September 22, 2012

Request: Thinkers from beyond the Anglosphere?

It's nice to be a native speaker of the world's dominant language, especially since I've never bothered to learn any other languages. However, there are problems with an intellectual monoculture. As physicist Freeman Dyson argued in the 1970s, maybe the Tower of Babel was, on the whole, a good thing. Lots of languages leads to lots of different cultures, which leads to different ideas and ways of doing things, some of which will turn out to be better than others, which can be adopted by others later.

It used to be that some Americans were interested in what was being published in foreign languages. But now we live in a world where Thilo Sarrazin or even Alexander Solzhenitsyn can't get published in America. 

Of course, high quality translation is terribly difficult. For example, in the early 1970s, there was much interest in Solzhenitsyn's books, so there would be a large sale of the American translation. This led to people saying things like, "Well, he's a great man but he's not a great writer." A few years after the American translations, the superior British translations of Solzhenitsyn would appear in America in small editions, and it was pretty obvious that he was a great writer.

Thirty years ago, I knew a UCLA professor named Michael Henry Heim who played a small role in winning the Cold War by doing terrific, sexy translations of the exiled Czech dissident novelist Milan Kundera, such as The Unbearable Lightness of Being and The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. It certainly didn't hurt that at the climax of the Cold War in the 1980s perhaps the most fashionable writer in the world was an anti-Communist (which wouldn't have happened without Heim's quick, deft translations into English.) The 1988 movie of Unbearable Lightness proved that anti-Communists were as handsome as Daniel Day-Lewis and had Juliet Binoche and Lena Olin fighting over them. The next year, as you'll recall, the demoralized Communists just plain gave up.

Professor Heim recently pointed out that these days younger academics in the modern languages seldom get publish-or-perish credit with their tenure committees for translations, even though it's hard to imagine that the original research they do instead is more valuable.

So, what I'm looking for are suggestions for important work from outside the Anglosphere in English (either reasonably well-translated or written in English by somebody from outside the Anglosphere).

For example, I believe there are one or two East Asian economists who have books out in English explaining why the economic theories that seem so indisputable to English-speakers are pretty much laughed at in the booming economies of the East.

Or, here's a contemporary German philosopher named Peter Sloterdijk. Anybody have an informed opinion on whether he's worth the effort?

More suggestions?

The Volokh Conspiracy's got Crop Rot Fever!

It's that time of the year again, and so the agricultural experts over at the Volokh Conspiracy are agitated that crops are rotting in the fields:
The Bitter Harvest of Immigration Restrictions

Breaking News: "Some parents help their adult children financially, while others do not."

The New York Times covers a hot new development:
From Parents, a Living Inheritance 
Some parents help their adult children financially, while others do not. 

… In certain respects, it’s bewildering that this is our current state of affairs. How can it be that the more tuition costs rise, the fewer opportunities there seem to be for educated people in their 20s and 30s to move seamlessly into jobs that offer health insurance and pay enough to cover their living expenses? … 
When I suggested to Mr. O’Brien that all of this parental assistance might strike people as so much coddling, he responded swiftly with a barnyard epithet. Things are different now, he noted. When he went to work for Bell Labs in 1969, his $16,000 salary was enough to afford a $32,000 family-size home in New Jersey. Today, that home would cost $500,000. 
These parents don’t deliver the usual platitudes about the next generation doing better than the last. They’re merely trying to guard against downward mobility, which is a natural instinct. 
But many young adults don’t have families that can cushion their entry into adulthood. … 
Alexandra Kimball, a 34-year-old Canadian writer, has seen this predicament from two starkly different sides. Her essay in the online magazine Hazlitt about trying to make it as a young journalist has been ricocheting around the Web for the last month, and reading it forever changed the way I will look at every résumé I see. 
… A surprise inheritance allowed her to retire her debt and pursue her chosen field. In an instant, everything changed. 

Reviewing a recent adaptation of Jane Eyre (which has a happy ending when Jane receives a surprise inheritance, allowing her to marry Mr. Rochester on equal terms),, I noted that this kind of thing comes up in contemporary movies and novels a lot less than it does in either 19th Century novels or in real life. If you read Dear Abby-type advice columns, however, you'll see that most of the letters are from people in family squabbles, either over weddings or over resource divvying issues.

But, our fictional and inspirational lives instead seem to be still dominated by a dream of rugged individualism that is increasingly out of date in a crowded, expensive country.

