October 23, 2010

Am I banned in China?

I never seem to get much in the way of emails or comments from people saying they are currently in China. A long-time reader reports that he couldn't access my website on his recent trip there. So, am I banned in China or can you read me in China?

P.S. Physicist Steve Hsu points out there are ways of tunneling through the Great Firewall using an encrypted proxy server.

My nostalgia sweetspot

Aviation art is this remarkable little corner of the art world. Quite a few representational painters make a decent living painting war birds from days gone by.

I was at an Arby's in Orange County on Monday, where the owner had put on the wall paintings by a fellow named Stan Vosburg depicting Southern California in 1944-1948, with an emphasis on locally manufactured warplanes and on affordable family formation, such as mpressing the Night Shift (note to pilot: flirt equally with the babe in the Barbara Stanwyck slacks carrying the tool kit; you do not want to get on her bad side in she has to repair her plane); Twin Tails and Carrot Tops featuring my Dad's old plane, the P-38 Lighting; I Shooting Star of the 94th featuring what looks like a young me shooting at the Shooting Star jet; and The Spider and the Fly featuring the ominous P61 nightfighter. It's all about a half generation before my time, but I can relate.

Kicking Axis butt and kicking off the SoCal Baby Boom.

October 21, 2010

Border Fence Not Only Invisible, But Also Ineffectual, and, Soon, Nonexistent

From the LA Times:
The Department of Homeland Security, positioning itself to cut its losses on a so-called invisible fence along the U.S.-Mexico border, has decided not to exercise a one-year option for Boeing to continue work on the troubled multibillion-dollar project involving high-tech cameras, radar and vibration sensors.

The result, after an investment of more than $1 billion, may be a system with only 53 miles of unreliable coverage along the nearly 2,000-mile border.

Anti-Intellectualism in American Academic Life

Patricia Cohen reports in the New York Times:
For more than 40 years, social scientists investigating the causes of poverty have tended to treat cultural explanations like Lord Voldemort: That Which Must Not Be Named.

The reticence was a legacy of the ugly battles that erupted after Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then an assistant labor secretary in the Johnson administration, introduced the idea of a “culture of poverty” to the public in a startling 1965 report. Although Moynihan didn’t coin the phrase (that distinction belongs to the anthropologist Oscar Lewis), his description of the urban black family as caught in an inescapable “tangle of pathology” of unmarried mothers and welfare dependency was seen as attributing self-perpetuating moral deficiencies to black people, as if blaming them for their own misfortune.
Moynihan’s analysis never lost its appeal to conservative thinkers, whose arguments ultimately succeeded when President Bill Clinton signed a bill in 1996 “ending welfare as we know it.” But in the overwhelmingly liberal ranks of academic sociology and anthropology the word “culture” became a live grenade, and the idea that attitudes and behavior patterns kept people poor was shunned.
Now, after decades of silence, these scholars are speaking openly about you-know-what, conceding that culture and persistent poverty are enmeshed.
“We’ve finally reached the stage where people aren’t afraid of being politically incorrect,” said Douglas S. Massey, a sociologist at Princeton who has argued that Moynihan was unfairly maligned.

Is that pathetic, or what?

Of course nurture plays a role in poverty. 

It's now 2010, not 1965 anymore, so the discussion should be over the magnitude of the role of nature, not over whether nurture is important.

This article is part of the battle between the the New Centrists against the Aging Leftists. The New Centrists have much of the money (e.g., Gates Foundation billions), so they'll probably win. 

So, it's worth understanding what motivates the New Centrists. Besides the billionaires, what about the foot soldiers?

A big part of this New Centrist obsession (e.g., Waiting for "Superman") with changing the culture of NAMs is motivated by job-seeking on the part of Nice White People. The private sector, with its stock options, used to be cool, but now private sector jobs are in short supply. The public sector, with its jobs with defined benefit pensions and health insurance, is where it's at in 2010. Moreover, violence is down among NAMs, so a lot of Nice White People are thinking they'd like one of those lifetime tenure jobs with benefits and and a pension reforming NAM children. Of course, people already have those jobs, so the people who don't have them are raising a stink about how the people who do have them are discriminating against NAMs by not turning them into Nice White People and thus should be fired ... and replaced by a new set of Nice White People.

Things you can't say anymore, Part MCXVII

From the LA Times:
National Public Radio terminated the contract of commentator Juan Williams after he said on Fox's "The O'Reilly Factor" that people wearing Muslim garb on airplanes made him "worried" and "nervous."

