June 5, 2010

French Interior Minister found guilty of Gallic cynicism

From the BBC:

A French court has fined Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux for making racist comments about a young party activist of Algerian origin.
The court fined Mr Hortefeux 750 euros (£622) and ordered that he pay 2,000 euros to an anti-racism group.

... Mr Hortefeux was joking with a small group of activists from the ruling UMP party in south-west France. 
Immediately before Mr Hortefeux's controversial remark, one activist is heard saying: "Amin is a Catholic. He eats pork and drinks alcohol."

Mr Hortefeux then says: "Ah, well that won't do at all. He doesn't match the prototype."

A woman is then heard to say: "He is one of us... he is our little Arab."

The interior minister then says: "We always need one. It's when there are lots of them that there are problems."

The court ruled that his remark was "incontestably offensive, if not contemptuous".

The court did not issue a criminal conviction, judging that Mr Hortefeux had not intended the comments to be heard in public.

It found him guilty instead of the lesser offence of racial insult, AFP news agency reported.

What would such great French heroes as Voltaire and Captain Renault say?

June 4, 2010

More Interracial Marriage Stats

Here are quotes from the summary of the new Pew report on interracial marriage in 2008. Note a few things. This is based on the Census Bureau's annual American Community Survey of 3 million people, not the decennial enumeration of 100 times that number Plus, note the distinction between newlyweds and married couples: people who get married in 2008 versus people who are married in 2008. So, there could be some sample size issues versus the actual Census. Still, when you start with 3 million people, you can slice and dice pretty far.

Also, 41% of babies born in 2008 were illegitimate, so marriage stats tend to look at what the upper 3/5ths or so of society are doing. Only about 28% of babies born to black women were legitimate and only 49% of babies born to Hispanics were legitimate, so marriage behavior and mating behavior are increasingly disconnected.
Even with that sharp increase, however, black-white couplings represented only about one-in-nine of the approximately 280,000 new interracial or interethnic marriages in 2008.

White-Hispanic couples accounted for about four-in-ten (41%) of such new marriages; white-Asian couples made up 15%; and white-black couples made up 11%.

I.e., "nonwhites" include Hispanics who self-identify as whites. Also, there's no multi-ethnic category as there is a multi-racial category, so a lot of these Hispanics marrying non-Hispanic whites might be actually half or a quarter Hispanic. So, for example, if blonde actress Cameron Diaz, daughter of an American-born Cuban father and an Old American (English, German, Cherokee) mother who grew up on the beach in Southern California, married, say, ex-boyfriend Matt Dillon, it would, theoretically, count as an "interracial marriage."
The remaining third consisted of marriages in which each spouse was a member of a different minority group or in which at least one spouse self-identified as being American Indian or of mixed or multiple races.
Of the 3.8 million adults who married in 2008, 9% of whites, 16% of blacks, 26% of Hispanics and 31% of Asians married someone whose race or ethnicity was different from their own.

For whites these shares are more than double what they had been in 1980 and for blacks they are nearly triple. For Hispanics and Asians, by contrast, these rates are little changed from 1980. High levels of Hispanic and Asian immigration over the past several decades helped drive both seemingly contradictory trends.

For whites and blacks, the new immigrants and (increasingly) their now grown U.S.-born children have enlarged the pool of potential partners for marrying outside one's own racial or ethnic group. But for Hispanics and Asians, the ongoing immigration wave has greatly enlarged the pool of potential partners for in-group marrying.
Gender: Among blacks and Asians, there are stark differences by gender in the tendency to marry outside their own racial group. Some 22% of all black male newlyweds in 2008 married outside their race, compared with just 9% of black female newlyweds. Among Asians, the gender pattern runs the opposite way. Some 40% of Asian female newlyweds in 2008 married outside their race, compared with just 20% of Asian male newlyweds.
Among whites and Hispanics, by contrast, there are no gender differences in intermarriage rates.

These gender gap ratios for newlyweds are actually less extreme than those seen for married couples in 1990 and 2000.

Correction -- That's looking at black or Asian intermarriage rates with everybody else, when what people are most interested in (and what my 1990s and 2000s articles were about) is black-white or white-Asian intermarriage. My earlier articles looked at white-black and white-Asian rates, not black-all other and Asian-all other.

Plus, that's just looking at percentages of people who got married, when a big issue is that fewer black women than black men and fewer Asian men than Asian women were getting married to anybody. Pew should give us the raw counts of interracial marriages in 2008 rather than putting everything in percentage terms, which can be misleading and confusing. Unfortunately, they don't.

Another way to look at this is that white men in 2008 were 3.90 times as likely to marry an Asian woman as a black woman, while white women were only 0.47 times as likely to marry an Asian man as a black man. (See p. 10 of the full report.) That's a big difference.

I'm tempted to divide 3.90 by 0.47 to come up with 8.33, but 8.33 what? What does 8.33 mean, if anything? One reason the prose style is so polished in my 1997 "Is Love Colorblind?" is that it took me a long time to get to the point that I was confident I was handling the algebra in a humanly meaningful way.

Also, the Asian population has shifted considerably in the direction of South Asians since 1990, who are rather different from East Asians in marital behavior.
About 9% of both male and female white newlyweds in 2008 married a nonwhite spouse and about a quarter of both male and female Hispanic newlyweds in 2008 married someone who is not Hispanic.
States and Regions: Intermarriage in the United States tilts West. About one-in-five (21%) of all newlyweds in Western states married someone of a different race or ethnicity in 2008, compared with 13% in the South and Northeast and 11% in the Midwest. All nine states with out-marriage rates of 20% or more in 2008 are situated west of the Mississippi River: Hawaii (43%); Nevada (28%); Oregon (24%); Oklahoma (23%); California (22%); New Mexico (22%); Colorado (21%); Arizona (21%); and Washington (20%). (See Appendix III for a fifty state table).
Regional out-marriage patterns vary in other ways. For example, blacks who live in the West are three times as likely to out-marry as are blacks who live in the South and twice as likely as blacks in the Northeast or Midwest.

Among Hispanics, by contrast, the highest rate of out-marriage is in the Midwest (41%) reflecting a general tendency for out-marriage rates to be higher among smaller groups.

Blacks who live in places like North Dakota have very high rates of intermarriage with whites: there aren't many other blacks for them to marry, and many of them got to these kind of states through the military, so they have been preselected for IQ, lawfulness, and have been culturally molded by the military
As for Asians, relatively few live in the South, but those who do are more likely to out-marry (37%) than are those who live in other regions.
The nation's most populous state, California, presents the following anomaly: in 2008, white (20%) and black (36%) newlyweds were more likely to out-marry than were Hispanics (18%).

That's what I see every day in California: Latinos with Latinos. This seems especially true for Mexicans, but less true for, say, South Americans. If we assume that LA is test driving the American future, then what we're likely to see is the whiter shades of Hispanics merging into the white population, but also less and less intermarriage of mestizos as their numbers grow larger.
In all other states where data are available for these groups, the reverse was true-Hispanic newlyweds out-married at higher rates than did whites or blacks. (See appendix for states and regional table or click here for an interactive map)
Education: Marrying out is more common among adults who attended college than among those who did not, but these differences are not large. Of all newlyweds in 2008, 15.5% of those who attended college married outside their race or ethnicity, compared with 13.5% of those who completed high school and 11.0% of those who did not complete high school.

