November 9, 2013

I told you so

From Vanity Fair:
The Lonely Guy 
By Todd S. Purdum 
When Barack Obama arrived in Washington almost five years ago, the universal assumption was that the young president—who had, after all, won office by exploiting every connective tool of the national social and electoral network—would run his White House in sharp contrast to the bunkered, hunkered-down George W. Bush. 
Like so much conventional wisdom, that impression has proved dead wrong. In fact, Obama’s resolute solitude—his isolation and alienation from the other players and power centers of Washington, be they rivals or friends—has emerged as the defining trait of his time in office. He may be the biggest presidential paradox since Thomas Jefferson, the slaveholder who wrote the Declaration of Independence: a community organizer who works alone.

You know, while Obama was a community organizer, he didn't actually organize any communities. The job was a useful box for him to check off while he boned up for the LSAT, a way for him to prove to Harvard Law School admissions that this guy from Hawaii with a name not uncommon in Japan wasn't just another Asian applicant, but was instead a Man of His People.
In early 2011, when the president’s most trusted political adviser, David Axelrod, left the White House to return to Chicago to run his re-election campaign, Obama made a surprise appearance at Axelrod’s going-away party in a grand apartment off Dupont Circle on a wintry Saturday night. Clad casually in a black jacket, he spoke warmly, even emotionally, of the aide who had done so much to elect him. Then he made his way quickly around a living room full of Cabinet members, other aides, and off-duty reporters, grasping each proffered hand with a single, relentless, repeated greeting: “Gotta go.”...

I could imagine myself as President being, like Obama, worn down by all the people wanting to shake my hand and (shudder) talk to me. On the other hand, I can't imagine myself as President in the first place, but he could.
Obama’s self-evident isolation has another effect: It tends to insulate him from engagement in the management of his own administration. The latest round of “what did the president know and when did he know it” on the disastrous rollout of Obamacare and the tapping of German chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone raised troubling questions: Were Obama’s aides too afraid to tell him? Was he too detached to ask? Or both? At the least, such glaring failures cast fresh doubt on Obama’s invariable assurance to those around him in times of trouble: “I got this.” 
... If he had chosen to be a novelist or neurosurgeon, an airline pilot or an atomic engineer

Novelist, sure, although not a terribly interesting one. But those other professions? They are specifically ones where a man with an ego bigger than his competence can do disastrous harm.
, the very qualities of self-sufficiency that even some of his strongest supporters find so frustrating would be an unalloyed asset. But in a politician—above all, in a president—such qualities are confounding and, at times, crippling. 
“He never needed anyone to affirm his value,” one of his longest-serving advisers told me, “and for that reason, I’m not sure he understands what it would mean to provide a little affirmation to another politician. Because it wouldn’t mean much to him.” 

No, Obama thrives on public affirmation. He was a run of the mill Ivy grad, more or less treading water in his mid-20s, up until the moment he arrived at Harvard Law School where he was instantly apotheosized at the First Black President. As classmate Jackie Fox of the Runaways noted, his persona swelled like her old bandmate Joan Jett's had.

Obama loves standing on a stage and receiving mass public adoration. What he doesn't like is talking to people, especially people with their own agendas, such as other politicians.

He seems to have a Zero Sum approach to cheers -- if other people are also being praised, that makes the praise he's getting relatively less awesome. If he insincerely flatters other politicians that raises the troubling question that maybe some of the worship he receives is insincere flattery, too.
... Indeed, however he treats his enemies, Obama could work harder to get by with a little help from his friends. Throughout his tenure, he has generally refused to adopt the practice of every president since at least Gerald Ford by posing for pictures with his guests at the more than a dozen White House holiday parties (except in the case of the receptions for Congress and the White House press corps, who could be counted on to make a real fuss).

When I was in the corporate world in Chicago, I don't know how many executives had a pictures of themselves and Michael Jordan at charity golf outings. Posing with complete strangers as if you are old buddies is part of the job description of being Michael Jordan or President.
Successive flights of frustrated senior aides to both the president and the First Lady have battled the Obamas’ persistent assumption that supporters (and staffers, for that matter) don’t need to be thanked—a battle fought largely in vain. 
Five years into their tenure, the couple has a social reputation few would have envisioned when they came to town: more standoffish than the Bushes, and ruder than the Clintons. 

Obviously, Michelle has a lot of issues involving garden variety insecurity and resentment. But, Barry has the interpersonal skill set of a humble man, combined with an inflated sense of entitlement: Well, of course, those little people would want to slave away to help me lower the sea level or whatever. Why should they expect to be thanked? Isn't being permitted to assist in my achieving my rightful status it's own reward?
... On Syria, Obama clearly did not run the congressional traps. Having announced—on his own—that the use of chemical weapons would constitute a red line requiring an American response, he suddenly decided in September to seek congressional approval without any real count of the Democratic caucus. And he made up his mind not in deliberations with his secretaries of state or defense but after a walk around the White House lawn with his chief of staff Denis McDonough—an adviser since his Senate days—before informing a handful of other senior aides of his decision.

Another aspect of Obama is (relatively) low energy, especially for one of the youngest Presidents ever. Sending America off to war is (or ought to be) a big decision, involving much consultation and coalition-building (e.g., the energetic George H.W. Bush in 1990-91). Yet, with both Libya and Syria, Obama did it in an offhand manner, in part because that's about all he's got in the tank.
And then there is golf. ... Obama has taken a page out of Wilson’s book, invariably competing in a foursome with the same retinue of junior aides and old friends—most of whom are better than he is and whose seemingly sole mission is to sharpen the president’s own game.

Obama's primary golf partner is Marvin Nicholson, his current body man. Nicholson is this cool slacker, a 6'-8" white guy from Vancouver Island, who drifted around in low-level sports jobs, mixed with a little bartending. He was discovered by John Kerry working at a wind surfing shop. Kerry thought he was so brotastic that he wanted to hire him as an aide, but Nicholson instead chose to go caddy at Augusta National Golf Club for a year. Finally, Senator Kerry won him over. Obama inherited Nicholson from Kerry.

Obama is so averse to playing golf with anybody important that another of his more frequent partners is Nicholson's brother.
... (And speaking of summits, Obama has no relationship with any foreign leader that is remotely akin to Ronald Reagan’s with Margaret Thatcher, or Bill Clinton and George W. Bush’s with Tony Blair. The scandalous phone-tapping imbroglio—even if the fault of the Bush administration—now makes it unlikely that he ever will.) 
... “I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters,” Obama told his 2008 campaign political director, Patrick Gaspard, now his ambassador to South Africa. “I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m going to think I’m a better political director than my political director.” ...
Just how someone wired the way Obama is got so far in politics remains a puzzlement.

Uh ... well ... you know ... Okay, since everybody seems to be permanently baffled by how Barack Obama ever came to be seen as Presidential Timber, let me just ask: if he'd remained "Barry Soetoro," half-Indonesian-American of "international" and "multicultural" background, would anybody have ever heard of him?
His aloneness is generally regarded as springing from a surfeit of self-confidence, a certitude that he really does know best. But at least one former senior administration adviser has argued that the trait springs from the opposite source: a basic insecurity on the president’s part, one that keeps him from surrounding himself with strong intellectual rivals in either the White House or the Cabinet. 

So, at some level, Obama, who has some powers of self-awareness, realizes he's not really all that.

The whole situation would be funny, if anybody were allowed to joke about it.

November 8, 2013

"Did Twitter Leave Money on the Table?"

Back in March 1983, the marketing research company I worked for went public at $23 per share, while this week Twitter went public for $26 per share. Both stocks immediately shot into the 40s.

