June 8, 2013

Top 10 standard of living metro areas in the U.S.

Here's a 2011 USNWR table of interest:

Below are the 10 metropolitan areas with the highest adjusted median household incomes, as computed from 2009 median household income and cost of living data.
Metro AreaCOLI2009 Median Household Income2009 Adjusted Median Income 
Des Moines, Iowa90.6$56,576$62,446
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, D.C.-Va.-Md.-W.Va.138.685,16861,449
Worcester, Mass.103.763,36061,099
Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, Texas89.354,14660,634
Ogden-Clearfield, Utah*10060,20860,208
Colorado Springs, Colo.92.355,17659,779
Dallas-Plano-Irving, Texas92.154,53959,217
Madison, Wisc.*96.256,70958,949
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, Ga.94.255,46458,879
Raleigh-Cary, N.C.101.359,31658,555
The weather isn't great in Des Moines, but the scenery isn't quite as flat as I expected from Illinois. (Here's the Waveland golf course, for instance.)

D.C. is expensive, but the people who live there seem to be good decision makers about making money. It's almost like they know things we don't know, as if they have inside information.

Most of the rest of the list are the Dirt Gap usual suspects.

And here are the ten lowest standard of living metropolitan areas:
Metro AreaCOLI2009 Median Household Income2009 Adjusted Median Income 
McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas87.230,46034,931
New York-White Plains-Wayne, N.Y.-N.J.177.862,88735,370
Modesto, Calif.*136.648,71635,663
Fresno, Calif.120.145,66138,019
El Paso, Texas89.736,14640,297
Honolulu, Hawaii166.367,74440,736
Springfield, Mass.*119.849,17741,049
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, Calif.141.658,52541,331
Miami-Miami Beach-Kendall, Fla.109.845,94641,845
Scranton--Wilkes-Barre, Pa.*98.141,82342,633

Now, I would argue that Honolulu, New York, Miami, and L.A., have other things going for them that aren't measured in these statistics (e.g., nice weather or attractive women). But what do McAllen, Modesto, and Fresno have going for them? Cheap chalupas?

The Worcester, MA v. Springfield, MA conundrum is a little strange. They are both very old manufacturing cities. Worcester is 48 miles west of downtown Boston, while Springfield is 91 miles west, so Worcester might be an exurb now with big city salaries, while Springfield is too far to commute to the Boston area, while Hartford 27 miles to the south is decaying. But I don't really know much about Massachusetts. Springfield is 1/3rd Puerto Rican, which doesn't help median income stats. [As commenters note, you have to keep in mind that this is a list of metropolitan areas with the name of the urban core given as references, not as a definitions. The suburbs of Worcester are also exurbs of Boston and suburbs of Route 128, so they've got that going for them, which is nice.]

Bill Gates praises nearly all-white class: "Every classroom could look like that"

Here's Bill Gates' TED talk "Teachers need real feedback," which is no doubt true, but ... Bill's video-within-a-video of what every classroom "could look like" is pretty hilarious. Bizarrely, Gates' TED talk is from just last month. Considering that he's been mucking around in education for 14 years, you'd think he'd be less naive by now.

(If you don't like watching videos, here's Diane Ravitch's transcript.)

Starting at 5:30 in to the TED talk is a video about how Bill's new teacher evaluation system is working wonderfully in a classroom in Johnston High School, Iowa.

The classroom appears to have a student body made up of about 14 blonde and 8 brunet white kids. (There seems to be one black student on the edge of one shot, but he doesn't seem to show up in other shots -- this video could represent multiple classes.)

Johnston is a fast-growing white flight suburb of Des Moines. In 2010, the demographics of Johnston, Iowa were:
The racial makeup of the city was 91.0% White, 2.2% African American, 0.1% Native American, 4.6% Asian, 0.6% from other races, and 1.5% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.0% of the population.

If it's Iowa and the second biggest ethnic group is Asians, it's pretty high end. Also, the students in the video are slender, so this is clearly an upscale school.

From Zillow, here are the demographics of Johnston High School:

White, non-Hispanic91%88%
Black, non-Hispanic4%4%
Asian/Pacific Islander3%5%
Native American or Native Alaskan0.5%0.3%

Only 13% of Johnston High students qualify for reduced price lunches compared to almost half of all students nationally.

Wikipedia doesn't give the 2010 income figures for Johnston, but back in 2000: "the median income for a family was $97,322." Nearly six figures in 2000 in Iowa must put that community at the 95th percentile or higher. A 2011 US News article listed the Des Moines metropolitan area, with its cost of living at only 90.6% of the national average and median income of $56,576, as having the highest cost-adjusted standard of living in the country. And Johnston is gold-plated by Des Moines standards.

Bill ends his video about Johnston High at 7:58 with the assertion:
every classroom could look like that

Of course, nobody, Gates or his TED audience, gets the joke.

Santa Monica shooter perhaps named Zawahri

LALate has the property records on the home burned down at the start of the domestic dispute turned rampage shooting in Santa Monica, right near where I lived in 1981-82. The owner of the house appears to have been the now late Samir Zawahri, father of the presumed shooter. The LA Times reports:
Firefighters later found the bodies of two men inside the house. Police sources, who requested anonymity because of the ongoing investigation, said the men were Samir Zawahri, 55, the owner of the house, and one of his adult sons. A second son is suspected of being the shooter, the sources said.

Any relation to Ayman Mohammed Rabie al-Zawahiri, current head of Al-Qaeda?

Probably not. This sounds like the usual domestic murder-suicide, just given the evil recent twist, a la Newtown or Chris Dorner, where the guy kills a family member or some other personal enemy, then decides, rather than just shoot himself in the traditional manner, to go out big like his favorite video game or media anti-hero.

Is H1-B visa boost a payoff for PRISM?

From Facebook:
Mark Zuckerberg · 18,271,654 followers10 hours ago near Menlo Park, CA · 
I want to respond personally to the outrageous press reports about PRISM: 
Facebook is not and has never been part of any program to give the US or any other government direct access to our servers.
Okay, Mark, we get it, you've given the government indirect access.

Interestingly, Twitter, unlike many of the other big tech players, simply refused to make it easier for the government to get Tweets. (I'm not sure how world-historical most Tweets are, but still ...) Twitter's successful recalcitrance suggests that the tech firms that did play along did so less because the government was holding a gun to their heads, than because they figured it would be worth their while in the long run to play ball with Washington.

One obvious question is whether the big increase in H1-B visas in The Eight Banditos' immigration bill is a quasi-quid pro quo payoff to the National Association for the Advancement of Billionaire People for their cooperation in spying on their customers (or whatever it is you call what, say, Facebook has). 

