September 8, 2012

Democrats on "European and Mediterranean Americans"

From the official Democratic Convention website, here is the "Communities" page for "European and Mediterranean Americans:"

The culture and history of European and Mediterranean Americans contribute to America’s unique fabric.

European and Mediterranean Americans will share their voices at the 2012 Democratic National Convention to keep the country moving forward.

This would seem curious, until I read another official Democratic Convention page:
2012 Democratic National Convention
Log in
European and Mediterranean Americans Come Together 
Posted by Amaia Kirtland on Sep. 3, 2012
European and Mediterranean Americans met in the Ethnic Council meeting at Charlotte Convention Center on Monday, September 3 to discuss the engagement and empowerment of grassroots communities in the political process.

The Ethnic Council is a coalition of leaders representing Democrats who have organized among diverse backgrounds, faiths, ethnicities and demographic or geographic origins. At the convention, they are coming together to support President Barack Obama’s re-nomination and discuss strategies for increasing grassroots participation.

The personal stories of the delegates reflected American diversity and shared heritage.  Members offered ideas about connecting with specific communities as they work to keep our country moving in the right direction. 
Maryland State Senator Jim Rosapepe, an Italian-American, is excited to re-nominate President Obama. Senator Rosapepe said, “I think he stands for the values we grew up with: family, education, and community. When Italian-Americans came, we had to stand together. Italian-Americans got ahead by the way others got ahead, by standing together.” 

Okay, so the point is not for, God forbid, "European and Mediterranean Americans" to "stand together," but for, say, Italian-Americans to stand together with other Italian-American, for Irish-Americans to stand together with other Irish-American Democrats, all for the greater glory of Barack Obama.

I had never, ever heard the term "European and Mediterranean Americans" before. A look at Google suggests that it's a novel coinage of Obama Campaign, perhaps in the last few days, perhaps much earlier. The earliest usage I can find is from an Obama 2012 page dated November 28, 2008 (that date strikes me as implausible, but possible -- they were setting up Obama 2012 webpages months in 2008?):
European and Mediterranean Americans (sometimes known as Ethnic Americans) for Obama are Americans of varied backgrounds – from the newly naturalized citizen building a family and laying down roots to the fourth-generation family in the US with ties and heritage connected to the land of our ancestors. New Polish-American citizens in Toledo, Irish-Americans in Scranton, Italian-Americans in greater Detroit – these are just some of the stories of American families, stories of resounding hope and affirmation in the American dream – and it is Barack Obama’s story as well.

When viewed properly, all stories are Barack Obama's story.

And here are all 14 official Democratic Convention "Communities:" (Interestingly, the descriptions for 11 of the groups emphasize how their respective caucuses listed will meet during the Convention. The only three groups without their own caucuses are "Americans with Disabilities," "Labor," and "European and Mediterranean Americans.")

The Democratic National Convention provides a platform for representation by people of many different origins, orientations and backgrounds. To get involved with a group, find the community that best fits you and see how you can connect with others. 
Select your community below:

2 of 3 most diverse cities have gone bankrupt

A new study ranks the most diverse metropolitan areas in the country:
Vallejo-Fairfield, CA
San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA
Stockton, CA
Perhaps not coincidentally, #1 Vallejo was the first municipality in this present downturn to go bankrupt, way back in 2008, and #3 Stockton entered bankruptcy recently. Stockton is a classic exurb (of SF) whose home prices got bid up way too high during the subprime bubble and then people came to their senses and realized that they didn't want to pay $4 per gallon to commute four hours per day to live in Stockton. 

But Vallejo is more of a suburb of SF, with what ought to be a pretty nice location right on San Francisco Bay. And it went broke way back in 2008. It got ripped off big time by its public safety unions during the bubble. Michael Lewis wrote a Vanity Fair article about Vallejo that I commented upon in VDARE last year:
Diversity makes public affairs ripe for exploitation by highly unified groups, such as the prison guards' union and local firemen. Lewis reported on how Vallejo’s fire department is an island of cohesion in a sea of anomie. 
Moreover, because the vibrant residents of Vallejo tend to set their houses on fire more frequently than the duller residents of less diverse Northern Californian communities, the Vallejo FD attracted some of the most gung-ho firefighters from all over the region. 
Not surprisingly, the Vallejo fire department—a rare institution in Vallejo with a high degree of what Harvard political scientist Robert D. Putnam calls “social capital,” or espirit de corps among its employees—managed to outmaneuver the divided and listless citizenry in grabbing a slice of the pie bigger than could be afforded by the populace’s mediocre ability to generate wealth.

September 7, 2012

"The Weather Man Is Not a Moron"

I harp on one key issue in philosophy of science a lot because I get a lot of backtalk along the lines of: Everybody knows that the social sciences are a fraud. They can't predict whether the stock market will go up or down tomorrow, so how you can say that social science data suggests that letting in a bunch of unskilled illegal immigrants today will lead, all else being equal, to lower school test scores later when their kids get into school? If smart rich guys can't predict the stock market tomorrow, how can an evil nobody like you predict school test scores in a decade? Nobody can predict anything!

Nate Silver writes an article, The Weather Man Is Not a Moron, about how weather forecasting has improved dramatically, which it has. The forecast on the evening news is much more accurate than when I was a boy.
In 2008, Chris Anderson, the editor of Wired magazine, wrote optimistically of the era of Big Data. So voluminous were our databases and so powerful were our computers, he claimed, that there was no longer much need for theory, or even the scientific method. At the time, it was hard to disagree. 
But if prediction is the truest way to put our information to the test, we have not scored well. In November 2007, economists in the Survey of Professional Forecasters — examining some 45,000 economic-data series — foresaw less than a 1-in-500 chance of an economic meltdown as severe as the one that would begin one month later. ...
The one area in which our predictions are making extraordinary progress, however, is perhaps the most unlikely field [weather].