September 21, 2012

"Gangnam Style"

Here's the world's most popular music video, with 233,000,000 views on Youtube:
Being an old coot, I'm out of touch with kids these days and what they think is cool. But, still ...

A tubby, not too young South Korean singer (?) named Psy parodies (?) the lifestyle of the expensive Beverly Hills-like Gangnam district of Seoul, set to a generic beat while dancing not terribly well in a silly fashion, with guest appearances by Korean celebrities I've never heard of.

There are always a lot of jokes out there, so why do people around the world enjoy getting this joke so much at this point in time?

I'm guessing that people are, in some sense, paying tribute to South Korea's long emerging national self-confidence. The South Koreans make good cars, they make good phones, their popular culture is livelier and more masculine than Japan's at present, and so forth. So, this one piece of flotsam gets picked up by a big national wave and is hurled forward. In contrast, you are less likely to see an international pop phenomenon emerge from countries that are mostly treading water, like, say, the Philippines. 

September 20, 2012

"Awardable Housing:" A useful neologism

For most of my life, I've been reading about "affordable housing" -- i.e., a certain percentage of new units are priced below market. I've always wondered who gets those? Commenter Thomas O. Meehan has an answer:
Sometimes these schemes are perpetrated outside of section 8. I was president of a tenant's association in Princeton NJ during the transfer of a complex from rental to condo. The local Democrat politicos attempted to insert affordable housing grantees into the mix without telling the proposed condo purchasers. The plan only failed when the scheme was exposed by yours truly.  
I'm sure this kind of thing happens all the time.  
A hidden aspect is that those chosen for such affordable housing tend to be Democrat county committee people or relatives of public figures. This led me to christen the program, "Awardable Housing."

Charles Murray's "Coming Apart" vindicated

From the NYT
Reversing Trend, Life Span Shrinks for Some Whites 
For generations of Americans, it was a given that children would live longer than their parents. But there is now mounting evidence that this enduring trend has reversed itself for the country’s least-educated whites, an increasingly troubled group whose life expectancy has fallen by four years since 1990. 
Researchers have long documented that the most educated Americans were making the biggest gains in life expectancy, but now they say mortality data show that life spans for some of the least educated Americans are actually contracting. Four studies in recent years identified modest declines, but a new one that looks separately at Americans lacking a high school diploma found disturbingly sharp drops in life expectancy for whites in this group. Experts not involved in the new research said its findings were persuasive. 
The reasons for the decline remain unclear, but researchers offered possible explanations, including a spike in prescription drug overdoses among young whites, higher rates of smoking among less educated white women, rising obesity, and a steady increase in the number of the least educated Americans who lack health insurance. 
The steepest declines were for white women without a high school diploma, who lost five years of life between 1990 and 2008, said S. Jay Olshansky, a public health professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the lead investigator on the study, published last month in Health Affairs. By 2008, life expectancy for black women without a high school diploma had surpassed that of white women of the same education level, the study found.

Obviously, part of the explanation for the drop is that between 1990 and 2008, whites without high school degrees became a more self-selected class of people with problems. In 1990, an older white person who had dropped out of high school to, say, help with farm chores or get a job in an airplane factory during WWII was a pretty average person. By 2008, white high school dropouts were more likely to be notably deficient in some regard.

Still, there is a variety of evidence to suggest that white people farther down the scale are increasingly troubled. Meanwhile, life expectancy in Britain has been accelerating upward, for unexplained reasons.

Did anybody ask the neighbors whether they were happier?

When thousands of poor families were given federal housing subsidies in the early 1990s to move out of impoverished neighborhoods, social scientists expected the experience of living in more prosperous communities would pay off in better jobs, higher incomes and more education. 
That did not happen. But more than 10 years later, those same families say their lives have improved in a surprising way: They report being much happier than a comparison group of poor families who were not offered subsidies to move, a finding that was published on Thursday in the journal Science.

As I've long said, the worst thing about being poor in modern America is not that you can't afford to buy enough food, it's that you can't afford to get away from other poor people. So, it's not surprising that having the feds pay poor people to live away from quite so many other poor people makes the subsidy beneficiaries happier, even if it doesn't make them smarter or harder working.

But, did the researchers deign to ask their subjects' new neighbors if having poor people subsidized to move in next to them made them happier?

North Korea, I tell you!

From Time's World version:
What If Rich Countries Shut the Door on Immigration? 
They would start to look like North Korea, says an Oxford professor.

