January 5, 2013

Canada wants Mexican stoop laborers' production, not reproduction

By Nick Miroff, Saturday, January 5, 3:20 PM 
OJOCALIENTE, Mexico — When Oscar Reyes heads north for seasonal work every spring, he no longer pays a smuggler to sneak him through the desert past the U.S. Border Patrol. 
He takes Air Canada. 
Reyes earns $10.25 an hour tending grapes and spraying pesticides at a vineyard in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, working eight months straight, seven days a week. 
He was one of nearly 16,000 temporary workers from Mexico imported by Canada last year, part of a government-to-government agreement that Mexican officials view as a potential model for an expanded “guest worker” program in the United States. ...
With President Obama’s reelection in November, and the overwhelming support he received from Hispanic voters, expectations are high that he will take up the nettlesome cause of U.S. immigration reform in his second term. 
If so, the most contentious issue is likely to be the fate of the 11 million or so illegal immigrants living in the United States. But the debate is also expected to include proposals for a massive expansion of temporary worker programs to meet future U.S. demand for legal, low-skilled labor.

Emphasis mine. Notice that this massive expansion being mulled is to solve the problem (if it is a problem) of "future" demand for low-skilled labor, since there isn't all that much present demand. Crops will be rotting in the fields by 2019 unless we act now to lower wages for the low-skilled.
The United States gives out about 50,000 seasonal agricultural visas per year, nearly all of them to Mexican workers. But U.S. farmers, immigrant advocate groups, labor unions and Mexican officials say that the current U.S. program is a mess: inefficient, bureaucratic and vulnerable to abuses by swindlers and shady recruiters who charge potential workers thousands of dollars to find jobs for them and prepare their visa applications. 

Hey, I just thought of a solution for this messed-up program! Abolish it.
The frustrations have left many looking north, to Canada, where government officials partner with their Mexican counterparts to recruit workers, expedite visas, guarantee health and safety standards, and coordinate travel arrangements and pay. 
They also go to extraordinary lengths to make sure the workers go back to Mexico at the end of the season, raising criticisms that the arrangement treats them as little more than human machines.

You mean Canada doesn't want stoop laborers to stay around? That's racist!
Mexico’s new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, said that he has told Obama that his administration is keen to “contribute” to a push for U.S. immigration reform. 
Such talk would have been too politically sensitive just six years ago, when the volume of Mexican migrants crossing the border was seen as out of control and the U.S. Border Patrol was making more than a million arrests a year. 
Last year, the Border Patrol made just 340,000 apprehensions, the lowest level since 1971, a result of a tighter U.S. job market, stiffer U.S. enforcement and widespread fears in Mexico of the kidnapping crews and drug gangs who roam the borderlands. 
Overall, nearly as many Mexicans are now leaving the United States, whether voluntarily or as deportees, as the number who arrive, a trend that has raised alarms of labor shortages in industries such as food service and farming that are historically dependent on low-paid migrants.

Have you ever noticed how any argument and its exact opposite are both treated by the prestige press as good arguments for more immigration of unskilled labor? Six years ago, when Mexicans were illegally flooding in, the Administration and the media argued that was a good reason for a massive expansion of guest worker programs. And now they are arguing that the opposite conditions are a good reason for a massive expansion of guest worker programs.
“For anybody who believes that there will be a wild and endless flow of [Mexican migrants] into the future, that’s just not realistic,” said Craig Regelbrugge, vice president for government relations at the American Nursery and Landscape Association, a trade group. 
According to industry estimates, U.S. farms hire more than 2 million workers each year, at least half of whom are thought to be in the country illegally. 
Farm laborers already tend to earn minimum wage or more, experts say, so employers wouldn’t necessarily have to pay higher wages to guest workers than what they currently pay illegal migrants. 
Still, some U.S. farmers and other employers fear that if the illegal workforce is granted legal status or “amnestied,”, many of those workers will seek jobs in less-arduous occupations. 
Between 1942 and 1964, U.S. “bracero” programs issued 4.5 million visas to Mexican guest workers, and today some of the same U.S. labor unions that pushed to have the programs eliminated support bringing in more guest workers. 
“We don’t want to see domestic workers displaced, but we also recognize the legitimate needs that U.S. growers have,” said Erik Nicholson, a national vice president of the United Farm Workers, which wants to unionize the Mexican laborers even before they arrive in the United States.

A guy named Erik Nicholson, B.A., Duke University, is a spokesman for Cesar Chavez's old union? And nobody finds this funny or even notices?

This part of the article is interesting:
Only married men are eligible for the Canadian program, preferably those with young children, and their families must remain in Mexico. Another incentive to return home: a cut of the migrants’ wages is placed in a Canadian pension fund, receivable only if they return to Mexico. 
Then there are the other elements of the Canadian system that U.S. labor unions and farm worker advocates say they would not want to see copied.
Once in Canada, the workers live like monks, sleeping in trailers or barracks, under contractual agreements that forbid them from drinking alcohol and having female visitors, or even socializing with other Mexican workers from different farms.

