July 16, 2011

NYT uncovers world's least pressing problem

One of my favorite genres in the prestige press is the Self-Refuting Article. These are articles that contain all the facts necessary to undermine the premise of the piece, but reporters, editors, and readers all conspire together in an act of collective stupidity to Not Get the Joke.

For example, from the New York Times:
At Two-Year Colleges, Less Athletic Equality 
Community colleges are routinely failing to provide enough athletic opportunities to women.

The details are pretty funny. I'l inject a few wisecracks, but, really, it's hardly necessary. This kind of article exists as a test of whether you are well trained enough to not guffaw.

(For my puzzled foreign readers, I'll point out that nobody in America cares about community college [2-year or junior college] sports. Americans are crazy about high school, college [4-year university], and pro sports, but nobody cares about JuCo sports, except the guys playing them and a few recruiters looking for  superstars who were too much trouble (Cam Newton) or too young (Bryce Harper) to be playing college sports.)
Los Angeles Southwest College has a new athletic field house and football stadium, but almost no female athletes. 
Women make up more than two-thirds of students at this community college in the city’s South Central neighborhood, but less than a quarter of its athletes. The college’s decision to suspend the track team this year left women who wanted to play a sport with a single option: basketball. 

I'm shocked to hear that a bunch of Latino and black ladies in their 20s and 30s, many with kids and/or jobs, who are interested in, say, learning how to draw blood for a living, aren't really into women's polevaulting. (For an example of the type of young woman who is into women's polevaulting, think back to the rich, athletic family in the Sandra Bullock movie The Blind Side who adopts the homeless left tackle so he can play for their alma mater, the U. of Mississippi. Remember, dad was point guard for Ole Miss and mom was head cheerleader. Well, their daughter went on to be Mississippi state high school girl's pole vault champion and won a polevaulting scholarship to a four year college.)

Perhaps the NYT can shed light on this mystery:
Henry Washington, the college’s athletic director and head football coach, acknowledges that his program is most likely violating federal law by failing to offer enough roster spots to women. But he said many of the female students are also juggling jobs and child care, and do not have time to play sports. Then there is the question of money. “I just keep my fingers crossed that we can keep what we have,” he said. 
Pensacola State College in Florida has suffered through its share of budget cuts, and athletic officials have long faced the thorny question of how much interest there is at a college that devotes an entire campus to health sciences programs, where students tend to be older, overwhelmingly female and, supposedly, less eager to play sports. 
But there is no shortage of women playing sports at Pensacola. The college invests about $1 million a year in the athletics program, and coaches scour the state and beyond for talented female players. The women’s basketball team won the state championship this year. ... 
No one disputes that community colleges face distinct challenges, with a lack of money paramount. But Pensacola, one of the rare exceptions among community colleges, offers evidence that the demands of the law can be met. 
... In many ways, Los Angeles Southwest’s struggles — and Pensacola’s success — echo the conversations that took place decades ago at elite four-year colleges and major public universities. 
“People who say they can’t find students who are interested or they can’t recruit, it sounds very much like what I heard 30 years ago, 40 years ago in the 1970s,” said Carol Kashow, the athletic director at Hostos Community College in the Bronx. “That’s the reason for Title IX, so there can’t be an excuse to not give opportunities.” 
But community colleges have rarely been scrutinized. That may change as an influx of recent high school graduates have entered community colleges, seeing them as an affordable alternative to four-year universities. This shift in the student body — already majority female — could lead to heightened demands from students who could well expect and even legally demand the opportunity to participate in sports.

 "Could lead" -- in other words, decades of millions of women in JuCos hasn't yet led. But, it still could lead ...

Or, more likely, the demands will come from a handful of lesbian gym coaches looking for sinecures.
“While some of our states and regions have seen the handwriting on the wall, many are still sitting in the dark,” Karen Sykes, a former president of the National Junior College Athletic Association, warned officials at a meeting several years ago. Sykes said “it was only a matter of time” before community colleges would come under scrutiny for their shortcomings. 
Because community colleges have a mandate to educate all comers, they have a special obligation to offer women a legitimate shot at playing sports, said Jaime Lester, an assistant professor at George Mason University who has studied gender issues at community colleges. “It’s crucial to hold these democratic institutions — these bastions of people’s colleges — up to that level of scrutiny,” Lester said. “If we don’t hold them up, why should we hold anyone else up?” 
Henry Washington has served as athletic director at Los Angeles Southwest College for 27 years, and each year, he said, women’s basketball faces the same challenge: the team starts out with a roster of 12 players only to dwindle to five or six by the end of the season. 
“Sometimes they’re not motivated, they may have a child,” he said. “There are all kinds of obstacles that are getting in the way of trying to even keep teams.” 
It is a common refrain among athletic directors at community colleges: women, they say, do not sign up for sports. While the economic recession has expanded the pool of traditional-age students, men and women who attend community colleges do not fit the typical mold of  student-athletes. They tend to be older, and almost half of all community college students work more than 25 hours a week, according to federal education statistics. 
But federal statistics show few differences between the men and women who attend these colleges: the men work, too, and tend not to be any younger. 
And yet the men, despite similar hardships or responsibilities, still manage to play sports in significant numbers.

Why? Why? Why?

[Please note: No answers to this question other than Sexism / Discrimination are allowed.]
Even Washington, the Los Angeles Southwest athletic director, said he did not accept the excuse that women at his college and others like it were not interested in sports. “One thing I did learn is that if you hire a woman full time to recruit women,” he said, “then the outcome would probably be a little different.” 
But because of his college’s financial situation, he said, all of his coaches work part time. 
Washington said surveys of local high schools have shown that potential students are interested in playing women’s soccer and softball, but that his plan to add softball had been delayed by budget troubles. California has cut nearly $400 million in aid to community colleges over the past two years, and recently cut another $400 million in financing for the next academic year. The reductions led Los Angeles Southwest to cancel 200 classes over the past two years. 
Jack E. Daniels III, the president of Los Angeles Southwest, said he was aware of the need to add women’s teams.  But the college’s financial situation is so dire, he is considering eliminating the entire athletic program, which currently costs about $300,000 a year. 
“Right now, it’s probably a 50-50 proposition,” Daniels said. The new field house and football stadium were built using bonds approved by voters several years ago, when the economy was flush and “there was no indication of any financial downturn,” he said.

The Los Angeles Times recently ran a six part series on all the corruption and incompetence in spending that $5.7 billion in bonds for remodeling of LA's JuCo campuses.
In many ways, Pensacola fits the profile of a typical community college. ...Still, Pensacola has found a way to preserve sports programs, and women at the moment make up some 56 percent of the college’s athletes. 
The athletic budget of $1 million, for example, pays for men’s and women’s basketball teams as well as baseball, softball and women’s volleyball. Many athletes receive scholarships for tuition and books. Some are given housing and stipends for meals. 
Hamilton’s coaches visit tournaments across the country, attend camps at four-year colleges and pore over scouting reports. Filling female rosters “isn’t something we do by luck, it’s by design,” Hamilton said. 
Brenda Pena, the softball coach, sent her assistant to Colorado in June to recruit at a tournament that drew more than 100 teams nationwide. Although her team finished last in its conference this year, she said, Pensacola has a reputation for fielding strong teams and for helping its students transfer to four-year colleges. As a result, Pena said, she is able to avoid the obstacle of attracting players from an older, less engaged student body by instead recruiting students straight from high school.

Okay, so Pensacola's secret is that they go to Colorado and recruit a bunch of middle class white girls who aren't quite good enough to get softball scholarships to four-year scholarships as freshmen, but still hope they can get them as juniors, and Pensacola pays for their room and board.

And this is helping Florida citizens how?

UPDATE: A reader from Pensacola writes into point out that Pensacola makes its athletic department budget go a long way by putting on a lot of sports, except for football, and using old sports facilities, not building new ones like LA Southwest. Football is expensive, and it's hard to sell many tickets at the juco level to defray costs, so why not skip football and sponsor a bunch of cheaper sports?

As to the recruiting trips to Colorado, I imagine they are more of a networking opportunity more than anything else – 15 of the 17 members of the 2011 softball team are from Florida or surrounding states. ...  Finally, it should be mentioned that Pensacola is essentially a small Southern town, with the expected small town obsession with team sports.  The area’s only four-year school, the University of West Florida, recently claimed the Division II national championship in baseball, and the area can lay claim to many great athletes, most notably NFL legend Emmit Smith.  So a certain amount of civic pride is behind the emphasis on athletics, even at the relatively obscure juco level.

