October 4, 2013

Is the "No True Scotsman" fallacy a fallacy?

In recent years, as the logical objection "Correlation does not prove causation!" has spread to the lower depths of the Internet, the cool kids have increasingly turned to retorting "No True Scotsman." It's proving an increasingly popular safeguard against Noticing Patterns.
No true Scotsman 
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 
[For the practice of wearing a kilt without undergarments, see True Scotsman.] 
No true Scotsman is an informal fallacy, an ad hoc attempt to retain an unreasoned assertion.[1] When faced with a counterexample to a universal claim ("no Scotsman would do such a thing"), rather than denying the counterexample or rejecting the original universal claim, this fallacy modifies the subject of the assertion to exclude the specific case or others like it by rhetoric, without reference to any specific objective rule ("no true Scotsman would do such a thing").  ...
The use of the term was advanced by British philosopher Antony Flew: 
Imagine Hamish McDonald, a Scotsman, sitting down with his Glasgow Morning Herald and seeing an article about how the "Brighton Sex Maniac Strikes Again". Hamish is shocked and declares that "No Scotsman would do such a thing". The next day he sits down to read his Glasgow Morning Herald again; and, this time, finds an article about an Aberdeen man whose brutal actions make the Brighton sex maniac seem almost gentlemanly. This fact shows that Hamish was wrong in his opinion but is he going to admit this? Not likely. This time he says, "No true Scotsman would do such a thing".[4] ...

An example of a political application of the fallacy could be in asserting that "no democracy starts a war", then distinguishing between mature or "true" democracies, which never start wars, and "emerging democracies", which may start them.[3] 

How is our understanding of the human world improved by snickering about "No True Scotsman" fallacies when somebody offers to refine their initial assertion to make it more accurate? Obviously, Flew's example is intended to be comical. In contrast, Wikipedia's example about democracies and war is not inherently implausible, but the Wikipedians don't seem to notice. To them, they're both examples of the No True Scotsman fallacy.

I have no idea what's empirically true about Wikipedia's democracy / war assertion, but offering a distinction between mature and emerging democracies is hardly prime facie derisible. You could go on to define maturity in terms of years of endurance or numbers of peaceful changes of power or whatever and then see if that pans out statistically.

Nor is even the literal No True Scotsman argument itself automatically foolhardy:

Angus: No Scotsman rides in an electric buggy while playing golf! It's American degeneracy.

Jock: Well, actually, a survey shows that about 3% of Scotsmen ride while playing.

Angus: No True Scotsman rides in an electric buggy while playing golf! 

Jock: I lost my left leg serving in the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders in Yemen in 1967, so I can't walk 18 holes anymore. The Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers unanimously voted to allow me to play Muirfield with an electric buggy annually on Bonnie Prince Charlie's coronation day in a two-ball foursome in which I partner with my boyhood friend from the streets of Edinburgh, Sean Connery (who, of course, walks).

Angus: Okay, No Two-Legged True Scotsman rides in an electric buggy while playing golf!

In general, we're seeing an ongoing convergence between the bad intellectual habits of two groups that are powerfully represented in Internet discussions: the politically correct and the Aspergery. The former dislike pattern recognition and the latter love mechanistic computer-programming style reasoning. And they increasingly come together to try to shut down probabilistic thinking about human behavior.

Autumn iSteve Panhandling Drive

I've been running quarterly fundraisers for the last year, and they've been an encouraging success. My readers have been quite generous. I deeply value and am inspired by your feedback (especially your feedback in the form of money). 

So, it's time for the Autumn 2013 iSteve Panhandling Drive.

First, you can make a tax deductible contribution via VDARE by clicking here. You can use credit card or check (please put my name on the memo line of any checks).

Second, you can make a non-tax deductible contribution by credit card via WePay by clicking here

Third: You can mail a non-tax deductible donation to:

Steve Sailer
P.O Box 4142
Valley Village, CA 91607-4142


In defense of fashionistas

Here's an NYT article about a lady designer in the brand new country of South Sudan who is pitching fashion as something that might give her country a bit of an international image and something that locals can feel proud of. Who knows if that will work, but it's worth a try because the South Sudanese (such as the Nuer and the Dinka) tend to possess this spindly Avatar-style elegance as if their ancestors had been kidnapped by flying saucers thousands of years ago, and they've been evolving ever since on a lower gravity planet.
On Fashion Runway, South Sudan Takes Steps Toward a National Identity 
JUBA, South Sudan — Even by the standards of fashion models, the women teetering in their high heels on the dirt catwalk here were remarkably tall and slender. But judging by South Sudan’s many towering inhabitants, they were hardly out of the ordinary in the young nation’s capital.

Of the many articles I've ever read about the difficulties of southern Sudan, this is one of the few that mentions what the locals tend to look like: tall. This may have something to do with the fact that it was written from a fashion standpoint.

I always thought that it was a mistake for sympathetic journalists to skip over how distinctive looking southern Sudanese tend to be in the interests of not offending modern customs against Noticing. Without a visual hook for readers to hang the story upon, the long struggle of southern Sudanese to be free of the brown northern Sudanese just sounded like More Bad News Out of Africa.

Fashion folks aren't necessarily the most likable human beings in history, but they do feel themselves exempt from the taboo against seeing with their own two eyes.

Is Noël Wells the first ever even slightly Mexican American SNL cast member?

Noël Wells
From the Washington Post:
As ‘Saturday Night Live’ cast reboots, questions about diversity emerge 
By Paul Farhi, Published: October 3 E-mail the writer 
During an often-glorious 38-year run, “Saturday Night Live” has featured some accomplished comic players of color: Eddie Murphy, Tim Meadows, Chris Rock, Tracy Morgan, Maya Rudolph, Kenan Thompson. 
Is that enough diversity for a program that has come to define satire on American television? 
... In another of its periodic resets of its ever-evolving cast, the show added six cast members this season — five of whom are white and male. 
This development has elicited a rebuke of sorts from within. Jay Pharoah, who along with Thompson is one of two African Americans in the 16-member cast, told the Web site TheGrio this week that the NBC show should hire an African American woman. ...

Otherwise one of the black male performers has to portray Oprah, who will probably be back in the news all through Oscar season.
The cast includes a performer of Hispanic-Tunisian descent (newcomer Noël Wells) and one of Persian heritage (Nasim Pedrad). 
But nonwhite cast members are overwhelmingly the exception. Horatio Sanz and Armisen were the first and only Latinos in the cast until Wells arrived; 

Obviously, everybody wants to talk about blacks. But how many Mexican Americans have been one of 137 cast members over the decades? Sanz was born in Chile, and Armisen's mother Hildegard was born in Venezuela, which leaves obscure featured performer Noël Wells' one grandparent as the sole Mexican-American hope. From IMDB:
She is half Tunisian and a quarter Hispanic.

And she's from San Antonio, increasing the odds that her one Spanish surnamed grandparent is Mexican. Or maybe the grandparent was a Tunisian-Mexican?