Canada wants Mexicans' production, not their reproduction.
Most of their time in Canada is limited to sleeping, eating and working long days that can stretch to 15 hours, without overtime pay.

No overtime?
... Now Tenorio spends eight months on a berry farm outside Vancouver and comes home every winter with thousands in savings and duffel bags stuffed with chocolate-covered blueberries. 
“Everything is nice there. It’s not all disorganized like this,” he said, back in his home town of Troncoso, where armed men park their pickups on the hill near his house at night, watching the highway below as lookouts for drug traffickers.
Like many workers here, he said he’s torn between the need to earn money and the long separations from his wife and daughter. 
“Honestly, I’d rather be able to do work in the United States and bring my family with me,” he said. “But only with a visa.”

Or sneak in to the U.S., get amnestied, and have more kids. Nobody in power in America, unlike in Canada, ever thinks about the impact of reproduction.

Audience racial demographics for "Django Unchained"

Outside the movie trade press, the ethnic demographics of movie audiences are seldom discussed. There are a number of reasons for this. First, the audience demographics for prestige films are hideously white, while the demographics of blockbusters are vibrant, which is pretty depressing when you think about our idiocratic future, and who wants to think about that?

Another reason is that the movie industry isn't in a hurry to point out the fact that their most enthusiastic fans are Hispanics, who aren't, although nobody mentions this, very cool. 

From the MPAA on movie attendance:

And Hollywood does next to nothing for Hispanics in terms of employing them or making movies about them, and doesn't intend to start now. 

The booming Chinese movie market is not interested in Mexican-Americans at all. For example, the recent sci-fi movie Looper was the first American film ever to open bigger in China than in America. It depicts an America in a generation with, seemingly, no Latinos. And nobody in China, apparently, missed them.

Back in the 1980s, you used to hear that African-Americans made up a quarter of the American market for movie tickets. That over-representation appears to have faded, as has most black momentum at making movies. 

Blacks will still show up in large numbers for a black movie, like the biggest black-directed movie of 2012, the Steve Harvey self-help rom-com Think Like a Man, which made a highly profitable $91 million domestically. But that film, which I found quite enjoyable (it would likely make my Top Ten for 2012 along with 21 Jump StreetSavages, and maybe Get the GringoSafety Not Guaranteed, and The Master). It made absolutely no impression on white film enthusiasts as a whole. Patrick Goldstein reported in an article on its director, competent veteran Tim Story, who has made Barbershop and the Fantastic Four movies:
But [Tim Story is] still working at a disadvantage because he’s a black filmmaker at a time when the people who run today’s studios are overwhelmingly white and not especially well-versed or even particularly curious about African American culture. After “Think Like a Man” opened at No. 1, one studio president decided not to mention the film during the studio’s Monday morning production meeting, curious to see how long it would take to surface as a topic of conversation. 
Fifteen minutes into the meeting, no one had mentioned the film. When the studio boss finally brought it up, asking who had seen it over the weekend, the room was silent. None of the all-white staff had bothered to go see it. 

So, that leads us to Django Unchained. The official media controversy about the movie was whether blacks would boycott it due to writer-director Quentin Tarantino's frequent use of the "N-word." Because, as we all know, blacks never ever ever use that word, and no black entertainment product ever includes it. 

Well -- what do you know? -- it turns out that black people like the N-word. From the Hollywood Reporter:
African Americans Turn Out in Force for Quentin Tarantino's 'Django Unchained' 
by Pamela McClintock 
Debate over multiple uses of the N-word in "Django" doesn't appear to be dampening interest in the film. 
Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained -- starring Jamie Foxx as a slave in the pre-Civil War South -- is doing strong business among African-American moviegoers. 
This despite the fact that Django, from The Weinstein Co., features more than 100 uses of the N-word, igniting a debate over whether the movie is racially insensitive. 
But much as Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds sanctified violence against Nazis, Django targets another bad guy nobody can sympathize with -- a slave owner.

A commenter pointed out that if Tarantino was really courageous, he would have made a movie about a black slave slaughtering Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.
When Foxx's character is freed by a bounty hunter, played by Christoph Waltz, the duo go after Leonardo DiCaprio's character, the ruthless master of a plantation. 
Opening on Christmas Day, 42 percent of Django's initial audience was black, according to exit polling data. TWC estimates that the percentage now is holding steady at about 30 percent, while a look at the top-performing theaters for Django further confirms that it has crossed over, playing to both white and black moviegoers. 
Django has grossed $77.8 million so far in North America and has a strong shot at becoming Tarantino's most successful film at the domestic box office, eclipsing the $120 million earned by Inglourious Basterds in 2009. ... 
Of Django's top 10-grossing theaters, three cater heavily to African-Americans: The Cinemark Egyptian 24 in Baltimore, the AMC Hoffman Center in Alexandria, Va., and the AMC Southlake 24 in Atlanta. And another three draw a mixed audience, including the AMC Empire 25 in New York City and the Regal Atlantic Stadium 16 in Atlanta. 

