April 21, 2012

The rules don't apply in NYC

Much of the fury directed by the national press at George Zimmerman has been over the allegation that he "profiled" Trayvon Martin. How dare there be some backward corner of the Confederacy where people are more suspicious of blacks than of everybody else!

And, yet, like IQ tests for 4-year olds, Things Are Different in New York City. For example, NYC elected a black mayor ... once, and ever since the Democrats have gone 0 for 5 in mayoral elections there.

Crime is hugely down in New York City, in sizable part because the NYPD targets NAMs for stop-and-frisks. Profiling? Well, of course. But, it's not really a big issue because, well, because it's made life in New York City a lot better for everybody who is anybody.

Michael Powell writes in the NYT:
In that year [2002], the police stopped and questioned 97,296 New Yorkers; 82 percent of them walked away without so much as a ticket. Nine years later, in 2011, his officers stopped 685,724 New Yorkers; 88 percent of them were also completely innocent. A vast majority were black or Latino men. … 
Less than 2 percent of police stops led to the recovery of a weapon. ...

If you do the math, that's about 10,000 guns per year being taken off of people who don't have permits, which is ... a lot. But, still, if those Ku Klux Klanners in Sanford, Florida were doing it, it would be different.
I tried this around my dining room table this weekend. I am white and my sons — Aidan, 19, and Nick, 24 — travel to many corners of a city that they love. Has a cop, I asked, ever stopped you? 
Both shook their heads no. 
On Monday morning, I put that question to eight black male students who attend the Borough of Manhattan Community College. Cumulatively, they said they had been stopped 92 times. They spoke with surprisingly little rancor. 
But they wonder at the casual humiliations. The police stopped Mario Brown, who dreams of a career in theater arts, and forced him to take off his sneakers in the subway. (“It’s kind of ridiculous; I don’t see any Caucasian kids doing this.”) They forced Jamel Gordon-Mayfield, 18, the son of a police detective and a doctor, out of his parents’ S.U.V. one afternoon and demanded he take a Breathalyzer. (He passed.) Then they searched him and the car. 
Jasheem Smiley, 19, sweet and soft-spoken with a neat goatee, lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with his uncle. Two months ago, he says, a van drove up on the sidewalk and a man jumped out. “I’m a cop!” the man yelled. “Get down on the sidewalk!” Mr. Smiley complied but feared he was being robbed and asked to see a badge. The officer, he said, responded by putting his shoe to his face and pressing it to the pavement.

Has the American-born black male population of New York City been dropping for years, in part because of police harassment?

Sure. But, it's different because this is New York we're talking about, not some racist backwater.

Nobody Knows Nuthin'

Click on graph to see it full size.
Opinion polling companies don't like to ask members of the public questions that have factual answers because the results tend to be so dire that they raise the unwanted question: Why are we being paid to ask people their opinions on things they apparently know nothing about? However, Pew, which is a not-for-profit, recently asked 1,000 adults a series of multiple choice questions about politics. In fact, they weren't even multiple choice questions. They were more like Couple Choice Questions, because the only answers were:

A. The Republican Party
B. The Democratic Party

As Audacious Epigone points out, you can take an abbreviated 13-question version of Pew's News IQ Quiz online here, and then see how you did versus the nationally representative sample. I'm not going to give away any questions before you take the test, but these are not hard questions and my getting 13 out of 13 does not reflect anything special about my knowledge of political history and current events. 

What's striking is that 35% of the public got only six or fewer right out of 13, which is worse than random guessing. 

Overall, Republicans did somewhat better than Democrats, men better than women, and the old better than the young. Pew did not report racial breakdowns. (Here's Pew's write-up of the results.)

In defense of the 35%, respondents weren't forced to guess, and many correctly admitted "I Don't Know" to various questions. Also, some of the questions about party ideology were de facto reading comprehension questions, with more twists and turns in the grammar than is advisable when making up a survey. 

But, still ...

April 20, 2012

Stereowiping and the Zimmerman Teletravesty

According to ABC News today, this is a picture of George Zimmerman's head taken two minutes after the shooting.  I cannot, of course, vouch for its authenticity.
It was a bad day for The Narrative. And that raises broader questions.

At George Zimmerman's bond hearing, according to the New York Times:
As part of his effort to win Mr. Zimmerman’s release on bond, Mr. O’Mara challenged the prosecution’s case, going through the state’s probable cause affidavit line by line, turning the bail hearing into what appeared to be a foretaste of the trial. 
He aggressively questioned a state investigator, Dale Gilbreath, about the accusation that Mr. Zimmerman had racially profiled Mr. Martin, and he demanded to know what evidence the state had for the statement that “Zimmerman confronted Martin and a struggle ensued.” 
“Do you know who started the fight?” Mr. O’Mara asked Mr. Gilbreath. 
“Do I know?” Mr. Gilbreath said. “No.” 
Mr. O’Mara then asked Mr. Gilbreath if the state had any evidence to contradict Mr. Zimmerman’s statement to the police that he had been making his way back to his car when he was punched by Mr. Martin. ... 
Mr. Gilbreath responded, “No.”

On the other hand, the prosecution hinted that it was sandbagging evidence against Zimmerman, which seems plausible. 

Meanwhile ABC News posted online what it claims is a photo of the back of Zimmerman's head shortly after the shooting.

