August 28, 2010

Google does it again

From PC World:
Sarah Jacobsson Purewal, PC World
Aug 28, 2010 2:38 pm

A curious thing has been happening on Google Maps -- the Lincoln Memorial is being misplaced in favor of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial [see screen capture from early today and compare it to the now correct map on Google] which is a good half a mile south of the more famous memorial.

According to the Geographic Travels blog, this "misplacement" has been happening for about two days now. Typing "Lincoln Memorial" into the regular Google search bar brings up a number of listings related to the Lincoln Memorial, yet shows a map of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial.

Is this a Google Maps glitch, or could this have anything to do with the fact that conservative radio and TV host Glenn Beck is holding a controversial "non-political" rally at the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday?

Beck's rally, which is called the "Restoring Honor" rally, is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Eastern Time today on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. 

I saw this wrong map for myself several times, as late as about dawn EDT on Saturday.

This is part of a growing scandal of Google abusing its near monopoly power for (currently) petty political purposes. Google maintains plausible deniability by making minor "mistakes" (sending Glenn Beck's followers to the wrong place, turning Pat Buchanan into a unperson in the Prompts for awhile, and so forth). Misplacing the Lincoln Memorial is, of course, not a mistake, it's, at best, a prank. I don't know whether these dirty tricks are caused merely by individuals at Google abusing their authority, or whether Google, normally a most methodical company, is testing what it can get away with politically.

If it's the former, has anyone at Google ever been punished for these political dirty tricks? I've never heard any follow up to the Pat Buchanan unpersonization, no apology, no press release, nobody reprimanded. So, it may well go down in company annals as a successful little experiment in what Google can get away with by picking  on the unfashionable. We'll see if they get away with misplacing the Lincoln Memorial.

Similarly, a lot of my articles tend to come and go from Google intermittently. For example, a few months ago, I needed to look up the long stream of closely reasoned abuse I've directed at Bill Gates' educational philanthropic efforts over the years. Funny, I couldn't find it through Google. So, I went to Microsoft's Bing search engine and, bingo, there were all my attacks on Bill Gates, right at the top of Microsoft Bing's list.

My personal guess is that Google will be able to get away with manipulating its data for political purposes as long as its masks its manipulations as mistakes that can be "fixed" instantly when the heat gets too intense. Google is too powerful and too scary for most media figures to question publicly. My strategy is the opposite: to speak out about Google's political scandals. We'll see...

August 27, 2010

"Does Your Language Shape How You Think?"

Guy Deutscher proposes in the New York Times Magazine a commonsensical compromise on the old Sapir-Whorf controversy that differences in language ("Eskimos have a 100 different words for 'snow!'") force different ways of thinking. (I've noticed that skiers have a lot of different words for snow, such as "corn.")

This has become very unfashionable in recent years. But Deutscher points out that: "Languages differ essentially in what they must convey and not in what they may convey." So, English can expand to meet the needs of skiers and, now, snowboarders (who seem to have some different terms for snow than skiers), but English speakers don't have to worry about, say, whether snow is masculine or feminine.

Thus, Frenchmen tend to strike Englishmen as having gender on the brain all the time. (And maybe, to some extent, they do.)

Some Australian Aboriginal languages don't have terms like "right" or "left." Instead, speakers use absolute directions at all times: "East" or "West."

Presumably, they only verbally teach each other line dances where everybody is facing the same direction. Would they be flummoxed by trying to teach a dance where people stand in a circle like the Hokey-Pokey?
You put your -- depending upon where you are facing -- north (east, south, or west) foot in,
You take your -- depending upon where you are facing -- north (east, south, or west) foot out.

Not surprisingly, Aborigines are famous for their sense of direction. In one experiment at an Australian preschool, when the children were asked to point in the direction of their homes, a majority of the Aboriginal tykes got it right, compared to a basically random number of the white toddlers.

That reminds me of how Adam Smith was kidnapped at age three by gypsies, but was soon rescued. His biographer wrote, "He would have made, I fear, a poor gypsy." In contrast, I think, at least in regard to speaking the language, I would have made a pretty fair Australian Aborigine. I think about direction all the time. My favorite R.E.M. song is Stand:
Stand in the place where you live
Now face North
Think about direction
Wonder why you haven't before
Now stand in the place where you work
Now face West
Think about the place where you live
Wonder why you haven't before

If you are confused, check with the sun
Carry a compass to help you along
Your feet are going to be on the ground
Your head is there to move you around, so

Stand in the place where you live
Now face North
Think about direction
Wonder why you haven't before

Infinite Loop

Nothing much going on, so I'll regale you with my favorite set of index entries. 

Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire begins with a 999 line poem by the Robert Frost-like American poet John Shade. The rest of the novel consists of scholarly apparatus, mostly footnotes to the poem concocted by the manuscript's erratic editor, Charles Kinbote, which tell the story of Charles the Beloved, the recently and most unfairly deposed king of Zembla ("a distant northern land").

The chatty index includes the following widely dispersed references to where the Zemblan crown jewels were hidden to keep them out of the hands of Communist revolutionaries. 

From Kinbote's Index to Pale Fire:
- Andronnikov and Niagarin, two Soviet experts in quest of a buried treasure, 130, 681, 741; see Crown Jewels.

- Crown Jewels, 130, 681; see Hiding Place.

- Hiding Place, potaynik (q.v.)

- Niagarin and Andronnikov, two Soviet "experts" still in quest of a buried treasure, 130, 681, 741; see Crown Jewels.
- Potaynik, taynik (q.v.)

- Taynik, Russ., secret place; see Crown Jewels.

In 1986, inspired by Pale Fire, I wrote a computer manual that included (of course) the index entries:
- Infinite Loop; see Loop, Infinite 
- Loop, Infinite; see Infinite Loop

August 25, 2010

College Dropout Factories

The Washington Monthly has a long article about colleges that are "dropout factories," such as Chicago State, a four-year college which only graduates 13% of its freshmen. I'm shocked to hear that a taxpayer-funded college on the south side of Chicago just 1.1 miles east on 95th Street of Rev. Jeremiah Wright's Trinity United Church of Christ is a boondoggle. (Chicago State is located, coincidentally enough, at 9501 S. Martin Luther King Drive. As Chris Rock would say, "Run!")

The authors conclude:
There is no reason that states can’t quickly build newer, better, more cost-effective public universities to educate people who are currently stuck in college dropout factories.  

Presumably, the buildings at Chicago State are infected with Legionnaire's Disease or evil spirits or something and therefore must be torn down. I'm sure putting up a $578,000,000 school building will get those graduations rates right up.
The school that would later become Chicago State was founded in September 1867 and called the Cook County Normal School—“Normal” referring to schools that prepare teachers for the classroom. For a century or so, it fulfilled this teacher-training role reasonably well. But in 1965 the school was acquired by the state of Illinois, soon renamed Chicago State, and converted into a standard four-year institution. In 1972, Chicago State moved to a newly built $95 million campus that could accommodate an additional 10,000 students. Most of them would be drawn from the city’s poor and working-class South Side and nearby suburbs. It was an admirable attempt to open new doors to a demographic that had been largely shut out of higher education. But it wasn’t long before signs of neglect and mismanagement were obvious. Passage rates on an elementary education teacher licensure exam, for instance, plummeted from 82 percent in 1968 to 42 percent in 1973, and the school almost lost its teacher accreditation.

One year later, in 1974, a devastating series on Chicago State appeared in the Chicago Defender, the city’s premier black newspaper. Under the heading “Why Johnny’s Teacher Can’t Read,” the articles blasted the school, calling it a “diploma mill, with little quality control or concern about the product,” and noted “oppressively low” morale among students. Chicago State is a “ripoff institution,” it said, “a place where a comfortable white administration and faculty is providing a second-rate education for black students.” 

Obviously, white control was the problem. And, apparently, still is, a generation and a half later. (White people, I've learned from reading articles like this, apparently have very long-lasting juju.)

Seriously, isn't the problem here the absurd emphasis our society puts on high school students attending a "four-year college" right out of high school? If they feel like they have to go to college, send them to junior colleges. President Obama makes a big deal about how everybody must go to college for at least year. Fine. But don't expect everybody to get a 4-year degree. And don't send them to 4-year-colleges.

Send them to JC. Let the dropouts dropout, let the mediocre students get AA degrees and then get jobs, and let the best students go on to four-year-institutions. 

