February 25, 2011

Mitch Daniels in 2012?

Mitch Daniels, the two-term Republican governor of Indiana is, as far as I can recall, the only potential President I've had dinner with a couple of times. (Note to future opposition researchers: I wasn't me back then, so don't bother.)

Nice guy. Didn't instantly come across as Presidential Timber. David Brooks writes in "Run, Mitch, Run:"
In manner, Daniels is not classically presidential. Some say he is short (though others do not regard 5 feet 7 inches as freakishly diminutive). He does not dominate every room he enters. But he is not without political skills, in an offbeat sort of way. If you have some time, Google “Mitch TV” and you can watch a few episodes of the reality show his campaign produced during his gubernatorial races. 

Seemed like a bright corporate executive type, which I guess he was at the time. Andrew Ferguson writes: "He favors pressed sport shirts and sharply creased Dockers, public-golf-course casual," and that seems about how I recall him: like the kind of marketing research executive I used to play golf with. An impressive guy, but it's interesting to hat met somebody before they become a really big deal.

Interesting facts about Mitch Daniels: 

- He's had two marriages and one wife. He and his wife, by whom he has four daughters, divorced in 1993 and remarried in 1997. In 1930s, remarriages were the favorite happy endings to screwball comedies, but they usually strike me as evidence of interesting internal passions not wholly consistent with his image of chipper blandness.

- He's Hillbilly/Arab-American. His mother was born Daisy Wilkes, while his paternal grandparents were born in Syria.

- Drugs form a continuing theme in his life. His father was a pharmaceutical salesman, he was arrested at Princeton in 1971 for LSD, and then he was, between government gigs, an Eli Lilly executive. When I mentioned to my wife that he was being mentioned as a Presidential candidate, she recalled how interested he'd been in her tale of one of her relatives' medical problem and how enthusiastically he had recommended a Lilly drug then in trial. (It turned out to be a bust, with some nasty side effects, but she appreciated his concern.)

February 24, 2011

Chris Christie in 2012?

On paper, NJ governor Chris Christie sounds like a pretty good nominee for the Republicans in 2012. The GOP these days is rooted in the South, so a northeasterner gives a good balance. 

But, how fat does the guy look? I've never met him and I don't watch much television, but is he just too fat to go up against a half-Luo skinny incumbent President?

Hoist by their own petard in Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, Republican Governor Scott Walker's plan to take away the collective bargaining power of the teacher's union follows years of attacks by white liberals on teachers and teachers unions for failing to Close the Gap.

Consider the beginning of the media-celebrated documentary, "Waiting for 'Superman.'" Davis Guggenheim, white liberal dad, winner of an Oscar for the Al Gore documentary, drives past three public schools in Venice every morning to get to a private school in Santa Monica. He muses on the narration that he felt he was “betraying the ideals I thought I lived by.”

Why, then, doesn't he send them to public school? Well, the obvious reason is because public schools in Venice are full of Hispanics and blacks (one of them is 95 percent Non-Asian Minority), and, privately, Guggenheim doesn't think his kids will get as good an education in a classroom that has to cater to NAM needs. But, no way no how is he ever going to say that in public. He'd never get another Oscar.

So, Guggenheim makes a well-publicized documentary to blame his private decision on what's best for his kids on the horrible, evil teachers unions who prevent America from Closing the Gap. See, if only the teachers unions weren't screwing up black and Hispanic students so bad, Davis Guggenheim and his wife, movie star Elizabeth Shue, would be happy to put their kids in a 95 percent NAM school! But until America decides to Fix the Schools and Close the Gap by firing bad teachers, they'll just have to continue to drive past all those public schools to their private school.

Can you blame Republican politicians for taking advantage of liberal logic? 

February 23, 2011


From my review in Taki's Magazine of Unknown with Liam Neeson:
Orson Welles once explained that he was, inevitably, what the Comédie-Française classified as a King Actor. “They weren’t necessarily the best actors; they were the actors who played the king.” Welles had to be cast as the highest authority character “or I discombobulate the scenes,” because the audience couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t in charge. Thus, the great man’s last role was as Unicron, the planet-sized chief bad guy in the 1986 cartoon Transformers: The Movie. “You know what I did this morning? I played the voice of a toy,” Welles mused to his biographer shortly before his death.

