September 15, 2012

We have always been at war with YouTube!

Rev. Right comments:
Jay Carney, White House spokesman, yesterday: 
"The reason why there is unrest is because of the is not in response not to United States policy, and not to, obviously, the administration, or the American people, but it is in response to a video, a film that we have judged to be be reprehensible and disgusting...This is in response to the film...The cause of the unrest was a video...These protests were in reaction to a video that had spread to the region...This is not a case of protests directed at the United States writ large or at U.S. policy, this is in response to a video that is offensive to Muslims."

Nothing the matter with American foreign policy, the whole problem is that some gold-chainer posted something on YouTube. Who could have foreseen that?

September 14, 2012

Orwell: "Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations."

In reaction to Michael Lewis's puff piece of access journalism on Obama, Glenn Greenwald dredges up an Orwell quote: "Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations."

For example, here's an exercise in public relations I engaged in as a reporter: "Genes of History's Greatest Lover Found?" Nobody was actively resisting my printing this. I got lots of cooperation from the geneticist at Oxford who had led a team that identified Genghis Khan's Y-chromosome in a huge percentage of Asian steppe-dwellers. 

On the other hand, there's a certain matter of tone or edge. I wrote the article to be as close as I could make it to what I would have liked to read when I was 14, so it's crammed with all sorts of non-genteel stuff: Buried treasure! Forty virgins sacrificed! Clone army? Hereditary differences! Tolstoy and Marx wrong about the Great Man theory of history!

But, how much of a market is there for smart stuff that is non-genteel? The Daily Mail does monster business by having an old-fashioned Front Page attitude. Whose side is The Daily Mail on? It's on the side of its readers, who want to read stuff that they will find interesting. 

In contrast, more respectable publications are on the side of their readers, too. Their readers want their social status validated and their worldviews to remain placidly undisturbed by anything too interesting.

And even if interesting facts are conveyed, but in the genteel style, does anybody notice except the handful of people with close reading skills and a critical attitude? More disturbingly, when the facts merely appear in genteel surroundings, they are often assumed to confirm the conventional wisdom.

As I've often pointed out, the New York Times' genetics reporter Nicholas Wade spent a decade comprehensively trashing the conventional wisdom about race and genetics, and almost nobody noticed. As far as I can tell, 99% of New York Times readers took away the message they'd come in with: "Why, yes, we are ever so much more sophisticated than those mouth-breathing Creationists who don't realize that Science has proven that race is just a Social Construct."

Or, consider poor Jodi Kantor, the NYT's White House correspondent, who has been dog-whistling for half a decade that there are some things that aren't quite right about Barack Obama. (Here's her 2007 article on Obama and Rev. Wright that came out a full year before Wright briefly became an issue in the 2008 campaign. And here's her recent article about Obama's egomania.) Has anybody noticed?

We shouldn't, however, get carried away by the appealing notion that journalists in the past were all disreputable ne'er-do-wells whose chief loyalty was to getting an interesting story for the unwashed masses. There have always been newspapers whose first loyalty was to validating the gentility of their readers. T.S. Eliot lampooned one eminently respectable post-Puritan newspaper about a century ago:
The readers of the Boston Evening TranscriptSway in the wind like a field of ripe corn.
When evening quickens faintly in the street,
Wakening the appetites of life in some
And to others bringing the Boston Evening Transcript,
I mount the steps and ring the bell, turning
Wearily, as one would turn to nod good-bye to Rochefoucauld,
If the street were time and he at the end of the street,
And I say, "Cousin Harriet, here is the Boston Evening Transcript."

The Black Hole of North American Comedy

From an interview with Saturday Night Live supremo Lorne Michaels in a New York Times article on SNL's plans for the election:
But Mr. Michaels acknowledged that Mr. Obama has been a challenge. What is his comedy hook? “So far we haven’t found it. My joke is always that he’s the first Canadian president,” said Mr. Michaels, a Toronto native. “He wants to think it through, do it in the fairest way possible and be thoughtful. And be a little distant, which I totally identify with, obviously.” 
Mr. Romney? “He’s easy to play because of that caution of his.”

The sad thing is that I doubt if Michaels gets why it's funny that he uses one word ("caution") to describe why Romney is easily spoofable, and 39 words to describe the identical trait in Obama, which SNL hasn't figured out how to make funny after years of trying ever so hard.

Is Obama the most boring President ever? At least with Gerald Ford, you were allowed to make fun of him.

September 13, 2012

Michael Lewis's Vanity Fair profile of Obama summarized

Obama Administration's Guns of Singapore Blasting Away

Since 1968, the government has increasingly crusaded for more mortgage lending to minorities and lower income borrowers by attacking lenders that don't lend enough to favored groups. The last push, the White House Conference on Increasing Minority Homeownership on 10/15/2002 where Bush lauded what turned out to be toxic mortgages as engines of racial justice, gave optimistic and/or get-rich-quick lenders an excuse to set off the Housing Bubble of 2004-2007.

