September 28, 2013

Gladwell on Gladwell

From The Telegraph, an interview in which Malcolm Gladwell (promoting his new book) says some reasonable things about himself.
Malcolm Gladwell interview 
Conventional wisdom says Malcolm Gladwell is a zany brainbox whose books challenge our assumptions and revolutionise our lives. But, asks Gaby Wood, is that another misconception? 
By Gaby Wood12:00PM BST 28 Sep 2013 
Malcolm Gladwell says he never knows what people will take from his books. 
“It’s never what I think it’s going to be,” he shrugs. “Parts that you think are going to make this big impact are ignored, and parts that you wrote in a day are like the 10,000 hours stuff – I thought no one would ever mention that again. And it is, in fact, all people talk about. Who knew?” 
... And most of the time he synthesises zanily sourced evidence with such alchemy that you can’t work out if it was obvious all along, or if it only seems obvious now that it has passed through Gladwell’s hands. That is his trick. He’d say he is just telling stories, which makes him a Scheherazade for our time, stringing out tales about the power within us, talking to keep us going and make us think. 
His new book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants, is his most accessible.

Hopefully, he's lost from his new David and Goliath book his original 2009 "How David Beats Goliath" New Yorker article, which spectacularly highlighted his worst trait: his inability to do reality checks on ideas that strike his fancy. In it, he argued that undertalented basketball teams should run the full court press against their Goliath rivals: Flummox the big boys by changing all the rules!

Except that the full court press notoriously is the overtalented overdog's weapon of choice: UCLA under John Wooden, Bill Russell's Celtics, Showtime Lakers (Kareem, Magic, Worthy, Nixon, and Cooper), and the 1996 Kentucky Wildcats (an example of an underdog, according to Malcolm, even though the five starters averaged over 10 years in the NBA each!).
Some would say it's too accessible ... 
In a footnote – many of Gladwell’s jokes are in the footnotes – he offers up a self-mocking anecdote in which his father accuses him of oversimplifying things. Well, since he’s brought it up, I ask. “I get that all the time,” Gladwell replies, undefensively. “But it’s this impossible thing: you have a continuum – at one end is academic writing, at the other end a book for a 10-year-old. You try to figure out where you want to be on the continuum. But you don’t always get it right.” 
The book takes some very well-known stories – the biblical tale of the title, the Blitz, the Impressionists, Northern Ireland, the Civil Rights movement, the French Resistance – and sets them up as fables that will be elucidated or expanded by stirring examples taken from the lives of unknown people. The gist is that those things we think of as disadvantages – the death of a parent, dyslexia, trauma – can be advantages in themselves. 
David looked to be small and unarmed but he was in fact a champion slinger. Goliath seemed the stronger party but his gigantism actually impaired his vision. It’s a rousing theory, an Asterix-like view of the world, full of insurgents and resisters, indomitable spirits prepared to do battle against the big guys. 
But it can also be infuriating, because nothing is proven. An alternative title for the book might have been “Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Other”. 
Statistics suggest that if you lose a parent you could be prime minister. Or you could end up in jail. What to do with that information? 
“It’s not supposed to be prescriptive,” Gladwell replies. “It’s just supposed to be a musing on the nature of advantage. And as I’ve written more books I’ve realised there are certain things that writers and critics prize, and readers don’t. So we’re obsessed with things like coherence, consistency, neatness of argument. Readers are indifferent to those things. My books have contradictions, all the time – and people are fine with that. 
“They understand that you can simultaneously hold two positions. Blink was the same way: we have this faculty – it’s good sometimes, it’s bad sometimes. That’s what the book was about.” He chuckles boyishly. “But it’s still really interesting! It’s just, I can’t resolve it – what am I, Sigmund Freud?”

Hegel's thesis, antithesis, synthesis is a helpful bumpersticker for how to thinker better. Examine the contradictions and look for an underlying pattern that will explain more of the outcomes than either theory alone. The full court press works in some circumstances,
... Education, and middle-class fretting over it, is one of Gladwell’s hobbyhorses. If you hit back with the observation that he himself has no children, he smiles and says that would only cloud his judgment. 
But the truth is, he doesn’t go all that far. There’s something troublingly palatable about the new book. In the endnotes to one of the chapters on education, for instance, Gladwell has much stronger views than he expresses in the text itself. “So what should we do? We should be firing bad teachers,” he suggests. But he has buried that stuff at the back. “Yeah. It’s true. That’s absolutely the case,” he admits when I put this to him. 
Far from being a purveyor of self-evidence, I suspect Gladwell is much more radical than he lets on. Why hide it? 
“The problem is, in America, there are all these landmines,” he says. “Like, I wanted to do a chapter on terrorism, and the question is, which example do I use? The example you cannot use is Israel – not because there aren’t a ton of fascinating lessons to be learnt in how Israel has navigated these issues in the course of its history. But it would have gotten politicised – no one would read your book anymore.” So he chose Northern Ireland, because it was “safer”, and because “the willingness to be self-critical in England is much greater than the willingness to be self-critical in America”. 
But if he has things to say about Israel, why doesn’t he want to say them? 
“I actually don’t even know if I do,” he says. “I just worried too much. I didn’t want the book to be put in a pigeonhole. And I don’t know if I’m smart enough.

Gladwell does not have a gigantic ego. He sees himself as a sort of super-publicist for all these brilliant but overlooked publicists and consultants. The problem with his ego is that he doesn't go the next step and hire a research assistant smarter than him who can figure out the landmines in the latest brilliant idea that some publicist has dropped on his desk. Compare Gladwell to David Brooks, who has employed assistants of the caliber of Reihan Salam and Cynthia Allen.
"What’s interesting with Israel is that in some contexts they’re always David, and in some contexts they have become Goliath. 
“Depending on your perspective. If I were to write another chapter to this book I’d love to write about that tension – because lots of people wear two hats. Companies do this all the time – they start out as Davids and become Goliaths.” 
Is it that he needs things to be nice – does he fear coming across as disagreeable? 
“Well, I’m not disagreeable. I’m so insanely agreeable on so many levels,” he replies, sounding, if anything, a little disappointed.

I think that's true. He has a positive upbeat staff guy personality -- I'm just throwing this idea out there, you executives who hired me to give this talk are the decisionmakers, not me -- that I can identify with.
“But it depends what you want. I want people to listen to what I have to say. I think you can challenge people’s core assumptions only so many times, and you can offend them only so many times, and you can threaten them only so many times. If you do it too often, they’ll throw the book aside. In this book I want people to understand – it’s a really corny lesson – that something good comes even out of the most horrible of things. Which I think is a profoundly comforting and meaningful message. That’s all. That’s what I want.” 
For the most part, Gladwell says, he doesn’t “personalise this stuff”. He’s quick to tell me that “there is not a shred of underdog in any aspect of my life”, though he didn’t grow up with a sense of entitlement. The son of a Jamaican psychotherapist and a mathematician from Sevenoaks, he was raised in rural Canada, in a town mostly populated by Mennonites and a family of evangelical Christians. 
In the course of writing this book he has “drifted back”, and become, as he puts it, “much more open and oriented towards faith than I was”. His race, he says, “hasn’t impacted negatively on my life, it’s just made my life more interesting. By virtue of my own background I’ve been put in the middle of that conversation – I wouldn’t have thought about West Indians or African Americans or slavery in the same way.” 
As for Englishness – well, I assume he doesn’t feel any particular affinity with his father’s country. 
“Actually, I do feel English,” he says. “I think my character is quite English – you know, emotionally withholding, unreasonably stoic, unnecessarily ascetic.” He smiles. “I could go on.” Gladwell lives alone on the top two floors of a west Village brownstone – not luxuriously, but not especially bohemian-ly either. In fact, when I arrive, some of his things are in boxes – he used to live just on one floor, and has only recently taken over the next. To journalists, Gladwell’s personal life has always been a bit of an enigma – but to others, apparently, not ostentatiously so. He has had many girlfriends, he is sociable but hard-working.