Nativity Status: Marrying out is much more common among native-born adults than among immigrants. Native-born Hispanics are more than three times as likely as the foreign born to marry a non-Hispanic.
The disparity among native- and foreign-born Asians is not as great, but it is still significant; native-born Asian-Americans are nearly twice as likely as those who are foreign born to marry a non-Asian.

Here again, there are sharp gender differences. Among Asian men, the native born are nearly four times as likely as the foreign born to marry out. Among Asian women, the native born are only about 50% more likely than the foreign born to marry a non-Asian.

So, the gender gap is much smaller among American-born Asians: 39.5% outmarriage for American-born Asian women versus 30.8% among American-born Asian men. Asian parents are intentionally congregating together it certain communities -- e.g, largely abandoning the San Fernando Valley in favor of the San Gabriel Valley. This self-segregation in places like Arcadia has a lot of reasons (e.g., control of the public schools), but it also gives their sons a better chance.

But, it would be interesting to remove South Asians from this figure.

Interestingly, a higher percentage of newlywed couples among people, 30-34, 35-39, 40-44 and 45-49 are interracial than among people 20-24 and 25-29.

This would suggest that fertility is likely a little lower.


From Norway:

Norway: Brainwashed Science on TV Creates Storm

By EUSJA member
Bjørn Vassnes, Science Journalist, Norway:
The heat is generated by Harald Eia, a TV-comedian turned science reporter, who is exposing social scientists and gender researchers in a  not very flattering manner in a TV series called «Brainwashed». The uproar started already last summer, more than half a year before the series was ready. Some social scientists who had been interviewed by Eia, went out in the press to say they felt they had been fooled, tricked to expose themselves by «dubious» tactics.
What Eia had done, was to first interview the Norwegian social scientists on issues like sexual orientation, gender roles, violence, education and  race, which are heavily politicized in the Norwegian science community. Then he translated the interviews into English and took them to well-known British and American scientists like Robert Plomin, Steven Pinker, Anne Campbell, Simon Baron-Cohen, Richard Lippa, David Buss, and others, and got their comments. To say that the American and British scientists were surprised by what they heard, is an understatement.
In Norway, the social sciences have been more dominated by ideology and fear of biology than in perhaps any other country. This has a long history starting in the 60s. Social science became very much bound up with the ideology of the Social Democrats, who put pride in the fact that Norway was the most egalitarian country in the world. And with the new wealth from the North Sea oil, it became possible to create a society with very little poverty. Which of course has been good for most Norwegians.

But science started to suffer. With so much easy money, few wanted to study the hard sciences. And the social sciences suffered in another way: The ties with the government became too tight, and created a culture where controversial issues, and tough discussions were avoided. Too critical, and you could risk getting no more money.

It was in this culture Harald Eia started his studies, in sociology, early in the nineties. He made it as far as becoming a junior researcher, but then dropped off, and started a career as a comedian instead. He has said that he suddenly, after reading some books which not were on the syllabus, discovered that he had been cheated. What he was taught in his sociology classes was not up-to-date with international research, and more based on ideology than science.

One of the problems, which has prevailed until now, is that the social sciences in Norway not at all will consider biological (evolutionary, genetical) factors in their analyses of human behavior. Even gender roles and sexual identity are explained as 100 percent determined by culture. The theory is that boys and girls are created equal – at least in their heads. All talk about possible inborn differences in interests or capabilities was taboo. Because Norwegians wanted everybody to be equal, it was considered threatening to even ask if there might be some inherited differences. Not only between the sexes, but between people generally.
... And in Norway this became a big problem because there are few scientists, and most research is sponsored by one source, the Norwegian Research Council, which has strong links with the government.

The situation was such that until recently, there has been no critical discussion of the basic dogmas about sex and gender, about criminality and about the Norwegian school system. Some questions were asked when Norway joined international school tests, and we discovered that we had fallen behind, to a level with much poorer countries. And there was some discussion why the most egalitarian country in the world had bigger differences in choice of education and careers between the sexes, than any other developed country.
This has been called the «gender equality paradox», and nobody could explain it. The common reaction was that we just had to work harder to reach our egalitarian goals. But of course, this «paradox» is easily explained if one takes evolutionary psychology into consideration: Because Norway has such a high living standard that you can live a decent life also with «female» jobs such as nursing, the women now choose careers that suit their psychological needs. But to say such things aloud, was like putting yourself in the gauntlet.
If Eia had presented the series five years ago, he also would have had to try the (media) gauntlet. But even in Norway, the outside world is creeping in, and last year he felt that the time was ripe for this project. He was maybe a bit optimistic, and some of the interviews created such storm, long before the series was aired, that there was a possibility that the project has to be abandoned. Some scientists even threatened to sue him.

But his standing as the most popular TV-comedian in Norway, made it difficult for NRK (the national broadcaster) to back off, and after some delay and bitter dicussions in the media, the series went on air on March 1. It immediately became one of the most watched series on Norwegian TV, and the most watched program on internet-TV.

For many people, it was difficult to see Eia in his new role as an investigative science reporter (a kind of science journalism’s Michael Moore), but he was well prepared. He could look naive, but he often knew more about the subjects than the scientists he interviewed, which made some of them look like arrogant ignorants. One of them fled the country, declaring that Eia had «ruined her life».

Eias methods have been critisised as being unfair to the Norwegian scientists, but they were given a chance to defend themselves, and his ways of interviewing people are not worse than most politicians or business people are used to. One problem is maybe that the Norwegian scientists had not met any critical journalists before.

But the main problem, which Eia has exposed so brilliantly, is that much of Norwegian social science, and gender science in particular, is built on very shaky ground. Most studies have been done without even considering factors like heredity: The reason why some people turned criminals, or did badly in school, was always explained by social and cultural factors. To even mention heredity as a possible factor, was met with condescending laughter or irritation.
Before the series, most of the social science community was very skeptical, but now even  established scientists have admitted that the critical light had been justified. Another effect of the series has been that scientists you almost never heard from in the public: psychologists, biologists and other natural scientists, have started to write in newspapers and participating in debates.

So even if Eia’s methods have been critisised, there is now a general agreement that the result of this project has been good for both the sciences and society as a whole. For the first time, science is really being discussed. Even if many strange things have been said and written, this has been (and still is) a unique educational process for both the general public and the scientific community.
The series “Hjernevask” (Brainwashed) can be watched, in Norwegian, here:

Lewis v. Chicago

My new column at VDARE.com is about last week's Supreme Court decision in the Lewis v. Chicago case: yet another firefighter disparate impact discrimination lawsuit. It was a victory for Elena Kagan's office of Solicitor General. Nobody paid any attention to this case because they were all worked up over how Rand Paul's views would work out if America fell through a time warp and went back to 1960.
Despite likely having more firemen than it really needs, being a Chicago fireman is kind of like being a Harvard student: there are far more applicants than openings. In 1995 in Chicago, there were about 40 test-takers for each job opening. In contrast, when Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan was dean of Harvard Law School in 2006, there were about 12 applicants for every place.  
In 2005, finally, Judge Gottschall, a graduate of Stanford Law (LSAT range 168-172), issued her ruling: total victory for the black plaintiffs. Chicago should just pick randomly among anybody scoring at the 16th percentile on up.