Our society needs to keep in mind the need to offer attainable goals, such as two year diplomas.

Say you you were an above average student in your urban high school with a 95 IQ. There are a whole bunch of people in America with 95 IQs, but nobody who is anybody ever thinks about them.

You show up at a four-year college and struggle with the 100 level courses but find you can grit them out with a lot of work. You flip through some of the textbooks used in 300 level courses and are dismayed at how far above your head they are. You'll never be able to complete the requirements for a BA. So, why not drop out now, rather than waste a few more years?

On the other hand, if you are at a junior college, you can focus on sweating out your Associates of Art degree so that you can walk the stage in front of your family. That goal is attainable enough to keep you working. (Similarly we should have Associates high school diplomas for kids with IQs in the 60s through 80s. That would give them an attainable walk-the-stage goal so they don't drop out in 9th grade)

What should be done with Chicago State is demoting it to junior college status so it can concentrate on providing basic education to the locals. (Demotion would also be for the encouragement of the others.)

But, how likely is that to happen?

Karl Rove's righthand boy comes out of closet, finally

James Fulford at's blog quotes the following from The Atlantic about one of the main pushers for amnesty in the Bush White House:
Ken Mehlman, President Bush’s campaign manager in 2004 and a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, has told family and associates that he is gay. Mehlman arrived at this conclusion about his identity fairly recently, he said in an interview. 

Fairly recently? I arrived at that conclusion about the now-44-year-old many years ago, and I've never even heard him on TV. This isn't exactly a bolt from the blue.

More Summer Panhandling

I'd rather write than beg, but it's time to shake the tin cup again.
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Tom Friedman: Take Up the White Person's Burden

You can always count on Tom Friedman in the NYT to express the state-of-the-art conventional wisdom in its purest form:
[Geoffrey] Canada’s point is that the only way to fix our schools is not with a Superman or a super-theory. No, it’s with supermen and superwomen pushing super-hard to assemble what we know works: better-trained teachers working with the best methods under the best principals supported by more involved parents.

The literary level isn't quite the same, but Friedman's thinking is similar to Kipling's advice to the United States in 1899:
Take up the White Man's burden--
Send forth the best ye breed--
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild--
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child.

Don't mention the population

The New York Times highlights an article, To Catch Cairo Overflow, 2 Megacities Rise in the Sand, about two new cities that the government of Egypt is building in sands outside monstrous Cairo to hold seven million people between them.

The reporter seems rather aghast about it all, but the odd (but increasingly familiar) thing about the article is that there's little discussion of the underlying reason: Egypt's population growth. The population of Egypt is now approaching 84 million, having doubled in the last third of a century. The latest UN population projection is that Egypt will hit 130 million by 2050.

Third World population growth is becoming an unmentionable in the press. There's nothing much more fundamental in human affairs than population, but we talk about it less and less.

This reflects the general anti-reductionist trend in Western thought. As the education level of the elites rise, the popularity of Occam's Razor seems to decline. Who wants to figure out the simplest way to comprehend how things basically work when it's better for your career to assert that everything's very, very complicated, and only an expert like yourself could possibly begin to grasp the complexities of it all?

August 24, 2010

Hunters and Gatherers

Robin Hanson asks "Why No Gather-Sport?"
Now sports let us show off many kinds of physically-expressed abilities. But it seems to me that most sports emphasize hunting skills, such as chasing, evading, throwing, and hitting, far more than gathering skills, such as visual search and fine finger control. Now it makes sense for men to prefer hunting sports, but oddly females also seem to prefer them; pretty much all sports emphasize hunting more than gathering skills. Why don’t women prefer sports designed to show off the skills for which female bodies were designed?

Women have a gathering-derived sport, a huge one. It's called "shopping."

For example, in western Michigan, many men take off from work the first week of deer-hunting season each year. Many of their wives have, in turn, made it traditional to stay in hotels that week on Chicago's Magnificent Mile and hit the department stores and Oak Street boutiques.

Hunting and gathering doesn't change, it just gets more expensive.

Efraim Diveroli Update

A couple of years ago, the NYT broke the story of a 22-year-old Miami Beach arms dealer, Efraim Diveroli, who had landed a $300,000,000 Pentagon contract to deliver ammunition to the fledgling Afghan Army, and was illegally fulfilling the deal using aged Chinese ammo. It was a  nine-days-wonder of a story as many were sure at first that Cheney or Rumsfeld or somebody like that was involved. 

