June 15, 2013

To GOP Brain Trust, demography is density

From the Daily Mail:
Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour backed up [Jeb] Bush's argument at a separate meeting at the Bipartisan Policy Center alongside the former Florida governor.  
'GDP growth is simply productivity multiplied by the number of workers,' Barbour said. 'Now I wasn’t a math major, but I can figure out that if the number of workers stays the same as it has under this administration… it’s very hard to get the GDP to go up.'

To plagiarize from yet another Commenter:
"Immigration: It's not a Ponzi scheme if it never ends."

From The Blaze:
In the interview at TheBlaze newsroom in New York, Barbour also discussed his work on immigration reform with the Bipartisan Policy Center. 
“I think immigration reform is really important if we’re going to have economic growth,” Barbour said. “We’re in a global battle for capitol of labor, we need to win that battle, but our immigration reform is making it harder.” 
Major keys for immigration policy for Barbour include bringing more workers into the country from both ends of the skill spectrum to improve the economy, in addition to giving the American people total confidence that the border will be secured. ... 
Looking at the shockingly high number of Hispanics, but also Asian-Americans and Indian-Americans who supported Obama, Barbour says there can only be one explanation. 
“They had the feeling ‘they don’t want me here.’ Well, we do want those people here, they contribute to our economy,  they contribute to our schools, they contribute to our communities.”

June 14, 2013

Why is Carlos Slim the world's richest man?

Bill Gates and Carlos Slim
Recently, there's been much discussion about all the advantages of being able to check up on other people's phone calls, such as being able to use telephone metadata to blackmail politicians cheating on their spouses, or get early hints of mergers and acquisitions.

Perhaps that line of thought can help illuminate a conundrum about the contemporary world. As we all know, to prevent Mexicans from immigrating to the United States is virtually a crime against humanity, since Mexico is so utterly impoverished. But, as we also know, on and off over much of the last half-dozen years, the richest man in the world has been a Mexican national, Carlos Slim (currently ranked #1 in the world by Forbes with $73 billion).

Besides Slim's near monopoly within Mexico, he sets extraordinarily high rates on calls between America and Mexico, giving him vast profits off illegal immigrants.

You might think that would be a pretty interesting paradox to explore, but Slim owns, at last report, 8.1% of the agenda-setting New York Timesso there's not much media interest in discussing Slim's fortune in relation to immigration from Mexico. Not surprisingly, both Slim and the New York Times favor amnesty and increased immigration for Slim to exploit. And why would you want to know more than that?

But while Slim can make a lot of money off over-charging poor illegal immigrants, there might be other ways to profit off dominating telecom within Mexico, such as keeping an eye out on what Mexico's rich and powerful are up to.

To paraphrase Mel Brooks, it's good to be the monopolist, but perhaps -- just speculating irresponsibly here -- it's extra-good to be the telecom monopolist who keep the records on who calls whom.

It's kind of like how the America's 7th richest man and mayor of America's largest city charges customer $2,000 a month for terminals that he lets his reporters spy on them with. You might almost think that letting extremely smart and money hungry guys have electronic access to your secrets wasn't a good idea. Then again, if you are a smart and money hungry guy, it might pay almost as well to have people think you have access to their secrets.

Schumer's Schumer

Leon Fresco, author of Gang of 8's immigration bill
From the Miami Herald:
Miami’s Leon Fresco: The immigration mover and shaker you don’t know 
Fresco and Schumer
Leon Fresco is now New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer's right-hand man on immigration

By Franco Ordonez | McClatchy Washington Bureau 
WASHINGTON — While Sen. Marco Rubio may be among the most prominent faces of the immigration battle in Washington, there is another Cuban-American from Miami who has been almost as critical to guiding the contentious proposal through the perils of Capitol Hill. 
His name is Leon Fresco. 
But unlike Rubio and thousands of other Cuban Miamians, Fresco’s a Democrat. 
The 1995 Miami Beach High School graduate who twice made it to the national championships in debate – The Miami Herald gave the then 17-year-old a Silver Knight award – is now New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer’s right-hand man on immigration and arguably the debate’s most critical cog whom few people know. 
Fresco, now 35, led the brutal negotiating sessions, some of which lasted until 2 a.m., with staffers of the so-called “Gang of Eight” bipartisan Senate team. He orchestrated several of the most delicate compromises, including the final and most difficult agreement between labor and business interests, which allowed both Democrats and Republicans to claim victory. 
And it was his hands on the keyboard drafting passages of the original, 844-page bill that the group ratified. 
“He put in the longest of all the long hours,” said Chandler Morse, the immigration staff negotiator for Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona. “He was the one that everyone called. 
The staffers, about 20 of them ranging in age from their late 20s to their mid-40s, had the daunting task of coming up with a new law of the land that likely would impact almost every aspect of American life, from who we let in the country to who we elect for office. 
For Fresco, the charge was clear: Figure out a way. Find that sweet spot where everyone can get something they want, without conceding so much they can’t face their constituencies. Make a deal. 
The group met daily from January to April in a room they dubbed “The Dome.” 
Fresco set the group’s agenda.  
It was actually two Cuban-Americans from Miami who dominated the immigration talks. Gonzalez, who also is a Miami immigration attorney, led the Republican negotiations. 
Leon Fresco at Yale LS
Despite often butting heads, the two grew tight over shared cab rides home and late-night dinners at Johnny Rockets and Chipotle, according to Fresco and others familiar with the negotiations. They discussed law school and their legal backgrounds. Fresco went to Yale, Gonzalez to Cornell. 
Gonzalez shared stories about his family, and Fresco sought out guidance on how to find the right balance between work and life. Fresco told Gonzalez about growing up in the Cuban Jewish neighborhood of North Bay Village in Miami Beach and going to school with future football star Chad Johnson. 
Chad Johnson-Ochocinco: not really relevant to the Leon Fresco story
After graduating from Yale Law School, Fresco returned to Miami to work at the law firm of Holland & Knight, where he mostly took pro-bono cases. He handled several high-profile cases including an HIV-positive Colombian fighting deportation and a schizophrenic man convicted of murder suing federal court for using “chemical agents” to subdue mentally ill inmates. 
Fresco joined Schumer’s staff in 2009, when Schumer was talking with Graham about bringing back up a comprehensive immigration package. The New York senator describes Fresco as “our immigration genius” and has his number memorized. 
“I must dial it 10 times a day,” Schumer said. 
He praised Fresco for coming up with some of the toughest legislative compromises, including breaking a deadlock between business and labor over wages for future immigrant workers. 
“When there is a problem that seems intractable, you push the Leon button and out comes a solution that both sides like,” Schumer said. 
But Fresco sometimes talks too much – or too loud. It’s Fresco whispering in Schumer’s ear during sensitive committee negotiations. But he speaks so loudly that rest of the group can hear him. “I say, ‘Leon, be quiet,’” Schumer said. “He’s brilliant, but he gives away the whole negotiating strategy in the first sentence.” 
Citing Fresco’s message to Gonzalez, Schumer said Fresco may have been a little too pointed with his remark, but he called the message effective because he and others had felt blindsided by Rubio. 
Fresco says he can relate to Rubio. He sees a lot of himself in Rubio. He grew up Republican with a “pro-Republican, pro right-wing” mindset that he maintained until law school. His father ran a family real estate business. His mother managed network programs for a cruise line

Rubio's man Enrique Gonzalez devoted many years to helping cruise lines get immigration visas for cheap foreign labor.
He feels that background, understanding the priorities of many Republicans, particularly Cubans, helped him work out deals with Republican staffers.  
Fresco’s task now is protecting the core of the legislation from amendments being introduced. Fresco is already reviewing amendments senators offer to ensure they don’t undermine the agreement. 
“Right now we go to the floor and Leon will be at my side making sure, when we see a new amendment that surprises us, we’ll assess it,” Schumer said. “We want to be as accepting as we can, but Leon will be there not only explaining what it does but explaining all its ramifications and whether it’s going to hurt the core of the bill.” 
And Schumer expects that later this summer, when the House of Representatives starts its debate, Fresco will again be called upon to solve the stalemates. 
Email: fordonez@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @francoordonez

