September 1, 2012

Parker: In polls, "Romney, alas, leads whites."

From the Washington Post:
The elephant in the room 
By Kathleen Parker, Published: August 31 
Gazing out on the pale continent of the Republican National Convention ... Where are the blacks? 
Notwithstanding the dazzling performance of Condoleezza Rice and the GOP’s raucous affection for her, African Americans are scarce in the party of Abraham Lincoln. Republicans can honestly boast of having once been the party of firsts. The first Hispanic, African American, Asian American and Native American in the Senate were all Republicans. But that was before the GOP went south, banished its centrists and embraced social conservatives in a no-exit marriage. 
The impression that Republicans don’t welcome blacks and other minorities is, however, demonstrably false. Note the number of minority Republican governors recently elected: Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Brian Sandoval of Nevada and Susana Martinez of New Mexico. Even so, the party is undeniably and overwhelmingly white, and minorities (and increasingly women) don’t feel at home there. ...
African Americans are not a monolithic group, obviously, and many likely would find comfort in the promises of smaller government, lower taxes, balanced budgets, school choice and so on that Mitt Romney put on the table Thursday night. But this isn’t likely to happen. A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found 0 percent support for Romney among African Americans. (Zero doesn’t necessarily mean none but is a statistical null.) Obama also leads Latinos younger than 35 and women. Romney, alas, leads whites. 

Right, because what candidate in his right mind would want a majority of the majority? Doesn't Romney know that the majority has cooties, that white people are icky, and that it's only because of some outmoded tradition that an individual white person's vote still counts just as much as the vote of a cooler individual? When is somebody going to do something about that anyway? And when are white people going to stop being so racist and be more like blacks and favor Obama 100-0?

Democrats can't find most black Milwaukee voters

From Slate:
Sixty percent of Milwaukee's black voters have disappeared. ... 
New data from Milwaukee give an indication of how dire the Democrats’ disappearing-voter problem already is. This spring, the League of Young Voters, which was created to mobilize young minority communities, collaborated with the liberal Wisconsin Voices coalition to dispatch teams of young canvassers. Starting in April, they spent eight weeks knocking on 120,882 doors across 208 of Milwaukee’s 317 wards to raise awareness of the gubernatorial recall election scheduled for June.  The doors had one thing in common: the voter file said they were all home to a registered voter whom a commercial data vendor had flagged as likely to be African-American. 
But the voter file represented a fiction, or at least a reality that had rapidly become out of date.  During those eight weeks, canvassers were able to successfully find and interact with only 31 percent of their targets. Twice that number were confirmed to no longer live at the address on file  — either because a structure was abandoned or condemned, or if a current resident reported that the targeted voter no longer lived there. 
Based on those results, the New Organizing Institute, a Washington-based best-practices lab for lefty field operations, extrapolated that nearly 160,000 African-American voters in Milwaukee were no longer reachable at their last documented address — representing 41 percent of the city’s 2008 electorate. 

The problem with this article is that there is no control group of other voters to see what percentage of them have disappeared.

In general, however, the Democrats would win a lot more elections if they could just find their voters to remind them that today's Election Day and to not screw up their ballots. More people who went to the polls in Florida in 2000 wanted to vote for Al Gore than for George W. Bush, but a higher percentage of Gore voters failed to mark their ballots properly, thus giving America a second President Bush.

Words William F. Buckley didn't know

Here are the words in John Updike's 1978 novel The Coup with which William F. Buckley was unfamiliar, according to WFB's December 14, 1978 column in which he passed "the sesquipedalian torch" to Updike:
Harmattan, disphoretic, toubab, laterite, suras, euphorbia, extollation, jerboa, coussabe, sareba, bilharzia, pangolins hyraxes, pestles, phloem xylem, eversion, goobers, marabout, xerophytic, oleograph, cowries, chrysoprase, henna, scree, riverine, adsorptive, haptic, burnoose

Thanks to James Fulford of for finding this column for me.

In case you are keeping score at home, "disphoretic" isn't a word in English. WFB misspelled Updike's "diaphoretic."

I read this column at 19 or 20. The only word on it I can recall knowing then was "scree," although goobers, henna, and riverine seem pretty easy. Most of the words WFB didn't know are either of a technical nature or indigenous to Africa or the Arab desert world. I know a lot more of the words now than I did then. although some of that comes from reading The Coup. Updike's vocabulary is excessive, but he was also such a talented writer that you can usually guess what the word means from context.

Do vocabularies continue to grow over a lifetime of reading? The 10 word vocab test on the GSS could of course be used for this, but most of my growth has evidently been at the high end of the range, which probably wouldn't show up on the GSS.

A New La Griffe essay!

For the first time since 2008, La Griffe du Lion has posted a new essay. It's called Crime and the Hispanic Effect. He builds a regression model for predicting crime rates in cities and finds its largely driven by the percent black. Percent Hispanic doesn't much matter, one way or another.

August 31, 2012

Brazil boosts race quotas for colleges

You constantly hear that it's silly to worry your pretty head about the existence of race/ethnic quotas because, everybody knows, they will wither away of their own accord, kind of like the state after a Marxist revolution. 

The disappearance of quotas will happen either because there won't be any need for them anymore as our country is flooded with African-American theoretical physicists real soon now; or because practically everybody will be a little bit white through the collapse of America's One Drop Rule, so of course they will claim the enormous Privileges of Whiteness, thus making themselves ineligible for affirmative action. 

