August 25, 2012

What the 21st Century's most accomplished athlete looks like with his shirt off

One of the reasons that sports fans can be so oblivious to how odd looking their ripped heroes can appear is because there is little demand for pictures of non-ripped athletes. So, people start to assume that everybody who works out hard enough will start to look like, say, Serena Williams.

As a counter-example, here is a rare picture of what Swiss tennis player Roger Federer looked like while changing shirts on the way to winning the French Open in 2009, the 14th of his record 17 tennis major championships from 2003 through his victory at Wimbledon this year. He's the top seed in the U.S. Open, and if he wins will tie Jack Nicklaus for the most grand slam championships in the two big country club sports, no doubt much to the dismay of his friend Tiger Woods, who is stuck on 14.

Yet, it turns out that Federer is built more like, say, Sean Connery in 1962 than Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1984 or Carmelita Jeter in 2012.

Federer may well be the greatest tennis player who ever lived, but there are relatively few pictures of him online changing shirts, much less posed beefcake pictures of him like the many we see of more ripped athletes without half his success. 

Tennis is an all-around test of strength, agility, strategy, and endurance, so, at least in theory, it's not surprising that Federer looks like a traditional assumption of what a good athlete would look like, not like the highly specialized specimens we see in various Olympic events, which tend to make narrower demands.

The article notes that it's rare to see photos of Federer without his shirt on. Or it could be that Federer is averse to posing with his shirt off. As far as I can tell, after beating a rival, he generally doesn't rip his shirt off and flex for the crowd, as Novak Djokovic did after beating Federer in 2008.

In theory, if you are on the juice, you should want to stay covered up -- the way the rational and suspicious Barry Bonds switched to bulky, long-sleeved uniforms after he started doping in 1999. In practice, however, there seems to be a strong correlation between how much you look like you are doping and how much you want rip your shirt off at center court and strike Mr. Universe poses. It must be the juice doing the thinking for you. And, why not? Nobody much seems to notice. Maybe Skip Bayless will point out on ESPN that there's something a little off about you, but Bayless will just get flooded with online comments calling him a jerk.

Federer, instead, typically wears what tennis fans of a generation ago would have considered a well-fitting shirt, neither skin-tight nor a shapeless cover-up.

I don't know if that's because there doesn't seem to be much demand for pictures of an athlete who merely looks extremely fit by the standards of 1975, but who doesn't look like the living anatomy charts we've come to know so well since. Moreover, pictures of a shirtless Federer on the web often come with comments suggesting that people these days find it kind of creepy that he doesn't shave his chest hair. 

Or maybe nobody wants to look at pictures of Federer looking healthy and nonweird because they raise questions about other athletic heroes, and why they look the weird way they do.

In general, I suspect many tennis fans are a little embarrassed by the fact that Federer doesn't look like a GI Joe Action Figure the way other athletes have looked in recent times.. The New York Times Magazine often runs a big article about tennis stars when the U.S. Open in New York rolls around, with heroic cover photos, such as this year's one of the Williams Sisters, with a cover photo lit and framed to emphasize Serena's implausible musculature. 

Here's the late David Foster Wallace's appreciation of Federer from 2006 in the NYT Mag. It doesn't come with any beefcake shots, just pictures of a fully clothed Federer playing tennis.

Anyway, this is not to say that Federer must be innocent of any and all doping. Endurance drugs like epo, for example, don't change body shape, so looking at pictures wouldn't help.

My point, though, is that Federer's body raises doubt about the usual explanation you hear when you point out that some sports hero looks like a bodybuilder: "That's because he/she works so hard. If the other players were as dedicated to winning as he/she is, they'd look like him/her too."

But, Roger Federer seems to be awfully dedicated to winning grand slam titles. He's won three more than any other tennis player in history. He's won three more than his friend and rival Tiger Woods. He's playing in what would seem like the toughest era in tennis history, against all that talent from countries that used to be stuck behind the Iron Curtain.

Federer has earned $73 million in winnings, and, at age 31, is back to World #1, and is the favorite entering the U.S. Open. Last year, he was the fifth highest compensated athlete in the world, behind two boxers, Tiger, and LeBron, and ahead of Kobe. In other words, he is extremely good at prioritizing among the trade-offs involved in winning at tennis.

For example, would shaving his chest help him win? He's not a swimmer, so why bother? Sure, the magazine photographers who specialize in shooting the massive, oiled up abs of athletes would insist that he shave his chest. But, he's not going to let somebody oil up his abs, which aren't massive, for a beefcake pictures that he's not going to agree to star in. How is any of that not a distraction from his goal of finishing his career with more major championships in tennis than Tiger will ever win in golf?