I wonder whether blacks showed up for Inglourious Basterds? In my experience, Mexicans didn't show up for either IB or DU.
Other top 10 theaters for Django include AMC Regal Union Square in New York City and the ArcLight in Sherman Oaks.

The ArcLight in Sherman Oaks, by the way, is horrible,  The walk from the parking garage to the theater is inexplicably soul-crushing, the tickets are $14.75, and if you show up during the previews, they won't let you in.
While these locations nearly always make the list of top-grossing theaters for any given film, the Egyptian and Hoffman Center don't as a rule pop up unless a movie crosses over, such as The Blind Side. 
For example, none of the top 10 theaters for Django's fellow holiday releases The Hobbit: An Unepexpected Journey or Les Miserables are in heavily black communities. 
There's no racial breakdown for the recent Denzel Washington drama Flight, though the Egyptian was the only black theater making the top 10 list.
Conversely, Foxx's Ray, released in 2004, played to a predominately black audience. ...
Just before Christmas, Spike Lee publicly chastised Tarantino for being "disrespectful" of black poeple and called for a boycott of Django.

A black person commented on the Hollywood Reporter article:
While whites are busy getting offended on our behalf, they miss completely why we are going to see this film. It's a bIack man kiIIings white people in masses. I will pay to see that every time. 
I've seen this film 3 times so far and am going again Saturday night. It's an awesome movie.

January 4, 2013

More birth tourism fraud

In the L.A. Times:
In suburbs of L.A., a cottage industry of birth tourism 
Companies operating 'maternity hotels' cater to pregnant women from Chinese-speaking nations who want an American-citizen newborn.

A couple of years ago, I had a Chinese birth tourism fraud website translated into English so I could analyze the cash value of the eight benefits the fraudsters proposed for having Chinese babies in the U.S. Obviously, being an American citizen has scarcity value, which Chinese con-moms want to deplete for the benefit of their offspring. The cash value can add up to a huge number. 

The fundamental problem is that we are never supposed to notice that America exists, as the Founders explained in the Preamble to the Constitution, "for ourselves and our posterity."

I concluded:
Yet the reigning dogma promulgated today is the more, the merrier! We Americans should be proud and happy that tens of millions of foreigners are conniving their way in. The more immigrants that jostle us, the more awesome we know we must be. 
U-S-A! U-S-A! 
Tellingly, this kind of silly thinking is never even brought up when it comes to protecting the scarcity value of municipal residence. The liberals of Beverly Hills, for example, carefully police the scarcity value of living in Beverly Hills. 
Why would they want more people piling into Beverly Hills? They like it the way it is. And why would they want to let the children of non-Beverly Hillsians attend Beverly Hills public schools? 
Actually, Beverly Hills does let some non-residents send their children to Beverly Hills High. But are these lucky exceptions "your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free?"
Don't be ridiculous. The outsiders who are allowed into Beverly Hills public schools are the grandchildren of long-time Beverly Hills residents—the children of Beverly Hills public school alumni who now can't afford to live in Beverly Hills. ...
Seriously, the voters of Beverly Hills understand the part about "for ourselves and our posterity" just as well as the Founding Fathers did and the Chinese do. 
And good for them. They built excellent schools in Beverly Hills. So why shouldn't they take measures to help their descendants' benefit from their scarcity value? 
But why shouldn't Americans be allowed to think of America the way that Beverly Hillsians think of Beverly Hills?

January 3, 2013

In defense of Quentin Tarantino

You hear endlessly about how the movie director is obsessed with low-budget 1970s junk films, but his default cinematographic style is old-fashioned classic, with a big budget Golden Age of Hollywood sheen. Many of his films look like Victor Fleming directed them, with David O. Selznick sending a flurry of memos to make sure the set looks perfect. 

Tarantino would have been a fine director of Technicolor films, which required a heavy three-strip camera and bright lighting. Tarantino likes to find the single best spot to place his camera and then leave it there. He's not exceptionally good at either moving the camera or at choreographing movement in front of the camera, but his camera is always planted pointing in just the right direction. 

No shaky-cam for Quentin. Not much grainy video, either. He interpolates a number of cheesy-looking segments, but his default look is grand.

He likes bright sunshine and rich colors. He's one of the few contemporary directors who doesn't believe that dark themes require dark palettes.

He likes nice scenery for the sake of nice scenery. In Texas, his German hero announces: We'll go north to the mountains for the winter and then we'll go to Mississippi after the snow melts (which he repeats three times because everything is repeated in the movie). So, then you see the cowboys picturesquely wandering around on horseback in six feet of snow with the sun rising on the Grand Tetons. 

Why not go to Mississippi in the winter and Wyoming after the snow melts? Wouldn't that be easier on the horses?

