October 8, 2011

Why didn't Steve Jobs try to close The Gap?

The standard rich guy philanthropy these days is to try to close The Gap in school achievement. Bill Gates poured $2 billion into "small learning communities." A few weeks before The Social Network premiered, Mark Zuckerberg gave $100 million to the Newark public schools. 

But the sainted Steve Jobs didn't, at least as far as we know. Why not?

Most obviously, he apparently didn't like giving away money. 

More subtly, unlike Gates and Zuckerberg, he already had had lots of business experience with the K-12 market when he returned to Apple in 1996. The Apple II had been a huge seller to K-12 schools in the 1980s, but when Jobs returned to Apple, he ran as far away from that market as he could, targeting instead the Disposable Income demographic. 

I was reminded of that reading a New York Times article about how K-12 software is always advertised claiming that "studies show" how the product raises tests scores, but the studies usually don't actually say that. There's no bubble in educational software, no hot trends, no nothing. It's just a small time market driven by salesmanship and personal relationships (e.g., public school officials get jobs with software companies then sell to their former underlings). It's a very depressing Willy Loman-type business. 

The reason you always hear about software titans giving money to close The Gap is because they can't figure out how to do it themselves. 

I'm not convinced, however, that the current dearth of good K-12 software is permanent. But, it looks bad right now. If Closing The Gap wasn't such a priority, they might actually get something done. But race makes realism untenable in education, so wishful thinking thrives.

German Shepherds

Susan Orlean, the New Yorker writer who wrote an unfilmable book about orchids that Charlie Kaufman tried to adapt in Adaptation (Meryl Streep played Orlean), writes:
Take the German shepherd. Originally bred to the exacting standards of a German cavalry officer, it became one of the 20th century’s most popular working breeds. But in recent years that popularity, and the overbreeding that came with it, has driven the German shepherd into eclipse: even the police in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, who had relied on the dogs for years, recently announced they were replacing them with Belgian Malinois, because the less-popular Malinois were hardier and more reliable.

I don't know much about dogbreeding, so what exactly does "overbreeding" mean? Incest? Not culling the poorest specimens from the litter? 

I've only owned two dogs. First, a cocker spaniel, Topper, back when they were hugely popular and becoming notoriously overbred. He was an aggressive pacifist. He was strongly opposed to children fighting or even arguing loudly, and if you kept it up, he'd bite you. The second was a mutt, Barney. He was more socially adjusted, but he got epilepsy and died young.

When I lived in Chicago in the 1980s and 1990s, Germans shepherds were, by a long reach, the most popular breed among blacks. It seemed like a smart choice: big, loyal, scary, smart, friendly to your friends. I don't know if that's true anymore.

It seems like nowadays in L.A., dog ownership has trifected: the upscale winner class of nice families goes for some kind of retriever, dopey single girls go for yappy purse dog Chihuahuas, and People With Tattoos go for pit bulls. My wife's aunt in Connecticut told me that these days you have to buy a purebred if you have small children because most mutts (or "curs" as she calls them) are part pit bull. I have no idea if that is true.

I've mentioned this before, but it sure doesn't seem like there has been much progress over the last century in developing improved dog breeds relative to the hugely productive previous century. Orlean seems to imply that most of the good breeds are developed by one person or a handful of breeders, and then the breed deteriorates after it becomes fashionable. 

For example, Orlean says the German shepherd was developed in Germany by one man a little over a century ago. An American soldier brought Rin Tin Tin back to his home in L.A. from WWI, then got him into the movies. Rin Tin Tin was a great animal actor and that set off a fad for German shepherds. Perhaps, but that seems like a long time for the breed to deteriorate. In contrast, the cocker spaniel fell apart quickly after becoming the most popular breed in the 1950s.

The rise of scientific animal breeding in the 18th and 19th Centuries in turn inspired some of the best scientific minds of the age, such as Darwin and Galton, to come up with their big ideas, such as selection and regression. But all that seems very alien to the 21st Century.

Here's an article about a German shepherd guard dog who sold for $230,000.

October 6, 2011

Mitt Romney's foreign policy advisers

Mitt Romney announced his shadow national security council to advise him on foreign policy. How many of these people were against the Iraq Attaq? Any of them? How many were with the Project for a New American Century? Don't these people have a college football team they could root for instead of starting wars?

By the way, remember how Mormons like Brent Scowcroft used to have a bit of a leg up in national security and FBI circles because Mormons were seen as unlikely to have close family ties to foreign countries? Well, it's good to see that the Mormon Bias in foreign policy has largely been eradicated and now we finally have a foreign policy establishment that Looks Like America.