Here's some more on Fresco:
Staff Director - Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security
MARCH 2009 – PRESENT (3 years 3 months)
Attorney/Chesterfield Smith Fellow
Holland & Knight LLP
Partnership; 1001-5000 employees; Law Practice industry
SEPTEMBER 2005 – MARCH 2009 (3 years 7 months)
Represented clients in pro bono litigation matters, focusing on immigration, civil rights, and death-penalty litigation. Successfully represented over two-hundred immigrants from over twenty-five different countries before the United States Courts of Appeals, the Board of Immigration Appeals, and the Administrative Appeals Office of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. ...
Law Clerk to the Honorable Daniel T.K. Hurley
United States District Court - Southern District of Florida

AUGUST 2003 – AUGUST 2005 (2 years 1 month)
Investment Banking Analyst
Deutsche Bank
Public Company; 10,001+ employees; DB; Investment Banking industry
JULY 1999 – AUGUST 2000 (1 year 2 months)
Assisted in advising Deutsche Bank’s clients in several mergers, acquisitions, and leveraged buyouts in the chemicals industry by creating computerized models detailing the projected economic viability of potential transactions and explaining future recommended courses of action for clients to follow. 
Yale Law School
J.D., Law
2000 – 2003
Charles G. Albom Prize - Awarded to the student demonstrating the highest level of excellence in the areas of judicial and appellate advocacy in connection with the law school’s clinical program.
Activities and Societies: Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Clinic Board of Student Directors 
University of Pennsylvania
B.A., Economics, Political Science
1995 – 1999
Summa Cum Laude,
Phi Beta Kappa,
Simon Kuznets Fellowship Award for Distinguished Undergraduate Economics Major
Activities and Societies:
Pi Kappa Alpha, President, 

Fortunately, Marco Rubio is keeping an eye out for us on what Fresco and Schumer are up to. No way can a summa cum laude Penn grad / Yale Law Schooler outsmart a former football scholarship holder at the now-defunct Tarkio U.

In fact, Rubio has hired his own legal eagle to make sure Fresco and Schumer don't try to slip one past him.

I mean, what's the worst that could happen? America gets flooded by even more Hispanics, so the GOP figures they have to nominate for President somebody whose name ends in a vowel? Like, say, Marco Rubio?

Rubio's Schumer's Schumer

From Bloomberg Businessweek:
Enrique Gonzalez III
Hidden Hand: Enrique Gonzalez, Marco Rubio's Immigration Attorney 
By Kathleen Hunter 
June 13, 2013 Facebook Tweet LinkedIn Google Plus Email

Late last year, Marco Rubio called his old friend Enrique Gonzalez and asked him to come to Washington to craft the biggest overhaul of immigration law in a generation. Gonzalez had never worked on Capitol Hill, which was exactly why the Florida Republican wanted him. He’d spent two decades as an immigration lawyer in the Miami area, most recently as a partner at Fragomen, where he helped Carnival (CCL), Viacom (VIA), and other companies obtain visas for their foreign workers. (Bloomberg LP, Bloomberg Businessweek’s parent company, retains Fragomen.) Gonzalez took the job, and six months later, on June 11, the Senate began debating the 1,077-page bill he wrote with the staff of Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer (N.Y.). Now Gonzalez is working with Republicans on a Rubio-sponsored amendment to mandate border security measures. Without them, the bill isn’t likely to win Rubio’s support—or that of other conservatives.
The friendship between Rubio and Gonzalez goes back 16 years, to when they were commissioners for the city of West Miami. Gonzalez knows how to talk to Democrats—he used to be one—but more than anything he knows the immigration system. “He understands it,” says Democratic Senator Dick Durbin (Ill.), a bill co-sponsor, “and he brought a lot to the discussion.”

Now that's reassuring.

So, the Gang of Eight's bill was written by Sen. Schumer's Cuban Democratic immigration lawyer and was signed off on by Sen Rubio's Cuban Democratic (oh, excuse me, ex-Democratic) immigration lawyer.

The Gang of Eight's bill is more or less of a coup by Cuban elites.

The Singularity of Stupidity

From the Washington Post:
Jeb Bush: U.S. economy needs immigrants because they’re ‘more fertile’ 
By Aaron Blake,  
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush (R) argued Wednesday that the United States should pass immigration reform because the U.S. economy needs the labor of young immigrants, and immigrants are “more fertile.” 
“Immigrants create far more businesses than native-born Americans,” Bush said at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Road to the Majority conference. 
“Immigrants are more fertile, and they love families, and they have more intact families, and they bring a younger population. Immigrants create an engine of economic prosperity.”
Bush said immigrants are an advantage that the United States has over China, Europe and Japan, which don’t have the same immigrant tradition and are struggling to find young laborers. 
“If we don’t do it, we will be in decline, because the productivity of this country is dependent upon young people that are equipped to be able to work hard,” Bush said. 
Bush, whose wife is a Mexican-born immigrant, has long been an advocate for comprehensive immigration reform. 
A Census report released Thursday showed that, for the first time, white deaths in the United States outnumbered white births. Population grew because of growth among Hispanics, African-Americans and immigrants.

A Marxist view of U.S. foundations

Here are extracts from a synopsis of Joan Roelof's book Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism:
On occasion, the most striking evidence of power and influence is the invisibility of its source. Since the early twentieth century, a number of foundations have been set up in the United States by the wealthy — the Ford, Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Bill Gates foundations are prominent examples. A new study by American political scientist Joan Roelofs (Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism, State University of New York Press, 2003) provides an outline of the US foundations' activities, and an analysis of their role. 
This process is attempted not only at the national level but at the international level as well. Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former US National Security Adviser and still a preeminent figure in the US national security establishment, has himself claimed the following: 
"Cultural domination has been an underappreciated facet of American global power.... As the imitation of American ways gradually pervades the world, it creates a more congenial setting for the exercise of the indirect and seemingly consensual American hegemony. And as in the case of the domestic American system, that hegemony involves a complex structure of interlocking institutions and procedures, designed to generate consensus and obscure asymmetries in power and influence." (emphases added) ...

I thought it was weird back in the 1970s that the National Security Advisors were usually foreign-born, but, then again, I'd rather have Zbiggy and Dr. K. on my side than on the other side.
'Identity politics': Ideologies are promoted that counter the concept of unity among the toiling and oppressed. In the late 1960s the US ruling classes were disturbed by signs of unity among anti-establishment organisations of various oppressed sections (for example, the Black Berets, a militant Chicano group in New Mexico, began meeting with Black Panthers, the Young Lords and the American Indian Movement and expressing solidarity with Cuba). Thus began the foundation-supported emergence of the distinct 'identity politics' of each socially oppressed section.

Okay, but, seriously, who really believes the over-grown juvenile delinquents of the Black Berets, Black Panthers, Young Lords, and American Indian Movement could have organized their way out of a paper bag? Look at Angela Davis's prison boyfriend's Black Guerilla Family, now best known for the philoprogenitive Tavon White.
Beginning with early 1970s Ford began to fund women's studies too, a major area for it today. 
... Beyond the splintering effect, foundation initiatives helped transform radical movements into professional-led scholarly or bureaucratic organizations. ...

Affirmative action was originally conceived of largely as a Danegeld to be paid to the smarter blacks to keep the dumber blacks from burning down their slums again. Did it work? Maybe ...
 In 1969, McGeorge Bundy, then president of Ford Foundation, was asked by a congressional hearing on foundations why Ford supported 'radical' organizations. He replied: 
"There is a very important proposition here that for institutions and organizations which are young and which are not fully shaped as to their direction it can make a great deal of difference as to the degree and way in which they develop if and when they have a responsible and constructive proposal they can find support for it. If they cannot find such support, those within the organization who may be tempted to move in paths of disruption, discord and even violence, may be confirmed in their view that American society doesn't care about their needs. On the other hand, if they do have a good project constructively put forward, and they run it responsibly and they get help for it and it works, then those who feel that kind of activity makes sense may be encouraged."

A more realistic perspective would be that in the late 1960s, both the Establishment center-left, as represented by the Ford Foundation, and the radical left (e.g., David Horowitz helping out the Black Panthers), saw their projects founder on the low human capital of the lumpenprole minority organizations they became fixated upon in their boredom and/or distaste for advancing the interests of the white working class. Tom Wolfe's Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers documents the comic results of Establishment do-gooderism in the San Francisco black slums.