You might think that by now everybody would have wised up about how an originally well-intentioned policy had gone too far. But, then, we're not supposed to mention this fact. Moreover, the institutions that brought it about still exist, still get funded, and continue to search out and destroy all evidence of disparate impact in mortgage lending like robot juggernauts from the future in a James Cameron movie.

Here's the latest from the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat: Luther Burbank Savings in Santa Rosa, CA. Luther Burbank is small potatoes, but I guess that just shows how well the government's campaign has succeeded that they are focusing on these guys now.
Luther Burbank Savings settles lawsuit by Justice Department over loan practices 
Luther Burbank Savings will spend $2 million to settle a federal lawsuit accusing the Santa Rosa lender of discriminating against African-American and Latino borrowers with a jumbo loan program that targeted wealthy individuals. 
Under the settlement with the U.S. Justice Department, Luther Burbank created a new division to increase conventional lending in minority communities. 
The thrift, Sonoma County's largest financial institution with $3.6 billion in assets, did not admit wrongdoing. Luther Burbank is settling the lawsuit to avoid long and costly litigation, said John Biggs, the thrift's president and chief executive. ...

Luther Burbank operates eight branches in California, all in posh areas like Beverly Hills. It specializes in apartment building loans, but ran a small side business that originated a little over 100 single family home mortgages per year. The Feds had no objection to this modest-sized bank's main business's lending practices.

But, apparently they don't have more important targets to focus their anti-discrimination wrath upon:
Instead, prosecutors focused on a smaller line of business that issued jumbo loans through independent brokers to wealthy borrowers. Those loans account for about 15 percent of its portfolio. 
The bank chose to offer only “non-traditional” loans — including interest-only and stated-income loans — to high-income borrowers for amounts greater than $400,000. Such loans, when offered by other institutions to first-time home buyers, have been faulted for helping lead to the subprime loan crisis. Historic numbers of borrowers were unable to make their loan payments or keep their homes, resulting in huge financial losses at banks and a sharp downturn in the housing market. 
The Justice Department lawsuit alleged that because Luther Burbank would lend no less than $400,000, very few African-American and Latino borrowers were able to qualify for its loans. 
In the greater Los Angeles area, for example, only 5.8 percent of Luther Burbank's single-family residential mortgages from 2006 through 2010 were issued to African-American and Latino borrowers, compared to 31.8 percent by comparable prime lenders, the Justice Department said. 

"Interest-only and stated-income loans" are what are often called "toxic" mortgages. So, the Obama Administration sued Luther Burbank Savings for not saddling minorities with enough toxic mortgages in 2006.
“It is critical that lenders have policies in place to ensure that they don't discriminate in their lending programs,” Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, said in a statement.

You know, Thomas E. Perez's statements just haven't been the same since his old spokesmodel Xochitl Hinojosa went to work for a Senate race.
The settlement, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, is the latest to emerge from an Obama administration task force searching for fair-lending violations during the housing boom. It has reached settlements in 18 cases for $370 million, including agreements in July with Wells Fargo and in December with Bank of America. 
“The Department of Justice will not allow financial institutions to have in place residential lending practices that illegally impact minority communities,” AndrĂ© Birotte Jr., the U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles, said in a statement. 
Luther Burbank's attorney, Andrew L. Sandler, said the case represented the Justice Department's “most aggressive use of the disparate impact discrimination theory.” He was referring to the use of a statistical analysis to allege discrimination. 
“It has accused a bank of discrimination because it offered only non-traditional portfolio loan products to high net-worth individuals, and is imposing as part of the settlement a requirement that it offer additional loan products in order to obtain more loans from minority borrowers,” Sandler said in a statement. ...
The thrift lowered its minimum loan limit to $20,000 in June 2011.

In California, $20,000 will get you a refrigerator carton on the edge of the Salton Sea, if you don't mind the smell.
Luther Burbank will now spend $2 million on initiatives to increase lending in minority neighborhoods in California. 
Under the settlement, which is subject to court approval, the thrift will invest $1.1 million in a financing program to increase the amount of credit it extends to residential borrowers seeking loans of $400,000 or less. 
It also will spend: $450,000 in partnerships with community-based organizations; $300,000 for outreach to potential customers; and $150,000 on consumer education programs. 

Which will in turn keep employed a few "community organizers" to keep the juggernaut sniffing for more sources of funds.

We have always been at war with Libya!

