April 14, 2012

Haidt: Political Sacredness = Motivated Ignorance

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt says (via Falkenblog):
The fundamental rule of political analysis from the point of psychology is, follow the sacredness, and around it is a ring of motivated ignorance.

Manhattan IS Lake Wobegon

If you are ever feeling in the need for a laugh, just look up the latest news from New York City on the Kindergarten Admissions Wars. Year after year, it's pure comedy gold. Amazingly, this NYT reporter, Anna M. Phillips, appears to be starting to get the joke:
After Number of Gifted Soars, a Fight for Kindergarten Slots 
Nearly 5,000 children qualified for gifted and talented kindergarten seats in New York City public schools in the fall, 22 percent more than last year and more than double the number four years ago, setting off a fierce competition for the most sought-after programs in the system. 
On their face, the results, released on Friday by the Education Department, paint a portrait of a city in which some neighborhoods appear to be entirely above average. In Districts 2 and 3, which encompass most of Manhattan below 110th Street, more students scored at or above the 90th percentile on the entrance exam, the cutoff point, than scored below it. 
But experts pointed to several possible reasons for the large increase. For one, more middle-class and wealthy parents are staying in the city and choosing to send their children to public schools, rather than moving to the suburbs or pursuing increasingly expensive private schools. And the switch to a test-based admissions system four years ago has given rise to test-preparation services, from booklets costing a few dollars to courses costing hundreds or more, raising concerns that the test’s results were being skewed. ...
Of the children who scored high enough on the entrance exam to be eligible for a gifted program, more than half — 2,656 — qualified for the five most selective schools by scoring at or above the 97th percentile. But those schools — three in Manhattan and one each in Brooklyn and Queens — have only about 400 kindergarten seats. The rest of the 4,912 children qualified for one of the dozens of gifted programs spread throughout the five boroughs. 

A.K.A., the Loser Gifted Programs for Loser Children of Loser Parents who Don't Love Their Children Enough to Figure Out How to Get Them into the Golden 400.
Gifted programs generally offer an accelerated curriculum, as well as the opportunity to be around other high-performing children.

Keep in mind, we're talking about high-performing kindergarteners here.
The city did not provide a racial breakdown of students who qualified, but as in years past, the more affluent districts — 2 and 3 in Manhattan, in neighborhoods west and south of Prospect Park in Brooklyn, and in northeastern Queens — had the most students qualify. In District 2, 949 children qualified for a gifted program, far more than in any other district.
District 2 starts at about 96th St. on the Upper East Side and includes all of Manhattan south of Central Park, except, amazingly enough, Alphabet City on the Lower East Side. (And even that's gentrifying.)
In District 3, 505 children qualified. By contrast, in District 7, in the South Bronx, only six children qualified for gifted placements and none for the five most exclusive schools.

Two orders of magnitude difference.
Every year since 2008, when the city put the current testing program into effect and 2,230 students qualified for seats in gifted and talented kindergarten classes, the number of children scoring at or above the 90th percentile has steadily grown. The chancellor in 2008, Joel I. Klein, made the change to standardize the admissions process, replacing a system in which each district set its own standards for entry, a process that drew criticism from parents who said favoritism sometimes played a role.

When school supremo Joel Klein made the switch to pure test-based admissions, using tests would obviously have a huge disparate impact effect. But, Klein didn't know or didn't care, because kindergarten admissions is serious stuff where testing is too crucial to be sacrificed on the altar of racial equality. This isn't something trivial like saving people from burning skyscrapers, this is NYC kindergarten admissions, and don't you forget it. Different rules apply.
But the new process has come under scrutiny for its complete reliance on the test — actually two exams, the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test, or Olsat, a reasoning exam, and the Bracken School Readiness Assessment, a knowledge test. 
In January, the city awarded Pearson a three-year contract for roughly $5.5 million to replace the Bracken exam with the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test, which city education officials contend will better measure ability.

Isn't it weird that this is a golden age for the psychometric industry? Standardized tests are constantly denounced, yet governments keep shoveling more money to testing firms to create new tests that will Finally Get It Right. These firms have achieved the perfect marketing equilibrium.
The contract places restrictions on Pearson’s ability to sell its test materials to anyone outside the Education Department, to make it harder for test-preparation companies to get their hands on them.

Oh, well, that will stop New York City test prep firms dead in their tracks.
... Always on the alert for changes to admissions policies, some tutoring companies, true to the nature of their profession, are prepared for it. 
One of the companies, Aristotle Circle, already offers a $300 “test preparation and enrichment kit” designed for the Naglieri and similar exams. 
“You can build a better mousetrap, it doesn’t matter,” said Suzanne Rheault, one of Aristotle’s founders. “There’s no way you can stop it because now the idea of preparing for the kindergarten test is totally the norm. The stakes are so high.”

April 13, 2012

The Triumph of Reverend Bacon

From the Washington Post:
Al Sharpton, power player 
By Dana Milbank, Friday, April 13, 4:12 PM 
The Rev. Al Sharpton is lord of all he surveys. 
“Check out this,” the flamboyant civil rights leader told me during breakfast at his organization’s annual meeting this week. He flipped through the program until he found a full-page ad with the logos of Fox News, the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal. “News Corporation Proudly Supports National Action Network’s 2012 Convention,” it said. 
Sharpton grinned. “They bash me on Fox News,” he said. “But they sponsor my conference.” 
Everybody wants to be on Sharpton’s good side these days. No fewer than five Cabinet officers and a senior White House official went to this year’s convention to kiss his ring. President Obama spoke at last year’s conference and has sought Sharpton’s advice on policy. Sharpton has a show on MSNBC five nights a week, and he doles out airtime to a procession of politicians and journalists (including me). 
Wednesday night brought the sweetest moment yet in Sharpton’s long and controversial career: the announcement that Florida authorities would charge Trayvon Martin’s shooter. Sharpton, at the request of the boy’s parents, had done more than anyone else to bring the case national attention. 
Just hours before the announcement that George Zimmerman would be charged with second-degree murder, Martin’s parents held a joint news conference with Sharpton — and a few hours before that, Attorney General Eric Holder, also at the convention, praised Sharpton for his “tireless efforts to speak out for the voiceless, to stand up for the powerless.” 
It was confirmation that Sharpton has pulled off one of the rarest second acts in American public life: from pariah to power player. 
“It was a huge moment, because it was the coming together of everything,” Sharpton said, with his trademark vainglory. “We had the attorney general here and one of the biggest civil rights cases of the 21st century, and having to do TV and radio shows at the same time, it was all combined for everybody to see.” ...

On Thursday, the day after his most visible career triumph, Sharpton worked the ballroom at Washington’s convention center, grinning for photographs. Opening up for his breakfast speaker, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Sharpton regaled the crowd with a story of how Obama invited him and Newt Gingrich to the Oval Office and asked them to launch a five-city tour promoting education reform. When Duncan took the microphone, he requested “a huge round of applause for our leader, Reverend Al Sharpton.” 

I suspect Milbank will get the message quickly: Ixnay on the Sharptonian Triumphalism (Rev. Al 24x7 is not one of Team Obama's re-election talking points).

Dynasticism: Fading or Growing?

