June 22, 2013

Haaretz: "In U.S. snooping affair, Israeli firms at risk"

If you were to read the Israeli and American Jewish press, you would get the impression that Israelis and American Jews tend to be well above average in terms of being influential, powerful, and intimately involved in much that's in the news. 

Fortunately, we have the American mainstream media to completely ignore for us overly interesting angles in giant stories, such as Israeli involvement in the current surveillance scandal. Kevin MacDonald points to this June 10, 2013 story from Haaretz:
In U.S. snooping affair, Israeli firms at risk 
Controversy over government surveillance that erupted last week over the NSA's PRISM surveillance program may lead to tougher standards for telecommunications gear like that developed, manufactured in Israel....
Behind the scenes are a host of Israeli companies that have almost certainly taken part in the program as suppliers of technology. They may yet find themselves in the maelstrom, warns Nimrod Kozlovski, head of Tel Aviv University’s program for cyber studies.... 
The concern is not just that the local government is spying on its citizens but that the manufacturers themselves have the ability to spy from afar. 
Telecommunications systems almost always feature components that can be operated remotely so that software can be updated and routine maintenance chores can be conducted. … But these same systems can be used to penetrate the user country’s communications network as well. With the United States at the center of the world’s Internet traffic that problem is magnified. 

Two days earlier, on June 8, 2013, Haaretz (as reprinted in the Jewish Daily Forward of NYC) had headlined:
What was the Israeli involvement in collecting U.S. communications intel for NSA? 
Israeli high-tech firms Verint and Narus have had connections with U.S. companies and Israeli intelligence in the past, and ties between the countries' intelligence agencies remain strong.

So, this kind of thing is interesting and respectable to ask about in Israel, but in the U.S. it's not, except in specifically Jewish publications. Why do you want to know things that Israelis know? What are you, curious? Are you some kind of curiousist? Why are you anti-ignorance?

Gang of Eight backer forms Gang of One, robs 19 banks

Police artist sketch
From the Dallas Morning News:
Farmers Branch immigrant-rights activist accused of being ‘Mesh Mask Bandit’


Updated: 22 June 2013 08:13 AM 
An immigrant rights activist from Farmers Branch is suspected of being a prolific bank robber known as the Mesh Mask Bandit, the FBI says. 
Mug shot, 6/21/13
Luis de la Garza, 59, appeared in federal court Friday in connection with the armed robbery of a Wells Fargo bank in April. Authorities believe he has robbed at least 18 other banks in nine area cities. 
... The witness who saw the man without his mask before and after the robbery helped authorities with a sketch that the FBI circulated in May.... 
The witness at the Wells Fargo bank later identified de la Garza in a lineup, officials said.  ...
De la Garza, a Mexican immigrant, spoke out about immigration policies, including those in Farmers Branch, where he has lived for at least a decade. 

The American citizens of Farmers Branch, an inner ring suburb of Dallas, have repeatedly been sneered at in the national media for trying to take steps to lessen the inundation of illegal aliens in their town.
Gang of One in action
He was credited with developing a low-power Spanish-language television station, TeleAmerica, in the 1990s and had served on a prominent advisory committee of about 100 immigrants to the Mexican government’s Foreign Relations Ministry. 
While he was on probation in the tax evasion case, de la Garza requested permission to travel to Mexico City in 2006 because he had received an invitation to attend inauguration events for then President-elect Felipe Calderón. 
The court records included a copy of the invitation. It appears he received permission to take the trip. 
Juan Hernandez, an immigrant adviser to former Mexican President Vicente Fox, said he was surprised by the allegations against de la Garza. 

From the Wikipedia article on Luis de la Garza:
In 1994 he founded TeleAmerica a Spanish speaking television station that broadcasted 24 hours and served the Hispanic community giving them a venue to openly express their opinion.[citation needed] A couple of years later it became TeleAmerica Spanish Network, broadcasting to different states through independent stations but still under the TeleAmerica logo.[citation needed] 
De la Garza was not good to his employees. On payday, his employees at TeleAmerica would have to rush to the bank to cash paychecks because there were always insufficient funds in the account. 
By then Luis de la Garza had become very politically active within the Hispanic community and his Show Foro 44 had made a name for itself. Considering the needs of immigrants in the United States,[1] he began working with Mexican Governors,[2] Senators, Congressmen and the President to establish a relationship between the Mexicans in Mexico and the Mexicans in the United States.[3] Luis de la Garza also became very active with American politicians, meeting with Senators and Congressmen to change the lives of many immigrants that had no voice, peacefully protesting against radical law proposals and organizing the Hispanic community to become politically active.
Foro 44 (originated from TeleAmerica's flagship station KLEG-LP), served as a platform for interviewing personalities live, such as President George W. Bush, President Vicente Fox,[4] Mexican Governors, Congressmen and Senators from Mexico and the United States. Never forgetting the importance of local issues his show always has kept a deep commitment to education, health, business and local politics. 
Luis de la Garza having always been very business oriented founded a new organization (RETO Group/ Representacion Total) with this organization he has been able to establish direct communication with business people in Mexico and the United States creating new opportunities for development and investment. 
Luis de la Garza has been the recipient of many recognition awards, including one of the most influential media personalities by Hispanic 100 two times in a row[5] ,[6] The Latino Peace officers, Who’s Talking (issued by the Dallas Morning News as one of the best Talk Shows), The Venegas Foundation, The Arlington Hispanic Advisory Council, LULAC and the Citizens Award (presented by the Dallas Police) just to name a few, Mr. de la Garza is a speaker on immigration issues, he has been invited and participated in national and international forums, radio and television shows, campaigns, conventions, schools and private functions.
Activist cuts out middlemen
In 2006, Luis de la Garza took a break from media and but not from politics, he is currently founding a new television station, hosting his radio talk show ConSentido[7] and very active as a businessman creating new projects, such as manufacturing license plates while in prison for bank robbery, and building bigger bridges between Mexicans in Mexico and Mexicans in the United States. Because he believes that the only way to change things is to participate, be active and always create for future generations. 

I suspect "such as manufacturing license plates while in prison for bank robbery" is a very recent interpolation in Wikipedia.

From a 2008 article on the Republican National Convention:
Despite Anti-Immigrant GOP, Some Latinos Are Sticking With McCain

Written by Martín Martínez 
Posted on 2008-09-12 
For Texas delegate Luis de la Garza, immigration reform is the best weapon McCain has to attract the Latino vote, one he will continue to use even if his party rebels against him.  
"McCain is always going to support immigration reform and he won't rest until he sees Congress approve it because he knows very well that it's necessary to fix the immigration system, even if that costs him enemies in his own party, and also because, being a Senator from Arizona, he knows the needs of our people first-hand," De la Garza explained.  
... "No politician or candidate understands the needs of the Latino community better than McCain. That's why he's committed himself not just to naturalizing 12 million undocumented immigrants but also to providing the tools Latinos need to get ahead in all aspects of life in this country," De la Garza said. 

Note, that I can't prove at the moment that this is the same Luis de la Garza from Texas, but whoever this one is, he is an acute judge of Senator McCain, perhaps as an illustration of the rule of thumb that it takes one to know one.

June 21, 2013

Tiger Parents riot: "No fairness if you do not let us cheat."

Riot police assemble to rescue test proctors
Malcolm Moore reports from China for The Telegraph:
Riot after Chinese teachers try to stop pupils cheating 
What should have been a hushed scene of 800 Chinese students diligently sitting their university entrance exams erupted into siege warfare after invigilators tried to stop them from cheating. 
The relatively small city of Zhongxiang in Hubei province has always performed suspiciously well in China's notoriously tough "gaokao" exams, each year winning a disproportionate number of places at the country's elite universities. 
Last year, the city received a slap on the wrist from the province's Education department after it discovered 99 identical papers in one subject. Forty five examiners were "harshly criticised" for allowing cheats to prosper. 
So this year, a new pilot scheme was introduced to strictly enforce the rules. 
When students at the No. 3 high school in Zhongxiang arrived to sit their exams earlier this month, they were dismayed to find they would be supervised not by their own teachers, but by 54 external invigilators randomly drafted in from different schools across the county. 
The invigilators wasted no time in using metal detectors to relieve students of their mobile phones and secret transmitters, some of them designed to look like pencil erasers. 
A special team of female invigilators was on hand to intimately search female examinees, according to the Southern Weekend newspaper. 
Outside the school, meanwhile, a squad of officials patrolled the area to catch people transmitting answers to the examinees. At least two groups were caught trying to communicate with students from a hotel opposite the school gates. 
For the students, and for their assembled parents waiting outside the school gates to pick them up afterwards, the new rules were an infringement too far. 
As soon as the exams finished, a mob swarmed into the school in protest. 
"I picked up my son at midday [from his exam]. He started crying. I asked him what was up and he said a teacher had frisked his body and taken his mobile phone from his underwear. I was furious and I asked him if he could identify the teacher. I said we should go back and find him," one of the protesting fathers, named as Mr Yin, said to the police later. 
By late afternoon, the invigilators were trapped in a set of school offices, as groups of students pelted the windows with rocks. Outside, an angry mob of more than 2,000 people had gathered to vent its rage, smashing cars and chanting: "We want fairness. There is no fairness if you do not let us cheat." 
According to the protesters, cheating is endemic in China, so being forced to sit the exams without help put their children at a disadvantage.

