March 10, 2012

Occam's Butterknife applied to PISA

A lot of the ideas that are broached early on iSteve end up being kicked around later in the prestige press, but they tend to get dumbed down in the process of replacing Occam's Razor with Occam's Butterknife. For instance, I've been saying for a decade that looking at test scores internationally can say a lot about the future of a country. Today, Tom Friedman today writes in the NYT about PISA scores
A team from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or O.E.C.D., has just come out with a fascinating little study mapping the correlation between performance on the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, exam — which every two years tests math, science and reading comprehension skills of 15-year-olds in 65 countries — and the total earnings on natural resources as a percentage of G.D.P. for each participating country. In short, how well do your high school kids do on math compared with how much oil you pump or how many diamonds you dig? 
 The results indicated that there was a “a significant negative relationship between the money countries extract from national resources and the knowledge and skills of their high school population,” said Andreas Schleicher, who oversees the PISA exams for the O.E.C.D. “This is a global pattern that holds across 65 countries that took part in the latest PISA assessment.” Oil and PISA don’t mix. (See the data map at: 

I can't reproduce the scatter plot here, but I'm not blown away by the correlation I see when I look at it. It's better to be smart than endowed with lots of natural resources, but, overall, it's best to be both.
As the Bible notes, added Schleicher, “Moses arduously led the Jews for 40 years through the desert — just to bring them to the only country in the Middle East that had no oil. But Moses may have gotten it right, after all. Today, Israel has one of the most innovative economies, and its population enjoys a standard of living most of the oil-rich countries in the region are not able to offer.” 

Actually, Israel's overall PISA scores are mediocre. Israel does worse on the PISA than Russia, which has a resource-driven economy. Israel has a smart fraction, definitely, but even that doesn't appear to be all that spectacular according to what PISA measured. (This may say more about limitations in PISA than about Israel.)
So hold the oil, and pass the books. According to Schleicher, in the latest PISA results, students in Singapore, Finland, South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan stand out as having high PISA scores and few natural resources, while Qatar and Kazakhstan stand out as having the highest oil rents and the lowest PISA scores. (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Algeria, Bahrain, Iran and Syria stood out the same way in a similar 2007 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, or Timss, test, while, interestingly, students from Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey — also Middle East states with few natural resources — scored better.) 
Also lagging in recent PISA scores, though, were students in many of the resource-rich countries of Latin America, like Brazil, Mexico and Argentina. Africa was not tested. Canada, Australia and Norway, also countries with high levels of natural resources, still score well on PISA, in large part, argues Schleicher, because all three countries have established deliberate policies of saving and investing these resource rents, and not just consuming them. 

Norway did mediocre on the latest PISA relative to, say, Finland. Canada and Australia score well because they are the only rich countries whose immigrants, first and second generation, don't drag down the national averages. That's because they carefully select immigrants to, explicitly, boost the welfare of natives. (Finland has very few 15-year-old immigrants, too)
Add it all up and the numbers say that if you really want to know how a country is going to do in the 21st century, don’t count its oil reserves or gold mines, count its highly effective teachers, involved parents and committed students. “Today’s learning outcomes at school,” says Schleicher, “are a powerful predictor for the wealth and social outcomes that countries will reap in the long run.”


But, the reverse correlation between test scores and natural resources asserted here is mostly a statistical illusion due to 2 problems:

1) Which countries participate in PISA and which don't. Countries that are dumb but rich due to oil are more likely to take part in PISA than countries that are dumb but poor. For example, Saudi Arabia has more money than brains, so it took part in PISA. Its Arab neighbor Yemen would probably score near the bottom of PISA if it had enough oil to pay for a bureaucracy to implement the tests. But it doesn't have much of anything, so it doesn't bother. Same with most African countries, few of which participate in PISA or TIMSS.

There can often be a resource curse where mineral wealth causes civil wars, coups, and laziness. But, if you've got smart, hard-working people, more resources is better than fewer resources, on the whole.

2) They are measuring how much resources a country has by what percentage of its economy stems from natural resources. So, dumb countries that don't have anything else going for them beside natural resources are measured as having lots of natural resources, while smart countries with lots of resources, like Australia, Canada, and the United States, also do other things economically, so they don't appear to be as dependent upon natural resources as dumb countries. 