But this dichotomy between market forecasting and weather forecasting shouldn't be all that surprising if you keep in mind that there is, theoretically, a fundamental difference between forecasting events that respond to forecasts (e.g., the stock market) v. forecasting events that don't respond to forecasts (e.g., the weather). Theoretically, the former is resistant to improvement while the latter is not. Improving the weather forecasts is hard in an absolute sense, but the project lacks the special kind of futility that attempts to permanently beat other people's forecasts have.

Hurricanes don't respond to better forecasts by sitting down together and hashing out more sophisticated ways to fool weathermen.

In contrast, say you come up with a better way to predict whether the stock market will go up or down tomorrow. After awhile, your competitors in the stock market forecasting game will notice you are now riding around in a G6 and they will start trying to reverse engineer your method, or hire away one of your employees, or rifle through your trash. Eventually, your method will be widely enough known that the stock market won't go down tomorrow when your method says it will, because it will go down today because everybody who is anybody is already anticipating the decline that your system predicts. So, after awhile, your system will be so widely used it will be useless.

Let's simplify this a little by thinking for a moment not about the stock market as a whole, but just about one company. Consider Apple. In the absolute sense, it's obvious that Apple stock is worth a lot of money because it his highly likely to make a lot of money in the future.  ("Making money" is just an approximation of what stock analysts predict, but it's close enough for my purposes). But everybody knows that.

Whether or not you want to buy Apple stock depends instead on the relative question of whether it will turn out to be worth more money than the stock price. Will Apple make more money than the market's consensus of forecasts? That's obviously a more difficult, second-order question than whether Apple will make a lot of money. (But perhaps you have an insight that lets you predict the future better than the market. For example, maybe you realize that all Apple has to do to make even more money is stop having an all white male set of top executives.)

It may seem rather daunting to try to out-predict the experts on Apple's future. The thing is, however, that you can do pretty well just by flipping a coin: heads Apple will go up, tails apple will go down.

Financial economists call this the Efficient-Market Hypothesis. This does not mean that markets are more efficient than government at achieving various goals. It means that unless you have inside information, it's really hard for an investor to beat the stock market in the long run because others will adopt your forecasting tools.

The name Efficient-Market is most unfortunate because it's referring to the speed at which information is incorporated into forecasts, but is woozy on the accuracy of interpretation of the forecast. A phrase like Agile-Market Hypothesis might have been better.

For example, if the headline in the Wall Street Journal tomorrow morning is "iPhone Causes Brain Tumors," you won't beat the market by sauntering in and selling your Apple stock around noonish. Markets tend to be pretty agile (i.e., efficient) at acting upon new information.

On the other hand, the markets' interpretation of information is often wrong. For example, in the mid-2000s, the news that illegal immigrants were pouring into the exurbs of California, Arizona, Nevada, and Florida to build expensive new houses for subprime borrowers trying desperately to get their children out of school districts overrun by the children of illegal aliens was greeted almost universally as Positive Economic News. What could possibly go wrong?

Heck, a half decade later, this interpretation of What Went Wrong is largely verboten. If you read Michael Lewis's The Big Short carefully, yeah, you can kind of pick it up if you have an evil mind. But can you imagine a speaker at either party's convention saying what I just said?

Is the Efficient-Markets hypothesis true? One obvious problem with it is that the Forbes 400 is full of zillionaires who beat the market long enough to make the Forbes 400. Were they just lucky? Or is the Efficient Markets Hypothesis wrong? Perhaps you can make so much money in the short run from identifying a major inefficiency, such as the recent subprime unpleasantness, that you can wind up very rich if you have the humility to then retire from placing such big bets?

Or, could it be that the Efficient-Market Hypothesis is right, and a lot of the market beaters beat the market the old fashioned way: by insider trading?

About a half decade ago, there was a lot of publicity about what enormous ROIs the endowment managers at Yale and Harvard were generating. When I looked into it, there was a correlation between endowment ROI and how hard it was to get into that college. For example, Cornell had the worst ROI in the Ivy League. I hypothesized that maybe this pattern could be explained by asking: "If you had some inside information that you couldn't act upon yourself for fear of jail but could conceivably share with somebody you don't do business with in return for a huge favor, what would you risk to get your kid into Harvard v. what would you risk to ket your kid into Cornell?"

This theory was extremely unpopular, so forget I ever mentioned it. The SEC has never, as far as I know, prosecuted anybody for bartering inside information for college admission. In fact, as far as I know, nobody has ever even been investigated for this, so, obviously, it must never ever have happened, and we'll just have to look for the explanation of why the desirable colleges' endowments outperform the less desirable colleges' endowments elsewhere. Clearly, Harvard and Yale beat the market by investing in, uh, timber. Yeah, timber, that's the ticket!

In any case, the Efficient-Market Hypothesis embodies the crucial conceptual difference between trying to forecast the behavior of systems that respond to forecasts and those that don't. There's no Efficient-Weather Hypothesis. That's because if you get better at forecasting the weather, you stay better at forecasting the weather.

Potentially, forecasting the performance of the children of new immigrants ought to be hard because the U.S. government should be using feedback from past performance to adjust policy to get the optimal mix. If illegal immigrant drywallers from Guatemala aren't working out so well in the long run, okay, let fewer of them in. But of course, thinking about this subject is crimethink and even the numbers are hatestats.

How do Asian Indians vote?

During election years, everybody is supposed to genuflect to Hispanic Numbers, although the usual acts of obeisance are often inept. For example, the Obama Administration engineered that the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in Arizona go to Richard Carmona, a guy with a remarkable track record: high school dropout; Vietnam vet; sheriff; nurse; doctor; surgeon; was shot by a lunatic but the wounded Carmona pulled his gun and killed the shooter; Surgeon General under Bush; the GOP wanted him to run for Congress in 2006; but he then changed from Republican to Independent in protest over various Bush policies. 