But, can you be Mexican and spell your name with an umlaut? Isn't that a dealbreaker?

I've always found Lorne Michaels hilarious, so I'd look forward to hearing his testimony in a disparate impact case: you know, 0.25 out of 137 for a group that makes up about 1/10th of the country seems kinda suspicious, don't it? I'm sure the Obama Administration will be filing its discrimination lawsuit against SNL any day now.

I like my reading just a little on the Spergy side *

It's not exactly a new discovery that reading good literature tends to improve perceptions, intuitions, and empathy, but it's fun to see an experiment, even if the finding that reading five minutes of Chekov makes a difference deserves skepticism.
For Better Social Skills, Scientists Recommend a Little Chekhov

... Something by Chekhov or Alice Munro will help you navigate new social territory better than a potboiler by Danielle Steel. 
That is the conclusion of a study published Thursday in the journal Science. It found that after reading literary fiction, as opposed to popular fiction or serious nonfiction, people performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence — skills that come in especially handy when you are trying to read someone’s body language or gauge what they might be thinking.

Here's the title:
Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind

A Theory of Mind is what autistics lack. From Wikipedia:
Theory of mind (often abbreviated "ToM") is the ability to attribute mental states—beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc.—to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires, and intentions that are different from one's own.

From the NYT:
The researchers say the reason is that literary fiction often leaves more to the imagination, encouraging readers to make inferences about characters and be sensitive to emotional nuance and complexity. 
... The researchers, social psychologists at the New School for Social Research in New York City, recruited their subjects through that über-purveyor of reading material, Amazon.com. To find a broader pool of participants than the usual college students, they used Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service, where people sign up to earn money for completing small jobs. 
People ranging in age from 18 to 75 were recruited for each of five experiments. 
They were paid $2 or $3 each to read for a few minutes. Some were given excerpts from award-winning literary fiction (Don DeLillo, Wendell Berry). Others were given best sellers like Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl,” a Rosamunde Pilcher romance or a Robert Heinlein science fiction tale. 
In one experiment, some participants were given nonfiction excerpts, but we’re not talking “All the President’s Men.” To maximize the contrast, the researchers — looking for nonfiction that was well-written, but not literary or about people — turned to Smithsonian Magazine. “How the Potato Changed the World” was one selection.

That's an excerpt from Charles C. Mann's 2011 book 1493, which I reviewed here.
After reading — or in some cases reading nothing — the participants took computerized tests that measure people’s ability to decode emotions or predict a person’s expectations or beliefs in a particular scenario. In one test, called “Reading the Mind in the Eyes,” subjects did just that: they studied 36 photographs of pairs of eyes and chose which of four adjectives best described the emotion each showed. 
Is the woman with the smoky eyes aghast or doubtful? Is the man whose gaze has slivered to a squint suspicious or indecisive?  
But psychologists and other experts said the new study was powerful because it suggested a direct effect — quantifiable by measuring how many right and wrong answers people got on the tests — from reading literature for only a few minutes. 
“It’s a really important result,” said Nicholas Humphrey, an evolutionary psychologist who has written extensively about human intelligence, and who was not involved in the research. “That they would have subjects read for three to five minutes and that they would get these results is astonishing.”

An alternative explanation is that three to five minutes of Chekhov doesn't raise these capabilities meaningfully, it just primes people into making the effort to respond well on the test. Chekhov is such a striking reminder of how psychologically perceptive a member of the human race can be that he encourages you to up your game, at least for a little while.

(I think we need a Theory of Test, which would include the notion that modern people are pretty good at figuring out what testers want, and not bothering to expend energy on low stakes tests if that's not what the tester wants to hear. Much popular psychological research, such as stereotype threat, assumes that test-takers are more or less autistic in not noticing what the testers want to discover.)

On the other hand, when I last read a couple of Chekhov stories around 2009, I was exhausted by the time I finished the second. And then I didn't sleep well. I'm not in Chekhov's league. I, personally, like articles about the potato's effect on history.
Dr. Humphrey, an emeritus professor at Cambridge University’s Darwin College, said he would have expected that reading generally would make people more empathetic and understanding. “But to separate off literary fiction, and to demonstrate that it has different effects from the other forms of reading, is remarkable,” he said.

Is it "literary fiction" per se that matters? Does reading Borges make you less Aspergery than reading Gone With the Wind? If so, why?
* By the way, I only listen to the country music radio station about 15 minutes per month, but it seems like every other month I hear "I Like My Women Just a Little on the Trashy Side." Is this a reference that others recognize? Or is it just randomness that I keep hearing the same obscure song? Or is there a deeper pattern? Chekhov and Borges would probably offer differing explanations.

October 3, 2013

Which KKK-infested county is this?

Try to guess which county (or which city or which state) this is:
Blacks are 5.5 times more likely than whites to be unemployed in YYY County. 
Three-quarters of the county’s African-American children live in poverty, compared to 5 percent of white children. 
Half of all black high school students don’t graduate on time, compared to 16 percent of white children. 
African-American children are 15 times more likely than their white counterparts to land in foster care. And black juveniles are six times more likely to be arrested than white juveniles. 
Those are some of the findings released Wednesday in a report, “Race to Equity,” by the XXX [state] Council on Children and Families. The report compared 40 indicators of well-being for YYY County residents, mostly between 2007 and 2011. In nearly every category, the study found, blacks, who make up 6.5 percent of the county’s population, fare much worse than whites. 
Eighteen months in the making, the report is offered as a baseline against which future efforts to close racial disparities in YYY County can be measured. It seeks to encapsulate and expand on previous studies that showed racial gaps in educational attainment, poverty, employment, participation in the criminal justice system and other indicators. 
Although some indicators show improvement — for example, arrests of black juveniles and adults is down significantly over the past four years — most of the numbers are bleak. 
“It’s no secret that we’ve had these disparities. A lot of groups have been working on this,” said Bob Jacobson, spokesman for the council. “But the approach to tackling the problem hasn’t been coordinated and comprehensive, which is really what’s needed.” 
Disparities are common across the United States, the report said, but the gap between the quality of life for whites and blacks is much worse in YYY County, the epicenter for progressive politics in XXX and often ranked among one of the best places in America to live. 
Rural or urban, north or south, across the United States, YYY County is “rock bottom” when it comes to racial disparities, Jacobson said, adding, “It’s really jarring.”

Any guesses?

A few hints:

- Obama won 71.0% of the vote in YYY County in 2012.

- ZZZ, the county seat of YYY County, is also the capital of the state of  XXX.

- ZZZ is a famous college town.

- I've often pointed out that the state of XXX, despite being admirable in numerous ways, has been terrible for African-Americans (and vice-versa). Blacks seem to do better in Texas or Georgia than this culturally quite different place, which has deep liberal roots going back to the eras of the Progressive and Socialist Parties.

- The Onion was founded here in 1988.

Ready to guess?

You can find this article in in the hometown newspaper here.