In general, the happiest thing to be is a smart, large, resource rich, relatively-lightly populated English-speaking country with a British-descended system of government and culture. Australians don't call Australia "the lucky country" for no reason.

Chris Hughes buys The New Republic

Ever since Obama got elected, it's sure started to seem as if the whole black thing that had been going on for half a century was losing momentum. Or at least homosexual activists have been acting as if blacks were so 2008 and that gay is the new black

But the news that The New Republic magazine was being sold to Chris Hughes, one of the Facebook founders and head of Obama's social media campaign in 2008 seemed weird. I didn't know much about Hughes, so I turned to Wikipedia and found this picture and biographical detail:
Hughes grew up in Hickory, North Carolina, as the only child of Arlen "Ray" Hughes, a paper salesman, and Brenda Hughes, a public-school teacher.

That seemed an odd fate for the magazine long run by Marty Peretz, who always made sure that it reflected his effusion of 1968: 
"I have been in love only three times in my life. I was in love with my college roommate. I am in love with the state of Israel and I love Gene McCarthy." 

What happened? Granted, The New Republic is a money pit and Hughes has Facebook Money.  But, still, The New Republic has been sold to some guy from Hickory, North Carolina? 

So, if gay is the new black, does this mean that goy is the new gay? Very strange ...

(By the way, I like to check Google to see if my insights are novel. Has anybody ever said "gay is the new black" before me, or did I just make that up? Why, yes, that phrase, in quotes, brings up 855,000 pages. So, other than the 849,999 who beat me to it, I was the first to notice that. On the other hand, "goy is the new gay" has never been said before in the history of the Internet, which suggests that nobody has noticed before it because it's not true.)

Then, it dawned on me ... 

And, sure enough, farther down in the Wikipedia article, we find the expected: "Hughes is gay ..."

I've long had a hunch that the future of American society is going to look like a cross between Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash and the Ottoman Empire. Perhaps gays then will become, in effect, one of the ethnic power blocs, just one generated anew each generation?

Why are Google ads so inept?

I don't know if you see the same Google ads as I do, but the ads Google chooses to run on my blog when I look at are hilariously abysmal. For example:
Racial discrimination 
Find Racial discrimination Near You. See Actual Customer Reviews!

I'm not making this up. 

Let's try an experiment with another keyword phrase: 

poison oak

For all I know, Google will now put an ad on my website reading "Find Poison oak Near You." Let's try some other guaranteed moneymakers:

dry rot
negative cash flow


I first put Google ads on my website many years ago, and I made more money back then, even though my readership was much smaller. I recall a few weeks into running Google ads, there was an for a documentary on evolution that was so popular with my readership that I earned $10 from just that ad in one day. I figured, wow, Google will of course learn from this mutually profitable venture what kinds of things my readership is interested in, and that will begin a positive feedback loop that will make the ads Google chooses to run on my website ever more relevant to my highly distinctive and hard-to-reach audience. 

Was I ever mistaken. As far as I can tell, after all these years, Google has never learned anything about what ads appeal to my readers and what don't. Or maybe nobody in the whole world has anything to advertise that appeals to my readers.

Straight Outta Compton

Mickey Kaus points us toward this great article by Will Evans of CaliforniaWatch that, as far as I can tell, appears to be real. But the possibility that it's just an Onion-like collection of random iSteve tropes cannot be dismissed, either.
Compton City Councilwoman Janna Zurita owes her Hispanic last name to a grandmother from Spain, whom she never met. Zurita considers her mother black and said her father “wants to be black” even though he “looks Latino.”  
Zurita, the mayor pro tem of Compton, sometimes jokes with her sister about their racial roots. 
“She always tells me I look just like a Mexican: flat booty, straight hair. You know, just all kind of – how Mexicans used to look. You know, now they have big booties,” Zurita said in a legal deposition in November. “You know, little jokes about it.” 
While Zurita takes a sometimes-playful approach to her racial identity, it became the serious subject of a recent lawsuit under the California Voting Rights Act. In January, a judge ruled that a trial would be necessary to figure out whether Zurita could be considered Latina and whether that means Latinos have a voice on the council. The city settled the suit late last month. 
The legal gymnastics in Compton illustrate California’s far-reaching law, which bars local governments from diluting the voting strength of minorities. The law has become the foundation of a burgeoning onslaught of legal threats that could upend the racial makeup of elected bodies throughout the state. 
Armed with 2010 census data, a network of attorneys is increasingly targeting local governments – from cities and school boards to hospital and community college districts – for not reflecting the demographics of their constituents.  
While the dispute in Compton, where Zurita’s race was under question, pitted Latino residents against the city’s traditionally black leadership, other cases seek to increase minority representation on elected boards that are dominated by whites. ...
Particularly striking against this backdrop are the 14 cities in California where all-white councils preside over communities where either Latinos or Asians make up the majority of residents. Several are clustered in the Los Angeles area, like Whittier and Arcadia, but they range from Tulelake, on the Oregon border, to Holtville, near the Mexican border.