Would lifting huge amounts of weights to add mass and definition help Federer win even more? All else being equal, perhaps. But what would he have to give up to to do that? Giant muscles come with an opportunity cost? It's not just the time it takes to lift a lot of weights, it's the recovery times when your muscles are rebuilding and aren't at their best. For example, Barry Bonds won three MVP awards in baseball in 1990-1993 and continue to be one of the very best players in baseball through the McGwire-Sosa season of 1998. But, he wasn't juicing yet, so he couldn't lift weights more than 15 minutes per day during the season without it degrading his day to day game performance. And, despite hitting 46 homers in 1993, he wasn't ripped-looking.

Starting slowly on the juice in 1999, and accelerating in 2000 through 2001 when he broke McGwire's record with 73 homers, Bonds found that drugs helped him recover faster so he could lift more. He set records that are just silly, but clearly re-established that he had been the best player in baseball all through the mid-1990s.

Anyway, the point is that great athletes like Federer and the 1990s Bonds, playing all-around, complicated games like tennis and baseball and playing frequently over long seasons, don't find it in their interests to do the weight room work it takes to look all massive and ripped. (Okay, there may well be other sports where the demands are less broad and less time consuming, such as sprinting, so that it makes sense to peak for the Olympics with a ferocious weight room regimen).

But, lots of other athletes in sports like tennis and baseball do seem to find it in their interest to spend a huge amount of time in the weight room. Is it really because they want to win more than Roger Federer wants to win? Or is it because, for some reason that we aren't privy to, they can lift more weights more often because their muscles recover faster that those of the greatest tennis player of all time?

The future of high school football

My old high school had a mediocre football team while I was there in 1972-1976, but then hired a brilliant coach a couple of years after I left and has been a powerhouse ever since. This year they have a 6'6" 220 pound quarterback from Claremont, a college town 40 miles away (his parents had to drive 160 miles per day to get him to school) and a tailback who won the California track & field sprint championships for 100 and 200 meters last spring.

Lately, they've been playing a late August game against an out of state power. This year they'll play an Arizona team on August 31 ... in Ireland.


In recent years, the Catholic schools and the upscale exurban public schools have dominated high school football. You are starting to see isolated examples of high end prep schools running into trouble getting enough boys to go out for football. I noticed that one wealthy private school that a half decade ago had a football team full of huge fast guys brought in from South Central has dropped down to 8 man football this year. I suspect that schools will increasingly have to choose between going all in or getting out of 11-man football.

August 23, 2012

Photos of athletes: Nobody notices nuthin'

With the news today that Lance Armstrong is surrendering his seven Tour de France cycling titles, I want to return to my rant from last week that nobody seems to notice anything when famous celebrities look a little odd. Here, for example, is a picture of the veteran tennis-playing Williams Sisters from the cover of the upcoming New York Times Sunday Magazine. Venus, on the left, looks like an enormously tall and extremely athletic woman in the peak of physical shape. As I recall, when Venus emerged as a pro in the 1990s, she set a record for velocity of service speed for a woman. So, Venus is really, really strong. If you want to see what a woman who can hit a tennis ball extremely hard looks like, look at Venus.

In contrast, her younger sister Serena, who won the Olympic gold medal earlier this month, looks like she's weighing in to fight Jake LaMotta in Comiskey Park for the welterweight championship.

Granted, these are sisters, not identical twins like Jose and Ozzie Canseco, back when the former was a slugging MVP and the latter was a skinny minor leaguer. Still, I'm fascinated that the two would agree to be photographed side by side. Obviously, the contrast doesn't seem to strike anybody else as interesting.

Instead of Divide and Rule, Unite and Submit

I've long pointed out that how the government decides to divvy up individuals for the purposes of affirmative action and disparate impact has long-run social constructionist impact on politics. Smart ruling classes practice divide and rule, but dumb ones, like Republicans, practice unite and submit.

For example, in the early 1970s, the Nixon Administration might have looked at people from south of the Rio Grande and said to themselves, "Wow, those folks will go to war with each other over a soccer game. Back home, they get all insulted if anyone insinuates they aren't pure Castillian. They won't be hard to keep fractured and under our thumb." Instead, the Nixonites decided that it would be bureaucratically convenient to call them all "Hispanics" and give them money and prizes for identifying as "Hispanic."

Four decades later, the newspapers run articles everyday insisting that Hispanics hate the Republicans and the Republicans are electorally doomed unless, according to disinterested Hispanic spokes-experts, they let in lots more Hispanics.