Right. He's not gay. My readers have run into him several times in restaurants with nice looking ladies across the table.
When I ask if any of his research has led him to live his own life differently, he replies that “the only book that sort of tripped me up was Blink, which made it impossible for me to make a decision. It was very sobering to know how insidious unconscious biases are – I just assumed that everything I was doing was hopelessly corrupted. And I changed the way I hired assistants after that book. I became convinced that I had to absent myself from the process: basically, my assistants hire their own replacements because I would bring too many biases to the table."

"I actually think most jobs should be like that – you should never meet people. You get swayed by their charm or how tall or well-dressed they are – all these things that are not relevant.” One of the ironies of Gladwell’s career – or perhaps it’s just a natural evolution – is that some of the academics whose ideas he set out to popularise have become accessible writers themselves. The rise of Daniel Kahneman, for example, whose book Thinking, Fast and Slow has become an international bestseller, suggests that Gladwell’s interpretations may no longer be necessary – in other words, that he may have made himself extinct. 
Gladwell counters that scientists who write accessibly are not a new breed – he cites Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins. “But if I were to be self-serving, I would like to take some small degree of credit for the success of Danny Kahneman’s book,” he adds. It sounds like the preamble to some arrogant swagger – but no. Just the opposite. 
“What I’ve always thought my books were doing was whetting people’s appetite for the real thing,” he explains. “The mistake is to think these books are ends in themselves. My books are gateway drugs – they lead you to the hard stuff.” 

The 3,000 most important toddlers in the world

I'm sure it bores most people, but I can never get enough of New York Times articles about the Wechsler I.Q. tests that the 3,000 most important four-year-olds in the world (or at least in Manhattan and the better parts of Brooklyn) take each year so their parents can pay $40,000 per year for them to attend kindergarten with some of the other 2,999 most important small children in the world. Pay no attention to that IQ test behind the curtain!
Your 4-Year-Old Scored a 95? Better Luck Next Time 
Abandoning E.R.B. Test May Also Put End to a Status Symbol

When other preschool parents bragged that their children had aced the admission test for New York City private schools with a top score of 99 in every section, Justine Oddo stayed quiet. Her twin boys had not done as well.

“It seemed like everyone got 99s,” recalled Ms. Oddo as her sons, now 7, scampered around a playground near Fifth Avenue. “Kids you thought weren’t that smart got 99s. It was demoralizing. It made me think my kids are not as smart as the rest of the kids.” 
Her sons’ scores? Between them, they had one 99 and the rest 95s, which would still put them in the top 5 percent of all children nationwide.

Cough Losers Cough
A decision last week by a group of private schools to move away from the test, commonly known as the E.R.B., will spare many 4- and 5-year-olds from a rite of New York childhood that dates back half a century. But it could also bring an end to a particular New York status symbol — a child with knockout scores — and to the uncomfortable conversations that occur each year when results start rolling in. 

Not likely. Whatever magically non-competitive test replaces the Wechsler IQ test for NYC kindergarten admissions will instantly become the most gamed status symbol this side of Seoul.
From the Upper East Side to Brooklyn, score-dropping in playdates and parks is common, with high marks flaunted by the parents of children who excel with 99s and anguished over by those who have to explain anything less. 
... On, the Web site where parents chat about their children, the ubiquitous 99s prompted one person to question whether that score was really special since “they seem to be a dime a dozen.” In response came complaints of rampant test-prepping and outright lying. 
At the other end of the scale, some parents are quick to offer excuses for a relatively low score: their child was sick, tired or having a bad year.

I had a bad decade or five.
Amanda Uhry, founder of Manhattan Private School Advisors, said that one mother tried to explain away her daughter’s 68 by saying she had been bullied in preschool. “Whether it’s the E.R.B. or sports, parents see their kids as an extension of themselves,” Ms. Uhry said.

Kids actually are an extension of their parents.
“It reflects on them. They think, ‘What did I do wrong?'” 
All this has led many private schools to try to discourage parents from comparing E.R.B. scores. Some have even likened it to one’s salary — the less said, the better. At the Mandell School, which has a preschool and kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school on the Upper West Side, administrators suspected that a few parents were actually inflating numbers in conversation. ... 
Last week the Independent Schools Admissions Association of Greater New York, which represents more than 140 private schools, cited concerns that scores had been inflated by widespread test preparation and thus was no longer an accurate measure of ability. It said that it would stop recommending its members use the test as an entry requirement after next year, though a new assessment is expected to be developed in its place. Most schools in the group are expected to follow the recommendation. 
The test, a version of an exam known as the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence, consists of two sections: verbal (which includes vocabulary and comprehension) and performance (picture concepts and block design, among other skills). Students receive three percentile scores, one for each section and a combined mark; a proud parent might let it be known that their child was a “99 x 3” or simply a “99.” 
The name E.R.B. is actually a misnomer; the test’s actual name is the Early Childhood Admission Assessment. E.R.B. stands for the Educational Records Bureau, which administers the test. 
The bureau issued a report defending the test, saying that while scores had increased, they had done so only gradually over time. But the report also acknowledged “the alarming number of children” who score in the highest percentiles: in each of the past few years between 62 and 70 percent of the applicants to the independent schools represented by the association reached the 90th percentile, meaning they were in the top 10th of a national norm of students who took a version of the Wechsler test, and between 18 and 29 percent scored at the 98th percentile. However, the report said the average E.R.B. child was, statistically speaking, a higher performer than the average American child and that “this is not a new trend.” 

Here's the E.R.B. report. The sore thumb sticking out is that the percent scoring at the 98th or 99th percentiles went from 17.8% in the middle of the last decade to 29.2% in the most recent year.
Still, among parents the coaching issue has become the preschool version of steroids in baseball, with any chart-busting score arousing suspicion. Debra Mesnick, a pediatrician whose children took the E.R.B., said she knew parents who were prepping their children even though they acted as though they were not. “There were the names of $200-an-hour tutors floating around, but people didn’t admit to using them,” she said.
... Jae Chun, a lawyer, said he would try to discreetly change the subject. “When someone told you their child scored an 80 percent, it was very awkward to say your child scored a 99,” he said. Another parent, Marie Bishko, said that parents became stressed because the E.R.B. “divides children into two piles” — the 99s, and everyone else. ...
Still, Ms. Oddo said she never talked about her sons’ scores at the time. And she was not the only one, she noted. Other than 99s, the only scores she heard were in the 70s and 80s, which were so low as to be credibly attributed to a lack of focus or just a bad day. 
“People who had 80s, they always had justification,” she said. “Nobody talks about it if it’s in the 90s.”