That makes sense: juco women's sports is a relatively cheap way to bring some distinction to your juco.

Of course, the NYT's perspective is that if one juco invests in good women athletes, then that proves that every juco should do it. And that's missing the point entirely, as the diversity mindset so often tends to do because it doesn't think in terms of systems effects. If juco women's athletics was hugely competitive, then it would be hugely expensive to earn some distinction for your juco in women's athletics, so then few could afford to do it.

That's an interesting critique of Kant's categorical imperative: In looking for some way to distinguish itself, organizations should not behave as if what they specialize in should become a universal law.

Time to show off that pimp's knife, T-Paw

From an interview in Business Insider with Republican pollster Jan van Lohuizen (via Jonathan V. Last):
4. Everyone's sort of surprised by the inability of Tim Pawlenty to get traction -- so far -- with GOP primary voters and caucus attenders?  Why isn't he connecting? 
JVL: He is utterly lacking in charisma. I usually avoid these, but I agreed to speak at a regional organizing meeting for the party in Minnesota just to see him speak: he was utterly boring and I decided not to pitch his campaign. At a cocktail reception for the event, attended by 125+ activists, he and his wife were standing by themselves – no one was interested in talking to him and he made no effort to work the crowd.  The first presidential campaign, I worked for John Connally’s; at an event like this one 120 of 125 attendees would have been all over him and he would have found the remaining 5.  And Connally got 1 delegate, but in fairness he was running against Ronald Reagan.

The general implication of van Lohuizen's remarks is that nobody will win the GOP nomination.

Murdoch and Pellicano scandals II

In a sign of the times, analogy questions were eliminated from the SAT a few years ago. 

These days, people don't seem to be very good at noticing that news story X, which everybody currently agrees is the biggest and most unique and most newsworthy story of all time, is an awful lot like news story Y from a few years ago, which everybody has completely forgotten about already and didn't even pay much attention to while it was in the papers.

For example, as I pointed out in my last Taki's Magazine column, the wrongdoing in the ongoing brouhaha over Murdoch newspapers in London hiring a private investigator to tap into voice mail is an awful lot like the wrongdoing in the last decade's now forgotten Hollywood scandal in which moguls and stars hired private investigator Anthony Pellicano to wiretap people they wanted to abuse.

And yet, if you check Google News,

Murdoch hacking

brings up 25,900 news media pages. But,

Murdoch hacking Pellicano

brings up exactly one page.

Personally, I found the Pellicano scandal pretty interesting because it played out in the 2000s like a nightmarish episode of that 1990s sit-com about show biz, The Larry Sanders Show, which was owned by comedian Garry Shandling and his agent Brad Grey, now head of Paramount Pictures. Larry Sanders was a very meta comedy: Shandling, who had often been a guest host for Johnny Carson, had turned down a late night talk show host job to make this sitcom about a late night talk show host. Real celebrities guest starred playing themselves engaging, behind the scenes, in scandalous behavior. 

If the 1990s were the peak era for sit-coms, which seems plausible, I think it can be argued that Larry Sanders was the third best, after The Simpsons and Seinfeld. Indeed, Seinfeld and Larry Sanders match up very well with each other, and I'd only give Seinfeld the nod because that purported "show about nothing" actually featured the best farce plotting in the history of American television. Comparing characters and acting, Shandling/Sanders was better than Seinfeld/Jerry, Jeffrey Tambor / Hank was almost as good as Jason Alexander / George Costanza, and Rip Torn / Artie was even better than Michael Richard / Kramer. None of the female characters on Larry Sanders quite match up to Elaine, but there were a number of good ones. 

Amusingly, Shandling, Grey, and Linda Doucett, who played Larry's sidekick Hank's secretary Darlene on the show, were all involved in the Pellicano scandal. The wrongdoing was much bigger than just them, but they're as good a place to start as any.

Why doesn't anybody remember the Pellicano scandal when they're ranting about the Murdoch scandal? I don't know. The LA Times did a bad job of covering all this hometown bad conduct, but the New York Times was better. Here's the beginning of an article from the New York Times:
A Studio Boss and a Private Eye Star in a Bitter Hollywood Tale
March 13, 2006 
TEMECULA, Calif., March 12 — The phone rang in Linda Doucett's desert ranch house here in the late spring of 1998. It was her ex-fiancĂ©, the comedian Garry Shandling, calling. Again.
Mr. Shandling had called several times that year to talk about his lawsuit accusing Brad Grey, his longtime manager and friend, of enriching himself at his expense. Now he was asking Ms. Doucett to testify for him. 
Then, Ms. Doucett recalled in an interview, Mr. Shandling brought up something he had never told her before, about how Mr. Grey had responded to another suit, which Ms. Doucett had filed against Mr. Shandling and Mr. Grey's company for sexual harassment and wrongful termination two years earlier. 
"He was going to use Pellicano," Mr. Shandling said. 
"Who's that?" she asked. 
"He's this guy Brad worked with," Ms. Doucett recalled Mr. Shandling as saying. 
She said he added that Mr. Grey "was going to hire this really bad guy to say bad things about you — but I didn't want to do it." 
The guy in question is Anthony Pellicano, the celebrity private detective who is at the center of a mushrooming federal investigation that has consumed Hollywood for months, and who was indicted on wiretapping and conspiracy charges last month. And her recollection suggests that Mr. Grey, now the chairman of Paramount Pictures, had dealings with Mr. Pellicano as early as 1996 — at least three years earlier than has so far been detailed publicly. 
Her account is backed by another person's grand jury testimony, according to someone close to the investigation who insisted on anonymity for fear of angering prosecutors. The grand jury witness, this person said, gave an independent account that substantially agreed with Ms. Doucett's. 
Hiring a private investigator is common practice for wealthy people in contentious lawsuits, and Mr. Pellicano, a tough-talking transplant from Chicago who cultivated an image of menace, had many clients. Many of the rich and powerful in Hollywood who used him say they were unaware he was committing crimes. But prosecutors are skeptical, and they are trying to determine which of Mr. Pellicano's clients knew about the acts that have led to his indictment. 
In any event, no case, perhaps, better demonstrates how Hollywood movers and shakers appear to have used Mr. Pellicano in disputes with those who had less clout than the drawn-out saga of Mr. Shandling, Mr. Grey and Ms. Doucett. 
Mr. Grey, one of the most influential players in television and talent management, rose to an even higher perch in Hollywood a year ago, when he was named to head Paramount. He has been interviewed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and testified before the grand jury investigating Mr. Pellicano. His lawyer has said Mr. Grey has been repeatedly assured that he was not a subject or a target of the investigation. 
Mr. Grey declined numerous requests to be interviewed for this article, or to have his lawyer be interviewed. On Sunday afternoon his spokeswoman, Janet Hill, issued a terse reply from Mr. Grey to five written questions submitted by The New York Times. 
"As I've said in the past, I was casually acquainted with Anthony Pellicano," Mr. Grey said in the statement. "I had no 'relationship' with Mr. Pellicano until my attorney, Bert Fields, hired him in the Garry Shandling lawsuit. The fact remains that I had no knowledge of any illegal activity he may have conducted." 
Mr. Fields, one of Hollywood's most sought-after litigators, also has denied knowing of Mr. Pellicano's illicit activities. 
The Doucett-Shandling episode is only one of more than a dozen situations detailed in a federal indictment of Mr. Pellicano in which an influential insider, represented by a top entertainment lawyer who in turn hired Mr. Pellicano, sought to exert his or her will over a much weaker industry outsider. In each case, prosecutors say, Mr. Pellicano set out to maintain that imbalance of power through extralegal means. 
When Mr. Pellicao was working on behalf of the former superagent Michael Ovitz, lawyers in the case say, his targets were Mr. Ovitz's ex-underlings, minor industry players and bothersome reporters. When Mr. Pellicano worked on behalf of the billionaire MGM mogul Kirk Kerkorian, it was against a woman to whom Mr. Kerkorian was briefly married. When he worked on behalf of the Canadian media heiress and aspiring actress Taylor Thomson, it was against Ms. Thomson's former nanny. 
The Shandling-Grey case can be seen between the lines of the federal wiretapping and conspiracy indictment of Mr. Pellicano. Prosecutors charge that from January to March 1999 Mr. Pellicano had a police source do unauthorized background checks or otherwise illegally gain information about Mr. Shandling; Ms. Doucett; Mr. Shandling's personal assistant, Mariana Grant; his business manager, Warren Grant; his friend and fellow client at Brillstein-Grey Entertainment the actor Kevin Nealon; Mr. Nealon's wife; and his friend Gavin de Becker, a security consultant. The names of Ms. Doucett, Ms. Grant, Mr. de Becker and Mr. Grant were all on a witness list in Mr. Shandling's lawsuit against Mr. Grey at the time, lawyers and people involved in the case have confirmed. 
To Ms. Doucett, the federal investigation gets at the core of something that has long infected Hollywood. "This isn't about $10 million going between this movie star and that movie star, and wiretapping," she said in her first extensive interview on the subject. She refused to comment on matters she had agreed to keep confidential but was forthcoming on other aspects of her relationships with Mr. Shandling and Mr. Grey. 
"It's about little people being pushed around," she said.