The way an initial public offering works is that a firm, whose stock has previously been owned by its founders, favored employees, and private investors (such as venture capitalists), creates new share and offers them to the public through a 2 stage process. A price per share is picked and the new shares are offered just before the opening day of trading to selected allies, such as the Wall Street firm taking the company public, the investment bank's financial friends, and to more employees.

Initially, the IPO price before trading was going to be $16 a share, but at the last second the buzz was so intense that the shares went for $23 each. For example, as brand new employee, I was given the privilege of buying some shares at the IPO price. I bought $2,000 worth at $23 per share.

But the stock instantly shot upwards as soon as trading began and quickly stabilized around $43 per share, and finished the day at $43. So, I made $1739 on my $2000 investment in one day. Woo-hoo!

Of course, all that raised questions about who, beside junior employees like me, benefits when the IPO is severely underpriced.

The numbers for Twitter's first day of trading were almost identical (instead of $23 to $43, Twitter was offered to the privileged at $26 and instantly shot up to $45 in public trading, although the total number of shares Twitter offered was vastly greater.
Did Twitter Leave Money on the Table? 
The first day of trading in Twitter stock added more than $10 billion to the company’s market value.

Twitter’s stock jumped 73 percent in its first day of trading, adding more than $10 billion to the company’s market capitalization. 
If the company had sold its 70 million shares at $45.10, the price of the first trade, instead of at $26, the price of the initial public offering, it would have raised $3.16 billion instead of its more modest $1.82 billion. 
That math suggests that, as Dan Primack of Fortune wrote, “Twitter left more than $1.3 billion on the table.” 

In case you are wondering about the arithmetic ($10 billion v. $1.3 billion), note that Twitter, like all IPOs, only offered a fraction of its shares to the public.
This is a common assertion when new stocks soar in their first days of trading. It suggests that the bankers managing the offering miscalculated investor demand for shares and that the company somehow lost out. Twitter shares closed down 7.24 percent, to $41.65, on Friday. 
But unpacking this claim raises thorny questions about who, exactly, is supposed to benefit from an I.P.O. and what exactly is motivating investors when they seek shares in a new company. 
Should a stock offering maximize value for the companies selling shares, for the investors looking to gobble those shares up, or for early employees and funders? And why are investors buying the shares – because they love the company’s fundamentals, or because they sense a good deal? 
One school of thought says companies should use I.P.O.’s to raise the maximum amount of cash, regardless of what that does to its short-term share price.
“It’s not in Twitter’s interest to really care about the price they close at today,” David Stewart, co-founder of a start-up called JumpCam, said in an email on Thursday. “What should matter to them is one, how much money they raise via the I.P.O., and two, their long-term valuation.” 
Mr. Stewart argues that Twitter and its banker, Goldman Sachs, widely miscalculated demand for the stock, depriving the company of cash in the bank and long-term market value. 
There may be some truth to that, but Twitter is clearly satisfied with the amount of cash it raised and now has access to the capital markets should it need to raise more money soon.

You know, in the opening day jubilation, the founders of my company laughed off the money their investment bankers had left on the table by underpricing the stock. But, a half decade later, they desperately needed that money and, indeed, just barely avoided bankruptcy.
As for the investors who bought the stock as part of the offering, they did indeed make out well. Those who were able to secure an allocation of shares recognized an instant 73 percent gain on their investment. Mr. Stewart and those who share his view argue that that’s an irresponsible move, “transferring some value” from Twitter “to pre-I.P.O. speculators.”

Here's an anecdote I've told before:
When I was getting an MBA many years ago, I was the favorite of an acerbic old Corporate Finance professor because I could be counted on to blurt out in class all the stupid misconceptions to which students are prone. 
One day he asked: "If you were running a publicly traded company, would it be acceptable for you to create new stock and sell it for less than it was worth?" 
"Sure," I confidently announced. "Our duty is to maximize our stockholders' wealth, and while selling the stock for less than it's worth would harm our current shareholders, it would benefit our new shareholders who buy the underpriced stock, so it all comes out in the wash. Right?" 
"Wrong," he thundered. "Your obligation is to your current stockholders, not to somebody who might buy the stock in the future." 

That's not the easiest moral point to understand. And you see almost everybody who is anybody mess it up when it comes to the value of citizenship and immigration.

In the case of an IPO, the small number of executives signing off on the price picked by the investment bank generally own a large fraction of pre-IPO existing shares, so if they want to feel cool for having their stock shoot upward on the first day, well, that's their loss. (Of course, they aren't all the pre-IPO shareholders, so my old prof's moral point still applies.)
But it is also in Twitter’s long-term interest to remain in the good graces of institutional investors that believe in the company and will continue to invest. 
After all, based on fundamentals alone, it was hard enough to justify valuing Twitter at $13 billion, let alone $30 billion. 

In other words, the IPO industry exists in sizable part to give Wall Street insiders a discounted price on shares that they can, if they want, sell to the public. In return, the Wall Street insiders whoop up the stock to get the rubes in Shaker Heights and Scottsdale excited about it. In fact, the bigger discount the firm gives the Wall Street big boys, the harder they'll work to make the doctors and dentists out there who keep an eye on CNBC worked up over the stock.
As for the early employees, venture investors and those who managed to secure Twitter shares on the secondary market, they also made out well in the debut.
Like I made $1,700.

Of course, the founders/executives could have gotten a higher valuation and paid bonuses to employees, so shortchanging yourself seems like an inefficient way to pay for Steve Sailer's big night on the town. (I don't recall the exact size of the bar tab I picked up that evening in 1983 with some friends back home at the snazziest bar in Sherman Oaks, but it must have been $40, maybe even $50.)
Sometimes insiders sell during the I.P.O. Such sellers might therefore favor pushing hard for a high offering price. Such was the case at Facebook, where internal pressure for a lofty valuation contributed to its high offering price.

Facebook was offered to insiders at $38 and closed its first day of trading at $38.23. This was widely considered shameful by all the Wall Street insiders who you usually pick up a larger profit out of being pals of the underwriter, but Mark Zuckerberg appears to have preferred getting the market price for his firm to being the toast of Wall Street.
But no Twitter insiders sold stock as part of the offering, meaning their shares, valued at as little as $17 just a week ago, are now worth more than $40 a share. With the shares still at least 60 percent above the I.P.O. price, Twitter’s insiders must feel rather pleased with how the offering was executed.

At my employer, the feeling was universal: if our stock goes up 87% in one day, then surely it will go up 8.7% tomorrow and the day after and the day after. Instead, the stock price drifted back down from $43 per share back to $23 per share over the next year. In other words, the IPO price had been quite reasonable, but there just happened to have been a mini-tech IPO bubble blowing up the week we went public. (Spring 1983 may have been the first broad tech IPO bubble in American history. It definitely hasn't been the last.)

But, the firm couldn't get its hands back on the capital it could have acquired by setting the IPO price at, say, $40 per share.
The truth is, there’s no way to know how much money Twitter left on the table.
If Twitter had priced its shares more aggressively in recent weeks, the tenor of media coverage might have been more skeptical, investors might have been scared off and demand could have lagged. 
By taking a more conservative approach to pricing, Twitter possibly deprived itself of some capital. But it won the good graces of the market, which will help determine its fate going forward. 
Without a doubt, Twitter probably could have raised more money for itself by increasing its I.P.O. price. But an I.P.O. is far more than a fund-raising exercise. 
When a company has publicly traded shares, it has taken the bracing step of putting itself at the mercy of investors. Twitter’s stock is now a public barometer of sentiment toward the company. That is something that had to be considered when pricing its I.P.O. 
If the price had been much higher than $26, the stock might have plunged below the offering price on the first day of trading, setting off a swirl of negativity. 
Facebook’s shares sagged after its I.P.O., complicating management’s efforts to convince investors that it was working on ways to increase advertising revenue. 
Twitter still has to prove it can make money. But for now, at least, it has the confidence of the public markets.

