December 31, 2011

The wheels of justice grind slowly

I've never had a very strong opinion on the lawsuit of the man in Connecticut who scored too high on an IQ test to be a cop, but I've been hearing about it for 15 years, So, for completeness sake: here's the final outcome:
Jordan, a 49-year-old college graduate, took the exam in 1996 and scored 33 points, the equivalent of an IQ of 125. But New London police interviewed only candidates who scored 20 to 27, on the theory that those who scored too high could get bored with police work and leave soon after undergoing costly training. 
Most Cops Just Above Normal The average score nationally for police officers is 21 to 22, the equivalent of an IQ of 104, or just a little above average. 
Jordan alleged his rejection from the police force was discrimination. He sued the city, saying his civil rights were violated because he was denied equal protection under the law.
But the U.S. District Court found that New London had “shown a rational basis for the policy.” In a ruling dated Aug. 23, the 2nd Circuit agreed. The court said the policy might be unwise but was a rational way to reduce job turnover. 
Jordan has worked as a prison guard since he took the test.

If he were really smart, he'd have figured out he needed to tank the test.

December 30, 2011

If I say so myself

The NYT features an essay by Thomas Vinciguera, "30 Years Later, Revisiting 'Brideshead,'" on the famous 1982 miniseries of the Evelyn Waugh novel. The last paragraph includes a particularly insightful quote, if I say so myself.

Are Republicans or Democrats fatter?

I got to wondering about this crucial question while sipping on an eggnog and reading an L.A. Times article about the most and least obese communities in Los Angeles County. The skinniest is Manhattan Beach, south of LAX at only 4% obese. It's popular with NHL players and others who like to run on the beach between zipping to the airport. Manhattan Beach went for Obama in 2008, but until then it had been a rare reliable Republican outpost on the West Side. 

The fattest town in L.A. County is Bell Gardens, a 96% Latino inland city, at 36% obese. Bell Gardens consistently votes Democratic.

In general, people in L.A. are not terribly fat by modern American standards. At 6-4 and 200 pounds (which sounds pretty good, because you are used to reading height-weight combinations for broad-shouldered, low-body fat athletes, not for narrow-shouldered pundits), I feel like Gozer the Gozerian reincarnated as the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man when I waddle down Ventura Blvd. 

Much of Democrats' feelings of superiority are tied into the observation that Red States are generally fatter than Blue States. But, that's a lot like the popular Red State - Blue State IQ hoax that went around after the 2004 election: Blacks and Latinos simply aren't considered in the average white Democrat's mental picture of why Democrats are better. Moreover, among whites in Red States, Republicans tend to be better educated and, likely, skinnier.

On the other hand, Republicans are more likely to be married. As comedian Emo noted back in the 1980s: "My sister and her husband just found out they haven't been legally married for the last ten years because the minister who married them was a fraud. It's really sad. Now, she'll have to lose all that weight."

So, it's hard to say for sure. There's probably something in the GSS about this. Joseph Fried's book on Republicans and Democrats says that the weight of evidence suggests that Democrats are a little fatter, but it's probably a pretty close run thing.

The politics of Ron Paul's foreign policy

Richard A. Oppel of the New York Times offers a commendable article on the appeal of Ron Paul's foreign policy:
One recent national poll by ABC News and The Washington Post found that 45 percent of Republicans and independents who lean Republican said Mr. Paul’s opposition to American military interventions overseas was a major reason to oppose his candidacy, compared with the 29 percent who saw it as a major reason to support him. ...
... He also said military service members favored Mr. Paul in donations to Republican candidates. While there is no way to prove this because only itemized donations over $200 require occupations to be listed — information that is self-reported — a review by The New York Times of federal contributions suggests that active-duty and retired service members overwhelmingly lean to Mr. Paul. He received at least $115,000 in itemized contributions through Sept. 30, almost double that of all other Republican candidates combined.

So, Paul's stance on the military interventions abroad represents almost 1/3rd of the right half of the electorate who have a strong opinion on the subject, including a significant fraction of politically engaged service members: a losing total, but still a significant segment of public opinion that is represented by few other voices.

Waiting for SuperMandarin

A reader writes:

"Can you call 'em or what? I just happened to re-read your review of the education documentary Waiting for Superman last night.  You talked about how the director [Davis Guggenheim] drove past 3 public schools in his area [the L.A. beach community of Venice] because they supposedly had "bad teachers" to send his kid to a private school. You said that instead of "bad teachers", the reason he avoided those schools was likely because their enrollments were nearly all NAM.  And you pointed out that one of the schools was starting a Mandarin immersion program, and that they might be doing that to attract higher scoring kids.

"Now, today's LA Times has an article about that very program, and how popular it is, and guess what?  Almost everyone in the immersion program is white or Asian:"
Broadway Elementary last year joined the ranks of more than 200 schools across the state to offer a dual-language immersion program in which students learn in two languages with the goal of becoming academically proficient in both. In the school's "50-50" program, teachers who use Mandarin in the classroom and those whose instruction is in English are paired, and students spend half their day with each. 
Broadway began the program to help boost plummeting enrollment — the school had reached a low of 257 students in 2008-09. The experiment worked — maybe too well.
With about 130 students in the Mandarin program so far, school enrollment is now at 330. Principal Susan Wang is concerned that the dual-language learners will outnumber the students in the regular school classes. And, by 2013-14, she figures that the Mandarin program will need a bigger home. 
The newcomers to the Mandarin program also changed the demographics of the little neighborhood school. In 2009, 81% of Broadway's students were Latino, 15% were black, six were white and none were Asian. The next year, the new classes of Mandarin immersion students were almost exclusively white and Asian.

I don't disapprove of the contortions that affluent beach-town liberals go through to keep their kids out of classrooms dominated by the children of illegal Mexican immigrants. What I do disapprove of is how those same people demonize less-privileged Americans who want a little of the same thing for their own children when they ask for our border laws to be enforced.

iSteviest movies of 2011

It's always fun to try to guess who is influenced by your stuff, whether directly or indirectly. In 2011 movies, If I had to guess, I'd look to the screenplays of three of the more interesting movies of the summer: Rise of the Planet of the ApesX-Men: First Class, and Bad Teacher. (By the way, all three made at least $100 million at the domestic box office.) And maybe a little bit toward two fine indie films: The Guard and Win Win

On the other hand, even I can't see much of my influence on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but, who knows? 

NYT's Question "Should the World of Toys Be Gender-Free?"

Children of the World's Answer: "No."

(You can read the NYT's op-ed there, but it never answers every parent's question: How do you get children to want gender-free toys? You can read about my failures trying here.)

December 28, 2011

Tonight's biggest WaPo story

Here's the banner headline across the top of
In Washington, wide gaps in school discipline 
Donna St. George 6:15 PM ET 
Data suggest African American students are two to five times more likely to get suspended or expelled as their white peers, and that the gap exists across the region's urban, suburban and rural school districts.

Fortunately, the Obama Administration is on the case!

Seriously, this article is a classic in the genre of Nobody Ever Learns Anything. 

NYT starting to get it?

The Washington Post has an article on a Pew Hispanic Center poll that gives the usual Rolodex Spin garnered from talking to self-proclaimed Hispanic Leaders about What Hispanics Want (More Hispanics!):
President Obama holds a wide lead among Hispanic voters when matched against potential Republican challengers, even as widespread opposition to his administration’s stepped-up deportation policies act as a drag on his approval ratings among these voters, according to a new poll.