The regular guy (zillionaire division) ambassador

One more thought on Prince Bandar bin Sultan, now back in business as the Saudi spymaster trying to overthrow the Syrian government (and, according to Tehran-affiliated sites, the Tunisian one, too). Bandar had a spectacular 22-year run as Saudi ambassador to Washington that was remarkable not just for its length and brazenness, but for his adoption of a persona at odds with the traditional diplomatic style. 

Generally, ambassadors to Washington have been, ideally, either aristocrats (e.g., Lord Bryce or Lord Halifax) or suave imitations of aristocrats (e.g., Abba Eban). As I pointed out last year, Barack Obama was raised and educated to be some kind of diplomat, likely specializing in the non-Arab Islamic world.

The single most successful ambassador in American history, Benjamin Franklin (who talked the king of France's government into putting themselves on the path to the guillotine to make America independent), played up the opposite persona in Rousseau's Noble Savage-crazed Paris, dressing as some sort of sage from a backwoods region where haircuts hadn't yet been invented.

Part of Prince Bandar's effectiveness in Washington, however, is that he didn't act like an aristocrat, he acted like an NFL team owner. For example, it was international news in 2009 when Bandar didn't fly in on his America's Team-painted Airbus for the first game at the Dallas Cowboys' new super stadium. 

From McClatchy:
One of the big-money suite holders is a prince who finds himself mired in controversy over his private jet, which is painted in the colors of his beloved Cowboys. 
Team owner Jerry Jones will preside over Sunday's game from his suite on the 50-yard line. A suite nearby has been bought by one of the Cowboys’ most ardent fans, Jones'’ close friend, Prince Bandar bin Sultan of Saudi Arabia, one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the world. 
Bandar, a national security advisor to the Saudi king, son of the crown prince, and the Saudi ambassador to the United States from 1983 to 2005, has a fanatical love of the Cowboys that dates to his days as a fighter pilot instructor in Texas in the 1970s. 
The Saudi Embassy tells the Star-Telegram that Bandar, who is observing the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, now lives in Saudi Arabia and will not be at the game against the New York Giants. 
During his time as ambassador, Bandar attended games in Jones' box at Texas Stadium and in Washington, visited the Cowboys' Valley Ranch training facility, gave Jones a silver-and-platinum life-size Cowboys helmet after Super Bowl XXVII, accompanied Jones during at least one critical game down to the sidelines with a large entourage, and hung out post-game in the locker room so many times that many Cowboys players know him simply as "the prince." 
Bandar flies around the world in a jet painted in the Cowboys' silver-and-blue colors.

Case Closed!

From Marginal Revolution:
Does increasing inequality weaken the case for additional low-skilled immigration? 
by Tyler Cowen  
In general, no.  Let’s assume that the increase in inequality is driven by new technologies, such as automation, or by foreign trade. 

In other words, let's begin by assuming that the increase in inequality is not caused even in part by additional low-skilled immigration. Ergo, increasing inequality does not weaken the case for additional low-skilled immigration.


Case closed!
See 1:44 to 2:01.

Pew's big survey of Jewish Americans

The Pew Center has published a long report, A Portrait of Jewish Americans, on the first major survey of Jews in America in a long time. This is a fairly exhausting task to take on, since there is a small sample size of Jews so standard random surveys don't work well, Jewish organizations have strong opinions on the subject of Jewish demographics (the list of acknowledgments is endless), and so many people have different opinions on (as the title of the second chapter says) "Who is a Jew?"

Pew came up with a little under 1.8% of the American adult population being "Jewish by religion" (presumably including converts). You don't have to be terribly religious to fit into this category: 31% of the Jews by religion attend synagogue never or less often than yearly.

Another 0.5% of the U.S. population are "Jews of no religion" (even though a majority of those identify as only partly Jewish. Lumping them together, Pew comes up with 2.2% of the adult population being Jewish. Oddly enough, that's the same number as the last couple of surveys over the last two decades. (That finding tends to cut down on the number of "Jews in Decline" headlines.)

Interestingly, another 1.0% of the population is "Jewish Background." But, they don't get counted as Jewish by the Pew Center. These are primarily people of Christian faith who have at least one Jewish parent. Among this group, 73% identify wholly or partly as Jewish, and 28% of them made a donation to a Jewish group within the last year, but that's not good enough. Apparently, the rule that the Pew Center came up with, after all its deliberations with Jewish leaders, is that people of no religion are fine being counted as Jews, even if they only partly identify as Jews, but professing a non-Jewish religion is a dealbreaker. Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli would have disagreed, but this is 21st Century America so the standards are not as lax as in Queen Victoria's time.

Finally, another 0.5% of the population falls into the "Jewish Affinity" category. This appears to consist of people like the late Christopher Hitchens and various other eccentrics. 

Here are the Pew rules:
- Jews by religion – people who say their religion is Jewish (and who do not profess any other religion); 
- Jews of no religion – people who describe themselves (religiously) as atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular, but who have a Jewish parent or were raised Jewish and who still consider themselves Jewish in some way. 
These first two groups constitute, for the purposes of this analysis, the “net” Jewish population. In addition, the survey interviewed: 
- Non-Jewish people of Jewish background – people who have a Jewish parent or were raised Jewish but who, today, either have another religion (most are Christian) or say they do not consider themselves Jewish; 
- Non-Jewish people with a Jewish affinity – people who identify with another religion (in most cases, Christianity) or with no religion and who neither have a Jewish parent nor were raised Jewish but who nevertheless consider themselves Jewish in some way. Some say, for example, that they consider themselves partly Jewish because Jesus was Jewish, because “we all come from Abraham” or because they have Jewish friends or relatives. 
Most of this report focuses on the net Jewish population (Jews by religion and Jews of no religion). Whenever the views or characteristics of U.S. Jews (or just “Jews”) are discussed, this refers to the combined categories of Jews by religion and Jews of no religion.

There is a ton of information in this report. Here's an interesting table on education and income that I wouldn't have guessed, but makes sense now that I see it:

The highest income Jewish denomination (is that the right word?) is Modern Orthodox, who also have the highest percentage of college graduates. 37% have a household income of $150,000 or higher, and 65% have a B.A. or better.

The highest income gentile denomination are white Catholics, where 13% of households claim that income level. Both Catholics and Jews tend to live in larger urban areas with higher costs of living and higher incomes. Note that income and wealth aren't the same thing: Catholics tend to be lacking in trust funds. According to Pew, mainline white Protestants are just ahead of white Catholics in college education.

There is much else of interest.

Bandar is back (in manic phase of his bipolar cycle)

The Saudi ambassador to the United States from 1983-2005 was Prince Bandar. Because he is the son of a part black slave girl, he's ineligible for the Saudi throne, but he has been an invaluable servant of the royal family at tirelessly spending its (not) hard-earned money to buy the maximum influence in the global imperial capital. For example, when George W. Bush thought about running for the White House, George H.W. Bush asked Bandar to educate his provincial son on America's foreign policy.

