August 3, 2013

Oregon v. Alabama football palaces

Since college football teams aren't supposed to pay their players, they spend vast sums to wow beefy boys with practice facilities that 17-year-olds will consider awesome. Oregon recently revealed its new Phil Knight of Nike-funded palace, complete with barbershop:
Not to be outdone, Alabama countered the next day. Here's the football players' video arcade:
Wouldn't it be simpler just to pay the players?

Israel tests some would-be immigrants' DNA for Jewishness

From The Times of Israel:
A number of people from the former Soviet Union wishing to immigrate to Israel could be subjected to DNA testing to prove their Jewishness, the Prime Minister’s Office said Sunday. 
The policy was reported in Maariv on Monday, one day after the Israeli paper revealed that a 19-year-old woman from the former Soviet Union was required to take the test to qualify for a Birthright Israel trip.

The Prime Minister’s Office confirmed that many Jews from the FSU who were born out-of-wedlock can be required to bring DNA confirmation of Jewish heritage in order to be allowed to immigrate as a Jew. 
A source in the PMO told Maariv that the consul’s procedure, approved by the legal department of the Interior Ministry, states that a Russian-speaking child born out-of-wedlock is eligible to receive an Israeli immigration visa if the birth was registered before the child turned 3. Otherwise a DNA test to prove Jewish parentage is necessary.

This seems not unreasonable. Going back to Sen. Henry Jackson's legislation to give special rights to immigrate to Israel (and America) to Soviet Jews, a lot of fairly random Russians have claimed to be Jewish to cash in. For example, I knew a lady from Leningrad in the early 1990s who wasn't noticeably Jewish in looks, demeanor, culture, or family ties, but her Plan C for staying in America (she wanted to be blackjack dealer in Las Vegas) was to assiduously pull together a stack of genealogical paperwork (of who knows what authenticity) to prove she was Jewish enough to attain refugee status.

August 2, 2013

Want to get into UC Berkeley? Lie

Back in 1996, Proposition 209 outlawing racial preferences was passed by California voters and became part of the state Constitution. State officials have ever since pursued a strategy of "massive resistance" to this unwelcome demand for equal treatment of the law, such as by switching the evaluation of University of California admissions from a cheap, mechanical system to an expensive, subjective "holistic" system. After all, the Latino lobby in the state legislature could cut UC's budget if they don't get more of their people into UC.

Ruth Starkman took a job as a reader of applications to Berkeley, and writes in the NYT:
Admissions officials were careful not to mention gender, ethnicity and race during our training sessions.  
Privately, I asked an officer point-blank: “What are we doing about race?” 
She nodded sympathetically at my confusion but warned that it would be illegal to consider: we’re looking at — again, that phrase — the “bigger picture” of the applicant’s life. 
After the next training session, when I asked about an Asian student who I thought was a 2 but had only received a 3, the officer noted: “Oh, you’ll get a lot of them.” She said the same when I asked why a low-income student with top grades and scores, and who had served in the Israeli army, was a 3. 
Which them? I had wondered. Did she mean I’d see a lot of 4.0 G.P.A.’s, or a lot of applicants whose bigger picture would fail to advance them, or a lot of Jewish and Asian applicants (Berkeley is 43 percent Asian, 11 percent Latino and 3 percent black)? 
... In a second e-mail, I was told I needed more 1’s and referrals. A referral is a flag that a student’s grades and scores do not make the cut but the application merits a special read because of “stressors” — socioeconomic disadvantages that admissions offices can use to increase diversity. 
Officially, like all readers, I was to exclude minority background from my consideration. I was simply to notice whether the student came from a non-English-speaking household. I was not told what to do with this information — except that it may be a stressor if the personal statement revealed the student was having trouble adjusting to coursework in English. In such a case, I could refer the applicant for a special read. 
Why did I hear so many times from the assistant director? I think I got lost in the unspoken directives. Some things can’t be spelled out, but they have to be known. Application readers must simply pick it up by osmosis, so that the process of detecting objective factors of disadvantage becomes tricky.
It’s an extreme version of the American non-conversation about race. 
I scoured applications for stressors. 
To better understand stressors, I was trained to look for the “helpful” personal statement that elevates a candidate. Here I encountered through-the-looking-glass moments: an inspiring account of achievements may be less “helpful” than a report of the hardships that prevented the student from achieving better grades, test scores and honors. 
Should I value consistent excellence or better results at the end of a personal struggle? I applied both, depending on race. An underrepresented minority could be the phoenix, I decided. 
We were not to hold a lack of Advanced Placement courses against applicants. Highest attention was to be paid to the unweighted G.P.A., as schools in low-income neighborhoods may not offer A.P. courses, which are given more weight in G.P.A. calculation. Yet readers also want to know if a student has taken challenging courses, and will consider A.P.’s along with key college-prep subjects, known as a-g courses, required by the U.C. system. ...
Another reader thinks the student is “good” but we have so many of “these kids.” ...
IN personal statements, we had been told to read for the “authentic” voice over students whose writing bragged of volunteer trips to exotic places or anything that “smacks of privilege.” 
Fortunately, that authentic voice articulated itself abundantly. Many essays lucidly expressed a sense of self and character — no small task in a sea of applicants. Less happily, many betrayed the handiwork of pricey application packagers, whose cloying, pompous style was instantly detectable, as were canny attempts to catch some sympathy with a personal story of generalized misery. 
The torrent of woe could make a reader numb: not another student suffering from parents’ divorce, a learning difference, a rare disease, even dandruff! 
As I developed the hard eye of a slush pile reader at a popular-fiction agency, I asked my lead readers whether some of these stressors might even be credible. I was told not to second-guess the essays but simply to pick the most worthy candidate. Still, I couldn’t help but ask questions that were not part of my reader job. 
The assistant director’s words — look for “evidence a student can succeed at Berkeley” — echoed in my ears when I wanted to give a disadvantaged applicant a leg up in the world. I wanted to help. Surely, if these students got to Berkeley they would be exposed to all sorts of test-taking and studying techniques. 
But would they be able to compete with the engineering applicant with the 3.95 G.P.A. and 2300 SATs? Does Berkeley have sufficient support services to bridge gaps and ensure success? Could this student with a story full of stressors and remedial-level writing skills survive in a college writing course? 
I wanted every freshman walking through Sather Gate to succeed. 
Underrepresented minorities still lag behind: about 92 percent of whites and Asians at Berkeley graduate within six years, compared with 81 percent of Hispanics and 71 percent of blacks. A study of the University of California system shows that 17 percent of underrepresented minority students who express interest in the sciences graduate with a science degree within five years, compared with 31 percent of white students.
When the invitation came to sign up for the next application cycle, I wavered. My job as an application reader — evaluating the potential success of so many hopeful students — had been one of the most serious endeavors of my academic career. But the opaque and secretive nature of the process had made me queasy. Wouldn’t better disclosure of how decisions are made help families better position their children? Does Proposition 209 serve merely to push race underground? Can the playing field of admissions ever be level? 
For me, the process presented simply too many moral dilemmas. In the end, I chose not to participate again.