So, changes in bureaucratic classification systems can matter a lot.
WASHINGTON -- To keep pace with rapidly changing notions of race, the Census Bureau wants to make broad changes to its surveys that would treat "Hispanic" as a distinct category regardless of race, end use of the term "Negro" and offer new ways to identify Middle Easterners. 
The recommendations released Wednesday stem from new government research on the best ways to count the nation's demographic groups. Still it could face stiff resistance from some racial and ethnic groups who worry that any kind of wording change in the high-stakes government count could yield a lower tally for them. ...
... The wording in census surveys can also be highly political: census data are used to distribute more than $400 billion in federal aid and draw political districts and thus can elicit concern if a change were to yield a lower response.  
Terry Minnis, director of census and voting programs at the Asian American Justice Center, said more tests are needed to ensure that Asian-Americans are fully counted under a new question format. ...
"As the Census Bureau looks to develop new strategies that maximize measurement and reporting on race and ethnicity, it must ensure that nothing compromises the quality and detail of data on Asian Americans," Minnis said. 

You'll notice that none of the groups consulted are white or Republican or conservative or anti-racialist or citizenist or whatever. Who are these losers to have a say in how their country is run?
... The research is based on an experiment conducted during the 2010 census in which nearly 500,000 households were given forms with the race and ethnicity questions worded differently. The findings show that many people who filled out the traditional form did not feel they fit within the five government-defined categories of race: white, black, Asian, Pacific Islander and American Indian/Alaska Native; when questions were altered to address this concern, response rates and accuracy improved notably. 
For instance, because Hispanic is currently defined as an ethnicity and not a race, some 18 million Latinos – or roughly 37 percent – used the "some other race" category on their census forms to establish a Hispanic racial identity. Under one proposed change to the census forms, a new question would simply ask a person's race or origin, allowing them to check a single box next to choices including black, white, or Hispanic. 
The other changes would drop use of "Negro," leaving a choice of "black" or African-American, as well as add write-in categories that would allow Middle Easterners and Arabs to specifically identify themselves. ...
"This is a hot-button issue," said Angelo Falcon, president of the National Institute for Latino Policy in New York City and a community adviser to the census. "The burden will be on the Census Bureau to come up with evidence that wording changes will not undermine the Latino numbers." ...
While individual Hispanics have expressed dissatisfaction with census forms that don't count Latino as a race, Latino political groups have been reticent about pushing for a change. The main reason: Past research has sometimes shown that treating Latinos as a mutually exclusive group on survey forms leads to a lower Hispanic count. 
"Why would Latinos want to give up their own question on the census form that specifically asks if they are of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin?" asks Falcon of the National Institute for Latino Policy. He notes that the current wording, which first asks people if they are of Latino origin and then prompts them to fill in their race, fostered a strong count in 2010 that yielded a new census milestone for Latinos of 50 million, or 1 in 6 Americans.  

People like Angelo Falcon make their living by claiming to represent over 50,000,000 Hispanics. And the more the better. Right now, Hispanics have their own special Census category, Ethnicity, which nobody else gets. This allows them to be both white on the Race question, which is very, very important to some of them, and get money and prizes for being Hispanic on the Ethnicity question. Falcon is worried that if Ethnicity is dropped Hispanic / Latino gets turned into one answer to the Race question, some of the individuals he claims to represent will choose to be white over Hispanic, thus making him seem like the leader of a smaller power bloc.

The Census Bureau answers that they tested for that, and there's no problem: they've figured out how to word it so that Mr. Falcon will come out just as important.

My solution would be to eliminate from the Census the Ethnicity concept and the Hispanic/Latino answer. Just have Race, and let people identify as mestizo or mulatto or pardo if they feel like. We need to be sensitive to Latin American cultures, and those words are central to their cultures.
Arab-Americans said they strongly support the Census Bureau's efforts. "The Census Bureau's current method for determining Arab ancestry yields a significant undercount of the actual size of the community, and we're optimistic that the new form should be significantly better at capturing ancestry data," the Arab American Institute said in a statement. 

Of course they do. At present, Arabs are classified as white and thus get the fuzzy end of the lollipop along with other whites when it comes to affirmative action and disparate impact discrimination lawsuits. (Remember, without a count to facilitate a claim of disparate impact discrimination, people can only sue for disparate treatment discrimination.)