Cofer Black
Christopher Burnham
Michael Chertoff
Eliot Cohen
Norm Coleman
John Danilovich
Paula Dobriansky
Eric Edelman 
Michael Hayden
Kerry Healey
Kim Holmes
Robert Joseph
Robert Kagan
John Lehman
Walid Phares


Afghanistan & Pakistan
James Shinn, Co-Chair
Ashley Tellis, Co-Chair

Tibor Nagy, Chair 

Evan Feigenbaum, Co-Chair
Aaron Friedberg, Co-Chair 
Kent Lucken, Co-Chair

Eric Edelman, Co-Chair
Robert Joseph, Co-Chair
Stephen Rademaker, Co-Chair

Michael Chertoff, Co-Chair
Michael Hayden, Co-Chair

John Lehman, Co-Chair
Roger Zakheim, Co-Chair

Nile Gardiner, Co-Chair
Kristen Silverberg, Co-Chair

Human Rights
Pierre Prosper, Chair

International Assistance
Grant Aldonas, Co-Chair
Daniel Runde, Co-Chair

International Organizations
Christopher Burnham, Co-Chair
Paula Dobriansky, Co-Chair
Robert O'Brien, Co-Chair

Late in life surgery

From the NYT:
Surgery Rate Late in Life Surprises ResearchersBy GINA KOLATA

Surgery is surprisingly common in older people during the last year, month and even week of life, researchers reported Wednesday, a finding that is likely to stoke, but not resolve, the debate over whether medical care is overused and needlessly driving up medical costs. 
The most comprehensive examination of operations performed on Medicare recipients in the final year of life found that nationally in 2008, nearly one recipient in three had surgery in the last year of life. Nearly one in five had surgery in the last month of life. Nearly one in 10 had surgery in the last week of life. 
The very oldest patients were less likely to have surgery. Those who were 65 had a 38.4 percent chance of having surgery in the last year of life. For 80-year-olds, the chance was 35.3 percent, but the rates fell off more sharply from there, declining by a third by age 90. ... 
But the sheer number of operations at the end of life was unexpected, said the researchers, at Harvard School of Public Health.

I'm not sure why this is so unexpected. I can imagine a lot of different scenarios under which surgery precedes death, such as:

- "We'll just open up the abdomen like this, remove the one malignant tumor and ... uh-oh."

- "I've extracted the second bullet, so where's the third slug? Where's the third goddam ... Uh-oh."

- "In this kind of routine operation, the only thing we surgeons have to worry about is causing massive sepsis by nicking the bowel with the scalpel. ... Uh-oh."

This kind of study always reminds me of the department store owner who said that half of his advertising budget was wasted, he just didn't know which half. If you knew the exact date of your death you could avoid a lot of wasted medical care, life insurance, and much else.

Path Dependency in Corporate America: Apple v. Microsoft products

Having been a personal computer guy for a typical corporation in the mid-1980s, one of the things we computer guys talked about a lot, both at the time and in hindsight throughout the 1990s, was whether we had made a big mistake going down the IBM PC/Microsoft path rather than the Apple path. I tended to think we had been mistaken because the productivity advantages of being on the Apple Macintosh path would have paid off over the decades. But it was very hard for me to identify a point where we should have made the switch. 

A stylized example of the typical situation facing us was that, say, after two years of introducing PCs into the company, we had 10% of the workforce on PCs. We could likely get a big enough budget this year to raise that total to 20% in 12 months, and if we executed correctly, an even bigger budget allotment to raise the percentage to 40% in 24 months. On the other hand, if we had switched to Apple, the higher upfront per user cost would have meant our budget wouldn't have stretched as far. Plus, there would have been a period of adjustment for us computer guys that would have slowed our ability to roll out computers to more users. So, maybe after 24 months we'd only be at 25% computer usage rather than 40%. And that would be hard to justify to management. And to ourselves.

Looking back from the perspective of 2011 when we would have had 100% computer usage for 15 or more years, well, then even small productivity advantages of a few percent per year for the entire workforce for using Macs over PC/Windows make Macs seem like a no-brainer. On the other hand, that long-term orientation assumes a low discount rate that's not really justifiable. We had a very short term orientation because we were competing in a rapidly changing three-company industry that only had room for about 1.5 competitors. We managed to survive because we drove one rival out of business, but still nearly went broke several times ourselves, so we didn't actually ever have much of a margin for an expensive switch.

Okay, now that I'm done writing this, I notice that Kevin Drum, who is about the same age and has a roughly similar career path (such as it is) as I do, has put up exactly the same post. But his is a lot better than mine. So, if you are interested in this topic, read his instead of mine.

"Our top story tonight: Steve Jobs is still dead"

Steve Jobs Dies at 56

Mossberg Shares Personal Story About Jobs


Walt Mossberg: My Phone Calls with Steve Jobs

Jobs Fans Mourn World-Wide

As news spread of the death of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, Apple fans began gathering at the company's headquarters in California and chain of stores world-wide to express their condolences.

