June 1, 2013

Marine Le Pen to be prosecuted for crimethink

From the BBC:
French far right leader loses immunity, faces charges

French far right leader, Marine Le Pen, could face criminal charges for inciting racism, the BBC has learnt. 
The French authorities opened a case against Mrs Le Pen in 2011 after she likened the sight of Muslims praying in the streets to the Nazi occupation of France. 
As a European Parliament member (MEP), she enjoyed immunity from prosecution. 
However, this protection was removed by a European parliamentary committee in a secret vote this week.

Uh, I'm not a lawyer, but isn't there something a little fishy about prosecuting somebody retroactively for what they did even though it was perfectly legal when they did it?
BBC chief political correspondent Gary O'Donoghue says he has been told that the vote to remove her immunity was "overwhelming". 
It will need to be ratified by the full parliament, but that's expected to be a formality, our correspondent says. ...
The move clears the way for the French authorities to pursue a case against the leader, who steered her party to a record 18% showing in the first round of last year's presidential election.

So, this is rather like the U.S. government prosecuting Ross Perot, who got 18.7% of the vote in 1992, the next year for campaign statements -- if Perot had been a Congressman and had made them on the floor of the House.
Mrs Le Pen made the remarks at a party rally in 2010 in the southern French town of Lyon. 
She said that Muslims using the streets to pray because mosques were overflowing was an "occupation" of French territory. 
Praying in the streets was banned in Paris in 2011 in response to growing far right protests. 

A reader writes:
Talk about naked political bloodsport. They're going to charge her with a retroactive crime for comments she made when she had immunity from prosecution. 
Also, notice the BBC finds it worthy to note that this was a widely supported and popular move amongst her fellow MEPs. What does the popularity of a decision have to do with whether it is sound? 
The Left is going nuclear against its opponents. 
I wonder if these types of tactics actually work or do they transform the targets into Obie-won-Kenobi - strike me down and I shall become stronger.  

Her father cultivated a mythos around Joan of Arc, who is (or ought to be) the patron saint of nationalism.

Vibrant diversity and diverse vibrancy

From the Washington Post:
Russian forces arrest mayor of Dagestan city where Tsarnaev lived
By Kathy Lally, Saturday, June 1, 11:34 AM E-mail the writer 
MOSCOW — The mayor of Dagestan’s largest city, who has survived 15 assassination attempts and employs a large security force to protect him, was arrested on murder charges Saturday by heavily armed forces in armored personnel carriers and helicopters, Russian officials said. 
Said Amirov, the 59-year-old mayor of Makhachkala, has been in a wheelchair since 1993, when one attempt on his life severed his spine. His southern Russian city is known for frequent bombings and shootouts among police, criminal gangs and Islamic fighters. For six months last year it was home to Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the accused Boston Marathon bombers. His parents live there now.

Amirov was seized by troops wearing camouflage, helmets and bulletproof vests and armed with automatic rifles. They surrounded his palatial house on the Caspian Sea, according to a video shown on LifeNews, a Web site that has close connections to the security services. ... 
In Russia, one question nearly always arises when an arrest is made: Why now?

In other words, everybody is guilty, so who arrests whom is mostly a question of timing.
The answer was unclear Saturday. President Vladimir Putin, however, recently appointed a new acting president of the Dagestan region, Ramazan Abdulatipov,

Putin really likes that name, doesn't he? For those of you keeping score at home:

Ramzan - Chechnya
Ramazan - Dagestan

Maybe RamZPaul could get a gig doing stand-up before Bolshoi Ballet performances?
amid speculation that the usual corruption has gone too far or that officials want order to be imposed on the North Caucasus before the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

From the NYT:
Mr. Amirov in many ways embodied the rough-and-tumble North Caucasus city he led, a place where brawls and gunfights are so standard that restaurant menus occasionally list the price of replacing damaged tables and chairs.

America needs more immigrants from the Caucasus to bring the blessings of vibrant diversity to our boring white-bread country.

May 31, 2013

Affordable Family Formation in the U.K.

It's interesting how in the U.K. the intellectual tide has shifted so that the downsides of immigration can increasingly be talked about in a sophisticated fashion just as the American establishment is battening down the hatches and crushing dissent. For example, David Goodhart getting banned from the Hay Festival for being an immigration skeptic has gotten him good publicity in Britain, while Jason Richwine getting fired has been widely treated as proof that he had it coming.

From This Is Lincolnshire in the U.K.:
Grantham MP Nick Boles blames rising house prices on immigration 
Grantham and Stamford MP Nick Boles says immigration is helping push up house prices, preventing young people from owning their own home. 
The Planning Minister said he has changed his mind about immigration after seeing how the arrival of 2 million new immigrants over the last decade has left Britain short of houses.

He warned that failure to build enough homes would mean only the professional classes would be able to buy a house. 
Mr Boles told a national newspaper: “I have become much more critical of immigration. A very substantial contribution to housing need comes from the level of immigration in the past two decades.

“‘I had the classic metropolitan view about immigration that it was broadly good for me because it made life more varied and interesting and there were lots of people bringing different skills into the economy. 
“I wasn’t really aware of the effect on people who were competing for relatively low skilled jobs and competing for public services.” ...
Mr Boles said young people are being priced out of the property market, citing figures which show that the number of first time buyers who get a mortgage without help from their parents has halved from 69 per cent in 2005 to just 35 per cent now. 
“The biggest block on home ownership now is affordability,” he said.

The Atlantic on affirmative action

Racist ginger Abigail Fisher
sued for her so-called "constitutional
rights" in the Supreme Court
Americans Oppose Affirmative Action for Race, If You Only Ask White Americans 
What do polls show about racial preferences in college admissions? Don't take the overall number at face value.
... The story also drops this seemingly innocuous fact: "Polls show that while most Americans oppose racial or ethnic preferences in college admissions, they also think colleges should give extra help to the poor." 
That's a deceptively complex statement. When you actually take a look at the polls, the truth is more like this: A majority of Americans oppose racial or ethnic preferences, but only because a majority of Americans are also white.

The Gang of Eight is doing good work to solve that problem in the long run, but can't something be done in the meantime, such as disenfranchising or deporting about a 100,000,000 white citizens right now?

Common sense from lefties on the Cheap Labor bill

Senator Bernie Sanders (Vermont, Independent), who often identifies as a "socialist," offers some old-fashioned supply and demand reasoning about The Eight Banditos' bill:
‘This is a massive effort to attract cheap labor.’ 
Why Sen. Bernie Sanders is skeptical of guest workers. 
By Dylan Matthews, Published: May 25, 2013  
Sen. Bernard “Bernie” Sanders (I-Vt.) is the junior U.S. senator from Vermont. We spoke on the phone Friday afternoon about his views on the comprehensive immigration reform legislation that is pending in the Senate. A lightly edited transcript follows. 
Dylan Matthews: In 2007, you had some concerns about the immigration bill being weighed by the Senate, and voted against it. Now that the new Gang of Eight bill is out of committee, what do you make of it? 
Sen. Bernie Sanders: Thanks for calling. Let me just say this. I’m a strong supporter of immigration reform, and of the need to provide a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants. I very strongly support the DREAM Act, and will continue to strongly support it. I very strongly believe, as someone who knows what’s going on in the dairy industry in Vermont, that there’s no question we need to create a status for immigrant workers in agriculture, and I think the committee is making good progress there.

In other words, even though Bernie knows the immigration bill is bad for the country, as he will explain at length, he's signaling that his vote can possibly be bought if enough goodies for Vermont dairy farmers are ladled onto the bill. This demonstrates a fundamental problem with the Gang of Eight's bill: compromises to attract marginal votes are likely not to make the bill better by reducing immigration, but to make the bill worse by giving away more visas to special interests.

But, after that ignominious beginning, Bernie does better:
My concerns are in regards to where we stand in terms of guest workers programs, made worse by amendments offered by Senator Hatch. What I do not support is, under the guise of immigrant reform, a process pushed by large corporations which results in more unemployment and lower wages for American workers. 
As you well know, we remain in the midst of a severe recession. Real unemployment, once you consider people who’ve given up looking for work, is close to 14 percent, and in some parts of the country is even higher. For minorities it’s very high, and we’ve got to address that. You have massively high unemployment for young people, yet we’re talking about expanding visas so that young people from abroad can serve as life guards, become ski instructors, become front desk people, when young people in this country desperately need jobs to pay for a college education.