Read the whole thing there.

July 15, 2011

Abstract Expressionism and the CIA

Here's Mark Tansey's ten-foot wide 1984 neo-conceptualist painting The Triumph of the New York School, which is roughly modeled on Velasquez's Surrender of Breda. It hangs in New York's Whitney Museum.

Tansey's painting shows defeated French artists (on the left) dressed in Great War uniforms signing the instruments of surrender of world art leadership to American critics and artists (on the right) dressed in casual WWII khaki. Surrealist writer Andre Breton, back to the viewer, is signing the surrender document while Duchamp, Matisse, and Picasso look on. 

The general of the victorious American forces, with his hands in his pockets, is critic Clement Greenberg, the chief expounder of Jackson Pollock's drip paintings. The second most dominant American figure is the MacArthuresque general on the right, critic Harold Rosenberg. In agreement with Tom Wolfe's 1975 book, The Painted Word, the actual American painters, such as Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Mark Rothko, are depicted as adjutants in the background behind their critical leadership.

The actual paintings themselves are a matter of personal taste, but there's no disputing the triumph of American art during the early Cold War years over stodgy Moscow-approved socialist realism as fashion.

After WWII, the U.S. government attempted to win European intellectuals away from the Communist Party by sponsoring avant-garde art, such as the New York School of abstract expressionist painting. But, American politicians, such as President Truman, objected to the taxpayers dollars being wasted on ugly stuff that their kids could do. 

So, funding moved to the black budget of the CIA. 

Frances Stonor Saunders' 1995 article in The Independent, Modern art was CIA 'weapon,' revealed some details of CIA sponsorship of the New York School. Her method of research was basically to call up old CIA men (or their kids) and get them talking about their triumphs during the good old days. This is not a particularly reliable method (it invites old-timers to exaggerate their importance), but it's certainly better than nothing. 
Until now there has been no first-hand evidence to prove that this connection was made, but for the first time a former case officer, Donald Jameson, has broken the silence. Yes, he says, the agency saw Abstract Expressionism as an opportunity, and yes, it ran with it. 
"Regarding Abstract Expressionism, I'd love to be able to say that the CIA invented it just to see what happens in New York and downtown SoHo tomorrow!" he joked. "But I think that what we did really was to recognise the difference. It was recognised that Abstract Expressionism was the kind of art that made Socialist Realism look even more stylised and more rigid and confined than it was. And that relationship was exploited in some of the exhibitions. ...
To pursue its underground interest in America's lefty avant-garde, the CIA had to be sure its patronage could not be discovered. "Matters of this sort could only have been done at two or three removes," Mr Jameson explained, "so that there wouldn't be any question of having to clear Jackson Pollock, for example, or do anything that would involve these people in the organisation. And it couldn't have been any closer, because most of them were people who had very little respect for the government, in particular, and certainly none for the CIA. If you had to use people who considered themselves one way or another to be closer to Moscow than to Washington, well, so much the better perhaps." 
This was the "long leash". The centrepiece of the CIA campaign became the Congress for Cultural Freedom, a vast jamboree of intellectuals, writers, historians, poets, and artists which was set up with CIA funds in 1950 and run by a CIA agent. It was the beach-head from which culture could be defended against the attacks of Moscow and its "fellow travellers" in the West. At its height, it had offices in 35 countries and published more than two dozen magazines, including Encounter [edited by English ex-Communist poet Stephen Spender]. 
The Congress for Cultural Freedom also gave the CIA the ideal front to promote its covert interest in Abstract Expressionism. It would be the official sponsor of touring exhibitions; its magazines would provide useful platforms for critics favourable to the new American painting; and no one, the artists included, would be any the wiser. 
This organisation put together several exhibitions of Abstract Expressionism during the 1950s. One of the most significant, "The New American Painting", visited every big European city in 1958-59. Other influential shows included "Modern Art in the United States" (1955) and "Masterpieces of the Twentieth Century" (1952). 
Because Abstract Expressionism was expensive to move around and exhibit, millionaires and museums were called into play. Preeminent among these was Nelson Rockefeller, whose mother had co-founded the Museum of Modern Art in New York. As president of what he called "Mummy's museum", Rockefeller was one of the biggest backers of Abstract Expressionism (which he called "free enterprise painting"). His museum was contracted to the Congress for Cultural Freedom to organise and curate most of its important art shows. 
The museum was also linked to the CIA by several other bridges. William Paley, the president of CBS broadcasting and a founding father of the CIA, sat on the members' board of the museum's International Programme. John Hay Whitney, who had served in the agency's wartime predecessor, the OSS, was its chairman. And Tom Braden, first chief of the CIA's International Organisations Division, was executive secretary of the museum in 1949. 
Now in his eighties, Mr Braden lives in Woodbridge, Virginia, in a house packed with Abstract Expressionist works and guarded by enormous Alsatians. He explained the purpose of the IOD. 
"We wanted to unite all the people who were writers, who were musicians, who were artists, to demonstrate that the West and the United States was devoted to freedom of expression and to intellectual achievement, without any rigid barriers as to what you must write, and what you must say, and what you must do, and what you must paint, which was what was going on in the Soviet Union. I think it was the most important division that the agency had, and I think that it played an enormous role in the Cold War." 
He confirmed that his division had acted secretly because of the public hostility to the avant-garde: "It was very difficult to get Congress to go along with some of the things we wanted to do - send art abroad, send symphonies abroad, publish magazines abroad. That's one of the reasons it had to be done covertly. It had to be a secret. In order to encourage openness we had to be secret." 
If this meant playing pope to this century's Michelangelos, well, all the better: "It takes a pope or somebody with a lot of money to recognise art and to support it," Mr Braden said. "And after many centuries people say, 'Oh look! the Sistine Chapel, the most beautiful creation on Earth!' It's a problem that civilisation has faced ever since the first artist and the first millionaire or pope who supported him. And yet if it hadn't been for the multi-millionaires or the popes, we wouldn't have had the art." 
Would Abstract Expressionism have been the dominant art movement of the post-war years without this patronage? The answer is probably yes. Equally, it would be wrong to suggest that when you look at an Abstract Expressionist painting you are being duped by the CIA. 
But look where this art ended up: in the marble halls of banks, in airports, in city halls, boardrooms and great galleries. For the Cold Warriors who promoted them, these paintings were a logo, a signature for their culture and system which they wanted to display everywhere that counted. They succeeded.

Basically, this was the kind of painting that the American ruling class, circa 1945-1964, liked.

Their wives in Darien found it fashionable and their cousins bought it for the lobbies of their corporate headquarters. It was a new sort of imperial art for a new sort of empire. Rather than an in-your-face colossal statue of Emperor Ozymandias, this imperial art was depersonalized (an asset in the global twilight struggle for the allegiance of peoples who all looked different), cool, enigmatic. Rather than overpower the spectator, it undermined the viewer's self-confidence (as in Norman Rockwell's genial The Connoisseur):
Somebody with a lot of money and power caused this enormous canvas of drips to be displayed here. But why? What do they know that I don't know? If they can pull this off, what else can they do? What can't they do? They look like they are going to win, so wouldn't it be smarter for me just to go along with them?

As James Jesus Angleton might have said, abstract expressionism was a sort of objective correlative for the CIA.

