October 15, 2011

Black infant mortality

The NYT writes
Precisely why the black infant mortality rate is so high is a mystery that has eluded researchers even as the racial disparity continues to grow in cities like Pittsburgh, Los Angeles and Boston. 
In Pittsburgh, where the unemployment rate is well below the national average, the infant mortality rate for black residents of Allegheny County was 20.7 in 2009, a slight decrease from 21 in 2000 but still worse than the rates in China or Mexico. In the same period the rate among whites in the county decreased to 4 from 5.6 — well below the national average, according to state statistics. ...

And the article goes on, in the standard fashion, to talk about the black-white gap from various perspectives. 
Recent studies have shown that poverty, education, access to prenatal care, smoking and even low birth weight do not alone explain the racial gap in infant mortality, and that even black women with graduate degrees are more likely to lose a child in its first year than are white women who did not finish high school. Research is now focusing on stress as a factor and whether black women have shorter birth canals.

My guess would be that the differences would be part nature, part nurture. The nature side looks to me like at base, an r-K differential. The nurture side, however, needs investigating because matters could be improved. For example, what is the role of STDs?

The problem with most conventional thinking about racial differences is what I call the midget-giant gestalt issue, after the time when I was at UCLA and I saw a midget talking to a normal sized guy. But then a second midget walked up and I suddenly realized the midgets were six-footers and the normal sized guy was 7'-4" 290 pound basketball player Mark Eaton. 

Similarly, American race discourse is obsessed with black-white comparisons, which often don't get very far for lack of a third party to provide perspective. 

Thus, a table accompanying the article shows that the infant mortality rate among Hispanics is slightly lower than among whites, much less among blacks. (Click on the table above to see more columns.) That poor Hispanics have much, much lower infant mortality than poor blacks is not a new development.  I noticed that back in the early 1990s. But there is no reference in this 2011 article to Hispanics. You would think that this would be a key avenue of research because Hispanics have, evidently, found cheap ways to have healthy babies.

There are now 50,000,000+ Hispanics in the U.S. We're not supposed to notice their failures. Can we at least notice their successes? 

October 14, 2011

Obama's latest war

From Reuters:
President Barack Obama said on Friday he was sending about 100 U.S. military advisers to Uganda to support central African allies pursuing Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, and other rebel commanders. ... 
"Subject to the approval of each respective host nation, elements of these U.S. forces will deploy into Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo," he said.

The Bush Administration sent 17 unarmed advisers to Uganda, but Obama is sending 100 armed soldiers. It seems as if Uganda -- Yoweri Museveni, Proprietor (since 1986) -- is pretty good at invading the Congo, but not so hot at putting down a rebellion led by a dim-witted lunatic.

The War Nerd, John Dolan, profiled America's newest enemy, the Lord's Resistance Army, back in 2002:
This week I’m honoring some great Christian killers: the Lord’s Resistance Army of Uganda. These kids — and they are kids, mostly 13-16 years old — get my vote for funniest army on the planet. ... 
There was another, way crazier and more fun: Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army. Little Joseph came from a very devout Christian family: his aunt Alice founded the LRA and passed it on to him when she died. Aunt Alice started some of the great traditions of the LRA, like telling your troops that if they just wore her special amulets, bullets won’t hurt them. Aunt Alice had everybody in the LRA believing God hisself would be their kevlar vest. This turned out to be untrue, but there was a great escape clause: by the time the chumps found out the amulets didn’t work as advertised, they were DEAD! Now that’s the way to run a complaint department” Thousands of satisfied customers and dissatisfied but uncomplaining corpses. ... 
People won’t see this — won’t see how simple and practical the African style of warfare really is. The LRA is at war with the Ugandan Army, but it’s war Central-Africa style. We’re not talking Gettysburg or Verdun here. The idea isn’t to have big battles but to sneak up on an enemy village and kill all the civilians, take their livestock and steal their stuff.

Mr. Anon comments: "It takes a child to raze a village."
Reporters like to call this “insane,” which is crap. Which would you rather do, get sent off to another continent to fight heavily-armed opponents (war Western-style) or kill the neighbors who wake you every damn morning with their stupid lawnmower (war African-style)? Especially if you can see they’ve got a nice DVD player in there? Personally, I’d much rather kill the neighbors and steal their stuff. And if they’ve got a daughter just hitting puberty — well, that’s just gravy.

