February 27, 2010

Sliding sports on TV

Is there any way to make Winter Olympic sled sports, such as the bobsled, luge, and skeleton, more gripping on TV? As far back as I can remember, the 1984 Winter Olympics, the networks have televised the sliding sports using much the same camera work as Philip Kaufman used in 1983's The Right Stuff to show us that test pilot Chuck Yeager was going really fast when he broke the sound barrier: Zoom! Zing!

It looked pretty exciting a quarter of a century ago, but, let's be honest: everybody looks alike as they're all crouched down trying not to get their heads knocked off in a crash. And, I, personally, can't tell whether they picked the right line or not. So, you just end up waiting around for the announcer to tell you when they get to the bottom whether the latest guy with a Teutonic name went 0.05% faster or slower than the previous guy.

Maybe what they should do is show it tape delayed a few minutes on TV (yeah, you could go look up on the Internet who won just before you saw it on TV, but do you really care enough to get off the couch?) and show in split screen two sledders going down the track side by side. That would give the viewer more of a sense of competition, and actually let you see why one team is faster than another. (And it would only take half as long.)

As TVs get more wide screen, split screen becomes more feasible.

They could also show two skiers at once, too. But, that would be somewhat less of an improvement. Generally speaking, precarious-looking sports where people try to stay upright up on snow or ice, like skiing, skating, and snowboarding, are more fun to watch than ones where they have the good sense to be already lying down because, hey, it's slippery out there.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

February 25, 2010

Mr. and Mrs. Krugman

The New Yorker has a long profile on economist Paul Krugman and his wife.

A reader writes:

Turns out his wife is one of those light skinned black people [blue-eyed and long-haired], not unlike Rev. Wright, who are very angry. In fact, it seems that it was she who pushed him over the edge into becoming the crazy ass conservative hater he now is. Kind of helps explain why he is so obsessed theory that the electoral success of American conservatives since the 70s has been entirely due to racism. (Ross Douthat has the best responses to all this.)

What also stands out from the profile is just how Aspergery the guy is. It's like he has _no_ idea how actual people work and just doesn't relate to them.

From Larissa MacFarquhar's "The Deflationist:"

These days she focusses on making him less dry, less abstract, angrier. Recently, he gave her a draft of an article he’d done for Rolling Stone. He had written, “As Obama tries to deal with the crisis, he will get no help from Republican leaders,” and after this she inserted the sentence “Worse yet, he’ll get obstruction and lies.” Where he had written that the stimulus bill would at best “mitigate the slump, not cure it,” she crossed out that phrase and substituted “somewhat soften the economic hardship that we face for the next few years.” Here and there, she suggested things for him to add. “This would be a good place to flesh out the vehement objections from the G.O.P. and bankers to nationalization,” she wrote on page 9. “Show us all their huffing and puffing before you dismiss it as nonsense in the following graf.”

On the rare occasion when they disagree about something, she will be the one urging him to be more outraged or recalcitrant.

As for Aspergery:

For the first twenty years of Krugman’s adult life, his world was divided not into left and right but into smart and stupid. “The great lesson was the low level of discussion,” he says of his time in Washington. “The then Secretary of the Treasury”—Donald Regan—“was not that bright, and you could have angry exchanges where neither side understood the policy.” Krugman was buoyed and protected in his youth by an intellectual snobbery so robust that distractions or snobberies of other sorts didn’t stand a chance. “When I was twenty-eight, I wouldn’t have had the time of day for some senator or other,” he says.

Krugman’s tribe was academic economists, and insofar as he paid any attention to people outside that tribe, his enemy was stupid pseudo-economists who didn’t understand what they were talking about but who, with attention-grabbing titles and simplistic ideas, persuaded lots of powerful people to listen to them. He called these types “policy entrepreneurs”—a term that, by differentiating them from the academic economists he respected, was meant to be horribly biting. He was driven mad by Lester Thurow and Robert Reich in particular, both of whom had written books touting a theory that he believed to be nonsense: that America was competing in a global marketplace with other countries in much the same way that corporations competed with one another. In fact, Krugman argued, in a series of contemptuous articles in Foreign Affairs and elsewhere, countries were not at all like corporations. While another country’s success might injure our pride, it would not likely injure our wallets. Quite the opposite ...