The joke here is that Whittier and Arcadia are traditionally white-run municipalities that affluent Mexicans and Chinese, respectively, crave to move to. Whittier is the place that wealthy Mexican-Americans in Southern California are congregating, while Arcadia, where my aunt has lived my whole life, has filled up with rich Chinese who tear down the modest ranch houses and build huge houses out to the property lines. Arcadia H.S., a public school, has about 30 National Merit semifinalists per year. In other words, Mexicans with money seem to like how Whittier has been run and Chinese with money like how Arcadia has been run. But, all that's irrelevant because the 2010 Census shows lots of Mexicans in Whittier and Chinese in Arcadia. Of course, the 2010 Census didn't bother asking if they were citizens or not.
Another 20 cities have Latino majorities and only one minority on city council.
Such cities can make especially attractive targets for civil rights lawyers, who see the stark disparities as evidence of a systemic problem. 
“These are the cities that should recognize that they are low-hanging fruit for groups who might want to bring lawsuits,” said Paul Mitchell of Redistricting Partners, a Sacramento-based consulting firm that works with local governments to determine their vulnerability under the law.

California Watch was able to identify the 34 cities with data from Redistricting Partners and another consulting group, GrassrootsLab. But the cities represent one end of a spectrum. Numerous other communities, with smaller minority populations or more diversity on the city council, also could be subject to a suit under the California Voting Rights Act, which was passed in 2002 and signed by Gov. Gray Davis. 
The law prohibits local governments from holding at-large elections – in which the entire community votes for a slate of candidates – if that system weakens the ability of minorities to elect candidates of their choice.  
An elected board can be found in violation if voting statistics show the community polarized along racial lines. That happens, for example, when Latinos vote more than their white neighbors for Latino candidates.  
A law so rooted in race inevitably leads to thorny questions about racial politics and the murky, subjective cauldron of ethnic identity. Should the race of a city councilmember even matter? And, in a state where the lines are increasingly blurred, who can determine a councilmember’s race other than the council member? 
In Compton, lawyers representing two Latina residents argued that Zurita is not Latina. Zurita, on the other hand, pointed to her election as evidence that Latinos are represented. 
But even she seemed conflicted during her deposition, at one point saying that she is Latina, at another point that she isn’t. 
Asked point-blank by an opposing lawyer, Zurita replied, “I don’t think there is any pure races.” 
The brouhaha over Zurita’s race “raises an issue that I believe is silent in the legislation, which is, how are you calculating ethnicity?” said Compton City Attorney Craig J. Cornwell. “Is it people who have Latino ancestry? Is it how a person self-identifies themselves?" 
The U.S. Census doesn’t provide clear answers, because it considers being Hispanic or Latino separate from race. On government forms, Zurita sometimes marks black, sometimes “other” and couldn’t remember if she ever marked Latino. 
Adding to the confusion, Zurita later referred to her Spanish grandmother as Mexican. The attorney sought to clarify: “So she was from Spain, but her heritage was Mexican?”  
“Well,” Zurita replied, “you know, I don't know. All this Mexican, third generation, fourth generation, Latina, Latino – I just kind of refer to the group as Mexican.” 
Regardless, Zurita maintained that she represents all residents of Compton, where 65 percent of the population is Hispanic. 
“I don't even think race, you know,” she said. “I don't look at race.” 
In a settlement last month, Compton agreed to let voters decide whether to change to district elections. If voters shoot it down on the June ballot, the city will put it to another vote in November. Compton also agreed to pay the opposing attorneys’ fees.  