Oh, boy ... I think we need to subdivide the concept of the "public markets" a wee bit, from, at the high end, Twitter's underwriters (Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, and Morgan Stanley) to the middle range being close personal friends of the underwriters who got shares for only $26, down to the low end of daytrading dentists who paid $45.

The upper and middle ranges of the public markets love Twitter for putting hundreds of millions of dollars in their pockets. The mass end of the market, the people who pay the retail price for Twitter shares, loves Twitter because the business press, which takes their leads from the upper and middle section of Wall Street who pay the wholesale price, tells them to love Twitter.

Just because Goldman, the two Morgans, and you are all playing in the same game doesn't mean you are all playing on the same team.

Miami Herald: "Incognito considered black in Dolphins locker room"

The NFL brouhaha involving two teammates on the Miami Dolphins -- in which a thuggish white named Richie (cue Geoffrey Holder) Incognito (6'3", 319) is accused of hazing and bullying an upper middle class half-black named Jonathan Martin (6'5", 312 pounds) -- is a cornucopia of iSteve fixations.

For example, Martin is the son of a white woman and a black man with a Harvard degree. Sound like anybody? Martin attended the top prep school in his region: not Punahou, but Harvard-Westlake. That's a school that comes up frequently on iSteve for multiple reasons: it was my debate team's arch-rival, it's not impossible that my son lined up against Martin in a football game in the mid-2000s, it's the alma mater of the NBA Collins twins, most notably, Jason Collins), etc. etc.

Martin went on to play football for Stanford. One observer noted:
“Before, [Martin] wasn’t around Nebraska [Incognito's college], LSU kind of guys. He’s always been around Stanford, Duke, Rice kind of players,” Eumont said. “In locker rooms full of Nebraska, LSU, Southern Cal players, Miami players, they’ll look at this as a weakness."

I may have mentioned Stanford, Duke, and Rice once or twice over the years.

I can identify with the apparently tattoo-less Martin more easily than with the heavily tattooed Incognito, but one iSteve-connection is that the acne-prone Incognito, who has a long history of bad behavior, has been accused (without proof) of being prone to 'roid rage.

Of course, what makes this locker room story a national media obsession, on the other hand, is that it's another racial man-bites-dog story, like the Duke lacrosse story or the KKK running amok at Oberlin. In this case, it's a low class white bullying a high class black: Bull Connor hosing down Dr. Martin Luther King, that kind of thing that's so beloved by the dominant worldview.

In contrast, consider Michael Jordan punching, say, teammate Steve Kerr in the face to, uh, encourage him. (Kerr is from the rarefied class of Protestant American Arabists -- his martyred father Malcolm Kerr was president of the American University of Beirut.) Does that make Jordan a bully? Of course not! That just proves that MJ was the Greatest Competitor Ever.

But, but, but, Incognito used the N-word! And that's all anyone needs to know.

Of course, in the real world, it all turns out to be much more complicated.

Armando Salguero writes in the Miami Herald:
Incognito considered black in Dolphins locker room
... ESPN analyst and former Dolphins wide receiver Cris Carter has know Mike Pouncey [the Dolphin's black center, who played next to Incognito and Martin on the offensive line] since the player's childhood. Today Carter said on air he recently spoke to Mike Pouncey and the center, who is Incognito's friend, addressed race. 
"They [the Dolphin players] don't feel as if [Incognito's] a racist, they don't feel as if he picked on Jonathan repeatedly and bullied him, but if they could do it all over again there would be situations that they might change but they’re very, very comfortable with Richie,” Carter said. 
“They think it’s sad, not only that Jonathan’s not on the football team, but also that Richie is being depicted as a bigot and as a racist.” 
How is this possible? 
Well, I've spoken to multiple people today about this and the explanation from all of them is that in the Dolphins locker room, Richie Incognito was considered a black guy. He was accepted by the black players. He was an honorary black man. 
And Jonathan Martin, who is bi-racial, was not. Indeed, Martin was considered less black than Incognito. 
"Richie is honarary," one player who left the Dolphins this offseason told me today. "I don't expect you to understand because you're not black. But being a black guy, being a brother is more than just about skin color. It's about how you carry yourself. How you play. Where you come from. What you've experienced. A lot of things." 
Another former Dolphins employee told me Martin is considered "soft" by his teammates and that's a reason he's not readily accepted by some of the players, particularly the black players. His background -- Stanford educated and the son of highly educated people -- was not necessarily seen as a strength or a positive by some players and it perpetuated in the way Martin carried himself. 
And so -- agree with it or not, comprehend it or not -- this is a reason the Dolphins haven't turned on Incognito as a racist.

November 7, 2013

Venezuelan mannequins

From the NYT:
Mannequins Give Shape to a Venezuelan Fantasy

Venezuela's Inflated Vision of Beauty: In Venezuela, women are confronted with a culture of increasingly enhanced physiques fueled by beauty pageants and plastic surgery. 

VALENCIA, Venezuela — Frustrated with the modest sales at his small mannequin factory, Eliezer Álvarez made a simple observation: Venezuelan women were increasingly using plastic surgery to transform their bodies, yet the mannequins in clothing stores did not reflect these new, often extreme proportions.

So he went back to his workshop and created the kind of woman he thought the public wanted — one with a bulging bosom and cantilevered buttocks, a wasp waist and long legs, a fiberglass fantasy, Venezuelan style. 
Typical Venezuelan
window shoppers
The shape was augmented, and so were sales. Now his mannequins, and others like them, have become the standard in stores across Venezuela, serving as an exaggerated, sometimes polarizing, vision of the female form that calls out from the doorways of tiny shops selling cheap clothes to working-class women and the display windows of fancy boutiques in multilevel shopping malls. 
Mr. Álvarez’s art may have been meant to imitate life. But in a culture saturated with such images, life is returning the compliment. 
“You see a woman like this and you say, ‘Wow, I want to look like her,’ ” said Reina Parada, as she sanded a mannequin torso in the workshop. Although she cannot afford it, she said, she would like to get implant surgery someday. “It gives you better self-esteem.”

The article doesn't get around to mentioning that the mannequins are white in facial features, which also isn't true of most Venezuelan women.

The article does feature an interview with gown designer Osmel Sousa, who has been the de facto Generalissimo of Beauty in Venezuela since 1981. Sousa highly approves of women doing whatever it takes to look like mannequins. In fact, he insists upon it.
Osmel Sousa, the longtime head of the Miss Venezuela pageant, takes credit for the [plastic surgery] trend. He recommended a nose job for Venezuela’s first Miss Universe, which he says made her victory possible more than three decades ago.

“When there is a defect, I correct it,” Mr. Sousa said. “If it can be easily fixed with surgery, then why not do it?” 
For Mr. Sousa, beauty really is skin deep: “I say that inner beauty doesn’t exist. That’s something that unpretty women invented to justify themselves.”

Call me crazy, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that old Osmel isn't the straightest guy in the world.

If this Venezuelan beauty pageant gig ever peters out for Osmel, he should move to America, where he'd be welcomed in Washington and New York as a natural leader of the Immigration Reform movement. Who better to upbraid the white racists resisting the Path to Citizenship?

The Unz Review

Ron Unz has debuted a nice-looking website at
The Unz Review: An Alternative Media Selection 
A Collection of Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media

This isn't your usual Pepsi v. Coke partisan bickering. It's the UnzCola!