Thirty years ago, I'd sometimes hang out with this fellow in northwest suburban Chicago, a nice guy who seemed like the quintessential upscale suburban Chicago kid. (In fact, he's now a local politician, the village president of a posh suburb. I see in Wikipedia that he ran for Congress recently as the Democratic nominee but lost in that Republican district full of corporate executives.) At the time, his father was CEO of the most famous bank in Chicago and had recently appeared on the cover of Fortune or Forbes with a headline asserting he was The Toughest Boss in America. The only thing slightly different about this young guy from all the other suburbanites was that he had an Arab surname and looked Levantine. (His grandparents were Lebanese Christian immigrants.)

For reasons of obvious self-interest, I want Arabs and other Middle Easterners in the bureaucratically white tent with me. How in the world does it do me any good for the government to start carving out one set of white people and give them the bureaucratic infrastructure to bring disparate impact lawsuits whenever the numbers happen to work out to their disfavor?
Many demographers predict a wider range of responses on census forms and blurring of racial categories over the next 50 years as the minority population grows and interracial marriage becomes more common.

Sure, but Census Bureau categories work to prevent identities from becoming realistically blurry. For example, consider Xochitl Hinojosa. She may look and live like the affluent and fashion-conscious young white lady she is, but she earned her paycheck as the Obama Justice Department Civil Rights division's Aztec warrior princess / spokesmodel.

Augusta National membership list

Back in 2004, USA Today published a list of the approximately 300 members of the Augusta National Golf Club. The list was probably from about 2002, since some of the members on the list have obituaries from 2003. 

I'm not particularly good at recognizing names, but the only Business Titans on the list whose names strikes me off the top of my head as more likely Jewish than not are Sandy Weill of Citi and John L. Weinberg of Goldman Sachs.

Here's Canadian real estate mogul Leo Kolber in his autobiography Leo describing the 1980s:
And among the very stupid things I've done personally was to turn down an offer to join Augusta National Golf Club, where I believe I might have been the first Jewish member. ... "I'll never use it, I said, declining with thanks. Of the many things I've regretted in my life, that is near the top of the list. Later, Johnny Weinberg of Goldman Sachs and Sandy Weill of Citibank became the first Jews admitted to membership at Augusta National.

Two of out of 300 is not terribly representative of the balance of money and power and media influence in a modern America where the Forbes 400 is reportedly 36 percent Jewish.

For whatever it's worth, in the behind-the-scenes Talk section of Wikipedia, I found:
Does anybody know if Augusta National has any Jewish members? (talk) 19:32, 3 April 2009 (UTC)Otis P. Nixon 
In answer to your question, Otis...yes, the Augusta National has several Jewish members. I grew up close to Augusta and lived there for many years, and was occasionally able to borrow tickets from one of the Jewish members because I went to school with one of his daughters. The membership at Augusta National consists of people in two main categories: Long-time businessmen (especially from the east Georgia and west South Carolina areas), whose parents/grandparents joined the club during the first few years of its existence. (Up until the late 1940's it was not as exclusive, nor as prestigious...though the association with Bobby Jones was a big attraction.) Most of the Jewish members are this type, who own and run area businesses started by their fathers and grandfathers, who helped build the club into what it is today. And the other main group of members are the wealthy and important people who first started joining when President Eisenhower became a regular at the club. After that, the membership became rather exclusive and prestigious, and soon there was a large group of members who were invited to join because they were Board Chairmen or CEO's of some of the largest companies in the country. A few more of the Jewish members are in that category, CEO's of large international corporations.

That sounds pretty plausible to me, although it technically contradicts Kolber's surmise that Weill and Weinberg were the first Jews at Augusta National. Anyway, the topic suggests an answer to the question that must be puzzling Augusta National insiders: How to get more sympathetic press coverage?

August 22, 2012


Entertaining movie for women.

It's a remake of the little-known 1976 backstage musical about three black sisters who form a girl group in Harlem in 1958, now restaged in 1968 Detroit. So, it's a lot like the early 1980s musical about the Supremes, Dreamgirls, but the songs are better. The new version of Sparkle keeps much of the original score by the late Curtis Mayfield, who composed the movie's songs as a follow-up to his hit score for Superfly. (A few new songs by R. Kelly are added.) 

Listening to Sparkle's first couple of talent show numbers, I realized this movie had to be a remake because Hollywood can't come up with movie songs this good anymore. Hollywood used to remake movies because the originals had turned out better than expected, like The Manchurian Candidate. But it makes more sense to remake films that flopped for fixable reasons, but have underexposed resources.