Speaking of nepotism in India, here's my 2003 article in The National Interest, "Revolutionary Nepotism," surveying the global resurgence of dynasticism. It would be interesting to update it to see which way trends have gone over the last decade. 

One of the things that got me interested in the topic was the growth of dynasticism among baseball players: the best National Leaguer and the best American Leaguer of the 1990s were, arguably, Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr., whose fathers I vividly recalled. (I watched Bobby Bonds's first major league game in 1968 on TV, and he hit a grand slam homer to beat my Dodgers.) Before the late 20th Century, there just weren't a lot of examples in baseball history of superstars who were the sons of all-stars or vice-versa. So, one question would be whether this trend has continued in baseball over the last decade.

Python Parents

From the NYT:
Across India, Nepotism as a Way of Life

NEW DELHI — The Indian upper class, like royalty, is sexually transmitted. Politics, business, mainstream cinema and other occupations where talent is subordinate to lineage are dominated by family cartels, who plant their own over the rest. The Indian elite is a system where there is a 100 percent reservation for its own genetic material. And the most underrated joke in the country is when this class joins the middle class in lamenting reservations for the poorest Indians from the “backward” castes in colleges and jobs. 
The urban middle class, too, is a beneficiary of the generous and tenacious Indian family, which subsidizes its children far longer and deeper than is generally accepted. Only a young Indian who is not supported by a family purse will appreciate the simple fact that he or she does not compete with other young people for a shot at a decent life but with whole families. The Indian is less an individual and more the mascot of his family background — much the way Rahul Gandhi is the mascot of the Gandhi dynasty. ... 
Bilawal Zardari, 23, is chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party. Rahul Gandhi, 41, is a general secretary of the Congress party. Bilawal Zardari’s prime qualification for the position he holds is that he is the son of the late prime minister Benazir Bhutto and grandson of the late prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Mr. Gandhi’s is that he is the son of the late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and grandson of the late prime minister Indira Gandhi. [And great-grandson of India's first prime minister, Nehru.]... 
In mainstream Hindi cinema, all the top actors cast in lead roles, barring one, are sons of former film stars, directors or writers. ... It is unusual for Indian businessmen to donate to charity because such generosity is at the expense of their primary function — to materially enrich the lives of their children. ... 
The parents stand by their children for a long time, buying them apartments and cars, and putting those with no family support at considerable disadvantage. In return, the useful parents exert considerable power over their children long after they cease to be children. 
The Indian cricket star Yuvraj Singh is more often photographed with his mother than with pretty girls. In any other country it would be unusual to see a young sports star photographed so often with his mama. Rahul Dravid, one of the most revered cricketers, once dated a top actress, but he married the girl his mother picked. 

Tiger Mothers, Eagle Fathers, Dalmatian Dads, and now, for the sake of alliteration, Python Parents. (Or maybe Boa Constrictor Parents?)

There are two theoretically distinct elements here: parental investment and nepotism. 

You can have societies that are low in parental investment and high in nepotism, but you wouldn't want to live in one. The most trouble-free societies are high in paternal investment and low in nepotism, but, it's not easy to stay that way. It's rather unnatural. As Ibn Khaldun pointed out 700 years ago, when the all-for-one-and-one-for-all tribes come screaming out of the desert and conquer a lush city, within a few generations of prosperity, they are all stabbing each other in the back in family quarrels.

One problem with high paternal investment, apart from nepotism, is that it funds a lot of diminishing marginal return competition for positional goods. In 21st Century America, the Ivy League to Wall Street career path is so lucrative that it generates a huge amount of competition without obvious societal benefit. In contrast, in Heinlein's America, which was fairly low nepotism (especially from December 8, 1941 onward) and fairly high (but not extravagant) paternal investment, in contrast, it seemed sensible just to send your kid to State U.

I don't know anything about the lower 80% or so of the Indian population, but the upper reaches seem to be a high paternal investment culture. 

This high level of nepotism makes India a more screwed-up nation than it has to be. What's interesting, however, is that high nepotism culture that helps make India a mess simultaneously makes Indians well situated to compete in globalized America. 

April 12, 2012

Trayvon's mom calls it "an accident"

On the Today Show today, there was the following exchange between interviewer Ann Curry and the mother of the late Trayvon, Sybrina Fulton:
Q.: I want to ask Tracy and Sybrina, either of you can take this question. If you were to come face to face with George Zimmerman, what do you want to tell him? What do you want to ask him? 
A.: One of the things that I still believe in: a person should apologize when they are actually remorseful for what they've done. I believe it was an accident. I believe that it just got out of control, and he couldn't turn the clock back. I would ask him, did he know that that was a minor, that that was a teenager and that he did not have a weapon? I would ask him -- that I understand that his family is hurting, but think about our family that lost our teenage son. I mean, it's just very difficult to live with day in and day out. I'm sure his parents can pick up the phone and call him, but we can't pick up the phone and call Trayvon anymore.

That seems about the most sensible thing anybody has had to say so far about this tragic mess-up. 

Not surprisingly, a few hours later, it was retracted.

Derbyshire talks back

John Derbyshire's new column at Takimag.com is up. John is his usual genial self. He advises readers to give me money, which is always good advice. Unfortunately, my Paypal button isn't working at the moment (as usual), but I'll get it fixed and start my first panhandling drive since August pretty soon. 

I would have added that you should consider age, sex, and class as well as race, but as he says:
On the other hand, the context here is advice to kids. Deciding which situation says, “Stay out of this!” and which says, “Help the guy” requires an act of judgment. Kids don’t have very good judgment; so a blanket “Stay out of this!” is not bad advice in context.

The other context is the huge amount of bilige from the prestige press over the preceding three weeks claiming that racial profiling was tantanount to child murder. Maybe John's piece went too far in the opposite direction, but certainly it left readers of the prestige press with a little bit better net understanding of how the world works compared to the unadulterated run of tosh they'd been getting.

Also, writing for a teenage daughter, I would have been especially emphatic about her staying away from black boys, no matter how smooth talking, until she's 21 at least.

Zimmerman, Jena Six, and overcharging

I have some fun below with the Dave Barry-ish Florida special prosecutor lady overcharging George Zimmerman with 2nd degree murder, but it's worth keeping in mind (because nobody else will) how this is the mirror image of the Jena Six brouhaha. 

As you'll recall (although nobody else will), Sharpton, Jackson, and Obama were all up in arms in 2007 about the prosecutor in Jena, Louisiana charging six black youths with Attempted Murder for their stomping of an unconscious white youth. This was the Most Racist Thing Ever according to the prestige press brouhaha. 

But it turned out that a local reporter named Abbey Brown had already gotten the real story, which was that the six stompers were the stars of the high school football team in this football crazy town, and, with the assistance of their coaches, had been getting away with a "reign of terror," as a local minister phrased it. Mychal Bell, the All-Stater who was their leader, had already been convicted three times in juvenile court, but that hadn't impeded his playing time. The prosecutor's ploy of overcharging them was to get them out of the juvenile justice system and into the adult system, where they wound up with modest sentences that at least made an impression on them.

This is not to say that blacks are never the victims of racist injustice, but that crime stories involving blacks that the prestige press gets most worked up over (Dominique Strass-Kahn, Duke Lacrosse, various campus hate hoaxes, etc.) turn out, with remarkable regularity, to be travesties.