Surprisingly, Julia Preston of the New York Times' article on the same poll comes out and says something I've been saying since 2002: When you ask Hispanic likely voters which issues are their priorities, Immigration generally comes in down around The Environment. The NYT explains
The Pew Hispanic poll offers some clues to why Mr. Obama’s immigration policy, which has been loudly criticized by many Latino organizations, has not done more to hurt his standing with Latino voters. 
Among registered Latino voters, immigration is not a primary concern. For Latino voters, immigration is sixth in importance, the poll found. 
Their top three issues are jobs, education and health care, the same issues identified as most important by Latino voters before the midterm elections in 2010 and the presidential vote in 2008, Pew pollsters found. On these issues, Latinos appear to trust Democrats more.

For years, a small number of unimportant, uncharismatic, uninfluential Latino "leaders" have been -- mostly by promptly returning phone calls from East Coast reporters -- conniving with the national media to whip up Hispanic racial fury. But, not many Hispanics read the Washington Post, apparently,  so this seemingly dangerous campaign has had relatively little real world impact. In the world of campaign strategy talk, however, it has become mostly unchallenged wisdom. 

December 27, 2011

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo:" Fight the (Imaginary) Power

From my review in Taki's Magazine of David Fincher's remake of the hit Swedish movie:
The more popular it is to worry over some organized threat, the less of a danger it likely is in reality. After all, if some group or institution were truly fearsome, most people would be terrified into silence or admiration. 
For example, Dan Brown made a fortune off his The Da Vinci Code pulp novel during this low ebb of the Catholic Church’s powers with a tale of how a nearly omnipotent Church conspires to cover up the golden age of pagan feminism. 
Of course, actual pagans traditionally complained that Christianity was too female-friendly. But Brown is practically Edward Gibbon compared to his successor as a global publishing sensation, the late Stieg Larsson, author of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (or as it was originally titled in Sweden, Men Who Hate Women). Himself a hate-filled lefty nerd, Larsson concocted an elaborate fantasy world for true believers in the conventional wisdom.

Read the whole thing there.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo mania is one of these giant phenomena that is pretty funny when you get the joke, but almost nobody gets the joke (or, in this case, jokes).

December 26, 2011

The future of football

A couple of weeks ago, the NFL signed gigantic new contracts with some of the TV networks that carry its games. The NFL's deep pockets are now reminiscent of those of the cigarette companies a generation ago, which attracted huge lawsuits. Legal battles over brain injuries appear inevitable. 

Football is a helluva game, but it's time for its fans to start thinking about what parts of the game should and could be preserved to keep football from going the way of boxing.

For example, football is traditionally built around huge interior linemen colliding, but only the more knowledgeable fans watch line play. Most fans care most about passing and open field running. But the rules make the five interior linemen to be ineligible to receive passes, so, rather than spread linemen out where they could try to get open to catch passes, it makes sense to bunch them shoulder to shoulder for trench warfare. Perhaps an everybody eligible to receive rule would spread the game out. Or, perhaps, in the long run, there will be fewer players on the field and something resembling summer passing league play will emerge. 

December 21, 2011

Obama's Popguns of Singapore

From the NYT:
Countrywide Will Settle a Bias Suit 
WASHINGTON — The Justice Department on Wednesday announced the largest residential fair-lending settlement in history, saying that Bank of America had agreed to pay $335 million to settle allegations that its Countrywide Financial unit discriminated against black and Hispanic borrowers during the housing boom. 

The British defense of Singapore after Pearl Harbor is famously (although not necessarily all that accurately) said to have suffered from the long-held assumption that Singapore's big guns must point out to sea to defeat an attack by an enemy navy. Yet, the Japanese army, not the navy, came by way of the Malaysian mainland.

Similarly, for decades, the conventional political wisdom was that the main problem with the mortgage business was its irrational refusal to do enough business with blacks and Hispanics. Thus, the government laboriously constructed legal and political guns to pound down this intractable problem.

Over time, the more politically nimble sort of lenders, such as Angelo Mozilo of Countrywide, came around to the government's point of view that they were leaving money on the table. In 2003, Mozilo trumpeted in a Harvard address that Countrywide was going to lend $600 billion (with a b) to minorities and low income communities. And then in early 2005, Mozilo upped the commitment to a trillion bucks, with Countrywide's board member Henry Cisneros (Clinton Administration HUD secretary) delegated to advise him upon it.

When the mortgage system went into the ditch in the Sand States in 2007-2008, however, it  turned out that the problem was largely one of lenders lending too much to minorities, which had driven up home prices to unsustainable levels.

Here we are in late 2011, and the Obama Administration has just fired one of its guns at the most notorious symbol of mortgage mania: Countrywide. Of course, its guns are still pointing in the wrong direction. More amusingly, the big gun turns out to be popguns.
A department investigation concluded that Countrywide loan officers and brokers charged higher fees and rates to more than 200,000 minority borrowers across the country than to white borrowers who posed the same credit risk. Countrywide also steered more than 10,000 minority borrowers into costly subprime mortgages when white borrowers with similar credit profiles received regular loans, it found.

Let's do some math: $335 million divided by 200,000 minority mortgage borrowers equals a $1,675.00 payout per victim of racism. That's out of 2.5 million mortgages examined, according to Business Insider. Hhmmhmmmhmm ... Keep that in mind as you read onward.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said the settlement showed that the Justice Department would “vigorously pursue those who would take advantage of certain Americans because of their race, national origin, gender or disability,” adding: “Such conduct undercuts the notion of a level playing field for all consumers.  It betrays the promise of equal opportunity that is enshrined in our Constitution and our legal framework.” 
The settlement is subject to approval by a federal judge in California; according to the proposed consent order filed Wednesday, Countrywide denied all of the department’s allegations. 
Dan Frahm, a Bank of America spokesman, stressed that the allegations were focused on Countrywide’s conduct from the years 2004 to 2008, before Bank of America purchased it. ...
The problems stemmed from a Countrywide policy that gave loan officers and brokers the discretion to alter the terms for which a particular applicant qualified without setting up any system to comply with fair-lending rules, the department said. Lending data showed that Countrywide ended up charging Hispanics and African-Americans more, on average, than white applicants with similar credit histories.

So, if you are Asian or white and you got cheated by Countrywide's boiler room operation into paying higher fees on your mortgage than you should have, you are out of luck because you are the wrong race?

Basically, Countrywide and independent mortgage brokers were running high pressure boiler rooms during the peak of the housing bubble. To up commissions, their salesmen often stuck a bunch of extra fees in the fine print. Moreover, they talked about 5% (10,000 out of 200,000 minority borrowers who extra fees) into getting subprime loans with higher interest rates who would have qualified for prime loans.
In 2007, for example, Countrywide employees charged Hispanic applicants in Los Angeles an average of $545 more in fees for a $200,000 loan than they charged non-Hispanic white applicants with similar credit histories. 

Of course, the joke is that $545 in rip-off fees is a pittance compared to how much was lost on these loans on average.

Of course, it's not as if Countrywide tried to keep secret that they were going after minority borrowers.

For salesmen whose commissions pay off when fees are paid at closing, not when the borrowers write their monthly checks, being told to rope in marginal minority customers is like telling hyenas to eat raw meat. Countrywide's office in high-IQ Santa Monica was notoriously hard to make money at, but their Inglewood office in the 'hood brought in huge margins.

This is highly reminiscent of the argument between Malcolm Gladwell versus Judge Richard A. Posner and myself about whether or not car salesmen consciously exploit blacks and Hispanics. As Gladwell wrote in 2006:
One of the most bizarre reactions that I received from reviewers of Blink is an absolute inability to accept the notion of unconscious prejudice. Here is an example from a fairly well known writer named Steve Sailer. Sailer, in turns, quotes from a very hostile review of Blink in The New Republic by Richard Posner.