I realize the national conversation isn't supposed to be about the Commander-in-Chief's strategic decision-making, but I want to peer back deep into the mists of time to March 17, 2011 when I was idly browsing on the Internet only to discover that, with negligible public discussion, much less a Congressional declaration of war, President Obama had launched America into a war with a country that had been considered one of the success stories of recent American diplomacy. In puzzlement, I blogged:
Are We at War with Libya? 
In theory, this shouldn't be all that hard to blast Gadaffi's air force and tanks in open desert. There's a difference between a land war in Asia and a land war in North Africa. We already won one of those 68 years ago, against a better general than anybody working for Gadaffi. 
But, then what happens? I don't know.

I still don't know.

Now, back to your regularly scheduled programming: Let's Talk About How Mitt Romney Is a Big Doo-Doo Head Instead.

Forty-five years ago, Romeny's dad, a leading GOP candidate for the 1968 Presidential nomination, came out against the Vietnam War. When asked why he had supported it after returning from a quick visit in 1965, he said he'd been "brainwashed" by the diplomats and generals. This proved the end of his White House hopes. His son drew the lesson that caution in the face of the Establishment was crucial. 

The problem we face on foreign policy is the Establishment monoculture in Washington: in the run-up and follow-up to the Iraq War, many of the sensible people were purged and the loonies rewarded.

Obama is one of the few to benefit from being right: he gave one speech against the Iraq War and got the White House. Howard Dean gave a hundred speeches and got a life of leisure. Hillary Clinton was for the war and got to be Secretary of State.

Today, the acceptable limits of foreign policy discourse in America are set by: 

- The good old military-industrial complex
- Saudi bribery
- Liberal Democratic Zionists
- Right 2 Protect liberal crypto-imperialist/busybodies
- Angry Likudniks
- Quasi-CIA "democracy" endowments that organize color-coded revolutions
- Foreign policy thinktanks (who are more important the more activist the foreign policy)
- White guys who need to serve in the military so they can get affirmative action points to become firemen
- Yahoos who should be apprised that when football isn't on TV, professional wrestling can always be found year-round, so there's no need to watch the news
- Oil companies (who are left to quietly play the "Can't we all just get along?" Rodney King role)

They are all overseen by a national media that sometimes seems most concerned about the looming threat that an isolationist Father Coughlin could arise again.

So, the only feasible foreign policy alternative to stake out is: "The President's foreign policy isn't quite crazed enough!"

"The Marshall of Finland"

The first biopic about Baron Mannerheim, who led the Finns in the Winter War against the Soviets in 1939, will appear on Finnish TV later this month. Although I'm no expert on Finnish history, I suspect, judging from this 27-second trailer, that certain liberties were taken with the historical record to bring it more in line with Obama Era sensibilities:

September 12, 2012

Lightwashing: Is Zoe Saldana Black Enough?

The New York Times reports on a controversy over whether a black actress is black enough to play a black singer:
Stir Builds Over Actress to Portray Nina Simone 
... The online media world has been abuzz with criticism for nearly a month now over the news — first reported by The Hollywood Reporter — that the actress Zoe Saldana would be cast as the singer Nina Simone in the forthcoming film “Nina” based on her life. 

Zoe Saldana was the princess in "Avatar." She did a fine job under what must have been stressful conditions, with weird new 3D sensors strapped all around her. My favorite Zoe Saldana story I like to imagine went something like this:

James Cameron: Zoe, you know how you've been preparing for months to play a robot in my upcoming movie? Well, I'm not going to make that movie.

Zoe: Oh ...

Cameron: Instead, I'm going to make a movie called "Avatar" and you are going to play the romantic lead, a beautiful princess!

Zoe: I've always wanted to play a princess since I was a little girl!

Cameron: A ten-foot tall blue alien princess!

Zoe:  Oh ...
Few have attacked Ms. Saldana for her virtues as an actress. Instead, much of the reaction has focused on whether Ms. Saldana was cast because she, unlike Simone, is light skinned and therefore a more palatable choice for the Hollywood film than a darker skinned actress. 

Saldana grew up partly in the Dominican Republic. I doubt if she's considered black there, but she's normally considered black here under the currently reigning one-drop rule. She's a lot blacker looking than, say, Anatole Broyard was.
“Hollywood and the media have a tendency to whitewash and lightwash a lot of stories, particularly when black actresses are concerned,” said Tiffani Jones, the founder of the blog Coffee Rhetoric. Ms. Jones wrote a blog post titled “(Mis)Casting Call: The Erasure of Nina Simone’s Image.” 
“When is it going to be O.K. to not be the delicate looking ideal of what the media considers blackness to be?” Ms. Jones said in an interview. 