Because it looks nicer that way:

Like a late 1930s director, Tarantino figures the canyon country northwest of L.A. makes a reasonable substitute for just about anywhere that snow isn't required. Thus, the incredibly bad scene late in Django Unchained with Quentin, looking awful, doing a cameo as an idiot with -- for no apparent reason -- an Australian accent. It's supposed to be set in the mountains of Mississippi, but L.A. area viewers will be debating whether that's Malibu Canyon or Placerita Canyon standing in for America's least canyonish state. In either canyon, you can be sure of bright sunshine most days other than late spring, and, in the final analysis, isn't that what truly matters?

Tarantino's 1997 film Jackie Brown was the turning point in his career. It made a nice profit on its modest budget, and was well regarded, especially by those who hadn't much liked Pulp Fiction. He then turned his back, however, on making mature movies.

I have a vague theory that his lack of affection for Jackie Brown has to do with it being unspectacular looking. Tarantino did a good job of capturing what the South Bay area of L.A. looks like in spring -- soft and unthreatening, with some marine layer haze muting the sunshine, and a lot of fairly pleasant but mundane sprawl to look at. There's a running joke in the movie that the scary behavior of the characters isn't in accord with the mild-looking setting. The movie opens with a song about the mean streets of Harlem, but much of the action takes place in the Del Amo Fashion Center mall in Torrance.

But, Tarantino is not in business to make realistic-looking movies, he's in business to make movie-looking movies.

Encyclopedist David Thomson remarks somewhere that movie stills have more power to colonize the imagination than actual movie footage because the mind remembers still images better than moving images. Tarantino is one of the great creators of glamorous pictures, even if he's not all that at moving pictures.

"Django Unchained"

From my movie review in Taki's Magazine:
Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained is, among much else during its leisurely 165-minute running time, an adolescent male revenge fantasy about an omnipotent mass shooter wreaking carnage upon dozens of victims. I suspect the film would have appealed profoundly to the late Adam Lanza. 
You might think that this wouldn’t be the best time for a quasi-comic daydream/bloodbath about a deadeye gunman who always fires first and is immune to the thousands of bullets shot at him. But the recent unpleasantness in Sandy Hook has gone almost unmentioned in the critical hosannas greeting Django…because, you see, the invulnerable hero is a black gunman shooting bad (i.e., Southern) white people. 
It’s not much more complicated than that.

Read the whole thing there.

Career Arcs: Woody Allen

Woody Allen movies don't make for quite as apples to apples comparisons as Bertie and Jeeves novels or Aubrey and Maturin novels, since some are intentionally serious and unappealing. But they are still worth plotting out inflation-adjusted domestic box office over time (data from BoxOfficeMojo). 

The Gross column is in millions of today's dollars. The Versus Mean column compares box office to Woody's mean box office (a little under $30 million current dollars). Thus, Annie Hall's $133 million in today' dollars is 350% more than (or 4.5 times) his $30 million mean. 

Title Release  Age  Gross V. Mean Rank
Everything You Always … 1972  36 82 178 4
Sleeper 1973  37 81 172 5
Love and Death 1975  39 76 157 6
Annie Hall 1977  41 133 350 1
Interiors 1978  42 35 17 9
Manhattan 1979  43 124 317 2
Stardust Memories 1980  44 30 1 10
A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy 1982  46 24 (19) 18
Zelig 1983  47 29 (2) 12
Broadway Danny Rose 1984  48 25 (17) 17
The Purple Rose of Cairo 1985  49 23 (22) 19
Hannah and Her Sisters 1986  50 84 181 3
Radio Days 1987  51 29 (1) 11
September 1987  51 1 (97) 39
Another Woman 1988  52 3 (90) 37
Crimes and Misdemeanors 1989  53 36 21 8
Alice 1990  54 14 (54) 25
Shadows and Fog 1992  56 5 (83) 33
Husbands and Wives 1992  56 20 (33) 21
Manhattan Murder Mystery 1993  57 21 (28) 20
Bullets Over Broadway 1994  58 25 (16) 16
Mighty Aphrodite 1995  59 12 (61) 27
Everyone Says I Love You 1996  60 17 (44) 24
Deconstructing Harry 1997  61 18 (40) 22
Celebrity 1998  62 8 (72) 29
Sweet and Lowdown 1999  63 6 (79) 31
Small Time Crooks 2000  64 25 (16) 15
The Curse of the Jade Scorpion 2001  65 10 (65) 28
Hollywood Ending 2002  66 6 (78) 30
Anything Else 2003  67 4 (86) 35
Melinda and Melinda 2005  69 5 (84) 34
Match Point 2005  69 28 (7) 13
Scoop 2006  70 13 (58) 26
Cassandra's Dream 2008  72 1 (96) 38
Vicky Cristina Barcelona 2008  72 25 (15) 14
Whatever Works 2009  73 6 (81) 32
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger 2010  74 3 (89) 36
Midnight in Paris 2011  75 55 86 7
To Rome with Love 2012  76 17 (44) 23

We are missing box office data for his early comedies like Take the Money and Run.

