November 16, 2013

NYT: "Dallas’s Role in Kennedy’s Murder"

From the New York Times, leapfrogging loyalties at their most lunatic:
The City With a Death Wish in Its Eye 
Dallas’s Role in Kennedy’s Murder 

FOR 50 years, Dallas has done its best to avoid coming to terms with the one event that made it famous: the assassination of John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963. 
That’s because, for the self-styled “Big D,” grappling with the assassination means reckoning with its own legacy as the “city of hate,” the city that willed the death of the president.

It will miss yet another opportunity this year. ... 
But once again, spectacle is likely to trump substance: not one word will be said at this event about what exactly the city was in 1963, when the president arrived in what he called, just moments before his death, “nut country.” ...
Those “men of Dallas” — men like my grandfather, oil men and corporate executives, self-made but self-segregated in a white-collar enclave in a decidedly blue-collar state — often loathed the federal government at least as much as, if not more than, they did the Soviet Union or Communist China. ... 
For those men, Kennedy was a veritable enemy of the state, which is why a group of them would commission and circulate “Wanted for Treason” pamphlets before the president’s arrival and fund the presciently black-rimmed “Welcome Mr. Kennedy” advertisement that ran in The Dallas Morning News on the morning of Nov. 22. It’s no surprise that four separate confidants warned the president not to come to Dallas: an incident was well within the realm of imagination. 
The wives of these men — socialites and homemakers, Junior Leaguers and ex-debutantes — were no different; in fact, they were possibly even more extreme. 
(After all, there’s a reason Carol Burnett pulls a gun on Julie Andrews at the end of the famous “Big D” routine the two performed before the assassination in the early 1960s. “What are ya,” she screams, pulling the trigger, “some kinda nut?!”) 
In the years before the second wave of the women’s movement, many of these women, affluent but frustrated in their exclusive neighborhoods like Preston Hollow and Highland Park, turned to politics as a means of garnering the validation they were otherwise denied. With time and money at their disposal, they would outdo their husbands, one another and even themselves. ...
And in the annals of my own family history, it was my charming grandmother, not some distant relation without a Neiman Marcus charge card, who nevertheless saw fit to found the “National Congress for Educational Excellence,” an organization that crusaded against such things as depictions of working women in Texas textbooks and the distribution of literature on homosexuality in Dallas public schools. 
In a photograph taken not long after the assassination, my grandmother smiles a porcelain smile, poised and lovely in psychedelic purple Pucci, coiffure stacked high in what can only be described as a hairway to heaven. Her eyes, however, are intent, fixed on a target — liberalism, gender equality, gays. 
Dallas is not, of course, “the city that killed Kennedy.” Nor does the city in which the president arrived 50 years ago bear much resemblance to Dallas today, the heart of a vibrant metroplex of 6.7 million people, most of whom have moved from elsewhere and have little or no connection to 1963. 
But without question, these memories — and the remnants of the environment of extreme hatred the city’s elite actively cultivated before the president’s visit — have left an indelible mark on Dallas, the kind of mark that would never be left on Memphis or Los Angeles, which were stages rather than actors in the 1968 assassinations of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. 
For the last 50 years, a collective culpability has quietly propelled the city to outshine its troubled past without ever actually engaging with it. ...
But those are transient triumphs in the face of what has always been left unsaid, what the now-defunct Dallas Times Herald once called the “dark night of the soul,” on which the bright Texas sun has yet to rise. The far right of 1963 and the radicalism of my grandparents’ generation may have faded in recent years, they remain very much alive in Dallas. ... 
This year Dallas has a chance to grapple with the painful legacy of 1963 in public and out loud. Unfortunately, that’s unlikely to happen, although the city did quietly host a symposium on whether it really deserved to be labeled “the city of hate” earlier this month. 
But when the national cameras start rolling on Nov. 22, Dealey Plaza, the abandoned, almost spectral site of the assassination and now of the commemoration, will have been retouched in a fresh coat of literal and figurative white paint. Cosmetics seem to be all we can expect.

I was under the impression that President Kennedy was assassinated by a Communist named Lee Harvey Oswald; evidently, I was misinformed. Instead, it must have been a giant right-wing conspiracy.

