June 29, 2013

National News: Eva Longoria gets Chicano Studies M.A. at CSUN

As A. Conan Doyle pointed out, dogs that don't bark are hard to notice.

One way to notice lack of distinction is to keep an eye out for what I call the exception that proves the rule. Yes, I realize that everybody wants to make objections, logical or etymological, to my use of that old phrase. If you can come up with a better phrase let me know, but what I'm talking about is that one way to notice a general negative truth (e.g., Mexican-Americans aren't very noteworthy achievers, on average) is to notice when a big whoop-tee-doo is being made over somebody just for being exceptional. From the NYT, an unintentionally funny look at how desperate the press is for a Mexican-American leader.
An Emerging Hispanic Voice Defends Her ‘Maids’ 
LOS ANGELES — At a premiere party at the Spanish-colonial-style Bel-Air Bay Club last week for the new Lifetime show “Devious Maids,” the center of attention was not the five actresses who play the lead characters, Latina maids who cook, clean and scheme while looking after wealthy white families in Beverly Hills. 
Instead, the spotlight fell on one of the executive producers, Eva Longoria, better known for her own role as the wealthy Gabrielle Solis on “Desperate Housewives.” ... But then she changed the script, positioning herself as a Hollywood power player on Latino issues and a highly regarded political advocate. 
Now she finds herself in a position of having to defend her latest project against critics who say the show relies too much on the cliché of the Hispanic maid. 
“When people talk about stereotypical maids, these maids are anything but,” Ms. Longoria, 38, said over a long lunch at the Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood two days before the premiere party. She said future plot points would reveal more developed people. 
She was eager to counter the negative reactions to the show. “I think it’s important for us to have a dialogue of identity in our culture, and even though this show may not be your experience, it is a lot of people’s experience,” she said. Latinos, she added, “over-index in domestic workers: that is a fact, that’s not an opinion.” 
The ratings for the premiere of “Devious Maids,” at 10 on Sunday night, were modest. Going up against the season finale of AMC’s “Mad Men,” the show attracted 2 million viewers, slightly below the Lifetime show that preceded it at 9, “Drop Dead Diva” (2.2 million). 
Ms. Longoria’s rise as a media force has been paralleled by her political ascent. She stumped for President Obama in 2012, helping round up critical Hispanic voters, and she was a founder of the Futuro Fund, which raised $32 million for the campaign. She recently spoke at the Clinton Global Initiative in Chicago; left a few days later for Colombia to film a documentary for the Half the Sky Movement, an international women’s advocacy group; and signed on to a fund-raising drive for the political group Battleground Texas, whose goal is to raise money to “put Democrats back on the map” in the state, in the words of her message on the group’s home page.

I dropped by the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills last spring to see a friend from New York at Trader Vic's bar. I believe the prime pre-dinner speaking slots at the ex-con's Davos-style wing-ding were a choice between hearing Al Gore or Eva Longoria. (I may have this wrong, but I think the choice was Al or Eva.)
And in May she completed a master’s degree in Chicano studies from California State University, Northridge.

In contrast, to pick a random example, movie director Terrence Malick taught philosophy at MIT and translated Heidegger. But Christian Arabs in the New World (on Malick's father's side) tend to have their share of high achievers, so nobody much cares that Malick's a credit to his semi-ethnicity. But Eva Longoria getting an M.A. in Chicano Studies at CSUN is national news: the exception that proves my rule.

Hobbes: Bloomberg has been a great mayor

From the perspective of 17th Century political philosopher Thomas Hobbes, author of Leviathan, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has been a great mayor. Leave aside for the moment all the distractions about banning Big Gulps and similar trivia. In Bloomberg's 12 years, he has made impressive progress at the fundamental duty of the state: to hold a monopoly on violence.

From the New York Times:
City Homicides Drop Sharply, Again; Police Cite New Antigang Strategy 
The number of homicides on record in New York City has dropped significantly during the first half of the year — to 154 from 202 in the same period last year — surprising even police officials who have long been accustomed to trumpeting declining crime rates in the city.

In the first 178 days of 2013, the city averaged less than a murder a day, the first time the police can recall that happening for any sustained period.

The rest of the article has material of interest on Bloomberg's stop-and-frisk war on "the right people." Goldstein is a good police reporter.
... On the one hand, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Mr. Kelly have cited the declining murder rate as a vindication of their policing strategies, which rely heavily on the stop-and-frisk tactic.
On the other, stop-and-frisks have dropped off considerably in the last 15 months, suggesting that the drop in murders might have been a result of other factors. 
In the first three months of 2012, police records indicate, there were 203,500 stops. But in the first three months of this year, the police recorded fewer than 100,000 stops. 
... Noting how the latest reduction of violence coincided with a diminishing number of street stops, some civil rights lawyers have grown more vocal in questioning not only the legality but also the effectiveness of stop-and-frisk tactics. 
But police commanders point to what they say is the long half-life of the deterrent effect of stop-and-frisk, saying that criminals may decide to leave their guns at home because they have been stopped in the past, even if the odds of a stop have decreased in recent months. And the police say the decrease in violence has most likely led to a corresponding decrease in suspicious behavior, which results in fewer stops. 

So, is Mayor Bloomberg getting in much trouble for his recent comment defending the NYPD's racial profiling: "I think we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little"?

Or is it all going to blow over? I'll bet on the latter. We shall see ...

Good point

Ross Douthat writes in his New York Times column:
Democrats Get a Gift From the Roberts Court 
... First, Republicans faced an unexpected (though in hindsight, predictable) undertow of their own, as many conservative-leaning, working-class white voters looked at what Mitt Romney had to offer and simply stayed home.
Second, instead of declining as expected after the history-making election of 2008, African-American turnout may have actually risen again in 2012. When the Census Bureau released its turnout analysis last month, it showed blacks voting at higher rates than whites for the first time in the history of the survey. 
If you believe Chief Justice John Roberts Jr.’s more overheated liberal critics, last week’s Supreme Court decision invalidating a portion of the Voting Rights Act is designed to make sure African-American turnout never hits these highs again. ...
If so, though, the Roberts Court may have actually handed the Democratic Party a political gift. 
How so? Well, to begin with, voter identification laws do not belong to the same moral or legal universe as Jim Crow. Their public purpose, as a curb to fraud, is potentially legitimate rather than nakedly discriminatory, and their effects are relatively limited. As Roberts’s majority opinion noted, the voter registration gap between whites and blacks in George Wallace’s segregationist Alabama was 50 percentage points. When my colleague Nate Silver looked at studies assessing the impact of voter ID laws, he estimated that they tend to reduce turnout by around 2 percent — and that reduction crosses racial lines, rather than affecting African-Americans exclusively. 
A 2 percent dip is still enough to influence a close election. But voter ID laws don’t take effect in a vacuum: as they’re debated, passed and contested in court, they shape voter preferences and influence voter enthusiasm in ways that might well outstrip their direct influence on turnout. They inspire registration drives and education efforts; they help activists fund-raise and organize; they raise the specter of past injustices; they reinforce a narrative that their architects are indifferent or hostile to minorities. 
This, I suspect, is part of the story of why African-American turnout didn’t fall off as expected between 2008 and 2012. By trying to restrict the franchise on the margins, Republican state legislators handed Democrats a powerful tool for mobilization and persuasion, and motivated voters who might otherwise have lost some of their enthusiasm after the euphoria of “Yes We Can” gave way to the reality of a stagnant, high-unemployment economy. 
So a lengthy battle over voting rules and voting rights seems almost precision-designed to help the Obama-era Democratic majority endure once President Obama has left the Oval Office.

Good point, if I say so myself.

Also of interest is my June 2, 2013 VDARE article.

Google Dopedar

Google has disabled Google Gaydar, but you can still quantify the Undernews by just putting the word "Is" in front of a celebrity's name and seeing what are the most popular prompts.

Personally, I've never felt inclined to state my Google searches in the form of a question, but then I know a lot about the logic of searching. So, these "Is" prompts may bring up a lower stratum of Google users. Let's hope so.

In honor of Wimbledon, let's try tennis players:

"Is Djokovic"

brings up 

1. Is Djokovic doping
2. Is Djokovic married
3. Is Djokovic gay

1. Is Serena Williams married
2. Is Serena Williams a Jehovah's Witness
3. Is Serena or Venus better
4. Is Serena doping

1. Is Nadal gay
2. Is Nadal right handed
3. Is Nadal playing in the 2013 French Ope
4. Is Nadal on steroids

1. Is Federer gay
2. Is Federer injured

Doping or steroids doesn't come up in the top 10 for the Swiss great, who has already lost at Wimbledon.