The only problem is: Carmona's not Mexican. He's a Puerto Rican from New York City. This is a general problem: 35 million Mexicans in the U.S. and not a lot of amazing individuals. Thus, the recent silliness of everybody pretending the ceremonial mayor of San Antonio is really a powerhouse executive.

All immigrant groups are not created equal. Polish Catholics, for instance, appear roughly equal in number to Jews in the U.S., but have negligible clout in U.S. culture outside of maybe outfielders. Consider the Borat episode in 2006, in which Polish-American complaints about being assaulted with a giant old-fashioned Polish Joke of the kind that Yiddish-speakers brought to the U.S., and having Borat wildly celebrated by Jewish critics went virtually unheard.

Likewise, I've often argued that in the long run, the most important element of the current immigration mix in terms of setting the tone of politics in the future are not Mexicans, but South Asians. They are articulate in English, and are one of the few groups who seem to like to argue in public. Indians, though, seem to lack the edge, that motor of internal hostility and aggression that makes male Jews the reigning World's Heavyweight Champs at both getting the last word and at being funny.  For example, on the Atlantic Magazine's 2009 list of the most important pundits in America, Jewish men were over-represented by a factor of about 50.

But it's easy to imagine a future in which Asian Indians rank second among ethnic groups in opinion-molding in America.

So, it's important to study the voting and ideology of South Asians. They are a high income group from a socially conservative part of the world, so they are natural Republicans, right.?From the Guardian:
An impressive 84% of the 2.85 million-strong Indian-American community voted for Mr Obama in 2008, second perhaps only to African-Americans as a minority group. 
Has he still got their love? It appears so. 
According to a Pew Research Center survey released in June, 65% of Indian-Americans approve of the way Mr Obama is handling the presidency. 
Of all the Asian American groups surveyed, Indian-Americans were the most Democratic-leaning, again at 65%. Only 18% favoured Republicans.

Well, good luck Republicans with the rest of the 21st Century. You will need it.

The most obvious step is to take away South Asians' valuable status as minorities eligible for various minority-only benefits to business. Go back to pre-1982 when they were just Caucasians not entitled to racial spoils. Right now, South Asians have a financial incentive to identify as victimized minorities -- indeed, the applications Indian entrepreneurs have to fill out for government benefits in terms of procurement and loans often demand that they concoct narratives about how discriminated against they are by whites. Remove this destructive incentive and the traditional South Asian aspiration to whiteness will re-emerge.

September 6, 2012

How the NYT spins the Woodward book

Yesterday, Rick Klein's write-up for ABC News of the new book by Bob Woodward (of the Washington Post's Watergate fame) was full of lurid details (from Democratic sources) about President Obama's empty-chairness. It was not a welcome intro for Obama's big speech tonight. So, the NYT weighs in today with an account of the book as a predictable he said-he said account. Nothing of interest here, just move along!
Woodward Book Details Battles Over Deficit 
WASHINGTON — A new book by the journalist Bob Woodward chronicles the descent of Barack Obama’s Washington into partisan trench warfare and mines the minutiae of the largely failed negotiations between House Republicans and the White House to tame the nation’s deficit problem over the last two years. 
In details down to the gum chewed by President Obama (Nicorette) and the wine sipped by the House Speaker John A. Boehner (merlot), “The Price of Politics” paints a portrait of dysfunction that began even before Mr. Obama was inaugurated and has only grown worse. 
The book highlights problems that are well known in Washington

Such as?

Obviously, there is no need to explain Obama's weaknesses, since they are well known in Washington. As for you poor dumb voters, well, if you want to know what Washington knows so much, well, then you'd be in Washington, not reading a newspaper.
, but Mr. Woodward manages to get the president, Mr. Boehner and their inner circles to talk about them. Mr. Boehner criticizes the rudderless leadership of the White House staff while President Obama maintains that the speaker never really wanted to cut a deal last summer when the two tried to negotiate a “grand bargain” to lower spending, raise revenue and increase the nation’s debt limit. 
The book goes on sale next Tuesday, but The New York Times was able to buy a copy on Thursday from a retailer. 
With the presidential election weeks away, the book will do little to reshape Mr. Obama’s image as a powerful man steering the government forward

Huh? I guess what they are saying is that Obama supporters who are hoping that this book will give Obama a new image as a "powerful man steering the government forward" will be disappointed. In other words, as everybody in Washington knows but can't say, Obama's an affirmative action President. But somewhere in the writing-editing process the sentence got turned into word salad that can't be used against Obama.

In general, opaque prose styles, from Dreams from My Father onward, have been essential to the Obama Myth. I have pretty good reading comprehension skills, so I've long been pointing out: "You see what is being said here, right?" But, it's a pretty hopeless task.
 but it is also unlikely to engender much support for Republican leaders in Congress who seem unable to control their members. ...
Last summer’s bitter budget negotiations have been hashed over in several lengthy news accounts and Mr. Woodward’s is the most exhaustive, although it is not clear how much new information, if any, he has uncovered. ...
The ultimate problem, the book suggests, was a lack of leadership by both Mr. Boehner and Mr. Obama. 
Mr. Boehner said that none of Mr. Obama’s staff — including William M. Daley, then his chief of staff — were “steering the ship underneath him.” 
“They never had their act together,” Mr. Boehner tells Mr. Woodward. He added: “It’s not that they’re bad people. But there’s no structure.” 
High-ranking White House officials laughed off Mr. Boehner’s criticism, saying that Mr. Boehner was the one who did not steer his own ship, a view Mr. Obama also seemed to ascribe to. 
“I think John wanted to get a deal,” Mr. Obama said in an interview with Mr. Woodward. “And I think that, had he had more control of his caucus, we could have gotten a deal done a month earlier.” 

The need to make Obama boring has been a priority for the press ever since Obamamania evaporated.