So, it's not totally about skin color, it's about other things that tend to correlate with skin color.
Ms. Jones’s post linked to an online petition at the Web site that calls for Cynthia Mort, the writer and director of the film, and Jimmy Iovine, executive producer, to “replace Zoe Saldana with an actress who actually looks like Nina Simone.” The petition had gathered more than 2,100 supporters as of Wednesday morning. 

2,100 digital signatures!
... But the proposed choice of Ms. Saldana to play Simone has reignited the conversation of colorism — Alice Walker’s term for discrimination based on gradations of skin color. 
Recently an online petition was circulated to protest the casting of the light-skinned actress Thandie Newton in the film based on Ngozi Adichie’s novel “Half of a Yellow Sun,” which centers on the Nigerian Civil War (1967-70); there was some criticism of the casting of the biracial Jaqueline Fleming as Harriet Tubman in the film “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.” 

If you can't trust "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" to get the historical details right, what can you trust?
... Casting an actress who does not look like Simone is troubling, said Yaba Blay, a scholar of African and diaspora studies and the author of a forthcoming book called "(1)ne Drop: Conversations on Skin Color, Race, and Identity.” 

(1)ne Drop: A profusion of punctuation marks is the secret fraternity handshake of postmodernist academics. The titles of Toni Morison's nonfiction, like Race-ing Justice, En-Gender-ing Power, are full of them.
“The power of her aesthetics was part of her power,” Dr. Blay said. “This was a woman who prevailed and triumphed despite her aesthetic.” Dark-skinned actresses, she added, are “already erased from the media ...

I am disappointed that the deconstructionist Dr. Blay didn't say that dark-skinned actresses are "already e-raced from the media."
The film is the brainchild of Ms. Mort ... who is white ...
Vic Bulluck, the executive director of the N.A.A.C.P Hollywood Bureau, believes the issue is the director, not the proposed star. 
“Casting really is an issue of what actors are hot at any given moment, so the filmmakers can secure the funding to get the movie made,” he said. “I would question the filmmaker’s ability to tell the story more than I would question Zoe Saldana’s ability to embody the character.” 

Well played, Vic, considering that your boss at the National Association for the Advancement of Certain People, Benjamin Jealous, looks kind of like Vince Vaughn. Make a fuss instead about the filmmaker being white. C'mon, black people, the NAACP says, we need to stay focused on the real enemy: the White Man, such as Ms. Mort.

We're always told that the Republican Party is doomed because demographic change is giving the Democrats an unbeatable alliance of People of Color and enlightened others. But, is this truly a naturally cohesive coalition? Or can it only be held together by whipping up ever greater anti-whiteism?

This whole Libyan War thing not really working out

But, anyway, the international war with Libya that Obama agreed to start in 2011 is ancient history, of no relevance to anything happening in Libya in 2012. So, let's all talk instead about what Mitt Romney said about Libya last night, because that's what really matters!

Did Romney Just Doom His Campaign? 
The emerging consensus: His attack over Libya was in poor taste.

Non-passing celebrities

Judging from the comments so far, not many post-Broyard celebrities have been revealed to have actively passed from black to white. 

I can think of a number of part-black actresses who switch back and forth between white and black roles:

Rashida Jones -- "Parks and Recreation" -- Her father is Quincey Jones
Maya Rudolph -- "Saturday Night Live" -- Her mother was the late singer Minnie Riperton and her father is an entertainment industry insider, friend of Spielberg, etc.
Rebecca Hall -- Ben Affleck's girlfriend in "The Town." Her mother is Maria Ewing, a part-black opera singer.
Jennifer Beals -- "Flashdance"

The first three are daughters of people in arts & entertainment. Quincey Jones, producer of "Thriller," may well have an entire trophy room for all the awards he's won. Rebecca Hall's father, Sir Peter Hall, was knighted for being one of the top British stage directors of his generation. So, their daughters have incentives to play up their ancestry.

There are more white roles for actresses, and nonwhites tend to jealously guard the nonwhite roles. So, the rule of thumb appears to be that you have to identify as part black to get the black roles, but that won't stop you from getting the white roles, especially if you are show biz royalty.

In the case of Vin Diesel ("Fast & Furious"), his Wikipedia article currently says he says he's part black, but I vaguely recall him not saying that a decade ago. His family background is complex (he's never met his biological father, his step-father who raised him is black), so if my recollection is right, I would guess he'd fall in the personal reasons category. (By the way, I'm always struck by how similar his facial expressions are to Jerry Seinfeld's.)

In contrast, sexual orientation works somewhat differently. Gay actors who want leading man roles are discouraged from coming out. One late-blooming action star, who used to make most of his money gentrifying homes, has been plagued for several years by an ambiguous article that appeared in the L.A. Times real estate section just before he hit it big describing the spectacular renovation he and his "partner," another male actor, did of a once-moldering mansion that they were now putting up for sale for millions. I'm sure he wishes now that the newspaper had put "business" before "partner."