1. Is Sharapova still engaged
2. Is Sharapova married
3. Is Sharapova engaged

How about baseball players? What could be more enthralling than rehashing once again last year's American league MVP race?

1. Is Miguel Cabrera on steroids

1. Is Mike Trout married
2. Is Mike Trout a Christian
3. Is Mike Trout on steroids

Movie stars?

1. Is Johnny Depp dead

This "is dead" thing seems to come up a lot with movie stars (Is John Goodman dead is popular, but so is Is James Garner still alive), but not with athletes or Presidents:

1. Is Barack Obama black
2. Is Barack Obama muslim
3. Is Barack Obama the antichrist
4. Is Barack Obama the devil
5. Is Barack Obama a mason
6. Is Barack Obama left handed
7. Is Barack Obama Osama bin Laden
8. Is Barack Obama a good president
9. Is Barack Obama getting impeached

For sheer minimalism, you can type in just "Is " and find out What the World Most Wants to Know:

1. Is anyone up
2. Is shingles contagious
3. Is today a holiday
4. Is it down
5. Is skype free
6. Is facebook down
7. Is anyone down
8. Is coffee bad for you
9. Is Khloe Kardashian pregnant
10. Is oatmeal gluten free

June 28, 2013

Trayvon trial showcases future of America

Commenter Portlander has been following the crackerjack battle of wits that is the murder trial of George Zimmerman, and observes, "This whole trial has been a peek at the US's post-racial future ..." 

It has not been an edifying experience, which may help explain why Portlander's a Portlander, and why the national prestige press has been losing interest rapidly. They really need Aaron Sorkin to punch up the witnesses' lines.

Portlander has watched the testimony of the prosecution's star Haitian-American ear-witness so you can jump right to the most scintillating repartee:
Alright, you all owe me. Here's the link to the video. Yuk-yuk's start a little after 7:00.

"Creepy white ... [something] ... creepy ass cracker" comes after 8:00. I can't make it out, but I'm told the [something] was "a creepy white assed kill your neighbors cracker." Is "kill your neighbors" a thing? What does that mean?

Update: New best guess is "Creepy white assed -- 'scuse my language -- cracker."

Sounds like Trayvon was already feeling a bit hostile toward George Zimmerman. Judging by his comments, was the fight started as a racist and/or homophobic hate crime on the part of Trayvon?
"Rapist" banter starts closer to 9:20. Lasts about 2 minutes. "[N-word] still following me" comes in at about 13:30. 

In general, the prestige press hasn't been terribly interested in the multi-racial lumpenprole world that is evolving in places like Florida and Texas: Idiocracy 500 years early.

It wasn't supposed to happen like this. It all sounds so much more sophisticated in theory. For example, David Brooks yesterday explained the conventional wisdom in the NYT:
A Nation of Mutts

Over the past few decades, American society has been transformed in a fit of absence of mind. First, we’ve gone from a low immigrant nation to a high immigrant nation. If you grew up between 1950 and 1985, you grew up at a time when only about 5 percent or 6 percent of American residents were foreign born. Today, roughly 13 percent of American residents are foreign born, and we’re possibly heading to 15 percent. ...
Soon, we will no longer be an outpost of Europe, but a nation of mutts, a nation with hundreds of fluid ethnicities from around the world, intermarrying and intermingling. Americans of European descent are already a minority among 5-year-olds. European-Americans will be a minority over all in 30 years at the latest, and probably sooner. 
If enacted, the immigration reform bill would accelerate these trends. It would further increase immigration levels. According to the Census Bureau, roughly 20 million immigrants will come to this country under current law. The Congressional Budget Office expects another 16 million under the new provisions. 
It would boost the rise of non-Europeans. Immigration would be more global. Hispanics are now projected to make up 30 percent of the U.S. population by 2050. We would hit that mark sooner with reform. 
In other words, immigration reform won’t transform America. It will just speed up the arrival of a New America that is already guaranteed.

If you find yourself in a hole, dig faster.
... Let’s make some educated guesses about what the New America will look like. It will almost certainly be economically dynamic. Immigration boosts economic dynamism, and more immigration would boost it more. There would also be a lot of upward striving. Immigrant groups tend to work harder than native groups. They save more. They start business at higher rates than natives.

Oh, boy ... Notice how diversity is the enemy of making intelligent distinctions. The more diversity, the more things we aren't allowed to think about, such as the distinction in average behavior between legal and illegal immigrants. Starting a business of standing on the street corner selling oranges is not exactly the same as founding Intel.
... we’re seeing high rates of intermarriage. This creates large numbers of hybrid individuals, biracial or triracial people with names like Enrique Cohen-Chan.

This is largely an East Coast fantasy about the future. For my entire life, Los Angeles has had numerous Mexicans, Jews, and Chinese, but I don't recall seeing a name like this. Jews and Chinese are common (e.g., Amy Chua's kids), but the offspring of marriages of Jews and Mexican-Americans are vanishingly rare in Los Angeles.

Think about that. Jews and Mexicans shared the Boyle Heights neighborhood east of downtown L.A. a century ago: yet, there's not much mixing over the last four generations. The Mexicans are still stuck in Boyle Heights, but the Jews have moved on. The last old Jewish man in Boyle Heights died last January.

You'll notice that Brooks doesn't actually have an example of anybody prominent with a Mexican-American and Jewish names.

Yes, there are prominent Jews in Mexico City's elite, like historian Enrique Krauze and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, but I'm talking about Mexican-Americans and Jews getting together in Los Angeles. In case you are wondering, comedian Louis CK is relatively Mexico City elite on his half Jewish-half Mexican father's side (his parents met at Harvard).

The MayorBot is now online
The rich new mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, is 1/2 Jewish, 1/4 Italian, and claims to be 1/4th Mexican, and he might even be telling the truth about his paternal grandmother. Among other Mannequin-Americans, the Weitz Brothers (American Pie, and sons of fashion designer and race car driver John Weitz) have a Mexican-born grandmother who was a silent movie star in 1920s Hollywood, I'm trying hard to think of some other examples. Overall, there sure aren't many out of Southern California over the last century.
On the whole, this future is exciting. The challenge will be to create a global civilization that is, at the same time, distinctly American. Immigration reform or not, the nation of mutts is coming.

It sounds vibrant.

Google Reader going away this weekend

If you use Google Reader to follow iSteve, you'll need to replace it right away.

Here are some current articles:
CNET: How to export your Google Reader data Google Reader will cease to exist after July 1. If you haven't migrated to another news reader yet, you only have a few days left before it's too late to export your data out of Google Reader.
Wired: Where to Move Your Google Reader Subscriptions, and How 
Slate: How to Survive the Google Reader Apocalypse: A flow chart of alternatives

Remember, there are only 30 days in June, so July 1st is Monday, not Tuesday.

Xanax for Gay Summer Weddings

Here's the recent Saturday Night Live fake commercial for the new pharmaceutical spinoff brand, Xanax for Gay Summer Weddings. (If that link to the video doesn't work, try Hulu.)

Back in 2000, I wrote in National Review:
But could it be, instead, that fewer gay men want to be married than get married? Does gay marriage appeal more because sexual fidelity offers a role for a lifetime, or because a wedding provides the role of a lifetime?  ... 
So legalizing single-sex marriage isn't likely to prevent the next gay venereal epidemic. Yet, will gay weddings destroy society? Overall, I'm not terribly worried. Still, the fervor with which some gay grooms will pursue the perfect wedding will make straight men even less enthusiastic about enduring their own weddings. The opportunities for gays to turn weddings into high-camp farces are endless. For example, if two drag queens get married, who gets to wear white? And anything that discourages straight men from marrying would be widely harmful. While most straight guys eventually decide that being married is fine, the vast majority find getting married a baffling and punitive process. (You may have noticed that while Modern Bride magazine is now over 1,000 pages long, there is no Eager Groom magazine.) About the only comment a straight man can make in favor of his role is that at least it's a guy thing -- not a gay thing. But for how much longer?

And for the joke at the end of the SNL skit -- "Xanax for Gay Summer Weddings is not prescribed for lesbian weddings" -- see "Why Lesbians Aren't Gay" from 1994.

