payments if the Houston City Council approves a lawsuit settlement Wednesday. ...

The seven passed exams for captain or senior captain in 2006, but many white firefighters scored higher. Because promotions were awarded to candidates with the highest scores, the seven did not make the cut.

They sued in 2008, arguing the city discriminated against them by using a racially biased test. The lawsuit states that the promotional exams "have an adverse impact upon African-Americans."

Whites who passed the exam were promoted at more than twice the rate of blacks who passed, according to the suit. It also claims that studies and research in organizational psychology demonstrate that written job knowledge exams have little value in predicting who will perform better in the positions at stake.

"There clearly were concerns with respect to the exam and the impact of the exam," he said. "As we looked at it, and as the court looked at it, we recognized that changes needed to be made to the exam so that it could properly validated for (equal opportunity) purposes."

Feldman said the Fire Department will begin using a new exam this year that has been validated by a testing firm to assure that it does not produce results related to the race or ethnicity of the test takers.

What a great idea! Why didn't anybody ever think of that before? How hard could it possibly be for a testing firm to produce results not related to race or ethnicity?

What a weirdly lucrative era this is for psychometricians ...
The plan headed to council does not settle how to test going forward. Wednesday's settlement would only dispose of the claims of the seven firefighters. Changes to the promotional system should be negotiated with the representatives of the entire firefighting corps, not just seven of them, said Jeff Caynon, president of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association. "Our issue is that the seven plaintiffs have dictated to the city changes to the promotional system irrespective of our collective bargaining agreement," Caynon said.

I was going to say -- "The beefy white guy in the windbreaker is, as usual, the only one to complain. Fortunately, the Republican Party is out to exterminate all public employee union power, so soon there won't be anybody to complain" -- but it turns out that Jeff Caynon is a beefy black guy.
The test is the primary factor in determining who gets promoted within the department. At the time the suit was filed, an education anthropologist at the University of Texas said explanations for black-white test score gaps include blacks more often receiving an inferior education than whites and minorities' vulnerability to performance anxiety that stem from stereotypes.

Sailer's First Rule of Firefighter Exams: In every city in America, it always comes as a surprise when the blacks don't do as well on the tests.

Sailer's Second Rule of Firefighter Exams: In every city in America, the "solution" usually winds up being, after a number of missteps, to lower the passing score so low that practically every white applicant who doesn't drool on the exam paper passes, then hire randomly from among all the passers.

Contingency Plans

For about the first five days after the Japanese earthquake / tsunami, every single official reassurance about the nuclear power plant situation turned out, almost immediately, to be wrong. By the time a week ago when Obama went on TV to warn us there was nothing to worry about, my immediate reaction was: "Well, that's it. We're doomed." I expected the next day's news to bring word that, having already flattened Tokyo, Godzilla had been sighted wading ashore on Venice Beach. 

Since then, things have stabilized somewhat, but today's word of too much radiation for infants in the Tokyo water supply is a reminder of some lessons we should learn about contingency plans. Namely, that when the Big One hits, you can't count on the survivors to execute superbly.

For example, I know a fellow who was so flummoxed by the 1994 Northridge Earthquake and aftershocks that he jumped in his car and sped off to Central California for four nights in a motel. Seems understandable, right? Except that the wife and kids he left behind in his haste to get the hell out of LA were kind of sore about it. 

Or say you are a worker at the nuclear plant and you survive the tsunami washing over you. You are tough stuff and aren't all that shook up by it psychologically and are ready to respond rationally. But, rationally speaking, what's going to be your number one priority? Executing the contingency plan that begins, "Because the tsunami wall is tall enough to stop all tsunamis ... " or finding out what happened to your wife and kids? And if they are okay, where are they going to sleep, what food are they going to eat, where are they going to get gasoline and heating fuel? Is your house gone? Where's your mom? Where's your mom's sister? Your best friend is shook up because he can't find his father. Where's your dog? Where's the next shift?

Say you are a power company executive back in Tokyo. You've spent years reassuring everybody that the worst can't happen. How fast are you going to admit that the worst has happened, that it's time to flood the reactors with sea water, wiping out billions in productive capacity, to ask for help from the military and from the U.S. Navy? Say you vetoed a plan at the annual budget meeting a couple of years ago to raise the emergency generators up on steel platforms so that they wouldn't get wiped out by a tsunami because you wanted to spend the money instead on a morale building golf trip to Hawaii for the executive ranks? Are feelings of guilt going to impede your effectiveness, make you hope for the best?