Mike Epps has the most interesting role as the show-biz villain, rather like Purple Rain's Morris Dees Day. Epps even has an albino sidekick. (Why? Because black albinos are interesting to look at. I told, you this movie is entertaining.) Epps is the bad guy whom the bad girl eldest sister is attracted to. Epps plays a black stand-up comic who is a regular on white people's TV because he tells jokes making fun of black people for being so stupid as to burn down their neighborhoods in the 1967 Detroit riots. I watched a lot of television in 1968 and can't actually recall any comedians like that, but it's an intriguing concept. 

The late Whitney Houston plays the mother of the three singers. She's a former singer who became an alcoholic, found Jesus, quit show biz, and now wants her daughters to follow a more bourgeois path through life than she did. (They live in a large, spotless how-can-they-afford-that house.)

Jordin Sparks, the winner of American Idol a half decade ago, plays the ingenue, Sparkle, who is both sweet and -- for unexplained reasons -- a pop songwriting genius in the style of Curtis Mayfield. Nor is any attempt made to explain why Sparks/Sparkle has a white accent when the rest of her family have black accents. As I pointed out four years ago, Sparks' father was an NFL cornerback and her mother is white:
Whites like blacks, but black teens these days don't like much of anything they consider white. They like just hip-hop and basketball (and, okay, football, too). Almost everything else is considered a violation of keeping it real. ... 
So, the small number of mulattos who grew up with one non-black parent and thus get introduced to a wider range of cultural options beyond rap and hoops are disproportionately taking the plums that people a generation ago assumed blacks in general would be achieving. ...
There's somebody who's an even better example of this rise of the new mulatto elite, but I can't quite think of his name at the moment. 

One interesting scene shows black teens at Thursday night bible study grooving to Eric Clapton's Cream playing  "Sunshine of Your Love" on Whitney's new color TV. That's kind of surprising because this is in contrast to Dreamgirls, in which white music is all stolen from blacks and blacks don't like any white music. I was only a kid in 1968 so I don't have a good sense of which version of history is really true. My impression is that blacks weren't as reflexively anti-white in musical ideology back then, and might well have thought that while Cream wasn't to their taste, it was still pretty cool in small doses, but I really don't know.

In reading about Curtis Mayfield on Wikipedia, it said that both Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton cited Mayfield's guitar playing for the Impressions as an influence. My guess would be that the original plan in the movie was to use a Hendrix clip, but that didn't work out for intellectual property rights reasons or whatever so they went with a Clapton clip instead.

The polemical theme of Prince's brilliant Super Bowl half time show a few years ago was that white and black America need each other musically and it was time to get over this who stole what from whom grievance, which is why he covered songs written by whites and famously covered by blacks: "All Along the Watchtower" (Dylan/Hendrix) and "Proud Mary" (Fogerty/Ike and Tina Turner). Or at least that's what I imagined Prince was arguing.

Decline of Jewish country clubs

The subjects of country clubs, Jews, and Jewish country clubs are interesting and somewhat important because old resentments and guilts related to ancestral exclusion and social status striving seem to be one among the little-discussed reasons behind much of today's conventional wisdom. 

So, for background, I'll start with part of a 2009 Golfweek article by Bradley S. Klein called "Demise of the Jewish club." It was written immediately after the Madoff Affair had punched a big hole in the net worths of members of some Jewish country clubs, so the term "Demise" -- instead of the more accurate "Decline" -- is understandable hyperbole.
Peter Davidson, a member of Inwood Country Club since 1956, vividly remembers realizing just how unusual his Long Island club really was. The moment of clarity took place nearly two decades ago, and it explained much about how his historically Jewish club operated. 
“I was invited to play at a member-guest at Oakmont Country Club outside Pittsburgh,” Davidson says. “Along with our host were members from the Olympic Club in San Francisco and Medinah in Chicago.

Oakmont, Olympic, and Medina all have hosted major championships in recent years, so they are very famous in the golf world.
The conversation turned to annual fees. I forget the exact numbers, but it was something like $5,000 for Olympic and about $5,500 for Medinah. Our host from Oakmont said that his dues were right in the middle.” 
Inquiring minds naturally turned to Davidson. 
“I said, ‘We’re about where all of you are – combined.” Back then, Inwood charged a princely sum of $18,000. [Around 1990] 

Later on, Klein explains the reasons for this price differential.
In its heyday, Inwood didn’t have to worry about holding down costs or attracting new members. Having an acclaimed golf course – good enough to host the 1921 PGA Championship and the 1923 U.S. Open, where Bobby Jones won his first national championship – served as a magnet for the affluent who lived in the distinct Five Towns community on Long Island’s south shore. ....