Somebody asked me what all the super-elite kindergartens for networking toddlers are in Los Angeles, and how do they admit their students. I have no idea. (It took me years to figure out the convoluted system for getting into a good public magnet school.) I'm sure there some, but I can't imagine they try that hard to pretend they're open to any child with a high IQ (and $40,000 or whatever per year). 

Los Angeles just isn't as IQ obsessed as New York is. It's a who-you-know culture, and if you don't know anybody, why would they let your child in to their kindergarten for the children of cool parents? Maybe if you are extremely good looking, they'd make an exception. But if you are ugly and unpopular, who cares what your kid's I.Q. is?

In general, no place in America emphasizes smartness like New York. (Definitely not L.A.) And it's not just the Manhattanites. The Outer Boroughs types have what Tom Wolfe called Big League Syndrome. I had a cabdriver in 1984, a black American guy, who was a Big League Cabbie. The city had just recently started synchronizing the lights, so he had experiment with and memorized the exact speed to drive to catch all the green lights on every major avenue in NYC. Third Avenue's ideal speed was 36.2 mph, he said. And he was right. He got me from Midtown Manhattan to La Guardia in 18 minutes, catching dozens of green lights in a row. While he was doing it, he had me quiz him on random locations in New York. (The street numbers on Manhattan's avenues are not in sync, so it's a challenge to figure out what the cross-street is from its number.) He got the half-dozen or so addresses I threw at him absolutely right, all the while maintaining a rock-solid 36.2 mph. A Big League Taxi Driver!

September 27, 2013

L.A. schools' billion dollar iPad contract

From an editorial in the L.A. Times:
L.A. Unified's iPad plan doesn't compute 
The district's failure to resolve questions about theft, breakage and Web security is troubling. 
By The Times editorial board 
September 27, 2013 
It has been a year since Los Angeles Unified schools Supt. John Deasy proposed putting a tablet computer in the hands of every student in the district. At that time, there were numerous questions about how and whether this would work. Could first-graders really take care of such expensive equipment? Who would be held responsible if one of the devices was stolen, lost or broken, or if apple juice was dripped into the circuitry? How would the district keep high-schoolers off porn sites? And how much would all this cost? 
Deasy said these details would be worked out before any decisions were made. But all we know for sure a year later is the price tag: a whopping $1 billion to provide more than 600,000 students and their teachers with top-of-the-line, software-equipped iPads at $678 each, plus the necessary Wi-Fi in the schools. 
The district has forged ahead — 47,000 students have received iPads already, with a much bigger purchase planned soon — yet vital issues remain inadequately addressed. 
Still unclear, for example, is who pays for accidental loss or damage to the iPads. Under the district's contract, Apple will replace up to 5% of the devices for free. After that, the district is on its own. Parents at different schools have been given different information about whether they would have to cover the cost, and Deasy said he's still trying to figure this out. Isn't this something he should have done before any iPads were purchased? 
The district also is coming to terms with how quickly its students disabled the firewall on their tablets to gain broad access to the Internet when they're not on campus. There are potential liability and safety issues at stake — if, for example, a student were to make contact with a sexual predator on a school-issued iPad. 
While it tries to figure that out, the district has decreed that students may not take the tablets home, which seriously limits their usefulness as tools for integrating their class studies and homework. ... 
There's also the matter of keyboards. Apparently the district hadn't foreseen that it might need to purchase them as well, at a so-far unknown cost. 
Access to iPads and other high-tech devices could be of tremendous benefit to L.A. Unified students, many of whom have few digital resources at home.But at this point, the district should be well beyond the "we're figuring this out" phase. It has spent some $30 million already, and in November, Deasy is scheduled to ask for close to $200 million more to provide iPads for an additional 300,000 students by the end of the school year. Given the many easily foreseen questions that have not been resolved, the board should require a more gradual rollout so that problems can be identified and addressed before it is too late to change course.

It's worthwhile to compare the evident quality of management at LAUSD vs the quality of management at Apple, which made $6.9 billion in profit last quarter. Who do you think got taken advantage of in this negotiation? One problem with education leadership these days is that the cynical bastards who can anticipate problems tend to get screened out by the ideological emphasis on Closing the Gap. You wind up with inspirational True Believers who fall in love with whatever the latest fad is.

Personally, if I were buying a billion dollars worth of stuff from one of the best run companies in the world, I would present them with a list of a dozen things that could go wrong and ask them how they were going to keep me from looking like a fool. And then I'd ask Apple for two dozen more things that could go wrong that I didn't put on my list and how they were going to prevent them.

Holder after another liberal city fire department

From the Associated Press:
EEOC: Austin fire dept. discriminated when hiring

AUSTIN, Texas — The Austin Fire Department discriminated against some minority job applicants, a federal review has found. 
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which looked at the department's hiring practices since 2012, notified city officials in a letter received Monday, the Austin American-Statesman reported ( ). 
City officials learned of the review in April and said they welcomed the objective oversight. 
The EEOC found that some black applicants were discriminated against because of their race and some Hispanics faced discrimination due to their national origins. 
"The letter does not say that the city intended to discriminate against any individual or group, but rather that the difference in pass rates between African-Americans and whites was the unintended effect of a neutral testing process," the city contends in a news release. 
Fire Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr said in a memo Tuesday to department personnel that the city will not debate the decision. The city has decided not to hire additional personnel from the 2012 candidate list as a result of the EEOC determination, according to Kerr. So far, 96 firefighters from the list have been hired. 
The Justice Department did not detail what prompted the investigation that led to the EEOC finding that nearly 40 percent of black candidates passed the cognitive written exam to become a cadet, compared with 68 percent of nonblack candidates.

A shocking differential in pass rates never seen before in the history of the world.

That the full weight of the federal government can be brought down, seemingly arbitrarily, upon any of countless institutions where the usual white-black gap in cognitive performance exists is hard to reconcile with the rule of law. Everybody who tries to hire objectively is guilty, so the government can crush whomever they happen to feel like. So, don't get the government mad at you. Especially, don't speak up about it.
One black candidate was hired from the approximately 736 black applicants, according to the federal review. 
Kerr, in her memo, said that 636 black candidates completed applications in 2012, not the 736 stated in the EEOC letter, and that only 328 of those candidates actually took the test. Three of those candidates were placed on the hiring list, she said.

Not many details seem to be available on either the EEOC letter or today's Justice Dept. letter announcing a federal lawsuit against the Austin Fire Department. Presumably, they are hiring from the top down among applicants. So, while lots of blacks "passed" the test, few scored at the top.

Firemen these days tend to be overpaid and underworked, so the quantity and quality of applicants is high. At least as of 2008, Austin paid firemen 20% more then other big cities in Texas, so being a fireman in Austin is a pretty sweet gig. So top-down hiring won't come up with many blacks.

I found this 2008 editorial in the Austin Statesman saying:
The department is facing a significant drain of its minority firefighters who are eligible for retirement, and it should be pushing for greater diversity to replenish those ranks. 

In other words, the Austin FD had become substantially integrated following a court order 36 years ago.

