August 26, 2011

The Inevitable

From the Washington Post in "Libyan Rebels Carry Out Reprisal Attacks:"
A few minutes’ drive from the fire station, at least 15 bodies, most of them Gaddafi’s black African supporters, lay rotting in the sun at a traffic junction outside his Bab al-Aziziyah complex. Several of the dead wore green pieces of cloth wrapped around their wrists to signal loyalty to the Gaddafi regime. 
 The men may have died during Tuesday’s battle for Bab al-Aziziyah, and several were wearing military fatigues. But not all of them looked like ordinary battlefield deaths. Two dead men lay face down on the grass, their hands bound behind their backs with plastic cuffs. 
The worst treatment of Gaddafi loyalists appeared to be reserved for anyone with black skin, whether they hailed from southern Libya or from other African countries. Darker-skinned prisoners were not getting the same level of medical care in a hospital in rebel-held Zawiyah as lighter-skinned Arab Libyans, Eltahawy said. 
Rebels say Gaddafi employed gunmen from sub-Saharan Africa to shore up his army against his own people, and those fighters have elicited intense enmity from Libyans. But many of the detainees in Zawiyah told Amnesty International they were merely migrant workers  “taken at gunpoint from their homes, workplaces and the street on account of their skin color,” Eltahawy said.

I wrote about this anti-black aspect of the Libyan uprising back on February 27. Qathaafee's pro-immigration and pan-African policies were especially unpopular with his subjects, and hence the rebels have long been taking out their ire especially on the Colonel's foreign black mercenaries. Similarly, the Bahrain uprising by the Shi'ite majority had a lot to do with the Sunni regime's policy of electing a new people by importing Sunni immigrants, typically security service types from other countries. But Bahrain is closely allied with the U.S., so they didn't get any cruise missiles shot at the government while they put down their people.

August 25, 2011

Darwin and Galton, again

Earlier, I pointed out how remarkable it is that Charles Darwin has, in recent decades, been promoted to near-divine status in our culture, while his 13-year younger half-cousin Francis Galton has been demonized. 

I don't know a huge amount about the two, having merely read a few biographies. Still, the two don't strike me as polar opposites the way they seem to strike the conventional wisdom today. Instead, they seem more notable for their similarities than their differences. The  two, grandsons of Erasmus Darwin, both seem like models of the Victorian gentleman amateur scientist. 

The differences between them seem fairly exiguous. Darwin wasn't as healthy as Galton, who was hugely productive from age 30 onward (after a breakdown at university), working out the math of correlation and regression in advanced middle age. James Surowiecki's book "The Wisdom of Crowds" begins with an anecdote about the discovery of his topic: an 85-year-old Galton attended a country fair where there was a contest to guess the weight of a bull. Galton collected all the guesses with the intention of demonstrating the stupidity of crowds, but discovered to his amazement that crowds could be pretty wise in situations where random errors canceled each other out. So, the octogenarian wrote up his surprising discovery and published it in Nature.

One difference is obvious: Galton had more ideas, while Darwin had the biggest idea of the century: natural selection. Galton always saw himself as following in Darwin's footsteps.

But, here's the thought experiment that just occurred to me: What if Galton had been born in 1809  and died in 1881, while Darwin was born in 1822 and lived until 1911? My guess would be that Galton might have eventually stumbled upon natural selection first, leaving Darwin to engage in follow-up work rather  like Galton's. 

How often do fraternal twins wrongly believe themselves identical?

Here's a good article in Slate's Twins Week by writer Barry Harbaugh about getting a genetic test to see if he and his twin brother Russ, a filmmaker, are identical twins (as they've always believed) or if they might be fraternal. 

The theme of the article is something I wrote about for Taki's Magazine last year: that identical twins are more likely to incorrectly call themselves fraternal than fraternal twins are to incorrectly call themselves identical. What Freud called the narcissism of small differences operates on twins. In 2010, I concluded: "While movie twins look alike but act wildly different, real-life twins often see themselves as less similar, both in looks and personality, than they appear to strangers."

Barry Harbaugh writes:
And yet: We are not strictly identical. We have our petty discordances, which in their accumulation conspire against us. Suspicion is lured by doubt. In a giant senior-class photo of Russell and me that hangs framed in my old bedroom, we might as well be cousins. I am perched at his left shoulder, looking like my head is balancing on a drinking straw, while his own neck threatens to split his collar. We had long ago compared our fingerprints in vain. He was an All-State high-school quarterback (and an All-American in college), while I sat on the bench for a beleaguered basketball team that couldn't win even five games.