Before those, he was a joke-writing prodigy making thousands of dollars per week as a teenager in the mid-1950s. It took him longer to develop as a stand-up comic, then as a movie star and director, getting started in movies just before turning 30.

His comedies in the first half of the 1970s like Sleeper did consistently well, then he peaked with Annie Hall and Manhattan in the late 1970s when he was in his early 40s.

True fact: as originally filmed, Annie Hall was a two hour and 20 minute murder mystery. Allen's editor, Ralph Rosenblum, convinced him to dump the entire crime plot (which was resurrected years later in Manhattan Murder Mystery), add some voice-over, and voila, he had a short romantic comedy. Although Annie Hall won the Oscar for Best Picture, Rosenblum wasn't even nominated for Best Editing. (Granted, Star Wars won, and deserved to win, Best Editing, but still ...)

Hannah and Her Sisters in 1986 was a big peak, followed by Crimes and Misdemeanors in 1991. Then he made 21 straight movies that failed to reach his mean, which has to be some kind of record.

My impression is that Allen doesn't run over budget, so his financial backers know that although they will probably lose money, their losses will be limited. So, they are more patrons than investors, but they also have a chance of making a profit. So, funding a Woody Allen movie is like buying a ticket in a charity raffle. And, Allen's prestige and popularity with Oscar voters means that big movie stars will work in his films cheap, so his patrons get extra vicarious glamor from dropping a quite finite amount of money on his projects.

And then, just when it seemed completely hopeless, at age 75 he made 2011's very entertaining Midnight in Paris.

January 2, 2013

The Great Hispanic Hope: Eric Garcetti

Isn't great that we no longer live in the Mad Men era when political leaders had to be Don Draper-lookalikes? Finally, in this age of diversity, we can have leaders who look like the new, rising America! Just because Eric Garcetti doesn't look like the man in the Arrow Shirt ad shouldn't keep the Silver Lake Democrat from becoming mayor of Los Angeles. From the Los Angeles Times:
Eric Garcetti invokes Latino-Jewish ancestry in mayor's race 
... A top contender to succeed Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Garcetti prides himself on his ease with the city's diverse cultures. He sees his mixed ancestry ("I have an Italian last name, and I'm half Mexican and half Jewish," he says) as a powerful part of his appeal in a city where voters for decades have split along racial and ethnic lines in mayoral elections. 
But as the campaign begins to capture public attention, a big question is whether Garcetti can re-create the surge of Latino support that helped secure Villaraigosa's historic election eight years ago as the first Latino mayor of modern Los Angeles.

Garcetti has always stood by his raza. Kevin Roderick writes:
While at Oxford [in 1994], Garcetti phoned Times columnist George Ramos with the scoop that he was leading a student hunger strike to protest California's passage of Proposition 187, the measure intended to cut off most public services for illegal immigrants. As a fourth-generation Angeleno of Mexican heritage, Garcetti said he felt compelled to make a transatlantic statement of solidarity.

Eric Garcetti grew up on the mean streets of Encino, in the barrio of Brentwood, and in the broken-down classrooms of the Harvard-Westlake School. His father (right) was a lowly two-term Los Angeles County District Attorney who did such a bang-up job prosecuting O.J. His grandfather had to scrape by owning a national menswear corporation.

The only more authentic Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles are the Weitz Brothers.

Career arc: P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves Novels

Baseball statistician Bill James popularized the notion of a career arc for a baseball player, which showed that teams had to discipline themselves not to overpay for famous free agents: you shouldn't be offering a five year contract to a 31 year old that's based on  assuming he'll perform as well as he had over the previous five years. In James' analysis, ballplayers peaked at around age 27 (although developments over the last generation might have pushed that peak back a year or so).

Most such analyses of peak age are pretty depressing. By the time you start wondering what the peak age is in your field, you are probably past it. 

So, here's a more encouraging table: P.G. Wodehouse's 15 comic novels about Bertie Wooster and his butler Jeeves. Born in late 1881, Wodehouse didn't publish his first Jeeves novel until he was about 37 and published his last in his 90s. 

Jeeves novels are good for making apples to apples comparisons of the impact of age on career performance. Usually, changes in style make comparing an artist's work over time mostly a matter of personal taste. How does Steven Spielberg's Lincoln compare to his Jaws? Well, your mileage may vary depending upon whether you like uplift or terror. Jeeves novels, however, are all written in a single style to a single standard with a single intention: to please readers.

Goodreads offers ratings by an average of 3,751 readers for each Jeeves novel. On a 1 to 5 scale, the average Jeeves novel is rated 4.24. In the table below, red numbers are ratings below the mean of 4.24, black numbers above the mean. 