June 13, 2013

Mysterious attack leaves Washington Post baffled

From the Washington Post:
‘Violence for violence’s sake is troubling,’ says cyclist attacked by youths on D.C. trail 
By Peter Hermann and Trishula Patel, Published: June 12 
The bicyclist doesn’t remember seeing the youths run at him as he pedaled home late Tuesday afternoon on the Metropolitan Branch Trail, but he certainly recalls one knocking him off his bike and at least a dozen others piling on, punching and kicking him in the head. 
What the 37-year-old can’t understand is why they did it. 
They didn’t take his $500 bicycle. They ignored his cellphone. They didn’t want the $20 in his wallet. In fact, the victim said, “I didn’t hear a word.” 
And the lack of apparent motive is haunting the married father of two, who uses the trail regularly to bike between his office in the NoMa section of the District and his house in Silver Spring. 
The randomness of the attack near Third and S streets NE — and near the location of a surge of violent robberies two years ago — has made him more scared and more angry and left him wondering whether it’s time to give up pedal power in his commute. 
“I would be fine if they took my things, that I understand,” said the man, recovering at home from broken bones above his left eye and bruises too numerous to count. “But violence for violence’s sake is troubling.” 
D.C. police said the attack by as many as 15 youths occurred about 5:30 p.m. in the Eckington neighborhood. As the cyclist passed a group standing to the side of the trail, one broke away and punched him in the face, knocking him to the ground, police said. 
Others joined in, police said, and then the youths ran south toward the NoMa-New York Avenue Metro station. Investigators are checking whether nearby surveillance cameras captured the attack. No arrests have been made. 
Cmdr. Andrew Solberg, head of the 5th Police District, called the assault isolated. He said officers patrol the trail on foot, bicycle and Segway. “I would like to reassure folks that the trail is very safe,” he said. “It’s very unfortunate that every once in a while there are acts of violence that take place.”

Fascinating sentence construction: "there are acts of violence that take place."
In 2011, communities along the trail organized volunteer patrols after attacks along a 1.5-mile stretch between Franklin and L streets NE, the same area where Tuesday’s attack occurred. 
They blamed youths for the assaults and robberies, including an incident in which a stun gun was used to knock a commuter off a bicycle and one in which a metal pipe was thrown at a 61-year-old woman, who was robbed of her purse and a book on Moses. One arrest brought that spate of robberies to a stop, police said at the time. 
Authorities said they do not think what happened Tuesday is part of a new wave of violence. The victim did not want his name published, and The Washington Post generally does not identify crime victims. 
The man said he cannot think of a single reason for the attack on the eight-foot wide paved trail, which he uses to save money, help the environment and get some exercise. “It was completely random,” he said. “I’m having a hard time understanding why this happened. There’s no answer. I want to feel comfortable using the trail.” But he said he is not sure whether he will use it again. 
“One kid just started running at me and hit me on the side of the head,” the man said. “The rest continued to pummel me while I was on the ground. . . . I’ve got no sense of anything I did or could have done to instigate it. I didn’t make eye contact with him. I didn’t even notice him running up to me.” 
The victim said few people were on the trail at the time, although he recalled passing a runner heading south and being passed by another cyclist going north. 
Of his money, credit cars and bike, he said, “I would have gladly given it all up.” 
Now, he’s faced with telling his daughters, ages 7 and 9, what happened to their daddy. “I’m not sure when I can show my face in public again.”

The psychological violation, the feeling of shame, that comes with being a crime victim is seldom discussed except in cases of rape, but it's there.

The culture that is Mexico, Part II

In Mexico today, eight protesting schoolteachers were killed by a runaway tar truck.
A commenter on my post last night about Mexico City drivers sends in this horrifying breaking story from the Associated Press, with his summary: "Real Mexican culture: Leftist teachers doing what they do, mowed down by out-of-control tar truck."
Jun 13, 3:13 PM EDT 

MORELIA, Mexico (AP) -- Authorities in western Mexico say a tanker truck carrying tar has slammed into a highway toll booth that had temporarily been taken over by protesting teachers. They say seven people are dead and another 14 injured.
The lethal tar truck
Most of the dead and injured are believed to be teachers who have been holding a series of protests in the western state of Michoacan. 
State prosecutors' spokesman Alejandro Arellano said the accident occurred Thursday on a highway west of the state capital city of Morelia. 
The teachers are protesting educational reforms that would reduce union power in hiring decisions and establish teacher evaluations. 
Protesters in Mexico often seize highway toll booths, and sometimes demand drivers pay a small sum to drive through without paying a toll.

My commenter adds, translating from a local report:
The toll booth was located downhill (for some unknown reason, they seem to do that a lot in MX). The runaway truck ramp placed just before the toll booth was blocked by vehicles left by ... the protesting teachers killed in the accident!

(Sounds kind of like the fatal runaway truck crash by Marcos Costa in La Canada in 2009 that smashed up a bookstore near my son's school.)

Why does the Gang of Eight want to make America more like Mexico?

Mexico v. America: Which has better real estate?

The subject of geography has fallen out of academic favor. For example, fashionable economist Daron Acemoglu dismisses Jared Diamond's view that differences between landscapes matter in terms of the prosperity of the inhabitants in favor of his all-purpose explanation that "institutions" explain everything.

Yet, people are still extremely interested in thinking about real estate, as the popular success of Dimaond's Guns, Germs, and Steel showed, and as any conversation with normal people quickly reveals.

A question I like to kick around is: Which country has better real estate: X or Y? 

This starts out pretty easy: France has better real estate than Chad, for instance.

But then it immediately gets hung up on tough comparisons: Who has better real estate: the Dutch or the Swiss? Well, the Swiss have more sublime real estate, but maybe the Dutch have more beautiful real estate (to use Edmund Burke's distinction)? 

So, the benefit of this exercise is mostly to get oneself thinking less about the answer to that question but about how to try to answer that question.

Still, I want to return to the general issue, and simply compare, per square mile, the United States and Mexico. It's generally believed in the U.S. that Mexico is, by nature, some kind of hell-hole. For example, Adam Gopnik wrote in an essay of above average-perceptiveness in The New Yorker:
The new space history has one great virtue. It forces upon historians, the amateurs we all are as well as the pros we read, a little more humility. American prosperity looks like a function of virtue and energy, but the geographic turn tells us that it’s mostly a function of white people with guns owning a giant chunk of well-irrigated, very well-harbored real estate off the edge of the World Island, bordering a hot land on one side and a cold one on the other. Really, you can’t miss. Our geographic truth enters our songs and sagas even if it evades our sermons: O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountain majesties, above the fruited plain; this land is my land, from the redwood forest to the gulf-stream waters. The geographic truth beneath our prosperity is as naturally sung by our bards as the olive oils and wine-dark sea at the heart of Greek culture were sung by theirs.

That's not too bad, but I would quibble with the part about the U.S. "bordering a hot land on one side and a cold one on the other." That overlooks a key geographical advantage of Mexico, which is its quite pleasant combination of low latitude and high altitude. Thus, winters aren't very cold and summers aren't quite as hot as you'd imagine. Much of Mexico consists of a Central Plateau of around 1,000 meters in elevation in the north and 2,000 meters in the south. 

Mexico's main geographic lack relative to the U.S. are the now out-of-fashion advantages of our two great watersheds, the agricultural Mississippi and the industrial St. Lawrence / Great Lakes. Otherwise, Mexico's not such a bad piece of terrain.

Reading former Mexican foreign minister Jorge G. Castaneda's recent complaints about the general crappiness of Mexican culture, I wonder how much of it is a passive-aggressive effort to keep gringos out, both retirees less audacious than Fred Reed and enterprising American families (like the Romneys before they got kicked out during the Revolution). Castaneda argues that making reforms that would make Mexico more appealing to American retirees, such as installing more traffic lights, would make Mexico better for Mexicans, too.

But, perhaps Castaneda is missing the point. Gringo immigrants didn't have much trouble taking over Texas and California, so maybe the Mexican view has been that, say, a high rate of accidental death and dismemberment is a small price to pay to avoid being inundated by people from a more competent culture.