It's not really about what everybody says it's about

A Place to Stand notes James Delingpole's reaction to the sudden freakout in Britain over the half-decade old scandal involving one of Rupert Murdoch's tabloids hacking into voice mail accounts:
Because the purpose of Murdoch’s BSkyB bid is essentially so that he can set up a UK version of America’s most popular news channel Fox News.

On Jerry Pournelle's site, Neil Craig explains the business/political background 
This is purely my opinion, but I believe the story, which has been quietly a well known secret for years with almost all papers, including the Guardian, which broke this, hacking at some time or another, is now such a major storm. The BBC's virtual monopoly of British broadcasting is being threatened by Murdoch’s expansion of his control of Sky, the satellite broadcaster, so they are pushing this story hard. 
Last night (Thurs) the BBC news was almost entirely devoted to the hacking story story; followed by Question Time where all the questions selected by the BBC except for 1 in the last 3 minutes were the same; followed by Andrew Neil on the same. 2 1/2 hours on this story and virtually none on the rest of the world’s news That would be justified if we were seeing a breaking news story like 9/11, but for nothing less. 
Broadcasting in Britain is essentially a monopoly of the BBC and people they approve of. This monopoly is legally committed to “balance,” but is in fact the propaganda arm of the British state (along with the Guardian, which survives on government advertising). Murdoch’s attempt to buy all of Sky would weaken that monopoly slightly. 
I do not consider it a coincidence that this scandal, which journalists of all newspapers have been guilty of for years, has suddenly broken on Murdoch’s head alone."

Campus news

From City Journal:
Less Academics, More Narcissism 
The University of California is cutting back on many things, but not useless diversity programs.
by Heather Mac Donald 
California’s budget crisis has reduced the University of California to near-penury, claim its spokesmen. “Our campuses and the UC Office of the President already have cut to the bone,” the university system’s vice president for budget and capital resources warned earlier this month, in advance of this week’s meeting of the university’s regents. Well, not exactly to the bone. Even as UC campuses jettison entire degree programs and lose faculty to competing universities, one fiefdom has remained virtually sacrosanct: the diversity machine. 
Not only have diversity sinecures been protected from budget cuts, their numbers are actually growing. The University of California at San Diego, for example, is creating a new full-time “vice chancellor for equity, diversity, and inclusion.” This position would augment UC San Diego’s already massive diversity apparatus, which includes the Chancellor’s Diversity Office, the associate vice chancellor for faculty equity, the assistant vice chancellor for diversity, the faculty equity advisors, the graduate diversity coordinators, the staff diversity liaison, the undergraduate student diversity liaison, the graduate student diversity liaison, the chief diversity officer, the director of development for diversity initiatives, the Office of Academic Diversity and Equal Opportunity, the Committee on Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Issues, the Committee on the Status of Women, the Campus Council on Climate, Culture and Inclusion, the Diversity Council, and the directors of the Cross-Cultural Center, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center, and the Women’s Center. 
It’s not surprising that the new vice chancellor’s mission is rather opaque, given its superfluity. 

This expansion in the Diversity budget at UCSD follows that campus's 2010 noose hoax.

In other campus news, everybody in college (especially private colleges) gets As or Bs. The D is almost extinct and the C is endangered.
My question is: Does grade inflation really matter? Who wins and who loses from grade inflation?

It appears that A- is the new B, B+ is the new C, and B is the new D. That wouldn't seem like much of a problem, at least if everybody had gotten the memo. 

Perhaps the losers are parents whose views of GPAs are from pre-1968. Junior brings home a 3.00 GPA and they think he's doing pretty good, so they send in another check for another $50,000 worth of diversity hysteria college for Junior, but they don't realize that a 3.00 is more like a 1.00 in the bad old days. This is the 2010s, where everybody and everything that has to do with college is "amazing." (I went to a college-related event tonight and heard the word "amazing" at least a couple of dozen times.)

Look, Junior is happy with his grades, the college is happy, the deluded parents are happy, and Nintendo is happy that Junior has time to play several hours of video games per evening during the academic year. Everybody is amazingly happy, so why are you complaining?

But what happens after another generation of grade inflation?

I guess we'll need new varietals of A, like how bonds are rated, where A is pretty ho-hum, compared to Aa- or Aaa.

July 14, 2011

The Obamas and the deep state

In the "The Chosen One" in The Claremont Review of Books, Angelo M. Codevilla, professor of international relations at Boston U., tries to flesh out the idea I've been kicking around for a couple of years: that Obama's family background comes out of CIA-supported international leftism.
His mother's parents, who raised him, seem to have been cogs in the U.S. government's well-heeled, well-connected machine for influencing the world, whether openly ("gray influence") or covertly ("black operations"). His mother spent her life and marriages, and birthed her children, working in that machine. For paradigms of young Barack's demeanor, proclivities, opinions, language, and attitudes one need look no further than the persons who ran the institutions that his mother and grandparents served—e.g., the Ford Foundation, the United States Information Agency, and the Central Intelligence Agency—as well as his chosen mentors and colleagues. It is here, with these people and institutions, that one should begin to unravel the unknowns surrounding him. 
Two new books deal with Barack Obama's paternal and maternal families. British journalist Peter Firstbrook's The Obamas takes us all the way from the origins of East Africa's Luo tribe to Barack's father's relationship with Barack's mother. Generally fact-filled, it gives vivid portraits especially of Barack, Sr.'s, father, Onyango, who tried to raise a son as upright as he and was deadly disappointed when that son turned out to be a wastrel in the train of Tom Mboya, political leader of Kenya's Luo. The closer the book gets to the present, however, the less trustworthy it becomes. For example, it tells us that Mboya organized the 1959 airlift of 280 Africans to study in America, bypassing the U.S. State Department. Nonsense. This was high U.S. policy and touted as such at the time. The CIA considered Mboya one of its most important covert action agents. The people chosen by him and the CIA to go to America were his flunkies. But the book is irrelevant to understanding the current president of the United States because his African family had only a biological influence on him. Indeed, Barack Obama's African-ness is, as we shall see, strictly the product of his imagination.

No, Obama wrote about how, while he was in Indonesia, his mother emphasized to young Barack his biological father's heroic example. There is a lot of effort by commentators on the President's life to downplay the significance of his having a black father. The chief exceptions to this pattern are myself, David Remnick, and the President.

I would add that Obama Sr.'s bravery in being the anchor witness in the trial of the Kikuyu gunman hired by, no doubt, Kikuyu big men close to the British-affiliated Kenyatta to assassinate the American-affiliated Luo Mboya was likely appreciated by CIA. 
The maternal family that raised Barack Obama, which is highly relevant to our understanding, is the subject of New York Times reporter Janny Scott's A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mother. But though this book tells us that grandmother Madelyn Dunham's favorite color was beige, that Stanley Dunham and daughter Ann (Barack, Jr.'s, mother) shared a certain impulsiveness, and contains interviews with and personal information on countless of Ann's high school friends, it sheds no light on what the Dunhams were doing with their lives that led their daughter to take a practical interest in international affairs. 
Magically, Ann Dunham goes from peeking her shy 17-year-old head out of Mercer Island, Washington ("a young virgin," writes Janny Scott), to intimacy with a very foreign person, and a few years later with another, and then to work in one of the Cold War's key battlegrounds. Meanwhile her mother, about whose professional activities the book says nothing, becomes a bank executive. Did Ann speak any foreign language? Had the Dunhams ever taken any trips abroad? The book does not say. A Singular Woman gives the impression that Ann's Indonesian husband, Lolo Soetoro, was just a geographer drafted into the army, a minor, unwitting part of the bloody campaign that wrested Indonesia from the Communists; and that Ann's work in that country was anthropological-humanitarian, as if for her U.S. policy were irrelevant. It certainly was not for her employers—the U.S. government and contractors thereof. 
Self-styled investigative journalist Wayne Madsen reports that Madelyn Dunham, the mother of Barack's mother, Ann Dunham, who became vice president of the Bank of Hawaii soon after her arrival there, was in charge of escrow accounts. Madsen's credibility is certainly checkered. But if he is correct about which department she headed, Madelyn Dunham must have supervised the accounts that the U.S. government used to funnel money to its "gray" and "black" activities throughout Asia. Among the conduits of the CIA money through these accounts to secret CIA proprietaries was a company—Bishop, Baldwin, Rewald, Dillingham & Wong—some of whose officers were serving CIA officers. This is a company whose 1983 IRS audit the CIA stopped. Vice President Madelyn Dunham, in charge of these very matters and hence necessarily "witting" (as they say at Langley), would have had to be more than a small cog in the machine. People do not rise to such stations from one day to the next. 
Again, if Madsen is correct, two photos belie the portrait of her husband Stanley Dunham, Barack's grandfather, whom young Barry called father, as an insignificant furniture salesman. 
One, in the early 1950s, shows Stanley with his daughter, Ann, wearing the insignia of Beirut's elite French language school, Notre Dame de Jamhour. Was the family ever in Lebanon? How did Dad get the sweater? U.S. government influence operations are a likelier explanation than the furniture business for any Lebanese connection in the 1950s. 