Russ was a small college All-American at Wabash. (At first, I guessed that they are related to Jim Harbaugh, a former NFL quarterback now an NFL head coach, whose brother John is also an NFL head coach. But I can't find any proof for that. Still, I wouldn't be surprised if they are all part of an extended family. All these Harbaughs come from the same part of the country -- Indiana, Ohio, Michigan -- and are all motivated and talented.)
Though we've both escaped the primordial sludge of the Ohio River Valley for New York City, no one confuses us anymore. For two years, I've spent $80 a month on a pharmaceutical that will keep me from going bald. We've noticed that I'm slightly taller. That our noses have a slightly different bent. Our penmanship is at odds and his hair is falling out. ... 
We brought this upon ourselves. Russell and I tried very hard to cultivate individual interests and attitudes. Without surveying the various parenting fashions of twins in history, I might point out the school of thought that demands parents dress their identical children in matching outfits, parting their hair on opposite sides (like a mirror's reflection!), and just as well the school filled with parenting books advising the opposite.
However we came to it—whether through a mother's growing devotion to those books, or some innate desire on our part to complement each other—Russell and I have long attached ourselves to different things, and driven each other crazy with a manic desire to report in detail whatever the other missed. 

This tendency to differentiate can be fairly inevitable, especially among very ambitious twins like the Harbaughs, who are the sons of college professors. If you are named Harbaugh, the top position in sports is quarterback, and only one of you can be the starting quarterback, assuming you don't go to different high schools. If you are named, say, Barber, you can go to the NFL as a cornerback and as a running back and be roughly equally successful. But if you are named Harbaugh, well, there's quarterback, and then there's placekicker, punter, tight end, fullback, center, placekick holder, wedge-breaker-upper, waterboy, and various other football jobs that aren't anywhere near as good as being quarterback. So, it makes sense for one identical twin to break the logjam for both of them by saying, "I don't want to be quarterback. Being quarterback is stupid. I don't care about being quarterback. I want to be [something very opposite of being quarterback, like being a writer.]"

That's fairly important to grasp for thinking about twin studies of nature and nurture that compare identical and fraternal twins. Yes, it is true that other people treat identical twins more identically, on average, than fraternal twins. But identical twins have subtle stresses pushing them apart that fraternal twins are less prone to. If one fraternal twin is built like a quarterback, the odds are that the other one isn't. But if one identical twin is built like a quarterback, then the other one is pretty similar. So, they have to generate their own differentiating forces.

All twins were beheld under the same banner: unusual, unexplained, and undifferentiated.
The confusion was bound with our ignorance of knowing exactly what was happening in utero. It wasn't until the latter decades of the 19th century that embryologists figured out the basic twinning process: Either two sperm fertilize two eggs, or one egg splits in two. (An earlier notion held that twins arose from two sperm that fertilized an ovum in separate places; obviously a red herring.) In 1875, the statistician Francis Galton interviewed 100 pairs of same-age, same-sex siblings, along with their close relatives, and concluded, "Twins is a vague expression." Though not quite a zygotic eureka, he found that extreme similarity among twins was just as common as a moderate resemblance, or hardly any resemblance at all. Even through the embryonic fog, it was clear something elemental divided at least the extremely similar from all the rest. By 1911, the usage of fraternal, as it relates to twins, had entered English usage, and the lexicography of mono- and dizygotic followed five years later. 
Galton's work led to the establishment of the twin method, which proved the foundation for investigations into those dubious sciences called behavioral and eugenic. It also corroborated something that would have been apparent to the era's midwives and cowboys: Not every pair of twins comes into the world trailing the same debris. If you're witness to enough twin births—among humans or cattle—you're likely to notice certain differences from one to the next; that some pairs are born with a single placenta, that others have two placentas fused together, and still more spring from the womb with one placenta each. ...

In 2002, we went off to Wabash College together, a fine all-male school devoted to forging "gentlemen" in upstate Indiana, and one that I stomached for a year before transferring home. The decision was unilateral and it stung. So too: a trip I took that summer to Europe, alone. By sheer coincidence, his football team traveled to Vienna in July, to play an exhibition, and Russell got a tattoo on his left shoulder blade from a man he met in a bar, while I watched. An R whose leg has been cleaved in half so that with a bottom curl it also conveys a B, it proved an unreciprocated mark.

I wouldn't be surprised if there were a big difference between the two twins, one that turns up more often than you'd think among identical twins, one that may have motivated their getting a genetic test to see if they really are identical. (Or I might just be reading slightly more into the various self-dramatizing accounts by the Harbaugh twins than is really there.)

Barry Harbaugh did a lot more research on this question than I did, and came to an even stronger conclusion:
Fraternal twins rarely, if ever, think themselves as alike as two peas. Far more often, misdiagnosis occurs when identical twins think themselves unalike—"of a family likeness only." (In other words, fraternal twins don't question their zygosity; it's the identical ones who get confused). You may have heard that Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen—twins so alike that they have shared professional lives since they were 6 months old, most notably by pretending to be each other without any of their millions fans noticing—have long declared themselves fraternal. What can one say other than: Bahooey. 
As I waited for my own results to come through, I contacted every lab I could find that does this sort of commercial twin testing. I wanted to find stories of identical pairs who had thought themselves fraternal, or of twins that had no idea either way. The search turned up one pair of girls who had grown up with a triplet brother, and couldn't believe the identical result they received: "I never did feel like I was looking at a reflection," one of the sisters wrote. "When the truth finally came out my mom was shocked. She was the mother, how could she get it wrong?" 
But when I asked for help finding a pair that had thought themselves identical, only to discover otherwise—and I shook the bushes for two weeks, badgering labs all over the country—I was met each and every time with silence. Affiliated Genetics, which has been testing for zygosity since 1994, didn't have a single adult twin on record who received a heterozygous result. Not one pair (remotely around my age) had ever tested as fraternal. It seemed nothing short of astonishing. Not one? Where are all the dizygotic wannabes, vainly dressing in matching overalls?