In the January 14, 2008 issue of The American Conservative, John O'Sullivan, who wrote about the failed 1981-1984 assassinations attempts on Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, and Margaret Thatcher in his 2006 book The President, The Pope, and the Prime Minister, reviewed James Pierseon's new book Camelot and the Cultural Revolution: How the Assassination of John F. Kennedy Shattered American Liberalism:
"Piereson's first original (and brilliant) insight is his recognition that what transformed American politics was not the assassination itself but how it was interpreted. 
"Kennedy was slain by a devout communist, one-time defector to the Soviet Union, and admirer or Fidel Castro who had kept in touch with Soviet diplomats after returning home from the USSR and was trying to re-defect to Cuba. A common-sense interpretation of the crime would have portrayed Kennedy as an anti-communist martyr of the conservative cause in the Cold War. Such a view would have made the Cold War -- rather than civil rights -- the central issue in U.S. politics... But such an account would have also been contrary to the emerging "spirit of the age," which dictated to commentators a very different analysis. 
"Before anyone knew the identity of Kennedy's assassin, his death was at once and widely attributed in media speculations to 'extremists' and 'bigots' on the Right. ... But that conviction hardly changed once it became known that the assassin was a communist. To be sure, the newspapers dug into Oswald's career as a defector very thoroughly. But the editorials and opinion columns, their television equivalents, and the comments of the liberal and cultural leaders repeatedly and passionately blamed the assassination on something called 'extremism,' which was disconnected from America in general and to the radical Right in particular. ... It soon became conventional wisdom that all Americans bore a share of the blame for the bigotry, intolerance, and hate that had struck down the president. John F. Kennedy in death became a martyr for the cause of civil rights -- a cause to which in life he had shown a prudent political coolness. ... 
"Piereson's second great contribution is to establish that Mrs. Kennedy herself, in the very depths of her grief, was signally responsible for inventing and spreading this misinterpretation and lifting it to the level of myth. 
... These questions were answered when Mrs. Kennedy learned that the lone Oswald had killed her husband. She then complained, "He didn't even have the satisfaction of being killed for civil rights. It had to be some silly little communist. It even robs his death of any meaning." 
"Even before the misinterpretation had become current, she had intuitively grasped both its main features and the unfortunate fact that reality did not quite measure up to them. In her arrangements for the funeral and her selection of those speaking at the various memorial services, she ensured that the misinterpretation would be the dominant theme. Finally, by dictating to Theodore White the story that Kennedy had often ended his day listening to songs from his favorite musical, "Camelot," and by insisting that it must remain in White's article over the skepticism of his editors at Life magazine, she lifted the misinterpretation to the level of myth... 
... "Observers attentive to purely political signs -- votes, laws, opinion polls -- were inevitably late to notice this cultural shift. But a woman of fashion, who was also politically knowledgeable, was able to sense it from the surrounding atmosphere. ... 
"To their surprise, however, as the radicals [in the late 1960s] rushed forward with their battering rams, the liberals opened the gates and surrendered. How could they resist? If America had killed Kennedy, the liberalism was merely a smiley face painted on a System of racist and sexist oppression. ... For a decade or so after November 1963, liberalism and its institutions were convulsed by disputes, entering the maelstrom as pragmatic, patriotic, and problem-solving bodies, and emerging from it as perfectionist, utopian, anti-American ones, secretly anxious to punish the American majority for its sins rather than solve its problems."

"Immigration Economics" by Borjas coming in 2014

This year's immigration "debate" revealed once again that, with the exception of economists who actually study immigration, most economists don't know anything about the topic and don't even think that the basics of economics (e.g., supply and demand, ceteris paribus, etc.) apply to immigration.

Harvard immigration economist George J. Borjas will be publishing his magnum opus next June:
Immigration Economics 
George J. Borjas 
Millions of people—nearly 3 percent of the world’s population—no longer live in the country where they were born. Every day, migrants enter not only the United States but also developed countries without much of a history of immigration. Some of these nations have switched in a short span of time from being the source of immigrants to being a destination for them. International migration is today a central subject of research in modern labor economics, which seeks to put into perspective and explain this historic demographic transformation. 
Immigration Economics synthesizes the theories, models, and econometric methods used to identify the causes and consequences of international labor flows. Economist George Borjas lays out with clarity and rigor a full spectrum of topics, including migrant worker selection and assimilation, the impact of immigration on labor markets and worker wages, and the economic benefits and losses that result from immigration. 
Two important themes emerge: First, immigration has distributional consequences: some people gain, but some people lose. Second, immigrants are rational economic agents who attempt to do the best they can with the resources they have, and the same holds true for native workers of the countries that receive migrants. This straightforward behavioral proposition, Borjas argues, has crucial implications for how economists and policymakers should frame contemporary debates over immigration.

Future class-action lawsuits and apologies

One of the joys of cycling
The government has had a fair amount of effectiveness in recent years with safety campaigns against smoking and riding in a car without buckling your seatbelt. Other safety campaigns have seemingly evolved more organically, such as the backyard trampoline going out of fashion. 

On the other hand, it's considered smart, cool politics for politicians to encourage bicycle riding.

Bike paths with their own right-of-way are a wonderful urban amenity. When I lived in Santa Monica three decades ago, I rode the Venice Beach bikepath a couple of times per week. I used to ride to Chicago's Loop down the lakefront bikepath most weekends during the warmer months. I didn't ride anywhere else in Chicago, however, because I'm not nuts. 