Another unexpected blow comes from the investment scandal involving Bernie Madoff. An avid golfer based on Long Island and in Palm Beach County, Fla., Madoff apparently drew heavily upon the close social circles of the Jewish community. His ill-doing led to financial hardship and membership resignation among hundreds of people, resulting in some Jewish clubs losing dozens of members over the past winter. 
Long before Madoff, however, the demise of Jewish clubs was evident. 
As the hush-hush exclusivity of American country clubs gave way to a wide-open market in which anyone is welcome, Jews gained the freedom to assimilate. The shrinking pool of candidates for all-Jewish clubs, in turn, forced such facilities to seek a secular, more diverse membership. ...
Jewish clubs surfaced in the early 1900s when overt discrimination was the norm. If your ethnicity or religious identity didn’t conform to the prevailing blue-blood ethos of the ruling “Social Register” crowd, you were out of luck. Or you formed your own golf club. 
That’s exactly how Inwood emerged in the southwest corner of Nassau County, just beyond the limits of New York City, where the runways of JFK Airport now abut the tidal salt marshes of Long Island’s Jamaica Bay. ...

Inwood is now directly under the final descent flight path of JFK, making it a relaxing experience for deaf members. They had Tom Doak revamp their seafront holes to look more Early 20th Century.
For Jewish clubs, golf served as just one of many reasons for seeking membership. The club became a center for Jewish life, providing privacy so an extended family of sorts could celebrate holidays and dining, and pursue community service or charity work. 
That kindred behavior often has led to distinct differences between Jewish clubs and other private facilities. Jewish clubs keep outside corporate outings to a minimum. They offer full-service meals all the time, not just on weekends. They usually keep a bigger staff, which typically translates into better service but higher costs for labor and benefits. 
One interesting cultural aside, according to McMahon: Jewish clubs consume less alcohol, lowering revenues from one of the most profitable components of any private-club operation.

The profit on gin-and-tonics alone has probably paid for a lot of lawn-mowing at classic WASP courses.

Later on, I'll get to some of the more puzzling aspects.

August 21, 2012

Condi Rice & diversity via sameness

From my Taki's Magazine column:
Augusta National is to aspirational Gentile corporate executives what Harvard is to ambitious high-school students. …. So why did Augusta National immediately add a black member in 1990 after Shoal Creek, site of that year's PGA Championship, was widely criticized when its founder let it slip that it was all-white? In contrast, why did Augusta National wait 22 more years to let in any women, even shrugging off a frenzied 2002 campaign against it by The New York Times? ... 
The contrast is striking because race discrimination was pervasive in American country clubs up through the 1990 Shoal Creek imbroglio... 
On the other hand, contrary to all the press accounts presenting Augusta National as a last relic of the Bad Old Days, all-male golf clubs have never been common in the US, and they may even now be increasing in number.  
What's the story behind all this?  

Read the whole thing there.

Great Moments in SWPL Alternative History

Headlines in the New York Herald, April 15, 1861:

Civil War Averted!
South Abolishes Slavery
Institutes “Permanent Agricultural Internships” Instead

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach runs for Congress

Dave Weigel writes in Slate on the GOP candidate for a New Jersey House of Representatives seat:
The bolt-black SmartCar parks, and out walks Rabbi Shmuley Boteach—spiritual adviser to Michael Jackson, author of Kosher Sex, candidate for U.S. Congress.

It's a Democratic leaning district, but Sheldon Adelson's $500,000 donation perhaps gives Shmuley a fighting chance. 

iSteve first became Shmuley-conscious in 2008 during the Nine Days Wonder over the rabbi's nephew Efraim Diveroli, the 22-year-old rogue arms dealer who fulfilled his $198,000,000 contract with the Pentagon to supply the Afghan Army with ammunition using illegal Chinese surplus bought off shady Albanian officials.

Last year, I found out Shmuley lives next door to a house in New Jersey owned by Libyan Colonel Muamar Gaddafi, then still kicking. Back before Qathaffee's unpleasant demise, I pitched:
C'mon, this can't miss as a situation for a sit-com: Michael Jackson's rabbi (played by Billy Crystal) and an attention-starved Arab tyrant in exile (Mickey Rourke) squabble over their backyard fence in suburban New Jersey. Then, the rabbi's arms dealer nephew, Efraim Diveroli (Eli Roth), has to move in with his uncle as part of his parole and he gets into wacky international intrigue with the Kaddafi Kids (Kal Penn and Sarah Silverman).

But, Rabbi Boteach Goes to Washington sounds promising as well.

