February 16, 2013

Buss as boss

Dr. Jerry Buss, one of the most successful sports team owners ever, is said to be dying of cancer at age 79. The former USC chemistry professor turned real estate investor bought the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team in 1979, and they have won ten NBA titles for him. 

I saw Buss once,  in an aisle at the Forum before a 1981 Lakers game, as he talked to a half-dozen of his lowest-paid employees -- security guards, vendors, ushers -- each of whom he seemed to know by name, same as if they were Buss's employees named Magic or Kareem. On Buss's arm was a  blonde actress / model / whatever around age 20 who rolled her eyes in boredom, sighed, and tapped her foot as Buss joked with his minimum wage workers. She radiated the unspoken message, "Jerry, I want to go back to the Owner's Suite and do coke, now!" He paid her absolutely no attention, but his scruffy part-time workers clearly appreciated that they had their millionaire playboy boss's full focus while the starlet did not. They looked like they'd do anything for Dr. Buss.

I walked away from that scene thinking, "This Buss guy, he's going to do pretty well for himself as a boss."

Happy International Galton Day

To complement the growing annual celebration of International Darwin Day on Charles Darwin's birthday of February 12, I'm introducing International Galton Day on Francis Galton's birthday of February 16.

Galton was of course a Victorian polymath whose inventions include the silent dog whistle, the weather map you see on TV every evening, and the practical use of fingerprints in crime-fighting. (Others had the notion before Galton of using fingerprints in detection, but had been stymied by how to retrieve matching fingerprints from filing cases full of them.)

Galton was also a giant in the history of statistics. U. of Chicago professor Stephen M. Stigler published in 2010 in the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society
Darwin, Galton and the Statistical Enlightenment 
On September 10th, 1885, Francis Galton ushered in a new era of Statistical Enlightenment with an address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Aberdeen. In the process of solving a puzzle that had lain dormant in Darwin's Origin of Species, Galton introduced multivariate analysis and paved the way towards modern Bayesian statistics. The background to this work is recounted, including the recognition of a failed attempt by Galton in 1877 as providing the first use of a rejection sampling algorithm for the simulation of a posterior distribution, and the first appearance of a proper Bayesian analysis for the normal distribution.

Stigler periodically gives a talk entitled “The Five Most Consequential Ideas in the History of Statistics.” From the Harvard Gazette:
On Monday (Sept. 29), [Stigler] stayed in town to address about 50 students and professors in a crowded third-floor classroom in the Science Center. Stigler’s talk, in professional terms, was inflammatory: “The Five Most Consequential Ideas in the History of Statistics.”... 
The first idea was to combine observations in order to arrive at a simple mean. This “ species of averaging,” said Stigler, found expression in 1635, through the work of English curate and astronomer Henry Gellibrand. 
... The “root-N rule” is the second consequential idea, said Stigler. That’s the notion, first articulated in 1730, that the accuracy of your conclusions increases relative to the rate you accumulate observations. Specifically, to double that accuracy, you have to increase the number of observations fourfold. 
Third on the list is the idea of “the hypothesis test,” the statistical notion that mathematical tests can determine the probability of an outcome. This idea (though not the sophisticated math now associated with it) was in place by 1248, said Stigler, when the London Mint began periodically to test its product for composition and weight. 
The fourth and fifth consequential ideas in statistics both had the same source, said Stigler — an 1869 book by Victorian polymath Francis Galton. “Hereditary Genius” was a mathematical examination of how talent is inheritable. 
Galton discovered through a study of biographical compilations that a “level of eminence” within populations is steady over time and over various disciplines (law, medicine). Of the one in 4,000 people who made it into such a compilation, one-tenth had a close relative on the same list. 
This led to what Stigler called the fourth consequential idea: the innovative notion that statistics can be evaluated in terms of internal measurements of variability — the percentiles of bell curves (in statistics terms, “normal distribution”) that in 1869 Galton started to employ as scales for talent. 
The fifth idea was based upon an empirical finding. In a series of studies between 1869 and 1889, Galton was the first to observe the phenomenon of regression toward the mean. 
Essentially, the idea posits that in most realistic situations over time — Galton studied familial height variations, for example — the most extreme observed values tend to “regress” toward the center, or mean. 
If he could extend his list of consequential ideas in statistics, Stigler said he would include random sampling, statistical design, the graphical display of data, chi-squared distribution, and modern computation and simulation.

Peter Turchin on the Big Picture

Peter Turchin is a professor at the U. of Connecticut who started out in zoology and ecology and has moved over time into human history from a quantitative standpoint, searching for general patterns. He was born in Russia (his father was prominent dissident Valentin Turchin). His historical theorizing benefits from his knowing much about Russia, which few Americans do. Whether or not his theories -- e.g., the rise and fall of social cohesion, the meta-ethnic frontier, overproduction of elites, and so forth -- are right (I'd say he's on to something), you'll still learn a lot of fascinating stuff from him about the history of the Russian frontiers in Siberia and on the steppe.

Turchin has a new article "Return of the Oppressed" in Aeon Magazine on cycles of inequality:
In his book Wealth and Democracy (2002), Kevin Phillips came up with a useful way of thinking about the changing patterns of wealth inequality in the US. He looked at the net wealth of the nation’s median household and compared it with the size of the largest fortune in the US. The ratio of the two figures provided a rough measure of wealth inequality, and that’s what he tracked, touching down every decade or so from the turn of the 19th century all the way to the present. In doing so, he found a striking pattern. 
We found repeated back-and-forth swings in demographic, economic, social, and political structures 
From 1800 to the 1920s, inequality increased more than a hundredfold. Then came the reversal: from the 1920s to 1980, it shrank back to levels not seen since the mid-19th century. Over that time, the top fortunes hardly grew (from one to two billion dollars; a decline in real terms). Yet the wealth of a typical family increased by a multiple of 40. From 1980 to the present, the wealth gap has been on another steep, if erratic, rise. Commentators have called the period from 1920s to 1970s the ‘great compression’.

That's what I recall from my avid study of the Guinness Book of World Records around 1969: the records for wealthiest man and highest income were really boring. The wealthiest man was, I think I recall, oilman J. Paul Getty, but if you adjust for inflation, the old time capitalists like Rockefeller in roughly 1900 or Ford in 1925 were richer. Nobody seemed to be really richer in 1969 than in 1929. Similarly, the highest annual income was something like the chairman of G.M. making a million dollars per year. Boring.
The past 30 years are known as the ‘great divergence’. Bring the 19th century into the picture, however, and one sees not isolated movements so much as a rhythm. In other words, when looked at over a long period, the development of wealth inequality in the US appears to be cyclical. And if it’s cyclical, we can predict what happens next. 
An obvious objection presents itself at this point. Does observing just one and a half cycles really show that there is a regular pattern in the dynamics of inequality? No, by itself it doesn’t. But this is where looking at other historical societies becomes interesting. In our book Secular Cycles (2009), Sergey Nefedov and I applied the Phillips approach to England, France and Russia throughout both the medieval and early modern periods, and also to ancient Rome. All of these societies (and others for which information was patchier) went through recurring ‘secular’ cycles, which is to say, very long ones. Over periods of two to three centuries, we found repeated back-and-forth swings in demographic, economic, social, and political structures. And the cycles of inequality were an integral part of the overall motion. ...
So it looks like the pattern that we see in the US is real. Ours is, of course, a very different society from ancient Rome or medieval England. It is cut off from them by the Industrial Revolution and by innumerable advances in technology since then. Even so, a historically based model might shed light on what has been happening in the US over the past three decades. 
First, we need to think about jobs. Unless other forces intervene, an overabundance of labour will tend to drive down its price, which naturally means that workers and their families have less to live on. One of the most important forces affecting the labour supply in the US has been immigration, and it turns out that immigration, as measured by the proportion of the population who were born abroad, has changed in a cyclical manner just like inequality. In fact, the periods of high immigration coincided with the periods of stagnating wages. The Great Compression, meanwhile, unfolded under a low-immigration regime. This tallies with work by the Harvard economist George Borjas, who argues that immigration plays an important role in depressing wages, especially for those unskilled workers who compete most directly with new arrivals. 
Immigration is only one part of a complex story. Another reason why the labour supply in the US went up in the 19th century is, not to put too fine a point on it, sex. The native-born population was growing at what were, at the time, unprecedented rates: a 2.9 per cent growth per year in the 1800s, only gradually declining after that. By 1850 there was no available farmland in Eastern Seaboard states. Many from that ‘population surplus’ moved west, but others ended up in eastern cities where, of course, they competed for jobs with new immigrants. 
This connection between the oversupply of labour and plummeting living standards for the poor is one of the more robust generalisations in history. 
... The tug of war between the top and typical incomes doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game, but in practice it often is.