... In 2006, Chicago finally gave another firefighter’s hiring test. To avoid disparate impact, it made the test so easy that 96 percent of whites passed it. Then it chose randomly from all who passed.

Judge Gottschall’s opinion would be the kind of thing people would laugh about if you were allowed to have a sense of humor about things like this. However, judges never have to worry about, say, Jon Stewart making fun of them on TV if they say stupid things about race as long as what they say is socially acceptable.

Judge Gottschall’s 2005 opinion was dopey in exactly the same way as Judge Garaufis’ 2009 opinion in the New York fire hire test lawsuit brought by Alberto Gonzales when he was George W. Bush’s attorney general: obtuse, ignorant, blinkered, and elitist.

Judge Gottschall condemned Chicago as racially discriminatory for not hiring randomly from all those who scored 65 or higher. That’s the 7th percentile of white guys who’d like to be a fireman, which is scary bad.
The essence of firefighter disparate impact law is that judges never, ever learn anything from all the other firefighter disparate impact cases. Each kind of test gives the same result in racial terms, but that is never admitted as evidence for anything, or even admitted at all. (The only way that’s been found to close the racial gap is to get rid of blind-grading: i.e., cheat.)

Disparate impact, however, does not apply to some institutions. The military takes virtually no enlistees who score below the 31st percentile on its AFQT IQ test.

Or, consider that when she was dean of Harvard Law School, Elena Kagan required all applicants to take the Law School Admissions Test even though the LSAT has ferocious disparate impact. The average black score on the LSAT in 2005-2006 was 143, which would fall at only the 12th percentile of the white range. Dean Kagan’s 2006 freshman class had scores ranging from 169 out of 180 at the 25th percentile to 175 at the 75th percentile.

Now, Kagan didn’t need to demand such stratospheric test scores from applicants. She could have admitted Harvard Law students random from the top five-sixths of applicants. You don’t need to be that smart to pass Harvard Law or the bar exam. She just wanted exceptionally bright students.

But it’s okay for Harvard Law School to use the LSAT because it’s Harvard Law—not a bunch of moron firemen who only have to know to point the open end of the hose at the flames, right? Just ask Dean Kagan!

(In fact, that would be a fun question to ask her. Senator Sessions?)

Read the whole thing there (there's lots more) and comment upon it below.

New study on Jewish genes

From the LA Times

Those of European descent are more closely related with one another than with their fellow countrymen, say researchers who were primarily studying genetic diseases.

By Thomas H. Maugh II, Los Angeles Times

Jews of European descent living on opposite sides of the globe are more closely related to one another than they are to their fellow countrymen, according to the largest study ever conducted of what it means genetically to be Jewish. Ashkenazis, the primary group descended from European Jews, are all as closely related as fourth or fifth cousins would be, the study found.

Glad to see a news report finally implying what I've been saying since the late 1990s: a racial group is a partly inbred extended family.

Frank Salter may have invented this way of thinking about racial relatedness in terms of cousins back in the 1990s. It's very useful, but it has to be understood, not surprisingly, relativistically.
"Jews really are different from their non-Jewish neighbors," said Dr. Harry Ostrer, a geneticist at the New York University Langone Medical Center, coauthor of the study appearing Thursday in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

They are not different enough to be considered a separate race, as some experts have argued, he added, but definitely are a "distinct population" — the result, presumably, of cultural separation down through thousands of years.

Does anybody actually know what are unarguable criteria for defining a "separate race" from a "distinct population?" It seems to me that biologists have a hard enough time deciding whether dogs, wolves, and coyotes are separate species or not to pronounce authoritatively on the differences between separate races and distinct populations. It would be simpler and clearer to adopt my terminology: Jews are a partly inbred extended family.
The study, which was conducted primarily to further medical knowledge of genetic diseases, rejected a highly controversial idea that Ashkenazi Jews are descended from Khazars in Eastern Europe who converted to Judaism — an idea that has recently been used in an attempt to discredit the idea that Jews belong in Israel because it is their historic homeland.

The study shows that there is "clearly a shared genetic common ancestry among geographically diverse populations consistent with oral tradition and culture …and that traces back to the Middle East," said geneticist Sarah A. Tishkoff of the University of Pennsylvania, who was not involved in the study. "Jews have assimilated to some extent, but they clearly retain their common ancestry." ...

Although the study sheds light on Jewish history — providing new information about the separation between North African and European Jews 2,500 years ago and the near extinction of European Jews in the Middle Ages — its major goal is to identify genes for many diseases that are more common in Jewish groups, such as breast cancer, Gaucher's disease and Tay-Sachs.

The higher incidence of those diseases among "Abraham's children" will allow scientists to more readily find genes that causes the illnesses and then extend that knowledge to the general population, said geneticist Gil Atzmon of Yeshiva University's Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, coauthor of the paper.

The study examined 237 Jewish individuals from seven regions of the world, comparing them with 418 non-Jewish people from the same regions. Each of the Jewish subjects had all four grandparents from the same population.

So, this study leaves out individuals who are only part-Jewish. It would be interesting to know what percentage of today's self-identified Jews have fewer than four self-identified Jewish grandparents. Conversely, what percentage of Americans who don't identify as Jews had at least one Jewish grandparent?
The researchers studied about 160,000 sites across the entire genome, providing a great deal more information about the population than has ever been available. ...

The Jewish people, according to archaeologists, originated in Babylon and Persia between the 4th and 6th centuries BC. 

The theory is that the hothouse Babylonian Captivity of intellectuals led to the emergence of Hebrews as a self-aware nation.
The modern-day Jews most closely related to that original population are those in Iran, Iraq and Syria, whose closest non-Jewish relatives are the Druze, Bedouins and Palestinians, the study found.

It could well be that, on average, today's Arab-speaking Palestinians are more closely related to the Jewish inhabitants of Palestine in, say, 1 AD than are the current Jewish inhabitants of Israel. (In James Michener's novel about an archaeological dig in Israel, The Source, one character is a sardonic Palestinian archaeologist who points out that his ancestors have, so far as anybody can tell, been living in the same grove of olive trees since Biblical times.) But, politically, so what? To my mind, possession is nine-tenths of the law.

Sometime in that period, the Middle Eastern and European Jews diverged and the European branch began actively proselytizing for converts.

At the height of the Roman Empire, about 10% of the empire's population was Jewish, although the bulk of them were converts. Some Khazars were also incorporated during this period.

"That explains why so many European and Syrian Jews have blue eyes and blond hair," Ostrer says. It also explains another of the team's findings — that the population most closely related genetically to European Jews are Italians.

The data also show what the researchers call a "bottleneck" in the Jewish population during the Middle Ages. The population of European Jews shrunk below 50,000 during that period because of disease, prejudice, anti-Semitic edicts and the Crusades, Atzmon said.

Afterward, however, an easing of restrictions led to what is known as the "demographic miracle," in which the Jewish population rose twice as fast as that of other Europeans, reaching more than 5 million by the 19th century.

The Jewish population in Europe grew so much that a lot of Jews in early modern times had to move down the economic ladder into lousier jobs. The constant kvetching about being poor in, say, Fiddler on the Roof, is inspired in part by the characters' knowledge that their ancestors hadn't been as poor -- an awareness largely lost on today's Jews.