It's interesting (to me, not necessarily to anybody else) how the concept of disparate impact just doesn't seem to apply to in some industries (e.g., movie and TV film crews) while being a near-obsessive concern to the feds in other occupations, such as firefighting. Hollywood tends to have nepotistic or who-you-know hiring, while fire departments generally use objective tests designed by testing/diversity consultants to wring out all bias.

It would probably make the most sense to hire objectively, while just having a quota for African-Americans. But, how does that work as 50 million legally privileged Hispanics turn into 100 million?

Could Obama go the full Hitler-Stalin Pact and dump Israel for Iran?

We've been reading for decades about how Iran is a massive military threat while Israel is a tiny, existentially vulnerable outpost. Logically, that would imply that -- from a pure realpolitik / national interest standpoint -- it would make sense for Barack Obama, who just became the first President since Jimmy Carter to talk on the phone to the head guy in Tehran, to do an August 23, 1939-style flip and ally with Iran at the expense of Israel. 

It's an interesting thought experiment because listing why that it would be a very bad idea (which, of course, it would) makes reality clearer. Who would you less like to be the enemy of: Iran or Israel?

First, Iran is not much of a military threat. It's hasn't invaded anybody in at least a half-dozen generations. Overall, despite the advantages of oil and a more advanced Persian civilization compared to the Arab states, it remains a shambolic country, alternately prone to extremism and lassitude.

In contrast, Israel has demonstrated impressive will and resources over the decades at getting what it wants.

And, while Israel, contrary to what you hear on Fox, might not be quite the best friend America has ever had, you sure wouldn't want to have Israel for an enemy.

Crops Rotting in the Fields, Part MLXXVII

From the AP via Huffington Post, and it's not anywhere near as dumb as CRitF Parts I through MLXXVI. Unlike almost all the annual Harvest Crisis articles of the past, Gosia Wozniacka's article seems to imply that stoop laborers being paid more is, when you stop and think about it, a good thing, not a bad thing. Perhaps there is hope for less credulous journalism on immigration-related matters?
Farmers Face Labor Shortages As Workers Find Other Jobs 
FRESNO, Calif. -- With the harvest in full swing on the West Coast, farmers in California and other states say they can't find enough people to pick high value crops such as grapes, peppers, apples and pears. 
In some cases, workers have walked off fields in the middle of harvest, lured by offers of better pay or easier work elsewhere. 
The shortage and competition for workers means labor expenses have climbed, harvests are getting delayed and less fruit and vegetable products are being picked, prompting some growers to say their income is suffering. Experts say, however, the shortage is not expected to affect prices for consumers. 

Wow, that's different. Usually, we are prodded to worry that a head of iceberg lettuce will soon cost $5 unless we have massively more guest workers.
But farmworkers, whose incomes are some of the lowest in the nation, have benefited, their wages jumping in California to $2 to $3 over the $8 hourly minimum wage and even more for those working piece rate. 
The shortage – driven by a struggling U.S. economy, more jobs in Mexico, and bigger hurdles to illegal border crossings – has led some farmers to offer unusual incentives: they're buying meals for their workers, paying for transportation to and from fields, even giving bonuses to those who stay for the whole season.
And a few have stationed foremen near their crews to prevent other farmers from wooing away their workers. 
"In the past, we were overrun with farmworkers. But not anymore," said labor contractor Jesus Mateo, whose crews saw a 20 percent pay increase. "Employers have to do something to attract them. The fastest workers can now earn more than $1,000 per week."... 
In some cases, farmers are being paid below market prices, because their produce is past its prime, having stayed on the branch or vine for too long. Hardest hit are small farmers, who can't afford to pay more for labor, Pegg said. 

This is where most CRitF articles, using Clean Your Plate, There Are Starving Children in China-style logic, imply that starvation or damnation or something threatens if there isn't a stoop laborer standing by to pluck every single bit of produce at its moment of peak ripeness. In reality, the tremendous variability of harvests (due to weather, etc.) means that any economically rational system will leave some fraction of some crops in the fields.
Farmers say immigration reform, which would legalize their current workforce and create a guest worker program to legally bring farmworkers from other countries, could solve the labor shortage problem. Immigration reform, however, has stalled in Congress. 
Farmers in other states are also facing shortages. In Washington, apple growers are having a hard time finding enough workers in time for peak harvest in October. And in Oregon, pear growers – whose crop is very big this year – are facing the same problem. 
"They are really struggling to get that crop off the trees," said Barry Bushue, president of the Oregon Farm Bureau. "These growers have decades of investment into plant stock, they can't just transition overnight to be less labor-intensive." 
For years, farmers throughout the U.S. had access to an abundant, cheap, mostly unauthorized labor force streaming in from Mexico. Workers say they often had to beg growers for even a few hours of work and their wages were low. 
As the U.S. plunged into a recession and Mexico's economy improved, some seasonal migrant workers chose to remain home. 
Increased border security and drug cartel violence made crossings more dangerous and expensive, deterring workers. A sharp drop in Mexico's fertility rate further decreased the number of young men crossing into the U.S. to work in the fields. 
The trend appears long-lasting, spelling trouble for farmers, according to a new report by the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center. While the recession is over, the report finds, mass migration from Mexico has not resumed. 

Or, Pew reported the total number of illegal immigrants was back up in 2012.

But, whatever. This is, overall, a much better article than almost all I've read in this genre. A few years back, some of the multitudinous journalistic Carneys, John Carney and  Timothy P. Carney, took up scoffing at the numerous articles that were just rewrites of Growers Associations talking point memos. Perhaps they are having an influence. So, say not the struggle naught availeth.
"This year, it has become even more challenging to find agricultural employees, and it's going to get worse in the next few years," said Noe Cisneros Jr. of Freedom AG, a Kern County labor contractor who manages a crew of up to 300 workers. 
On a recent September morning in an endless stretch of San Joaquin Valley vineyards, workers lifted paper trays filled with raisins and heaped them onto a trailer – the final step in an exceptionally profitable raisin harvest for the workers. 

This might be the first time in one of these CRitF articles that I've ever seen reference to how much the growers are making.

Still, while this article is much less biased in favor of growers than most, mere neutrality isn't going to undo decades of propaganda. Why not some self-criticism by the press about how they ignored the basics of economics to promote more profits for a special interests in the name of diversity and more immigration?

And why not some self-criticism among economists? As usual the obscure economists who are specialists in an area, such as UC Davis agricultural economist Philip Martin, make sense. Unfortunately, the big name economists shamefully ignore criticizing a whole genre of economically illiterate articles.
With farmworkers in such high demand, many said they shun remote locations and choose fields closer to home; they pick crops that pay better; they also prefer lighter work instead of tougher jobs that require being bent over all day. More women are also in the fields. 
Because most workers now have smartphones, they text each other information about pay and working conditions – and some switch employers mid-way through harvest if better opportunities arise. 
As a result, labor contractors and growers must work harder to fill and retain work crews. Cisneros said he even trained and hired high school students this summer to pick grapes – something he was not willing to do in the past. 

If you are new to all this, I outlined the basics of Cropsrottinginthefieldsonomics here in 2006.