More broadly, something I've discovered over the years that applies to more than just twins is that people seldom appreciate having you point out to them that they look like some famous person. (Sure, 18-year-old girls like to be compared to 21-year-old Victoria's Secret models, but that's about as far as it goes.)

Maybe somebody could put up with being told he looks like the great quarterback Tom Brady, but if you told a guy who looks like the great quarterback Peyton Manning that he looks kind of like Peyton Manning, he'd figure you were making fun of him. Moreover, it would never have occurred to him that he looks like Peyton Manning.

For example, I doubt if Karl Rove would like having it pointed out to him that he looks like a skinnier Lou Pearlman, the now-imprisoned boy band impresario, gay molester, and Ponzi Scheme runner. 

But, Lou would probably also hate having you mention to him that he looks like Karl. If you told Lou Pearlman through the bullet proof glass of the visiting room at his penitentiary that he kind of reminds you of Karl Rove, it would likely be the worst thing that happened to him all day.

Everybody is a special snowflake in their own minds.

August 24, 2011

J-1 visas: Not doing jobs Americans would do

Jennifer Gordon writes in an op-ed in the NYT about that amusing strike at the Hershey factory by foreign students who thought they were signing up for fun in the sun and got stuck lifting cases of candy on the late shift in Nowheresville, PA:
The J-1 visa, also known as the exchange visitor visa, has its roots in the cold war. In 1961, Congress created a program for international students and professionals to travel here, with the goal of building good will for the United States in the fight against Communism. The program, which became the J-1 visa, thrives today — but not as Congress intended. 
Instead, it has become the country’s largest guest worker program. Its “summer work travel” component recruits well over 100,000 international students a year to do menial jobs at dairy farms, resorts and factories — a privilege for which the Hershey’s students shelled out between $3,000 and $6,000. They received $8 an hour, but after fees and deductions, including overpriced rent for crowded housing, they netted between $1 and $3.50 an hour. Hershey’s once had its own unionized workers packing its candy bars, starting at $18 to $30 an hour. Now the company outsources distribution to a non-union company that hires most of its workers from the J-1 program. 
The Pennsylvania workers are not alone. Recent exposés by journalists and advocates have found similar abuse of J-1 visa holders at fast food restaurants, amusement parks and even strip clubs. 
Though the number of J-1 visa holders admitted to the United States swelled from 28,000 in the program’s first year to more than 350,000 in 2010, and the government made minor changes to the program earlier this year, the State Department has never established a sufficient oversight system. Instead, it hands that responsibility to organizations it designates as sponsors, who profit from the arrangement and so have no incentive to report abuses.

Why, after three years of high unemployment with no end in sight, hasn't this program been suspended for the duration of the slump? 

There are a whole bunch of unemployed American citizens with two-digit IQs who wouldn't mind these jobs (although not at $1.00 to $3.50 per hour), but Two Digit Americans are almost completely unrepresented by anybody in modern American life. When I hear sophisticated folk go on and on about how they are "cosmopolitan" and thus don't care about invisible lines on the ground or how, as Bill Clinton said on 9/10/2001: "the world will be a better place if all borders are eliminated," by this point I realize that, in practice, what all that high talk comes down to is somebody who is good with an Excel spreadsheet getting the better of a bunch of their fellow citizens who aren't.

Twins switched at birth

Twin expert Nancy L. Segal has a new book, Someone Else's Twin: the True Story of Twins Switched at Birth about a pair of identical twins who were mixed up at the hospital, and one went home with a lady who had just given birth to a singleton, while the mother of the twins took home one of her babies and the other lady's baby. The identical twins ran into each other in a shop 28-years-later. Drama ensued.

Segal also has a book coming out in 2012 summing up the famous Minnesota Twins study of separated twins, for which she was one of the researchers.

"Double Inanity"

In Slate, Brian Palmer denounces 135 years of twin studies in "Double Inanity:"
The idea of using twins to study the heritability of traits was the brainchild of the 19th-century British intellectual Sir Francis Galton. He's not exactly the progenitor you might want for your scientific methods. Galton coined the term "eugenics" and was the inspiration for the push to manipulate human evolution through selective breeding. ...

Over the last few decades, Galton's older half-cousin Charles Darwin has been promoted from secular sainthood to his current role as the Jesus of Atheists. But, the rise of Darwininsm in prestige has not been an unmitigated blessing to the world, so Galton has come to play the role of scapegoat, or devil. Since Darwin, the secular redeemer, is, by definition, above sin, all sins associated with Darwinism must be the fault of the designated devil, Galton.