Both straight and gay audiences seem to like having straight male actors play gay roles -- e.g., Tom Hanks winning an Oscar in "Philadelphia." Straights are reassured, and gays like that it Undermines Stereotypes, plus they get kind of a thrill out of the idea that a regular guy could be talked into it.

September 11, 2012

Passing, past and present

From my new column in Taki's Magazine:
Obama’s sudden rise from part-time legislator/part-time lecturer to Presidential Timberhood was conventionally interpreted as the triumph of his supreme personal merit over discrimination’s crushing weight. A less-popular suggestion was that in 21st-century America, identifying as black is good for your career. 
One way to test this question is by looking at the phenomenon of people changing their racial identification, AKA “passing.” Traditionally, mixed-race people tried to socially separate themselves from the black masses, and some tried to pass as white. Is that still true? Or has the flow reversed in recent decades, with racially ambiguous people now asserting their blackness? 
Passing is back in the news because of the curious onslaught that famed novelist Philip Roth (Portnoy’s Complaint) mounted last week against Wikipedia over its allegation that one of his better novels might have been inspired by the glamorous man of letters Anatole Broyard (1920-1990), one of the last Americans known to have passed as white for career reasons.

Read the whole thing there.

Are there any celebrities since Broyard who are now known to have passed for career purposes?

I'm thinking of "passed" in the active rather than the passive sense, of cutting ties with tell-tale kin to change one's racial identity. I'm sure there are people today whose, say, 1/4th black grandparent switched and now they are 1/16th black and don't make a big deal about it. That's what I would call the passive sense of passing.

Also, I'm sure there are people who insist they are all white for personal rather than career reasons -- such as mom cheated on her husband with the saxophonist, but eventually they reconciled and decided never to mention that one child doesn't the really look like the others.

Broyard told, I believe, his daughter that he switched to white because he didn't want to get stuck being the Negro literary intellectual, that he really wasn't that interested in race stuff and wanted to follow where his tastes led him. That sounds a slight bit high-minded. Or maybe he did it just for the girls.

"I don’t think [Obama] doesn’t like people. I know he doesn’t like people."

From an interview in the Los Angeles Review of Books by Kelly Candaele of John Heilemann, New York magazine's main political correspondent.
KC: You say that Obama doesn’t like needing people. Other than a normal feeling that many people have of not liking to ask for things, what is that about? 
JH: Obama is an unusual politician. There are very few people in American politics who achieve something — not to mention the Presidency —in which the following two conditions are true: one, they don’t like people. And two, they don’t like politics. 
KC: Obama doesn’t like people? 
JH: I don’t think he doesn’t like people. I know he doesn’t like people. He’s not an extrovert; he’s an introvert. I’ve known the guy since 1988. He’s not someone who has a wide circle of friends. He’s not a backslapper and he’s not an arm-twister. He’s a more or less solitary figure who has extraordinary communicative capacities. He’s incredibly intelligent, but he’s not a guy who’s ever had a Bill Clinton-like network around him. He’s not the guy up late at night working the speed dial calling mayors, calling governors, calling CEOs. People say about Obama that it’s a mistake that he hasn’t reached out more to Republicans on Capitol Hill. I say that may be a mistake, but he also hasn’t reached out to Democrats on Capitol Hill. If you walk around [the convention] and button-hole any Democratic Senator you find on the street and ask them how many times they have received a call [from the President] to talk about politics, to talk about legislative strategy, I guarantee you won’t find a lot of people who have gotten one phone call in the last two and a half years. And many of them have never been called. 
I’m not a psychologist, so I don’t know what the root of that is. People have theories about it. But I know in practice he is a guy who likes to operate with a very tight circle around him, trusts very few people easily or entirely. He ran his campaign that way in 2008, he runs his White House that way, and he’s running his campaign that way in 2012. President Obama just doesn’t talk to too many people.

One totally unshocking revelation in Bob Woodward's new book is that the June 2011 "golf summit" where Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner played golf together helped the two men forge a personal bond. That's ... what people always tell you golf is for, isn't it? The number of rounds of golf the President has played (104 at last count) is hardly excessive -- when healthy Eisenhower would come close to that number in one year -- but Eisenhower played with big shots to forge personal ties. Obama almost always plays with junior staffers. 

Why the Democrats have no bench

During the Democratic convention you heard from various commentators that the Democrats have a weak bench. My guess is, that's intentional for two reasons:

- Obama's vanity, insecurity, and lack of relationships with other politicians

- To set Hillary up in 2016. As we saw last week with Bill Clinton's star turn, Obama needs the Clintons. That gives them leverage.