The basic lesson is that you can't assume a high level of performance out of people during an unprecedented crisis.

Paul Giamatti in "Win Win"

From my review in Taki's Magazine:
Win Win affords Giamatti the kind of flustered everyman role that has made him an unlikely star. But what’s most interesting about Giamatti is how much high-class breeding it apparently takes these days to portray run-of-the-mill schlubs.

I can’t help comparing the 43-year-old Giamatti with another pudgy Italian-American actor from Connecticut who specialized in playing Average Joes, Ernest Borgnine (now 94). Borgnine and Giamatti epitomize the evolution of social class over the last half century. 

I discovered something hilariously incongruous about the real Giamatti versus the kind of characters he plays. What legendary secret organization did Giamatti join back in the 1980s?

Read the whole thing there.

Latest Libyan War tactics and strategy

American war tactics seems to be evolving in the direction I suggested last night. The essential strategic issue for American, British, and French politicians is that their decision to launch the war was so offhand and irresponsible that they need to win (i.e., remove Kaddafi) or face embarrassing questions. If you get to declare victory, however, then those question diminish. As Gen. Patton liked to say, "Americans love a winner."

The NYT reports:
Having all but destroyed the Libyan air force and air defenses, the allies turned their firepower Wednesday on the military units loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi that are besieging rebel-held cities.... Loyalist forces have surrounded two rebel-held cities in the west, Zintan and Misurata, and the strategic eastern city of Ajdabiya ...

In Ajdabiya, which has changed hands several times, residents said relentless shelling by loyalist troops had forced them to flee. One report called the city a “ghost town.” 

You'll notice the American sleight-of-hand here: Unlike some cities in the west that are rebel controlled and besieged by loyalists, whose relief could, theoretically be justified as humanitarian, Ajdabiya is loyalist-controlled and besieged by rebels. Gaddafi would be happy with a cease fire in Ajdabiya. But Ajdabiya is the key to taking the oil fields away from Gaddafi. Presumably, the colonialist powers' coalition's most favored outcome is a quick coup in Tripoli followed by a new regime that makes democratic-sounding noises and gets the oil flowing again. But, perhaps, Gaddafi won't be overthrown in Tripoli as long as he holds onto the oilfields.
“It’s an extremely complex and difficult environment,” Admiral Hueber acknowledged. “Our primary focus is to interdict those forces before the enter the city, cut of their lines of communication and cut off their command and control.” In military terms, “lines of communication” include supply lines.

As long as the regime’s forces are fighting in and around cities where the allies have ordered them to back off, he said, coalition attacks would continue. He said the allies are in communication with the Libyan units about what they need to do, where to go and how to arrange their forces to avoid attack, but that there was “no indication” that the regime’s ground forces were following the instructions.

I'm guessing that these instructions are that Gaddafi's forces can drive in a convoy toward Surt and maybe we won't kill you, but it would be useful to see them printed out. Further, how much would you trust the Americans if you were hunkered down inside a city that the Americans would be reluctant to flatten and you're hearing some kind of message that they want you to come out on the open road and drive through the desert. Uh, no thanks, we prefer staying alive. I wouldn't trust the American air force to not kill me on a Highway of Death unless Obama himself appeared on Al-Jazeera and promised in front of the Arab World that here's the deal: you drive at such and such an hour in such and such a direction and we won't kill you.

The LA Times has a story that is somewhat contradictory of the NY Times story:
Pentagon officials said Wednesday they were not attacking Libyan units inside cities because of the danger that such tactics would cause civilian casualties. They also said their orders were not to destroy the Libyan army or to provide air cover to opposition forces, limiting the types of strikes they can undertake.

Instead, they said, they were striking Kadafi's forces before they entered urban areas, as well as supply lines and headquarters facilities, in hopes of pressuring them to halt attacks against civilians. But the officers offered no timetable on U.S. pursuit of this strategy, with Kadafi's attacks in civilian areas apparently escalating

Overall, the high level of dissembling and blatant spinning by American politicians and generals during this war is likely to drag out the bloodshed. If Obama were to come out and say, "We're in it to win it. We will apply overwhelming firepower to make Gaddafi go away. The faster he goes, the fewer bombs will be dropped on his supporters. Gaddafi will lose, so the only question is whether he goes the easy way or the hard way," the clearer the message would be. Instead, Obama has constantly talked about "the U.S. stepping back" and other misdirection and feints for domestic and international consumption that confuse the message being sent to Libya.