It's a very odd phenomenon, since the two kinsmen would otherwise seem so objectively similar, both by nature (both were grandsons of the famous Erasmus Darwin, who propagated a theory of evolution in the late 18th Century) and by mutual nurture. The younger man vastly admired the older man, and the elder came to be highly impressed with the younger.
Nearly five decades after Galton published "The History of Twins"—and more than 10 years after the word "gene" entered the lexicon—researchers in the 1920s "perfected" Galton's methods by comparing identical and fraternal twins and inferring heritability from the differences between the two. The twin study today is based on the same assumptions that were made back then. (As you may be aware, a lot has changed in the field of genetics over that time.) And despite numerous indications that these assumptions are deeply flawed, researchers continue to crank out new papers, probably in response to a public demand—both insatiable and inexplicable—for evidence that we're just like our parents. (If only Freud were alive today.) ... 
Twin studies rest on two fundamental assumptions: 1) Monozygotic twins are genetically identical, and 2) the world treats monozygotic and dizygotic twins equivalently (the so-called "equal environments assumption"). The first is demonstrably and absolutely untrue, while the second has never been proven. 
That identical twins do not, in fact, have identical DNA has been known for some time. The most well-studied difference between monozygotic twins derives from a genetic phenomenon known as copy number variations. Certain, lengthy strands of nucleotides appear more than once in the genome, and the frequency of these repetitions can vary from one twin to another. By some estimates, copy number variations compose nearly 30 percent of a person's genetic code. 
These repeats matter. More than 40 percent of the known copy number variations involve genes that affect human development, and there are strong indications they explain observed differences between monozygotic twins. For example, it's often the case that one identical twin will end up victimized by a genetically based disease like Parkinson's while the other does not. This is probably the result of variations in the number of copies of a certain piece of DNA. Copy number variations are also thought to play a role in autism spectrum disorder, schizophrenia, and ADHD, all of which can appear in only one member of a monozygotic twin pair (PDF). If copy number variations can affect discrete and diagnosable disorders, then why shouldn't they influence far more complex behaviors like your inclination to head to the polls on a Tuesday night in November? 
That's just the beginning of the genetic differences between monozygotic twins. As a result of mutations during development, about one in 10 human brain cells has more or less than the typical two copies of a chromosome. Identical twins also have different mitochondrial DNA, the genetic information stored in the cellar organelle responsible for processing glucose. Research suggests that mitochondrial DNA affects brain size among a host of other neurological traits.
Twin studies also rely on the false assumption that genetics are constant throughout one's lifetime. Mutations and environmental factors cause measurable changes to the genome as life progresses. Charney cites the example of exercise, which can accelerate the formation of new neurons and potentially increase genetic variation among individual brain cells. By the time a pair of twins reaches middle age, it's very difficult to make any assumptions whatsoever about the similarity of their genes.

To his credit, Matthew Yglesias smells a rat:
That doesn’t seem to me to follow. It’s still the case that identical twins are more genetically similar than other kinds of siblings. So if we have a study showing that identical twins are systematically more similar in some respect than non-identical twins, we’re still in possession of evidence about the influence of genetic similarity on behavioral similarity. 

One of his commenters gets to the heart of the problem.
I'd go further. The case where identical twins are truly identical is a floor, not a ceiling. If identical twins are so similar despite some "copy number" and "mtDNA" differences, well, think how much more they'd be similar if you took even those additional genetic differences away. Unless the guy thinks these residual differences are anti-correlated (instead of being uncorrelated) with any differences in environmental inputs - a fairly bizarre supposition - what he's really saying is that twin studies *understate* the impact of genes.

Palmer goes on:
The equal environments assumption is similarly questionable. As anyone who's ever seen a pair of toddler twins in matching sailor suits is surely aware, monozygotic twins do get special treatment. They are more likely than their dizygotic peers to be treated as "two of a kind" by family, friends, and teachers, which must increase their chances of developing similar behaviors. There have been numerous studies showing that dizygotic twins who look similar have more personality traits in common than those who are easily distinguishable.

First, that's why the holy grail of twin studies are identical twins raised apart studies. They are hard to find, but very interesting. Second, there's the good enough for government work angle -- if the question is, can we produce equality of results by social engineering equality of inputs, well, children of the same age raised in the same home at the same time are about as equal as we can expect any government program to get the environment.

Part 2: Is he really gay?

Last week in Taki's Magazine, in the first of a two part series, I recounted (in slightly amped-up form) a conversation I've gotten into not infrequently over the years:
Him: Hey, you’ve heard of Mr. Big Name [a world-famous icon of masculinity], right? 
Me: Sure. Who hasn’t? 
Him: Well, he’s gay. 
Me: Really? That’s interesting. 
Him: Yeah, my buddy Al, who was a stuntman on a bunch of his early movies, told me. 
Me: But isn’t he married to that supermodel? 
Him: It’s just a front. 
Me: And don’t they have several kids who look just like him? 
Him: Everybody in Hollywood knew he was gay way back when. 
Me: And wasn’t his wife threatening to divorce him a couple of years ago because he was sleeping with his leading lady? 
Him: His publicist must have made it up. 
Me: And didn’t his ex-wife sue him to get his child-support payments raised to $100,000 per month? And didn’t he almost ruin his career by insisting that his crazy Danish girlfriend be cast opposite him in all his movies? And didn’t he hire private eye Anthony Pellicano to wiretap those script girls who had filed paternity and sexual-harassment suits against him? And doesn’t he maintain a secret second family in Bakersfield? 
Him: He’s gay as a French horn.