But, as I was the first to point out, it probably didn't involve a conspiracy that-goes-straight-to-the-top. Diveroli was apparently just a young hustler from a family of hustlers (his grandfather owns a big, scary gun shop in South Central LA; his uncle Shmuley Boteach was Michael Jackson's rabbi) carrying out the kind of semi-bait switch business (offer a low price, then deliver low quality) that is familiar to customers of Brooklyn camera shops. And don't forget to sign up as an ethnically disadvantaged small business!

The Reagan Administration made Hasidics into a legally advantaged minority for the sake of federal contracting in 1982. Despite their claims, I don't think the Boteach-Diveroli family is very Hasidic, however. Clean-shaven Efraim's Uncle Shmuley converted to being Hasidic for awhile, but then the Hasidics got tired of his antics and he stopped being Hasidic. From Government Executive trade magazine:
A Government Executive investigation in April 2008 showed that AEY's business exploded after the company was improperly designated as a small disadvantaged business less than one year before receiving the massive Afghan munitions contract.

Before the designation first appeared in the Federal Procurement Data System in mid-2006, AEY had earned a modest $8.1 million in business with the federal government. Since the SDB label was applied, the contractor earned more than $204 million in federal contracts.

Small disadvantaged businesses can receive price evaluation adjustments or proposal evaluation credits on Defense contracts. But Diveroli was anything but disadvantaged, coming from an extremely wealthy family. His father owns a pair of highly successful military and police supply companies, both of which receive government contracts. And his grandfather is one of the largest property owners in Los Angeles.

Well, Diveroli's back in trouble again, arrested by federal undercover agents in his silver Audi convertible for violating his parole. The details of the latest case make him sound a little more likable, less purely mercenary: he not only likes selling weaponry, he likes shooting it off, too.

Sammy Sosa

Chicago Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa was a huge deal in American culture a decade ago, but for years now, you only hear of him when he lightens his skins. Here's a long article by Shane Tritsch in Chicago Magazine on the deep riff between the slugger, now retired in Miami, and the Cubs.

Sosa started out dirt poor in the Dominican Republic as a child laborer. He only got to start playing a lot of baseball at 14, and 5 years later his physical skills had him in the majors. But his slowness of learning and his evident lack of learning ability kept him and his fans frustrated. But then he started to bulk up in his mid-20s. After a weak season in 1997, he returned at age 29 a new man. He hit 66 homers to challenge Mark McGwire for the all time single season homers record. It was one of the biggest baseball stories of the last century.

He had two more seasons with over 60 homers, including 2001's .328, 64 homers, 160 rbis, 146 runs, 116 walks, and 425 total bases. Will we ever see those kind of numbers again?

The Cubs let him do whatever he wanted, including letting him choose all the music in the locker room all the time. He had some Aspergery traits that meant he might boom out his new favorite song 35 times in a row. Eventually, better drug testing meant he had to ease off on the juice and his performance skidded. The Cubs ingloriously greased the skids under him and he was gone, and they haven't asked him to return either.

A sad story. With the right kind of leadership, he could stayed off the juice and, with his work ethic, could have been a solid all-around ballplayer. But the Cubs, who obviously knew he was on steroids, did everything they could to facilitate the Sammy Show. And the fans loved it.

Summer Panhandling Drive Continues

I'd rather write than beg, but it's time to shake the tin cup again.

You can send me an email and I'll send you my P.O. Box address.

Or, you can use Paypal to send me money directly. Use any credit card or your Paypal account. To get started, just click on the Paypal "Donate" button on the top of column to the right.

When that takes you to Paypal, if you want to use your credit card, fill in your credit card info on the lower left part of the screen. Or, if you want to use your Paypal account, fill in your Paypal ID and password on the lower right of the screen.
Thanks. I appreciate it, deeply.

August 23, 2010

The best country in the world

According to a Newsweek cover story, the ten best countries in the world are:

Finland, Switzerland, Sweden, Australia, Luxembourg, Norway, Canada, Netherlands, Japan and Denmark. 

Why is Finland #1?