Eh ...

If I tried to make up a conspiracy theory about my own family background and the CIA, I could come up with a bunch of loose ends that Wayne Madsen would find persuasive, but don't add up to much.
Another photo, published in a Honolulu newspaper in 1959, shows Stanley Dunham escorted by uniformed U.S. Navy officers, greeting Barack Obama, Sr., as he arrived in Hawaii from Kenya. Because Obama was among 80 other Kenyans whom CIA had chosen for sojourns in the U.S. to influence them, it is logical that he and others like him would have been placed around the country in the hands of trusted handlers. The greeting photo suggests that Dunham may well have been one of these, and hence that the Kenyan did not meet Dunham's daughter, Ann, in a classroom. This would fit the chronology: Classes started on September 26. Ann was pregnant by early November. Obama was housed at the University of Hawaii's East-West Center facility funded by the Asia Foundation, itself funded by CIA. 
Anyone and everyone knew that Barack Obama, Sr., and others like him had been brought to America to be influenced. How big a part of his attractiveness to her, and hence how big a reason for the pregnancy that produced Barack, Jr., was the foreign affairs angle? The hagiographies, including A Singular Woman, suggest that foreign affairs were the farthest thing from her mind. Yet Ann's second child was born in a marriage to another such person at the East-West Center. The Indonesian government had sent Lolo Soetoro to the East-West Center as a "civilian employee of the Army."

In Indonesia and Kenya, the U.S. was not, initially implicated in trying to maintain European colonialism. The Truman administration had been unsympathetic to Holland's attempts to regain control of the Dutch East Indies after WWII. The Brits' anti-Mau-Mau campaign in Kenya in the 1950s was seen by Washington as their problem. With the coming of independence, the U.S. played a dual game of keeping Kenya out of the Soviet orbit and of trying to lessen British neo-colonial economic ties for the advantage of American business.
But when the shooting started, Soetoro went on active duty, it seems as a colonel. This was arguably the CIA's most significant covert operation, the replacement (between 1965 and 1967) of Indonesia's dictator Sukarno with the Suharto regime that lasted until 1999. Few people on the face of the earth did not realize how important a struggle this was. Suggesting as does A Singular Woman that a very intelligent, very married Ann Soetoro was innocent of and indifferent to the political implications of the struggle she was involved in is incredible. 
After the overthrow, Ann ran a "micro-financing" project, financed by the Ford Foundation, in Indonesia's most vulnerable areas. Supervising the funding at Ford in the late '60s was Peter Geithner, whose son would eventually serve hers as U.S. secretary of the treasury. In addition to the Ford Foundation, the list of her employers is a directory of America's official, semi-official, and clandestine organs of influence: the United States Information Agency, the United States Agency for International Development, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank. While running a project for five years in Pakistan, she lived in Lahore's Hilton International. 
Nothing small time, never mind hippyish. 
In sum, though the only evidence available is circumstantial, Barack Obama, Jr.'s mother, father, stepfather, grandmother, and grandfather seem to have been well connected, body and soul, with the U.S. government's then extensive and well-financed trans-public-private influence operations.

I would add that both Barack Obama Sr. and Lolo Soetoro worked, at some points, for U.S. oil companies operating in their home countries. 
In the 1950s and '60s few cared where, say, the State Department or foundations such as Ford ended and the CIA began. The leading members of the U.S. government's influence network moved easily from public to private stations and vice versa. Here are a few examples. Howard P. Jones, U.S. ambassador to Indonesia between 1958 and 1965—arguably the chief planner of the coup that removed the Sukarno regime—became chancellor of the University of Hawaii's East-West Center. Ann Dunham's second husband, Lolo Soetoro, returned from the East-West Center to Jakarta to help in the struggle that the coup had begun.

Dreams from My Father hints that Lolo was tormented by memories of what he had seen and done during his active service in the Army during the bloody post-coup purges, and that his subsequent alcoholism stemmed from that.
Another of Ann's employers, the Ford Foundation's international affairs division, was led by Stephen Cohen, who had come to Ford from the directorship of the International Association of Cultural Freedom, previously known as the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), which organized countless left-leaning American academics into a corps (lavishly financed by the CIA) to promote social democracy around the world, and to staff many of the councils on foreign relations that spread around America in the 1950s. Among the participants were countless actual and future college presidents, including Richard C. Gilman, who ran Occidental when young Barack Obama enrolled there in 1979. In those years, any number of companies were CIA fronts, including Business International Corporation, which gave young Obama his first job after graduation from college. Perhaps these are only coicidences. More importantly, U.S. international corporations in general had countless officers who were proud cooperators with U.S. covert activities abroad. Any serious attempt to sketch this network would result in something like an x-ray of the American ruling class's skeleton. 
The point here is that this network was formed precisely to help the careers of kindred folk, while ruining those of others, and to move the requisite money and influence unaccountably, erasing evidence that it had done so. Exercising influence abroad on America's behalf—the network's founding purpose—never got in the way of playing a partisan role in American life and, of course, of taking care of its own. 
As I pointed out in my book Informing Statecraft (1992), when Congress first authorized the U.S. government's various influence activities abroad it worried loudly and mostly sincerely that these activities might "blow back" onto American political life: The U.S. government, so went the widely accepted argument, might have to say and do all sorts of things abroad, train and deploy any number of operatives in black arts on the whole country's behalf, knowing that these activities and operatives might well be distasteful to any number of Americans at home. Because the U.S. government must not take a partisan part in U.S. domestic life—so went the argument of an era more honest than our own—it must somehow isolate its foreign influence network from domestic life. But preventing blowback was destined to be a pious, futile wish, especially since many of those in the influence network were at least as interested in pressing their vision of social democracy on America as they were in doing it to other countries. 
Foremost among these was Cord Meyer, who ran CIA's covert activities in "international organizations" beginning in 1954. Between 1962 and 1975 he directed or supervised all CIA covert action. Meyer explained what he was about in his book Facing Reality (1980).
Meyer and his upscale CIA colleagues considered themselves family members of the domestic and international Left. They believed that America's competition with Soviet Communism was to be waged by, for, and among the Left. Their strategy was to fight the Soviet fire by lighting and feeding socio-political counter-fires as close to it as possible. This meant clandestinely giving money and every imaginable form of U.S. government support to persons as far to the political and cultural left as possible, so long as they were outside Soviet operational control. American leftists were best fit to influence their foreign counterparts this way. Paradigmatic was the Congress for Cultural Freedom, which spawned and fed many "voluntary" organizations at home and abroad with U.S. influence and money. Its director, Michael Josselson, was so little distinguishable from the Communists, his leftism so anti-American, that the U.S. chapter of CCF disaffiliated in protest. Alas, CIA's fires eventually went out of control and singed American life. 

So, there's some fun stuff here, but it's not overwhelmingly persuasive. Still, it's quite reasonable to say that the milieu that the President emerged from was the pro-American international left that was looked favorably upon by CIA and other American establishment organs.

Similarly, I could make up a list of CIA or generally "deep state"-connected people I or my family had some relations with. It's quite an extensive list now that I think about it. For example, my wife's uncle, an Air Force colonel, spied in East Berlin during the Cold War. My wife has a cousin whose base is in suburban Virginia, but whose career takes her and her husband to extremely odd, but strategic locations around the world. It's understood that you don't ask them direct questions about where they work.

It doesn't really add up to a hill of beans in terms of direct causality. On the other hand, it does suggest a certain milieu I came from -- conservative military-industrial complex. Practically everybody I know with deep state ties is on the right wing side of the deep state. That is informative about me, about my predilections and loyalties, just as understanding that Obama came from a milieu with pervasive connections to the left-wing of the American deep state is informative about him.

