April 29, 2011

Suburban Idylls

Jim Manzi in National Review and Megan McArdle in the Atlantic were struck by my nostalgic quote yesterday from Paul Krugman about his idyllic upbringing in a (pre-integration, pre-immigration, all-white) middle-class suburb.

Manzi writes:
My motivation in writing about political economy is, in some ways, much like Krugman’s. But rather than seeing that moment as primarily the product of policies like unionization, entitlements and high taxes, as is Krugman’s view, I believe that it was primarily the product of circumstance. We had just won a global war, and had limited competition; we had a huge wave of immigration, followed by a multi-decade pause; oil was incredibly cheap; a backlog of technical developments had yet to be exploited and scaled up, and so forth. We can’t go back there, at least not exactly.

Which of the above is not like the others because it's an extremely explicit public policy choice?

Right, immigration policy! Three points for Gryffindor!

McArdle writes:
Their existence, in the way that Manzi and Krugman remember, was also completely dependent on other forms of inequality: of the ability to move away from social problems, which is harder now; of generations of women whose sole destiny was the kitchen.  This produced a world in which most homes were, from the point of view of kids, basically the same: all of them contained a mom who spent most of her time cleaning the place or feeding its occupants, and the size and contents were naturally limited to the amount of stuff that Mom was personally willing to care for.  It was a great world for kids.  But not everyone was so lucky.

In some ways, that might be backwards. When I was growing up in the San Fernando Valley in the 1960s, my mother did lots of volunteer work for charities because raising me, an only child of rational and agreeable temperament, didn't take much of her time, especially after we got our first dryer (mid-1960s) and dishwasher (late 1960s). I entertained myself at the local park and library, and she didn't need to chauffeur me to a whole bunch of high-end after-school resume-fillers so that I could get into college. Instead, UCLA was always wide open to me. Plus, traffic was lighter, so I rode my bike everywhere.

If she had lived in Tiger Mother era, I suspect my mother would have enthusiastically Tiger Mothered me. But it was the era of the Pussycat Mother, so she didn't. For example, I played league baseball at the local park for seven seasons, from age 8 to 14. Neither of my parents ever attended a single one of my games, saying it would put too much pressure on me. Since I mostly struck out and dropped fly balls, that was A-OK with me. (Did I ever mention the time I got picked off first? With two outs in the bottom of the final inning with our team down by a run and the bases loaded? I didn't? Good.)

Today, both parents are supposed to arrive 45 minutes before the baseball game. Otherwise, as we all know from watching Steven Spielberg's Hook, your son's life will be ruined.

Today, to afford a house in that same neighborhood, both parents very likely will have to work. And unless they can navigate the complex application processes to get into the small number of exclusive public school programs, people who live in that neighborhood will also pay to send their kids to private school (the number of Jewish private schools, both Orthodox and Reform, in the neighborhood has skyrocketed as Jews, who were ideologically committed back then to sending their kids to public schools have since either got religion or moved to Portland). And to get into UCLA, the kids will have to be chauffeured to intensive after-school tutoring and activities. So, today, mom will have to work 40 hours per week for pay and may still have more mom-jobs to do with the kids than my bridge-playing mother had a generation ago.

A win-win!

(Also, in terms of actually helping people in need of charitable work, we've had this huge swing over the last generation from the charitable work being done by middle-class middle-aged women to their adolescent children trying to look good on college applications. Which demographic do you think was more productive at actually helping people who need help?)

What I notice among wives whose husbands make, say, $400k or higher, is that many of them will quit their professional careers to chauffeur their kids to their packed schedules, especially to manage them on the track to a top college. I've dubbed this the Winner Class.

The really giant change over the last 45 years was in my wife's dense neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago, Austin, where her father was a classical musician and union leader and her mother a teacher also raising four children. It was an urban idyll. When she was a first grader, she and her third grader sister walked a mile to school. After school, the huge number of kids in the neighborhood played together on the sidewalks until dark. Her father took the El to his job playing in the orchestra of the Chicago Lyric Opera or leading picketers against Opera management. (He played the most blue-collar of classical instruments, the tuba.) Up through 1966, it was a Matthew Yglesias dream of urbanism.

Suddenly, in 1967, things began changing. My inlaws, being dedicated liberal Democrats and union leaders, stuck it out through 1970. But when their kids got mugged on their street for the third time, they finally sold out, long after the other members of their local liberal group of homeowners had sold out, even though they had all promised each other to make this experiment in urban change work by never selling. They lost half their life savings, and didn't have indoor plumbing for their first two years on the farm they bought 63 miles from the opera house. My father-in-law, although he later was elected to three three-year terms as the leader of the Chicago Federation of Musicians union, never voted Democrat again.

Today, as in parts of Detroit, grass grows wild over the spots where many of her neighborhood's three-flats and apartment buildings once stood.

It must be the fault of Republicans!