For example, whatever happened to Howard Dean, small-town doctor turned six-term governor of Vermont? As you'll recall, Dean was the Democratic frontrunner for all of 2003 due to his opposition to the Iraq war, but when he finished 3rd in Iowa and gave his supporters a high school coach-style war whoop to keep them motivated, he was immediately discarded in favor of the big stiff John Kerry. As a consolation prize after Kerry lost, the Democrats made Dean chairman of the party for 2005-2009, where he did, by all accounts, an excellent job, bringing his campaign's Internet sophistication to the party in the service of tying the liberal base to the Democratic brand and helping the Democrats win the House in 2006 and 2008.

To me, Dr. Dean looks like the natural leader of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. I suspect other people think so, too, which may be why he's on the shelf.

Dean is currently 63, younger than Hillary and younger than Romney. As far as I can tell, he's unemployed. (Or, maybe, he's cashing in big time doing whatever it is ex-politicians do.) He was at the Democratic convention last week, giving loyal Go Team interviews, but the biggest speech he was asked to give was a talk to the Oregon delegation. 

My guess is that Dean's unforgivable sin is that he was right about Iraq and Hillary was wrong.

Also, here's 28 Sherman's post on the many reasons Occupy Wall Street, despite a huge press push, was so much less effective than the Tea Party, which played a huge role in the GOP winning back the House in 2010.

One of many things the country needs is a better left. 28 Sherman implies that Dean would make an ideal public face for liberals trying to rein in Wall Street. A Yankee (with a Jewish wife) who grew up on Park Avenue because his father made good money on the Street sounds like somebody who would seem trustworthy when he'd say his mission was to reform Wall Street, not wreck it. But, nobody is too interested ...

The racism of peanut butter and jelly

In education reform circles, it's an article of faith that America needs higher quality people as public school teachers. (I like to point out that it would also help for America to have higher quality people as parents and students, but never mind for now.) One hurdle to getting people with options in life and a sense of self-respect to be public school teachers is the political indoctrination sessions they are forced to sit through, like Winston Smith at a Two-Minutes Hate. 

Verenice Gutierrez picks up on the subtle language of racism every day. 
Take the peanut butter sandwich, a seemingly innocent example a teacher used in a lesson last school year. 
“What about Somali or Hispanic students, who might not eat sandwiches?” says Gutierrez, principal at Harvey Scott K-8 School, a diverse school of 500 students in Northeast Portland’s Cully neighborhood. 
“Another way would be to say: ‘Americans eat peanut butter and jelly, do you have anything like that?’ Let them tell you. Maybe they eat torta. Or pita.” 
Guitierrez, along with all of Portland Public Schools’ principals, will start the new school year off this week by drilling in on the language of “Courageous Conversations,” the district-wide equity training being implemented in every building in phases during the past few years. 
Through intensive staff trainings, frequent staff meetings, classroom observations and other initiatives, the premise is that if educators can understand their own “white privilege,” then they can change their teaching practices to boost minority students’ performance. 
Last Wednesday, the first day of the school year for staff, for example, the first item of business for teachers at Scott School was to have a Courageous Conversation — to examine a news article and discuss the “white privilege” it conveys.

Theodore Dalrymple has famously noted:
“In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, not to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better.

September 10, 2012

Kerwin Charles on the Housing Bubble

Kerwin Kofi Charles and others at the U. of Chicago have a paper out documenting that, yes, the Housing Bubble temporarily papered over the impact of hollowing out America's industrial base:
We study the extent to which the U.S. housing boom and subsequent housing bust during the 2000s masked (and then unmasked) the sharp, ongoing decline in the manufacturing sector. We exploit cross-city variation in manufacturing declines and housing booms and jointly estimate the effects of both shocks on local employment and wages. Between 2000 and 2007, we find that a one standard deviation negative manufacturing shock increases the non-employment rate of non-college men by 0.9 percentage points, and a one standard deviation positive housing price shock is enough to fully offset this effect. We find that roughly half of the offsetting comes from increased construction employment and that other demographic groups are affected by both shocks, as well, though to a lesser extent. We also find that positive housing price shocks significantly reduce college enrollment, with the largest effects concentrated among community colleges and junior colleges. Finally, we use our estimates to assess how aggregate employment would have evolved absent the housing boom/bust cycle, and we find that roughly 35 percent of the increase in nonemployment between 2007 and 2011 can be attributed to the decline in manufacturing employment during the 2000s. In particular, we find that much of the recent increase in non-employment would have occurred earlier had it not been for the large temporary boom in local housing prices.

Not much good news here.