June 3, 2010

Disparate Impact: How it works

How could disparate impact legislation lead to de facto quotas? Let's check out an NYT article on the gigantic gender discrimination lawsuit against Walmart. Note how frequent (and how uncontroversial) are the article's references to Walmart not being quite aggressive enough in imposing quotas on itself to avoid a huge payout:
More than six years before the biggest sex discrimination lawsuit in history was filed against Wal-Mart Stores, the company hired a prominent law firm to examine its vulnerability to just such a suit.

The law firm, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, found widespread gender disparities in pay and promotion at Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores and urged the company to take basic steps — like posting every job opening and creating specific goals to promote women and minorities — to avoid liability....

Without significant changes, the lawyers said in their confidential analysis, Wal-Mart “would find it difficult to fashion a persuasive explanation for disproportionate employment patterns.”

In 2001, seven women filed a class-action suit on behalf of all women working at the company. They complained of a general pattern of discrimination in pay and promotions.
Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, has denied any systematic discrimination and asserts that any claims should be tried individually, not as a class action that would sweep in more than a million current and former employees.

Akin Gump estimated that for 1993 alone, Wal-Mart’s potential legal exposure in a class-action sex discrimination suit was $185 million to $740 million. Mr. Seligman said the women suing Wal-Mart were seeking damages for every year since 1997, meaning the company could be on the hook for billions of dollars.
The report examined employment patterns at all Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores. It found that men employed by Wal-Mart as department managers, an hourly position, earned 5.8 percent more than women in those positions in 1993 ($236.80 versus $223.70). Men in salaried jobs earned $644.20 a week compared with $540.50 for women.

Akin Gump also found large disparities in job assignments. Fifty-five percent of women were initially hired as cashiers compared with 12 percent of men. Twenty-nine percent of men were initially hired in receiving jobs like unloading, which generally pay at least 20 percent more than cashier jobs, compared with 7 percent of women.

I'm utterly baffled coming up with any reason other than sheer malignant irrational prejudice why Walmart would hire more men than women to unload trucks. What possible reason could there be? Clearly, Walmart is a totally irrational organization that doesn't know anything about how to, say, unload trucks. No doubt, Walmart will become much more efficient after this lawsuit. Walmart should thank the plaintiff's attorneys for helping them get better at unloading trucks.
The law firm found smaller, but still significant, disparities in the company’s employment of black employees.

The report warned that the overall disparities it found were “statistically significant and sufficient to warrant a finding of discrimination unless the company can demonstrate at trial that the statistical disparities are caused by legitimate, nondiscriminatory factors.”

... Mr. Tovar, the Wal-Mart spokesman, also said that in the last five years, Wal-Mart has told its 50,000 managers to promote more women and minorities, with 15 percent of managers’ bonuses tied to achieving diversity goals. Women now hold 45.8 percent of assistant store manager positions — a pipeline to higher-level jobs — up from 39.7 percent five years ago.

Employment experts say there can be innocent reasons for the types of disparities found by Akin Gump. For example, women might apply disproportionately to be cashiers and men disproportionately to work in receiving. But there could be improper discriminatory reasons for the differences, like managers believing that cashier jobs are for women.

Akin Gump recommended that Wal-Mart document applicants’ job preferences, post notice of all openings and training opportunities, establish promotion goals and timetables for women and minorities, and monitor progress. ...

Company documents and depositions in the lawsuit suggest that Wal-Mart’s initial adoption of the report’s recommendations was fitful and incomplete.

Wal-Mart began posting more, but not all, job openings and adopted numerical goals [in business, the term "goals" is interchangeable with the term "quotas"] for promoting women. But in a February 2000 memorandum to Wal-Mart board members, Coleman H. Peterson, executive vice president for human resources at the time, bemoaned the lack of progress toward diversity goals.

“Female management representation at Wal-Mart super centers, Sam’s and logistics and, therefore, total company are worse than prior year,” he wrote in the memorandum, which was turned over to the plaintiffs.

... Mr. Seligman, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, says the Akin Gump report, which he has not seen, would seem to confirm that “top managers were fully aware that women were not getting promoted in proper numbers.”

Let's review the number of references in this one article to de facto quotas:
- creating specific goals to promote women and minorities
- 15 percent of managers’ bonuses tied to achieving diversity goals
- establish promotion goals and timetables for women and minorities, and monitor progress
- adopted numerical goals for promoting women.
- proper numbers

The American Advantage in Soccer

Soccer is fun to play, but dull to watch on TV. Americans might have the highest ratio of hours spent playing soccer to hours spent watching soccer.

Is that so bad?

The Minnesota Challenge

Audacious Epigone has a new ranking of U.S. states, this time of the percentage of young people "fit-to-serve" in the enlisted ranks of the military. It's based on a recent report Ready, Willing, and Unable to Serve: 75 Percent of Young Adults Cannot Join the Military; Early Education across America is Needed to Ensure National Security by a bunch of retired generals and admirals.

The report lists the percentage of each state's young people are undesirable enlistees because they:
- are high school drop-outs
- have a criminal record
- have a health problem (typically, obesity).

Unfortunately, there's no information available on how much these problems overlap in individuals. Audacious merely subtracts from 100% the sum of the three problems to create his state rankings, which, presumably, overstates the severity of the problem somewhat. But, it's still pretty helpful as a ranking tool. Here are the Top Ten states with the most fit-to-serve youths:

StateEligible %
1. Vermont59.8
2. Minnesota59.2
3. Wisconsin57.4
4. Iowa57.1
5. North Dakota55.4
6. Connecticut53.0
7. Montana52.7
8. Utah52.4
9. New Hampshire51.9
10. South Dakota51.5

So, Daniel Patrick Moynihan's Law of Proximity to the Canadian Border is verified once again. And here are the Bottom Ten:

42. Alaska32.2
43. Florida28.8
44. Alabama27.9
45. New Mexico23.1
46. South Carolina22.4
47. Louisiana21.2
48. Georgia19.3
49. Mississippi17.4
50. Nevada15.9
51. District of Columbia15.2

Among the demographically diverse Big Three States of the Future -- California, Texas, and Florida -- California does best at 37.2%, Texas is at 35.5% and Florida at 28.8%. Super fast growing Nevada is next to last at 15.9%, while population-stagnant Vermont is first at 59.8%.

Here's my advice to generals based on the fit-to-serve trends implicit in these state rankings. Don't plan on getting us into any more land wars in Asia.

(Here's the list of per capita enlistment rates in 2003. Montana was first at 67% above the national average, Alaska second, Wyoming third, and Maine fourth. DC and Puerto Rico were last, Utah next (Mormon missionary commitments?), followed by Rhode Island and Massachusetts.)

By the way, Minnesota comes in -- Big surprise! -- #2 on this measure of fit-to-serve at 59.2%.  It seems to me that Minnesota almost always does well on state rankings of just about anything good.

In Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis says, "There was no end to the ways in which nice things are nicer than nasty ones." Sociologically, we see positive correlations between most positive things: income, IQ, trust, cooperation, law-abidingness, kindness, future time orientation, health, beauty, and so forth and so on.

So, here's The Minnesota Challenge: find a state ranking of a broad-based social good where Minnesota's general population falls in the lower half of all states.