These stories out of the East, such as the recent SAT administration being cancelled across South Korea due to rampant cheating, may add some insight into recent trends within the U.S.. In the four decades I've followed test scores by ethnicity, the biggest single change has been Asian-Americans pulling away in the 21st Century. Here's a graph from Unsilenced Science:

Rasmussen on CBO

Economist Eric Rasmusen responds to the Congressional Budget Office's optimistic assessment of the fiscal effects of Schumer-Rubio.   

In which I leave the house

I actually got dressed and left the house for once to visit the scene of investigative reporter Michael Hasting's fatal one-car crash southbound on Highland south of Melrose. That's on the border of Hollywood and posh Hancock Park. (To orient yourself, this is a mile south of the touristy corner of Highland and Hollywood Blvd., which is L.A.'s minor league version of Times Square's Bright Lights Big City.)

While my wife and I were standing there looking at the scorched palm tree in the grassy median of Highland that Hastings' C-class Mercedes came to rest against, I kept trying to picture the car hitting the tree, stopping immediately without skidding away, and then going up in a giant fireball (as Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill constantly assume is about to happen throughout the chase scene in "21 Jump Street"):
A blonde in a Lexus pulled up to discuss Hastings' death with us. "How could it happen?" she kept asking in her Persian accent, clearly not accepting the LAPD's "no foul play" conclusion. 

This got me thinking once again about how Los Angeles is different from the rest of the country. Everywhere else, the typical conspiracy theorist is pictured as, say, Randy Quaid's character in Independence Day: a burnt-out redneck Seventies survivor. 

In L.A., however, the typical conspiracy theorist is more likely a Near Eastern immigrant in a luxury car. The Persians, Arabs, Armenians, Israelis, Georgians, Bulgarians, and Russians, however, are not self-conscious about being conspiracy theorists. They don't see themselves as a despised and defiant minority. Back in the old country, nobody doubts that there are conspiracies. The only question is who can come up with the best conspiracy.

So, how could it happen? 

Ironically for somebody concerned about the growth of the Surveillance State, a papparazi (that epitome of the Surveillance Society) hanging out on Santa Monica Blvd. looking for, say, drunken celebrities recorded on his dashboard video camera Hastings blowing through a red light on Highland. A few minutes later, the papp arrived at the fireball.

How Hastings wound up on the median, though, is not obvious. Highland is dead straight and has two lanes each way (but they are narrow lanes). There has been speculation about dips, speedbumps, or potholes causing him to go airborne and lose control. Perhaps, but I watched maybe 100 southbound cars on Highland cross Melrose and continue past the burnt tree. It's unusually smooth and trouble-free for a Los Angeles street. 

Presumably, general reckless driving is to blame, I guess. 

Brave guys tend to be brave about dumb stuff like bad driving, too. Remember how Tom Wolfe kicks off The Right Stuff by reporting that 22% of jet fighter pilots in the postwar era died before the end of their 20-year terms of service? A few hundred pages later he admits that the majority of dead peacetime fighter pilots died in car crashes. (The services would usually write it up as a line of duty death so the widow could get the higher pension, on the grounds that drinking and driving fast is all part of the fighter pilot package.)

But why the huge fire following an impact that just didn't give me the impression that the car was going all that fast when it came to rest against the tree?

I suspected the key is that Hastings' car must have hit at least one fixed object before the tree, which probably did serious damage to the Mercedes (perhaps cutting the fuel line?) and slowed the car down before it hit the tree so that it didn't bounce away.

There's currently a traffic cone sitting on the middle of the grass median about 10 or 20 meters up toward Melrose (the direction from which Hastings came). In the LoudLabs video you can see water squirting straight up into the air from this spot. I don't know if what Hastings' car knocked off was exactly a fire hydrant. It might have been something smaller, such as a metal fixture for controlling sprinklers on the median. In any case, the object perhaps did serious damage to the left side and perhaps underside of the car before the final collision with the tree, and slowed the vehicle down. (Or maybe it was just the curb, but it's not a particularly large or jutting curb. If it was just the curb that set in motion the low-end luxury car's explosion, the widow Hastings should send her lawyer to have a long talk with the Mercedes-Benz corporation.)

Or at least that's what I thought until I tried to see what exactly the obstruction was on Google Maps Streetview. Instead, I just see metal plates flat to the ground. So, maybe I don't know what happened.

Border "Surge"

There's talk about amending the Schumer-Rubio immigration bill to fund a "border surge," like the short-term escalation in Iraq known as "the surge."

Of course, the notion of a "surge" against illegal immigration gives away the game: the elites are thinking about a brief change to delude the rubes so they can then get back to business as usual when the economy finally picks up and wages threaten to rise. 

Resisting illegal immigration has to be permanent.

June 20, 2013

Zimmerman jury: All women, no blacks (?)

Jack Cashil reports in WND:
In a case filled with anomalies, chalk up one more: Unless one of the six chosen jurors is booted from the case, George Zimmerman will have an all female jury. 
And if the Hispanic Zimmerman is considered white – he would not be on trial if he were not – his jury is all white as well. In any case, there are no blacks among the six jurors or four alternates.

Murder trials can go on a long time and lots of original jurors can drop out in favor of the alternates, as happened with the O.J. Simpson case, so that can change jury demographics over time.

But, it sounds like the two sides in the Trayvon Martin case might have had different opinions in picking the jury on the primacy of sex v. race in loyalty, rather like a photographic negative of the O.J case. As I wrote in Is Love Colorblind?
... probably the most disastrous mistake Marcia Clark made in prosecuting O. J. Simpson was to complacently allow Johnny Cochran to pack the jury with black women. As a feminist, Mrs. Clark smugly assumed that all female jurors would identify with Nicole Simpson. She ignored pretrial research indicating that black women tended to see poor Nicole as The Enemy, one of those beautiful blondes who steal successful black men from their black first wives, and deserve whatever they get.

Perhaps Zimmerman's lawyer feels that this is basically a racial trial, while the prosecutor feels the way to win is to reproduce the successful media tactic of eliciting maternal feelings for the 12-year-old dead child? That could lead to them effectively agreeing upon a jury of nonblack women. (Or is one mixed race?)

Michael Hastings' death: I'm glad that's all cleared up

From the Los Angeles Times:
No foul play suspected in Michael Hastings' death, LAPD says
I watched a lot of the Mannix detective series in 1969 and expensive cars were alway crashing and exploding into flames in nice parts of Los Angeles, so this quick "no foul play" conclusion makes perfect sense to me.

Nothing to see here, folks, move along, nothing to see here. It's just the top investigative journalist of his generation charbroiled in his new Mercedes, so keep moving. Hey, did you hear about Kim Kardashian? Now, that's what I call news.

By the way, the two pictures don't seem to be of the same exact spot (deciduous trees and streetlamp v. telephoto-compressed palm trees on the median). I presume the cops moved the car to get it, and the stench of roasted reporter, away from the houses seen in the first picture. Or something ...

Update: No, it looks like the same spot: in the fiery picture, the lone palm tree that car ran into is lost from view behind the flames, while in the daytime picture the telephoto compression is so extreme that it makes the palm trees on the median look omnipresent when they are actually spaced rather far apart. In the fire picture, the car looks like it's up against the streetlight, which is not in the median, but the streetlight is actually about 40 feet or so beyond the car -- the misleading element is that the streetlight looks taller (and thus closer) than it is because it's reflected in the water a neighbor sprayed on the car with his garden hose in an attempt to extinguish it.