I would have to say that it's because there are (at times) more iSteve readers in Finland per capita than in any other country. I haven't read Newsweek's reasons, but I can't imagine they'll be any more plausible.

By the way, have you ever noticed how many people don't really believe that Switzerland and Sweden are different countries? It's all just Swedzerland or Swiden to them. (My father says his father told him that a lot of Swedes immigrated to Switzerland in the 19th Century, but I can't find any record of this.)

"The Switch"

The year’s third romantic comedy about artificial insemination, The Switch, turns out to be a pleasant surprise amidst the movies being dumped in the dead weeks before Labor Day. Pitched at a higher level of wit than either Jennifer Lopez’s The Back-Up Plan or the critically-slathered lesbian sitcom The Kids Are All Right, The Switch is a low-key, wry, poignant relationship film self-consciously modeled on Annie Hall and When Harry Met Sally. Although hardly as funny as its progenitors, The Switch turned out better than its on-the-nose trailer portended.

While Jennifer Aniston is top-billed as Kassie Larson, a television producer intent upon single motherhood the scientific way, Jason Bateman plays the central character, Wally Mars. He’s a neurotic, nebbishy Wall Street quant who has been platonic best friends with Kassie for a half-dozen years. Bateman portrays Wally as a handsomer, less overtly hostile, and less ethnic version of Woody Allen’s anhedonic worrywart Alvy Singer. ...
The Switch was adapted by Allan Loeb from The Baster, a Jeffrey Eugenides short story that appeared in The New Yorker in 1996. ... Loeb’s screenplay begins with Kassie explaining to Wally that she’s given up waiting for Mr. Right, and wants him to help her find the perfect sperm donor. This just makes Wally even more depressed and sardonic. With no help from Wally, she locates her ideal genes in a rock-climber from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, played by the blond and blue-eyed Patrick Wilson. Wally calls him “The Viking.” (Not surprisingly, Denmark is said to lead the world in export of frozen semen.) ...

The Switch is one of countless American movies that preach the moral: “Hey, pretty blonde girl, don’t fall for the athletic blond boy. Fall for the funny brunet boy instead!” You might almost think that screenwriters like Loeb have a personal interest in this theme.

Read the whole thing there and comment upon it here.

In praise of SWPLs

From a Los Angeles Times article on the extravagance of Persian weddings in LA:
Shahbal Shabpareh and his band Black Cats — a premier Iranian American pop group — have performed American hits with a Persian twist at upper-crust Iranian celebrations almost weekly for years.

They've seen lots of lavish weddings, but one stands out as the most over-the-top.

As guests enjoyed hors d'oeuvres outside the banquet hall, the bride was placed in a glass coffin. The groom fitted on a white half-mask. Then, the carefully planned Phantom of the Opera theme devolved into chaos.

Condensation formed inside the coffin as guests delayed filtering in. When the groom finally took his cue to present the bride, the lid wouldn't budge. Before long, he was slamming the glass trying to break through as the bride wailed inside, her makeup running down her face. It would be an hour before she was finally freed.

For Shabpareh, the night crystallized the breakneck rise in ostentation at weddings hosted in recent years by L.A.'s wealthiest Iranian Americans. For some, party hosting can be a competitive sport, with spending used as a yardstick for status. Weddings boasting guest lists almost a thousand deep with price tags nearing half a million dollars are not unheard of.

Status-striving among the kind of white people featured in Stuff White People Like comes in for some ribbing around here now and then, but I've got to admit that it has its upsides versus the kind of status-striving that's increasingly common in LA.

If wealthy Portlanders obsessively compete over who has, say, the kayak with the latest high tech innovations, the world eventually gets better kayaks. In contrast, when  Beverly Hills Persians compete over who can throw the most garish wedding, the world just gets more garish Persian weddings.

I suspect the Beverly Hills Persians are behaving closer to the human default mode. The SWPL mode of status competition goes back to, I suspect, 17th Century England, and is a rarer and more productive form of behavior, one that might not last all that many more generations in the U.S.

I suspect we'll miss it when it's gone.

Persian Weddings, Persian Jews, and War

With all this talk about Israel needing to attack Iran before Iran's genocidal anti-Semitism inevitably makes it nuke Israel, I got to wondering about the attitudes of Persian Jews in Beverly Hills. They must quake with horror at the very mention of the name "Persia," right? 