Perhaps ...

On the other hand, in the real world, there seems to be slow movement in the opposite direction. For example, Brazil didn't have a One Drop Rule and liked to brag about how it was a Racial Democracy much more sophisticated than those racist American. But mostly it meant that everybody was cool with Pele having a blonde girlfriend, not that Brazilian blacks were becoming surgeons..

So, these days, Brazil is getting more and more racial preferences:

The New York Times reports:
Brazil’s government has enacted one of the Western Hemisphere’s most sweeping affirmative action laws, requiring public universities to reserve half of their admission spots for the largely poor students in the nation’s public schools and vastly increase the number of university students of African descent across the country. 
The law, signed Wednesday by President Dilma Rousseff, seeks to reverse the racial and income inequality that has long characterized Brazil, a country with more people of African heritage than any nation outside of Africa. ... 
But while affirmative action has come under threat in the United States, it is taking deeper root in Brazil, Latin America’s largest country. Though the new legislation, called the Law of Social Quotas, is expected to face legal challenges, it drew broad support among lawmakers. 
Of Brazil’s 81 senators, only one voted against the law this month. Other spheres of government here have also supported affirmative action measures. In a closely watched decision in April, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the racial quotas enacted in 2004 by the University of Brasília, which reserved 20 percent of its spots for black and mixed-race students. 
Dozens of other Brazilian universities, both public and private, have also adopted their own affirmative action policies in recent years, trying to curb the dominance of such institutions by middle- and upper-middle-class students who were educated at private elementary and secondary schools. Public universities in Brazil are largely free of charge and generally of better quality, with some exceptions, than private universities. 
Still, some education experts are already predicting a shift to the better private universities among some students. “With these quotas, these rich Brazilians who took up their spots will not be abandoned,” argued Frei David Santos, 60, a Franciscan friar in São Paulo who directs Educafro, an organization preparing black and low-income students for university entrance exams. “Their parents who had money saved will spend it” on elite private universities. 
The Law of Social Quotas takes the previous affirmative action policies to another level, giving Brazil’s 59 federal universities just four years to ensure that half of the entering class comes from public schools. Luiza Bairros, the minister in charge of Brazil’s Secretariat for Policies to Promote Racial Equality, said officials expected the number of black students admitted to these universities to climb to 56,000 from 8,700. 
The law obligates public universities to assign their spots in accordance with the racial makeup of each of Brazil’s 26 states and the capital, Brasília. In states with large black or mixed-race populations, like Bahia in the northeast, that could lead to a surge in black university students, while states in southern Brazil, which are largely white, could still have relatively few black students in public universities. 
... Brazil’s former president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, said in an interview that he was “completely in favor” of the quotas. “Try finding a black doctor, a black dentist, a black bank manager, and you will encounter great difficulty,” Mr. da Silva said. “It’s important, at least for a span of time, to guarantee that the blacks in Brazilian society can make up for lost time.”

How long is this "span of time" going to be? Christopher Caldwell noted in 2009:
"One moves swiftly and imperceptibly from a world in which affirmative action can't be ended because its beneficiaries are too weak to a world in which it can't be ended because its beneficiaries are too strong." 

The NYT continues:
Brazil’s 2010 census showed that a slight majority of this nation’s 196 million people defined themselves as black or mixed-race, a shift from previous decades during which most Brazilians called themselves white.

You get more of what you pay for. The BBC reported last year on the 2010 Brazil Census:

Out of around 191m Brazilians, 91 million identified themselves as white, 82m as mixed race and 15m as black. 
Whites fell from 53.7% of the population in 2000 to 47.7% last year.

I suspect that as the benefits from affirmative action increase, the number declaring themselves eligible will continue to increase. 

Brazil differs from the United States in that eligibility isn't simply based on self-declaration. They have panels to eyeball applicants, famously once putting identical twins in different categories. As I've mentioned before, it would make a good Brazilian reality TV show in which people try to look black enough to get into college and white enough to get past the velvet rope into an exclusive night club. It would be like a Brazilian version of Kipling's If come to life.

Question about military service and affirmative action

When I look around for places to cut the federal budget, military spending looks like one pretty obvious place. The U.S. accounts for close to half of the world's military budget, and the world seems to be getting more peaceful. Cross-border military invasions seem to be declining in number decade by decade (not counting the U.S. and Israel). So, do we really need quite as many troops or aircraft carriers?

This is not, however, a popular view.

There are a lot of reasons why this isn't popular, but I wanted to ask about one that doesn't come up much. A few times, commenters have have asserted that being able to check the "Veteran" box on civil service applications is a major advantage in getting desirable government jobs, such as fireman or cop, roughly equivalent to checking "Black" or "Latino."

Can anybody who knows more about this than I do, fill me in on this?

The latest anti-discrimination cause

In a New York Times op-ed, "Deportation Nation," law professor Daniel Kanstroom explains the horrors of America deporting aliens who are convicted of subsequent crimes. 
To be sure, some deportees have been convicted of serious crimes. But most are guilty of drug offenses, or misdemeanors like petty larceny, simple assault, drunken driving.

Kanstroom explains that we must stop deporting them because they often become victims of discrimination in their home countries:
In a study of Latin American deportees who had lived for long periods in the United States (on average, 14 years), the sociologists M. Kathleen Dingeman and Rubén G. Rumbaut found that deportees who had emigrated as children suffered the most. Deportees to El Salvador (a country many had fled during the civil war of the 1980s) encountered discrimination because of their accents, style of dress and California gang-themed tattoos. [Bolding mine]

Okay ...