September 26, 2013

A $1,185.00 book on "The Philosophy of Race"

Tyler Cowen pointed out this book reprinting 73 academics papers on the Philosophy of Race for the low, low price of $1,185. How much of it sounds of value? 

I looked over the 73 titles and then read with interest the Philip Kitcher article from 2007, "Does Race Have a Future?" [link improved] in which this very bright guy, the John Dewey Professor of Philosophy at Columbia, offers his mea culpa for previously proposing a definition of race rather like mine, because everybody -- except what Kitcher calls "ogre naturalists" such as JP Rushton -- knows that race doesn't exist. But Kitcher also slips in a few Eppur si muoves. In that kind of intellectual atmosphere, where even a heavyweight like Kitcher gets browbeaten, how much good work can get done?
The Philosophy of Race 
Edited by Paul Taylor 
Routledge – 2012 – 1,584 pages 
Series: Critical Concepts in Philosophy 
Hardback: $1,185.00 
December 14th 2011 
Volume I: HISTORY 
Part 1: Philosophical Historiography 
1. Cornel West, ‘A Genealogy of Modern Racism’, Prophesy Deliverance! Towards an Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity (Westminster Press, 1982), pp. 47–68. 
2. Robert Bernasconi, ‘Race, Culture, History’ (plenary lecture at Sodertorn University, 28 May 2009), pp. 11–46. 
3. David Theo Goldberg, ‘The End(s) of Race’, Postcolonial Studies, 2004, 7, 2, 211–30. 
Part 2: Early Figures and Moments 
4. Harry Bracken, ‘Philosophy and Racism’, Philosophia, 1978, 8, 2–3, 241–60.
5. Richard Popkin, ‘Hume’s Racism Reconsidered’, The Third Force in Seventeenth-Century Thought (Brill, 1992), pp. 64–75. 
6. Meg Armstrong, ‘"The Effects of Blackness": Gender, Race, and the Sublime in Aesthetic Theories of Burke and Kant’, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 1996, 54, 3, 213–36. 

NYT: Immigrants are "flocking to Mexico" with its "rapidly growing" economy

NYT caption: "At the U.S.-Mexico border,
which nation is a “land of opportunity?"
From the NYT:
Ambitious immigrants from around the world are flocking to Mexico, where a rapidly growing economy is seen as creating opportunities for those who work hard to do well. People used to say that about the United States. 
Can a developed economy like the U.S. provide similar opportunities for people to move up the economic ladder, or is rapid growth essential to upward mobility?

This a meme that the prestige press has been promoting to bolster Schumer-Rubio propaganda: Handing out the Path to Citizenship now won't lure in future Undocumented Workers, because America doesn't have to worry about illegal immigration ever again! Alternative interpretations would include: "Wow, look at that picture: What a crap border fence compared to the fences that a serious country like Israel has. There's no barb wire and then it just ends ..." Or, "So, everything's peachy in Mexico, so illegal aliens are unlikely to starve if they have to go home." 

But those interpretations won't come up because all that counts is winning and the easiest way to win is to hold the Megaphone.

But, in reality, is Mexico's economy "rapidly growing" and are immigrants "flocking to Mexico"?

From International Business Times:
Mexico Cuts 2013 GDP Growth Forecast To 1.8% After Disappointing Q2By Patricia Rey Mallén
on August 21 2013 4:09 PM

The Mexican government's original GDP growth forecast for 2013 might have been a little too enthusiastic. The 3.1 percent increase forecast for this year fell to 1.8 percent recently after the Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía (National Institute of Statistics and Geography, or Inegi) calculated that the economy's growth for the second quarter was just 1 percent.

The plummeting GDP forecast doesn't come as a total surprise, however. In May, the Minister of Finance reduced the forecast from 3.5 percent to 3.1 percent after first-quarter GDP growth slowed to 0.8 percent. Banco de México also lowered its forecast, originally 3 percent to 4 percent, to 2 percent to 3 percent growth. ... 
The news corresponds with a report by Moody’s that points to Mexico's growth as its "unfinished homework." Mauro Leos, Moody’s Mexico director, said that from 2003 to 2012, the average annual growth rate for Mexico, the second-largest economy in Latin America after Brazil, was 2.5 percent, much lower than the average Latin American growth rate during the same period. 
Nevertheless, in the last three years, the rate of growth had climbed up to 4.4 percent. Despite that, “things always go back to normal,” he said.

Ways to measure GDP per capita are complicated, so I won't proclaim this graph provided by Google from World Bank data as the ultimate way to measure changes in GDP per capita, but it's worth looking at, if only to say: Wow, look at Canada!
GDP per capita (from Google)
The NYT Editors believe their own hype from this article:
For Migrants, New Land of Opportunity Is Mexico

Published: September 21, 2013  
MEXICO CITY — Mexico, whose economic woes have pushed millions of people north, is increasingly becoming an immigrant destination. The country’s documented foreign-born population nearly doubled between 2000 and 2010, and officials now say the pace is accelerating as broad changes in the global economy create new dynamics of migration.

The accompany graphs, however, show just how few immigrants there are in Mexico (or at least have been counted).

There are a total of 961,121 foreign-born people living in Mexico. Wow, that's almost a million! But, here's a question: What's the total population of Mexico? The latest estimate is 116,000,000. So that's under 1.0%.

In contrast, the foreign born population of the United States is over 40,000,000, versus about 270,000,000 natives, or about 15% of the native population.

And Mexico gives out a grand total of 301,795 work visas, out of a working age population approaching 70 million.

In the long run, Mexico should have more foreigners, especially American retirees, residing there. It attracted lots of immigrants in the past, such as the ancestors of Carlos Slim, Vicente Fox, Salma Hayek, Frida Kahlo, Anthony Quinn, and so forth. Former foreign secretary Jorge Castaneda (whose mother is from the Soviet Union and his eminence grise brother was born there) outlined in 2011 a number of reforms to make Mexico better both for American retirees and for Mexicans, such as more traffic lights. Most importantly, he felt, was for Mexicans to stop referring to Americans using ethnic slurs.

The latest government of Mexico has suggested a number of hopeful-sounding reforms devoted to cracking down on monopoly power in Mexico (Carlos Slim, Pemex, and the teachers' union that has turned many teaching jobs into hereditary sinecures). These are problems not impossible to overcome, and I wish Mexicans well in fixing their country.

New horizon in Chinese birth tourism: surrogacy

Via Marginal Revolution, the story of how Chinese families have taken birth tourism to a new level: don't even bother holing up in America for a month or two have your baby on American soil, just pay to have it implanted in a woman in America. 

The family still gets all eight anchor baby benefits outlined in this ad for old-fashioned Chinese birth tourism, without the inconvenience of even coming to America.

September 25, 2013

Tough question

From the Smithsonian:
Why is Albert Camus Still a Stranger in His Native Algeria? 
On the 100th anniversary of the birth of the famed novelist, our reporter searches the north African nation for signs of his legacy

What's Calatrava's architectural secret? Don't sweat the small stuff

Calatrava's Puente del Alamillo in Seville
Eye-shaped planetarium, Valencia
Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava has designed many of the cooler-looking structures of recent decades. 

With some other starchitects, such as Thom Mayne, you have to know a lot of theory to understand why the buildings aren't as ugly as they look, or at least why ugly buildings are Good for You. 

Opera house in Canary Islands
With Calatrava, in contrast, you get buildings built to look like natural objects (eyes, crescent moons, birds, human bodies) or resemble finely engineered objects (e.g., harps, suspension bridges). His work carries on the tradition of the Finnish architect Eeno Saarinen who designed TWA's terminal at JFK in the late 1950s to look like a soaring bird.

His subway station under construction at Ground Zero in Manhattan will cost $4 billion and be six years late, at last notice. 

Rendering of WTC station
So, how is Calatrava so creative (leaving out that he makes everything white)?

An article in the New York Times explains his secret for being so productive: not worrying about details like how to keep his buildings from flooding, how to keep people from falling down and breaking their hips on his beautiful but slippery glass bridge, and how to keep his buildings from starting to fall apart after a decade or less:
As for Valencia’s cost overruns, the politician Mr. Blanco said in a recent interview that one contributing issue might be that Mr. Calatrava’s designs appear to include few details. “Other architects, they know exactly the door handles they want, and where to buy and at what cost,” Mr. Blanco said. “But Calatrava is the opposite. His projects do not have this degree of precision. If you look at the files on the aquarium, which was built by someone else, they are fat. But there are just a couple of pages on the Calatrava projects.”

School Daze, Stomp the Yard, Good Hair

From the AP:

"Why are you so sad?" a TV reporter asked the little girl with a bright pink bow in her hair. 
"Because they didn't like my dreads," she sobbed, wiping her tears. "I think that they should let me have my dreads." 
With those words, second-grader Tiana Parker of Tulsa, Okla., found herself, at age 7, at the center of decades of debate over standards of black beauty, cultural pride and freedom of expression. 
It was no isolated incident at the predominantly black Deborah Brown Community School, which in the face of outrage in late August apologized and rescinded language banning dreadlocks, Afros, mohawks and other "faddish" hairstyles it had called unacceptable and potential health hazards. 
A few weeks earlier, another charter school, the Horizon Science Academy in Lorain, Ohio, sent a draft policy home to parents that proposed a ban on "Afro-puffs and small twisted braids." It, too, quickly apologized and withdrew the wording. 
But at historically black Hampton University in Hampton, Va., the dean of the business school has defended and left in place a 12-year-old prohibition on dreadlocks and cornrows for male students in a leadership seminar for MBA candidates, saying the look is not businesslike.

There's an interesting radical v. bourgeois division at all-black colleges like Hampton, which can be seen in Spike Lee's 1988 movie School Daze about his experiences at Morehouse. (Spike's a 3rd generation Morehouse man). Some students go to black colleges to live out the black radical dream (e.g., Spike), others to be as bourgeois as they wanna be without feeling like they are Acting White (there's an aspect of that in Spike, too). The movie Stomp the Yard, about an inner city black kid who gets a scholarship to an expensive black college where he learns to appreciate middle class norms, is one of the few approving portraits of fraternity life to appear in movies in recent decades.

As for black hair styles, I'd point out the male v. female division. Most cultures in the world, other than, say, Masai and Rastafarian, endorse longer hair on women than on men. I read back in the 1990s that white women's hair will grow, on average, 12 inches longer than white men's hair before falling out, which makes long hair a sex-linked trait. (I haven't seen that since, so don't take it on faith. Anybody know for sure?) Among blacks, however, hair grows so short overall that the sex difference (if it exists) is small in an absolute sense. 

So, black women have substantial problems with their hair competing in integrated countries with longer haired women for men. This leads to African-American women spending a huge amount of money and time on their hair (see Chris Rock's documentary Good Hair, and above is the "Good & Bad Hair" musical number from School Daze.)

So, I sympathize with black women who try to come up with a look for their hair that doesn't involve scary chemicals (and especially for those who try to keep weird hair-straightening potions away from their little girls' scalps).

In contrast, black men may have fewer hair issues than white men. Michael Jordan started going bald so he shaved his head. Perhaps he would have been even more popular with a full head of hair, but, if I recall correctly, he was fairly popular as is. So, it seems perfectly reasonable for Hampton's B-School to enforce professional-looking hair norms for their male students. I mean if Harvard Business School polices how its students dress on Halloween in the name of feminism, why can't Hampton Business School police how its male students wear their hair in the name of getting a job?

Kids these days

Kevin Helliker writes in the Wall Street Journal:
Saying I finished in the top 15% of my age group in last month's Chicago Triathlon is like bragging that I could outrun your grandpa. My age group was 50 to 54. 
But against the entire sprint-distance field, I finished in the top 11%. That's right: Team Geriatric outperformed the field. 
I'd love to report that this reflects the age-defying effects of triathlon. But my hair is gray, my hearing is dull and my per-mile pace is slower than it used to be, even at shorter distances. 
Rather, this old-timer triumph is attributable to something that fogies throughout the ages have lamented: kids these days. 
They're just not very fast. "There's not as many super-competitive athletes today as when the baby boomers were in their 20s and 30s," said Ryan Lamppa, spokesman for Running USA, an industry-funded research group. While noting the health benefits that endurance racing confers regardless of pace, Lamppa—a 54-year-old competitive runner—said, "Many new runners come from a mind-set where everyone gets a medal and it's good enough just to finish."

The last time I checked a few years ago, marathoning continued to grow in popularity but average speeds of finishers were slowing sharply.

Half Sigma likes to report on deaths during the New York City marathon to imply that marathoning is kind of crazy, which, at 42k, it sort of is. Top professional marathoners from East Africa often skip the Olympic marathon because they can only perform at their best about every six months, so they hit a paying marathon in the spring and another in the fall and skip running in the summer for free at the Olympics. In contrast, top 10k runners typically run every weekend during the high season for track meets.

So, maybe it's not such a bad thing that kids these days aren't that into driving themselves into cardiac arrest at marathons.

Changing demographics also matter. I looked at the backgrounds of the 185 top male high school cross-country runners in 2006:

Non-Hispanic White 82%
East African 9%
Spanish Surname 5%
Black American 2%
American Indian 1%
East Asian 0.7%
South Asian 0.3%

So, all non-Hispanic whites other than the tiny East African population (and maybe American Indians) aren't excelling at cross country.

September 24, 2013

"The Graduate"

In Taki's Magazine, I'm continuing my intermittent series reinterpreting well-known but not necessarily well-understood episodes in American history. Was the landmark movie The Graduate, which was a vast box office success in 1968, really about the Generation Gap? Or was it actually about the Ethnic Gap?
Director Mike Nichols likes to claim that he hadn’t realized what The Graduate was actually about until he saw it parodied in a juvenile humor magazine in October 1968: 
"It took me years before I got what I had been doing all along — that I had been turning Benjamin into a Jew. I didn’t get it until I saw this hilarious issue of MAD magazine after the movie came out, in which the caricature of Dustin [Hoffman] says to the caricature of Elizabeth Wilson, ‘Mom, how come I’m Jewish and you and Dad aren’t?’"

Read the whole thing there.

I thought low wages were good for the economy?

From the NYT:
To Address Gender Gap, Is It Enough to Lean In?
The gender gap in pay and work force participation harms not only women, but the economy as well.