Now, the notion of a 33-year-old war correspondent driving dangerously fast in his new car hardly sounds implausible. Still, it would be helpful if, say, that Taiwanese TV network that does animated re-enactments of Tiger Woods running into a fire hydrant would animate the official story so we can see if it looks reasonable.

To continue with the Mannix theme, which usually ended with the car chase with the bad guys plummeting off Mulholland Drive on top of the Hollywood Hills, the most reasonable way to dispose of a dead body in a fake car crash in this area is to put the dead man in the trunk of his car, drive it up to Mulholland, put him behind the wheel, and push the car off. That seems far more likely than staging a gigantic crash in an upscale flat neighborhood.

There are a lot more guard rails on Mulholland now than in Mannix's day, but, still, cars go over the cliff now and then. Three years ago, for example, somebody propelled Charlie Sheen's reportedly stolen car off Mulholland and it was found wrecked 400 feet down with no bodies to be seen anywhere.
Sheen's Mercedes did not, however, explode
The usual theory is that a seriously impaired Sheen drove it off, but the notion that he crawled back up through the sage brush and walked home seems hard to imagine. Maybe 20 years ago, but Charlie's body had a lot of miles on it by 2010.

Around that time, as we learned later during his self-destruction, Sheen requested and obtained a huge advance on his actor's salary from Chuck Lorre's Two and a Half Men. My off-hand guess would be that the destruction of Sheen's car was a message to Sheen from his underworld creditors to get serious about paying his debts, or else, but I'm just making that up.

Has anybody been by the site of Hastings' death on Highland south of Melrose and north of Clinton? I really ought to drive over there and take a look; but that would involve me leaving the house, so that's probably not going to happen.

Borjas: The Slowdown in the Economic Assimilation of Immigrants

Here's a new paper from Harvard economist George Borjas:
The Slowdown in the Economic Assimilation of Immigrants: Aging and Cohort Effects Revisited Again 
George J. Borjas 
NBER Working Paper No. 19116 
Issued in June 2013 
This paper uses data drawn from the 1970-2010 decennial Censuses to examine the evolution of immigrant earnings in the U.S. labor market. The analysis reveals that there are cohort effects not only in the level of earnings, with more recent cohorts generally having relatively lower entry wages, but also in the rate of growth of earnings, with more recent cohorts having a smaller rate of economic assimilation. Immigrants who entered the country before the 1980s typically found that their initial wage disadvantage (relative to natives) narrowed by around 15 percentage points during their first two decades in the United States. In contrast, the immigrants who entered the country after the 1980s have a negligible rate of wage convergence. Part of the slowdown in wage convergence reflects a measurable reduction in the actual rate of human capital accumulation. In particular, there has been a concurrent decline in the rate at which the newer immigrant cohorts are “picking up” English language skills. The study isolates one factor that explains part of these trends: The rate of increase in English language proficiency is significantly slower for larger national origin groups. The growth in the size of these groups accounts for about a quarter of the decline in the rates of human capital acquisition and economic assimilation.

Coulter: The Immigration-Domestic Snooping Nexus

From Human Events:
By: Ann Coulter

Well, of course the government is spying on Americans! Look at the havoc caused by American citizens engaging in terrorism. 
There’s “American citizen” David Coleman Headley, who conspired with Pakistani military officers to commit the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, that left more than 160 people dead. 
Headley’s ancestors served under Gen. George Washington — no, I’m sorry, Headley was born “Daood Sayed Gilani” in Washington, D.C., to a Pakistani father. Like your typical American boy, he enjoyed TV’s “Happy Days” and murdering innocent people in terrorist attacks. 
There were the 20 “American” men from the Minneapolis area who joined a terrorist group in Somalia in 2008. I knew the Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party would cause trouble one of these days! 
No, wait — wrong again. We invited these foreign terrorists to immigrate here after the collapse of Somalia’s government in 1991. (And what a great deal for America that was! I’m so glad Obama’s doing it again with Syrian rebels.) 
These hardworking Somali immigrants produced — in the words of The New York Times — “the first known American suicide bomber”! Go U.S.A.! Who could have guessed that Shirwa Ahmed would be America’s first suicide bomber? (My money had been on a guy named “Jim Peterson.”) 
In addition to the first suicide bomber, the other American citizens who joined the terrorist group included Cabdulaahi Ahmed Faarax, Abdiweli Yassin Isse and Mahamud Said Omar. 
If you can’t trust “American citizen” Cabdulaahi Ahmed Faarax, what Americans can you trust these days? Or to quote Sen. Bob Casey, the mentally disabled Democratic senator from Pennsylvania: “It’s really disturbing — Americans becoming radicalized.” 
Then there were the six “New Jersey men” who plotted a terrorist attack on the Fort Dix military base in 2007. Using rocket-propelled grenade launchers, they estimated they could kill at least 100 soldiers. ...
The New Jersey men were named Mohamad Shnewer, Serdar Tatar, Agron Abdullahu, Dritan Duka, Eljvir Duka and Shain Duka. Four were from the former Yugoslavia, one was from Turkey and one was from Jordan. All were illegal aliens. 
But we needed them! As Marco Rubio’s staff recently told The New Yorker, American workers “can’t cut it.” 
If the government can spy on Cherry Hill’s Mohamad Shnewer, how can we draw the line at Fox News’ James Rosen and CBS News’ Sharyl Attkisson?
... Now we have to spy on Americans because of all the imported Tsarnaevs and Zazis. We have created two huge problems where none existed before — domestic terrorism and government spying — all to help the Democrats win elections by changing the electorate. 

As well, there are all sorts of other important interest groups who benefit from the Tsarnaevs and Todashevs being in America. Look at the growth in the budget and mysterious powers under the command of four-star general Keith Alexander, head of CyberCommand. If you are a politician, who knows what dirt he's got on you ... so, going around making Ann's argument that we need to cut immigration so we can spy less domestically just might get Gen. Alexander, who likes his black budgets big, unhappy with you. Most politicians have guilty consciences, so they'd rather make sure Gen. Alexander is a happy camper.

What to call Republicans who support Schumer's bill?


Crime, Big Data, and real estate investing

Everybody talks about Big Data nowadays, but I never see mentioned one straightforward use: real estate investing.

The police have slowly been ramping up their information technology over the last 25 years to look for "crime hot spots," as recommended by Bill Bratton.

Can you use this data for real estate investing purposes? Scan the data for "crime cold spots" -- low crime blocks in low cost neighborhoods -- because they might be promising for gentrifying. 

Traditionally, cops have been interested in second careers in real estate -- see, for example, Harrison Ford in 2003's Hollywood Homicide -- because they drive around all the time and can notice neighborhood trends first. But this kind of data would make real estate trend-spotting even easier. 

June 19, 2013

The stand-up comics' cartel

Stand-up comedy is doing well right now for a form of entertainment that's been around for a long time. It's not an easy life, touring, hoping you'll get popular enough to do some specials and nursing the dream that you'll be one of the few to get a stable sit-com that will allow you to stop traveling. But, it does seem to support a relatively large number of quite good comics at present. There aren't too many massive superstars in stand-up right now, but that's probably a good thing.

The field seems surprisingly resilient to being disrupted by new technologies, the way that, say, star disk jockeys playing other people's music have taken away a lot of the music industry revenue that used to go to the bands' themselves when they toured.

Can you imagine people paying to see a Joke Jockey who just plays the best jokes from the best comedy albums of all time, serving up the precise joke that this particular audience will laugh hardest at at this particular moment, weaving all the famous comics' bits into an unexpected tapestry that's more than the sum of the parts?

Well, I can't either, but James Brown probably scoffed at the notion that DJs would largely replace live bands.

And 35 years ago, a lot of funny radio morning men across the country laughed at the idea that in the near future everybody would listen to Howard Stern out of New York instead of to local talents like them. How could they patch in the traffic updates?

That stand-up is still standing may stem in part from a professional culture that emphasizes paying-your-dues and doing things the time-honored way.

As usual, comics themselves tend to be tightly-wound bundles of resentments and hostilities, as suggested by comedian Patton Oswalt's lengthy venting in Slate on three topics: 

Heckling -- Oswalt's against it. I can't say that drunken fools add much to the performance of expert professionals in other realms (Roger Federer, for instance, isn't expected to volley nimbly with an overserved spectator who stumbles out on the court wielding a trash can lid as a racket), so Oswalt has a point here.