August 30, 2012

Romney speech open thread

Your comments?

Farm Report: Robbing in the Fields

John Carney writes in CNBC on the Phony Farm Labor Crisis that predictions of crops-rotting-in-the-fields doom for farmers because of a purported illegal alien shortage didn't quite come true:
Let’s start with California. The San Francisco Chronicle had warned: 
Farmers across California are experiencing the same problem: Seasonal workers who have been coming for decades to help with the harvest, planting and pruning have dropped off in recent years. With immigration crackdowns, an aging Mexican population, drug wars at the border and a weakened job market in the United States, the flow of migrants has stopped and may actually have reversed, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy research firm that has been studying the trend. 
So what happened? 
Farm profits, what the Ag Department calls “net cash income,” in California rose from $11.1 billion in 2010 to $16.1 in 2011, an eye-popping 45 percent growth.

August 29, 2012

"The Coup" by John Updike

The Coup was a 1978 bestseller by John Updike about Africa that is almost totally forgotten today, even though it was written by America's most gifted novelist at his mid-40s peak, when he was, in his own words, feeling "full of beans." Thus, it's an absurdly high-spirited first person account of a Muslim Marxist dictator of a drought-stricken African country.

It's interesting that Evelyn Waugh's African novel Scoop remains much discussed in the 21st Century, and Waugh's earlier African novel Black Mischief remains well-known, while The Coup has vanished.

The extraordinary lucidity of Scoop's prose has helped it endure because it is the rare novel that is both brilliant and an easy read. In contrast, Updike was feeling his oats in The Coup, and the style is over the top: William F. Buckley published a column in 1978 saying that while people accuse him of using sesquipedalian words too much, here's a list of all the words in The Coup that he doesn't know the meaning of. I recall feeling proud that, being a good Boy Scout, I knew a word that WFB didn't: scree.

While trying to look up that WFB column, I found this 1996 Paris Review interview with Buckley:
I occasionally run into stuff that deeply impresses me. For instance, Updike’s The Coup, which I reviewed for New York magazine. It astonishes me that it is so little recognized. It’s the brilliant put-down of Marxist Third World nativism. It truly is. And hilarious. It’s a successor to Black Mischief, but done in that distinctively Gothic style of Updike’s—very different from the opéra bouffe with which Evelyn Waugh went at that subject fifty years ago.

Updike's basic message in his 1978 novel was: America is going to win the Cold War. Capitalism makes people happier than Communism does, so these Third World Marxist dictators you read about in the newspapers all the time are going to lose.

This conclusion was not at all obvious in the Carter Era. When I read it in the tumultuous summer of 1980, I was surprised by Updike's optimism.

The Coup, however, has vanished from all memory. Almost nobody, for instance, noticed how similar the President's parents were to The Coup's ambitious African student narrator and his white American coed second wife. Joyce Carol Oates wrote in the New Republic in 1979:
Ellelloû is, or was, a devout Muslim, and a jargon-ridden Marxist whose hatred for all things American—"America, that fountainhead of obscenity and glut"—is explained partly by the fact that he attended a small college in Franchise, Wisconsin where he received an unfair grade of B- in African history, from a trendy professor who was jealous of his relationship with a white girl named Candy, and partly by the fact that he married this girl and brought her back to his kingdom, where their marriage quickly deteriorated. (Candy, called "Pinktoes" by the blacks she compulsively pursues, is coarse-mouthed, nagging, stereotyped as any cartoon suburban wife; even her most ostensibly idealistic actions—like marrying a ragamuffin Negro who seemed so lonely at college—are motivated by cliched notions of "liberalism." And of course she marries Ellelloû to enrage her bigoted father.)

Candy is probably closer to Ruth, Obama Sr.'s third wife, who married him in Boston and moved with him to Kenya, where she got to know him well enough to hate him. Oates continues:
in sharp contrast to [the narrator's] indefatigable syntactical acrobatics the other voices of the novel are either flat and silly or a parody of US advertising rhythm and jargon. ... Candy greets his infrequent visits with "Holy Christ, look who it isn't," refuses to listen to his formal Islamic pronouncements which are, to her, "Kismet crap," and says of his strategic execution of the old king: "Well, chief, how's top-level tricks? Chopping old Edumu's noggin off didn't seem to raise the humidity any."

Oates compared it to Nabokov's comic novel about a deposed ruler, Pale Fire, and it's in that class.

I presume that Obama has at least started to read it. I'd be interested to know his reaction to it. In Dreams from My Father, he describes his acute distress reading on the airplane on the way to Kenya, The Africans by David Lamb, a straightforward account by the L.A. Times' Nairobi correspondent of post-colonial African dysfunction. Updike's The Coup would have hit even closer to home.

In 2008, Updike endorsed Obama and recommended he read The Coup:
For Obama I'd recommend a novel of mine called The Coup. It's about an imaginary African country where the dictator pretends to hate the US, though he actually went to college here. The politics were based on Gaddafi - what's he called, not Mohamed, Muammar, right? The joke is how unlike Obama my character is!

Of course, as far as I can tell from Google, Updike, me, and about one other person in the history of the Internet have ever publicly noticed the connection between The Coup and Obama's parents. It would be interesting to ask Obama about it, but nobody ever has. Because that would be interesting.