And, Obama is a helluva lot more ambitious and manipulative than I am, so it seems plausible that he's gotten more out of his connections than I ever tried to do.

Once again, it's more realistic to look upon CIA less as the master conspiracists pulling the strings of intricate plots than as a big player in the international equivalent of the Municipal Favor Bank dramatized in The Wire and Bonfire of the Vanities.

As for Obama's domestic career after he left Business International, a sometimes CIA front, and moved to Chicago ... My guess is that this was something of a rebellion against the easy path open to him in the international sphere. His three years in Chicago's slums were disappointing to him so he got back into the elite sphere, applying to Harvard, Yale, and Stanford law schools (and no other). But he wanted to return to Chicago and become mayor, a job that exemplified "power," a word that comes up throughout Dreams. That proved unfeasible in 2000 when local black voters decided he wasn't black enough, leading to depression and the realization that his ambitiousness could be satisfied without having to prove his blackness to black voters. 

Still, if you asked a bunch of sophisticated CIA executives in 1961 like Meyer to mock up a model of who they'd like to see elected President in 2008 to maximize their legacy, they couldn't have come up with a more perfect protege for themselves than a thoroughly establishmentarian half-black whose family comes out of the international left. 

July 13, 2011

Of course, smoking all that crack didn't help

Foseti calls my attention to Matthew Yglesias's post that begins (actually, no kidding):
I had of course heard the Legend of Marion Barry before moving to Washington, DC, but something that’s been striking to observe since his return to the city council is the almost shockingly poor quality of his policy thinking, completely apart from any concerns about corruption or the like. 

Of course, self-parody is a possibility.

Expressive Philanthropy

Economist Arnold Kling write at EconLog:
In the non-profit sector, it is up to donors to provide discipline. But donors, I would argue, tend to be interested in expressive philanthropy rather than in results. ... I am inclined to think that with non-profits, you get what you pay for. With donors caring about expressing themselves, the non-profit industry is bound to evolve toward satisfying donors' desire for self-expression. That does not mean that it will produce no good results.

The concept of expressive philanthropy might help explain the vast trove piled up by the Southern Poverty Law Center (which is now over a quarter of a billion dollars) in its Cayman Island and other accounts. No matter how fast Mrs. Dees tries to spend the loot Mr. Dees hauls in (and she tries really hard, as these five dozen photos of the Dees's palace that poverty bought show), the money just keeps piling up. 

People give huge amounts of money to the SPLC to show how much they hate the Ku Klux Klan. (You can hardly expect the SPLC to explain to the rich rubes that the KKK barely exists anymore, except perhaps for informers hired by the FBI and SPLC.)

Who knows? Maybe all the random Third World knick-knacks that Mrs. Dees decorates their house with weren't bought by her. Maybe they are actually gifts that grateful people have given Morris over the years. I was at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley this week, which has this wonderful collection of the incredible stuff that other countries gave President Reagan on his state visits. "Dear President Reagan, Here is a hippopotamus carved from an elephant's tusk. Please don't drop bombs on us." 

But why would somebody give Morris Dees a luxury rickshaw to put by his pool? "Dear Mr. Dees, Here is an objet d'art made out of a ton of used horseshoes. Please don't sue us?" I dunno.

Or maybe they just really want to give him money and shiny crud to show how much they hate hate.

It's like that scene in Bad Teacher where the dweeby rich teacher played by Justin Timberlake, whom gold-digging Cameron Diaz is after, is chaperoning a field trip to Abe Lincoln's log cabin, and the thought of Honest Abe makes him rant for three minutes about how much he hates slavery, while Jason Segel's low rent gym teacher needles him by telling him that he, personally, hates sharks. From TheMovieSpoiler:
On the field trip, Cameron Diaz actually starts to realize what a politically-correct and zombified bore Justin Timberlake really is. He has no real opinion on anything, and just spouts platitudes that dominate conversation in public school teaching circles. In the Illinois state capitol, the students admire a statue of Abraham Lincoln, which prompts Timberlake to deliver remarks on how much he hates slavery, and would time travel so he could "get rid of slavery" before Lincoln if he could. Diaz looks at him like he's a fool, because clearly few alive would say they were fans of slavery...so his taking this totally noncontroversial and obvious position and being so emotional about it makes him seem ridiculous. Jason Segel gets it too, and mocks Timberlake (without him realizing it) by joining the conversation and saying, "You know what I really hate? Sharks!" Timberlake agrees that sharks are indeed awful, because they destroy families. Segel springs the trap and says, 'But, on the other hand, they are magnificent creatures of the deep. Majestic". Timberlake then follows form and admits to highly admiring the majesty of sharks. Diaz, very clearly, sees that Timberlake is programmed on an intrinsic DNA level to just regurgitate platitudes and take noncontroversial, agreeable stances on everything imaginable. She suspects, for the first time possibly, that she does not want a life with someone like this, no matter how deep his trust fund runs.

Somebody should start the Abraham Lincoln Log Cabin Center for the Hating of Slavery and Hate. He'd wind up as rich as Morris Dees.

"What did we learn, Palmer?"

Paul Sperry (whose book The Great American Bank Robbery is pretty good) writes in Investor's Business Daily:
Justice spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said the anti-discrimination notice "does not compel the banks to make loans to people who do not qualify." She said such measures are "essential to remedy the harmful effects of the banks' conduct." 
But industry analysts fear Attorney General Eric Holder is rekindling an anti-bank witch hunt launched by Attorney General Janet Reno in the 1990s, when Holder served as her deputy. 
Some blame that in part for the subprime boom, because banks were ordered to throw open their lending windows to credit-poor minorities. That crackdown spurred the American Bankers Association to distribute to its thousands of members "fair-lend ing tool kits" advising the adoption of more permissive underwriting criteria to help inoculate them from prosecution. 
In the new prosecutions, Justice acknowledges in every case it did not prove charges of intentional discrimination, while banks have denied any wrongdoing. Many, in fact, earned outstanding ratings from anti-redlining regulators enforcing the Community Reinvestment Act. 
Istook calls Holder's crusade an "egregious overreach by the government." He says many of the targets are smaller banks without the resources to fight a protracted legal battle.
The House Judiciary Committee plans to investigate. 
"This is an expansion of the law," said a congressional investigator. "They're pushing the envelope as far as they can go in the enforcement of civil rights." 
As part of settlement deals, prosecutors have required banks to sign "nondisclosure agreements" barring them from talking about the methods used to allege discrimination. Bank lawyers contend the prosecutors are trying to hide the shaky legal grounds on which the cases are built. "It's horrible what they're doing at the civil rights division," said Reginald Brown, a partner at Wilmer Hale in Washington, who has represented banks in connection to recent race-bias investigations. "They don't have any proof, just theories." 
He added, "They want you to sign something saying you agree, under the condition of any settlement with them, that you won't disclose what their theories were. That's because their theories are loopy and wouldn't stand the light of day."

If Paul Krugman ever admitted this kind of thing played any role whatsoever in the Recent Economic Unpleasantness, Mrs. Krugman would have him sleeping on the couch for a month.

The title is a reference to the wonderful J.K. Simmons' last lines in Burn After Reading.

It's scary to think how much money Google would make if it didn't stink

Have you ever noticed how bad Google ads are? I get about 8,000 visits or more per day from a hard-to-reach audience of highly intelligent and influential readers, but the ads Google chooses to place in my right hand column are hilariously inapt. If I write about the scandal of lawyers who commit asylum fraud, I get ads from Google for lawyers offering to help you commit asylum fraud. If I write about Bill James's suggestion for prison reform, I get ads for "Save $ on prison calls." If I write about Racehorse Haynes's legal tactics, I get ads for bailbondsmen.

After all these years, Google hasn't bothered to learn one thing about what sells and what doesn't sell on my website. Everything is still triggered solely by keywords, not by a long demonstrated patterns. 