Felix Salmon on IQ and Financial Literacy

Felix Salmon writes about planning for retirement in "Who is speaking for the poor?:"
IQ also helps. Check out this chart, for instance, from a very long and detailed paper about the likelihood that a person of given intelligence will be invested in the stock market.

The distribution is clear: the smarter you are (as measured by IQ), the more likely you are to be invested in the stock market. And this distribution is independent of wealth: it applies to the rich as much as it does to the poor. Or, as the paper puts it, “IQ’s role in the participation decisions of the affluent is about the same as it is for the less affluent. The definition of affluence—net worth or income—does not affect this finding.” 
Most impressively, check out this paper from 2007. It asked just three “simple mathematical questions” of couples to judge the numeracy of each one. If neither got any questions right, the total wealth of the couple, on average, was $202,000. If they both got one question right, it was $505,000. If they both got two questions right, it was $853,000. And if they both got all three questions right, their average wealth on average was a whopping $1.7 million. (If they got different scores from each other, the wealth ended up somewhere in between.) 
And similarly, at the other end of the spectrum, there’s huge amounts of research showing that if you’re particularly financially illiterate, or you’re not good at numbers, then you’re much more likely to be ripped off by predatory lenders or other scams, be they legal or otherwise. 
There are various conclusions to be drawn here, one of which is that if we do a better job of financial education, then Americans as a whole will be better off. That’s true. But at the same time, financial illiteracy, and general innumeracy, and low IQs, are all perfectly common things which are never going to go away. It’s idiotic to try to blame people for having a low IQ: that’s not something people can control. And so it stands to reason that any fair society should look after people who are at such a natural disadvantage in life. No love for "European and Mediterranean Americans"

A commenter points out that the Democratic Convention's "European and Mediterranean Americans" innovation has yet to percolate to, where we read:
Groups are made up of supporters
Organizing around the issues they care about 
As a member of a group, you’ll be connected with an online and offline community of people passionate about re-electing President Obama. Pick one (or a few) to join today. 

Meanwhile, at, we find the following list of "Communities:"
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders for Romney
Black Leadership Council
Catholics for Romney
Energy Voters for Romney
Farmers and Ranchers for Romney
Former Obama Supporters for Romney
Jewish Americans for Romney
Juntos con Romney
Lawyers for Romney
Polish Americans for Romney
Public Safety Professionals for Romney
Romney Voters for Free Enterprise
Veterans and Military Families for Romney
Women for Mitt
Young Americans for Romney 

"European and Mediterranean Americans" down through history

A commenter points to this Google nGram graph so we can see the history of the phrase used by by the Democratic National Convention for one of their 14 identity politics communities: "European and Mediterranean Americans" (of whom, we are informed by the Democrats: "The culture and history of European and Mediterranean Americans contribute to America’s unique fabric.")

In other words, from 1800 through 2008 (the latest year Google allows), the phrase "European and Mediterranean Americans" appeared in zero books known to Google.

It appears that the term was chosen by the Democrats to represent what used to be called the "white ethnic" vote, but without using the word "white."

The phrase "Mediterranean American" was probably chosen to represent Christian Lebanese, who aren't from Europe in a geographic sense, but are a prosperous group. The leaves up in the air "Armenians," who used to have a Black Sea coast and have a fairly Mediterranean culture.

Stephen Strasburg

The division-leading Washington Nationals baseball team has gone ahead with their plan and shut their prize young pitcher Stephen Strasburg down for the season. He's coming off Tommy John surgery and team management had decided early to only let him pitch 160 innings, even if they had a chance to go to the postseason with him.

I don't have anything intelligent to say about Strasburg, I just wanted to use this opportunity to post a link to a video I saw on the evening sports news on May 6, 1998. I was sitting on the couch talking to my wife with the TV on but the volume off, so I didn't get any audio hints about what was coming. I vaguely recognized Kerry Wood, the Chicago Cubs' 20-year-old phenom pitcher, and was hardly surprised when they started showing clips of his strikeout pitches from that afternoon's game at Wrigley Field against the hard-hitting Houston Astros (Bagwell & Biggio). 

But I became increasingly distracted from my conversation as the strikeout pitch clips kept going on and on, past all reasonable limits, a dozen, a dozen and a half, and still kept piling up. And the pitches weren't just Wood's 98 mph fastball. He was getting bizarre motion on the ball. By the end of the game (the 19th is 3:00 into the video), Wood was throwing what looked like 90+ mph whiffle balls at the befuddled batters. The catcher could barely backhand the 20th and last strikeout pitch, which broke two feet horizontally from right to left. The poor batter would have needed a pool cue to get any wood on the ball.