California’s law is grounded in the idea that minorities sometimes vote differently from the rest of the population and that at-large elections, where the majority rules, can unfairly dilute their influence. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld that underlying notion in cases interpreting the federal Voting Rights Act. 
Indeed, in many parts of the state, including throughout Los Angeles County, Californians do tend to vote for candidates of their same race, according to research by Matt Barreto, who served as an independent expert to the state redistricting commission. Barreto also consults for lawyers suing under the law. 
The California law makes it much easier to challenge at-large elections than under the federal Voting Rights Act. Plus, the state law puts local governments at a disadvantage: If they lose a lawsuit, they have to pay the other side’s attorney’s fees, but not the other way around.  
The act was drafted by Joaquin Avila, a Seattle-based voting rights attorney, and Robert Rubin, who until recently was legal director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. The duo has gone on to sue school districts and cities, racking up millions of dollars and sparking accusations that they are in it for the money.  
Rubin, now in private practice, said the money from his share of legal settlements went to the nonprofit civil rights organization where he worked. He said governments saddled with huge legal costs have only themselves to blame for not following the law.  
“We’re going to continue to be aggressive,” Rubin said. “We intend to enforce this until it doesn’t need enforcement anymore.” 
In 2010, law co-authors Rubin and Avila sued the Central Valley city of Tulare.  
The suit argued that even though Tulare then had a Latino councilman, he wasn’t the “candidate of choice of Latino voters.” Another councilman, David Macedo, said in an interview that he identifies as Hispanic because of his Portuguese ancestry, but doesn’t consider himself Latino. 
Tulare settled for $225,000, which went to the plaintiff’s lawyers, and will hold a vote this year on switching to district elections. Macedo said he would encourage residents to approve the switch because, given the law, “one way or another, that’s the way it’s headed.”  
Rubin, Avila and affiliated attorneys have directed the legal offensive so far. But labor unions and other groups also could use the law as a weapon in disputes with cities and school boards. 
The first such case came in December, when the State Building & Construction Trades Council of California sued the city of Escondido, in San Diego County, alleging that at-large elections leave Latinos without fair representation. The union targeted Escondido because officials there have been trying to lower wages on public construction projects.  

The last bit about unions is a KausFiles theme. But, boy, does the rest of the article sound like I just made it up by riffing on my old reliable themes. By the end, I was wondering why the article lacked any references to cousin marriage or gold chains.

March 9, 2012

The History of a Myth

Today's conventional wisdom that Science has proved that race does not exist (and all the more or less comic variants on that) seems to my recollection to have reached a crescendo in the single year, 2000, when there was a vast amount of hype over the Human Genome Project. For leaders of the vastly well-funded undertaking, as well as their political overseers such as Bill Clinton, it was seen as essential to put the right racial spin on DNA research.

For example, below are excerpts from a big New York Times article by Natalie Angier from 2000, "Do Races Differ? Not Really, DNA Shows."

That was hardly the worst Race Does Not Exist article from 2000, but, still, this is pretty embarrassing to read a dozen years later in an era when Henry Louis Gates is ready to roll with his 3rd reality series on PBS later this month, in which he has celebrities get their DNA tested and then springs on them the results of what their racial admixture is.

The irony, of course, is the that the rapid development of the gene sequencing technology celebrated in 2000's orgy of Race Does Not Exist pronouncements, immediately began undermining the dogma in its moment of greatest triumph.