So, this week in Taki's, I'm back with the rest of the possible explanations for this curious state of affairs.

The secret languages of twins

Jon Lackman writes in Slate:
In rare cases, however, children do develop an entire language of their own, and amazingly, all full-blown twin languages spontaneously develop the same structure, regardless of the language spoken at home. Aarhus University linguist Peter Bakker told me that twin-language structure is unlike that of any established language, and its syntax doesn't simply reflect the usual mistakes made by children. (Deaf children not taught sign language who invent their own also use this structure, by the way.) This "gives us a potential insight into the nature of language," Bakker said, into mankind's "first language," now lost to history. 
Twin languages are simple, just as simple as necessary, one might say. For one, they freely mix subjects, verbs, and objects, putting the most important item first in any context. In an Estonian study a child said, in his private language, "Again I foyer toward write come." (Estonian grammar would have dictated, "I come again to the foyer to write.") Negation appears at the sentence's beginning or end, regardless of where it appears in the native language. Thus one Swiss child said, "Bobby, here drive no!" instead of, "Bobby, don't drive here!" Verbs aren't conjugated. There's no way to locate things or events in time and space. And finally, twin languages almost never use pronouns, just proper names. Language can get simpler than this, but not much. ...
If language originated between just two people, it might well have looked like this: The seemingly universal twin-language structure is blissfully easy to use in one-on-one conversation. However, that first language would have had to evolve quickly to be useful to a larger community. Societies need "unambiguous ways to distinguish between subject and object," Bakker says. "In the twin situation these can be dispensed with, but not in languages in which it is necessary to refer to events outside the direct situation." ... 
Linguist Bernard Comrie at UC-Santa Barbara cautions that research into the birth of language is still in its infancy. "First we were told that creole languages would provide us with insight into 'first language,' then when that didn't pan out interest shifted to deaf sign language (also with mixed results)—I guess twin language will be the next thing," he wrote me. Twin language is particularly difficult to test because children give it up quickly, except when they are very isolated. And you can't just isolate kids on purpose—not anymore, anyway. Gone are the days when the pharaoh Psammetichus I could send two infants off to be raised by goats, or the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II could forbid children's caregivers from speaking to them.

Project Nim, the 1970s attempt to teach the chimpanzee Nim Chimpsky to use sign language to disprove Noam Chomsky's ideas about what Steven Pinker calls the "language instinct," was in the tradition of Psammetichus and Frederick. It's an interesting question.

Lackman recalls a 1981 movie in which a primitive tribe has only one phrase: "It will be mine." That's not too far off from many of the things Nim had to say for himself, such as:
“Me banana you banana me you give.”
“You me banana me banana you give.”
“Banana me me me eat."

August 23, 2011


Libyan rebels fired at forces loyal to Qaddafi during fierce fighting in downtown Tripoli on Monday. - NYT

Can you actually hit anything firing a gun from above your head? Is the fighting really that "fierce" if you can't be bothered to get behind the car right next to you and, you know, aim?
Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, whose capture the rebels had trumpeted since Sunday, walked as a free man to the Qaddafi-controlled luxury Rixos Hotel in the center of Tripoli early Tuesday, boasting to foreign journalists there that his father’s government was still “in control” and had lured the rebels into a trap, the BBC and news services reported. 

That's quite a strategy Col. Qatthafi has come up with -- luring the enemy into the downtown of your capital. Amazing nobody has ever thought of that ploy before.
His appearance raised significant questions about the credibility of rebel leaders.

I'm shocked to hear of doubts about the credibility of anybody involved in this.

At the moment, whatever is going on in Tripoli is a confusing mess. But my prediction all along has been that once Obama started the "no-fly zone," he'd keep dropping bombs until Col. Gaddafi is gone. For example, I wrote on March 25:
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. ... 
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?

August 22, 2011

DSK case dropped

Not surprisingly, DA Cyrus Vance Jr. dropped charges against former IMF boss Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

I must say that I feel like I've been lied to by my Hollywood thrillers. Here we have a case in which hundreds of billions of dollars and the leadership of a great power are at stake. In a movie, there would have been a superbly engineered conspiracy countered by brilliant agents on the other side. 

But, as far as I can tell, every single real person involved in this story acted like a complete idiot with a time horizon of about 90 seconds to 90 minutes. I've seen shoving matches in an alley between a homeless guy and a transvestite streetwalker that involved more careful planning than this.