David Gelernter: Steve Jobs and the Coolest Show on Earth

On the Third Day, Steve Jobs to Rise Again from the Dead

Omar Thornton II

From the San Francisco Chronicle on the black truckdriver who shot 9 people, killing six at his job at a quarry in Cupertino, CA:
Mose said she believed Allman "was just pushed over the edge, he really was. I guess he decided to just take things into his own hands." 
Another friend, Walter Wilson, board member of the African American Community Service Agency in San Jose, said, "Shareef felt that there was some discrimination on that job, but I had the impression he had it under control." 
Wilson said Allman told him he thought the quarry company was targeting older employees who had seniority for layoffs so it could hire cheaper, younger workers at half the wages. 
"He also felt that he encountered discrimination because he was the only black person in the job that he had," Wilson said. "He applied for a supervisor job and they gave it to a person with less experience than him, who was not African American. Shareef thought that maybe they didn't like black folks." 
The local head of Allman's union said the driver had just come off of a three-week suspension for hitting a wire on the job with his truck. 
"We talked last Friday and he didn't seem to be angry about the suspension," said Bill Hoyt, secretary-treasurer of Teamster Local 287. "He told me he thought he was done wrong, and then there were a couple of things said and we actually laughed." 
Hoyt said Allman had also had conflicts with his company in the past over working hours. He said the union hasn't made any conclusions about whether Allman was experiencing racial or age discrimination, but that it would be seeking information. 
"There are people up there who have 10 or more years on him, so I'm not sure to what make of the age thing," Hoyt said. 
A spokesman for the Lehigh cement plant said the company was crafting a statement about Allman and the shootings, but that it won't go into great detail about his work record.
"There are a lot of issues we still need to sort through, so we won't be offering much on this gentleman's history at the plant," said spokesman Nick Rangel. 
The quarry victims were shot during a routine workplace safety meeting. Co-worker Shaffer said Allman had repeatedly yelled, "You think you can f-- with me?" as he shot his victims with a handgun and an assault rifle. 
Killed were Mark Munoz, 59, of San Jose, Manuel Pinon, 48, of Newman (Stanislaus County) and John Vallejos, 51, of San Jose. Six other men, including Vallejos' brother, Jesse Vallejos, 52, of Gilroy were wounded.

So, the dead men were Hispanics instead of whites, in contrast to the very similar case of truckdriver Omar Thornton who shot up his beer distribution worksite last year for racism. So, I wouldn't expect as much media and police interest in investigating whether the Hispanic victims had it coming for being racist toward the black shooter as in the crazy Thornton media coverage.

What we won't see at all, of course, is the opposite inquiry: does the national obsession with rooting out racism and demonizing racists encourage unstable blacks to take matters into their own hands? Last January, when a nut murdered six people in Arizona, the press went wild blaming it on Tea Party and immigration restrictionist rhetoric. Of course, that turned out to be all wrong. But what about Thornton and Allman? Let me make a bet: You won't hear much about it.

October 5, 2011

The San Fernando Valley spineflower is back

People wonder why California housing is subject to booms and busts. How come supply couldn't keep up with spikes in demand when the Fed cut interest rates in 2002?

After 15 years of litigation and protests over the 21,000-home development, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors gave its blessing Tuesday for the first phase of the Newhall Ranch project to break ground.  
The board's decision marks a major step forward for the Santa Clarita-area master planned community that has survived bankruptcy and legal challenges since it was first proposed in the mid-1990s. ... 
"This is the 15-year culmination of getting state and federal approvals," said Marlee Lauffer, vice president of marketing and communications for Newhall Land. "This is the approval of our first neighborhood." 
Located between the Santa Clara River and State Route 126 [west of 6 Flags Magic Mountain], Landmark Village will consist of 1,174 condominiums and 270 single-family homes, all connected by plazas, retail centers and parks. Groundbreaking is expected in two to three years, Lauffer said. The development will be built out over 30 years.

A mere 47-48 years total. They may get Phase I built out before I hit 100. Or, then again, maybe not.
Landmark Village is part of the larger Newhall Ranch project, which is planned to stretch over 12,000 acres near the 5 Interstate and the 126 Freeway. 
While boosters describe Landmark Village as a quaint small-town neighborhood with condos, porch-front homes, and corner stores, critics call it a planning disaster. 
Newhall Ranch still faces staunch opposition from environmentalists and some Native American groups, who filed a lawsuit in January arguing the state Department of Fish and Game issued permits that allow the project to build in the Santa Clara River flood plain, desecrate Native American burial sites and destroy San Fernando Valley spineflower habitat. The case is expected to be heard next year.

Ah, yes, the San Fernando Valley spineflower ... where would I be for material without you? I've been writing about this ugly dime-sized weed since the 1990s. I don't know how many millions of dollars in hourly billings lawyers and environmental consultants have racked up discussing the San Fernando Valley spineflower over the last 15 years.

The Save the San Fernando Valley Spineflower Movement is one of the funnier scams around. This weed was first listed in a botanist's book in the early 20th Century, then forgotten about. To the extent that anybody noticed it (and why would they? It's a tiny, abrasive-looking weed), it was lumped in with the virtually identical San Bernardino spineflower, which is said to be all over the place (although how would I know?).