Posner and I said that of course car salesmen rip off blacks and Latinos consciously. While Gladwell claimed that the car salesmen who charge blacks and Latinos higher prices are, when you stop and think about it, the real victims. If only they had read Blink and realized that they were unconsciously assuming that blacks and Latinos were easier to rip off than, say, Armenians or Koreans, then they would have stopped doing it, and the car salesmen would have made more money!
Independent brokers processing applications for a Countrywide loan charged Hispanics $1,195 more, the department said. ...

Of course, a much higher fraction of the independent brokers exploiting Hispanics were Hispanics themselves. This shouldn't be a surprise: Countrywide issued many press releases over the years patting itself on the back for all its hiring of Hispanic salesmen and its efforts to find independent Hispanic brokers. The mortgage meltdown has some of the attributes of a classic affinity scam, like Mormons getting suckered by a Mormon conman.
“Chances are, the victims had no idea they were being victimized,” said Thomas E. Perez, the Justice Department’s assistant attorney general for civil rights. “It was discrimination with a smile.” 
In addition, from 2004 to 2007 — the peak of Wall Street firms’ demand for subprime loans that they purchased, bundled and resold as securities, a major cause of the ensuing financial crisis ...

And Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's peak demand, too, or that was more like 2005-2008. Countrywide was famously in bed with Fannie.
...— Countrywide allowed its brokers and employees to steer applicants who qualified for regular mortgages into a riskier and more expensive subprime loan. 
The odds of a minority applicant being steered into such a loan were more than twice as high as those for a non-Hispanic white borrower with a similar credit rating, the department said. About two-thirds of the victims were Hispanic and one-third were black, the department said.

Oddly enough, steering into a subprime loan apparently only happened to about 5% of these minority victims of higher fees, and to only about 0.4% of all Countrywide borrowers examined by the Justice Dept. I'm surprised that percentage isn't higher. We've been hearing for years about how the foreclosure crisis was caused by minorities getting forced into subprime loans, but with notorious Countrywide, it was quite rare.

Now the Justice Department quantifies the discrimination and comes up with a price tag of $1,675 each -- a distinct anti-climax. I mean $335,000,000 is about Angelo Mozillo's compensation during the last decade even after his SEC mini-fine.
If a judge approves the settlement, victims will receive between several hundred and several thousand dollars, with larger amounts going to those who were steered into subprime mortgages despite qualifying for regular loans.

Let's repeat that: "several hundred and several thousand dollars:" not exactly a home run for Eric Holder's theory of what caused the meltdown; more like a foul tip.
... Under federal civil rights laws — including the Fair Housing and Equal Credit Opportunity acts — a lending practice is illegal if it has a disparate impact on minority borrowers. Against the backdrop of the foreclosure crisis, the Obama administration has made a major effort to step up the laws’ enforcement.

So, it's a disparate impact case. I guess that's why white and Asian victims of being cheated by Countrywide can't get any compensation. The blacks and Hispanics are evidently getting paid the difference between what they paid in points and other mortgage fees and the average of what whites paid, not the difference between what they paid and what an honest broker would have charged them. What Countrywide should have done was rip off whites and Asians even more so then the Obama Justice Dept. wouldn't have a complaint.
In early 2010, the division created a unit to focus exclusively on banks and mortgage brokers suspected of discriminating against minority mortgage applicants, a type of litigation that requires extensive and complex analysis of data.

While they were crunching the numbers, perhaps they could have calculated the default rates on these loans. My guess is that even with the surplus origination fees Countrywide / Bank of America came out the loser in the long run due to defaults. (Of course, other losers include Fannie and the public.) To have had these risky mortgages make sense as paying propositions, Countrywide would have had to charge vastly higher fees.
Working with bank regulatory agencies and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the unit has reached settlements or filed complaints in 10 cases accusing a lender of engaging in a pattern or practice of discrimination. 
The Federal Reserve first detected statistical discrepancies in the loans Countrywide was making and referred the matter to the Justice Department in early 2007, according to a court filing disclosed in 2010 as part of a civil fraud case brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission against Angelo R. Mozilo, the former chief executive of Countrywide.

In other words, the normal federal regulatory system noticed this disparate impact problem in early 2007, well before Countrywide cratered in 2008. Good to know that the Feds were on the watch against the really important mortgage lending problem!

In summary, there's a general problem with rip-off sales practices, whether in mortgage lending or auto sales. Experience, however, shows that fighting rip-offs by focusing on discrimination is a losing proposition. What happens is that clever people rip off not clever people, which has disparate impact on blacks and Hispanics.

But the problem can't be explained that way, because then it leads to the inference that blacks and Hispanics are less clever on average. So, enforcement tapers off because the whole subject becomes too embarrassing.

Clearly, the anti-discrimination method of regulating mortgage lenders turned out to be extremely bad as a way to prevent boiler room fraud and excess. It was not uncommon for lenders to respond to complaints about predatory lending to minorities by saying, "Okay, we'll lend more to minorities. (Fannie is buying!) And we'll hire some of your NGO's foot soldiers as loan counselors. And maybe make a donation to your fine organization. After all, we all have to do our part in fighting racist redlining."

We need instead to say that the clever shouldn't rip off the clueless, and it doesn't matter what races the clever and the clueless belong to. We all get clueless in the end.

"Nature's Tory"

In Taki's Magazine, I offer an assessment, mostly appreciative, of Christopher Hitchens' literary criticism:
There wouldn’t seem to be much left to say about the late Christopher Hitchens after the countless tributes paid by other journalists about the night (or afternoon or morning) they got drunk with Hitch. Still, I want to call admiring attention to his taste in English literature. 
Unable to boast of having downed a few with Hitchens myself, I tended to find much of his voluminous output over the last decade reminiscent of the legendary Private Eye reporter Phil Space. Yet in at least one venue, Hitchens demonstrated distinction. Just before 9/11, Benjamin Schwarz hired Hitchens to write a long monthly literary column for The Atlantic that showcased Hitchens’s combination of panache, pedantry, and lifelong conservatism. 

Read the whole thing there.

December 20, 2011

New News!

A reader writes:
Today's New York Times has a prominent article essentially transcribing an attack on Ron Paul by James Kirchick (Marty Peretz's boy toy) that just appeared in the Weekly Standard (which was itself a rewrite of an old piece from the New Republic). Funny how publications of the left (the Times), the center (TNR) and the right (the Standard) all find common ground when someone like Paul emerges ...

Here's the News Story that was splashed heavily at the top of last night: 
New Focus on Incendiary Words in Paul’s Newsletters 
Emerging as a real Republican contender in Iowa, Representative Ron Paul of Texas is receiving new focus for decades-old unbylined columns in his political newsletters that included racist, anti-gay and anti-Israel passages that he has since disavowed. 
The latest issue of The Weekly Standard, a leading conservative publication, reprised reports of incendiary language in Mr. Paul’s newsletters that were published about 20 years ago. 
A 1992 passage from the Ron Paul Political Report about the Los Angeles riots

which largely stopped on May 1, 1992
read, “Order was only restored in L.A. when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks.” 

Disrespect toward looters and race rioters  is beyond the pale!
A passage in another newsletter asserted that people with AIDS should not be allowed to eat in restaurants because “AIDS can be transmitted by saliva”; 

When everybody knows (or at least has been told, over and over) that AIDS can be transmitted by heterosexual sex as easily as by homosexual practices. What, do you think the HIV virus discriminates? To say that would be insensitive toward the HIV virus, libeling it by making it sound like Ron Paul.
in 1990 one of his publications criticized Ronald Reagan for having gone along with the creation of the federal holiday honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which it called “Hate Whitey Day.”