Of course, that would seemingly raise the question of what price Americans should pay to avoid being inundated by people from a less competent culture? 

Winston Smith loved Big Brother.

My recent Taki's Magazine column points out that all the shocked responses to the news that the American government could spy on Americans' private communications seem naive considering that the well-informed have long assumed that the Israeli government could spy on Americans' private communications through the domination of commercial communications software for certain infrastructure tasks such as telephone billing by firms launched in part by former officers of Israeli military intelligence. It concludes:
What are some of the advantages of having the means to know who calls whom in the US? We can only speculate, but it’s perhaps not wholly coincidental that Israel has become a highly prosperous country, with investment flooding in. Moreover, the Israeli government is extremely popular in Washington, with Prime Minister Netanyahu receiving 29 standing ovations the last time he addressed Congress. 
It could well be that Israel doesn’t actually have these snooping capabilities. But it apparently hasn’t hurt Israel that so many Washington and Wall Street insiders assume that Israel knows their secrets.

In other words, you might not have to go through all the work of actually spying on important people if you can get them to believe you are spying on them. Read the whole thing there.

The culture that is Mexico

From the Los Angeles Times:
Driver's ed in Mexico City: White knuckles all the way

Mexico City doesn't require adults to pass an exam for a driver's license, but there are driving schools for 'nervous people' who are afraid of the wild roads. 
Pedro Cervantes was speaking with his teaching voice. It was clear and almost mystically calm — the kind of voice you'd want talking you through the emergency landing of a passenger plane: 
This is the steering wheel, he said. Hands at 10 and 2. This is your gas gauge. 
Cervantes was in the passenger seat of a red, four-door Nissan compact from the Harvey Driving School, giving Patricia Sanchez, 52, her first lesson in how to drive.

Or, more specifically, how to drive in Mexico City, a seemingly infinite maze of daredevils and incompetents, of axle-bending potholes and curb-hugging taco stands, of signless seven-way intersections and baffling multidirectional traffic circles, of tamale vendors on tricycles and cops hungry for bribe money.

My dad and I drove around Mexico City in 1975. One day we tried to get to the Palace of Fine Arts, a vast marble theater so heavy it had sunk two dozen feet into Mexico City's dry lakebed since it was built in the mid-1800s. We could see it looming over the lesser buildings, but the randomness of the street layout made it hard to approach. Finally, we discovered a six lane boulevard leading directly to the Palace. As soon as my dad turned on to it, a policeman blew his whistle. Suddenly, six cars abreast came roaring at us -- it was a one-way street.

The traffic cop was standing right under where the One-Way sign should have been. He, or a predecessor, probably took it down to increase business. Police sergeants auction off the most lucrative corners in Mexico City, so the lowly patrolmen who win the rights to a tourist-heavy spot like this have to be enterprising just to break even on bribe rake-offs, much less turn a profit.
It's a place with 4.5 million motorized vehicles, a place where someone is killed or injured in a traffic accident every hour, yet adults don't have to take any sort of exam to receive a driver's license. 
... After an out-of-control gas truck crashed and exploded May 7, killing 26 residents of suburban Ecatepec, newspaper columnist Sergio Sarmiento suggested that Mexicans, who are understandably fixated on the drug-cartel-fueled culture of violence in the country, should also focus on the culture of negligence. ... 
But Sanchez, a retired social security agency worker, soft-spoken, with pink lipstick to match her nails, was looking for some peace of mind. 
On the side of Cervantes' Nissan, blocky yellow letters spelled out: 
"ESPECIALISTAS EN PERSONAS NERVIOSAS." Specialists in nervous people. 
... In Mexico City, driver's exams for adults were phased out in 2001 after widespread corruption was discovered among test administrators. These days, aspiring license-seekers can simply show up at a government office with an ID, proof of residence and 626 pesos, or about $50. 

Robert Kaplan wrote in the Atlantic once about how he was surprised to find in Eritrea in northeast Africa that you couldn't bribe anybody to get your driver's license, you had to take a rigorous driver's ed course then pass an honest driving test.

But, when he thought about it, Eritrea's high level of honesty and competence made sense because Eritrea is sort of the Prussia of Africa, a small country that fought Ethiopia for its independence for three decades and then fought a couple of tank wars with Ethiopia mostly because it liked war and liked the nation-building effects of war.

Eritreans treated each other as fellow citizens in a perilous joint enterprise. Mexico, in contrast, has been independent for 200 years, and there's little point in fighting either America or Guatemala.
City officials recently announced that an exam of some kind will again be required for adult applicants next year. That should be good for business at the capital's 29 licensed driving schools. For now, many of their customers are adolescents, who must show they took a driving course to qualify for a license. The rest are adults like Sanchez, the personas nerviosas. 
She had paid 1,000 pesos, or about $80, for three two-hour lessons, consisting of a one-hour review of the controls, five hours of hands-on driving and a photocopied sheet of paper with basic, seemingly random tips: "Don't look at airplanes," "Don't put your faith in good luck."

Harriet Doerr's acclaimed memoir/novel, Stones for Ibarra, about a WASP couple moving to Mexico (played in the movie by Glenn Close and Keith Carradine) to restart a family gold mine lost in the Revolution is basically about how:

A. Mexicans always put their faith in good luck.

B. Mexicans never have good luck.

Just about every chapter ends with some poor Mexican getting maimed or killed, and somebody else saying, "Oh, that happens at this fiesta every year. It's tragic, but what are you going to do?"
Traffic laws were not part of the curriculum, Cervantes said. There simply wasn't time. 
Basically, it is "a course in how to survive," the instructor said, laughing. 
... It's unclear whether the return of the driving exam for adults will have any effect on Mexico City's driving culture. What would be considered bad driving in other countries — the rule-bending, bumper-riding and lane-drifting — is simply business as usual here....
Pedro Hoth, Mexico City's former international affairs coordinator, believes that Mexico City's driving style is rooted in the age of conquest, when only the Spanish and their allies had the right to ride a horse. Having a horse meant having a special claim to power. 
"Today the automobile is the substitute for the horse, but the attitude is the same," Hoth wrote in a recent email. "It's a kind of Jekyll and Hyde syndrome, this arrogance that many drivers experience once they get behind the wheel. The inside of the car becomes a space of arbitrary power."

This kind of automotive caballeroism is pretty common around the world. Driving around the English Cotswolds -- the most genteel landscape in the world -- was pretty harrowing in 1987, with normally polite Englishmen tailgating and honking on the winding lanes,  transformed into The Humongous and Wes by the act of getting behind the wheel, liberated at last from the stifling class system.

The one place back then that automotive caballeroism didn't seem common was in my native Los Angeles. Angelenos drive fast, but other than maybe on Mulholland Drive, with its impatient Porsche drivers, there was little sense that owning a car made you better than the common man.

That's because practically everybody in the Los Angeles of my youth owned a car: capitalist egalitarianism, Henry Ford's dream. It turned out that some minimum level of general prosperity, Los Angeles in 1962, say, is actually conducive to safety, public order, manners, and responsible behavior.

Our elites have been trying to fix that problem ever since.

June 12, 2013

Cesar Chavez movie: La Raza instead of La Causa

In 1969, St. Cesar Chavez led a giant protest march against illegal immigrants, because they drove down wages for member of his United Farm Workers. Fellow marchers included Sen. Walter Mondale and Rev. Ralph Abernethy, Martin Luther King's successor at the famous SCLC (not SPLC). He also had his brother lead a goon squad of UFW staffers who beat up illegal alien scabs. 

Why? Because Chavez understood the law of supply and demand. And, before he went crazy later in life and stopped being an effective union leader, he specifically chose La Causa over La Raza.