Finally, the unacceptable face of globalization

When I was a kid, everybody assumed that high wages were "good for the economy." Now, everybody who is anybody assumes that low wages are "good for the economy." If the natives of a country (or even the previous immigrants), are enjoying relatively high wages, whether in computer programming or stoop labor, then the borders must be opened and wages hammered down for "the good of the economy."

One reason everybody has signed on to this new low wages uber alles ideology is that the people telling you this, whether plutocrats or well-paid television presenters, are much better looking on average than the losers making the low wages. 

The difference wasn't always this stark. In the old days of J.P. Morgan and friends, the Fat Cats literally were fat. Then, for much of the middle of the 20th Century, the affluent and the wage-earners were similar in weight. Now, rich people are much more slender than the non-rich. 

Now, though, a fat rich lady, Gina Rinehart, Australian mining heiress and the richest woman in the world at the moment (and mother of four), has enunciated the globalist conventional wisdom. But, looking as she does more like a coalminer's mother than like a mineowner, she's getting all sorts of pushback, such as suggestions that she looks like Jaaba the Hutt. From Reuters:
"The evidence is inarguable that Australia is becoming too expensive and too uncompetitive to do export-oriented business," Rinehart told the Sydney Mining Club in a rare public appearance. A video of her address was posted on the club's website. 
"Africans want to work, and its workers are willing to work for less than $2 per day," she said in the video. "Such statistics make me worry for this country's future.
"We are becoming a high-cost and high-risk nation for investment." 
Rinehart, whom Forbes estimated to be worth $18 billion in February, opposes a recently introduced mining tax as well as taxes on carbon emissions, which has created tensions with Gillard's government. 
Rinehart has also called for miners to be allowed to bring in foreign workers, and her company Hancock Prospecting was granted government approval in May to hire just over 1,700 foreign construction workers for her Roy Hill project in Western Australia. 
Gillard criticised Rinehart's remarks, saying the resources sector was doing well and had an investment pipeline of $500 billion, of which nearly half was at an advanced stage. 
"It's not the Australian way to toss people $2, to toss them a gold coin, and then ask them to work for a day," Gillard told reporters. "We support proper Australian wages and decent working conditions."

Micronutrient supplementation

I've been writing since 2004 about how the most cost-effective way to help poor countries is through micronutrient supplementation: the U.S. used to have, for example, problems with cretinism in inland states caused by a lack of iodine in the diet. (Saltwater fish tend to be a good source of iodine, but not freshwater fish). So, back before WWII, manufacturers started to add iodine to salt, and this IQ-sapping problem went away. Adding iron to flour also helped raise IQs. This is one of the (many) reasons that the military found the mental sharpness of draftees in WWII much more satisfactory than in WWI.

The NYT has an article about an alternative approach to supplementation: instead of trying to get local manufacturers to add micronutrients to staples, have parents sprinkle the nutrients on their kids' food. 

Whatever the delivery method, this appears to be the most cost effective way to raise national average IQ, and higher national average IQs correlate closely with a host of good things such as higher school test scores and higher per capita GDP. Unfortunately, the entire concept of "national average IQ" has been more or less verboten outside a small corner of social sciences, so the best argument for micronutrient supplementation almost never gets aired. So, this extremely promising method remains stuck in the unfashionable corner of global philanthropy, with Kiwanis International being the prime donor.

The good news is that in the last few years the Gates Foundation has begun to get involved in this field. But, after getting in late, a decade after their splashy debuts in other fields, they've kept if pretty quiet. My guess is that Gates' personal worldview is roughly the same as Mike Judge's Idiocracy and Monty Python's The Protestant View. We know he's obsessed with IQ and that his father was big on population control. (As I pointed out in Taki's Magazine, eugenics was the ideology of Silicon Valley's founders, William Shockley and Fred Terman, and, for all I know, it might still be the sub rosa worldview out there. Here's Paul Graham's essay on "What You Can't Say.") How long do you think it would take you to explain the logic of micronutrient supplementation to raise national average IQ to Gates before he interrupted you and said, "Okay, yeah, I get it." 90 seconds?

But because it's pretty obvious that Gates comes out of the old WASP ideology of quality over quantity in reproduction, if anybody stopped and thought about it, he has to operate through these complicated double bankshot projects to burnish his reputation for being a true believer in political correctness, such as wasting (in his own admission) $2 billion on the lefty "small schools" fad of the last decade.

Frum on what typical GOP delegate thought

David Frum attempts to explain what's inside the head of the typical delegate at last week's GOP convention:
This whole thing about us not being "diverse" enough - can we cut the crap on that? You suddenly load up the country with millions of newcomers, put them on food stamps and unemployment insurance and Medicaid and what all, put them on the voting rolls without any ID - invite them to help themselves to everything that was earned before they showed up - and what do you expect the original Americans to do? 
You think we're not diverse? This is what diversity looks like: the newcomers bunching up in one party, the old stock inhabitations bunching up in the other. It's the same in Britain and in France and in Germany, and just about everywhere. You don't like it? Maybe you should have thought of that before you invited half of Mexico to move here. 
Nothing against Mexican people! Or black people! Or any kind of people! So long as they pull their weight. Maybe instead of asking us why all these so-called diverse people are not Republicans, maybe you should ask them why they don't support the party for the people who do the work and pay the bills. Maybe it's their problem, not ours, that they identify with a president who is tearing down everything I grew up with. 
Whoever you blame, I don't see why I should change my beliefs just because somebody with a different color skin doesn't like them. I don't like Barack Obama's beliefs, but he won't change them on my account. Why is it that the guy with the white skin has to change his mind, not the guy with the other kind of skin? Or why can't we just respect the fact that some of us have one set of beliefs - others have different beliefs - and let us all compete on voting day and may the best team win? Why do you liberals always have to be dragging race into it? Makes me think that it's you guys, who are always blaming just one race for everything that's wrong with America, who are the real racists. 
What you want is a country where everybody looks different, and everybody thinks the same. That's what you call diversity. No thanks. You work hard, you pay your way, you quit asking for handouts, and you're American enough for me - and you'll be up there on the podium with Bobby Jindal, Allen West, Herman Cain, and Nikki Haley as a leader of the one party in this country that isn't hung up on race.