Who knows what fraction of Official Washington he's gladhanded or outright bribed? Do you, for example, really want to be at the sold-out Redskins-Cowboy game? It just so happens that Bandar is a close, close friend of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. Bandar's memoirs would make interesting reading, although he no doubt he has his notes about everybody he's dealt with in his long career locked tightly away (but perhaps not so tightly locked up that he hasn't rigged some kind of deadman switch that would publish them in case of something unfortunate happening to him ... just speculating ...)

Every so often, however, Bandar tends to disappear, either due to alcoholism or depression or who knows what. He is said to have had his first depressive disappearance in the mid-1990s. He seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth from 2008 to 2010, but how now he appears to be back with a vengeance, running Saudi Arabia's adventure in Syria.

Much of history is made by men whose manic phases happen to coincide with eras of opportunity.

One question I've never seen investigated is whether bipolar disease might be semi-adaptive in a few lucky individuals. Do cycles just hit at random, or in some people do they coincide with auspicious and unauspicious periods? Perhaps we'll never know because if you fall in the latter category, they don't call you crazy, they call you "Mr. Speaker" (or whatever maximal title you attained during an up period).

October 2, 2013

Nature: "Taboo Genetics"

From the scientific journal Nature:
Ethics: Taboo genetics 
Probing the biological basis of certain traits ignites controversy. But some scientists choose to cross the red line anyway. 
Erika Check Hayden 
02 October 2013

Scientists cited or quoted include Steve Hsu, Geoffrey Miller, Christopher Chabris, Francis Galton, Robert Plomin, and Bruce Lahn.

And here is Nature's tut-tutting editorial:
Dangerous work 
Behavioural geneticists must tread carefully to prevent their research being misinterpreted.

Here are the four questions in Nature's poll
Should scientists refrain from studying the genetics of intelligence? 
Should scientists refrain from studying the genetics of race? 
Should scientists refrain from studying the genetics of violence? 
Should scientists refrain from studying the genetics of sexuality?

To quote the conclusion of a great American's 1940 book: "Vote early and often."

Designer Babies

From Wired:
Personal Genomics Firm 23andMe Patents Designer Baby System, Denies Plans to Use It 
BY BRANDON KEIM10.02.1312:08 PM

As described in a patent recently granted by the United States Patent Office, consumer genomics company 23andMe [started by the soon to be ex-wife of one of the Google Guys] has developed a system for helping prospective parents choose the traits of their offspring, from disease risk to hair color. Put another way, it’s a designer baby-making system. 
The company says it does not intend to use the technology this way. “When we originally introduced the tool and filed the patent there was some thinking the feature could have applications for fertility clinics,” said Catherine Afarian, a 23andMe spokeswoman. “But we’ve never pursued the idea, and have no plans to do so.” 
Filed in December 2008, the patent — number 8543339, “Gamete donor selection based on genetic calculations” — sounds like something out of Gattaca, the 1997 movie that came to symbolize tensions between self-determination and biologically ordained fate. 
The patent describes a technology that would take a customer’s preferences for a child’s traits, compute the likely genomic outcomes of combinations between a customer’s sperm or egg and other people’s sex cells, and describe which potential reproductive matches would most likely produce the desired baby.

Among the traits listed in the application as examples of possible choice are: height, weight, hair color, risks of colorectal cancer and congenital heart defects, expected life span, expected lifetime health care costs, and athleticism.

Lesbians and infertile couples leafing through the catalogs of sperm banks could make a good market for this. By necessity, they engage in Design-a-Baby, so it would be helpful for them to have some advice on the likelihood of getting their desired traits. It doesn't even have to be at the genotypic level, just at the phenotypic level: I want my child to have, say, red hair and be skinny and have an SAT over 1300. Here are three donors who each have two of the desired traits. But which ones are more of a sure thing?

Also, the Asian market would likely be much bigger than the Northern Atlantic market.

What the world will pay for

From the NYT:
A Master of Crime Fiction in a Nation Lacking Them 
Jakob Arjouni’s Last Novel, Now in English 
... When Diogenes, a Zurich publishing house, brought out his first novel, “Happy Birthday, Turk!” in 1985, Germans got their first taste of an exotic flavor that soon proved addictive. 
Kemal Kayankaya, Mr. Arjouni’s Frankfurt-based private eye, was an anomaly. Though Turkish by birth, he spoke German like a native and often seemed like an American, with a cynical worldview and a wiseguy sense of humor straight out of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. German readers loved him. 
“Arjouni was the first writer to put a self-confident, aggressive, individual and charming German Turk on the national stage as a character in popular culture,” said Gabriele Dietze, a fellow at Humboldt University in Berlin and a former crime-novel editor. “Kayankaya was the first self-aware immigrant hero.” 
“Happy Birthday, Turk!,” which involves the murder of a Turkish immigrant and a sinister drug ring, became an immediate best seller. ...
On Jan. 17, Mr. Arjouni died in Berlin of the pancreatic cancer that had set him racing against the clock to finish the book. He was 48. ...
Although Kayankaya is indifferent to politics, his investigations entangle him in hot-button issues like immigration, racism, ecoterrorism and, in “Brother Kemal,” militant Islam. 
“This is ripped-from-the-headlines stuff, but he doesn’t beat you over the head with it,” said Dennis Johnson, a founder and publisher of Melville House, which has reissued all the Kayankaya novels. “You don’t realize you are reading a political novel, but you are.” 
Arjouni (formerly Michelsen-Bothe)
For years, readers and critics alike assumed that Mr. Arjouni, like Kayankaya, was at least partly Turkish. Mr. Arjouni made little effort to correct that impression, which was false. He was born in Frankfurt, the son of Hans Günter Michelsen, a fairly well-known playwright, and Ursula Bothe, a theatrical publisher, whose last name he used. 

Here's a picture of Arjouni. His father was an award-winning playwright and his mother was a player in elite German artistic circles: e.g., when I google her name, it comes up in a book about director Rainer Werner Fassbinder. You know, it really, really helps to be an insider, even when trying to be taken as an outsider.
When he began writing, he borrowed a new surname from Kadisha Arjouni, a Moroccan woman he met in France and to whom he was briefly married.

This is a not uncommon phenomenon among American authors who write about American Indians, such as Tony Hillerman who wrote novels about Navajo detectives. Forrest / Asa Carter, a former George Wallace speechwriter during the 1960s, wrote a huge bestseller "memoir" in the 1970s, The Education of Little Tree, about growing up half-Indian. 

Offhand, I'm not familiar with this phenomenon of authors sort of giving the impression of being Mexican American. Despite being vastly outnumbered, perhaps Native Americans have more literary marketplace oomph than do Mexican Americans.

Tom Clancy, RIP

The Hunt for Red October was a galvanizing book to read in 1985. I expected at the time that it would be even better in movie form, because movies don't have the inevitable weakness of printed books: you know when books will end by feeling the number of unread pages being held down by your right thumb. 

In The Hunt for Red October, everything goes right for the Americans culminating in a spectacularly complex rescue / false sinking of the refugee Soviet supersub in the North Atlantic. It's very well done, but it doesn't seem very plausible: fog of war, and all that.