Now they tell us.

As I've pointed out for weeks, the Trayvon Martin story is mostly interesting for what it shows us about what's wrong with the media. 

As an individual story, Martin-Zimmerman is more or less the same depressing Stuff Happens as occurs hundreds of times per year across this huge country. The main difference, in this case, was that the press initially got wrong the race of the shooter and thought it had, for once, its Great White Defendant. 

Determining fault justly in each of these cases depends upon small details of who did what to whom first, details that shouldn't be assumed a priori to Fit the Narrative. For example, in the 2010 case of plainclothes law enforcement officers killing an 18-year-old violist while "debriefing" in a parking lot I've walked through hundreds of times, I initially smelled a rat because the official spokesman the morning after the shooting implied that the parking lot was a drug-trafficking hot spot. I knew that's not true, and that raised obvious questions about what else the cops were distorting. 

But, here's the thing: two years later, I still don't know what exactly happened in the last ten seconds of that young man's life. Unfortunate decisions were made, but I don't know the precise chain of events, much less how to allocate fault. At least, that case didn't disappear down the memory hole due to citizen activism (no thanks to the press, which showed minimal interest in challenging law enforcement's version of the story).

That the Martin-Zimmerman story was foretold so accurately a quarter of a century ago in the most famous book by the most famous journalist since Mencken only underlines that lesson: most of the journalists who have huffed and puffed this local small-time tragedy have personally read Bonfire of the Vanities. Deep down, they almost get the joke of what they're doing ... but they can't help themselves

By any objective standard, the prestige press has shamed itself by its repeated distortions of the facts to make them fit its desires for a tale of White Privilege, Innocent Black Victimization, and Stereotyping. (Of course, by controlling the narrative, there will be virtually no accountability.) As I've mentioned before, when the press decides to go all in on a race story, they seem to pick ones that unravel into travesties at a higher than random rate. This story began to fall apart the moment George Zimmerman's picture was printed.

The central mechanism that leads the press astray is its War to Wipe Out Stereotypes, to wipe clean the collective mind, to render the blank slate as blank as possible. The fundamental problem of journalism, in the minds of the more elevated sort of journalist, is that its readers can notice patterns for themselves.

We can abbreviate this War to Wipe Out Stereotypes to stereowiping. 

There are several reasons for why the prestige press is so fundamentalist in its fervor to stereowipe. The first, of course, is money: Man Bites Dog stories are more profitable than vice-versa. Another is class: "Two-Headed Calf Is Born" stories are always popular, but they're not very exalted. The press wants to have their cake and eat it, too by pretending that they are dealing with the massively important issue of white-on-black street violence or the lacrosse players raping black hookers epidemic or whatever is the latest two-headed calf story to come down the pike. The third is ideology: learning from the news is evil. The fourth is the sheer will to power.

That raises a final question about the Zimmerman Fiasco that probably can't be definitely answered, but is worth thinking about: why now? Why the frenzy to take a run-of-the-mill bit of bad news and get it so badly wrong?

I suspect Obama's re-election run plays into it in various complicated ways.

But, I suspect something that hasn't been mentioned much is a technological change brought about by cell phone videos and Youtube. The last two or three years have seen a flood of footage posted online by amateurs of Blacks Behaving Badly (much of it, indeed, posted by those behaving badly themselves). I don't see much statistical evidence that African-Americans are behaving worse than in the past, but, wow, there sure is a huge amount of video that has gotten past the national news gatekeepers to the public. If you've read a half dozen James Q. Wilson social science books since the mid-1970s, none of this behavior will come as a big surprise, although it still is pretty fascinating to watch. But if you get your world view from The News, it's hard to know whether you should believe trusted, authoritative media sources or your lying eyes.

The Trayvesty, therefore, would be media's attempt to strike back, to put the genie back in the bottle, to get the National Conversation on Race back on its well-worn tracks where it belongs.

April 19, 2012

The Female Hitler Shortage & other great moments in feminist theory

From Technology Review:
The Worrying Consequences of the Wikipedia Gender Gap
Male editors dramatically outnumber female ones on Wikipedia and that could be dramatically influencing the online encyclopedia's content, according to a new study
There was a time when the internet was dominated by men but in recent years that gap has dissolved. ... So what's wrong with Wikipedia? Last year, the New York Times pointed out that women make up just 13 per cent of those who contribute to Wikipedia, despite making up almost half the readers. And a few months ago, a study of these gender differences said they hinted at a culture at Wikipedia that is resistant to female participation. 
Today, Pablo Aragon and buddies at the Barcelona Media Foundation in Spain suggest that the problem is seriously influencing Wikipedia's content. These guys have studied the biographies of the best connected individuals on 15 different Wikipedia language sites. They chose the best connected individuals by downloading all the biographies and then constructing a network in which individuals with Wikipedia biographies are nodes. They then drew links between nodes if that person's Wikipedia biography contained a link to another individual.
Finally, they drew up a list of the best connected people.The table above shows the top five for each of the 15 language sites.  
... That's a puzzling disparity and one for which Aragon and co point to an obvious possibility--that the gender gap among editors directly leads to the gender gap among best connected individuals. 
Of course, that's only speculation but Aragaon and co call it "an intriguing subject for future investigation." We'll be watching to see how that pans out. 
In the meantime, the Wikimedia Foundation has  set itself the goal of increasing the proportion of female contributors to 25 per cent by 2015, a step in the right direction but still an embarrassing blot on the landscape of collaborative endeavour.