From the NYT:
Cesar Chavez Film to Avoid Immigration Debate

But this time is different. 
Participant and its partners are getting ready to offer a Latino hero in their still-unfinished movie “Chavez,” about Cesar Chavez and his struggle to unionize farmworkers. But they are largely avoiding the overriding Latino issue of the moment — immigration reform. 
Mr. Chavez, perhaps the best-known Mexican-American activist, fought for better wages and conditions for workers but held complex and evolving views on the status of unauthorized immigrants, some of which would be at odds with the changes many Hispanics and others are seeking today. 
That has created a challenge for Participant, which is usually eager to have its films become talking points in a national debate. 
That debate has intensified this week as the Senate has begun a three-week push toward immigration reform, which might include offering a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants living and working in the United States and expanding legal entry to the country for some workers. Some of the proposals could soon become law, or be swept into the maelstrom of midterm Congressional elections next year. 
Either way, Participant and its partners, including Pantelion Pictures, a joint venture between the Lionsgate entertainment company and the Mexican media giant Televisa, are mostly staying outside the fray. At a meeting two weeks ago, the film’s backers began laying plans to sell the movie as a tale of American values and social justice, without much reference to the thorny issues now in the spotlight.
“It’s an American story, and that’s the way we’re treating it,” said Paul Presburger, Pantelion’s chief executive. 
While no release date has been set, the movie is expected to open next year around March 31, Mr. Chavez’s birthday, which several states, including California, will observe — and when backers hope the possible declaration of national holiday in his honor will give the film a point of entry. 
The producers’ aim, Mr. Presburger said, is to make the country’s large and vibrant Hispanic audience — which accounts for about 26 percent of domestic ticket sales, outstripping the 17 percent Hispanic share of the North American population — the core support for a more broadly based hit. 
Immigration issues, noted Jonathan King, a Participant executive who is closely involved with “Chavez,” do not directly figure in the film, which instead focuses on Mr. Chavez’s leadership of a strike and grape boycott that began in 1965 and lasted five years. 

Immigration issues are what made Chavez's 1965 strike and grape boycott feasible -- specifically, the ending of the bracero guest worker program in 1964.
“That’s apart from this story,” Mr. King said of the immigration issues. “This story is about the boycott.” 
Born 86 years ago in Yuma, Ariz., Mr. Chavez fiercely opposed the Bracero Program, which until the mid-1960s allowed growers to import cheap seasonal labor. This practice undercut efforts by the National Farm Workers Association (later the United Farm Workers union), which Mr. Chavez co-founded, to improve wages and working conditions. 
Under Mr. Chavez, the union, in its fight against strikebreakers, sometimes reported undocumented immigrants to officials, and only in the early 1970s, according to a spokesman for the Cesar Chavez Foundation, dropped its support for legal sanctions against employers who hired workers without legal status in the United States. In 1986, however, Mr. Chavez became a backer of the Reagan-era immigration reform, including its amnesty provisions. 

Did Chavez favor the corruption that led to growers getting the other half of the deal -- workplace enforcement -- turned into a dead letter? He was pretty loony by then, so I don't know?
Mr. Chavez’s changing posture toward unauthorized immigrants has led to a contemporary debate over whether he would have approved current reform proposals. 
Ruben Navarrette Jr., a columnist who has publicly argued that Mr. Chavez would have opposed contemporary reform proposals, reiterated that belief in a recent e-mail. “The deal breaker would be the guest worker program, where maybe another 200,000 guest workers would be imported and not allowed to join the union or not able to join in any practical way because they’d be temporary,” Mr. Navarrette wrote. 
Arturo S. Rodriguez, the U.F.W.’s president, and a son-in-law of Mr. Chavez, has spoken in favor of comprehensive immigration reform, and helped advise lawmakers in shaping legislative proposals. He argues that Mr. Chavez, who died in 1993, would do the same, though in his day a much smaller percentage of field workers came from abroad. 
“We have no doubt Cesar would have enthusiastically supported immigration reform today because he did so before,” Mr. Rodriguez said in an e-mail. Advocates of the new reform measure invoked Mr. Chavez, at least indirectly, when a version of the measure was approved by the Senate judiciary committee last month. “¡Sí se puede!” they chanted in the committee hearing room, echoing a slogan — roughly, “Yes, we can!” — that was a signature phrase of Mr. Chavez’s union movement. ...

What proportion of NYT subscribers do you think will utterly miss the point of this article, will take away the message: "There go those cowardly Hollywood rightwingers failing to show that Cesar Chavez was a great activist for more immigration just because they are terrified of the power of anti-immigrant racists like Karl Rove"?

I'd love to do social science experiments in which college students read New York Times articles that try to get across a subversive point in an understated manner and see what percentage of them actually get the point. I bet it's not high.

The movie sounds like it's going to be a waste of its star Michael Pena's sense of humor. It will probably be a dud, and then nobody will ever make the film Pena was born to star in: "The Lee Trevino Story."

Coulter: Hispanic vote overstated

Ann Coulter's been doing yeowoman's work on immigration:
June 12, 2013 
Democrats terrify Hispanics into thinking they'll be lynched if they vote for Republicans, and then turn around and taunt Republicans for not winning a majority of the Hispanic vote.  
This line of attack has real resonance with our stupidest Republicans. (Proposed Republican primary targets: Sens. Kelly Ayotte, Jeff Flake, Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio.) Which explains why Republicans are devoting all their energy to slightly increasing their share of the Hispanic vote while alienating everyone else in America.  
It must be fun for liberals to manipulate Republicans into focusing on hopeless causes. Why don't Democrats waste their time trying to win the votes of gun owners?  
As journalist Steve Sailer recently pointed out, the Hispanic vote terrifying Republicans isn't that big. It actually declined in 2012. The Census Bureau finally released the real voter turnout numbers from the last election, and the Hispanic vote came in at only 8.4 percent of the electorate -- not the 10 percent claimed by the pro-amnesty crowd.  
The sleeping giant of the last election wasn't Hispanics; it was elderly black women, terrified of media claims that Republicans were trying to suppress the black vote and determined to keep the first African-American president in the White House. 

Ann is referencing this article by me in VDARE.com. It features links to all the Census Bureau reports documenting these findings.

Merion Golf Club and the decline of WASPs

Ben Hogan, 1-iron to Merion's 18th green, 1950 U.S. Open
The U.S. Open golf tournament starts tomorrow (assuming it's not inundated by thunder storms) at Merion Golf Club in Philadelphia's Main Line suburbs. The US Golf Association is taking a major financial hit to bring the Open back to where Bobby Jones finished his Grand Slam in 1930, where Ben Hogan came back from his seemingly crippling 1949 car crash, and where Lee Trevino tossed Jack Nicklaus a rubber snake before beating him in a 1971 playoff.

A century ago, Merion club member and amateur golf architect Hugh Wilson brilliantly wedged the club's new golf course into only a little over 120 acres, less than most municipal golf courses. So, ticket sales and corporate entertainment tents must be limited this week. 

Why go back to Merion instead of a more lucrative site? Lots of reasons, but partly because it's one of the world's great golf course designs. The USGA functions as a sort of crypto-WASP pride organization that keeps alive the reputations of works of artistic genius from early in the 20th Century.

But that also serves to illustrate the fairly inevitable dissipation of cultural dynamism. Once your civilization has reached a point where it creates golf clubs like Merion, the descendants of the founders tend to be more apt to spend their time playing Merion rather than creating new and even better monuments.

By the way, from 1898 onward, before the construction of the current course, the Merion Cricket and Golf Club was very active in women's golf. Merion's orginal course, for example, hosted the USGA's Women's Amateur championship in 1904 and 1909. We hear a vast amount about feminist history and the rise of a new wave of feminism in 1969 after the first wave of feminism from 1840s into the 1920s. What's seldom made explicit, however, is that American WASP culture was much more pro-feminist than the newer immigrant cultures that rose to power in the mid-20th Century.

By the way, if you someday get invited by a member to play Merion, here are the rules:
Cell Phones: The only place you can use your cell phone, pager, or blackberry (or any form of PDA), is in your vehicle. 

This is a mark of a high-tone club. I recently got roped into serving as a volunteer at a social event at the nouveau riche Sherwood club where Joe Montana, Will Smith, and Angelo Mozilo are members. (The club newsletter had a picture of the winners of last month's member-guest tournament: the winning member was Wayne Gretzky. Second place was Kenny G.) There were signs on the outside of the clubhouse designating locations where cellphone use was permitted. This may have something to do with the intersection of tax benefits and anti-discrimination laws: by restricting the holding of business discussions on premises, this frees up clubs to avoid EEOC investigations into their membership diversity. Or maybe they just have good taste and their members like to concentrate upon golf rather than their stupid phones.
Changing shoes: Shoes are not to be changed in the East Course parking lot or in the Caddiemaster’s Office. Please come up to the Men’s or Women’s Locker Room where our locker room attendants will be happy to get a locker for you. 