I've told this story a million times, but in 1991 I was in the expensive Dean and DeLuca grocery store in Manhattan. Ahead of me in line was a huge, bald black man, both imposing and cultured in demeanor: Geoffrey Holder. The checkout clerk looked up at him and said, "Hey, you're ... you're ... "

Holder interrupted him genially in that deep, deep voice : "That's right! I am James Earl Jones. But don't tell anyone. I'm traveling in ... cog ... neeeeeeee ... to!" And then he laughed like an erupting gas main and strolled out.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL): No immigration vote in 2013

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart
or, quite possibly, me
From the Washington Post:
Immigration reform is dead for the year, top GOP reformer says 
November 7 at 1:15 pm
In what will be seen as another blow to immigration reform’s chances, a top pro-reform Republican in the House concedes House Republicans are not going to act on immigration reform this year, and he worries that the window for getting anything done next year is closing fast. 
“We have very few days available on the floor in the House, so I don’t think we’re going to be able to do it this year,” GOP Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida told me by phone today. 
Diaz-Balart has been deeply involved in bipartisan negotiations over immigration for years now, and is thought to be in touch with House GOP leaders on the issue, so folks involved in the immigration debate pay close attention to what he says. 
Worse, Diaz-Balart said that if something were not done early next year — by February or March, before GOP primaries heat up – reform is dead for the foreseeable future. 
“I’m hopeful that we can get to it early next year,” he said. “But I am keenly aware that next year, you start running into the election cycle. If we cannot get it done by early next year, then it’s clearly dead. It flatlines.” 
Reformers on both sides have been pushing for action this year. Three House Republicans have urged the leadership to allow a vote on something, and House Democrats have introduced their own proposal. GOP leaders have not scheduled a vote on reform this year, but they haven’t ruled one out. 
Even some Republicans have ripped the GOP leadership’s foot dragging. GOP Rep. Joe Heck of Nevada recently said it would be “disappointing” if leaders were to “punt the issue until 2014 for political reasons.”

I love listening to politicians denounce politics. What Rep. Heck means is that as the midterm elections approach and voters start paying more attention, insiders like him have less opportunity to put a fast one over on the public.
Now Diaz-Balart says a vote this year isn’t going to happen. This matters because he is one of the key Republicans who is negotiating over a piecemeal proposal to do something about the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country. 
This proposal has yet to be released, but the Tea Leaves suggest it will include probation for the 11 million, enabling them to work legally, contingent on getting E-Verify running (if it isn’t after five years, those on probation would revert to illegal status).

Right. That would happen. Sure.
Immigration reform leader
Esteban Relias
This idea, which was in the now-defunct House Gang of Seven plan, is seen as one of the few ways Republicans might be able to support reform that deals with the 11 million.

I'm fascinated by how Mario Diaz-Balart (who is a former in-law of Fidel Castro) is automatically assumed to be a civil rights leader for the dusky masses of his people on the burning issue of undocumented immigration. Yet, he and I are pretty much doppelgangers in looks.

This whole Revenge of Catherine of Aragon phenomenon is kind of like if former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura, in need of a new gig, put on a dress, demanded to be called Jenny Ventura, and through sheer steroid-powered masculine charisma became a feminist leader.

GOP Donorists v. Populists

A reader reflects on recent electoral events:
Wondering what your take is on what looks to be a clear split of the entire GOP establishment from the Tea Party. I see it as pushing the Tea Party into, at the very least, a rhetorically anti-business direction (probably attacking big business). The Tea Party would lose money, but probably more than make up for it in votes.  
It strikes me as though they're being pushed into the sweet spot of American politics. If it is they who oppose immigration reform (and the Chamber of Commerce being for immigration reform is now another reason to hate them for Tea Partiers), the only missing piece from offering a real change to voters would be a less interventionist foreign policy (though some of them already take that position). 
While that technically wouldn't be a Sailer strategy, if voters want a change, the Tea Party is the only entity offering it. White Democrats are probably the only swing vote left (what would Obama's current poll numbers look like with the demographics of 1980 or 1960 America?), and anti-business, anti-war could probably be the few percent they'd need to pull out a win.

Interesting. I'd say, though, that it's a long way from here to there.

Explaining the Flynn Effect?

The "Flynn Effect," the name invented by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray in The Bell Curve for the phenomenon documented most thoroughly by James Flynn of rising raw scores on IQ tests, remains perhaps the most important (and technically daunting) conundrum in psychometrics.

Many worthy explanations have been offered, but we can use another one. 

One clue might be that the Flynn Effect tends to be largest on those types of IQ tests that seem designed by Mr. Spock-like aliens or robots, such as the Raven's Matrices, that tour d'force in minimalist test design from the late 1930s. 

Raven's Matrices
The more broad-based Wechsler brand of IQ tests was introduced in the same era. On this, we see a wide disparity in magnitude of the Flynn Effect by subtests. 

I adapted the table below from Flynn's 2007 book What Is Intelligence? On Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children subtests, the size of raw score gains from 1947 to 2002 on general information, arithmetic, and vocabulary subtests were small. But they were quite large on the more Raven's-like subtests, along with the high-concept Similarities subtest:

+2 (IQ Gain in Points, 1947-2002)
Example: On what continent is Argentina?

+2 point gain
If a toy costs $6, how much do 7 cost?

What does "debilitating" mean?

Why are streets usually numbered in order?

Picture Completion
Indicate the missing part from an incomplete picture.

Block Design
Use blocks to replicate a two-color design.

Object Assembly
Assemble puzzles depicting common objects.

Using a key, match symbols with shapes or numbers.

Picture Arrangement
Reorder a set of scrambled picture cards to tell a story.

In what way are "dogs" and "rabbits" alike? 
(Answer key: 2 points for "mammals," 1 point for "four-legged," and 0 points for "I wuv them.")

The last item deserves a separate explanation, but it's not hard to see that the first four subtests, on which the Flynn Effect has been restrained, are qualitatively different from the next five, on which it has been dramatic. All else being equal, more recent children, who grew up with an abundance of complex toys and electronic devices, would seem more likely to ace subtests five through nine. Robert Gordon said life is an IQ test, and life may well have become more like an IQ test, thus making it better training for taking IQ tests.

This pattern may help explain why kids these days don't seem all that hep when you try to talk to them about Grandma's debilitating hemorrhoids, but they are whizzes with their MyFace and Tweeter.

November 6, 2013

In the future, everything will be endowed

College football is basically tribal warfare without all the impalings, so it's interesting to watch the off-the-field maneuverings behind college football to gain some sense of how immemorial emotions are acted upon in the 21st Century. For example, the recent rise to football powerdom of Stanford (rated #5 in the country at the moment) reflects America's growing inequality. Ben Cohen writes in the WSJ:
Stanford isn't like other football powers. It can't generate as much cash from its fans, since it doesn't have nearly as many. Stanford Stadium seats about 50,000—half the size of some venues in the Southeastern and Big Ten conferences. 
The school accounted for $9.7 million in football ticket sales on its 2012 annual report. The four teams ranked above Stanford in the latest Bowl Championship Series standings averaged $27 million, with Ohio State topping the list at $41 million. In merchandise sales, Stanford ranked 42nd this year on the Collegiate Licensing Company's list of top-selling schools, well behind not just Texas but also Texas Tech. 
The normal revenues Stanford receives from football are so low, in fact, that its 36 varsity sports teams depend on something no other school has, or would dare rely so heavily on: an athletics-only endowment worth between $450 million and $500 million that pays out at 5.5% each year, people familiar with the matter said.

To put Stanford's secretive half-billion dollar sports stash in perspective (Stanford's overall endowment is $17 billion), here are the entire endowments of some large colleges:

Penn State $1,780 million
Tulane U. $961 million
Rutgers ($694 million)
U. of Arizona $563 million
Arizona St. (the largest university in the country) $500 million
Florida St. $498 million
The way Stanford keeps up in the college-football arms race is to lean on private donations. As a result, almost everything the football program touches is endowed, from each of the school's 85 football scholarships to David Shaw's head-coaching position. Stanford's offensive coordinator is even known as the Andrew Luck Director of Offense in honor of an anonymous gift in 2012.