In general, appeals to something being good for or bad for The Economy have become increasingly divorced from logic and mostly say, hooray for our side.

Stephen Jay Gould was always complaining about reification of IQ. Isn't it time to think about reification of The Economy?

"I Quit Teach for America"

From The Atlantic:
I Quit Teach for America 
Five weeks of training was not enough to prepare me for a room of 20 unruly elementary-schoolers. 

... The phrase closing the achievement gap is the cornerstone of TFA's general philosophy, public-relations messaging, and training sessions. As a member of the 2011 corps, I was told immediately and often that 1) the achievement gap is a pervasive example of inequality in America, and 2) it is our personal responsibility to close the achievement gap within our classrooms, which are microcosms of America's educational inequality. 
These are laudable goals. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, white fourth-graders performed better than their black peers on 2007 standardized mathematics exams in all 46 states where results were available. In 2004, there was a 23-point gap in mathematics scale scores between white and black 9-year-olds, with the gap growing to 26 points for 13-year-olds. 

You know, instead of trying to get blacks and Hispanics to score a full standard deviation higher while preventing whites and Asians from scoring higher, why not try to get everybody to score a half standard deviation higher? That's both more feasible and more equitable.
But between these two messages lies the unspoken logic that current, non-TFA teachers and schools are failing at the task of closing the achievement gap, through some combination of apathy or incompetence. Although TFA seminars and presentations never explicitly accuse educators of either, the implication is strong within the program's very structure: recruit high-achieving college students, train them over the summer, and send them into America's lowest-performing schools to make things right. The subtext is clear: Only you can fix what others have screwed up. It was an implication I noticed when an e-mail I received during Institute, the five-week training program, referring to “a system of students who have simply not been taught.” The e-mail explained, “That’s really what the achievement gap is—for all of the external factors that may or may not add challenges to our students’ lives—mostly it is that they really and truly have not been taught and are therefore years behind where they need to be.” 
I later asked a TFA spokesperson if this e-mail reflects the organization’s official views on traditionally trained teachers. He denied that TFA believes “the shortcomings of public education” to be “the fault of teachers. If anything,” he added, “teachers are victims of more-structural problems: inequitable funding; inadequate systems of training and supporting teachers; the absence of strong school and district leadership.” Nonetheless, at the time, the dramatic indictment of America’s non-TFA teachers would stay with me as I headed into the scandal-ridden Atlanta Public Schools system. 
In the weeks between accepting the offer to join TFA and the start of our training, I was told by e-mail that “as a 2011 corps member and leader, you have a deep personal and collective responsibility to ground everything you do in your belief that the educational inequality that persists along socioeconomic and racial lines is both our nation’s most fundamental injustice and a solvable problem. This mindset,” I was reminded, “is at the core of our Teach For America—Metro Atlanta Community.” 
At the time, I appreciated TFA’s apparent confidence in me as a leader. I assumed that I would learn the concrete steps I needed to achieve this transformation during the training program. Instead I was immersed in a sea of jargon, buzzwords, and touchy-feely exercises. One memorable session began with directions for us to mentally “become” two of our students. After an elaborate, 32-slide reflection guide, we were asked to close the session with a “Vision Collage,” for which we were handed pre-scripted reflections. “One person will volunteer to read his/her line first. After one person reads aloud, another should jump in, so that one response immediately follows another—without any pauses.” At this stage in training, most of us were still struggling to grasp the basics of lesson planning. (According to TFA this exercise is not a part of the formal training program.) 
Typical instructional training included only the most basic framework; one guide to introducing new material told us to “emphasize key points, command student attention, actively involve students, and check for understanding.” We were told that “uncommon techniques” included “setting high academic expectations, structuring and delivering your lessons, engaging students in your lessons, communicating high behavioral expectations, and building character and trust.” 
Specific tips included “you provide the answer; the student repeats the answer”; “ask students to make an exact replica in their notes of what you write on the board”; and “respond quickly to misunderstandings.” After observing and teaching alongside non-TFA teachers at my placement school, I can confidently say that these approaches are not “uncommon.”

Teach for America has an interesting ideology:

- With students, nurture matters more than nature
- With teachers, nature matters more than nurture

TfA selects only about 11% of its applicants, and it primarily wants college grads who got into elite colleges, earned high grades, and demonstrated strong leadership skills and perseverance. In other words, pre-Harvard Business School types. Then it gives them a ridiculously short five weeks of training, and off they go for two years. But that's okay because they are innately better than the kind of people who become normal teachers. 

And, yes, probably they are. But they can't be allowed to suspect that some students are better than other students.

September 23, 2013

Peter Turchin explains War! What is it good for?

Mounted Mongol warriors
Via Dienekes:
War, space, and the evolution of Old World complex societies  
Peter Turchin et al. 
PNAS doi: 10.1073/pnas.1308825110  
How did human societies evolve from small groups, integrated by face-to-face cooperation, to huge anonymous societies of today, typically organized as states? Why is there so much variation in the ability of different human populations to construct viable states? 
Existing theories are usually formulated as verbal models and, as a result, do not yield sharply defined, quantitative predictions that could be unambiguously tested with data. Here we develop a cultural evolutionary model that predicts where and when the largest-scale complex societies arose in human history. The central premise of the model, which we test, is that costly institutions that enabled large human groups to function without splitting up evolved as a result of intense competition between societies—primarily warfare. 
Warfare intensity, in turn, depended on the spread of historically attested military technologies (e.g., chariots and cavalry) and on geographic factors (e.g., rugged landscape). The model was simulated within a realistic landscape of the Afroeurasian landmass and its predictions were tested against a large dataset documenting the spatiotemporal distribution of historical large-scale societies in Afroeurasia between 1,500 BCE and 1,500 CE. The model-predicted pattern of spread of large-scale societies was very similar to the observed one. Overall, the model explained 65% of variance in the data. An alternative model, omitting the effect of diffusing military technologies, explained only 16% of variance. Our results support theories that emphasize the role of institutions in state-building and suggest a possible explanation why a long history of statehood is positively correlated with political stability, institutional quality, and income per capita. 

Here's a video of the spread of empire in theory and in history.

Turchin is from Russia, the son of a prominent Soviet dissident. So, this Get Big or Get Stomped logic is obvious to him. I wrote something much less sophisticated but along similar lines after a 2001 visit to Moscow.

"Minnesota" youth runs amok in Nairobi

From the Washington Post:
... Most of the extremists who seized the upscale Nairobi mall were young and barked orders in English. 
With the standoff apparently drawing to a close after three days, there was a growing focus on the identity of the militants and how they could pull off a sophisticated assault that killed at least 62 people and kept security forces at bay for three days. Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed said Monday that “two or three Americans” and “one Brit” were among the perpetrators of the attack. 
She said in an interview with “PBS Newshour” that the Americans were 18 to 19 years old, of Somali or Arab origin and lived “in Minnesota and one other place” in the United States. The British jihadist was a woman who has “done this many times before,” Mohamed said. 
U.S. officials said Monday that they were pressing to determine whether any of the assailants were American. 
“But at this point we have no definitive evidence of the nationalities or identities of the perpetrators,” said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

Clearly, the situation is still murky so don't feel too assured that this latest account is accurate. But if it is, isn't it about time that, just as we have a highly useful National Transportation Safety Board to investigate accidents and make reform recommendations, we should have a National Immigration Safety Board to investigate why immigrants and the children of immigrants who mess up very badly were ever in our country?