But, your right thumb can tell that that's just the False Ending. And, indeed, for the next hundred pages, everything goes wrong for the Americans. (Clancy's message: military stuff is hard and luck plays a major role). This sets up the much harder-earned True Ending.

So, I was looking forward to the 1990 movie with a skinny Alec Baldwin as Jack Ryan, because you can't physically tell when a movie will end. During the movie's False Ending, I was ready for the complete reversal of fortune ... and then the credits came up. The False Ending was the Ending Ending. The movie makers had lopped off entirely what made the plot so satisfying. 

Oh, well ...

Chaos in (local) government

The ongoing billion dollar iPad fiasco in Los Angeles public schools ought to be a good moment to reflect upon why public schools tend to suffer from such poor management. 

From today's Los Angeles Times:
L.A. Unified's iPad rollout marred by chaos 
Confusion reigns as L.A. Unified deals with glitches after rollout of ambitious an-iPad-for-every-student project.
View of Van Nuys DMV from Vanowen

In contrast, I've been going off and on for 38 years to the Van Nuys Department of Motor Vehicles. You may remember it from such television shows and movies as The Simpsons and The Simpsons Movie. It used to be that you never knew which endless line was the right one to wait in. And the employees (see below) liked it that way. 

Van Nuys DMV staff
Yet, guess what? Over the years, even the Van Nuys DMV has gotten better organized and more helpful. 

Strikingly, I've never read anything about DMV reform, yet it seems to have sort of happened.

In contrast, I've read thousands of articles about Education Reform. Titans of industry like Bill Gates and Eli Broad have devoted themselves to Education Reform. The LAUSD is run by certified Education Reform stars from the Gates Foundation and other prestigious organizations.

And still ... chaos. Why?
... Schools Supt. John Deasy, who has pushed for the iPads, remains undeterred and said the project is essentially on track. 
"It's an astonishing success," Deasy said in an interview Tuesday. "I couldn't be more pleased to get [the iPads] in the hands of students and teachers. The feedback has been extremely positive. 
"This is a civil rights issue," he said. "My goal is to provide youth in poverty with tools that heretofore only rich kids have had. And I'd like to do that as quickly as possible." 

Perhaps one reason why DMV reform has progressed but Education Reform is so prone to confusion is because DMV reform is not a civil rights issue. It could have been called one: the long lines always seem to have disparate impact upon the Latino population of the San Fernando Valley, much of which could be found standing in line at the Van Nuys DMV any workday between 9 and 5. But it wasn't.

In contrast, Education Reform always turns into a "civil rights issue," which causes the Brain Freeze characteristic of anything having to do with race, IQ, and children in modern America. In turn, this attracts fad-mongers and the professionally gullible to the ranks of education management, and repels people who know what they are doing and are capable of projecting the consequences of proposed policies.

Hence, iPadGate.

That said, I'm not all that against iPads in public schools with competent managements. A lot of education ought to consist of drilling at each individual student's level of competence. Individualized tutoring works better than anything else, but it's always expensive. Computers makes possible individualized drilling. The iPad, with its printing recognition capability (it has that right, like a 1998 Palm Pilot?), sounds like a good form factor for drilling in math. Non-touch screen traditional PCs work okay with the right math drilling software, but math has evolved over the years to work best with chalkboards or paper and pencil. Keyboards can be made to work okay with math programs, but the iPad-like tablet resembles the kind of slate that Abe Lincoln worked Euclid's proofs upon.

However, I have no idea whether good software is available for the iPad yet. Most educational software is junk.

In the past, computers in the classroom have mostly been a waste. About a decade ago, the public school where Glaivester taught got a laptop for each student. He found 50% of his teaching time was suddenly devoted to troubleshooting PC problems.

Over the years, though, operating systems have gotten better (Windows Vista excepted), and now computers, especially Apple products, have high uptime rates.

October 1, 2013

NYT readers: Mexico maybe not so awesome after all

From the New York Times:
Mexico’s New Arrivals Mix Praise and Criticism 
MEXICO CITY — Can Mexico ever ascend to its proper place in the world economy without tackling corruption and crime head on? When will the country, with its rising potential, stop being held down by weak government? 
Those are some of the tough questions raised by readers responding to an article published in The New York Times on Sunday [by Damien Cave] about the growing number of immigrants from around the world who have resettled Mexico in recent years, viewing it as a land of emerging opportunity. Many foreigners who have lived in the country for years stressed that while they wished the world would focus more on Mexico’s strengths, they also wished the country would do more to tackle its flaws – especially corruption and a justice system that does little or nothing. 
“This is a great dynamic place for growth and wonderful things to happen,” said Irene Lee Pagan, 74, a Texas jeweler who moved to San Miguel de Allende 20 years ago. “But the police don’t care. They’re just sitting there getting a paycheck.” 
Though her city’s new mayor put up posters promoting himself, she said, not one of the 50 robberies and assaults that occurred in her neighborhood over the last three years had been solved. Just a few days ago, she added, a Canadian retiree was beaten during a robbery in her home and nearly died, adding another unsolved crime to the list. 
“I told the police, ‘If one or two of these other crimes had been resolved, this woman would not have been at death’s door,'” she said. “But they just don’t see it.”
... And according to one foreign businessman with two decades of experience in Mexico, neither the country’s powerful officials, nor the corporate executives they often court worldwide, have put in the necessary effort to change how things work. 
“The lack of transparency in the government (national and local) and honest enforcement of laws leads often to years of litigation regarding such things as property rights and employment disputes, where all too often whoever has the deeper pockets comes out on top,” he wrote. While Mexico is, in fact, “a land of opportunity,” he said, it is “definitely not for novices.” 

The idea of an American owning a home in Mexico is not some novel 2013 breakthrough, it's actually something that has faded from memory over the decades. For instance, when I was young it wasn't considered remarkable that the Hispanophilic John Wayne (who had three Hispanic wives) spent much of his time in Mexico, filming movies in Durango and relaxing at his cliff-top home in Acapulco. 

Americans living in Mexico used to be more in the gossip columns because it was a popular destination for celebrities and bohemians who felt hemmed in by pre-1960s America. For example, in 1951 rich writer/druggie William Burroughs shot and killed his wife at a party in Mexico City. The Burroughs cash register heir managed to more or less bribe his way out of that rap. 

As America loosened up, however, the appeal of Mexico declined for American celebrities (although celebrity murderers, such as O.J. Simpson in 1994, continue to keep it in mind). Why go to Tijuana when you can go to Las Vegas?

California has highest poverty rate in country

For a long time, I've been pointing out that many standard statistics of income, poverty, or cost of living fail to fully get at the underlying question of most interest: standard of living. Now, a new study from the Public Policy Institute of California that includes a better cost of living measure and government benefits finds that California, home to Silicon Valley and Hollywood, has the worst poverty rate of any state in the country, with vast Los Angeles County having the worst poverty rate in the state.