Zoning enforcement: New v. existing construction

I only now noticed this dichotomy:

Zoning laws regarding new construction are fanatically enforced where rich white liberals live (witness the struggles of George Lucas in Marin Country and The Edge in Malibu to build on their own land). But zoning laws regarding existing construction are much less enforced in adjacent areas where poor illegal immigrants live.

On paper, it's illegal to have six men sleeping in bunks in your garage in southeast Hollywood, but rich white liberals in Hancock Park want cheap servants, so the laws aren't enforced. But, just try to build in Hancock Park ...

Gay marriage: 0 for 32 at the polls

Gay marriage has been put to a vote in 32 states. It is currently 0-32.

Of course, while it fails democratically, it also triumphs legally. Being on the anti-democratic winning side helps make it the central issue of contemporary liberalism.

I stumbled upon this comment somewhere, but have lost track of who said it:
"To be against gay marriage, at least in the views of most liberals ..., is to disqualify oneself from society as a hateful bigot." 

I think that exemplifies the main driving force of modern liberalism. It's not intellectual. In spirit, it's more like the caste system in India. It's a system for identifying new Untouchables whose very existence lifts the social status of the liberal. India is a pretty crummy place, but Indians like it because hundreds of millions of Hindus have hundreds of millions of lower caste Hindus to look down upon. So, they've got that going for them.

Gay marriage, for instance, is a trivial issue in real world terms, but it has become incredibly important to liberals precisely because it brands huge numbers of their fellow citizens as Dalits for them to hate and feel morally superior to.

Israel: America = Serbia: Czarist Russia?

XX Committee tosses out a historical analogy that's new to me:
Beyond the issue of who’s the tail and who’s the dog in the increasingly messy U.S.-Israel relationship – a question which has taken on more-than-customary urgency given the current Israeli government’s recent public move towards sky-is-falling rhetoric about Iran – there’s the intriguing matter of what historical analogies apply in this knotty case. ...The best analogy, says this historian, for the U.S.-Israeli relationship and the mounting crisis with Iran, goes back a century, to just before Europe went crazy and destroyed itself. 
In the years leading to the First World War, Russia developed a cancerous relationship with Serbia, with the latter becoming a troublesome client which occupied Russian attention out of any proportion to Serbia’s actual size, importance, and influence.  While there were genuine ethnic and religious ties between the two countries, they were neither traditional nor natural allies, beyond a mutual loathing for Islam. Russia aided Serbia for decades in its wars – some open, some covert – against the declining Ottoman Empire in the Balkans. By 1913 Serbia had defeated the forces of Islam in its neighborhood, taking over lands which Serbs held to be sacredly theirs (even if inconveniently occupied mostly by non-Serbs who did not want to ruled by Serbs), and it wanted to take the fight to Austria-Hungary, which it viewed as the last obstacle to Serbia’s quasi-religious ”place in the sun.” 
... The dangerously loopy head of Serbian intelligence convinced himself and his retinue that Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Habsburg throne, was the head of the “war party” in Vienna and had to be killed. So they did. This was the origin of the plot which culminated in the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. It was the most consquential act of state terrorism in modern history, yet was based on a complete and total misread of Austrian intentions – the ill-fated archduke in fact was the most peace-oriented leader in the empire – which may be instructive about the value of intelligence analysis.

Or, were the Serbian conspirators worried that Franz Ferdinand would, upon his ascent to the throne, succeed in placating Slavs within the Austro-Hungarian Empire by converting it into the Austro-Hungarian-Slavic Empire, thus depriving Serbia of its role as leader of disgruntled Slavs in southeastern Europe?

In any case, it's a totally ridiculous analogy because we all know that conspiracies only happen in the fevered imaginations of conspiracy theorists, so, obviously, WWI couldn't possibly have happened.

By the way, on a completely different subject, did you know that Mitt Romney and Bibi Netanyahu were colleagues on the job long ago, and Mitt sometimes calls Bibi to get his perspective on things? Isn't that cool?

Obama "playing out a superhero life"

I wanted to highlight another excerpt from my long VDARE review of David Maraniss's biography of the President:
One of Maraniss’s minor themes is Obama’s fascination with superheroes. For example, one of Obama’s white girlfriends in New York, Genevieve Cook, sensed that comic book characters might provide a key to understanding Obama’s opaque personality: 
Genevieve knew that he harbored faintly articulated notions of future greatness, of gaining power to change things. Once, when they were in Prospect Park, they saw a young boy in costume playing out a superhero role. They started to talk about superheroes, the comics he enjoyed as an adolescent in Honolulu, and intimations of “playing out a superhero life.” She considered it “a very strong archetype in his personality,” but as soon as she tried to draw him out, he shut down “and didn’t want to talk about it further.” 
This may offer an explanation of the resilience of Obama’s gigantic ego, “his irrepressible belief that he was the smartest person in the room,” his confidence that he would someday lead millions despite the relentless evidence that even his friends wouldn’t follow him around the corner to get a newspaper. 
The comic books provide a whole mythos in which nobodies have fabulous secret identities: mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent is actually Superman, while shy student Peter Parker is Spider-Man. 
The irony is striking. Obama opponents have frantically tried to piece together the secret identity of this seeming international man of mystery: Is he Muslim? Kenyan? Arab? Gay? Frank Davis’s son? 
But, in contrast, Maraniss goes to great lengths to reassure Obama’s supporters: relax—there’s nothing interesting about Obama! 
Yet, all the while, Obama himself was convinced that he wasn’t as boring as his friends assumed. Deep inside, he had a secret identity … President Man!