SAT scores & race: Everything you ever wanted to know

The Unsilenced Science has the world's most comprehensive blog post on SAT scores and race. Check it out.

Liberalism as leapfrogging loyalties

I want to come back to this new New York Times op-ed about how the guy in Toulouse, France who massacred those Jewish children was, when you stop and think about it, a victim of French nationalism. It's by:
Karl E. Meyer, a former member of the New York Times editorial board, is a co-author of “Pax Ethnica: Where and How Diversity Succeeds.”

It's such a perfect illustration of how the defining aspect of 21st Century liberalism (or leftism or whatever you want to call it) is "leapfrogging loyalties." 

The default human tendency is toward concentric loyalties. If you look at people in Szechuan or Paraguay or Burkina Faso, you'll notice that they tend to feel the most duties and allegiance toward people whom they consider most like themselves, moderate amounts toward people moderately close to them, and so forth onward and outward.

But the Western liberal is noteworthy for feeling loyalty toward his inner circle, however defined, then ostentatiously leapfrogging over a whole bunch of people who are kind of like him but whom he despises, in order to embrace The Other. 
Who Gets to Be French? 
Published: April 11, 2012 
THE French language is justly renowned for its clarity and precision. Yet on a seemingly simple matter its speakers stumble into a fog — who or what can be defined as French? The question arose afresh in the wake of the Toulouse killings. No one doubted that the perpetrator was 23-year-old Mohammed Merah, a native son of Algerian descent. But was Mr. Merah French? 
Impossible, declared four members of Parliament belonging to President Nicolas Sarkozy’s center-right party. In a joint statement, they insisted that Mr. Merah “had nothing French about him but his identity papers.” 
Nonsense, retorted the left-wing journal Libération: “Merah is certainly a monster, but he was a French monster.” A childhood friend of Mr. Merah provided a poignant elaboration: “Our passports may say that we are French, but we don’t feel French because we were never accepted here. No one can excuse what he did, but he is a product of French society, of the feeling that he had no hope and nothing to lose. It was not Al Qaeda that created Mohammed Merah. It was France.” 
These opposing approaches to what it means to be French — one rooted in an uncompromising ideal of assimilation, the other grounded in the messy realities of multiculturalism — struck a chord with me. While researching a book on the politics of diversity with my wife, Shareen Blair Brysac, I encountered not only the exclusionary attitude prevailing in metropolitan Paris, but also the more tolerant worldview epitomized by the port city of Marseille — a worldview that the rest of France would be well served to embrace. ... 
Can and should the Marseillais spirit of civilized tolerance spread northward? My wife and I were reminded that it was a throng of volunteers singing a melody as they marched to Paris from already polyglot Marseille who gave France its national anthem, “La Marseillaise.” 

In other words, Meyer is embracing Mohammed Merah, an anti-Semitic mass murderer, as a handy club with which to beat the majority of the French for their insensitivity to Mr. Merah. Granted, even by the standards of anti-Semitic terrorists, Merah seems like nasty, dismal company, but he appeals to Meyer and to the editors of the New York Times because he's The Other. He's not like all those terrible people whom Meyer and the editors strive to be seen as better than, so that makes him useful

And, granted, French secular nationalism is the one of the main achievements of the signature event of the Left, the French Revolution, while Mr. Merah would appear to be, by objective standards, a would-be rightwing thug (who just got born in the wrong country), but who cares about all that stuff? Merah is a member of a designated victim group, so let's use him to bash the average French person for not being as down with diversity as we are!

2nd degree murder requires "depraved mind"

Special Prosecutor Angela B. Corey has accused of George Zimmerman of 2nd degree murder, which in the state of Florida requires evidence of a "depraved mind." While researching this legal concept on Google News, I stumbled upon this March 16th article from the Southwest Florida News-Press about another recent case in Florida where prosecutors also brought 2nd degree murder charges for killing while "evincing a depraved mind." I think this case provides some helpful context and perspective for understanding the Florida law: 
Details released today in documents by the State Attorney’s Office reveal a catalogue of hundreds of bloody items examined by investigators in the home of a Naples man accused of beheading his girlfriend last July. 
Christopher Serna, 35, is charged with second-degree murder while evincing a depraved mind. ... Bishop's head was stuck on a pole in the living room. Her nude body was found on the floor in a pool of blood in a bedroom.

I'm leaving out a number of other details from the article even more grotesque. (You'll notice that I'm too squeamish to review movies of the Saw / Hostel ilk.)

On the other hand, Zimmerman was accused by NBC News of racially profiling Trayvon Martin, so I guess that's about equal evidence of a depraved mind.  These days, if you suspect that a black youth with a what appears to be a track record of being a burglar might be a burglar is pretty much the same as sticking your girlfriend's head on a pole in the living room. By the standards of 2012, it's kind of a toss-up which is more depraved, isn't it?

April 11, 2012

Not reassuring ...

I was hoping that this special prosecutor lady in Florida would bring some reassurance that George Zimmerman isn't being railroaded due to racial hatred and hysteria. I don't know what exactly happened that night and I don't know what should happen next. So, I was a good target audience for her.

I'm a natural born chump when it comes to trusting authority figures. You don't have to do much to get me to give you the benefit of the doubt ... Yeah, I may try to sound like a hard-boiled cynic, but that's because I've been played the fool so often. My natural disposition is naive and trusting.

All Ms. Corey would have needed to do to get me on her side is start off with some boilerplate about how this is a very complex case, and there has been much misinformation in the media, but a careful review of all the evidence has led her to decide, after careful consideration, that the state must go ahead with the prosecution. Maybe hint that there are pertinent facts that aren't in the public domain. 

But, hoo boy, this speech of hers is not at all reassuring to a Martin-Zimmerman agnostic like myself. Here's the opening paragraph:
Good evening everyone. I am Angela Corey, special prosecutor for the Trayvon Martin case. Just moments ago, we spoke by phone with Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton. Three weeks ago our prosecution team promised those sweet parents we would get answers to all of their questions, no matter where our quest for truth led us. 

I was hoping for some gravitas, but instead we get a character out of a Dave Barry column on Florida politicians.

NYT: Toulouse anti-Semitic murders really are fault of "exclusionists" after all

A few weeks ago, the New York Times made a fool of itself by running an article gloating over how the anti-immigration mass murderering terrorist in Toulouse would hurt the evil immigration restrictionists in the upcoming French election. Of course, there's never any accountability, so this embarrassing screw-up largely was almost instantly forgotten. 

But, evidently, the memory of the humiliation rankled. And when you own the Bullhorn, you can keep shouting. So, on the New York Times op-ed page, a former member of the paper's editorial board now explains why Mohammed Mera's killing spree really is the fault of evil "exclusionists" who aren't sensitive enough to diversity.

Maybe next, the NYT will run something explaining how the Shaima Alawadi hate crime hoax that they had splashed big really was the fault of, uh, I dunno, SB1070 in Arizona.

Does Constitution's double jeopardy ban protect Zimmerman?

Assume for a moment that a jury finds the state of Florida's case for second degree murder unconvincing beyond a reasonable doubt, refuses to compromise to a lower charge, and frees George Zimmerman, thus setting off riots. 

Is he then free for good, under the Constitution's ban on double jeopardy?