From the Los Angeles Times:
L.A. County leads California in poverty rate, new analysis shows 
A new analysis of hardship that adds factors such as housing costs and government benefits found that 27% of L.A. County residents lived in poverty in 2011, compared with the official rate of 18%. 
By Gale Holland 
September 30, 2013, 9:05 p.m. 
Los Angeles has the highest poverty rate among California counties, according to a new analysis announced Monday that upends traditional views of rural and urban hardship by adding factors such as the soaring price of city housing. 
The measurement, developed by researchers with the Public Policy Institute of California and the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality, found that 2.6 million, or 27%, of Los Angeles County residents lived in poverty in 2011. The official poverty rate for the county, based on the U.S. Census' 2011 American Community Survey, is 18%. 
The new analysis set California's poverty rate at 22%, the highest in the nation, compared with the official rate of 16%. [Emphasis mine].
Counties such as Placer and Sacramento, with more moderate housing costs, have lower poverty rates than those of metropolitan areas, researchers said. 
"We always see maps of official poverty and think of the Central Valley as the most impoverished,"

Well, much of the Central Valley also looks depressingly poor when you drive through it.
said economist Sarah Bohn, a research fellow at the public policy institute and one of the study's authors. "This really turns that on its head." 
The new model aims to present a fuller picture of poverty by taking into account living expenses and government benefits ignored in the official formula.

But, I thought massive immigration was Good for the Economy?

Eric Holder v. Austin FD: the fix is in

As commenters noted, last week's announcement that the Justice Department was suing the Fire Department of Austin, TX for racial/ethnic discrimination was evidence of a pre-arranged fix between the Obama Administration and the liberal city government to throw the case, rather than to let it go to courts where it might wind up a 5-4 Supreme Court decision cutting back disparate impact logic.

When the story broke, I couldn't find the DoJ's letter online, but now the firemen's union has posted it. It makes interesting reading in that it offers zero evidence for discrimination other than that using an objective test as one part of the three-part hiring process has "statistically significant" adverse impact on blacks and Latinos, and that hiring in top-down order based on the combined scores also has "statistically significant" adverse impact.

But who cares if this is a bizarrely bad case for the theory of disparate/adverse impact, if it will never be litigated? The DoJ letter spells it out:
"We understand that the City is interested in participating in settlement negotiations with the goal of resolving this matter without contested litigation."

My guess is that the octogenarian Ruth Bader Ginsburg will retire in 2015 or 2016 to make sure her replacement is appointed by Obama, giving the Democrats three relatively youthful Obama appointee votes. Perhaps Stephen Breyer, who will turn 78 in 2016, will take one for the team, too.

By the 2016 election, both Scalia and Kennedy will be 80, and Thomas's life expectancy doesn't appear all that hot. Chief Justice Roberts looks terrific, but has epilepsy.

So, if you are the Obama Administration, at present it makes sense just to pick rigged fights on adverse/disparate impact.

September 30, 2013

Finnish-oriented content: the decline of Nokia

Unemployment Rates
Three big economic success stories of the era up through 2007 were Spain, Ireland, and Finland. All three use the Euro as currency. 

The Finnish economy was driven more by a single company (Nokia) than perhaps any other advanced economy in the world. Not too surprisingly, Nokia's dominance of one of the world's most competitive industries -- cellphones -- didn't last. Competitors sprung up at the low end, while Apple's introduction of the iPhone in June 2007 increasingly absorbed huge dollops of profit out of the high end.

Finland's economy recovered only moderately from the 2008 global crash, and is in trouble again today.
With Nokia's rise during 1990s, Finland rapidly recovered from deep recession and become one of the foremost knowledge economies in the world, said a report published by ETLA in March. 
During Nokia's prime years 1998-2007, the company contributed a quarter of the growth of the Finnish economy. It created nearly a fifth of Finland's exports and paid as much as 23% of all Finnish corporation tax revenue. 
However, its descent since 2008 has devastated Finland's economy. Nearly one-third of the over 8% drop in the Finnish GDP in 2009 was attributable to Nokia, and now the company's share of contribution in Finland's GDP has fallen to virtually zero, said the report.

It's kind of like if your national economy were built around Blackberry. 

All three countries were hammered hard in 2008 with unemployment hitting 8.7% in Finland by January 2010, versus 13.1% in Ireland and 19.2% in Spain. ( (All figures from a graph offered by Google from Eurostat data. Warning: unemployment can be defined differently in different countries.)

As of May 2013, unemployment in Finland was 8.4% and rising; in Ireland 13.6%; in Spain 26.9%. Each country's situation is unique and complex, but it's worth considering degree of enthusiasm for immigration during the 2000s bubble. 

Back then, Spain was celebrated for its rapid influx of immigrants, as, to perhaps a lesser extent, was Ireland. Finland, although it has a gigantic border with a much poorer country, tended to lag the rest of Western Europe in immigration. It's cold, dark in winter, far away, speaks an unusual language, has a militarized border, and enforces work permit laws efficiently.

This may have something to do with how much more stable Finland's unemployment rate has been despite the decline of Nokia.

Daily Mail v. NYT smackdown on gypsies in France

It would be interesting to compare coverage of gypsies (a.k.a. Roma) in the New York Times versus the Daily Mail. My impression is that you could come up with an equally accurate awareness from both, but that, even though New York Times readers average better reading skills, the average Daily Mail reader winds up better informed because the Daily Mail articles are structured to communicate the key information, while the NYT articles are structured to bury it. 

For example, in summer's NYT article "Treatment Still Harsh for Roma in France" by Steven Erlanger, the first five paragraphs are boilerplate about how everybody is mean to the gypsies, but then you get to this, which I'll ellipse like crazy to get the key point across lucidly:
Small, thin, often wearing bright clothing like green pants or a pink scarf, the men are prostitutes, looking for work or waiting for prearranged rendezvous. ... Some are as young as 14, though they insist they are older; some are 16 and married, sometimes with children. ... He and his friends, like Bogdan, 17, and Gutsa, 17, whose wife is pregnant, “do business” at the station, he said; 

Homosexual prostitution and heterosexual baby boom all rolled into one!

NYT reporters tend to be bright and they'd prefer not to be boring, but they have to respect the world view of their readers: everything bad is the fault of some majority. So, you start with five paragraphs about how bad the majority treats the minority to imply that the juicy details you finally get to reveal about how hilariously awful is Roma culture must be the fault of the French for trying not to get their pockets picked by gypsies.