In other words, to rectify this disparity, women should do more work for no pay. And, perhaps, invade Poland.

The Ted Nugent Threat & other stuff I'm not going to bother reading about

From the Washington Post:

The threat of the extreme right

The threat of the extreme right
Rants from Ted Nugent and Rep. Allen West exemplify a poison we can’t ignore.

I surmise, from glancing at headlines, that Mitt Romney was Ted's drummer for 20 years. Who knew? I guess, now that I think about it, that explains why Mitt entitled his campaign autobiography "Cat Scratch Fever."

Daily Mail: "Why has children's party restaurant Chuck E. Cheese become a hot spot for grown up brawling?"

You can click on the graphs to see them full sized.

Thomas Edsall in the New York Times puts up some more of those political / marketing research graphs I showed in Taki's Magazine two years ago. They are from National Media Research, Planning and Placement and show Democrat-Republican skew on the left-right axis and propensity to vote on the vertical axis. Here, for example, the most Democratic-leaning clientele of restaurants belong to Church's Chicken, Popeye's (chicken), White Castle, and Chuck E Cheese's. This may help answer the classic Daily Mail headline Why has children's party restaurant Chuck E. Cheese become a hot spot for grown up brawling?

Edsall, who seems a little naive, presents a graph of alcoholic beverages by partisan identification and asks: "Who would have guessed that the most Democratic drink by a long shot is Cognac[?]" I gather Edsall is not a big hip-hop fan.

A lot of the differences in the politics of consumption are of course racial, and others are regional. Arby's, for example, is apparently weak New England.

The comments on the New York Times article are pretty funny in their lack of enthusiasm, because much of the point of being a Democrat is to feel classier than Republicans, but when you actually count Democratic-leaning people, including all the NAMs, you get a pretty prole bunch:
That was the lesson of the Florida Recount Hoo-Ha of 2000: that Democrats would win more elections if their voters could manage to show up and mark their ballots in an intelligible fashion.

Dueling headlines

Dueling headlines this week about proposed high school graduation requirements for the nation's second largest public school system:

From the Los Angeles Times:
LAUSD considers lowering the bar for graduation

From the Los Angeles Daily News
LAUSD plan calls for raising graduation standards 

This is latest fallout from the Gates Foundation bullying the LA school board in 2005 to require that to graduate from high school, students must pass with at least a C all the "A-G courses," such as Algebra II, required to be eligible for the University of California or California State University. And, yet, by law, those systems are intended for the top 1/3rd of California high school graduates.

The Gates Foundation was deep into Magical Thinking, and school bureaucracies are not flush with incisive thinkers who have an La Griffe du Lion-like grasp of the impact of rule changes on probability distributions. Implementing this plan has been delayed, year-after-year, in large part due to one elderly black lady on the School Board, Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte. Her view is that a lot of her constituents aren't college material, but she'd like them to be able to go through life as high school graduates, which is a lot better than going through life as a high school dropout just because they aren't college material.

The Daily News reports:
By Barbara Jones, Staff Writer

All Los Angeles Unified high school students would have to take advanced courses such as algebra, physics and a foreign language and earn at least a "C" in order to graduate under a sweeping change in curriculum being considered by the school board. 
The proposal outlined Tuesday is part of an effort to make every LAUSD graduate meet the minimum standards for admission to the UC and CSU systems. 
Besides requiring the advanced courses, students would have to earn a "C" in those classes to get their diplomas. Currently, LAUSD considers "D" to be a passing grade.
To help students meet those tough new standards, the district would shrink the graduation requirement from 230 to 170 units, making it optional to take any electives, such as health or technology classes.

A one year course is ten credits, so, currently, students take six classes a year for their first three years, and five as a senior (assuming they pass everything). This would reduce requirement for graduation to three years (6, 6, and 5 = 17), leaving time to take Chemistry, Physics, Geometry/Trig, or Algebra II over.
That would leave students' schedules open to repeat classes or get tutoring during the school day, officials said, because summer school is no longer an option after budget cuts. ... 
But several board members and a dozen speakers voiced opposition to eliminating the requirement to take some electives, particularly the health-education class. Typically taken by ninth-graders, the class covers such topics as nutrition, AIDS/HIV, pregnancy, mental health, obesity, diabetes, bullying and teen relationships.
 LAUSD has been pondering the college prep A-G curriculum for several years. The Board of Education passed in 2005 a nonbinding resolution recommending that every student entering ninth grade be required to pass it, beginning in 2012. Nothing was done until last year, when Aquino was tasked with coming up with a plan.
In 2005, some teachers urged the board not to approve the college prep plan, as many LAUSD students were not able to meet basic academic requirements and there was concern the new curriculum might lead to more dropouts. LAUSD already has an estimated 50 percent dropout rate. 
The challenge facing the district in implementing A-G and getting students to pass it with a "C" is demonstrated with an analysis of the Class of 2011. Had the new standards been in place, roughly 8,000 of the 53,900 students in the class would have met the requirement.

In other words, an 85% dropout rate!

April 18, 2012

Unz: Chinese Scandals v. American Incidents

Ron Unz has a new piece pointing out, among much else, how the American press seems to do a better job of covering Chinese scandals than American scandals. 