Of course not. As seen in the two trials of the cops who whomped Rodney King, the government gets two shots at defendants whose unsatisfactory verdicts cause black riots. 

Of course, in the Rodney King trials, the first one was a state trial and the second one a federal trial. As everybody knows, when it comes to Bill of Rights protections, state governments and federal governments don't have anything to do with each other in the slightest. That's why the states can do anything they want regarding civil rights, such as having an established state church. You see, Constitutional rights only apply to the Federal government. 

Oh, wait ... that's how it was in 1790, but that got changed a long, long time ago. Well, never mind about that ...

Okay, the real reason the LAPD cops weren't protected by the 5th Amendment's prohibition on double jeopardy is that their two trials were on utterly separate charges. The first trial was on charges of whomping Rodney King and the second trial was on charges of violating Rodney King's civil rights by whomping him: totally different!

Also, you might think that the second trial was inherently likely to be biased since the jurors were under vast pressure to convict so that Los Angeles wouldn't be burned down again by drunken mobs. How can you have a fair trial with a vengeful horde standing in the wings ready to loot, rape, and pillage if they don't like the verdict?

I think, however, you'll find that you've just answered your own question.

Seriously, the most interesting thing I saw about the second Rodney King trial, in which two officers were acquitted and two convicted, was an interview with three of the jurors soon afterwards. I believe it was in the New York Times, but I've never been able to find it online. At the very end of the interview, tossed in as aside, was the stunning revelation by the three jurors that they had only voted to convict based on the last of the 60 or so blows the videotape showed landing on King. They had spent a large amount of time studying the full videotape (not the truncated part shown on TV) in slow motion and had concluded that only the very last of all the blows could be seen beyond a reasonable doubt as unnecessary to subduing the large and energetic King.

My jaw fell about six inches reading this, but as usual with most things that interest me, this fact seems to have disappeared down the memory hole without leaving a ripple in the Narrative. So, maybe I'm just imagining it all ...

My overall opinion of the Rodney King case is what I've always told my sons when giving them "The Talk:" if you make the cops chase you at 100 mph, you get their adrenaline up. And you really don't want to do that because they will likely do very bad things to you when they finally catch you because they will be so worked up they will have a hard time controlling themselves.  It's like the end of a fox hunt in England. The hounds don't carefully eat the fox after they finally catch it, they rip it to shreds because the dogs are so overwhelmed with adrenaline. 

Moreover, Rodney himself had plenty of adrenaline flowing, too, so he put up a helluva fight. (His friend in the front seat calmly stayed in the car and was untouched.)

Something I've noticed about myself is that I'm the opposite of most people in that I tend to find deciding upon the morality of specific, idiosyncratic cases unappealing. It looks like to me that the cases that most get people worked up over who is the good guy and who is the bad guy tend to be the cases that are most arguable. I look at the Rodney King story and say, wow, that's not very good, how can we more often avoid that kind of thing from now on?

Most folks' turns of mind are judgmental, retrospective, and moralistic. My turn of mind is probabilistic, future-oriented, and technocratic. So, for example, the Rodney King case seems to have been an example of the bad consequences of a 100 mph chase. But you can't let criminals escape just by driving away fast. So, the best thing to do is to discourage criminals from, in the first place, trying to get away by driving 100 mph. How? By making sure they almost always get caught. And, indeed, it appears the LAPD actually has managed to get better at tracking fugitives with helicopters, so that they are now less likely to try it. 

Here's another technocratic idea: as we know, whomping hell out of Rodney King with batons came about in part because LAPD officers weren't allowed anymore to use the windpipe-closing chokehold that they had formerly been taught to use on out-of-control arrestees. The problem was that cops would periodically choke people to death, especially black guys who had really pissed them off. Was this because cops were seized by an irrational, uncaused hatred of black guys or because black guys tend more often to do things that really piss cops off? The first answer is the only socially acceptable one.

So, the two dozen cops trying to apprehend Rodney King saw themselves as having not much alternative to bouncing truncheons off Rodney until he decided to come quietly. (Plus, they'd been chasing him at 100 mph, so whomping him just seemed like a good idea at the time.) 

To me, it seemed like there has to be some kind of technological improvement that was better than either whomping or wading in and getting a chokehold. And, indeed, we've seen police forces equipping cops with stand-off weapons such as tasers and pepper spray.

P.S. Commenter gwern found an article from the LA Times, not the NY Times as I recalled. (I was a subscriber to the NY Times in Chicago at the time, but I was vacationing at my parents' house in LA at the time of the verdict in the second trial.)
> Jurors also played and replayed the best evidence in the case--the videotape of the beating that had been taken by an amateur and enhanced by the FBI.
> "We went through it frame by frame, slow-motion, fast-motion, God I don't know how many times we watched that thing," Juror No. 9 said.
> The tape, made by a bystander, could not answer all their questions. It was blurry at one crucial moment after King was struck and fell to the ground. Some jurors said they could see Powell using his baton to bash the fallen King in the head. But others had difficulty seeing head blows, even when the tape was viewed frame by frame.
> All could see a powerful blow that Powell later landed across King's chest. King was on the ground at the time, on his back.
> "That chest blow was unreasonable and we felt it was not to effect an arrest but just to hurt the guy," No. 9 said. "That convinced about a third of us."
> Powell's laughter while making a radio call to request an ambulance for King also contributed to jurors' impressions that he had acted callously. But the panel stopped short of taking a vote.

So, to the extent that this is the article I remembered, it doesn't say that it was the last blow that led to the conviction, just that there was one blow that was seen by a significant fraction of the jury as unjustified beyond a reasonable doubt. But, in any case, that's awfully different from The Narrative.

Martin-Zimmerman announcement

Before the special prosecutor's announcement this afternoon in the Martin-Zimmerman case comes out, let me reiterate what has been my position from the beginning:

- Sad, messed up incidents like this happen all the time in a huge country like this. For example, I spent a lot of time in 2010 playing amateur snoop in a local incident where a bunch of law enforcement agents in plain clothes "debriefing" out behind a bar started a brawl in the parking lot and would up killing an 18-year-old violist who was either trying to kill them with his car (the shooters' story), rescue the man the out-of-uniform cops had attacked, flee, or something else. 

- It's a good thing for citizens to take an interest in unresolved shootings, such as this one in Florida or the one in my neighborhood, to prevent abuses. By the standards of my local shooting, where even the names of the shooters were not released for months, the Martin-Zimmerman case is practically a model of respectable police work. The big difference is that Zimmerman was not a real cop, so the cops were relatively even-handed. The decision not to arrest him came down not from the cops but from high up. 

- As far as I can tell, the facts are about equally ambiguous in the Florida case as in my local case. To get a better understanding of either case, I'd need a picture of exactly where each individual was at each moment. That's not impossible to put together, but I haven't done it. Hopefully, the special prosecutor in Florida has done that, although, obviously, the political pressures on her are immense. (Here's the Wagist website, which seems to have tried harder than any other media source to bring out the facts of the case.)

- Nor have I made a study of the applicable law. I'd like to know what actually happened first. 