It kind of makes sense, but the fact that it makes sense probably means this theory is less likely.  A simpler, more general explanation is that the Gang of Eight wants to drive down the standard of living of American engineers merely because they hate Americans.

By the way, if 18,271,654 people are electronically following Mark Zuckerberg, how many people is Mark Zuckerberg electronically following?

June 7, 2013

"American Pravda:" Sibel Edmonds

With Turkey in the news, it's worth taking another look at Sibel Edmonds' charges about a corrupt cabal linking Turkey and the U.S. government. Ron Unz writes in "American Pravda" in The American Conservative:
During the mid-2000s I began noticing references on one or two small websites to a woman claiming to be a former FBI employee who was making the most outlandish and ridiculous charges, accusing high government officials of selling our nuclear-weapons secrets to foreign spies. I paid no attention to such unlikely claims and never bothered reading any of the articles. 
A couple of years went by, and various website references to that same woman—Sibel Edmonds—kept appearing, although I continued to ignore them, secure that the silence of all my newspapers proved her to be delusional. Then in early 2008, the London Sunday Times, one of the world’s leading newspapers, ran a long, three-part front-page series presenting her charges, which were soon republished in numerous other countries. Daniel Ellsberg described Edmonds’s revelations as “far more explosive than the Pentagon Papers” and castigated the American media for completely ignoring a story that had reached the front pages of newspapers throughout the rest of the world. Such silence struck me as rather odd. 
Philip Giraldi, a former CIA official who regularly writes for this magazine, suggested he investigate her charges. He found her highly credible, and his 3,000-word article in TAC presented some astonishing but very detailed claims.

Edmonds had been hired by the FBI to translate wiretapped conversations of a suspected foreign spy ring under surveillance, and she had been disturbed to discover that many of these hundreds of phone calls explicitly discussed the sale of nuclear-weapons secrets to foreign intelligence organizations, including those linked to international terrorism, as well as the placement of agents at key American military research facilities. Most remarkably, some of the individuals involved in these operations were high-ranking government officials; the staffs of several influential members of Congress were also implicated. On one occasion, a senior State Department figure was reportedly recorded making arrangements to pick up a bag containing a large cash bribe from one of his contacts. Very specific details of names, dates, dollar amounts, purchasers, and military secrets were provided. 
The investigation had been going on for years with no apparent action, and Edmonds was alarmed to discover that a fellow translator quietly maintained a close relationship with one of the key FBI targets. When she raised these issues, she was personally threatened, and after appealing to her supervisors, eventually fired. 
Since that time, she has passed a polygraph test on her claims, testified under oath in a libel lawsuit, expanded her detailed charges in a 2009 TAC cover story also by Giraldi, and most recently published a book recounting her case. 
Judiciary Committee Senators Chuck Grassley and Patrick Leahy have publicly backed some of her charges, a Department of Justice inspector general’s report has found her allegations “credible” and “serious,” while various FBI officials have vouched for her reliability and privately confirmed many of her claims. But none of her detailed charges has ever appeared in any of America’s newspapers. 
According to Edmonds, one of the conspirators routinely made payments to various members of the media, and bragged to his fellow plotters that “We just fax to our people at the New York Times. They print it under their names.” 
At times, Congressional Democratic staff members became interested in the scandal, and promised an investigation. But once they learned that senior members of their own party were also implicated, their interest faded.

[The original article has lots of links to documentation.)

I've looked into Sibel Edmonds' charges a couple of times and they seemed not unreasonable. Thus, they ought to be pretty interesting to Americans, but, evidently, they're not.

Unfortunately, I couldn't think of any way to either validate them or falsify them. 

I could also dream up scenarios in which the U.S. government activities she apparently stumbled upon weren't the blatant corruption they seemed, but were actually a Byzantine plot to furnish somebody the U.S. government doesn't like with disinformation on nuclear weapons in return for cash. Maybe the mainstream media has ignored the Sibel Edmonds story because they've been privately told by government officials that it's really a U.S. operation.

But how could you tell who is telling the truth?

Here's a question I've always wondered about: Exactly how do the back channels between the U.S. government and the commanding heights of the national media work? Does the editor of the New York Times have a phone number to call to find out if a story is okay to run with or they'd better spike it? Does it also work the other way: does the government call up the NYT and tell them here's this week's Biggest Story in the History of the World, like, say, the Epidemic of Military Rape? Or is it all much more poorly organized?

I haven't been reading enough spy thrillers lately, so I'm out of the loop on how this sort of thing works.

Turkey is Byzantine, Part XXXVII

With Turkey back in the news, it's fun to link to my old series of blog posts on one of the more influential yet little-known elements within the Istanbul elite, the Donmeh.

For other sources on the Donmeh, there's Wikipedia, the Jewish Encyclopedia, and Marc David Baer's 2009 book from Stanford University Press, The Dönme: Jewish Converts, Muslim Revolutionaries, and Secular Turks.  Here's the summary by Baer, a professor of history at UC Irvine:
This book tells the story of the Dönme, the descendents of Jews who resided in the Ottoman Empire and converted to Islam along with their messiah, Rabbi Shabbatai Tzevi, in the seventeenth century. For two centuries following their conversion, the Dönme were accepted as Muslims, and by the end of the nineteenth century rose to the top of Salonikan society. The Dönme helped transform Salonika into a cosmopolitan city, promoting the newest innovation in trade and finance, urban reform, and modern education. They eventually became the driving force behind the 1908 revolution that led to the overthrow of the Ottoman sultan and the establishment of a secular republic. 
To their proponents, the Dönme are enlightened secularists and Turkish nationalists who fought against the dark forces of superstition and religious obscurantism. To their opponents, they were simply crypto-Jews engaged in a plot to dissolve the Islamic empire. Both points of view assume the Dönme were anti-religious, whether couched as critique or praise. 
But it is time that we take these religious people seriously on their own terms. In the Ottoman Empire, the Dönme promoted morality, ethics, spirituality, and a syncretistic religion that reflected their origins at the intersection of Jewish Kabbalah and Islamic Sufism. This is the first book to tell their story, from their origins to their near total dissolution as they became secular Turks in the mid-twentieth century.

Baer's claim of "near total dissolution as they became secular Turks in the mid-twentieth century" appears dependent upon his emphasis on Donmeh religious exercise, as opposed to, say, their continuing to in-marry, and being Foreign Minister in the last pre-Erdogan government, and so forth.

"In Defense of Judge Edith Jones"

At Above the Law, a former clerk of Judge Edith Jones, Tamara Tabo, defends her.

Shouldn't the Utah Data Center, with its yottabyte of storage, have a transcript by now?