(As opposed, to, say, Japan.)

Strange country, Norway, where politicians favor voters getting higher wages and don't worry about oil rotting in the fields, er, ground

Bloomberg business news reports, with some surprise:
Norway rejected pleas from the country’s oil industry to help contain wage growth that producers say is hampering competitiveness in western Europe’s largest crude exporter. 
A government-appointed commission on oilrigs and drilling concluded last month Norway must cut labor costs and ease regulations to ensure petroleum isn’t left in the ground.

And if Norway's oil is left in the ground in 2012, it will quickly curdle and have to be thrown out. (Or is that milk I'm thinking of?)

So they must cut wages. I forget what the question is, but in the globalist press, cutting wages is always the answer.

Yet, a Norwegian politician appears to believe that Norwegian voters like it when he doesn't crumple to oil companies's demands:
“As a country and as a sector, we should never compete on security, health and environmental standards, or hourly wages for personnel,” Norway Oil Minister Ola Borten Moe, 36, said in a Sept. 11 interview. “We live in a country with real-wage increases. We have for many, many years, and I hope that continues.”

September 19, 2012

More on "The Master"

I wrote a fairly long review of Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" at Taki's, but it's a large movie, so here are a few more items.

- I'm a big Paul Thomas Anderson fan, partly for neighborhood loyalty reasons. He's like Adam Carolla: another Valley Dude from Magnolia Boulevard. (Of course, those guys are distressingly younger than me.)

- The Master looks great. The early scene set in a San Francisco department store is just a dream of what a high end department store looked like in 1950.

- I talked so much about Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix in the lead roles that I didn't have time to mention Amy Adams as the L. Ron Hubbard character's wife as a scary pregnant Lacy Macbeth who is more determined to launch her husband's cult and crush their enemies than he is.

- An important aspect of movie acting these days is actors molding their bodies through diets, weight lifting, steroids, and so forth. About 98% of this effort is devoted to looking better for lead roles, by trying to add muscle and take off fat. But Phoenix does a great job of molding his body to his character lead role. He's made himself into a very skinny guy without the muscles we expect now on actors now, even in period roles. But he's very wiry, all tendons and gristle, a high testosterone but damaged and unhealthy-looking guy. With his shirt off, he looks exactly like a guy who grew up poor and slightly malnourished during the Depression, then spent years in the Navy lifting heavy objects under life or death stress, drinking poisonous torpedo juice for fun, slowly breaking down mentally, but still, after all that, having a motor inside him that gets him into endless trouble in civilian life.

- Among aspects of the L. Ron Hubbard story that are missing is that his Dianetics was an offshoot of Golden Age science fiction. It first appeared in the great sci-fi editor John W. Campbell's Astounding magazine, and Campbell promoted it heavily. Hubbard always complained about how few pennies per word he got paid for his pulp stories and made clear how much he preferred to be rich than poor. The legend is that Heinlein told him that in modern America, founding a religion was a good way to get rich. (The recent biography of Heinlein says there is no evidence for this story, but it doesn't strike me as implausible. Stranger in a Strange Land, which Heinlein began working on in 1949 in anticipation of publishing it when morals and censorship were looser in the future, is about a man from mars who starts a new religion in America.)

- Overall, The Master is better than Anderson's last movie, There Will Be Blood, but I suspect it might not be quite as successful. There probably won't be an I Drink Your Milkshake moment that goes viral on YouTube. And, it's close enough in style to Blood that the novelty factor is probably worn off. As Paul Hogan said about Crocodile Dundee II, a sequel has to be twice as good to be perceived as not being worse than the original hit. The Master isn't a sequel, but having two mid-career Anderson movies now makes it a lot easier to pick out what are the tics and weaknesses of this phase of Anderson's career. A lot of people are invested in the idea that Blood is a great movie -- it had serious support in decade-ending retrospectives as the best movie of the 2000s -- so there may be a backlash against The Master as a way to calibrate the overrating of Anderson and Blood. If The Master had come out before Blood, I suspect Blood would be viewed as an inferior knockoff. But, initial impressions usually last longest in the culture.

You can read my Taki's review here. The movie opens on about 600 screens on Friday.

What they talk about in Boca Raton

Mitt Romney has a two-step strategy for dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  It’s called kick and hope. He wants to  “kick the ball down the field” and “hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it.”