I hope the Department of Defense has gotten the malaria drug issue straightened out. Over the last decade, Marines sent to Liberia tend to get malaria at very high rates. There had been complaints about the side effects of the prophylactic drug they are supposed to take, and some think they are skipping it.


Anthropologist Kate Fox writes for the BBC:
There is enormous cross-cultural variation in the way people behave when they drink alcohol. There are some societies (such as the UK, the US, Australia and parts of Scandinavia) that anthropologists call "ambivalent" drinking-cultures, where drinking is associated with disinhibition, aggression, promiscuity, violence and anti-social behaviour. 
There are other societies (such as Latin and Mediterranean cultures in particular, but in fact the vast majority of cultures), where drinking is not associated with these undesirable behaviours - cultures where alcohol is just a morally neutral, normal, integral part of ordinary, everyday life - about on a par with, say, coffee or tea. These are known as "integrated" drinking cultures. 

I like to have a good map of stereotypes in my head, so here's the missing piece of the puzzle for me when it comes to drinking cultures: if the Italians sip wine with every meal and the Scandinavians occasionally binge drink on hard liquor, where do the Germans fit in?

My theory is that alcohol helps people have two different personalities, sober and convivial, which can be convenient.
This variation cannot be attributed to different levels of consumption - most integrated drinking cultures have significantly higher per-capita alcohol consumption than the ambivalent drinking cultures. 
Instead the variation is clearly related to different cultural beliefs about alcohol, different expectations about the effects of alcohol, and different social rules about drunken comportment. 
This basic fact has been proved time and again, not just in qualitative cross-cultural research, but also in carefully controlled scientific experiments - double-blind, placebos and all. To put it very simply, the experiments show that when people think they are drinking alcohol, they behave according to their cultural beliefs about the behavioural effects of alcohol. 
The British and other ambivalent drinking cultures believe that alcohol is a disinhibitor, and specifically that it makes people amorous or aggressive, so when in these experiments we are given what we think are alcoholic drinks - but are in fact non-alcoholic "placebos" - we shed our inhibitions. 
We become more outspoken, more physically demonstrative, more flirtatious, and, given enough provocation, some (young males in particular) become aggressive. Quite specifically, those who most strongly believe that alcohol causes aggression are the most likely to become aggressive when they think that they have consumed alcohol.

My impression of Italy from the week I spent there in 1980 was that Italian men didn't need disinhibiting to get over their shyness so they could start hitting on women. That's just what they did, at least in the touristy cities. It was like a country full of Silvio Berlusconis. Above is Ruth Orkin's 1951 photo American Girl in Italy, and that's what Florence was like in 1980, too.

By the way, the American Girl in the photo is 83 today and said in August:
“Some people want to use it as a symbol of harassment of women, but that’s what we’ve been fighting all these years,” Craig said in a telephone interview from her home in Toronto. “It’s not a symbol of harassment. It’s a symbol of a woman having an absolutely wonderful time!”

The girl in the picture and the photographer were out trolling for reactions. The photographer liked the reactions the American Girl got the first time she walked down this particular street in Florence, so she had her go around the block and do it again, which sent the hubba-hubba meter to eleven. (But, that's still pretty much what it was like in 1980, so this picture is merely exaggerating reality to convey reality, which is pretty much what photography is all about.)

P.S. The American Girl went back to America, then went back to Italy and married an Italian man.

P.S. Sorry about posting this twice. If you commented on the version I just deleted, I've moved your comments to the end of this comment thread.

October 13, 2011

It's hard to get good terrorist help these days

From the NYT:
But Mansour J. Arbabsiar, 56, the man at the center of an alleged Iranian plot to kill a Saudi diplomat in Washington, seems to have been more a stumbling opportunist than a calculating killer. Over the 30-odd years he lived in Texas, he left a string of failed businesses and angry creditors in his wake, and an embittered ex-wife who sought a protective order against him. He was perennially disheveled, friends and acquaintances said, and hopelessly disorganized. 
Mr. Arbabsiar, now in custody in New York, stands accused by federal prosecutors of running a global terrorist plot that stretched from Mexico to Tehran, and that was directed by the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. Many of his old friends and associates in Texas seemed stunned at the news, not merely because he was not a zealot, but because he seemed too incompetent to pull it off.

Somebody should ask an economist what we should do about the poor quality of terrorist recruits. Being an economist, he'll probably suggest: more immigration!

This guy reminds me of the mastermind of the sales tax fraud when I was a juror: both were Iranian used car dealers. (Also, here's my review of the British comedy about inbred Pakistani suicide bombers, Four Lions.)