What Open Borders looks like from sending end

Puerto Rico has enjoyed an Open Borders relationship with the United States for most of the last century, along with a plethora of tax breaks for over half a century to keep everybody from leaving. And yet, Puerto Rico has still managed to mess up.

A Washington Post editorial:
Puerto Rico’s sinking economy

ALAS FOR Puerto Rico, the Caribbean commonwealth attracts little attention on the U.S. mainland except when it’s in trouble. So it is with the looming crisis over Puerto Rican public debt, estimated at $70 billion. Detroit’s bankruptcy was bad for the municipal bond market; a default by Puerto Rico, though unlikely, could be worse: Some 70 percent of U.S. municipal-bond mutual funds hold the island’s paper, which bears tax-free interest. Large U.S. bond insurers are heavily exposed as well. 
How Puerto Rico got into this mess is a long story, with plenty of villains: The island’s government frittered away funds on unproductive investments and bloated payrolls; Wall Street bankers enabled more borrowing, collecting $880 million in fees since 2000; the U.S. government's policy of tax-free status for Puerto Rico bonds, meant to boost its economic development, subsidized the island’s habit of living beyond its means. 
And last but not least is the near-collapse of economic growth . Puerto Rico’s output has declined 16 percent since 2004. Its recession, triggered by the 2006 phaseout of a federal manufacturing tax break, began before that of the mainland and lasted longer. Only about a million of Puerto Rico’s 3.6 million people are employed. Not coincidentally, Puerto Rico’s population shrank 4 percent in the past decade, as many of the best and brightest sought opportunity on the U.S. mainland. 
... Commonwealth officials say default is not only undesirable but, literally, unconstitutional since Puerto Rico’s constitution gives general-obligation bondholders first dibs on the island’s cash. But that guarantee has never been tested in a predicament such as this, which is economically analogous to Detroit’s — and that of Greece, another heavily indebted political entity linked in a currency union with far larger and more competitive neighbors. 

NYT: Jason Collins to the rescue!

From the NYT:
Knicks Need Help. Why Not Jason Collins?

The Knicks need frontcourt help, and the veteran center Jason Collins happens to be looking for a job. 
One week into an already stressful season, the Knicks do not have a center, a defensive beacon in the N.B.A. storm. There is no short or complete answer to the loss of Tyson Chandler with a nondisplaced fracture of the right fibula. But there will be suggestions on how to cobble together a plan to survive for the next four to six weeks. And here is one: 
Get the agent Arn Tellem on the phone and see how quickly they can get Jason Collins to New York. 
Collins has been home in Los Angeles, working out and waiting for the inevitable injury that would send a front-line player to the injured list and get him back into the league for at least part of a 13th season. ... 
Reluctant to be quoted on a touchy subject, many N.B.A. insiders have insisted that Collins’s exclusion has had nothing to do with the announcement last spring that he is gay. It has been, they said, more about his age, limited abilities and in some cases about luxury tax complications related to the salary cap.

It may have something to do with Collins averaging 9 minutes, 1.1 points, and 1.6 rebounds per game last season. 

Anyway, a gay center is just so Spring 2013. This season, New York would need a transgender center who insists upon playing in six-inch stripper heels.

If the Knicks are looking for an aging big man whose signing would generate some social media buzz, let me point out that that airport incident suggests Bill Russell has some fight left in him. And Wilt Chamberlain is extremely well rested.

More Trolleymania: Dave Chapelle's white friend Chip

For the study on why liberals are more ardent to make an omelet by cracking Chip Ellsworth III's skull than cracking Tyrone Payton's, see my new column in Taki's.

A reader writes:
Hi Steve, 
Great work lately.  I've been following your 'throw the fat man' series with enjoyment as I've tried to make similar claims for years that impulsive moral decision-making should not be expected to be a test of purely abstract reasoning, and that the fat-man test in particular doesn't test whether people really make large moral distinctions between passive and active efforts.  
My view has always been that the facts of the scenario tend to stimulate instinctive or culturally-conditioned reflexive responses that generate subliminal hesitations and tribal preferences. 
So, when the examiner says 'throw the big fat man off the bridge', he thinks that stands for the abstract example of 'kill a random human, that we assume is sure to stop the train', but the examinee feels, just below the state of conscious awareness, 'Push a big fat man?!  That's really dangerous!  I might fail, and he pushes me instead, without even saving the trolly - that's the worst of all worlds!' 
Since the 'moral function' often manifests itself in the form of post-facto rationalizations for reptilian-calculations of self-interest, it's not hard to get people to try and piece together a string of words which 'justifies' their failure to intervene on the basis of asserted 'moral principles'. 
But as with you, the typical response of people who really want to believe in the meaningfulness of this scenario is that either I, or these people, are just unable to think abstractly, or are making ridiculous 'not real enough' criticisms of an abstract test.  

One skill tested by IQ tests is the ability to de-contextualize, to move from the concrete to the abstract. But the older I get, the more interested I am in re-contextualizing, moving from the abstract back to the concrete. History is an old man's game.
I noticed that analogy to Newton's laws on your site, but of course, the analogy is false.  Newtonian mechanics posits idealized assumptions to draw conclusions about abstract natural laws.  But experiments in moral psychology are making abstract assumptions about the workings of the human mind, which are not like natural laws of Physics.  They are putting the cart before the horse and assuming away psychological tendencies that have major impacts on the responses of the study participants. 
So, to test my theory, I have often proposed to people who quote the 'throw-the-fatty' examples at me, that they rephrase the question with different characteristics of the individual to be thrown. 
So, rerun the test with 'throw the old fat woman', or 'throw the fat black child', or 'throw the wheelchair-bound invalid', or 'throw your favorite celebrity', or 'throw Obama', or 'throw an Asian communist'.  For progressives, or open-borders advocates, I would suggest 'throw Steve Sailer' - who happens to be a large male like in the original scenario - but I imagine that one would get a great deal of enthusiasm for active intervention and explanation of moral justification.  
This has proven persuasive to my interlocutors on several occasions.  And it's made me permanently skeptical of results from the field if they don't apply some kind of control or test for the impact of these sorts of variations.

Meanwhile, in the current issue of The New Republic, Thomas Nagel ruminates on a new book about the Trolley Problem by Joshua Greene called Moral Tribes.

November 5, 2013

Throw Whitey Under the Trolley

From my new column in Taki's Magazine:
If a runaway trolley were about to smash into a bus containing 100 trapped members of the Harlem Jazz Orchestra, would you push a wholly innocent man named Chip Ellsworth III onto the tracks to stop the accident? What if the bus held 100 members of the New York Philharmonic and the guilt-free man's name is Tyrone Payton? 
Would your politics have any relevance to whether you’d prefer to kill the white man to save the black musicians or to kill the black man to save the white musicians? 
In a fascinating 2009 academic paper by four social psychologists, The Motivated Use of Moral Principles, UC Irvine students who identified as politically conservative were found to be racially evenhanded. When given the scenario about killing Chip to save 100 Harlemites, conservatives were no more or less likely to agree it’s the right thing to do than when told to ponder killing the man with the cornerback’s name to save 100 classical musicians. 
In striking contrast, liberal students displayed greater bloodthirstiness when presented with the scenario that gave them an opportunity to kill the WASP to help the blacks. 

Read the whole thing there.