In contrast, the Daily Mail structures its articles to put the fun stuff first. From today's Daily Mail:
Roma gypsy gang sold their women for stealing skills and children were used like conscripts in a criminal army, French court told at start trial  
Young wives with good looks and stealing skills were traded for £170,000 
Police discovered the 'criminal army' through phone tapping 
Defendants argue it was illegal intrusion into normal Roma dowry system 

The scary word is "normal."
27 people charged are accused of committing 100 robberies in 2011 alone 
Offences were carried out in France, Belgium and parts of Germany  
Suspected gang leader, a 66-year-old woman to be tried separately 
Children as young as 10 were part of a ‘criminal army’ of Roma immigrants which included 13-year-old wives ‘bought’ for up to 170,000 pounds each, a court heard today.  
Details of the sinister network emerged during the trial of 27 men and women aged between 19 and 55 in Nancy, eastern France. 
All face up to 10 years in prison after being accused of a wide range of crimes, ranging from robbery to people trafficking. 
The case began on the day that France's foreign minister Laurent Fabius declared Romania and Bulgaria should not be allowed into the passport-free Schengen zone due to security fears. 
Ultimately run by a 66-year-old woman, the network expected boys and girls to bring in at least 4000 pounds a month through robbing people in the street or in their homes. 
It comes as Britain braces itself for an influx of Roma from Bulgaria and Romania when EU labour restrictions are eased next year. 
Gilles Weintz, the detective who led the enquiry into the France-based ring, said all those involved were Roma originally from Croatia. 
... Male leaders ‘bought young wives’ for the cash equivalent of up to £170,000 each from other families in Croatia, and selected them especially for their stealing skills.

‘The better they were at stealing, the higher the price was,’ said Mr Weintz.  
‘Young looking women also commanded higher prices because they had a better chance of passing themselves off as minors. 
‘The burglaries were carried out daily all over Europe,’ he added. ‘They never stopped - for the children it was like a form of military service.’  
Those running the ring were monitored via tapped phones which revealed a ‘mafia style’ network, with those in charge using their stolen money to buy upmarket properties in Slavonski Brod in Croatia. 
... The officer cited the case of a woman identified as Nathalie who had been bought but failed to live up to expectations by bringing in 'only' 200,000 euros over two years. ... 
Her family was allegedly ordered to pay back 100,000 euros but the amount was finally reduced to 55,000 to take into account the sexual abuse she had suffered. ...
All argue that their complicated financial transactions were based on traditional Roma dowry arrangements, and that the phone tapping was illegal. 

And now we finally get to the boring NYT lede-type stuff:
Defence lawyer Alain Behr also said the current anti-Roma feeling in France meant they could not get a fair trial.  
‘I hope there will not be a judicial stigmatisation as there is currently a political stigmatisation,’ said Mr Behr. 
Speaking on France Inter radio today, foreign minister Laurent Fabius said France is not in favour of allowing Romania and Bulgaria into Europe's passport-free Schengen zone for now due to concerns about border security. 
He said: 'If there is not a change in conditions, we won't be in favour.' ...
Romanian and Bulgarian citizens currently have the right to travel with a passport throughout the Schengen zone, which removes border controls among most EU countries as well as non-members such as Switzerland and Norway. ...

Fabius fears lax immigration laws in those countries could mean any nationality could gain French access.

... Last week, Interior Minister Manuel Valls caused uproar in the left-wing governing coalition by saying most immigrant Roma could not be integrated into society and should go home. 
The far-right National Front has made the issue a top campaign theme for March's municipal elections, warning of a new influx of immigrants if Romanian and Bulgarian citizens are allowed to travel freely without passports in the Schengen zone. 

Spain: Test case for mass immigration

From Bloomberg BusinessWeek in 2007:
Spain: Immigrants Welcome 
May 20, 2007
Imagine what would happen if a prosperous Western nation threw open its borders, allowing immigrants to flood in virtually unchecked. Soaring unemployment, overstretched social services, rising crime, even rioting in the streets? Not in Spain. 
Over the past decade, the traditionally homogeneous country has become a sort of open-door laboratory on immigration. Spain has absorbed more than 3 million foreigners from places as diverse as Romania, Morocco, and South America. More than 11% of the country's 44 million residents are now foreign-born, one of the highest proportions in Europe. With hundreds of thousands more arriving each year, Spain could soon reach the U.S. rate of 12.9%. 
And it doesn't seem to have hurt much. Spain is Europe's best-performing major economy, with growth averaging 3.1% over the past five years. Since 2002, the country has created half the new jobs in the euro zone. Unemployment has plummeted from more than 20% in the 1990s to 8.6%, within shooting distance of the 7.2% euro zone average. The government attributes more than half this stellar performance to immigration.  ...
Immigrants are weaving vitality into Spanish society, too. Stroll through Tetu??n, a vibrant multiethnic neighborhood in north central Madrid, and you'll find an Ecuadoran bakery, a Moroccan furniture shop, and an everything-for-1-euro store called Los Chinos because its owners are Chinese. 

As we all know, massive immigration is Good for the Economy, so 2013 reports that the current unemployment rate in Spain is 27% are obviously falsehoods made up by evil nativists. Obviously, Spain's economic problem must be a lack of immigration. Immigration hasn't failed in Spain, it just hasn't been tried enough!

September 29, 2013

The past is a semi-foreign country; they do some things differently there, others not so much

One of my recurrent shticks is to try to compare the dominant assumptions of the moment to those of the past. That's because people have a hard time remembering the past, even the parts they lived through.

So, to try to present some objective evidence on what the past was like, here are the national high school debate topics from age 13-17:
1972-73   Resolved: That governmental financial support for all public and secondary education in the United States be provided exclusively by the federal government. 

This is when I first read up on the social science work of Coleman, Jencks, Jensen, and others.
1973-74   Resolved: That the federal government should guarantee a minimum annual income to each family unit. 

A similar topic with much overlap in social sciences. Both of these debate topics reflect specific panaceas of the era that have fallen out of fashion, but the general topics haven't changed much at all in four decades. Obviously, they were both deeply entwined with race. And still are.

Thus, when I complain about how little has changed in thinking about race, education, and poverty, and how the latest fads tend to be rehashes of old ideas, I have a 1972-74 baseline in mind.
1974-75   Resolved: That the United States should significantly change the method of selection of presidential and vice-presidential candidates. 

In contrast, there's relatively little interest in this topic anymore. It's tied into the kind of Good Government reformist progressivism that has declined in popularity with the rise of identity politics. Thus, the post-2000 effort to improve voting machines quickly got boring. The Republicans haven't been able to dig up phony voting scandals with much traction, although the Democrats have had lots of luck getting elderly black people worked up that their votes are being taken away.

But, in general, there not much interest today in procedural reforms -- technocratic improvements are of little interest these days compared to identity politics squabbles.
1975-76   Resolved: That the development and allocation of scarce world resources should be controlled by an international organization.

Today, this one sounds like it's from Mars: Instead of nationalizing the means of production, should we internationalize the means of production? I mean, why not?

When I try to point out how much less suspicion there is of big business today than in the 1970s, this is a good example of what I'm talking about.

Could anybody have imagined a black man becoming President?

For example, how often have you heard it said when Obama was elected, "Nobody could ever have imagined a black man becoming President!"? On the other hand, I can recall lots of paperback copies sitting around when I was a kid of Irving Wallace's 1964 bestseller The Man about a first black President. Wallace was a non-literary, meat and potatoes novelist who liked researching facts and writing about interesting topics. The Man was made into a movie in 1972 starring James Earl Jones.