China v. India in SWPL Appeal

I've never been to China or India, so I'm just going to talk through my hat here about the images of the two countries in the imagination of Stuff White People Like white people such as, well, me. In general, India seems to win hands down in a contest of stereotypical images in the heads of SWPLs:

- China is a dictatorship; India is a democracy.

- China is homogeneous; India is diverse.

- China is monocultural; India is multicultural.

- China is conformist; India is free-spirited.

- China is a nation; India is a subcontinent.

- China has factories where people work with their hands; India has call centers where people talk into headsets.

- China makes hardware; India does software.

- China bulldozes new freeways; Indians argue endlessly over whose backyard would have to go.

- China is good at math; India is good at verbal.

- China has ugly air pollution; India has blue skies. 

- China is modernizing; India is postmodernizing.

China looks at pictures of the old-fashioned Modern America that went to the Moon and says: "We want some of that."

But is India becoming more like postmodern America or is postmodern America becoming more like India? Maybe India is already at where postmodernism leads? That the future for the postmodernist U.S. is Indian-style inequality and ineffectuality?

Consider, for example, India's addiction to arranged marriages. A generation ago, that would have seemed appalling to Americans. But, now, at the upper reaches of American society, I sense an unspoken but growing sense suspicion that maybe the Indians have got it right about marriages.

The upper middle class spends much time and money stage-managing their children's lives to get them into the right institutions with the right sort of people for them to find the right sort of spouse, but then the ungrateful little scions fail to pull the trigger. So, why not take the next step and instead of just hiring tutors and consultants to get them into nice colleges and nice law schools, go all the way and hire matchmaking consultants to get them a nice husband or wife?

I'm not saying that any SWPL has yet even articulated this thought internally, but the logic of social trends is leading in that direction. And once that thought starts to pop up in the minds of the SWPLs as they age, what ideological barrier is there? Are they going to tell themselves, "We are Westerners! Oriental despotism is not for us." Yeah, right. 

What about women's rights as an ideological impediment? Well, that's more plausible, but the SWPLs who are going to seriously consider hiring matchmakers for their children are going to be not patriarchal fathers, but instead mothers with high-powered careers. They hire consultants all the time on the job, so why not hire a consultant to help their children find a mate?

Here's an interesting betting proposition: What is the under-over line for the year of America's First Arranged Gay Marriage? 2022?

Oh, the humanity!

It never ends. From CNBC:
California Farm Labor Shortage 'Worst It's Been, Ever' 
By: Jane Wells

Actually, I think the proper punctuation is "Worst. Farm labor shortage. Ever."
There's a different sort of drought plaguing California, the nation's largest farm state. It's $38 billion agricultural sector is facing a scarcity of labor.

"This year is the worst it's been, ever," said Craig Underwood, who farms everything from strawberries to lemons to peppers, carrots, and turnips in Ventura County. 
Some crops aren't get picked this season due to a lack of workers. 
"We just left them in the field," he said. 
The Western Growers Association told CNBC its members are reporting a 20 percent drop in laborers this year. Stronger border controls are keeping workers from crossing into the U.S. illegally, and the current guest worker program is not providing enough bodies.  
"We have 100 fewer people this year," said Sergio Diaz, who provides workers under contract for growers. "We're having difficulty finding people to do this work." 
The lack of workers is forcing farmers to pay more.

Oh, the humanity! Those poor, poor farmers, having to pay their workers more.

Seriously, there's something Pavlovian about how effective for propaganda purposes is this mental image of "crops rotting in the fields" beloved by the PR people of the growers' associations. The reality is that the agriculture industry can't make use of every single vegetable or fruit grown, just as the lumber industry inevitably winds up with some unused sawdust. Each fruit or vegetable ripens at a slightly different time, and there are definite diminishing returns to paying for more picking sweeps through fields looking for optimally ripe ones. But, perhaps, humans have such folk memories of famines that we unthinkingly find horrifying the notion that profit maximizing farmers find it profit maximizing to not pick every single outlier, so we rush to meet their demands for more cheap immigrant labor.

Here's a question: You know how economists love to lecture non-economists about how the science of economics has proven that no such things as shortages can exist, absent price controls?

The Wikipedia article on "Economic shortage" explains:
In common use, the term "shortage" may refer to a situation where most people are unable to find a desired good at an affordable price. In the economic use of "shortage", however, the affordability of a good for the majority of people is not an issue: If people wish to have a certain good but cannot afford to pay the market price, their wish is not counted as part of demand.

And you know how economists are always making fun of articles quoting consumers complaining about shortages of stuff they want to buy but can't afford? Yet, these articles about the apocalyptic Farm Labor Shortage are an annual staple of journalism, but how many economists (other than labor economic specialists such as Borjas at Harvard or Martin at UC Davis) ever make fun of these boilerplate articles?