In contrast to December 1st, International AIDS Day, which the press celebrates annually as Hate Ronnie Day because Ronald Reagan caused the AIDS epidemic. (If you have doubts that it was Reagan's fault, then who are you going to blame? Gays? I don't think so.)

Here's the good part of New York Times article:
The magazine article largely matched a similar report in The New Republic in 2008, and it was written by the same author, James Kirchick.

Hey, I've got some four year old articles I'd like to recycle, too! Can I republish them in the Weekly Standard and then get them hyped in the NYT?
The passages were plucked from a variety of newsletters that Mr. Paul’s consulting business published during his years out of Congress, all of them featuring his name: Ron Paul Political Report, Ron Paul’s Freedom Report, Ron Paul Survival Report and Ron Paul Investment Letter. 
Mr. Paul did not respond to an interview request, but repudiated the writings in 2008. Likening himself to a major news publisher, he said he did not vet every article that was featured in his newsletters. “I absolutely, honestly do not know who wrote those things,” Mr. Paul said in an interview on CNN at the time, adding that he did not monitor the publications closely because he was busy with a medical practice and “speeches around the country.”

December 19, 2011

DSK: "La danse de joie"

Here's Sofitel security camera video from the day of Dominique Strauss-Kahn's arrest last May. It was broadcast on France's BFM-TV. Starting a little after 3:00 minutes into the video, you can see what BFM calls "The Dance of Joy:" after Sofitel management calls the NYPD to have the IMF supremo / French presidential frontrunner arrested, two burly Sofitel employees in suits who had been escorting the complainant maid step into a back room and celebrate. The big black guy wraps the big white guy in a bear hug, lifts him into the air, spins him around, and then does what looks like either an NFL touchdown dance or the Charleston.

The Daily Beast reports:
The two employees said they couldn’t recall the exact reason for their fleeting celebratory behavior but that they believed it may have involved sports, which they frequently talked about, the source said.

Okay, well that clears that up. Glad we won't have to listen to conspiracy nuts yammering on about their crazy conspiracy theories. Amy Davidson at The New Yorker in "A Dance to the Music of Conspiracy" finds the sports talk explanation more plausible than the suspicion that DSK might have been set-up:
Once you’ve accounted for the jerkiness of the video, it doesn’t seem outlandish, given the sorts of things men do in New York, particularly when talking about sports. 

A commenter at The New Yorker adds that Edward Jay Epstein, who brought up the dance of joy in a New York Review of Books article, is a conspiracy theorist:
Many years ago, Mr. Epstein had written about the diamond industry. I knew a top adviser for De Beers,who couldn't believe how Mr. Epstein had invented so many details to support his claims. The adviser decided then that he would never again read anything written by this conspiracy theorist. He called Epstein a "sensationalist". I myself wonder why the NYRB would publish an article that had nothing to do with books.

If you can't trust "a top adviser for De Beers," who can you trust? Certainly not a wacko investigative journalist like Epstein who published some nutty theory in The Atlantic Monthly in 1982 that De Beers was a giant conspiracy to prop up the price of diamonds via a global diamond cartel. After all, the reason De Beers top executives never set foot in America during the second half of the 20th Century is, well,  you know, just one of those things. I can't recall the exact reason for De Beers executives' fleeting behavior of avoiding anywhere they could have been served with a subpoena for Sherman Anti-Trust Act violations, but I believe it may have involved sports.

P.S., a commenter points out that Epstein's website has more videos that allow you to better evaluate the competing theories.

Somebody else finally picks up the Indian PISA score story

Last week, the Australian Council for Education Research put out a glossy, voluminous report updating the 2009 PISA school achievement test conducted by the deep-pocketed OECD. ACER reported on ten more "economies," including two middling Indian states, which came in next to last out of 74 countries or regions.

Since I've been interested in China v. India for years, that struck me as pretty big news (so I blogged about it at length here), but it didn't impress the rest of the Internet, apparently. Finally today, according to Google News, somebody else mentioned it. Here's an editorial from an Indian publication called LiveMint that draws an appropriate lesson: India needs to get its act together.
There are few urban legends about India quite as destructive as the one that leads us to believe that the education system is doing a good job of educating our children. Coming on the heels of a comprehensive study, which exposed how poorly our kids were doing in some of the country’s best schools, is an international study that evaluates 15-year-olds’ skills in reading and mathematical and scientific literacy on a comparative basis—and India didn’t do any better here. 
... In India, only two states, Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, were part of the survey. Now, these are both states that are thought to offer the best educational infrastructure to schoolchildren in the country. But the results on a global scale are abysmal, with Himachal Pradesh recording the lowest reading score in PISA 2009 and 2009+, on a par with Kyrgyzstan. Tamil Nadu did slightly better with its overall score, which was nonetheless lower than any other country’s, besides Kyrgyzstan. One shudders to think of the results in states with worse general indicators than these two, such as Rajasthan or Bihar. 
... A lot of success stories we hear are despite the system, not because of it, and the sooner we recognize that, the better the chances that we’ll do something to fix the status quo. 
The current state of affairs will lead to a future where we will have let down millions of young Indians, who will be shut out of the job market because they were failed by the state. The demographic dividend we keep talking about— the one that’s going to give us an edge over China in the decades to come—is going to be more of a demographic disaster if we cannot equip our young people with the skills required in this new global economy. The government must make school education a priority if it is to arrest the decline of this most valuable of institutions.

My vague impression is that Indians tend to make more sophisticated marketers than Chinese do. One American consultant said that the typical Chinese factory owner's idea of marketing is: "Real cheap! You buy now!" But it's important for Indians not to fall for their own marketing. India needs less spin and more China-like grim determination if it's going to improve its fundamental institutions.

By the way, all the talk in the press about Indian benefiting from a "demographic dividend" of a rapidly growing population is respectable Davos Man craziness at its craziest.

More generally, India conforms to the Davos model of elite advancement while not talking about the masses because we, uh, don't want to hurt their feelings. In contrast, Dengist China conforms more to old-fashioned nationalism -- the kind of thing that worked in Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Germany, and, perhaps most of all, in pre-1846 England and in pre-1960s USA.

December 18, 2011

PISA: What about the rest of China?

The news that two states in India took the PISA test of 15-year-olds' school achievement in 2009 and bombed raises the question once again of China. As everybody remembers from a year ago, 2009 scores from Shanghai were released and they were higher than any country in the world. But what about the rest of China? Obviously, Shanghai is a dazzling place, but a lot of China is still stuck knee-deep in rice paddies. What about them? 

I stumbled upon this year-old blog post by Anatoly Karlin of Sublime Oblivion, which relays a big hint:
As regular blog readers know, I think that educational capital and more broadly average IQ levels are one of the key – and frequently under-appreciated due to political correctness – determinants of economic development and whether or not convergence to developed country levels is even possible. Its much higher educational capital is one of the key reasons why I think China will continue doing much better than India in development, regardless of its “democratic deficit.” However, many people argue that China’s human capital must actually be quite low, because it doesn’t spend much on education, resources are bare in the provinces, statistical fudging under unaccountable governors, etc. 
The recent results from the international standardized PISA tests in math, reading and science will make this an increasingly untenable position. Shanghai got by far the best results out of all the OECD countries (never mind the developing ones). . Now while you might (rightly) argue Shanghai draws much of the elite of the Yangtze river delta, the Financial Times has more: “Citing further, as-yet unpublished OECD research, Mr Schleicher said: “We have actually done Pisa in 12 of the provinces in China. Even in some of the very poor areas you get performance close to the OECD average.”” 
Since countries like the US and France get scores “close to the OECD average”, this means that the workforces soon to be entering China’s economy, even from its poorest regions, will be no less skilled than those of leading Western economies (note too that the numbers of Chinese university graduates are soaring). And with China’s massive population, four times bigger than America’s, its road to superpowerdom must be all but guaranteed.