Bloomberg: "We disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little"

I often advise readers to learn lessons from the success of 21st Century New York City: do as they do, not as they say. But crime-fighting billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg is getting old and close to retirement, so today he just flat out said what he does. From the New York Post:
Bloomberg: 'We disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little' in stop-frisk checks 
Mayor Bloomberg claimed that people of color should be stopped and frisked more -- not less -- while whites are stopped too frequently. 
"I think we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little. It's exactly the reverse of what they say," Bloomberg said on his weekly radio show, in response to the City Council passing two bills aimed at reining in the controversial policing tactic. 
"I don't know where they went to school but they certainly didn't take a math course. Or a logic course.” 
... The mayor was referring to statistics showing that a majority of serious crimes in the city are carried out by young men of color. 
Eighty seven percent of all stops last year were for blacks or latinos, who constituted 90 percent of murder suspects, according to city stats. Only nine percent of stops were for white people, who made up 7 percent of all murder suspects. 
“People say, well you know, cops shouldn't be stopping so many of any one group,” he said. “The cops' job is to stop so many of groups fitting the description. It's society's job to make sure that no one group is disproportionately represented as potential perpetrators. 
"That's not the test. The test is are you stopping a disproportionate percentage of people who fit the description that witnesses or victims have come up with of crimes that have been committed.

Keep in mind that Bloomberg has been wildly popular with the media during his 12 years as mayor, in large part because of his success at keeping crime down and driving NAMs out of increasing amounts of New York. For example, there was a term limit, of the kind that has caused inconvenience to rulers like Erdogan and Putin, but was swept away by media acclamation to allow Bloomberg a third term. It also helps that Bloomberg employs a lot of journalists, whom he let spy on his clients through his $2,000 per month Bloomberg terminals.

Did Trayvon gaybash Zimmerman?

Back on March 31, 2012, I blogged:
Let's try thinking like Tom Wolfe: for maximum discomfiture. Here's a possibility that might come out at, say, a trial of George Zimmerman if Crump dares put the girlfriend on the stand and expose her to cross-examination: It's hardly implausible that Trayvon Martin might have worried that this strange man was following him in the dark for homoerotic purposes, and he might have mentioned that concern to his girlfriend over the phone. 

Then on May 18, 2012 I blogged:
From the New York Times: 
Martin Spoke of ‘Crazy and Creepy’ Man Following Him, Friend Says
By Serge F. Kovaleski  
... In the sworn interview recorded on April 2, which runs more than 22 minutes, the unidentified 16-year-old said Mr. Martin described a man who was “crazy and creepy” and on the phone, watching him from a vehicle before he started to follow him on foot. 
Keep in mind that the cops didn't get to talk to this unidentified girl until almost two weeks after attorney Benjamin Crump coached her through a talk with ABC News, and that there is no recording of this phone call (unless Echelon has it, of course). 

Now we know from her testimony that what Trayvon called Zimmerman was a "creepy ass cracker." Most of the attention has been focused upon the second Cr-word, but what about the first? What's the difference between "creepy ass cracker" and, say, "crazy ass cracker"? I'd say there's a notable difference. In this context, "crazy" would have no gay implication, while "creepy" suggests that Trayvon thought Zimmerman might be homosexual.

Indeed, as a commenter notes, when the young lady who was talking to Trayvon on the phone was asked to explain what this phrase meant, she replied, "Pervert."

From CBS:
Jeantel said Martin complained to her that a man he described as a "creepy ass cracker" was following him through the community as he was walking home from buying snacks at a 7-Eleven. "He kept complaining that a man was just watching him," Jeantel said.

Martin told her he wanted to try and "lose" the man and starting walking back home, leaving the area near the mailboxes, she said.

"So he told me the man was looking at him, and I had to think it might have been a rapist," Jeantel said.

The Trayvon case, with its semi-literate and not very satisfactory star witness, suggests why white liberal elites have been shifting their patronage from blacks to gays as their Favorite Victim Group.

Chechens acting Checheny

Remember that op-ed in the NYT about how the Real Victims of the Bomb Brothers were Chechen refugees? The brother of Paul Klebnikov, the Forbes man who reported on the late Marc Rich and numerous other examples of corruption in Russia until his assassination in 2004, wrote in to protest:
To the Editor: 
Oliver Bullough suggests that the radicalization of the Boston Marathon bombers and other people of Chechen origin is due to displacement and oppression. This reasoning may be applied to any number of violent extremists — from I.R.A. terrorists who fought to liberate Ireland, to Palestinian suicide bombers in the occupied territories. 
As someone whose brother was murdered by Chechen hit men, I find such explanations abhorrent. 
To rationalize terrorism is to invite more of it. 
New York, April 20, 2013

"This Is the End"

The Los Angeles Apocalypse, when the Lotus Eaters of L.A. finally get what's coming to them, is a popular topic worldwide, and is a particular favorite of Angelenos. As local bestselling author Mike Davis says, Los Angeles is "the doom capital of the universe." For example, Jerry Pournelle told me recently that he continues to do very nicely off Kindle sales of his and Larry Niven's Lucifer's Hammer, the most logistically magisterial of all Los Angeles Apocalypse stories, in which a comet wreaks havoc on Lankershim Boulevard.

Seth Rogen's "This Is the End" is a movie comedy in which a half dozen actors (such as Jonah Hill and Craig Robinson) have to hole up in James Franco's Hollywood Hills mansion when The Rapture lifts all the good people to heaven, leaving Los Angeles a fiery wasteland tormented by demons and populated mostly by movie stars.

Assuming that they are merely victims of a huge earthquake and that the Army will soon rescue them, the stars -- with no personal assistants to advise them -- fail repeatedly at prepping. An ax-wielding Emma Watson (Hermione of the Harry Potter movies) briefly shows up, having impressively survived what she cogently argues must be the Zombie Apocalypse, but soon ditches the male losers.

The not very masculine actors spend most of their time smoking weed and arguing over their friendships like junior high school girls. (It seems trivial, but, actually, 9 figures  of money are at stake over whether Franco and Rogen decide to do Pineapple Express 2 together.)

Rogen once again somehow makes himself being reasonable while beset by psychopaths funny (although not as funny as an interview he and Barbra Streisand did last Christmas with Dr. Phil to promote their movie in which they play son and mother, an interview in which Babs was her usual megalomanical self and Seth tried, ineffectually, to return her to the level horizon of reason and self-awareness).

Only the 3/4ths gentile Jay Baruchel and the black Robinson notice the obvious parallels of what's happening to Los Angeles to the "Book of Revelation" in the New Testament, a tome with which Rogen, Hill, and Franco are blankly unfamiliar.

It's pretty funny.

New Republic: "Why Liberals Should Oppose the Immigration Bill"

Veteran Los Angeles-based liberal journalist T.A. Frank (who is, I just discovered, not the same person as veteran liberal journalist Thomas Frank, author of What's the Matter with Kansas) writes in The New Republic:
Why Liberals Should Oppose the Immigration Bill 
It's about low-wage American workers 

The consensus among decent people in favor of the immigration bill making its way through Congress is so firm that expressing dissent feels a bit like taking the floor to suggest we chop down the Redwood National Park. People don’t want to hear it, and they also think you’re a nut. That makes this article one of the hardest I’ve ever had to write. It’s not that I’m afraid people will get angry; it’s that I can’t imagine anyone on my side (liberal) is open to persuasion. And, despite the vastness and complexity of the issue, I have to be brief: the Senate hopes to be done with things this week. 
Sometimes, though, you just have to embrace futility.

The country I want for myself and future Americans is one that’s prosperous, cohesive, harmonious, wealthy in land and resources per capita, nurturing of its skilled citizens, and, most important, protective of its unskilled citizens, who deserve as much any other Americans to live in dignity. This bill threatens to put all of that out of reach, because it fails to control illegal immigration. The problem is not that it provides 11 million people eventual amnesty (I don’t object to that, in theory); the problem is that it sets in motion the next waves of millions.  
That is not a fashionable concern, of course. Worrying about illegal immigration today is a lot like worrying about communists in government in 1950.  It’s not that the problem isn’t legitimate or serious (there actually were, we now know, a lot of Moscow loyalists working for the U.S. government). It’s that expressing your concurrence links you to a lot of demagogues and bad actors.  
Most of America’s college-educated elites are little affected by illegal immigration. In fact, it’s often a benefit to us in terms of childcare, household help, dinners out, and other staples of upper-middle-class life. Many therefore view the problem as akin, in severity, to marijuana use—common but benign, helpful to the immigrants and minimal in its effects on Americans or anyone else.  
I know, because it used to be my own view.