Well said, but I think you can notice the areas of weakness in this mindset that will relentlessly be exploited.

September 5, 2012

Bob Woodward: President "voted off the island"

From ABC's description of Bob Woodward's upcoming book on the 2011 national debt ceiling negotiations:
Obama's relationship with Democrats wasn't always much better. Woodward recounts an episode early in his presidency when then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid were hammering out final details of the stimulus bill. 
Obama phoned in to deliver a "high-minded message," he writes. Obama went on so long that Pelosi "reached over and pressed the mute button on her phone," so they could continue to work without the president hearing that they weren't paying attention. 
As debt negotiations progressed, Democrats complained of being out of the loop, not knowing where the White House stood on major points. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, is described as having a "growing feeling of incredulity" as negotiations meandered. 
"The administration didn't seem to have a strategy. It was unbelievable. There didn't seem to be any core principles," Woodward writes in describing Van Hollen's thinking. 
Larry Summers, a top economic adviser to Obama who also served as Treasury Secretary under President Clinton, identified a key distinction that he said impacted budget and spending talks. 
"Obama doesn't really have the joy of the game. Clinton basically loved negotiating with a bunch of pols, about anything," Summers said. "Whereas, Obama, he really didn't like these guys."

Summers said that Obama's "excessive pragmatism" was a problem. "I don't think anybody has a sense of his deep feelings about things." Summers said. "I don't think anybody has a sense of his deep feelings about people. I don't think people have a sense of his deep feelings around the public philosophy." … 
Woodward portrays a president who remained a supreme believer in his own powers of persuasion, even as he faltered in efforts to coax congressional leaders in both parties toward compromise. Boehner told Woodward that at one point, when Boehner voiced concern about passing the deal they were working out, the president reached out and touched his forearm.

"John, I've got great confidence in my ability to sway the American people," Boehner quotes the president as having told him. 
But after the breakthrough agreement fell apart, Boehner's "Plan B" would ultimately exclude the president from most of the key negotiations. The president was "voted off the island," in Woodward's phrase, even by members of his own party, as congressional leaders patched together an eleventh hour framework to avoid default. 
Frustration over the lack of clear White House planning was voiced to Obama's face at one point, with a Democratic congressional staffer taking the extraordinary step of confronting the president in the Oval Office. 
With the nation facing the very real possibility of defaulting on its debt for the first time in its history, David Krone, the chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, told the president directly that he couldn't simply reject the only option left to Congress. 
"It is really disheartening that you, that this White House did not have a Plan B," Krone said, according to Woodward.

My vague recollection is that I didn't write much about the debt ceiling crisis in 2011 because the whole topic sounded dreary and depressing and I'd rather think about other stuff. So, I can totally sympathize with Obama. I would have botched the whole thing up at least as badly as he did for pretty much the same personality-based reasons. I don't like politicians, I don't like negotiating, I don't like face-to-face politicking, I'd rather, say, walk to the bookstore by myself than call up a whole bunch of conniving people and try to bend them to my will. 

Of course, I haven't wanted to be President since I was a child, either.

Slate: "The Unbearable Whitemaleness of Apple's Executive Team"

Matthew Yglesias points out that the top 12 executives are all white men at Apple (which, in less than a decade and a half, has gone from down-and-out to the world's highest stock market valuation). He goes on to suggest how to begin fixing Apple's problem.

Thank God I sold all my Apple stock in 1999 and used the money to buy Hewlett-Packard stock because HP had appointed Carly Fiorina CEO. As we all know, white men cannot begin to grasp the diverse needs of women and people of color, so how can they sell them computers?

Obama v. Jesse Jackson at reading "Green Eggs and Ham"

At the VDARE blog, James Fulford has contrasting videos of Barack Obama and Jesse Jackson reading Dr. Seuss's Green Eggs and Ham

Jackson's version is great. I didn't make it through Obama's version, but I did like the part at 0:24 when he's stumbling around and Michelle starts clapping, perhaps in the hope that everybody will join in and put an end to this ordeal before it gets started.

Much of the palpable disappointment with Obama among youngish voters who got so excited about him in 2008 is that for their whole lives they'd been informed that black guys are cool. So what could be cooler than electing President Will Smith? But then President Obama turned out to be, the more you got to know him, nowhere near as cool as he thinks he is.

We could have guessed that long ago from the way Michelle treats him. According to Jodi Kantor's book The Obamas, Michelle still very much believes in Barack as "transformational" for the rest of us. But, her body language always suggested that she never really got Obamania, and in fact resented the hoopla over her husband, who, if you know him the way Michelle knows him, isn't all that.

Kantor discovered that Michelle's initial reaction to his election was to demand a separation -- he could go bach it in the White House while she and the girls stayed in Chicago through the rest of the 2008-2009 schoolyear. Eventually, aides talked her out of what would have been a PR cataclysm, and her mood has improved as her husband's poll ratings came down from the stratosphere.

Comparing Obama to Jackson is particularly germane because Michelle was Jesse Jackson's babysitter. It's hard for people familiar only with the grandiose wreck of 70-year-old Jesse Jackson to grasp what he was like in the 1970s. I found this anecdote:
In June 1971, LOOK magazine recorded an encounter between Sen. Edward Kennedy and Rev. Jesse Jackson. 
Kennedy "stuck out his hand and exchanged banalities [with Jackson]. Kennedy acted like a man running for the Presidency. Jackson, typically, acted like a man who is President." The article went on to say Jackson is "the closest thing to a national leader that has surfaced on today's fragmented civil rights scene. Tough talking, fast-stepping Jesse Jackson is as different from the conventional notion of a black minister as a Maserati is from a Dodge."