But, what if he said that seeing the blue-eyed, blond all-American jihadi terrorists on last night's episode of Law & Order: Los Angeles made him "worried" and "nervous?"

October 20, 2010

Vor v zakone

A reader writes:
But anyway, you've stumbled onto a fascinating subject.  I looked up the wikipedia entry, and it has some of the basics of the legend -- the 'scab' or 'bitch' war during & after WWII (really afterwards; the idea was that any vory v zakony who served in the army against the Germans were traitors, etc., and so were picked off in the camps in the 1950s), the basic code, and so on.

It leaves a lot out, though.  For example, if you talk to old dissidents like Vladimir Bukovsky, the vory v zakony were heroes:  the only people who lived by any moral code at all in Soviet times.  Not just in refusing to work for the State, taking care of the poor, and so on, but in-- and this completely goes against the new LA-style- refusing luxury and ostentation.

There was a VERY strict code of behavior, sort of mafia-cum-Stoic-cum-Christian asceticism.  A vor v zakony might have been wealthy, but he would never show it; and he would always share the wealth.

Some of this sounds like humbug, but people like Bukovsky absolutely revered the Vory v zakony -- they were the ones who kept people alive in the GULAG camps, right into the 1970s and 1980s.

Bukovsky doesn't really know the end of the story, since he came to the West in 1976.  But if you believe Stephen Handelman's book on the Russian mafia, Comrade Criminal (he interviewed scores of Vory and other mafiosi in the late 1980s and early 1990s), the Vory v Zakony were basically wiped out circa 1991, right at the time of the Soviet collapse.  Wiped out by the nomenklatura criminals:  ie CP members who cashed in on export contracts, bought KGB muscle, and fought a brutal gangland war, basically the state mafia wiping out the last of the independent nonstate vory v zakony.

I don't know whether this is true, but it would make a great novel or movie!

All we have to do is fix ...

The LA Times reports:
Seventy percent of students seeking degrees at California's community colleges did not manage to attain them or transfer to four-year universities within six years, according to a new study that suggests that many two-year colleges are failing to prepare the state's future workforce.

Conducted by the Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy at Cal State Sacramento, the report, released Tuesday, found that most students who failed to obtain a degree or transfer in six years eventually dropped out; only 15% were still enrolled.

In addition, only about 40% of the 250,000 students the researchers tracked between 2003 and 2009 had earned at least 30 college credits, the minimum needed to provide an economic boost in jobs that require some college experience.

There were also significant disparities in the outcomes of black and Latino students. Only 26% of black students and 22% of Latino students had completed a degree or certificate or transferred after six years, compared to 37% of whites and 35% of Asian Pacific Islanders.

In these kind of educational achievement statistics, the main way to avoid being completely bored is to check whether whites or Asians win in the upper division and whether blacks or Latinos win in the lower division.
The findings point to a troubled college system that needs drastic revamping, said study coauthor Nancy Shulock, executive director of the higher education institute.

"It's not an understatement to say that the future of California is at stake," Shulock said. "Unlike other developing countries with which California and other states have to compete, each generation is getting less educated and attaining fewer higher degrees. The gaps are large and critical and when you look at the future face of California, they are the ones for whom we're not delivering much success."

My dad got an AA degree in aeronautical engineering from Pasadena JC in 1938, but I imagine it now it takes at least four years to get a degree in engineering. Presumably, the subject is just more complicated now.

My wife took a few courses at the local community college a half decade ago and was more than impressed with what she'd gotten for $78 per semester. She thought the instructors were about as good as she'd experienced at the U. of Illinois or at Northwestern U. The classroom learning environment was fine: the classes would start out large, but students would soon stop coming and by the last 2/3rds of the course, class sizes were quite reasonable. Unlike in high school, where discipline is a big problem, the students were well-behaved and non-distracting because the ones who didn't want to be there quickly stopped being there. The courses were reasonably rigorous and did a good job in helping her brush up on the field she was interested in.

I don't know what else I can say: California's community college problem doesn't appear to have much to do with the community colleges, per se. 

Is there any good software for checking prose style?

In the mid-1990s, Microsoft added a feature to Word that checks not just spelling but also grammar and prose style. It was rather rudimentary, but promising. The idea of using the brute processing power of the computer to point out potential stylistic infelicities was a good one. In fact, Microsoft hired James Fallows of The Atlantic to dream up new ideas for Word. 

But Microsoft soon had a near monopoly on word processing software, and subsequent improvements in Word have been grudging. I haven't seen Word 2010, but it doesn't appear they've done much to improve the self-editing process. I don't expect my computer to rewrite my stuff, but it doesn't seem too much to expect in 2010 that it can find more of the weak spots that I've overlooked.