This is well said. It's common to see people who have taken Economics 101 inform you that things don't have to be a zero-sum game, which is true. But in practice, they often are.
... Naturally, the conditions affecting the labour supply were different in the second half of the 20th century in the US. An important new element was globalisation, which allows corporations to move jobs to poorer countries (with that ‘giant sucking sound’, as Ross Perot put it during his 1992 presidential campaign). But none of this alters the fact that an oversupply of labour tends to depress wages for the poorer section of the population. ...
Falling wages isn’t the only reason why labour oversupply leads to inequality. As the slice of the economic pie going to employees diminishes, the share going to employers goes up. Periods of rapid growth for top fortunes are commonly associated with stagnating incomes for the majority. Equally, when worker incomes grew in the Great Compression, top fortunes actually declined in real terms. ... 
It is relatively easy to understand the periods when the wealthy bent the agenda to suit their interests (though of course, not all rich people care exclusively about their own wealth). How, though, can we account for the much more broadly inclusive policies of the Great Compression era? And what caused the reversal that ended the Gilded Age and ushered in the Great Compression? Or the second switch, which took place around 1980?
History provides another clue. Unequal societies generally turn a corner once they have passed through a long spell of political instability. Governing elites tire of incessant violence and disorder. They realise that they need to suppress their internal rivalries, and switch to a more co-operative way of governing, if they are to have any hope of preserving the social order. We see this shift in the social mood repeatedly throughout history — towards the end of the Roman civil wars (first century BC), following the English Wars of the Roses (1455-85), and after the Fronde (1648-53), the final great outbreak of violence that had been convulsing France since the Wars of Religion began in the late 16th century. 
Put simply, it is fear of revolution that restores equality. And my analysis of US history in a forthcoming book suggests that this is precisely what happened in the US around 1920. ...
Reforms that ensured an equitable distribution of the fruits of economic growth turned out to be a highly effective counter to the lure of Bolshevism. 
These were the years of extreme insecurity. There were race riots (the ‘Red Summer of 1919’), worker insurrections, and an Italian anarchist terrorist campaign aimed directly at the elites. The worst incident in US labour history was the West Virginia Mine War of 1920—21, culminating in the Battle of Blair Mountain. Although it started as a workers’ dispute, the Mine War eventually turned into the largest armed insurrection that the US has ever seen, the Civil War excepted. Between 10,000 and 15,000 miners armed with rifles battled against thousands of strikebreakers and sheriff deputies. ... Add to all this the rise of the Soviet Union and the wave of socialist revolutions that swept Europe after the First World War, triggering the Red Scare of 1921, and you get a sense of the atmosphere. Quantitative data indicate that this period was the most violent in US history, second only to the Civil War. It was much, much worse than the 1960s.

That's generally been my impression: that the U.S. underwent a nervous breakdown during the second Wilson Administration, and then recovered under the underrated Harding.
The US, in short, was in a revolutionary situation, and many among the political and business elites realised it. They began to push through a remarkable series of reforms.

Wilson's reforms and foreign adventuring contributed to the scary years of 1917-1921. But over many decades, there's a general continuity of direction in the first half of the 20th Century in how WASP elites settled old differences amongst themselves in order to create the modern but stable country that won the Big One, went to the Moon, and prevailed in the Cold War.
In 1921 and 1924, Congress passed legislation that effectively shut down immigration into the US. Although much of the motivation behind these laws was to exclude ‘dangerous aliens’ such as Italian anarchists and Eastern European socialists, the broader effect was to reduce the labour surplus. Worker wages grew rapidly.

The subject of immigration had been studied by responsible leaders in a depth that's unimaginable today. Congress set up United States Immigration Commission in 1907, for example. After four years of work, it issued the 41-volume Dillingham report. Today, the notion of writing 41 volumes on the impact of immigration sounds horrifying. Didn't they know back then you aren't supposed to know anything about immigration other than that diversity is our strength?

Here's the kind of man who was involved in the Immigration Commission: Senator Henry Cabot Lodge (R-MA). Wikipedia explains:
He was cousin to the American polymath Charles Peirce. In 1872, [Lodge] graduated from Harvard College... In 1874, he graduated from Harvard Law School ... After traveling through Europe, Lodge returned to Harvard, and in 1876, became the first student of Harvard University to graduate with a Ph.D. in Political Science. His teacher and mentor during his graduate studies was Henry Adams; Lodge would maintain a lifelong friendship with Adams. Lodge wrote his dissertation on the ancient Germanic origins of Anglo-Saxon government.

Uh, uh, obviously an uneducated ignoramus nativist!

Back to Turchin:
At around the same time, federal income tax came in and the rate at which top incomes were taxed began to increase. Somewhat later, provoked by the Great Depression, other laws legalised collective bargaining through unions, introduced a minimum wage, and established Social Security. 
The US elites entered into an unwritten compact with the working classes. This implicit contract included the promise that the fruits of economic growth would be distributed more equitably among both workers and owners. In return, the fundamentals of the political-economic system would not be challenged (no revolution). The deal allowed the lower and upper classes to co-operate in solving the challenges facing the American Republic — overcoming the Great Depression, winning the Second World War, and countering the Soviet threat during the Cold War. 
It almost goes without saying that there was a racist and xenophobic underside to all this. The co-operating group was mainly native-born white Protestants.

For example, women's suffrage was a pro-WASP ploy. WASP women were much more liberated than immigrant women, so giving women more power gave WASPs more power. (Prohibition was tied into women's suffrage. WASP feminists hated men drinking, so if they were going to get the vote, politicians had better pass Prohibition to mollify them.)
African-Americans, Jews, Catholics and foreigners were excluded or heavily discriminated against. Nevertheless, while making such ‘categorical inequalities’ worse, the compact led to a dramatic reduction in overall economic inequality. ...
It is no coincidence that the life of Communism (from the October Revolution in Russia in 1917 to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989) coincides almost perfectly with the Great Compression era. The Red Scares of, firstly, 1919—21 and then 1947—57 suggest that US elites took the Soviet threat quite seriously. More generally, the Soviet Union, especially in its early years, aggressively promoted an ideology that was highly threatening to the political-economic system favoured by the US elites. Reforms that ensured an equitable distribution of the fruits of economic growth turned out to be a highly effective counter to the lure of Bolshevism. 
Nevertheless, when Communism collapsed, its significance was seriously misread. It’s true that the Soviet economy could not compete with a system based on free markets plus policies and norms that promoted equity. Yet the fall of the Soviet Union was interpreted as a vindication of free markets, period. The triumphalist, heady atmosphere of the 1990s was highly conducive to the spread of Ayn Randism and other individualist ideologies. The unwritten social contract that had emerged during the New Deal and braved the challenges of the Second World War had faded from memory.

It was not just individualist ideologies that flourished after the collapse of a credible military rival to the U.S., but also, famously, "globalist" ideologies, which are anti-nationalist and thus anti-patriotic and thus pro-elite and pro-inequality.

February 15, 2013

How Israel deals with past mistakes in immigration policy

With the Washington establishment agreeing that what America needs right now is to double down on guest workers and amnesty for illegal aliens, it’s worthwhile to notice how a serious country such as Israel deals with past mistakes in immigration policy. 
In America, we try not to learn from the past. For example, in all the talk this year about a new amnesty, how often have you heard mention of one of the 1986 amnesty’s chief unanticipated consequences: the subsequent Hispanic baby bubble? 
This drove up the total fertility rate among foreign-born Latinas from 3.2 in 1987 to 4.4 in 1991 before finally subsiding back to the baseline by 2000. (The replacement rate, by the way, is 2.06.)

David Plouffe: "Bigger problem [GOP has] got with Latinos isn’t immigration. It’s their economic policies ..."

Robert Draper writes a long article in the New York Times called "Can the Republicans Be Saved from Obsolescence?" that mostly consists of younger GOP operatives like Patrick Ruffini explaining how they aren't to blame for the Romney Campaign and how they would have been awesome if anybody had hired them, what with their digital wizardry and all.

I presume there's a good story out there somewhere about the Romney campaign and its multitudinous consultants that would involve the terms "conflict of interest" and "financial malfeasance," but this isn't it. 

However, when you finally get to p. 8, there's an interview with David Plouffe, manager of the 2008 Obama campaign and who just retired from being Senior Adviser to the President to go make money. Plouffe, who has just about the best track record in American politics of knowing what he's talking about when it comes to winning elections, points out that everything you've read since the election is wrong:
But, I asked Plouffe, wasn’t the G.O.P. just one postmodern presidential candidate — say, a Senator Marco Rubio — away from getting back into the game? 
Pouncing, he replied: “Let me tell you something. The Hispanic voters in Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico don’t give a damn about Marco Rubio, the Tea Party Cuban-American from Florida. You know what? We won the Cuban vote! And it’s because younger Cubans are behaving differently than their parents. It’s probably my favorite stat of the whole campaign. So this notion that Marco Rubio is going to heal their problems — it’s not even sophomoric; it’s juvenile! And by the way: the bigger problem they’ve got with Latinos isn’t immigration. It’s their economic policies and health care. The group that supported the president’s health care bill the most? Latinos.”

All this Rubio / "path to citizenship" talk, it's just a Democratic honey trap to lure Republicans in to their destruction. Ask Plouffe.

February 14, 2013

At least Rubio has Univision on his side, right?

Okay, so Stephen Colbert had a little fun at the expense of Senator Marco Rubio and his case of flop sweat on national TV, but that can't hurt the GOP's Great Tan Hope because, as everybody knows, Spanish-language network Univision is the big dog in the TV ratings these days. And Univision loves Rubio! 

Right? I mean, like most Republicans, my Espanol habloing is a little rusty, but my impression is that all these people whose names end in a vowel are best friends: the Mexicans, the Cubans, the Guatelombians, the Domingoans, the Costa Nostras,  the Guyanese, the New Guyanese, the Philippinos, the Borneoeans, the Burmanese ... they're all amigos, right? And they all watch Univision.

So, because Univision's got Rubio's back, he's a sure thing in 2016.

Oh, wait ... From Business Insider:
A top assistant to a Univision news boss trashed Sen. Marco Rubio on his aide's Facebook page, calling the Republican lawmaker a "loser" and "a token slave boy." 
It's the latest attack in a lengthy feud between the Florida senator and the powerful Spanish-language network that conservatives charge is anti-GOP and anti-Rubio. ...
"Oh. wow, the loser is going to speak after our President," Artiles wrote on spokesman Alex Burgos' Facebook page at 9:33 p.m. Wednesday. "Anything to get publicity. Ask him to do us a favor and stay home that night." 
Sentiments like that reflect the prevailing political feeling among Univision's higher-ups at its Doral headquarters, say Univision insiders. Artiles is executive assistant to Daniel Coronell, Univision's vice president of news. 
The network is owned by a major Democratic donor [Haim Saban, who brought us Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers] who has accused Rubio and other Republicans of having an "anti-Hispanic" stand on immigration that's "despicable." 
In August, someone used Univision's official Facebook account to attack Rubio during the Republican National Convention in Tampa. 
"Beyond his ideology, Rubio is a mediocre politician who contradicts the values he says he represents. Jeb Bush is more Latino and talented than him," the Facebook posting said. ...
And a year before that Facebook incident, Rubio clashed with Univision's news chief, Isaac Lee, when his news team decided to run a story about a quarter-century-old drug bust involving the senator's brother-in-law. 
Univision began reporting the drug-bust story after Rubio rebuffed repeated interview requests with the network, which had been critical of Rubio's opposition to liberal immigration policies that Univision personalities have promoted. 
She then used a diminutive term for Rubio's first name, "Marquito," and proceeded to compare him to a Disney dwarf, a "token slave boy" and a "fool" who was passed over by Republican Mitt Romney on his presidential ticket last November. ...
"I see that all the mojoncitos ['little turds'] have come out to defend the principal turd, Marquito," she wrote in Spanish. "I am laughing all the way to the White House :)."  ...
Artiles: "Curbelo, the riffraff might be you. I haven't said anything 'riffraffy.' Wake up and join the Democratic Party unless you want to remain losers all your lives." ...
Artiles: "Curbelo, losers are the ones who lost the elections, this is what is called freedom of expression. We are all professionals and being parents is nothing out of this world, nor because of that does one stop being a little turd. And Marquito only wants to talk about immigration NOW because he lost. I know well all his lies and his vanity." ...
In the New Yorker piece, Lee acknowledged the network covers immigration with a bias.

As opposed to ...

I'm drawing a blank here on networks that cover immigration without a bias.
"According to Univision's news president, Isaac Lee, the network is openly committed to 'pro-Hispanic' immigration reform," the New Yorker wrote. 
The owner of Univision, major Democratic donor Haim Saban, was more partisan than Lee and fumed in an email to the New Yorker over the way that the GOP presidential candidates boycotted a proposed Florida debate in January in retaliation for the network's report on Rubio and his brother-in-law. 
Said Saban: "The fact that Rubio and some Republican presidential candidates have an anti-Hispanic stand that they don't want to share with our community is understandable but despicable." 

"Our community," Haim?

A President Rubio could put an end to all this divisiveness by just ordering a drone strike on John Tanton

For years, the Southern Poverty Law Center has been arguing that the only reason anybody in America has the slightest doubts about immigration is because of the malign influence of one man, a Michigan ophthalmologist named John Tanton. 

Now, Sen. Marco Rubio is spreading the SPLC's line.

From the Washington Post:
Effort to change immigration law sparks internal battle within GOP 
By Peter Wallsten, Published: February 13 
A new battle has flared inside the Republican Party in recent days as supporters of more-liberal immigration laws wage a behind-the-scenes campaign to discredit the influential advocacy groups that have long powered the GOP’s hard-line stance on the issue. 
The campaign, largely waged in closed-door meetings with lawmakers and privately circulated documents, is another sign of how seriously many establishment Republicans are pursuing an immigration overhaul in the wake of last year’s elections, in which the GOP lost Hispanic voters by an overwhelming margin to President Obama. 
Much of the party’s sharp language on immigration during the election campaign, which Republican strategists blamed for alienating Hispanics, was drawn from the research and rhetoric of the advocacy groups. 
Now, Republicans pushing the party to rethink its approach to the issue are accusing those groups — Numbers USA, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) – of masquerading as conservative. Critics say the groups and some of their supporters are pressing an un­or­tho­dox agenda of strict population control that also has included backing for abortion, sterilization, and other policies at odds with conservative ideology. 
“If these groups can be unmasked, then the bulk of the opposition to immigration reform on the conservative side will wither away,” said Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles and a leading organizer of the effort. 
Officials from the groups say they are the victims of a smear campaign that unfairly characterizes their mission. They acknowledge that some key figures in their past held a wide range of views on population growth and abortion, as do some current members, but the groups accuse their critics of pushing guilt-by-association arguments to distract from the merits of the case for restricting immigration. 
The groups have provided the intellectual framework and grass-roots muscle for opposing legislation that would legalize millions of illegal immigrants. 
Well-funded and politically savvy, the groups produce research papers, testify at congressional hearings and appear frequently in the media to push for reducing immigration. Numbers USA reports that its members have inundated the office of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) with 100,000 faxes this year warning him that his central role in pursuing changes in immigration laws could damage his future political prospects. ...
Conservatives who are taking on the groups, including Rubio, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and officials of the Catholic Church, argue that the three organizations are motivated by far different philosophies than many of their Republican allies realize. Among those views: that population growth from increased migration threatens the environment. 
The Republicans orchestrating the campaign against the groups have long rejected their views on immigration, and liberal immigration advocates have long made a practice of attacking the organizations. Now, with such GOP leaders as House Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio) saying immigration legislation is a priority, some Republicans see an opportunity to loosen what they say has been the groups’ stranglehold on party orthodoxy.

Uh ... George W. Bush? Karl Rove? Grover Norquist? John McCain?

I'm fascinated by how impervious the world is to doing simple reality checks on assertions, such as by thinking briefly about the immigration views of recent Republican Presidents/nominees.

How exactly do Roy Beck and Mark Krikorian have a "stranglehold on party orthodoxy" compared to those guys who have all pushed more immigration? We immigration reductionists have managed to block disastrous initiatives by Bush and McCain by having better facts and logic, not by any stranglehold.
Rubio’s aides last week brought one of the organizers of the effort to undermine the groups, Mario H. Lopez, a party strategist on Hispanic politics, to a regular meeting of GOP Senate staffers, where Lopez distributed literature about the groups’ backgrounds and connections. Rubio also raised concerns about the groups’ leanings during a recent conference call on immigration with conservative activists. 
Rubio’s spokesman, Alex Conant, said the senator “has argued that some groups that oppose legal immigration should not be considered part of the conservative coalition,” adding that the “vast majority of Republicans strongly support legal immigration.” 
Kevin Appleby, director of immigration policy for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in an e-mail to The Post that “pro-life legislators should think twice about working with these groups, as their underlying goals are inconsistent with a pro-life agenda.” ...
The critics, however, argue that the three groups have misled conservatives. These critics point to reports on the FAIR and Numbers USA Web sites, for instance, that warn of environmental devastation from unchecked population growth, and they are circulating a 1993 report by CIS researchers sympathetic to contraception and the RU-486 abortion pill. 
In the latest issue of an anti-abortion journal, The Human Life Review, the Hispanic GOP strategist Lopez accuses the groups of “hijacking” the immigration debate for their own purposes. He argues that population-control advocates “have built, operated, and funded much of the anti-immigration movement in the United States.” 
“Those who seek to advance the pro-life cause should not allow themselves to be fooled by those whose work is ultimately diametrically opposed to the right to life,” Lopez writes. 
The article has created a stir in conservative circles. It ascribes the vision behind the groups to John Tanton, a controversial Michigan-based leader in the “zero population growth” movement, who co-founded FAIR in 1979 and later helped start Numbers USA and CIS. 
In a 2001 letter by Tanton being circulated as part of the current campaign, he laid out his idea to “move the battle lines on the immigration question in our favor” by convincing Republican lawmakers that “massive immigration imperils their political future.” The goal, he wrote, was to “change Republicans’ perception of immigration so that when they encounter the word ‘immigrant,’ their reaction is ‘Democrat.’ ” Organizers of the campaign against the groups found the letter at the University of Michigan’s Bentley Historical Library, which houses Tanton’s papers.

And, boy, was Tanton ever wrong! Oh, wait ...
An aide to Tanton, now 78, said Tanton was unable to speak. But the aide, K.C. McAlpin, said Tanton was an “ardent conservationist” who was being targeted in a “sort of McCarthyism game that the far left has been playing and is now being played by some people who call themselves conservatives.” 

I've never met the man, but if the SPLC/Rubio line is right about his influence, we ought to add Dr. Tanton's face to Mount Rushmore.
The dispute has prompted some tense encounters in recent days. 
When word spread, for instance, that Rubio’s staff was bringing Lopez to the Senate aides meeting last week, other Senate offices contacted the three groups, each of which sent a representative. 
“It was awkward,” said one staffer, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a private meeting. The staffer described the critics’ tactics as “over the top,” saying the groups have been a “great resource” for data, research and expert testimony. 
Another testy moment occurred recently at the weekly conservative strategy session hosted by Norquist when Lopez stood to present his arguments. Hans von Spakovsky, a former Justice Department official in the George W. Bush administration who now works at the conservative Heritage Foundation, spoke up to defend the credibility of the Center for Immigration Studies. 
“I haven’t heard folks take on the substantive arguments CIS is making and saying why they’re wrong,” said von Spakovsky, who declined to discuss details of what happened in the off-the-record meeting. “Instead you just get these scurrilous attacks.”

How's this whole Marco Rubio thing working out for the GOP, anyway?

Here's the article. Maybe someday I can bring myself to read it.

Here's the question I have: Does anybody ever notice that there's something funny (in both senses of the word) in the idea that appears to be universal among both the media and the Republican Brain Trust that, well, of course, Marco Rubio should be one to negotiate amnesty and a path to citizenship because, if he plays his cards right, he could someday ride these lawbreakers-turned-voters to the White House!

I'm not talking about how extremely unlikely that outcome is, I'm talking about how ethically tainted is the Brain Trust's best case scenario of

Rubio elects a new people --> The new people elects Rubio President

Or is the concept of "conflict of interest" just some old white man's quibble that we have no use for in the vibrant new United States of Diversity?

NYT: Race does exist

From today's New York Times:
A Genetic Glimpse Into Recent Human Evolution 
Gaining a deep insight into human evolution, researchers have identified a mutation in a critical human gene as the source of several distinctive traits that make East Asians different from other races. 
The traits – thicker hair shafts, a greater number of sweat glands, characteristically identified teeth and smaller breasts – are the result of a gene mutation that occurred some 35,000 years ago, the researchers have concluded. 
The discovery explains a crucial juncture in the evolution of East Asians. But the method can also be applied to some 400 other sites on the human genome. The DNA changes at these sites, researchers believe, mark the turning points in recent human evolution as the populations on each continent diverged from each other. 
The first of those sites to be studied contains the gene known as EDAR. Africans and Europeans carry the standard version of the gene, but in most East Asians one of the DNA units has mutated. ...
The finding that the gene has so many effects raises the question of which one was the dominant trigger for natural selection. 
Dr. Sabeti said the extra sweat glands could have been the feature favored by natural selection, with all the other effects being dragged along in its train. 
“We’re the only mammals to have changed their entire hair pattern. So the changes in teeth, hair and breasts — it’s very possible they are the passengers and thermoregulation is the key,” she said, referring to the sweat glands’ role in cooling the body. 
East Asians are sometimes assumed to have evolved in a cold environment because of their narrow nostrils, which conserve heat, and the extra eyelid fat that insulates the eye. But the Broad team calculates that the EDAR variant arose some 35,000 years ago in central China and that the region was then quite warm and humid. Extra sweat glands would have been advantageous to the hunter gatherers who lived at that time. 
But Joshua Akey, a geneticist at the University of Washington in Seattle, said he thought the more likely cause of the gene’s spread among East Asians was sexual selection. Thick hair and small breasts are visible sexual signals which, if preferred by men, could quickly become more common as the carriers had more children. The genes underlying conspicuous traits, like blue eyes and blonde hair in Europeans, have very strong signals of selection, Dr. Akey said, and the sexually visible effects of EDAR are likely to have been stronger drivers of natural selection than sweat glands. 
Yet a third view is held by Dr. Kamberov who believes that each of the effects of the EDAR variant may have been favored by natural selection at a different time. A series of selections on different traits thus made the variant version so common among East Asians. About 93 percent of Han Chinese carry the variant, as do about 70 percent of people in Japan and Thailand, and between 60 and90 percent of Native Americans, a population descended from East Asians. 

I pointed out in VDARE.com way back in 2003 that the Science section of the New York Times was doing excellent work pointing out repeatedly how the latest DNA evidence was undermining the trendy conventional wisdom that Race Does Not Exist.

NYT: Race does not exist

A philosophy professor opinionates in the New York Times:
The Enlightenment’s ‘Race’ Problem, and Ours 
... Many who are fully prepared to acknowledge that there are no significant natural differences between races nonetheless argue that there are certain respects in which it is worth retaining the concept of race: for instance in talking about issues like social inequality or access to health care. There is, they argue, a certain pragmatic utility in retaining it, even if they acknowledge that racial categories result from social and historical legacies, rather than being dictated by nature. In this respect "race" has turned out to be a very different sort of social construction than, say, "witch" or "lunatic." While generally there is a presumption that to catch out some entity or category as socially constructed is at the same time to condemn it, many thinkers are prepared to simultaneously acknowledge both the non-naturalness of race as well as a certain pragmatic utility in retaining it.

It's like if all the most advanced thinkers agreed that witches don't exist, but that the career of witch-hunting remained lucrative and admired.
Since the mid-20th century no mainstream scientist has considered race a biologically significant category; no scientist believes any longer that "negroid," "caucasoid" and so on represent real natural kinds or categories. For several decades it has been well established that there is as much genetic variation between two members of any supposed race, as between two members of supposedly distinct races. This is not to say that there are no real differences, some of which are externally observable, between different human populations. It is only to say, as Lawrence Hirschfeld wrote in his 1996 book, "Race in the Making: Cognition, Culture, and the Child's Construction of Human Kinds," that "races as socially defined do not (even loosely) capture interesting clusters of these differences."

It's fascinating how even the people who write and edit for the New York Times on human genetics-related subjects don't actually read the New York Times's excellent reporting on human genetics.

Henry Louis Gates: "Exactly How 'Black' Is Black America?"

Back in 2002, I wrote a pioneering story on DNA testing for racial admixture based on the work of geneticist Mark Shriver: "How White Are Blacks? How Black Are Whites?"

Now, in The Root, Harvard African-American studies professor Henry Louis Gates continues on with his interest in ancestry testing, providing some updating for the preliminary data in my 2002 article. Gates writes:
* According to Ancestry.com, the average African American is 65 percent sub-Saharan African, 29 percent European and 2 percent Native American. 
* According to 23andme.com, the average African American is 75 percent sub-Saharan African, 22 percent European and only 0.6 percent Native American.  
* According to Family Tree DNA.com, the average African American is 72.95 percent sub-Saharan African, 22.83 percent European and 1.7 percent Native American. 
* According to National Geographic's Genographic Project, the average African American is 80 percent sub-Saharan African, 19 percent European and 1 percent Native American.

Presumably, the National Geographic project is trying harder than the commercial projects to get a representative, non-self selected sample, so that sounds like the best set of numbers to use as a rule of thumb.

By the way, the notion that African Americans are about 1/5th white was an assumption of physical anthropologists back around 1950. DNA testing has just confirmed what your lying eyes tell you.
* According to AfricanDNA, in which I am a partner with Family Tree DNA, the average African American is 79 percent sub-Saharan African, 19 percent European and 2 percent Native American. 
And for our African-American male guests, there has been still another astonishing fact revealed about their paternal ancestry -- their father's father's father's line -- through their y-DNA: A whopping 35 percent of all African-American men descend from a white male ancestor who fathered a mulatto child sometime in the slavery era, most probably from rape or coerced sexuality.

We can be confident of that because no woman in history was ever attracted to a higher social status man.
I find two things quite fascinating about these results. First of all, simply glancing at these statistics reveals that virtually none of the African Americans tested by these DNA companies is inferred to be 100 percent sub-Saharan African, although each company has analyzed Africans and African immigrants who did test 100 percent sub-Saharan in origin. Ranges, of course, vary from individual to individual. Spencer Wells, director of National Geographic's Genographic Project, explained to me that the African Americans they've tested range from 53 percent to 95 percent sub-Saharan African, 3 percent to 46 percent European and zero percent to 3 percent Native American.

So, in the National Geographic sample, every single self-identified African-American is majority black by ancestry, and thus is blacker than President Obama. In my article, the estimate was that 90% of self-identified African Americans were no more than 50% white. Gates ups that to 100%, which seems implausible.
And second, these findings show that the common claim that many African Americans make about their high percentage of Native American ancestry is a myth. Joanna Mountain broke down to me our low amounts of Native American ancestry in this way: "Eighty percent of African Americans have less than 1 percent Native American ancestry. Over 2.5 percent have between 2 percent and 3 percent. And of all African Americans who have at least 1 percent Native American ancestry, the average is 2 percent Native American." So much for all of those putative Cherokee roots on just about every black person's family tree, fabricated to explain why your great-grandmother had "high cheekbones and straight black hair"! Why there is such little evidence of genetic mingling between African Americans and Native Americans deserves a column of its own.

Shriver hadn't found any American Indian admixture in self-identified African-Americans, so what Gates reports sounds more plausible.

One possibility is that people of mixed black-Indian ancestry these days try to identify as Indian to get their cut of casino money. A hundred years ago, it was better to be Indian than black, then it became better to be black than Indian, but the casino law of the late 1980s may have shifted the balance again.

For example, I used to read that the first black man to play in the U.S. Open golf tournament was John Shippen in 1896, a caddy at Shinnecock Hills. But, recently, the Obama Administration declared the Shinnecocks an official Indian tribe, and they've been pursuing a casino ever since. The Cherokee Tribe recently kicked out thousands of members for being the descendants of the Cherokees' black slaves.
The results for Latinos, however, are quite different: "In our experience," Mountain says, "people who have both African ancestry [at least 10 percent, according to genetics] and a lot of Asian/Native American ancestry [at least 10 percent, according to genetics] are more likely to consider themselves Latino than African American."

George Zimmerman?
And what about the percentages of "black" or sub-Saharan ancestry in the white American community? That will be the subject of another column. But suffice it to say here that, according to Mountain, "The bottom line is that 3 percent to 4 percent of people likely to consider themselves as all 'white' have some African ancestry -- between 0.5 percent and 5 percent."

In 2002, Shriver estimated that only 70 percent of American whites had no black ancestors, but now Gates says the consensus is over 95 percent of whites have no black ancestors. I'm not sure which number I find more likely.

If you do math on Gates' figures, that comes out to a tiny percentage of black ancestry among self-identified white Americans. Let's calculate the upper limit: 4% of white individuals times 5% black ancestors = 0.2% black ancestry among whites. That's basically nothing. And that's the upper limit.

If you do the math on the midpoints -- 3.5% of individuals times 2.75% ancestry -- you get just under 0.1% as the best guesstimate of self-identified white Americans' black genes. That's extraordinarily negligible. I'm shocked by what a small number less than 1/1,000 is.

Of course, when Gates goes to write it up, he'll probably emphasize the exact opposite. People don't reason comfortably with numbers, just with absolutes.

Why the Afghan National Army is useless

Above is Sean Connery and Michael Caine training Afghan recruits in The Man Who Would Be King. (Thanks to snowpak for posting this on Youtube.)
Daniel Dravot: "Now listen to me, you benighted muckers. We're going to teach you soldiering, the world's noblest profession. When we're done with you, you'll be able to stand up and slaughter your enemies like civilized men."

But, training Afghans hasn't gone as well for the U.S. military as it did for Daniel and Peachey. Over the nearly dozen years American forces have been Nation Building in Afghanistan, we've seen funny videos of American military men trying to whip Afghan recruits into military or police shape with jumping jacks (first and second).

What's the problem?

Now, here's a Live Leaks video about how Afghan National Army volunteers are high on hashish practically all the time. But here's the fundamental explanation: An Afghan officer explains that his men are "all stupid and ignorant. They're all a bunch of delinquents. They're only here because they've been driven out of their villages for misbehaving."

Wrestling banned from the Olympics? Get rid of golf instead

Olympics organizers have long been concerned that the Summer Games are too gigantic, so they've decided to drop wrestling, a sport with a 2,700 year Olympic history, as of 2020. Granted, having two types of wrestling (regular and Greco-Roman) multiplied by the modern imperative of having women's versions of each is unwieldy. 

And the action is obscure for the once-ever-four-years spectator. With the sound off on TV, whenever there's a flurry of action, I can never tell whether my guy just scored or got scored upon. I attended wrestling at the 1984 Olympics, but I have fewer memories of it than of, say, weightlifting, which was awesome. (You know what else was dull? Basketball with Michael Jordan v. West Germany. All I remember is that the game started out with Uwe Blab as an unstoppable scoring machine, hitting three hook shots in a row. And then he stopped.)

Still, Olympic historian David Wallechinsky says 29 countries won medals in wrestling in 2012. It's exactly the kind of broad-based sport that deserves some Olympic glamour every four years.

Much of the criticism of this decision has focused on modern pentathlon as a better sport to evict. Personally, I always have high hopes for modern pentathlon because it's exactly the kind of sport I would invent: the idea is that you are a young officer in the Napoleonic Wars and you have to deliver a message first: you swim a river, shoot somebody, ride a horse, swordfight, and run. It would probably be cooler if the competitors shot at each other while riding horses.

Anyway, the sport I would ban from the Olympics is my favorite, golf, which is being added in Brazil in 2016. So few people in Brazil care about golf that they have to build a tournament-quality course from scratch. Gil Hanse is designing a Brazilian version of Rustic Canyon, the Ventura County muni I play more than any other.

But why golf in the Olympics? As far as I can surmise, it was only added because pre-disgrace Tiger Woods was on his patriotic kick when he had been thinking about giving up golf to join the Navy SEALs, and he wanted to hear the national anthem play while he got his gold medal.

Traditionally, professional golfers (other than Tiger) have been unenthused about adding golf to the Olympics. Why? First, because they are professionals and the Olympics is for amateurs. Granted, almost all the rules against professionals in the Olympics were junked long ago, but the Olympics remains amateur in the key sense that they don't pay prize money. 

Golf is Scottish, the Olympics, like tennis, are English.

Although the Olympics were revived by a French aristocrat, the Baron de Coubertin was a Jules Verne-like Anglophile who admired the sportingness of the English aristocrats. So amateurism was the founding principle of the Olympics. Similarly, Wimbledon was amateur-only until as recently as 1968. 

The Scots, however, worked out 150 years ago a two-track system for golf where the gentlemen could have their own Amateur tournament, while anybody could enter the Open. Hence the history of golf is almost wholly lacking in the hypocrisy and hysteria surrounding shamateurism in the Olympics and tennis.

The modern Olympics, going back to the 1984 L.A. Games, are American, driven by corporate marketing money. And that's fine, but golfers already get more of that than just about any other sport, so big deal.

Second, individual golf tournaments have higher degrees of randomness than most other sporting events. When American wrestler Rulon Gardner defeated that unbeatable Russian known as The Experiment that was great. When the world's 93rd best golfer comes in ahead of the world's #1, that's just standard operating procedure. Thus, the chance that the best golfer in the world will win a single four-round tournament on a glorified muni is not high. Flukish results are expectable enough to be unexciting.

So, ban golf.

More King Richard III Mania

From the NYT:
Tracing a Royal Y Chromosome 
Researchers last week developed DNA evidence to help identify the remains of a skeleton found under a parking lot in Leicester, England, as those of Richard III, the last English king to die in battle, in 1485. But the researchers’ work is only half-done. They have made a strong but not conclusive link through the female line, and are now turning to the male side for corroboration.
... Chris Tyler-Smith, a geneticist at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute near Cambridge, said the mitochondrial DNA type identified by Dr. King was “rare enough to be interesting, but not rare enough to be conclusive.”

Tyler-Smith is the Genghis Khan's Y chromosome guy. I scooped Wade on Tyler-Smith's discovery because Wade was tied up with the exploding space shuttle.
The Leicester team plans to investigate the paternal DNA of the remains. Kevin Schürer, a historian at the university, has already found four living descendants of John of Gaunt, the son of Edward III, who was Richard III’s great-great-grandfather. Dr. King has found that their Y chromosome, which is carried only by men, match, establishing that they are all true descendants of John of Gaunt. 
The Y chromosome DNA from the skeleton is very degraded, but Dr. King said she had found that she could amplify it and hopes to get enough to make a match with the living descendants.

Sailer in Taki's: "Mother's Baby, Father's Maybe"

From my column in Taki's Magazine:
A young English teacher at a public high school in New Jersey emails me: 
I’m just in my third year of teaching, so I get stuck with the remedial classes. I mean, what are you going to do? But the stress of dealing with bad behavior is wearing me down. I ask myself why the old teacher’s honors classes are full of well-behaved students, while mine are—I've got to say it—bastards
After dozens of parent conferences, maybe I’ve figured it out. My students are bastards. Literally. My remedial kids come from chaotic families. The honors teachers meet with Prof. and Dr. Smith. But I meet with Ms. Jones and her four misbehaving kids by three baby daddies, none of whom seem to be around. 
I used to think all those ancient putdowns of poor little illegitimate children were awful, and we’re so much better than they were back then. But, I’m starting to think they knew something we don’t.

Two out of five children are now born out of wedlock, so, uh…get used to it, America! 
But that raises the perennial question of what percentage of children born in wedlock were actually fathered by someone else. Few topics generate more heat and less light than “mother’s baby, father’s maybe.”

Read the whole thing there.

Nevin Scrimshaw, RIP: An architect of the Flynn Effect

From the NYT:
Nevin S. Scrimshaw, Pioneer Nutritionist, Dies at 95 
Dr. Nevin S. Scrimshaw, a nutritionist who improved the health of millions of children in developing countries by creating low-cost vegetable-based foods for weaning infants, died on Friday in Plymouth, N.H. He was 95. 
To help protein-starved children in Central America, Dr. Scrimshaw created a gruel made of corn, sorghum and cottonseed flour that was nutritionally equivalent to milk. In India, he adapted the same principle to peanut flour and wheat. He then brought both products to market, where they sold for only pennies. 
Working in Central America, Dr. Scrimshaw also helped eliminate endemic goiter in children — a swelling of the thyroid gland that can lead to mental retardation, deafness and dwarfism. The ailment is caused by a mother’s iodine deficiency. 
Dr. Scrimshaw found that European and American techniques to iodize salt were ineffective with the crude, moist salt of Central America, so he came up with a new iodine compound that proved effective there. He then worked with governments in the region to require iodation of all salt for human consumption. 

Good man, cool name.

February 13, 2013

Darwinian anthropologists

The New York Times Magazine has a long article on the colorful author of The Fierce People:
How Napoleon Chagnon Became Our Most Controversial Anthropologist

I wrote about the role of personality in cultural anthropology last fall.

Perhaps anthropologists who become interested in Darwinian perspectives tend to be more masculine than those anthropologists who eschew Darwin in favor of Marx, Freud, Levi-Strauss, Gimbutas, or whomever? Besides Chagnon, I'd mention Robin Fox, Henry Harpending, and Carleton Coon. A delight in hunting might be a common denominator. (Darwin, himself, was an obsessive hunter when young, as was his cousin Galton.)

In general, the Darwinian tradition owes a lot to smart country boys, as I pointed out in a review of Edward O. Wilson's novel, Anthill. In contrast, Darwinism tends to strike urban intellectuals as suspicious, probably unnatural.

Emil A. Malick, RIP

From the Tulsa World:
Emil A Malick 
Emil A. Malick, age 96, resident of Bartlesville, died on February 9, 2013 at Jane Phillips Hospital. A Requiem Mass will be said at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on Saturday, February 16, at 2 PM. The family has requested no flowers. Survivors include his son Terrence and wife Alexandra of Austin, Texas, and his daughter-in-law Ann and grandsons David and Michael of Tulsa, Oklahoma. 

Due to traffic, I missed the first 15 minutes or so of his son Terrence Malick's 2011 film The Tree of Life, by which point everybody in the audience who had arrived on time was getting pretty sick of the movie. So, I came in, fortunately, just as the film was finally focusing in from the Big Bang to growing up in the Oil Patch in an Eden-like 1950s small town as the son of a petroleum industry inventor, with Jessica Chastain ethereally beautiful as your mother and Brad Pitt giving the greatest performance of his career as your father. I wrote:
If you like this style (and I do, very much), The Tree of Life might call to mind other works about growing up, such as Wordsworth’s The Prelude, Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, or Nabokov’s Speak, Memory. Parts of it are that good.

Someday, if we're very lucky we may see a 90-minute Editor's Cut of The Tree of Life minus all of Malick's trademark distractions, leaving us with its magnificent understated core: the Book of Genesis onscreen, the Book of Job looming offscreen.

February 12, 2013

Richard III: Kingship and Kinship, Nepotism and Neposchism

Olivier as Richard III
My new Taki's column looks at Richard III, both the real king recently dug up from a parking lot in England, and Shakespeare's hunchback Machiavel:
As Richard’s supporters, the Ricardians, like to complain, history is written by the victors. And the victorious Tudors had the best writer ever, William Shakespeare, whose patroness, Queen Elizabeth I, was Henry VII’s granddaughter.

What was so bad about Richard III? I offer an explanation calling upon the Darwinian insights of William D. Hamilton and Robert Trivers.

Read the whole thing there.

How movies and videogames are more accurate about recent history than the newspapers

There has been a lot of talk in the news media about how Christopher Dorner's rampage is more or less payback for the bad old days of racism in the LAPD, as exemplified by Dorner's complaints about Rodney King and the Rampart Scandal. 

Rafael Perez
The Rampart Scandal was a huge whoop-tee-doo in the late 1990s that's a good example of how even Hollywood can be less prone to throwing all the facts into the Narrative Blender than the news media. The Los Angeles Times was much celebrated for epic reporting on racism in the Rampart Division, but mostly they just covered up that the four central very bad cops in Rampart were all diversity hires. Indeed, the Big Bad Four had intriguing connections of some sort to the legendary murders going on among famous gangsta rappers.

You might think that exploring the ties between rogue cops and some of the most notorious murders of the 1990s (Biggie and Tupac) would be a good way to sell newspapers, but selling newspapers has long been a lower priority than Shaping the Narrative.

The key figure in Rampart was Puerto Rico-born Rafael Perez, who got himself a short sentence by spilling (or concocting) the beans on dozens of other cops for minor stuff. This suited the LAT's agenda, even though it turned out in court to not amount to a hill of beans.

Oddly, enough, screenwriters saw through the L.A. Times' bias and did a better job of conveying the essence of the story in movies like Training Day, for which Denzel Washington won an Oscar as a bad cop. From my 2001 review of Training Day:
Further, how common are "gangsta cops" in reality? I called one of the LAPD's most prominent critics, "police misconduct" lawyer Winston Kevin McKesson, a protégé of superstar attorney Johnnie Cochran. He remarked that the plot "seems a bit over the top." McKesson said he's sued many cops for excessive force, but of those he's sued, none were "a complete crook." 
McKesson, though, has defended one cop who might indeed fit that description: Rafael Perez. When his theft of a million dollars worth of cocaine from the police evidence locker was finally uncovered, Perez, to win a reduced sentence, incriminated 70 fellow officers in his elite anti-gang unit. Yet, Perez ended up admitting that a large fraction of the worst abuses at Rampart - such as an attempted murder - were his own work, making him look less like a whistleblower and more like Rampart's criminal kingpin. 
Even though Ayer wrote the first draft of his script before the Rampart scandal broke, McKesson noted that there are now "striking similarities" between the character portrayed by Washington and his client Perez. For example, both are black and bilingual, even though McKesson estimates that only three or four out of about 1,000 black LAPD officers can speak Spanish.

Frank Tenpenny
Similarly, the Best Picture winner Crash was an oblique reference to Perez's running amok when assigned to Rampart's C.R.A.S.H. anti-gang program and instead using his badge to become a gangster. Thus, the scene where a white cop shoots a black undercover cop dead and the politicians offer Don Cheadle a promotion, but then Cheadle opens the trunk of the dead cop's car and finds $300,000 in cash -- that happened. (It may be connected, somehow or other, to the deaths of rappers Tupac Shakur and Biggie. Screenwriters have been fascinated and frightened by this murky chain of events for 15 years.)

Finally, the lead villain in the videogame Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Frank Tenpenny, is modeled on this line of cultural inheritance.

So, why can't journalists fictionalize no more than screenwriters?

The real Dorner question: Not why was he fired, but why was he hired?

Immediately after the New York Times headlined "Shooting Suspect’s Racism Allegations Resound for Some," the chief of the LAPD announced the department would re-investigate why Christopher Dorner was fired.

As usual, the opposite question from the one being obsessed over in the media seems more worthy of investigation: Why was this highly defective individual hired in the first place? Why did the LAPD, which is big enough to afford the most sophisticated screening processes, ever give this man a badge and a gun?

This Saturday, celebrate International Galton Day

Galton figured out for Scotland
Yard how to organize fingerprints 
As part of the ongoing canonization of Charles Darwin as the semi-divine saint of secularism, there is a movement to celebrate February 12 each year (the date he was born in 1809) as International Darwin Day in order to stick it to Creationists.

Darwin's half-cousin Francis Galton, who extended Darwin's work in a remarkable variety of ways, including developing key elements of statistical theory, was born 13 years and 4 days later on February 16, 1822.

While Darwin's image is increasingly sacrosanct, Galton is increasingly demonized as the scapegoat to carry all the sins associated with Darwinism.

In reality, neither man was a saint nor a devil. They are far more similar than different, both admirable representatives of Victorian Liberal culture.

So, I'll be raising a toast on Saturday to Sir Francis.

"Dorner Enflamed?"

TV right now has shots of a fire in or near a cabin where the cops think Christopher Dorner is holed up.

Reminds me of the March 1974 cop shootout at a house where the Symbionese Liberation Army (who were wanted for kidnapping heiress Patti Hearst) had holed up on a quiet street in L.A.. More than 9,000 shots were exchanged. Eventually, the cops' exploding tear gas canisters burned the whole house down. Pretty spectacular after-school viewing 39 years ago. (Here's a video.)

It was carried live nationwide, which was unusual in those days, which somewhat fits in with my theory from my pre-Dorner article on killers, "Monsters of Egotism," about why some crimes become canonical memories among Baby Boomers and others don't. Before video technology, there were occasional spectacular shootouts and the like, but a lot weren't captured on film. After the media excesses of the Lindbergh's Baby case, a gentleman's agreement among newspaper barons toned down the tabloid coverage, until the coming of advances in TV news technology.

February 11, 2013

Do violent video games encourage violence?

The New York Times' fine psychology reporter Benedict Carey considers the evidence, such as there is, in "Shooting in the Dark.

My guess would be that, all else being equal, violent video games do encourage violence, but what's not equal is that video games are such a massive time sink that they don't leave much of the day free to get off the couch and into trouble. On balance, they make the world less violent (if more pudgy).

I was paid to read mass murderer Anders Breivik's manifesto a couple of years ago. My impression is that his addiction to online strategy games such as World of Warcraft played a role in his desire to be a player in the real world, to win at 21st Century European history by setting into motion a series of events he had calculated would make him the architect of the new Europe of the second half of this century. 

Does that mean World of Warcraft is a bad thing? Perhaps, but what if World of Warcraft had been around to absorb the energies of Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and Pol Pot, to deflect their ambitions to foresee and control history into a cyber fantasy world? 

Pope Benedict XVI, age 85, announces retirement

The Bishop of Rome's retirement, the first in 600 or so years, reminds me of an old trivia question: Who was the first Roman Emperor to retire?
This emperor was one of the hard men from Southeastern Europe who used their military skills to rebuild the Roman Empire after the chaos of the Third Century. His retirement palace in Split, Croatia remains in good condition after 1700 years, full of shops and restaurants. It was largely forgotten in Northern Europe, until British architect Robert Adam surveyed it in the 1760s.
Publication of Adam's book on this emperor's retirement palace had a major influence on the development of the craze for Neo-Classical architecture (e.g., Thomas Jefferson's design for the University of Virginia).

Answer under the fold:

Arts & Class in evolving Britain

A reader writes:
A few possible reasons for the phenomenon that Steyn mentioned of 1% a generation ago of British acts on the British pop charts having been privately educated to 60% today:
1.Well, the actual % of kids in private ed went up enormously under the Thatcher Terror of 1979-91 - almost doubled from about 5% to about 9%. The northern working class may not have done terribly well under Maggie, but the southern middle class most assuredly did. One can think of a lot of formerly petit bourgeious families who in previous generations might have eschewed the option on financial grounds, or because they thought that the snobby boarders were not for them: the Middleton family would be a paradigmatic example. 
2. The whole of the UK pop/theatre/cinema/dance/arty farty/ TV/luvvie sector is massivley skewed towards the London area: where most of the rich kids already be livin'. Number of kids in private Ed in surrey is probably about 25% - South Sheilds, it's probably 2.5%. Being proletarian and/or northern and/or /Celtic like the Beatles or Sean Connery or Richard Burton or Cilla, or the Kinks, or the Stones or the Who, just doesn't seem to be fashionable in Luvvieland like it was in the swinging sixties: all English actresses want to do these days is dress up in bodices and do Jane Austen. 
3. Quite a few of these kids seem to come from already established showbiz families who came from more humble beginnings, but made money out of rock n roll/acting etc in the 60s, 70s 80s -Lilly Allen would be an excellent example: does seem to be lot of nepotism and networking going on there. 
4. The public schools are there for a reason: to give their kids advantages. Zeitgeist is their middle name. Up till circa 1960, they were there to provide army and navy officers and colonial administrators. In the 80s (when I was in Uni - in some tutorial groups, the only non-privately educated kid there) everyone wanted to be Gordon Gecko (or at any rate the better spoken English character played by Terence Stamp ) which was regarded with horror by many of their parents, who didn't grasp that the empire wasn't there any more. These days, they seem to be deliberately targetting the creative/music/theatre sector as a place to send these upper middle class brats, which woulda been unthinkable in my day. 
5. The Cockneys are all in Spain, having abandoned London to get away from the Effnic majorities - as they are now in the inner city -  or they're hiding out from The Yard. 

February 10, 2013

Class and British pop stars

This evening's Grammy Award winners Adele (here's her James Bond Skyfall theme song) and Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons reflect the growing class divide among British entertainers. Mark Steyn wrote last year: 
Although fewer than 10 percent of British children attend private schools, their alumni make up over 60 percent of the acts on the U.K. pop charts. Twenty years ago, it was 1 percent.

Adele is the old kind of British pop star: daughter of a single mum and, apparently, a single mum herself now. 

But, it's hard to compete these days when you come from that deprived of a background.

Marcus Mumford, who recently married actress Carey Mulligan (another privately educated English celebrity), is the new kind of English rock star. His father is a theologian and evangelical entrepreneur:
John Mumford was installed as a Canon of Coventry Cathedral on Sunday 6th May. He is the Cathedral's new Canon Theologian and was installed at Choral Evensong and then preached at the Cathedral Praise Service. 
John Mumford is the National Director of Vineyard Churches in the UK and Ireland. He studied theology at St. Andrews and at Cambridge and John was ordained in Salisbury Cathedral in 1977, and served his title at Canford Magna, Dorset, before joining the staff of St Michael’s Chester Square, Belgravia, London. In 1987, John and his wife Eleanor planted and led the South West London Vineyard church until 2008 when they handed over the leadership of the church in order to concentrate more upon the oversight and development of the Vineyard movement, both nationally and internationally.

Marcus Mumford attended King's College School in Wimbledon, then studied classics at the U. of Edinburgh.