To a $50,000-a-head fundraiser at the Boca Raton home of a fellow private equity manager, Marc Leder, a more candid Romney said, “The idea of pushing on the Israelis to give something up to get the Palestinians to act is the worst idea in the world.” 
His comments seemed to reflect the views of his billionaire benefactor, Sheldon Adelson, who has pledged $100 million to elect Romney. Adelson, the self-proclaimed “richest Jew in the world,” is an outspoken foe of Palestinian statehood and sees the peace process as a plot to destroy the Jewish state. 
Romney sounded like he was channeling Adelson when he told contributors the Palestinians have "no interest whatsoever in establishing peace, and that the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish." ... 
He listed the dangers a Palestinian state would pose, including that “the Iranians would want to bring missiles and armament into the West Bank and potentially threaten Israel.”

Basically, what would happen is like what happened in Gaza three years ago: If Israel pulled out, Palestinians would shoot a lot of rockets at Israel, then Israel would smash them (remember white phosphorus?) until they learned their lesson.

One difference is, as Romney pointed out, that the West Bank is right next to the very pricey real estate of Tel Aviv. The Gaza rockets didn't do all that much damage to the nearest Israeli town because they aren't very accurate. But from the West Bank, you just have to shoot them in the general direction of the west and they are likely to hit something in sprawling Tel Aviv. So, West Bank rockets would do more harm to Israelis and Israel would no doubt hit the West Bank even harder than Gaza.

Personally, I'd like to see a two-state solution with Palestine winding up like Jordan. You may have noticed that Jordanians don't shoot many rockets at Israel. That's because Jordan has a king and an army and they don't like it when the Israelis come and smash up their military hardware in revenge. So, they keep their thumb on anybody who feels like shooting stuff at Israel.

But, how would you get from here to there? The Gaza example isn't encouraging, but maybe it's tolerable. Or maybe not.

Romney suggests kicking the can down the road, pointing to how time has made what was once a scary China-Taiwan stand-off into less of a problem. Israel is developing an anti-missile system, which might make their worries less.

Also, the Israelis don't really want a two-state solution, they want what could be some pretty pleasant real estate as suburbs for Tel Aviv. They think about the West Bank like Rahm Emmanuel thinks about housing projects near the Chicago lakefront. They say they don't want the West Bank, but they've been settling the West Bank for the last 45 years, so I'm starting to notice a pattern. The last President to punish the Israelis for settling the West Bank was the elder President Bush, who rapidly became ex-President Bush.

Lesson learned.

Since then, Presidents have been known to tut-tut about West Bank settling, depending upon whether their party is aligned with the Israeli ruling party of the moment, but not much happens. They just kick the ball down the field until their term is up. Romney telling the guests of Marc Leder in Boca Raton that he's just going to do what everybody else doesn't seem all that shocking to me, but a lot of people are acting like they are shocked.

The bigger question is not the tiny West Bank, but whether Romney would have the strength of character to not get rolled by his old consulting colleague Bibi into a big war with Iran or some other truly foreign country. Boys will be boys, and they like competition. Israel doesn't have college football, so rich and powerful Israelis obsess over geopolitics while their American counterparts obsess over high school cornerbacks.

At least we know that Obama doesn't like Bibi, personally or politically.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post celebrates David Corn of Mother Jones for getting a scoop on the surreptitious video shot at Leder's Boca Raton place:
Corn said there was no “strategic intent” in the timing of the full video’s release Monday afternoon, but there was one consideration: “We decided not to do it on the morning of Rosh Hashanah,” the Jewish new year, which fell on Monday. “We knew a lot of people in the media would be out of the office then, and we wanted maximum exposure. The morning of a holiday may not be a good time.”

Sounds kind of like what former CNN anchorman Rick Sanchez said two years ago (or Gregg Easterbrook ten years ago). Of course, that was different. It's not what is said, but who says it that counts.

By the way, the brokering of this seemingly illegally obtained videotape was carried out by Jimmy Carter's grandson. I reviewed Old Man Carter's 2009 book Palestine Peace Not Apartheid here (and Part II here).


Ross Douthat blogs in the New York Times:
"What does it say about our culture that the people funding presidential campaigns on both sides of the aisle seem to regard their downscale fellow countrymen as a kind of alien race, to be feared and condescended to in equal measure?"