Yet, as far as I can tell, Persian Jews kind of like the place. In casual conversations with Americans, they call themselves "Persians" rather than "Jews." They make jokes about the extravagance of "Persian weddings" rather than of "Jewish weddings." 

I mean, they definitely prefer living in Beverly Hills to living in Tehran, but they go back and forth to visit their relatives in Iran a lot. Here's a bit from an opinionator named Ari Bussel who naively can't understand why Iranian-American Jews who regularly visit Iran aren't as terrified of Iran as he is terrified of Iran from reading about Iran in the American press:
According to different estimates, there are 25,000 - 30,000 Jews in Iran today. I, for one, do not understand why they are still there. Clearly they are not being held hostage, for everyone else is able to go in and out. A friend was employing a young, religious Jew from Iran who went back from the States to Iran last year to marry. Being true to my natural curiosity and what I consider journalistic obligation and integrity, I would have taken a flight to Tehran to personally inspect, witness, investigate and report. In the case of Iran, though, I am afraid.

If I were to do that, I likely would be taken prisoner, either as an American spy or a Zionist agent-conspirator. My devotion to the profession is noble, but my obligations to myself and my family are greater than risking being used as a parade icon by the Iranian regime. Thus, I am left wondering about the fate of the Iranian Jews...

Anchor Brats

From my new column in on the doctrine of jus soli:
Abuse of the current American citizenship regulations permits bizarrely self-recursive forms of chain migration. For example, the Chinese scion born on American soil can eventually grow up to import his own parents as immigrants under our “family reunification” law. They, in turn, can bring in their own parents and plunk them in public housing for seniors and put their health care on Medicare’s tab. It’s like a Confucian conman version of that old Robert Heinlein science fiction story, All You Zombies, about a man with a time machine who turns out to be his own grandpa.


From the NYT:
As HUD Chief, Cuomo Earns a Mixed Score
As Andrew M. Cuomo campaigns for governor, he points to his leadership of the Department of Housing and Urban Development during the Clinton administration as proof he possesses the ability and vision needed to lead New York out of its fiscal and political swamps.

Mr. Cuomo was housing secretary at a critical moment for the nation, just as its subprime mortgage fever was beginning to spike. It was during his tenure that the banking industry began to embrace predatory loans, and these creations led to a housing bubble that badly damaged America’s banks and nearly toppled its financial system.

An examination of Mr. Cuomo’s tenure atop the agency shows he was quick to warn about Wall Street’s dangerous hunger for predatory subprime loans — generally more expensive mortgages sold to people with poor credit. He counseled caution when many influential players, including the Federal Reserve and Congress, resisted any suggestion that they slow the country’s stampede to home ownership.

He also called attention to a pernicious mortgage-broker incentive payment that drove up interest rates for borrowers — secretly, in many cases — and that helped put many home buyers into loans they later found they could not afford.

And, in an effort to reverse decades of discrimination against blacks and Latinos, Mr. Cuomo pushed the government-sponsored banks, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, to buy more home loans taken out by poor and working-class borrowers. 


$578,000,000 public school

In last night's column, I mentioned in passing:
The cost of building hundreds of public schools for this Amnesty Baby Boom (and, now,  their kids) has been a key, if unmentioned, factor in the  breaking of California’s budget. John Seiler reported last week that, when capital costs are included, the Los Angeles Unified School District spends almost  $30,000 per student per year. [LAUSD spends $30K per student,] For example, converting the old  Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard into a school is costing  $578,000,000.

For some reason, I never see estimates of what percentage of the student body at this $578,000,000 school will be the children (or grandchildren) of illegal aliens. The LAUSD says:
The school-age population in this area is predominantly Latino (84%) and low-income (89%), with 50% classified as English Language Learners.

So, I guess we can guess.

Today, I walked around the 24 acre site of this Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools on the 3300 block of Wilshire Boulevard today to see what the taxpayers are getting for their $578,000,000. 

The good news is that, at least, it's not an eyesore. 