In a sidebar, he compares the Chinese baby formula scandal to an American corporate scandal that pretty much everybody has already forgotten about:
First, consider the details of the Chinese infant formula scandal of 2008. Unscrupulous businessmen had discovered they could save money by greatly diluting their milk products, then adding a plastic chemical compound called melamine to raise the apparent protein content back to normal levels. Nearly 300,000 babies throughout China had suffered urinary problems, with many hundreds requiring lengthy hospitalization for kidney stones. Six died.

See if you can guess which shameful American bit of history he is thinking of.

How good is the best woman at golf?

A decade ago, Annika Sorenstam was doing a lot of weightlifting*, and pulled away from other women golfers, becoming probably the best woman golfer ever for a few years. So, she entered the men's PGA tournament at Colonial in 2003 to a din of publicity. In the weeks leading up to that event, I collected a ton of data on the difficulty ratings of the courses that the PGA and LPGA play to provide an objective metric, and I announced:
So, I predict that if Sorenstam plays this week the way she's played in the rest of 2003, she'll miss the cut by four strokes.

And that's exactly what happened: she missed the cut to play on the weekend by four strokes. Out of 113 entrants, she outperformed 13 men, tied four, and finished behind 93. A highly respectable performance, but not up to Phil Mickelson's prediction (that she'd finish 20th -- although I'm guessing that was gamesmanship on the part of Phil, who is a sly devil) or Thomas Boswell's assertion that if she played the PGA regularly, she'd make the cut half the time and win a couple of events during her career. But, she beat the Vegas over-under line by eight strokes over two rounds. 

Of course, I was very lucky that she played in those two rounds about as well as she had been playing all year. Still, it was a pretty level-headed prediction. Sorenstam seems to have felt she'd given it a good shot, and didn't try it again.

I wanted to bring this up because prediction is widely recognized as crucial to science. On the other hand, one of my two or three most important contributions to the philosophy science is the idea that people tend to be more interested in those future events that are hardest to predict: e.g., will this stock outperform the market?  When thinking about the kind of things that people get most fascinated by, such as which NFL teams will beat the point spread on Sunday, the phrase "dart-throwing monkey" comes to mind. In contrast, most of the things that are pretty predictable, like test scores for large groups, bring to mind the phrase "boring and depressing."

In contrast, Sorenstam's entrance in that PGA tournament was the kind of novel event that is interesting to predict as a test of one's model of the world and struck the public, briefly, as not boring and depressing.

* By the way, I was attacked by the SPLC for noticing that Sorenstam, at her peak, had bulked up from weightlifting:
Sailer's website is rife with primitive stereotypes. On it, Sailer mocks professional golfer Annika Sorenstam for having well-developed muscles ...

What I actually said in my prediction article was, in the course of comparing her scoring proficiency to that of Corey Pavin:
Pavin is listed at 5'-9" and 155 pounds. The 32-year-old Sorenstam is 5'-6". She used to be listed at 130 pounds, but has clearly added a lot of muscle mass over the last two years. Now, she has that distinctive characteristic of a bodybuilder: her forearms no longer hang down along her sides because her upper arms are so muscular. Think of how Saturday Night Live's Dana Carvey and Kevin Nelon held their arms away from their sides while playing Hans and Franz, their Schwarzenegger-type "Ve vill pump you up!" muscle heads. (No doubt some male pros think she's been augmenting her weightlifting with steroids or human growth hormone, but there's no specific evidence for that at all.)

Noticing things is evil.

Can you raise your IQ thru mental exercise?

From the New York Times Magazine:
Can You Make Yourself Smarter? 
By Dan Hurley
Since the first reliable intelligence test was created just over a hundred years ago, researchers have searched for a way to increase scores meaningfully, with little success. The track record was so dismal that by 2002, when Jaeggi and her research partner (and now her husband), Martin Buschkuehl, came across a study claiming to have done so, they simply didn’t believe it. 
The study, by a Swedish neuroscientist named Torkel Klingberg, involved just 14 children, all with A.D.H.D. Half participated in computerized tasks designed to strengthen their working memory, while the other half played less challenging computer games. After just five weeks, Klingberg found that those who played the working-memory games fidgeted less and moved about less. More remarkable, they also scored higher on one of the single best measures of fluid intelligence, the Raven’s Progressive Matrices. Improvement in working memory, in other words, transferred to improvement on a task the children weren’t training for. 
Even if the sample was small, the results were provocative (three years later Klingberg replicated most of the results in a group of 50 children), because matrices are considered the gold standard of fluid-intelligence tests. Anyone who has taken an intelligence test has seen matrices like those used in the Raven’s: three rows, with three graphic items in each row, made up of squares, circles, dots or the like. Do the squares get larger as they move from left to right? Do the circles inside the squares fill in, changing from white to gray to black, as they go downward? One of the nine items is missing from the matrix, and the challenge is to find the underlying patterns — up, down and across — from six possible choices. Initially the solutions are readily apparent to most people, but they get progressively harder to discern. By the end of the test, most test takers are baffled. 
If measuring intelligence through matrices seems arbitrary, consider how central pattern recognition is to success in life. If you’re going to find buried treasure in baseball statistics to give your team an edge by signing players unappreciated by others, you’d better be good at matrices. If you want to exploit cycles in the stock market, or find a legal precedent in 10 cases, or for that matter, if you need to suss out a woolly mammoth’s nature to trap, kill and eat it — you’re essentially using the same cognitive skills tested by matrices.