Instead, the current mishmash of messages suggests to Gaddafi's mercenaries that they need to get out of the desert and hunker down in cities, which is the opposite of what the war was trumpeted as accomplishing.

March 22, 2011

This whole dying thing is getting old

From the LA Times:
An uneasy stalemate settles in eastern Libya as rebel units hold back until troops loyal to Moammar Kadafi run out of supplies or allied airstrikes destroy their weapons advantage.

... For now, though, the fighting here has reached an uneasy stalemate, with Kadafi's forces retaining just enough firepower to beat back sporadic rebel attacks. The ragtag rebel units seem content to wait until the government troops run out of supplies or allied airstrikes destroy their weapons advantage.

Thus far, rebel fighters, many of them civilian volunteers, have been unable to exploit the airstrikes that have crippled forces loyal to the Libyan leader. Government forces holed up in Ajdabiya, a city of 120,000, continued to punish the rebels with volleys from tanks and rocket batteries. ...

Troops manning government tanks and rocket batteries are now trying to hide from allied warplanes by setting up next to homes and shops, rebels said. But the opposition forces seemed inadequate to the task of driving Kadafi's men out of the city unless airstrikes first pave the way.

The U.S. has a couple of options to help the Eastern rebels: provide close-air support or declare that they will blast vehicles heading east from Gaddafi's hometown of Surt toward the oil fields to starve out Gaddafi's frontline forces. Since the Obama Administration hasn't yet done either one, I suspect they don't particularly want the Eastern rebels to win and are instead hoping for a nice quick little coup back in Tripoli so they can declare victory and the Libyans can get back to selling oil. 

But who knows? They're just making it up as they go along, assuming that U.S. air supremacy will let them get away with whatever they come up with. They're probably right.

Sit-com writers, Ten-Hut!

From the LA Times, in an article on a Libyan government-owned mansion in Englewood, NJ:
But it is the one [homeowner] who has never been seen who commands the most attention: Moammar Kadafi, Libyan leader and lord of a multimillion-dollar mansion that flies Libya's flag and sits next door to one very peeved Orthodox Jewish rabbi.

Rarely has the stone-walled structure, with expansive grounds, pond and swimming pool, been the placid retreat the Libyan government envisioned when it paid $1 million for it in 1982, six years before Libyan agents blew up Pan Am Flight 103.

The estate, called Thunder Rock, has been a flash point for years for local protests, most recently in 2009 when Kadafi lost a battle to erect his traveling Bedouin tent on the lawn during a U.S. visit. But never has Thunder Rock's fate been as uncertain as now, with fresh State Department sanctions targeting Libyan property and a renewed uproar over the home's tax-exempt status in the state with the country's highest property taxes.

"This is a man who blows up airliners!" said the rabbi next door, Shmuley Boteach, who complains that the green Libyan flag flapping in the breeze is the first thing he sees each morning through his bedroom window. "I have a deep-seated loathing of tyranny, tyrants, dictators, people who brutalize their citizenry. And Kadafi hits the top of the list."

To be fair, a U.S. flag also flies from a pole outside Thunder Rock, and for all his complaining about the neighbors, the Los Angeles-born Boteach has been known to stir up controversy himself. The self-described relationship expert raised eyebrows in the Orthodox community for his close friendship with Michael Jackson when the pop star was facing allegations of child sex abuse, and for advice books such as "The Kosher Sutra" and "Kosher Sex: A Recipe for Passion and Intimacy."

Even Boteach admits that his relentless drive to oust his neighbors has gained him a reputation as a nuisance among some local leaders, including some of his friends.

C'mon, this can't miss as a situation for a sit-com: Michael Jackson's rabbi (played by Billy Crystal) and an attention-starved Arab tyrant in exile (Mickey Rourke) squabble over their backyard fence in suburban New Jersey. Then, the rabbi's arms dealer nephew, Efraim Diveroli (Eli Roth), has to move in with his uncle as part of his parole and he gets into wacky international intrigue with the Kaddafi Kids (Kal Penn and Sarah Silverman).