It has to be broad-based. It can't be something super-elite, like Nobel Laureates resident per capita or billionaires resident per capita. And it can't be weather-related, like Lack of Frostbite.

June 2, 2010

"How a Soccer Star Is Made"

Here's a good article in the NYT Magazine by Bruce Sokolove about an Amsterdam soccer club that makes huge money selecting and training local little boys to be professional soccer players.

Sokolove reflects on not only why America hasn't won the World Cup but why there are no really top tier world class American soccer players:
There are two ways to become a world-class soccer player. One is to spend hours and hours in pickup games — in parks, streets, alleyways — on imperfect surfaces that, if mastered, can give a competitor an advantage when he finally graduates to groomed fields. This is the Brazilian way and also the model in much of the rest of South America, Central America and the soccer hotbeds of Africa. It is like baseball in the Dominican Republic. Children play all the time and on their own. 

It helps to grow up dribbling a soccer ball at all times -- in other words, it helps if you don't really go to school too much.
The other way is the Ajax method. Scientific training. Attention to detail. Time spent touching the ball rather than playing a mindless number of organized games. 

In the Dutch system, you go to school, but definitely not to college. The Europeans think it's unhelpful that American kids with soccer potential spend from age 7 to 17 playing a lot of games instead of learning their trade in practice.

A high school friend of mine whose younger brother went on to win the Cy Young Award said something similar about minor league baseball. He thought his brother's minor league baseball career was pretty useless, with enormous amounts of time spent on buses and playing 100+ games per year and very little time getting coached by anybody who knew anything more than his brother did about pitching, and with little access during the season to competent sports doctors out in the sticks. During one minor league season when he was chronically injured, his manager kept telling him to tough it out and pitch through the pain. Finally, he walked off the team, flew back to LA, had himself operated on by Sandy Koufax's old surgeon, and sat out the rest of the season recuperating.

And they think it's nuts that American 18-22 year olds are sitting in the classrooms on college soccer scholarships when they should be training full time.
The more thoughtful people involved in developing U.S. soccer talent know that we conform to neither model. We are a much larger nation, obviously, than the Netherlands. Our youth sports leagues, for the most part, are community-based and run by volunteers rather than professionals. They have grown organically, sending out tendrils that run deep and are difficult to uproot. Change at the elite levels is more possible than at the stubborn grass roots. 

But, is it all that important that the U.S. compete for the World Cup or nurture a Wayne Rooney? This Dutch system doesn't seem all that much fun for all but the handful of superstars.

The current American system largely reflects the values of white, middle class American parents. It's not designed to win World Cups, it's designed to get their kids some exercise and let them experience some level of success in a game that African-Americans aren't interested in.

"Sex and the City"

I haven't quite gotten around to seeing the savagely-reviewed Sex and the City II, but I must mention that I was already engaging in protracted abuse of Sarah Jessica Parker's looks back in 2008, back when most critics were praising the first movie. Since I never got around to posting my full-length review in The American Conservative of the first movie, here it is for completists:
Sex and the City (2008)

On the last day of May, my younger son was flipping through the movie section of the newspaper when he looked up with sad eyes: "All month, we had good movies -- "Iron Man," "Speed Racer," "Prince Caspian," "Indiana Jones" -- but then … this," he intoned, unable to bring himself to utter the words "Sex and the City." "What happened?"

Indeed, across America, countless guys felt that the Manly Month of May, when the biggest explosion-laden blockbusters are unveiled at the multiplex, was being tainted by the long lines of ladies attending the film version of the 1998-2004 HBO sitcom. "Sex and the City" updates us on a coven of four skanky spinsters who, long ago, moved to Manhattan to find "labels and love" (there apparently being no stores or men in Minnesota or wherever).

Inside the theatre, the palpable affection toward the characters was reminiscent of a 1980s "Star Trek" movie, whose fans couldn't wait to hear Scotty exclaim one more time, "She cannae take any more!" Granted, the movie version of "Sex and the City" isn't as witty as "Star Trek IV." It's also grindingly long at 148 minutes -- the DVD ought to include a "Couples' Cut" with an hour edited out and a few dozen more jokes tossed in. Still, it's certainly no worse than the "Matrix" sequels and "Star Wars" prequels that males turned out to see by the tens of millions.

The stars aren't getting any younger, so sit in the back row. Hollywood has generations of experience lighting actresses of a certain age, though, and the three supporting women look passable, even Cynthia Nixon (who plays the prickly redheaded Miranda), whom I pointed out to my wife in 1998 was an obvious lesbian. (It took Nixon until 2003 to figure it out for herself.)
In contrast, "Sex and the City's" leading lady, purported fashion icon Sarah Jessica Parker, who portrays columnist Carrie Bradshaw, looks horrifying, like a bulimic bodybuilder. Evidently fearing matronly upper arms, the 43-year-old with zero percent body fat appears to have spent the last four years bench pressing and not eating, giving her the grotesquely defined arm musculature of Rambo after the Bataan Death March. Her horse chin and witch nose have become even more prominent, making me wonder whether, like Sylvester Stallone, who was recently arrested smuggling Human Growth Hormone into Australia, she's on some muscle-building medicine with head-enlarging side effects.
In the climactic scene in which bowlegged Carrie reunites with her true love, the financier Mr. Big (played by an embalmed-looking Chris Noth from Law & Order), Parker's cheesy fur coat and stick insect legs jutting out of her tiny skirt make her resemble a streetwalking crack addict. The sequence is a masterpiece of the memento mori genre, a terrifying depiction of the skull beneath the skin. Unfortunately, it's supposed to be a romantic comedy.
As hideous as Parker looks, the "Sex and the City" movie is actually less repugnant than the TV series. Each of the four women is monogamous throughout the year covered in the film. That's typical for rom-com movies these days, which are about living happily ever after. In contrast, the TV show just went on and on for six years, with the bodycounts (and, presumably, STDs) piling up.
The 1998 TV series was to Helen Fielding's 1996 novel Bridget Jones's Diary as Dick Wolf's 1990 TV show Law & Order was to Tom Wolfe's 1987 novel Bonfire of the Vanities. Wolf made a fortune by taking Wolfe's sardonic story of New York cops and prosecutors hunting for "the Great White Defendant" and stripping out all the satire. Similarly, the gay male writers behind Sex and the City started with Fielding's spoof of "urban families" of stylish single women who undermine each other's chances of landing a husband by constantly gathering over drinks to nitpick their boyfriends, and turned these mutually-destructive circles into a fantasy about friendship.
It was never actually about female solidarity, but about female competition for alpha males like Mr. Big. Nevertheless, women hate to be seen as competitive, so "Sex and the City" displayed the nice side of cliquishness, minus the nasty side: these social X-rays wouldn't be seen dead in the company of 99 percent of their fans.

The trick was to make women viewers feel less awful about the big mistakes they've made in their lives by making their bad decisions feel fashionable. Misery loves company.

Rated R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity and language.

And here's Manohla Dargis mad about how sexist is the response to SatC II.

IQ, ADD, Depression

It's amusing that IQ testing is always being accused of "reification" and general pseudoscienceness when intelligence is one of the least fuzzy, most consistently measurable of all concepts in psychology. Compare IQ to, for example, more popular categories like Attention Deficit Disorder or depression.