There are other considerations about why it's useful to have certain industries and not be wholly dependent upon trade, as Admiral Yamamoto pointed out to the Japanese Imperial Council in 1941 and Rhett Butler to the firebreathers at the barbecue in 1861:

Certainly until the Enron scandal, Krugman had no sense that there was any kind of problem in American corporate governance. (He consulted briefly for Enron before he went to the Times.) Occasionally, he received letters from people claiming that corporations were cooking the books, but he thought this sounded so implausible that he dismissed them. “I believed that the market was enforcing,” he says. “I believed in the S.E.C. I just never really thought about it. It seemed like a pretty sunny world in 1999, and, for all of my cynicism, I shared a lot of that. The extent of corporate fraud, the financial malfeasance, the sheer viciousness of the political scene—those are all things that, ten years ago, I didn’t see.”

That finally makes sense out of what turned into a bizarrely acrimonious email exchange I had with Krugman around 1999. He said he was working on the perennial conundrum of why ticket prices for rock concerts tend to be set so low that they immediately sell out and then are resold at a sizable profit for market-clearing prices by brokers. Why wouldn't the promoter take a larger profit? (By the way, I noticed in the New Yorker profile that 1960s-1970s rock music comes up a lot in his conversation, so this would be a natural topic for him to muse upon, and our experiences with rock concert tickets would come from similar periods. I don't know much about rock concert ticket prices in recent years -- it seems like the Ticketmaster monopoly now absorbs a big chunk of the profit.)

I pointed out to Krugman that maybe the insiders actually are reaping more profits than it might seem from the face value printed on the tickets. Why assume that all the tickets being resold for higher prices on the gray market were necessarily first sold to the public for face value?

Friends who had camped out outside the box office and been first in line for Springsteen tickets in LA in 1980 or 1981 had been shocked to discover that the first ten or so rows were already gone before sales to the public (i.e., them) began. (There was even an LA Times article at the time about how the skimming of low face value Springsteen tickets for resale to Hollywood bigshots had gotten out of hand.) They told me that their usual experience with hockey rink concerts was that insiders glommed on to the best seats before public sales began, and then resold them on the gray market for big profits.

So a substantial bit of the profit from being in the impresario and ticket sale business came from cheating the public on promises of first come-first serve sales. A lot of tickets "fell off the back of a truck" before any were offered to the poor schmoes who had been camped on the sidewalk. This provided a source of unreported tax-free compensation for insiders from promoters down to ticket clerks. It doesn't have to sound sinister at all -- you could let your ticket clerks know that they could buy up to X number of tickets at face value in the best seats in the house before accepting orders from the people in line. Of course, you could then pay them lower wages because of this perk, and lower payroll taxes, too. Everybody wins!

In contrast, if the promoter boosted the face value of the tickets to the market clearing prices, the band and the taxman would get most of the benefit. You could wheedle well-meaning musicians, such as Springsteen in 1980, into accepting the low face value prices as doing something for the average fan who can't afford high ticket prices.

Hence, the net behavior of the insiders was more profit-maximizing than it would seem on the surface.

Maybe I was right, maybe I was wrong, but this seemed to me to at least be an idea worth considering. Krugman, however, angrily rejected my suggestion. He was offended by it.

I can see from this article that it just didn't fit into what he then considered proper economic theory. We have this beautiful theory of economic actors -- individuals, firms, governments -- and the notion that individuals within firms, whether concert promotion firms or Enron, might be playing a double game just complicates this beautiful picture too much.

So, Krugman's wife has merely channeled his inner anger toward Republicans and away from his old target--people with the temerity to think about economics without using equations. I can't say that's such a bad thing that she's done. Krugman's new hobby, denouncing Republicans, is better for society on the whole than Krugman's old hobby: denouncing thinkers outside the inner circle of mathematical economists.

(Granted, some of the non-math thinkers Krugman used to denounce, such as Stephen Jay Gould, deserved denouncing.)

Last August, Krugman decided that before he and Wells departed for a bicycle tour of Scotland he would take a couple of days to speak at the sixty-seventh world science-fiction convention, to be held in Montreal. (Krugman has been a science-fiction fan since he was a boy.)... Krugman explained that he’d become an economist because of science fiction. When he was a boy, he’d read Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” trilogy and become obsessed with the central character, Hari Seldon. Seldon was a “psychohistorian”—a scientist with such a precise understanding of the mechanics of society that he could predict the course of events thousands of years into the future and save mankind from centuries of barbarism. He couldn’t predict individual behavior—that was too hard—but it didn’t matter, because history was determined not by individuals but by laws and hidden forces.