The Epidemic of Rape in the Military

The media is currently worked up over the Epidemic of Rape in the Military. For example, here's a representative op-ed in the NYT:
Don’t Trust the Pentagon to End Rape 
JUNE 3, 2013 
LOS ANGELES — THE Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing today on sexual assault in the military. This comes after months of revelations of rapes and other violent attacks at military bases and academies. ... 
The military has a problem with embedded, serial sexual predators. According to a 2011 report from the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault and Prevention Office, 90 percent of military rapes are committed by men with previous histories of assault. These predators select and befriend lower-ranking victims; often they ply their victims with alcohol or drugs and assault them when they are unconscious. 
In my film “The Invisible War,” a retired brigadier general, Loree K. Sutton, describes the military as a “target-rich environment” for serial predators. The training and leadership efforts the Pentagon proposes won’t change this environment. It simply isn’t possible to “train” or “lead” serial predators not to rape. 
There is a way to stop these predators: we should prosecute and incarcerate them. But here the military fails entirely. 
Though the Defense Department estimates that there were 26,000 sexual assaults in the military last year, fewer than 1 percent resulted in a court-martial conviction. 

Wow, 26,000 rapes in one year, and only 1 percent getting convicted!

Oh ... wait a minute ... the 26,000 figure, a projection from a survey, isn't for "rape." The author suddenly switched from talking about "rape" to talking about "sexual assault," which is ... well, what exactly? 

The media isn't in a hurry to provide examples of what's just over the line and is therefore "sexual assault" and what is just under the line and is therefore not "sexual assault."

Here's the Army's FAQ on the subject, but it's not all that illuminating, either. It's bereft of concrete examples of what is and isn't "sexual assault." The Army defines "sexual assault" as "intentional sexual contact," but no examples are given. Is, say, a pat on the butt sexual assault? Is playing footsie sexual assault?

This murkiness is not unique to this latest sex scandal. It's not a bug, it's a feature when lawyers enlist the media in helping them target a deep-pocketed institution.

In lawyer-driven sex-scandals, it's not uncommon for crisp sounding abstractions to mask a lot of murkiness. For example, in the endless, and highly lucrative, Catholic priest scandals, picture in your head a representative example of a sexual act perpetrated by a Catholic priest. My guess is that the most likely example that comes to mind is Gerry Sandusky in the shower with the 10 year old boy. 

And yet, Gerry Sandusky wasn't at all a priest, he was the retired linebacker coach at Linebacker U., Penn State. But, the Sandusky example comes readily to mind in relation to the priest scandals because we've been told over and over and over exactly what Sandusky did. Why? Because it's so horrifying. 

In contrast, the media (and the plaintiff's attorneys who package much of what appeared in the media) were seldom in as much of a hurry to tells us about exactly what all those Catholic priests tended to be doing over the years. When you look into what actually happened, it seldom turns out to be all that Sandusky-like: instead, creepy and disgusting, but seldom brutal. 

After all, the priests in these scandals were seldom America's most famous linebacker coach. Instead, they tended to be gentle, gay, lonely alcoholics who had taken a personal interest in some youth (youths, not children, typically past puberty -- the priests were far more often gay than pedophiliac), a personal interest that went too far. (See John Patrick Shanley's play Doubt.)

Back to the Epidemic of Military Rape.

Finally, reading through the military's report on the survey where the endlessly-cited 26,000 number of "sexual assaults" comes from, I find an example:
(e.g., intentional touching of genitalia, breasts, or buttocks) 

So, if I'm reading this right, the pat on the butt would be sexual assault, but footsie would not. Or maybe not. It doesn't seem to be in the interest of anybody important to clear up confusion.

Here's the official graph of the Rape Epidemic:
So, the percentage of military women asserting "unwanted sexual contact" declined from 6.8% in the first survey in 2006 to 4.4% in the second in 2010, then rose to 6.1% in the 2012 third survey. (So, for whatever it's worth, this number is down slightly from 2006 to 2012.) The rise from 2010 to 2012 is, as far as I know, the only evidence of the Epidemic of Military Rape that you keep hearing about.

In a related story, as part of the media campaign, from the NYT:
Naval Academy Is Shaken by Student’s Report of Rape by Athletes 
MAY 31, 2013

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — As midshipmen were graduating from the Naval Academy here last week, Navy investigators were conducting an investigation into reports that several football players had serially raped a female midshipman at an off-campus party last year. ...
The investigation, stemming from an April 2012 party, has sputtered off and on for more than a year, hampered in part by the woman’s initial refusal to cooperate, the officials said. She was ashamed and then later felt intimidated, according to her Washington lawyer, Susan Burke. In a series of interviews, the female midshipman said that she was upset that she had faced disciplinary action for under-age drinking at the party while the football players were permitted to play last season. 
... Academy officials said that the players were allowed to play for the team last fall because no charges had been brought in the case and they were accorded the presumption of innocence as a result. ... 
The inquiry comes amid a growing national controversy over sexual assaults in the military — and over whether he Pentagon has reacted aggressively enough to curb them. The controversy has now reached into the cloistered world of the elite service academies. 
... On April 14, 2012, the woman said, she went to a crowded off-campus party hosted by a group of football players. It was held at an Annapolis home known as “the football house.” In interviews, several midshipmen who attended the party said it was one of several houses used by members of the academy athletic teams, in violation of rules prohibiting midshipmen from having off-campus housing in the Annapolis area. 
The woman, then a third-class midshipman, or sophomore, said she drank heavily before the party and was intoxicated by the time she arrived at the football house. She said she drank more after she got there and began to black out. 
She said she could recall only brief moments of that night. ...
Later that night, Ms. Tisdale told her friend that rumors were flying around campus that several football players had had sex with her at the party.
...Still worried about the backlash, she was not fully cooperative once an investigation was begun by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. “I told them I chose to drink, it was my fault, and I couldn’t remember,” she recalled. “The N.C.I.S. agent told me, ‘Just because you were drinking doesn’t give them the right.’ ”
... She also hired Ms. Burke, who says she began meeting with Navy investigators as well. 
In cooperating with the investigators, the victim agreed to secretly record conversations with some of the football players, including one by telephone the day before President Obama came to deliver his graduation address at the Naval Academy last Friday, she said. 

Since nobody remembers anything these days, not surprisingly, nobody has brought up in relation to this case what Naval Academy professor Bruce Fleming wrote in an NYT op-ed on 5/20/2010:
Meanwhile, the academy’s former pursuit of excellence seems to have been pushed aside by the all-consuming desire to beat Notre Dame at football (as Navy did last year). To keep our teams in the top divisions of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, we fill officer-candidate slots with students who have been recruited primarily for their skills at big-time sports. ... 
It’s no surprise that recruited athletes have been at the center of recent scandals, including a linebacker who was convicted of indecent assault on a female midshipman in 2007 and a quarterback who was accused of rape and dismissed from the academy for sexual misconduct in 2006. Sports stars are flattered on campus, avoid many of the onerous duties other midshipmen must perform, and know they’re not going to be thrown out. Instead of zero tolerance, we now push for zero attrition: we “remediate” honor code offenses. 
Another program that is placing strain on the academies is an unofficial affirmative-action preference in admissions.