That's a sharp contrast to LAUSD's recent $237,000,000 downtown arts high school (above), the Water Slide of Doom (a.k.a., Japanese Robot Invader from Space Aiming Its Flamethrower at the LA Cathedral):

The new RFK school (which is built on the historic site of demolished Ambassador Hotel where RFK was assassinated by Palestinian immigrant terrorist Sirhan Sirhan in 1968, and where my mother somehow used to talk my dad into putting on the tuxedo he owned[!] and taking her dancing at the Coconut Grove nightclub) is done in the shiny neo-modernist style that's in fashion again. It's not as nice looking as the 1921 Ambassador Hotel (which was closed in 1989), but it's not offensive looking.

As for why it cost $578,000,000, or $135,000 per each of the 4200 students, well, I'm sure there are lots of instances of abuse and extravagance. For example, preserving the huge sloping ornamental lawn, about the size of a football field, that runs from Wilshire Blvd. to the buildings is an extravagance (the kids can't play sports on it due to the slope). But it does look nice in a crowded neighborhood.

The site is on LA's main public transportation artery, so students' parents don't need to drive them. LAUSD could have put up barracks-like school buildings (like those in which most Baby Boomer taxpayers in LA were educated -- most school buildings in LA built from 1945 to 1990 are more or less shacks), but the general public perhaps doesn't want an eyesore in such a prominent place.

What's scariest is my impression from looking at the site that, well, sure $578,000,000 was ridiculous, but, say, $378,000,000 would not have been. 

It's just plain expensive to do things in LA. For example, one reason it took 21 years to get something new up and running on this prime site was first having 15 years of legal wrangling. But that is par for the course in LA. For example, the single finest piece of land in LA County, the old Marineland site in Palos Verdes on a point of land jutting out into the Pacific with 270-degree ocean views, was out of use from 1986, when Marineland closed, until 2008 when the Terranea resort hotel opened there.

There's a widespread conservative assumption that all we need to do is sharpen our pencils and cut out Government Waste. But the problems are more fundamental. Los Angeles is crammed with illegal aliens and their descendants, and educating them in a crowded and thus highly expensive city is extremely expensive.

August 22, 2010

The Importance of Being Parodic

The quality of what appears in the New York Times ranges broadly, from excellent in science reporting to immigration editorials that read as if they were downloaded straight from the SPLC. Although I often give a hard time to their education coverage, it's really way above average. It could be that the NYT's education coverage pushes the envelope of realism as far NYT subscribers are willing to accept as "appropriate." 

One of the enduring mysteries of the NYT is raised by the pompous cluelessness of the letters on the Letters-to-the-Editor page. (For example, here are five published responses to the recent article “Triumph Fades on Racial Gap in City Schools.”) I like to hope that whoever is selecting the letters is throwing away all the witty and insightful ones. Then again, maybe these really are the best ones, which is pretty scary.

As an example of a NYT writer who gets the joke, here is Virginia Heffernan of the Sunday NYT Magazine (which, for all the grief I give it, is probably the best overall magazine in the country these days) explaining what the best bloggers do these days:
Surprisingly, though, the focus of modern fact checks is rarely what we 20th-century fact-checkers would have underlined as checkable facts. Instead, Web fact-checkers generally try to show how articles presented in earnest are actually self-parody. These acts of reclassifying journalism as parody or fiction — and setting off excerpts so they play as parody — resembles literary criticism more than it does traditional fact-checking. 


Diversity & Corporatism v. Environmentalism

Here's a tellingly bizarre article from the New York Times:
India Tries Using Cash Bonuses to Slow Birthrates
As its population threatens to turn from an asset into a burden, India seeks ways to encourage delayed childbirth.

... Waiting also would allow India more time to curb a rapidly growing population that threatens to turn its demography from a prized asset into a crippling burden. With almost 1.2 billion people, India is disproportionately young; roughly half the population is younger than 25. This “demographic dividend” is one reason some economists predict that India could surpass China in economic growth rates within five years. India will have a young, vast work force while a rapidly aging China will face the burden of supporting an older population.

India's horrific overpopulation is a "prized asset?" Maybe if you've lost all sense of smell.

It's really striking how in the U.S., expressing the concerns about Third World overpopulation that were fashionable for the likes of Johnny Carson and Nelson Rockefeller have vanished into the maw of diversity worship. One big reason is the seldom-mentioned but omnipresent alliance between the diversity lobby and the cheap labor lobby.