Starkey strikes back

English historian David Starkey writes in The Telegraph:
Instead, I was trying to point out the very different patterns of integration at the top and bottom of the social scale. At the top, successful blacks, like David Lammy and Diane Abbot, have merged effortlessly into what continues to be a largely white elite: they have studied at Oxbridge and gone on to Oxbridge-style careers, such as that of an MP. 
But they have done so at the cost of losing much of their credibility with blacks on the street and in the ghettos. And here, at the bottom of the heap, the story of integration is the opposite: it is the white lumpen proletariat, cruelly known as the “chavs”, who have integrated into the pervasive black “gangsta” culture: they wear the same clothes; they talk and text in the same Jafaican patois; and, as their participation in recent events shows, they have become as disaffected and riotous. 
Trying to explain why, led me to what all my friends agree was my greatest error: to mention Enoch Powell. Tactically, of course, they are right, as the “Rivers of Blood” speech remains, even 40-odd years after its delivery, an unhealed wound. 
Unfortunately, the speech and still more the reaction to it, are also central to any proper understanding of our present discontents. For Powell’s views were popular at the time and the London dockers marched in his support. The reaction of the liberal elites in both the Labour and Tory parties, who had just driven Powell into the wilderness, was unanimous: the white working class could never be trusted on race again. The result was a systematic attack over several decades: on their perceived xenophobic patriotism, on symbols like the flag of St George, even – and increasingly – on the very idea of England itself. 
The attack was astonishingly successful. But it left a void where a sense of common identity should be. And, for too many, the void has been filled with the values of “gangsta” culture.

Read the whole thing.

There's an odd scene in the comic novel Bridget Jones, where to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Britain's victory over Nazi Germany in May 1995, Bridget and her media friends want to throw a party. But when Bridget suggests using flags in the party decor, her pals are shocked by her sudden outbreak of hooligan racism and the party is called off.

You have to be pretty well indoctrinated to be revolted by your country's flag on the 50th anniversary of your victory over Hitler.

August 21, 2011

Great moments in privatization

From the New York Daily News on the next phase in the Vulcan Society v. Fire Department of New York disparate impact discrimination lawsuit:
The controversial upcoming FDNY [Fire Department New York] exam will be the most expensive test in the city's history, the Daily News has learned. 
The new civil service test, ordered by a Brooklyn federal judge who declared that previous FDNY exams discriminated against minorities, is expected to cost the city more than $3.3 million to develop and administer, officials said. 
The cost of the previous Fire Department exam, given in 2007, was $1.3 million, according to officials at the Department of Citywide Administrative Services. 
The huge jump in cost hasn't sat well in City Hall. "This litigation has forced some very costly mandates on the city for the development and administration of the test," said Julie Wood, spokeswoman for Mayor Bloomberg. "We have to pay for them." 
Judge Nicholas Garaufis last year demanded that the city alter its method of recruiting firefighters and blocked the FDNY - which is 91% white - from hiring any candidates until a new test was created. The judge also mandated that the new test be created by an outside developer, instead of within DCAS - the agency that normally creates the city's exams. 
The city hired California-based PSI Services to develop and give the test, which is expected to be given in the first few months of 2012. 
The requirement to hire an expensive outside consultant has sent costs soaring, City Hall insiders grumbled.

This is the golden age of for-profit psychometrics. A big driving force is the following logic:

- We are unsatisfied with the disparate impact of the current test.

- Since, as everyone knows, it's racist to say that there is anything unsatisfactory about minority test-takers, therefore the test must be unsatisfactory.

- Ergo, we should hire an expensive psychometric consulting firm on a cost-plus contract to finally design a non-discriminatory test from scratch that won't have disparate impact. Obviously, the only possible reason that none of the countless tests already created eliminated disparate impact is that they weren't trying hard enough. So, if we have to spend an extra million or two million dollars to get the Platinum Premium custom-designed test that will finally overcome disparate impact, then it's well worth it. (Subsidiary logic: Pay no attention to results in other cities during the last several decades. Otherwise, you might learning something, and learning is racist. If you do ever let yourself notice that everybody else has failed at what you plan to do, reassure yourself that the reason all these other cities have failed to find the holy grail of the fire department test without disparate impact is because they were not as pure of heart as you are.)

Lather, rinse, and repeat ad infinitum. Hey, it's a living for testing firms.

End of WWII, Again

The surrender of Japan in the late summer of 1945 remains one of the more argued-over events in history, even though it happened in the absolute full glare of world attention and it made complete sense. It's worth going over the various causes once again, in part because it shows how hard it is to figure out why anybody does anything, even something as sensible as not getting atom bombed, invaded, and divided up with the Soviets.

Gareth Cook writes in the Boston Globe in "Why Did the Japanese Surrender?"
Tsuyoshi Hasegawa - a highly respected historian at the University of California, Santa Barbara - has marshaled compelling evidence that it was the Soviet entry into the Pacific conflict, not Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that forced Japan’s surrender. 

I've always assumed it was all three that finally broke the will of the Japanese leadership. They had a truly bad week (Hiroshima August 6, Soviet invasion of Manchuria early August 9, Nagasaki midday August 9). And it still took them several more days, plus a giant American conventional bombing raid a few days after Nagasaki, to come to a consensus. And then there was a failed military coup that seized the Imperial Palace for a night. The surrender wasn't announced until August 15 in Japan (although that was August 14 in Times Square).