Cosh: The IQ benefits of winter in Japan

Edmonton, Alberta is the farthest north major city in Canada, 587 miles farther north than Minneapolis, which, I hear, gets kind of chilly in winter despite being practically equatorial. And Edmonton is at 2,100 feet altitude, which lowers the temperature another 7 or 8 degrees compared to sea level. The high today in Edmonton was 28 degrees F, or below freezing, in contrast to today's high in, say, Van Nuys of 79 F. So, loyal Edmonton native Colby Cosh is always on the lookout for why frostbite is good for you if it doesn't quite kill you, like it makes your descendants' smarter. He writes in Maclean's:
A new study in the biometric journal Intelligence presents surprising data from Japan that reveal that IQ, imputed from standardized tests given to a large random sample of Japanese 14-year-olds, varies strongly and persistently with latitude. The Japanese are usually thought of—even by themselves—as being quite homogeneous ethnically; the myth of the sturdy, super-cohesive “Yamato race” has not yet been entirely obtruded out of existence. But it turns out that the mean IQs of students in Japanese prefectures apparently vary from north to south by two-thirds of a standard deviation—a spread almost as large as the “race gaps” in cognitive performance which trouble education scholars in multicultural countries like ours. Sun-drenched Okinawans, as a group, do not test as well as the snowbound citizens of Akita.

I don't know anything about Japan so I can't say whether this finding is plausible or not. This pattern isn't necessarily seen in other major Asian countries. In China, the highest achieving region on college tests is said to be the moderately southern province of Fujian, on the coast. In India, southern provinces have come up in the world, with the software capital being Bangalore down south (but also up modestly high, which no doubt helps health and fosters a culture less dragged down by relentless heat and humidity).

Michael Hastings recalled

People who make themselves obnoxious to the Washington-Wall Street axis of power tend to get in trouble on sex charges (Spitzer, Assange, and Strauss-Kahn). So, when investigative reporter Michael Hastings, who had brought down the top general in Afghanistan, died last June in a car crash in nice part of Los Angeles, I actually left the house to visit the scene. 

In person, while still somewhat puzzling, it looked less suspicious than in pictures online. Brave guys, I guess, are often brave about bad driving, too. 

Interestingly, blogger Paleo Retiree of Uncouth Reflections (and formerly of 2Blowhards, the best arts and culture blog of the previous decade) had been a good friend of Hastings. Here he interviews brother Jonathan Hastings about the late Michael Hastings.

Charlie Trotter, RIP

The great Chicago chef Charlie Trotter has died at age 54. A couple of years ago, I wrote about having dinner in his restaurant's kitchen.

Scandal! Tory cabinet minister met distinguished scientist

As we all know, conservatives hate science, while the left is the Reality-Based Community. Thus, from the leftist Independent:
Michael Gove held talks with 'IQ genes' professor 

Michael Gove held talks with a leading scientist who believes that genetics, not teaching, plays a major part in the intelligence of schoolchildren, The Independent on Sunday can reveal. 
Professor Robert Plomin, the world's leading behavioural geneticist, met the Secretary of State for Education and ministers at the Department for Education in the summer. Mr Gove's policy adviser, Dominic Cummings, provoked outcry yesterday when it emerged he had backed Professor Plomin's research that genes accounted for up to 70 per cent of a child's cognitive abilities. Mr Cummings, in a 250-page "private thesis", said the link between intelligence and genetics had been overlooked in the education system and wanted to introduce Professor Plomin to ministers to redress the balance. 
A spokesman for Mr Gove refused to respond when asked three times whether the Education Secretary also believed intelligence was genetic. "Professor Plomin has given a few talks to different groups including ministers," the spokesman said. 
"[He] suggested lots of different things, for example, that genetic research might allow us to help those with learning difficulties much earlier and more effectively." 
Linking intelligence to genes has long been controversial, but Professor Plomin has conducted research showing up to 70 per cent heritability for reading and maths tests at age seven, nine and 12, while scores for English, Maths and science GCSEs show up to 60 per cent heritability in a twin study. 
The research is contentious because ministers and educationalists have long believed that any child, from whatever background, can achieve the highest academic ability. 
In his document, leaked to The Guardian, Mr Cummings cited at length research by Professor Plomin, including the studies showing up to 70 per cent of a child's performance is genetically derived. Mr Cummings said: "There is strong resistance across the political spectrum to accepting scientific evidence on genetics. Most of those that now dominate discussions on issues such as social mobility entirely ignore genetics and therefore their arguments are at best misleading and often worthless." 
In the document, effectively a lengthy and detailed parting shot before he leaves the Department for Education at the end of this year, Mr Cummings also claimed that mediocrity is ubiquitous in education and criticised the amount of money the Labour government spent on Sure Start and other measures to improve social mobility, claiming billions had been spent "with no real gains". He added: "The education of the majority even in rich countries is between awful and mediocre." ...
Kevin Brennan, the shadow schools minister, said: "His claim that most variation in performance is due to genetics rather than teaching quality will send a chill down the spine of every parent – we need to know if these views are shared by Michael Gove."

November 4, 2013

Nature over nurture: Usain Bolt's gold medal diet

From The Independent:
Usain Bolt reveals he devoured 1,000 Chicken McNuggets during the 2008 Beijing Olympics 
It didn't do him any harm..he smashed three world records 
The Jamaican revealed in his soon-to-be released autobiography, Faster than Lightning, his passion started with a box of 20, yes 20, of the golden chicken treats, but with his training going into overdrive, he soon needed far more, up to 100 a day, and even turned to an apple pie to take the edge off. 
“At first I ate a box of 20 for lunch, then another for dinner,” he wrote. “The next day I had two boxes for breakfast, one for lunch and then another couple in the evening. I even grabbed some fries and an apple pie to go with it.” 

Of course, the Jamaican Milkshakes you ingest through a hypodermic needle don't slow you down, either.

By the way, my reading of David Wallechinsky's endlessly informative Complete Book of the Olympics suggests that nobody gets into severe auto crashes more than Olympic gold medalists. Hopefully, modern high end German safety technology will help Usain walk away from his next several wrecks as well.

As Enrico Fermi would ask: "Where is everybody?"

From the NYT:
Cosmic Census Finds Billions of Planets That Could Be Like Earth 
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Somewhere in all of this, there must be a planet where the volcanoes spout chocolate. 
Astronomers reported Monday that there could be as many as 40 billion habitable Earth-size planets in the galaxy, based on a new analysis of data from NASA’s Kepler spacecraft. 
One of every five sun-like stars in the galaxy has a planet the size of Earth circling it in the Goldilocks zone — not too hot, not too cold — where surface temperatures should be compatible with liquid water, according to a herculean three-year calculation based on data from the Kepler spacecraft by Erik Petigura, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley. 
Mr. Petigura’s analysis represents a major step toward the main goal of the Kepler mission, which was to measure what fraction of sun-like stars in the galaxy have Earth-size planets. Sometimes called eta-Earth, it is an important factor in the so-called Drake equation used to estimate the number of intelligent civilizations in the universe. Mr. Petigura’s paper, published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, puts another smiley face on a cosmos that has gotten increasingly friendly and fecund-looking over the last 20 years.
“It seems that the universe produces plentiful real estate for life that somehow resembles life on Earth,” Mr. Petigura said.