The notion that being a life guard or a ski instructor or working at the front desk of a five star resort hotel is a job young Americans just won't do is indeed pretty weird.
I am aware that there may well be certain high-skilled jobs in specific areas in high skilled technical industries that American companies are finding it hard to fill. I find it hard to understand that, when nine million people in this country have degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields, only about three million have jobs in these areas. 
Furthermore, as someone who was led to believe that what economics was about was supply and demand,

if you need workers in a certain area, you need to raise wages. I have a hard time understanding the notion that there’s a severe need for more workers from abroad when wages for these jobs rose only 4.5 percent between 2000 and 2011. You see stagnant wages for high skilled workers, when these companies tell you that they desperately need high skilled workers. Why not raise wages to attract those workers? 
The bottom line is that I feel, very much, that a lot of the initiative behind these guest workers programs, a very large expansion of guest worker programs — H2B visas would go up to as many as 195,000, H1B to as many as 205,000 a year — is coming from large corporations who want cheap labor from abroad.
Q. What do you make of the W visa program for low-skilled workers that came out of a deal by the AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce? 
A. I want to take a harder look at that. But again, look, when you have very high unemployment rates for low-skilled workers in this country, for kids who graduate high school, I’m very dubious about the need to bring foreign unskilled labor into this country. These are kids, young high school graduates, and the unemployment rate is just extremely high. I do not understand why they cannot hire those people and need foreign labor. 
... A couple of years ago, I believe it was Exxon Mobil that said they could not find American welders. I don’t believe it. ... Again, if there’s such a crisis, why haven’t wages gone up?

Q. One counterargument to that view which I’ve heard is that, while high-skilled wages haven’t risen that much in absolute terms, this is in a context where the average American worker, as you’re well aware, is seeing wages stagnate, if not fall. So in relative terms, wages for these workers are going up. 
A. Again, if there is this great crisis which I am hearing about, that the American economy absolutely depends on having more high-tech workers, then the law of supply and demand is that when you need something, you pay for it, right? Didn’t you learn that in elementary school? 

The concept of "supply and demand" is just so 19th and 20th Century. In the 21st Century, it's been replaced by the concept of "Who? Whom?" That's much simpler than having to draw intersecting supply and demand curves -- it's all just a question of who you feel are the Good Guys and who do you feel are the Bad Guys. If you feel that your fellow American citizens are good guys, then you are a Bad Guy, so shut up and feel lucky that you still have a job, unlike that Dr. Richwine, if you know what I mean?
What matters is that there’s a variety of reasons that the middle class in this country is disappearing. Real wages of millions of workers have gone down. For corporations to say, “Here’s what’s going on in other areas,” doesn’t answer the question. If you want high-skilled workers, you need to wage raises. But if you want cheap labor, you bring in workers from abroad. 

Cartoonist Ted Rall writes:
SYNDICATED COLUMN: Immigration Reform is Treason
May 30th, 2013
Unemployment is High. Why Are We Importing Foreign Workers?
Unemployment is sky-high. Sustained long-term unemployment is at record levels. So why the hell are we importing foreign workers? 
The immigration reform bill moving through Congress will throw open the door to millions of new foreigners — people who aren’t here yet — to enter the United States to work. And we’re not talking about crappy fruit-picking gigs Americans supposedly don’t want (more on that below). 
“American” (you have to wonder about their loyalties) lawmakers want foreigner nationals to fill America’s high-paying tech jobs. While Americans are out of work. 
At the risk of sounding like Pat Buchanan: WTF? 
For at least 20 years, the U.S. economy has been replacing good manufacturing jobs with bad service jobs. Salaries have fallen. Which has depressed demand. As things stand, there’s one bright spot: the potential for the IT sector to lift us out of the rut. To paraphrase George Orwell’s “1984″: If there is hope for America’s unemployed, it lies with tech. 
Make that: “lied.” Because America’s tech companies — which makes most of its money selling its crap to Americans — are hell-bent on hiring just about anyone who is not an American citizen. 

The Todashevs are back in the news

From the Washington Post:
Ibragim Todashev was the eldest of 12 children. His father said the family fled Chechnya after the wars of secession erupted there in the 1990s, eventually finding a haven in the Volga River city of Saratov. Abdulbaki Todashev had once studied to be a veterinarian there, in the Soviet era.

I.e., the Todashevs were on the side of Russia, the eventual victor, not on the side of the Chechen separatists, who lost when Putin came to power.
Ibragim Todashev studied English for three years in Saratov and then, in 2008, returned with his family to by-then more stable Chechnya

I.e., Russian-ruled Chechnya.
and completed his fourth year of higher education at Grozny University, his father said. The elder Todashev got a job with the city. Today, he heads the administrative unit of the Grozny mayor’s office.

Grozny is the capital of Chechnya and is the focus of vast rebuilding efforts by Moscow. So, the elder Todashev appears to report directly to the mayor of Grozny as head of the "administrative unit." (Other news accounts describe him as the head of "municipal services" in the mayor's office. It sounds like a big job with lots of patronage possibilities, at least as big as, say, heading Streets and Sanitation in Chicago, maybe bigger.)

Is the mayor of Grozny, Todashev's boss, a political wild card, totally divorced from the larger power in that part of the world? I don't think so. I found this news report:
The City Council of Grozny has elected Muslim Khuchiyev as mayor of the Chechen capital today, the press service of the Chechen Republic's administration reports. The meeting of the City Council was attended by the head of the republic, Ramzan Kadyrov. He congratulated Khuchiyev on his victory.

I've looked at hundreds of pictures of Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, but I've never seen one in which he is looking the least bit displeased about the turns of events. My impression is that Ramzan is not a good sport about political reverses: if he is not happy, nobody with a government job in Chechnya is happy until Ramzan is happy again. Therefore, I have to assume that the election of Mr. Khuchiyev did not come as an unpleasant surprise to Ramzan.

(Update: Here's a July 3, 2007 Pravda story about Ramzan firing the mayor of Grozny and naming Khuchiyev mayor.)

In turn, Ramzan reports directly to Vladimir Putin in Moscow -- he flies in so often to see Putin that he has a private army of bodyguards permanently stationed at the hotel of the Interior Ministry in Moscow maintained by the Office of the President.

So, to the best of my knowledge, here would be what one part of the org chart of the Russian state looks like:
Vladimir Putin 
Ramzan Kadyrov 
Muslim Khuchiyev 
Abdulbaki Todashev (father of "refugee" Ibragim Todashev)

Your dad lives in Russia and is three steps down the organization chart from the de facto czar of Russia. That qualifies you for refugee status?

Back to the Washington Post:
As soon as he left the university, Ibragim Todashev went to the United States on a program that enabled him to perfect his English, his father said. Three or four months later, when it was time to return, Todashev called his father and said he wanted to stay on a while. 
“I wasn’t against it,” the father said. Chechnya was still struggling, and life in the United States had to be more secure. Ibragim was living in Boston and got to know Tsarnaev because they belonged to the same gym, his father said. They had each other’s phone numbers, he said, “but they were never close friends.” 
Ibragim Todashev applied for a green card, which meant he had to stay in the United States. He stayed active in mixed martial arts, but a knee injury and surgery on his meniscus put an end to those dreams.

Thank God we have immigrants to do all the dreaming for us.
Two months ago, his father said, he received the green card, and that’s when he started making plans to come back to Grozny for a visit, knowing he would be able to reenter the United States.

A few questions ... Did young Todashev have a legitimate job? His neighbors mostly recall him spending long hours detailing his Mercedes. Is that a job Americans just won't do?

Todashev still sponged off his separated wife in Atlanta, that Armenian girl who converted to Islam to marry him, and perhaps off his cute girlfriend, too, a Russian illegal immigrant in Orlando. What else, if anything, did he do for money? Deal drugs?

("By the way, the death certificate of 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev lists his occupation as "never worked."")

Todashev got his green card in 2013 despite twice being arrested in this decade for violent incidents, a road rage incident in Boston and a parking lot punchout in Orlando.

He got the green card for being a "refugee" in need of "asylum," but his response was to immediately book a flight back to Russia, the country he ostensibly needed asylum from,  where his dad is three steps down the power structure from Putin.

Tony Montana in Scarface (video) had a more plausible claim to refugee status and a green card than did this mook.