April 28, 2011

Paradise Lost

With the recent HBO adaptation of James M. Cain's remarkable 1941 novel Mildred Pierce, with Kate Winslet in the title role as the Glendale housewife during the Depression who works her way up to owning a chain of restaurants, I thought of writing about the book. Fortunately, I didn't waste my time, because whatever I wrote couldn't have come close to Benjamin Schwarz's review in The Atlantic, "The Great Los Angeles Novel." 
Los Angeles was to utterly change Cain’s fortunes. Not that he succeeded in his new career path: after six months, Paramount dropped his contract. Months later, Columbia finally picked him up (for half his Paramount pay), but he lasted only six weeks. After barely a year in Hollywood, he was once again unemployed and broke. 
But he had taken to his new home. Though the studios had fired him, his intelligence at assessing scripts impressed his bosses—even the hideous Harry Cohn. For his part, Cain, far from lapsing into the East Coast writer’s unlovely habit of bad-mouthing the picture makers for stifling his imagination, returned the esteem. As he wrote for The American Mercury, “I have never worked any place where courtesy was more in evidence than on a movie lot, or where daily contacts were more pleasant.” He liked the camaraderie of an army of intensely skilled people working on tight production schedules at breakneck speed. Cain wanted to succeed at writing for the pictures; he had a jaundiced admiration of moviemaking, and studied it assiduously to comprehend how the studios, shot by shot, sequence by sequence, created a new type of brisk and efficient storytelling. Countless writers have blamed Hollywood for ruining them creatively. Its impact on Cain was just the opposite. After all, there’s nothing like writing for the pictures to impose the discipline of showing, not telling. And the movies taught Cain a new style that suited him—a style that prized tautness, compression, and a cool point of view. 
If Cain’s understanding of the literary value of picture making was rare for a writer, even more so was his appreciation of his new surroundings. Just as hipsters today use white pejoratively, denoting sterile, bland, non-ethnic suburbia, so sophisticates in Cain’s day enjoyed skewering Los Angeles—America’s whitest, most Protestant, most bourgeois big city—as an artificial tropic teeming with displaced rubes, an opinion Frank Lloyd Wright neatly encapsulated in his contemptuous remark, “It is as if you tipped the U.S. up, so that all the commonplace people slid down to Southern California.” So conditioned, writer after writer churned out the same derisive commentary on Los Angeles. Cain, though, saw the place with fresh eyes—and perhaps more important, heard it with fresh ears. 
After a year in Los Angeles, Cain wrote an article, “Paradise,” for The American Mercury, a piece that he always said was the best he’d ever written and that Mencken judged correctly as “the first really good article on California that has ever been done.” Cain acknowledged all of Southern California’s wacky shortcomings, its indifferent restaurants, and its un-urbane urban life, but he took in the place with a discerning appreciation. To start, he observed precisely and without prejudice its topography, flora, climate, and above all, light. Cain, a musical connoisseur, understood that the region’s high-minded WASPs had actually developed a refined musical culture (one rooted in the tradition of ambitious church-based choral music). He grasped that the lower-middle-class former midwesterners who defined the place may have engaged in flimsy occupations, but they offered Los Angeles’s relatively few indigents “genuinely humane treatment,” and they excelled at providing “things that require an effective communal effort”—roads (a subject on which Cain, thanks to his pre-writing life, was an expert), recreational facilities (he rightly marveled at the number of public tennis courts; thousands of them were built in the 1930s), and, especially, public schools, which he rated the best in the country (as a family man whose stepchildren thrived in their new home, Cain recognized certain attributes, such as “a cleanliness hardly to be matched elsewhere,” that were perhaps lost on more-footloose writers). 
The product of all this, Cain asserted, was the Southern California common man, who has “an uncommonly high level of education” and “addresses you in easy grammar, completes his sentences, shows familiarity with good manners, and in addition gives you a pleasant smile.” Cain, the former English teacher who contested points of usage with the erudite Lippmann, had an astute ear, and trumpeted the “excellent English” and superb pronunciation he found ubiquitous in the region. “The populace seem to be on familiar terms with most of the words in the language”; the natives’ most conspicuous quality, he said, was that they were “too articulate to seem plausible.” 
... In Mildred Pierce, Cain wrote the great Los Angeles novel, and although the world it evokes is all but lost, it’s a world that remains in the DNA of the place.
... Mildred Pierce stretches across the Great Depression (both the book and Haynes’s production open in 1931, the eve of its bleakest year); and whereas Cain had kept those previous novels spare, here with cumulative detail he created a panorama of petit bourgeois Los Angeles. Cain set his novel in unglamorous Glendale, perhaps the quintessential L.A. community (which McWilliams nicely defined in 1946 as “lily-white and white-collar, made up of middle-class and lower-middle-class elements”). His ruthlessly unsentimental tale of the Depression’s impact on Mildred and of her efforts to build a restaurant business made vivid the twin pillars of Los Angeles life, the self-owned free-standing house (L.A. had more of them than any other American city) and the small entrepreneur. The progress of Mildred’s married life is tied inextricably to the home-owning instinct, the defining force behind L.A.’s development and character. Both the novel and HBO’s production lavishly detail the cynosures of the L.A. house, the kitchen and the bathroom, which were “built with the best of skill, and polished with the utmost care,” as Cain pointed out in “Paradise,” largely because cleanliness, functionality, and convenience were prized by L.A.’s unusually servant-less middle class (the most Anglo-Saxon major city, Los Angeles had a relatively tiny population of immigrants to draw on for domestic work).
Moreover, in Mildred Pierce, Cain wrote the greatest work of American fiction about small business. He made compelling the intricacies of real-estate deals and cash flow, of business planning and bank loans, and of relations with suppliers and customers. ... He rendered the plodding method and the fundamental gamble of small-time commerce—the foundation of Los Angeles’s service-oriented economy—not just absorbing but romantic. 
In Mildred, Cain created a great character who was, as he wrote in the novel, “a credit to the curious world that had produced her, Southern California.” He later told his biographer, Roy Hoopes, “I never could make up my mind if she had any brains”—but that’s the point: here was a protagonist defined not by intelligence or attractiveness but by character and temperament. Her most appealing feature is her squint, a feature that “was anything but alluring, that betrayed a rather appalling literal-mindedness,” yet convinced her admirers that there was “something to her.”

Aspie Economists

Here's a long article by Benjamin Wallace-Wells on Paul Krugman's personality, such as it is. Economists have been called "worldly philosophers," but a lot of them come across as being awfully out of touch. For example, this article uses Krugman's long relationship with Larry Summers to help explain Krugman. By contrast to Krugman, when it comes to being a people person, Summers is practically Oprah. Yet, Summers was a notorious failure in the fairly easy job of being president of Harvard. 

Wallace-Wells does do a good job of zeroing in on Krugman's best piece of writing:
Back in 2006, when he was writing The Conscience of a Liberal, Krugman found himself searching for a way to describe his own political Eden, his vision of America before the Fall. He knew the moment that he wanted to describe: the fifties and early sixties, when prosperity was not only broad but broadly shared. Wells, looking over a draft, thought his account was too numerical, too cold. She suggested that he describe his own childhood, in the ­middle-class suburb of Merrick, Long Island. And so Krugman began writing with an almost choking nostalgia, the sort of feeling that he usually despises: “The political and economic environment of my youth stands revealed as a paradise lost, an exceptional moment in our nation’s history …” 
Krugman remembers Merrick in these terms, as a place that provoked in him “amazingly little alienation.” “All the mothers waiting to pick up the fathers at the train station in the evening,” he says, remembering. “You were in an area where there were a lot of quiet streets, and it was possible to take bike rides all over Long Island. We used to ride up to Sagamore Hill, the old Teddy Roosevelt estate.” The Krugmans lived in a less lush part of Merrick, full of small ranch ­houses each containing the promise of social ascent. “I remember there was often a typical conversational thing about how well the plumbers—basically the unionized blue-collar occupations—were doing, as opposed to white-collar middle managers like my father.”

This starting point, which is awfully similar to where I'm coming from (see my post above about Mildred Pierce's L.A., in which Benjamin Schwarz eloquently describes our shared appreciation of the Paradise for the Common Man), potentially opened up for Krugman the opportunity to develop a more wide ranging critique of What Went Wrong. Was it merely tax cuts? At times, he's dipped his toe in the heretical possibility that, say, massive immigration wasn't wholly an unmixed blessing to somebody with his vision of the Good Society, only to quickly run back up on the beach.

Now, obviously, even Paul Krugman is under a lot of career pressures to Not Talk About Unpleasant Topics. But, Wallace-Wells could have pointed out the important effects of Mrs. Krugman, a blue-eyed, long-haired woman who strongly self-identifies as black, has had on keeping Mr. Krugman on the politically correct straight and narrow, and pushing him toward his present view that racism is the root of all Republican evil. There was a period in the 1990s, when Krugman appeared to be developing in an interesting direction intellectually (here's his excellent attack on Stephen Jay Gould). But the advent of Mrs. K. seems to have coincided with putting the kibosh on his tendencies toward crimethink.

April 27, 2011

Could Lolo Soetoro have been President Barry Soetoro's dad?

No, I'm not suggesting a new paternity theory to go along with all the wacky ones we already have. Instead, I'm suggesting a thought experiment to assess the impact that being able to self-identify as black has had on our President's career.

My contention has been: "Obama is President for the same dumb reason as the last guy was President: because of who his daddy was."

This is not a respectable view on either side of the aisle. It's not even a respectable view in the more fever swampish realms of anti-Obama theories. As I pointed out in 2008, the common denominator of everything from Obamamania to birtherism is "a widespread desire among whites of all political stripes to not think about race anymore, and to imagine that Obama doesn’t either." We're all past such crude, outdated ideas as race, right? Ancestry and family ties don't mean anything to anybody anymore.

Except that we're not, which is why Obama is President, and why Obama was even considered Presidential timber.

Yet, how can we test my theory that the common denominator of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama being considered Presidential timber is who their fathers were?

Fortunately, it's easy to perform a thought experiment on the previous President. If George W. Bush had been born George W. Rush, would he have become President? You can even assume the hypothetical Rushes were as materially prosperous as the real Bushes. The only difference in our thought experiment is that George W. Rush's father wasn't President Rush and his grandfather wasn't Senator Rush.

So, would George W. Rush have become President of the United States? Would he have been considered Presidential timber?

Of course not. He might have become, say, national sales manager of some corporation. But that's about it.

Note that this is not a question of whether George W. Rush would have beaten Al Gore and John F. Kerry. Maybe, knowing the deficiencies of those candidates, George W. Rush might have. Instead, this is a question of whether George W. Rush would have, out of 300 million people, ever been imagined to be President by anybody outside his own brain? I think most would agree the answer is: no. (George W. Bush would have lost a Presidential election if the only voters were his parents and his only opponent his brother Jeb.)

What about Obama? Would he have ever been considered for the Presidency if his father hadn't been black?

The current President would seem to have a much more unique background that would make it difficult to plug him into this kind of thought experiment. Yet, Ann Dunham's propensity for marrying U. of Hawaii students from politically well-connected families with a history of anti-colonial activism in their tropical homelands, who then return to their Third World countries and get jobs with American oil companies makes our conceptual task surprisingly easier.

Would our current President have become President in an alternative universe in which he was not Barack Obama, the son of Ann Dunham's Kenyan first husband, but (permanently) Barry Soetoro, the son of her Indonesian second husband? 

After all, Lolo spent more time and money on little Barry than Barack Sr. ever did. Barack Sr.'s contribution was limited to a few letters, one visit, a basketball, his genes, and as a role model of a black political leader in Ann's (highly fictionalized) lectures to her son about her romantic first husband's ambitions for his people (in sharp contrast to her increasingly unsatisfactory second husband's ambitions to provide for her and little Barry).

The question of "What If Obama Were Half-Asian" would sound less crazy to Obama than it does to most Americans since Obama has a half-Asian half-sister, Maya Soetoro.

Assume, for the purposes of this thought experiment, that the conventional wisdom that race doesn't exist is right, and that Barry Soetoro would have turned out exactly the same in all ways being Lolo's genetic son as Barack Obama Jr. did being Bararck Sr.'s genetic son, except that he wouldn't have had any justification to self-identify as black, which is, as we all know, purely a cultural construct.

Alternatively, assume that Lolo and Ann had never mentioned to Barry that Lolo wasn't his genetic father and, because race doesn't exist, therefore nobody else noticed either.

Minus the racial angle, that's roughly the story of Gerald Ford's upbringing -- he only spent 15 minutes in his life talking to his biological father. Likewise, nobody is all that sure who Bill Clinton's biological father really was.

If Ford and Clinton had self-identified with different fathers, would that have permanently banished them from ever being even considered as Presidential timber? Maybe, but maybe not. In their quite different ways -- Ford was an All-American athlete, a male model before he went bald, and a Yale Law School grad, while Clinton was a political ball of fire and a Yale Law School grad -- they were early on recognized as guys with a lot of political potential. Their unusual yet mundane family backgrounds didn't seem to play a huge role in their careers, one way or another.

So, is Obama more like George W. Bush or like Ford and Clinton? Assume everything else about his upbringing through age 18 was the same, except that instead of Barack Obama then going through life as a Potential First Black President, Barry Soetoro then went through life as, theoretically, a Potential First Half-Asian President. 

How far would an equally talented, equally ambitious half-Asian half-white Barry Soetoro have gotten in American life?

Being half-black, Barack Obama was the one we were waiting for.

But, as far as I can tell, not many Americans are particularly waiting around for the First Half-Asian Whatever. Would Barry Soetoro have gotten a six-figure advance to write the autobiography of the first half-Asian editor of the Harvard Law Review? Would Barry Soetoro have been elected editor of the Harvard Law Review? Would Barry Soetoro even have been been admitted to Harvard Law? (Barack Obama said, while he was at Harvard, that he had been the beneficiary of affirmative action, so it's certainly legitimate to wonder.) Would the U. of Chicago Law School have offered Barry Soetoro tenure despite publishing no legal articles?

Would Barry Soetoro have even been able to get Barack Obama's community organizer job?

No. Byron York reported:
So [Jerry] Kellman set out to find a black organizer. He ran an ad in some trade publications, and Obama responded. But at first Kellman wasn’t sure Obama was right for the job. “My wife was Japanese-American,” Kellman recalled. “I showed her the résumé, with the background in Hawaii. The name’s Obama, so I asked, ‘Could this be Japanese?’ She said, ‘Sure, it could be.’” It was only when Kellman talked to Obama on the phone, and Obama “expressed interest in something African-American culturally,” that a relieved Kellman offered Obama the job.

Overall, how far would Barry Soetoro have gotten?

Head of the admissions office at Occidental? Chief newsletter editor at Business International? Head of the New York chapter of Ralph Nader's Public Interest Research Group? State Senator from Evanston, IL? Magna cum laude graduate of the U. of Hawaii law school?

Everything I know about the man suggests that, all else being equal, if he weren't able to self-identify as black, he would have carved out for himself a comfortable, respectable, and worthy life and made a positive social contribution. He would certainly have ranked among the top several million people in America.

But, President Barry Soetoro?


Caplan, Kardashian, Lohan, and a '98 Accord.

Bryan Caplan, author of Selfish Reasons to Have More Children, responds to the joke in my review about how I hope that people who like his book have more children and people who prefer watching the Kardashians on reality TV have fewer by asking: "What did stupid people ever do to you?"

Professor Caplan's previous book was entitled The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies, so I think he may have already answered his own question.

Meanwhile celebrity news website What Would Tyler Durden Do was so impressed by Dr. Caplan's presentation of twin and adoption evidence on the crucial question of nature versus nurture, that Brendon applies those genetic insights to what we can learn from Lindsay Lohan's life. (Scroll down to final paragraph.)
It’s kind of sad. Maybe [Lindsay Lohan] could have been more than she is, but she was born to two white trash retards and this is what you get. This is why we need to take away kids' bike helmets and hand them lit fireworks taped to a dodge ball. That stuff used to kill or at least maim all the clumsy, slow witted dumb asses. The rope swing was their natural predator. Now they grow up and have 8 f'n kids all exactly like Lindsay.

In another post on WWTDD, Brendon points out:
Eddie Cibrian and LeAnn Rimes got married Friday night, and while they’re no doubt out somewhere celebrating that fact today, Cibrians ex wife Brandi Glanville unpacked at her new (smaller) house ... 
Nonetheless, she’s still the winner in all this because she’s way way hotter than Rimes. Cibrian is an idiot. It’s like he just traded in a 2011 Maybach for the passenger seat from a 98 Accord, and the seat smells like urine and periodically fires a spring into the back of your balls.

I'm sorry, Brendon, that your test ride didn't turn out wholly satisfactory, but I specified in my Craigslist ad, and I quote: "98 Accord, may have certain aesthetic and mechanical issues." So, don't say I didn't warn you. Look, do you want the Accord or not? I'll knock $250 off the asking price, but that's it. Your whining about it on WWTDD won't make me go any lower. 

April 26, 2011

"Atlas Shrugged: Part I"

From my movie review in Taki's Magazine:
Atlas Shrugged: Part I is the most universally despised movie of 2011, but I liked it. Critics hate this adaptation of Ayn Rand’s 1957 cult novel for predictable ideological reasons, while Randites are embarrassed that their exalted capitalist system failed to pony up the munificent financing necessary to give Rand’s doorstop novel the blockbuster treatment they feel it deserves. ... 
To my surprise, I quite enjoyed Atlas Shrugged. Although the story is a hymn to the overdog, this low-budget movie has underdog appeal. I soon started to root for the plucky filmmakers to pull off their high-wire act of making a movie that’s distinctive—not distinguished, but still very 1957 in texture—without having anywhere near enough of the dollars that Rand idolized.

Read the whole thing there.

Pew Hispanic Center: Latino Electoral Tidal Wave MIA Yet Again

From the Washington Post:
Latino and Asian voters mostly sat out 2010 election, report says
By Shankar Vedantam, Tuesday, April 26, 6:07 PM 
A record 14.7 million Latino voters sat out the 2010 midterm elections, according to a report by the Pew Hispanic Center that shows the nation’s fastest-growing minorities are largely failing to exercise their right to vote. 
Along with Asian voters, who appear similarly disengaged, the absence of so many Latino voters at the polls means the political influence of these minority groups will fall short of their demographic strength by years, if not decades. 
About 31 percent of eligible Latino and Asian voters cast ballots in the 2010 congressional elections, compared with 49 percent of eligible white voters and 44 percent of eligible blacks, according to the Pew report. ... 

So, way back in 1986, 39% of Hispanics eligible to vote bothered to show up and vote. By 2010, voting was down to 31%, and only 25% looking at the marginal change from 2006 to 2010: a crazy four million more additional eligible voters (thanks George W. Bush!), but only one million more actual voters.
The snapshot of minority voting comes on the heels of a poll showing that support for President Obama among Latinos is down by more than 25 percentage points compared with the start of his administration — cause for serious concern among Democrats. 
Obama needs Latinos to show up in force for him in 2012, as they did in 2008, political analysts say. But the administration has disappointed many Latinos by failing to win immigration reforms while increasing deportations among the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.

Because that's the only thing Latino voters care about: immigration. That's why the Arizona immigration law led to that widely predicted landslide of angry Hispanic voters in 2010 punishing the GOP for SB1070. I read dozens of interviews in 2010 with Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Earmuffs) saying that was going to happen, so it must have happened right?
Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.) ... blamed Obama’s immigration stance for lackluster turnout among Latinos. ...
Several Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (Calif.) were reelected last year with strong Latino support, but on the whole, GOP candidates fared better than expected among Latino voters. That was especially true of Latino GOP candidates. 
“During the November 2010 midterm elections, the Republican Party had historic levels of Hispanic support,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. “In fact, exit polls showed that 38 percent of Hispanic voters cast ballots for House Republican candidates. This is more than in 2008 and 2006. . . . All five Hispanics elected to Congress in 2010 were Republicans.” 
Smith said that calls for strong border protection and enforcement had played well in Florida, Mexico and Nevada, including with Latino voters.“This is a good trend for the GOP,” he said.

So, Mexico is the 52nd state!
Clarissa Martinez, director of immigration and national campaigns at the National Council of La Raza, a pro-immigration group, said political candidates were not investing enough effort in reaching out to and mobilizing Latino voters.

I've got a great idea: they should reach out and invest more by hiring Clarissa Martinez! She probably has some relatives who would like jobs as ethnic consultants, too. Neither party should cease investing until all the Martinezes have nice Hispanic activist jobs. And Rep. Gutierrez probably has some nephews and nieces who are someday going to need jobs as well.

We must import more immigrants so all these Martinezes and Gutierrezes can be employed as their nominal leaders.

What's Obama hiding?

Famed landlord Donald Trump has been asking some questions about President Obama's background, such as what were his college records at Occidental and Columbia?

The basic impetus behind questions about Obama is the perfectly reasonable feeling: "Who is this guy?"

For example, I lived in Chicago from 1982 until the late summer of 2000. I read local newspapers, I watched local news. I've got a pretty good memory. When Barack Obama became a media superstar in 2004 and an heir apparent to the Presidency, I said to myself, "Oh, yeah, him! I remember him from my Chicago days from ... stuff. Well, I'm pretty sure I've been hearing his name for years, going back to the early 1970s when his radical Black Power plays were so controversial. Oh, wait a minute, I'm thinking of playwright Amiri Baraka, not Barack Obama. Well ..."

My best guess is that when Barack Obama's name surfaced in the news in 2004, it wasn't new to me, but I might just be kidding myself. 

Now, if I'd been paying close attention to local Democratic black politics on the South Side, I would have remembered him as the guy who got crushed by Bobby Rush (whom I was quite familiar with) in early 2000 in the House primary. If I was a player in Democratic rich white politics on the Gold Coast, I would no doubt have heard about how he leaves wealthy white liberals with fainting spells about how he should be President. 

But to a white Republican yuppie on the North Side with a job, he just wasn't on the radar. And why should he have been? What was he accomplishing that marked him out as Presidential timber?

Four years later, he's elected President, eight years after losing badly a House primary.

That's not the most amazing eight year rise in American Presidential history. For example, in 1860, Ulysses S. Grant was a counter clerk in his dad's shop in Galena, IL. Eight years later he was elected President. 

Of course, in the meantime, Grant had conquered Vicksburg and Richmond and defeated Robert E. Lee. 

In contrast, over eight years, Obama had ... uh ... well, mainly he had given up his lifelong ambition of rising to power on the back of black voters and switched to a strategy of rising to power on the back of white voters. 

Back in 2008 in VDARE, I considered various popular theories about Obama"

That he was really born in Kenya and thus isn’t eligible to be President.

That he isn’t black because his father was 7/8ths Arab.

That he is a practicing Muslim.

That his real father was a Communist poet, Frank Marshall Davis.

That Bill Ayers ghostwrote his 1995 autobiography Dreams from My Father.

For example, obviously Obama wasn't born in Kenya. The cost and discomfort for a pregnant lady to travel from Hawaii to Kenya in 1961 would be prohibitive. And why would Barack Sr. have taken Ann to Kenya? To meet her co-wife?

I encourage you to reread my 2008 article for a sensible take on various controversies.

So, what is Obama covering up?

Well, one thing that he's not particularly trying hard to cover up, but almost nobody has noticed, is the dubiousness of his parents' marriage:
"In fact, how and when the marriage occurred remains a bit murky, a bill of particulars that I’ve never quite had the courage to explore. There’s no record of a real wedding, a cake, a ring, a giving away of the bride. No families were in attendance; it’s not even clear that people back in Kansas were fully informed. Just a small civil ceremony, a justice of the peace. The whole thing seems so fragile... "

He doesn't spell it out, but as a lawyer and a politician, the whole thing would strike him as trouble: Barack Sr. was already married back in Kenya with a wife and a couple of kids, so getting married in Hawaii would be the crime of bigamy. (This situation was anticipated uncannily in John Updike's 1978 bestseller The Coup, in which an African student in an American college in 1959 keeps trying to tell his white American girlfriend that he has a wife back home in Africa.) Or, you could argue that Barack Sr.'s marriage in Kenya according to the customs of his tribe wasn't a "real" marriage, but that sounds pretty racist. And the whole thing raises the topic of polygamy, which isn't really on-message in American political campaigns.