Still, very few people notice the contradiction between this dogma about what Science Says that they absorbed in 2000 and have held ever since versus all the scientific discoveries of the last 12 year. For example, reporter Nicholas Wade of the New York Times published dozens of the articles over the next decade systematically dismantling Angier's article, but almost nobody noticed. A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth gets its boots on, especially when the lie ties into the status system. 
August 22, 2000 
Do Races Differ? Not Really, DNA Shows 
Scientists say that while it may be easy to tell at a glance whether a person is Asian, African or Caucasian, the differences dissolve when one looks beyond surface features and scans the human genome for DNA hallmarks of "race." 
The Science of Differences
If racial labels have "little or no biological meaning," what is the best way to address racial differences, politically or scientifically? 
In these glossy, lightweight days of an election year, it seems, they can't build metaphorical tents big or fast enough for every politician who wants to pitch one up and invite the multicultural folds to "Come on under!" The feel-good message that both parties seek to convey is: regardless of race or creed, we really ARE all kin beneath the skin. 
Yet whatever the calculated quality of this new politics of inclusion, its sentiment accords firmly with scientists' growing knowledge of the profound genetic fraternity that binds together human beings of the most seemingly disparate origins. 
Scientists have long suspected that the racial categories recognized by society are not reflected on the genetic level. 
But the more closely that researchers examine the human genome -- the complement of genetic material encased in the heart of almost every cell of the body -- the more most of them are convinced that the standard labels used to distinguish people by "race" have little or no biological meaning. 
They say that while it may seem easy to tell at a glance whether a person is Caucasian, African or Asian, the ease dissolves when one probes beneath surface characteristics and scans the genome for DNA hallmarks of "race." 
As it turns out, scientists say, the human species is so evolutionarily young, and its migratory patterns so wide, restless and rococo, that it has simply not had a chance to divide itself into separate biological groups or "races" in any but the most superficial ways. 
"Race is a social concept, not a scientific one," said Dr. J. Craig Venter, head of the Celera Genomics Corporation in Rockville, Md. "We all evolved in the last 100,000 years from the same small number of tribes that migrated out of Africa and colonized the world." 
Dr. Venter and scientists at the National Institutes of Health recently announced that they had put together a draft of the entire sequence of the human genome, and the researchers had unanimously declared, there is only one race -- the human race. 
Dr. Venter and other researchers say that those traits most commonly used to distinguish one race from another, like skin and eye color, or the width of the nose, are traits controlled by a relatively few number of genes, and thus have been able to change rapidly in response to extreme environmental pressures during the short course of Homo sapiens history. 
And so equatorial populations evolved dark skin, presumably to protect against ultraviolet radiation, while people in northern latitudes evolved pale skin, the better to produce vitamin D from pale sunlight. 
"If you ask what percentage of your genes is reflected in your external appearance, the basis by which we talk about race, the answer seems to be in the range of .01 percent," said Dr.
Harold P. Freeman, the chief executive, president and director of surgery at North General Hospital in Manhattan, who has studied the issue of biology and race. "This is a very, very minimal reflection of your genetic makeup." ... 
By contrast with the tiny number of genes that make some people dark-skinned and doe-eyed, and others as pale as napkins, scientists say that traits like intelligence, artistic talent and social skills are likely to be shaped by thousands, if not tens of thousands, of the 80,000 or so genes in the human genome, all working in complex combinatorial fashion.
The possibility of such gene networks shifting their interrelationships wholesale in the course of humanity's brief foray across the globe, and being skewed in significant ways according to "race" is "a bogus idea," said Dr. Aravinda Chakravarti, a geneticist at Case Western University in Cleveland. 
... Dr. Eric S. Lander, a genome expert at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Mass., admits that, because research on the human genome has just begun, he cannot deliver a definitive, knockout punch to those who would argue that significant racial differences must be reflected somewhere in human DNA and will be found once researchers get serious about looking for them. But as Dr. Lander sees it, the proponents of such racial divides are the ones with the tough case to defend. 
"There's no scientific evidence to support substantial differences between groups," he said, "and the tremendous burden of proof goes to anyone who wants to assert those differences."
Although research into the structure and sequence of the human genome is in its infancy, geneticists have pieced together a rough outline of human genomic history, variously called the "Out of Africa" or "Evolutionary Eve" hypothesis. 
By this theory, modern Homo sapiens originated in Africa 200,000 to 100,000 years ago, at which point a relatively small number of them, maybe 10,000 or so, began migrating into the Middle East, Europe, Asia and across the Bering land mass into the Americas. As they traveled, they seem to have completely or largely displaced archaic humans already living in the various continents, either through calculated acts of genocide, or simply outreproducing them into extinction. 
Since the African emigrations began, a mere 7,000 generations have passed.

