October 1, 2010

The victimism sweepstakes

I don't have cable TV, and, since the exciting switch-over to digital broadcast television last year, I barely have broadcast TV anymore. The channel that comes in best most days is the This Channel, which shows obscure 1970-1980s movies, apparently broadcasting them directly from used VHS (or perhaps BetaMax) cassettes. So, I have no idea who is Rick Sanchez (shown here), but this is a funny story from the New York Times that illustrates a lot about the confusing struggle to be an official victim in 21st Century America.
Rick Sanchez, a daytime anchor at CNN, was fired on Friday, a day after telling a radio interviewer that Jon Stewart was a bigot and that “everybody that runs CNN is a lot like Stewart.”

The latter comment was made shortly after Mr. Stewart’s faith, Judaism, was invoked.

Jon Stewart has a "faith?" Who knew?
CNN said in a statement Friday evening, “Rick Sanchez is no longer with the company. We thank Rick for his years of service and we wish him well.”

Mr. Sanchez’s comments came Thursday during a contentious conversation with the comedian Pete Dominick on satellite radio. By Friday afternoon, a recording of the conversation had circulated widely on the Internet. He had appeared on the radio show as part of a tour to promote his book, “Conventional Idiocy.”

In the conversation, Mr. Sanchez, who is Cuban American, repeatedly suggested that he had experienced subtle forms of racism in his television career.

Oh, wait, sorry, that top picture above is Danny Trejo of Machete. Here's the real Rick Sanchez.

Oops, excuse me, that blue-eyed fair-haired boy above is Jorge Ramos, mega-anchorman for the Spanish-language network Univision.

Here's the real Rick Sanchez!
Rick Sanchez... At first, Mr. Sanchez called Mr. Stewart a “bigot,” but later took the word back, calling the comedian “prejudicial” instead.

Prejudicial “against who?” Mr. Dominick asked.

Mr. Sanchez said, “Against anybody who doesn’t agree to his point of view, which is very much a white liberal establishment point of view.”

One of the co-hosts of the radio show brought up the fact that Mr. Stewart is a Jew, saying to Mr. Sanchez, he is a minority “as much as you are."


I would say that from a technical anthropological point of view, Sanchez deserves not just his own race, but his own subspecies: Homo dentistry cosmetica. You don't dig a set of pearly white choppers like those up out of the Olduvai Gorge everyday!
Mr. Sanchez answered sarcastically, “Yeah. Yeah. Very powerless people.” He let out a high-pitched laugh.

“Everybody that runs CNN is a lot like Stewart,” Mr. Sanchez said. “And a lot of people who run all the other networks are a lot like Stewart. And to imply that somehow they — the people in this country who are Jewish — are an oppressed minority? Yeah.”

Oops. Big Mistake. Ask Gregg Easterbrook.

Sanchez should have spoken of generic white males. You can't get in trouble blaming them.

Sanchez was fired even faster than Easterbrook, thus, conclusively proving Jews are a powerless minority.
Mr. Stewart was far from the only person known to mock Mr. Sanchez, who was once tasered on camera for a segment.

Really? Tasering an anchorman on camera sounds like a great idea. Every anchorman should have to hold his own charity auction with the highest bidder getting to sneak up and taser him in the neck on live TV. This would do wonders for CNN's ratings.

College Admissions

Here's a paper by Thomas J. Espenshade et al based on 125,000 applications for freshman admission at three highly selective private research universities in the 1980s and a couple of classes in the 1990s. The usual suspects really help your chances at getting in: being smart, being black, being Hispanic (to a lesser extent than black), being a legacy, and being an athlete. 

Being an athlete grew in value over this time period, perhaps due to the growth in female sports. The authors didn't look into this specifically. (In general, college athletics for women has been a very nice boon to the upper middle class, since a huge proportion of female athletes come from intact two parent families where Dad pushes his daughter into sports: e.g., women's golf teams are not made up of the daughters of single moms.)

Or maybe colleges just found that athletes are bigger donors later in life? Maybe it's the bonding experience of competing for your college? If so, colleges should look into more non-athletic competitions for nerdier students to strengthen their emotional ties to their college. For example, I represented Rice at various College Bowl tournaments around the country.

Being a legacy is a nice boost, but the problem with being a legacy is that it's not portable across all universities like being a black or a jock. If you are like Obama's kids and are legacies at four different Ivy League schools, well, that's nice, but if you are a legacy at only one college and you don't particularly want to go there or you don't get in there, well, that's not as nice.

Also, the study doesn't answer the big question everybody has about legacies -- is it good enough just to be a legacy even if your cheapskate parent hasn't donated anything since you were born or does your parent have to have donated substantial amounts to the college to be a Real Legacy? If the latter, how much?