Okay, there are a few leaps of faith there, but that's still news worth knowing. At minimum, it reduces the chances that the Shanghai numbers were a con job. At median, it suggests that we check twice before reflexively equating China and India. At maximum, it suggests, as Karlin says, that "resource constraints" are going to be perhaps the big issue of the 21st Century. It's a little hard to be certain what "Even in some of the very poor areas you get performance close to the OECD average" means, but it sounds pretty good.

The logic of using international test scores to predict future wealth is not that the causation runs only in one direction, from high test scores to wealth. Obviously, it runs in both directions. (For example, affluent Chinese have traditionally hired tutors to raise their children's test results.) But, if there are a whole bunch of poor farm kids in inland China who are scoring like kids in Europe and North America right now, well, that's worth knowing.

December 17, 2011

Who says there are few Spanish-surnamed rich people in Silicon Valley?

From the NYT:
Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, with her husband, Marc Andreessen, the Netscape co-founder, says that she was drawn to philanthropy because of her mother's early death from cancer.

John Arrillaga, her real estate developer dad, is one of the two Spanish-surnamed people on the Forbes 400. His parents were Basques born in Spain. Last I checked, the other Spanish-surnamed billionaire is billboard king Arte Moreno, a genuine Mexican-American, who, as owner of the California Angels, is going to pay a quarter of a billion to slugger Albert Pujols.

Here's Razib on the distinctive Basque DNA, although I must say that Ms. Arrillaga-Andreesen doesn't look too different from most rich men's wives / daughters. 

The typical opening line of a Christopher Hitchens tribute

From Slate, a representative example from this insiders' orgy of name-dropping and one-upmanship:
I first met Christopher on the set of the Charlie Rose show at a low point early in my career of provocation. 

In other words, did I mention I was on the Charlie Rose show? With Christopher? (As we Charlie Rose show regulars / close friends know, only his first name is necessary.) Did I point out how provocative I am? And did you notice that my fabulous career is no longer at a low point? And did I make clear that even at that low point, I was still getting on the Charlie Rose show? 

Mexican mediocrity quantified

Something I noticed last year when looking at 2009 PISA school achievement scores is the virtual non-existence of Mexico's intellectual elite. Mexico's average scores on this school achievement test of 15-year-olds were mediocre, but the lack of high end scores was startling, compared to a similar scoring country like Turkey, where there is a definite class of very smart Turks. Obviously, there is a stunning shortage of very high-achieving Mexican Americans in the U.S., but I had tended to assume that the really smart guys who run things in Mexico were just foisting off their mediocre people on the U.S. Yet, it's hard to find test score evidence that there are many really smart guys in Mexico at all. This is not to say the average Mexican is all that uneducated by global standards, just that the far right end of the bell curve in Mexico is a lot thinner than you'd expect.

Perhaps this is just an illusion because all the schools in Mexico with smart students refuse to participate in international tests? The public school teachers union in Mexico is hilariously awful: many teaching jobs are hereditary, and if your heirs don't want your teaching job after you die, they can auction it off to the highest bidder. But the overall performance of Mexican students on the PISA isn't terrible (it's a lot worse than the performance of Hispanics in the U.S. on the PISA, but not miserable by Latin American standards). 

Yet, here's a 2008 paper on the same subject that takes the lack of cognitive superstars in Mexico seriously:
Producing superstars for the economic Mundial: The Mexican Predicament with quality of education 
Lant Pritchett and Martina Viarengo
Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government
November 19, 2008 
Abstract.   The question of how to build the capabilities to both initiate a resurgence of growth and facilitate Mexico’s transition into a broader set of growth enhancing industries and activities is pressing.  In this regard it seems important to understand the quality of the skills of the labor force.  Moreover, in increasingly knowledge based economies it is not just the skills of the typical worker than matter, but also the skills of the most highly skilled.  While everyone is aware of the lagging performance of Mexico on internationally comparable examinations like the PISA, what has been less explored is the consequence of that for the absolute number of very highly skilled.  We examine  how many students Mexico produces per year above the “high international benchmark” of the PISA in mathematics.  While the calculations are somewhat crude and only indicative, our estimates are that Mexico produces only between 3,500 and 6,000 students per year above the high international benchmark (of a cohort of roughly 2 million [which is about half America's cohort of around 4 million]).  In spite of educational performance that is widely lamented within the USA, it produces a quarter of a million, Korea 125,000 and even India, who in general has much worse performance on average, produces over 100,000 high performance in math students per year.  The issue is not about math per se, this is just an illustration and we feel similar findings would hold in other domains.  The consequences of the dearth of globally competitive human capital are explored, with an emphasis on the rise of  super star phenomena in labor markets (best documented in the USA).  Finally, we explore the educational policies that one might consider to focus on the upper tail of performance, which are at odds with much of the “quality” focus of typical educational policies which are often remedial and focused on the lower, not upper tail of performance.

I don't know what the full story is here. Perhaps Mexican elites are just lazy, and they set a bad example for the Mexican masses?

PISA scores: 2 Indian states flop

The conventional wisdom expressed in Obama Administration speeches and the like is that American students get crushed by kids in China and India on international tests of school achievement. But the evidence for this is not as abundant as you might assume ... especially not for India. While the city of Shanghai shot the lights out on the 2009 PISA, test scores haven't been released for other parts of China. 

But, Westerners going back to Marco Polo have generally assumed the Chinese have a lot on the ball, so they are likely to do pretty well. 

What about India, the other giga-country? I first noticed in early 1981 that there were a lot of smart Indians in the U.S., and over the decades this has become a cliche.

But, what about India itself? India has never participated as a country in broad-based international tests.

The future of India is A) an intrinsically interesting subject; B) one that could make or lose you a lot of money; C) could make or lose the whole world a lot of money (just as the widespread assumption that the population of the Sand States could pay back those big mortgages proved costly for everyone, so could an unrealistic assumption down the road that the Indian masses are ready for big loans could spark a future global bubble and bust).  

Last year, I pointed out in VDARE that TIMSS had been given unofficially in two Indian states, Orissa and Rajasthan, and both had done badly.

Now the OECD has released 2009 PISA test scores for 15-year-olds for ten more places, two of them Indian states. The new news is that the Indian states, Tamil Nadu in the southeast (east of Bangalore, the technology center) and Himachal Pradesh, a Hindu state in the Deep North, did miserably, fighting it out with Kyrgyzstan for last place out of 74 countries or regions on all three tests: reading, math, and science. (Not surprisingly, the southern state beat the northern state on all three tests.) 

And there isn't much inequality in the Indian scores: it's not like some geniuses in these states score high but the places are dragged down by illiterates. There are a lot of illiterates, of course, but almost nobody scores at the top level, at least not in the schools where these tests were given. (Allow me to insert here my usual caveat about testing, which is that an 80/20 rule applies to methodology: it's pretty easy to get a crudely accurate picture, but really hard to get a highly accurate one. For example, how representative were the tested students in India? Beats me.)

Here's the 13 meg PDF.

India ought to be able to do better than score at sub-Saharan levels. Indians in other countries do better. For example, this same report has Mauritius, a mixed race country in the middle of the Indian Ocean where 52% of the population is Hindu, scoring like a Latin American country rather than a sub-Saharan African country. 

But, India itself has a long way to go. It's likely to take 1-2 generations to get India up to speed, and we don't really know what up to speed for India means yet.