October 12, 2011

Gay posthumous Thought Police out to get John Updike

This piece in Slate gives a sense of what the gay marriage whoop-tee-doo was really all about:
John Updike's Homophobic Book Review 
This one, from 1999 (subscription required; you can also read much of it on Google Books), was Updike’s take on The Spell, a novel by Alan Hollinghurst about four gay men in England in the mid-’90s. Here is the very first sentence of Updike’s review:
The novels of the English writer Alan Hollinghurst take some getting used to; they are relentlessly gay in their personnel, and after a while you begin to long for the chirp and swing and civilizing animation of a female character. 
It doesn’t get better from there. ... And Updike didn’t just express discomfort at the Hollinghurst’s precise, physically detailed observations about gay sex: He actually wrote a kind of brief against gay love as a compelling novelistic subject. “Boredom swoops in without heterosexual clutter to obstruct its advent,” he wrote; “nothing is at stake but self-gratification.” He went on:
Novels about heterosexual partnering, however frivolous and reducible to increments of selfishness, social accident, foolish overestimations, and inflamed phsyical detail, do involve the perpetuation of the species and the ancient, sacralized structures of the family. 
In other words, I guess, if God wanted there to be great gay novels, he wouldn’t have made us this way. 
Updike’s review did cause at least some stir at the time. The writer and activist Larry Kramer “circulated an e-mail alert among gay writers” after the review was published, as the New York Observer reported. “It really feels like an attack,” Tony Kushner said to the Observer of the review; Sarah Schulman called it “outrageous,” and wrote a letter to The New Yorker (which was not, so far as I can tell, ever published). 
The Observer also spoke to Updike, and he proceeded to dig himself sadly deeper: 
I’d be happy not to discuss [homosexuality]. Hollinghurst made it kind of tough. It makes it the unavoidable topic of discussion. It’s all about it. And for me to avoid his own emphasis would certainly be not doing my reviewer’s job. 
Updike makes it sound as though the controversy was that he referred to gay sex at all, not that he spoke about it in a bigoted manner. (That he would have been “happy not to discuss it” appears to indicate his fundamental discomfort with the subject.) 
And yet the incident seems to have been largely forgotten. ... I’d have to read further in Updike’s work, or at least reread what fiction of his I have read, before I could say whether I agree with Toíbín that Updike’s apparent prejudice damaged his fiction. But it certainly resulted in at least one rather terrible review.

Well, that's big of you.

Here's a more general question about trends in American culture. In the 20th Century, African-Americans were clearly a rising group in terms of cultural contributions. But, that doesn't seem to be obviously true anymore. Instead, as blacks lost the urge to impress whites that they could live up to white standards in culture, they've settled down to certain cultural ghettos they can dominate (basketball, rap, unfortunate baby names, etc.) and don't seem to be contributing as much anymore. Over the last couple of years, as the national spell of silliness in making a non-entity like Barack Obama president has become more obvious, we've started to see hints that blacks are losing their Most Favored Group status.

The whip hand in American life seems to be shifting toward gays, as their punishing of various black basketballers and comedians over the last couple of years demonstrates. But here's the question: are gays, in their moment of political triumphalism, doing all that much culturally that's interesting right now? Or are they sidetracking their energies into petty political vendettas like this hissy fit over the late John Updike?

I mean, 50 years ago, a bunch of gays and bis who wanted to put on a show would get together and make, say, West Side Story, which is really, really good. It's also not directly about Being Gay, which has to sneak in via metaphor and art. Since then, eh... The irony is that right now, the most talked about musical on Broadway (a term that has become almost oxymoronic as Broadway became an out of the closet gay ghetto) is by the South Park guys.

October 11, 2011

"The Ides of March"

From my movie review in Taki's Magazine:
George Clooney likes to make serious, important movies such as Up in the Air, Michael Clayton, and The American, in which he plays broken men beaten down by The System. Fortunately, it seems to have finally dawned on Clooney that he exudes too much Clooneyosity to be plausible as a small-time loser. Thus, in his fourth directorial effort, The Ides of March, he has cast himself—quite credibly—as the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination. 

Read the whole thing there.

October 10, 2011

What's the deal with the public speaking circuit?