A mere 7,000 generations?
And because the founding population of émigrés was small, it could only take so much genetic variation with it. 
As a result of that combination -- a limited founder population and a short time since dispersal -- humans are strikingly homogeneous, differing from one another only once in a thousand subunits of the genome. 
"We are a small population grown large in the blink of an eye," Dr. Lander said.

March 8, 2012

Let's not talk about contraception

The New York Times Magazine has a story, "America Is Stealing the World's Doctors," that focuses on an Indian who grew up in Zambia, went home to India to study medicine, then tried for a few years to be a surgeon in Zambia. He gave up and is now becoming a doctor here. The pay is 10 times better and the working conditions are too. But what about the huddled masses of Zambians needing doctor's care? Zambia has 1 doctor for every 23,000 people. 

Since everybody else in the New York Times is talking about contraception, I looked through this article to see if there was any mention of the concept that maybe what Zambia needs is relatively fewer but healthier Zambians. 

Of course not. 

So, what is the Total Fertility Rate in Zambia? 

It's 6.28 babies per woman per lifetime. That appears to have gone up slightly over the last decade, assuming that these kind of statistics out of Zambia can detect small trends. In any case, that's a huge TFR.

The mortality rate in Zambia is very high, but the population has still grown by 50% over the last 20 years. 

It would seem hard to think about health care in Zambia without at least considering issues of contraception, yet the whole topic is routinely ignored when thinking about Africa.

March 7, 2012

Polygamy: Less fun than it sounds

From the NYT:
He also heard of poisonous mistrust between [Osama] Bin Laden’s wives. In the cramped Abbottabad house, he was told, tensions erupted between Ms. Sadah, described as “the favored wife,” and Khairiah Saber, an older woman who occupied a separate floor. In interrogation, Ms. Sadah accused her rival of having betrayed their husband to American intelligence.

Here you are, the world's all-time top terrorist, and all you want is a little peace and quiet around your own damn house. Is that too much to ask? Why can't we all just get along?

My old articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Mr. and Mrs. Kucinich

Long-time Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich has lost in the Democratic primary. I never quite got his appeal, but the old dog must have had something going for him, as judging by Mrs. Kucinich, who now has time to fulfill her rightful destiny of starring in a syndicated TV show entitled "Boadicea, Warrior Queen."

March 6, 2012

"A Separation"

From my movie review in Taki's Magazine:
The Iranian film A Separation, a domestic drama-turned-courtroom mystery, is among the most acclaimed of recent movies. It won a host of film festival awards, the Best Foreign Language Oscar, and a nomination for Best Original Screenplay—a rarity for a subtitled film. This half-million-dollar movie is even turning a profit at the US box office, with revenue approaching $4 million and rising. 
A Separation is a fine film with an exceptional plot. ...  Still, two hours of Persians bickering under fluorescent lights isn’t a feast for the eyes. The universal and strenuous praise for this admirable but limited middlebrow film is sincere, but it’s amplified by multiple political motivations. 
Were the Oscar voters trying to send a message to Washington by honoring this film? I suspect so. It’s hard to live in LA and take seriously the Washington/Tel Aviv storyline of Iran as the new Nazi Germany. That’s because the Westside is full of Iranians, many of them Jews; yet they make frequent visits home to see their kin. I don’t think Einstein vacationed in Berlin in 1939.

Read the whole thing there.

Ugly Persian Houses

If you are a Los Angeles city councilman these days, one issue that you dread dealing with is the controversy over zoning changes to limit the size of new houses. On one hand, many of the single family homes in Los Angeles were built in in roughly 1935-1975 and are small by contemporary standards. So, a lot of homeowners like the idea that somebody rich could someday buy their little house and put up a big house in its place. Laissez-faire would seem to maximize their property values. 

On the other hand, have you got a gander at the houses that the rich people are putting up? They are not intended to fit seamlessly into the neighborhood with polite good taste. The website Ugly Persian Houses (Ruining the Neighborhood One House at a Time) tracks the proliferation of Persian Palaces in Southern California, with their obsession with giant columns that don't even pretend to do anything structurally. It's run by some natives of Beverly Hills, Westwood, and Santa Monica:
It's because we live and work in these areas that the site was born in the first place.  Los Angeles no longer looks like Los Angeles..and pointing this out seemed like a good idea for a website because we thought (and clearly this turned out to be true) that there were others like us who would welcome a forum to bemoan the death of the beautiful architecture that was indigenous to California. 
4.  “You’re Just Jealous…You Wish You Could Live in One of these Houses.” 
Hardly.  But what we do wish is that we had enough money to start buying them up, knocking them back to the ground, and rebuilding the charming bungalow or spanish casita, or whatever that was originally in its place.

Well, I'm not sure that L.A. architecture was all that tasteful even before the Iranians started to roll in during the early 1970s. And Iran has an ancient culture with a strong emphasis on luxury and ornament. A lot of the features that Persians like, like the two story tall front doors, are actually old Los Angeles home favorites. Back in the 1970s, Charles Jencks published a couple of picture books of L.A. architecture with snarky captions, and he had a whole chapter on the "L.A. Door." There are various reasons affluent Iranians picked out Los Angeles as their main destination and one is that they felt aesthetically sympatico.

Still, here's an Ugly Persian Condo in Brentwood:

So, there is a lot of activism right now in areas near the Hollywood Hills to put limits on the size of teardowns. The arguments are framed in terms of aesthetics and neighborhood preservation, but much of the energy comes from unspoken ethnic conflict. 

My guess is that the most outspoken of the preservationists tend to be Ashkenazi Jews who grew up in SoCal, while the newcomers building the gaudiest new houses tend to be Oriental Jews, but I don't have any data on that.

Also, in the San Fernando Valley, there is a growing conflict over a zoning variance between the growing numbers of Ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazi black hatters along Chandler Blvd. and the declining numbers of old-fashioned Ashkenazis.

Crazy foreign conspiracy theories

A few days ago, the government of Egypt released American "democracy activists," including cabinet secretary Ray Lahood's son, in return for $5 million in bail and continued U.S. foreign aid. So, it looks like everybody's happy.

I didn't want to mention this while the poor guys were held up in a foreign country, but just from reading about the International Republican Institute on Wikipedia, where Sam Lahood works, it hardly seems surprising that the Egyptian government considers it a front for U.S. government meddling in Egyptian politics. After all, most of IRI's money comes from the U.S. government, its figurehead chairman is John McCain, and it's stocked with Republican politicians and ex-government officials. Young Lahood, for example, had worked for the State Department in Iraq, which I can't imagine the Egyptians found reassuring. (The Democrats have their own taxpayer-supported National Democratic Institute for International Affairs.) 

There aren't quite as many coups these days as there used to be, but IRI seems to have lurked around some of them, such as Haiti in 2004 and perhaps Honduras in 2009. All in all, this seems like a better way to Play the Game than with cruise missiles, but Americans shouldn't be terribly surprised when foreign governments view IRI's employees more as American agents than as humanitarians. 

March 5, 2012

The Obama Administration's conspiracy theory

From the NYT: 
Black Students Face More Discipline, Data Suggests 
Black students, especially boys, face much harsher discipline in public schools than other students, according to new data from the Department of Education. 
Although black students made up only 18 percent of those enrolled in the schools sampled, they accounted for 35 percent of those suspended once, 46 percent of those suspended more than once and 39 percent of all expulsions, according to the Civil Rights Data Collection’s 2009-10 statistics from 72,000 schools in 7,000 districts, serving about 85 percent of the nation’s students. ... Over all, black students were three and a half times as likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers.... 
“Education is the civil rights of our generation,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, in a telephone briefing with reporters on Monday. “The undeniable truth is that the everyday education experience for too many students of color violates the principle of equity at the heart of the American promise.”

Conspiracy Theories

From the Atlantic and the National Journal:
Disparate Impact: Black Lawmakers and Ethics Investigations 
by Shane Goldmacher 
A disproportionate share of cases have been brought against Congressional Black Caucus members. African-American lawmakers would like to know why. 
Emanuel Cleaver, a Methodist minister and the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, stood up and began searching his desk for a Bible. Cleaver wasn't looking up a particular verse or Psalm. He grabbed the Good Book for emphasis. He wanted to hold it in his hands as he declared, with a firm shake, that the way Congress investigates the ethics of its own lawmakers is horribly broken. 
"I think," Cleaver said, "the facts speak for themselves." 
The facts say this: African-Americans make up 10 percent of the House, but as of the end of February, five of the sitting six named lawmakers under review by the House Ethics Committee are black. The pattern isn't new. At one point in late 2009, seven lawmakers were known to be involved in formal House ethics inquiries; all were members of the Congressional Black Caucus. An eighth caucus member, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois, had also been under investigation, but his probe was halted temporarily while the Justice Department undertook an inquiry of its own. 
All told, about one-third of sitting black lawmakers have been named in an ethics probe during their careers, according to a National Journal review. 
Only two members of Congress have been formally charged with ethics violations in recent years and have faced the specter of public trials -- Reps. Charles Rangel of New York (censured) and Maxine Waters of California (investigation ongoing). Both are black. There are no African-Americans in the Senate. Remember the most recent black senator, Roland Burris of Illinois? Reprimanded by the Senate Ethics Committee in 2009. 
Those are the facts, as Cleaver said. The question is why so many African-American members have been in the ethics spotlight. 
In interviews with more than a dozen members of the CBC, an unsettling thread emerges: They feel targeted. There could be no other explanation, many said, for what they see as disproportionate treatment at the hands of ethics investigators. They describe a disquieting reality of being black in Congress today: a feeling that each move they make is unfairly scrutinized. "We all feel threatened," said Rep. Hank Johnson, a Georgia Democrat, as he sat by the fireplace off the House floor. "If the only reason that you would suffer a complaint is because of your skin color, that is a cause for concern."

In general, the legal doctrine of “disparate impact” — that racial discrimination can be inferred merely from statistical disparities in outcomes — is a version of conspiracy theory thinking. Occamite explanations (e.g., blacks tend to be more crime prone and/or less competent at getting away with their crimes) are ruled out as unthinkable, leaving as the most likely explanation some kind of shadowy conspiracy against blacks.

Of course, some kinds of conspiracy theories are more socially acceptable than others. The really interesting question is why some conspiracy theories are considered the mark of a social pariah and other conspiracy theories are considered the mark of the Right Sort of Person.

As we see here, The Atlantic / National Journal takes it seriously enough to devote many pages to a conspiracy theory held by numerous members of the Congressional Black Congress that whites are out to get them.

Conversely, while you might think that the president of Harvard would be automatically be the right sort of person, when Larry Summers argued that it wasn't a conspiracy that not many women were tenured professors in Harvard math and engineering departments, that there were other explanations than powerful men in closed rooms discriminating against women, he immediately became a Bad Person. Every right thinking person knows that the lack of female math professors is too a conspiracy. To try to save his job, Larry handed $50,000,000 to Drew Gilpin Faust to spend on feminist causes at Harvard. But he still lost his job and, through sheer coincidence, Dr. Faust had somehow acquired enough supporters within Harvard to replace him.

Of course, only complete losers believe in the existence of a feminist conspiracy to get nice jobs for feminist critics of Summers such as Dr. Faust, Nancy Hopkins, and the late UC Santa Cruz chancellor Denice Denton, who leapt to her death from the roof of the luxury high rise of her lesbian lover, for whom she had arranged a $192,000 per year job.

Dalmatian Dads

From WCBS in New York:
There were hurt feelings and racial tensions as white applicants were left standing outside a prep class on Wednesday night, reports CBS 2’s Lou Young. 
“Whoever’s name is not on the list is not getting in, so were just following orders. That’s just the way it is,” the applicants were told. 
Joseph Basile was one of those who didn’t get in. 
“It wasn’t a good feeling. It felt like it was discrimination,” Basile said. 
The class was conducted by the Vulcan Society, a group of African American firefighters in an overwhelmingly white department. Many applicants who were turned away preregistered online on forms that did not ask for their race, which made for testy moment. ... 
Wednesday night’s class was the third in a series of prep exams given by the Vulcan Society. The previous two were integrated. The one Wednesday was the only one from which people were barred from attending.

To the ranks of Tiger Mothers and Eagle Fathers, we can add the Dalmatian Dads of the Fire Department of New York, who encourage their sons and nephews to study hard the family trade of saving people from burning buildings.