Then, in the 1990s, neighbors wanting to stop the Ahmanson Ranch development had biologists comb the property looking for some kind of endangered species to use in halting the project. They found the San Fernando Valley spineflower. Not that it was on any endangered species lists. In fact, nobody had either noticed it or missed it for two generations. But, the burden of proof was then on the developers to prove that the San Fernando Valley spineflower wasn't only found on the Ahmanson Ranch, that it was all over the place. They eventually gave up and turned it into a park. (A very pretty place to hike, by the way, but the one time I went hiking there I came back covered in ticks. I don't like ticks.)

But, amazingly enough, this incredibly rare and endangered San Fernando Valley spineflower keeps turning up on whatever proposed megadevelopment neighbors want to block: first the Ahmanson Ranch, now the Newhall Ranch:
This variety of spineflower was thought to be extinct, having not been seen since 1929, until it was rediscovered accidentally on the Ahmanson Ranch development site in southeastern Ventura County.   It was presumed to be extinct by CNPS and botanists until June of 1999 when botanist Rick Reifner found it at a previously unreported locale on Laskey Mesa in the Simi Hills of Ventura County, just north of Calabasas.   It has also been found at several locations on Newhall Ranch near Valencia/Castaic Junction area ...

You know, you might almost think that the San Fernando Valley spineflower is not really that endangered, that it's just that nobody ever looks for this tiny, unpleasant plant unless they want to find it to use the Endangered Species Act to stymie a development.

Obviously, the hubbub is not really about the San Fernando Valley spineflower, it's about things like traffic. This proposed development is on one of the few spots of level land (the Santa Clara River floodplain) in the rugged Transverse Ranges north of the San Fernando Valley. The single route to the jobs of Los Angeles area is I-5. People who commute on I-5 don't want more commuters on I-5. If I commuted on I-5 from Santa Clarita into LA everyday, I'd probably be signing "Save the Spineflower" petitions against Newhall Ranch, too.

That's the inevitability of combining scenic terrain with a large population: you get very long development times and a high cost of living. You can blame ideology, but my guess is that, in the long run, terrain drives ideology. If the populations of Texas and California switched homes tomorrow, in a couple of generations attitudes on environmental restrictions on development would be right back to where they are today.

Personally, I'm in favor of all sides in these debates: property rights, environmental preservation, affordable housing, fast commutes, limiting carbon emissions, etc etc. I think the wants of citizens on all sides are not unreasonable. There's no single Solution.

Yet, there's an obvious way not to exacerbate these conflicts of interests among Americans: don't let vast numbers of foreigners into the country. Pointing this out makes me some kind of extremist kook. 

Some people never learn

From the New York Times, an update on the Vulcan Society disparate impact discrimination lawsuit filed by the Bush Administration (thanks, Alberto!):
In a lacerating decision that accused Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of willfully ignoring the racial imbalance in the New York Fire Department, a federal judge ruled on Wednesday that a court-appointed monitor would be installed to oversee the department’s recruitment efforts and ensure that more minority candidates are hired.
The decision by the judge, Nicholas G. Garaufis of Federal District Court in Brooklyn, comes at the end of four years of bitter litigation in which the city and the Fire Department stood accused of allowing the department to remain almost 97 percent white for decades, despite the fact that the city’s population is about 25 percent black.

Judge Garaufis has been revealing himself to be an innumerate fool for a couple of years now, but do you think anybody he knows has ever pointed this out to him? There is no shame in our society for being a certain kind of idiot. He, in fact, gives off repeated hints that he's immensely proud of himself.

The judge's latest decision is a case study in disparate impact reasoning, such as it is. 

The one interesting thing is a footnote showing that while blacks make up 3.8% of the FDNY, blacks make up 61.4% of the Corrections Department. Why no disparate impact study of that department, where blacks are wildly overrepresented? (Presumably, blacks like working for a black-dominated department where you don't have to run into burning buildings, the technical knowledge requirements are lower, and maybe there are more chances for graft.)

New York

A New Yorker writes:
Continuing on my "Thoughts on the Obama Unintended Consequences Wrecking Ball Effect" riff, I wonder if we can't compare Obama to NYC's erstwhile hilariously and calamitously bad black Mayor, David Dinkins. 
I remember the era well. Dinkins was supposed to herald a black power era in NYC. Dinkins was supposed to only the first of a permanent black power structure in the city. In fact quite apart from the fact that he was a "failed upwards" dumbass, this just wasn't in the cards. The demographic presence of African-Americans has plummeted in NYC as the number of foreign-born blacks (and browns and yellows and of course Hispanics of all colors) has skyrocketed. 
This left the power bag in the hands of (who else?) rich whites. Giuliani came after Dinkins because of the remnants of working class whites (in Staten Island and Bklyn), but white power in NYC was cemented by the Bloomberg ascendancy. 
Whites are now a demographic minority in NYC but they are firmly in power. It's almost amazing to someone who saw the black-white racial struggles of the 1965-1990 era. But it is fact. It used to be taboo to speak of a white school chancellor. It's now taken for granted. Sure, what they say is PC bullshit, but everyone simply assumes that a white guy or gal will be schools chancellor. 
I make no predictions for the future. I expect we will have Asian pols - maybe. They strike me as so politically meek. I just don't know. I no longer even try to predict the future. But I can see what is going on around me now, and I see that predictions of black power ascendancy in NYC were completely off the mark. 
It is true that NYC's demographics aren't applicable to the rest of the country but I think that the lesson about black political ascendancy may hold even so. I truly do think that Obama is the last of a breed and not the harbinger of future black political power. What power? They have no money, and they are losing demographic ground to "Hispanics", and two white guys [Pitt and Clooney] are our biggest movie stars.