ADD (or ADHD -- note the vagueness of terminology) is only now beginning to be measured objectively:
Last fall the National Institutes of Health awarded Dr. Teicher a $1 million grant from the federal stimulus package to delve further into the quest for a definitive test or biomarker for the disorder. He plans to focus his research on three detective strategies: his Quotient system, magnetic resonance imaging to compare blood flows in different brain regions, and the ActiGraph, an activity monitor widely used by medical researchers.

James M. Swanson, a developmental psychologist and attention researcher at the University of California, Irvine, praised Dr. Teicher’s research, echoing his concerns about the need for a more objective test to detect the disorder. But he questioned whether the Quotient system produces more reliable diagnoses than a doctor’s dogged questioning of a child’s parents and teachers, and also whether it is an appropriate way to figure out the right dose of medication.

“It’s essentially a dull, boring task,” he said of the Quotient system, “so do you want to medicate your child to pay attention to dull, boring tasks?”

I bet Elena Kagan always paid attention to her dull, boring tasks.

This is interesting:
The key to his system, he said, is what he suspects will eventually be confirmed as a valid biological marker for A.D.H.D.: an unstable control of head movements and posture, particularly while paying attention to a boring task. 

I wouldn't have guessed that.

In another NYT article, Benedict Carey discusses how the medical profession has tried to stamp out the term "nervous breakdown" in favor of "depression," in part because they can make more money off depression.
Decades ago modern medicine all but stamped out the nervous breakdown, hitting it with a combination of new diagnoses, new psychiatric drugs and a strong dose of professional scorn. The phrase was overused and near meaningless, a self-serving term from an era unwilling to talk about mental distress openly.

But like a stubborn virus, the phrase has mutated.

In recent years, psychiatrists in Europe have been diagnosing what they call “burnout syndrome,” the signs of which include “vital exhaustion.” A paper published last year defined three types: “frenetic,” “underchallenged,” and “worn out” (“exasperated” and “bitter” did not make the cut).

This is the latest umbrella term for the kind of emotional collapses that have plagued humanity for ages, stemming at times from severe mental difficulties and more often from mild ones. There have been plenty of others. In the early decades of the 20th century, many people simply referred to a crackup, including “The Crack-Up,” F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1936 collection of essays describing his own. And before that there was neurasthenia, a widely diagnosed and undefined nerve affliction causing just about any symptom people cared to add.

Yet medical historians say that, for versatility and descriptive power, it may be hard to improve upon the “nervous breakdown.” Coined around 1900, the phrase peaked in usage during the middle of the 20th century and echoes still....
Never a proper psychiatric diagnosis, the phrase always struck most doctors as inexact, pseudoscientific and often misleading. But those were precisely the qualities that gave it such a lasting place in the popular culture, some scholars say. “It had just enough medical sanction to be useful, but did not depend on medical sanction to be used,” said Peter N. Stearns, a historian at George Mason University near Washington, D.C. ...

The vagueness of the phrase made it impossible to survey the prevalence of any specific mental problem: It could mean anything from depression to mania or drunkenness; it might be the cause of a bitter divorce or the result of a split. And glossing over those details left people who suffered from what are now well-known afflictions, like postpartum depression, entirely in the dark, wondering if they were alone in their misery.

But that same imprecision allowed the speaker, not medical professionals, to control its meaning. People might be on the verge of, or close to, a nervous breakdown; and it was common enough to have had “something like” a nervous breakdown, or a mild one. The phrase allowed a person to disclose as much, or as little, detail about a “crackup” as he or she saw fit. Vagueness preserves privacy....

“People accepted the notion of nervous breakdown often because it was construed as a category that could handled without professional help,” concluded a 2000 analysis by Dr. Stearns, Megan Barke and Rebecca Fribush. The popularity of the phrase, they wrote, revealed “a longstanding need to keep some distance from purely professional diagnoses and treatments.”

Many did just that, and returned to work and family. Others did not. They needed a more specific diagnosis, and targeted treatment. By the 1970s, more psychiatric drugs were available, and doctors directly attacked the idea that people could effectively manage breakdowns on their own.
Psychiatrists proceeded to slice problems like depression and anxiety into dozens of categories, and public perceptions shifted, too.

But that doesn't mean that the term "depression" is all that much more scientific. The basic term fails, for example, to distinguish between two important types of depression: the kind with obvious causes and the terrible kind without. 

For example, I've been depressed several times in my life, but it was always for really obvious reasons: I had cancer and might die, the company I was working for was obviously going to go under and I would lose my job, and so forth. Those things were depressing, but there wasn't a whole lot the field of psychiatry could do about it. Solve the underlying problems and the depression would go away. 

In contrast, other people have been hit by depression out of the blue with no obvious cause, and that is a highly appropriate field for mental health.

Compared to ADD/ADHD and nervous breakdown / depression, IQ testing is like dropping a heavy ball and a light ball off the Leaning Tower of Pisa and seeing which hits the ground first.

Two Hobbits: Which one is the Kiwi?

Sad news: with MGM unable to come up with reliable enough financing to start production, Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth) has dropped out of directing Tolkien's Hobbit under Peter Jackson's (Lord of the Rings) production. I'm sure I'm not the first to point out that both del Toro and Jackson are quite Hobbitty-looking themselves.

Here's a picture of the pair in happier times. Which one is the Kiwi and which one the Mexican?

The Great Mexican-American Hope

Here's an NYT article about movie director Chris Weitz that vaguely refers to one of the oddities of the modern movie industry: although Los Angeles is about half-Hispanic, and although Latinos are the most loyal fans of Hollywood blockbusters, Mexican-Americans are extraordinarily under-represented in Hollywood. They are so missing in action in the modern film business that this article plays up the authentic Mexican-American roots of the Trinity College of Cambridge University-educated son of John Weitz
Another Los Angeles in ‘Gardener’

LOS ANGELES — Quiet on the set was no small order last week, as Chris Weitz, probably best known as the director of “The Twilight Saga: New Moon,” worked a grittier side of the street on this city’s largely Hispanic East Side.

So it goes with “The Gardener,” a small film that has the tall, very dark-eyed Mr. Weitz — who talked of leaving the movie business after an unhappy experience with New Line Cinema’s high-budget flop “The Golden Compass” — looking downright chipper these days. ...

More remarkably, Mr. Weitz has turned his tiny movie, about a gardener and his son on a hunt for their stolen truck, into an exploration of Los Angeles places, both cultural and geographic, that have largely been ignored, even when production was at full throttle here. ...

Mr. Weitz went so far as to adjust the language in the script — the story was written by Roger L. Simon, with revisions by Eric Eason — to match the slang of not just the city, but of individual streets.

“The Gardener” is being made for a bit less than the cost of “American Pie.” In 1998 Mr. Weitz and his brother, Paul, shot that film — a teen comedy that went on to make $102 million at the domestic box office for Universal Pictures — on a budget reported to be about $11 million.

But “The Gardener” carries more risk in that its cast is virtually all Hispanic, with Demián Bichir, who played Fidel Castro in Steven Soderbergh’s “Che,” in the starring role. ...

Asked why he had chosen to make “The Gardener” at a time when the success of “New Moon” gave him choices, Mr. Weitz said it “was a chance to reconnect” with some family heritage. His grandmother, Lupita Tovar, from Oaxaca, Mexico, was a star who sometimes made films shot simultaneously in English and Spanish. She married Mr. Weitz’s grandfather, the agent Paul Kohner.