Unfortunately, retrofitting bicycle lanes with right of way on top of existing street grids can be immensely expensive.

Moreover, the trend toward gentrification is even worse for safe cycling than the old trend toward suburbanization. Bicycling to school down broad Riverside Drive in leafy Sherman Oaks in the 1970s was dangerous, but, leaving aside improvements in helmets, bicycling down a 19th Century street in crowded Silver Lake in the 2010s is more so.

Yesterday evening I drove from the Arclight movie theater in Hollywood (we saw Nebraska) through Silver Lake, Mayor Garcetti's old council district, to the gentrifying arts district of Atwater Village, north of downtown, where my wife was seeing a production of Cyrano de Bergerac with friends. For various GPS-related reasons we took Franklin Blvd. through Silver Lake, which is a two-lane street barely wide enough for two cars to pass without smacking side mirrors. 

Being a trendy place, Franklin in Silver Lake has lots of bike lane markers painted on the asphalt. Being a trendy place, Franklin is also lined on both sides bumper-to-bumper with parked cars so there is no actual separate space for a bike lane whatsoever. To avoid hitting oncoming or parked cars, you have to drive with the passenger seat of your car directly over the bike lane logos. Councilman Garcetti perhaps could have gotten the city to outlaw parking on Franklin to make room for cyclists, but he liked getting re-elected, so he didn't. Bicycles and parking spaces are a zero sum game, so it's more fun to act Pro-Bycycle just by painting logos of a happy cyclist right in the middle of traffic.

Since, contra Freud, most human beings lack a death wish, the number of bicyclists was fortunately tiny, perhaps 0.2% of all traffic going down Franklin Blvd. Nonethless, the two cyclists who were on Franklin caused no end of anxiety. In most places in Los Angeles, cyclists (who primarily consist of guys with too many DUIs and/or illegal aliens) just ride on the sidewalks, on the sensible grounds that pedestrians are softer objects to crash into than SUVs. But in Silver Lake, there were actually two cyclists who took all the government's bike path propaganda seriously and insisted on riding in the street.

Driving through bicycle-friendly Silver Lake is kind of like getting stuck on a busy two lane highway in Mexico behind a truck full of chickens. The only way to get past the cyclists was to slow down to their 10 miles per hour. (Whatever happened to bicyclists dashing about on aerodynamic Italian racing bikes? Compared to modern bicycles, the Singing Nun rode a speedster.) Then, when a narrow gap opened in the oncoming traffic, floor it and charge out into the oncoming lane, then slash back in to your legal half of the street without, hopefully, nipping the front tire of the cyclist. Unlike the chicken truck, however, cyclists feel free to re-pass you when you are stuck at a redlight, so then you have to do it all over again.

I found these statistics on the website of a personal injury law firm, so I won't vouch for their authenticity. Still ...
- U.S. Department of Transportation statistics show that more than 8,000 bicyclists died and 700,000 were injured in motor vehicle-related crashes in the past decade. 
- More than one-third of all bicycle fatalities involve riders 5 to 20 years old, and 41 percent of nonfatal injuries occur to children under the age of 15. 
- Each year, more than 500,000 people in the US are treated in emergency rooms, and more than 700 people die as a result of bicycle-related injuries.

My recollection was that cycling became immensely fashionable in Los Angeles during the "ten speed" craze of the early 1970s. It was kind of a post-hippie thing. I insisted upon biking to high school everyday, and was only flattened by a car once. 

After awhile, though, people noticed that bad things sometimes happened to cyclists (for example, the head coach of the Lakers, Jack McKinney, suffered a near fatal head injury in a cycling accident during the 1979-80 championship season, and got fired). And automotive traffic continued to worsen as population density increased, so in the later 20th Century cycling became this thing that people paid lip service to, but didn't actually do, at least not to the extent they did in the 1970s.

Now, though, there is a lot of political pressure to encourage cycling, and negligible media attention on the dangers. But, this too shall pass.

A France-Israel-Saudi Arabia alliance?

One of the more interesting diplomatic developments in response to the Obama Administration's opening to Iran is the French Socialist government's sudden attempt to woo Israel and its de facto allies, the Persian Gulf Sunnis, out of the American orbit. 

