December 31, 2011

The wheels of justice grind slowly

I've never had a very strong opinion on the lawsuit of the man in Connecticut who scored too high on an IQ test to be a cop, but I've been hearing about it for 15 years, So, for completeness sake: here's the final outcome:
Jordan, a 49-year-old college graduate, took the exam in 1996 and scored 33 points, the equivalent of an IQ of 125. But New London police interviewed only candidates who scored 20 to 27, on the theory that those who scored too high could get bored with police work and leave soon after undergoing costly training. 
Most Cops Just Above Normal The average score nationally for police officers is 21 to 22, the equivalent of an IQ of 104, or just a little above average. 
Jordan alleged his rejection from the police force was discrimination. He sued the city, saying his civil rights were violated because he was denied equal protection under the law.
But the U.S. District Court found that New London had “shown a rational basis for the policy.” In a ruling dated Aug. 23, the 2nd Circuit agreed. The court said the policy might be unwise but was a rational way to reduce job turnover. 
Jordan has worked as a prison guard since he took the test.

If he were really smart, he'd have figured out he needed to tank the test.

December 30, 2011

If I say so myself

The NYT features an essay by Thomas Vinciguera, "30 Years Later, Revisiting 'Brideshead,'" on the famous 1982 miniseries of the Evelyn Waugh novel. The last paragraph includes a particularly insightful quote, if I say so myself.

Are Republicans or Democrats fatter?

I got to wondering about this crucial question while sipping on an eggnog and reading an L.A. Times article about the most and least obese communities in Los Angeles County. The skinniest is Manhattan Beach, south of LAX at only 4% obese. It's popular with NHL players and others who like to run on the beach between zipping to the airport. Manhattan Beach went for Obama in 2008, but until then it had been a rare reliable Republican outpost on the West Side. 

The fattest town in L.A. County is Bell Gardens, a 96% Latino inland city, at 36% obese. Bell Gardens consistently votes Democratic.

In general, people in L.A. are not terribly fat by modern American standards. At 6-4 and 200 pounds (which sounds pretty good, because you are used to reading height-weight combinations for broad-shouldered, low-body fat athletes, not for narrow-shouldered pundits), I feel like Gozer the Gozerian reincarnated as the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man when I waddle down Ventura Blvd. 

Much of Democrats' feelings of superiority are tied into the observation that Red States are generally fatter than Blue States. But, that's a lot like the popular Red State - Blue State IQ hoax that went around after the 2004 election: Blacks and Latinos simply aren't considered in the average white Democrat's mental picture of why Democrats are better. Moreover, among whites in Red States, Republicans tend to be better educated and, likely, skinnier.

On the other hand, Republicans are more likely to be married. As comedian Emo noted back in the 1980s: "My sister and her husband just found out they haven't been legally married for the last ten years because the minister who married them was a fraud. It's really sad. Now, she'll have to lose all that weight."

So, it's hard to say for sure. There's probably something in the GSS about this. Joseph Fried's book on Republicans and Democrats says that the weight of evidence suggests that Democrats are a little fatter, but it's probably a pretty close run thing.

The politics of Ron Paul's foreign policy

Richard A. Oppel of the New York Times offers a commendable article on the appeal of Ron Paul's foreign policy:
One recent national poll by ABC News and The Washington Post found that 45 percent of Republicans and independents who lean Republican said Mr. Paul’s opposition to American military interventions overseas was a major reason to oppose his candidacy, compared with the 29 percent who saw it as a major reason to support him. ...
... He also said military service members favored Mr. Paul in donations to Republican candidates. While there is no way to prove this because only itemized donations over $200 require occupations to be listed — information that is self-reported — a review by The New York Times of federal contributions suggests that active-duty and retired service members overwhelmingly lean to Mr. Paul. He received at least $115,000 in itemized contributions through Sept. 30, almost double that of all other Republican candidates combined.

So, Paul's stance on the military interventions abroad represents almost 1/3rd of the right half of the electorate who have a strong opinion on the subject, including a significant fraction of politically engaged service members: a losing total, but still a significant segment of public opinion that is represented by few other voices.

Waiting for SuperMandarin

A reader writes:

"Can you call 'em or what? I just happened to re-read your review of the education documentary Waiting for Superman last night.  You talked about how the director [Davis Guggenheim] drove past 3 public schools in his area [the L.A. beach community of Venice] because they supposedly had "bad teachers" to send his kid to a private school. You said that instead of "bad teachers", the reason he avoided those schools was likely because their enrollments were nearly all NAM.  And you pointed out that one of the schools was starting a Mandarin immersion program, and that they might be doing that to attract higher scoring kids.

"Now, today's LA Times has an article about that very program, and how popular it is, and guess what?  Almost everyone in the immersion program is white or Asian:"
Broadway Elementary last year joined the ranks of more than 200 schools across the state to offer a dual-language immersion program in which students learn in two languages with the goal of becoming academically proficient in both. In the school's "50-50" program, teachers who use Mandarin in the classroom and those whose instruction is in English are paired, and students spend half their day with each. 
Broadway began the program to help boost plummeting enrollment — the school had reached a low of 257 students in 2008-09. The experiment worked — maybe too well.
With about 130 students in the Mandarin program so far, school enrollment is now at 330. Principal Susan Wang is concerned that the dual-language learners will outnumber the students in the regular school classes. And, by 2013-14, she figures that the Mandarin program will need a bigger home. 
The newcomers to the Mandarin program also changed the demographics of the little neighborhood school. In 2009, 81% of Broadway's students were Latino, 15% were black, six were white and none were Asian. The next year, the new classes of Mandarin immersion students were almost exclusively white and Asian.