Also, being Asian hurts your chances, even when being an athlete and a legacy are controlled for. It would be worth knowing more about this. Do colleges figure Asians won't donate as much as alumni? Do colleges figure Asian test scores are inflated by test prep? Do colleges figure Asians make the campus experience less fun or less interesting and thus the college less attractive? And, are any of these presuppositions true? It would seem like an important and interesting topic to find out more about.

September 30, 2010


A few days ago, David Brooks wrote about the good old days in mid-20th Century California when Statal Greatness governors did Big Things. 

Yet, the actual politicians are of minor importance. Of course it was easier to be a leader of California in 1950 when the population of California was under 11 million than in 2010 when it's around 37 million.

As the state gets more crowded, the cost and slowness of infrastructure projects goes through the roof. For example, the only new University of California campus to open in a generation and a half, UC Merced, took from 1985 to 2002 to construct. The whole campus had to be moved when an endangered minnow was discovered on its site. And that’s way out in godforsaken Merced. If they’d tried to build the new UC campus where students would actually want to go, such as in the wine country, they’d still be in the permitting stage.

This kind of thing is inevitable as population density goes up.

It was totally obvious to everybody in 1950 that California was the best deal in the whole world, so people flooded in. That kind of deal can't go on forever, however, and now California isn't such a good deal. 

The big problem with California today is that an awful lot of the population of California can't afford to live in California.

The one big change that could have been made would have been to cut way down on immigration after 1965 so that American citizens, rather than random foreigners, got most of the subsequent benefit of populating California, as they had gotten most of the huge benefits from moving to California in 1848-1965, That would have slowed down overpopulation and fulfilled the Preamble to the Constitution that explains that the purpose of the federal government is to promote the general welfare of “ourselves and our posterity.”

September 28, 2010

The white kid in "Waiting for 'Superman'"

The most curious segment of David Guggenheim's celebrated school reform documentary, Waiting for "Superman," is devoted to the one white out of the five kids trying to get picked to attend a charter high school. E. is an 8th grader in posh San Mateo County in Silicon Valley. Her neighborhood high school is Woodside H.S., which is a few miles north of Stanford U. 

But her English-accented mother is desperate to keep her out of Woodside and get her into Summit Prep, a charter. How come?

Because, according to Guggenheim's documentation, if E. attended her neighborhood school, Woodside, she'd be placed in the lower track. But Summit Prep has only one track. 

I looked up some facts on these two schools.

Yes, admission to Summit Prep is by lottery, but you can't pick up an application without the student attending a six hour session and the parent attending a 90 minute session. You cannot get your hands on an application to be in the lottery any other way. There are various other devices as well to make sure that parents who enter the lottery are dedicated.

Woodside, the neighborhood school, is about 33 percent white and 54 percent Hispanic (the school district covers East Palo Alto). Not many Asians go to Woodside, and it has "only" three national merit scholars in the most recent year, compared to 30 to 60 at some heavily Asian Silicon Valley schools.

So, reading between the lines, we can infer that E.'s mom wants to keep her out of the Hispanic-dominated track in high school.

Keep in mind, though, that there aren't too many gangbangers in the lower track at Woodside. Their 2009 California Academic Performance Index scores aren't bad:

Woodside 2009: 
White 839
Hispanic 702
Difference 137

For the whole state, 9-12 API's in 2009 for Hispanics were 653, so the Hispanics at Woodside are above average. For whites, the state average was 790.

But, just as the Guggenheim-Shue children are sent to a Westside private school to develop a peer group of the kind of children who go to Westside private schools, so does E.'s mom want to keep her away from a mostly Hispanic peer group.

At the Summit Prep charter school, the APIs are somewhat better for both groups:

Summit Prep 2009
White 889
Hispanic 744
Difference 145

But, do you notice something? Summit is, I believe, the only one of the five charter schools celebrated in the documentary to have enough white students to measure the size of the ethnic achievement gap. And, it turns out, the ethnicity gap is slightly larger at the celebrated charter school than at the neighborhood school. 

I suspect this is generally true: improving schools raises everybody's performance, but it doesn't Close the Gap. 

How much it costs to be Bill Gates

A reader writes that
I met Bill and Melinda Gates a couple times after they bought a house in Fairbanks Ranch [a gated community in northern San Diego County next to Rancho Santa Fe]: 5K square feet, $5.1M, on a postage stamp lot. ... We used the same bank.

His clothes were just a little better with never a sign of wear, eye-glasses just a little better with not the least sign of corrosion, etc., suggesting he replaced them every few months.  They went to the local cinema which had just a touch of the artsy to it.  They patronized the best coffee shop and  consistently tipped the barristas a buck.  But the small noticeable visual differences in quality represent a lot of money difference in the prices he paid. The glasses he wore were the $350+ titanium ones, not the 2 for $100 ones most people where I live now get.  The shirts were priced $200 apiece in the window of the local shop 

In general, super rich people today like to live, on an hour by hour basis, rather like the upper middle class lives, comfortably and casually. They like to drop in at the local coffee shop rather than have the butler make a huge to-do out of "Tea is served, sir." They don't dress for dinner, the way rich people used to put on tuxedos each evening at home. They like to drive themselves instead of having a chauffeur, except when commuting through heavy traffic.