September 18, 2012

"The Master"

From my movie review in Taki's Magazine:
The Master, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix in a period piece very loosely based on the origins of Scientology, is a sumptuous viewing experience. Yet, it's not likely to live up to the immense hopes that film buffs have invested in it. The movie confirms that writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson is a wonderful artist who doesn’t have stories to tell. 
So don’t go expecting plot tension in what is, more or less, a buddy comedy. (I found it frequently hilarious, although that’s a minority view.) Anderson’s framework allows Hoffman and Phoenix to deliver some of the most stupendous two-man scenes of acting-for-the-sake-of-acting since Sleuth or Midnight Cowboy.

Read the whole thing there.

What if Romney were Jewish?

A reader writes:
Romney has gotten a lot of grief over the campaign season because he is a rich politician.  Although he comes from a minority religion, Mormonism is the wrong one to be born into.  He should have been Jewish. 
If Romney was Jewish many of the attack lines would not be aired in public because of the anti-semitic backlash it would engender.  Making rich guy jokes would be verboten as it would harken back to old Jewish stereotypes.  Romney's hawkish stance on the Middle East would be understandable.  His deep religious roots would be accepted.  Comedians would have a heart attack as they would be unable to mock a black guy or a Jew. 
I predict that Romney would be leading in the polls by a decent amount--4-5 points--if he were only a Jew.

Interesting theory. I would think that liberal Jewish comedians like Jon Stewart would feel free to tee off on a Jewish Republican candidate, but, yes, probably attacks on him as a financial wheeler-dealer would be toned way, way down. 

For example, nobody objects to the title of David Brooks' current column "Thurston Howell Romney" as an anti-WASP ethnic stereotype, even though it is. (Thurston Howell III was the Newport yachtsman on Gilligan's Island.) Instead, many in the media are competing today to take credit for being the first to call Romney "Thurston Howell." But any stereotypes involving Wall Street, investing, or moneylending would be very, very dicey if the candidate were Jewish, even if he were Republican.

What about foreign policy? The current state of the art dog-whistling from Maureen Dowd is that Romney and Ryan are goyishe kops being led around on foreign policy by neocons. Modo's larger subliminal message to her fellow Democrats and to Republicans is something like, "Our Jews are less crazy than your Jews." She may have a point ...

How would all that work if Eric Cantor were the Republican nominee in 2016? Would the Democrats say, "Oh, you're just biased on Israel because you're Jewish." I mean, I'd like to imagine Hillary saying that to Cantor in a 2016 Presidential debate in that super-patronizing tone of voice she can pull up, but, no, I don't see it happening. Hillary saying that would seem like a positive development in our political culture -- being able to point out the bleeding obvious -- but, because it would be a good thing, I have a hard time imagining it happening here in the land of the free and the home of the brave. 

The Republicans think they need a Hispanic candidate in 2016 like Marco Rubio. But, maybe what they really need is somebody like his old boss, who helped him get launched, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. She's Hispanic and Protestant. Her mom was Catholic. Her grandparents were Jewish. Maybe she could have a child convert to Islam! A grandchild could get into Santa Muerte ...

Here's a prediction, if Romney loses, you'll start reading columns about how what the GOP must do is beg NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg to switch back to Republican and graciously accept the 2016 nomination. Tom Friedman probably already has this column penciled in for November 10, 2012.

Maureen Dowd accused of anti-Semitism

From Dylan Byers in Politico, about Maureen Dowd's recent New York Times column "Neocons Slither Back" on the influence of Dan Senor and Sheldon Adelson over the Republican campaign's foreign policy:
Maureen Dowd meets anti-Semitism charge

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd set the Jewish political community on fire today with a column about the Republican ticket's foreign policy proposals that, according to her critics, peddled anti-Semitic imagery. 
Dowd fairly observed that neither Mitt Romney nor Paul Ryan are experts in the field of foreign policy, but asserted their strategy was orchestrated by a "neocon puppet master" who was leading the neocon effort to "slither back" into power. 
Such language, to say nothing of the questionable legitimacy of her claims, struck experts on American-Israeli relations as an inappropriate (though perhaps unintentional) appeal to anti-Semitic stereotypes, and especially offensive ahead of the first night of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. 
"Dowd's use of anti-Semitic imagery is awful," Steven A. Cook, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote on Twitter. 
"Maureen may not know this, but she is peddling an old stereotype, that gentile leaders are dolts unable to resist the machinations and manipulations of clever and snake-like Jews," Jeffrey Goldberg, the Atlantic columnist and leading journalist on Israeli issues, wrote.

Right, Jeffrey, Maureen Dowd is obviously a naive young girl who hasn't been around the block a few times, so she doesn't understand the meaning of what she writes.

Goldberg, as usual, is way exaggerating, but, still, there's a more here than when, say, Goldberg started the smear campaign that got Glenn Beck thrown out of the MSM.

Look, Dowd's not twelve, she's sixty. Of course she knows she's peddling an old stereotype. She just happens to think the old stereotype is true, at least when it comes to Republicans. (Obama spent age 18-24 socializing predominantly with anti-Israel Pakistanis, so he's less naive than insular Republicans about what the rest of the world thinks of Israel.)
"[A]mazing that apparently nobody sat her down and said, this is not OK," Blake Hounshell, the managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine, tweeted. 

That sentence is worth pondering.
On the right, The Weekly Standard's Daniel Halper called it "outrageous," while Commentary's Jonathan Tobin described it as "particularly creepy." 
"Dowd’s column marks yet another step down into the pit of hate-mongering that has become all too common at the Times," Tobin wrote. "This is a tipping point that should alarm even the most stalwart liberal Jewish supporters of the president." 
"[The] weirdest part of the anti-semitic tropes on the Dowd column is how lazy they are," Max Fisher, an editor at The Atlantic who is leaving to launch a foreign policy blog at the Washington Post, tweeted. 
UPDATE (8:01 p.m.): Rosenthal emails, via a Times spokesperson: 
"No fair-minded reading of Maureen Dowd's column supports the allegations you and others are making. She makes no reference, direct or implied, to anyone's religion."

Because it's only about religion.

Seriously, my guess is that Dowd will get away with her column, even though she's Irish-American, because her column was in service of getting Obama re-elected, and she only attacked the influence of Zionists on the GOP. She didn't mention, say, Haim Saban's Adelson-like role in the Democratic Party. Dowd's a liberal Democrat who writes for liberal Democrats, and this was in the cause of hurting Republicans, so it's all good. But, anybody on the right who did this would be toast, career-wise. I mean, in the right wing media, Saban gets mostly good publicity, such as when Saban periodically whispers that Obama isn't pro-Israel enough.

My personal view is that the Sheldon Adelsons of the Republicans and Haim Sabans of the Democrats are a lot like Phil Knight and T. Boone Pickens, with their 9-digit efforts to win NCAA football championships for their alma maters (U. of Oregon and Oklahoma State, respectively). Boys will be boys. Knight and Pickens are excited by the idea of their linebackers flattening opposing quarterbacks; Adelson and Saban are excited by the idea of their bombers flattening Israel's enemies.

To extend the analogy, Adelson (pro-Likud) and Saban (pro-Israeli center, whatever they are called these days) are like big boosters of Alabama and LSU, respectively, who desperately want to beat the other for the SEC championship, but are also both in the joint business of making the SEC the dominant conference in college football, so that winning the SEC got you a near automatic invite to the BCS national championship game.

I'm fine with college football boosters wanting their teams to win as long as we're free to point it out, joke about it, criticize it, root for other teams, investigate college football corruption, campaign against college football in general, and so forth, without fear of being tarred as, say, an anti-Oregonist and being blackballed by all those fervent Oregonists and anti-anti-Oregonists who play such a huge role the media.

Similarly, I'm fine with Adelson and Saban doing their thing, just as I'm fine with some sleazy Coptic Christians (who do have a not unreasonable ethnic beef against the Muslims who are persecuting their relatives, don't they?) doing their thing on YouTube. I just think the rest of us should be allowed to point out what thing they are doing and why they are doing it.

The best criticism of the neocons and neolibs was made by George Washington in his famous Farewell Address, when he wisely urged Americans to avoid letting pro-France or pro-Britain partisans drag the country into the wars of the French Revolution. Granted, the prose style is difficult, but in an America with an unfettered discourse, this passage from the most carefully considered of all the testaments left us by the Founding Fathers would be referenced frequently in the MSM when discussing the Adelsons and Sabans:
"So, likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others, which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill will, and a disposition to retaliate in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld; and it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation) facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country without odium, sometimes even with popularity, gilding with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation…. 
"Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. But that jealousy, to be useful, must be impartial, else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the favorite are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people to surrender their interests."

Judging from a Google search, however, citing the applicability of George Washington's Farewell Address to current events marks you as some kind of fringe nut, suspected and odious, far beyond the bounds of mainstream American discourse.

If Romney loses ...

What lessons should Republicans draw?

What lessons will Republicans draw?

September 17, 2012

Opera statistics and peak age

I stumbled upon, which offers a statistics section on the last 104,000 opera performances around the world since the fall of 2007. For example, the most performed opera over the last half a decade is Verdi's La Traviata with 629 performances. Here's the top ten (you can see the top 1,000 most performed operas here):

1it (#1)Verdi (#1)La traviata (629)
2it (#2)Puccini (#1)La bohème (580)
3fr (#1)Bizet (#1)Carmen (573)
4at (#1)Mozart (#1)Die Zauberflöte (571)
5it (#3)Puccini (#2)Tosca (504)
6at (#2)Mozart (#2)Le nozze di Figaro (494)
7it (#4)Puccini (#3)Madama Butterfly (469)
8it (#5)Rossini (#1)Il barbiere di Siviglia (465)
9it (#6)Verdi (#2)Rigoletto (434)
10at (#3)Mozart (#3)Don Giovanni (433)

This is a pretty useful set of objective statistics to use in my favorite hobby of answering questions that weren't asked by the people putting the list together. For example, we can look at peak age for composing an opera, in much the same way that Bill James surprised baseball fans by pointing out that age 27 had been the peak age for ballplayers. Opera composing is a long, grueling exercise often taking years to do, so it's pretty interesting to see what would be the best age for this.

I define human biodiversity to involve not just diversity between people but within a person as well; most notably, age.

Now, one might argue that this list is biased toward merely "popular" operas. For example, Puccini has the #2, #5, and #7 most performed operas, while Mozart's highest ranked operas are only#4, #6 and #10, yet most experts would rank Mozart above Puccini. But, still, even popular operas are awfully elite in appeal. They're all really good in most objective senses to still be performed after all these years.. No doubt there are fine gradations of greatness that don't show up in a popularity chart, but this list is a good one for an objective measurement of age of peak accomplishment at opera composing.

I note that the oldest composer of operas still popular might be Verdi, who premiered #27 Otello at about age 74 and #30 Falstaff at 79. I can't say the youngest off the top of my head.

But, I'm not going to do all the work of crunching the data. If you do, let me know. 

A couple of methodological issues that don't come up with baseball players:

What to do with death? Mozart died at 35, so he didn't compose any top operas after that age. But it seems like death before retirement shouldn't skew the peak age younger.

What to do with how long it takes to write an opera and how long the finished piece can sit around waiting for an opera company to mount it?

Other facts from OperaBase:

The most performed female opera composer is Kaija Saariaho, with 18 performances over the last half decade.

The top living opera composer is Philip Glass with 69 performances.

The top opera cities in terms of numbers of performances are Berlin, Vienna, and London. Americans don't go to much opera. The top U.S. city is New York at #7 in the world, but then there's a long gap to San Francisco, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Washington, and St. Louis.

Japanese unoriginality

For most of my life, I've been hearing the Japanese claim that they are extremely unoriginal. I guess they must be right because they seem convinced about it, but sometimes I have my doubts.

From the New York Times, an article about Shinichi Mochizuki, a math professor at Kyoto U., who three weeks ago uploaded 500 pages of papers to the Internet in which he claims to not only prove a conjecture that has been around for decades, but to do it, he uses a whole bunch of new math that he made up. It may (or may not) be the biggest leap forward in math in decades. Or, it could be all wrong. Nobody can tell yet.
For other recent mathematical tours de force — the proofs of Fermat’s last theorem, by Andrew Wiles at Princeton in 1995, and the Poincaré conjecture, by Grigory Perelman, a Russian mathematician, in 2003 — other experts could not immediately tell whether the proofs were valid, but “at least in some outline version, they understood how this approach made sense,” said Nets Katz, a mathematician at Indiana University 
For Dr. Mochizuki’s abc conjecture proof, “that seems to be completely missing, and I’ve never seen that in my life,” Dr. Katz said. “It just seems a little odd that most of the people who say positive things about it cannot say what are the ingredients of the proof.” 
While they cannot yet make heads or tails of it, many are nonetheless taking it seriously, because Dr. Mochizuki already has a number of significant proofs to his credit. “He has a long track record, and he has a long track record of being original,” Dr. Ellenberg said. 
Indeed, much of the buzz is around the new techniques the mathematicians do not understand, potentially useful in unraveling similar problems and revealing deeper connections between numbers and geometry.