July 12, 2011

Rupert Murdoch and the forgotten Pellicano scandal

An excerpt from my new column in Taki's Magazine:
In outline, the current Rupert Murdoch brouhaha in London—powerful media figures are caught employing a private detective to wiretap—is strikingly similar to Hollywood’s 2002-2008 Anthony Pellicano affair, a seemingly juicy imbroglio that never never gained much traction here and has pretty much been forgotten.
As you may recall (if probably only vaguely), numerous stars and moguls, such as Brad Grey, CEO of Paramount Pictures since 2005, paid sleazeball detective Pellicano to dig up—by any means necessary—dirt they could use against less-powerful people.
... The contrasting public reactions to these scandals demonstrate national differences. Nobody cares about private eye Glenn Mulcaire; this scandal has always been intended to bring down Murdoch. In the Pellicano affair, however, the feds let the private dick take the rap for the moguls. 
Moreover, Mulcaire hacked voicemails to publish facts, while Pellicano taped phone calls to intimidate and silence. Pellicano’s modus operandi is in tune with the times here. Our mainstream press routinely colludes with publicists practicing “access journalism.” In return for an interview, journalists agree not to ask impertinent questions or they’ll never work in this town again. A century ago, American reporters tended to be cynical ne’er-do-wells. Today, journalists typically come from the same kind of nice families and nice colleges as the VIPs they gently cover. 
American society has grown increasingly credulous. Our last three presidents have come to office remarkably unknown.

Read the whole thing there, and find out the most famous employer of Anthony Pellicano.

The Fast and Furious Scandal

I haven't really been following the Obama Administration's Fast and Furious scandal, but this is from the LA Times:
Are high-profile suspects in Mexican drug cartels also paid informants for U.S. federal investigators? If so, could a brewing scandal in Washington implicate more U.S. agencies in the ongoing drug-related violence in Mexico? 
Kenneth Melson, the embattled chief of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), made the earth-shaking revelation in testimony early last week, The Times reports. Melson reportedly told congressional leaders that Mexican cartel suspects tracked by his agents in a controversial gun-tracing program were also operating as paid informants for the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the FBI. 
The revelation is further complicating an already tangled scandal unfolding in Washington that ties U.S. weapons to the violent drug war in Mexico. The conflict has left about 40,000 dead in 4 1/2 years. In effect, the scandal also points to a deeper involvement of the U.S. government in Mexico's drug war than the public has previously known or suspected.

The Fast and Furious scandal may perhaps be related to the Obama Administration looking to gin up a politically correct set of bad guys to blame for Mexican violence. If Mexican narco-cartels are obtaining guns in the U.S., they're probably mostly using immigrants and Mexican-Americans as their conduits, but that's not the kind of thing we're supposed to think about. Diversity is good!

But that gets me thinking about a more general topic: Mexico is to the U.S. as Afghanistan is to Pakistan. Nobody is surprised to find out that Pakistan's ISI spy agency pulls a lot of strings in Afghanistan.

Does the U.S. pull a lot of strings in Mexico the way Pakistan does in Afghanistan?

You know, that's an interesting question. What's even more interesting is that I've never heard anyone ask it before.

My guess would be "not really," but what do I know? Nobody in America pays much attention to Mexico.

Well, not exactly nobody. The Bush family, for one, has long paid close attention to Mexico.

Now that I think about it, it seems to me that you could write a Secret History of the Three Bush Administrations that could provide a coherent tale that the central plan of the Bushes, father and son, was to unify North America, economically and politically, under Washington's hegemony.

George H.W. Bush, owner of Zapata Oil was doing business, illegally (through a Mexican cutout who went on to be head of Pemex and then to jail for corruption), in Mexico from earlier than a half century ago. His son Jeb married a Mexican girl.

Look at it from GHW Bush's point of view coming into office in 1989. G.H.W. Bush is often derided as an "in-box President" who didn't have big ambitions like Reagan, but who felt up to dealing with events, like Iraq seizing Kuwait.

But I suspect that understates GHWB's strategic vision, which was directed at a place that nobody in New York or Washington cares much about, but is highly relevant to the business and political leadership of Texas: Mexico. Bush probably felt that Mexico should be a highly profitable country for American business.

But ever since the overthrow of dictator Porfirio Diaz in 1911, the government of Mexico has been overtly anti-American (e.g., the Plan of San Diego of 1915 or the Zimmerman Telegram of 1917). This reigning philosophy of anti-Americanism helped Mexico avoid being a banana republic minion of Washington like poor Honduras. But, it came with costs, especially for American companies, but also for Mexicans. Much of the Mexican economy was locked up in stodgy government owned monopolies. Nobody in Mexico could do much in the way of offshore oil drilling the way GHWB's Zapata could, but he had to hire a Mexican frontman, Jorge Diaz Serrano (who later became head of Pemex and then was one of the three symbols of 1970s corruption sent to prison by the new President who came in in 1982.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, President Salinas of Mexico decided to get very cozy with President Bush. He sold off many of the government-owned businesses to insiders and allies (this is the source of the fortune that made Carlos Slim the world's richest man). And they negotiated NAFTA.

But the Mexican public wouldn't let the politicians sell off the crown jewel, Pemex, the national oil monopoly, which long remained lusted-after by the Bush coterie. GHWB's Commerce Secretary Robert Mossberger said his dream job was CEO of Pemex.

The second Bush concentrated more on integrating the two countries' labor markets, with perhaps a hazy view toward eventual political integration of some sort under Jeb's half-Mexican son George P. Bush.

Inbreeding's ins-and-outs

Now that a man can marry a man, schismatic Mormons are asking: why can't a man marry two women? And Muslims are asking: why can't can't a man marry his first cousin? And Hindus from southern India are asking: why can't a man marry his niece?

In-breeding appealed to political and economic dynasts, such as the Habsburgs and Rothschilds, because it doesn't dissipate family assets to too many heirs.

The Habsburg dynasty that reigned over much of Europe from the late medieval period to the last days of WWI is notorious today for the inbreeding that beset Charles II, the Habsburg king of Spain from 1665-1700. Wikipedia explains:
Charles was born in Madrid, the only surviving son of his predecessor, King Philip IV of Spain and his second Queen (and niece), Mariana of Austria, another Habsburg. His birth was greeted with joy by the Spanish, who feared the disputed succession which could have ensued if Philip IV had left no male heir.
17th century European noble culture commonly matched cousin to first cousin and uncle to niece, to preserve a prosperous family's properties. Charles's own immediate pedigree was exceptionally populated with nieces giving birth to children of their uncles: Charles's mother was a niece of Charles's father, being a daughter of Maria Anna of Spain (1606–46) and Emperor Ferdinand III. Thus, Empress Maria Anna was simultaneously his aunt and grandmother and Margarita of Austria was both his grandmother and great-grandmother.[1] This inbreeding had given many in the family hereditary weaknesses. That Habsburg generation was more prone to still-births than were peasants in Spanish villages.[2] 
There was also insanity in Charles's family; his great-great-great(-great-great, depending along which lineage one counts) grandmother, Joanna of Castile ("Joanna the Mad"; however, the degree to which her "madness" was induced by circumstances of her confinement and political intrigues targeting her is debated), mother of the Spanish King Charles I (who was also Holy Roman Emperor Charles V) became insane early in life. Joanna was two of Charles' 16 great-great-great-grandmothers, six of his 32 great-great-great-great-grandmothers, and six of his 64 great-great-great-great-great-grandmothers.

(Here's my my movie review of the Spanish biopic Juana la Loca.)
Dating to approximately the year 1550, outbreeding in Charles II's lineage had ceased (see also pedigree collapse). From then on, all his ancestors were in one way or another descendants of Joanna the Mad and Philip I of Castile, and among these just the royal houses of Spain, Austria and Bavaria. Charles II's genome was actually more homozygous than that of an average child whose parents are siblings.[2] He was born physically and mentally disabled, and disfigured. Possibly through affliction with mandibular prognathism, he was unable to chew. His tongue was so large that his speech could barely be understood, and he frequently drooled. It has been suggested that he suffered from the endocrine disease acromegaly,[3] or his inbred lineage may have led to a combination of rare genetic disorders such as combined pituitary hormone deficiency and distal renal tubular acidosis.[2] 
Consequently, Charles II is known in Spanish history as El Hechizado ("The Hexed") from the popular belief – to which Charles himself subscribed – that his physical and mental disabilities were caused by "sorcery." The king went so far as to be exorcised.

Charles II died without issue at age 38, which set off a crisis in Europe's balance of power. His will named as king of Spain a relative who was also the grandson of King Louis XIV of France. Britain objected to the union of France and Spain under the Bourbons. In the ensuing War of the Spanish Succession, John Churchill became Duke of Marlborough for winning the Battle of Blenheim. (His descendant Winston Churchill wrote a six volume biography of his ancestor.)