I tend to look at this from the opposite perspective: Can you let your intelligence deteriorate? Yes, probably, I would imagine. 

It's a little like the perennial question debated by stat nerds of whether or not athletes enjoy hot streaks. They certainly suffer cold streaks when they are marginally injured, suffering from illness, worried that their wives will divorce them, angry at their teammates, defended by outstanding players, fallen into bad mechanics, etc. Perhaps hot streaks are just the absence of all cold streaks?

Anyway, I can well imagine that not exercising your brain could lead to declines in intelligence. 

But, then, the question becomes what is the best brain exercise for you individually. Is it one of these abstract games that are kind of like a Ravens Matrices IQ test? Or maybe, say, reading, oh, I don't know, this blog is good exercise for your brain. Plus, it's fun and informative.

As they say at the end of scientific papers, more research is needed!

P.S. Think about the different kinds of sports: the best training for long distance runners is long distance running. Same for swimming. On the other hand, sprinters don't need to sprint 20 hours per week, but they do need to lift weights. The best training for soccer as a youth is not playing in an 11-on-11 soccer game (the way American soccer kids are taught), but playing one-on-one soccer exercises to get in hundreds of touches of the ball per day (the Dutch method). On the other hand, playing basketball is pretty good training for being a point guard, but not for perfecting the skyhook.

So, a priori, I can't guess. I suspect that general intelligence might be kind of like playing point guard, and the most important thing is to turn off the TV and get out there and do it. But maybe there are good exercises for working memory, just like weight training can be highly useful for different sports. But it also helps to craft a weightlifting plan to the sport. For example, when Michael Jordan switched from baseball back to basketball in the spring of 1995, his weightlifting regimen had been crafted to make him "baseball strong" and he looked kind of awkward on the court. Then, his trainer switched him back to basketball strong lifting routines and he was pretty awesome again the next season.

Pitcher Jamie Moyer wins at 49

Lefty hurler Jamie Moyer set the record for oldest winning pitcher in major league baseball history yesterday. At age 49, he threw 7 innings without giving up an earned run despite never reaching 80 mph on the radar gun. I can recall Moyer as an unimpressive 23-year-old rookie with the Chicago Cubs in 1986, so his remarkable career is testimony to character.

Mr. Moyer, who has earned $82 million as a pitcher despite modest physical gifts, has eight children, which I find heartening. Here's a question about heritability: do highly competent people like Moyer tend to have children who are above average in competence?

I can recall knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm being modestly effective in relief for the Dodgers at age 48 and 49 in the early 1970s, but the knuckleball is a special pitch. 

Here's another question: is it at all imaginable that a woman could make the major leagues as a knuckleball pitcher? (Moyer is not a knuckleballer, which makes his accomplishment even more impressive.)

Women aren't competitive with men in sports other sedentary sports like shooting and equestrian. But, theoretically, there is a backdoor route to major league baseball for a pitcher without tremendous arm strength who masters the knuckleball. The knuckleball is an anomalous pitch that is sort of shot-putted up toward the plate without any spin. It gets buffeted about by random air currents and can be extremely frustrating for batters (or, it can be extremely easy to hit if it happens to fly straight and slow - knuckleballers need to develop a Zen attitudes to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune). 

Still, any kind of overhand throwing is asking a lot of a woman. For example, here's a short video of Annika Sorenstam, the best woman golfer ever, throwing out a 57-foot ceremonial first pitch at Shea Stadium.

Still, a few women can bring some heat. A tiny number of young women have pitched at the lowest levels of college baseball -- I recall Caltech's baseball team being badly beaten once by a girl, daughter of a minor league pitcher, who supposedly threw fastballs in the upper 70s. That was Ila Borders, who went on to pitch for four seasons in independent minor leagues, generally with ERAs around 7 or 8 (e.g., bad, but not notably worse than the worst male pitchers in the league). She once threw 12 innings straight of scoreless ball to professional players when she had her Jamie Moyer-style junkball mojo working.

The one conceivable route to the big leagues for a woman would be as a knuckleball pitcher. Indeed, a 5'1" Japanese woman Eri Yoshida has pitched, with indifferent results, in a few low professional games in Japan and American over the last couple of years. Still, it helps to be able to throw in the eighties for two reasons: if you fall behind 3-0 in the count with random knuckleballs, can you throw a hard fastball for a strike? And, it's advantageous to throw a hard knuckleball, like Charlie Hough did.

But most knuckleballers, who are rare, started out as conventional hard-throwing prospects who switched to the knuckleball due to career setbacks (e.g., Jim Bouton in attempting his comeback in the book Ball Four). Almost no man has followed this hypothetical path of perfecting the knuckleball from youth onward to overcome sizable physical deficiencies.

My guess is that a woman might be able to make the majors if all the stars were aligned right: if she were tall and strong like the Williams sisters in tennis, and if her father was a long time pitcher who had experience throwing the knuckleball, and drilled her from an early age in that frustrating craft. But if she had the height and upper body strength to be a big league knuckleballer, why not be a woman tennis pro instead? Or basketball player, volleyball player, or soccer goalie, all of which are ways to get college scholarships.