In general, I think Obama is somebody with some literary skills who half figured out, half stumbled into certain quasi-mythic hopes in American culture that were ripe for exploitation by a Presidential candidate of the proper background.. Thus, I think you can get a better handle on figuring out this guy's sudden rise by thinking about superhero movies, Star Wars, Harry Potter books, Morgan Freeman movies, and other modern mythology.

By the way, I don't see Obama as being particularly brilliant at figuring out that nice white people really wanted to elect a black President who was a nice white person on the inside. As far as we can tell, up through about his 40th birthday, Obama was much more focused on rising up out of the black slums to become mayor of Chicago as his hero Harold Washington had done in the Council War years, an ambition that seems remarkably stupid of him today. It wasn't until about 2001 that he realized that black people were never going to like him more than real black politicians, so his natural career path was as the quasi-black politician for white people to vote for.

NYT: Paying immigrant dishwashers less is "friendly to immigrants"

From the New York Times:
A Republican Platform Line Friendly to Immigrants 
It was no surprise that the Republicans declared their intention to strictly crack down on illegal immigration in their platform, which was released last week. 
But one line was added to the text that went counter to the calls for strict employee verification and expanded action by states: It called for “a legal and reliable source of foreign labor where needed through a new guest worker program.” 
And Brad Bailey, a Texas Republican who owns two seafood restaurants in suburbs of Houston, was satisfied to see it there.

Obviously, bringing in new guestworkers to hammer down the dishwashing wages of the current set of immigrants washing dishes in this guy's Houston restaurants isn't very friendly to immigrants now in the U.S., but who cares about them? The point of being "Friendly to Immigrants" is:

- To line the pockets of the Brad Bailey Republicans in the short run;
- To demographically transform the United States for the benefit of Democrats in the long run.

It's a win-win proposition!

Also, the old bracero program that was shut down in the early 1960s after Edward R. Murrow's "Harvest of Shame" documentary was at least close to all-male. Modern coed guest worker programs and the anchor baby interpretation of the 14th Amendment don't mix, to say the least. But nobody ever thinks about the possibility that guest workers might have sex, which, according to science, has been known to sometimes lead to babies.

No sex, please, we're the New York Times and the GOP Platform Committee.

The weirdest thing in "Barack Obama: The Story"

The weirdest thing in David Maraniss's highly respectable biography Barack Obama: The Story is that the veteran Washington Post reporter does not appear utterly convinced, after years of research, that President Barack Obama Jr. is the biological son of Barack Obama Sr. 

I wasn't sure if I actually believed that Maraniss was hinting that he's not completely confident in Obamas paternity until I saw that in James Fallow's review of Maraniss's book in the New York Time that the prominent Atlantic journalist picks up and retransmits Maraniss's dog whistle:
(Grandfather Stanley, with his long face and big ears, is also the forebear with the most striking physical resemblance to Barack Obama; the president looks almost nothing like his African father.)

Fallows likes interesting ideas and he also likes being an establishmentarian journalist. This is a well-played dog whistle that a tiny number of New York Times readers will pick up on, while also maintaining completely plausible deniability that he hasn't had the slightest unorthodox thought in the direction of any kind of oddball birtherism.

Maraniss has various governmental records of the marriage, and even a new third party confirmation that "Stanley had a baby" as a doctor at the hospital laughed a few days later at lunch. But he points out repeatedly that almost nobody can remember ever seeing the couple together, before or after marriage. The main witness to seeing them together in the book is Obama Sr.'s college friend Neil Abercrombie, the current Democratic governor of Hawaii, whom Maraniss doesn't appear to trust. 

Maraniss can find zero evidence that the couple ever lived together. He says that Stanley Ann was in Seattle to attend the U. of Washington within a month of the August 1961 birth, without her mother but with the baby, which I'd heard before but still sounds screwy to me. We have long had a witness, a lady who took care of Barack Jr. in Seattle during the Spring 1962 semester, and we've had Stanley Ann's grades from Fall 1961, so I guess it fits.

This raises obvious questions about Obama's career-launching 2004 convention keynote address that starts out talking about his parents' "improbable love." 

In general, most of Maraniss's new revelations of sizable falsehoods in Obama's works can't really be blamed on Obama, since they stem from before he can remember. He writes, for example, that his parents were together for two years, but you can't really blame him for getting wrong facts from his infancy. He comes from a long line of people who like a good story and don't mind spin. You'll notice that Obama often puts a little skeptical spin of his own on stories passed down to him: everybody listening to that speech took "improbable love" to mean that, awwwwwww, it's just amazing that two people from the opposite ends of the earth fell so deeply in love with each other and tried to make a life together. But, Obama is also not ruling out that what he was told was a crock: Hey, I told you all it was "improbable," didn't I? Likewise, in Dreams he says he was assured that his parents were married in February 1961, but that he's never had the heart to look into it. 

In general, Obama does not like to tell baldfaced lies, especially when some lawyerly language would accomplish the task almost as well.

What do I think? I dunno.  I'll have to go through and copy out Maraniss's relevant passages and think about this. 