With economists, it's usually Foundation or Atlas Shrugged, not Chekhov.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

February 24, 2010

Income by Religions

Good has a rather unwieldy graph showing religion by income. No surprises, with Jews first and Hindus second in percent with six figure incomes, and Jehovah's Witnesses and black Protestant churches last. It would be interesting to know whether there are still affluence distinctions among mainline white Protestants, such as Episcopalian v. Methodist.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

February 23, 2010

Obama as President: Less church, more golf

The Boston Globe hypothesizes:
Obama’s spiritual life takes more private turn

As early as 2007, one poll indicated, Obama was seen as “strongly religious’’ by more voters than every presidential candidate except Republican Mitt Romney, whose Mormonism was the subject of intense news coverage.

Obama’s courtship of religious groups in the 2008 race - the most extensive ever by a Democratic candidate for president - paid off on Election Day with strong support among liberal and moderate religious voters. He won 54 percent of the Catholic vote, a stark reversal from four years earlier, when Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, himself Catholic, lost the same group to Bush. ...

He named a best-selling book after a pastor’s sermon and was outspoken as a candidate about the value of faith in public life. He infused stump speeches with phrases like “I am my brother’s keeper,’’ and made his journey to Christianity a central theme of the life story he shared with voters.

But since President Obama took office a year ago, his faith has largely receded from public view. He has attended church in the capital only four times, and worshiped half a dozen times at a secluded Camp David chapel. He prays privately, reads a “daily devotional’’ that aides send to his BlackBerry, and talks to pastors by phone, but seldom frames policies in spiritual terms.

The greater privacy reflects not a slackening of devotion, but a desire to shield his spirituality from the maw of politics and strike an inclusive tone at a time of competing national priorities and continuing partisan division, according to people close to the White House on faith issues.

“There are several ways that he is continuing to grow in his faith, all of them - or practically of all them - he’s trying to keep as private and personal as possible so they will not be politicized,’’ said Pastor Joel C. Hunter, who is part of an inner circle of pastors the president consults by phone for spiritual guidance.

On the other, Barack Obama's golf game has grown dramatically more public once he reached his life's goal.

Look, wouldn't the simplest explanation be that Obama was just yanking our chains about the Jesus stuff? That, as he admitted he was told in 1985, he'd need to join a church in Chicago if he expected to have a political career on the South Side. So he picked out the most radically leftist upscale one available? That he gave $53,770 to Rev. Wright's Church in 2005-2007 in gratitude for helping him establish his blackness? As Alison Samuels reported in Newsweek on why Oprah quit Wright's Church in the 1990s but Obama would not:

Friends of Sen. Barack Obama, whose relationship with Wright has rocked his bid for the White House, insist that it would be unfair to compare Winfrey’s decision to leave Trinity United with his own decision to stay. “[His] reasons for attending Trinity were totally different,” said one campaign adviser, who declined to be named discussing the Illinois senator’s sentiments. “Early on, he was in search of his identity as an African-American and, more importantly, as an African-American man. Reverend Wright and other male members of the church were instrumental in helping him understand the black experience in America. Winfrey wasn’t going for that. She’s secure in her blackness, so that didn’t have a hold on her.”

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

Olympics notes

- Isn't it odd how skier Bode Miller looks even more like George W. Bush this time around? And how skater Johnny Weir is starting to look like Michael Madsen from all those Tarantino movies?

- Have you noticed how over the years short track speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno has gone from the Newest New Thing to the Old Reliable of Winter Olympics television entertainment? Every time you see him, you know, win or lose, you are in for a few minutes of hypnotic circling suddenly devolving into some insane wipe-out that will leave every single person in South Korea extremely worked up.

- Three commercials in heavy rotation on the Olympics broadcasts -- McDonald's, Wal-Mart, and Chevy -- feature little girls' hockey teams. Is hockey supposed to be the best "keep-her-off-the-pole" talisman?

- Speaking of commercials, why don't advertisers make slight variants of their commercials to keep people from completely zoning out the 73rd time they've seen it? They shoot way more footage than they use, so why not whip up alternative versions to keep viewers awake during the Olympics? Here's an easy way to keep siblings competitively engaged: shoot three or four different punchlines and then make one slight variation in each version's set-up shots. That way, somebody who is paying close attention will be able to achieve dominance over the rest of his family by accurately predicting the punchline. It will drive his siblings crazy, so they will also study the commercials looking for clues so they can beat him to the punchline.