The latter is a reference to the writer's hunch that the recent decline in buzzworthiness of Will Smith and Denzel Washington is related to Obama's ascent, that for so long the public had been play-acting with the notion of a black President via the movies, that the reality has turned out to be less awesome than expected, which has, in turn, somehow deflated the appreciation for black stars. It's not exactly a theory, but more of a finger to the wind sense.

Amanda Knox: The Hot White Defendant

I hadn't been paying attention to the Amanda Knox brouhaha in Italy, but, yeah, it turns out to be just another example of the Hunt for the Great White Defendant. A black burglar raping and murdering a college girl is depressing, boring and stereotypical, even in Italy, so let's spice up the crime by making up stories about how the victim's 20-year-old white Seattleite roommate must have been the Real Killer, as OJ would say. Back in March, commenter nightowl2548 wrote:
Just read up on the Amanda Knox case in Italy and am struck how this is Europe's version of "The Great White Defendant." She is obviously innocent, all she did was come home from her boyfriend's in the morning and had the misfortune to be the first to stumble upon the crime scene. For that the cops interrogated her for 43 hours and demanded she "imagine" how it may have happened. They then announced "case closed" until two weeks later the forensic evidence came back all pointing to a local black burglar. Yet the local cops and tabloids refused to believe it and instead defamed an ordinary college girl out of pure spite and hatefulness towards Americans. To them a granola crunching, pot smoking, hippie Seattle girl is a right wing, rich, spoiled, warmongering, arrogant Bush loving American. Just like a liberal getting caught in a race riot, they hate us all no matter what our politics.

I don't really like the word "meme," but it's important to realize how important it is which memes colonize the hive mind and which don't. The meme of "The Hunt for the Great White Defendant" was coined by Tom Wolfe in the Great American Novel of the 1980s, The Bonfire of the Vanities, but, as far as I can tell, it disappeared from consciousness until I started using it to describe Dick Wolf's TV show Law & Order around 2005 or so. I applied it to the Duke Lacrosse rape hoax in 2006, and it kind of, sort of took off from there, but, honestly, there's probably seldom more than two degrees of separation between anybody who uses it and me. It's not the kind of thing that, say, the New York Post would use in a headline yet. Basically, 99.9% of Americans, much less Italians, aren't memetically equipped yet to get the joke.

October 4, 2011

Just how far will white liberal gentrifiers go?

From my column in Taki's Magazine:
On August 31st, I extolled Clybourne Park (now playing at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre), Bruce Norris’s 2011 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama about white flight in 1959 and white gentrification in 2009. That same day, in an example of life imitating arts criticism, liberal gentrifiers sent a 40-man SWAT team to smash down the door of an extended family of about 30 underclass blacks still living in Chicago’s Lincoln Park on the 1800 block of N. Sheffield Ave. (That’s right between Steppenwolf on N. Halsted and the Crate & Barrel on N. Clybourn.) 
Answering a question left hanging by Clybourne Park -- Just how ruthlessly far will today’s liberals go to make the desirable parts of the inner city white again? -- Mayor Rahm Emmanuel's city government evicted the pit bull-owning Harris clan from the two adjacent homes they’ve owned since 1970. ... One Lincoln Park resident explained, “People don’t pay $20,000 a year in property taxes to have neighbors like these.”

Read the whole thing there.

Coaching tennis players and teachers

Surgeon Atul Gawande has a fine article in The New Yorker about his experience hiring a retired master surgeon to coach him on his scalpel technique the way top tennis and golf stars have swing coaches. Famous opera singers often employ vocal coaches, but, it's highly unusual for surgeons to seek outside criticism. I once attended a lecture by Tom Wolfe, who mentioned that surgeons and fighter pilots are the two most arrogant professions he had encountered.

Gawande is a moneyball surgeon who compares his annual performance (e.g., percentage of operation X that have complication Y) against national averages. He noticed that when he hit his mid-40s he had stopped improving. So he sought out an old teacher to watch a few of his operations and give him notes, which turned out to be quite useful.

Gawande goes on to visit a public school to watch ex-teachers coach teachers, and makes a big deal about how we should have -- revolutionary idea! -- coaching for teachers. Of course, we already have a lot of teacher teachers, maybe too many. 