In other news from this report by Australians on the additional ten marginal places to take the test, Costa Rica does pretty good for a Latin American country (as stereotypes of Costa Rica as a nice place would suggest), Malta does okay, the rich United Arab Emirates do pretty good for an Arab place, and Moldova and Georgia do very bad for white countries. 

December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens, RIP

Slate today has 26 articles on the late Christopher Hitchens. For an "iconoclast," he seems awfully popular with everybody who is anybody.

Perhaps I may be forgiven for offering a more critical assessment of the critic and pundit.

Hitchens getting the Iraq War catastrophically wrong evidently had minimal impact on his celebrity. Of course, it's fair to ask: has anybody's career suffered from getting Iraq wrong? Has anybody's career prospered from getting Iraq right, other than maybe Obama for giving a single speech against it?

On the other hand, as a long-time Trotskyite critic of American imperialism, Hitchens' accomplishment in getting Iraq wrong was a singularly epic own-goal. It's almost as ridiculous as it would have been if Noam Chomsky had suddenly decided in the early 2000s that the single American foreign policy effort he would support in his lifetime would be stupidest one of all. Of course, Chomsky didn't get Iraq wrong, and he is deeply resented in the Washington Post-owned media for finally being clearly right. Hitchens did get Iraq wrong, and is a saint to the mainstream media. 

More generally, English journalists tend to be better than American journalists at using the English language, whether on paper or in person, whether sober or drunk. Thus, I must confess that I could never quite grasp why Christopher Hitchens, out of all the talented English journalists in the world, was so celebrated. He was quite good, but they're all pretty good (his uncelebrated brother Peter Hitchens is the obvious contrast). After awhile, I guess, C. Hitchens was famous for being famous. By random luck, somebody has to be.

It certainly helped that he kept shifting around -- moving to America, deciding he was ethnically Jewish, becoming a neocon, etc etc -- so he could keep picking up new audiences who hadn't been so exposed to his Traditional English Journalist shtick and who weren't bored with his writing yet. (Like some other neocons, however, he retained part of his Trotskyite faith well into his neocon years. Here is Hitchens' 2004 tribute to Trotsky in The Atlantic.)

Perhaps the secret of Hitchens' fame was that he was at least satisfactory in both his roles as a journalist for hire and as a heavy-drinking celebrity. His many, many articles were, typically, more or less worth reading, even if I can't remember at the moment much of anything he's written. What is exceptional about Hitchens is that he managed to churn them out at great pace and with a level of quality okay for the Internet age while also going to endless parties, lunches, dinners, debates, symposiums, and television appearances. In other words, Hitchens was good enough at the conflicting duties he undertook.

Other English journalists have crashed and burned while trying to do both. For example, Anthony Haden-Guest (the illegitimate brother of mockumentary maker / aristocrat Christopher Guest, who is the Fifth Baron of Saling) made a huge splash on the New York literary party circuit when he arrived a generation ago. Tom Wolfe was so amused by him that he sponsored his entry into New York cafe society, but both Haden-Guest's writing and charm fell off under the strain of non-stop partying. Wolfe wound up turning him into the character of the poisonous English journalist Peter Fallow in The Bonfire of the Vanities. (You'll sometimes see it stated that Hitchens was Wolfe's model for Fallow, but Haden-Guest was much more the original. But, Wolfe's larger point is that there are a whole bunch of English journalists of this ilk. Journalism is like acting in this regard: English culture is better at developing acting talent than is American culture.)

In contrast, Hitchens managed to walk the tightrope of being good enough at both celebrityhood and journalism, which speaks well of his energy and resilience.

Hitchens' long track record of sniffing out the current most lucrative ideological position in the Anglo-American journalism industry wasn't, so far as I can tell, driven by mercenary motives. He seemed sincere, but his underlying motivations for his ideological changes tended to be absurdly personal.

For example, Christopher's conversion from scourge to advocate of American imperialism was related to his sibling rivalry over his parent's affections that he waged with his level-headed brother Peter, who took after their level-headed father. In contrast, Christopher identified with his troubled mother, who killed herself in Cyprus. Christopher later discovered that their mother was about 1/8th Jewish, but solely through the female line, thus giving him a rabbinically orthodox claim to Jewishness. From the Jewish Telegraph Agency's obituary: "Despite his rejection of religious precepts, Hitchens would make a point of telling interviewers that according to Halacha, he was Jewish."

His brother Peter found this deduction about their mutual ethnicity to be eye-rolling. But this genealogical discovery helped grease the skids for Christopher's conversion to neocon invade-the-worldism.

Here is the remarkable 2005 transcript of the first meeting of the Hitchens Brothers after years of estrangement. As I remarked at the time:
I've pointed out that what might look like ideological clashes on the surface are often actually just rationalizations for ethnic clashes between extended families, but the Hitchens Brothers represent an interesting case of an ethnic clash between brothers within a nuclear family. Peter was the favorite of their English father, Christopher of their [slightly] Jewish mother. Christopher is still an atheist, but as Paul Johnson pointed out in his "History of the Jews," it's been common down through the centuries for young atheist intellectuals to become more focused on Jewish ethnic interests as they age, without necessarily becoming theists. The conversion to the ideology of neoconism of Christopher, who, despite his hatred of religion, has taken to dropping in to synagogues as he travels to express his ethnic solidarity, is a good example of this venerable tendency toward gerontocratic ethnocentrism.

As a journalist, Hitchens always struck me as fairly comparable to his former colleague at The Nation, Alexander Cockburn. (In fact, I got them confused a lot up through about 1999, partly because their views were similar and because there are three Cockburn Brother journalists and two Hitchens Brothers journalists.) Hitchens would have killed to be the first cousin once-removed of Evelyn Waugh like the Cockburn Brothers are. (And Alexander's niece is movie starlet Olivia Wilde.) Being the son of communist Claude Cockburn and the relative of the reactionary Waugh is the epitome of Hitchens' combination of bloodthirsty politics and conservative literary culture. 

But, Cockburn was right about Iraq, so don't expect him to get one-tenth of the same sendoff from the mainstream media when he kicks the bucket.

P.S., from Cockburn's "Farewell to C.H.:"
I met him in New York in the early 1980s and all the long-term political and indeed personal  traits were visible enough. I never thought of him as at all radical. He craved to be an insider, a trait which achieved ripest expression when he elected to be sworn in as a U.S. citizen by Bush’s director of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff. 

That seems reasonable. Hitchens was a talented, energetic, clubbable fellow who wanted to be an insider and got what he wanted. So, he's worth studying to understand what is Inside these days.

My old articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

December 15, 2011

Good news that nobody knows

The black teenage birthrate has fallen sharply since the annus horribilis of 1991. Back at the peak of the Crack Era, 86 of every 1000 black girls from 15 to 17 gave birth, versus only 32 in 2009:

It's important, however, to note that the 1991 number represented a spike in teen fertility among blacks, up over the 1980s and well above the late 1990s. Nobody seems to know why that happened. One guess is that black girls in 1991 found crack dealers sexy, but changed their minds rather quickly. Another is that the FDA's approval of the Depo-Provera shot in 1992 was the turning point. The welfare cutbacks of the mid-1990s certainly played a role. 

Among 18-19 year olds, the fall hasn't been quite as steep:
The subprime bubble of the middle of the last decade appears to have inflated Hispanic teen fertility -- thus the sharp drop among Hispanics from 2007 to 2009.

Nobody these days seems to know anything about fertility trends, although it's hard to think of anything more important.

Was DSK set up by Sarkozy?

The Dominique Strauss-Kahn brouhaha of earlier this year, in which the most likely opponent of Sarkozy in next year's French presidential elections was thrown in jail on a charge of rape that was later tossed out, remains unexplained. 