But they do like to have lots of beautiful homes in beautiful places (Gates' primary home in the Seattle region supposedly cost $44 million) and get from one to another in private jets, and have personal assistants make sure everything goes smoothly for them when they get there. It all sounds much less of a hassle than being rich in the Robber Baron days.

The missing piece of the inequality puzzle

Excerpts from my new VDARE.com column:
Economic inequality has been much in the press lately. ...

But, generally, the discussion about inequality has been missing half of the puzzle.

On the one hand, it’s safe to say that over recent decades, the very rich have gotten very much richer. ...

On the other hand, for most American and above all the poor, incomes have stagnated in inflation-adjusted terms—and for significant numbers, actually fallen. The influx of poor, unskilled immigrants from abroad has certainly swelled the number of people at the bottom of society and exacerbated competition for jobs and housing among them.

The rise of the rich is felt in their growing political power. It’s notable that the rich have learned how to use the poor as symbols to rationalize whatever they want to get away with.

An example well-worth savoring: the 2003 Harvard lecture, The American Dream of Homeownership, by Angelo Mozilo, CEO of Countrywide Financial, announcing that he would lend $600 billion to minority and lower income borrowers, in return for which he wanted mortgage regulators to lift those racially discriminatory demands for down payments and documents—thus helping precipitate the Minority Mortgage Meltdown.

Most public discussions of inequality have been of limited utility because the fundamental measure is not income or wealth, but long-term standard of living. And that has two halves: how much you can spend and how much whatever you spend it on costs.

Few commentators have thought systematically about the second half of the equation—the cost of living—even though we all obsess over it in our own lives. ...

In this article, I will focus on the impact of the growing inequality at the top and bottom of society on the cost of middle class life.

Let’s look at three major cost components of middle class life: medical care, housing, and education.

What is the impact of increasing economic inequality on the cost of medicine? Are the ultrarich rapaciously bidding up the price of, say, chemotherapy the same way they have bid up the price of  Gustav Klimt paintings?

Read the whole thing here.

September 27, 2010

"Waiting for 'Superman'"

Excerpts from my movie review in Taki's Magazine:
Davis Guggenheim’s much-publicized documentary with the meaningless title of Waiting for “Superman” makes the (by now familiar) liberal centrist case for school reform: the cause of the achievement gap is bad schools, which are the fault of bad teachers, who are protected from termination by bad teachers’ unions.

Why do so many liberals swear by what the Chinese might call the Three Bads Theory?

Guggenheim recounts how he made a 2001 PBS documentary, First Year, about the heroism of public school teachers. Why did he change his mind? Because, he explains, his children grew old enough for school, and he found himself driving from his home in Venice, California past three public schools to a private school, thus “betraying the ideals I thought I lived by.”

How come? Evidently, he could tell that these three public schools were bad schools infested by bad teachers.

Yet, how could he divine that from driving by? Guggenheim doesn’t mention the names of these bad schools, but here’s a picture of one school in Venice: Broadway Elementary. It looks okay, but if you drove by at recess, you’d notice the student body is about 80 percent Hispanic and 15 percent black. (Interestingly, Broadway is switching to a “Mandarin immersion” program, perhaps in pursuit of higher-scoring students.)

The Three Bads Theory lets liberal parents rationalize their white flight by publicly blaming teachers while they privately shun black and Latino students.

Read the whole thing here.

Let me add a few notes: Davis Guggenheim, who won the Best Documentary Oscar for directing Al Gore's global warming movie An Inconvenient Truth, has three children with his wife, actress Elizabeth Shue, who was Oscar-nominated for Leaving Las Vegas and is the daughter of a Fortune 500 CEO. (Here she is in a 1984 Burger King commercial.)

Davis Guggenheim is the son of Charles Guggenheim, who won two Best Documentary Oscars. The Hollywood Guggenheims are only "distant relations" of the New York Guggenheims of Guggenheim Museum fame, but in any case "Guggenheim" is perhaps the grandest name in American German-Jewish culture, the American equivalent of "Rothschild." 

So, of course the Guggenheim-Shue children are going to private school. Lots of affluent parents in LA send their kids to LAUSD elementary schools. But these are the Guggenheim-Shue kids, not some set dresser's kids.

It's like when Barack Obama was asked yesterday why he sends his kids to Sidwell Friends instead of to the neighborhood public school for 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. and he implied that he would send them to public school if only they were good schools. 

Sure, Barack. Nobody ever replies, "Hey, I'm rich from book sales. (Don't forget to pick up a few copies of my upcoming children's book, which will be on store shelves for the Christmas rush!) My wife and I have three Ivy League degrees. What do you think we should spend my money on instead of on our children?"