Is anybody else besides me and Refugee Resettlement Watch interested in these questions?

I'm fascinated by how little attention is paid to the obvious policy questions raised by this lurid incident. The only people who want to do the minimal amount of digging necessary to learn anything about Todashev's background are conspiracy theorists with their amazing knack for getting things wrong, while respectable types just find it all baffling and confusing so they don't want to think about it.

So, the Todashev and Tsarnaev refugee awards are evidence either that our refugee system is broken or that it's being finagled by as part of a dangerous game being played in the Caucasus by ... the CIA? The State Department? Who knows?

We need a National Immigration Safety Board to investigate these particularly egregious incidents.

May 30, 2013

Father Andrew Greeley, RIP

Father Andrew Greeley, priest, social scientist, pundit, and bestselling novelist, was a major figure in American intellectual life in the 1970s. I always grouped him with Daniel Patrick Moynihan and James Q. Wilson as Irish Catholics who were very good with statistics and drew conclusions from them that were interesting and not dogmatically liberal. I always thought of those three back then as neoconservatives, but the term has come to mean something very different over the generations.

Greeley's published output was so immense (120 books? 150 books? The priest who gave the eulogy at my father-in-law's funeral had composed two operas about Chicago politics -- not surprisingly, his librettist was Greeley), that it's hard to get a grip on the essence of his contributions. The NYT obituary, for example, concentrates on his steamy novels and battles with Catholic Church officials (Greeley denounced the "lavender mafia" within the Catholic hierarchy, but of course that doesn't get mentioned in the obituary) rather than his social science side.

I would call Greeley the intellectual spokesman for the white Catholic urban ethnics who got hammered by integration and the Great Society (Greeley was born in the same Austin neighborhood of Chicago as my wife), the people who saw up close and personal early on what welfare was doing to blacks. But, who wants to remember that? 

"Were the Victorians cleverer than us?"

Michael Woodley et al's paper on how reaction times are slower now than when Galton first measured them has been getting a lot of pixels. Here's the Daily Mail's write-up, which London School psychologist James Thompson endorsed as better than the one in the more upscale Telegraph
Were the Victorians cleverer than us? Research indicates a decline in brainpower and reflex speed thanks to 'REVERSE' natural selection 
Study claims we have 14 IQ points LESS than our 19th Century ancestors
Findings contradict the Flynn effect, which claims IQ has risen three points every decade since the Second World War 
It was an era of glorious scientific discovery. 
And the reason for the Victorians unprecedented success is simple – they were ‘substantially cleverer’ than us. 
Researchers compared reaction times - a reliable indicator of general intelligence – since the late 1800s to the present day and found our fleetness of mind is diminishing. 
They claim our slowing reflexes suggest we are less smart than our ancestors, with a loss of 1.23 IQ points per decade or 14 IQ points since Victorian times.
While an average man in 1889 had a reaction time of 183 milliseconds, this has slowed to 253ms in 2004.  
They found the same case with women, whose speed deteriorated from 188 to 261ms in the same period. 

Some of this data comes from Sir Francis Galton's famous public laboratory at a London museum where visitors could have themselves measured on all sorts of dimensions. The IQ tests hadn't been invented yet, so Galton used reaction times as a proxy for intelligence.
The research team from Umea University, Sweden, the University of Amsterdam and University College Cork said IQ scores are excellent predictors of job performance and those with higher intelligence are both more productive and creative. 
But the scientists were unable to directly compare IQ from different eras as earlier generations had limited access to education, improved nutrition and hygiene, which would have boosted modern results. 
Instead, they compared reaction times, which they claim ‘can be used to meaningfully compare historical and contemporary populations in terms of levels of general intelligence’. 
The figures indicate a decline in brainpower since the Victorian era, which contradicts the so-called Flynn effect, which has found a worldwide increase in measured IQ scores of three points a decade since the Second World War.

Researcher Dr Michael Woodley said: ‘They actually indicate a pronounced decline in IQ since the Victorian era, three times bigger than previous theoretical estimates would have us believe.’

The report in the journal Intelligence found: ‘The Victorian era was characterized by great accomplishments. As great accomplishment is generally a product of high intelligence, we tested the hypothesis that the Victorians were actually cleverer than modern populations. 
‘We used a robust elementary cognitive indicator of general intelligence, namely measures of simple reaction times.’  
And with the research looking at historical reaction time data, the scientists claim the drop in modern IQ could be even more dramatic than predicted.

‘It should also be emphasized that whilst our value of a −14.1 IQ point decline is an estimate based on the best meta-analytical data available, a simple inspection of our figure shows there is a non-negligible amount of scatter around the regression line. 
‘The real magnitude of the effect might therefore be several IQ points lower or even higher,’ they wrote.

HBD Chick offers skeptical commentaries.

Back in the 1990s, I read up on Arthur Jensen's research on his reaction time experiments, and ... I don't know. It seemed very, very complicated, even more complicated than reading Jensen on IQ.

How about me? I'm a reasonably intelligent person. Do I have good reaction times? In general, I'd say no. I'm one of the few people with a good record of avoiding traffic accidents who will tell you I'm not an above average driver. (A funny professorial joke is to have all students close their eyes, then ask all the ones who are above average drivers to raise their hands. When they open their eyes, usually the vast majority have their hands up.)

Personally, I can recall an embarrassingly long list of flubs I made where the quick reactions of other drivers kept me out of trouble. (This is not to say I'm a bad driver, just that I'm average driver who has a less biased memory than most.)

Athletically, I seem to have mediocre reflexes. As a baseball hitter, I could get the bat on the ball but I couldn't pull it to left field. Most of my hits came to right field because I was just a little slow in starting to swing.

There are two intellectual areas where I have very fast reflexes. At movie comedies, I often start laughing a split second before the rest of the audience. And I was an outstanding College Bowl (now Quiz Bowl) player in the toss-up questions where speed matters. (My one appearance on Jeopardy, I only came in second because my buzzer was malfunctioning.)

So, I don't really get the topic of reaction times.

"Why Can’t America Be Sweden?"

1973: "Minnesota:
A State that Works"
Thomas B. Edsall writes in the New York Times:
Why Can’t America Be Sweden? 
Daron Acemoglu, an eminent economist at M.I.T., has ignited a firestorm by arguing that contemporary forces of globalization bar the United States from adopting the liberal social welfare policies of Scandinavian countries.

Acemoglu ... uh-oh. Everything Acemoglu touches turns into mental fog. I agree with him a lot, but he's kryptonite to clear thought.
“We cannot all be like the Nordics,” Acemoglu declares, in a 2012 paper, “Choosing Your Own Capitalism in a Globalized World,” written with his colleagues James A. Robinson, a professor of government at Harvard, and Thierry Verdier, scientific director of the Paris School of Economics. 

Because we're not Nordics?

No ...
If the “cutthroat leader” – the United States — were to switch to “cuddly capitalism, this would reduce the growth rate of the entire world economy,” the authors argue, by slowing the pace of innovation.

Characteristically, the word "Swedes" does not appear in the text of the NYT article (just in a photo caption). In the comments, however:
Staten Island 
The main reason that America cannot be Sweden is that, unlike Sweden, America is not full of Swedes. We worship diversity in this country, but Sweden has been pretty much a textbook example of the blessings of homogeneity. 
Of course if Sweden continues with its current immigration policy, pretty soon it will no longer be full of Swedes either. Check out the recent (and under-reported) Stockholm riots to see where this is going.