In the early 1960s, Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach almost single-handedly carried to Navy to a national title bowl game, but after that the Navy football team seldom qualified for post-season bowls? Why? Staubach had to spend four years as a naval officer. On his 31st birthday, Staubach had so far only started 14 NFL games in his life (and yet he still went on to wrack up one of the great careers in NFL history.) So, other high potential athletes shunned the military academy to avoid the 4 year post-graduation commitment

In the 38 years after Staubach, Navy went to only 4 bowl games. Since, 2003, however, Navy has gone to 10 bowl games in 12 years.

The easiest way that rigorous colleges get better at football is by letting in more marginal characters. One little discussed side effect is that the number of co-eds getting raped tends to go up along with the win totals.


From the Washington Post:
The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track foreign targets, according to a top-secret document obtained by The Washington Post. 
The program, code-named PRISM, has not been made public until now. It may be the first of its kind. The NSA prides itself on stealing secrets and breaking codes, and it is accustomed to corporate partnerships that help it divert data traffic or sidestep barriers. But there has never been a Google or Facebook before, and it is unlikely that there are richer troves of valuable intelligence than the ones in Silicon Valley.

If document requiring company to submit phone records for millions of Americans is authentic, it would be the broadest surveillance order known to date. 
Equally unusual is the way the NSA extracts what it wants, according to the document: “Collection directly from the servers of these U.S. Service Providers: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.”

As I've been admitting for over a decade, I used to laugh back in the 1990s when the president of France would complain about the "Anglo-Saxon powers" listening in to his phone calls via Echelon. Of course, as it turns out, the president of France is seldom an idiot and employs people in his intelligence services who are indeed intelligent.

The Anglo-Saxon wiretapping cabal goes back to the famous Ultra project of WWII. It's been a big deal my whole lifetime. I have family relations in the Virginia suburbs of D.C. who periodically move to the dead center of the Australian Outback because it's the ideal quiet location for snooping on signal intelligence.

Tyler Cowen calls attention to this June 2, 2013 column in the Financial Times:
Obama’s faith in the geek elite who have your secrets 
By Edward Luce 
Self-interest guides the Big Data companies, and the same is often true of the White House 
... Mr Obama is no traitor to geek culture. His administration shares many of the faults and virtues of the Silicon Valley leaders to whom it is so closely allied. Mr Manning’s prosecution begins three days after the White House co-hosted its second “We the Geeks” conference with Google. This Thursday, Mr Obama will attend a fundraiser at the home of Vinod Khosla, one of Silicon Valley’s most celebrated venture capital geeks. And in the coming months the White House will be pushing for Congress to pass immigration reform – alongside a newly-created lobby group founded by Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Facebook. This controversial outfit is called Forward (Fwd.us), which was also the slogan of Mr Obama’s 2012 campaign.
One of the geekocracy’s main characteristics is a serene faith in its own good motives. It is not hard to imagine how much greater the US left’s outrage would be over the drone programme were it carried out by George W. Bush or Mitt Romney. When Mr Obama asks Americans to trust that he evaluates every target on his “kill list”, most acquiesce. That pass is also extended to Mr Obama’s “signature strikes”, which select targets by probability based on often sketchy information. But there is a world of difference between zapping a known target and taking an educated guess. It is hard to avoid the suspicion that Mr Obama’s reputation for being a nerd shields him from tougher criticism. Call it geek exceptionalism. To his credit, Mr Obama conveyed last month that he shares much of this disquiet in a lapidary address on counterterrorism. 
If signature strikes – attacking suspected terrorists before they can act – are the stuff of the film Minority Report’s “pre-crimes”, the Obama campaign’s brilliant use of demographic data is about “pre-votes”. His data team has aggregated more detail about individual preferences than most voters know about themselves. Mr Obama is likely to use his database as a bargaining tool to help secure his legacy after 2016 (whoever is the Democratic nominee will need it to win). It is no coincidence this resembles the growing ingenuity with which Facebook, and other social media, cull their users’ personal information. Mr Obama’s operation was partly designed by Silicon Valley techies. The Obama administration is also a strong ally of Google, Facebook and others in pushing against Europe’s moves towards far stronger data privacy rights. France’s so-called “right to be forgotten” sparks as much derision in Washington as it does in San Francisco. “Trust us,” say the geeks. “We have noble motives.” 
The reality is more mundane. Self-interest, rather than virtue, guides the growing clout of these “Big Data” companies in Washington. The same is often true of Mr Obama. Big data’s agenda is not confined to immigration reform. Among other areas, it has a deep interest in shaping what Washington does on privacy, online education, the school system, the internet, corporate tax reform, cyber security and even cyber warfare..... 
For while big data brings innovation, it also has dangerous side effects. Culture is already pushing Americans towards “data nudism”. Such currents will only get more acute. Before long, it will be possible to map an individual’s genetic sequencing at an affordable price. No one will be forced to attach their genetic record to online dating profiles. But potential mates may assume that anyone who chooses not to is concealing a genetic disorder. ...
Mr Obama should pay closer heed to history. And he should become wary of geeks bearing gifts. 

I worked in Big Data over 30 years ago, for a marketing research company that collected data on every supermarket or drug store item bought and commercial watched by tens of thousands of volunteer households in eight small town test markets. 

When privacy advocates objected, we asked, sincerely: What would we be interested in?

The best answer any privacy advocate came up with back in the early 1980s was that we might have records on file of a small town Protestant minister buying liquor at the grocery store, so we could then blackmail him.

Thirty years ago, this struck us as comic: Procter & Gamble wants us to provide them with representative samples, not with gossip about ministers hitting the bottle in Eau Claire, WI, and we want to satisfy P&G so we can satisfy Wall Street's profit expectations. What kind of chump change could we make off blackmailing preachers, anyway?

Our old logic is becoming less persuasive, however, as Big Data becomes less voluntary, more pervasive, and more powerful as computers advance. These days, Big Data has its hooks into people a lot more important than small town preachers.

Think about Watergate. My best guess about what the Watergate burglary was about is that President Richard Nixon had expressed an interest in knowing what Democratic National Chairman Larry O'Brien knew about the Nixon family's relationship with billionaire Howard Hughes. In 2013, however, why go to all the trouble of having plumbers break into the other party's headquarters when you can just have Big Data companies spy on them?