It's probably not a coincidence that this rare voice of liberal dissent comes from Los Angeles (as does Mickey Kaus's). We Angelenos live in America's future (except that when the future finally arrives in your part of America, you're not going to get Southern California-style weather to bask in or Hollywood-style starlets to ogle, so, lots of luck!).

But, Los Angeles tends to be a black hole of punditry. The NYC-DC axis that dominates opinion journalism doesn't have a clue what they are in for because, while there are more than a few smart people in Los Angeles, you can make far more money here off metaphor than off blunt analysis.

For example, here's a brief allegory from the local public radio station about Max Brooks, the author of the novel World War Z, and his father Mel tending the garden of Max's mother, the late Ann Bancroft:
Max doesn’t see himself giving up writing in favor of becoming an organic farmer, as much as he loves his work in the garden.  But he does now understand how his mother took joy in killing worms.  Then, he thought it was sadistic and wrong. “Now, I understand that sense of protection, when I see squirrels in Venice coming after my Japanese plum tree, if we lived in the country, you’d go in the pot as well,” he said. 
His father gets it too.  Now, the two bond over rat patrol at the compost bins on the side of the house.  Mel carries the stick, and Max carries the compost.  Being from New York makes scaring away the vermin a bit easier.

Sounds like Mayor Bloomberg's stop-and-frisk plan.

June 27, 2013

"World War Z"

This movie about Brad Pitt zooming around the world to fight zombies would be a good March release. But for June it's a little odd because even though it cost a fortune, it's not a blockbuster. Instead, it's a fairly effective smallish movie. Compared to Man of Steel, in which former superstars Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe play Superman's two dads, Pitt is just about the only recognizable face in the cast. Compared to Robert Downey Jr. exchanging Shane Black's carefully crafted witticisms with Sir Ben Kingsley in Iron Man 3, there's not much of the superfluous talent on display here that grown-ups have come to expect from big budget summer movies.

World War Z is a cross between the first turbo-zombie film, 28 Days Later, ending as that one begins, in a British medical facility, and M. Night Shyamalan's extraordinarily badly done allergy allegory The Happening (both The Happening and World War Z start with the heroes fleeing apocalyptic infection in Philadelphia).

Like most movies these days, World War Z features the might of the U.S. military, although perhaps in deference to the Bono-ish sensibilities of Angelina Jolie, Brad plays some kind of retired U.N. troubleshooter called back to U.N. duty to save the world. But, whatever, he's still Brad Pitt, Movie Star. The role isn't as terrific as his 2011 career year roles in The Tree of Life and Moneyball, but he's in his prime.

The plot makes very little sense. Electronic communications seem to have been disinvented, so Brad just has to fly around the world to find out what's going on.

The movie is vaguely based on the novel by Max Brooks, the extremely nervous son of Mel Brooks and the late Ann Bancroft. Zombies are a metaphor for every single thing that has made Max agitated while he obsessively watches 24 hour news channels.

Max is a huge fan of the emphasis on logistics in Tom Clancy novels, although that's downplayed in the movie.  (By the way, the all time king of logistics fiction is Frederick Forsyth, as in The Dogs of War.) At hippy-dippy Pitzer College, Max joined the ROTC. But, like Evelyn Waugh during WWII, he was disappointed to discover that the military didn't think he was much of a leader of men.

The best scene is when Brad flies to Jerusalem (Malta standing in as the location). Because they constantly snoop on the rest of the world's electronic communications, the Israelis figured out the zombie outbreak was coming early, allowing them to put up giant walls around the border of their country, which has kept the infection out, so far. The Times of Israel says, "The summer zombie blockbuster, which opened June 21 in the US, is the greatest piece of cinematic propaganda for Israel since ‘Exodus.’"

But then Palestinians grateful for being rescued by the Israelis break out in song, which attracts the attention of the zombies ... 
Zombies form a post-human pyramid
to clamber over Great Wall of Israel before the JDF
can gun them down.

Slate: "Racism produced the NBA’s most notorious draft bust"

From Slate:
The Darko Ages
How magical thinking and racism produced the NBA’s most notorious draft bust. 
By Jack Hamilton|Posted Thursday, June 27, 2013, at 8:45 AM

Ten years ago, a young man destined to transform the sport of basketball was drafted into the NBA. He hadn’t played a single minute in college and had appeared on the cover of a national magazine before turning 18. “He’s going to own the game,” one scout declared. 
Darko Milicic did not own the game. A decade after he was chosen with the No. 2 pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, he’s not even playing in the NBA. The only player drafted above him, LeBron James, is celebrating his fourth league MVP and second NBA title; the three taken after him—Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade—are likely bound for the Hall of Fame. ... 
Joe Dumars, white racist
How did so many of the league’s talent evaluators convince themselves of something that now seems so absurd? As Pistons GM Joe Dumars himself admitted last year, the Pistons didn’t know all that much about Milicic when they drafted him. “With Darko, we may have had two sources of information. That was it,” Dumars said. 
Darko was the dubious beneficiary of a hazy mixture of groupthinking and magical thinking, a pre–YouTube moment made of wishful scouting reports from distant lands and flavored by a hint of racism. Milicic was the idealized vision of the Euro prodigy, a fantasy of the young and impossibly skilled white big man that proved so elusive in reality that it was practically cryptozoological. ... And as one unnamed insider told ESPN the Magazine for its cover story on Milicic: “The brothers are gonna respect him.”
Ah yes, “the brothers.” In case the racial overtones of all this weren’t suitably naked, Darko offered a potent Great White Hope-fulness at a time when dominant white American big men had seemingly gone the way of Bill Walton’s right foot. The great imagined fear of the prep-to-pro era was that (black) American teenagers would use their talent to con generous NBA benefactors out of millions, only to turn their attention to dunk contests and rap albums as they destroyed the moral fabric of basketball. (The fact that the NBA finally banned American high schoolers the same year that it implemented its controversial dress code hardly seemed coincidental.)   ...
And Darko didn’t even have a totally terrible pro career—he logged serviceable years in Orlando, Memphis, and Minnesota, and for a long while his name graced one of the finest basketball blogs of all time. He just had a terrible career for a player drafted ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade, and as such is destined to spend eternity as the answer to a boringly easy trivia question.

As jody would say: two words: Hasheem Thabeet. The #2 pick in the 2009 draft, the 7'3" Tanzanian has been an even bigger bust, but is much less ragged upon than Darko. Thabeet signed a $15 million three year contract after his junior year at the U. of Connecticut. He started 13 games as a rookie, but has only started 7 games in the three seasons since. Through the same age, Darko started 185 games.

So, why is Thabeet just boring and forgotten (even though he started 4 games last season at age 25 for Oklahoma City), and Darko "notorious?"

Better late than never, I guess

The New York Times publicizes an important nutrition and weight study that should have been obvious years ago:
Are all calories created equal? A new study suggests that in at least one important way, they may not be. 
Sugary foods and drinks, white bread and other processed carbohydrates that are known to cause abrupt spikes and falls in blood sugar appear to stimulate parts of the brain involved in hunger, craving and reward, the new research shows. The findings, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, suggest that these so-called high-glycemic foods influence the brain in a way that might drive some people to overeat. 

Back in the 1990s, I'd get up in the morning feeling only slightly hungry, but then I'd remember that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. So, I'd have a bowl of Cheerios. Hey, they're "fat-free" so they can't be bad for you. And then after the first bowl, I'd get sharp hunger pangs, so I'd have a second bowl. And then I'd still be hungrier than I was before I started eating, so I'd have a couple of more bowls before I finally felt bloated enough not to feel hungry anymore. Or often I'd run out of Cheerios, forcing me to stop.
For those who are particularly susceptible to these effects, avoiding refined carbohydrates might reduce urges and potentially help control weight, said Dr. David Ludwig, the lead author of the study and the director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital. 
“This research suggests that based on their effects on brain metabolism, all calories are not alike,” he said. “Not everybody who eats processed carbohydrates develops uncontrollable food cravings. But for the person who has been struggling with weight in our modern food environment and unable to control their cravings, limiting refined carbohydrate may be a logical first step.”

The more general point is that a lot of medical research makes only slow progress in the 21st Century because the inherited bias is still toward finding general mechanisms that affect everybody. But, researchers have already found most of the mechanisms that affect everybody, and now they are working in areas where people differ. Say that this Cheerios mechanism that drove up my weight affects only 5% of the populace. Conversely, Cheerios would then be neutral or even good for 95% of the population. Well, that's still 16 million people like me (at least until Schumer and Rubio are done with us, then who knows how many it will be; but that's more people to fatten up on General Mills products, fattening General Mills' bottom line, so it's all good, right?).

Still, if you can educate 16 million people to try eating in a fashion that's better for them, personally, that's a very good thing.

Jewish Daily Forward: "Jews Unite Behind Push for Immigration Reform"

From the Jewish Daily Forward:
Jews Unite Behind Push for Immigration Reform
Ethics and Self-Interest Drive Unusual Nationwide Effort

By Rex Weiner 
Published June 26, 2013. 
... “It’s about the right thing to do,” said Robert Gittelson, co-founder of Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, and a Republican. In op-ed pieces and interviews, Gittelson, a retired Jewish businessman from California’s San Fernando Valley, has called certain GOP strategies on immigration reform “un-biblical” and “cruel.”

... After months of delay, the U.S. Senate is set to vote on the most comprehensive immigration reform legislation in 27 years. And Jewish groups across the country are acting together in a way characteristic of the community on few issues besides Israel. 
... Those leading an active push for the bill, which will offer a path to citizenship for some of the nation’s 11 million undocumented aliens, include the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Bend the Arc and the National Council of Jewish Women.
The Senate vote — and the even harder struggle that will follow in the Republican-controlled House — represents the fulfillment of a sustained campaign by the Jewish community for immigration reform, which has built momentum over the past decade. 
Whether or not the necessary votes are mustered from both houses to land a historic immigration law reform bill on President Obama’s desk, Jewish outreach, particularly in the Southwest — home to the largest share of America’s emerging and increasingly powerful ethnic and interfaith populations — promises to be politically and socially influential beyond the issue it addresses. 
California, with 2.6 million undocumented residents, is a front line in the battle for this reform. And a Jewish establishment ever mindful of its need to operate through alliances and coalitions to advance its own interests is not blind to the implications of the issue in a country whose demography is shifting rapidly. In addition to working with Latino groups, the ADL’s Southwest regional office has forged alliances with Asian groups representing undocumented Koreans, Chinese, Filipino and other Asian Pacific immigrants in the Southland. 
“It’s the ethical thing to do,” said HIAS president and CEO Mark Hetfield, of the community’s immigration reform activism. But he quickly added, “It’s in our strategic interest.” 
Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, reflects the deepening relationship that Jewish groups are developing through their visibility on the immigration issue. 
“I really admire the way that the Jewish community has gone deep in support of immigration reform,” Salas told the Forward. A 15-year veteran of immigration rights activism, Salas fondly recalled a 2006 mass mobilization, when a procession through L.A. streets began with a cantor blowing a shofar and singing “Let my people stay!” 
Salas counted efforts by Jewish organizations as second only to Catholic groups in their impact. ... 
The Ford Foundation recently awarded a two-year $1 million grant to the AJC’s Bridging America Project, which is planning “joint advocacy workshops in Dallas, New York and Washington, D.C.; a ‘national conversation’ among Latino and Jewish leaders about issues of mutual concern, and conferences in Houston, Miami and New Jersey on the economic benefits of immigration, among other activities. 
Salas has also worked closely with the ADL, which keeps a keen eye on extremist groups that have set up vigilante patrols on the border between the United States and. Mexico. An ADL study reported that “violent incidents against illegal immigrants have been brutal and are occurring with greater regularity, further intensifying the atmosphere of fear and suspicion on both sides of the border.” The ADL has also tracked a rise in hate crimes, discrimination cases and bigotry against Latinos. 
In L.A. — a city where Latinos are nearly half the population and whose new mayor, Eric Garcetti, boasts both Jewish and Mexican heritage — Salas’s group also works with the Progressive Jewish Alliance, the Jewish Labor Committee and Bend the Arc, a progressive national Jewish group, in pushing for immigrant labor protections. 
“It’s not a one-way street,” Salas said. When it comes to Israel, the Latina activist suggested, the two groups’ relationship may help to modify anti-Israel viewpoints and foster dialogue rather than demonization. “It comes up,” Salas said, referring to the Middle East issue, “and there’s a perspective: ‘Isn’t this [U.S. treatment of Latinos] the same as in Israel with the Palestinians?’ It’s an opportunity to talk that through, to talk in the context of global immigrant policy, where people can be critical, but in good faith.” 
Newly arrived Latinos tend to show higher rates of anti-Semitism, said Amanda Susskind, the ADL’s Pacific Southwest regional director. She attributed the phenomenon, which shows up in surveys, to “exposure to some religious teachings.” But the next generation, she said, is no different in its relationship with Jews than the rest of Americans. 
Asians are also active in coalitions with Jewish groups addressing immigration issues. “We appreciate the partnership with our Jewish allies,” said Betty Hung, policy director of the L.A.–based Asian Pacific American Legal Center. An estimated 3 million undocumented U.S. residents are Asian. California counts the nation’s largest Asian population without legal resident status — about 400,000. 
APALC has been an active participant in the ADL’s Asian Jewish Initiative, founded in 2006, which brings together civic, business, academic and faith leaders in the L.A. community for social mixers, awards dinners and educational programs. 
For all this organizational solidarity, opponents of the reform legislation are not hard to find in the Jewish community. 
One outspoken Jewish opponent is Stephen Steinlight, a former director of national affairs for AJC who criticizes the bill as “amnesty” for illegal immigrants and opposes any “pathway to citizenship” for them. 
“My views changed,” he told the Forward, explaining his break with the AJC and his alliance with the conservative Center for Immigrations Studies. “AJC made no distinction between legal and illegal immigration,” he said. 
Steinlight, who characterizes the pro-reform Jewish leaders as “do-gooders leaning over backwards for the aggrieved,” sees immigration as a threat to American workers, especially under-employed African Americans. Groups like AJC and HIAS, he said, are “trying to make amends for doing nothing for Jews during the Holocaust.” 
Diamond acknowledged that views similar to Steinlight’s are not hard to find. “To my dismay, I have heard more than a few voices in the Jewish community — rabbis I respect, and other leaders — who have said to me, ‘This is not our problem,’” Diamond said. “My response is that this is very much a Jewish issue, one of the most critical issues facing us in this country, and certainly here in Southern California.” 
For Wendy Braitman, a member of IKAR, the L.A. Jewish congregation led by Rabbi Sharon Brous that has made social activism a mitzvah, it’s also personal. “I feel like it’s my story,” she said. Braitman embodies the grassroots dimension of much of the Jewish activism on this issue. In April, Braitman sat in Senator Dianne Feinstein’s Washington office with a group of interfaith activists who paid their own way from the California lawmaker’s home state to lobby her. “I told her I was Jewish,” said Braitman, “and that the issue was of importance to Jews all over the country. As Jews we know what it’s like to live in the shadows.”

Wasn't that the subtitle to Barbra Streisand's autobiography? Barbra! A Life in the Shadows. Or am I thinking of Barbara Walters?
On the pro-reform Jewish right, meanwhile, support comes with the some of the same caveats that many conservatives have been using to hold up the pending legislation: that undocumented residents should be treated as lawbreakers who will be subjected to fines and blocked from full citizenship even if allowed to stay as permanent residents. Border security must also be beefed up, they demand, as a pre-condition to any reform. 
Matthew Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, emphasized that the final legislative package must be a bill that “addresses the challenges of illegal immigration and securing our borders in a way that will win the support and trust of the American people.” 
As an entrepreneur who built a successful garment manufacturing business, Gittelson is also focused on the bill’s labor implications. For one thing, Gittelson would like to see the cap on guest-worker visas — topped off in the Senate bill at 200,000 per year — match the actual demand for labor, which he says is 300,000 annually at the lowest. 
“The Senate bill shortchanges the economy,” Gittelson maintained. He blamed unions for setting the low quota. “We need a free-market solution, not a union solution,” he said. 
Gittelson’s CCIR co-founder is Samuel Rodriguez, a politically conservative evangelical Christian who is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. Despite their reservations, Gittelson said, he and Rodriguez are standing with progressives on immigration reform. “When it comes to this issue, we see eye to eye, or at least 90%.” He has recently joined AJC’s Immigration Task Force. 
In Washington, as the bill has been pulled apart and slapped together, the Jewish community has advanced strong arguments for what should be in it — and what shouldn’t. 
Family reunification is high on the list of must-haves. Border security is ranked low. Border security is a valid concern, Diamond acknowledged, something he learned firsthand on his trip to the border near Tijuana. “But the issue is how we are deploying our resources,” he said. “Are we targeting gun smugglers and sex traffickers, or are we targeting that 27-year old man who’s been deported and is trying to get back to his family?” 
The legislative package submitted to the Senate also notably does not include the Uniting American Families Act, sponsored by Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy. This measure would have allowed an American citizen or permanent resident who was lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender to petition for immigrant status on behalf of his or her same-sex partner as an immediate relative. 
This aspect of the bill is crucial to many Jewish activists. A coalition of nearly 100 New York interfaith leaders, including 37 rabbis, signed a letter to New York Senator Charles Schumer, urging his support for equal protections for LGBT Americans and their families. To their dismay, Schumer convinced his Democratic colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee to drop the measure from the bill, arguing that its inclusion would cost the support of key Republicans. Citing their own head counts, many of the measure’s supporters vehemently reject this argument. 
One victory that was won by Jews is a provision that directly involves Jewish interests: The Lautenberg Amendment, first passed in 1989, granted immigrant status to victims of religious persecution in their native lands. The law allowed the emigration of hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews and was extended in 2004 to cover Christians, Baha’is, Jews and other religious minorities fleeing Iran. 
The law continues to assist religious minorities from those countries and from Southeast Asia. The new bill makes the law — which previously required annual renewal by Congress — permanent. Jewish activists saw that win as a fitting tribute to the late New Jersey senator Frank Lautenberg. 
Ira Handelman, chair of AJC’s Los Angeles Public Policy Committee, said that if and when the legislation becomes law, the interfaith and immigrant-activist coalitions in which Jewish organizations are now involved may move on to tackle other issues. These include the ongoing national debates over education policy, economic development and social justice, apart from immigration. 
“Just because they sign something,” Handelman said, “doesn’t mean that’s the end. It’s the beginning.” 
Contact Rex Weiner at rexweiner@forward.com

As I pointed out in 2010, polls show that these kind of extremist views on immigration are much less common among regular Jewish-Americans than among their self-proclaimed leaders.
... But, this healthy state of affairs is bad for the balance sheets of a few powerful organizations. 
All this suggests that that fundamentalist frenzy of Ellis Island kitsch ethnocentrism that currently dominates acceptable thought about immigration has less to do with average Jewish-American citizens than it has to do with the déformation professionnelle of the leaders of explicitly Jewish organizations, of organizations such as the SPLC that are implicitly Jewish because, as Willie Sutton said about why he robbed banks, that's where the money is; and the media types who interact with them. 
Hence, the key to understanding many of the reigning irrationalities in American thought is to understand that déformation professionnelle. Since those interest groups have declared themselves off-limits to critical analysis (literally, in the very name of the Anti-Defamation League), however, don't expect anybody to learn anything.

Aaron Hernandez: Witness-murderer?

From the New York Times:
The N.F.L. player Aaron Hernandez, who was charged with murder Wednesday, is also being investigated in connection with a double homicide in Boston in 2012, according to two law enforcement officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing. 
Hernandez helped lead the Patriots to the Super Bowl two seasons ago. 
It was not clear when investigators began to look at Hernandez in connection with the double killing or what they believe his involvement may be. 
Hernandez, 23, was charged with murder and five gun-related offenses in Attleboro District Court in Massachusetts on Wednesday in connection with the murder of Odin Lloyd, 27, whose body was found in a North Attleborough, Mass., industrial park June 17. Hernandez pleaded not guilty and was held without bail. On the murder charge, he faces a life sentence without parole. 
One official said investigators were exploring a possible connection between the two cases that could explain a possible motive for the Lloyd killing. 
The person said investigators were examining the possibility that Lloyd was killed because he had information about Hernandez’s suspected involvement in the 2012 double homicide, but cautioned that that was somewhat speculative at this point.

So, this is all speculation at this point, but I want to bring up the possibility that this execution-style murder of Lloyd might have been a cold-blooded, rational response to a previous murder as an example of a phenomenon that's almost totally overlooked in the death penalty debate. 

Think about it from a game theory standpoint. Say, you murdered two people in 2012 and have so far gotten away with it. In Massachusetts, the maximum penalty is life in prison: there's no death penalty. So, why not murder a witness who could rat you out?

Well, there are practical reasons, like you might get caught for the latest murder (which may be what happened here). Presumably, though, you think the odds of getting away with another murder are better than the odds of getting away with the original murders if the witness lives. So, the incentive structure in Massachusetts looks like this:

- Murder two people, get ratted out, get life in prison


- Murder two people, worry about getting ratted out, murder potential rat, risk get caught, get life in prison, ... but maybe you get away scot-free and collect your $40 million contract from the Patriots.

Thus, in terms of punishment incentives, the only thing Massachusetts has to deter you from murdering witnesses is lower punishments for the original double homicide. Instead of life in prison, maybe they'll let you out in 20 years. Maybe they'll toss in some Willie Horton-style furloughs. (After all we all now know that anybody who objected to Willie Horton's furlough is a white racist, and what could be worse than that?) 

But maybe the public doesn't think being extra nice to double-murderers to keep them from becoming witness-murderers as well is a good deal. We tried lowering punishments in the 1960s. That didn't work out well, so prison terms were raised substantially, which seems to have helped drive down the crime rate. But, a long sentence era would seem, from a game theory standpoint, to need the death penalty as a super-penalty to discourage witness murdering.

That's where the death penalty could come into play, changing the incentive structure:

- Murder two people, get ratted out, get life in prison


- Murder two people, worry about getting ratted out, murder potential rat, get caught, get the death penalty

Now, perhaps these cases are rare. I don't know. What seems odd to me is that despite all the debate over the death penalty, the subject of its usefulness to punish and potentially deter witness murdering almost never comes up.

There are a number of other life in prison situations where the lack of a death penalty is a problem. I often cite the obscure Sandra Bullock movie Murder by Numbers, in which she plays a detective interrogating an updated Leopold and Loeb pair of thrill killers (Ryan Gosling and Michael Pitt). It was a classic Prisoners' Dilemma game theory situation in which the two killers have a good chance of walking if they keep their mouths shut. (Confessions are useful not just in and of themselves, but that they help the cops recover a lot of physical evidence, as well.)

But why should one defect on the other if the punishments for both are life in prison? The threat of the death penalty gives an incentive to one to rat out the other: He pulled the trigger! I was just along for the ride. Give him the death penalty!

Keep in mind, however, that this situation increases the chances of the non-trigger puller getting the death penalty because the trigger-puller defects first.

P.S., I'm always fascinated by the disconnect between public policy discourse and the rest of everything. For example, the problem of "witness-murdering" has been a minor obsession for me since the Brown's Chicken Massacre in suburban Chicago in 1993, in which robbers at a fast food joint got away with their crime for about decade by the expedient of murdering all seven worker-witnesses. But, it's not as if the subject of witness-murder is restricted to the crime blotter: it's a major plot device in movies, TV shows, and detective novels. How many witnesses got murdered or threatened with murder on The Sopranos or The Wire? That was the main theme of the best episodes of Miami Vice a generation ago: just how ruthless would the heroes be in badgering a witness into risking his life by wearing a wire?

Obviously, at certain points in the past, judges and legislators thought hard about witness-murdering. But, at some point, the topic's innate relationship to the death penalty debate just got forgotten. The debate has ground on ever since in well-worn grooves without any thought of this topic that is omnipresent in our fictional worlds. It's a little bit like how the relationship between affirmative action and immigration simply doesn't register on 98% of the people who want to argue about affirmative action.

Marc Rich and the Rape of Russia

The death of metals and oil wheeler-dealer Marc Rich in Switzerland, who was pardoned by Bill Clinton on January 20, 2001, has led to some rather bland notices in the newspapers, such as this one in the Wall Street Journal. The New York Times' version is a little more forthcoming, but fails to mention his sizable role in the Rape of Russia in the 1990s.

Rod Dreher wrote in the New York Post on Feb. 15, 2001:
Overlooked so far is Rich's role in the looting of the disintegrating Soviet Union by Communist Party officials and their associates in the early 1990s. 
You can read about it in "Godfather of the Kremlin," an exhaustively researched book about Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky, which was published last fall. The author is Paul Klebnikov, an expert on Russia and a Forbes magazine senior editor. 
The book details the myriad ways Berezovsky and his minions stole untold sums from the Russian people through international financial schemes. 
According to Klebnikov, Rich came into the picture around 1990, when the Soviet Union began to open up to outsiders. 
"Governmental authority began to crumble. All these local Communist Party bosses got to strike deals on their own," the author tells me. 
Based in Switzerland, with its secretive banking laws, Rich was in a prime position to help Russia's plunderers carry out their dirty work. Klebnikov reported that Rich dealt in oil, aluminum, zinc and other raw commodities. 
"He'd strike a deal with the local party boss, or the director of a state-owned company," explains the author. "He'd say, 'OK, you will sell me the [commodity] at 5 to 10 percent of the world market price. 
"'And in return, I will deposit some of the profit I make by reselling it 10 times higher on the world market, and put the kickback in a Swiss bank account.'" 
For at least two years, as the Soviet Union was in its death throes, Rich was that nation's largest trader of aluminum and oil on a spot basis. 
"He made a complete mint off of Russia," says Klebnikov. 
A former foreign-trade minister told the author that Rich instructed the robber-baron elite how to skirt the law by doing secret deals through shell companies and the like. 
"Marc Rich ended up being a mentor to all these young kids who came out of the Communist Party establishment, and who made billions off these schemes themselves," Klebnikov charges. ...
Rich's profitable relationship with the Russians ended in 1993, when the monster he helped create turned on him. The Russian swindlers became so good at Rich's game that they muscled him out of the action. 
"Applying the lessons they learned from Marc Rich, they bankrupted Russia," Klebnikov alleges. "As a result, you have a ruined economy, bankrupt government, and an impoverished population."

One reason nobody remembers this is because, despite the convenient alliteration, the Rape of Russia isn't a thing, not in the way that, say, the Rape of Nanking is a thing. The plundering of the ex-Soviet Union in the 1990s, which was egged on by the Clinton Administration, Wall Street, Harvard, and other highly respectable American institutions was misreported at the time as a triumph of the free market. And now it's mostly being forgotten. A 15-year-ago PBS Frontline documentary explained: 
The auctions, simply put, were imperfect. ... A series of privatization "auctions"--whose results were determined beforehandówere held by the GKI. (There are books out on this phase, but in essence, they held the firesale of the century. ) The engines of Soviet industry --oil companies, metals plants, utilities-- were sold for a song. Russia is among the world's richest countries in terms of natural resources--(The Natural Resources Minister, Viktor Orlov, can run down the list of gold, nickel, silver, timber, oil and of course natural gas--one-third of the world's reserves--for you.). And in short order, the riches were exported by the shipload east and west.

Ever wonder how Estonia, a country that produces no aluminum, became one of the world's top aluminum exporters?

Aluminum plants are typically gigantic investments built near hydroelectric dams. The Soviet Union churned out gigantic amounts of aluminum for its huge air force. Aluminum is pretty much of a commodity in quality, so the general cruddiness of everything Soviet mattered less in aluminum than in just about anything else: the Russians had hydroelectric power galore in Siberia and they had huge, valuable aluminum plants.
This was the market's main cancer: theft. The greed that motivated it (and still does) was impressive. But the theft will go down in history. Economists now talk about state corruption, and of course graft was a contributing cause of the market's death, but pure and simple robbery played the leading role. The rape of Russia's riches in its first decade of "independence" will doubtless be remembered in a century's time as unprecedented.

Is it remembered even in a decade or two's time? Not if the articles on Rich's death are any indication.

Here's an interesting paragraph from a 1991 BusinessWeek article on Rich:
Rich's lawyers continue to press for his return to the U. S., offering to pay multimillion-dollar fines he still owes. Rich's one condition is that he avoid prison. He may have allies in the State Dept. U. S. marshals have tried several times to trap Rich, most recently in September, when they alerted officials in Finland that he was due to arrive by private plane. But in that instance, as in previous ones, Rich got away. A. Craig Copetas, author of a 1985 book on Rich, says the marshals suspect that someone in State, which must be notified of such operations, is leaking their plans to Rich because they value his high-level contacts around the world. 

From Wikipedia's article on Marc Rich:
Clinton also cited clemency pleas he had received from Israeli government officials, including then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Rich had made substantial donations to Israeli charitable foundations over the years, and many senior Israeli officials, such as Shimon Peres and Ehud Olmert, argued on his behalf behind the scenes.[24] (Speculation about another rationale for Rich's pardon involved his alleged involvement with the Israeli intelligence community.[25][26] Rich reluctantly acknowledged in interviews with his biographer, Daniel Ammann, that he had assisted the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service,[12][4] a claim that Ammann said was confirmed by a former Israeli intelligence officer.[11] According to Ammann, Rich had helped finance the Mossad's operations and had supplied Israel with strategic amounts of Iranian oil through a secret oil pipeline.[4] The aide to Rich who personally traveled to the U.S. from Israel and persuaded Denise Rich to ask President Clinton to review Rich's pardon request was a former chief of the Mossad, Avner Azulay.[20][27])

Sounds rather like Robert Maxwell, another James Bond supervillain-type. Unlike Maxwell, I fortunately didn't have to do business with Rich. Like Maxwell, Rich is being buried in Israel.

June 26, 2013

The Efficient Market Hypothesis and Surveillance

Back in B-School, we finance majors were taught that the Efficient Markets Hypothesis showed you can't beat the market in the long run. From Wikipedia:
Eugene Fama identified three levels of market efficiency: 
1. Weak-form efficiency
Prices of the securities instantly and fully reflect all information of the past prices. This means future price movements cannot be predicted by using past prices. It is simply to say that, past data on stock prices are of no use in predicting future stock price changes. Everything is random. In this kind of market, should simply use a "buy-and-hold" strategy. 
2. Semi-strong efficiency
Asset prices fully reflect all of the publicly available information. Therefore, only investors with additional inside information could have advantage on the market. Any price anomalies are quickly found out and the stock market adjusts. 
3. Strong-form efficiency
Asset prices fully reflect all of the public and inside information available. Therefore, no one can have advantage on the market in predicting prices since there is no data that would provide any additional value to the investors.

Most of the finance profs believed in #2, it seemed. And yet, the starting salaries for new MBAs on Wall Street were about $45,000, while run of the mill MBA jobs started at $30,000. But, the Wall Street premium had been narrowing in recent years of low prices and stagnant trading volumes and the growth of low commission mutual funds. So, the notion that Wall Street was becoming efficient and thus less inordinately profitable seemed plausible.

Then, in August 1982 that all changed when the Fed goosed the money supply and the Long Boom (mostly for Wall Street) began.

Still, perhaps it's worth taking seriously the logic of Semi-Strong Efficiency: "Therefore, only investors with additional inside information could have advantage on the market." Lots of Wall Street guys have made outsized profits over the last 31 years. Maybe some of them had inside information, just as the EMH would imply? Maybe the growth of surveillance had something to do with it?

After all, lots of Hollywood bigshots paid detective Anthony Pellicano to bribe phone company employees and cops to listen in on the phone calls of his clients' rivals and enemies. London tabloids hacked into the voicemails of celebrities routinely. How do we know this hasn't been common on Wall Street too, perhaps also using higher tech means such as back doors to telephone metadata and data mining looking for interesting patterns?

Affirmative action and immigration

From my Taki's Magazine column:
On Monday, in America’s fifth year of a black presidency, the five Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices had an opportunity to abolish racial and ethnic preferences for violating the 14th Amendment’s requirement of “the equal protection of the laws.” They had affirmative action in their sights but were unable to pull the trigger, and so they merely sent the case back down to a lower court while recommending stricter scrutiny. ... 
Few have mentioned that the affirmative-action non-decision interacts deleteriously with the Schumer-Rubio bill that would boost immigration. The great majority of amnestied illegal aliens and new immigrants brought in under the bill, plus their descendants unto the seventh generation, would be eligible for racial or ethnic privileges.

Read the whole thing there.

June 25, 2013

Supreme Court rules Time moves in forward direction

And now, the Airing of Grievances
The longer I live into the future, the more everybody else seems to become obsessed with the past, the farther back the better. Thus, the immigration "debate" is less a discussion of what will be best for American citizens in the future (where, I believe, we are going to spend the rest of our lives) than an opportunity for the airing of grievances from Great-Grandpa's day. 

This would make perfect sense if Time ran backwards. 

Today, a narrow 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court aroused great controversy by overturning part of the Voting Rights Act  that treats various Southern states as hotbeds of Jim Crow on the grounds that, contrary to popular opinion, 1965 is not actually approaching, it's receding into the past. According to the Republican Justices' divisive opinion, strange as it may seem from reading newspaper coverage of, say, the Ku Klux Klan besieging Oberlin College or Marco McMillian's murder in Mississippi, 1965 was actually 48 years ago. Next year, it will even be 49 years ago.

The majority opinion argued that the conventional wisdom was misinterpreting the 1976 insight of constitutional scholar and theoretical physicist Steve Miller that:
Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin'
Into the future  

What Dr. Miller actually meant by this is that the present moment, also known as "now," is progressing ever more into what was seen as the future from a moment in the past. Justice Alito suggested in a concurring opinion that this widespread misunderstanding was due to the fact that in 1976 both Dr. Miller and his fans were completely baked.

June 24, 2013

"Man of Steel"

Although directed by Zack Snyder (300), this reboot of Superman feels like co-storywriter Christopher Nolan's Batmanification of Superman. 

I like the idea of Christopher Nolan -- reactionary elitist foe of disorder and mob rule, the Duke of Wellington with $100 million to blow on CGI -- more than I actually like Nolan's movies.

If Nolan made claustrophobically airless art house films, I'd no doubt be vociferously championing his mastery of airless claustrophobia. But since his movies (e.g., Inception) don't need my help, I'm left nostalgically recalling the glorious expansiveness of Richard Donner's shots of midsummer wheat country in the erratic but likable 1978 Superman that launched the era of comic book movies.

It's a cliche that Superman is optimistic in a New Dealy nothing-to-fear-but-fear-itself way, while Batman is drenched in dread of street crime, but Nolan seems to agree and thus isn't all that interested in Superman's silly but fun omnipotence. Nolan attempts to re-imagine the comic book hero as a semi-realistic space alien psychologically tormented by schoolyard bullies whom he can't punch back against because he's too strong. Whether a semi-realistic Superman is a glass half full or half empty is up to you.

Nolan isn't interested either in Lois Lane (who is played without spark by a maternal Amy Adams). That reminds me of how good Anne Hathaway was in The Dark Knight Rises as Catwoman to stand out as a woman in a Nolan film. In "Man of Steel," Lois Lane figures out quickly that Superman (the word isn't fully mentioned in the movie) is Clark Kent, but that just deprives Henry Cavill in the main role of a chance to do a little acting by playing two characters, as Christopher Reeve got to do in the original.

A big problem hanging over Superman movies right now is that Reeve's death leaves them kind of stumped about how to portray the central figure.

I suspect that in the long run, the way forward with Superman movies will eventually turn out to be to blend Reeve's tragic crippling -- a god falls to earth -- and struggle against his injury into the mythos. Over enough time, all these memories kind of blur together and the distinction between character and actor in the collective recollection gets hazy. Ultimately, somebody will figure out how to use that, but it's likely too soon at present.

(Lex Luthor is, thankfully, gone completely.)

In contrast, Nolan's nominal bad guy General Zod is teh awesome. Played by Chicago stage veteran Michael Shannon, who is the rare American actor to have the diction and stature to play Shakespeare's Coriolanus, Zod gets all the good lines. Born and bred to protect his people, this authoritarian militarist had teamed up with Superman's liberal scientist dad Jor-El (Russell Crowe -- not bad, better than Brando reading cue cards in 1978, but still overshadowed by Shannon) to try to alert the do-nothing planetary council to the mortal peril facing an imploding Krypton.

But they differ in their solutions. Like so many movies these days, Man of Steel has something or other to do with eugenics, but I can't begin to explain why Jor-El's plan for preserving Krypton's bloodlines is the nice liberal eugenic plan and Zod's is the evil racist eugenic plan. It has something to do with genetic encoding of Krypton's billions ... or something. 

Peter Schaeffer: The history of immigration and assimilation

Peter Schaeffer writes
The history of assimilation can be looked at several ways, all of them revealing. 
1. Perhaps the single most important point is that mass immigration was ended around WWI. The restrictive legislation of 1917 (the literacy act), 1921, and 1924 (Johnson-Reed) ended the great wave of mass immigration. Immigration continued on a much smaller scale and the composition was shifted. Because the new laws were based on national quotas, some countries were de-facto unrestricted (the UK, Ireland, etc.) while other reached their annual quotas rather quickly. 
The immigration restrictions had several positive effects. Wages and working conditions improved for immigrants over time. Since most immigrants worked in manufacturing, wage gains in manufacturing were particularly positive. Sectoral differentiation (by accident) favored immigrants in this period. Manufacturing was booming and farming was in decline. Since the immigrant population was predominantly urban and employed in goods production, this was a plus. 
Living conditions for immigrants clearly improved after mass immigration ended. The horrific tenements slums of the 1900 period were largely empty by the 1930s. Without new massive waves of immigrants, the prior cohorts were able to move up the social ladder into better housing (among other things). 
The immigration restrictions of the WWI period clearly aided assimilation in practical ways (waves and living conditions). However, they also sent a very important message to the immigrant communities. America rejected ‘diversity’ and demanded that the immigrants embrace America rather than the other way around. There points were were well understood back then and it was widely understood that the immigration cutoff (substantial reduction actually) had accelerated assimilation. 
2. The America of the 1920s and later was vastly better suited to assimilating immigrants than our nation today. We had a booming job market, no welfare state, middle-class unions (starting in the 1930s), English imposition, disciplined education, no multiculturalism, no bilingualism, no victimization ideology, intact families, rigorous law enforcement, etc. Beyond that, ‘Americanization’ (assimilation) was a widely embraced ideal and promoted heavily. Now we have the pernicious and very dominant ideology of ‘diversity’. 
3. In spite of much more favorable circumstances, assimilation took time. Some groups assimilated much faster than others, but three generations were typically enough to achieve earnings party with old stock natives. The mythology is that one generation was sufficient. It wasn’t. Even well after WWII, ethnic differences in earnings, social status, etc. were measurable. 
The political assimilation of ‘Great Wave’ immigrants was relatively slow but did occur. In this context, I will use the Catholic vote as a proxy for ‘Great Wave’ immigrants. By some measures, 1928 marks the zenith of Catholic alienation from the political mainstream. Al Smith got 90% of the Catholic vote (apparently) and was still easily defeated by Hoover. Indeed, he failed to carry his home state of New York (he was a former governor or New York). By the time JFK was elected, Catholic support for the Democratic party had fallen markedly. He won the Catholic vote, but by a notably smaller margin than Al Smith. A poll of Fordham University students in 1960 showed that most of the Catholic students favored Nixon over Kennedy (the Jewish students at Fordham favored Kennedy). Students at other Catholic schools favored Nixon as well. 
Perhaps more relevantly, Eisenhower captured a majority of the Catholic vote in 1956. In subsequent presidential elections, Republicans were able to easily capture the Catholic vote (if they could win at all). 
It’s worth noting that in an earlier era, ethnics were polled separately and political differences by ethnicity were material. By the 1980s, this practice had essentially disappeared because ethnic voting patterns were no longer different enough to measure. 
However, voting patterns are not the most important aspect of assimilation in my opinion. The assimilation of American values is far more important. Once again, studies show that ‘Great Wave’ immigrants embraced the values of old-stock natives (personal responsibility, individual effort, hard work and education as the keys to advancement, national loyalty, limited government, etc.). Basically, ‘Anglo-conformity’ worked. 
It is wrong to suggest that Jewish Americans don’t like WASP America. More like they resent it. The American Jewish community remains (privately) obsessed with the efforts of WASPs to exclude Jews from elite society. The fact that many of these efforts were more than 100 years ago doesn’t appear to matter. Nor does the fact that even with Jewish quotas in place, Jews were vastly overrepresented at Harvard and other elite schools. 
The bigger picture, that America has been a wonderfully hospitable nation with immense opportunities for personal and professional advancement is subordinated to resentment of country club prejudice in the 1920s. As a consequence, American Jews define themselves as outsiders and vote accordingly. 
As these notes should indicate, America was once a much better place for immigrants and their families. The historic advantages of assimilation, ‘Americanization’, Anglo-conformity, immigration restrictions, and a strong economy are all gone (along with quite a few other historic virtues). It’s also true that the immigrants were better historically. They were much more likely to be skilled, educated, etc. The ‘Great Wave’ immigrants has much lower skill levels and the turn of American society against immigration was largely a consequence. Contemporary mythology emphasizes the role of nativism in the restrictions of the 1920s. Declining skill levels provides a different and more germane explanation.