Changing into your golf shoes in the parking lot says Muny Golf.
Attire: Hats, caps, and visors worn by gentlemen should be removed while they are under cover (Dining Terraces & in the Clubhouse). “No cover under cover.”

Merion has a famous outdoor but canopied verandah lunch area right behind the first tee. Remove your cap before you set foot under the canvas. This sounds like one of those rules for the sake of having rules that WASPs enjoy.
Gentlemen are to have their shirts tucked in at all times. Bermuda shorts are permitted for men and women; knee length is preferred for both men and women, not to exceed 3” above the knee; golf skorts and skirts not to exceed 4” above the knee. Several items are considered inappropriate, and will not be permitted on either golf course, on the practice range, or in or around the clubhouse: tank-tops, short sleeve mock turtlenecks (men only), t-shirts, denim of any color, cut-offs, tennis-length skirts, short shorts, flip flops, crocs, leather sandals (men only), cargo shorts/pants, and jogging attire. 
Smoking Policy: Smoking is prohibited inside the Clubhouse and all outside dining areas. Smoking is only permitted in the designated area of the Front Porch (driveway side). 
Golf: There are no “mulligans” allowed on the first tee. Merion is a walking golf course.

Over the last generation, walking-only has become the mark of elite golf courses. This has led to a revival of caddie programs, although the demographics have shifted. Caddies are rarely anymore local urchins or colorful blacks with nicknames like "Cemetery" (the monicker of President Eisenhower's favorite caddy at Augusta National because he'd somehow survived getting his throat slashed in a dispute over a lady's affections). Caddies are more likely Wharton or Haverford students. Thus, professional golfers now come from uniformly upper middle class backgrounds, unlike in the old days where a Hogan or Sarazen could learn golf as a caddy.
Carts are only given with written authorization from a doctor due to a medical condition. 

Merion has a fine second course, Merion West, a mile away that allows carts, which makes it easier to preserve Merion East as a shrine to Golf the Way It Should Be.
The use of distance measuring devices (range finders) is prohibited.  

Get a caddy.
Pace of Play: Starting in 2006 the Board of Governors has emphasized the elimination of slow play. Please be prepared to play in 4 hours or less. Be prepared to play at all times. Always carry an extra ball. Be ready to hit when it is your turn and feel free to play ready golf. Always rake your own fairway bunker and replace your own divot. Repair ball marks and prepare to putt while others are playing their ball. Play from the appropriate tees (guests with a course handicap of 10 or higher may not play from the back tees). If you reach your maximum allowable score, pickup.

Elite private courses emphasize fast play. Elite public courses like Pebble Beach or Whistling Straits tend to have very slow play.

By the way, I realize nobody is interested in the arcane topic of country club memberships, but I still want to call attention to this little reminiscence by U. of Chicago economist Casey Mulligan about the late sociologist Father Doctor Andrew Greeley's study of ethnicity at Beverly Country Club just southwest of Chicago, with its fine Donald Ross course:
He was interested in assertions that Catholics were not segregated from Protestants, especially in Midwestern cities like Chicago. As evidence against segregation, Father Greeley told me, many people pointed to Chicago institutions that included significant numbers of both Catholics and Protestants. The Beverly Country Club on the southwest side of the city was one of those institutions, and in fact had roughly equal numbers of Catholic and Protestant members. 
Father Greeley wondered whether the club was nonetheless highly segregated on the inside, but, working long before the days of surveillance cameras and eye-recognition software, was faced with the challenge of measuring internal segregation. He approached the caddy master at the club, who kept records on which club members played golf and at what “tee time.” Up to four members could play golf together, and in doing so they would have a common tee time. Father Greeley was permitted to examine the tee sheets and found that Catholics and Protestants rarely shared a tee time: Catholics and Protestants might have been at the same club, but they were not golfing together. 
(If you are wondering how tee sheets would indicate religion, Catholics in the Beverly neighborhood were primarily Irish and had distinctly Irish surnames. Moreover, Father Greeley was the assistant pastor at a Catholic parish in that neighborhood and knew many of the families).

I'm slowly collecting information for an article on country clubs and ethnicity around 190-1970. The role of WASP clubs in turning down granddad for membership in current elites' views on, say, immigration can hardly be overstated. Yet, the actual history turns out to be much more complicated and interesting than the stereotypes.

The Vatican's Gay Caballeros

As we all know, gays are the most oppressed, powerless people in the history of the world. So, all the examples from history of cabals of gay insiders wielding inordinate power don't fit into the Standard Mental Framework and thus can't be remembered. Any time a gay cabal comes up in the news, it must be treated as a sui generis phenomenon unique to that institution and not as yet another example of a persistent phenomenon. In particular, the latest gay cabal revelation must not be allowed to raise doubts about the Mental Framework that gays are the most oppressed, powerless people in the history of the world.

From the NYT:
Pope Is Quoted Referring to a Vatican ‘Gay Lobby’ 
ROME — For years, perhaps even centuries, it has been an open secret in Rome: Some prelates in the Vatican hierarchy are, in fact, gay. But the whispers were amplified this week when Pope Francis himself, in a private audience, appeared to have acknowledged what he called a “gay lobby” operating inside the Vatican, vying for power and influence.

Speaking to a meeting of the Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of Religious Men and Women on June 6, Francis discussed a dossier he had received from his predecessor, Benedict XVI. “The ‘gay lobby’ is mentioned, and it is true, it is there. … We need to see what we can do,” Francis said in Spanish, according to a loose summary of the meeting posted on a Chilean Web site, Reflection and Liberation, and later translated into English by the blog Rorate Caeli.

Twins galore in Wilmette, Illinois

From the Daily Mail:
Seeing double... 24 times! Illinois middle school breaks world record for having the most sets of twins in a single grade 
The breakdown: Three sets of boy-boy twins, 11 sets of girl-girl twins and 10 sets of boy-girl twins  
The two sets of identical twins are girls 
Three other schools hold current record of 16 pairs of twins 
An Illinois middle school has broken the Guinness Book of World Records for having the most sets of twins in a single grade - two dozen of them. 
Twin boys Luke and Ryan Novosel, both 11, discovered the fact when they began counting up all the other twins in their Highcrest Middle School directory, in Wilmette, Ill. while trying to find a way into the reference book.

Couple of comments:

- Fraternal twins are a lot more common than identical twins, even though we notice identicals far more.

- It's not a surprise that Wilmette has so many twins. Wilmette is a very nice suburb on Chicago's North Shore, just north of Evanston. It's one of those socialism-for-people-who-don't-need-socialism communities where you pay huge property taxes and get back wonderful government services for your kids. Park fieldhouses, for example, are palaces with remarkable amounts of equipment, such as full sets of Olympic gymnastics training equipment. New Trier HS, for instance, probably had the first high school FM station in the country.

Homes in Wilmette are expensive. My wife and I spent many a Sunday touring open houses of the worst houses in Wilmette, trying to get a foot in the door of Wilmette, including one that I swear started off as a WWII Quonset hut. So, the high cost means it attracts couples who don't have children until later in life, which seems to lead to twinning (am I right about that?) and to fertility treatments (which definitely lead to twinning).

Kaus: Set aside Team Red v. Team Blue follies and focus on the Big One, immigration

From Mickey:
It’s time to wake up! Conservatives–while you are (rightly) excited about NSA snooping and partisan IRS corruption, the Congress is about to change America in a more profound, permanent way right under your noses. In the process it will hand President Obama the major second term achievement that will help him overcome the very scandals that are distracting you–or, rather, make his survival or re-ascendance unimportant. He will have won. Democrats will have shaped the future electorate to their own liking. They’ll have transformed what America is.

Please forget about Benghazi and Cincinnati and Edward Snowden’s girlfriend for a minute and pay attention to the main event. 
You have one weapon in your arsenal that can trump the big money behind the Gang of 8 bill (S.744). That weapon is fear. It’s not as if the Republican elite has suddenly been persuaded that an amnesty-first immigration bill is a good idea, after all. They’ve always preferred amnesty. They were just too scared to pursue it. What stopped them was the prospect of swift retribution from the electorate, not limited to the Republican primary electorate. 
This fear hasn’t disappeared. The elites were scared of voters before and they can be scared again. This applies to red state Democrats like Mark Pryor and primary-able Republicans like Lisa Murkowski. It applies to fence-sitters like Lamar Alexander. It even applies to those like Kelly Ayotte who have now committed to supporting instant legalization (despite having campaigned against it). If voters now make their displeasure with Ayotte known–well, politicians at the top have a way of backtracking from unpopular stands. That’s how they got to the top. At the very least Ayotte’s difficulties would serve as a cautionary example to others. 
There will probably be several big votes–most likely on a House-Senate conference bill–before any amnesty can become law. Speaker Boehner will have to make a crucial decision on whether to break the “Hastert Rule” and try to pass a bill in the teeth of his own caucus’ strongly held views. In every case, fear will be the crucial factor. If Senators fear losing their office if a bill becoming law–and they tend to be highly risk-aware–it often has a way of dying without any fingerprints on it (which is arguably what happened in 2007). 
There’s a list of Senate phone numbers and emails here. Numbers USA has a handy page that lets you send a fax here. The Capitol switchboard is 202 224-3121
Ignore the f—ing scandals for a few days and save the country from Chuck Schumer.

June 11, 2013

Hasn't somebody else been spying on American telephone metadata for years?

My latest column in Taki's Magazine points out:
The news last week that the US government had collected Verizon’s “metadata” on who had called whom when and from where was widely seen as a stunning revelation. Timothy B. Lee of the Washington Post warned: 
For example, having the calling records of every member of Congress would likely reveal which members kept mistresses, which could be used to blackmail members of Congress into supporting a future president’s agenda. Calling records could also provide valuable political intelligence, such as how frequently members of Congress were talking to various interest groups. 
Likewise, Jane Mayer reported for The New Yorker: 
…in the world of business, a pattern of phone calls from key executives can reveal impending corporate takeovers. 
And yet informed observers have assumed for most of this century that American telephone metadata may well already be available to a foreign military-intelligence complex via hypothesized “backdoors” coded into complex commercial software.

Read the whole thing there. Feel free to follow the links to the sources.

Big Data versus Dominique Strauss-Kahn

"Whoa! Down, boy, down, Fido," warned Barack Obama, concerned that the energetic
Dominique Strauss-Kahn was about to launch himself at the First Lady and hump her
shin right there in the Blue Room. "Or it'll be time for that trip to the vet we talked about."
There's been a lot of speculating about scenarios involving electronic spying recently (and I add to the irresponsible speculation in my upcoming Taki's Magazine article). So, let's consider this scenario.

Imagine that it's early 2011 and you are concerned that French Socialist warhorse Dominique Strauss-Kahn might get elected president of France next year. Perhaps you don't think that's in the interest of the international financial community or America or Nicolas Sarkozy or whatever. 

If you had access to all of DSK's electronic communications, what kind of data mining algorithm would you craft to ferret out DKS's greatest vulnerability? How could you best sift through terabytes of data to find DSK's Achilles heel?

Well, you wouldn't. You'd just call up your press secretary and ask, "What's the gossip about DSK?"

And he'd reply, "He can't keep his hands off the women. Fashion models, wives, maids, whores, nuns -- he's out of control, a real life Pepe Le Pew."

"So, just to toss a purely hypothetical logical conception out there, if an extremely expensive lady of the evening were to, say -"

"You are overthinking this, Monsieur President. To entrap DSK, there's no need for a large budget."

The more general point is that a lot of the information that the public assumes must be secret is actually common knowledge among the tiny percentage of people who are paying attention. To find out about it, you often just have to ask.

Here we go again: SoCal home prices up 25% in 1 year

Geographically, the disastrous housing bubble of the 2000s was heavily driven by the centrifugal force of rising home prices in California's coastal cities flinging people out into inland California, Nevada, and Arizona, where (along with Florida) the vast majority of defaulted dollars were lost before the onset of the recession, in which mortgage defaults were the first domino to topple. 

From the L.A. Times today:
Southern California’s housing recovery barreled forward last month, pushing prices and sales to levels not seen in years as buyers faced stiff competition during the spring home buying season. 
The median price reached $368,000 for all homes in the six-county Southland, which marked a 24.7% increase from the same month a year earlier and the highest price in five years. The number of sales, 23,034, hit the highest level for a May in seven years, real estate information provider DataQuick said Tuesday. 
Historically low inventory and mortgage rates have ignited bidding wars and helped turn the housing market into an economic bright spot — in the Southland and nationwide. Investors have also played a major role in the recovery that began last year, purchasing run-down, lower-cost properties to fix up and then rent out. 
Home prices in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura counties all posted double-digit increases last month compared with May 2012. In Los Angeles, the median skyrocketed 30.2% to $410,000. 
The swift price increases have raised bubble concerns among some, but many experts note prices remain far from the peak and say the spikes will likely ease as inventory increases from new home construction and as more owners — lured by higher prices — place their homes on the market. 
Still, May’s median price was 27.1% below a peak of $505,000 in 2007.

A major premise of current conventional wisdom about why we shouldn't worry about the Gang of Eight's amnesty bill is that because low skill immigration from south of the border had been relatively low from the economy's collapse in 2008 through about 20011, it will never, ever pick up again. 

Perhaps, though, it would be prudent to wait awhile to see if that turns out to be true?

Okay, I'm sorry, forget I ever said anything so wacko extremist. Prudence is evil; all that matters in setting public policy is the Dream.

Google neuters Google Gaydar

Most of the Orwellian theorizing we've heard over the last week about the power of the Big Data companies misses the point that they can surreptitiously exert modest degrees of influence in all sorts of nearly subliminal ways. 

For example, for several years, as you type in searches to Google, it offers auto-complete prompts of its best guess of what you are searching for. This might seem like a ridiculous trivial way in which to attempt to manipulate the public mind, and yet Google has a history of rigging prompts. For quite some time in 2010, for example, Pat Buchanan's name would simply not be prompted by Google. Was this an effort to ever so slightly stifle Buchanan's influence? Or did it just represent a vindictive desire to make Pat Buchanan fans type out all 12 characters? 

Nobody outside of Google seems to know. Few seem very interested in asking. After all, journalists reason, Pat Buchanan deserves whatever he gets coming. And Google is good. We know this because their motto is the reassuring "Don't be evil." That proves they are on the side of the Good, which is us.

And, deep down, there's the worry that Google is a lot better at keeping an eye on you than you are on them, so let's not get into a power struggle with a vastly rich near-monopoly with who knows what capabilities.

Now, there's a new example of Google rigging prompts. Last September, I published a column in Taki's Magazine called "Google Gaydar" demonstrating my new quantitative methodology for measuring what Washington Monthly editor Charles Peter dubbed "the Undernews." Just go to Google.com and type in a celebrity's name, then see how far down in the prompts it takes for "gay" to show up. If it's not one of the first ten, add a "g" and see how many prompts it then takes.

For example, Sir John Gielgud scored a 100 on Google Gaydar (i.e., "John Gielgud gay" was the first prompt, suggesting it was the number one search item about the great actor) and Walter Matthau a zero.

This opened up a new method for the social sciences to quantitatively study rumors, hunches, stereotypes, misinformation and the like.

But, since my article's publication, Google has methodically abolished most of this capability. If you search on the late John Gielgud (1904-2000) now, Google will absolutely not offer the prompt "John Gielgud gay." Only until you type in "John Gielgud ga" does it return "was John Gielgud gay," which appears to be a rare search phrase that slipped by Google unanticipated. In contrast, "John Gielgud h" will bring up "John Gielgud homosexual," but you aren't supposed to use "homosexual" anymore, so few do.

Now, I can certainly understand the viewpoint that the public's interest in the sexual orientation of the greatest Hamlet of the interwar stage is vulgar. But Google has hardly made it a policy to combat public vulgarity. And it's hardly an invasion of the privacy of this high culture figure, now dead for 13 years, whose personal traits are of historical interest.

Google has put a fair amount of effort into their recent campaign to neuter Google Gaydar, as can be seen from the fact that Google Gaydar is not broken for out-of-the-closet gay actors, such as Neil Patrick Harris and Zachary Quinto, both of whom still score 100 on my system. In other words, Google looked up out actors and didn't turn off Google Gaydar for them, or vice-versa.

Now, Google is a private company that has invested a lot of money into achieving something approaching a monopoly. They have, as far as I know, the legal right to manipulate their offerings as they wish.

I just think that the press should pay more attention to these subtle ways that Google manipulates us. Instead, the more evidence of Google's power, the more people seem to be afraid of Google's power, and thus conclude that they best shut up about Google's power.

Google unpersons Mangan's blog

For a number of years, I've been pointing out the unaccountable power of Google's search engine employees to marginally screw over individuals they don't like. One of the weirder examples is Google's intermittent but long-running petty campaign against the high-brow blogger Dennis Mangan. 

If you go to Bing and type in "Dennis Mangan," the first his is his blog, Mangan's.

But if you go to Google and type in "Dennis Mangan," you don't get his blog on the first page of responses. Ironically, you just get other bloggers wondering why Google is messing with Dennis.

June 10, 2013

Cluelessness is next to godliness

One of the interesting trends over the last generation is toward willful ignorance. In the past, newspaper columnists got paid in large part because they could put on a knowing manner. But obliviousness is the new saintliness. Thus, New York Times op-ed columnist Frank Bruni isn't embarrassed to admit he doesn't have a clue:
Sexism’s Puzzling Stamina 
... It’s gender — and all the recent reminders of how often women are still victimized, how potently they’re still resented and how tenaciously a musty male chauvinism endures. On this front even more than the others, I somehow thought we’d be further along by now. 
I can’t get past that widely noted image from a week ago, of the Senate hearing into the epidemic of sexual assault in the military. It showed an initial panel of witnesses: 11 men, one woman. It also showed the backs of some of the senators listening to them: five men and one woman, from a Senate committee encompassing 19 men and seven women in all. Under discussion was the violation of women and how to stop it. And men, once again, were getting more say. 
I keep flashing back more than two decades, to 1991. That was the year of the Tailhook incident, in which some 100 Navy and Marine aviators were accused of sexually assaulting scores of women.

All those poor women who traveled across the country annually to party in a Las Vegas hotel with fighter pilots ... How could those innocent women possibly have known that a convention entitled "Tailhook" might not be solely devoted to the discussion of naval aviation landing tackle?
It was the year of Susan Faludi’s runaway best seller, “Backlash,” on the “war against American women,” as the subtitle said. It was when the issue of sexual harassment took center stage in Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearings. 
All in all it was a festival of teachable moments, raising our consciousness into the stratosphere. So where are we, fully 22 years later? 
... But what about movies? It was all the way back in 1986 that Sigourney Weaver trounced “Aliens” and landed on the cover of Time, supposedly presaging an era of action heroines. But there haven’t been so many: Angelina Jolie in the “Tomb Raider” adventures, “Salt” and a few other hectic flicks; Jennifer Lawrence in the unfolding “Hunger Games” serial. Last summer Kristen Stewart’s “Snow White” needed a “Huntsman” at her side, and this summer? I see an “Iron Man,” a “Man of Steel” and Will Smith, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Channing Tatum all shouldering the weight of civilization’s future. I see no comparable crew of warrior goddesses. 
Heroines fare better on TV, but even there I’m struck by the persistent stereotype of a woman whose career devotion is both seed and flower of a tortured private life. Claire Danes in “Homeland,” Mireille Enos in “The Killing,” Dana Delany in “Body of Proof” and even Mariska Hargitay in “Law & Order: SVU” all fit this bill. 
The idea that professional and domestic concerns can’t be balanced isn’t confined to the tube. A recent Pew Research Center report showing that women had become the primary providers in 40 percent of American households with at least one child under 18 prompted the conservative commentators Lou Dobbs and Erick Erickson to fret, respectively, over the dissolution of society and the endangerment of children. When Megyn Kelly challenged them on Fox News, they responded in a patronizing manner that they’d never use with a male news anchor. 
Title IX, enacted in 1972, hasn’t led to an impressive advancement of women in pro sports. The country is now on its third attempt at a commercially viable women’s soccer league. The Women’s National Basketball Association lags far behind the men’s N.B.A. in visibility and revenue. ...
But about the larger picture, I’m mystified. Our racial bigotry has often been tied to the ignorance abetted by unfamiliarity, our homophobia to a failure to realize how many gay people we know and respect. 
Well, women are in the next cubicle, across the dinner table, on the other side of the bed. Almost every man has a mother he has known and probably cared about; most also have a wife, daughter, sister, aunt or niece as well. Our stubborn sexisms harms and holds back them, not strangers. Still it survives.

It's almost as if the conventional wisdom does more to obscure than to enlighten about something as basic as male and female.

My recollection is that gay men once took a particular pride in being clever and perceptive about sex differences, while lesbians tended to be obtuse.

What happened? Can you imagine Bruni's essay being written by, say, Oscar Wilde? Noel Coward? Cole Porter? George Cukor? Lorenz Hart?

Roland G. Fryer, Jr.'s Great Moments in Social Science, Cont.: FryerPhones don't help the dim

Harvard economist Roland G. Fryer, Jr. gets a ton of funding to try out various interventions on young people to Close the Gap. So, here's Fryer's latest:
Information and Student Achievement: Evidence from a Cellular Phone Experiment 
Roland G. Fryer, Jr. 
Harvard University and NBER 
June 2013 
This paper describes a field experiment in Oklahoma City Public Schools in which students were provided with free cellular phones and daily information about the link between human capital and future outcomes via text message. Students’ reported beliefs about the relationship between education and outcomes were influenced by treatment, and treatment students also report being more focused and working harder in school. However, there were no measureable changes in attendance, behavioral incidents, or test scores. The patterns in the data appear most consistent with a model in which students cannot translate effort into measureable output, though other explanations are possible.

Perhaps they were too busy texting their friends who also got FryerPhones to do their homework?

Why does Fryer get so much money to try out increasingly desperate interventions that he then forthrightly admits didn't work when other social scientists would try to obscure their depressing failure?

"Fryer is black."

I know that sounds like one of those horrible reductionist things that only I am so crude as to say, but I didn't make it up, I just read it in the NYT. As Steve Levitt's Freakonomics writing partner Steve Dubner wrote in the NYT Magazine in 2005:
To Fryer, the language of economics, a field proud of its coldblooded rationalism, is ideally suited for otherwise volatile conversations. ''I want to have an honest discussion about race in a time and a place where I don't think we can,'' he says. ''Blacks and whites are both to blame. As soon as you say something like, 'Well, could the black-white test-score gap be genetics?' everybody gets tensed up. But why shouldn't that be on the table?'' 
Fryer said this several months ago, which was well before Lawrence H. Summers, the president of Harvard, wondered aloud if genetics might help explain why women are so underrepresented in the sciences. Summers -- who is also an economist and a fan of Fryer's work -- is still being punished for his musings. There is a key difference, of course: Summers is not a woman; Fryer is black.

Here's an interesting thought experiment: What if Professor Fryer announced that -- so far as he can tell after blowing through loads of philanthropic money (Bloomberg's, et al) testing every intervention he could dream up -- the best explanation for The Gap remains the one put forward by Shockley, Jensen, Herrnstein, Murray, Watson, and Richwine.

Say, he just let it slip out in casual conversation like Watson did that wound up in the newpaper?

Would Fryer be Watsoned/Richwined? Or would being black suffice as an all-purpose protection?

Further, would such an admission get any publicity at all?  Or would it be like, say, the Obama Administration's 2011 report on how much more homicidal blacks have been over the last 29 years: something that only disreputable Internet commenters link to, a fact that your knowledge of is taken as prima facie evidence of your disreputableness?

More depressingly, what if Fryer got hit by the bus tomorrow? Who, out of this country of 300 million, would replace him as the only reputable social scientist in America encouraged to poke around at the margins of the race and IQ topic?