March 21, 2011

America's New Strategic Allies, Part 2

According to Google Maps, it's 1,013 kilometers from Benghazi to Tripoli. Bypassing Kaddafi's hometown of Surt by swinging through the desert adds another 100 klicks. Judging from the spectacular see-saw nature of the Desert War of 1940-1943 and the rebels' new friends' air supremacy, things could change rapidly.

On the other hand ...

From the NYT today:
Rebel fighters trying to retake the eastern town of Ajdabiya said they were driven back on Monday by rocket and tank fire from government loyalists still controlling entrances to the city. Dozens of fighters retreated to a checkpoint around 12 miles north of Ajdabiya, and rebels said at least eight others had been killed during the day’s fighting, including four who had been standing in a bloodied pickup truck that the fighters showed to reporters.

There were conflicting reports about whether the allies had attacked loyalist forces in Ajdabiya. While planes had been heard overhead, the rebel fighters said there appeared to have been no attack on the pro-Qaddafi forces holding the entrance to Ajdabiya on the coastal highway leading north to Benghazi. Ajdabiya is a strategically important town that has been much fought over, straddling an important highway junction and acting as a chokepoint for forces trying to advance in either direction.

The retreat from Ajdabiya appeared to have thrown the rebels into deep disarray, with one commander at the checkpoint trying to marshal the opposition forces, using a barely functioning megaphone, but few of the fighters heeding his exhortations. 

"Dozens of fighters retreated"? "Dozens" is not a good word in war when discussing your ally. For example, during WWII, there were downsides to having the Soviet Union as America's ally, but at least the word "dozens" didn't come up much. At this point, the rebel army sounds like they'd have trouble with the forces of The Humongous and Wez in Road Warrior.

I realize that this war comes at a busy time of the year for Obama -- March Madness! -- but there are certain basic questions that the President needs to answer, such as "Are we in it to win it?" "What does 'win it' mean?" and "Who's 'we,' anyway?"

Intended Consequences

From the NYT:
Massachusetts Institute of Technology acknowledged 12 years ago that it had discriminated against female professors in “subtle but pervasive” ways, it became a national model for addressing gender inequity.
Now, an evaluation of those efforts shows substantial progress — and unintended consequences. Among other concerns, many female professors say that M.I.T.’s aggressive push to hire more women has created the sense that they are given an unfair advantage.

What's so "unintended" about that consequence? Or are they just complaining that others have noticed that consequence?

The unconscious analogy behind No Child Left Behind

In Sunday night's VDARE column, I take a look at the wacky analogy likely unconsciously shaping mainstream thinking about education. David Brooks's new book The Social Animal is about the power of the unconscious, but my job is to drag unconscious ideas up into the full glare of conscious thought.

Read the whole thing there.

Highway of Death: 20th Anniversary Tour

Just over 20 years ago, U.S. aircraft shot up retreating Iraqi forces on the Highway of Death out of Kuwait, making clear the supremacy of air power over armor, especially in deserts. 

Nine years before that, in 1982, Israel's air force, using its own and U.S. technology, had quickly attained air supremacy over Syria's Soviet-equipped air defenses in Lebanon, demonstrating (to the horror of Soviet Air Force generals) that ground-based radar networks were a sitting duck for countries with the best airliner-based radar networks. In other words, the era when a country-- other than America and its close personal friends -- could use tanks to conquer another country (or even a rebellious province, as in Yugoslavia in 1999) without Washington's permission was drawing to a close.

This awareness dampened the arms race, such that by the outbreak of feverish speculation over Hezbollah's 2006 Schmutzkrieg assault on Israel, America was accounting for almost half of world's military spending. (For example, Libya was spending 3.9% of its GDP on its military, compared to 4.06% for the U.S.)

Israel's subsequent sobering enwallowment in Lebanon was an early hint of a second major lesson of post-modern warfare: that, even if you are America or its close personal friend, conquering another country these days usually turns out to be less fun that it sounds.

If you are a foreigner, therefore, the smart thing to do is to buy friends and influence people in the DC/NYC world imperial capital: you can call it the Prince Bandar Strategy. Gaddafi's strategy of buying friends in Rome was 2000 years-out-of-date.