1882 4.24 3751
Novel Year Age Rating Raters
 My Man Jeeves (Jeeves, #1) 1919 37 (0.13) 2260
 The Inimitable Jeeves (Jeeves, #2) 1923 41 (0.00) 2215
 Carry on, Jeeves (Jeeves, #3) 1925 43 0.02 2749
 Very Good, Jeeves! (Jeeves, #4) 1930 48 0.10 (727)
 Thank You, Jeeves (Jeeves, #5) 1934 52 0.02 638
 Right Ho, Jeeves (Jeeves, #6) 1934 52 0.05 3346
 The Code of the Woosters (Jeeves, #7) 1938 56 0.11 3309
 Jeeves in the Morning (Jeeves, #8) 1946 64 0.11 (1076)
 The Mating Season (Jeeves, #9) 1949 67 (0.00) (1853)
 Ring for Jeeves (Jeeves, #10) 1953 71 (0.20) (2839)
 Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit (Jeeves, #11) 1954 72 0.05 (1533)
 How Right You Are, Jeeves (Jeeves, #12) 1960 78 (0.03) (1966)
 Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves (Jeeves, #13) 1963 81 0.05 (752)
 Jeeves and the Tie That Binds (Jeeves, #14) 1971 89 (0.01) (1894)
 Aunts Aren't Gentlemen (Jeeves, #15) 1974 92 (0.07) (1879)

The consistency of ratings over time is the most striking fact. But a few temporal patterns can be discerned due to the huge sample sizes of raters. My Man Jeeves at age 37 was a rookie effort, falling 0.13 points below his career mean. Wodehouse hit a long peak from his early 40s into his early 60s with six straight Jeeves novels rated above his career average, but his ratings slip only marginally in his old age.

Another input is the number of raters for each book, with a mean of 3751. The last column notes whether the number of raters was above or below the mean. The number of raters is a measure of the fame or popularity or availability of the book. I suspect that a high rating from a large number of raters is better than an equal rating from a small number of raters since smaller audiences reflect more hardcore fans. The last eight novels all have below average numbers of raters, suggesting that the fairly high ratings of these books are probably a little generous.

The peak is probably 1938's (age 56) The Code of the Woosters. The topical political satire of Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascist Blackshirts, as Bertie's nemesis Sir Roderick Spode, leader of the Blackshorts, makes the book stand out. 

The next novel was 1946's (age 64) Jeeves in the Morning (formerly Joy in the Morning), which Wodehouse had a lot of time to work on while he was interned by the Nazis (he was caught at his beach home in France in 1940). It has equally high ratings as Code of the Woosters, although fewer raters. In 1982, Alexander Cockburn designated Code and Morning to be the peaks of the series.

Ring for Jeeves (age 71) is the most obvious dud, but Wodehouse rebounded well. For example, Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves, published when he was about age 81, garnered above average ratings from over 3,000 raters. That's pretty extraordinary.

Statistically minded Wodehouse fans can do the same exercise for his Blandings Castle novels.

Here's the Goodreads page for Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin 20 sea story novels. The first, Master and Commander, published when he was 54, has the lowest rating, 4.07 out of 5. (It offers a lot of nautical know-how. Is there a better introduction to the series?)

O'Brian appears to have hit his peak in his sixties and then maintained something close to that into his eighties. The highest rated book, The Letter of Marque (4.40), was published at age 73.

(By the way, a five-point scale isn't fine enough for high-quality series like Wodehouse and O'Brian.)

On the other hand, the number of raters falls with each book published, suggesting that readers typically start at the beginning of the series and only the most hardcore fans finish all 20 books. So, once again, the ratings of the later books may be a little generous due to a selection effect.

But, overall, pretty impressive.

Supercommenter Jason Malloy's links page

For years, Jason Malloy has been one of the outstanding commenters on the Internet, but he's always maintained a low profile in terms of having his own site. Now he has a small webpage with links to important news stories in the human sciences.

The Telegraph: Obituary for Arthur Jensen

The British broadsheet runs a welcome obit for the great psychologist who died last fall.

January 1, 2013

The War on Drugs

Anti-Gnostic writes in the comments:
It’s not that the War on Drugs creates criminals (other than as a marginal phenomenon). It’s that the War on Drugs puts the trade in the hands of criminals. If drugs were the root cause, college campuses would be filled with the same kinds of violent turf battles, gun fights, beheadings, etc. When was the last time anybody had to risk their life buying marijuana in a criminal ghetto? 
The War on Drugs needs to be ended in order to deprive criminals of their funding. Criminals have very few sustainable talents outside of violence and intimidation. We’ve legalized gambling, enabled payday/pawn/title loans, and nobody’s getting kneecapped anymore. We’ve decriminalized alcohol and enacted sunshine laws for municipal government. (We also started handing out municipal contracts to “minorities” instead of guys whose last names end in vowels, but that’s another thread). What are all the guidos doing now? They’re on disability and telling their higher IQ offspring to go into real estate or outside sales, which is a hell of a lot better than beating up shopowners and hijacking trucks.

My main concern would be that legalization might wind up unleashing the full power of American marketing and logistics on selling drugs. For instance, Steve Wynn and Donald Trump are a lot better at promoting gambling than Bugsy Siegel was (although they are still geographically restricted).