Maraniss hypothesizes that maybe they tried living together and Obama Sr. punched out Stanley Ann like he beat Ruth, his next American wife, so Stanley Ann bolted.

One way to look into this paternity questions would be to look at pictures of Obama's presumed half siblings, such as Mark, his half-Jewish half-brother. Mark seems to look enough like Barack Jr. to me to not set off my alarms, but I don't claim to be an expert at family resemblances.

The youngest Obama half-brother is George Obama, who is all East African. He is interviewed in Dinesh D'Souza's new movie (reviewed by me here.) In the movie, George's posture looks strikingly like a jet black, super elongated, somewhat District 9-like version of Obama. On the other hand, George could just be imitating the President's famous look-how-comfortable-I-am-in-my-own-skin body language.

The various non-Obama Sr paternity theories that have been floating around (Frank Marshall Davis! Malcolm X! etc.) don't do much for me. So, I'll think about it some more.

In general, uncertainty of paternity doesn't sound like it really ought to matter. There was some uncertainty regarding Gerald Ford, who only talked to his biological dad once for 15 minutes, and there are lots of theories, but not much proof, about whom Bill Clinton's real father might be.

But Obama's birth, uniting the two warring tribes in one flesh, one blood, as he implies in  is his keynote address always dabbled deeply in the mythic, in what my son the comic book fan calls the trope of the "orphan of destiny," of the son who isn't sure who is father is, like, say, Luke Skywalker.

Romney and the Mormons

I actually like Mitt Romney, but I have no idea if he'll make a good President. 

One concern I've heard is the notion that he's a prime product of the general healthiness of Mormon culture. Mormons try to set up their lives to have a lot of good influences from other Mormons around them. But it gets pretty lonely in the White House, and it's a new set of challenges. (Also, despite his looks, he's not young anymore.)

By way of analogy, think of the late Neil Armstrong. He was a prime product of the general healthiness of mid-20th Century American culture (which Mormons continue continue to espouse, which is why they are considered so weird and creepy today). American culture had systems in place that produced a lot of competent, brave, altruistic, and modest people, few more so than Armstrong. And part of that modesty was that he didn't much mind being viewed less as a unique superman and more as proof that the systems worked. He didn't run for President.

Today, we have a sense that our society's general systems don't work that well, so we are more invested in longshot hopes placed upon space oddities like Obama.

"2016: Obama's America"

From my movie review in Taki's Magazine:
The last thing I had expected of Dinesh D’Souza’s first Michael Moore-type political documentary, 2016: Obama’s America, was that it would prove one of August’s aesthetic delights. Yet this anti-Obama film’s sumptuous digital cinematography—featuring majestically saturated colors and handheld camerawork that’s never jittery but instead swoops indolently to the edge of trance-induction—ranks it behind only Oliver Stone’s hedonistic drug flick Savages as the psychedelic movie of the summer.

Read the whole thing there.

Federer v. Nicklaus: Most tennis & golf Grand Slam championships

Enough election politics for now. Back to my August sports kick.

Roger Federer comes into the U.S. Open with a record 17 victories in tennis's four annual Grand Slam major championships (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and U.S. Open). The 31-year-old Swissman is trying to open up distance between himself and younger stars Rafael Nadal (11 majors) and Novak Djokovic (5). 

To my mind, however, the interesting angle is that he has a shot at tying Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 majors in the two big country club sports, tennis and golf. (Golf also has four Grand Slam events per year, the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open, and PGA.) Tiger Woods has been chasing Nicklaus's mark his whole life, but Federer may beat him to it.

Combining the lists of top men's major champions of all time into an apples and oranges table gives a sense, that, yes, this isn't a completely apples and oranges compilation:

Jack Nicklaus Golf 18
Roger Federer Tennis 17
Pete Sampras Tennis 14
Tiger Woods Golf 14
Roy Emerson Tennis 12
Björn Borg Tennis 11
Rafael Nadal Tennis 11
Rod Laver Tennis 11
Walter Hagen Golf 11
Bill Tilden Tennis 10
Ben Hogan Golf 9
Gary Player Golf 9
Andre Agassi Tennis 8
Fred Perry Tennis 8
Ivan Lendl Tennis 8
Jimmy Connors Tennis 8
Ken Rosewall Tennis 8
Tom Watson Golf 8
Arnold Palmer Golf 7
Bobby Jones Golf 7
Gene Sarazen Golf 7
Harry Vardon Golf 7
Henri Cochet Tennis 7
John McEnroe Tennis 7
John Newcombe Tennis 7
Mats Wilander Tennis 7
René Lacoste Tennis 7
Richard Sears Tennis 7
Sam Snead Golf 7
William Larned Tennis 7
William Renshaw Tennis 7
Boris Becker Tennis 6
Don Budge Tennis 6
Jack Crawford Tennis 6
Laurence Doherty Tennis 6
Lee Trevino Golf 6
Nick Faldo Golf 6
Stefan Edberg Tennis 6
Tony Wilding Tennis 6
Byron Nelson Golf 5
Frank Sedgman Tennis 5
James Braid Golf 5
J.H. Taylor Golf 5
Novak Djokovic Tennis 5
Peter Thomson Golf 5
Seve Ballesteros Golf 5
Tony Trabert Tennis 5
Golf >= 5 18
Tennis >=5 29

I'd say that this list suggests that it's a little bit easier to pile up a lot of Grand Slam titles in tennis than in golf, primarily because most people would agree that Tiger Woods (14 majors) is a better golfer than Pete Sampras (14, too) is a tennis player. 