The picture above is the cover (nominated by Time for Worst.Time.Cover.Ever) for the 1973 article "Minnesota: A State that Works" that troubled me as a 14-year-old true believer in Milton Friedman's columns in Newsweek. Minnesota was the most European social democratic state in the Union in 1973, but I had spent some vacations at my cousins' house outside St. Paul and could attest that, despite libertarian theory, it wasn't so bad. Some excerpts from the 1973 Time article:
The good life
If the American good life has anywhere survived in some intelligent equilibrium, it may be in Minnesota. It is a state where a residual American secret still seems to operate. Some of the nation's more agreeable qualities are evident there: courtesy and fairness, honesty, a capacity for innovation, hard work, intellectual adventure and responsibility. 
Politics is almost unnaturally clean -- no patronage, virtually no corruption. The citizens are well educated: the high school dropout rate, 7.6 percent, is the nation's lowest. Minnesotans are remarkably civil: their crime rate is the third lowest in the nation (after Iowa and Maine). By a combination of political and cultural tradition, geography and sheer luck, Minnesota nurtures an extraordinarily successful society. 
Minnesota has its drawbacks. ... Unemployment outside the Twin Cities area is troublesome, and personal income taxes are the highest in the nation. ... Some argue that Minneesota works a bit too well and too blandly, that its comparatively open and serene population is a decade or two behind the rest of the U.S. ... 
Racial issues
Minnesota's people are overwhelmingly white (98 percent), most of them solidly rooted in the middle class. Blacks rioted in Minneapolis in 1966 and 1967, but with only 1 percent of the state's population, they have not yet forced Minnesotans into any serious racial confrontation. Or at least, not apocalyptic confronation. ... Two black state legislators were elected last fall from predominantly white middle-class suburban districts.
Business culture
Minnesotans sometimes point to themselves as the reason for the state's success.
"You just don't have people barking at you when you're walking down the street or sitting in a restaurant," says Jim Johnson, a former Princeton instructor and Muskie campaign worker who recently moved back home. ...

Is this the 1973 version of the Jim Johnson of later Fannie Mae notoriety?

Yes, indeedy.
The land ...
Such an abundance and accessibility of nature has much to do with the Minnesotans' sense of place and roots. More than almost any other Americans, they are outdoor people, and at least 50 percent of them customarily vacation within their own state. 
Civic duty
Part of Minnesota's secret lies in people's extraordinary civic interest. The business community's social conscience, for example, is a reflection of the fact that so many companies have their headquarters in the state. ... 
Even more important than corporate giving is personal fund raising. 
Political culture
Some of Minnesota's success can be traced to its ethnic traditions. ... In many respects, the Scandinavians, long the largest single group in the state, have shaped Minnesota's character. They, together with its large Anglo-Saxon and German strain, account for a deep grain of sobriety and hard work, a near-worship for education and a high civic tradition in Minnesota life. ... 
Arthur Naftalin, a brilliant mayor of Minneapolis during the '60s, points out that no single group -- ethnic, religious or business -- has ever been able to take control of the state. There were no Tammany machines to greet the immigrants. "With our great variety," says Naftalin, "we have always had to form coalitions." ... 
(In the late '30s, Gov. Harold) Stassen pushed through a comprehensive civil service law that abolished patronage. "By taking politics out of the back room and engaging thousands in political activity, from women to college students, Stassen made the governmental process in Minnesota a superior instrument of the people's will," observes author Neal R. Peirce in The Great Plains States of America. ... 
Closing thoughts
Other states have more dramatic attractions, of course. To be in Ely or St. Cloud or event Minneapolis on a Saturday night and looking for excitement is to be conscious that nights are for sleeping. But there is something in the verdict of Chuck Ruhr: "California is the flashy blonde you like to take out once or twice. Minnesota is the girl you want to marry."

By the way, do people (outside of a few industries) talk about California this way anymore?

May 29, 2013

Latinos don't fail school, school fails Latinos!

Have you ever noticed how the Cult of Diversity turns respectable public discourse into one big 1980s Yakov Smirnoff routine?

From the San Jose Mercury-News:
In Silicon Valley, even high-achieving schools fail Latinos, report says 
By Sharon Noguchi 
SAN JOSE -- When it comes to preparing Latino children for college, some of the most successful school districts in the South Bay and Peninsula post the worst failure rates. 
In the Sunnyvale elementary district, where 82 percent of Asian students become proficient in algebra, only 10 percent of Latino students do. The district is tied with Berryessa and San Mateo-Foster City for the lowest Latino algebra proficiency rate -- the greatest single predictor of college success -- among 54 school districts in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. 
The dismal figures signal an educational crisis, say authors of a report being released Wednesday, as districts fail the largest-growing demographic group. Latinos make up 38 percent of K-12 public school students in the two counties.

"Apartment 23"

In Taki's Magazine, I try to explain a TV show that nobody, fans or critics, got. If you like my sense of humor, well, the people who made "Apartment 23" are a lot funnier than I am.

Since nothing I like, other than Iron Man movies, ever succeeds in the marketplace, I was hardly surprised when the only new sitcom I've bothered to watch in this decade was canceled in January with eight episodes unaired. But, this week, the eight lost episodes of "Apartment 23" are available on line for free. But not after June 2. 

You might think that ABC would have aired the best episodes, leaving the dross unaired, but it appears to have worked the opposite way. ABC tried to pick out the most mass appeal episodes to air, so the ones online this week are particularly Apartment 23ish.

Through the looking glass: Chechen-ruled Russia?

That Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov is having more expensive fun than a politician really should has only recently come to my attention, but taxpayers in Russia have been wondering for years about how much Kadyrov's monster trucks and movies with the washed up heroes and starlets of his youth are costing them.

As a commenter explained, Kadyrov is to Vladimir Putin as, in the New Testament, King Herod was to the Emperor Augustus: a local proxy ruler. But, thinking about Rome suggests a second, more sinister possibility that Muscovites discuss amongst themselves: perhaps the Chechen goon squad based in Moscow, nominally to protect Kadyrov on his visits to his master, is also the germ of a Chechen Praetorian Guard to keep Putin in power in case the Russian masses start getting uppity.

Mass armies drawn from the ranks of the people have always been a concern for rulers because they might prove too merciful in a crisis. For example, in 2011 Mubarak's conscript army appeared unwilling to slaughter civilian protestors Tianamen Square-style. Indeed in 1989, the Chinese Communist state's first attempt to crush the protestors failed because the local soldiers sympathized with the students. The government had to find a distant army comprised of peasants who despised the urban rich kids to do their dirty work.

Here are some excerpts from a reader's email:
I've spent a lot of time in Russia and can tell you the Chechens are the one locals tell you not to make eye contact with.  It's interesting that post-communist Russian nationalism looks a bit different these days than in the 90's and early 2000s--a significant portion of younger patriots want no part of empire, resent the Kremlin's subsidies to the North Caucasus (their slogan "Stop feeding the Caucasus!"), and hope for separation. Solzhenitsyn hoped for union among the Slavs in the old USSR, but not with the Moslems. 
"Victory" in the Chechen war is one of the pillars of the Putin myth, so he can't cut off Ramzan.  A lot of Russians, including a  lot of the "Siloviky," the "power" guys from the "special services" and military, hate Kadyrov and have questioned whether Russia really won the war  Some of the "new nationalists" even call Putin "the president of Chechnya."  
... Chechens act pretty Checheny in Moscow and the residents aren't happy about it:  Some FSB officers have had enough--I haven't seen anything on what happened to the striking officers, though: ... 
"A group of Federal Security Service officers has gone on strike to protest the release of Chechen policemen who had been arrested on suspicion of kidnapping and torturing a Moscow resident, opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported Monday....  But policemen working for Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov often have special permissions that allow them to travel around Russia with weapons and without many restrictions on their actions, said Andrei Soldatov, a well-known authority on Russia's security forces."
"The Chechen men implicated in the case are members of a bodyguard regiment for Kadyrov that is permanently stationed at the President Hotel in Moscow and protects the leader on trips to the capital, according to the Novaya Gazeta report. The hotel is located in front of the Interior Ministry building and is managed by the Office for Presidential Affairs." 
It seems to this observer as though a post in the “Kadyrov guard” is a cushy job—Kadyrov may use the posts as a rewards for his people, who get to move to Moscow with official papers, work for the boss when he is in town, then make money off of extortion schemes when he is not). ... 
This may be the origin of the stories we have seen since the wave of protests began on a contingent of Chechen gunmen being stationed in Moscow in case the Kremlin needed them to put down a rebellion—the thought being that local officers might balk at the task, something that did happen in the Russian Far East when higher tariffs for imported cars sparked protests.   
But we had been hearing that Putin might use the Chechens in such a capacity for years before that.  Recall that the anti-Putin “new nationalists” call VVP “the president of Chechnya”—resentments run deep concerning the costs of the war in Chechnya and the privileges the Kadyrov regime enjoys.  ... 

My vague hunch is that Chechens could come in pretty handy for starting a fight. But for ending a war, I wouldn't bet against the Russian people.