Does anybody have any experience with third party software? Looking around on the Internet, it appears that the most heavily promoted product, White Smoke, might be a scam. (What does the name of the company imply? That it will help you write more graceful thank you notes after you've been elected Pope?) Judging by its well-written website, Editor from Serenity Software would appear to have potential.

The Microsoft model in the past, as a Silicon Valley executive explained to me in 1995, was to acquire third party makers of add-in software by making a lowball offer while simultaneously threatening to drive the target out of business if they didn't play ball. I clucked sympathetically at the executive's tale of Microsoftian nefariousness, but as a customer, it sounded pretty good to me.

October 19, 2010

The Land of the Defunct Empires

From my column in VDARE:
The F.B.I.  announced charges last week against 73 Armenian gangsters, almost  half of them in the  Los Angeles area, for running the largest Medicare fraud in history.

Or—to be strictly accurate—the largest the FBI yet knows about.

The indictment alleged that most of the defendants were "were Armenian nationals or immigrants and many maintained substantial ties to Armenia." They laundered their ill-gotten gains in Las Vegas casinos and/or couriered them back to Armenia.

Michael J. Gaeta, head of the New York F.B.I. office’s Russian Organized Crime Squad, explained: “New York and the U.S., to them it’s a big pot of gold, and they’re coming after it. And with the world getting smaller, it’s much easier for them to do it.”

Among the arrested: Armen Kazarian of the pleasant LA suburb of Glendale, who drives a $350,000 Rolls Royce Phantom. Kazarian is only the second “vor” (the ex-Soviet equivalent of a godfather) yet charged in the U.S. 

I’d never previously heard the term “vor” but I must say, it has a ring to it—like capo di tutti capi or Keyser Söze.

Why was Kazarian in this country in the first place? He was granted asylum in the U.S. in 1996. But he subsequently returned frequently to Armenia to oversee his transcontinental criminal doings.

Naturally, this got me thinking about TV crime dramas.

Law & Order has been the most successful drama in American television history. Counting its countless spinoffs, about 900 hour-long episodes have aired. L&O’s two-decade old formula has been to take a scandal from the news, add a murder, and then show that the richest, whitest, and most conservative character dunnit.

This year, however, NBC shut down the New York-based flagship show and substituted Law & Order: Los Angeles. ... The Wednesday, October 20 episode “Sylmar” will explore the national security threat posed by ... blue-eyed, blonde Americans who espouse extremist Islam:
Deputy District Attorney: “An All-American jihadi terrorist cell …”

Assistant District Attorney: “With enough explosives to take down the Staples Center!”

You can't make this stuff up. (Or, at least, I can't.)

Read the whole thing there and comment upon it below.

Clint Eastwood's "Hereafter"

From my review in Taki's Magazine of the drama starring Matt Damon:
The octogenarian Eastwood’s late success has held out hope to aging baby boomers that experience, guile, and a sense of perspective will help them get by when they can no longer outwork the young bastards.

Read the whole thing there.

Hints of Obama's Personality

Peter Baker writes in The Education of the President in the NYT Magazine:
Insulation is a curse of every president, but more than any president since Jimmy Carter, Obama comes across as an introvert, someone who finds extended contact with groups of people outside his immediate circle to be draining. He can rouse a stadium of 80,000 people, but that audience is an impersonal monolith; smaller group settings can be harder for him. Aides have learned that it can be good if he has a few moments after a big East Room event so he can gather his energy again. 

I'm like that. I get worn down by human contact, too. But, then, I haven't wanted to be President of the United States since I was nine years old.
Unlike Clinton, who never met a rope line he did not want to work, Obama does not relish glad-handing. That’s what he has Vice President Joe Biden for. 

I knew Biden had to be good for something.
When Obama addressed the Business Roundtable this year, he left after his speech without much meet-and-greet, leaving his aides frustrated that he had done himself more harm than good. 

Obama is not a large man. Most people aren't. But, still ...

If you can divide people up into Morning People and Night People and High Energy and (relatively) Low Energy (all celebrities are above average in energy), then Obama is a Low Energy Night Person. That seems kind of odd in a President. Clinton was a High Energy Night Person, Bush II a Low Energy Morning Person. I would guess that most CEO's tend to High Energy Morning People.

The President's great-uncle was the deputy head librarian at the University of Chicago's giant library: a worthy career, and one that Obama seems roughly cut out for.