Similarly, in the 2007 blockbuster Transformers, Michael Bay directed his animators to model the good robots’ wise leader Optimus Prime’s body language on today’s most imposing patriarchal presence, Liam Neeson.

But the 6’4” actor’s apotheosis was the surprise 2009 hit Taken, in which Neeson plays an ex-CIA man whose daughter is kidnapped in Paris by Albanian sex slavers. Taken wasn’t a great movie, but it made a great trailer built around the Dangerous Dad’s speech to the head pimp promising, “I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.” 

Read the whole thing there.

By the way, veteran actor Bruno Ganz has a fun role in Unknown as a retired secret policeman turned private detective. Here's a tribute to Bruno Ganz's YouTube ubiquity that seemed pretty funny at 4 AM when I was writing this review.

And here's a more lowkey video that seemed pretty funny at 5 AM.

Where is Tony Rezko?

With Chicago politics back in the news, I was reminded of one of the weirder political facts of this decade and the last: Tony Rezko, longtime Obama friend and fundraiser, has been held at an undisclosed location while still awaiting sentencing on charges he was convicted of way back in June 2008. A few months ago, I heard a rumor that he was being held at a federal facility in Wisconsin and that he was finally going to be sentenced on January 28, 2011. Then I didn't hear anything more about it because who in the world would be interested in such a mundane topic as the disappearance of the President's real estate adviser?

So I went and looked for news. I found that an NBC Chicago blog reported on January 28, 2011:
Rezko is serving his time at a county jail in Wisconsin.  

So, it's not a federal jail in Wisconsin, it's a county jail in Wisconsin. There are 72 counties in Wisconsin.
His lawyer said today that no matter the outcome of his ongoing efforts to obtain a new trial, Rezko remains prepared to testify against Blagojevich at his own retrial in April.

Judge St. Eve set Rezko’s sentencing for October 21.

So, just in case Rezko's sentencing actually happens eight months from now, he will by then have served 39 months in an undisclosed facility between conviction and sentencing. That seems pretty odd.

Domestication Genes

National Geographic has an article "Taming the Wild" by Evan Ratliff on the now famousunder-the-radar experiment by a renegade Soviet geneticist, who had been previously sent to the Gulag by the Lysenkoists, to breed a domesticated silver fox that would be a amiable as a dog
In fact, says Anna Kukekova, a Cornell researcher who studies the foxes, "they remind me a lot of golden retrievers, who are basically not aware that there are good people, bad people, people that they have met before, and those they haven't." These foxes treat any human as a potential companion, a behavior that is the product of arguably the most extraordinary breeding experiment ever conducted. ...

One number I've never seen in accounts of this experiment is what percentage of these domesticated silver foxes breed true. Do 99% of new kits grow up to act like Labradors or do a sizable percentage have to be shipped off to a fur farm?
Miraculously, Belyaev had compressed thousands of years of domestication into a few years. But he wasn't just looking to prove he could create friendly foxes. He had a hunch that he could use them to unlock domestication's molecular mysteries. Domesticated animals are known to share a common set of characteristics, a fact documented by Darwin in The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication. They tend to be smaller, with floppier ears and curlier tails than their untamed progenitors. Such traits tend to make animals appear appealingly juvenile to humans. Their coats are sometimes spotted—piebald, in scientific terminology—while their wild ancestors' coats are solid. These and other traits, sometimes referred to as the domestication phenotype, exist in varying degrees across a remarkably wide range of species, from dogs, pigs, and cows to some nonmammalians like chickens, and even a few fish.

Belyaev suspected that as the foxes became domesticated, they too might begin to show aspects of a domestication phenotype. He was right again: Selecting which foxes to breed based solely on how well they got along with humans seemed to alter their physical appearance along with their dispositions. After only nine generations, the researchers recorded fox kits born with floppier ears. Piebald patterns appeared on their coats. By this time the foxes were already whining and wagging their tails in response to a human presence, behaviors never seen in wild foxes. ...
The Soviet biology establishment of the mid-20th century, led under Joseph Stalin by the infamous agronomist Trofim Lysenko, outlawed research into Mendelian genetics. But Dmitry Belyaev and his older brother Nikolay, both biologists, were intrigued by the possibilities of the science. "It was his brother's influence that caused him to have this special interest in genetics," Trut says of her mentor. "But these were the times when genetics was considered fake science." When the brothers flouted the prohibition and continued to conduct Mendelian-based studies, Belyaev lost his job as director of the Department of Fur Breeding. Nikolay's fate was more tragic: He was exiled to a labor camp, where he eventually died. ...

Not all domestication researchers believe that Belyaev's silver foxes will unlock the secrets of domestication. Uppsala University's Leif Andersson, who studies the genetics of farm animals—and who lauds Belyaev and his fellow researchers' contribution to the field—believes that the relationship between tameness and the domestication phenotype may prove to be less direct than the fox study implies. "You select on one trait and you see changes in other traits," Andersson says, but "there has never been proven a causal relationship."

To understand how Andersson's view differs from that of the researchers in Novosibirsk, it's helpful to try and imagine how the two theories might have played out historically. Both would agree that the animals most likely to be domesticated were those predisposed to human contact. Some mutation, or collection of mutations, in their DNA caused them to be less afraid of humans, and thus willing to live closer to them. Perhaps they fed off human refuse or benefited from inadvertent shelter from predators. At some point humans saw some benefit in return from these animal neighbors and began helping that process along, actively selecting for the most amenable ones and breeding them. "At the beginning of the domestication process, only natural selection was at work," as Trut puts it. "Down the road, this natural selection was replaced with artificial selection."

Where Andersson differs is in what happened next. If Belyaev and Trut are correct, the self-selection and then human selection of less fearful animals carried with it other components of the domestication phenotype, such as curly tails and smaller bodies. In Andersson's view, that theory understates the role humans played in selecting those other traits. Sure, curiosity and lack of fear may have started the process, but once animals were under human control, they were also protected from wild predators. Random mutations for physical traits that might quickly have been weeded out in the wild, like white spots on a dark coat, were allowed to persist. Then they flourished, in part because, well, people liked them. "It wasn't that the animals behaved differently," as Andersson says, "it's just that they were cute." ...

These perspectives might also apply to the evolution of phenotypical racial differences. Some differences in looks might have just been unselected for side effects of traits that were selected for by the environment. Or, as Darwin suggested, sexual selection or, among children, what Judith Rich Harris calls selection for cuteness might have played major roles.

But delving into the DNA of our closest companions can deliver some tantalizing insights. In 2009 UCLA biologist Robert Wayne led a study comparing the wolf and dog genomes. The finding that made headlines was that dogs originated from gray wolves not in East Asia, as other researchers had argued, but in the Middle East. Less noticed by the press was a brief aside in which Wayne and his colleagues identified a particular short DNA sequence, located near a gene called WBSCR17, that was very different in the two species. That region of the genome, they suggested, could be a potential target for "genes that are important in the early domestication of dogs." In humans, the researchers went on to note, WBSCR17 is at least partly responsible for a rare genetic disorder called Williams-Beuren syndrome. Williams-Beuren is characterized by elfin features, a shortened nose bridge, and "exceptional gregariousness"—its sufferers are often overly friendly and trusting of strangers. ....

"They didn't select for a smarter fox but for a nice fox," says Hare. "But they ended up getting a smart fox." This research also has implications for the origins of human social behavior. "Are we domesticated in the sense of dogs? No. But I am comfortable saying that the first thing that has to happen to get a human from an apelike ancestor is a substantial increase in tolerance toward one another. There had to be a change in our social system."

I'm not sure that the friendliest dogs are the smartest dogs. If Golden Retrievers don't distinguish between humans in terms of their intentions, which keeps them from biting your kid's friends but also makes them lousy guard dogs, that doesn't seem too smart.

There is also much else in the article, such as on nature-nurture adoption experiments with silver foxes. The keepers have also been breeding an Evil Twin breed of extremely nasty foxes. What happens when Nasty Fox is raised by a Nice Fox and vice-versa?

Because that's where the money isn't

The centerpiece story on NYTimes.com is:

Bank Closings Tilt Toward Poor Areas
By Nelson D. Schwarz

Government data shows that as banks shut branches in poorer areas last year, like an Ohio Savings Bank in Cleveland, they expanded in richer neighborhoods. 

Perhaps Willie Sutton could have explained this strange phenomenon.

Reading this article reminds me that there is a sizable infrastructure of academics, activists, corporate staffers, and government officials whose jobs revolve around checking up on mortgage lending to make sure enough money is going to the right sort of people. We have a sizable apparatus of people employed to nudge mortgages in only one direction.

In contrast, far fewer people get a paycheck for complaining that, say, Apple Stores aren't opened in Compton. For example, the three Apple Stores on the Apple website listed as being in Los Angeles are at The Grove, the Beverly Center, and Century City, which aren't exactly fully representative of Los Angeles. At minimum, Apple, which has a colossal amount of cash on its balance sheet, should be required to run free buses from the corner of Florence and Normandie to the nearest Apple Store.

February 22, 2011

More on Japan

A reader writes:
I'm spending about 50% of my time in Japan these days.  I've been traveling there for years both for personal and business reasons.

In the mid-90's, I started noting the dissonance between the reality of Japan and the portrayal in the press.  By my observation, Japan is one of the most advanced societies in the world - longest life expectancy, universal literacy, unbelievably safe streets, and so forth.  Great place to live, which is why they have to be such hawks on immigration enforcement.

But to read the WSJ, the country is a basket case and due to this propaganda, most Americans tend to think the same - it is incredible the kinds of comments and questions I get from Americans along the lines of how rotten things are in Japan.

Ultimately, the reason that Japan gets such bad press here is that the Japanese don't do any of the Chicago School/Washington Consensus stuff - they are still essentially mercantilist, strictly limit immigration, are paternalistically concerned about equitable distributions of wealth, and are not about to let their country to become a turnip squeezed for blood by Wall Street.  And despite rejecting the whole package, they have some of the best outcomes in the world in terms, again, of life expectancy, economy/wealth, education, crime, and so forth.

Basically, they are such an embarrassingly successful refutation of the whole neo-liberal package that the establishment press has to either ignore or deprecate them.

It surprised me that I don't hear more along this vein.  And, again, as for Japan not being good for foreign financiers, well, Japan still remains very Confucian, very little there happens by accident, certainly not something this large.

As a final thought, since Japan opened up in the mid-1800's, other than a brief time in the 1980's, it has always been underestimated by foreigners.  Things may seem a little quiescent there now, but the next big leap forward (and that is how Japan typically progresses, incidentally) is going to be this robotics stuff.

Well, robots have been the Next Big Thing for a long time. But, who knows?

One thing to keep in mind is that Japan's overall productivity isn't that good because while they are extremely efficient at making, say, Lexuses, they also keep a lot of Japanese people employed in very low productivity jobs like elevator operator and door-to-door mop salesman. It's sort of like a welfare system for border collies. 

The Japanese have a whole lot of ways readily at hand to make their economy more efficient as the population shrinks.


For 20 years, you've always heard about how horrible Japan's economy is. In 2008 you heard over and over about how the worst thing that could happen to America is a Japanese-style Lost Decade. It always sounds like Godzilla, or maybe the B-29s, have come back. 

And yet, Japan doesn't actually seem to be a post-apocalyptic wasteland. A friend of mine who has lived in Japan since about 1980 said a couple of years ago that although he's always reading in the English-language press about how badly off Japan is, it doesn't see so bad when he steps outside. When he first arrived in Japan, the country was full of badly-dressed people and ugly buildings. Now it's full of well-dressed people and attractive buildings.

I guess I'm just obtuse. It finally dawned on me that the reason you hear about how horrible Japan is all the time is that it has been horrible for financiers since 1990. The Nikkei index is now only one-third what it was in 1990 at the end of a ridiculous real estate bubble in which the grounds of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo were theoretically worth more than all the real estate in California.

The New York Times runs a contrarian article about how you can make a lot of money investing in Japan because all investors hate Japan:
Japan’s government finances are on the verge of collapse, and its economy has floundered for two decades.  ...

“Japan is by far one of the cheapest markets in the world,“ said Charles de Vaulx of International Value Advisers, a New York-based investment firm. “It’s so universally hated, yet it might be one of the world’s best-performing markets over the next five years.” 

 Or, then, again, it might not. But the point is that all investors hate Japan.
“So many Japanese companies are well managed from an industrial standpoint,“ he said. 

Yeah, but who cares about that?
... An attraction for the bulls is the fire-sale prices. Although the benchmark Nikkei recently hit a nearly 10-month high, it is still more than two-thirds off its peak before Japan’s real estate and stock market bubble burst in 1990.

Shares in Tokyo are also about 20 percent off their levels before the financial crisis hit in 2008 — one of the few major markets that have yet to rebound. ...

Certainly Japan can still give investors reasons for doubt — like the long-term effects of the government’s high debt and aging population. There is also the paltry profitability of companies like Sony, which has averaged a 3 percent return on equity over the last five years while its Korean rival, Samsung Electronics, has surpassed 13 percent by the same measure....
More Japanese companies have also tried to counter investors’ longstanding complaints that companies here hoard too much cash, instead of investing it or returning it to shareholders. 
...Some activist investors, meanwhile, are trying to coax Japanese companies into creating more value for shareholders, rekindling an issue that ignited contentious battles between foreign investors and Japanese management in the mid-2000s.

February 21, 2011

It does pay to go to a more exclusive college, after all

One of the better known social science studies of recent years is the 2002 study by Stacy Dale and Alan B. Krueger finding that it doesn't matter what college you attend in terms of how much money you'll make after you adjust for SAT scores and high school GPA.

Actually, as Half Sigma likes to point out, that isn't what Dale and Krueger found in their study of 1976 students, that's only true when they adjusted for SAT scores and GPA and what I would call ambitiousness (by taking into account colleges applied to).  

Now Dale and Krueger are back, looking at the 2007 incomes of people who applied to a couple of dozen selective colleges in 1989:
Specifically, for the 1976 and 1989 cohorts, attending a college with a 100-point higher SAT score [on a 400 to 1600 scale] lead [sic] to students receive about 6 percent higher earnings (in 1995 and 2007 respectively) according to results from the basic model ...

On the other hand:
Indeed, the finding that the average SAT score of the highest ranked school that rejected a student is a much stronger predictor of that student’s subsequent earnings than the average SAT score of the school the student actually attended should give pause to those who interpret conventional regression-based estimates of the effect of college characteristics as causal effects of the colleges themselves. ...

So, applying to Harvard is a better predictor of future income, all else being equal, than attending Harvard. I suspect that how much money somebody makes correlates to a surprising extent with how much money they expect to make and/or think they deserve to make, which, in turn, does correlate with applying to Harvard.
About 35 percent of the students in each cohort in our sample did not attend the most selective school to which they were admitted.

Government electing a new people in Bahrain

From my new VDARE.com column:
The unprovoked killing by government forces of five Shi’ite protestors in the Persian Gulf statelet of Bahrain, headquarters for the U.S. Fifth Fleet, turns out upon examination to be deeply intertwined with Bahrain’s troubles with diversity and immigration. ...

The Shi’ites argue that the minority Sunni rulers of Bahrain have been trying, in effect, to elect a new people by importing Sunni mercenaries from poorer countries and putting them on the path to citizenship. ...

Back on June 22, 2009, Yaroslav Trofimov noted in the Wall Street Journal in U.S. Navy Fleet’s Mideast Home Is Facing Rise in Sectarian Tension:
" 'There seems to be a clear political strategy to alter the country's demographic balance in order to counter the Shiite voting power,' says Toby C. Jones, professor of Middle East studies at Rutgers University and a former Bahrain-based analyst at the International Crisis Group think tank. 'This naturalization stuff is a time bomb.'"

No kidding.

It’s funny how much more readily the American MainStream Media grasps how unfair it is for the government to elect a new people in Bahrain—while they cheer it on in the U.S.

Read the whole thing there.