Walmart could sell drugs a lot cheaper than drug dealers can. 

By way of analogy, in making loansharks more or less obsolete over the last generation, did we unleash the subprime bubble? Angelo Mozilo was a lot better at promoting high interest loans than Rocky Balboa's old boss was. 

This need for a legal but semi-crippled market for dangerous drugs doesn't seem like an impossible problem to solve, just a difficult one.

December 31, 2012

Has anybody ever calculated white murder rates by state?

Whenever gun control becomes a hot topic, you see white liberals going through a set pattern of contortions, one most fully worked out in Michael Moore's Oscar-winning Bowling for Columbine:

- Racist white rednecks in the sticks want guns because they have racist fears of urban blacks;

- So, we must disarm everybody to stop rednecks from killing so many

Deconstructed, this bizarre theory actually makes a fair amount of sense:

- Liberal whites in the cities want gun control because they have realist fears of urban blacks;

- So, we must disarm everybody to stop blacks from killing so many.

But, white people don't like talking about black people, they like talking about how much they hate other white people.

They especially like coming up with theories about other kinds of white people. For example, the state with the highest homicide rate is usually Louisiana. Just think what savage redneck monsters white people in Louisiana must be. Didn't you watch Deliverance or read Albion's Seed?

(Of course, the murder rate in Louisiana is only about half of that in Washington D.C.. Has anybody checked out what Ezra Klein, Chris Matthews, Cokie Roberts are up to?)

They really don't like it when I point out that state-by-state differences in murders are dominated by the percent black.

Anyway, I read a lot of theories about differences in white homicide rates between the states, but does anybody have any good numbers?

The Bureau of Justice Statistics will tell you the homicide rates for the whole country for blacks and "whites" (whites plus Hispanics), but I can't find rates by states.

It's not hard to find homicide rates per state overall, but not by race.

Here's an unsourced table on what percent of homicide victims are by race by state, which might be a piece of the puzzle.

Finally, it would be best to have a decade or so of data since murder rates in small states jump around semi-randomly.

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Inequality and murder rates

One of the standard acceptable explanations for high crime rates is "inequality." 

The most realistic implication is that the poor are driven mad by the sight of the rich, and thus engage in crime. This is not wholly unreasonable, prima facie, yet it's hard to think of persuasive American examples these days.

For instance, inequality has grown enormously in New York City since Wall Street turned up in 1982. Yet, crime is quite low in NYC these days. Perhaps, in contrast to the theory, rich people can afford to hire a lot of cops and private security, driving crime rates down for everybody?

The murder rate in Newark is about four or five times higher than in New York, but there has to be fewer rich people in Newark than in New York, right?

In contrast, there are few rich people left in Detroit, but the number of murders there in 2012 is the highest since the crack year of 1994.

Here is the FBI's table of murders per 100,000 in 2009 (city only, not metro area). At the top of the list, New Orleans and Washington DC have some rich people (maybe Oakland), but most of these murder capitals are pretty bereft of The One Percent these days.

Another respectable theory is that "homogeneous" cities are, uh, easier to police. But Honolulu has a low murder rate.

The last popular theory is that heavily armed rednecks are murdering everybody, but there doesn't seem to be much evidence for that idea in this table, either.

New Orleans, LO 52
St. Louis, MO 40
Detroit, MI 40
Baltimore, MD 37
Baton Rouge, LA 34
Newark, NJ 29
Birmingham, AL 29
Oakland, CA 26
Washington, DC 24
Buffalo, NY 22
Kansas City, MO 21
Memphis, TN 20
Philadelphia, PA 20
Cleveland, OH 19
Richmond, VA 19
Norfolk, VA 18
Tulsa, OK 18
Cincinnati, OH 16
Chicago, IL 16
Montgomery, AL 15
Atlanta, GA 14
Savannah-Chatham Metro, GA 14
Miami, FL 14
Rochester, NY 14
Nashville, TN 13
Dallas, TX 13
Houston, TX 13
Pittsburgh, PA 12
Jacksonville, FL 12
Indianapolis, IN 12
Orlando, FL 12
Milwaukee, WI 12
Oklahoma City, OK 12
Jersey City, NJ 12
Toledo, OH 11
Stockton, CA 11
Columbus, OH 11
Albuquerque, NM 11
Modesto, CA 10
Louisville Metro, KY 10
Mobile, AL \3 10
Akron, OH 10
Greensboro, NC 9
Durham, NC 9
Fresno, CA 9
Long Beach, CA 9
Bakersfield, CA 8
Los Angeles, CA 8
Las Vegas MPD, NV 8
Boston, MA 8
Phoenix, AZ 8
Laredo, TX 7
Charlotte-Mecklenburg, NC 7
Santa Ana, CA 7
North Las Vegas, NV 7
San Antonio, TX 7
Fort Wayne, IN 7
Glendale, AZ 7
Wichita, KS 7
Omaha, NE 7
Winston-Salem, NC 6
Tucson, AZ 6
Sacramento, CA 6
Fort Worth, TX 6
Aurora, CO 6
Lubbock, TX 6
Tampa, FL 6
Denver, CO 6
New York, NY 6
San Francisco, CA 6
Chesapeake, VA 5
Riverside, CA 5
Anchorage, AK 5
Minneapolis, MN \1 5
St. Paul, MN 5
St. Petersburg, FL 4
Lexington, KY 4
Virginia Beach, VA 4
Scottsdale, AZ 4
Corpus Christi, TX 4
Reno, NV 4
Yonkers, NY 4
Hialeah, FL 4
Colorado Springs, CO 4
Seattle, WA 4
Spokane, WA 3
Raleigh, NC 3
Portland, OR 3
Garland, TX 3
Arlington, TX 3
San Diego, CA 3
Mesa, AZ 3
San Jose, CA 3
Boise, ID 3
Austin, TX 3
Anaheim, CA 3
Irving, TX 2
Lincoln, NE 2
Chandler, AZ 2
El Paso, TX 2
Chula Vista, CA 2
Gilbert, AZ 2
Madison, WI 2
Honolulu, HI 2
Henderson, NV 2
Plano, TX 1
Irvine, CA 1
Fremont, CA 1