I did a high school science project on the Drake equation in 1975 and came up with the same general result: There ought to be lots of intelligent aliens out there!
Over the last two decades, astronomers have logged more than 1,000 planets around other stars, so-called exoplanets, and Kepler, in its four years of life before being derailed by a mechanical pointing malfunction last May, has compiled a list of some 3,500 more candidates. The new result could steer plans in the next few years and decades to find a twin of the Earth — Earth 2.0, in the argot — that is close enough to here to study. 
The nearest such planet might be only 12 light-years away. “Such a star would be visible to the naked eye,” Mr. Petigura said. 
His result builds on a report earlier this year by David Charbonneau and Courtney Dressing of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who found that about 15 percent of the smaller and more numerous stars known as red dwarfs have Earth-like planets in their habitable zones. Using slightly less conservative assumptions, Ravi Kopparapu from Pennsylvania State University found that half of all red dwarfs have such planets. Astronomers estimate that there are at least 200 billion stars of all types in the Milky Way galaxy, room for the imagination, and — who knows — perhaps for a few microbes or more complicated creatures to roam.
Geoffrey Marcy of the University of California, Berkeley, who supervised Mr. Petigura’s research and was a co-author of the paper along with Andrew Howard of the University of Hawaii, said: “This is the most important work I’ve ever been involved with. This is it. Are there inhabitable Earths out there?”
“I’m feeling a little tingly,” he said. 
At a news conference Friday discussing the results, astronomers erupted in praise of the Kepler mission and its team. Natalie Batalha, a Kepler leader from the NASA Ames Research Center, described the project and its members as “the best of humanity rising to the occasion.” 
According to Mr. Petigura’s new calculation, the fraction of stars with Earth-like planets is 22 percent, plus or minus 8 percent, depending on exactly how you define the habitable zone. 
There are several caveats. Although these planets are Earth-size, nobody knows what their masses are and thus whether they are rocky like the Earth, or balls of ice or gas, let alone whether anything can, or does — or ever will — live on them.
There is reason to believe, from recent observations of other worlds, however, that at least some Earth-size planets, if not all of them, are indeed rocky. Last week, two groups of astronomers announced that an Earth-size planet named Kepler 78b that orbits its sun in 8.5 hours has the same density as the Earth, though it is too hot to support life. 
“Nature,” as Mr. Petigura put it, “knows how to make rocky Earth-size planets.”

Now, 38 years later, I don't believe my Drake Equation calculations. Enrico Fermi turns out to be smarter than me. The celebrated Copernican paradigm shift was right on the relatively trivial shape-of-the-solar system question, but Ptolemy increasingly seems right about the Humans-Are-the-Center-of-the-Universe question.

As far as we can tell, we're the only intelligent life in the galaxy.

So let's not screw it up.

Open borders debate: Let the recriminations begin!

In a public debate on Open Borders (topic: "Let anyone take a job anywhere"), Bryan Caplan and Vivek Wadhwa got crushed by Ron Unz and Kathleen Newland. (Transcript, video).

Before this debate on the Upper West Side of Manhattan (i.e., perhaps the best possible location for Caplan and Co. in the U.S. -- the Upper West Side is Ground Zero for the intellectualized Ellis Island ancestor worship schmaltz that dominates the mainstream media worldview on immigration), 46% of the audience started out for Open Borders, 33% undecided, and only 21% against.

After the debate, pro-Open Borders dropped from 46% to 42%, undecideds dropped from 33% to 9%, and Against soared from 21% to 49%.

This is apparently one of the larger swings in IntelligenceSquared debate history.

Bryan Caplan has been lamenting his defeat at great lengths upon his blog. He has too many recrimination posts to link to individually, but one theme is that his partner, the charming Vivek Wadhwa, treasonously betrayed Caplan's side by just not being extremist enough.

Here's something worth noting that Caplan wrote last summer:
Think about it like this: Steve Sailer's policy views are much closer to the typical American's than mine.  Compared to me, he's virtually normal.  But the mainstream media is very sweet to me, and treats Steve like a pariah.  I have to admit, it's bizarre.

That I'm moderate and sensible, coming out of the mainstream of the American intellectual opinion going back to Ben Franklin, contributes to the hatred toward me.

It's amusing how several of the more Straussian intellectuals who react to my siting myself squarely in the center of prudent reasonableness do so by emphasizing their most extremist positions: "Let anyone take a job anywhere!" "Let them eat beans!" "Let everyone grow up in a highrise apartment like I did!" Others pretend that an absurd strawman version of me represents the media mainstream: "The conventional wisdom is that your IQ score represents the only thing important about you, but the latest brain scans prove this universal dogma wrong!"

World War T marches on

From the New York Times:
Bill on Workplace Bias Appears Set to Clear Senate Hurdle 
Published: November 4, 2013

WASHINGTON — A measure that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to federal nondiscrimination law has gained its 60th supporter in the Senate, giving it what appears to be a filibuster-proof majority as a key vote looms. 
... It will be the first time that the full Senate has considered a measure that includes protection for transgender people.

You can blow them up, but you can't marry them

Billboard in L.A. for anti-snoring product
From AdWeek:
Sleep Aid Defends Billboard Featuring U.S. Soldier With a Muslim Wife
'There are couples like this'

Are there? 

White American with veiled wife?

I imagine there are a few, but a very few.

One of the many drags of America's endless efforts to win the hearts and minds of Muslims by blowing them up is that taking their women is almost completely off-limits. You can blow them up, but you can't marry them.

In contrast, the Germans, Italians, and even Japanese were pretty good sports about G.I.'s marrying their womenfolk. For example, in the later 1970s through 1990s in the San Fernando Valley, about half of my mom's social circle of bridge ladies were a half-dozen old German warbrides of high degrees of gemütlichkeit. She was booked to go with them on a return visit to Germany and Austria, when illness forced her to drop out, which is too bad because the trip sounded like it would have been a blast for her.

Has anybody ever measured Classroom Discussion Quotient?

From the NYT:
Which comic strip character does
this U. of Chicago applicant resemble?
Robots or Aliens as Parents? Colleges Gauge Applicants’ Creativity


As legions of high school seniors polish their college applications, plowing through predictable essay topics about their lives and goals, they might also run across something like this: “Tell us your favorite joke and try to explain the joke without ruining it.” 
A small but growing number of select colleges have turned to off-kilter questions like that one, part of this year’s application to the University of Chicago, or like this one, from Brandeis University: “You are required to spend the next year of your life in either the past or the future. What year would you travel to and why?” ... 
And even those are tame compared with some choices from the last few years, like “If you could choose to be raised by robots, dinosaurs or aliens, who would you pick?” (Brandeis), or “What does Play-Doh have to do with Plato?” (Chicago). 
For the colleges, such questions set them apart, though the applications invariably give a choice of subjects, including some that are closer to traditional. And at a time when some elite colleges worry that high school students are more likely to be high achievers than independent thinkers, oddball essay questions offer a way to determine which of the A-student, high-test-score, multi-extracurricular applicants can also show a spark of originality. 
A quirky essay subject can seem like a burden to students who, already stressed out by the application process, find that being diligent and brilliant is not enough — that colleges also want them to be whimsical and creative. Teenagers pepper social media with complaints about the questions, though they do not want to be interviewed, for fear of alienating their colleges of choice. 
But others embrace the chance to express themselves, seeing it as a welcome relief from the ordinary applications. 
“Usually, the essay prompts are boring,” said Sam Endicott [pictured], a high school senior from Edmond, Okla., who said he chose the University of Chicago’s topic on explaining a joke. “They don’t inspire a whole lot of creativity. I like the ones that allow more free rein to be a little different.”

One reason for colleges' quirky essay questions is to discriminate against Asians, who are viewed as often not contributing much to classroom discussion beyond "Will this be on the test?"

A college admission issue I've never seen investigated quantitatively is quantity and quality of class participation. How important is class participation and how do you predict it?

I suspect it matters to the morale of professors. But it's hard to quantify on USNWR ratings, so it can't be treated as really important.

The main tools for predicting class participation are likely recommendations and interviews.

I suspect recommendations work best for students who attend plugged in high schools. If you are at Groton, and the counselor writes that you are one of the three best students for class participation in the last decade at Groton, that turns heads at colleges. If you go to some average school, though, how much do effusive recommendations help?