The Washington Post writes about the public speaking racket:
On his last day as secretary of defense, Robert M. Gates received the vaunted Medal of Freedom from President Obama. 
Less than a week later, he received another coveted prize: the keynote speaker gig at the annual National Grocers Association convention in Las Vegas. 
In official Washington, there is an afterlife, and it’s a crowded, cacophonous place. Called the public speaking circuit, this D.C. Elysium is bound by the same transactional laws as the realm that preceded it. But instead of political parties, it is governed by speakers bureaus that promise visibility to those who sign up. In the past 30 years, a proliferation of bureaus has promoted, booked and enriched former lawmakers, candidates, consultants, Cabinet members, political reporters and gadflies. 
“Let’s say you are secretary of something — there are two ways you are going to make a really good living: a lobbyist or a speaker, or a combination of the two,” said James Carville, the political consultant and a client of the Washington Speakers Bureau, the agency that represents Gates. 
In Washington, said Carville, who has given about 3,000 speeches over the past 20 years, relevance is currency, and the speaking circuit “keeps you in.”

I really don't get the public speaking business, even though I've been wondering about it for years. I've seen James Carville enough for free on television for one lifetime. The guy looks like he's just burst out of John Hurt's abdominal cavity (see video). As for Robert Gates, yes, I could well imagine paying him a load of money to give a speech if I were the Emir of Kuwait or somebody like that, to encourage the others, but if I were in the grocery business? 

I could see wanting to go to a talk by some reclusive personality who is never on television, but, of course, the opposite is true: everybody wants to crowd into a giant hotel ballroom to see -- in person! -- some guy they've seen on CNBC a hundred times. It's like how baseball franchises used to worry that if they put their games on TV, nobody would pay to go to the old ballpark anymore; but when the Cubs put all their home games on TV, it turned out that everybody then wanted to pay to go to Wrigley Field because they'd seen it on TV. 

If something's not on TV, it's not really real. Fortunately, we now have hundred if not thousands of TV channels. 

From the speaker's perspective, flying around the country giving speeches seems like it would get old pretty fast. Is Obama going to be happy doing this for several decades? For Obama, the worst case scenario is that he fails of re-election, then spends decades flying around the world first class giving speeches. His best case scenario is that he gets re-elected and then spends decades flying around the world in his own Boeing Dreamliner giving speeches. No wonder he seems kind of moody lately...

Modern Warfare

Having recently read Steven Pinker's new The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, it's interesting to check in on the latest from 2011's own war. How does this one match up with the great wars of the past?
NATO Commander Says Resilience of Qaddafi Loyalists Is Surprising 
WASHINGTON — The commander of NATO’s air campaign in Libya has said that hundreds of organized fighters loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi pose a “resilient and fierce” threat in the two remaining pro-Qaddafi strongholds, and are exploiting the urban settings to complicate the alliance’s mission to protect civilians. 
“It’s really been quite interesting how resilient and fierce they’ve been,” says Lt. Gen. Ralph J. Jodice II, center, of Qaddafi loyalists in Libya.  ...
General Jodice said a mix of African mercenaries and Qaddafi loyalist troops have successfully sustained command-and-control and supply lines in staunch defense of the cities, despite a NATO air campaign that is now in its seventh month and a multipronged ground assault in Surt by anti-Qaddafi fighters. 
“It’s really been quite interesting how resilient and fierce they’ve been,” General Jodice said in a telephone interview on Sunday from his command center just north of Bologna, Italy. We’re all surprised by the tenacity of the pro-Qaddafi forces. At this point, they might not see a way out.” 
General Jodice’s comments, coming on Sunday as former rebel fighters battled their way into the heart of Surt and then were driven back by sniper and mortar fire, tempered the boasts of anti-Qaddafi forces that Surt would soon be theirs and once again underscored the limitations that have confronted NATO throughout the air campaign. 
NATO’s mandate to protect civilians who are threatened or have come under attack is complicated by the alliance’s caution in striking targets — like buildings where snipers are hiding — that could result in the death or injury of civilians. 
... Strike missions have dropped to about two dozen a day from 50 missions daily, and allied warplanes rarely drop their precision-guided bombs these days, allied officials say. Take the three-day period from last Friday through Sunday, for example. 
On Friday, one vehicle staging area was attacked and destroyed in Surt, according to a NATO statement. On Saturday, there were no strikes. And on Sunday, three armed vehicles in Bani Walid were hit. 
The United States is still flying an array of surveillance planes and remotely piloted Predator drones, particularly near Surt. But General Jodice said there was no coordination or intelligence-sharing between NATO and the anti-Qaddafi fighters, though British and French special forces troops, among other advisers on the ground in Libya, have for months helped train the former rebels and provided them with intelligence. 
The advances by the anti-Qaddafi forces on Sunday came after three days of intense fighting that included some of the Libyan conflict’s bloodiest battles to date. The former rebels seized a convention center and a hospital in Surt, both of which General Jodice said had been used as sniper nests and loyalist command posts.