Rape jokes -- He's against them. Or, to be precise, he's against jokes about raping women. Not surprisingly, it doesn't seem to occur to Oswalt to object to (or even notice) jokes about raping men, such as the cliched but still hugely popular prison rape jokes that have been almost de rigueur in detective shows for the last generation. To Oswalt, the problem with rape jokes is that they are anti-women, not that they are pro-rape.

You might think that comedians would be better than the unfunny at noticing things outside the Who-Whom identity politics framework (Who are the bad guys? Who are the good non-guys?) that dominates mental life these days, but this just shows how unnatural are objectivity and principle.

Joke stealing -- He's really against it. He's extremely sore about various individuals over the last couple of decades who have used his jokes without attribution, such as a young person who told one of his jokes in a valedictory speech at a graduation ceremony. Each example gnaws away at him still.

This is perfectly reasonable, even if reading Oswalt on the subject is not going to incline you to think: I hope my kid grows up to have the perfect personality to be a stand-up.

But Oswalt isn't too interested in thinking about any of the obvious grey areas, other than his non-ethical example of when he started doing a joke about Hot Pockets, only to discover that Jim Gaffigan already does almost five minutes on Hot Pockets, so forget Hot Pockets, it's stupid to even to try to compete on that obscure topic with another top comedian who has mastered the subject. (By the way, this is a more male attitude among comics -- female stand-ups have a more limited variety of topics.)

There's an interesting contradiction between the increasingly fundamentalist Code of the Stand-Up Comic -- an absolute ban on joke-stealing that sort of extends to using jokes that you've paid for -- and the rest of popular culture's growing enthusiasm for, uh, "reappropriations," mash-ups, parodies, re-editings, and general meta-ness. 

For example, recently I quoted a member of Sweden's great and good explaining to Swedes that it's stupid of them to object to more immigration because brain surgeons don't need to speak Swedish: after all, their Swedish patients are sedated. I enthusiastically agreed, pointing out that, hey, it's not rocket surgery!

I've been using the "it's not rocket surgery" phrase for a number of years, but did I make it up? A quick check online today finds that you can buy T-shirts and coffee mugs emblazoned with the saying, so the answer is almost certainly "No." I must have stolen it from somebody else. Who probably stole it from somebody else. 

In other words, it's part of the culture.

But, the fact that "rocket surgery" is a widely known cliche joke just makes it funnier that the Swedish nag set herself up for it. If you are going to say something stupid, don't say something stupid for which there already exists a well-known joke. 

Stand-ups have their own cultural references that they use over and over, such as Henny Youngman's punchline "And, boy, are my arms tired." They've gotten a lot of meta-mileage out of Youngman's just-flew-in-from-Las-Vegas joke over the years, and, on the whole, that's a good thing. A shared culture of common jokes is extremely useful for speeding up the exchange of humor and of ideas in general.

My impression is that stand-up comics have evolved a set of norms and values that serve to keep the business semi-artisanal, that prevents the stand-up job from fully going down the superstar route of so many others. (Stand-ups are by no means averse to cashing in big with television sit-coms or sketch shows, but that's considered a different medium and a reasonable reward, which includes that you don't have to live out of a suitcase anymore.)

It's interesting to compare the contrasting opinions held about two giant figures in 20th Century stand-up comedy: Johnny Carson and Bob Hope.

Speaking (as always) broadly, professional stand-ups love Carson and hate Hope.

Why? Carson's Tonight Show was the main chokepoint for success in stand-up, so the people Carson liked tended to become the stars of the business, the ones who get interviewed about the history of their craft. It's a mutual admiration society. (Presumably, there are ex-stand-ups teaching English in Tulsa or selling real estate in Raleigh who weren't liked by Carson and who, if you asked them, would not offer a high opinion of Carson's taste, but nobody asks them.)

Bob Hope, on the other hand, you'll be informed, didn't write his own jokes. He employed -- I'm sure you'll find this a shocking revelation -- joke writers.

Carson, of course, also employed joke writers to help him come up with his nightly monologues. But that's okay because they weren't very good monologues. The funniest things about them were Johnny's spontaneous, unscripted reactions when his writers' jokes bombed. (And I know that Johnny's comebacks were spontaneous and unscripted because, uh, because everybody knows they were!)

In contrast, Hope didn't do all that much for other comedians (including for his brother, who billed himself as Bob Hope's Brother Jim -- "Sure I helped him out,” said Hope. “I helped him out of showbusiness.”) Moreover, he garnered a massive fraction of the public's stand-up dollars for himself by the popularity of his radio, television, movie and tour appearances. Mark Steyn wrote in 2003:
He was the first comedian to run himself as a business, and he succeeded brilliantly. Time magazine reported in 1967 that he was worth half a billion dollars. Asked about the figure, Hope said, “Anyone can do it. All you have to do is save a million dollars a year for 500 years.”

That semi-billionaire-in-1967 figure sounds exaggerated by an order of magnitude, but growing up in the Southeast San Fernando Valley in 1967, the English-born Hope was the local squire, the most prominent landowner.
When you’re that big – when you’re as mass as mass media can get – you don’t have hardcore followers, you’re not a cult or a genius like Buster Keaton or Monty Python. 
... As a boy in Cleveland, he’d dress as Chaplin and waddle down Euclid Street. But, as soon as he could, he dispensed with the pathos of the little tramp, the sentimentality of the ethnic comics, and embraced instead the dapper assurance of a newer American archetype: the wiseguy, the kind of rat-a-tat quipster you could find in the sports columns and the gossip pages of the Jazz Age but not in its comedy routines, in their way as convention-bound as grand opera. 
Much of what we now take for granted as the modern comedy monologue – the delivery, the structure, the subjects – comes from the template developed by Hope.

Like Bing Crosby among singers, Hope was perhaps the first comedian to appreciate the revolutionary impact of the microphone.
If Hope started out as the first modern comic, he quickly became the first post-modern one.

The celebrated "post-modern" elements in Woody Allen's films come straight from Bob Hope's films, as Allen has often pointed out.
Other comedians had writers, but they didn’t talk about them. Radio gobbled up your material so you needed fellows on hand to provide more. But Hope not only used writers, he made his dependence on them part of the act. 
... In vaudeville, a performer would have a comic persona – he’d be a yokel, say, and he’d tell jokes about rustics and city folk – but Hope’s comic persona was the persona of a comic: he played a guy who told jokes for a living, and the conceit (in every sense) worked; by advertising the fact that he had a team who did all the tedious chores like providing the gags, he underlined his extraordinary preeminence. 

I find quite funny the fact that by about 1950 Hope had already managed to embody much that would become characteristic of American culture by 2000, such as metaness, knowing irony, post-modernism, and winner-take-all superstaritis.

But, you can also see why other stand-ups would resent Hope's dominance. So, we now have a culture in which stand-up comedy is supposed to be artisanal rather than industrial. Each stand-up is supposed to write his own jokes (until, of course, he gets a television show).

In 1976, President Gerald Ford's head speechwriter was a famous professional joke writer named Bob Orben, who had written for Dick Gregory and who published a newsletter of gags used by so many 1950s stand-ups that Lenny Bruce advertised that he advertised "no Orben" jokes to distinguish himself from the herd.

But that seems like a very different era. Now, there's quite a bit of culture-molding that goes on about the purity of stand-up comedy. For example, post-Seinfeld, Jerry Seinfeld periodically issues documentaries or interviews about how he's laboriously perfecting a tiny new batch of handmade jokes. For example, from 2012:
Seinfeld will nurse a single joke for years, amending, abridging and reworking it incrementally, to get the thing just so. “It’s similar to calligraphy or samurai,” he says. “I want to make cricket cages. You know those Japanese cricket cages? Tiny, with the doors? That’s it for me: solitude and precision, refining a tiny thing for the sake of it.”

Here's a question that I've been looking around on the Internet for an answer to for a few days. But, not only can't I find an answer, the question doesn't seem to occur to anyone: Back before they started making their sitcom together, did Larry David write jokes for Jerry Seinfeld's stand-up act? If not, why not?

In the 1980s, Seinfeld had a flourishing stand-up career that must have put stress on the quantity of jokes he could come up with himself. Seinfeld was a handsome, likable, skilled stage presence, while David was a brilliant writer but an antagonizing live performer. Moreover, it's not as if David and Seinfeld were on wholly different personality and comedic wavelengths. I don't think it would have taken the genius of Adam Smith to have noticed the opportunity here for some division of labor in the stand-up business.

I don't think it's at all sinister that the best performers and best writers will gravitate toward each other. But I also don't think the current artisanal ideology of stand-up is a bad thing either. 

Obama foreign v. domestic policy

Foreign: Arm Sunni Syrian fanatics.

Domestic: Disarm small town American citizens.

Protesting Carlos Slim's exploitation of poor Mexicans

A mostly Mexican-American group called Two Counties One Voice has been protesting what Carlos Slim does to the poor of Mexico:
  • Slim's company, America Movil (comprised of Telmex and Telcel), has nearly 75 percent of the TOTAL Mexican telecommunications system – from telephone landlines to mobile telephone services.2 ...
  • It has been consistently proven throughout developing countries that access to services like mobile banking provides a route out of poverty.
  • To date, Slim's telecommunications empire has overcharged billions and billions of dollars to Mexicans, especially to the rural poor. Carlos Slim price gouged Mexican customers a total of$13.4 billion each year from 2005 to 2009 for basic telephone and Internet service according to the OECD study.
  • Slim's price gouging cost the Mexican economy $129 billion or about 2 percent of the country's total annual GDP.4...
  • Referencing these monopolistic practices, Mexico's Central Bank Governor noted “in unusually bold language... that successfully promoting an agenda of economic or 'structural' reform could see the country reach growth rates in excess of 5 percent a year – more than double the annual average over the last decade.”6 ...
  • The country's poorest are disproportionately hurt by the price gouging, coupled with the unreliable and poor services. Carlos Slim's monopolistic interests resulted in Mexico ranking LAST in public investment in telecommunications (#34 out of #34) while Slim's company Telmex had a profit margin of 47 percent – one of the highest of the 34 countries.7
  • According to the OECD report, Mexico loses 2.2% of its gross domestic product each year because of astronomically high cellphone rates, low Internet penetration, and mediocre connectivity.
  • Mexico has 10 percent as many wireless Internet subscribers per 100 inhabitants as Turkey. Its cellular phone rates are by far the most expensive in the OECD. Relative to other OECD countries, Mexico is ranked last in terms of investment in telecommunications per capita; but, says the study, “profit margins of the incumbent nearly double the OECD average.”8
Comparisons of Mexico to Turkey are not unreasonable. They currently have virtually the same GDP per capita.

Mexican telecom billionaire Carlos Slim, who intermittently trades off with Bill Gates as the World's Richest Man, bailed out the New York Times after the 2008 crash and owns, at last word, 8.1% of the most influential company in the American news and views hierarchy. 

The NYT has vociferously promoted more immigration from Mexico. Slim profits exorbitantly on calls between the two countries, but the NYT's obvious conflict of interest in promoting Mexican settlement in America, which promotes its second largest stockholder's wealth, is almost never remarked upon (or noticed).

June 18, 2013

Young Turks, Salonikan Freemasons, and Crypto-Jews

In my new column in Taki's Magazine, I try to put Turkish politics into long-term perspective:
It’s extraordinarily difficult to come up with an analogy to American history that would shed some light on Turkish politics since the beginning of the 20th century. 
All right, try this: Imagine that in 1908 the most advanced thinkers of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Greenwich Village take over the US Army. They eventually move the capital to Omaha and rename the country the Midwestern Republic. Yet the four times the country elects somebody a little more Christian than a Unitarian Universalist, the Army stages a coup. 
Finally, the Midwesterners stare down the Army. To rub in their long-thwarted dominance, the Midwestern Christian Party then orders all the bars in New York City to close at 10PM, driving New Yorkers into Times Square to protest. 
Does that clear everything up? 
No, I guess it doesn’t. 
But that’s kind of the point.

Read the whole thing there.

"Differential Fertility, Human Capital, and Development"

An economics paper:
Differential Fertility, Human Capital, and Development
Tom Vogl
Princeton University and NBER
March 2013

Discussions of cross-sectional fertility heterogeneity and its interaction with economic growth typically assume that the poor have more children than the rich. Micro-data from 48 developing countries [e.g., Mexico, Bangladesh, Indonesia] suggest that this phenomenon is very recent. Over the second half of the twentieth century, these countries saw the association of economic status with fertility and the association of the number of siblings with their education flip from generally positive to generally negative. Because large families switched from investing in more education to investing in less, heterogeneity in fertility across families initially increased but now largely decreases average educational attainment. While changes in GDP per capita, women’s work, sectoral composition, urbanization, and population health do not explain the reversal, roughly half of it can be attributed to the rising aggregate education levels of the parent generation. The results are most consistent with theories of the fertility transition based on changing preferences over the quality and quantity of children, and somewhat less so with theories that incorporate subsistence consumption constraints.

Basically, in quasi-Malthusians societies, well-off people had more surviving children, as Greg Clark demonstrated for England in A Farewell to Alms. Typically, rich people got married younger. Francis Galton noticed that the relationship was flipping toward the opposite direction in modernizing England. Vogl's studied shows the same process has happened for the Third World, just much more recently. 

Of the three countries he has the most data for, Mexico, Bangladesh, and India, Mexico had a tiny positive relationship between education and fertility in the 1940s, but it was quite negative by the 1970s. Uh oh ...

Kaus: Make a video against Schumer-Rubio

Mickey Kaus continues to be a font of better ideas than I can come up with on how to throw a wrench in the gears of what Establishment wants to do on immigration:
2. Make a video campaign ad! This helped in 2007. Then, as now, the idea was not to convince voters. The idea is to demonstrate to the undecided politicians the sort of devastating ads that might be used against them if they cave on immigration. It’s true that YouTube was newer and scarier back in 2007 than it is now. But the power of social networking is, arguably, more intimidating now than then.

If you are good at this sort of thing–I’m not, but plenty of you are–put together a 15, 30, or 60 second ad–post it on YouTube and “share” it on Facebook and Twitter. It’s the “sharing” that will sting. (Also share the link with me–Mickey@dailycaller.com. I’ll post links to the best ads in this blog.) 
It’s not as if there’s not a lot of ammunition for an effective negative spot: There is Schumer-Rubio’s phony enforcement provisions. The way it would legalize drunk drivers, spouse-beaters and child abusers. The way none of its provisions–to “learn English,” or pay “back taxes” –mean what they say they mean. The way it would drive down unskilled wages, discourage young people (especially minorities) from even entering the labor market, increase welfare payments, and threaten the jobs of even middle class skilled Americans with a huge wave of cheaper immigrant “guestworkers.”  (Of course, those American aren’t “star performers,’”so screw ‘em!) The way it would prevent the glory of the Clinton years–a tight labor market that raised everyone’s incomes–from ever happening again. 
A note on targets: It’s probably useful to distinguish two sorts of targets–senators who’ve more or less committed to the Gang of 8 bill and senators who are still on the fence. The first group (Sen. Kelly Ayotte would be a prime example) needs to be hammered, in large part to show those in the second group the fate that awaits them if they listen to the rich lobbyists pushing for amnesty. But you don’t want to hammer the second group yet–it might piss them off! After they’ve tried so hard to be ambiguous! They need to be pointedly persuaded. (“Senator Pryor, which will it be: American workers or California billionares?” Or something better than that. You get the idea.) 
Here is a rough list of senators in the two camps: 
Hammer-ready (Have indicated they’ll vote for Schumer-Rubio) 
Ayotte (who was spectacularly ignorant of the bill’s provisions)
Begich (already getting testy!)

Here's an interesting NYT article on how creative Chinese blackmailers Photoshop government officials' faces onto compromising photos. Sorry, that doesn't have anything to do with the topic at hand, so let me get back to Mickey's post:
Landrieu (do it for North Dakota!)
Persuadable (Still on the fence)

VDH: "The elite charm of comprehensive immigration reform"

Here's a good essay from Victor Davis Hanson in National Review:
Illegal Immigration: Elite Illiberality 
The elite charm of comprehensive immigration reform 
By  Victor Davis Hanson 
The divide over immigration reform is not primarily a Left/Right or Democratic/Republican divide; instead, it cuts, and sharply so, across class lines. 
Elites blur the distinction between legal and illegal immigration to ensure that the opponents of the latter appear to be against the former. They talk grandly of making legal immigration meritocratic, but fall silent when asked to what degree.  
They talk darkly of racist subtexts in the arguments of their opponents, but skip over the overt ethnic chauvinism of proponents of amnesty; they decry conservative paranoia over a new demography, but never liberal euphoria over just such a planned reset. They talk deprecatingly of rubes who do not understand the new global realties, but never of their own parochialism ensconced in New York or Washington or San Francisco. They talk of reactionaries who do not fathom the ins and outs of the debate; never of their own willful ignorance of the realities on the ground in East L.A. or southwest Fresno. 
The elites favor de facto amnesty for a variety of self-interested reasons. 

Read the whole thing there.

Stifling whistleblowers

For a lot of organizations, the threat of lawsuits over child sex abuse in the past are a potentially devastating threat that can turn into a feeding frenzy, as happened to the Catholic Church. For example, if the impression I've gotten from reading the memoirs of famous upper crust Englishmen isn't wholly wrong, distinguished boarding schools like Eton and Harrow might be in for a world of civil suit hurt if the atmosphere suddenly changed and they were targeted. But, it's all very contingent. 

One group in New York is making sure that won't happen to them.

An interesting story from the NYT:
After Sexual Abuse Case, a Hasidic Accuser Is Shunned, Then Indicted 
Published: June 17, 2013 76 Comments

Sam Kellner, 50, spoke out about the sexual abuse of his son, 16, and others in the Hasidic community. Now he is charged with trying to extort the abusers.

Five years ago, this gray-bearded and excitable man with a black velvet yarmulke spoke out about the sexual abuse of his 16-year-old son by a prominent Hasidic cantor. As Mr. Kellner helped investigators with the Brooklyn district attorney’s office search for other young Orthodox victims of this man, the Orthodox establishment grew ever angrier at him. The rabbi at his Hasidic synagogue in Borough Park, Brooklyn, denounced Mr. Kellner as a traitor and forbade parishioners to talk with him on the street. Yeshivas barred his sons. His businesses dried up — he pawned his silverware to meet his bills. And he still fears that he will never find a marriage match for his son.

Leaving aside the personal questions, let me just make the anthropological point that this kind of ostracism, not letting anybody marry your child, is one big way how nonviolent endogamous minorities enforce their rules. If one Orthodox diamond merchant cheats another, they victim doesn't go to the Antwerp cops, he just gets everybody else in the community to not let their children marry the cheater's children. It can be awfully effective.
“I felt murdered and abandoned,” Mr. Kellner said. “I’m ruined.” 
This, however, was a prologue to a worse situation. In April 2011, after the district attorney’s office gained a conviction against that cantor, Baruch Lebovits, the prosecutors turned around and obtained an indictment of Mr. Kellner. They said, based on a secret tape and the grand jury testimony of a prominent Satmar supporter of Mr. Lebovits, that he had tried to extort hundreds of thousands of dollars from Mr. Lebovits.

Commenters have explained to me the very subtle difference between what's blackmail and what's perfectly legal, but I can never remember it. My takeaway lesson is: when blackmailing somebody, always use a lawyer.
District Attorney Charles J. Hynes has shown great deference to the politically powerful Hasidic community over the years, and it has rewarded him with large margins on election days. Even his heralded crackdown on Hasidic sexual abuse was a velvet glove wrapped around a velvet fist, as he took the unusual step of refusing to publicize the names of defendants — even the convicted.

Huh? Is that legal?
Mr. Hynes extended no such courtesy to Mr. Kellner. “We allege that Kellner sent emissaries to Lebovits’s family telling them that he controlled the witnesses against Baruch Lebovits,” the district attorney said at a 2011 news conference, “and that in return for $400,000, he would ensure that the witnesses would not testify.” 

Remember the family that got a $20 million payoff from Michael Jackson? They used a lawyer.
This indictment stunned the small, embattled community of Hasidic whistle-blowers. Mr. Kellner, to their view, took enormous risks in a righteous fight. That he could sit in the dock next month is a message not lost on anyone. 
“If he’s convicted, no one will ever come forward again,” said Rabbi Cheskel Gold, a member of a rabbinical court in Monsey, N.Y., that gave Mr. Kellner religious permission to investigate Mr. Lebovits. “No one.” 
Mr. Kellner posted $25,000 bail. And to pile legal insult atop injury, Mr. Lebovits’s lawyers used his indictment and other technicalities to persuade a state appeals court to overturn his conviction. Even today, Alan M. Dershowitz, one of Mr. Lebovits’s lawyers, portrays Mr. Kellner and other prominent whistle-blowers as extortionists. “We see Kellner as a leader of a major extortion ring,” he said in an interview. “He is not a do-gooder.” 

It's fun to look up students' anonymous opinions of their famous college professors like Dershowitz on RateMyProfessors.com, especially at colleges where the students have good vocabularies. One Harvard student rated Dershowitz as "odious."

Snowden: Don't mention the I-Word!

The New York Times' "public editor" writes a little piece that asks an interesting question in the title:
Following Up on the N.S.A. Revelations: Were They Really ‘Confirmations’?

She lists various articles over the last eight years that recounted much of what Edward Snowden said. For example, James Bamford has been covering the NSA since his 1982 book The Puzzle Palace. Bamford regularly discloses interesting information in Wired, such as the revelations of the more central NSA whistleblower William Binney. 

And there were plenty of disclosures about telephone metadata snooping going back to Carl Cameron's four-part Fox series in 2001.

No doubt there are lots of reason Snowden got so much publicity, but let me mention a subtle one. Unlike Bamford, Binney, Cameron and many others who have looked into snooping in America, Snowden, as far as I can tell, has never mentioned the I-Word: Israel. 

Generally, anybody who looks into NSA questions pretty quickly notices that the NSA outsourced some spying on Americans to Israelis, and that, by now, the question of which country is the dog and which country is the tail has gotten murky. For example, here's a 2012 Wired article by Bamford:
Shady Companies With Ties to Israel Wiretap the U.S. for the NSA

But that's not the kind of thing that the media or, to be frank, the great majority of the American public wants to think about. We've all been socialized to shut our brains off when it comes to this tail wagging the dog question. Cameron got to keep his job at Fox, for example, but his series got erased from the official record.

Snowden, in contrast, has kept things nice and neat for people. Everybody seems to have a nice strong opinion about Snowden in part because he hasn't set off the mental shutdown process that the I-Word provokes in well-trained Americans. 

A microcosm of what's wrong with the way we think

A continuing theme here at iSteve is that the top creative guys in popular culture are not quite as politically inane as the mass of liberal dweebs who write about them. 

For example, this season on Mad Men, the storyline has reached 1968, and one of Matthew Weiner's themes has been that the late 1960s rise in crime was ruining New York City. And how does he show that? By showing black criminals committing crimes, which is exactly what happened. How can he get away with that? Well, he's Matthew Weiner and a lot of nice liberal dweeb critics have a vast amount invested in the cult of his genius, so why not use it to tell some truth?

One of my more central themes is that the mass of liberals dweeb who frame The Narrative of how you are supposed to think about everything have come to view each question in childish, destructive, brain-sapping Who? Whom? terms. 

Here's a microscopic example of these two counter-currents in Slate, in which a minor league kultursmog dweeb calls out a major league novelist for the high crime of Noticing Things. Novelists can't be allowed to go around noticing things that raise even the most esoteric questions about who are the good guys and who are the bad guys.
Did Jonathan Franzen Just Make a Gay Joke in the New York Times? 
By Amanda Hess | Posted Tuesday, June 18, 2013, at 12:50 PM

Last week, Frank Bruni devoted his New York Times opinion column to the “puzzling stamina” of sexism in the United States ...

Bruni is the Perfect Gay Liberal Dweeb with an IQ around that of a summer day in Palm Springs. I wrote about his remarkably dopey column in "Cluelessness Is Next to Godliness."
Naturally, Jonathan Franzen was moved to respond.

Franzen is a heavyweight novelist, author of The Corrections and Freedom.
“There may still be gender imbalances in the world of books, but very strong numbers of women are writing, editing, publishing and reviewing novels,” Franzen wrote in a letter to the editor. “The world most glaringly dominated by male sexism is one that Mr. Bruni neglects to mention: New York City theater.”

Or New York City fashion.
A note below his byline clarified that—lest we confuse him with some lesser Jonathan Franzen—“the writer is the novelist.” 
I’m wondering why the novelist—according to Time, the Great American Novelist—would be moved to file this limp non sequitur of an argument in the paper of record. ... If Franzen wanted to administer a sweet burn to Frank Bruni for calling out sexism in his profession, he could have criticized the male-dominated field of New York City restaurants. (Bruni served for years as the Times' chief food critic.) He could have dug into the demographics of the Times opinion page, where 10 of its 12 op-ed columnists are men. Instead, Franzen laid into theater with bizarre specificity. Why? I can only conclude that this was a conspicuously ineffective letter from a man considered one of the greatest writers alive. Or else it was a gay joke. 
Frank Bruni is gay; Broadway is one of the few American industries that is perceived to be dominated by gay men.
Franzen is smart enough not to explicitly chide Bruni for failing to singlehandedly resolve sexism in the gay community before speaking out against chauvinism in all other corners of the United States, but he may be just self-important enough to imply it. Then again, not everyone picked up on Franzen’s subtext. “I applaud Jonathan Franzen for casting a spotlight on sexism in theater,” Jenny Lyn Bader, a member of the executive board of the League of Professional Theater Women, wrote to the Times this week. In light of Franzen’s little note, “maybe the public will finally take note hearing it from a man, who cannot be accused of speaking out of self-interest.” 
I'm not clapping. Instead of leveraging his clout to recognize gender imbalances in his own field (“there may still be, but” is an impressive hedge, but it does not count),

How is Franzen supposed to fix gender imbalances in the field of writing major novels? By not writing major novels?
Franzen deflected responsibility for resolving gender inequality onto gay men. Or maybe he just wrote a terrible letter that makes no sense. I'm not sure which accusation would bother the novelist more.

Who? Whom?

How much is the spread of this Leninist way of looking at the world a chick thing? Women tend even more toward subjectivity than men do, but women tend to be more individualist in who they like than men do. I guess lesbians tend to have the worst of both sexes intellectually -- they are positively averse to objectivity, and they display male gang aggression urges and the desire to rationalize them with ideology (most straight women aren't ideologues by nature). And then the heterosexual women notice which way the social status breezes are blowing and just get in line. 

The big winners in this kind of culture where you aren't allowed to explain things in writing tend to be the most sociopathic men, the cunning guys who understand at a gut level the weaknesses of everybody else.

Front Page News! 7-11s caught employing 50+ illegal aliens

From the New York Times:
U.S. Seizes 14 7-Eleven Stores in Immigration Raids 
Published: June 17, 2013 
More than a dozen 7-Eleven franchises took in more than $180 million in revenue by running a “modern-day plantation system,” prosecutors in New York charged on Monday, built on the unpaid labor of dozens of illegal immigrants hired using sham Social Security numbers. 
Federal authorities seized 14 7-Eleven stores on Long Island and in Virginia, arresting nine owners and managers, and seized property, including five homes. They are investigating 40 other 7-Eleven franchises in New York City and elsewhere in one of the largest criminal immigrant employment investigations ever conducted by the Justice and Homeland Security Departments, officials said. 
Through the scheme, the defendants, who as franchisees for the parent company were licensed to use 7-Eleven buildings, trademarks and Slurpee and hot dog machines, recruited more than 50 illegal immigrants and gave them identities stolen from American citizens, including children and dead people. 
The employees worked for 100 hours a week but were paid for a fraction of that time, and were forced to live in substandard housing owned by the operators of the convenience stores, the authorities said. 
The store managers escaped notice, some for more than a decade, because the national company, 7-Eleven Inc., which has more than 7,600 stores in the United States, did not have safeguards in place to protect its payroll system from employee fraud, the authorities said. For example, two immigrant employees, one in New York and one in Virginia, used the same Social Security number to get paid.

We're constantly told by the New York Times that the Obama Administration is deporting inhumanly vast numbers of illegal immigrants.  But there seldom seem to be examples of raids on businesses in the newspapers, suggesting that all that's happened is that Obama juiced the numbers by reclassifying any border crosser who gets caught by the Border Patrol on the north side of the line as a "deportee."

So, finally we get Big News: the feds have found more than fifty (>50) illegal immigrants working at 7-11s. It's front page news!

June 17, 2013

Women's basketball and The Narrative.

Something that doesn't fit well into The Narrative is that the current feminist era is now well into its fifth decade, so we've gone through numerous cycles already.

In The Narrative, however, differences between men and women are due to the benightedness of the sexist past, which lasted until yesterday. But we know the Future will be different, because it's never been tried before.

Yet, if you can remember the past, you can recall many media whoop-tee-doos that haven't panned out in the long run. For example, women's basketball was a media sensation at the 1976 Olympics, then at the 1984 Olympics in L.A., and then, most heavily, at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, which sparked a 1990s boomlet in women's college and pro basketball.

But the collapse of the Soviet Union has left the U.S. without a formidable rival (the last time the U.S. women lost the gold medal was to the ex-Soviet "combined team" in 1992). And without nationalism to spark interest, women's basketball isn't very interesting. Thus women's college basketball is hunting around for ways to get more popular now that the novelty has worn off and it has settled into a largely lesbian niche audience sport.

From the NYT:
To increase stagnant interest in women’s college basketball, a former prominent official has recommended wide experimentation with the rules and the N.C.A.A. tournament, including holding the men’s and women’s Final Four at the same location on a one-time trial basis.

After a six-month study, Val Ackerman, a former president of USA Basketball and the W.N.B.A., recommended that the N.C.A.A. also hold the women’s Final Four on the weekend after the men’s tournament to gauge its effects on the game’s popularity. 
She also recommended that the women’s Final Four be held in the same city for multiple years, just as the college baseball World Series is held annually in Omaha, Neb. 
As a further way to enhance competitive balance, Ackerman said that some of the coaches, athletic directors and conference commissioners she interviewed had advised reducing scholarships to 13 per team from 15. (The other two scholarships could be used to finance other women’s teams.) 
Some officials also recommended to Ackerman that the season be shortened to one semester. One possibility is to begin the women’s season after college football’s regular season and end it after the men’s N.C.A.A. tournament.

Seems reasonable. Football is the 800 pound gorilla of college sports, so why go head to head with that? Men's basketball is the 400 pound orang-utan of college sports, so why not draft off that? And a one-semester sport is better academically.
To address declines in shooting and scoring, Ackerman advised that the rules should be re-examined to speed the game, reduce the physicality and make it easier for teams to score. She advised that a kind of rules laboratory be created to consider radical suggestions, such as one by Coach Geno Auriemma of Connecticut that the rim be lowered to 9 feet from 10 feet. 

Nah, too many basketball rims around the country aren't adjustable. A smaller ball is a cheap way to get all the advantages of a lower rim -- except dunking, and even on a 9' rim, women can't dunk without a smaller ball they can control with one hand. (Also, I doubt if many NCAA players could realistically dunk on a 9' rim. Probably 8'9" would be necessary.)

And why switch to an above the rim game that only blacks could be good at? Keep it a below the rim sport that's more racially integrated than the men's game and it will do okay by appealing to white dads with tall daughters. There are a lot of college sports that putter along okay because they appeal to high income jockish fathers. Nobody much cares about women's college golf except for the fathers of the players, but that's not a bad little demographic all by itself.

The basketball is too big for women. I believe the official NCAA women's ball is 29" in circumference compared to 30" for the men's ball, and it weights 20 ounces versus 22 ounces. But women's hands are not, on average, 29/30ths as large as men's hands, and women don't have 20/22nd of the upper body strength. A women's basketball not much bigger than a volleyball, but a little denser so that it wouldn't get buffeted about by air currents, would make for a more elegant game.

Women play with a Size 6 ball that's almost as big as the Size 7 ball that men use, which seems pretty pointless. There's also a Size 5 youth ball (27.5") and a Size 4 kids ball (24.5"). I suspect the Size 4 ball would be about right for women. 

Now, most women have to kind of shotput the ball at the basket, and women's shotput is not a popular sport.

In general, it should be a priority in rulemaking for women's sports to make women look elegant while playing a sport. Most heterosexual women prefer to do things that make them look good. Female tennis players look good playing tennis, so women's tennis is a big money sport. Female basketball players shoot like shotputters, so it's a small money sport.

Middle class blacks v. underclass blacks in suburban Michigan

Corey Williams of the Associated Press reports on the traditionally middle class Detroit suburb of Southfield, which has gone from 54% black in 2000 to 70% black in 2010. 
Three years ago, Lamar Grace left Detroit for the suburb of Southfield. He got a good deal — a 3,000-square-foot colonial that once was worth $220,000. In foreclosure, he paid $109,000.
The neighbors were not pleased.
"They don't want to live next door to ghetto folks," he says.
That his neighbors are black, like Grace, is immaterial. Many in the black middle class moved out of Detroit and settled in the northern suburbs years ago; now, due to foreclosures, it is easy to buy or rent houses on the cheap here.

Middle class blacks tend not to be penny-pinchers, so I suspect a fair number got caught up in cash-out refinancings during the subprime bubble.
The result has been a new, poorer wave of arrivals from the city, and growing tensions between established residents and the newcome ...
People like John Clanton, a retired auto worker, say the new arrivals have brought behavior more common in the inner city — increased trash, adults and children on the streets at all times of the night, a disregard for others' property. 
"During the summer months, I sat in the garage and at 3 o'clock in the morning you see them walking up and the down the streets on their cell phones talking," Clanton says. "They pull up (in cars) in the middle of the street, and they'll hold a conversation. You can't get in your driveway. You blow the horn and they look back at you and keep on talking. That's all Detroit."

The tensions have not gone unnoticed by local officials. 
"I've got people of color who don't want people of color to move into the city," says Southfield Police Chief Joseph Thomas, who is himself black. "It's not a black-white thing. This is a black-black thing. My six-figure blacks are very concerned about multiple-family, economically depressed people moving into rental homes and apartments, bringing in their bad behaviors." 
For example, "They still think it's OK to play basketball at 3 o'clock in the morning; it's OK to play football in the streets when there's a car coming; it's OK to walk down the streets three abreast. That's unacceptable in this city." 
Thomas has seen the desperation of the new arrivals. His officers, handling complaints, have found two or more families living in a single house, pooling their money for rent. They have "no food in the refrigerator and no furniture," Thomas says. "They can't afford the food. They can't afford the furniture." But they were eager to flee the gunfire of their old neighborhoods in Detroit. 
The foreclosure crisis made it possible. 
"We had a large number of people who have purchased homes from 2005 on, where the banks were very generous with their credit and they've allowed for people without documentation and income verification to borrow 95 to 100 percent of home values," Southfield Treasurer Irv Lowenberg says. "Many purchased homes when they had two jobs in the household and one of the jobs was lost. 
"As values began dropping, people were looking around and saying 'Why should I stay and pay my mortgage when other people aren't?' They decided to hand the keys back to the bank." 
Many of the foreclosed upon Southfield homes were going for $40,000 to $60,000. 
... With so many empty houses available, rents also dipped by hundreds of dollars. Renters increased from about 13,100 in 2006 to 15,400 in 2009. 
Now, suburbs closest to big cities are "bedeviled" by the same problems that helped spur urban flight decades ago, Schragger adds. "And you're seeing further flight out. Rising crime levels, some rising levels of disorder."

These were the things that prompted Richard Twiggs to leave Detroit 23 years ago for the safety, quiet and peace of mind Southfield offered. 
"The reason suburbs are the way they are is because a certain element can't afford to live in your community," adds Twiggs, a 54-year-old printer. "If you have $300,000, $400,000, $500,000 homes you're relatively secure in the fact that (the homeowners) are people who can afford it. 
"But when you have this crash, people who normally couldn't afford to live in Southfield are moving in. When you have a house for $9,900 on the corner over there — that just destroys my property." 
The pride that comes with home ownership and a large financial investment in the property is missing, says Clanton, who lives across the street from Twiggs on Stahelin, about a half-mile north of Detroit. Back yards are deep and mostly tree-shaded. Sidewalks are few. 
"I treasure what I bought," Clanton says. "I want to keep it, but I don't need somebody to come in and throw their garbage on mine. Why would they come and make our lives miserable because they don't care?" 
Though they acknowledge they would lose money by selling their current homes, Clanton and Twiggs are contemplating moving further north. 

So, middle class blacks are following middle class whites to the exurbs. But if gasoline goes to $10 per gallon, how will that work out?

In the very long run, lower class blacks will likely end up warehoused in small towns in the middle of nowhere. But, small towns have far fewer surplus resources to support ghetto blacks than do rich big cities like New York and Washington D.C. that are currently shoving them out. So, it's likely that small towns that tip black will be chewed up rapidly and then begin depopulating as the least dysfunctional poor blacks get out. (For example, the population of East St. Louis has dropped from 82,000 to 27,000.) So, there will be a lot of churn in rural America, which I guess is good for the real estate and homebuilding industries.
Sheryll Cashin, who teaches constitutional law and race and American law at Georgetown University, says it would be a shame if black flight from the city set off black flight from the near suburbs. 
Some blacks just don't want to live near other blacks, she says: "There is classism within the black community. The foreclosure crisis may be accelerating it." But she says middle-class blacks, like middle-class whites, are also put off by behavior of impoverished blacks who "have developed their own culture, one that is very different from mainstream America."
Those who contemplate fleeing have fallen into what Cashin calls the "black middle-class dilemma." 
"You have a choice of whether you are willing to be around your people or go 180 degrees in the other direction," she says. "To the higher income black people, if you don't want to love and help your lower-income black brethren, why would you expect white people to? If you can't do it, no one in society can do it. You can try to flee or you can be part of the solution."

Racism as an all-purpose explanation for black dysfunction is a two-edged sword for non-dysfunctional blacks. It justifies all sorts of affirmative action and social service jobs that middle class blacks benefit from more than underclass blacks. On the other hand, it also disarms middle class blacks in trying to shame underclass blacks into acting better. Ghetto blacks have assimilated the message of American society that the highest moral priority is the War on Racism. And underclass blacks believe that by Keepin' It Real (i.e., acting in a selfish, anti-social manner), they are fighting the good fight against Racism. Of course, this also makes them extremely obnoxious to middle class blacks who can't get away from them.

In Southfield, the middle class blacks are using the police power to be obnoxious back:
Southfield officials say one solution to changing neighborhoods is blight enforcement, other ordinances and costly fines. The idea, said the police chief, Thomas, is not to chase people away, but to help them assimilate. 
Soon after Grace, the telephone company analyst, moved into his house, he was cited for parking a small trailer on the property and storing interior doors outside. These are things that would have drawn little notice in Detroit amid the crime and failing schools, he said.

He paid $400 in fines, got rid of the doors and put the trailer in paid storage. 
... He was fined $200 for noxious weeds because the grass was too high and dandelions covered much of the front lawn. 

Uh, oh. Better get too work on the dandelions on my lawn.

But, really, there's no end to the way nice things are nicer than not nice things. For example, I have one of the scruffier lawns on the block (and the lady with a similarly mediocre lawn across the street is 98 years old). But, instead of getting fined $200, I once got paid $2,000 to rent out my lawn for a day because a company shooting a beer commercial nearby needed to shoot 3 seconds of the Average American Beerdrinker's Lawn and my neighbors' Marathon-sodded lawns look like the Average American Pinot Noir Sipper's Lawn.
"It wouldn't happen in Detroit," he says. "Your property is pretty much your property. I think, here, they are going a little overboard."

Obviously, it would be nicer to have a self-disciplining culture (and sending the cops out to enforce a lot of neatness laws sounds like an invitation to corruption). Still, this seems like the best of a number of bad options. Hopefully, the fact that political power in Southfield is mostly black will protect the middle class from the usual federal discrimination lawsuits.

One thing I'm struck by is the lack of social science research into how to get lower class minorities to stop being such bad neighbors. Generally, research is organized either from the perspective of lower class minorities as victims of society, or, in a few cases, around preventing major crimes (J.Q. Wilson's famous "broken windows" theory). But how best to combat simple ghetto obnoxiousness, such as people strolling down the middle of the street blocking traffic, is not a popular academic topic.

For example, I haven't looked into it, but my vague impression is that over the last decade or so the LAPD has lessened the number of Mexicans who welcome in New Year's by shooting their guns in the air at midnight on January 1st. The method appears to have been to run PSA ads on TV telling people that it was against the law to shoot their guns into the air, and then killing one or two drunken shooters each New Year's Eve who wouldn't put their guns down.

For some reason, though, social scientists haven't been enthusiastic about studying this question.

Don't richwine me, bro!