Port of Los Angeles
From the NY Times:
Solar Industry Anxious Over Defective Panels 
LOS ANGELES — The solar panels covering a vast warehouse roof in the sun-soaked Inland Empire region east of Los Angeles were only two years into their expected 25-year life span when they began to fail. 
Coatings that protect the panels disintegrated while other defects caused two fires that took the system offline for two years, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenues. 
It was not an isolated incident. Worldwide, testing labs, developers, financiers and insurers are reporting similar problems and say the $77 billion solar industry is facing a quality crisis just as solar panels are on the verge of widespread adoption. 
No one is sure how pervasive the problem is. There are no industrywide figures about defective solar panels. And when defects are discovered, confidentiality agreements often keep the manufacturer’s identity secret, making accountability in the industry all the more difficult. ...
Most of the concerns over quality center on China, home to the majority of the world’s solar panel manufacturing capacity. 
After incurring billions of dollars in debt to accelerate production that has sent solar panel prices plunging since 2009, Chinese solar companies are under extreme pressure to cut costs. 
Chinese banks in March, for instance, forced Suntech into bankruptcy. Until 2012, the company had been the world’s biggest solar manufacturer. 
Executives at companies that inspect Chinese factories on behalf of developers and financiers said that over the last 18 months they have found that even the most reputable companies are substituting cheaper, untested materials. Other brand-name manufacturers, they said, have shut down production lines and subcontracted the assembly of modules to smaller makers.

I studied marketing in MBA school over 30 years ago. It was explained to me that marketing was an ever-more sophisticated balancing of competing needs and wants. It was not anticipated by the marketing profs that the Chinese would conquer the world economy with the slogan: "Real cheap. You buy now!"

I bought eight solar powered garden pathway lights at Costco to keep people from tripping at night. With three of the eight, the plastic spikes broke as I tried to push them into the dirt. Other than that, they work great!

I have this hunch that Chinese manufacturers believe that Americans like the act of shopping, like going to the store and tossing stuff into their shopping carts. So, it's okay with us if the stuff they make breaks. In fact, the faster stuff falls apart, the more Americans -- deep down -- like it because that just gives us another excuse to go to the store and toss more crap in our carts, which is what we really like.

They may be right.

May 28, 2013

Again, why was Todashev granted asylum?

Ramzan Kadyrov and Stephen Seagal last week
From Radio Free Europe yesterday:
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has accused the FBI of "killing without justification" a young ethnic Chechen thought to have ties to one of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects.  
Kadyrov said that Ibragim Todashev was a "good boy" and his father, who works in the administration of the Chechen capital, Grozny, is a "decent man."

There are all sorts of interesting theories one could make up about this, but the one obvious conclusion is that there's something wrong with our refugee system. Ibragim Todashev was granted refuge in the U.S. even though his family is part of the deep state of Russian-ruled Chechnya, part of the Putin-backed dictator's mafia. Young Todashev wasn't a loser in Chechnya's civil wars, he was a winner. He wasn't coming here to flee violence at home. Instead, he was coming here to practice his violence in our gleaming gyms.

Obama's LSAT score?

From Breitbart in 2012:
A new, self-published book [Barack O'Liberal] by “pragmatic libertarian” Alan R. Lockwood claims that Barack Obama, while brilliant, may have entered Harvard Law School in the bottom 20% of his class, based on mediocre college grades--and high Law School Admission Test (LSAT) scores.  
Lockwood arrives at his conclusions with the help of demographic data published in 1990 by the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), which administers the LSAT. ...
Ironically, data leading to Obama’s likely LSAT scores have been publicly available “for over two decades from, among other places, the Library of Congress,” Lockwood says. 
According to Lockwood, LSAC data reveal that during the 1987-88 academic year, ten African-American students from Columbia University applied to law school. Only two earned LSAT scores above the 63rd percentile, and those each had scores in the 94-98th percentile--i.e. scores between 42 and 45 on the 48-point scale then in use (166 to 171 on today’s 180-point scale). The other students earned scores that would have been extremely unlikely to qualify for admission, even considering factors such as affirmative action.  
Other demographic data from LSAC--including the fact that there were only two 27-year-old African-American students five years out of college that year who achieved scores in that range--further suggest that Obama’s LSAT scores were among the two from Columbia in the 94-98th percentile.  
Therefore it is likely, Lockwood concludes, that Obama was admitted to Harvard with LSAT scores near the median of his class (Lockwood suggests a score of 43). 
However, Lockwood argues, Obama’s grades were less competitive. Biographer David Maraniss notes that Obama claimed to be a B-plus student at Occidental College--roughly a 3.3 GPA. His GPA at Columbia was reportedly 3.7, and so his combined GPA was near 3.5. (Lockwood takes these numbers roughly as given, though he says they could be slightly inflated.)  
That could put him at the bottom 20% of his law school class, 80% of whom had both a GPA above 3.5 and LSAT scores above the 95th percentile. 
Obama might have been rejected “under an LSAT-GPA only system,” Lockwood argues. Yet he confirms that Obama excelled once at Harvard Law, graduating in the top 14% of his class--and famously becoming the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. 

This sounds pretty reasonable, although I haven't checked the methodology or sources. But it's a clever way of approaching the question. You look at various demographic crosstabs that Obama's score would appear under and look for scores that show up in each. Of course, there's a big assumption that Obama wasn't one of the 63rd percentile or lower applicants, but assuming he was one of the two very bright black applicants from Columbia who applied to any law school doesn't seem unreasonable.

A commenter notes that the highest score in Obama's possible range (98th percentile) would put him only at the 25th percentile among the current HLS class. (Most elite educational institutions have seen test score inflation over the last generation, however, so Obama's percentile among first year students was probably a little higher back then.) Scoring at the 25th percentile, combined with mediocre college grades, makes your odds of getting in pretty low without some other juice. It's a big pyramid of applicants and Obama was down toward the broad base. As Obama said while at HLS, he likely benefitted from affirmative action.

On the other hand, most non-STEM higher educational institutions aren't terribly difficult once you've got your foot in the door. If you are black, you can take a lot of race and law type classes (Obama's specialty) to free up time for networking and working on the law review.

Obama's election as editor of the Harvard Law Review was a political decision: the favorite had been a brilliant Jewish leftist radical who wanted to promote the ascendant Critical Legal Theory -- Obama rallied the conservative Federalist Society voters to block the far left Crits by implying that he'd be a caretaker editor not a crusader for the rising leftist postmodernist theories, which he was, and that they could pat themselves on the back for voting for the first black editor. But you have to be pretty smart just to be a plausible caretaker editor.

As I've theorized in the past, very good LSAT scores fits in with the report that Obama only applied to Harvard, Yale, and Stanford law schools, with no safety schools. With his high LSAT score and his affirmative action brownie points (and, as a commenter notes, his Harvard legacy brownie points), he knew he was a lock to get in to one of those schools.

This also may help explain Obama's failure to develop as a legal scholar despite being given every imaginable opportunity over a dozen years or so (including being given a huge advance to write an analytical book about law and race, which he utterly failed to do, eventually producing an autobiography instead. Obama is about as smart as the average elite law school student, but not as smart as the average elite law school professor.

As a lecturer at the U. of Chicago Law School, Obama was perfectly competent to explain in lucid prose both current sides of issues in his specialty of discrimination law (see his tests and answer sheets), but he's not a creative intellect who can push beyond the current talking points. And, presumably, he's smart enough to know that, which is why he didn't embarrass himself by delivering the book for which he'd been paid six figures. Of course, he was still offered tenure by the posh U. of Chicago Law School despite publishing nothing on the law, an offer that would have been astonishing to a white lecturer, as two legal scholars told the NYT in 2008.

I've also theorized that the day Obama received his LSAT scores in the mail may be when his personality changed from the introverted nobody depicted in David Maraniss' biography to the grandiose Future President of the United States who reminded classmate Jackie Foxx of the Runaways when they were at Harvard Law School together of her former bandmate Joan Jett's tricks. (I've never taken the LSAT but I presume it focuses more than the SAT on Obama's strong suits such as verbal logic and vocabulary, but not on math, which doesn't appear to be an Obama strength.) For most of his life, Obama had receded into the background (an acquaintance who had known both Obama and George Stephanopolous at Columbia said Obama made almost no impression relative to the future Clinton aide and broadcaster). But, suddenly at Harvard Law, validated by his LSAT scores and surrounded by 22-year-old law nerds, the 27-year-old Obama was a rock star.