Imagine being 15-year-old Michelle showing up Saturday evening to babysit. The 38-year-old Reverend Jackson, dressed magnificently, comes down the stairs of his 15-room house, heading out to some banquet to receive yet another award and give another galvanizing oration, and, yet, he takes time from his busy schedule to chat with the suddenly shy girl ... 

How can poor Barack compete with that?

Business is booming for Clinton

From CNN earlier this year:
Bill Clinton has most lucrative year on speech circuit

July 03, 2012|By Robert Yoon, CNN Political Research Director

In 11 years as a private citizen, Clinton has delivered 471 paid speeches and earned an average of $189,000 per event. 
Former President Bill Clinton commanded the largest speaking fees of his career in 2011, earning $13.4 million and exceeding his previous record by 25%. 

The successful efforts in 2011 of Bill Clinton's wife, the Secretary of State, to start a war with Libya and kill Col. Muammar Gadafi, a colleague of Bill's leading rival on the international lecture circuit, Tony Blair, couldn't have been bad for business.
Clinton's fees were detailed in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's annual financial disclosure report, released Monday. A CNN analysis of those records shows that the former commander-in-chief has earned $89 million from paid speeches since leaving the White House in January 2001. ...
Clinton delivered 54 paid speeches in 2011, roughly the same as his 2010 workload, but the marked increase in income can be credited to six overseas events that earned him the largest single paydays of his career. 
The most lucrative was a November speech in Hong Kong to Swedish-based telecom giant Ericsson -- $750,000. Clinton also earned $700,000 for a March speech to a local newspaper publishing company in Lagos, Nigeria [Huh?], and $550,000 for a November speech to a business forum in Shanghai, China. He earned $500,000 apiece for three events in Austria and Holland in May and in the United Arab Emirates in December. 
... The former president's previous record for speech income earned in one year was in 2010, when he earned $10.7 million for 52 events. His speech earnings last year were nearly double the $7.5 million he earned in 2009. 
Almost half of the former president's speech income last year, $6.1 million, came from 16 speeches delivered in 11 other countries, ranging from Canada to Saudi Arabia. The remainder was earned in 38 domestic speeches delivered in nine states and the District of Columbia.

The concept of "conflict of interest" is slowly dying out, especially when it  could be applied to two-career couples.

September 4, 2012

"Robot & Frank"

From my movie review in Taki's Magazine:
Robot & Frank is a clever little sci-fi dramedy about a semi-senile old coot (played by Frank Langella) whose concerned son buys him a robot as a valet and minder. The film is well crafted and timely because robophobia is once again in fashion. Americans, faced with a rapidly growing population, fear robots will arrive soon and take what jobs are left. 
In contrast, the Japanese, faced with a shrinking population, fear that robots won’t get here fast enough to spare them from finally having to let in poor foreigners to care for their elderly. While Westerners traditionally fear that robots are plotting to take over (e.g., Terminator), the Japanese, for one, welcome our new robot overlords.

Read the whole thing there.

Douthat on white identity politics

Ross Douthat blogs in the New York Times:
Claims of Republican race-baiting have a way of descending into self-parody (especially at this point in the campaign season), but there is obviously a thread of what I’ve previously described as white identity politics woven into contemporary conservatism  — not a politics of white supremacy or traditional racial animus, but a politics of racial/ethnic/native-born grievance, which regards contemporary liberalism as fundamentally hostile to the interests of middle class and working class whites. (David Frum’s attempt to channel the mood of G.O.P. convention delegates captures what I’m talking about pretty well.) 
This sense of white grievance can be noxiousdivisive, and deeply problematic for Republican politicians trying to broaden their party’s appeal. It can help harden divisions and increase tensions between otherwise like-minded Americans. But it isn’t likely to diminish so long as the Democratic Party continues to be a vessel for the much more explicit identity politics that Klein’s column deplores, and to support policies that often resemble a kind of racial/ethnic spoils system for non-whites: Permanent racial preferences in education and government, a “disparate impact” regime that can blur into a de facto quota system, immigration gambits that don’t even pretend to be anything other than plays for the Hispanic vote, and so on. 
This kind of ethnic/racial patronage is hardly a new thing in our politics, and it doesn’t make today’s liberals the “real” racists, or prove that President Obama is actually some kind of post-colonial score-settler, as the Michael Moores of right-wing identity politics are wont to claim. But it does means that when it comes to exploiting America’s ethnic divisions to mobilize key constituencies, today’s Democratic Party sins as much as it is sinned against. And it means that the Democrats’ struggle to reach Klein’s “plain old white insurance salesman” and the Republicans’ struggle to reach Hispanics and African-Americans are in some sense mirror images of one another. They’re both a consequence of party leaders taking the path of least resistance on racially-charged issues, and they’re both reminders of the hard truth that the more racially diverse America of the future could easily become, and remain, a more polarized society as well.

Much of the libertarianism of the Tea Party is an attempt to come up with a principled ideological justification for the banding together for mutual political protection of the only group left in America that's not supposed to band together. Julian Castro is not expected to put forward a principled defense of his special privileges, but white Americans feel the need for principles. That makes it easy for, say, plutocrats to hijack the Tea Party because it's not allowed to even conceive of what it's really about. 

Test your vocabulary

I asked awhile ago if vocabularies continue increasing with age. A reader sends a link to a website,, that offers a 120 word vocabulary quiz, ranging from extremely easy to extremely hard. It's not a multiple choice quiz, you just have to be honest with yourself about whether you know at least one definition for each word. Then it offers an estimate of the size of your vocabulary out of what the authors consider to be the 45,000 words that comprise the full, non-technical English vocabulary. I got an estimate of 40,100, which sounds reasonable: I know a lot of words, but I lack the precision of mind to rack (wrack?) up the really big numbers.