A convention center?
“The situation is extremely dynamic and NATO continues to monitor and act, when required, to protect civilians from attack or threat of attack.”

The Battle of El-Alamein this ain't.

Univision and Obama?

As I've mentioned before, whenever I read anonymously sourced articles from Washington circles about how Obama is a loner, is out of touch, is in over his head (here's a new one from the New York Post: "Obama growing isolated from his own administration"), I get this weird suspicion that the reporter just got off the phone with Haim Saban, the Israeli-American Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers billionaire who is a major bankroller of the Clinton wing of the Democrats. After the Democratic primaries in 2008, Saban flirted with McCain, but then stuck with the Democrats and was apparently quite happy with Obama's appointments, such as Hillary to State. Saban is one of those guys who would make a great college football booster. (Here's one of his charities.)

Now, it's certainly possible that Obama is feeling a little blue these days, but mostly Obama is Obama, a "blank screen" as he aptly put it, upon whom people project their various fantasies. One fantasy that's going around at present is that Obama will chuck it in and let Hillary be the Democratic nominee in 2012. (That seems extremely implausible to me.)

On the other hand, I don't have any evidence for this hunch about Saban trying to undermine Obama. But I am very interested in what the Saban wing of the Democrats is up to these days. Are they 100% gung ho behind Obama? 

But in trying to come up with a way to test this question, I stumbled upon a bigger question that's relevant to the Saban question but is also important in its own right: What's Univision up to regarding the 2012 Presidential race? Who are they leaning towards? 

A few years ago, Univision, the dominant Spanish-language network in the U.S., was bought from Republican Italian-American billionaire Jerry Perrenchio by a group fronted by Saban. They paid top dollar at the peak of the subprime bubble that made Hispanics a particularly lusted-after target for advertisers. Presumably, Saban is mostly interested at present in making his big investment pay off, but he presumably can afford to tilt Univision's news coverage slightly in a direction he likes. Here's a 2007 Fortune Magazine article:
The man with the golden gut 
How Haim Saban, a flinty self-made billionaire, plans to turn Univision into the next great network - and put Hillary Clinton in the White House. Fortune's Stephanie Mehta reports. 
... Clinton, Saban says, ignited his interest in using his resources to find solutions to strife in the Middle East. He soon became the Democratic Party's largest single donor. "I don't say this lightly," says Terry McAuliffe, head of the Democratic National Committee at the time. "Haim Saban saved the Democratic Party." 
Now Saban is turning his energies to Hillary Clinton.

Univision could offer Saban an isolated playpen in which to put his thumb on the scale slightly while maintaining plausible deniability with Obama. "That's just a mistranslation of a Spanish idiom, Mr. President!" I don't know, I'm just speculating.

The new president of Univision News since late 2010 is Isaac Lee, a recent (2000) immigrant from Colombia, where he was a hard-charging magazine editor. He has studied at Universidad de los Andes and Hebrew University in Jerusalem. 

At the moment, the only stuff in the English language press about Univision and Lee is about how Republican presidential candidates are mad at him for trying to pressure golden boy Republican senator Marco Rubio into appearing on Univision by offering to withhold a story about his brother-in-law's decades-old drug arrest. (Rubio is a favorite of the Republican counterparts of Saban.)

But, is anybody keeping track of how Univision coverage is trending on the overall election? This seems like the kind of thing that slides under the radar but would be interesting to know.

A long-term Sailer Strategy

From my new VDARE.com column:
The basic concept behind a long-term Sailer Strategy for Republicans: You want more of the kind of people likely to vote for your party in the country and not so many of the kind of people likely to vote for the other party. 
This may sound a shocking thing for any Republican to say. But there’s a flagrant double standard here: the Democrats get to implement this logic quite unashamedly. They have long boasted that their policy of bringing in foreigners to vote for them will eventually give them a Chicago-like one-party hegemony over the United States.

Read the whole thing there.