Interviews are similar -- they don't quantify on USNWR rankings, the sample sizes are tiny, and how much can you believe some interviewer's recommendation?

Also, one-on-one conversational ability is somewhat different from group discussion ability. I was always okay at the former, but was, not surprisingly, extremely good at group discussions.

What quantitative measures correlate with strong classroom participation? Off the top of my head, I'd guess: strong verbal logic and a large supply of information.

In 1981, an old teacher of mine who had always been overqualified (e.g., Harvard Ph.D.) for my high school and thus had moved on to L.A.'s top academic high school, now-called Harvard-Westlake, told me that Harvard-Westlake required Asian applicants to have much higher test scores and grades than other applicants because they were so passive in the classroom. He was all in favor of discriminating against Asians.

Perhaps that isn't fair, but has anybody measured this question?

It's important to note that anti-Asian discrimination at Harvard-Westlake wasn't some rudiment of the fading past, it was based on observations of a new flood of affluent Asian students in the 1970s. Harvard-Westlake (my high school's arch-enemy in debate) was just years ahead of the rest of the country.

November 3, 2013

Nurture over nature even in the NBA

From the NYT:
In the N.B.A., ZIP Code Matters 
Published: November 2, 2013

AS the N.B.A. season gets under way, there is no doubt that the league’s best player is 6-foot-8 LeBron James, of the Miami Heat. Mr. James was born poor to a 16-year-old single mother in Akron, Ohio. The conventional wisdom is that his background is typical for an N.B.A. player. A majority of Americans, Google consumer survey data show, think that the N.B.A. is composed mostly of men like Mr. James. But it isn’t. 
I recently calculated the probability of reaching the N.B.A., by race, in every county in the United States. I got data on births from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; data on basketball players from; and per capita income from the census. The results? Growing up in a wealthier neighborhood is a major, positive predictor of reaching the N.B.A. for both black and white men.

I don't know if county-level information is detailed enough: e.g., a large fraction of blacks are born in a small number of big counties with many different income levels, like Cook, Kings, Queens, Dade, and Los Angeles. But, it's a start.
Is this driven by sons of N.B.A. players like the Warriors’ brilliant Stephen Curry? Nope. Take them out and the result is similar. 
But this tells us only where N.B.A. players began life. Can we learn more about their individual backgrounds? In the 1980s, when the majority of current N.B.A. players were born, about 25 percent of African-Americans were born to mothers under age 20; 60 percent were born to unwed mothers. I did an exhaustive search for information on the parents of the 100 top-scoring black players born in the 1980s, relying on news stories, social networks and public records. Putting all the information together, my best guess is that black N.B.A. players are about 30 percent less likely than the average black male to be born to an unmarried mother and a teenage mother. 

This sounds plausible, but the methodology seems difficult to pull off. If you are a sportswriter, do you put something embarrassing in the newspaper about a giant black man's mother?
Need more evidence? The economists Roland G. Fryer and Steven D. Levitt famously studied four decades of birth certificates in California. They found that African-American kids from different classes are named differently. Black kids born to lower-income parents are given unique names more often. Based on searches on, I counted black N.B.A. players born in California in the 1970s and 1980s who had unique first names. There were a few, like Torraye Braggs and Etdrick Bohannon. But black N.B.A. players were about half as likely to have a unique name as the average black male.

High achieveing blacks don't have goofy names quite as often as blacks in the police blotter.
From 1960 to 1990, nearly half of blacks were born to unmarried parents. I would estimate that during this period roughly twice as many black N.B.A. players were born to married parents as unmarried parents. In other words, for every LeBron James, there was a Michael Jordan, born to a middle-class, two-parent family in Brooklyn, and a Chris Paul, the second son of middle-class parents in Lewisville, N.C., who joined Mr. Paul on an episode of “Family Feud” in 2011. 
These results push back against the stereotype of a basketball player driven by an intense desire to escape poverty. In “The Last Shot,” Darcy Frey quotes a college coach questioning whether a suburban player was “hungry enough” to compete against black kids from the ghetto. But the data suggest that on average any motivational edge in hungriness is far outweighed by the advantages of kids from higher socioeconomic classes.

 The notion that blacks are better at basketball than whites because they are hungrier is one of those flimsy rationalizations that people make up to avoid admitting that biological differences in getting a hand up high and in quickness are what really matters. Surely, if being poor mattered, there would be more Mexican NBA stars.
What are these advantages? The first is in developing what economists call noncognitive skills like persistence, self-regulation and trust. We have grown accustomed to hearing about the importance of these qualities for success in school, but players in team sports rely on many of the same skills. 
To see how poor noncognitive skills can derail a career in sports, consider the tragic tale of Doug Wrenn. Mr. Wrenn was born five years before Mr. James, also to a single mother in a poor neighborhood. He, too, was rated among the top basketball players in high school. But Mr. Wrenn, unlike Mr. James, was notoriously uncoachable and consistently in legal trouble. He was kicked off two college teams, went undrafted, bounced around lower leagues, moved in with his mother and was eventually imprisoned for assault.

I'd be fascinated by a study of the heights of inmates. What proportion of guys in the joint are of NBA height?
The second relevant advantage of a relatively prosperous upbringing is height. 
The economist Robert W. Fogel has demonstrated the impact of improved early life nutrition on adult height over successive generations. Poor children in contemporary America still have substandard nutrition, holding back their development. They have higher infant mortality rates and lower average birth weights, and recent research has found that poverty in modern America inhibits height. In basketball, the importance of every inch is enormous. I estimate that each additional inch almost doubles your chances of making the N.B.A. 
The N.B.A.’s changing demographics may also reflect the advantages of growing prosperity. Even casual fans will have noticed the difference the past 30 years have made: In 1980, fewer than 2 percent of N.B.A. players were foreign-born; now more than 20 percent are. 
... Foreign countries are producing taller men. 
From 1900 to 1980, the average American adult male’s height rose to 5-feet-10 from 5-feet-6. But American height has leveled off since 1980. The number of American-born 7-foot N.B.A. players, which increased from 1 in 1946, the N.B.A.’s first year, to 16 in 1980, has leveled off as well (there were 20 last year). ...
Meanwhile, other countries have caught up to the United States in health and height. A widely available proxy for early life conditions is infant mortality. In the United States, roughly 20 fewer infants per 1,000 births died in 2012 than in 1960. In other countries, declines have been much larger. In Turkey, over the same period, the rate dropped by a staggering 159 per 1,000 births. Even some Western European countries, like Spain, Greece and Portugal, had declines more than twice as large as those in America. All of these countries, recent research finds, have grown taller.

When I was young, basketball was biggest outside the U.S. in Mediterranean countries (assuming Yugoslavia should be counted as a Mediterranean land). Back around 1980, the top pro basketball leagues were, roughly, America, Italy, Spain, Greece, and Turkey. But, with the exception of the Balkan countries, those Mediterranean basketball-crazed countries didn't produce many outstanding Olympic players, in part because they just weren't that tall. Now, a single Spanish family, the Gasols, has produced two NBA star 7 footers. Nontwin 7 footer brothers are vanishingly rare. (Not surprisingly, the Gasol Brothers' parents are affluent professionals.)
Take every country with bigger health improvements than the United States. Suppose they grew an inch on average in the past 30 years. This would most likely increase the proportion of 7-footers in these countries fivefold, and indeed these fast-improving countries have about five times as many N.B.A. 7-footers now as they did 30 years ago. 
Or look at it from the other direction. Suppose Omer Asik, a 27-year-old Turkish player on the Houston Rockets, was born 25 or 30 years earlier, when Turkey’s children were much worse off. Perhaps he would have peaked as a 6-foot-10 forward in Ankara, not as a 7-foot center in Houston. 

Here's my 2009 post on this general subject.