- The initial decision not to arrest Zimmerman seems reasonable. Didn't we learn a lesson from the Dominique Strauss-Kahn fiasco? This case seems more like the Conrad Murray case, in which the doctor who gave Michael Jackson his fatal injection was not arrested for many months as the prosecutors took the time to figure out what they were doing. Presumably, Zimmerman was judged not to be a flight risk, since nobody assumed at the time that the national media would try to rouse up a lynch mob against him. In my local shooting, in contrast, the law enforcement agencies investigated themselves, engaged in what sounds like witness intimidation, and, finally, after about a year, released a report completely exonerating themselves. Only at that point did the mother of the dead violist file a large civil suit (a course of action which my wife and I advised her to pursue when we accidentally met her in the parking lot 168 hours after her son's death). I look forward to someday learning the resolution of that case, but I don't have much of an opinion on what it should be. I'm just glad it wasn't completely swept under the rug. (Let me point out that I doubt if there was ever the slightest possibility that either shooter would be arrested in the local case. The only plausible outcomes other than the whole event disappearing down the memory hole would be some kind of discipline or reassignment to a desk job for the law enforcement agents and some kind of civil suit payout.)

- Zimmerman, himself, seem like a Paul Blart, Mall Cop type, one of these pro-social pro-authoritarian youngish people I've noticed a lot of in this century. He seems way too trusting of the fairness of American institutions to wage an effective legal-political-media campaign for himself. Wagist has an account of how Zimmerman has done a terrible job of lawyering up, apparently trusting too much for his own good in the criminal justice system that he has always wanted to be part of, but never managed to join.

- Of course, that raises the question of just how much good lawyering up would have done Zimmerman in the media-political battle. For the Martin parents, there was an obvious, socially acceptable game plan: hire a black civil suit attorney who is friends with Al Sharpton, which will bring Jesse Jackson sniffing around, and then, hopefully, bring in Eric Holder, and if you roll the dice right, the big chalupa of black spokesmen, Barack Obama. All the while, the prestige press will act exactly like in Bonfire of the Vanities, to play your son up as Henry Lamb. But if you are somebody with a German, possibly Jewish, surname whose mom was from Latin America, who, exactly, is going to be your ethnic champion? Right: Geraldo Rivera! Fat lot of good that does you ...

- The big story, here, of course is not what, precisely, happened that sad night in Florida, but what it teaches us about the media and the media-indoctrinated public in the 21st Century. In contrast, nobody in the press took more than a grudging interest in the local shooting of the violist. One reason is that the victim was white, so identity politics narratives couldn't be brought into play. In contrast, the Florida case was played along the lines of 1987's Bonfire of the Vanities. (I wonder what Tom Wolfe thinks? Does it annoy him that nobody ever learns from his famous book? I suspect, though, it mostly warms the cockles of his quintuple-bypassed heart that his novel remains such an excellent guide 21st Century race hysteria).

- In Florida, the press's behavior has been both stupid and shameful even by the standards of a Tom Wolfe novel. Let me point out something that hasn't been brought up much. There has been very little interviewing of pro-Zimmerman witnesses by the press. You mostly hear their accounts through leaks from the investigation. Why are they clinging to anonymity? Because most of them are terrified of being murdered by some media-inspired hothead from Team Trayvon. Now, obviously, that makes it hard for the press to interview them. But, shouldn't the media tell us that

Tuareg revolt in Mali

The New York Times has an article entitled "All Hail Azawad" about the new breakaway Tuareg state in the Sahara:
The northern half of Mali has just declared independence, and would henceforth like that you call it Azawad, pretty please. “We solemnly proclaim the independence of Azawad as of today,” Mossa ag Attaher, a rebel spokesman, told the France 24 TV channel on Friday, April 6.

This includes Timbuktu, in case you were wondering.

Apparently, this civil war is an aftershock of the NATO destruction of Qatthafee's regime in Libya.

What I can't find any mention of in the article is what race the nomadic Tuareg rebels might be and what race their former overlords from southern Mali are.

The long Wikipedia article on Tuaregs doesn't mention race at all, either, oddly enough. So far, the Tuaregs have done a good job of scouring their Wikipedia article of all mention of race. And if it isn't mentioned in Wikipedia, does it really exist?

Also, the Wikipedia article on "Azawad" has this under "Demographics:"
The area was traditionally inhabited by Tuareg people, Moors, Songhay and Fulas (Fula: Fulɓe; French: Peul). In the 1950 census, nomads (Songhay, Moors, Tuareg people) accounted for up to 95% of the inhabitants.[56][citation needed] 
Kidal, Gao, and Timbuktu also have a number of Bambara, who settled there mainly after the 1960s.[citation needed]

That reads to Americans like the intentionally eye-glazing encyclopedia description of Uqbar in Borges' "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius:"
We read the article with some care. The passage recalled by Bioy was perhaps the only surprising one. The rest of it seemed very plausible, quite in keeping with the general tone of the work and (as is natural) a bit boring. Reading it over again, we discovered beneath its rigorous prose a fundamental vagueness. Of the fourteen names which figured in the geographical part, we only recognized three - Khorasan, Armenia, Erzerum - interpolated in the text in an ambiguous way. Of the historical names, only one: the impostor magician Smerdis, invoked more as a metaphor. The note seemed to fix the boundaries of Uqbar, but its nebulous reference points were rivers and craters and mountain ranges of that same region. We read, for example, that the lowlands of Tsai Khaldun and the Axa Delta marked the southern frontier and that on the islands of the delta wild horses procreate.

Moreover, the Tuareg's website features a lot of carefully cropped photos of rebels where you can't easily notice what race they are. 

Racial anthropology has largely disappeared from the textbooks, so who knows this stuff anymore? Fifty years ago, everybody who is anybody would have pulled their copy of Carlton Coon off the shelf and looked up the Tuaregs and figured out what is going on, but it's easier to pull the wool over Americans' eyes these days.

So, let's try looking up pictures. According to the NYT piece, the new dictator of what's left of Mali after a recent coup is Captain Amadou Sanogo (right). 

In contrast, the PR spokesman for the Tuaregs, Mossa ag Attaher, looks like this (left). 

So, what I think is going on is that the dominant element in the Tuaregs is mostly Berber Caucasian (with some black admixture, plus socially subordinate black elements, such as ex(?)-slaves and a traditional caste system where some jobs, such as blacksmith, are always held by blacks) and these more or less white people are rebelling against black rule. 

But the part of Mali that Tuaregs dominate demographically is worthless desert (except for mineral rights, of course), so they seem to be claiming territory well down into the overwhelmingly black part of Mali, where there is some water. 

But, this relatively bemused response of World Opinion so far, as exemplified by the light-hearted NYT article, is due to few Americans being quite clued in yet.

Eventually, I suspect, Western wisdom will catch on. (Here's an Africanist website complaining about the "Racial Politics of Tuareg Nationalism.") And, thus, this likely won't stand. For example, Europeans people spent 15 years struggling to bring about black rule in Zimbabwe. Although I suspect sanction and interventions will be framed in terms of fighting Islamist terrorism rather than propping up black rule. 

On the other hand, Azawad is the absolute middle of nowhere, so the Tuaregs might get away with it for awhile.