In the New York Review of Books, veteran investigative journalist Edward Jay Epstein tries to connect the dots back to Sarkozy:
According to several sources who are close to DSK, he had received a text message that morning from Paris from a woman friend temporarily working as a researcher at the Paris offices of the UMP, Sarkozy’s center-right political party. She warned DSK, who was then pulling ahead of Sarkozy in the polls, that at least one private e-mail he had recently sent from his BlackBerry to his wife, Anne Sinclair, had been read at the UMP offices in Paris.1 It is unclear how the UMP offices might have received this e-mail, but if it had come from his IMF BlackBerry, he had reason to suspect he might be under electronic surveillance in New York. He had already been warned by a friend in the French diplomatic corps that an effort would be made to embarrass him with a scandal. The warning that his BlackBerry might have been hacked was therefore all the more alarming.

As I pointed out last Spring, surely the Sofitel management must have contacted management in Paris in the hour between the maid (or whatever she was) talking to management and the time the hotel called the NYPD. Epstein has the same suspicion, although he can't quite prove it:
Shortly thereafter the hotel’s own security team was augmented by John Sheehan, a security expert who is identified on LinkedIn as “director of safety and security” at Accor, a part of the French-based Accor Group, which owns the Sofitel. Sheehan, who was at home in Washingtonville, New York, that morning, received a call from the Sofitel at 1:03 PM. He then rushed to the hotel. While en route, according to his cell phone records, he called a number with a 646 prefix in the United States. But from these records neither the name nor the location of the person he called can be determined. When I called the number a man with a heavy French accent answered and asked whom I wanted to speak with at Accor. 
The man I asked to talk to—and to whom I was not put through—was RenĂ©-Georges Querry, Sheehan’s ultimate superior at Accor and a well-connected former chief of the French anti-gang brigades, who was now head of security for the Accor Group. Before joining Accor Group in 2003, he had worked closely in the police with Ange Mancini, who is now coordinator for intelligence for President Sarkozy. Querry, at the time that Sheehan was making his call to the 646 number, was arriving at a soccer match in Paris where he would be seated in the box of President Sarkozy. Querry denies receiving any information about the unfolding drama at the Sofitel until after DSK was taken into custody about four hours later. ... 

Interesting, but when you go high enough up the pyramid, everybody knows everybody else, so that's not convincing.
At 1:28, Sheehan, still on the way to the hotel, sent a text message to Yearwood [the hotel engineer]. And then another text message to an unidentified recipient at 1:30. At 1:31—one hour after Diallo had first told a supervisor that she had been assaulted by the client in the presidential suite—Adrian Branch placed a 911 call to the police. Less than two minutes later, the footage from the two surveillance cameras shows Yearwood and an unidentified man walking from the security office to an adjacent area. This is the same unidentified man who had accompanied Diallo to the security office at 12:52 PM. There, the two men high-five each other, clap their hands, and do what looks like an extraordinary dance of celebration that lasts for three minutes.*

Three minutes?

The NYRoB footnote reads:
Editors’ note: The article entitled “What Really Happened to Strauss-Kahn,” by Edward Jay Epstein, which appeared in our December 22, 2011, issue, contained a description of what “looked like” a “dance of celebration” by two employees of the Hotel Sofitel in New York City at approximately 1:35 PM on the day that Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested in connection with an alleged sexual assault. Security camera recordings have established that the episode, as described, lasted approximately thirteen seconds, not the three minutes mentioned in the article. 

Well, 13 seconds sounds more plausible. But I can imagine how Epstein must have felt watching the Sofitel security camera tapes when suddenly these two Sofitel guys start high-fiving right after the cops are called. It must have seemed like 180 seconds to him.

He then implies that maybe the whole thing was coordinated by somebody in the room down the hall from DSK, which the complainant visited right before and after her encounter with the energetic DSK. And DSK's missing Blackberry has never turned up. Its GPS tracking device was turned off during this sequence of events.

So, no smoking gun, but it's pretty interesting. I imagine Julian Assange and Elliott Spitzer are reading this with some interest, too.

Municipal coup

I've long been interested in the topic of municipal coups, in which somebody overthrows a corrupt and incompetent local government and then afterwards, everybody acts as if nothing out-of-the-ordinary happened. For example, the feds setting up Mayor Marion Barry of Washington D.C. in 1990. After WWII, returning veterans organized to rid more than a few hometowns of corrupt mayors and police, much like Frodo and friends do in the Scouring of the Shire conclusion to Lord of the Rings. San Francisco and New Orleans had major coups in the 19th Century.  

The NYT Magazine has an article on an expensive new golf course, hotel, and housing development, Harbor Shores, that has opened in the micro-Detroit of Benton Harbor, a black slum city on Lake Michigan a couple of hours from the South Side of Chicago. As Rachel Maddow often complains, the state of Michigan suspended democracy in Benton Harbor and turned all responsibility over to an appointed city autocrat. The Whirlpool Company, which maintains its headquarters in Benton Harbor, has promoted the Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course (greens fee for non-residents on summer weekends: $150), which will host the 2012 Senior PGA Championship, and the gentrifying Arts District. The writer interviews a quasi-homeless former city councilman who thinks, with some reason, that what's going on is a municipal coup.

This development is another high-low team-up:

Given Benton Harbor’s unfavorable history and demographics, no private developer would likely be willing to take on such an ambitious project there. But there was another way: Robinson’s group, along with other nonprofits supported by Whirlpool, could secure enough federal and state grant money to help remediate the land, build the golf course and at least get Harbor Shores off the ground. The project’s complicated financing deal closed in May 2008, right around the time that the national real-estate market crashed. 
On the Thursday morning that we played Harbor Shores, the course looked virtually empty. 

The West Coast of Michigan is a great place for golf because the steady winds blow cool air across Lake Michigan, making it vastly more pleasant in summer than Chicago's suburbs, and that has piled up big sand dunes along the shore. There's nothing golfers love more than playing through sand dunes with a view of big water. 

Until the last couple of decades, this coastline has been underserved with quality golf courses. Alister Mackensie designed the fantastic Crystal Downs course in Frankfort, MI in the 1920s, but almost nothing else was built on the forested dunes until the last 15 years. Back in 1990, I bought a a couple of dozen topographic maps of the southwest Michigan coastline and drove up and down looking for a piece of undeveloped shoreline that I could put a team of investors together to buy and turn into a great course. But, just about every bit of cliff along Lake Michigan had cabins on it, so I left it to more enterprising people to do the heavy lifting of buying out existing homeowners. About a half dozen spectacular courses such as Arcadia Bluffs have gone up along this coastline since then at vast expense.  

My question about this new development in Benton Harbor would be, however: are all the responsible grown-ups crazy? Has anybody made a nickel off of a new golf course development in the last ten years (outside of China?). Back in 2005 a California real estate developer I know told he he'd never invest in a golf course-centric housing development again, and I can't see much that would have made him change his mind since then. 

The sad secret of golf is that it's a youngish man's game, not the game for retirees that everybody thinks. It peaked economically in the 1980s and 1990s when Baby Boomers were between, say, 25 and 50. There was a huge overbuilding of outstanding new golf courses that came online about a decade ago, and times have been tough for golf course owners ever since. 

Moreover, how does a resort provide work for the black underclass? The article says:
This is the competing narrative of what’s going on in Benton Harbor: It’s being converted into a resort town for wealthy weekenders and Whirlpool employees — that, when all is said and done, its struggling black population will either be driven out by the development or reduced to low-wage jobs cleaning hotel rooms, carrying golf bags or cutting grass.