The Japanese were nuts in WWII. The rulers had largely risen up through a system in which the non-nuts were assassinated, so their grip on reality was shaky. Their strategic planning boiled down to asserting that the bravery of Japanese soldiers would make Japan win in the end.
The Japanese could still inflict heavy casualties on any invader, and they hoped to convince the Soviet Union, still neutral in the Asian theater, to mediate a settlement with the Americans. Stalin, they calculated, might negotiate more favorable terms in exchange for territory in Asia. It was a long shot, but it made strategic sense. 

As opposed to Stalin just taking Japanese-held territory in northeast Asia with the world's strongest army? The Japanese had been beaten bad up in the Manchuria-Mongolia-Russia border region by Gen. Zhukov way back in August 1939, and six years later, there was no evidence that a second Soviet-Japanese war would be less of a drubbing. So, what was in it for Stalin to step in on the side of Japan?

The Japanese high command was living in cloud-cuckoo land. And why, exactly, would you want to get Stalin involved in a war you are losing? In contrast, during the last weeks of the war in Europe, everybody in Germany with half-a-brain (e.g., Werner von Braun) had been climbing in their Mercedes and driving west as fast as they could to surrender to Americans or Brits rather than to the Soviets.
On Aug. 6, the American bomber Enola Gay dropped its payload on Hiroshima, leaving the signature mushroom cloud and devastation on the ground, including something on the order of 100,000 killed. (The figures remain disputed, and depend on how the fatalities are counted.) 
As Hasegawa writes in his book “Racing the Enemy,” the Japanese leadership reacted with concern, but not panic. On Aug. 7, Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo sent an urgent coded telegram to his ambassador in Moscow, asking him to press for a response to the Japanese request for mediation, which the Soviets had yet to provide. The bombing added a “sense of urgency,” Hasegawa says, but the plan remained the same. 
Very late the next night, however, something happened that did change the plan. The Soviet Union declared war and launched a broad surprise attack on Japanese forces in Manchuria. In that instant, Japan’s strategy was ruined. Stalin would not be extracting concessions from the Americans. And the approaching Red Army brought new concerns: The military position was more dire, and it was hard to imagine occupying communists allowing Japan’s traditional imperial system to continue. Better to surrender to Washington than to Moscow. 
By the morning of Aug. 9, the Japanese Supreme War Council was meeting to discuss the terms of surrender. (During the meeting, the second atomic bomb killed tens of thousands at Nagasaki.) On Aug. 15, the Japanese surrendered unconditionally. ...

"Meeting to discuss the terms of surrender" is misleading. The Japanese had long been willing to discuss "surrender" on highly favorable terms. They didn't get serious about surrendering until after the Nagasaki bombing.
How is it possible that the Japanese leadership did not react more strongly to many tens of thousands of its citizens being obliterated? 
One answer is that the Japanese leaders were not greatly troubled by civilian causalities. As the Allies loomed, the Japanese people were instructed to sharpen bamboo sticks and prepare to meet the Marines at the beach. 
Yet it was more than callousness. The bomb - horrific as it was - was not as special as Americans have always imagined. In early March, several hundred B-29 Super Fortress bombers dropped incendiary bombs on downtown Tokyo. Some argue that more died in the resulting firestorm than at Hiroshima. People were boiled in the canals. The photos of charred Tokyo and charred Hiroshima are indistinguishable. 
In fact, more than 60 of Japan’s cities had been substantially destroyed by the time of the Hiroshima attack, according to a 2007 International Security article by Wilson, who is a senior fellow at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. In the three weeks before Hiroshima, Wilson writes, 25 cities were heavily bombed. 
To us, then, Hiroshima was unique, and the move to atomic weaponry was a great leap, military and moral. But Hasegawa argues the change was incremental. “Once we had accepted strategic bombing as an acceptable weapon of war, the atomic bomb was a very small step,” he says. To Japan’s leaders, Hiroshima was yet another population center leveled, albeit in a novel way. If they didn’t surrender after Tokyo, they weren’t going to after Hiroshima.

Cook is missing the point that it was not the Hiroshima bomb but the Nagasaki bomb that demonstrated that the U.S. could now vaporize cities at will. This isn't a post-hoc rationalization. The American strategists had assumed that the Japanese militarists would reassure themselves that, well, sure, the Americans had one atomic bomb, but who can afford more than one? Indeed, a Japanese official made just that argument the day after Hiroshima. Thus, the U.S. planned to use two in one week to get the message across that the U.S. could afford as many as it felt like.