For years, I've been pointing to odd little data points of Google screwing with people like Pat Buchanan and Glenn Beck. I doubt if this is a giant conspiracy that goes all the way to the top, with Larry and Sergey sitting around deciding who to target. More likely it's just low level Google employees adding code to the giant Google hairball that harms people they don't like. But, nobody has been very interested in investigating these incidents, perhaps for fear that Google might unpersonize them.

I wouldn't be surprised if it were common for people to self-censor themselves these days when it comes to giant, mysterious entities like Google and Facebook. Who knows what they can do to you if you peeve them? (Similarly, a friend has suggested that the reason American politicians agree to pay so much to the medical industry is that they are terrified that if they don't, when they go under on the operating table, their surgeons will kill them. This seems insane, but, then, it's the things we're afraid to talk about that turn out to be most expensive to us.)

Are there any examples of Big Data biting anybody? 

I don't know. I can't think of too many suspicious examples. 

And yet ... I keep coming back to the weird cases of the three critics of the Wall Street-Washington axis who were suddenly arrested in sex scandals: Elliot Spitzer, Julian Assange, and Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

Or, maybe I'm just being paranoid.

Journalist demands of potential source: More Message Discipline Now!

Earlier this week, I noted the firing of the president of Ohio State for making frank, funny comments in a private meeting relating to the big money business of college sports. The weird thing these days is not that big powerful institutions like Ohio State don't like loose cannons, but that journalists have come to abhor insiders who speak their minds, too: More Message Discipline Now!

For example, here's former financial reporter Joseph Nocera's latest column in the New York Times. Nocera has been on a crusade against the National Collegiate Athletic Association, a perfectly reasonable target. Yet, instead of appreciating the Ohio State ex-president's indiscretions about just how cut-throat the college sports racket is, Nocera is shocked, shocked by the insider's leaked statements.
And, on Tuesday, E. Gordon Gee, the president of Ohio State, said he would be retiring on July 1 after some crass private remarks he made in December about other college teams were reported last week by The Associated Press. ...
Let’s take Gee first. He has been a college president forever. A prodigious fund-raiser, he makes nearly $2 million a year and was named the country’s best college president by Time magazine in 2010. 
But whenever the subject is sports, Gee turns into a blithering idiot.

Huh? My impression is that Gee's gaffes are among the best sources we have for how college sports really works. He's like Captain Renault in Casablanca.
A few years ago, in the midst of an N.C.A.A. investigation, Gee was asked whether he was going to fire the football coach, Jim Tressel. “I just hope the coach doesn’t dismiss me,” he said.

That's not idiotic, that's hilariously cynical in how it reveals the power relationship at a big time football school. (Tressel had beaten archrival Michigan nine times in ten years.) Gee sounds like Captain Renault discussing his relationship with Major Strasser.
... In the most incendiary of his most recent remarks, he said that Notre Dame had never been invited to join Ohio State’s conference, the Big Ten, because “you just can’t trust those damned Catholics.” Gee has said plenty of, er, quirky things over the years, but it was his foolish comments about sports that got the headlines — and finally got him.

Gee told the Ohio State athletic council that "The fathers are holy on Sunday, and they’re holy hell the rest of the week.”

Is that true? It would be fun if it were.

According to a commenter, Notre Dame had once been invited to join the Big Ten, accepted, then overnight reversed its decision under pressure from big donors, leaving Big Ten presidents angry and distrustful. Is that true? I don't know, but it would seem like a fun thing to ask Gee about now that he's going to be unemployed.

But instead of buttering up Gee to spill more beans, Nocera is mad at him for spilling any.

In contrast to today's establishmentarian journalists, here are some of Ben Hecht's reminiscences of what Chicago newspaper reporters were like in 1910:
They sat, grown and abuzz, outside an adult civilization, intent on breaking windows. 
There was, I am sure, neither worldliness nor cunning enough among the lot of us to run a successful candy store. But we had a vantage point. We were not inside the routines of human greed or social pretenses. We were without politeness. There was a feast all around us. We attended it as scavengers. 

Kaus: "Why S.744′s a Fraud"

Here's part of Mickey Kaus's Handy U-Print-It Pocket Guide: Why S.744′s a Fraud
"Multiple triggers"
Legalization is immediate. DHS just has to write border "plan." The most any "triggers" can possibly do is delay green cards and citizenship. 
"90 % effectiveness"
If not reached, triggers only toothless commission 
"Pay back taxes"
Only if already "assessed" by IRS (unlikely). Newly legalized may instead get

"Learn English"
Only need to sign up for English class. 
"Clean record"
Allows two free misdemeanors. Additional misdemeanors (including assaults) can be waived by DHS. 
No "public charge." Must earn 125% of poverty line
They're going to deport people who earn only 124% or less? Ha.

Read the whole thing there.

Basically, the symbolic point of the bill, which will determine how it's interpreted and enforced, is that deporting illegal aliens is evil and illegitimate.

June 6, 2013

Hispanic Real Estate Professionals: Gang of Eight will reinflate home prices

The relationship between Hispanic immigration and the housing bubble and bust of the last decade is one of those things you aren't supposed to think about ... unless you are the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals and then your attitude is: Let's Do It Again!

From the New York Times:
Awaiting Immigration Reform 
JUNE 6, 2013
Passage of immigration reform could be a boon to the real estate and mortgage markets over the next decade. 
So says the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals in San Diego. If Congress approves legislation providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, the organization expects the country’s pool of home buyers to swell by three million, generating some $500 billion in new mortgages. 
The estimates are based on the assumption that some six million unauthorized immigrants would probably pursue legalization if given the opportunity. That’s a little more than half of the total number of unauthorized immigrants in the United States, which the Pew Research Hispanic Center estimates to be 11.1 million. Almost 60 percent of those are Mexicans. 
The association calculated that about three million of those who would pursue legalization would also buy homes, based on previous rates of homeownership among foreign-born households, said Gary Acosta, the chief executive of the real estate association. 
The $500 billion in real estate transactions would also generate $25 billion in mortgage origination and refinance income, and $28 billion in commission income to real estate professionals, the association says. 
“It’s not what we expect to happen in a year or two, but over 5 to 10 years,” Mr. Acosta said. “These are people who can’t get mortgages right now, and they’re primarily living in the shadows.” 
The association did not try to break down the economic benefits by region, but Mr. Acosta said the effects would be concentrated in states with large Hispanic populations. More than 60 percent of the country’s Hispanic residents are concentrated in a handful of states, among them New York, though Mr. Acosta notes that Hispanic populations are growing rapidly in “nontraditional” states like North Carolina, Oklahoma and Utah. 
Hispanic households are already a strong force in the nation’s housing market. A previous report from the association found that from 2000 to 2012, the net growth in new-owner Hispanic households was 58 percent, versus 5 percent for the rest of the American population. 
Mr. Acosta attributed the growth to several factors. The Hispanic population is a “younger demographic that’s just moving into prime-home buyer years.” Their household makeup tends toward two-parent families, making them more likely to buy. And in surveys, Hispanics report a “fundamental desire to participate in homeownership,” Mr. Acosta said. 
The share of home purchase mortgages issued to Hispanic borrowers in New York peaked in 2006, just over 16 percent, according to data provided by Mr. Madar. It then declined sharply, and as of 2011 stood at just under 10 percent. 