George Lucas to show Marin dark side of the Force

George Lucas of Star Wars fame has been struggling to build a big movie studio layout in Marin County, north of San Francisco, for decades. Now, 99% of the counties in the U.S. would be happy to have Lucasfilm create hundreds of mostly lavishly-paid jobs, but Marin is very much in the 1%. The Marin Independent-Journal reports:
Lucasfilm pulled the plug on its bid to develop the old Grady Ranch on Tuesday, citing bitter opposition from neighbors and regulatory delays, and said it intends to sell the land for a low-income subdivision development.

"Low-income," huh?
"The level of bitterness and anger expressed by the homeowners in Lucas Valley has convinced us that, even if we were to spend more time and acquire the necessary approvals, we would not be able to maintain a constructive relationship with our neighbors," the firm owned by billionaire filmmaker George Lucas added. 
"We love working and living in Marin, but the residents of Lucas Valley have fought this project for 25 years, and enough is enough," ... 
"We hope we will be able to find a developer who will be interested in low-income housing since it is scarce in Marin. If everyone feels that housing is less impactful on the land, then we are hoping that people who need it the most will benefit."

Take that NIMBYs! says George. He should check in with the Obama Administration, which says that Marin County is violating the Civil Rights Act by not building enough low-income housing for minorities. Marin County voters gave 78% of their vote to Obama in 2008, so they can hardly complain, right? So, think big, George: not semi-detached houses or condos, but Section 8!

April 10, 2012

Haidt, Derbyshire, and Hate

From my new column in Taki's Magazine:
The Derbyshire Affair, America’s latest Two Minutes Hate over race, provides a fresh example with which to assess social psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s framework for why some people are liberal and others conservative. Although Haidt’s readable new book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, does much to explain this dichotomy, he never quite articulates the most fundamental explanation.

I don't recall ever articulating quite so reductionistically before my theory of what, deep down, distinguishes liberals and conservatives, of what decides who the "Who?" in "Who? Whom?" will be.

So, read the whole thing there, and see if it makes sense to you. I didn't give a lot of examples, but I think you'll be able to come up with some.

Making America more like Miami

Ozzie Guillen, the Venezuelan motormouth baseball manager, was recently hired by the Miami Marlins. (For an intro to Ozzie's personality, here's the video "Ozzie Guillen Visits a Sick Child.") He quickly got himself semi-Watsoned for saying, in the midst of one of his usual stream-of-consciousness effusions:
Guillen’s comments appeared in a Time magazine article, in which he said he “loved” and “respected” Castro, the longtime Cuban leader. Time reported that Guillen said: “I respect Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years,” but Castro is still here, he added, referring to Castro as an expletive.

So, the Marlins suspended Guillen for five games. 

As I've long pointed out, anti-Castro Cubans swing a lot of weight in Miami. There's not much in the way of effective freedom of speech on Castro-related topics down there. The good news is that they aren't stealthy about it. They revel in being known for publicly crushing dissent. They think that shows how powerful they are. (The career fate of Miami Cuban ex-CNN anchorman Rick Sanchez, however, shows that for national power, it's best to make it a taboo to even mention how powerful your group is.)

Every year, the rest of America becomes more like Miami, just on different topics.

Off topic, that reminds me that I once sat right behind home plate at a White Sox game with all the players' wives and relatives who get the special tickets. A whole bunch of Ozzie's kin and in-laws were there, with the men all wearing lots of silver jewelry. They were a fun bunch. I sat right behind future Hall of Famer Frank Thomas's wife (now ex-), who was showing all the other players' wives this huge diamond he'd given her. Good times.

Cochran's new theory of IQ genetics

At West Hunter, Gregory Cochran writes about the distinction between extremely deleterious genetic mutations that frequently kill people before they pass on their bad gene (e.g., Huntington's Disease) and mildly detrimental mutations that reduce Darwinian fitness in the range of 1 percent. Not surprisingly, the latter are more common because they can build up over the generations before they keep an individual from reproduciing.
... So… most  genetic load in humans is made up of many, many  mutations that each have fairly small effects.  A smaller fraction of the genetic load consists of mutations with big effects on fitness. 
... One important point is that a single highly deleterious mutation has a good chance of pushing the whole organism in some odd direction in phenotype space.  In other words, the same mutation that drops your IQ, or damages your heart, may also make you look funny.  At lower IQs, more and more kids are considered to suffer from ‘organic’ retardation.  On the other hand, a higher-than-average number of small-effect mutations should also interfere with really complex systems such as the brain (and reduce IQ), but because of the law of large numbers, wouldn’t tend to have any particular direction in phenotype space.  As far as I can tell, an extra-large dose of small-effect mutations, which we will henceforth call genetic noise, would not make you funny-looking.

Would the converse be true? Would good-looking but not very bright people also tend to have more genetic noise, as well, just in different places
Individuals can vary in the amount of genetic noise they carry, and populations can as well, depending on the relative intensity of selection and on the mutation rate, which might also differ.  For example, although having an unusually old father does not much affect the amount of genetic  noise an individual carries, a culture in which fathers were typically 55 would undoubtedly accumulate an unusually high amount of genetic noise, over a couple of millennia. 
If a kid’s parents have a higher-than-average amount of genetic noise, on average the kid will as well. This sure looks like what we usually call non-organic or familial retardation. 
Most of the within-population variation in IQ looks to be familial rather than organic.  If I’m right, this means that most IQ variation – what we might call the normal range – is caused by differences in the number of slightly deleterious mutations.  None of them would show up in a QTL search, because all are rare. And that is where we stand thus far:  no  intelligence QTLs have been found – although you never know what you’ll see in the next population.  On the other hand, shared chromosomal segments would mostly contain the same slightly deleterious mutations,  and so IQ should correlate with genetic similarity, which is what Visscher has found.

So, think of models for the genetics of IQ like horsepower in cars. In one model, a lot of people get the engine designed for 200 horsepower, some get the engine designed for 400 horsepower,  and some get the engine designed for 100 horsepower. Occasionally, something very bad happens in the manufacturing process or the maintenance process (e.g., Down's Syndrome) and people get an engine that only delivers 50 horsepower. 

Cochran's new model is at the other end of the spectrum: Most people get engines designed for 300 horsepower, but there are a whole lot of minor glitches in the manufacturing process (some because the blueprints have had accumulating errors creep into them in copying until they get thrown out, some de novo). So, most people get a mental engine somewhere in the 100 to 300 horsepower range, typically falling out in a bell curve. 

But what about the 400 horsepower people known to history?
Many great scientists and mathematicians have likely had relatively low levels of genetic noise combined with some fairly deleterious de novo mutations; with the net effect of a powerful mental engine strangely focused on some particular topic not directly related to fitness.  Low noise, high weirdness.   Math, not sheilas. One might look for advanced paternal age in such cases.

Read the whole thing there. There's one phrase in it that hints at the next stage of his theory, but I'll leave it at that.

The Derb Speaks

In an interview with Gawker.

How to survive the Titanic

Nicholas Wade, the NYT's sterling genetics reporter, reflects on how his grandfather's genetic line survived the sinking of the Titanic 100 years ago:
Had you been a woman traveling in second class on the Titanic a century ago, your chances of survival were quite favorable — 86 percent were saved. For the men in second class, one of whom was my grandfather Lawrence Beesley, the odds were the reverse — only 14 percent survived, and the rest were drowned in the freezing waters of the Atlantic. 
Notions of male chivalry toward the weaker sex have since been cast aside, and it is no longer de rigueur for a man to yield his seat on a bus, or a lifeboat, to someone of the opposite sex. But in the Edwardian era it was a moral code with a force stronger than law. When the order was given on the Titanic for families to be separated and for women to board lifeboats first, no man rushed ahead. 
I have often wondered how my grandfather managed to beat the heavy odds against his survival. 