Of course, the irony is terrific. Cognitive testing was recommended by Cyril Burt a century or so ago as a way to find diamonds in the rough among the lower classes, a service to Britain for which he was knighted by a Labour Government. But we have all been told over and over that standardized tests are biased against blacks. Yet in the case of the President of the United States, testing worked just like Sir Cyril said it would: a black loner gets quantitative proof that he really is as smart as he thinks he is and blossoms.

Why wouldn't Mr. Obama release his strong test scores? First, there's the family problem. There is evidence that Mrs. Obama remains sore about her not scoring well on standardized tests (for example, she failed to pass the relatively easy Illinois bar exam at her first opportunity while her husband did pass), which she likes to imply is due to bias. Her husband's fine score on the LSAT suggests that the problem lies not in the tests, but in Mrs. Obama.

Second, has any journalist ever flat out asked Obama what his test scores are? How do we know he wouldn't tell him? I don't mean, has any journalist sent a request to his press secretary which got denied, I mean, has any journalist ever asked Obama face to face about his tests scores? He seems like the kind of guy who would remember all his standardized test scores in detail. In 2011, Maraniss got some time with him in the Oval Office and asked him about his grades at Occidental and Columbia, and Obama gave detailed, plausible-sounding responses. I would hardly be astonished if Obama turned out to be just as forthcoming about test scores if anybody ever asked him.

May 27, 2013

NYT: Immigration reform must solve America's shortage of whores' bastards

From the New York Times:
The Forgotten Amerasians 
Filipinos with American fathers should have a path to U.S. citizenship.

For example, Dennis Rodman's father, Philander Rodman Jr., has sired several dozen children out of wedlock in the Philippines. How can we deny ourselves the diversity that these multitudinous Rodman-Americans would bring our boring white-bread country? (In the photo, Philander's white t-shirt advertises his Filipino dining and entertainment establishment, "Rodman's Rainbow ObamaBurger.")

And what about Tim Pawlenty Jr. of Subic Bay?

In which I prove to be completely wrong

As part of its tireless commitment to being All Gay All the Time, the New York Time discusses the burning issue of: For propaganda purposes, who would be the ideal athlete to come out of the closet?

I had considered this exact same question four weeks ago, and came up with two names. I blogged:
There has been much anticipation in the press that Real Soon Now an active major team sport jock would finally come out of the closet. But I've noticed that there has been an automatic assumption that he would turn out to be a good player -- you know, like, Tom Brady would announce that he had been living a lie, just going through the motions with Bridget Moynahan and Giselle Bundchen.  

And at Marginal Revolution, I commented:
The media is desperate for somebody better than 1 point per game Jason Collins to come out. Ideally, it would be somebody who shatters stereotypes about gays not being, on average, terribly masculine: Ray Lewis, say.

Now, we have the NYT's judgment on that same topic:
Defining Progress and Significance for Gay Athletes
Published: May 27, 2013
... A little more than two years ago, a conversation with Cyd Zeigler and Jim Buzinski, the co-founders of Outsports, a sports Web site targeted to gays, led to a playful debate. If you could choose any N.F.L. player to be the first to come out, who would it be? 
One said Peyton Manning; with his vast popularity, such a revelation would be as attention-grabbing as anything imaginable. The other said linebacker James Harrison, then with the Steelers, because his perceived ferociousness would batter stereotypes.

So, I was completely wrong about what the media want: instead of quarterback Tom Brady, they want quarterback Peyton Manning; and instead of linebacker Ray Lewis, they want linebacker James Harrison. How could I be so far off in my understanding of the media mind?

Peter Schaeffer FTW

Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution ponders:
Do low wages for unskilled workers weaken the case for more immigration? 
by Tyler Cowen on May 26, 2013 at 12:36 pm in Economics | Permalink

And gets absolutely schooled in the comments by Peter Schaeffer. Here's the most stunning:
Yet another nail for the coffin. U.S. health care expenditures are around $12 per hour for the entire economy. The minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. If a minimum wage worker paid 100% of his income in taxes (or health care premiums), America would still lose $4.75 on health care costs alone. 
And Tyler wants to flood American with low-skill immigrants to drive wages down further (presumably after repealing the minimum wage)? Is this meant to be a parody of ‘privatizing profits and socializing costs’? Perhaps it is. 
Of course, it can be argued that low-skill immigrants don’t cost $12 per hour in health care costs. As long as they are young and single that is true. However, low-skill immigrants have children and grow old just like everyone else. Even if they don’t cost $12 per hour in health care costs now, they will cost far more than $12 per hour in the future. 
The welfare state and low-skill immigration don’t play nice. One or the other has to go. Since the welfare state is only expanding, it should be obvious that mass immigration has to end.

Peter goes on to give his sources for this $12 per hour estimate later in the comments.

In defense of Tyler, there's a non-negligible chance that he's playing a double game here, offering a parody of autistic economic theory in the hopes that his commenters will destroy his argument so he can help get the truth out without him having to worry about being Richwined.

But, I'm probably overthinking ...

P.S., "FTW" sounds obscene but it's actually ancient Hollywood Squares jargon, e.g., "Paul Lynde, for the win!"

Sweden, one last time

This Los Angeles Times story from Friday is worth preserving as an example of the contortions authorized goodthinkers go through to make everything fit The Narrative. I've highlighted a number of interesting words inserted at some point in the editorial process to acknowledge that much of the standard story isn't, techically, true.
Nights of rioting test Sweden's reputation for tolerance

By Henry Chu 
May 24, 2013, 11:48 a.m. 
LONDON -- Residents of Stockholm braced for more violence Friday after five consecutive nights of rioting that have rocked the Swedish capital and shaken the Scandinavian country’s self-image as a tolerant, liberal place. 
Since Sunday, sections of northwestern and southern Stockholm have lighted up with the glow of fires started by rock-throwing rioters apparently protesting a fatal shooting by police last week. Schools, shops, a library and about 150 vehicles have been set ablaze during the nightly rampages, which some commentators say are rooted in feelings of despair and disenfranchisement among the city’s poor and its growing immigrant population. 
Nearly 30 people have been arrested, and a few officers have received minor injuries, said Kjell Lindgren, a spokesman for Stockholm police. ...
Swedes have been shocked by the images of destruction and by the convulsion of anger and fear in their usually easygoing capital. Television footage showed smoking husks of cars on otherwise ordinary-looking streets. 
The unrest has raised uncomfortable questions in a once-homogeneous society now dealing with a relatively recent influx of immigrants, many of them from war-ravaged countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq.
Anti-immigrant sentiment is on the rise and has become a political force in the far-right Swedish Democrats party. 
The proximate cause of the rioting was the May 13 death of a man in his late 60s in the Husby district of Stockholm, a predominantly immigrant community where unemployment runs higher than the national average. 
Police say the man had threatened people on the street with a machete-like weapon and then continued to pose a danger after going inside an apartment building, where officers shot him. 

The unbalanced old man was from Portugal and had a Finnish wife. Whether the rioters care about him is an open question.
But the incident roused anger in an area whose residents have complained of police abuse and racism and of institutional neglect. Violence erupted Sunday and escalated the following two or three nights. 
Witnesses told Swedish media that some officers who responded to the unrest used racial slurs and called residents “monkeys” and “rats.” Lindgren said there would be an independent investigation of the accusations. 
“We see a government whose answer to social problems is more police. We see police brutality and harassment in our areas,” Megafonen, a local activist organization, said in an editorial published in the Aftonbladet newspaper Friday.  
“We call on everyone in the area to organize themselves for justice. Then our cars shall not burn; then stones shall not be thrown.” 

Megafonen sounds like an organization for hooligans who don't like soccer.
Media reports said that firefighters responded to 70 separate incidents Thursday night, down from 90 the previous night. 
Of the 29 arrests made as of Friday afternoon, all but one were of young men ages 16 to 26, said Lindgren, who warned that more arrests were likely. 
During the first couple of nights of rioting, “there was no possibility to make arrests, because it was rather wild,” Lindgren said. “But we also have identified criminals that are going to be questioned in the near future. ... We got a quite good picture of who they are.”
About 15% of Sweden’s 9.5 million people are foreign-born, many of them drawn to the Scandinavian country because of its liberal asylum policies for refugees from armed conflict.