From looking at the ages of the self-selected sample of vocabulary test lovers who took the test (average verbal SAT score 700), they found that people from 15 to 29 add about a word a day to their vocabularies, with slower increases perhaps into your 60s. The age slopes are about the same for each SAT score. They need to adjust for the 1995 recentering of verbal SAT scores, but, still, they've got pretty good evidence that vocabulary size improving with age is a real effect, not caused by self-selection in their sample.

They also print English vocabulary sizes for non-native speakers of English by country. At the top of the list, not surprisingly, are Danes, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Belgium. (My one trip to Belgium in 1994, I noticed that a fair number of people spoke English beautifully, with nice near-English accents -- I mean, aesthetically speaking, they spoke better English than I did). Germany is well down the list. I presume it's a big country and people don't feel as much need to learn a foreign language as in small countries where they need English to speak to people from other countries. At the bottom of list is Iran. All this is self-selected, but sounds plausible.

Booker or Villaraigosa in 2016 for Dems?

The Des Moines Register reported on potential Presidential aspirations of Newark mayor Cory Booker and Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is the chairman of the Democratic convention:
Booker tried to connect with Iowa’s Democratic activists by saying his grandmother was born in Iowa. 
“I want to be described as a son of New Jersey, but a grandson of Iowa – because my grandmama back in 1918 was born in Des Moines, Iowa,” he said, acccording to Radio Iowa. 
Booker described trips through Iowa in a recreational vehicle, going to family reunions. His grandmother’s siblings got their college educations in Iowa, he said, as reporters from Politico, the Associated Press, and others listened.
When reporters tried to catch him after his speech, he dodged – straight into his SUV, said Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson.  ...
Villaraigosa will be the keynote speaker for the Iowa Democratic Party’s big fundraiser on Oct. 20 – the Jefferson Jackson Day Dinner, Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Sue Dvorsky said. Prominent Democrats have historically used the JJ dinner as a spring board for competition in the Iowa caucuses. 
Villaraigosa deflected questions about his own presidential aspirations by saying he’s “looking to finish my job the way I started, with a bang. I’m working ’til 11:59:59 on June 30 and then I’m riding into the sunset for a while.”

And from Yahoo News:
Is Antonio Villaraigosa poised to be America's first Latino president?

I don't know, do Presidents get free Lakers tickets? If not, I don't really see what's in it for him.

In case you are wondering, the picture of Booker illustrates the following article in Politico:
Cory Booker loves late-night mani-pedis 
It’s 3 a.m., do you know where Newark Mayor Cory Booker is? Possibly getting a mani-pedi. The rising Democratic star dishes in the September issue of Dujour magazine about one of his guilty pleasures: getting his nails done late at night. 
“I had an ex-girlfriend who ruined me in terms of my macho, ex-football-player self—she turned me on to mani-pedis,” he said. “Being a public figure, people talk smack about you, so I found this 24-hour mani-pedi place and go in the middle of the night. It’s this guilty pleasure I have. Look, manis are good, but pedis—there’s something...transformative.” 
Booker also talked about gaining weight recently: “I’m literally at my worst health right now; you can write that,” he said. “I crossed a barrier that I’d never crossed before—a certain weight—which I won’t even tell you ’cause it’s embarrassing. I was so grossly overweight, which is total hypocrisy because I’m Michelle Obama’s co-vice chair for the campaign against obesity.” 

So, is it going to be Hillary v. Andrew Cuomo in 2016? A reader writes that with the spread of high-def TV, Hillary's going to need Barbara Walter's vaseline covered lens by then: "My filter, please." She looked fine in 2008, a good facelift.

Cuomo's resemblance to Moe the Bartender on the Simpsons will also likely only grow over the next four years.

Julian Castro: The Great Hispanic Hype

I've been saying for a half dozen years in various ways that, just as a George W. Rush would never have been considered Presidential Timber because his father hadn't been President, Barack Obama could never have achieved Presidential Timberhood without his father being black, as he emphasized in the first 390 words of the state legislator's 2004 Democratic convention keynote address. Obama is a fine fellow, but in a life of numerous opportunities, he'd never put together the kind of sustained organizational accomplishment that one expects in somebody being talked about for the Presidency. Without that speech about his parents' "improbable romance," he's a nobody. 

This has not been a popular notion on either the left or the right. The right loves far more complicated explanations of Obama than that he's a nice articulate fellow promoted out of the affirmative action impulse. The left scoffs. I always hear objections like this:

"He didn't get elected because he's black, he got elected because he beat John McCain!"

"And how did he get into position to beat McCain?

"He beat Hillary!"

"And how did he get in position to beat Hillary?"

"Everybody was talking about him!"

"And why was everybody talking about him?"

"He, uh, gave this speech in 2004 ..."

The press frenzy over Julian Castro's keynote address tonight gives us an opportunity to see how everybody gets my logic when it's played forward. The media is full of stories about how Castro could become the first Hispanic President because giving this speech eight years ago was how Obama got started on the road to being the first black President.

A little more about Castro. Like Obama, he admits he's a beneficiary of affirmative action, even giving the SAT score that got him into Stanford (1210 old style, equal to about 1300 today -- the same as George W. Bush's score, by the way).

The job of mayor of San Antonio is almost wholly ceremonial. San Antonio has a city manager style of government, with a $355,000 per year city manager hired by the city council. Castro only gets paid about $4,000 per year to do whatever it is he does.

The reason Castro can afford to have his fake job is because Democratic power broker Mikal Watts, a John Edwards-style plaintiff's attorney, gave him and his identical twin brother a huge amount of money for a "referral."

September 3, 2012

"Few African Americans at Burning Man"

Headline in the Washington Post:
THE ROOT | Few African Americans at Burning Man

From the Burning Blog:
Is Burning Man a "White People Thing?" 
... My very first burn I was astonished to realize that an event that draws so heavily from the diverse San Francisco Bay would produce a population so colorless.  From camp to camp, end to end, it was a long block of white as far as the eye could see, with only occasional dots of diversity … rare enough to raise comment.  Where were the Asians?  Where were the Hispanics?  Where were the black people?