August 20, 2012

India drops out of 2012 PISA test

I always try to keep up on China and India test score news, since the topic offers us important clues about the future of the world. From the Times of India:
After an earlier, embarrassing show, India has backed out of this year's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a global evaluation process by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Secretariat that gauges where schoolchildren stand alongside their peers from other countries. 
This academic Olympics measures the performance of 15-year-olds in their reading, math and science abilities. 
... In the last assessment, Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh, showpieces of India's education and development, were put through the PISA evaluation and they performed miserably. The idea was that the entire country would participate in the next round of assessment. However, that plan was also dropped.

The Great Algebra Debate

Earlier in the summer, veteran sociologist Andrew Hacker caused a stir by arguing that algebra shouldn't be a mandatory course in high schools and colleges:

Education Realist reviews the numbers and responds:
These numbers, on the surface, don’t support the conventional wisdom about math performance: namely, that elementary school teachers need improvement and that the seeds of our students’ failure in higher math starts in the lower grades. 
Elementary students are doing quite well. It’s only in advanced math, when the teachers are much more knowledgeable, with higher SAT scores and tougher credentialling tests, that student performance starts to decline dramatically.
What these numbers do suggest is that as math gets harder, fewer and fewer students achieve mastery, or anything near it. What they suggest, really, is that math knowledge doesn’t advance in a linear fashion. Shocking news, I know. We have all forgotten the Great Wisdom of Barbie. ...
Anyway. With numbers like these, it’s hard not to just see this entire debate as insanely pointless. In California, at least, tens of thousands of high school kids are sitting in math classes that they don’t understand, feeling useless, understanding deep in their bones that education has nothing to offer them. Meanwhile, well-meaning people who have never spent an hour of their lives trying to explain advanced math concepts to the lower to middle section of the cognitive scale pontificate about teacher ability, statistics vs. algebra, college for everyone, and other useless fantasies that they are allowed to engage in because until our low performers represent the wide diversity of our country to perfection, no one’s going to ruin a career by pointing out that this a pipe dream. And of course, while they’re engaging in these fantasies, they’ll blame teachers, or poverty, or curriculum, or parents, or the kids, for the fact that their dreams aren’t reality. 
If we could just get whites and Asians to do a lot worse, no one would argue about the absurdity of sending everyone to college. 
Until then, everyone will divert themselves by engaging in this debate—which, like many kids stuck in the hell of unfair expectations, will go nowhere.

I'm a little less cynical. 

First, America has made a vast effort since 1983 to teach students more math, and the test scores suggest that it has been mildly successful.

Second, it's worth trying to pound some abstract math into everybody's heads just to find out which ones can do it. 

Third, there are massive diminishing returns to pounding, however. The Gates Foundations' pushing for requiring Algebra, Geometry, and Algebra II to graduate from public school is overkill. 

Fourth, we need a lot of effort and publicity put into figuring out what kinds of non-abstract math are useful. Consider construction, for example. Economic historians sometimes use carpenters' wages as an index to compare wages over the centuries because carpenters have been around since before Jesus, and will probably be around for a long time in the future, too. Think about five categories of individuals in regards to construction work:

- Unemployable
- Laborer
- Carpenter
- Contractor
- Developer

The differences between Unemployable and Laborer are presumably mostly due to character. But differences in math skills can matter in moving up the ladder. It would be useful to have a curriculum for mastering practical arithmetic for students who don't have what it takes for abstract math.

Fifth, the algebra v. statistics question is a good one. I was always mediocre at pure abstract thinking, but, for some reason, am good at very simple statistical thinking (and I am good at pulling up examples out of my memory). That's a major reason why my insights are so orthogonal to almost everybody else's. I don't really know why that is.

Would teaching more statistics at a younger age do much for the quality of discourse in America? I don't know. In some ways, probabilistic thinking is an old man's game. It may not appeal much to the young, who are more imaginative, abstract, and idealistic.

$10,000 bucks

Under two weeks left for submissions for the Unz Prize:
As a means of publicizing the vast quantity of high-quality content material uniquely available on its recently released website, is announcing a historical research competition. 
First Prize of $10,000 and several other cash prizes will be awarded for the most significant and interesting discussion or analysis of some historical issue based on the published source material provided at  All entries must be received by August 31, 2012, and awards will be made by September 30, 2012. 
Interested participants should examine the rules, read the description of the available content source material, and then register for the competition. 
Good luck!