The economics of coaching works like this. Consider tennis. Lots of young people love the game and play for free in the hopes that someday they'll get good enough to get paid. But even those who do become tournament pros are typically physically washed up by 25 or 30. So, there is a huge supply of potential coaches relative to current tournament pros. Coaching offers them a chance to stay in the game in some fashion, even at reduced pay. 

In contrast, in teaching, it's not clear when the average teacher gets too old for the classroom, but it's considerably older than when the average tennis pro gets too old for Wimbledon. What is clear, however, is that a lot of teachers get sick of teaching other people's children and would like to transition into a nice, child-free education job dealing mostly with other grown-ups, especially because the pay isn't less, it's the same or even higher. That's one reason for the huge expansion over the years in the number of staffers and consultants in school districts, most of whom are ex-teachers. Promoting your best teachers (to the extent that any school district knows who their best teachers are) to teach teachers might well hurt students more than help teachers.

Also, note that most relationships between individual sports athletes and their coaches are mutually voluntary. In contrast, school districts assigning ex-teachers to coach current teachers is less likely to be a good fit.

The problem with teaching is that it's a lot like being a doctor in the 18th Century. Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of Charles Darwin and Francis Galton, was the most celebrated doctor in England. King George III asked him to cure him of his madness. Erasmus, no fool, turned him down. 

You see, 18th Century doctors had relatively few ways to actually cure anybody of anything, so their reputations for healing the sick mostly depended upon their skill at "prognosis." Erasmus Darwin was the best at figuring out which potential patients would likely improve on their own and which wouldn't. He avoided the latter like the plague, even if they were the King of England. Similarly, nobody knows (or much cares) how good, say, Harvard is at teaching undergraduates. But Harvard is outstanding at prognosis of high school seniors. And that's what counts at present in education.


The first: Is there anything I can do to format this blog so it works better on a smartphone (without making it worse on a computer)? I don't have a smartphone, so I'm not sophisticated about what people who read my blog on a cellphone would prefer. I try to make minor changes as seem warranted. For example, over the years, as broadband became more popular relative to dial-up, I increased the number of postings on the main page. But, lately, I've cut the number down to 14 for the benefit of people on slower mobile devices. But, I'm pretty clueless about what else to do. (Plus, I'm lazy, so I probably won't make the changes you suggest, but at least you can take comfort in knowing I'll feel mildly guilty about it.)

The second is more general: I'm constantly seeing websites, such as the Washington Post, excitedly announce that they have custom-programmed a new "app" that you can download from the Apple App Store for reading the Washington Post. But isn't the whole point of the World Wide Web and web browsers that you don't need a custom-designed program to read the Washington Post? How is this a step forward?

Around 1995, I did some consulting for Peapod, the company that delivers groceries you order online. Back then, Peapod had their own custom software program to load on your computer and their own bank of modems with their own phone number for your modem to dial, none of which worked terribly well at great expense. I told them they should get on this new fangled thing called the Web. For a long time, that seemed like pretty good advice. But now it's fashionable to have your own app.

What would an iSteve app do, anyway? 

My old articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

On the minimum wage and immigration

There have been lots of good comments on Ron Unz's proposal to raise wages to lower unskilled immigration. An old friend emails:
Ron Unz has the right of this. Raise the minimum wage and the vast majority of businesses will obey. The more contentious issue is how much a higher MW will curb immigration. Ron clearly thinks it will have a large effect. I am less sure, but still in favor of the change. However, there are strong positive aspects to raising the MW even if it doesn't have as big an effect on immigration as Ron hopes.

Minimum Wage Enforcement

As we both know, some Federal laws are well enforced and others are not. Try buying explosives in this country. It is essentially impossible without an appropriate license and a legitimate use. Virtually no black market in explosives exists. As a consequence, America's internal terrorists have been forced to make their own. Sadly that is possible. America's very tough and well enforced explosives laws are a product of a wave of terrorism 100 years ago (predictably tied to immigration).

However, a better analogy is Social Security payroll taxes. Plenty of companies are tempted to cheat on payroll taxes. However, you really can't get away with it. If you try, the IRS will come after you. Significantly, directors and officers are personally liable for unpaid payroll taxes. As a consequence, they tend to favor strict compliance with the law. There is also criminal enforcement. See here and here. The U.S. has been averaging 70 indictments per year with a 80% incarceration rate in recent years.

In other words, the Federal government has been able to enforce our payroll tax laws by sentencing roughly 60 people a year to jail for roughly 24 months each. Of course, there are other enforcement actions as well. Still, you can see the point. A fairly minimal enforcement effort is quite sufficient. This also demonstrates how little effort has been made to enforce our immigration laws.

Could minimum wage enforcement work as well? Actually, it should work even better. Why? Workers have no immediate interest in payroll tax collection. If their employer fails to make the required deposits, they rarely even know and don't suffer any ill effects. The same can be said for the minimum wage. If the minimum wage is supposed to be $10 and hour and you get $8, that's pretty obvious. Beyond that, low wage workers probably don't generally understand the payroll tax. They are quite aware of the minimum wage.