I don't disapprove of the contortions that affluent beach-town liberals go through to keep their kids out of classrooms dominated by the children of illegal Mexican immigrants. What I do disapprove of is how those same people demonize less-privileged Americans who want a little of the same thing for their own children when they ask for our border laws to be enforced.

iSteviest movies of 2011

It's always fun to try to guess who is influenced by your stuff, whether directly or indirectly. In 2011 movies, If I had to guess, I'd look to the screenplays of three of the more interesting movies of the summer: Rise of the Planet of the ApesX-Men: First Class, and Bad Teacher. (By the way, all three made at least $100 million at the domestic box office.) And maybe a little bit toward two fine indie films: The Guard and Win Win

On the other hand, even I can't see much of my influence on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but, who knows? 

NYT's Question "Should the World of Toys Be Gender-Free?"

Children of the World's Answer: "No."

(You can read the NYT's op-ed there, but it never answers every parent's question: How do you get children to want gender-free toys? You can read about my failures trying here.)

December 28, 2011

Tonight's biggest WaPo story

Here's the banner headline across the top of
In Washington, wide gaps in school discipline 
Donna St. George 6:15 PM ET 
Data suggest African American students are two to five times more likely to get suspended or expelled as their white peers, and that the gap exists across the region's urban, suburban and rural school districts.

Fortunately, the Obama Administration is on the case!

Seriously, this article is a classic in the genre of Nobody Ever Learns Anything. 

NYT starting to get it?

The Washington Post has an article on a Pew Hispanic Center poll that gives the usual Rolodex Spin garnered from talking to self-proclaimed Hispanic Leaders about What Hispanics Want (More Hispanics!):
President Obama holds a wide lead among Hispanic voters when matched against potential Republican challengers, even as widespread opposition to his administration’s stepped-up deportation policies act as a drag on his approval ratings among these voters, according to a new poll.

Surprisingly, Julia Preston of the New York Times' article on the same poll comes out and says something I've been saying since 2002: When you ask Hispanic likely voters which issues are their priorities, Immigration generally comes in down around The Environment. The NYT explains
The Pew Hispanic poll offers some clues to why Mr. Obama’s immigration policy, which has been loudly criticized by many Latino organizations, has not done more to hurt his standing with Latino voters. 
Among registered Latino voters, immigration is not a primary concern. For Latino voters, immigration is sixth in importance, the poll found. 
Their top three issues are jobs, education and health care, the same issues identified as most important by Latino voters before the midterm elections in 2010 and the presidential vote in 2008, Pew pollsters found. On these issues, Latinos appear to trust Democrats more.

For years, a small number of unimportant, uncharismatic, uninfluential Latino "leaders" have been -- mostly by promptly returning phone calls from East Coast reporters -- conniving with the national media to whip up Hispanic racial fury. But, not many Hispanics read the Washington Post, apparently,  so this seemingly dangerous campaign has had relatively little real world impact. In the world of campaign strategy talk, however, it has become mostly unchallenged wisdom. 

December 27, 2011

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo:" Fight the (Imaginary) Power

From my review in Taki's Magazine of David Fincher's remake of the hit Swedish movie:
The more popular it is to worry over some organized threat, the less of a danger it likely is in reality. After all, if some group or institution were truly fearsome, most people would be terrified into silence or admiration. 
For example, Dan Brown made a fortune off his The Da Vinci Code pulp novel during this low ebb of the Catholic Church’s powers with a tale of how a nearly omnipotent Church conspires to cover up the golden age of pagan feminism. 
Of course, actual pagans traditionally complained that Christianity was too female-friendly. But Brown is practically Edward Gibbon compared to his successor as a global publishing sensation, the late Stieg Larsson, author of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (or as it was originally titled in Sweden, Men Who Hate Women). Himself a hate-filled lefty nerd, Larsson concocted an elaborate fantasy world for true believers in the conventional wisdom.

Read the whole thing there.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo mania is one of these giant phenomena that is pretty funny when you get the joke, but almost nobody gets the joke (or, in this case, jokes).

December 26, 2011

The future of football

A couple of weeks ago, the NFL signed gigantic new contracts with some of the TV networks that carry its games. The NFL's deep pockets are now reminiscent of those of the cigarette companies a generation ago, which attracted huge lawsuits. Legal battles over brain injuries appear inevitable. 

Football is a helluva game, but it's time for its fans to start thinking about what parts of the game should and could be preserved to keep football from going the way of boxing.

For example, football is traditionally built around huge interior linemen colliding, but only the more knowledgeable fans watch line play. Most fans care most about passing and open field running. But the rules make the five interior linemen to be ineligible to receive passes, so, rather than spread linemen out where they could try to get open to catch passes, it makes sense to bunch them shoulder to shoulder for trench warfare. Perhaps an everybody eligible to receive rule would spread the game out. Or, perhaps, in the long run, there will be fewer players on the field and something resembling summer passing league play will emerge.