“This was a chance to get in touch with the language,” said Mr. Weitz, who figured that 30 percent of the dialogue in “The Gardener” would need English subtitles.

He added, “I’m one of the few people in my family who doesn’t speak Spanish.”

The joke that's not mentioned in the article is the Weitz Brothers' famous father, John Weitz. He was a Nabokovian Continental exile -- fashion designer, race car driver, spy, yachtsman, novelist, and historian -- who made Humbert Humbert and Charles Kinbote seem like that bandito who don't need no steeenking badges in The Treasure of Sierra Madre

John Weitz's father won the Iron Cross as an officer in the Third Prussian Guards during the Great War. John grew up in Berlin, St. Moritz, Lake Como, and the Riviera before his parents finally realized the Nazis had it in even for ultra-assimilated Teutonic Jews like themselves, and went into New York exile in the late 1930s. 

From John Weitz's 2002 obituary in The Independent by Adrian Dannatt:
John Weitz was extremely good on socks. He designed some of the best men's socks in 20th-century America, he knew exactly which socks could be worn when and where, he understood the social and economic history of the sock, he himself wore extremely beautiful socks with total panache.

For those interested in style Weitz was an exemplar of modern dandysim, a scandalously well-dressed man who had an innate sense for the slightest detail of grooming, a rightful regular on every "Best Dressed" list. For those of us for whom Robert de Montesquiou or "Beau" Brummel are figures of respect that would be more than sufficient, but for the more solemn world at large Weitz was also a vastly successful businessman, a champion car racer and best-selling writer, a household name.

I wore a lot of his socks. I also read the the biography he wrote in the 1990s, Joachim Von Ribbentrop: Hitler's Diplomat. The best story about the champagne salesman turned Nazi Foreign Minister is summarized by Wikipedia:
Hitler dismissed Göring's concerns by saying "But after all, [Von Ribbentrop] knows quite a lot of important people in England," leading Göring to reply "Mein Führer, that may be right, but the bad thing is, they know him."

June 1, 2010

Lakers v. Celtics

From my new column at Taki's Magazine:
Starting Thursday, the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers meet for the twelfth time in the National Basketball Association finals. The Lakers have traditionally showcased superstars, from George Mikan, the NBA’s first big man in the 1940s, through Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal, to Kobe Bryant today. In contrast, the Celtics, at their best, have exemplified team play.

Before 1968-1969, for example, the Lakers augmented their Hall of Fame duo of Elgin Baylor and Jerry West with 7’1” Wilt Chamberlain, the greatest offensive player of the era. In the 1969 finals, they encountered a dilapidated final rendition of the Celtics dynasty led by 6’9” center Bill Russell, the greatest defensive player. The Celtics eked out a 108-106 seventh game victory for their eleventh title in Russell’s thirteen seasons.

That gave Russell a career record of 6-1 versus Chamberlain in playoff series. Thus, Russell was almost universally acknowledged then to be the better player. The changing celebrity of Chamberlain and Russell since then illustrates some of the workings of fame.

Today, Chamberlain’s gaudy individual statistics grasp the sport’s fan imagination, while Russell’s accomplishments as the finest team player ever are increasingly forgotten, although he’s still alive at 76. The Basketball Reference website, for instance, will sell you an ad on Russell’s page for half the going rate for Wilt’s page.

Chamberlain, who has been dead since 1999, has become part of American folklore. Wilt’s first name alone is enough to call to mind the statistics of which he boasted: the 100 points he scored in one game, the 50 points per game he scored for an entire season, and the 20,000 women he claimed to have scored with.

The ESPN columnist Bill Simmons, a Celtics partisan, repeatedly insinuates in his entertaining and often impressive Book of Basketball that Chamberlain’s most notorious statistic was an elaborate ruse to cover up that he was gay. How often was Wilt actually seen with a woman, he asks?

Read the rest there and comment upon it here.

By the way, the Boston-bred Simmons doesn’t mention it (his Beantown bias might be blinding him), but there's an obvious analogy between the relative fame today of Chamberlain v. Russell and of the Boston Red Sox's great slugger, Ted Williams, who never won a World Series, v. his contemporary Stan Musial. That Williams' obsession with excellence in hitting sometimes got in the way of winning baseball games seems less important to us today than it did to his contemporaries.

The Splendid Splinter's incredible hitting statistics, such as being the last .400 hitter, continue to fascinate baseball fans, while Williams' contemporary, Stan Musial, who was a better team player and better than Williams at everything except hitting, is largely forgotten. Musial earned more MVP votes than Williams (granted, he lost fewer seasons to military service), yet, few can now remember if Musial is still alive (he’s 89), but everybody knows that after Williams's death in 2002, his head was cryonically frozen in liquid nitrogen in case future medical advances can bring him back to life.

May 31, 2010

Why were these consequences unexpected?

 From the New York Times:

MEMPHIS — ... Not so long ago, Memphis, a city where a majority of the residents are black, was a symbol of a South where racial history no longer tightly constrained the choices of a rising black working and middle class. Now this city epitomizes something more grim: How rising unemployment and growing foreclosures in the recession have combined to destroy black wealth and income and erase two decades of slow progress.

The median income of black homeowners in Memphis rose steadily until five or six years ago. Now it has receded to a level below that of 1990 — and roughly half that of white Memphis homeowners, according to an analysis conducted by Queens College Sociology Department for The New York Times.

Black middle-class neighborhoods are hollowed out, with prices plummeting and homes standing vacant in places like Orange Mound, White Haven and Cordova. As job losses mount — black unemployment here, mirroring national trends, has risen to 16.9 percent from 9 percent two years ago; it stands at 5.3 percent for whites — many blacks speak of draining savings and retirement accounts in an effort to hold onto their homes. The overall local foreclosure rate is roughly twice the national average.

The repercussions will be long-lasting, in Memphis and nationwide. The most acute economic divide in America remains the steadily widening gap between the wealth of black and white families, according to a recent study by the Institute on Assets and Social Policy at Brandeis University. For every dollar of wealth owned by a white family, a black or Latino family owns just 16 cents, according to a recent Federal Reserve study.

The Economic Policy Institute’s forthcoming “The State of Working America” analyzed the recession-driven drop in wealth. As of December 2009, median white wealth dipped 34 percent, to $94,600; median black wealth dropped 77 percent, to $2,100. 

So, at the height of the Housing Bubble, during George W. Bush's campaign to add 5.5 million minority homeowners, median white wealth was $143k while median black wealth was 9k. Now, that median number is high relevant because the black homeownership rate had started out the last decade a little under 50% and the goal of the Clinton and Bush administrations had been to push it to well over 50%. But black households right at the 50th percentile -- the people whom both administrations had wanted to get mortgages -- had less than $10,000 in net worth (during the Bubble). In other words, these marginal homeowners had a negligible cushion to ride out a downturn in home prices.

The net worth figures for Hispanic are similar. Not surprisingly, the San Francisco Fed study of hundreds of thousands of mortgages handed out in California during the Bush years shows a foreclosure rate 3.3 times higher for blacks and 2.5 times higher for Latinos.