Was Wood's 20 strikeout one-hitter in batter-friendly Wrigley Field in 1998, the McGwire-Sosa peak of the steroid slugger era, the greatest game ever pitched? Many people think so.

I saw Sandy Koufax pitch at Dodger Stadium when I was five, and have been a big Koufax fan ever since. But Koufax was pitching with a huge vertical strikezone, bottom of the knees to shoulders. So he threw two main pitches: a curve that dropped sharply (but didn't swerve much horizontally like Wood's last pitch) and a rising fastball. A baseball thrown hard enough with enough backspin will tend to sail upward above its natural trajectory and that's what a lot of legendary 1960s pitchers threw. (By rising fastball, I mean one that falls slower than gravity alone would imply.) Pitching 320 innings per year burned out Koufax, who retired in 1966 after going 27-9. 

But the leagues and the umpires progressively took the rising fastball away from pitchers after 1968. By the 1990s, the strikezone barely extended above the belt, forcing pitchers into odd contortions to avoid rising fastballs. 

After Wood's 20-strikeout game, it suddenly became hugely important to everybody interested in baseball, for reasons that no longer are clear, for Wood to break the record for most strikeouts in two consecutive starts, which he did. And then he had to break the record in three consecutive starts, which he did. A few months later he had Tommy John surgery.

And Wood was never quite the same. He had three operations on his arm, and 14 trips to the disabled list. He retired earlier this season with a career record of 86-75. It was a fine career with two All Star game appearances, but it wasn't what everybody had hoped that May afternoon when he was 20.

"Jiro Dreams of Sushi"

This is a documentary from last year about an 85-year-old sushi chef whose ten-seat restaurant in a Tokyo subway station has Michelin's top rating of three stars. (Here's Tyler Cowen's review of the economics of this $300 per dinner sushi bar.) Most of the movie consists of people telling you that Jiro's sushi is the best and about how hard Jiro works. The subtitles are in tiny white type and all six guys who work in the restaurant are wearing white sushi chef smocks, so it's pretty illegible.

You don't actually learn much from the documentary about why Jiro's sushi is so good, perhaps because Jiro is a crafty old bastard who isn't giving any tips away to American documentarians for free. The only lesson I can remember is Jiro explaining that when he started in the sushi business 75 years ago, they only massaged the octopus for 30 minutes, but now at his place they always massage the octopus for 40 to 50 minutes. So, all you aspiring sushi chefs out there, listen up: Massage your octopus longer.

The documentary is really upbeat, but it's probably more memorable when viewed as a nightmarish comedy about Jiro's 50-year-old son, who has been working for his father for the last 31 years, with no end in sight.

There are various interviews with the wholesalers of fish and rice, who all deal only in tiny quantities of expensive, high quality, and they've all been selling to Jiro for decades, and they only sell their best stuff to Jiro because only he can do justice to their perfect rice. It's all very cozy. It reminded me of articles I used to read decades ago in the business press explaining why American companies could never get a toehold in the Japanese market, despite extremely polite assurances from the Japanese government that all impediments to American firms would be swept away posthaste. 

The Japanese, I guess, just like being Japanese.

By the way, according to Wikipedia, Japan has more Michelin three starred restaurants (32) than any other country, even France (26). America is 3rd with 10, then Germany with 9. Kyoto has as many three-starred restaurants (7) as New York City, while Chicago has one and L.A. zero. 

Now, it's possible that Michelin is tossing out stars in Japan to pump up its brand in that market. Or, there is this theory that whenever you read about how the Japanese economy has been so horrible for the last 22 years, which is all the time, that's what the Japanese want you to believe. Back in the 1980s, everybody believed that the Japanese were going to buy up the whole world, so they gave the Japanese a lot of grief, such as putting quotas on car imports, forcing them to open plants in America. But then their bubble burst in 1990, and now you never hear about the Japanese anymore, except about how tragic their economy is and they can only afford $300 sushi dinners.

September 9, 2012

Kanazawa is back

Awhile ago, Satoshi Kanazawa of the London School of Economics got in big trouble for a blog posting at a magazine pointing out that data from dating websites suggests that, on average, black women are seen as less attractive than other women. And then he offered some speculation why that might be, such as differences in average femininity and masculinity levels.

This line of thought was not favorably received, with critics replying that it was only people like Kanazawa and the rest of the White Male Power Structure that kept strong black women like Serena Williams from being idolized as the exemplars of feminine grace that they are, and that Kanazawa made them so angry that they just wanted to punch him in his smirking face, and smash his skull open with a brick, and grind his ... well, let's just say they were miffed. 

For his offense of miffing certain readers, Kanazawa was told he couldn't blog by the LSE for a certain amount of time. Now, that time is over, so he has a new blog, E pur si muove, at Big Think. Here's his first post: