September 20, 2013

Forget it, Juan, it's not the old Chinatown

A reader writes:
You're welcome to post this, but please do so anonymously; this is a throwaway account. 
I live in Flushing, Queens, one of the largest Chinatowns in America. A couple years ago, a Chinese student studying here was raped and beaten to death by a Hispanic immigrant. It was very sad, not only because of the murder, but because it was very Kitty Genovese, and people saw the attack and heard her scream and didn't call the police. It was very immediate; I live here, and this was on a street I walk down regularly, at an hour when many people are out and about. 

Here's the Daily News account of the crime.
One of the local evangelical churches spearheaded a neighborhood watch team in response to this incident and the pressing reality that Chinese immigrants are frequently targeted by criminals because they are perceived to be weak and unlikely to fight back.
The neighborhood watch has been patrolling the area nightly in groups ever since, wearing special vests and carrying large maglites. The group is fantastic, and I've personally benefited when they chased of a drunk man who was aggressively hitting on me on my way home. They're started handing out fliers, and what's remarkable is the degree of ethic awareness and unity which is completely nonexistent among whites. 
When the Chinese government's English language paper reported on the event, they noted this.From the English translation, which is a bit stilted: 
"Let us draw a lesson from the bitter experience, mend the fold after the sheep is lost, and prevent any recurrence of the tragedy of Yu Yao!"
"Let us unite and get organized, and show the strength of the ethnic Chinese!"
"Let us unite and get organized, and chase the thugs out of our community!"
"If we do not want to see the scene of our mourning our murdered fellow countryman recurring again and again, let us stop being indifferent or care only about ourselves!"
"Let us not keep quiet about the thousands of years of our national character, be less selfish, less indifferent and more vociferous, show more concern, help each other more to pull through a plight, and act bravely for a just cause!"

By the way, is this Chinese kind of 19th Century nationalist rhetoric of collective self-improvement common in India? Or are Indians past all that old-fashioned stuff?
And from the Chinese patrol's Code of Conduct: 
- We will note darkened street lamps for timely repair by the relevant departments.
- We will note graffiti to be cleaned up by the relevant departments.
- We will talk to families whose porch lights are too dim to get better lighting.
- We will talk to businesses and encourage them to install cameras at their storefront.
They're also offering free self defense lessons every week to all comers, and passing out flyers with safety information on the main thoroughfares. From what I can see, adults are organizing this, but much of the labor is coming from teens and twentysomethings. Can you even imagine the uproar if, say, a lower class white neighborhood in Chicago were to do this? It's political organization. It's community. It's incredibly effective. And it's so offensive to the elites you'd get shut down if they knew about it.

I don't think the situation is quite that bad, but there are definite class issues in what white people are allowed to get away with. High class white people like Mayor Bloomberg can get away with harassing Latinos and blacks for so long and so effectively that eventually some voters forget why he ramped up stop-and-frisk in the first place.

For example, when I was at Rice U. in Houston in the late 1970s, the coeds became, not unreasonably, frightened by the possibility of off-campus rapists descending upon Rice's sprawling, forested, shadowy campus in the middle of the city. So, a service was set up for male students to escort female students on their long walks across campus to the girls-only dorms that had been built far away from the boys-only dorms. But then we were, at least nominally, gentlemen and scholars and all that, and weren't likely to go after suspicious characters with a sack of doorknobs, like in the 1994 Simpson's episode Homer the Vigilante.

I wonder if low class whites who are Democratic voters, such as in tough egg neighborhoods in Boston, can get away with more than low class whites in red states?

Bruce Charlton on tests v. exams

Bruce Charlton comments on the massive kindergarten admission cheating scandals among the rich and famous of Manhattan and Brooklyn. This has led to an announcement that most of these vastly expensive schools will dump the use of the old Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence and replace it with a different and better test by February, or at least one that there aren't as many well-known ways to cheat on. (Good luck with that.)
The problem is the ambiguity in the word test
Weschler is a diagnostic test, designed for clinical use. It - quite reasonably - presumes honesty in the test taker. 
What is apparently wanted in the situation you describe is an exam - and an exam ought not to presume honesty.  
One difference is that an exam designed for repeated use must have a very large bank of questions - but a diagnostic test need not.

Good point. 

In general, we need a massive nationwide review of the effects of test-prepping and outright cheating in tests. 

High stakes tests were instituted by the Emperor of China in 595 A.D. for hiring well-paid mandarins. Presumably, test prepping was going on by 596 A.D. The Asian influx of recent decades has accelerated a massive change toward test-prepping, gaming, and dishonesty on tests, such as the recent cancellation of an SAT administration in South Korea. It would have happened anyway in the long run, but Asians have sped the process up by applying lessons they've learned over the last 1400 years.

In the past, I pooh-poohed the importance of gaming the SAT. Here's my 1991 op-ed on the SAT that appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. But, you live and learn (or, in the absence of much research, develop suspicions). Now when I think about my old insouciance on the question, I just feel like a Big Dumb White Guy.

We need some disinterested people to research and think through the issues raised by these phenomena.

For example, one question we need guidance upon is when is test-prepping a good thing or a bad thing? Recently, a federal judge threw out the Fire Department of New York's hiring test because it asked questions solely about firefighting. White guys tended to bone up on the complex subject of firefighting far more than black or Hispanic guys. Personally, I find guys test-prepping like crazy on the subject of how to save me from a fiery death to be, on the whole, a good thing. But the judge found test-prepping racist and evil. 

I would guess that test-prepping is a good thing for doctor, lawyer and accountant professional exams after graduation, and, perhaps, for the military's ASVAB entrance exam.

On the other hand, when the point of the test is to uncover information about applicants not included in the grade point average -- SAT/ACT, GMAT, and a few others -- it might not be. Or then again it might be, but I've never heard of any studies on this, one way or the other. I imagine some of my readers know of some, but I don't.

There are various studies over whether test-prepping works on the SAT in raising scores in the short run, but a major question is whether the gains on the SAT from exhaustive reviewing in high school are hollow or not in the medium to long term. I wouldn't be terribly surprised if converting the SAT into another test of work ethic and guile just proves you've got the right stuff. Or it could be that people who testprepped like crazy their ways to a higher SAT score tend to run into more trouble with, say, upper level courses in their majors. 

This wouldn't be terribly difficult for academics to test at their own universities, although there would be informed consent issues.

Finally, there's the question of how much all this stuff warps the culture. If your parents gamed the system like crazy when you were four to get you into Dalton so you could go to Yale and then Harvard Business School so you can become a Master of the Universe on Wall Street, is it all that surprising if you then try to game the mortgage market and wind up blowing up the world?

The cartels are out to get you

When I was young, American opinion was strongly anti-cartel, both abroad (OPEC) and at home. Slowly, though, economists lost interest in the subject, arguing that globalization made it increasingly difficult for firms to collude. I mean, to meet up, executives from different countries would have to take steamships across oceans. And then they'd have to hash out details using sign language and grunts. So the feasibility of international cartels was just crazy talk.

But, it turns out, retired Purdue economist John Connor is making a bundle for himself battling Skynet testifying as an expert witness in lawsuits against individual cartels. Economists used to be obsessed with anti-trust, but now there is so little academic interest in the evils of cartels that Connor has largely cornered the market. Unfortunately, he keeps his huge database of episodes of international collusion proprietary to maintain his monopoly, so economists in general can go on blithely paying little attention to the subject.

From the Chronicle of Higher Education, via Marginal Revolution, a highly informative article about a topic that has dropped off the radar in recent decades:
An Economist Corners the Market on Global Cartels 
By Paul Voosen 
Shaded under a blue umbrella at a Cape Cod beach club, a beer in hand and his banana-yellow Porsche convertible parked nearby, John M. Connor, an emeritus economics professor at Purdue University, had a confession to make: The cartels have been very good for him. 
It started nearly two decades ago, with an FBI raid in Illinois that uncovered a global conspiracy to raise prices on animal-feed supplements. At the time, Mr. Connor had spent his days probing, say, the efficiency of the U.S. butter market. (It's good, by the way.) Yet somehow this international cartel had sat in his academic and geographic backyard, and he had had no idea it was even possible. 
"How did I not know about that?" he said as he read front-page coverage of the scandal at Archer-Daniels-Midland, the U.S. company that colluded with several Asian firms. ...

"The Informant!" with Matt Damon and directed by Steven Soderbergh is an odd, interesting 2009 movie about this ADM lysine cartel. Here's my review of the film that recounts Connor's history of the ADM case in his book "Global Price Fixing: Our Customers Are the Enemy." (It's standard practice in the film critic business to read academic works on the economics of lysine price-fixing before writing movie reviews.)
That fascination reshaped Mr. Connor's career and led to a second act as the "King of Cartels," a status recognized this month by a lifetime-achievement award from the American Antitrust Institute, a bipartisan center where he serves as a senior fellow. Mr. Connor's work, including his book Global Price Fixing, is influential. His private database, where he has recorded nearly 900 international price-fixing scandals, has no known parallel. He has become a courtroom fixture, consulting for cases against putative cartels. (That explains the car.) And he's a government gadfly, arguing that the country hasn't done nearly enough to protect its consumers. 
For cartels, he says, the evidence is clear. Crime does still pay. 
Often business-on-business offenses, international cartels rarely rise to public notice, but they are a pervasive, costly phenomenon. Since the 1990s, they have accrued more than $80-billion in U.S. government fines. 
More cases go undetected; generous estimates suggest only a third come to light. 
These cartels thrive, then fail, in the hidden abysses of the market, but not before they've garnished profits from the budgets of everyday shoppers out to buy meat, computer monitors, or cars. 
"It's the dark side of globalization," Mr. Connor said. Communication costs are low; cultural differences are eroding. The M.B.A. is ascendant. "They all speak the same language. Use the same spreadsheets." 
... Either the number of global cartels is rising, or more are now being fished out.
"I used to add 30 or 40 a year just a few years ago," he said. "Now it's 90, 100 a year"—and that's only counting international cartels. 
... How do [cartels] work in the real world? That's what Mr. Connor has explored, assisted by reams of internal documents. Much of that knowledge is locked behind legal deals—he'll tell you he worked on the LCD-monitor cartel for Dell and on the vitamins "supercartel," and that's about it—but it's been a boon for his research, as well. 
"I get to see what executives are saying to each other," he said. E-mails, planning documents. "All their dirty laundry." 
Before Mr. Connor, cartel scholars would scrounge up a few cases and generalize from there, said Robert H. Lande, a law professor at the University of Baltimore. 
"John has taken the opposite approach. And the reason nobody else did it is it's such a pain," Mr. Lande said. "Boring doesn't even begin to describe it," he added. 

"The Informant!" was a challenge to even Soderbergh's skills as an entertainer (e.g., Ocean's Eleven) to keep the audience interested.
Armed with these data, Mr. Connor is comfortable espousing some truths about global cartels. They require a limited number of market players, homogenous products, few individual conspirators, and the opportunity for face-to-face meetings every three months or so, possibly to deal with currency changes. 
They rarely last longer than a decade, often torn apart by internal instability, as one firm tries to cheat the others. (The Justice Department banks on that suspicion, granting leniency to the first company to defect from a cartel.) The government also punishes price-fixing against itself more severely than such offenses against the private sector, he has found, and its sanctions result in a net benefit to national accounts. 
... What he can show, however, in a study published last year in the Cardozo Law Review with Mr. Lande, is that given existing U.S. sanctions, including prison time, cartels remain a rational business strategy. Sanctions are one-fifth of where they should be, they found. 
"My numbers tend to show that the fines that have been imposed historically have been too low to deter cartels," Mr. Connor said. "And the fact that more and more cartels are popping up every year would seem to reinforce the point."

How white looking is Congressional Black Caucus?

The Honorable Karen Bass (CA-37)

The Honorable Joyce Beatty (OH-03)

The Honorable Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. (GA-02)

The Honorable Corrine Brown (FL-05)

The Honorable G.K. Butterfield (NC-01)

The Honorable André Carson (IN-07) 

The Honorable Donna M. Christensen (VI)

The Honorable Yvette D. Clarke (NY-09)

The Honorable Wm. Lacy Clay (MO-01)

The Honorable Emanuel Cleaver, II (MO-05)

The Honorable James E. Clyburn (SC-06)

The Honorable John Conyers, Jr. (MI-13)

The Honorable Elijah E. Cummings (MD-07)

The Honorable Danny K. Davis (IL-07)

The Honorable Donna F. Edwards (MD-04)

The Honorable Keith Ellison (MN-05)

The Honorable Chaka Fattah (PA-02)

The Honorable Marcia L. Fudge (OH-11)

The Honorable Al Green (TX-09)

The Honorable Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20)

The Honorable Steven Horsford (NV-04)

The Honorable Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18)

The Honorable Hakeem Jeffries (NY-08)

The Honorable Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30)

The Honorable Hank Johnson (GA-04)

The Honorable Robin Kelly (IL-02)

The Honorable Barbara Lee (CA-13)

The Honorable John Lewis (GA-05)

The Honorable Gregory W. Meeks (NY-06)

The Honorable Gwen Moore (WI-04)

The Honorable Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC)

The Honorable Donald M. Payne, Jr. (NJ-10)

The Honorable Charles B. Rangel (NY-13)

The Honorable Cedric Richmond (LA-02)

The Honorable Bobby L. Rush (IL-01)

The Honorable David Scott (GA-13)

The Honorable Robert C. "Bobby" Scott (VA-03)

The Honorable Terri A. Sewell (AL-07)

The Honorable Bennie Thompson (MS-02)

The Honorable Marc Veasey (TX-33)

The Honorable Maxine Waters (CA-43)

The Honorable Mel Watt (NC-12)

The Honorable Frederica Wilson (FL-24)
Mel Watt definitely had the 1940s movie star mustache I want. I'm still not sure about that G.K Butterfield dude.

September 19, 2013

Private Manhattan kindergartens to replace IQ admissions test with ... something

As I may have mentioned before, once or even twice, it's amusing that the national media routinely informs us that IQ is "discredited," all the while everybody who is anybody in Manhattan makes their four-year-olds take a Wechsler IQ test to claw their way into a $40,220 per year kindergarten.

From the NYT:
Private Schools Are Expected to Drop a Dreaded Entrance Test

For generations, families have dreaded and despised the exam used to determine the fate of 4- and 5-year-olds seeking entry into the elite world of New York City private schools.

But next year, the test, commonly known as the E.R.B., is likely to be dropped as an entry requirement by most of the schools. A group representing the schools announced this week that, because of concerns that the popularity of test-preparation programs and coaching had rendered its results meaningless, it would no longer recommend that its members use the test.

It's time for an independent commission to examine other high stakes tests, like the SAT and ACT, to understand the impact of test-prepping. My suggestion a few years ago was that colleges should start giving major weight in the admissions process to Advanced Placement tests, because if you spend hundreds of hours of test prepping American History or Physics, you'll probably at least learn something, just by accident.
“It creates a lot of anxiety in families and kids that is unnecessary,” said Patricia Hayot, the head of Chapin School, who leads the group, the Independent School Admissions Association of Greater New York. “We’re being brave. We’re trying to explore a new way.” 
The decision quickly upended the frenzied arena of private school admissions. 
The association represents 130 private and independent schools, including some of the city’s most respected institutions: The Dalton School, Riverdale Country School and Packer Collegiate Institute, among others. 
While the schools are free to continue using the exam, Dr. Hayot said she expected the vast majority to scrap it after the association’s contract with the exam’s administrator ends next spring. (At least one school, Horace Mann, said on Thursday that it would stick with the test.) 
For years, public and private schools across the country have grappled with questions about the value of standardized admissions exams. The city’s Education Department, responding to concerns that too many children were being coached for the test to enter gifted and talented programs, modified its own exam this year, which backfired when even more students qualified for the programs. 

You almost might get the impression that not very many people actually understand testing and can make reasonable forecasts about what changes in testing portend. And most of the ones who do are in the test creation business, so they like it when an old test gets dumped and then they get paid a lot of money to whip up a new one pronto that probably will get dumped down the road, too. Ignorance and hysteria regarding testing means jobs for the boys.
The rise of the test-preparation industry, with guidebooks, tutoring sessions and sample questions aplenty, has raised questions about whether standardized tests accurately measure a child’s abilities. But a viable alternative has proved to be elusive, given the desire for a way to measure students against a single yardstick. ...
But Dr. Hayot said that a task force assembled by the schools association had found the results to be “tainted” by test preparation and recommended that the exam no longer be used in admissions for kindergarten and first grade, the common entry points for private elementary school. Last year, 3,173 students took the test for those grades, according to the bureau.

You know, 3,173 tots isn't a big number, considering how many articles I've read on the ERB/Wechsler over the years. But, they are 3,173 important four-year-olds.
The E.R.B. test is derived from an exam known as the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence, which measures, among things, vocabulary and the ability to identify geometric shapes. At many admissions offices, test scores are considered alongside interviews with prospective families and students, recommendations from preschools and observations of students in group settings. 
The association is working with experts to develop a new assessment by February. Dr. Hayot said it was too early to say what the assessments would look like, but she said the group was considering ways of measuring noncognitive skills, like resilience and attention span. She also said the group might consider providing written evaluations of students, rather than a score.

They've been working on their new test for three or four years, right? And have done lots of field testing already to make sure they know what they're doing, right? This isn't going to be a fiasco like how the L.A. public schools were told to do throw out their old end of year tests for new Common Core tests and do them next spring on iPads that haven't yet arrived. And then somebody noticed that the Common Core tests wanted typed answers and they hadn't budgeted for keyboards for the iPads. Or for typing lessons for the students.

The Wechsler brand IQ tests go back to the 1930s, but evidently it can't take more than a few months to come up with something totally different and better

Probably what the schools would most like to do is just Google the parents' names to see how important they are. Probably the parents whose kids get in would prefer that. I've gotten to know quite a few people much classier than myself through our kids being in the same school or on the same sports team together. Of course, my kids wouldn't have gotten in on my merits, so forget that.
... Finding an adequate substitute could prove challenging. For all the criticism of the test, it provided a valuable tool for schools having to wade through hundreds or thousands of applicants, and having a single test used by virtually every school, SAT-style, kept young students from enduring a battery of them.
The test-preparation industry, which has blossomed in New York, greeted the decision tepidly, predicting that parents would soon be searching for ways to train their children for the new exams, however different they might be. 
“Any uncertainty that you place in the process creates an absolute boom in test prep,” said Suzanne Rheault, chief executive of Aristotle Circle, one of the city’s more popular coaching programs. “People prep. They try to get information. They don’t want their kids to be guinea pigs.” ...
Perhaps no group will be more relieved than parents, who must now pay more than $500 just to take the exam, even before shelling out money for practice books and tutors. 

It's extremely expensive because it's an oral exam given by a psychologists, since 4-year-olds can't be expected to read. I'm sure whatever they come up with will cost less.
Anne Yoakam Ellsworth, 43, a resident of the Upper East Side who writes a blog about parenting and politics, recalled trying to get her daughter, Rosemary, now 9, into a private school that prohibited practice courses or exams. She said the situation was frustrating. Many parents wanted to follow the rules, but they worried about leaving their children at a disadvantage. 

How long have Ellsworths been in America? 380 years? 393? From a very old NYT obituary:
CAPT. JOSEPH ELLSWORTH DEAD; Commanded the [America's] Cup Defenders Puritan and Mayflower in 1885 and 1886.

And how long have Yoakams been in America? 250 years? Yoakam sounds likes the name of one of the Hill People whom Kenneth on 30 Rock refers to. Kentucky-born country singer Dwight Yoakam is the most famous.

I've got to figure there are people in Fujian Province right now reading Ms. Yoakam Ellsworth saying, "Many parents wanted to follow the rules ..." and chortling, "Silly American, wanting to follow the rules so you can pay $40,000! Stuyvesant is free."

"They said what?"

They Said What? The Missing Hispanics
TAGS: They Said What? 
“Tennis is hugely popular in South America and Spain, Rafa [Nadal] is an international star, and yet, Spanish-speaking kids here are not choosing our sport. We should have huge numbers of Hispanic kids playing tennis in places like Miami, Southern California, New York and Chicago, and we don’t.”—Patrick McEnroe, head of USTA Player Development [and brother of John McEnroe], quoted by Michelle Kaufman of the Miami Herald. 
I’m a little reluctant to call this a “problem,” because as much as I like tennis, I’m not sure the biggest issue facing Hispanics in the U.S. is a lack of homegrown ATP or WTA cannon fodder. But it is certainly interesting that, as McEnroe notes, even with tennis’ vast popularity in nations with large Hispanic populations and a deep pool of well-loved Hispanic players, few American Hispanics are on the USTA radar, no matter how far you go down the scale in sanctioned competitions. 
McEnroe went on to speculate: “My guess is it’s an economic issue, and a cultural issue. We are doing much better with African-Americans and Asian-Americans. I see lots of those kids playing at our regional centers, but very few Hispanics.” 

"They said what?"

I'm struck by how contemporary journalists feel the need to pretend to be shocked by people saying something non-boring. The rest of the piece goes on to discuss the question McEnroe brought up in a reasonable, if not very sophisticated, manner. It even gets around to mentioning Pancho Gonzales.

But, these days, you have to start by acting aghast. This is both prophylactic and clickbaity: It's controversial!

A friend said about a dozen years ago that noticing patterns about identity groups has become the New Pornography: people get to be shocked shocked and titillated simultaneously by somebody Noticing Stuff.

But it sure doesn't do much for the quality of thought.


A friend writes:
I keep tabs on Smith because my wife went there. As a high school kid she was so sheltered that she had *no* idea what she was getting into. She just thought it was a quiet girls' school with a good English department. In selecting her freshman dorm, she opted for the one that had "pink triangles and rainbows" in its description because she likes pink and rainbows. 
Boy, was she surprised.

But, the point is that sheltered girls who like pink and rainbows are The Oppressors, so they can't be allowed to enjoy what The Victimized enjoy. In modern America, you don't need to think through the implications of principles of fair play, tolerance, and the like, all you need to know is which groups are Bad and which are Good. It makes everything much simpler.

September 18, 2013

Smith student in trouble for liking boys

The latest thought criminal is a young lady at all-female Smith College in Northampton, MA who sent out an email announcing she was starting a sorority at Smith for straight girls who like to do girly stuff and meet boys from other colleges.
I got this idea because personally as a straight girl at Smith, I feel marginalized and I feel like the minority, and I think this could be a really great way to socialize with people we identify more with at smith, and to meet more guys.  
Amherst basketball team
The first mixer is already plnned, wih the Amherst bball team this Friday (actually their idea!) What do you think?"  

Smith has been Angry Lesbian-heavy for many decades. On New Year's Eve 1981 in Mazatlan, I met a Stanford coed who had transferred there from Smith. I asked why. She said she likes boys and grew tired of being denounced at Smith for liking them.

Fortunately, Katy Waldman of Slate is on the case of policing emails that implicitly engage in Pattern Recognition and don't understand that all that talk about Respecting Minority Rights isn't supposed to apply to minorities.
I think women of all sexual persuasions are equally likely to run screaming from Lily Pulitzer sorority apparel.   
I think gay women probably enjoy mingling with male friends, having dinner, participating in photoshoots, dressing up, and baking as much as straight ones. 
I think straight girls probably still outnumber gay girls at Smith College, so your plaint that you “feel marginalized and…like the minority” sounds like a veiled protest against the acceptance of a subgroup, not a cry of persecution. 
I think if you reaallllly want to look out for other straight women, you can start by not assuming that they are all ultra-feminine creatures who love baking, socializing with big strong basketball players, and wearing pink every Wednesday.  

It can't be that complicated

From National Review:
No Excuse for Amnesty First
By  Mark Krikorian
September 17, 2013 5:21 PM
One of the reasons the amnesty-first crowd has opposed making legalization contingent on the complete implementation of enforcement measures is that they think it would take too long. 
Whatever you think of that argument, its factual basis has been eliminated by a new report from my colleague Janice Kephart. She took a close look at the options for biometric recording of the departures of legal foreign visitors at airports and seaports and found that, contrary to administration claims, it’s both technically feasible and cost-effective. 
The Gang of Eight bill requires such a system to be in place a decade in the future, maybe, as a condition for the amnesty recipients to upgrade their legal status from green-card-lite to green-card-premium. Among the concerns of critics is that once all the illegals have been legalized (which happens shortly after Obama has his bill-signing ceremony) the various enforcement promises, including the one for exit-tracking, will fade away and be ignored. This is not an idle concern; the development of an electronic exit-tracking system has already been mandated by Congress eight times (I’d thought it was just six) and we still don’t have one. If you don’t have a reliable record of which foreign visa-holders have left the country, you can’t know which ones overstayed and became illegal aliens (overstays are believed to account for some 40 percent of the total illegal-alien population). 
Kephart found that off-the-shelf technology exists to do airport and seaport exit-tracking right now, without having to wait until the 2020s.

The new Apple iPhone 5s is coming with a fingerprint detector built into the button so you won't need to input a password.

It can't be that complicated anymore.

A better title than "The Selfish Gene?"

From Janet Maslin's review of Richard Dawkins' new autobiography:
With the benefit of hindsight, and with a dearth of other compelling material, he wonders if “The Immortal Gene,” a title suggested to him by a London publisher, might have been better than the one he used. “I can’t now remember why I didn’t follow his advice,” he writes. “I think I should have done.”

I always felt that "The Dynastic Gene" would have best communicated the book's fundamental concept, since your genes spread by helping promulgate copies of themselves in one's relatives.

September 17, 2013

Why First Wave feminism fizzled out

From my new column in Taki's Magazine:
... Yet this isn’t the first time that the evils of sexism have preoccupied American culture. Beginning soon after the triumph of women’s suffrage in 1919-1920, gender oppression was vigorously denounced in the media until well into the 1960s. Many of the leading intellectuals, artists, and entertainers of mid-century America complained tirelessly about the domination of one sex over another. The nearly universal wail went up: How could human beings be so cruel to other humans just because they were of the opposite sex? 
Of course, what H. L. Mencken, Groucho Marx, Ernest Hemingway, Ben Hecht, James Thurber (one of his New Yorker cartoons is to the right), W. C. Fields (above in The Bank Dick, 1940), Raymond Chandler, Billy Wilder, Robert Heinlein, Norman Mailer, and so many others were kvetching about was how women were crushing their henpecked men under their iron heels.

Read the whole thing there.

The Washington shooter, Richard Pryor, and my mother

From the NYT:
Suspect’s Past Fell Just Short of Raising Alarm 
... As an honorably discharged veteran, he cleared a basic hurdle to receive a Defense Department security pass. Despite his being investigated by police departments in Seattle and Fort Worth, for firing a gun in anger, no charges were filed that would have shown up in his F.B.I. fingerprint file. .... Mr. Alexis was also twice investigated by other police departments in shooting episodes — once for firing through his ceiling in Fort Worth, Tex., and another time for shooting out a car’s tires in Seattle, during what he described as an anger-fueled blackout. 

Can you really go around shooting other people's cars without having charges filed? I recall that Richard Pryor had charges filed against him for stopping his wife from leaving him by shooting out the tires and engine of her car. I remember this because my mom was chosen to be on Pryor's jury. (The case got postponed and her panel of jurors was dismissed.)

Pryor discusses killing the car from 2:15 to 3:40 in the video above. NSFW.

They don't do vituperation the way they used to

There are many different theories of what is the underlying essence of humor. A popular one is that what's funny consists of gentle surprises, of benign violations of expectations.

But I think what you find funny often depends upon what time of the day it is and how tired you are. At four AM, I often find sheer overkill hilarious. Warning: you may not. (Especially if it's not four AM.)

For my upcoming Taki's Magazine column, I was reading up on H.L. Mencken. In Modern Times, Paul Johnson writes:
Walter Lippman called [Mencken] "the most powerful influence on this whole [1920s] generation of educated people." 
A great part of his appeal lay in his ferocious attacks on Presidents. Theodore Roosevelt was 'blatant, crude, overly confidential, devious, tyrannical, vainglorious and sometimes quite childish." Taft's characteristic was "native laziness and shiftlessness." Wilson was "the perfect model of the Christian cad," who wished to impose a Cossack despotism." Harding was "a stonehead," Coolidge "petty, sordid and dull ... a cheap and trashy fellow ... almost devoid of any notion of honor ... a dreadful little cad." Hoover had a "natural instinct for low, disingenuous, fraudulent manipulators. ... 
Mencken excelled himself in attacking [Franklin] Roosevelt, whose whiff of fraudulent collectivism filled him with genuine outrage. He was "the Fuhrer," "the quack," surrounded by "an astounding rabble of impudent nobodies," "a gang of half-educated pedagogues, non-constitutional lawyers," starry-eyed uplifters and other such sorry wizards," and his New Deal "a political racket," "a series of stupendous bogus miracles," with its "constant appeals to class envy and hatred," treating government as "a milch-cow with 125 million teats" and marked by "frequent repudiations of categorical pledges." The only consequence of these diatribes was that Mencken forfeited his influence with anyone under thirty.
Mencken himself was variously described as a polecat, a Prussian, a British toady, a howling hyena, a parasite, a mangy mongerel, an affected ass, an unsavory creature, putrid of soul, a public nuisance, a literary stink-pot, a mountebank, a rantipole, a vain hysteric, an outcast, a literary renegade, and a trained elephant who wrote the gibberish of an imbecile. [Source: Charles Fecher, Mencken: A Study of his Thought, 1979]
Intellectuals, indeed, relished the paranoia of the rich and the conventional, and the extraordinary vehemence and fertility of invention with which [Franklin] Roosevelt was assailed. His next-door neighbor at Hyde Park, Howland Spencer, called him "a frustrated darling," a "swollen-headed nitwit with a Messiah complex and the brain of a boy scout;" to Senator Thomas Schall of Minnesota he was "a weak-minded Louis XIV;" Owen Young, chairman of General Electric, claimed he "babbled to himself," Senator William Borah of Idaho that he spent his time in his study cutting out paper dolls. According to rumor (often surfacing in pamphlets), he was insane, weak-minded, a hopeless drug-addict who burst into hysterical laughter at press conferences, an impostor (the real Roosevelt was in an insane-asylum), under treatment by a psychiatrist disguised as a White House footman, and had to be kept in a straitjacket most of the time. ... He was said to be suffering from an Oedipus complex, a "Silver Cord complex," heart trouble, leprosy, syphilis, incontinence, impotency, cancer, comas, and that his polio was inexorably "ascending into his head." He was called a Svengali, a Little Lord Fauntleroy, a simpleton, a modern political Juliet "making love to the people from the White House balcony, a pledge-breaker, a Communist, tyrant, oath-breaker, fascist, socialist, the Demoralizer, the Panderer, the Violator, the Embezzler, petulant, insolent, rash, ruthless, blundering, a sorcerer, an impostor, callow upstart, shallow autocrat, a man who encouraged swearing and "low slang," and a "subjugator of the human spirit."

I guess you could argue that these are now benign violations, since these passions have cooled over the last 80 years. But, as Sam Spade says to Brigid O'Shaughnessy in The Maltese Falcon, look how many of them there are. As Stalin liked to point out, quantity has a quality all its own.

At least at 4 A.M.

September 16, 2013

Simon-Ehrlich wagers for 2013 to 2023

At Your Lying Eyes, Ziel writes:
Predictions - Anyone Wanna Bet? 
In the spirit of the famous Simon/Ehrlich bet, here are some predictions for 2023. Any takers?

1. Real GDP growth will average less than 2.5% per year over the next decade 
2. The Gap - as measured by NAEP 8th grade math scores among black and white students nationwide - will be greater than 0.9 standard deviations. 
3. California's performance on the 8th grade math NAEP will not improve relative to the U.S. mean (in standard deviation units) over it's 2013 performance. 
4. The price of oil - despite decreased demand - will be no lower than the average price during 2013. 
5. The Social Security revenue estimates of the CBO with regard to the 2013 Comprehensive Immigration Reform act will prove to be too optimistic (as a % of GDP). The CBO estimates of the immigrant population in the U.S. as of 2023 will prove to be too low. 
6. The share of total income earned by the bottom 20% of American families (measured in terms of family income) will be lower than it is today; this will also hold true for wealth. 
7. Neither Libya nor Egypt will have a functioning democracy. 
8. Average global temperature, as measured by the GISS, will not be lower than today. 
9. The per capita GDP of Brazil, measured in $PPP, relative to that of Switzerland in terms of dollar difference, will not be improved.

The last one is a bit of a sucker bet in that "dollar difference" implies absolute difference between Switzerland and Brazil, not a relative percentage difference. For example, say that per capita GDP in Switzerland is $50,000 and in Brazil is $20,000. (I'm exaggerating to make the arithmetic easy.) If Brazil goes up 20 percent to $24,000, while Switzerland goes up 10 percent to $55,000, then Ziel wins.

I'd be worried about losing on California's NAEP scores relative to the rest of the country. I suspect the long term trend is that California will become increasingly Asian while shedding blacks and Hispanics to places with lousier weather. But how soon (if ever) that mechanism will impact NAEP scores is something I'd have to look at recent numbers closely before I'd want to bet on it.

Paul Graham: Angel investors don't like thick accents

Back in May, I pointed out that tech startup maven and superb advice essayist Paul Graham had revealed, approvingly, that Silicon Valley venture capitalists discriminate ruthlessly against would-be entrepreneurs with thick foreign accents. This suggests that the claim by billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg that the real reason they want more H-1B visas is to increase competition for themselves is even more dubious than it sounds prima facie.

Business Insider is now tut-tutting over this:
Y Combinator co-founder Paul Graham gives a lot of great startup advice, and he shared some of it with Inc.'s Issie Lapowsky in a recent interview. But one quote about startup founders with accents sent the tech world spinning. 
The interview starts out fine, with Graham's usual level of spunk and insight. "One thing I know about startups is that, internally, they are all train wrecks," Graham said. 
And later: "Maybe half a percent of people have the brains and sheer determination to do this kind of thing. Start-ups are hard but doable, in the way that running a five-minute mile is hard but doable."  
But when asked how he can predict a startup's success or failure, Graham stumbled. 

I'm fascinated by how the media regularly denounces people for not being boring enough.
"One quality that's a really bad indication is a CEO with a strong foreign accent," Inc. quotes Graham as saying. "I'm not sure why." 
He goes on to say that it's difficult to communicate if you have a strong accent and that "anyone with half a brain would realize you're going to be more successful if you speak idiomatic English, so they must just be clueless if they haven't gotten rid of their strong accent."

Henry Kissinger must not have half a brain ... Different people have different capabilities for changing their accents. I knew an Indian who arrived in the U.S. at about age 20 and somehow taught himself to speak like Jack Nicholson. His American bosses found him cool and quickly promoted him to Executive Vice President. But the accent-changing window tends to close rapidly around puberty. (Dr. Kissinger's two-year younger brother, a business tycoon, has an American accent. "I am the Kissinger who listens," he explains.) But the typical H-1B visa coder doesn't have much chance of becoming a Silicon Valley sensation.
The implication that founders are less successful – or worse, "clueless" – if they haven't ditched their accents created an uproar on Twitter. Graham, who's a big supporter of the immigration reform initiative, found himself the lead story on Gawker's Valleywag.  ...
From Graham: 
The problem is not having an accent per se.  A lot of the most successful founders we've funded have accents.  The problem is having an accent so strong that people have a hard time understanding you. Empirically, those founders do worse. I'm not sure exactly why, but it doesn't seem a stretch to imagine ways that could be a problem for a startup. 
A lot of what a startup CEO does is selling.  Not just in the literal sense of selling to customers, but also selling the vision to current and future employees, investors, and the press.  Often the "sale" hinges on some subtle distinction, so any difficulty in communicating is going to be a significant problem.  That's why for example people prefer to have these conversations in person if they can.

In other words, Zuckerberg's billionaires are less interested in importing new rivals for themselves than in importing low salary workers for themselves.

"Emotional intelligence" as IQ Envy

Social scientists notoriously suffer from "physics envy." This feeling is quite reasonable: physicists can predict many phenomenon (and they built the atomic bomb, which probably helps even more in garnering respect).

A stranger phenomenon, however, is "IQ envy," since the study of intelligence is routinely denounced as a pseudoscience. And, yet, if you keep your eyes open, you'll notice that intelligence is one of the most glamorous attributes in the world of marketing. From the NYT:
Can Emotional Intelligence Be Taught? 
... Wade’s approach — used schoolwide at Garfield Elementary, in Oakland, Calif. — is part of a strategy known as social-emotional learning, which is based on the idea that emotional skills are crucial to academic performance. 
“Something we now know, from doing dozens of studies, is that emotions can either enhance or hinder your ability to learn,” Marc Brackett, a senior research scientist in psychology at Yale University, told a crowd of educators at a conference last June. “They affect our attention and our memory. If you’re very anxious about something, or agitated, how well can you focus on what’s being taught?” 
Once a small corner of education theory, S.E.L. has gained traction in recent years, driven in part by concerns over school violence, bullying and teen suicide. But while prevention programs tend to focus on a single problem, the goal of social-emotional learning is grander: to instill a deep psychological intelligence that will help children regulate their emotions. 

As far as I can tell, education, from Aesop on down, has always been concerned with instilling character, self control, and wisdom, only now these ancient goals have been rebranded as "emotional intelligence:"
... For a child to master empathy, Jones notes, she first needs to understand her own emotions: to develop a sense of what sadness, anger or disappointment feels like — its intensity and duration, its causes. That awareness is what lays the groundwork for the next step: the ability to intuit how another person might be feeling about a situation based on how you would feel in a similar circumstance.

I'm sure the peddlers of emotional intelligence workbooks have made major breakthroughs, but children tend to be interested in stories, songs, poems, novels, and movies that help them get inside other people's heads.

The Borrowed Generation

Nobel economist James Heckman writes in the NYT:
What’s missing in the current debate over economic inequality is enough serious discussion about investing in effective early childhood development from birth to age 5. 

Or from 8 months and 29 days before birth to birth.

Heckman does have sensible things to say:
The cognitive skills prized by the American educational establishment and measured by achievement tests are only part of what is required for success in life. Character skills are equally important determinants of wages, education, health and many other significant aspects of flourishing lives. Self-control, openness, the ability to engage with others, to plan and to persist — these are the attributes that get people in the door and on the job, and lead to productive lives. Cognitive and character skills work together as dynamic complements; they are inseparable. Skills beget skills. More motivated children learn more. Those who are more informed usually make wiser decisions.

Interestingly, he uses "character skills" rather than the more fashionable "emotional intelligence."

Arithmetic suggests that two things that would facilitate higher parental investment per poor child are:

- Two parents per child

- Fewer children per poor parent

September 15, 2013

The Crisis Continues

The Houston Chronicle updates us on the latest development in the national uproar over some useful advice that gold-digging adventuress Julie Chen received 18 years ago that set her on the road to marrying Les Moonves, CEO of CBS:
TV station apologizes to Julie Chen for telling her to fix ‘Asian eyes’

“Big Brother” host Julie Chen revealed this week on CBS’ “The Talk” that she underwent double-eyelid surgery to make her eyes look “less Asian,” at the behest of her former TV station, NBC affiliate WDTN in Dayton, Ohio. 
Chen said an ex-boss told her she’d never get on the anchor desk looking that Chinese, that her eyes were “small” and “unexpressive.” An agent later told her the same thing, so she says she felt it necessary to oblige and surgically alter her face, to Westernize her look. 
After all the media attention and public outcry, that Ohio station issued an apology, blaming old management. Better late than never. 
“We are sorry to hear about what happened to CBS’ Julie Chen in 1995 when she was a reporter at WDTN-TV,” Joe Abouzeid, the station’s president and general manager, said in a prepared statement. “The station was under different management and ownership during that time. At WDTN and WBDT, we don’t tolerate racism or discrimination of any kind.”