For background, here's CIS's page on refugee policy. And here's Refugee Resettlement Watch.

Pew: Illegal alien numbers rising again

From the Pew Hispanic Center:
Population Decline of Unauthorized Immigrants Stalls, May Have Reversed 
The sharp decline in the U.S. unauthorized immigrant population that accompanied the Great Recession has bottomed out, and the number may be rising again. An estimated 11.7 million unauthorized immigrants were living in the U.S. in March 2012, according to a new preliminary Pew Research Center estimate. Different trends appear among the six states in which 60% of unauthorized immigrants live—California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Texas. Of these, only Texas had increases in its unauthorized immigrant population between 2007 and 2011. The analysis also finds that the post-2007 population dip was sharper for Mexicans than for unauthorized immigrants as a whole.

I, personally, have no idea how many illegal aliens there are in the U.S., and I doubt if the Pew organization is all that much more accurately informed. It's a tough methodological problem. On the other hand, I've found the Pew Hispanic Center researchers to be more honest than they need to be, so I wouldn't discount their numbers, either. For example, this announcement isn't welcome news for Schumer-Rubio.

One possibility is that they are off on the number but right about trends. For example, their claim of a falloff in new illegal immigrants after 2007 was backed up by the birth data. New illegal immigrants have a lot of babies, but overall Hispanic fertility dropped sharply in 2009-2010, backing up Pew's call of a decline in illegal immigration. We'll eventually see if the 2012 birth data backs them up on their call of an upswing.

Crowd Psychology

A reader writes (I anonymized):
Perhaps I'm just being misled by your tendency to embrace lost causes, but...
Recently visited my teeny-tiny hometown of W_____ (pop. 5,600). 
Discovered that the parish priest has been driven from his duties by an accusation of child abuse that supposedly took place 35 years ago. 
His parishioners believe Father XYZ is innocent. Fr. XYZ has passed a lie detector test. Fr. XYZ's supporters believe, as I do, that the claimant in this case is just looking for a payoff, with full knowledge that the Church will not defend accused priests. 
Perhaps this subject doesn't interest you. Seems to me that the gay persecution hysteria is sort of the flip side of the Catholic sexual abuse biz. I lived in gay communities in SF and NYC. Pedophilia and male gaydom do go together. I believe my lying eyes. 
This hysteria over accusations of homosexual predation in the Church seems, to me, to be a barely concealed parallel to the common practice of homosexual predation upon minors so common to gay men. 
In other words, ghosts are rattling around in our collective psyche.

The crowd psychology is complex, but it sounds worth considering. Gay Is Good so the altar boy fondling scandals coming out of the Catholic Church must be driven by pedophilia, not homosexual. And the assumption of just how severe most of these cases are gets blown out of proportion. We need witches to hunt.

Consider the very literal witch hunts of the 1980s-1990s Satanic Ritual Abuse in Nursery Schools delusion as an example of how people's strong feelings in one area can manifest themselves as obsessions in others.

House GOP plots stab in the back

From the Washington Post:
House Republicans say they’ll act on immigration reform this year 
By David Nakamura 
House Republicans intensified their outreach to Latino groups last week, offering renewed pledges that the House will deal with immigration reform this year. The effort has revived hope among advocates that a bipartisan deal can be reached to address the fate of the nation’s 11 million undocumented workers and students. 
The chances of a comprehensive deal passing Congress remain doubtful, advocates cautioned, and they worry that the legislative process will spill into 2014, presenting new complications in a year when lawmakers face reelection battles. 

In other words, politicians want to pass amnesty, but not if they have to do it soon enough before an election for voters to remember they did it.
But they were encouraged by signals from key GOP leaders that the House is willing to move forward on legislation that could produce a breakthrough in the stalled negotiations. 
Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said Thursday that his panel is working on four new pieces of legislation dealing with border-control laws. He did not disclose details but emphasized the need to resolve the status of people living in the country illegally. 
“We want to do immigration reform right,” Goodlatte told about 70 Hispanic leaders during a roundtable discussion on Capitol Hill, adding that he hopes the House can begin considering bills next month. 
His remarks boosted the spirits of advocates who have become increasingly fretful that Republicans have been dragging out the process in an effort to kill momentum for a deal.

The best we can hope for from the GOP Congressmen is nothing -- nothing is better than something. But it's starting to look like nothing is too much to ask.

September 22, 2013

The social construction of race (and the racial construction of society)

From my VDARE review of a book by the former head of the Census Bureau on how to reform the government's racial/ethnic categories:
I’m frequently accused of being overly interested in race and ethnicity, to which I reply: “Didn’t you fill in your Census questionnaire?” 
Now, Kenneth Prewitt, whom Bill Clinton appointed head of the Census Bureau in 1998, has published an informative book, What Is Your Race?: The Census and Our Flawed Efforts to Classify Americans, documenting the federal government’s dysfunctional combination of near-monomania over counting by race and lack of coherent thought about the long-run effects of how racial boundaries are drawn. 
Despite his half-decade in charge of the Census, Prewitt shares with the average American a certain perplexity over his old department’s fixation upon race and ethnicity. ...
Prewitt argues that if race and ethnicity are social constructs, as all good liberals like him assume, then our democracy ought to be prudent about how we socially construct them. Prewitt takes the scientifically discredited “race does not exist” conventional wisdom seriously, but you don’t have to fully accept that to see the good sense in his advice.

Read the whole thing there.

Kaus on Cruz

Mickey Kaus goes after Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX):
Hey, Look at Me Fail: Isn’t it obvious that Ted Cruz is in it for Ted Cruz? The man had a choice–he could fight the Senate’s push for “amnesty first” immigration legislation, which he had a very good chance of killing

Because he has a Spanish surname, which presumably lets him do things politicians without Spanish surnames are not allowed to do (see the Constitution's Hidden Amendment for details)
, or he could stage a showy fight against funding Obamacare that he’d certainly lose. The first course would annoy the business backers who fund Senate and presidential campaigns. The latter course would gin up and channel conservative anger, boosting Cruz’s profile in the caucuses and primaries,without doing anyone much damage at all (since it would fail). The choice seems to have been a no-brainer for the senator. 
I originally thought Cruz opposed amnesty and took a dive on the issue, doing the minimum possible to maintain his credibility. I now don’t think his behavior was that bad. It was worse–his very opposition to amnesty was fake. Evidence: The New York Times, in a bit of Anticipatory Strange New Respect, recently ran a piece on Cruz’s attempt to stake out “middle ground on immigration.” The middle ground seems to be support for legalization that stops short of citizenship: 
“A path to legal status, but not to citizenship. A green card with no right to naturalization."

This is the ideal outcome for Republican politicians. There big donors get to pound down wages some more immediately, while the impact on elections is pushed back to the next generation. What's not to love? (Assuming you aren't, say, an average American.)

Karl Rove was always pushing this sort of thing, too. But the Democrats have the upper hand in rhetoric because "a path to citizenship" sounds better than "lifelong helotry."