As a consequence, the minimum wage can be made almost entirely self-enforcing with an 800 number and modest rewards to workers who turn in their employers. Every business in America is required to display certain labor law posters (see here). Just add the 800 number and some minimal reward information to the posters.

I would even argue that the 800 number and rewards, while desirable, aren't necessary. Why? Because we seem to be able to enforce the minimum wage now without them. The bottom line is that minimum wage enforcement isn't politically contentious. No one really tries to interfere with minimum wage enforcement. Raising the minimum wage, even for reasons related to immigration, won't change that.

Minimum Wage Effects

I am far less confident that raising the minimum wage will have as much impact on immigration as Ron Unz believes. It will assuredly reduce the demand for low wage labor (a good thing) and stimulate innovation in several industries including agriculture, food service, food processing, hospitality, construction, etc. That's desirable as well.

However, at $10 an hour, an illegal may still be more attractive than a native or legal immigrant. Indeed, higher wages should make these jobs even more attractive to illegals. The converse, is that natives and legal immigrants will also want them more. Essentially, Ron appears to be arguing that making these jobs more attractive will induce natives and legal immigrants to fight harder for these jobs and force illegals out. Maybe, is as far as I would go.

The big picture macro effect will assuredly be fewer low wage jobs. At $10 an hour, the number of lost jobs is likely to be small. At $15 an hour, the number could be material. You can argue that natives and legal immigrants will suffer the jobs losses and that raising the minimum wage will accelerate the displacement of legal workers by illegal. That's a stretch, but not inconceivable. A more likely outcome is that a shrinking supply of unskilled jobs will (eventually) make the U.S. a less desirable place to enter (legally or otherwise).

A more subtle point is that a higher minimum wage makes low-skilled immigration less attractive to higher income workers. In other words, at $10-15 hour low-skilled immigrants can't provide cheap lawns and meals but still impose almost all of the same social and tax costs. The average middle-class American hasn't done a detailed cost benefit analysis of unskilled immigration. However, most folks do seem aware that low-skill immigrants make dry cleaning cheaper and are also a taxpayer burden. Raising the minimum wage shifts that calculation.

Why it's a Good Idea

A sensible country rewards work and minimizes dependency. Raising the minimum wage does both. For decades the U.S. has steadily reduced the rewards for unskilled labor and tried to compensate by relentlessly expanded the welfare state (food stamps, WIC, Medicaid, public housing, EITC, etc.). Only one of those programs (the EITC) is tied to work. The rest are either independent of labor force participation or discriminate against working (you lose benefits via employment).

The results have been disastrous, to say the least. Time to change direction.

Thank you

P.S. The above are serious arguments. A less impressive point, is that raising the minimum wage to reduce immigration will make all of the Open Borders Libertarians crazy. Steven Landsburg will have a nervous breakdown. Matt Yglesias will go insane trying to decide if he should support or oppose such a scheme. 
P.S.S. Middle-class American appear oblivious to the impact of immigration on housing costs, but are acutely aware of the impact on schools.

Okay, but my experience serving on a jury in 2006 was that the state of California has trouble even putting immigrant used car dealers in jail for blatant sales tax fraud. I was the only juror to vote to convict the president and CEO of a used car dealership that had embezzled $2 million in sales taxes owed Sacramento.

Farm employers in California have lots of experience using Farm Laborer Contractors as middlemen to shield them from getting in trouble for violating various laws that are supposed to protect migrant workers. 

October 3, 2011

Would raising the minimum wage deter low-skilled immigration?

In VDARE, I offer my first response to Ron Unz's American Conservative article Immigration, the Republicans, and the End of White America. Next week I'll flesh out the idea of an actual "Sailer Strategy" for the GOP.

Ron argues that immigration restrictionism is a political nonstarter, but mass unskilled immigration benefits the plutocratic class, so it needs to be curtailed So, rather than restrict immigration to raise wages, raise wages to restrict immigration by boosting the minimum wage in the direction of prosperous Australia's sky-high one.

I think a carefully crafted minimum wage law could play a useful role in a "defense in depth" system, but enforcement would be an obvious problem:
Recall the old joke in which the starving economist on the desert island trumps the physicist and chemist in their debate over how to open a can of beans: "Assume we have a can-opener." 
Ron's suggestion implies: "Assume we have the rule of law." Of course, we don't anymore—at least not in labor markets corrupted by decades of illegal immigration. The honest Finns can pass legislation about employment with some confidence that the law will be obeyed. But we have depleted that ancestral patrimony. So a new law would mostly just put out of work law-abiding American citizens.

Read the whole thing here.

Ron defends the enforcement feasibility via email:
Let's assume that the MW legislation were enacted, and included very harsh penalties for violation, including prison sentences. Consider the following scenario: 
(1) Greedy employer hires Jose, just arrived from Mexico with little English as a dish-washer, paying him $7/hour rather than the required $12/hour.  Mr. Greedy laughs to himself about how he's saving $200/week because the Mexican he hired is so ignorant and dumb.  Ha, ha, ha... 
(2) Six weeks later, Jose cautiously goes to Mr. Greedy, and in broken English, mentions that his friend Hector had told him about the wage law, but he'd very much hate to get anyone like his kind boss into trouble.  In fact, the more he thinks about it, the more he really misses his family back home in Mexico and since he just needs $15,000 to buy a truck for his ranch, maybe his kind boss could give him a personal "loan" for that amount, after which he'd go away and never bother anyone again, avoiding all the legal problems for everyone.  Mr. Greedy decides paying $15,000 is better than risking five years in prison, pays the money, and decides that Jose was the most expensive cheap dishwasher he'd ever hired. 
(3) Presumably, in a few cases especially stubborn employers or especially angry workers would actually lead to prosecutions, with the resulting massive publicity terrifying all the under-paying employers and tempting all the under-paid workers.  The risk-reward ratio of ignoring the minimum wage laws would be so extreme that only the most insane employers would take the risk. 
(4) So, the question comes down to whether such harsh legal penalties could be included in the law.  Now the vast majority of powerful business interests already pay well above the minimum wage, and even the ones which would be effected by the new requirements normally have well-organized payroll departments, and would tend to comply with all these requirements.  About the only group at risk of the penalties would be the sort of very small-scale/informal/marginal businesses that don't hire big DC lobbyists, so none of the politicians really care about what happens to them.  In fact, their somewhat upscale competitors might prefer that they be driven out of business or at least inconvenienced so
as to weaken their competition.  And obviously almost all of these businesses are non-unionized, so on the Democratic side of the isle, the unions would like nothing better than to cause them trouble. 
Anyway, that's my take on the enforcement issues...

Anti-Red Queen Aesthetics

In Alice in Wonderland, the Red Queen explains that you have to run faster and faster just to stay in one place. 

I'm reminded of that when I get emails pointing out that the aesthetics of this blog are so 2006, and I really ought to update them to look better. I appreciate the suggestions, but that would require work. Instead, I use the time I could use improving the look to write blog posts about why I'm not improving the look. See, I have an anti-Red Queen strategy: I just wait for everybody else's site to get worse-looking. Glancing at the new Slate homepage (page down a few times to get the full effect), I can see that all the pieces of my masterplan are starting to come together.

October 2, 2011

Wilson and Pinker

A few follow-ups to my earlier posting about James Q. Wilson's review of Steven Pinker's upcoming The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.

The "intelligent" v. "intellectual" distinction regarding Bush that some have accused Wilson of ignoring is a red herring because Pinker repeatedly explicitly refers to Presidents' IQs, as guesstimated by Dean Simonton in 2006, a study that Pinker finds more authoritative than I do. So, Wilson is correct to point to more direct evidence of IQ (such as scores on IQ tests, admissions tests, and Yale grades) that is largely ignored by Simonton and Pinker in favor of ratings of the "integrative complexity" of samples of Presidents' speeches. 

Of course, most of the Presidents didn't write their own speeches, and they all had ulterior motives for whatever cognitive style they chose to project in their speeches. For example, Eisenhower successfully projected an image of bland Middle American straight-forwardness, when he was global strategist, a master Machiavel, "a far more complex and devious man than most people realized," as Nixon admiringly noted.

Second, this isn't an argument about how bright Bush was in an absolute sense, it is an argument about how bright Bush was relative to Kerry. As Howell Raines, former head man at the NYT wrote in the WP in 2004 in "The Dumb Factor:"
"Does anyone in America doubt that Kerry has a higher IQ than Bush? I'm sure the candidates' SATs and college transcripts would put Kerry far ahead."

In reality, there's a whole bunch of evidence that Kerry is bright enough, but was overrated because he's a liberal Democrat. For example, both went to Yale, where Bush's grades were very slightly higher. Then Bush got into Harvard for his professional degree (not by much apparently, judging by how happy his parents are over the news in Oliver Stone's fairly reliable biopic "W"). In contrast, Kerry, who was an antiwar celebrity already, had to get his professional degree at Boston College law school. One of his professors there remarked on the incongruity of seeing this glamorous figure in his plebian classroom. (Bush had more family pull, but John Forbes Kerry was hardly without connections, either.)

Finally, JFK (Kennedy, not Kerry) was a helluva guy. I like him. But what did Nixon have over him other than cunning and health? Charm? Physical coordination? Hair? Wit? Wealth? Family connections? Sex appeal? Nixon had nothing else going for him. 

The two men had been House freshmen together in 1947 and got to know each other fairly well. They had long seen each other as peers, rivals, and, to a certain extent, friends. And when they ran against each other in 1960, that was the voters's judgment too: overall, in their very different ways, they matched up pretty well against each other.