August 1, 2013

Like I've been saying ...

For a long time now, I've been suggesting that after gay marriage, the next big Civil Rights Struggle will be transgender rights. The New York Times agrees, editorializing today:
The Next Civil Rights Frontier
Published: July 31, 2013 
Federal civil rights officials reached an important settlement late last month with a California school district accused of discriminating against a transgender student by denying him equal access to educational programs and activities. Under the agreement, the Arcadia Unified School District in California will revise its policies and ensure that the student, who was born female but has since assumed a male name and identity, is treated fairly and like other male students. The agreement should be required reading for school officials at all levels nationally.

Profiling by NYPD: Complex issue needing more study

From the New York Times, after a decade of Mayor Bloomberg's policy of massive stop and frisk stops of blacks, Latins (and white guys waiting for their man).
More Complaints Than Proposals on Police Searches 
Lawyers who brought a suit on New York City’s stop-and-frisk tactic seem to lack ideas on how to fix it.

Profiling by George Zimmerman: Unmitigated evil.

July 31, 2013

Santa Monica, here we come, right back where we started from

A large fraction of homeless people -- especially the poor bastards you find sleeping under a bridge in Chicago in January -- are lunatics to be pitied. But, then there are the kind of homeless people you find hanging out at the blufftop park along Ocean Boulevard in Santa Monica or under the amazing Moreton Bay Figtree in downtown Santa Barbara who are highly rational about their lifestyle choices. The creme de la creme of the Lifestyler homeless are the ones who have made it to Hawaii.

From The Daily Mail:
Hawaii sets aside $100,000 to offer its 17,000 homeless people one-way airfare back to their home states 
... A similar program was implemented in New York City in 2007 by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other cities have used the tactic over the years. 
'These kinds of  programs have been used historically to ship homeless people out of town,' Michael Stoops, from the National Coalition for the Homeless told MSN. 'In the homelessness field it was once called greyhound therapy. Hawaii now goes a step higher with airplane therapy. Oftentimes local police departments run such programs offering the stark choices of going to a shelter, jail or hopping on a bus or plane home.'

Wired article on "Genetics of IQ"

John Bohannon in Wired profiles 21-year-old Chinese DNA prodigy Zhao Bowen in "Why Are Some People So Smart? The Answer Could Spawn a Generation of Superbabies."

In my experience, few things in modern medicine happen very fast.

What's the g factor of coolness?

Let me toss out an undeveloped idea: that the closest thing to a general factor in coolness is having a good sense of rhythm.  

July 29, 2013

Yellen v. Summers: What is and what should never be respectable identity politics

From the NYT:
In Tug of War Over New Fed Leader, Some Gender Undertones


WASHINGTON — President Obama’s choice of a replacement for the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, is coming down to a battle between the California girls and the Rubin boys.

Janet L. Yellen, the Fed’s vice chairwoman, is one of three female friends, all former or current professors at the University of California, Berkeley, who have broken into the male-dominated business of advising presidents on economic policy. Her career has been intertwined with those of Christina D. Romer, who led Mr. Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers at the beginning of his first term, and Laura D’Andrea Tyson, who held the same job under President Clinton and later served as the director of the White House economic policy committee. But no woman has climbed to the very top of the hierarchy to serve as Fed chairwoman or Treasury secretary. 
Ms. Yellen’s chief rival for Mr. Bernanke’s job, Lawrence H. Summers, is a member of a close-knit group of men, protégés of the former Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin, who have dominated economic policy-making in both the Clinton and the Obama administrations. Those men, including the former Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner and Gene B. Sperling, the president’s chief economic policy adviser, are said to be quietly pressing Mr. Obama to nominate Mr. Summers. 
The choice of a Fed chair is perhaps the single most important economic policy decision that Mr. Obama will make in his second term. Mr. Bernanke’s successor must lead the Fed’s fractious policy-making committee in deciding how much longer and how much harder it should push to stimulate growth and seek to drive down the unemployment rate. 
Ms. Yellen’s selection would be a vote for continuity: she is an architect of the Fed’s stimulus campaign and shares with Mr. Bernanke a low-key, collaborative style. Mr. Summers, by contrast, has said that he doubts the effectiveness of some of the Fed’s efforts, and his self-assured leadership style has more in common with past chairmen like Alan Greenspan and Paul A. Volcker. 
But the choice also is roiling Washington because it is reviving longstanding and sensitive questions about the insularity of the Obama White House and the dearth of women in its top economic policy positions. Even as three different women have served as secretary of state under various presidents and growing numbers have taken other high-ranking government jobs, there has been little diversity among Mr. Obama’s top economic advisers. 
“Are we moving forward? It’s hard to see it,” said Ms. Romer, herself a late addition to Mr. Obama’s original economic team, chosen partly because the president wanted a woman. 
She said she viewed the choice of the next leader of the Fed as a test of the administration’s commitment to inclusiveness. “Within the administration there have been many successful women,” she said. “There are lots of areas where women are front and center, where women are succeeding and doing very well. Economic policy is one where they’re not.”

This controversy is an illuminating example of 

- What is encouraged to be treated as legitimate identity politics: e.g., gender. There's never been a female Fed chairman, so Janet Yellen's supporters are praised in our culture for trumpeting her candidacy as promoting women.

- What is uncomfortable as an identity politics issue: age. Summers is 58 and Yellen is 66. The latter seems troublesome for an extremely demanding four-year term in a job where two terms (or more is common) to avoid "roiling the markets." As Baby Boomers (currently ages 49 to 67) age, they become less tolerant of anybody attempting to, in effect, foreclose their career prospects due to advancing age.

- What should never be tolerable identity politics: anybody mentioning that if either Summers or Yellen gets the post, then the 98% gentile majority of America won't have held the Fed Chairman's post from 1987 through 2018. Noticing that is simply beyond the pale, even though the Fed Chairman post is not simply a technocratic macroeconomic position, but is also a major regulator of financiers. 

I don't know much about Yellen, but Larry has been a big personality for a long time. I've written four articles defending him in the 2005 evolutionary psychology brouhaha. But, as a regulator, Larry is representative of the dominant tendency of the last generation in both parties (such as Larry's mentor Robert E. Rubin for the Democrats and Greenspan/Bernanke for the Republicans): pro-Wall Street economists or operators who tend to see attempts to regulate billionaires as at least subliminally anti-Semitic. 

There's a lot to be said for this dominant standpoint, but let's also be clear that it has been dominant, and that it might well be time to try somebody, at least for a change, who doesn't suspect effective regulation of financiers is the first step to Nazism.

But of course we can't even mention this, so forget I ever said it.

Cuban hidalgo rallies rich Republicans to back Rubio bill

From the NYT:
Big-Name G.O.P. Donors Urge Members of Congress to Back Immigration Overhaul

WASHINGTON — More than 100 Republican donors — many of them prominent names in their party’s establishment — sent a letter to Republican members of Congress on Tuesday urging them to support an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws. 
The letter, which calls for “legal status” for the 11 million immigrants here illegally, begins with a simple appeal: “We write to urge you to take action to fix our broken immigration system.” 
The effort was organized by Carlos Gutierrez, who was secretary of commerce under President George W. Bush and was a founder of a “super PAC,” Republicans for Immigration Reform. The letter is the beginning of a campaign to lobby Republican lawmakers in favor of a broad immigration bill as they return to their districts for the August break.
A cross-section of Republican donors and fund-raisers signed the letter. They include Karl Rove, a deputy chief of staff in Mr. Bush’s White House; former Vice President Dan Quayle; Tom Stemberg, a founder of Staples; and Frank VanderSloot, the founder of Melaleuca Inc.

Frank VanderSloot, CEO of Melanoma Inc., sounds like the name of the rich Republican villain in a movie. But, he's in favor of more immigration, so he's cool.