- Also, advertising agencies keep missing the sweet spot between too boring and too interesting that you don't notice what brand is being advertised. A lot of prestige ads that run on the Olympics are so expensive, so filled with show-offy scenes from around the world that you often lose the thread before they finally flash the sponsor's logo for 0.8 seconds at the end. I'm sure those kind of ads win awards -- nobody loves to give awards to each other more than advertising people -- but are they really effective at selling whatever sponsor that's revealed at the very end? Especially when the stylistic theme of countless commercials is exactly the same: Despite, or perhaps because of, global diversity, everybody on Earth loves us. The Globalist commercial is inherently distracting because it packs so much information demanding to be decoded into one 30-second spot that viewers' attentions are constantly tempted away from the point of the commercial into distraction and woolgathering. Professional advertising people tend to be so knowing and quick about standard visual imagery that they are clueless about what goes through other people's heads when presented with a picture of a landmark that strikes ad folks as the worst depths of cliche: Oh, look, there's that big rock that begins with an "A" in that place that begins with an "A," so that shot must be from, what, Antarctica? But, there's no snow. That big rock must be in some other large place that begins with an "A." Africa? Argentina? No, now I remember, that big rock is in Australia! Wouldn't it be awesome to visit that big rock on vacation? Out of all the big rocks in the world, I hear it's the biggest! But isn't it inconveniently out in the middle of nowhere and, in the final analysis, is just a big rock? By the way, if there's no snow in Australia, how come there are Australians in the Winter Olympics? Speaking of no snow, whatever happened to the Jamaican bobsled team? Hey, that commercial's over. What was it about, anyway? Well, never mind, we're back to the luge. Wow, von Schievenhuffel is going really fast!

Instead, why not borrow a trick from cable networks that keep a small logo up on a lower corner of the screen? Hey, this show is on the Discovery Channel! I'll have to try to remember that. Similarly, put the sponsor's logo in the corner throughout the commercial. Your ad won't win any awards and your ad agency might get sanctioned by the Advertising Council for violating the professional ethics of the advertising business by being overly attentive to the client's interests instead of to your own sense of creative self-expression, but, so what?

- In general, what human beings like is Similarity-with-Variation. That's why people enjoy the architecture of Paris more than the architecture of Magnetogorsk or Beverly Hills. In Paris, most buildings are six stories high and have mansard roof, so streets are harmonious, but there's a lot of variation within Baron Haussmann's limits. In contrast, as Woody Allen in Annie Hall and Nathanael West in Day of the Locust complained, there's too much variation in Beverly Hills: "Mexican ranch houses, Samoan huts, Mediterranean villas, Egyptian and Japanese temples, Swiss chalets, Tudor cottages, and every possible combination of these styles," scoffed West. That's what ads during the Olympics are missing: the optimal combination of continuity and difference. It's why short track speed skating is fun to watch (once every four years): everybody always goes around and around for awhile, but then something crazy happens. People like that.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

February 22, 2010

Why you don't want to be an NFL running back

From the AP:
LaDainian Tomlinson, who became one of the NFL's best running backs during a nine-year career, has been released by the San Diego Chargers, the team said on Monday.

The 30-year-old, who is San Diego's all-time rusher, had expected the move for some time since he was due a $2 million roster bonus on March 5. He would have earned $5 million in total salary this year.

Contract? What contract? The contract only applies if you, LaDainian, hadn't turned out to be worn down by nine years of being slammed by opponents while carrying the ball for the San Diego Chargers franchise. Your contract merely says, in effect, that if you were still in prime form, then we would have paid you to play another year for us, not for anybody else. You, on the other hand, turned out to be over the hill at age 30, so don't let the doorknob hit you on the way out, LaDainian.

Question for Toby Gerhart: Are you sure you'll never learn to reliably hit the split-fingered fastball? They have guaranteed contracts in baseball for big, fast, strong guys who can. And in baseball, all-time greats aren't used up and thrown away by age 30.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

Supreme Court to hear Chicago Firemen Test?

From the AP:
The Supreme Court on Monday seemed willing to let a group of African Americans sue Chicago for discrimination over a hiring test that weeded out black applicants to become firefighters.