In general, the all time great tennis players can win more often at the peak of their careers than the all time great golfers, because tennis is a less random, larger sample size sport. In any given major, the world's best tennis player is usually more likely to win than the world's best golfer. Tennis is kind of like tug-of-war, where the better team ought to win.

On the other hand, golf careers last much longer. Nicklaus won his first major at 22, his 16th and 17th majors at 40 and his 18th at 46 (the famous 1986 Masters). And one of these years somebody really old will win a golf major. Tom Watson missed winning the British Open at 59 in 2009 by inches. In 1974, Sam Snead finished third in the PGA, behind only Trevino and Nicklaus. 

In contrast, Federer is considered a miracle of rejuvenation to have won Wimbledon at 30. 

The age of first victory in a major is usually lower in tennis, supporting the common sense notion that tennis is a much tougher game physically, while golf may be somewhat tougher mentally.

Put it all together, and it seems pretty reasonable to note that Federer is challenging Nicklaus.

By the way, why are apples and oranges the canonical examples of things that shouldn't be compared? Relative to every other possible pair of things, they seem pretty similar to me.

Sports History Minutia (for sports data methodology aficionados only): It's hard comparing the number of major championships won by golfers and tennis players before 1968, when tennis opened up its Grand Slam events to professionals. Thus, the great Mexican-American tennis player Pancho Gonzales is credited with only two Grand Slam titles because he turned pro and spent about 15 years on the small pro tour. (He won 15 Pro Slam titles). Rod Laver would have 20 major championships, adding together amateur, pro, and open titles. On the other hand, that segregation of talent may overstate this era's combined talent. Before 1968, Laver was never playing against all the top players in the world all at once. Then, again, in 1969, he won all four Grand Slam in open competition, the last time a man has done that. Laver was really good.

Golf has a lesser problem in that it's not clear what to do with the British and U.S. Amateur titles. The term Grand Slam was invented in 1930 when Atlanta amateur golfer Bobby Jones won the U.S. and British Opens and the U.S. and British Amateurs. Golf historians usually credit him with 13 major championships instead of just the 7 he won in the Opens, as on this list. However, when Jones retired upon achieving his Grand Slam, the prestige of Amateur championships as they slowly turned into merely the premiere events for college golfers. Nicklaus, who idolized Jones, likes to count his two U.S. Amateur titles, giving him 20 major championships (and Woods 17, including his three U.S. Amateurs), but most people just count victories in the four majors currently open to professionals, a foursome stabilized by 1934. 

Two golfers have won three professional majors in one calendar year: Ben Hogan in 1953 and Tiger Woods in 2000. Woods winning four straight majors in 2000-2001 is clearly the greatest 12-month feat in golf history, although it still lacks an agreed-upon catchy title like Bobby Jones' Grand Slam. In contrast, tennis players have won three of the four grand slam titles in one calendar year 13 times, seven times since open competition began in 1968.

Americans possess an advantage in golf in that three of golf's majors are played in the U.S., versus only one in tennis.

Golf courses can look radically different, especially the British Open courses, which are always played over gnarly-looking sand dunes next to the windy sea, versus The Masters' Augusta National, which is the prototype of the glossy inland course with trees and water hazards. Tennis courts are always identical in size, differing only in surface. Yet, at this point in history, golfers might be better at adapting to wildly different courses than tennis players are to different  surfaces.

Before the introduction of jetliners at the end of the 1950s, it wasn't all that common for golfers and tennis players to think of making it to all four events. Top golfers crossed the Atlantic on ocean liners in the 1920s, but the British Open withered in the 1930s through the 1950s due to Depression, war, and austerity. Arnold Palmer's decision to jet in for the British Open in 1960 revitalized that event.

August 28, 2012

Obama as an academic leader?

The question of leadership and Obama's biography, as laboriously compiled by David Maraniss of the Washington Post (see my review here), is a puzzling one. We have a President who had every opportunity to exert leadership as a young man -- everybody who knew him considered a cool dude, he was tall, decent-looking, fairly athletic, kind of funny, quite popular -- but he made few efforts to get things organized and accomplished at a group level.

Maraniss doesn't believe Obama's account of race working against him, and I have to believe that in Honolulu/L.A./NYC circles in the 1970s and 1980s, it had to work for him. 

To take one random data point, in the summer of 1975 when I went to Boys's State in Sacramento (this kind of mock election convention sponsored by the American Legion -- Bill Clinton was huge in it when he was in high school), we all worked hard and succeeded in getting this black guy in our dorm elected Governor out of about 800 delegates. He was a good guy and had a good story -- from a nice church-going family in a tough neighborhood -- but being black in 1975 in California was clearly an advantage in this kind of pseudo-election among ambitious teens. 

This is not to argue whether or not being black in California in 1975 would have been a net plus or minus for, say, Tom Bradley running for governor of California in the adult real world (being black likely was a moderate minus for Bradley). But in 1975 Boy's State in California, being black helped this one kid I knew be Gubernatorial Timber. And Obama was three years behind me in school. 

But, to get back to the young Obama, he didn't seem to want to be a leader of any group modest enough to accept him as their leader. Maraniss describes him as having the observant, disengaged personality of an anthropologist or writer. He didn't want to get caught in "life's traps" by getting too involved in anything (such as actually finishing his short stories and getting them published or writing scholarly law articles for the Harvard Law Review or when he was at the U. of Chicago law school).