Obama introduced himself to America at the 2004 Democratic convention with a famous speech that began with 390 words about his ancestry, especially his parent's marriage. It's always been a big selling point for Obama that he unites through his parents' marriage the black and the white, just as Henry VIII united the white and the red roses of the War of the Roses. And, it's been a selling point that his parents' black-white marriage was illegal in many states in 1961 (although not, of course, Hawaii, where a huge fraction of marriages by then were interracial, a subject that Obama supporters don't like to talk about). This is a big part of the self-congratulation that helped get Obama to the White House: look how enlightened we are on race today!

But what's the political utility of the truth about his parents' marriage: that it was illegal because polygamy is illegal in America? The federal government fought a small civil war with the Mormons over polygamy in the 1850s. There's no way, no how to positively spin the fact that Obama's parents marriage was illegally bigamous, so let's not talk about it.

But, Obama has been reasonably forthcoming about his parents' illegal marriage. He's never mentioned that his parents marriage was bigamous, but he's laid out enough facts in Dreams from My Father that you can easily figure it out if you read the President's autobiography closely, but who's bothered to do that? (I have.)

So, what is Obama still hiding?

One theory that makes more sense out of his career's ups and downs -- graduating in the top 16% supposedly at Harvard Law School, where he made a big impression on everybody, alongside periods where he seemed down and withdrawn -- is that he's mildly bipolar. Lots of people are. Famous people often are famous because their up phases coincided with periods of opportunity in their lives. By his own accounts, he appears to have suffered major depressive episodes in New York in the 1980s and after his rejection by black voters as not black enough in 2000.

Another theory that I'm increasingly drawn to is that Obama got a little help along the way from CIA/NSA types, but that's completely off everybody else's radar because it doesn't fit ideological categories. His father was a protege of the CIA's main man in Kenya, Tom Mboya, and was chief witness of his assassination. His mother worked in the U.S. embassy in Indonesia, a main front in the Cold War, soon after the 1965 coup, and then went on to a long career with U.S. government-affiliated organizations in the Third World. Barack Jr.'s one private industry job was as a copy editor at a firm, Business International, whose owner had previously admitted the firm served as a front for four CIA agents.

But that likely wouldn't be that big of a deal: say that his parents and stepfather got some people they knew at Langley or NSA or the Ford Foundation or some oil companies to pull some strings to get young Barry transferred from Oxy to Columbia to study international relations. And then, somebody directed him to a job at a CIA-connected firm for a year after college There might be an interesting story here, but perhaps the more interesting one is how he rebelled against this path laid out for him in international affairs and came up with the idea of becoming mayor of Chicago, a very insular, anti-international ambition, a rebellion against his parents' internationalism.

Overall, though, I think the basic situation is that Obama wakes up every morning in the White House and says to himself, "Holy crap, those poor dumb saps really did elect a black lefty affirmative action baby to be President. I'd better act like a complete tool of Wall Street and the neocons, or the saps might finally figure it out. Fortunately, the Republicans are even bigger tools of Wall Street and the neocons, and white Democrats are complete idiots about race, so Democrats will never grasp why I have to sell them out: because I can't let anybody notice I'm a black lefty affirmative action baby! It's so ironic that if white liberals started to think about it, their heads would explode like that computer on Star Trek."

But, mostly, Obama's big dark secret is that he just didn't do much in his life other than self-promote himself as the guy who should be the first black President. The embarrassing secret is that Obama is President for the same dumb reason as the last guy was President: because of who his daddy was.

April 25, 2011

Bryan Caplan's "Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids"

At VDARE.com, I have an in-depth review of Bryan Caplan's new book Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids.
Caplan has written a delightful book, breezy in prose style, but reasonably rigorous in its handling of the nature-nurture statistics. I hope people who like Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids do have more kids. And I hope people who put it down immediately to see what the Kardashians are up to on reality TV have fewer kids.

I think you'll find it interesting.