It is the second time in as many years that the high court has tackled discrimination in testing within the firefighting ranks. In a landmark case last year, the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision said New Haven, Conn., violated white firefighters' civil rights by throwing out an exam in which no African-Americans scored high enough to be promoted to lieutenant or captain.

In Monday's case, the city of Chicago decided to use a test to weed out potential firefighter trainee applicants. Anyone who scored 64 or below was deemed not qualified. But the city set a second cutoff score of 89 points.

Officials told applicants who scored below 89 but above 64 that although they passed the test, they likely would not be hired because of the large number of people who scored 89 or above. The majority of those in the top-scoring group were white; only 11 percent were black.

"Chicago used an unlawful cutoff score to determine which applicants it would hire as firefighters," said John Payton, director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. "There is no dispute that the cutoff score had an adverse impact on qualified black applicants and was not job-related."

However, the issue before the court was whether the aspiring black firefighters waited too long to sue. People are supposed to sue within 300 days after an employment action they seek to challenge as unlawful.

The city says the clock started when it announced the use of the test scores in January 26, 1996. The first lawsuit in the case was filed on March 31, 1997, 430 days after the city announced the results.

But the plaintiffs say a new act of discrimination also happened each time the scores were used in hiring firefighter trainees between May 1996 and October 2001.

A U.S. District judge agreed with the black applicants, but the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision. The federal appeals court said the limitation period began when the city placed the applicants into the middle tier.

"And after that decision was made, there was nothing else that Chicago did that affected petitioners in the terms required by the statute," city lawyer Benna Solomon argued. "Hiring others did not adversely affect petitioners."

But "what is the list, other than an administratively convenient way to use the scores?" Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked.

Added Justice Sonia Sotomayor: "When you hire, aren't you acting upon the results?"

Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal argued that if the court allows the city of Chicago to hire using its flawed method, that will tell employers they can get away with a discriminatory test if they manage to avoid a lawsuit within the 300-day limit .

"If the rule of the city of Chicago were adopted, then an employer who made it 300 days without an EEOC charge being filed ... would then be able to, for all time, use that discriminatory test," Kaytal said.

The court is expected to make a decision before fall.

The case is Lewis v. Chicago, 08-974.

This is not an obscure case: Mayor Daley put the city through contortions in the 1990s to come up with racially fair fire and police test, and was shocked when whites always did so much better on them.

Will anybody nationally come to the defense of the Chicago firemen most qualified to save lives?

The two guys who did the most to impede Obama's momentum last summer were Frank Ricci and James Crowley. And, yet, nobody seems to pick up on these huge New York and Chicago fire department cases as politicizable.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

A simple electoral rule

My new VDARE.com column outlines a simple rule for electoral success: Places that white Americans move to vote Republican in the future, while places that immigrants move to vote Democratic down the road: even Dallas and Houston.

In 1980, I met on a train through Italy a couple of English soccer hooligans who were headed for a post-match riot in Turin. When they asked where I was from, I replied, “Houston”, where I had just graduated from college. They had never heard of Houston, so I suggested “Dallas” as a reasonable approximation.

“Who shot J.R.?” the yobs exclaimed in happy unison.

Although Southfork Ranch, the fictional abode of Television Texan J.R. Ewing, was set in Dallas, Houston was even more the capital of capitalist exuberance during the 1970s oil boom.

By 1980, Houston’s Harris County was the third most populous in America, and the downtown business district had sprouted the most outlandish skyline west of the Mississippi (although Dallas wasn’t far behind).

Unsurprisingly, except apparently to the banks, oil prices eventually came down and the Texas bubble popped. Yet the modern Republican Party’s state electorate was forged in the 1970s. In contrast to the housing boom of the last decade in California, in Texas back then construction wasn’t considered “a job Americans just wouldn’t [or shouldn’t] do.” Nor was it yet universally assumed by the Establishment that high wages for American workers were an evil to be fought at all cost.

Back in the 1970s, strong demand bid up workers’ wages in Texas. That lured in large numbers of American workers to Texas from the declining cities of the Rust Belt. Although American newcomers to Texas in the 1970s typically came from places where the Democrats had ruled at least since FDR, they joined with native Texans in trending Republican.

After voting for Carter in 1976, Texas went for Reagan in 1980 and hasn’t wavered since. Texas kept the GOP viable at the national level when California, which voted for nine out of ten Republican Presidential candidates from 1952-1988, flipped Democratic.

Read the rest there and comment upon it here.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer