February 23, 2013

Berlusconi may be back

In case Silvio Berlusconi wins a fourth term as prime minister of Italy, here's my 2010 article on the former cruise ship crooner-turned-billionaire soccer mogul's appeal to Italian voters.

And here's my review of Il Divo, a fine biopic about one of Berlusconi's predecessors, the extremely different Giulio Andreotti.

You can get your full range of Italian stereotypes right here.

Interviewing HBD Chick

At Hoover Hog, Chip Smith interviews HBD Chick.

On boys v. girls in the HBDsphere:
I confess that all the psychometric technical stuff often makes my eyes glaze over! I commented to someone recently that I think that’s why the focus of my own blogging has been geared more (much more!) towards mating patterns and altruism and the nature of extended families and clans rather than IQ. I mean, who marries whom and which families fight with each other?  It’s like following a big soap opera!  (~_^)

This extended family structure stuff that HBD Chick specializes in strikes me as hugely important for understanding cultural differences around the world (and even perhaps genetic differences that flow from the cultural differences), but also dauntingly difficult for me to wrap my male brain around. (I've sometimes had to ask my wife how exactly I'm related to various members of my own extended family, even though I've known them a lot longer than she has.)

HBD Chick reminds me of (a much more cheerful version) of Jessica Chastain's character in Zero Dark Thirty. She finds Osama not by kicking in his door, but by being able to keep track of individual relationships within a vast network of interlocking extended families that make up the core of Al-Qaeda.

Planet of the Architects

Speaking of Planet of the Apes movies, over at Uncouth Reflections, Blowhard, Esq. reflects, "I Graduated from a Monkey Prison." He first watches the 1972 illegal immigration fable Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, which was filmed at his alma mater U.C. Irvine to achieve the properly futuristic sterile dystopia look. Then he visits contemporary UC Irvine and takes photos from as close as he can get to the movie's point-of-view without a crane. 

Thank God for landscaping.
Most of the University of California campuses were built at the nadir of postwar modernism. But, given enough water, trees grow like crazy in California, so the gardeners have managed to hide most of the architecture by now.

UC Irvine, like much of Southern California, was designed by USC architecture professor William Pereira, who was proud of making everything look like a brutalist sci-fi nightmare: 
“Remarkably prolific, he worked out of Los Angeles, and was known for his love of science fiction … Though his buildings were often quite stark and sterile in their appearance (owing largely to the science fiction of the era), they were noted for their functional style with a certain flair that made them unmistakable. He took pride in the concept of designing for the future.”

He’d also worked as an art director on Hollywood movies during WWII.

It's paradoxical that nothing looks more dated than old sci-fi movies. After a few decades go by, you can tell exactly the year a sci-fi movie was made just from the art direction. 

"Side Effects"

Crime thriller "Side Effects" is director Steven Soderbergh's umpty-umpth mid-budget film for the right side of the bell curve. Back in 2011, he made "Contagion," also from a script by Scott Z. Burns, and also with Jude Law as a shifty-looking health adviser. 

"Contagion" petered out about half-way through, as if Burns and Soderbergh had lost interest and turned to their next medical movie project together: "Side Effects," which gathers momentum as it goes on. 

The new film starts out as a seeming attack on the modern pharmaceutical industry, with Law as a psychiatrist who casually prescribes a new antidepressant ("Ablixa") for suicidal wife Rooney Mara, with seemingly disastrous consequences. The first half of "Side Effects" is intelligent, but not particularly engaging. The notion that a medicine can change your mood and behavior seems oddly defeating to the expert (but perhaps overly fast-working) filmmakers. 

But, then "Side Effects" turns into an old-fashioned murder-for-money mystery. Instead of just being zombies under the control of their pills, the characters actually have total Free Will, which turns out to be more interesting.

After many feints and twists, the bottom line message of both "Contagion" and "Side Effects" eventually works out to be "Trust Your Medical Establishment, They're Here to Help." I might be wrong about this, but I don't think movies have anywhere near as much populist paranoia as they did back in the 1970s. 

The 50-year-old Soderbergh claims to be retiring, which is sad because he's a clever, extremely productive moviemaker. But, having seen "Side Effects," I'd hardly be surprised if, to get through his huge work load, he's been taking a lot of pills. So he's likely the best judge of what his body and brain now need for his health.

Scott Z. Burns is not retiring. He's credited with helping out on the upcoming Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The 2011 Rise of the Planet of the Apes, with a terrific screenplay by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver that dismantles the liberal environmentalist pieties of Ronald Reagan's Bedtime for Bonzo, was dumped into August 2011, but still made a lot of money. This sequel has been given the blockbuster release date of May 23, 2014. 

February 22, 2013

How does Texas do well on the NAEP test?

Texas public school students usually score pretty well in the federal government's NAEP school achievement tests, at least when adjusted for ethnicity. I've always wondered how they do it. It would seem like the kind of thing worth checking into.

One way, it turns out, is by excluding more students from having to take the NAEP than other states do. Texas excuses 10% of its 4th graders versus 4% nationwide and only 3% in California. (See p. 5 of this new report on the NAEP performance of the 5 biggest states.) So, Texas has simply made a large fraction of Below Basic scorers vanish. That's a nice little running start for Texas.

If Texas has figured out how to fiddle with that parameter, I wonder what else they've figured out?

Burying the Lede

From MedPage Today:
Black Males Not Applying to Med School 
By David Pittman, Washington Correspondent, MedPage Today 
Published: February 10, 2013 
Fewer black men are applying to, accepted to, and attending U.S. medical schools despite an increase in the number of overall applicants and uptick in matriculation among other minorities, a report found. 
Black applicants were the second most populous demographic behind whites in the late 1970s. There were more black applicants than Asians and Hispanics combined. 
But in 2011, first-time African-American applicants were surpassed by Asians and Hispanics, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) said. 
Compared with 1977, the number of Hispanic applicants more than tripled in 2011 (3,459 versus 955) while first-time Asian applicants went from 966 to 8,941 when comparing 1977 to 2011. 
The number of first-time applications from blacks grew a mere 36% (2,361 in 1977 to 3,215 in 2011). 
In fact, black women outnumbered black men applicants in 2011 nearly two to one, the AAMC said. 
"Black or African-American males are applying to, being accepted to, and matriculating into medical school in diminishing numbers, which speaks to the increasing need for medical schools to institute plans and initiatives aimed at strengthening the pipeline," stated the report, called "Diversity in Medical Education." 
"In response, initiatives have been launched throughout the country in hopes of reversing this trend and producing more graduates. Medical schools are already investing in pipeline programs, but it is clear that additional targeted efforts are necessary," according to the report. 
While first-year enrollment was up 18.4% overall from 2002 to 2012 as the AAMC said last fall, that hasn't translated into a great number of more black men. 
Non-whites accounted for nearly half of U.S. medical school applications in 2011, the AAMC said. The number of applications from whites has dropped roughly 26% since the late 1970s.

So, from this data, we can see that ... hey, wait a minute, what was the second sentence in the 10th paragraph? "The number of applications from whites has dropped roughly 26% since the late 1970s." Isn't that a big deal?

I guess not.

How an Oscar voter thinks

Here's an amusing Hollywood Reporter interview with an anonymous movie director as he fills out his Oscar ballot. From his Best Actress musings:
I also don’t vote for anyone whose name I can’t pronounce. Quvez---? Quzen---? Quyzenay? Her parents really put her in a hole by giving her that name -- Alphabet Wallis.

And from his Best Picture deliberations:
Django Unchained will go into my fifth slot -- it’s a fun movie, but it’s basically just Quentin Tarantino masturbating for almost three hours. 

Guesses at who he is from the comments include William Friedkin (The Exorcist), John Landis (Animal House), and Brett Ratner (Rush Hour II) -- guys who are over the hill but have made some decent movies in the past and are still in the game enough to have an office and an assistant. In his love of Zero Dark Thirty, he sounds like the kind of grumpy Jewish guy who would never ever vote Republican, but is basically a rightwinger on the inside.

Lots of critics and film nerds are upset at the director for not properly agonizing over each momentous choice, but directors get paid to make decisions quickly and confidently.

Ann Coulter on "Hispanicked GOP Elite"

From Ann Coulter:
February 20, 2013 
Don't anyone tell Marco Rubio, John McCain or Jeff Flake that nearly 80 percent of Hindus voted for Obama, or who knows what they'll come up with. 

According to the Reuters-Ipsos panel, Hindus went 77% for Obama - 23% for Romney (sample size = 101), despite Romney's repeated pledges to staple a green card to every advanced STEM diploma.
I understand the interest of business lobbies in getting cheap, unskilled labor through amnesty, but why do Republican officeholders want to create up to 20 million more Democratic voters, especially if it involves flouting the law? Are the campaign donations from the soulless rich more important than actual voters?  
Without citing any evidence, the Rubio Republicans simply assert that granting 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens amnesty will make Hispanics warm to the GOP. Yes, that's worked like a charm since Reagan signed an amnesty bill in 1986!  
True, Romney lost the Hispanic vote, but so did John McCain, the original Rubio. (McCain lost Hispanics by 67 percent compared to 71 percent who voted against Romney.)  
President George H.W. Bush created "diversity visas," massively increased legal immigration and eliminated the English requirement on the naturalization test. In the 1992 election, he won 25 percent of the Hispanic vote -- less than what Romney got.  
Although Hispanic politicians, spokesmen and TV networks benefit from Rubio's mass legalization scheme, there's no evidence that Hispanic voters care very much about it.  
Amnesty never shows up in polls as a top concern of Hispanics. It's a top concern of employers, not workers -- which isn't going to do much to help Republicans shed that "Party of the Rich" image. After Reagan signed an amnesty bill in 1986, unemployment among Hispanics skyrocketed when, suddenly, there was increased competition for low-skill jobs. That's precisely why businesses want amnesty, not because of their deep concern for the plight of the underclass.  
How's this for an idea: Why don't Republicans remind Hispanic voters that the more low-skilled immigrants who are admitted, the lower their wages will be? That at least has the virtue of being untried.

How about Republicans ask Mexican-American voters to demonstrate that they have the best interests of American citizens as a whole at heart by opposing amnesty?

February 21, 2013

NFL adds personality test to complement IQ test

From the NYT
N.F.L. Tries New Method for Testing Mental Agility 
INDIANAPOLIS — For decades, hundreds of college players have gathered each year at the N.F.L.’s scouting combine, where their strength is tested, their speed is timed and, in a test to measure their intelligence, they are asked questions like “When a rope is selling 20 cents per 2 feet, how many feet can you buy for 30 dollars?” 
That query is part of the Wonderlic Personnel Test, a 12-minute, 50-item quiz that has been used by N.F.L. teams since the 1970s. It is, however, infamously unreliable in predicting football success — forgettable players have scored high, stars low —

Alternatively, you could say that it's amazing that the Wonderlic glass is a little bit full at all (when it suggests that, say, Tom Brady (124 IQ) might be smart enough to make himself useful).
and there have been quiet concerns that its reliance on knowledge taught in school might result in a racial bias.

Whereas tests that look like they come from Mars, such as the Raven's Progressive Matrices, don't have that problem!
So the players at this week’s combine are facing a new segment in their extended job interviews: an hourlong psychological assessment designed to determine and quantify the nebulous qualities that coaches have long believed make the most successful players — motivation, competitiveness, passion and mental toughness — and to divine how each player learns best.

Generally, you'd want to give the test to successful NFL players and washouts and see if it adds predictive power in differentiating them. There's no mention of whether that has been done.
The new test, like the Wonderlic, is mandatory for the more than 300 players who attend, and it will be given for the first time Friday. 
While many coaches and general managers consider the Wonderlic particularly useful in evaluating quarterbacks and offensive linemen, positions that are believed to demand the greatest intellect because of the need to decipher complex defenses, the hope is that the new test, called the Player Assessment Tool, will give teams clearer insight into a broader range of players. 
“I knew players who didn’t score well on the Wonderlic but had great instincts,” said Ernie Accorsi, a former Giants general manager, who was consulted during the creation of the new test. “I had a player once, this guy played in a good league in college, but the psychological testing indicated he didn’t handle pressure well. You know what? He didn’t, as it turned out. The Wonderlic can’t tell you that.” 
The new test was devised by Harold Goldstein, a professor of industrial and organizational psychology at Baruch College in New York. He worked with Cyrus Mehri, a lawyer in Washington who leads the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which monitors the N.F.L.’s minority hiring practices. 

Cyrus Mehri and the late Johnnie Cochran
Presumably, the NFL is interested in things such as the likelihood of going to prison for shooting yourself in a nightclub or of killing a teammate in a drunk driving crash. But all that has to be whitewashed through the proper channels; although in this case, Cyrus Mehri isn't black, but that hasn't stopped him from doing well off the diversity biz.
Personality tests have been a staple in other industries, and some N.F.L. teams have used them during their scouting efforts, which often take months. 
But last fall Goldstein and Mehri began the process of producing the first such test for the entire league. They asked a group of general managers what qualities they wanted in a player. They came up with 16 aspects thought to be predictors of N.F.L. success, including learning agility and conscientiousness. 
The test closely resembles those given to firefighters, Mehri said, because they, like football players, must be able to quickly assess a situation and decide how to proceed under stress. 
The goal was to eliminate the impact of prior knowledge — subjects taught in school, like math, in which racial and socioeconomic factors may have an influence. 
To determine their personalities, the test will ask players a series of questions about their preferences and behavior. To evaluate their cognitive abilities, it might tell them to look at four diagrams and figure out how they relate. Then, to measure how quickly they can adjust their thinking, the items they are comparing might change, forcing the players to determine their relationships anew. 
To see how they learn best, the test will present questions in verbal and graphic form. Players will have an hour to take the exam on a computer. 
... The league did not allow players and agents to see the test in advance, angering some agents. The N.F.L.’s goal was to minimize the kind of preparation that players do for the Wonderlic: reviewing past exams in an attempt to boost their scores. 
“This is the Super Bowl of their college career, the culmination of everything they have worked for,” the agent David Canter said. “You don’t want them to be prepared for it?” 
Damien Woody, a former offensive lineman for the New England Patriots, the Detroit Lions and the Jets, said he did not prepare for the Wonderlic, though he was determined to do well. He said others essentially shrugged it off, wondering what it had to do with football. 
At least in the first year of the new test, Woody said, the element of surprise could be a factor. 
“It might give you a sneak peek,” Woody said. “This will be the year it’s most beneficial because after this year I’m sure guys will try to train for it. This year, you’re going to get guys at their most vulnerable position.” 

Well said. The advantage of IQ tests like the Wonderlic is that the people who outsmart them tend to be pretty smart. Personality tests ... eh?

Charlie Rose v. Lee Kuan Yew on whether "Immigrants has been America's strength"

From the The Charlie Rose Show, October 23, 2009, an interview with the founder of the modern state of Singapore. This link starts automatically at 3:14:
Charlie Rose: "And immigrants has [sic] been America’s strength." 
Lee Kuan Yew: "Absolutely … But, mind you, immigration of the highly intelligent and highly hard-working, very hard-working people. If you get immigration from the fruit-pickers [chuckles for several seconds at the idea], you may not get very far!"

But, but ... what about the crops rotting in the fields?

Big growers worried new "guest" workers will try to flee

With immigration policy in the news, crops are rotting in the field, right on cue. From the Los Angeles Times:
Lack of immigration reform threatens California farmers 
Growers have difficulty fielding adequate crews to harvest crops; Washington has a shot this year at providing meaningful relief. 
Except for illegal immigrants, no group has more at stake in the national fight over immigration reform than California farmers. 
"It doesn't pay to plant a product if you can't harvest it," notes Mark Teixeira of Santa Maria, who says he had to let 22 acres of vegetables rot last year because he couldn't find enough field hands to gather the crop. "That hurts." 
As security has tightened along the California-Mexican border, the flow of illegal immigrant labor into the nation's most productive agriculture state has slowed significantly, farm interests say. ... 
Any time some demagogic politician bellows about rounding up all the illegal immigrants and shipping them back to their own country, it sends chills up farmers' spines. 
Roughly two-thirds of the state's crop workers "are not properly documented," says Rayne Pegg, who heads the federal policy division of the California Farm Bureau.

John Carney at CNBC on the never-ending greed of big growers when it comes to immigration policy:
Remember when farm owners were loudly complaining to any available journalist that there was a nationwide farm labor crisis due to overly restrictive immigration policy? 
Well, they're still saying that. But now they are also worried that proposals to create a "path to citizenship" for immigrants currently living illegally in the United States might also create a farm labor shortage. As it turns out, the farm lobby is worried that once we legalize these immigrants, they won't want to work on farms anymore. 
There's good reason for the farm lobby to worry about this. Once authorized to work in the U.S., many farm workers will no doubt seek employment in less onerous conditions. This happened after the last immigration amnesty in 1986. Unless a new wave of illegal immigration follows, farm owners would truly have to compete in the broader — legal — jobs market. Wages would have to rise or farms will have trouble attracting workers. 
The farm lobby has a not-quite-novel solution to this situation: mandatory farm labor. 
The Wall Street Journal explains: 
The tight labor market explains why farm groups are pressing Congress to include, in any immigration overhaul, provisions that would ensure a steady flow of workers and prevent an exodus of newly legalized laborers from the sector. 

Traditional methods for preventing an exodus of workers from the agricultural sector have included chaining workers together, and, if they run, hunting them down with packs of baying bloodhounds. Perhaps a revival of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1857 could be slipped into the back pages of the "immigration reform" legislation.

Modern crop-rot-fever advocates are thinking of carrots as well as sticks:
Under one possible scenario, agriculture workers would earn permanent legal residency by working a certain number of days on farms each year; those who worked longer would get a green card sooner.

Let's unpack that for a minute. In other words, big growers want to bribe their guest workers by getting to decide if they can stay permanently in our country: i.e., stop being guests, if the growers like them.

The essence of being a "guest" is that eventually you leave. But who cares about that?

Growers don't want to pay enough wages or pay for enough accommodations (e.g., shade tarps for stoop laborers) to get Americans to appy for these jobs, and they don't even want to pay enough to keep foreigners working at them. So, they want to bribe their foreign workers by having the rest of us give their workers legal permanent residency in return for accepting terrible wages from the growers. 

Privatize profits, socialize costs.

As Lee Kuan Yew has noticed, big growers importing fruit-pickers over the generations explains a lot about California's terrible NAEP test scores today. Nobody, even illegal immigrants, wants to do that job for long at the prices growers pay, so the illegals move on to other jobs in America, and the growers import new illegals. But, and here's the thing that nobody is so supposed to ever think about: the illegals who came from Mexico to do stoop labor two generations ago are, to a depressing degree, the grandparents of today's high school dropouts. We're not seeing a rapid climb up the productivity and net taxpaying scale by lineages that started with illegal immigrant farmworkers. I'm sure there are a few exceptions here and there, but, on average, not many.

So, the growers are permanently changing the demographics of America to save themselves a few bucks in wages per hour and in, you know, not cropdusting herbicides on the workers, that kind of thing.

February 20, 2013

Southern Anti-Semitism

Dinah Shore, Burt Reynolds, and Nancy Reagan at a state dinner in 1984
For my article in Taki's Magazine on the movie Sunset Boulevard, I was reading up on Dinah Shore, who conducted a very public romance with the 20-year-younger Burt Reynolds in the 1970s. 

Dinah was an endlessly popular blonde Southern belle from Tennessee, who had a huge hit with "Buttons and Bows" in 1948 (it's sung in "Sunset Boulevard," by the way). Her style of music faded, but she never left the spotlight as the hostess of the Dinah Shore Chevy Show. One article I found claimed that "By the 1960s Dinah was probably the most familiar face in American homes after the president." In the 1970s, she had her own talk show, and was likely the most popular female talk show hostess ever until Oprah. It didn't hurt that she didn't seem to age. (In the picture above, she is 67-years-old, a half-decade older than the First Lady, who was a former starlet herself.)

Her sponsorship of the big money Dinah Shore Nabisco golf tournament in Palm Springs each spring was a major step forward for the LPGA. (Dinah didn't appreciate that the tournament became, and remains, a national lesbian rendezvous.)

Not surprisingly, at Vanderbilt in Nashville in the 1930s, Dinah was a Big Woman on Campus. From the Vanderbilt alumni magazine:
Born Frances Rose Shore in Winchester, Tenn., in 1916, she majored in sociology at Vanderbilt and served as president of the Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority and the Women’s Student Government Club. She was selected “band sponsor” (an early version of homecoming queen) and founded the Athenian Sing, an a cappella singing contest among fraternities and sororities that continues to this day as a campus-wide talent competition. She also sang on the WSM [Nashville AM] radio show Rhythm and Romance, whose theme song was the 1926 standard “Dinah.” Shore put her own stamp on the song and appropriated its title for her professional name. ...
In a survey of the top 50 stars in the history of the medium, TV Guide ranked Shore at No. 16. 

Since she was president of Alpha Epsilon Phi, which is a Jewish sorority, it couldn't have been a secret to many at Vanderbilt that Fanny Shore, the daughter of a small town haberdasher, was Jewish. But, that didn't seem to hurt her popularity much.

One might think, from things like Philip Roth's alternative history The Plot Against America, that the South is teeming with anti-Semites, but that seems to be more the cherished belief of Northern Jews than the bitter experience of Southern Jews.

The Flight from White

"Uh, Rahm, would you mind not standing so close
 that I can hear the fierce beating of your heart?"
The young Emanuel brothers of Chicago -- Chicago Mayor Rahm (above in his Clinton Administration days), Hollywood agent Ari (the original for Jeremy Piven's Ari Gold on Entourage), and medical ethicist Ezekiel -- are depicted in Ezekiel's memoir in Vanity Fair, "Growing Up Emanuel." 

There's mention of their mother's membership in the C.O.R.E. civil rights organization in America, but less talk about their father's membership in the Irgun paramilitary / terrorist organization in Israel. 

And then there is this scene:
We understood we belonged to a minority that had suffered in the past and was still subject to discrimination and exclusion. However, change was coming fast. Jews were quickly becoming accepted into the white majority, and our parents taught us that nothing that really mattered was beyond our reach and we had little to fear as we moved through the world. We were safe in this assumption except, ironically enough, when Rahm was “black.” 
Rahm and Ari had my mother’s skin coloring. Both brothers needed just a few days in the sun to turn the color of café au lait. By the end of the summer the two of them were almost chestnut brown. With curly black hair and a broad, flat nose, Rahm could easily pass for an African-American.
We got most of our ultra-violet rays at Chicago’s Foster Avenue Beach, which became our regular summer hangout. In yet another demonstration of her confidence (today it might be called child neglect), our mother would send us off alone to spend entire summer days playing in the lake and on the sand. I led the troop down Winona, through the Foster Avenue underpass, which let us safely cross Lake Shore Drive, and then into the park, where the beach stretched northward for a quarter-mile or so. 
In this time before cell phones, our mother did not need to hear from us every half-hour to be reassured that we were O.K. As the hours passed, she somehow assumed we were fine, and for the most part, her confidence in us, and in the city, was well placed. Exceptions arose when some stranger decided to call Rahm and Ari “n******” and demand that we get off the beach.

Well, maybe.

I'm reminded of Countrywide Financial's Angelo Mozilo's assertion? belief? claim? that he was a victim of racism. The Oompa Loompa-colored Mozilo's sister claimed:
"He was always this Italian guy people didn't want to accept. When he tans he gets really dark. My mother told me that when he worked in Florida he was asked to sit in the back of the bus."

I'm starting to notice more and more of a Flight from White.

For example, Armenians in Southern California are more often drawing a verbal distinction between themselves and "whites." When I was at UCLA in the early 1980s, the star of the economics department was Fresno-born Armen Alchian, who just died at 98. There was plenty of interest in pushing diversity back then, too, but the notion that Alchian wasn't white wouldn't have occurred to anybody, just as George Deukmejian was obviously the white guy in the gubernatorial race against Tom Bradley.

In the past, lots of people emphasized their white side. For example, we don't have any Census figures for the number of Latinos in America in 1950 and 1960 because the League of United Latin American Citizens convinced the feds that Latinos should just be counted as white. Back then, Marco Rubio would have been considered as white as Judge Leander Perez was.

But, obviously, these days being white is for losers.

(Apparently not genetically, though. The New York Times relaunched its T fashion magazine last week:
The new T arrived yesterday. I’m impressed by its heft. As I looked through the magazine, I was surprised at Deborah Needleman’s choices. There is a complete absence of any people of color in articles or fashion shoots. I assume the ads cannot be controlled, but I saw only one African-American and one Asian-American among the thousands of models in the ads. The T doesn’t look like my neighborhood or America. [T Magazine’s New Editor Pledges to Make Future Issues More Diverse])

So, I expect that more and more you'll see Caucasian people dropping contrived hints that they aren't really white, until only Prince Charles is left.

Which white group will be the last to defect? I'm guessing Poles. They don't seem terribly opportunistic. But this trend will test even their loyalty and common sense. I expect in a couple of decades to be reading about how even Poles are now identifying as part-Mongolian Eurasians.

Waugh and Wilder: "Sunset Boulevard's" forgotten roots in an Evelyn Waugh novel

My new column in Taki's Magazine:
Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, with Gloria Swanson as a silent-screen legend plotting a comeback and William Holden as her toy boy, remains one of the most famous movies ever. Yet Sunset Boulevard’s origins in an Evelyn Waugh novel have been forgotten. This cultural amnesia is curious since the reactionary novelist and the refugee writer-director are still two of the more talked-about figures of the mid-century.

Read the whole thing there.

This isn't hugely topical, but it seems like a fairly interesting historical link that has been lost.

February 19, 2013

Hollywood liberals pack a lot of heat

There's been much commentary about how the gun control debate reflects cultural differences between densely populated Blue States and thinly populated Red States. (In fact, I put that idea forward in my 2004 Baby Gap article.)

But, my impression is that one major exception to this pattern is the entertainment industry belt on both sides of the Hollywood Hills. I don't know anybody around here who hunts, but guns still come up all the time. I don't have any reliable numbers, but as far as I can tell, based on the number of guns stocked in general-purpose sporting goods stores near studios, the visibility of indoor gun ranges, and the number of times my sons got invited to go with their friends' and their friends' dads, often minor entertainment industry workers, to go blast hell out of stuff, a sizable number of Hollywood-types are armed to the teeth. 

I can imagine multiple reasons. 

- For one thing, the local top dogs in cultural influence, the big name movie directors, are not exactly shrinking violets. They may not expound in public the same political views as, say, John Milius, but they aren't all that different in personality.

- Fake guns play a huge role in movies and TV, so it's not surprising that many guys in those businesses think real guns are cool.

- Hollywood employs lots of ex-soldiers and ex-cops in various capacities, in part because they are familiar with guns.

- The LAPD has been, since Chief Parker's reforms after WWII, a thin blue line with not many cops per capita.

- Prestigious people tend to live in out of the way places, up canyons that the police can't get too quickly.

- Celebrities tend to attract crazy stalkers.

- Bling. Music celebrities and off-season jocks and their women wear a lot of jewelry, which makes them targets for robbers, whereas most normal people carry nothing more valuable than a smart phone or an engagement diamond ring.

- The Rodney King riots demonstrated vividly that armed Korean shopkeepers did better than unarmed Korean shopkeepers.

- A major theme in the local imagination going back at least to Nathaniel West's Day of the Locust is the L.A. Apocalypse. The zombie hordes will attack and it will be every household for itself.

- And, there really will be an L.A. Apocalypse: the Big One. At some point, the San Andreas Fault will slip, and the cops will be too busy pulling people out of the rubble to answer your calls when the looters arrive.

Generally speaking, the arming up of the area since Rodney King doesn't seem to have had too many bad effects. Property crime is way down.

The Paleo Diet v. "Paleofantasy"

Raquel Welch in 1,000,000 B.C.
In the Chronicle of Higher Education, U. of Minnesota evolutionary biologist Marlene Zuk promotes her upcoming book Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us About Sex, Diet, and How We Live:
Newspaper articles, morning TV, dozens of books, and self-help advocates promoting slow-food or no-cook diets, barefoot running, sleeping with our infants, and other measures large and small claim that it would be more natural, and healthier, to live more like our ancestors. A corollary to this notion is that we are good at things we had to do back in the Pleistocene, like keeping an eye out for cheaters in our small groups, and bad at things we didn't, like negotiating with people we can't see and have never met. 
I am all for examining human health and behavior in an evolutionary context, and part of that context requires understanding the environment in which we evolved. At the same time, discoveries like those from Sverrisdóttir's lab in Sweden make it clear that we cannot assume that evolution has stopped for humans, or that it can take place only ploddingly, with tiny steps over hundreds of thousands of years. In just the last few years we have added the ability to function at high altitudes and resistance to malaria to the list of rapidly evolved human characteristics, and the stage is set for many more. We can even screen the entire genome, in great gulps of DNA, looking for the signature of rapid selection in our genes. 
To think of ourselves as misfits in our own time and of our own making flatly contradicts what we now understand about the way evolution works—namely, that rate matters. That evolution can be fast, slow, or in-between, and understanding what makes the difference is far more enlightening, and exciting, than holding our flabby modern selves up against a vision—accurate or not—of our well-muscled and harmoniously adapted ancestors. 
Recognizing the continuity of evolution also makes clear the futility of selecting any particular time period for human harmony. Why would we be any more likely to feel out of sync than those who came before us? Did we really spend hundreds of thousands of years in stasis, perfectly adapted to our environments? When during the past did we attain this adaptation, and how did we know when to stop? 
If they had known about evolution, would our cave-dwelling forebears have felt nostalgia for the days before they were bipedal, when life was good and the trees were a comfort zone?

Yeah, probably. There's some evidence that older pre-pubescent children feel relatively strong urges to practice climbing trees. If you are, say, 10 years old and a big carnivore is coming your way, climbing a tree is a particularly good way to escape if you are old enough and competent enough to not fall, but light enough to climb well, but not strong enough yet to stand and fight. So, kids like to practice climbing on monkey bars and jungle gyms, which were a popular staple of playgrounds until liability issues got in the way.

Maybe this is all just a just-so story, but there's been a modest amount of research on what kinds of landscapes are most attractive at different ages and to different sexes and the results seem to fit to some extent with reasonable surmises about the past.

In contrast, the appeal of mountain climbing draws upon some basic human urges (e.g., get up high to see the view). But it also requires a vast cultural apparatus, including a huge mountain climbing literature going back to the poet Petrarch 700 years ago, the first European we know of to climb a mountain (a small Alp of 6000+ feet) for the sake of climbing a mountain.

This helps explain why mountain climbing is such a literary sport -- it appeals most to those who read books about other mountain climbers. In contrast, wrestling doesn't require a giant literature. If there were no more books published about wrestling, boys would still try it spontaneously.
... If we do not look to a mythical past utopia for clues to a way forward, what next? The answer is that we start asking different questions. Instead of bemoaning our unsuitability to modern life, we can wonder why some traits evolve quickly and some slowly. How do we know what we do about the rate at which evolution occurs? If lactose tolerance can become established in a population over just a handful of generations, what about an ability to digest and thrive on refined grains, the bugaboo of the paleo diet?

A few decades ago, heavily carbohydrate-based diets were widely advocated by scientists on the grounds that East Asians who ate mostly rice had low rates of heart disease. 

But, my ancestors weren't East Asian, so it turned out it was easier for me to keep my weight somewhat in check when I started eating less starch and more meat and butter. (My problem is that when I'm hungry, the first bowl of breakfast cereal just increases the hunger pangs, so I would eat two or three more bowls.)

I think the general lesson is that everybody's different, so you should consider solutions that may have worked for your ancestors and try some of them to see if they work for you. Sure, maybe some exotic diet imported from Laos or wherever is ideal for your individual genome, but it should be lower down your priority list of what to check out. In particular, talk to your close relatives about what works for them. 
Breakthroughs in genomics (the study of the entire set of genes in an organism) and other genetic technologies now allow us to determine how quickly individual genes and gene blocs have been altered in response to natural selection. Evidence is mounting that numerous human genes have changed over just the last few thousand years—a blink of an eye, evolutionarily speaking—while others are the same as they have been for millions of years, relatively unchanged from the form we share with ancestors as distant as worms and yeast. 
What's more, a new field called experimental evolution is showing us that sometimes evolution occurs before our eyes, with rapid adaptations happening in 100, 50, or even a dozen or fewer generations. Depending on the life span of the organism, that could mean less than a year, or perhaps a quarter-century. It is most easily demonstrated in the laboratory, but increasingly, now that we know what to look for, we are seeing it in the wild. And although humans are evolving all the time, it is often easier to see the process in other kinds of organisms. ...
It's common for people to talk about how we were "meant" to be, in areas ranging from diet to exercise to sex and family. Yet these notions are often flawed, making us unnecessarily wary of new foods and, in the long run, new ideas. I would not dream of denying the evolutionary heritage present in our bodies—and our minds. And it is clear that a life of sloth with a diet of junk food isn't doing us any favors. But to assume that we evolved until we reached a particular point and now are unlikely to change for the rest of history, or to view ourselves as relics hampered by a self-inflicted mismatch between our environment and our genes, is to miss out on some of the most exciting new developments in evolutionary biology. ...
Steve Jones, a University College London geneticist and author of several popular books, has argued for years that human evolution has been "repealed" because our technology allows us to avoid many natural dangers. But many anthropologists believe instead that the documented changes over the last 5,000 to 10,000 years in some traits, such as the frequency of blue eyes, means that we are still evolving in ways large and small. Blue eyes were virtually unknown as little as 6,000 to 10,000 years ago, when they apparently arose through one of those random genetic changes that pop up in our chromosomes. Now, of course, they are common—an example of only one such recently evolved characteristic. Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending even suggest that human evolution as a whole has, on the contrary, accelerated over the last several thousand years, and they also believe that relatively isolated groups of people, such as Africans and North Americans, are subject to differing selection. That leads to the somewhat uncomfortable suggestion that such groups might be evolving in different directions—a controversial notion to say the least.

A big reason there's so much confusion on this topic is that we aren't supposed to think about genetic differences between people based on their ancestry. So, a couple of decades ago Tooby and Cosmides came up with the idea that everybody's ancestors 50,000 years ago were paleolithic hunter-gatherers, and thus we've all inherited the exact same human nature. But, of course, humans have continued to evolve over the last 50,00 years, often in radically different environments. 

Thus, we see major differences based on ancestry: Italians and Jews suffer less from binge drinking than Scandinavians because their ancestors had alcohol many generations earlier. In the Olympics, high altitude-adapted Ethiopians make better distance runners than sprinters, while West Africans and their diaspora make better sprinters than distance runners. 

That doesn't mean that everything is racially determined, just that it will probably be worth your while to think about what your ancestors were like and what worked for them. If, say, you have a lot of alcoholics in your family tree or it's a stereotype about your ethnicity, be careful with the booze. In contrast, whoever your are, probably none of your ancestors evolved successful adaptations for hitting the crack pipe only in moderation, so avoid cocaine altogether. 

I don't give much in the way of diet or exercise advice for two reasons:

- I could stand to lose a few (?) pounds myself.

- I don't think there's One True Diet that's right for everybody. 

Most diet books are written to give the impression that all previous diet books were Wrong. But, no doubt some worked well for some people. 

So, I mainly advise people to experiment, but try to prioritize what you will experiment with based on the likelihood that it will work for your genome. At family gatherings, talk to your blood relatives. Pay more attention to how your slender aunt keeps the pounds off than how your slender sister-in-law does it, because what works for your aunt is more likely to work for you. Think about your ancestors and your racial group(s). Everybody tends to be descended from people who were reasonably well adapted to their environments as opposed to misfits, so think about their nutritional and exercise environments. 

As Gregory Clark pointed out in A Farewell to Alms, most Englishmen today are descended from successful farmers of 1200 to 1800, as opposed to wretched farm laborers. The landowners probably ate a fair amount of the roast beef of merry olde England.

If your ancestors ate a lot of roast beef, try a Paleo diet and see if your weight goes down or up. And so forth. If your ancestors ate a lot of olive oil, try a Mediterranean diet. If these first tries don't work, move on to something else ancestrally plausible before trying a longshot ancestrally exotic diet.

Occasionally, criminals really are as cool as they seem in the movies

A general theme here at iSteve is the pervasive disappointingness of real-life crooks compared to their movie counterparts. But, not always. From the WSJ:
BRUSSELS—Heavily armed robbers broke into the national airport here and stole more than 120 packages of diamonds from a Swiss-bound flight Monday night, in one of Europe's most brazen and valuable tarmac holdups in a decade, Belgian prosecutors said Tuesday. 
Shortly before 8 p.m. Monday, two black vehicles with blue lights resembling police transport pulled up to a Helvetic Airways Fokker 100 jet plane, operating for Swiss International Air Lines, that had just been loaded, according to Belgian prosecutor Ine Van Wymersch and other people familiar with the events. 
Eight masked men with machine guns held the ground staff, crew and passengers at gunpoint as they forced security workers to open the plane's cargo door. The men selectively removed at least 120 packets of diamonds, Ms. Van Wymersch said. The vehicles then sped away. No shots were fired and nobody was hurt in the theft, she said. 
Ms. Van Wymersch declined to place a value on the stolen gems. Another person familiar with the events said the jewels are worth at least $350 million.

Note: giant estimates of value of diamonds are probably more like what you'd pay at the heavily advertised mall diamond shop for an engagement ring than actual losses to the owners.

Here's my 2010 post on the Antwerp diamond trade that got ripped off.

February 18, 2013

Who likes "Fast & Furious" movies? NYT remains stumped

Jerry Seinfeld (light blue shirt, sans toupee) has really been working on his triceps and tan lately
From the New York Times:
‘Fast & Furious’ Stresses Social Side of Fandom


LOS ANGELES — Despite selling $1.8 billion in tickets, Universal’s “Fast & Furious” car-racing series is Hollywood’s equivalent of a second-class citizen. 
It does not dazzle with computerized special effects like “Transformers” or feature rising young stars like “The Hunger Games.” It lacks the cultural cachet of “Harry Potter.” 
“We feel like underdogs most of the time,” said Vin Diesel, who leads the “Fast & Furious” cast. 
What “Fast & Furious” does have — and it has gone largely unnoticed — is an astounding online following. Its Facebook page has 24.9 million “likes,” more than any active film series except “Avatar.” Mr. Diesel has 39 million Facebook fans; among actors, only Will Smith has more. 
That kind of passion is making the next installment, “Fast & Furious 6,” one of the most anticipated movies of the summer. After an online promotional stunt coordinated by the studio to coincide with a Super Bowl ad, “Fast & Furious 6” is setting up one of the biggest box-office races of the year: Mr. Diesel and crew against “The Hangover Part III.”

But without Chris Dorner around to stand in-line to see "The Hangover Part III," it's just not going to be the same.
“We measured the various ways audiences talked about these films online, and ‘Fast 6’ blew everything else away,” said Ben Carlson, Fizziology’s president.

So, Brooks Barnes, NYT reporter, who are these people who like "Fast & Furious" movies? Enquiring minds want to know! I realize that you don't, personally, know any of them, but, surely, living as we do in the Age of Big Data, there must be information available to answer basic questions like: what are, say, their demographics?

Apparently not. As far as I can tell from reading this article, "Fast & Furious" films are liked by people who like films entitled "Fast & Furious."

Why do you want to know more? What are you, curious? If you are supposed to know more, you'll be informed of it through the proper channels.

NYT: "California Eases Tone as Latinos Make Gains"

"Students after school in Glen Avon, east of Los Angeles. Latinos now
make up more than two-thirds of many cities in that region."
From the New York Times:
California Eases Tone as Latinos Make Gains


LOS ANGELES — A generation ago, California voters approved a ballot initiative that was seen as the most anti-immigrant law in the nation. Immigrants who had come to the country illegally would be ineligible to receive prenatal care, and their children would be barred from public schools.
But the law, which was later declared unconstitutional by the federal courts, never achieved the goal of its backers: to turn back the tide of immigrants pouring into the state. Instead, since the law was approved in 1994, the political and social reality has changed drastically across the state. Now, more California residents than ever before say that immigrants are a benefit to the state, according to public opinion polls from the Public Policy Institute of California. 
As Congress begins debating an overhaul of the immigration system, many in California sense that the country is just now beginning to go through the same evolution the state experienced over the last two decades. For a generation of Republicans, Gov. Pete Wilson’s barrages on the impact of immigration in the 1990s spoke to their uneasiness with the way the state was changing. Now many California Republicans point to that as the beginning of their downfall. 
Today, party leaders from both sides, and from all over the state, are calling for a softer approach and a wholesale change in federal policies.

Have you noticed how the prestige press's reporting on immigration policy is about the same in tone and lack of content as junior high school girls gossiping about the tone of people they don't like?

As Auntie Analog says, "The New York Times: the Newspaper of Broken Record."

Nicholas Wade reviews Napoleon Chagnon's autobiography

Nicolas Poussin, "Rape of the Sabine Women," 1637, Louvre:
A depiction of the legendary 750 BC abduction of neighboring
women by an early Roman raiding party
In the New York Times, science correspondent Nicholas Wade reviews anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon's autobiography Noble Savages:
Trained as an engineer before taking up anthropology, Dr. Chagnon was interested in the mechanics of how the Yanomamö worked. He perceived that kinship was the glue that held societies together, so he started to construct an elaborate genealogy of the Yanomamö (often spelled Yanomani.) 
The genealogy took many years, in part because of the Yanomamö taboo on mentioning the names of the dead. When completed, it held the key to unlocking many important features of Yanomamö society. One of Dr. Chagnon’s discoveries was that warriors who had killed a man in battle sired three times more children than men who had not killed. 
His report, published in Science in 1988, set off a storm among anthropologists who believed that peace, not war, was the natural state of human existence. Dr. Chagnon’s descriptions of Yanomamö warfare had been bad enough; now he seemed to be saying that aggression was rewarded and could be inherited. 
A repeated theme in his book is the clash between his empirical findings and the ideology of his fellow anthropologists. The general bias in anthropological theory draws heavily from Marxism, Dr. Chagnon writes. His colleagues insisted that the Yanomamö were fighting over material possessions, whereas Dr. Chagnon believed the fights were about something much more basic — access to nubile young women.

The distinction between competing over material possessions and competing over women seems pretty blurry. In general, the more productive cultures are ones that channel male agression over reproduction into economic rather than physical competition.

As an example of this, I was in Glendale on Saturday night and walked past hundreds of young Spanish-speaking people lined up to get into Giggles night club. They looked like they were intending to engage in a lot of conspicuous consumption that, judging by the tightness and tackiness of their clubbing costumes, they couldn't really afford.
In his view, evolution and sociobiology, not Marxist theory, held the best promise of understanding human societies. In this light, he writes, it made perfect sense that the struggle among the Yanomamö, and probably among all human societies at such a stage in their history, was for reproductive advantage. 
Men form coalitions to gain access to women. Because some men will be able to have many wives, others must share a wife or go without, creating a great scarcity of women. This is why Yanomamö villages constantly raid one another.
The raiding over women creates a more complex problem, that of maintaining the social cohesion required to support warfare. A major cause of a village’s splitting up is fights over women. But a smaller village is less able to defend itself against larger neighbors. The most efficient strategy to keep a village both large and cohesive through kinship bonds is for two male lineage groups to exchange cousins in marriage. Dr. Chagnon found that this is indeed the general system practiced by the Yanomamö.

And, I suspected, walking down the street, that some of the more disorderly patrons of Giggles tended, as the night wore on, to turn from competing for women via buying $285 bottle service to more direct means. When I got home, looking up Giggles on Google, I found this news story:
Chunk of man's eyebrow bitten off outside Giggles night club in Glendale 
October 01, 2012 
A 38-year-old North Hollywood man lost a chunk of his eyebrow early Sunday during a fight outside of Giggles Nightclub in Glendale, police said. 
Officers found the man, whose name wasn’t released, about 2 a.m. in the alley behind the night club in the 200 block of Brand Boulevard after receiving a call about a brawl involving 20 men, according to Glendale police reports. Police didn’t find the man’s attacker. 
The man told police another man bit his eyebrow, causing an inch-wide gash. 
Blood was dripping from the man’s face as he stood alongside another eight men who weren’t involved in the fight, police said. 
He told officers he and his friends were leaving the nightclub and were walking in the alley where there was a group of men fighting. 
The man was watching the fight when another male suddenly approached him from the left and bit his eyebrow, police said. 
He described the man as Latino, 5 foot 5 inches tall, about 200 pounds with an athletic build and short hair. The man was wearing blue jeans only.

Sadly, no Poussin is likely to immortalize this post-Giggles encounter in art worthy of the Louvre. I think Poussin could have done a lot with "5 foot 5 inches tall, about 200 pounds with an athletic build ... wearing blue jeans only."

Betty Friedan v. the Lavender Menace

Lesbians wearing "Lavender Menace" t-shirts protest Betty Friedan in 1970.
Their signs say, "The Women's Movement Is a Lesbian Plot!"
A half-century after the publication of Betty Friedan's book The Feminine Mystique, her name is much in the news. I always thought the most interesting thing about her was that when she was the founding president of the National Organization for Women in 1966-1970, she publicly denounced what she called the "Lavender Menace:" the tendency for lesbians to hijack any organization with the word "women" in the title. 

Eventually, in 1977, Friedan submitted to lesbian power within the women's movement, but her many warnings in the decade before then that lesbians were taking over organized feminism make fascinating reading.

In the early 1990s, researching what became my article Why Lesbians Aren't Gay, I wanted to see if Friedan's predictions had turned out true. So, back in this pre-Web age, I joined the National Organization for Women to get their newsletter.

The post-Friedan NOW newsletter came printed in black ink, with one highlight color ... lavender ink. Much of the content was focused solely on lesbian concerns. The national leader of N.O.W. in the 1990s, Patricia Ireland, had a husband somewhere, but also a female partner who seemed to be around more.

So, score one for Betty Friedan's powers of prescience. 

Obama to study brain, says Neanderthal cloning expert

From the New York Times:
Obama Seeking to Boost Study of Human Brain 
Published: February 17, 2013 
The Obama administration is planning a decade-long scientific effort to examine the workings of the human brain and build a comprehensive map of its activity, seeking to do for the brain what the Human Genome Project did for genetics.

George M. Church, a molecular biologist at Harvard, said he was helping to plan the project, the Brain Activity Map.

Dr. Church was most recently in the news speculating about cloning a lot of Neanderthals.

Do they really want to know what they'll find?

First report of 2012 white vote in all 50 states

My new VDARE article is the first to reveal how the white electorate voted in 2012 in each of the 50 states. (The widely publicized exit poll last November ignored 20 states, including giant Texas.)

On the lessons of the 2012 vote:
The message you’ve heard ever since the election is that the Republicans lost because of the amnesty issue and therefore they must agree to amnesty and a path to citizenship. You know, the New York Times and the POTUS have all been explaining to the Republican Party how they need to pass amnesty right now for their own good. And, as I said earlier, if Republicans can’t trust the leadership of the Democratic Party to look out for their partisan interests, who can they trust? 
Yet the states in which Romney came close to winning are typically ones where he just did not get enough of the white vote. 
Consider Ohio, where Romney lost 52-48 overall by only getting a grand total of 54 percent of the white vote. Almost anywhere in modern America, Republicans have to win more than 54 percent of whites to win. 
Here are some other north central states where Romney came fairly close:  
Pennsylvania: 54 percent of the white vote
Iowa: 48 percent
WI 49 percent
Minnesota 47 percent
Michigan 53 percent  
Romney couldn’t get the job done in these northern states, not because of the tidal wave of Hispanics, but because he just didn’t get enough whites to show up and vote for him.

Read the whole thing there.

Unraveling the genetic code behind IQ

From the Wall Street Journal:
A Genetic Code for Genius? 
In China, a research project aims to find the roots of intelligence in our DNA; searching for the supersmart
... In the spring of 2010, a theoretical physicist called Stephen Hsu from the University of Oregon visited BGI. Dr. Hsu was also interested in the genetics of cognitive ability, so the pair joined with other colleagues to launch the BGI intelligence project. 
One part of the plan called for shifting to saliva-based DNA samples obtained from mathematically gifted people, including Chinese who had participated in mathematics or science Olympiad training camps. 
Another involved the collection of DNA samples from high-IQ individuals from the U.S. and other countries, including those with extremely high SAT scores, and those with a doctorate in physics or math from an elite university. In addition, anyone could enroll via BGI's website if they met the criteria. 
The Shenzen government agreed to pay for half the project, and BGI said it would pitch in the other half, says Mr. Zhao. 
160 and over: IQ of high-intelligence individuals in the BGI study 
Most of the samples so far have come from outside of China. The main source is Dr. Plomin of King's College, who for his own research had collected DNA samples from about 1,600 individuals whose IQs were off the charts. Those samples were obtained through a U.S. project known as the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth, now in its fourth decade. 
Dr. Plomin tracked down 1,600 adults who had enrolled as kids in the U.S. project, now based at Vanderbilt University. Their DNA contributions make up the bulk of the BGI samples. 
Dr. Hsu embarked on his own marketing drive. When giving science talks at various institutions, including the California Institute of Technology, Taiwan's Academy of Science and Google, GOOG +0.64% he exhorted listeners to sign up for the study. 
BGI's website has so far attracted about 500 qualifying volunteers. 

This stuff's complicated, so I wouldn't be surprised if this winds up taking a lot longer than Mr. Zhao, a 20-year-old wunderkind, thinks it will take.

America's least literate cities: What could be the common denominator?

The annual list of America's cities where reading is most and least popular has come out again, and once more America's most literate pundits remain baffled by why reading is popular in some metropolitan areas but not in others:

America's 5 most literate cities:
5. Denver, Colo.
4. Pittsburgh, Pa.
3. Minneapolis, Minn.
2. Seattle, Wash.
1. Washington, D.C.

America's five least literate cities:
5. Anaheim, Calif.
4. El Paso, Texas
3. Stockton, Calif.
2. Corpus Christi, Texas
1. Bakersfield, Calif.

You know what we need to fix the problems of Anaheim, El Paso, Stockton, Corpus Christi, and Bakersfield?

More immigration. 

Granted, I'm not sure exactly why, but I've been reading a lot of punditry lately, and that seems to be solution for just about everything, so why not literacy?

February 17, 2013

What's the gayest state in the Union?

Gallup and professor Gary Gates have called up over 200,000 people and asked them, "Do you, personally, identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender?" 

(By the way, I can never remember what the T in LGBT stands for: Transexual? Transvestite? Presumably, you can make a living on the academic conference circuit having a strong opinion on what the "T" should stand for and why your kind of Ts are most oppressed and therefore most deserving.)

Nationally, 3.5% say "Yes," which isn't too surprising or even interesting. It reminds me of the Onion football headline: "Both teams satisfied with three-and-a-half-yard carry." The Los Angeles Times ran an entire article on these results without mentioning the national average figure, which is a lot less than the Kinsey 10% number that all right-thinking people promoted for decades.

Of the 50 states, the gayest is Hawaii, which also isn't surprising. Hawaii has long been a destination for semi-closeted celebrities downshifting their careers, like Jim "Gomer Pyle" Nabors in 1976.
In general, the term "downshifting" comes to mind when looking at the top of the list: many of the the states at the top look like lower cost, quieter places for homosexuals to head for when the bright lights of San Francisco (Oregon, Nevada), Los Angeles (Hawaii, Nevada), and New York (Vermont, Maine) start to lose their luster. 

Gay downshifting/retirement is a pretty big deal economically, as I noticed when I visited Palm Springs last year. The overall Palm Springs area is a vast exurban metropolis? exopolis?, while the actual municipality of Palm Springs, the original core, is now mostly inhabited by older homosexuals downshifting or retired from entertainment industry careers or the like. The whole place has been transformed into a fantasy land of early 1960s Suburban Moderne interior decoration. It's like you are five years old again and your mom is taking you to visit the house of her most upscale social-climbing friend, who has just redecorated in Space Age colors.

A gay male reader pointed out that Palm Springs even has a golf course, Indian Canyons, favored by that most minuscule of all demographics: gay male golfers. (He estimates there are about 30 gay male regulars at Indian Canyons.)

In general, a visit to Palm Springs suggests that the overall national population doesn't seem to be getting particularly gayer in the 21st Century, that there are a huge number of old gays from the 1970s around. The only young males around in downtown Palm Springs are the Mexican streetwalkers.

Other questions inspired by the list: is the big difference between South Dakota (4.4%) and North Dakota (1.7%) just caused by small sample sizes, or is South Dakota just gayer than North Dakota? I am reminded of the various serious attempts made by North Dakota legislators over the last generation to change the name of their state to the more manly-sounding "Dakota."

One important question for these kind of surveys where the goal is to come up with precise estimates of quite small percentages is how large the random error rate is in answering questions. I wouldn't be surprised if, say, one percent of respondents mishear or misunderstand the question, which would tend to falsely narrow the spread among states.