October 9, 2011

"Obama, the Loner President"

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Obama's need for Alone Time. Now the Washington Post has a big article on that theme. Obama has always reminded me a little bit of myself -- if I had a gigantic enough ego to think I should be President and then actually got elected President for some dopey, irrelevant reason, like everyone suddenly deciding it would be awesome to have a tall President. 
Obama, the loner president
By Scott Wilson, Published: October 7 
Beyond the economy, the wars and the polls, President Obama has a problem: people. 
This president endures with little joy the small talk and back-slapping of retail politics, rarely spends more than a few minutes on a rope line, refuses to coddle even his biggest donors. His relationship with Democrats on Capitol Hill is frosty, to be generous. Personal lobbying on behalf of legislation? He prefers to leave that to Vice President Biden, an old-school political charmer. 
Obama’s circle of close advisers is as small as the cluster of personal friends that predates his presidency. There is no entourage, no Friends of Barack to explain or defend a politician who has confounded many supporters with his cool personality and penchant for compromise. 
Obama is, in short, a political loner who prefers policy over the people who make politics in this country work. ... 
Which raises an odd question: Is it possible to be America’s most popular politician and not be very good at American politics? 
Obama’s isolation is increasingly relevant as the 2012 campaign takes shape, because it is pushing him toward a reelection strategy that embraces the narrow-cast politics he once rejected as beneath him. Now he is focused on securing the support of traditional Democratic allies — minorities, gays, young people, seniors, Jews — rather than on making new friends, which was the revolutionary approach he took in 2008, when millions of first-time voters cast their ballots for his promise of change. 

Most of those first-time voters were either young or minorities, so I don't see that big a difference.
This essay is based on conversations with people inside and outside the White House since March 2009, when I began covering the Obama administration.  ... 
The president’s supreme confidence in his intellectual abilities and faith in the power of good public policy left the political advisers and policymakers in his White House estranged.  
.... “He’s playing chess in a town full of checkers players,” a senior adviser and campaign veteran told me in the first months of the administration. Obama had a “different metabolism,” the aide explained. 
“It’s not cockiness,” the adviser added, “it’s confidence.” 
... Who was the president listening to? The academics, bankers and campaign operatives who populated his inner circle — with personalities much like his own.

... On the stump, Obama is often the star of his own story, preferring a first-person identification with nearly any issue. 
... But where is everyone else in the running autobiography that is the Obama presidency? 
The president never spends more than 15 minutes working a rope line, his advisers say, and donors complain about a White House that keeps Obama away from the necessary push and pull of America’s capitalist democracy. 
The Clinton presidency, which Obama frequently praises for its economic stewardship, offers an instructive comparison. 
Where Clinton worked a room until he met everyone, Obama prefers to shake a few hands, offer brief remarks and head home to spend the night in the residence, so he can have breakfast with his girls the next morning and send them off to school. That may be good for his mental health

Uh-huh ...
, but it’s a challenge for those in the reelection campaign assigned to manage the whims of big donors. 

Whenever I read this kind of inner circle anti-Obama piece, I always get the impression the writer has just gotten off the phone with Haim Saban complaining that Hillary would be a much better President.
... After hours, Obama prefers his briefing book and Internet browser, a solitary preparation he undertakes each night after Sasha and Malia go to bed. 
... Obama rarely uses the trappings of his office or his status to make new political allies, whether it’s an evening phone call to a big donor or a thank you to a legislator who casts a tough vote.

Black people in Chicago never thought he was all that. His own wife isn't terribly awestruck by him. They had about the right read on him. He's kind of a small man: relatively elegant as far as politicians go, but not a big man. It's just white people who kept telling him he should be President. 

The weird thing is that nobody in the press ever wants to admit that Obama got to be President because he's black -- or, too be more precise, because he's an extremely white black guy. That's just unthinkable. Instead, he got to be President because of some extremely long, complicated reason that the pundit makes up.

Here's a thought experiment to test that: What if his Indonesian stepfather Lolo Soetoro had decided to tell everybody that little Barry was his son, and Stanley Ann had gone along with the gag? (Weirder stuff has happened.) Barry wouldn't have known. He was a tot when his real dad skedaddled. Lolo could have gone around saying, "Granted, my kid doesn't look totally Indonesian, but his wooly hair comes from this New Guinean great-grandmother of mine I never happened to have mentioned before." 

So, assume Obama goes through roughly the same life, but he, and everybody else, believes he's half Indonesian/Papuan and half white. Would he be President today? Would you even have ever heard of him?