I'd be interested in how much of a Northern European v. Southern European divide there is in who attends. The whole hippie thing seems Northern European to me. My cousin, for example, is a regular at Burning Man. He takes after his outdoorsy Swiss German mother, who regrets being too old to give it a try. His sisters take more after their Italian father, and wouldn't be caught dead there.

Obama has entered manic phase of his cycle

In the New York Times, veteran White House reporter Jodi Kantor dogwhistles desperately about the President's psyche: 
The Competitor in Chief 
As Election Day approaches, President Obama is sharing a few important things about himself. He has mentioned more than once in recent weeks that he cooks “a really mean chili.” He has impressive musical pitch, he told an Iowa audience. He is “a surprisingly good pool player,” he informed an interviewer — not to mention (though he does) a doodler of unusual skill. 
All in all, he joked at a recent New York fund-raiser with several famous basketball players in attendance, “it is very rare that I come to an event where I’m like the fifth or sixth most interesting person.” 
Four years ago, Barack Obama seemed as if he might be a deliberate professor of a leader, maybe with a touch of Hawaiian mellowness. He has also turned out to be a voraciously competitive perfectionist. Aides and friends say so in interviews, but Mr. Obama’s own words of praise and derision say it best: he is a perpetually aspiring overachiever, often grading himself and others with report-card terms like “outstanding” or “remedial course” (as in: Republicans need one). 
As he faces off with Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, Mr. Obama’s will to win — and fear of losing — is in overdrive.  
Even by the standards of the political world, Mr. Obama’s obsession with virtuosity and proving himself the best are remarkable, those close to him say. ... When Mr. Obama was derided as an insufferable overachiever in an early political race, some of his friends were infuriated; to them, he was revising negative preconceptions of what a black man could achieve.
But even those loyal to Mr. Obama say that his quest for excellence can bleed into cockiness and that he tends to overestimate his capabilities. ... 
For someone dealing with the world’s weightiest matters, Mr. Obama spends surprising energy perfecting even less consequential pursuits. He has played golf 104 times since becoming president, according to Mark Knoller of CBS News, who monitors his outings, and he asks superior players for tips that have helped lower his scores. He decompresses with card games on Air Force One, but players who do not concentrate risk a reprimand (“You’re not playing, you’re just gambling,” he once told Arun Chaudhary, his former videographer). 
His idea of birthday relaxation is competing in an Olympic-style athletic tournament with friends, keeping close score. The 2009 version ended with a bowling event. Guess who won, despite his history of embarrassingly low scores? The president, it turned out, had been practicing in the White House alley. 
When he reads a book to children at the annual White House Easter Egg Roll, Mr. Obama seems incapable of just flipping open a volume and reading. In 2010, he began by announcing that he would perform “the best rendition ever” of “Green Eggs and Ham,” ripping into his Sam-I-Ams with unusual conviction. Two years later at the same event, he read “Where the Wild Things Are” with even more animation, roooooaring his terrible roar and gnaaaaashing his terrible teeth. By the time he got to the wild rumpus, he was howling so loudly that Bo, the first dog, joined in. 
“He’s shooting for a Tony,” Mr. Chaudhary joked. (He has already won a Grammy, in 2006, for his reading of his memoir, “Dreams From My Father” — not because he was a natural, said Brian Smith, the producer, but because he paused so many times to polish his performance.) 
... Even some Democrats in Washington say they have been irritated by his tips ... 
Those were not the only times Mr. Obama may have overestimated himself: he has also had a habit of warning new hires that he would be able to do their jobs better than they could. 
“I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters,” Mr. Obama told Patrick Gaspard, his political director, at the start of the 2008 campaign, according to The New Yorker. “I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m going to think I’m a better political director than my political director.” 
... No matter what moves Mr. Romney made, the president said, he and his team were going to cut him off and block him at every turn. “We’re the Miami Heat, and he’s Jeremy Lin,” Mr. Obama said, according to the aide.

Notify the Asian vote.
... When local campaign staff members ask him what they need to do better, he talks about himself instead. “I need to be working harder,” he recently told one state-level aide. 

By the way, I wonder if he's having his doctor give him a little synthetic testosterone top-off?

Back in February I wrote in my Taki's Magazine review of Kantor's book, The Obamas:
Kantor is struck by the less flagrant but still marked swings in Obama’s mood and energy level. These mostly correlate with his approval ratings, but they sometimes go off on random jags of their own. For instance, Obama’s reaction to his party losing the House in 2010 was blithe. He assumed he might be better off without all that Democratic dead weight holding him back, only to be predictably disillusioned in the disastrous debt-ceiling showdown. 
Oddly, Obama’s down spells never seem to undermine his ego, which in Kantor’s telling remains bizarrely expansive for such an otherwise rational individual. Perhaps as a metaphor for a lifetime of affirmative action’s warping effects, Kantor is fascinated by this middle-aged politician’s obsession with competing on his White House basketball court against invited NBA superstars. Whether Obama can keep clear in his head that they’re just letting him score remains unclear to the author. 
Kantor’s most intriguing finding is that Barack and Michelle’s mood cycles are generally out of sync. ... As her husband’s popularity declined, however, Michelle’s attitude improved ...

Do you ever get the impression that Democrats who write books about Obama, like Kantor and David Maraniss, generally wind up not liking him very much? Of course, all they are allowed is this kind of passive-aggressive toting up of facts, which 99.9% of readers won't get. But, at least, Jodi and David, you can take comfort in knowing that I feel your pain.

On the subject of Obama's vanity, Jonathan Last's 2010 article in the Weekly Standard, American Narcissus, remains canonical.