For this and other reasons, a black President always seemed highly imaginable to me.

On the other other hand, there are all sorts of emotional-related things about my past that I have only the vaguest recollection of. For example, from watching Steven Spielberg movies such as Hook I've learned that there's nothing more emotionally crucial in one's life than whether or not your parents went to your Little League baseball games. But I don't actually remember feeling any strong emotions about my parents not attending my Little League baseball games other than thinking to myself "That seems reasonable" when they announced their policy on baseball: I couldn't join Little League because Little League parents are crazy, but I could play in the league at the park because it was more low key; but they'd never walk the block to the park to see my park league games because that would "put too much pressure on me."

So, I've always been interested in policy to a weird extent.

Chabris on Gladwell in the WSJ

In the Wall Street Journal, psychometrician Chris Chabris dumps on Malcolm Gladwell in a review of Gladwell's latest book.
Book Review: 'David and Goliath' by Malcolm Gladwell 
Malcolm Gladwell too often presents as proven laws what are just intriguing possibilities and musings about human behavior. 
... The idea that difficulty is good when it helps you and bad when it doesn't is no great insight.
In a recent interview, Mr. Gladwell suggested that the hidden weakness of "Goliath" enterprises is their tendency to assume that the strategy that made them great will keep them great. But there are prominent examples of companies that failed after not changing direction (Blockbuster and Kodak) as well as ones that succeeded (Apple deciding to stick with a proprietary operating system rather than shift to Windows). There is no prospective way to know which is right, despite what legions of business gurus say. Sticking with what has worked is far from irrational; indeed, it is the perfect strategy right up until it isn't.
One thing "David and Goliath" shows is that Mr. Gladwell has not changed his own strategy, despite serious criticism of his prior work. What he presents are mostly just intriguing possibilities and musings about human behavior, but what his publisher sells them as, and what his readers may incorrectly take them for, are lawful, causal rules that explain how the world really works. Mr. Gladwell should acknowledge when he is speculating or working with thin evidentiary soup. Yet far from abandoning his hand or even standing pat, Mr. Gladwell has doubled down. This will surely bring more success to a Goliath of nonfiction writing, but not to his readers. 

Interestingly, Gladwell revives Thomas Sowell's 1970s critique of the tendency of affirmative action to mismatch students. (I wonder if Gladwell left out the affirmative action part.) Chabris writes:
This is an entertaining book. But it teaches little of general import, for the morals of the stories it tells lack solid foundations in evidence and logic.
One of the longest chapters addresses the question of how high-school students choose colleges. The protagonist is a woman with the pseudonym of Caroline Sacks, who was at the top of her class in high school and had loved science ever since she drew pictures of insects as a child. She was admitted to Brown University and the University of Maryland; she went to Brown, her first choice of all the colleges she visited, with the goal of a science degree. 
Ms. Sacks ran into trouble early on in her science courses and hit a wall in organic chemistry. There were students in her classes who seemed to effortlessly grasp concepts she struggled with, and she got discouragingly low grades. She switched her major and looks back with regret, saying that if she'd gone to Maryland, "I'd still be in science." 

Is Brown really a Caltech-style sink or swim school? It may well be in the harder subjects, but I just don't know.
In this conclusion she may be right. Mr. Gladwell reports data showing that, no matter what kind of college students attend, those who start a science major in the top third of the ability range of students at their own college (judged by their SAT scores) are much more likely to graduate with a science degree than those in the bottom third—the odds are about 55% versus 15%. 

I used to be a 100% true believer in Sowell's argument, but now I can also see a lot of advantages of going to an elite rich school if you can get in. A lot of state flagship schools are sink or swim in the STEM fields, while rich private schools (Brown is the least rich Ivy) have more hand-holding resources.

How big can the global auto parts market be?

I'm interested in the topic of cartels and price-fixing, in large part because nobody else seems to be interested in them, which reflects a massive change from as recently as the 1970s. For example, here's an NYT news story from last week about a federal $740 million fine of Japanese car parts makers for rigging the car parts market. 
In an expanding global antitrust investigation, nine Japanese automotive suppliers, along with two former executives, have agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy and pay more than $740 million in criminal fines for fixing the price of auto parts sold in the United States and abroad, the Justice Department said Thursday. 
The pleas were the latest in what the Justice Department said was its largest criminal antitrust investigation, one that has involved the authorities from Asia to North America to Europe and has now resulted in $1.6 billion in fines since 2011. 
More than a dozen separate conspiracies involving more than 30 kinds of parts affected sales to Chrysler, Ford and General Motors, as well as the American subsidiaries of Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru and Toyota. 
“These international price-fixing conspiracies affected more than $5 billion in automobile parts sold to U.S. car manufacturers,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a statement. “In total, more than 25 million cars purchased by American consumers were affected by the illegal conduct.” 
Hitachi Automotive Systems and Mitsubishi Electric paid the biggest fines, $195 million and $190 million. The Justice Department said the two companies’ price-fixing schemes lasted from at least January 2000 through February 2010. 
The parts included seat belts, radiators, windshield wipers and air-conditioning systems, Mr. Holder said. The Justice Department said that while the price fixing increased the cost of cars for consumers, there was no way to determine exactly how much.

What is is striking is how little of a splash this made in the blogosphere. Now it could be that the still hidden conspiracies in other markets out there don't really add up to a hill of beans. Or it could be that if we knew everything that was going on, we'd be shocked by the magnitude. I don't know. It seems like an interesting question, but evidently it's not.

Back in the 1970s, it would have been a hot topic. Being a part of the free market avant-garde (complete with my Adam Smith and Milton Friedman t-shirts I bought in 1976), all this hubbub in the press and on talk radio about monopolies and price-fixing struck me as mostly dope smokers' paranoia. 

And, I'm sure that the conventional wisdom was overblown back then. 

On this issue, my teenage self turned out to be a big winner. Everybody who is anybody seems to assume that cartels and anti-trust are some Teddy Roosevelt-era obsession and it can't be a problem anymore because of, you know, Moore's Law or the Fall of the Berlin Wall or something. 

Granted, there's a fair amount of interest in the obvious fact that Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft are all plotting to monopolize as much of the digital world as possible because that's cutting edge. But many would complain that I'm using "monopolize" like it's a bad thing. It's good for your stock holdings in whichever company wins, so what's not to like?

Still, price-fixing in boring industries like auto parts is boring squared (Who ever needs auto parts? Surely, the global auto parts industry can't compare in economic importance to Twitter's IPO?).

When I took Economics of Antitrust back in 1978 from a free marketeer professor who thought the worries about cartels were hugely overstated, I was out ahead of the curve. But there's another important concept in economics: diminishing marginal returns. It's cool that 35 years ago I was on what turned out to be the winning side, but now I'm worried that my side won in too big of a rout that's gone on too long.

In terms of intellectual fashions, people don't seem to pay much attention to the potential for diminishing marginal returns. Instead, the bandwagon effect seems stronger. If we had success in the past by recommending policy X, then the only thing to do is X times 2.