You know, I have this vague hunch that what the riotous youths object to about the armed conflicts back home is not armed conflicts per se, but that they were losing the armed conflicts.

May 26, 2013

Shadowy evil robots victimize poor Ticketmaster

The New York Times explains how Ticketmaster is a victim of shadowy malign robots:
Concert Industry Struggles With ‘Bots’ That Siphon Off Tickets

Published: May 26, 2013
As the summer concert season approaches, music fans and the concert industry that serves them have a common enemy in New York.

Paul Allen, former CEO
of TicketMaster
You know, I haven't bought concert tickets in a few years, but when I was paying 40% "service" charges to Ticketmaster so my son could go to shows, my impression was that the concert industry "serves" fans mostly in the Rod Serling sense.
And in Russia. And in India.

That enemy is the bot. 
“Bots,” computer programs used by scalpers, are a hidden part of a miserable ritual that plays out online nearly every week in which tickets to hot shows seem to vanish instantly. 
Long a mere nuisance to the live music industry, these cheap and widely available programs are now perhaps its most reviled foe, frustrating fans and feeding a multibillion-dollar secondary market for tickets. 
According to Ticketmaster, bots have been used to buy more than 60 percent of the most desirable tickets for some shows; in a recent lawsuit, the company accused one group of scalpers of using bots to request up to 200,000 tickets a day.
Ticketmaster and its parent company, Live Nation Entertainment, have stepped up efforts to combat bots, in part to improve the ticket-buying experience for concertgoers, but also to burnish the company’s reputation with consumers. 

In a previous century, I got into an email argument with Paul Krugman over the economics of the concert ticket business. Krugman announced that he was working on explaining how oddities of the concert ticket business could be accommodated to microeconomic theory. For example, why are concert tickets priced at X, but routinely a huge fraction of them end up at third party resellers being sold for say 2X? Why don't the artists charge 2X in the first place? (Krugman is most celebrated today for his opinions on macroeconomics, but back then he didn't seem very interested in macro.) Before he published his theoretical breakthrough, however, he wanted to know if anybody else had any theories.

So, I wrote to Krugman to explain my theory: The Ticketmaster monopoly is a big skim-scam. Either the corporate bosses are themselves skimming tickets for resale before the public can buy them, or they are letting employees skim as a form of untaxed compensation. 
The result has been a game of cat and mouse between the company and the bots. 
“As with hackers, you can solve it today, and they’re rewriting code tomorrow,” said Michael Rapino, Live Nation’s chief executive. “Thus the arms race.”  On a recent Thursday afternoon, the screen showed that the red visitors were making 600 times more ticket requests than those the system identified as being most likely human. ...
Bots are not kicked off the system, but rather “speedbumped” — slowed down, sent to the end of the line or given some other means of interference, to allow a regular customer through. 
“We’re not trying to stop anybody from buying tickets,” Mr. Carnahan said. “We’re just trying to make sure that a fan can buy the tickets.” ...
Live Nation will not say how many of the 148 million tickets it sells each year are bought using bots, and in many cases it may not know. Few ever admit to using the programs; official groups like the National Association of Ticket Brokers, which represents many of the biggest resellers, condemn them and say they supports anti-bot measures. But people at nearly every level of the concert business blame bots for wreaking all kinds of economic havoc. 
“There are sold-out shows in reserved-seat houses in New York City where we will have 20 percent no-show, and that 20 percent will be down in the front of the house,” said Jim Glancy of The Bowery Presents, an independent concert promoter in New York. “It’s speculators who bought a bunch of seats and didn’t get the price they wanted.” 
Concert promoters, artist managers and ticketing services say that bots are now an ever-present force, not only during the high-traffic moments when a big show officially goes on sale, but also at the odd moments when a promoter releases a few dozen extra seats with no announcement. 
Three years ago, four men connected with a company called Wiseguy Tickets were indicted on conspiracy, wire fraud and other charges, for apparently using bots to get tickets to Bruce Springsteen, Hannah Montana and other concerts.

I'd be more sympathetic toward this story of Ticketmaster being plagued by bots if Bruce Springsteen tickets hadn't been notoriously skimmed before the Internet existed. In my 1999 discussion with Krugman I pointed out my friend Kevin's experience in 1980 camping out on the sidewalk in front of a Ticketmaster window (or perhaps Ticketron, back then which was later bought by Ticketmaster, anti-trust laws be damned) to be first in line so he could get front row tickets for one of Bruce Springsteen's four shows at the L.A. Forum. At 9:00:00 AM he tried to buy front row seats ... and all that was available was something like the 37th row.

Springsteen, who back then would set moderate ticket prices that he thought would affordable by working class folks, was publicly outraged by the vast amount of skimming for his 1980 Los Angeles shows. (It would be really interesting to have a frank discussion with Springsteen -- a well-intentioned, intelligent, and not naturally cynical man -- about what he's learned over the decades about the theory and practice of the music industry.)

The NYT article eventually gets around to a red pill perspective:
Not everyone is convinced that bots are the primary villain of the everyday concertgoer. The Fan Freedom Project, a nonprofit group financed by StubHub, has pushed for anti-bot laws around the country, and Jon Potter, its president, praised Ticketmaster for filing its lawsuit last month. 
But he also criticized the industry practice of “holds,” in which sometimes large blocks of tickets are reserved for sponsors, fan club members and industry contacts, and never go on sale to the general public. 

In other words, the ticket-selling industry is skimming tickets, just like Springsteen said in 1980.
When it comes to the secondary ticket market, Live Nation has a complicated position. As much as it is trying to block bots, it also profits from the ticket resale market through TicketsNow — its own version of StubHub — as well as through deals with major sports groups, like the National Basketball Association. Mr. Rapino sees no contradiction in Live Nation’s stance.

I bet it's complicated.

Live Nation Entertainment was founded a couple of years ago by the merger of Live Nation concert promoters, which had pretty much of a monopoly on big concert promotion, and Ticketmaster which had pretty much of a monopoly on ticket sales. The Obama Administration cleared the merger with some stipulations to promote competition.

Sure, why not let two monopolies merge into a super-monopoly? What are you, some kind of conspiracy theorist?

Basic economic theory suggests that profit maximization occurs through price discrimination.

The reason why third parties go to the trouble of crafting bots is to profit from price discrimination: resell tickets to some 37-year-old lawyer who wasn't paying attention when the tickets first went on sale.

But, economic theory also suggests that ultimate profit maximization occurs through perfect price discrimination under monopoly conditions. In other words, economic theory suggests that it would be pretty stupid for the Ticketmaster / Live Nation monopoly to let a bunch of third parties vacuum up much of the price discriminating profit, rather than proactively grab that piece of the pie for themselves. If the bands don't like it, they can ... well ... What can they do?

Typical fan's reaction to Pearl Jam's
defiance of Ticketmaster monopoly
A couple of decades ago, the biggest band in America was Pearl Jam. They were outraged by how much in fees Ticketmaster insisted on adding onto their fans' ticket costs. So, they decided to defy Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen's TicketMaster monopoly. They wound up getting frozen out of most of the prestigious venues with only State Fairgrounds and the like available to them. In theory, you could make a pretty good Frank Capra movie about how the public rallied to support the spunky rock band bravely standing up to the corporate monopolist. But, instead rock fans mostly decided that Pearl Jam had to be uncool losers to defy a billionaire.

When I pointed out to Krugman in (I believe) 1999 this long history of corruption within the concert ticket business, he was offended. There was no place in economic theory for this kind of insinuation, so why was I bringing it up? We went back and forth for awhile, but Krugman became increasingly acrimonious at the very idea that the music industry wasn't completely on the up and up.

Interestingly, a 2010 NYT profile of Krugman reveals:
Certainly until the Enron scandal, Krugman had no sense that there was any kind of problem in American corporate governance. (He consulted briefly for Enron before he went to the Times.) Occasionally, he received letters from people claiming that corporations were cooking the books, but he thought this sounded so implausible that he dismissed them. “I believed that the market was enforcing,” he says. “I believed in the S.E.C. I just never really thought about it. It seemed like a pretty sunny world in 1999, and, for all of my cynicism, I shared a lot of that. The extent of corporate fraud, the financial malfeasance, the sheer viciousness of the political scene—those are all things that, ten years ago, I didn’t see.”