A retired teacher speaks out

From the Boston Globe:
A lesson in Advanced mis-Placement 
By Junia Yearwood 
THE AP English test in May, 2009 marked the end of a tortuous journey. We teachers served breakfast, gave a rousing pep talk, and the students trooped into the English High School auditorium to battle the exam. 
“What the hell am I doing in AP?’’ Veronica (all students’ names have been changed) cried the next day when the class reconvened. 
The outburst shattered the stillness of my 12th grade classroom, and all heads turned in Veronica’s direction at the back of the class. Her eyes blazing red and her face taut with anger, she continued to vent her frustration at her forced retention in an assigned Advanced Placement class despite her repeated requests for a transfer. ... 
Nevertheless, the majority voiced varying degrees of Veronica’s anger. She railed against the injustice of being denied a transfer from the class and her total lack of preparation for the academically rigorous course. She believed that the D for English on her last report card in 11th grade was a clear indication of her ongoing struggle to achieve proficiency in standard English. Haitian Creole was her first language. 
For the four years I taught the AP English and composition course at English High, many of my students were victims of the AP mania that had invaded the system. Suddenly, officials had recognized the dearth of faces of color in AP classes and the drive to augment the AP minority population went into high gear. 
The College Board and sympathetic philanthropic rescuers rushed in to solve the problem by dangling the carrot of grant money, and the feeding frenzy was on. AP classes sprouted and multiplied across all disciplines. AP scouts scoured students’ report cards hunting for qualifying scores; teacher recommendations were solicited for students with the “potential’’ to do AP work, and the nominees were summarily conscripted. 
Even though students had marked deficiencies in basic reading and writing skills, and little desire to work hard, and even though they made repeated requests for transfers, the dragooning of students into my AP course persisted. 
... I often wondered what parents would say if they knew that many of my AP graduates were placed in no-credit, remedial reading and writing courses their freshman year in college, and that, in spite of our school’s “underperforming status,’’ as designated by the state Department of Education, our AP enrollment was second only to our city’s prestigious exam schools. 
I wonder if an impartial jury would hold me, the teacher, solely responsible for my students’ failure to conquer the AP test and side with one of my colleagues who said that, if my students were not performing well in my course and on the test, then I needed to check my classroom practice. 
But mostly I worry about Veronica’s rage at being used in an AP numbers game. 
Junia Yearwood is a retired Boston Public Schools teacher. 

I looked into AP trends a couple of years ago in VDARE. Among Asians, 64% scored 3 (out of 5) or higher on 2008 AP tests. Among whites, 62%. Among Hispanics (excluding the Spanish AP test), 35%. Among blacks, 26%. (Hmmmhhmm, Asians > whites > Hispanics > blacks ... where have we seen that pattern before?)

But Asians take almost three times as many AP tests as whites. Judging from the regional differences in white AP test-taking, I suspect whites could double the number of tests they take and still stay above 50% passing.

My general impression is that in Red States where there aren't many Asians to get the AP ball rolling, more whites should take more AP tests. And Red States haven't hit complete diminishing returns among Non-Asian Minorities yet, either.

Advanced Placement tests are College Board product. Not surprisingly, they are more popular where the College Board's SAT college entrance test is more popular than the ACT college entrance test, a gap that matches up pretty well with the Blue and Red states. But there's no ACT competitor for the APs, so Red State kids are simply less likely to take AP tests.

On the other hand, in Boston, of all places, pretty much everybody who could pass an AP test has heard all about AP by now, so these kind of programs to shove even more NAMs into AP classes and tests are predictably just a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.

The Triumph of the Nerds

A reader writes:
I've been reading your site forever - wanted to share a story. 
So I'm in some Asian food-court type place in NYC yesterday and in comes a crowd of about 25 people.  Here's the breakdown of this crowd: 
*85/15 male/female
*80/20 white/asian (didn't see any hispanics or blacks)
*Mostly ages 18-25 or so, but with quite a few middle aged people
*Many were either very obese or sickly skinny and pale
*UNDENIABLY nerdy, everything about them screamed dungeons & dragons. I mean the group was so nerdy in appearance my girlfriend yelled at me because I couldn't stop staring.  I would describe this group as the kids that would be picked last in gym.
*One guy was wearing a Charles Darwin shirt but in the image of the famous blue & red obama image...Some androgynous young lady (?) was wearing some shirt that said something about defending your digital rights 
Anyway, this group is so interesting to me that I finally ask one guy what the meetup is...And it was... 
A Wikipedia Meetup!!!!  (Basically all these folks are hardcore wiki editors).

Here's a picture (at the bottom of the page) from a 2008 Wikipedia meet-up.

Wikipedia is a very big deal. For example, I devote far more time per day to reading Wikipedia than I do to watching television.

The Triumph of the Nerds is one of the most important stories in human culture during my lifetime. Consider current trends such as: today's youth don't like to talk on the telephone. They'd rather communicate via electronic telegrams tapped out with their thumbs. That's very strange. If you had asked me 20 years ago, I would have guessed that the hot communication trend in 2011 would be portable picture phones to provide more lifelike interaction. But, we live in an increasingly Aspergery age.

The rise of nerd culture might explain why Hispanics have had so little impact per capita on American culture. For the last 40 years, I've been reading that now that the number of Latinos in America has reached 10 million 20 million 30 million 40 million 50 million, we're all going to start paying more attention to Latinos and their vibrant culture real soon now. 

But we haven't, perhaps because Latino culture isn't nerdy enough.