Let the good times roll! What could possibly go wrong?

A query

A leading academic in the human sciences writes:
Steve, I am putting together a syllabus for my course next semester.  I plan to use blogs a lot.  I am writing to ask if you have a recommendation for a blog like yours from the other side of the fence. There are a number I have found that are full of snark and nastiness, and I want to avoid such.

Good question. I'd love to read a blog like mine from the other side of the fence.

My impression is that what usually happens among smart bloggers interested in topics like mine is either:

A. They come to publicly agree with me. After all, I am a knowledgable and reasonable person, with a certain gift for reductionist insight, and I've thought longer and harder about some important topics than almost any other pundit out there, so it's not surprising that bright, honest people often come to realize over time that my way of looking at the world makes a lot of sense.

B. Or they drop the subjects almost entirely. The world is full of people who long ago thought they were going to solve the Mystery of The Gap or whatever, and have now, chastened, moved on to totally other things -- Nicolas Lemann, for example. Or they at least give up blogging, a format in which their readers can easily answer back -- the ignominious collapse of Malcolm Gladwell's blog is an amusing example. Jared Diamond's strategy of issuing the occasional magisterial book and avoiding all public debates is a more dignified strategy than poor Malcolm's assumption that he could wade into debate with me and come out victorious.

C. A third alternative is that I become the Dark Matter of the public intellectual sphere, He Who Must Not Be Named. This pattern seems to be increasing over time, with some obvious examples of prominent figures either rephrasing my arguments in a less reductionist and thus more broadly acceptable manner, or racking their brains to answer my arguments without quoting them.

Any suggestions?

College sports realignment chases smart black athletes

A reader writes on why the University of Notre Dame in northern Indiana is increasingly aligning its sports teams with the Atlantic Coast Conference in the southeast.
As an alumnus and  over interested-follower of Notre Dame sports and football in particular, I think you more or less get it right.  
I would highlight the fact Notre Dame is emulating the Duke basketball model on the football field. I tend to think the talent pool of African-Americans who can compete at the highest levels of college football and not completely embarrass themselves in an institution where they must pass a calculus class and if they are business majors intro accounting (which is the class the ND starting QB got caught cheating in and subsequently kicked out of school) is increasingly found in the prosperous suburbs of Atlanta, Charlotte, and Baltimore.

That makes a lot of sense. It raises a question that white people are generally oblivious to: metropolitan variations in black quality. I got in trouble during Hurricane Katrina for pointing out that the bad behavior of New Orleans blacks shouldn't be considered a random sample of how blacks nationally behave: we already had lots of evidence that New Orleans blacks, like Milwaukee blacks, were below the national average in law-abidingness and educational application.

What kind of horrible white person knows things like that?

In contrast, there's a fair amount of statistical and anecdotal evidence that intelligent blacks are congregating in the suburban Atlanta area, and perhaps parts of North Carolina, too. If I was a black college graduate and wanted my kids raised around black college graduates' kids, I would definitely consider moving to Atlanta or a few other similar metropolitan areas.
The urban school systems in the Midwest have quit producing scholarship athletes. In Minneapolis and St. Paul the city schools barely field football teams even though they must be loaded with potential athletes. Any African Americans who want to play big time sports either go the Catholic School (Cretin in St. Paul) or head out to the western suburbs of Minneapolis (Hopkins Wayzata). 
It's an interesting thought experiment, is the dearth of athletes caused by the abandonment of the schools, youth programs etc, or has anyone who was a clue just moved south and left the midwest with only the dregs.
The other demographic trend that killed the Big Ten and Notre Dame's recruiting in the midwest is the white ethnics aren't what they used to be. The 1988 ND national championship team had a Kolwalkowski, a Stams, a Smagala, a Bolcar, a Grunhard, an Alm. In Minnesota, the big white kids all play hockey. Maybe on the east coast they're playing lacrosse. Maybe hockey.  
Thanks and Go Irish

You can see this at the high school level. I saw this with the local rich kid's private high school in my neighborhood. My neighborhood is maybe 3 percent black, all middle class or above, almost all connected in some fashion to the entertainment industry, all thoroughly integrated in housing. (It's like Stanley Kramer's vision in 1962 of racial utopia.)

The first year, this local private school had one black football player, a very fast but very small freshman. My son's school beat the local school in a good, close game. By the third year, the local school had suddenly acquired about eight huge fast black players, and won 46-0. By the fourth year, all the giant black players had vanished, leaving only the little black receiver, now a senior, and the game was close again.

I never got the Inside Story on this strange evolution, but I assume that an ambitious coach had brought in a bunch of superstars from South-Central. But then, maybe, something very, very bad happened and all the superstars from South-Central were kicked out, leaving the one good but undersized black athlete who had gotten into the school back as part of the normal course of events, not as part of some demented coach's plan for world domination.

The ideal set-up for a private high school with football/basketball ambitions is to be located near a large pool of middle class blacks, such as Baldwin Hills south of Beverly Hills. Perhaps Serra HS in Gardena, south of Baldwin Hills, which had Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, the future USC star receivers as teammates, might be an example.

More on Judge Edith Jones

A friend writes:
I was at the speech.  Unfortunately, she actually didn't say half the things she is accused of saying.  No one there seemed particularly shocked.

What's going on in Turkey?

I spent a couple of weeks in western Turkey a few years ago, and I came back with fewer firm opinions on the country than I had when I got there. It's a nice place, the people are polite, and even the restaurant touts don't pester tourists more than is reasonable.

Still, the place struck me as, well, Byzantine. It's been, on and off, the most strategic place on Earth since, roughly, the Age of Odysseus, and the locals have developed skills for dealing with that fact; one of which is that what's really going on in Turkey remains relatively opaque to tourists like me.

Does Notre Dame think the Midwest is doomed?

Notre Dame Fighting Irish
(I know this looks like I made
it up, but this logo is one of the
more valuable pieces of
intellectual property in the US)
I realize that American college sports are a baffling topic for my foreign readers who make up a big fraction of my overnight audience. American college sports conferences are thus a particularly arcane subject, but they are actually of interest from a demographic / real estate investing perspective regarding which regions are likely long-term winners or losers.