He was a man ahead of his time, apparently.

April 9, 2012

For me, not for thee

Here's a pretty funny story from the Washington Post that gives a sidelight on what the black upper middle class feels about equal opportunity (namely, for me, not for thee). Black college fraternities and sororities have long competed with each other in a form of step-dancing that, at least in the frat boy version shown in the movie Stomp the Yard, is rather militaristic. (Stomp the Yard is a pretty interesting movie for its insider depiction of life at an upscale black private college like Morehouse -- it's one of the few movies where the fraternity boys are the heroes and are portrayed as positive role models for lower class blacks. Here's the trailer.)

Anyway, a white sorority from the U. of Arkansas won the Sprite Step-Off and the $100,000 first prize. This elicited such an outpouring of rage from across the country from blacks who are into this arcane event that the Coca-Cola corporation later announced that there was an unknown "scoring discrepancy" that rendered the results beyond interpretation, and so it also awarded $100,000 to the black team that came in second and declared them co-champions. 

Keep in mind that stepping appeals largely to black Greeks (i.e., college students who are, typically, the children of college graduates themselves). This isn't like a white team winning at street basketball in the South Bronx. This ought to be much more genteel. Socially, this controversy would be about the analog of if the Whiffenpoofs of Yale lost the big men's a capella choir competition to Howard, and then white people all across the country bitched and moaned so much that the corporate sponsor declared the Poofies to be co-champions. 

It gets you thinking about that long-running but seldom investigated mystery of why there are so many pretty good white NBA players from foreign countries, but so few from the country that invented basketball. If upper middle class blacks are so proprietary about Greek step dancing, how do you think average blacks feel about white basketball players? Do you think, maybe, that racist verbal abuse and violence against white youth basketball players might account for part of the shortfall of white American players in the NBA? I realize this is a deeply esoteric issue -- after all, who has ever heard of the NBA or noticed the races of the players on TV? We're having a national whoop-tee-doo this year over Bullying, but statistical evidence suggesting that racist bullying plays a pervasive role in a major sport is of no interest to anybody.

"Mirror Mirror"

I went to Tarsem Singh's kid's movie "Mirror Mirror" with Julia Roberts as Snow White's wicked step mother, the queen who is the fairest of them all, to see if Tyler Cowen's interpretation of the movie as anti-Indira Gandhi Sikh propaganda makes sense. 

Lots of kids movies actually are political allegories because they generally don't give you a $100 million to make a movie until you are so old that you find politics interesting. So, middle aged people have to come up with something to flesh out 100 minutes of story-telling, so they put in their current obsessions. 

"Mirror Mirror" is certainly more fun to watch from a Cowenian perspective. The set decorating is gorgeously "Indo-European" in its eclecticism. Maybe three fourths of the look of the movie is European, but the rest is West Asian or South Asian. That part of the world, centering around Persia, has traditionally been obsessed with luxury, and Singh certainly loves fancy stuff. The late Edward Said might have clucked over Singh's Orientalist taste, or does Singh get a pass for being from the Punjab himself? It's so hard to keep this stuff straight. 

The castle over a frozen lake is likely modeled upon the Sikh separatist temple redoubt that Gandhi invaded in 1984, but could conceivably be Russian. (Many of the famous buildings in Russia were designed by Italians, but their onion domes look Western Asian.)  

Some of the movie is funnier when viewed through a Sikh lens. The movie is set in a snowy winter, but none of the characters ever seem to feel the slightest bit cold. People walk barefoot in the snow without any discomfort. My guess is that Singh remembers hearing the story of Snow White as a child before experiencing snow itself.

Other parts of the movie are only comprehensible via the Sikh subtext. For example, there is a bunch of hoopla about a dagger that Snow White's father, the late King, left his daughter. The American screenwriters seem pretty baffled at coming up with an explanation for the dagger, merely having Julia Roberts laugh off the reason it's in the movie at all during her voiceover narration. Now, I don't know much about Sikhs, but at least I do know they used to always get in trouble at airports trying to wear their sacred daggers onto the airplanes. So, I can write off the daggermania to the director being Sikh.

Is Julia Roberts' character really about Indira Gandhi like Cowen says? Are the seven dwarfs in the movie a reference to Bawana, the Sikh dwarf-avatar?

I dunno. I simply don't know as much stuff as Cowen does. And the movie, while not bad, isn't good enough to demand a lot of research from me. There is something off about the comic timing of everybody except Roberts, who is quite funny, as an Evil Queen who uses today's innocuous corporate vocabulary ("agree to disagree") for her malign purposes. The slapstick is particularly inept. 

But, it's definitely more interesting as possibly Sikh propaganda than as just another fairy tale movie. 

April 8, 2012

Thinking like a Somali about ethnicity

Plato talked about carving nature at the joints, and, at the most historic level,  much of politics consists of figuring out where institutions and groups can best be cut apart and where put together. Consider, say, Washington and Franklin. They helped take apart the British Empire and later helped weld together the federal government to rule the 13 states.

This is the kind of subject that deserves the most careful consideration, but usually doesn't get it.
The Implications of Constructivism for Constructing Ethnic Fractionalization Indices  
David Laitin (Stanford University), Daniel Posner (UCLA)   
[appeared in APSA-CP: The Comparative Politics Newsletter 12 (Winter 2001)]   
In recent years, ethnic fractionalization has emerged as a central variable in  quantitative analyses of outcomes ranging from economic growth rates (Easterly and  Levine, 1997) and the quality of governance (La Porta et al, 1999) to ethnic conflict (Kay  et al, 2000) and the frequency of coups d’etat (Londregan and Poole, 1990).  Almost all  such analyses employ, either alone or in combination with other measures, the same  measure of ethnic fractionalization.  This index, called ELF (for Ethno-Linguistic Fractionalization), is available for 129 countries – indeed, its broad coverage is the  principal reason for its widespread adoption – and reflects the likelihood that two people  chosen at random will be from different ethnic groups.  It is calculated using the  Herfindahl concentration formula from data compiled in a global survey of ethnic groups  published in the Atlas Narodov Mira (1964) and subsequently included in Taylor and  Hudson (1972).  

Atlas Narodov Mira was a 1964 compilation by Soviet ethnographers of, in their opinion, all the ethnic groups in the world. It had the advantage of being a standard source. 
Users of the ELF index have analyzed their results, to their peril, without any   regard to the constructivist findings in the literature on ethnicity. Constructivist findings would make the standard ELF index suspect for four different reasons.  
First, the users of  the ELF index assume that a country’s degree of ethnic fractionalization is fixed,  analogous to its topography or its distance from the equator.  To the extent that a  country’s boundaries do not change, it is assumed, its ELF score should remain constant.   Constructivist theories of ethnicity, however, would compel us to challenge this  assumption.  They would lead us to expect changes in the level of ethnic fractionalization  over time, as people over generations assimilate, differentiate, amalgamate, break-apart,  immigrate and emigrate.     
Take the case of Somalia. 