Is this a typical career path for a future university president: a recessive personality when young, then blossoming into leadership in maturity? I mention this because Obama's family tree is full of academics. His white grandmother's sister was a statistics prof, his ne'er do well white grandfather's brother got a Berkeley Ph.D, then went into federal government work in Washington. 

On the other hand, most of the college presidents who have caught my attention for their ability to gladhand their way to big donations are obvious balls of fire who would have quickly risen to Executive VP of Sales at all the corporations I've worked for. I recall reading one dynamic college president's account of how he'd promised himself that for his 61st birthday he'd take on this physical challenge he'd always dreamt of? I'm thinking, yeah, if I were 61 and as rich as this guy, I'd ... play Pebble Beach without taking a cart, get a caddie and walk all 18 holes! 

Instead, this 61-year-old climbed the tallest mountain in Antartica, 16,000 feet. (Sounds cold. Personally, I'd think a less unpleasant way to celebrate your 61st birthday would be to go camp inside a frozen meat locker for two weeks.) Coming down, he met one of the college's biggest donors, some self-made tech zillionaire, going up. The president reported that two did some major high-altitude low-temperature bonding (ca-ching, ca-ching).

But these mile-a-minute college presidents tend to get appointed heads of less prestigious colleges that need cash fast. Are old-line colleges typically headed by more Obama-like personalities?

August 27, 2012

"Barack Obama: The Story" by David Maraniss

In, I have a long review of famed biographer David Maraniss's gigantic, obsessively researched book on Barack Obama's early years. It is supposed to be a pro-Obama book, but ...
Perhaps Maraniss’s most striking revelation: virtually nobody who knew Obama in the first quarter of a century of his life ever thought of him as their leader in anything. When he got to Harvard Law School at age 27, he was instantly proclaimed The First Black President. But before then, those who knew him found his passivity and disengagement frustrating. ...
Consider Obama’s role in the “Choom Gang” of a dozen potheads at Punahou Prep. You might think that a future Leader of the Free World would inevitably, through sheer force of charismatic personality, exert a disproportionate influence on his fellow teens in their debates over, say, which drug to take next. That’s a pretty low hurdle for leadership skills, right? However: 
“There was not even a designated leader. …. The other members considered Mark Bendix the glue; he was funny, creative, and uninhibited with a penchant for Marvel Comics. … Without exerting himself in overt ways, Barry Obama held as much respect as anyone within the group.” 
Got that? The future Nobel Peace Prize laureate was among the most respected dudes in the Bong Brothers. Granted, Barry was not the glue in the Choom Gang like Mark Bendix was. But he was right up there with any of the non-Bendixian Maui Wowie tokers.
By this point, you may be wondering: “Who was Mark Bendix? And what does this Bendix fellow’s penchant for Marvel Comics have to do with anything?”

Read the whole thing there.

Tennis Arms Race: Roger v. Serena

Here are the first and last pictures (plus captions) in a photo gallery entitled Wimbledon Arms Race in the Toronto Star in 2011:
Sure he may be the greatest player of all time. But Roger Federer is nowhere near the tops when it comes to arm muscles at Wimbledon this year. There are more impressive specimens to come....
But really, Serena Williams takes the cake. Her arms look more muscled than Roger Federer's thighs. No wonder she has such a powerful serve.
And, again, here's that article in the New York Times Magazine trying to figure out why tennis fans have never really taken to the Williams Sisters. Is it their race? 

Let me ramble a moment about Access Journalism. Anybody can put together snarky photo galleries like The Star did. But, there's no prestige in that. The high end of journalism is doing interviews for profiles, especially with posed photos. People apparently like these beefcake glamour photos of celebrities that magazines put on their covers. But if the interviewer asks unwelcome questions, like, "Serena, why are your arms more muscular than the world's greatest tennis player's thighs?" not only will the interview be over, but, worse, the photo shoot will be off. 

Moreover, it often turns out that your access is terminated not only to Serena Williams, but to the 17 other clients of her offended PR manager. Your career could be over. So, don't ask unwelcome questions. Instead, just go with the conventional wisdom about "Aren't these strong women wonderful role models?"

You can tell that the guy writing the NYT Mag article about Serena thinks his assignment is kind of screwy, but he can't come out and say that.

The other thing that I wanted to mention is the weird climate we are in where you aren't really supposed to mention that it's nice to see a champion athlete who looks like Federer -- a grown man who, for once, doesn't look like a cartoon character or a mutant. I guess that would be too offensive to all the science project athletes and their fans.

So, what other top athletes out there besides Federer are still built more like, say, Joe DiMaggio in 1941 than like Predator or Alien?

August 26, 2012

Safety Net v. Safety Nest

The problem with a government-supplied safety net is when it serves as well as a safety nest, subsidizing the birth of a new generation of hatchlings highly likely to need, in turn, the safety net/nest, ad infinitum (or at least until the money runs out).

Neil Armstrong, RIP

Tom Wolfe's conclusion at the end of The Right Stuff seems accurate:, the Space Race was, among much else, a single combat (e.g., David v. Goliath) version of the Cold War. Rather than blow up the world, each side picked their best and bravest to attempt the most awe-inspiring feat in human history to show the rest of the world whose system deserved to win. 

We won the Space Race, and 20 years later we had won the Cold War.