Thus, this comment from long time reader "Drunk Idiot" about what he was told about why the University of Notre Dame is aligning itself with the Atlantic Coast Conference, which is centered in the South Atlantic states (e.g., the ACC's most recent football champion is Florida State, 920 miles southeast of Notre Dame), is of broader interest.

It's related to the firing of the president of Ohio State I noted earlier this week, but also says a lot about a Catholic institution with an impressive track record of betting right's view of very long term trends in the U.S.

Background: Notre Dame has been the most legendary football college in the U.S. since the days of Knute Rockne and George Gipp (played by an insolent Ronald Reagan in this video), with Roman Catholic fans all around the country. Interestingly, it has used its football fame to raise its academic standards high enough that it has had trouble over the last quarter of a century competing at the very highest level. The word is that if today the football coach brought in the application of the quarterback who led ND to its last national championship in 1988, the Admissions Office would "set it on fire."

On the other hand, there are hints that college football might be able to support one or two academically upscale programs like Duke in basketball, with Notre Dame and Stanford vying for that role. Notre Dame went undefeated in last year's regular season, but was shown up as an overachiever in the national championship game by the usual suspects from the Southeastern Conference.

Notre Dame is located in South Bend, an old, small industrial city in rural northern Indiana just south of the Michigan border. It's 95 highway miles east of downtown Chicago.
Here's a synopsis of the notoriously loquacious Notre Dame gadfly's argument:  
The Big Ten is a Midwestern league, and Notre Dame views itself as an "East Coast" institution that just happens to be located in the Midwest. Notre Dame wants to maximize its East Coast visibility, and sees membership in the newly expanded ACC (Syracuse and Pittsburgh are new members) as the best way to accomplish that. 
What's more, Notre Dame views the Midwest as a dying region that will suffer massive depopulation throughout the next century. And ethnic Catholic whites are one of the main demographic groups that are high tailing it out of the Midwest the fastest. But Catholics are among the fastest growing demographic groups in the Southeast: states like Florida, Georgia and North Carolina either now have, or will soon have, more Catholics than historically heavily Catholic Ohio and Michigan.  
So Notre Dame thinks that disassociating itself from the sinking "Rust Belt" is a necessity if it intends to remain relevant for the next 100 years (which it definitely does intend to do). The university is so convinced that the Northeastern-Southeastern theater is the way forward that it's even willing to ditch decades-long football commitments with some of its most storied, traditional rivals (and wouldn't you know it, after Notre Dame announced that it was joining the ACC, the Irish backed out of future games with historic football rivals Michigan and Michigan St.).  
But despite Notre Dame's now less-than-advantageous Midwestern location, the university has an enormous national following -- particularly in the New York market -- and is uniquely positioned to ditch its old ties, and to start anew in the the increasingly dynamic (and real estate intensive) Boston-to-New York-to-Washington, D.C.-to-Miami I-95 corridor.  
Chicago stands alone as the only Midwestern market with which Notre Dame wishes to maintain ties. It's the nation's third largest city and media market, and the Chicagoland region is the only heavily Catholic region in the Midwest that's not undergoing a long term demographic collapse.  
Indeed, even as Notre Dame thinks of itself as an "East Coast" school that happens to be located in the Midwest, it also thinks of itself as a "Chicago" school (which it sort of almost is).  
So Notre Dame sees Chicago as its home base and main media market, followed by New York, California, and increasingly (it hopes), the Southeast. But although the school's decision makers think the Irish need to play two California teams per year in football to maintain their California visibility (which explains why, after they joined the ACC, Notre Dame dropped Michigan and Michigan State from the football schedule but kept USC and Stanford), they think they "own" Chicago so thoroughly that there's no need to play local teams ... note, however, that after they joined the ACC, the Irish signed a deal to play a series with Northwestern. So maybe they were a little bit more nervous about continuing to "own" Chicago than the gadfly Irish ambassador was letting on. 
Interestingly, not only did that conversation go down before Notre Dame announced that it would join the ACC, it went down before the Big Ten added Maryland and Rutgers. If anything, the Big Ten's subsequent East Coast expansion probably indicates that the Jim Delaney and the decision makers in Park Ridge (Big Ten headquarters) are trying to react to the same emerging demographic trends that Notre Dame officials are.

The opinions of the Inner Party at Notre Dame are not to be lightly dismissed.

Still, I wonder whether they are stuck with a 20th Century model of a heating v. air conditioning dichotomy. Heating homes was invented first, so cold northern regions prospered earlier. Fans more or less required electricity, and air conditioning was a 20th Century invention. Much of Florida, for example, was more or less uninhabited until electric fans and, especially, air conditioning came along.

Will this trend continue in the 21st Century? Or is the Southeast more vulnerable than the North Central to demographic trends that aren't conducive to a high cost high brow institution like Notre Dame wants to be? Perhaps being, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan observed, being closer to the Canadian Border will have its advantages?

June 5, 2013

Water safety PSA

I don't do a lot of pure PSAs, but I've known two young men who drowned. From Slate:
Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning 
In many child drownings, adults are nearby but have no idea the victim is dying. Here’s what to look for.
... Drowning is not the violent, splashing call for help that most people expect. ...

Or there can be a brief display of distress you miss before the actual drowning starts.
“Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help. The respiratory system was designed for breathing. Speech is the secondary or overlaid function. Breathing must be fulfilled before speech occurs. ...
Sometimes the most common indication that someone is drowning is that they don’t look like they’re drowning. They may just look like they are treading water and looking up at the deck. One way to be sure? Ask them, “Are you all right?” If they can answer at all—they probably are. If they return a blank stare, you may have less than 30 seconds to get to them. And parents—children playing in the water make noise. When they get quiet, you get to them and find out why.

In the U.S., young black males drown at terribly high rates, especially in motel pools. 

Another group without much water experience are Russians, who drown a lot in rivers during hot spells: only two months of summer, vodka, and whatever you call it (fatalism?) that makes Russia so prone to tragic disasters are a dangerous combination.