Now, the higher foreclosure rates for blacks probably weren't that economically disastrous, since they tend to live in low home price neighborhoods in low price cities, such as Memphis and Detroit. But Hispanics averaged bigger new mortgages than whites on average during some of the boom years since they tend to be concentrated in high-priced California and its spillover states.

The mayor and former bank loan officers point a finger of blame at large national banks — in particular, Wells Fargo. During the last decade, they say, these banks singled out blacks in Memphis to sell them risky high-cost mortgages and consumer loans. 

Yeah, that was what the Clinton and Bush administrations encouraged them to do. It's called community reinvestment, diversity, and a lot of other socially acceptable names.
The City of Memphis and Shelby County sued Wells Fargo late last year, asserting that the bank’s foreclosure rate in predominantly black neighborhoods was nearly seven times that of the foreclosure rate in predominantly white neighborhoods. Other banks, including Citibank and Countrywide, foreclosed in more equal measure....

“The mistake Memphis officials made is that they picked the lender who was doing the most lending as opposed to the lender who was doing the worst lending,” said Brad Blackwell, executive vice president for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. 

Yes, but more lending to minorities, which is what the government, the media, and all right-thinking people were demanding, equals worse lending. It's called diminishing marginal returns. The way you got to do more lending was to lend to more marginal characters, which is what both political parties were insisting upon.
Not every recessionary ill can be heaped upon banks. Some black homeowners contracted the buy-a-big-home fever that infected many Americans and took out ill-advised loans. And unemployment has pitched even homeowners who hold conventional mortgages into foreclosure.

Federal and state officials say that high-cost mortgages leave hard-pressed homeowners especially vulnerable and that statistical patterns are inescapable.

“The more segregated a community of color is, the more likely it is that homeowners will face foreclosure because the lenders who peddled the most toxic loans targeted those communities,” Thomas E. Perez, the assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, told a Congressional committee.

Glad to see the Obama Administration is taking such a sophisticated view.
... For the greater part of the last century, racial discrimination crippled black efforts to buy homes and accumulate wealth. During the post-World War II boom years, banks and real estate agents steered blacks to segregated neighborhoods, where home appreciation lagged far behind that of white neighborhoods.

Blacks only recently began to close the home ownership gap with whites, and thus accumulate wealth — progress that now is being erased. In practical terms, this means black families have less money to pay for college tuition, invest in businesses or sustain them through hard times.

There's a huge history of racial discrimination in housing, much of it outside the South, that has been largely forgotten. For example, it was common in LA in the postwar era for sales contracts to have clauses saying the buyer couldn't resell to blacks. From the standpoint of economic theory, this was an interesting phenomenon. The restriction in the contract wasn't in the self-interest of the sellers, who, after all, were moving out. All else being equal, the restriction on the right to resell their new property to the highest bidder hurt the buyers on an individual basis, but, evidently, was in their collective self interest.

Similarly, all else being equal, from a theory point of view, unrestricted neighborhoods should have had the highest appreciation since the sellers could sell to the highest bidders. But, all else wasn't equal and the opposite happened: restricted neighborhoods appreciated faster, on average, than unrestricted neighborhoods.
Wells Fargo says it has modified three mortgages for every foreclosure nationwide — although bank officials declined to provide the data for Memphis. A study by the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project and six nonprofit groups found that the nation’s four largest banks, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase, had cut their prime mortgage refinancing 33 percent in predominantly minority communities, even as prime refinancing in white neighborhoods rose 32 percent from 2006 to 2008.

In summary, after decades of complaining that minorities were being discriminated against by not getting enough mortgage money, public discourse has been so lobotomized that the discrimination framework remains the only acceptable way of thinking about the mortgage meltdown, even when it's clear that a part of the problem was that minorities got too much mortgage money.


The big problem with being poor in 21st Century America is not that you can't afford to buy enough stuff, it's that you can't afford to move away from other poor people.

May 30, 2010

Calling Sam Lipsyte

From the NYT Magazine:

The Integrationist

Can Job Cohen, a Jew who reaches out to Muslims, be the next Dutch prime minister — and a model for Europe?

While slouching against a wall in a former cigarette factory in the industrial outskirts of The Hague one day last month, I was visited with the sudden realization that over the formative centuries of European history the two words that most succinctly signaled “other,” “foreign” or “enemy” were these: “Jew” and “Turk.” Crudely unpacking them, “Turk” meant Muslim, Arab, infidel, the threat from without; a Jew was the enemy within, someone who, even if born and raised in your hometown, was part of another political as well as religious entity; the Jews of a city were referred to not as a community but as “the Jewish nation.” “Jew” and “Turk” were in fact constructs Europeans used to help define their own identity: that which we are not.

What brought this to mind was the scene in front of me. The Labor Party in the Netherlands — which several weeks ago emerged from the endless gray muddle of the country’s multiparty system to take the lead in polls as the nation approaches an election on June 9 — was unveiling its candidates. On a makeshift stage, before banners bearing the party’s logo of a fist inside a rose, stood two people. At the top of the list of candidates — the man responsible for the recent shake-up of Dutch politics, who is making some people in Europe begin to wonder whether he represents a way for mainstream parties on the Continent to successfully combat the swelling tide of populist, anti-immigrant voices — was Job Cohen, who until March was the mayor of Amsterdam. Cohen was raised in a secular Jewish household in the hamlet of Heemstede, not far from Amsterdam; his parents spent World War II in hiding from the Nazis; his paternal grandparents died at Bergen-Belsen. At Cohen’s side, No. 2 on the candidate list, was Nebahat Albayrak, who was born in the central Anatolian region of Turkey and moved as a child to Rotterdam, where her father worked as a scaffold builder.

There is certainly some truth to the conventional wisdom about the immigration debate: that Europe lags far behind the United States in its ability to craft a truly multiethnic society, to turn newcomers into citizens. European countries, by this reckoning, are prisoners of their old racial or nationalistic identities. And the Netherlands has of late been a particular example of this; its right-wing, anti-immigrant standard-bearer, the golden-maned Geert Wilders, has steadily gained support since he formed his Freedom Party for the 2006 parliamentary elections. Earlier this year, Wilders’s party was leading in the polls. In municipal elections in early March, his party, riding on his virulent anti-Muslim rhetoric, won the city of Almere and came in second in The Hague itself — the seat of the Dutch government and home of the International Criminal Court. On a protest-filled visit to London afterward, Wilders — who is facing trial in a Dutch court for inciting hatred — boasted of becoming the next prime minister.

But shortly afterward, the political landscape was transformed by the surprise entry of Cohen into the race to lead the country. In an electorate split up across a dozen or so parties, the Labor Party doubled overnight, from 11 percent in the polls to 22 percent, while Wilders’s numbers have dropped in several straight polls. Some see in Cohen’s rise the possibility of a new Dutch society, and with it perhaps a hint of how new national identities could form in Europe. In what would be confirmation of the worst fears of a Wilders, the new identity prototype has an inclusiveness that inverts the centuries-old formula. As the Jew and the Turk stood side by side with their fellow candidates — which included a good mix of other ethnicities as well as native Dutch — Cohen proclaimed, “This is the Netherlands!”

From Sam Lipsyte's comic novel The Ask summarizing a debate on the Middle East:
"One of the experts said the Palestinians were irrational and needed a real leader, like maybe a smart Jewish guy."