It used to be said that Somalia was a lucky country because the colonialists had happened to draw the boundaries right and thus there was only one tribe in Somalia, divided up merely into clans. But then in the late 1980s the country fell apart, and suddenly we started hearing about the deep divisions between clans and sub-clans.
At independence, Isaaqs (from former British  Somaliland) and Hawiyes (from former Italian Somalia) insisted they spoke the same  language, and any survey of linguistic diversity undertaken at the time would have  reflected this.  In recent years, however, Isaaqs have begun consciously differentiating their speech forms from those of the Hawiyes as part of an attempt to justify recognition for their secessionist republic – much as Croat and Serb intellectuals and linguists have  done over the past fifteen years in the Balkans (Greenberg, 2000).  A linguistic survey  conducted today would thus produce a quite different accounting of linguistic divisions in  both former Yugoslavia and former Somalia.     
Clan distinctions in Somalia have undergone a similar metamorphosis.  With the  decline of the dictatorship of Mohammed Siyaad Barre in the late 1980s, what had  previously been considered one of the most ethnically homogeneous countries in Africa became severely divided by inter-clan fractionalization, with a concomitant change in the  level of aggregation that is considered appropriate by political analysts.  Studies of  Somalia in the 1960s that focused on clan-based divisions tended to concentrate their  analysis at the highest level of division (the clan family), of which there are three.  
But amid the fractionalization caused by the civil war that broke the country apart a decade  ago, more recent analyses have tended to emphasize distinctions among clans and even  sub-clans.  Thus, due to the civil war, a survey of ethnic fractionalization today would  yield a substantially larger number of clans (and a correspondingly higher  fractionalization index value) than one undertaken  forty years ago.  Contrary to the  assumptions of most users of the ELF index, levels of ethnic fractionalization in Somalia  have been dynamic over time, not stable givens of the landscape.  Constructivist findings would thus seem to demand that fractionalization scores be provided over a time series to  accommodate such changes.

The message that I would take from this is that when things fall apart, as in Black Hawk Down-era Somalia, to survive anarchy, people tend to go, as Tom Wolfe would say, Back to Blood. Family ties are the most likely default system for organizing for self-defense.

On the other hand, in a better ruled country, there are multiple ways to construct social ties, and the more they criss-cross, the more stable the country. On the other other hand, peoples that are used to stability and impose high standards of fair play upon themselves are ripe for exploitation by outsiders from chaotic lands where family ties are the basis for all organization. Think of, say, what Lake Wobegon would be like after Somali refugees had a couple of generations to get themselves organized.

A major problem that Republicans face in the 21st Century is a lack of much of a Brain Trust to think about these underlying questions in a cool-headed fashion. Instead, much of this analysis is carried out by people like, say, Karl Rove, who rose up the ladder of influence as PR men, as spinners. They are used to coming up with rationalizations for existing interests rather than in thinking about fundamentals and how to rearrange them.

For example, is there a single Republic operative within the Beltway who ever thinks about how the current racial/ethnic categories used by the federal government in dispensing goodies drives political behavior and how those categories could be altered for the long-run benefit of the GOP?

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Shifting sands of Trayvon case: Now, it's not about race

Erik Wemple of the Washington Post, who has done better work on the Trayvon-George brouhaha than most, writes:
No one can deny the legitimacy and urgency of the points raised by [Shelby] Steele, [Bill] O’Reilly and [Juan] Williams. Black-on-black violent crime is a national disgrace — all you have to do is take a look at the numbers. 
What lacks legitimacy, however, is the underlying intent of the Steele-O’Reilly-Williams argument, and that is to somehow strip the Martin case of its standing as a national preoccupation — of civil rights leaders and of the media. Those folks, along with the general public, have latched onto Trayvon Martin for a combination of several compelling reasons: How could a 17-year-old kid doing nothing wrong wind up shot to death walking home from the convenience store? How could the authorities bungle the case in so many ways? Do neighborhood watch captains provide protection or menace? What’s the deal with the stand-your-ground law? 
Those issues may not have the heft of black-on-black crime. But there’s no law directing the media to obsess only over the country’s most socially pressing problem at any given point in time. The media responds to stories, and the tragic incident that went down on Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla., qualifies many times over. The more attention to this case, the better.

You'll recall how, initially, the Trayvon case was worthy of being a national whoop-tee-doo because it told us all about Race in America. But, now, as the initial clear-cut story line of evil white and innocent black has blurred and it has become apparent that the prestige press whooped up the story because anti-white hatred sells big time in modern America, the white liberals are starting to abandon the racial angle in favor of claiming that they are only interested in the case for nonracial, idiosyncratic, procedural reasons, like the four that Wemple lists. This must really peeve blacks, who continue to want the case to be all about their being oppressed.

The NBC editing "error"

Mickey Kaus has some interesting speculation on the Nameless Scapegoat (N.S.) whom NBC is blaming for that editing "error" that had George Zimmerman telling 911:
Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.

One fascinating aspect is how little old-fashioned shoe leather reporting the prestige press has done on the whole Trayvon story. For example, why is the NBC editor still the "Nameless Scapegoat?" Surely, much of the press has the contacts to figure out that mystery within their own ranks.

Mickey explains that NBC has to walk a delicate line with their employee, and, presumably, the rest of the mainstream media has been abetting them:
As JustOneMinute‘s Tom Maguire reminded me, when you publish something so bad you face a giant adverse defamation verdict–well that’s exactly when you try not to fire the reporter or editor responsible. If you fire them, they’re likely to cut a separate deal with the plaintiff and testify in court about how sloppy your editorial practices were, how you had it in for plaintiff all along, etc. 

Zimmerman finally has a new lawyer, so now he's likely to sue NBC for defamation and/or if he goes to criminal trial, launching all sorts of motions based on prejudicial publicity. After this, and the national media claiming he used the "C" word, and all the other wrong things they put out there, can George Zimmerman get a fair trial anywhere in the U.S.? Can they move a trial to New Zealand?

But, with a libel case in the wings, things get interesting. Mickey writes:
In this case, I suspect the N.S. might have some valuable information to offer a plaintiff’s lawyer. Like how maybe there was a surge of enthusiasm at, yes, the highest levels of NBC News for turning this story into a clear cut emotional morality play (fueled by trendy social media!) and riding it to higher ratings for days, if not weeks. If you go to the March 20 Nightly News broadcast (available here) you can see NBC’s Ron Allen letting viewers imagine the racial epithet Zimmerman used for the man he was following.  Oh, wait. … 
The N.S. was reportedly a “seasoned” producer. Seasoned producers (and reporters) know what the bosses want. …

About 95% of the Trayvon brouhaha has been about racial hatred, and it would be amusing to get a court to put a legal imprimatur on that.

Another interesting legal question is whether all the deep-pocketed media can be sued for defamation for initially calling Zimmerman "white." Zimmerman's father, a judge, saw that it was very much in his son's interest, legally and politically, to not be white. That would be an interesting precedent to establish: is calling a mestizo "white" for purposes of riling up racial hatred against him an actionable slur? Lots and lots of media outlets kept calling him "white" even after his picture became available.