As I pointed out in 2003, practically no black guys have taken up caddying since the Civil Rights era. Only Hal Sutton of all tour golfers still had a black caddie. The usual caddie on tour might be a former college golf teammate of the pro who dropped out of law school. Similarly,

Poor urban African-Americans hate servile work, so is the resort, assuming it ever gets any guests, going to have to bring in immigrants to be maids?

And who are the target customers? Judging by the models in the ads, they're aiming for a half black clientele. I think that would be interesting -- is there a large enough black middle class in Chicago to support a heavily black resort? The number of black men who play golf in Chicago is by no means small, and they tend to be big spenders when they play, but I've never heard of them flocking to one single upscale course. Usually, huge cities have one municipal course that is, by common agreement, the black course where blacks are socially dominant: Chester Washington in LA., Joe Louis in Chicago, etc. In the Northeast, there are a number of summer home communities, such as The Oaks on Martha's Vineyard, that have been upper middle class black for generations, but I'm not familiar with new golf or beach destinations for upscale blacks forming in recent decades.  

Crops rotting in fields due to undocumented worker shortages

As all know from reading the newspapers, food in America would cost more per ounce than gold if we weren't lucky enough to have a constant stream of undocumented workers to do all the work. Without a vast influx of newcomers each year, our poor farmers would be ruined, ruined I tell you. It's economically, and perhaps biologically, impossible to grow food in America without an endless supply of semi-literate but highly fertile foreigners. 

As we also all know, the influx of undocumented workers is down in 2011 from the good old days, what with all the racist bigots refusing to pass amnesties and whatnot. It's probably that awful Sheriff Joe Arpaio's fault that famine stalks the land. Thank God Obama is going to get him before we all starve.

Therefore, mathematical logic proves that crops must be rotting in the fields and America's impoverished farmers must be packing up their Model T's and fleeing.

Except, as commenters have pointed out here, the farming business is enjoying a most lucrative 2011:
A new report shows it's been a good year to be a farmer in the USA. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says farm profits are expected to spike by 28 percent this year to $100.9 billion. Most farmers say they're using the extra cash to pay off debt and put some money aside. But, they're also investing in new tractors, combines and land.

You might almost think that the big agricultural interests have been, with the collusion of the press and the politicians, trying to mislead the public about just how essential a huge flow of uneducated peons is to America avoiding famine.

December 14, 2011

RIP: Soviet rocket scientist, 99

Here's the NYT obituary for 99-year-old Boris Chertok, who was deputy to the great Korolev during the 1950s and 1960s.

When you think about contemporary engineering fiascos like high-speed rail in California, it's hard not to be stunned by how fast America got to the moon. But, then, think about how a bunch of almost unknown guys in the otherwise pervasively cruddy Soviet Union beat America in the the first two laps of the Space Race (first satellite and first man in space). Jerry Pournelle spent a long time staring at spy photos during this era, counting things like mule-drawn wagons, and eventually concluded that the Soviet Union was "Bulgaria with nuclear missiles." And while the Soviets got a copy of the German V-2 blueprints, the Americans got most of the best German rocket designers like von Braun, who had the good sense to surrender to the Americans.

Chertok's boss Sergei Korolev was a giant of the 20th Century who remains almost unknown in the U.S. The Soviets kept his identity secret until after his sudden death during an operation in early 1966. In The Right Stuff, the Project Mercury team doesn't even know his name, just that he's got them spooked. He's like a comic book supervillain to them. Heck, most of the Russians working on rockets didn't know his name. They called him "Chief Designer."

Korolev's life was absurd: he spent 1938-1944 in prison, apparently having been denounced by a rival in the rocket business. Moscow sent him to the notorious Kolyma gold mines in Siberia. After awhile, they figured out that they really didn't want to beat or work their best rocket engineer to death in Siberia and brought him back and locked him up in a First Circle-type camp for scientists. His health was never good after Kolyma. He pretty much worked himself to death in the 1960s, figuring that if the Soviets ever fell behind the Americans, Khrushchev would cancel the program. If he'd lived, would the Soviets have gotten to the moon first? Probably not -- his giant N1 moon rocket turned out to keep blowing up catastrophically -- but he'd pulled a lot of rabbits out of his hat before, and maybe he would have again.

And there were other Soviet rocket designers competing with Korolev who did big things, too, like Mikhail Yangel, whose rockets are still being used. The Soviets weren't all that into central planning for something as important as the Space Race.

Tom Wolfe concluded that the Space Race was a form of ritual single combat, like David and Goliath. In an age of nuclear weapons, that is a very good way to find out who is stronger.

And the Soviet space engineers were more David than Goliath.

The decline in generational style changes

A reader writes:
One thing I noticed when I was looking through my mom's 1973 high school yearbook was how similarly everybody was dressed.  Compare that to my (late '90s/early 2000s) high school experience, where there were different subgroups who dressed differently from one another. 
If you ever watch either of the MTV series 16 and Pregnant or Teen Mom, you'll notice how many of the dads dress similarly to one another: solid-color oversized baseball caps, usually turned to one side, and baggy clothes.  That's basically the style of lower-class white teenagers (you see those clothes all over the men's section at Wal-Mart.)  On the other hand, my cousin, a conservative 17-year-old from an upper-middle-class family, would never be caught dead dressed like that.
In other words, what's changed is that in the past, people had a common culture, and teenagers dressed to distinguish themselves from 40-year-olds.  Now teenagers dress to distinguish themselves from other teenagers.

Great Moments in Invade the World

I've long felt that Americans aren't really cut out for world domination. We tend to be a cheerful, positive-minded, naive, and insular people, while the imperial mission demands vast reserves of worldliness and cynicism. 

The Derb points me toward this Washington Examiner article by Sara A. Carter, "Afghan Sex Practices Concern U.S., British Forces" and related blog commentary on the popularity of homosexual pedophilia among those Pathan soldiers and interpreters who claim to be our allies. (Although the British officers who are old public school boys might be less baffled than they are admitting to their American counterparts.) In from the Cold comments:
And, the impact of those experiences is already being felt in portions of Afghanistan, putting American forces squarely in the middle of complex moral, social and sexual issues. A source at Army Special Operations command tells In From the Cold that Afghan women, emboldened by the presence of U.S. troops. have complained about beatings they've suffered at the hands of their husbands. The domestic violence reportedly stemmed from the inability of the women to become pregnant and produce sons, highly valued in Afghan society. 
When U.S. civil affairs teams (and other special forces units) quietly investigated the problem, they quickly discovered a common denominator. Virtually all of the younger men who beat their wives (over their inability to become pregnant) had been former "apprentices" of older Afghan men, who used them for their sexual pleasure. Upon entering marriage, whatever the men knew of sex had been learned during their "apprenticeship," at the hands of the older man. To put it bluntly, some of the younger Afghans were unfamiliar with the desired (and required) mechanics for conception. 
To remedy this situation, the Army called in its psychological operations teams, which developed information campaigns in Pashtun areas, explaining the basics of heterosexual relations and their benefits, in terms of producing male offspring. It may be the only time in the history of warfare that an army has been required to explain sex to the native population, to curb the abuse of women and young boys--and retain U.S. influence in key geographic areas. 
Army psy op specialists declined to discuss their efforts in great detail. But one of the "preferred sex" campaigns was (reportedly) a direct result of the 2009 survey, and the problems encountered by NATO troops working with their Afghan counterparts.

I'm not sure I totally believe this (although the "dancing boys" stuff is definitely true -- the Taliban are more averse to it as being un-Islamic, which is one reason they got popular in the 1990s when two major pre-Taliban warlords started a civil war over a youth), but this example of Your Tax Dollars at Work is too good to pass up.