So, the Habsburgs were genetically doomed forever by inbreeding, right? 

Well, on July 4, 2011 died Franz Joseph Otto Robert Maria Anton Karl Max Heinrich Sixtus Xavier Felix Renatus Ludwig Gaetan Pius Ignatius von Habsburg , crown prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire from 1916-18, who lived a model of a healthy, useful life, died at age 98. He stood against Hitler and Stalin, turned down the throne of Spain and recommended Juan Carlos instead, and served in the European Union parliament for decades. Otto von Habsburg was, by political inclination, ancestry, and family trade, a pan-Europeanist. His ancestor Charles V had ruled over more of Europe (and ruled rather conscientiously) than any man between Charlemagne and Napoleon.

Otto von Habsburg's last great contribution to European unity was cosponsoring the Pan-European Picnic on August 19, 1989 on the Austrian-Hungarian border, where the Soviet Empire sprang a terminal leak. By pre-arrangement with Hungarian authorities, the border gate in what we call "the Berlin Wall" (but which was actually 1800 miles long, running from the Baltic to the Aegean) was opened for three hours during Otto's picnic. Hundreds of East German tourists left the Warsaw Pact countries to join relatives in West Germany. 

A few weeks after this genial occasion, the Hungarians decided to make it permanent and stopped stopping East Germans tourists from leaving Hungary for the West. Because there was no serious border control within the Warsaw Pact, a leak anywhere could eventually drain the Soviet Empire of its most valuable inmates. Eventually, the East Berlin authorities gave in on November 9, 1989 and told the wall guards to stop guarding.

Archduke von Habsburg was also a pundit whom I regularly read forty years ago. Charles A. Coulombe writes in Taki's Magazine in Death of an Imperial Pen Pal:
The San Fernando Valley in the 1970s was a very dull place. Hot and dusty, filled with lackluster architectural construction thrown together during the postwar housing boom, it was the last place I wanted to be. 
Back in those far-off days, the LA Archdiocese’s paper, The Tidings, ran a column by the Archduke Otto von Habsburg, son of Austria-Hungary’s last Emperor-King.

I read him, too. The Tidings' other columnist back when I was 12 was the almost as cosmopolitan Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn. We got a quality dose of high-brow Mittel-Europa punditry in the San Fernando Valley

The solution to the genetic woes of inbreeding is to stop inbreeding. Even a modest level of non-inbreeding quickly solves problems like sterility.

Otto, who stopped appearing in public after the death of his wife, Regina, last year, is survived by his younger brother, Felix, as well as 7 children, 22 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren. 

You can do some interesting calculations about average fertility per generation using the last paragraph in the obituaries of prominent people (although one caveat is that the obituaries give survivors, not total descendants). It would be interesting to build a model to predict the number of surviving descendants by generation of, say, people important enough to get their obituaries in the New York Times. Use as factors: date of birth, age at death, sex, career, number of marriages, etc. 

Take the Archduke as an example. So, among his survivors, Otto had 7 children and an average of 3.14 surviving grandchildren per surviving child. But his 22 grandchildren have only 2 surviving great-grandchildren, so far, or 0.09 on average. 

Talk about pedigree collapse.

The Economics of Eldorado

With polygamy back in the news with some breakaway Mormon fundamentalists suing under the same logic as gay marriage, you might be interested in The Economics of Eldorado, a 2008 post I wrote on the how the leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints can afford to have all those wives in that huge compound in Eldorado, Texas where the state seized 437 children:
If you ask most guys, they'll tell you that having one wife is expensive. So, how do you have a community based on having a bunch of wives?

Read the whole thing there.

Polygamists sue using gay marriage logic

From the NYT:
Polygamist, Under Scrutiny in Utah, Plans Suit to Challenge Law 
Kody Brown is a proud polygamist, and a relatively famous one. Now Mr. Brown, his four wives and 16 children and stepchildren are going to court to keep from being punished for it. 
The family is the focus of a reality TV show, “Sister Wives,” that first appeared in 2010. Law enforcement officials in the Browns’ home state, Utah, announced soon after the show began that the family was under investigation for violating the state law prohibiting polygamy. 
On Wednesday, the Browns are expected to file a lawsuit to challenge the polygamy law. 
The lawsuit is not demanding that states recognize polygamous marriage. Instead, the lawsuit builds on a 2003 United States Supreme Court decision, Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down state sodomy laws as unconstitutional intrusions on the “intimate conduct” of consenting adults. It will ask the federal courts to tell states that they cannot punish polygamists for their own “intimate conduct” so long as they are not breaking other laws, like those regarding child abuse, incest or seeking multiple marriage licenses. 
Mr. Brown has a civil marriage with only one of his wives; the rest are “sister wives,” not formally wedded.

Are these "sister wives" actual sisters? That's the kind of thing I find interesting, but nobody else seems to wonder about...
The Browns are members of the Apostolic United Brethren Church, a fundamentalist offshoot of the Mormon Church, which gave up polygamy around 1890 as Utah was seeking statehood.
Making polygamous unions illegal, they argue, violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment, as well as the free exercise, establishment, free speech and freedom of association clauses of the First Amendment. 
“We only wish to live our private lives according to our beliefs,” Mr. Brown said in a statement provided by his lead attorney, Jonathan Turley, who is a law professor at George Washington University. 
The connection with Lawrence v. Texas, a case that broadened legal rights for gay people, is sensitive for those who have sought the right of same-sex marriage. Opponents of such unions often refer to polygamy as one of the all-but-inevitable outcomes of allowing same-sex marriage.  
Such arguments, often referred to as the “parade of horribles,” are logically flawed, said Jennifer C. Pizer, a professor at the law school at the University of California, Los Angeles, and legal director for the school’s Williams Institute, which focuses on sexual orientation law.
The questions surrounding whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry are significantly different from those involved in criminal prosecution of multiple marriages, Ms. Pizer noted. Same-sex couples are seeking merely to participate in the existing system of family law for married couples, she said, while “you’d have to restructure the family law system in a pretty fundamental way” to recognize polygamy.

Huh? Professor Pizer, there are a whole bunch of Muslims who want to have a word with you about which has been around longer: polygamy or gay marriage.

Well, okay, what Prof. Pizer said didn't make much sense, but let me explain what she really meant: Here's the simple logic behind today's conventional wisdom about who should have family law fundamentally restructured on their behalf and who shouldn't:

Gays are good, so they should get whatever they want.
Fundamentalist Mormon wackos are bad, so they shouldn't. 

And that's all you need to know. The rest is just an exercise in legalistic rationalization of the basic who / whom distinction of gays good / Mormons bad.

That logic will stand to keep polygamy banned as long as it's just blond Mormons doing the suing. But, at some point, say, two immigrants from Guinea here on fraudulent asylum visas will sue for a third spousal visa to import a third spouse into their polygamous marital union. If they are all gay black immigrant HIV+ men who are members of a [long-awaited] progressive gay-friendly Muslim sect and they want immigration laws changed to recognize their culture's ancient history of gay polygamy (just wait for the scholarly books), well, then they've got what will, over a few decades, turn into an obvious slam dunk case. I can't predict exactly which legal rationalizations will be trotted out in that kind of case, but it's only a matter of time.
The Supreme Court supported the power of states to restrict polygamy in an 1879 case, Reynolds v. United States. Professor Turley suggests that the fundamental reasoning of Reynolds, which said polygamy “fetters the people in stationary despotism,” is outdated and has been swept away by cases like Lawrence.
Douglas Kmiec, a law professor at Pepperdine University, said today’s courts might not agree with the sweeping societal conclusions of the 19th-century courts, but noted that more attention has been paid in recent decades to the importance of internal family issues as part of the public policy sphere. Questions of child abuse and spousal domination, he said, could figure into a judicial examination of polygamy. 
“We’re more sensitive to the fact that a household can be quite repressive,” he said, and so reservations about polygamy “might be even more profound.”

Nobody ever mentions the leftover men problem with polygamy. We're only supposed to worry about the harms polygamy causes to women, not to men. (Here's my 2002 article on "The Problem with Polygamy.")
Professor Turley disagreed, noting that “there are many religious practices in monogamous families that many believe as obnoxious and patriarchal,” and added, “The criminal code is not a license for social engineering.”