On the other hand, Obama seems to like meeting people who tell him he's great:
But as Obama gets back on the campaign trail, aides have noticed his old spirit again. He particularly enjoys the so-called backyard sessions on the lawns of supporters. “That’s the happiest I’ve seen him in a long time,” an aide said.

He sounds a little depressed. If the economy turns around, though, he could come back strong in 2012. 

Late in the article there's a doozy of a clause inside a sentence:
One prominent Democratic lawmaker told me Obama’s problem is that he is not insecure — he always believes he is the smartest person in any room and never feels the sense of panic that makes a good politician run scared all the time, frenetically wooing lawmakers, power brokers, adversaries and voters as if the next election were a week away. 

Wait a minute? Did that just say "he always believes he is the smartest person in any room?"

Obama is a smart enough guy to be President -- he's good at explaining both sides of a problem -- but I can't recall any anecdotes about him ever  thinking up the solution to any problem. Are there any?

If Reagan or FDR or Washington ever caught themselves thinking "I'm the smartest guy in this room" their immediate reaction would have been: "Uh-oh, I'd better get some smarter guys in here, pronto!"

October 17, 2010

Are Europeans all Middle Easterners?

For quite a number of decades, it has been apparent that agriculture was first invented in the "Fertile Crescent" of the Middle East, then spread into Europe. But that raised the question of how agriculture spread: did Middle Easterners colonize Europe or did existing European hunter-gatherers pick up Middle Eastern techniques? A couple of decades or so ago, geneticists entered this debate. L.L. Cavalli-Sforza argued that most Europeans today are descended from Middle Eastern farmers. Bryan Sykes responded that most Europeans are descended from indigenous hunter-gatherers who switched to farming.

The latest view is that Cavalli-Sforza was even more right than he claimed. Matthias Schultz writes in Der Spiegel in "How Middle Eastern Milk Drinkers Conquered Europe:"
At around 5300 BC, everyone in Central Europe was suddenly farming and raising livestock. The members of the Linear Pottery culture kept cows in wooden pens, used rubbing stones and harvested grain. Within less than 300 years, the sedentary lifestyle had spread to the Paris basin.

The reasons behind the rapid shift have long been a mystery. Was it an idea that spread through Central Europe at the time, or an entire people?

Peaceful Cooperation or Invasion?

Many academics felt that the latter was inconceivable. Agriculture was invented in the Middle East, but many researchers found it hard to believe that people from that part of the world would have embarked on an endless march across the Bosporus and into the north.

Jens Lüning, a German archaeologist who specializes in the prehistoric period, was influential in establishing the conventional wisdom on the developments, namely that a small group of immigrants inducted the established inhabitants of Central Europe into sowing and milking with "missionary zeal." The new knowledge was then quickly passed on to others. This process continued at a swift pace, in a spirit of "peaceful cooperation," according to Lüning.

But now doubts are being raised on that explanation. New excavations in Turkey, as well as genetic analyses of domestic animals and Stone Age skeletons, paint a completely different picture:
  • At around 7000 BC, a mass migration of farmers began from the Middle East to Europe.
  • These ancient farmers brought along domesticated cattle and pigs.
  • There was no interbreeding between the intruders and the original population.
Mutated for Milk

The new settlers also had something of a miracle food at their disposal. They produced fresh milk, which, as a result of a genetic mutation, they were soon able to drink in large quantities. The result was that the population of farmers grew and grew.

These striking insights come from biologists and chemists. In a barrage of articles in professional journals like Nature and BMC Evolutionary Biology, they have turned many of the prevailing views upside down over the course of the last three years. ...

In a bid to solve the mystery, molecular biologists have sawed into and analyzed countless Neolithic bones. The breakthrough came last year, when scientists discovered that the first milk drinkers lived in the territory of present-day Austria, Hungary and Slovakia.

But that was also where the nucleus of the Linear Pottery culture was located. "The trait of lactose tolerance quickly became established in the population," explains Joachim Burger, an anthropologist from the University of Mainz in southwestern Germany who is a member of the Leche team.

There's a good accompanying graphical map here.

Of course, all this raises even more questions, such as in regard to the recently surmised Neanderthal introgression

Having seen opinion shift several times on this topic over the last decade and a half, I look forward to future developments.

This lactose tolerant-centric view of the pre-history of Europe may provide some posthumous vindication to Raymond D. Crotty, an Irish dairy farmer turned economist, who emphasized the importance of the mutation to facilitate dairy farming as crucial to the dense populating of Northern Europe.

P.S. John Hawks comments here. Razib comments here.

P.P.S. Greg Cochran comments in the Comments.