Israel shows benefits of having a pro-majority government

Here's an NYT article that makes a number of points about 21st Century Israel that I've been stressing. Israel is becoming a secure, wealthy, happy, hedonistic, successful, unintellectual, nationalistic, ethnocentric Middle Eastern country. Israelis are shedding their heritage of Teutonic high culture with all its idealism and neuroses and going back to the old ways. 
What Mideast Crisis? Israelis Have Moved On 
FOR years, conventional wisdom has held that as long as Israel faces the external challenge of Arab — especially Palestinian — hostility it will never come to terms with its internal divisions. The left has sometimes used it as an argument: we must make peace with the Palestinians so that we can set our house in order — write a constitution, figure out the public role of religion. Others have viewed the threat as almost a silver lining keeping the place together: differences among Israeli Jews (religious or secular, Ashkenazic or Sephardic) are so profound, the argument goes, that if the society ever manages to turn its attention inward, it might tear itself apart. 
Back in Tel Aviv for a recent visit a year after ending my tour as Jerusalem bureau chief, I was struck by how antiquated that wisdom felt. At a fascinating and raucous wedding I attended and from numerous conversations with a range of Israelis, I came away with a very different impression. Few even talk about the Palestinians or the Arab world on their borders, ...Instead of focusing on what has long been seen as their central challenge — how to share this land with another nation — Israelis are largely ignoring it, insisting that the problem is both insoluble for now and less significant than the world thinks. We cannot fix it, many say, but we can manage it. 
The wedding took place near Ben-Gurion airport, where a set of event halls has gone up in the past seven years, including elaborate structures with a distinct Oriental décor of glistening chandeliers, mirrored place mats and sky-high ceilings with shifting digital displays. The groom’s grandparents emigrated from Yemen; the bride’s came from Eastern Europe, an example of continuing and increasing intermarriage between Sephardim and Ashkenazim. 
The music was almost entirely Middle Eastern in beat, some of it in Arabic, some of it religious. The hundreds on the dance floor, many staying until dawn singing along with arms gesticulating, came from across a range of political, geographic and religious spectra — from miniskirted to ultra-Orthodox modesty. ... Everyone was celebrating. ... Some talked politics with me. No one mentioned the Palestinians. 
ISRAEL today offers a set of paradoxes: Jewish Israelis seem in some ways happier and more united than in the past, as if choosing not to solve their most difficult challenge has opened up a space for shalom bayit — peace at home. Yes, all those internal tensions still exist, but the shared belief that there is no solution to their biggest problem has forged an odd kind of solidarity. 
Indeed, Israel has never been richer, safer, more culturally productive [?]or more dynamic. ... Israel has never felt more Middle Eastern in its popular culture, music and public displays of religion. ... The Israeli left is still there, of course, but in increasingly insignificant knots.

Other accomplishments that go unmentioned in the article include the government's decisive defeat of illegal immigrants ("illegal infiltrators").

Obviously, much of the high level anxiety in American culture over Israel is increasingly silly. For Israel, conflicts with neighbors are increasingly like Notre Dame's conflict with USC: fun for boosters, but not an existential threat. If the Trojans beat the Fighting Irish, they don't get to demolish the Golden Dome and rape all the coeds.

I would add that there is much Americans can learn from the success of 21st Century Israel. Israel is one of the few countries in the semi-Western world where the government is explicitly devoted to the welfare of the majority, even at the expense of minorities. Not surprisingly, the majority is doing well.

Ranbaxy Laboratories and Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison

Here's an editorial about the immense scandal involving Ranbaxy Laboratories, the Indian maker of many generic drugs, from Live Mint. This is an Indian business journal that I've quoted in the past about how the preliminary PISA tests in a few Indians states show that India has enormous work to do to improve its terrible schools.
Ranbaxy holds up an ugly mirror to corporate India 
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been kind to Ranbaxy, too kind. The $500 million fine that the company has to pay is actually fairly light sentence for what it has done to the generics business out of India. The rapidly growing industry is now under a cloud. The first consequences of Ranbaxy’s actions are already being felt with the FDA issuing an alert banning import of products made at another pharma exporter Wockhardt’s plant in Aurangabad. It could be just the first of many more strictures against India’s generics companies.
Ranbaxy’s is no ordinary misdemeanour. The US department of justice said the company had “pleaded guilty today to felony charges relating to the manufacture of certain adulterated drugs”. Felony is a serious criminal charge. 
By accepting to pay a criminal fine and forfeiture and agreeing to settle civil claims, Ranbaxy may have succeeded in effecting damage control. That does not, however, mitigate the seriousness of its actions. 
The implications of its guilt cast serious doubts not just over the conduct of generics exporters from India, but over the way business is conducted in this country. First up, it proves beyond doubt that there is no monitoring, by an independent agency, of business practices of wannabe Indian multinationals.
Expecting companies to voluntarily follow all the rules of the book is naiveté. 
... Our markets are riddled with companies in every industry segment flouting norms of ethical behaviour. Falsification of data submitted to regulators, is so common a practice that Ranbaxy must have wondered what the fuss was all about. And used to getting away with lax governance and ethics standards at home, no Indian company will automatically turn lily-white merely because it is selling in a developed market. 
The Ranbaxy affair also raises issues of executive conduct. ... 
Nor does current Japanese owner Daiichi Sankyo, come out clean in all this. For a $4.6 billion deal (to buy a controlling interest in Ranbaxy), the due diligence it did in 2008 appears to have been rather skimpy and inadequate. Or, did it simply choose to turn a blind eye to what by then was publicly known?  
But the bitter truth is that we have been too elastic in condoning corruption all around so that it has become deeply and shamefully a part of the ethos of Indian firms. Not all the regulation in the world will stop fraud. Corporate integrity is about culture and sadly ours is a culture where unethical behaviour is condoned and rewarded....
As Indian firms seek to do business abroad, their culture of deceit will come back to bite them. 

Back when I was in high school, I read Professor Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison's 1965 trilogy Oxford History of the American People. Morison was the ultimate Boston Brahmin, related to all sorts of famous Eliots such as Harvard's reforming president Charles Eliot and poet T.S. Eliot. He was the last Harvard professor to ride to work everyday on horseback. After Pearl Harbor, he suggested to his sailing buddy FDR that he should write the official history of the Navy in the new war, but with an inside perspective available only to somebody who had experienced the war at sea. So, in his mid-50s he joined the Navy and saw combat. Like movie star General Jimmy Stewart in the Air Force Reserve, he stayed in the Naval Reserve after the war and rose to the rank of admiral in 1951.

Morison's Oxford History was deeply biased. The heroes of Volume III covering the century after Appomattox were guys very much like himself and his relatives, WASP Progressives, Republican and Democrat, who, in his view, in the 19th and 20th Century had modernized government, tamed the Robber Barons, stopped snake oil salesmen from poisoning their customers, checked the ethnic urban political machines, and limited immigration to keep management from exploiting labor. Thus, WASP Progressives built the efficient, fair, and unified America that had won the Big One and could win the Cold War.

Morison's bias toward reforming nationalists is not a popular prejudice anymore. Libertarians consider his economics unsophisticated. His assumption that the immigration restrictions of the 1920s were pro-labor reforms -- just as anti-trust was a pro-consumer reform -- is almost inconceivable to 21st Century minds. Finally, the Protestant ethnicity of most of his Progressive heroes has become unforgivable. No doubt, most of Morison's heroes felt positively toward eugenics, thus permanently tainting the entire breed with the new version of Original Sin.

All that said, though, Morison still had a point: reforming nationalism won WWII and then finished building the most middle class and free society in history in the postwar era, the age of Tom Wolfe's "Happiness Explosion."

Now, though, the big wars are over and thus nationalism is in disrepute. Who needs it?  Globalism reigns as the highest ideal -- just ask everybody you meet at Davos. Lowering the wages of American workers so billionaires can become even bigger billionaires is, as we all know, Good for the Economy.

You have to consider this kind of global mental atmosphere before judging the Indians' lack of progress too harshly. Indian elites read many of the same English language publications that American elites do, and thus where would they even hear about the concept of reforming nationalism?

Some countries that are less entrenched in the Anglosphere than India seem more aware of the old Anglo-Saxon lessons. For example, South Korea is currently having a scandal in which politicians' plagiarizing on their old academic dissertations is being exposed. Why now? Probably because Germany had the same scandal just a little while ago, and the Koreans think the Germans are worth emulating.