Forecasting v. All-Else-Being-Equal policy analysis

Philip Tetlock's 2005 book Expert Political Judgment raised amusing doubts about the accuracy of professional public affairs forecasters. 

Tetlock was particularly derogatory about dogmatic "hedgehogs." Economist John H. Cochrane suggests in a Cato Unbound piece, however:
It was once hoped that really understanding the structure of the economy would also help in the sort of unconditional forecasting that Gardner and Tetlock are more interested in. Alas, that turned out not to be true. Big “structural” macroeconomic models predict no better than simple correlations. Even if you understand many structural linkages from policy to events, there are so many other unpredictable shocks that imposing “structure” just doesn’t help with unconditional forecasting. 
But economics can be pretty good at such structural forecasting. We really do know what happens if you put in minimum wages, taxes, tariffs, and so on. We have a lot of experience with regulatory capture. At least we know the signs and general effects. Assigning numbers is a lot harder. But those are useful predictions, even if they typically dash youthful liberal hopes and dreams.
Doing good forecasting of this sort, however, rewards some very hedgehoggy traits. 
Focusing on “one analytical tool”—basic supply and demand, a nose for free markets, unintended consequences, and regulatory capture—is essential. People who use a wide range of analytical tools, mixing economics, political, sociological, psychological, Marxist-radical and other perspectives end up hopelessly muddled. 
Keeping analysis “simple and elegant” and “minimizing distractions” is vital too, rather than being “comfortable with complexity and uncertainty,” or even being “much less sure of oneself.” Especially around policy debates, one is quickly drowned in mind-blowing detail. Keeping the simple picture and a few basic principles in mind is the only hope.

In other words, there is a big difference between macro and micro forecasting. Macro forecasting needs all the factors, and nobody understands all the factors. Micro forecasting, in contrasting, can benefit from theory. Micro forecasting is policy analysis, which benefits from using the economic concept of "all else being equal."

For example, in the late 1970s, the state of California passed a law allowing local municipalities to impose rent control on landlords. In microeconomic theory, this is not a good idea. And indeed, living in Santa Monica in 1981-82, as a newly minted economics major, I could observe rent control in action: my landlady treated me with all the warmth of a Serb hosting German soldiers in WWII. She invested nothing in the upkeep of the apartment in the 22 months I was there. 

On the other hand, the rent was a helluva deal for a place where I could bike to the beach a few times per week. I had no intention of moving out if I could find a job anywhere in the L.A. area. I figured that in five years the apartment building would look like a wreck from neglect, but I'd probably still be legally squatting in it, writing my $250 per month rent-controlled check. (I slowly figured out that Santa Monica had been undervalued in the past because, before antibiotics and smog, newcomers to Southern California had wanted to live inland in drier places like Pasadena to avoid TB; but by 1981 the whole climatic logic had long-since reversed, so demand for Santa Monica apartments was finally soaring.)

In the long run, it's clear that rent-control is not really a good idea. Not many municipalities in California still have it. On the other hand, ones that do, such as Santa Monica, West Hollywood, and Berkeley, are typically not post-apocalyptic wastelands, either.

Indeed, the rent-controlled municipalities tend to be ones favored by geography, and thus attract smart, well-heeled people, who figure out ways to make it work.

To make an all-else-being-equal forecast about the impact of imposing a policy of rent control on Santa Monica, you only need to know that it would cause less investment in apartment buildings than would happen otherwise.

On the other hand, to make an unconditional forecast about what Santa Monica would wind up like, you'd need to understand a lot more factors, especially about human capital, which economists are not very bright about.

And that's the bigger lesson to be learned.