James Q. Wilson on race and violent crime

With federal judge Edith Jones being denounced for saying that blacks and Hispanics commit more violent crimes on average, it's worth digging up an obscure but important 2002 book chapter written by the late James Q. Wilson, the leading social science expert on crime:
A central problem—perhaps the central problem—in improving the relationship between white and black Americans is the difference in racial crime rates. No matter how innocent or guilty a stranger may be, he carries with him in public the burdens or benefits of his group identity... 
Estimating the crime rates of racial groups is, of course, difficult because we only know the arrest rate. If police are more (or less) likely to arrest a criminal of a given race, the arrest rate will overstate (or understate) the true crime rate. To examine this problem, researchers have compared the rate at which criminal victims report (in the National Crime Victimization Survey, or NCVS) the racial identity of whoever robbed or assaulted them with the rate at which the police arrest robbers or assaulters of different races. Regardless of whether the victim is black or white, there are no significant differences between victim reports and police arrests. This suggests that, though racism may exist in policing (as in all other aspects of American life), racism cannot explain the overall black arrest rate. The arrest rate, thus, is a reasonably good proxy for the crime rate. 
Black men commit murders at a rate about eight times greater than that for white men. This disparity is not new; it has existed for well over a century. When historian Roger Lane studied murder rates in Philadelphia, he found that since 1839 the black rate has been much higher than the white rate. This gap existed long before the invention of television, the wide distribution of hand guns, or access to dangerous drugs (except for alcohol). 
America is a violent nation. The estimated homicide rate in this country, excluding all those committed by blacks, is over three times higher than the homicide rate for the other six major industrial nations. But whatever causes white Americans to kill other people, it causes black Americans to kill others at a much higher rate. 
Of course the average African American male is not likely to kill anybody. 
During the 1980s and early 1990s, fewer than one out of every 2,000 black men would kill a person in any year, and most of their victims were other blacks. 
Though for young black men homicide is the leading cause of death, the chances of the average white person’s being killed by a black are very small. But the chances of being hit by lightning are also very small, and yet we leave high ground during a thunderstorm. However low the absolute risk, the relative risk—relative, that is, to the chances of being killed by a white—is high, and this fact changes everything. 
When whites walk down the street, they are more nervous when they encounter a black man than when they encounter a white one. When blacks walk down the street, they are more likely than whites to be stopped and questioned by a police officer... 
The differences in the racial rates for property crimes, though smaller than those for violent offenses, are still substantial. The estimated rate at which black men commit burglary is three times higher than it is for white men; for rape, it is five times higher. The difference between blacks and whites with respect to crime, and especially violent crime, has, I think, done more to impede racial amity than any other factor. Pure racism—that is, a visceral dislike of another person because of his skin color—has always existed. It is less common today than it once was, but it persists and no doubt explains part of our racial standoff. But pure racism once stigmatized other racial minorities who have today largely overcome that burden. When I grew up in California, the Chinese and Japanese were not only physically distinctive, but they were also viewed with deep suspicion by whites. 
For many decades, Chinese testimony was not accepted in California courts, an Alien Land Law discouraged Asian land purchases, the Chinese Exclusion Act (not repealed until 1943) prevented Chinese immigration, and a Gentlemen’s Agreement, signed in 1907, required Japan to cut back sharply on passports issued to Japanese who wished to emigrate to California. When World War II began, the Japanese were sent to relocation camps at great personal cost to them. 
Yet today Californians of Asian ancestry are viewed by Caucasians with comfort and even pride. In spite of their distinctive physical features, no one crosses the street to avoid a Chinese or Japanese youth. One obvious reason is that they have remarkably low crime rates. 
The black murder rate, though it is much higher than the rate for whites or Asians, does not always change in the same way as the white rate. Between 1976 and 1991, the murder arrest rate for black males aged twenty- five and older fell dramatically even though the murder arrest rate for the nation as a whole did not change at all. Apparently, adult black men were becoming less violent. But in some years, such as 1965 to the early 1970s, the black murder rate increased much faster than the white rate. By the late 1960s the black rate was over eighteen times higher than the white one. Then, beginning around 1975, the black rate declined while the white rate continued to increase, so that the ratio of black arrests to white arrests fell to around six to one. From 1980 until the present, the rate at which adult blacks and whites are arrested for murder dropped more or less steadily. By contrast, the rate at which black and white juveniles are arrested for murder increased sharply from 1985 to the early 1990s, with the white rate almost doubling and the black rate more than tripling. Starting in the mid- 1990s, the juvenile rate fell again, almost down to the level it was at in 1985. 
In short, though the gap sometimes widens and sometimes narrows, white and black homicide rates tend to remain different.

Cannes strikes blow against anti-gay marriage marchers by honoring Letter-to-Penthouse-style sex fantasy

You might almost think this looks like some practicing
heterosexuals riding the Great Gay Gravy Train of 2013
From the New York Times on the back story behind the surprise awarding of the top prize at the Cannes film festival to Blue Is the Warmest Color, a little known movie featuring endless simulated sex scenes between two young, beautiful actresses:
The Cannes prize was given to Mr. Kechiche just hours after masses of French demonstrators poured into the streets of Paris to protest France’s new law allowing same-sex marriage and adoption. While it would be impossible to say whether the protests helped determine the prize at Cannes, the coincidence of the timing was noted. 
Le Monde called the festival judges’ decision on the day of the protests “an act of cultural politics that does not lack courage.” The weekly magazine Les InRockuptibles said that the festival “intervened with a perfect sense of timing.” 
And Mr. Kechiche told Reuters, “Everyone who is against same-sex marriage or love between two people of the same sex must see the film.” ...
On the Riviera in May, the critics gushed. The graphic sexual encounters were so magnificent, The Guardian wrote, that “they make the sex in famous movies like, say, ‘Last Tango in Paris,’ look supercilious and dated.” 
The Hollywood Reporter said the film would surely “raise eyebrows with its showstopping scenes of nonsimulated [sic] female copulation.” 
Baz Bamigboye, a critic from The Daily Mail, meanwhile, confessed that he blushed like he had never blushed before, calling the sex scenes exceptionally beautiful. “And I’m not just saying that because I’m a bloke,” he added. 
But now the film, directed by Abdellatif Kechiche, is the subject of a multifaceted debate here and abroad that turns on two questions: How to represent the female body and lesbian sex on screen? And who has the right, or at least the authority, to create those images? The debate was set off when Julie Maroh, the 27-year-old author of “Le Bleu Est une Couleur Chaude,” the comic book-novel on which the film is based, criticized the film’s portrayal of lesbian sex as uninformed, unconvincing and pornographic. 
“This was what was missing on the set: lesbians,” she wrote in an English translation of a French “communiqué” posted on her blog after the film won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. 
Noting that the director and actresses are “all straight, unless proven otherwise,” she said that with few exceptions, the film struck her as “a brutal and surgical display, exuberant and cold, of so-called lesbian sex, which turned into porn.” 

Not that there's anything wrong with that!

Back in 1977, this guy in the dormroom down the hall wrote a Letter to Penthouse that had all the makings of an award-winning screenplay in 2013. It started out, "I'm a student at a small Midwestern liberal arts college and I never believed any of these Letters to Penthouse, until one night the doorbell rang and ..."

If I could remember his name, I'd tell him to dust it off and get an agent pronto. He might win an Oscar for his contribution to the War on Homophobia.