I don't think the story of P-51 pilot and POW Lt. Marcus McDilda is essential to understanding the Japanese surrender, but it is interesting and I hadn't heard it before:

From "War in the Pacific" by Marine Brig. Gen. Jerome Hagen:
On the evening of August 8, 1945, in Osaka, Japan, several kempei tai (Japanese secret police) were questioning an American flyer who had been shot down earlier in the day. ... The questioning intensified as did the beatings. What did he know of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima two days earlier? Absolutely nothing, McDilda responded. 
Believing that they were on to something, the kempei tai brought in a general officer just before midnight to break McDilda. The general demanded that McDilda tell him about the atomic bomb. When McDilda said nothing, the general drew his sword and held it before McDilda's face. Then he jabbed forward, cutting through McDilda's lip. Blood streamed down the pilot's chin and flight suit. The general screamed, "If you don't tell me about the bomb, I'll personally cut off your head." ...  According to author William Craig, McDilda embarked upon a lie worthy of the best storyteller: 
"As you know ..., when atoms are split, there are a lot of pluses and minuses released. Well, we've taken these and put them in a huge container and separated them from each other with a lead shield. When the box is dropped out of a plane, we melt the lead shield and the pluses and minuses come together. When that happens, it causes a tremendous bolt of lightning and all the atmosphere over a city is pushed back! Then when the atmosphere rolls back, it brings about a tremendous thunderclap, which knocks down everything beneath it." 
When pushed to further describe the bomb, McDilda added that it was about 36 feet long and 24 feet wide. The interrogators were delighted but needed to know one thing more. Where was the next target for the new weapon? McDilda chose the two Japanese cities he could think of and responded, "Kyoto and Tokyo. Tokyo is supposed to be bombed in the next few days." [In fact, the third atomic bomb was scheduled for August 19, and, yes, Tokyo may well have been the target.] ... One of the interrogators left the room and put through a call to the headquarters of the secret police in Tokyo. 
The next morning, McDilda was flown from Osaka to Tokyo where he became a "very important person" to the Japanese secret police. McDilda's questioner in Tokyo was a civilian who wore a pinstripe suit. "I am a graduate of CCNY College," he told McDilda, "and most interested in your story about the atomic bomb." McDilda repeated his story again. After several minutes, the official knew that McDilda was a fake who knew nothing about nuclear fission. When asked why he was telling such a lie, McDilda responded that he had tried, without success, to tell his interrogators that he knew nothing about the bomb but had to invent the lie to stay alive. The Japanese official laughed. McDilda was taken to a cell, given some food, and waited for the unknown. 
McDilda, at the time, had no idea that his lie had saved his life. Shortly after the emperor had broadcast the news of defeat, more than 50 American prisoners at the Osaka secret police headquarters were beheaded by vengeful Japanese soldiers.

The other point that I hadn't realized until now was that the Soviet agreement to fight the Japanese after defeating the Germans -- first made in 1943 and reiterated at Yalta in early 1945, with a specific timeframe of three months after German surrender, which Stalin kept to to the day -- was kept secret. The Soviet declaration of war came as a huge surprise to the Japanese regime. 

In the summer of 1945, the Red Army was the reigning world heavyweight champion of armies. But nobody told the Japanese that they were in the Soviet crosshairs. It would seem like the logic of Hasegawa's argument would be that the big missed opportunity to save lives in 1945 would have been to demoralize the Japanese by publishing the Yalta agreement on Soviet entry into the war against Japan in, say, May 1945. But, that hasn't been a topic of much discussion, as far as I can tell.

Why keep it secret?

I don't know. I can make a few guesses, but I'm just guessing.

In fact, the Soviets had signed a five year non-aggression pact with the Japanese in 1941. In early 1945, they had given the official one year notice that it would not be renewed in 1946. Molotov had reassured the Japanese envoy that the nonaggression pact would be in effect until April 1946. 

Presumably, the Soviets kept the Yalta agreement a secret because they wanted to preserve their freedom to maneuver. (The Soviet attack about 36 hours after Hiroshima wasn't an opportunist post-Hiroshima improvisation. They'd been moving supplies and men for months.)

Also, the Soviets wanted to stage a sneak attack. Indeed, the Soviet invasion of Manchuria might be the all time most effective sneak attack. (Here's the War Nerd's appraisal of the terrific performance by the Red Army.) The Soviets violated their treaty with Japan, but nobody cares. The Japanese were losers.

What was America's incentive to keep the Soviet promise a secret, besides the Soviets wanted it that way? I don't know. Perhaps the idea was to end the war with the A-bombs before the Soviets got in on the action?

Finally, Truman had apparently amended FDR's demand of "unconditional surrender" by Japan at the Potsdam Conference on July 26, 1945 to "unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces," which left the door open to the Emperor staying on as a figurehead. But, it's not clear that anybody in power in Japan other than a few diplomats picked up on this hint.

In summary, I suspect the atom bombs came as kind of a fortuitous surprise to the Japanese. Honor demanded that they fight the Americans on the beaches and on the landing grounds, but now the Americans had a new superweapon, so it wasn't as shameful to surrender.

Plus, they got to surrender intact as a country to the U.S. rather than wait and get divided up between the U.S. and the Soviets like Korea and Germany. Considering how close the division of Korea, a minor player relative to Japan, came to causing WWIII in 1951 and how the division of Germany was the cause of the scariest standoff in world history, well, we should all be happy the end came soon.