When I hear about breakthroughs like Wiles's or Perelman's and maybe Mochizuki's, I get this feeling of pride (granted, it's wholly unearned) that -- even though I have no idea whatsoever what they've done -- I, as a member of the human race, am distantly related to these guys.

Flowchart: "Is Someone a Racist?"

I'm not sure who made this up:

September 16, 2012

Invade the World, Invite the World, Gag the American Public

The implicit lesson the elite media are drawing from the Libya Brouhaha is that, because empire abroad and multiculturalism at home (not to mention Obama's re-election) are beyond questioning, a future item on the national agenda must be to hold a Courageous Conversation about how to keep American citizens from posting unwelcome and unapproved stuff on the Internet.

Charter Schools and Real Estate Plays

What with the Chicago teacher's strike, "charter schools" are in the news again. It seems to me that there is a fundamental difference among charter schools that gets overlooked.

For example, I knew the fine principal and some of the best teachers at my son's public middle school. I was impressed that they went on to start a charter high school about six years ago. They are a high quality group of educators, but they've since struggled to find an adequate permanent home for their high school. I believe they are currently renting a couple of acres from a Korean church in Van Nuys, after an opportunity to acquire a more impressive space fell through. Real estate in the San Fernando Valley is expensive. 

You can see this even in the successful old private schools in the area that typically must deal with constricted grounds. My guess is that most of the better-known private schools would like to add either sports facilities or more students if they could find the room. Crespi, south of Ventura Boulevard in pricey Encino, concentrates on being a football powerhouse in part because they don't have room for a baseball field. Flintridge Prep is slowly buying up adjoining million dollar houses in La Canada to knock down in order to lengthen its 80 yard football field. Even ultra-rich Harvard-Westlake in Coldwater Canyon is a little claustrophobic. They've got buildings galore, but not close to enough land for all the monuments to themselves that rich people would like to build on the campus. The thriving Jewish schools founded after busing came to the Valley in the late 1970s appear to be especially cramped for room because they got a late start in the real estate game.

On the other hand, many of the old public schools of the San Fernando Valley were carved out of farmland to serve a future huge population with ease. For example, Birmingham H.S. in Lake Balboa has 72 acres of easily freeway-accessible campus. Its spacious grounds are used routinely as a filming location by the entertainment industry. Birmingham went charter several years ago in a dispute over whether its lucrative stream of TV and Movie money should go to the school district as a whole or just to Birmingham. 

How much would 72 acres of land with a full set of facilities in the middle of the San Fernando Valley cost to rent? A half million dollars per month? A million?

And, for me, that raises a fundamental distinction between types of charters schools. Entrepreneurial educators who leave an established campus to hustle together a new charter school against the odds seem admirable. In contrast, educational power players who win control for themselves over giant real estate holdings under the guise of charter school reform might be equally admirable, but they should be viewed more skeptically than the adventurers setting out on their own. I'm not saying that all charter schools that take over elaborate facilities are a scam, just that if you gave me control of a place that might rent for a million dollars per month, there are, let's just say, opportunities.

Anatole Broyard's "passing:" Everybody had heard

Philip Roth's recent screed about his novel The Human Stain not have anything at all to do with his literary booster Anatole Broyard (1920-1990), whose passing from black to white Roth hadn't heard about until first meeting him in 1958, inspired Paleo Retiree (formerly Michael Blowhard) at his new group blog Uncouth Reflections to recall that virtually everybody in New York's arts & literature world gossipped about Broyard:
Many, many years ago, while Broyard was still in his prime, a book critic I knew told me that Broyard was black/Creole; another friend, who’d hung around the NYC lit-intellectual world in the ’50s and ’60s, confirmed it to me; and the black intellectual Albert Murray told me about it too. Murray told the tale with great amusement: he thought Broyard’s adventures were pretty funny. ... 
Despite the big fuss at the time the info about Broyard’s blackness went public, I suspect that it had been an open secret in some fancy NYC circles for decades. I mean, even I knew about it. (Never met Broyard myself.) 
All of my sources told me that there were two reasons Broyard didn’t want to identify as black: 1) he didn’t want the racial thing to be a big issue in his life (it wasn’t a topic that interested him much), and 2) as a Creole, he genuinely didn’t think of himself as black. (My acquaintances all told me that Broyard was a successful ladies’ man too.) Needless to say, once Broyard died and the fact that he’d been black became more widely known, most commentators turned the discussion into one “about race” — something that struck me as wildly unfair given that Broyard wanted his life and his work to be about different subjects entirely.