Perhaps someday a woman tennis pro, looking for a new challenge as her career fades in her late 20s will take up the knuckleball next. Knuckleball pitchers generally don't reach their primes until their 30s and can go on for some time. The greatest knuckleball pitcher, Phil Niekro, won 50 games in the majors after his 45th birthday.

But, I think she'd really need a father who was a professional pitcher, or a retired pitcher husband (think of ballplayer Ray Knight and golfer Nancy Lopez) to teach her to be a wily knuckleball or junkball pitcher. You have to really like baseball to be a junkball pitcher and not that many women like baseball enough. So, there are a whole bunch of hoops to jump through, but I wouldn't be shocked if a woman knuckleballer / junkballer pitched a few major league games in this century.

April 17, 2012

The Forgotten Minority

From my new Taki's Magazine column:
Baseball season reminds us of the identity-politics group that doesn’t bark—left-handers. Why are certain aggregations of once-persecuted people, such as blacks or gays, so politically potent today, while others, such as left-handers, can be safely ignored? 
Indeed, it’s almost gauche to ask why no left-handed big-leaguer has played catcher since the 1980s. ... Why is the media so much more fanatical about discrimination against black quarterbacks than against left-handed catchers?

Read the whole thing there.

Lefthanded catchers are like black quarterbacks in that both lefthanders in MLB and blacks in the NFL are highly over-represented, but not at certain positions. The purported shortfall of blacks at quarterback has been a media cause celebre for a generation, while the utter extinction of lefthanders at catcher is the subject of an occasional speculative essay in the nerdier realms of baseball fandom attempting to understand why.

By the way, I'm not lefthanded, nor is anybody particularly close to me.

Odd fact: Obama is the first of the four recent lefthanded Presidents (assuming Reagan was a righthander -- he started as a child as a lefthander) to play golf lefthanded. Ford, Bush 1, and Clinton played with righthanded clubs, while Obama uses a lefthanded set. 

Is there anything left to say about racial profiling?

The George Zimmerman case, in which the special prosecutor signaled the Epitome of All Evil out for having "profiled" an unfamiliar 6'2" young black male, has, as they say, Reignited the Debate over Racial Profiling. But is there any actual debate in terms of either side grappling with the other side's arguments, rather than for one side to have the other side's proponents fired?

For example, here is what I wrote in VDARE way, way back in October 2000 after listening to a Presidential debate in which Bore and Gush Gore and Bush denounced racial profiling. As iSteve readers, but nobody else in the whole world, will recall, Bush was particularly insistent that profiling of Arab and/or Muslim airline passengers as potential terrorists -- "flying while Arab" -- would be abolished by a new Bush Administration. And so it came to pass ...

I went on to say in 2000:
This debate over racial profiling shows how utterly divorced American political discourse has become from personal reality. Every single person who lives in a diverse part of the country racially profiles every other pedestrian as he walks down the street at night. Jesse Jackson notoriously admitted that he does exactly that - and sighs with relief when he finds that the footsteps following him don't belong to a young black male.  
Indeed, the black-white ratio would be even higher if the FBI didn't insist upon counting most Hispanics as whites. This obfuscatory tactic makes it hard to break out precise crime figures for Hispanic groups. Most estimates place their rates of violence as well below those of African Americans - but well above those of whites. For example, Fox Butterfield reported in The New York Times on August 10, 2000 that Hispanics are imprisoned at a rate three times higher than "Anglo" whites. 
The reason we all do this is simple: African Americans commit far more violent crimes than anybody else. For example, according to official Clinton Administration statistics, in 1998 on a per capita basis blacks were seven times more murderous than whites. And this ratio is down significantly from the early nineties when the black crack wars were blazing. [http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/homicide/race.htm]
Actually, now I come to think about it, I do recall meeting one (1) man who never engaged in racial profiling. At a wedding reception in 1985, I got to talking with someone from Grant's Pass, Oregon. He was most upset by how whites (other than himself) worried more about black muggers than muggers of other races. "That's pure racism!" he insisted. 
I proposed to him a thought experiment. Say your wife's car runs out of gas in the middle of the night in a desolate neighborhood. She has no idea which way to walk to find a gas station. However, if she walks one way she has to pass by a half dozen black youths lounging on a corner. If she walks the other way, she would have to pass by a half dozen Indian immigrant youths. Which way would you prefer she went? 
"I would be completely indifferent," he replied. 
"Well, then, for your sake, I'm glad you live in Grass Pants, Oregon." 
"Where I live is irrelevant!" he responded triumphantly. "I've already been mugged three times!"

About all I can think of to add after all these years is this: Is it shamefully illiberal and politically incorrect for one sex to profile the other sex while walking down the street late at night with little security around? Is it a violation of our most sacred beliefs in gender equality that, for example, I try to make women walking late at night on an empty street feel less nervous by the presence of a strange man by my, say, crossing to the other side of the street, or by my walking on the far edge of the sidewalk out of arm's reach of them when passing them? Should I be deeply insulted that these good manners make women less nervous? Should I nurse a deep sense of rage over how these women are, subconsciously profiling me as a possible violent crime threat to themselves based solely on my accident of birth as a man?

On the other hand, on a busy, safe afternoon in broad daylight, would I resent it if a woman expected me to inconvenience myself by crossing the street? Sure. Especially if she were wearing a chador and didn't want me come close enough to her while walking down the street to cause a scandal with her in-laws that might lead to her brothers setting her on fire or whatever. 

Yeah, of course, who needs that kind of drama and those kind of people in their own neighborhood?

Now, the feminist explanation is purely Who? Whom? I possess Patriarchal Privilege so I must sacrifice for women. But my perspective is more realistic and sophisticated: that politeness suggests different behaviors for different people in different situations. Moreover, I also believe in political responses: treat rape as a serious crime, have the police hassle gangs of men who make weird sucking noises at women as they walk by, and so forth.

Of course, much of the response to allowing Women to Take Back the Night involves racial profiling and other police tactics with disparate racial impact. The liberal response is that to point out conflicting interests between liberalism's various sacralized victim groups (women, blacks, illegal immigrants, etc.) is crimethink, so we should all engage in crimestop, or protective stupidity.

April 15, 2012

The Demand for Black Rage

Last summer, I wrote about Bruce Norris's play about real estate and race in Chicago, Clybourne Park. (Here's an interview with Norris.) The NYT has an article about rehearsals for its opening on Broadway that unintentionally makes an important point about how Nice White People want middle class African-Americans to be driven to the edge of violence just by the thought of things that happened to blacks before they were born. 
Seven Actors Face a Big Challenge: He Just Said That? 
THE seven actors in the new Broadway play “Clybourne Park” were mostly strangers to one another when they met for the first table read of this stinging comedy by Bruce Norris in January 2010. They had no real comfort zone among them as they began to wade through the mudslide of racial indignities set off by white characters arguing about integration in 1959 Chicago. 
Midway through Act I, for instance, the character Jim — a white minister in the middle-class neighborhood of the title — becomes tongue-tied asking if “Negro” is more courteous than “colored.” Later a white homeowner named Karl Lindner questions Francine, a black maid, if she ever skis; after a stunned double-take, she says no. Lindner jabbers that “there is just something about the pastime of skiing that doesn’t appeal to the Negro community.” 
The scenes were so charged that the play’s director, Pam MacKinnon, decided she would never rehearse Act I for two days in a row without interspersing the second act, which is set in 2009 and includes new black characters who step up to the fight.
Even so, some actors asked for breaks to blow off steam. “If somebody hurts your feelings, you remember that feeling — it lives in you,” recalled Crystal A. Dickinson, who plays the maid, during an interview with the cast on the set of the play. “Now imagine that feeling 17 times in a row.” 
A likely contender this June for the Tony Award for best play, “Clybourne Park” has had an unusually long and rough road to Broadway, where it opens on Thursday. The cast members had to come to terms with the discomfiting contradictions in their characters; Mr. Norris won a Pulitzer Prize for the Off Broadway production of the play and waited to see if it would reach Broadway; and this new production nearly collapsed because of a falling-out between him and a former producer. The head-spinning events often seemed of a piece with the whiplash from the revelations and did-he-just-say-that? dialogue in the show itself. 
Typical of Mr. Norris’s style, the play takes place in two time periods. The Eisenhower-era Act I centers on whites preparing for the arrival of a black family on the block — and not just any black family, but the Youngers of Lorraine Hansberry’s landmark 1959 play “A Raisin in the Sun,” in which the move to Clybourne Park represents a dream fulfilled. Act II is set 50 years later, in the same house, as white yuppies seek to gentrify a neighborhood that has become a black enclave. (The same actors play different characters in each act.) 
... That the production survived is joy enough for the actors to regard the emotional rigors of the play, during rehearsal two years ago as well as now, as worth the trouble. As they stretched out on the sofas and armchairs of 406 Clybourne Street on the stage of the Walter Kerr Theater, the cast even struggled to recall some of the earlier touchy moments — not for a lack of memories but because the relief of reaching Broadway trumped them.

In other words, the actors couldn't really remember any of this until the NYT reporter worked hard to dredge up largely forgotten memories. Or perhaps the actors made up these memories to give the NYT what it wanted? These are professional Broadway actors, and it was still evidently hard for them to initially conjure up what the reporter wanted from them.
... Perhaps the most vicious lines in the play are delivered by Mr. Shamos, both as Karl (the only “Clybourne” character actually in “Raisin”) and as Lindsey’s husband, Steve. During the pre-Broadway tryout of this production in Los Angeles this winter Mr. Shamos would hear gasps and even hisses at some of Karl’s lines, especially during matinee performances attended by school groups. After the first preview performances on Broadway last month some theatergoers moaned when the actors paused after a particularly harsh line by Karl. The next day Ms. MacKinnon, the director, cut the pause because she didn’t want the audience to have a chance to turn against the character quite yet. 
Mr. Shamos said he was mostly able to shake off the audience reaction now but recalled feeling relieved during the early days at Playwrights when the actors would finish difficult scenes or go out to eat or get smoothies together. Rarely, though, would rehearsals or meals become consciousness-raising sessions where the actors talked at length about what the play brought up from their own lives.
“I think it’s good that we never tried to overexplain why we felt a line was offensive or overanalyze our reactions to the work,” he said. “We just wanted to be the purest communicators of the play.”

Basically, this racial anger among the black cast members didn't really happen, but NYT subscribers want to believe it did.

As Orwell, liked to say, who controls the past controls the future. My in-laws were nice white liberals who tried to make integration work, not fleeing the West Side of Chicago until their children had been mugged three times. By trying, they wound up losing half their net worth and my late father-in-law ended up with a 126 mile commute to his job in the orchestra at the Chicago Opera House. But that kind of history is unappreciated, to say the least. Nobody wants to hear about it, and especially nobody wants to hear any hard feelings about it.

This is particularly funny because the playwright himself identifies with the white people who were driven from their Chicago neighborhood:
ED: Why did the play coalesce around A Raisin in the Sun? 
BN: Well, as a child, when I saw Raisin my  point of identification with that play was the character of Karl Lindner. He’s the white man who comes to ask the Youngers not to move into Clybourne Park. That’s the character that appears in the first act of my play Clybourne Park.When I became attracted to that play, I always thought of myself as the antagonist, not as the hero. 
ED: You identified with Karl? 
BN: I identified with Karl and I identified with all of my culture, the people that I grew up around, as the people of Clybourne Park who did not want integration.

MCAT changes: More NAMS or fewer Tiger Cubs?

From the NYT:
Pre-Med’s New Priorities: Heart and Soul and Social Science 

... In addition to the hard-science and math questions that have for decades defined this rite of passage into the medical profession, nearly half of the new MCAT will focus on squishier topics in two new sections: one covering social and behavioral sciences and another on critical analysis and reading that will require students to analyze passages covering areas like ethics and cross-cultural studies. 
The Medical College Admission Test is, of course, much more than a test. A good score is crucial for entry into a profession that is perennially oversubscribed. Last year, nearly 44,000 people applied for about 19,000 places at medical schools in the United States. So the overhaul of the test, which was announced last year and approved in February, could fundamentally change the kind of student who will succeed in that process. It alters the raw material that medical schools receive to mold into the nation’s future doctors. 
Which is exactly what the A.A.M.C. has in mind. In surveys, “the public had great confidence in doctors’ knowledge but much less in their bedside manner,” said Darrell G. Kirch, president of the association, in announcing the change. “The goal is to improve the medical admissions process to find the people who you and I would want as our doctors. Being a good doctor isn’t just about understanding science, it’s about understanding people.”

The public are idiots. I want Dr. House to diagnose me. I almost died in the 1990s because my nice guy doctor told me that the lump in my armpit, my night sweats, and my loss of energy was probably just a muscle pull. The cancer doctor who saved my life had a lousy bedside manner, but he had access to Rituxan years before everybody else did because he knew more about non-Hodgkins lymphoma than anybody else in the upper Midwest.
The adoption of the new test, which will be first administered in 2015, is part of a decade-long effort by medical educators to restore a bit of good old-fashioned healing and bedside patient skills into a profession that has come to be dominated by technology and laboratory testing. More medical schools are requiring students to take classes on interviewing and communication techniques. To help create a more holistic admissions process, one that goes beyond scientific knowledge, admissions committees are presenting candidates with ethical dilemmas to see if their people skills match their A+ in organic chemistry. ...
Where will students find time to take in the extra material? How to prepare pre-med students long primed to answer questions like “Where are the serotonin receptors 5-HT2A and 5-HT2B mostly likely to be located in hepatocytes” to tackle more ambiguous challenges, like: “Which of the following explanations describes why the Identity vs. Role Confusion stage likely affects views about voting and being a voter?”
... “With the growth in scientific knowledge, we were focused on making sure doctors had a good foundation in hard science,” Dr. Kirch said. Indeed, from 1942 to 1976, the MCAT had included a broad-based knowledge section called “Understanding Modern Society.” Liberal arts questions were eliminated in 1977. ...
Some experts have long identified the MCAT as a stumbling block in the often-failed quest to produce more caring, attentive doctors. It is a test that selects more for calculation skills than empathy. ... 
And so the Association of American Medical Colleges began three years ago to redesign the MCAT, surveying thousands of medical school faculty members and students to come up with a test tailored to the needs and desires of the 21st century. In addition to more emphasis on humanistic skills, the new test had to take into account important new values in medicine like diversity, with greater focus on health care for the underserved, Dr. McGaghie said. 
As a result, there will be questions about gender and cultural influences on expression, poverty and social mobility, as well as how people process emotion and stress. ...
The mere fact that psychology, sociology and critical thinking will be on the MCAT is likely to change priorities, prompting science majors to think harder about topics like the perception of pain, informed consent, community awareness and the ethics of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. 

Okay, let me toss out a guess: The current American medical establishment wants more of their own children and grandchildren to make it as doctors, which, mathematically, means fewer Asians. So they are making it sound like they are changing the test to get more blacks and Hispanics, but they are small change: it's really a plan to cut down on the Asians.

And here's a prediction: it won't much work. Whatever they put on the test, within a few years, the Asians will memorize it and spit it back. 

Another possibility is that this is all part of a plan to liberalize Asians, to turn them into Nice White People, before they completely take over the world. That's not necessarily a bad idea. But of course the Nice White People couldn't imagine directly confronting Asians over their various bad habits, like, say, the caste system. Instead, the NWPs are attempting another classic triple bankshot by telling the Asians that Yes, the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment Will Be on the Test.