From DebkaFile, a shadowy organization devoted to stirring the pot:
Hollande and Netanyahu to consider forming a joint French-Israeli-Arab front against Iran
DEBKAfile Exclusive Analysis November 16, 2013

French President Francois Holland and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius arrive in Jerusalem Sunday, Nov. 17. Their talks with Israel’s leaders are likely to determine how France, Israel and Saudi Arabia respond to the Obama administration’s current Middle East moves, with critical effect on the next round of nuclear talks taking place in Geneva Wednesday, Nov. 20 between six world powers and Iran. 
France will be given the option of aligning with the Middle East powers - Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt - which challenge President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry’s race for détente with Tehran. 
If he accepts this option, the next decision facing President Hollande will be whether, how and when this grouping is willing to consider resorting to military action to preempt a nuclear-armed Iran. This option has been abandoned by Washington, a decision succinctly articulated Tuesday, Nov. 12, by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney: 
“The American people do not want a march to war,” he told reporters. Therefore: “…spoiling diplomatic talks with Iran would be a march to war.” 
Ergo, opponents of a US-Iranian deal – Carney omitted mention of Iran’s military nuclear program to leave US negotiators a free hand for easy terms – are pushing for war. 
Hollande and Netanyahu will have to decide between them whether to create a joint French-Arab-Israeli military option to fill the gap left by Washington’s abdication from the war choice and, if so, whether, how and when to exercise it. 
Foreign Minister Fabius, whose vote torpedoed the original US proposal for Iran at the first Geneva conference, analyzed the implications of Obama’s policy in a lecture this week marking the 40th anniversary of the French Policy Planning Staff, which largely shapes Paris government foreign and defense policies. 
He said: “The United States seems no longer to wish to become absorbed by crises that do not align with its new vision of its national interest. Because nobody can take the place of the United States, this disengagement could create major crises left to themselves. A strategic void could be created in the Middle East, with widespread perception of Western indecision.” 
The self-evident corollary to this diagnosis is that by foregoing resistance to the US-Iranian understanding, France, Saudi Arabia and Israel would share America’s responsibility for the major crises erupting in the region, which none of them would be able to control.

In case you are wondering about the Socialist involvement, the French left was traditionally more pro-Israel than the French right. The French government was Israel's mentor in developing nuclear weapons in the 1950s. (Another example of 1950s France-Israel cooperation was their conspiracy, with Britain, to attack Egypt in 1956.) In the 1960s, however, the rightist Charles De Gaulle started to wonder, "Why is this in France's national interest?" So, De Gaulle pulled the plug on nuclear cooperation.  (However, recent rightist president Nicolas Sarkozy identified most closely with his Salonikan grandfather, so the Gaullist tradition of standoffishness toward Israel has been declining).

France would always love to regain its rightful status as the leading Great Power, but it may well be feeling the need for a partner in its challenge to the U.S. In the long run, France reviving its 1890-1917 alliance with Russia might make sense, especially as a Russia-Israel alliance is not wholly implausible. For example, the Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, a Moldovan-born leader of ex-Soviet Israeli voters, is a huge admirer of Vladimir Putin. 

By the way, Lieberman is now in his second stint as foreign secretary after an interruption due to a corruption scandal. Typically, countries appoint as foreign minister fairly suave, high-tone individuals, such as classical pianist Condi Rice or yachtsman John Kerry. In contrast, Lieberman is a former bouncer. It's kind of like America appointing as Secretary of State radio talk show host Michael Savage, which would be fun.

Now, I realize that we are accustomed to assuming that everything involving Israeli foreign policy is a matter of the utmost seriousness, and therefore my analogy that Israeli foreign policy has certain resemblances to American college football (You don't see Alabama in a hurry to sign a peace treaty with Florida, do you?) hasn't been widely popular. So, I expect even less agreement with my new analogy of Israeli foreign policy to professional wrestling, with Avigdor Lieberman as the heel you love to hate. But just keep it in the back of your mind ...

And if Netanyahu and Lieberman were to form an alliance with France and Russia, then the Israeli Left might eventually respond by making an alliance with its traditional cultural role model, economic superpower Germany. Germany hasn't swung all that much weight on the world stage since the Recent Unpleasantness (and instead must make do with manufacturing Audis, BMWs, Mercedes, Porsches, and VWs), but it's not so recent anymore. Bygones can suddenly turn into bygones, especially if Responsible Opinion in the media suddenly swings in that direction.

This notion that in the future, world politics will sort of be Israeli politics writ large may seem unrealistic, but the history of recent American Presidential campaigns (remember Newt Gingrich's surge in 2012? How about George H.W. Bush's sudden collapse in 1992?) suggests that it's not out of the question.

Bait and Switch, higher ed style

A press release from the University of Southern California:
USC leads nation in international students for 12th year 
By Merrill Balassone 
For the 12th year in a row, USC accounted for more international students than any other American institution of higher education, according to the annual Open Doors report released on Nov. 11 by the Institute of International Education. 
During the 2012-13 academic year, USC hosted 9,840 international students, according to the institute. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Purdue University were ranked second and third, respectively, in the report. 
Chinese students represented the largest segment of USC’s international population with 3,771. Students from India were the second-largest group with 1,806.

I suspect a sizable fraction of USC's foreign students have an image in their heads of what Southern California is like from viewing Baywatch reruns and the like. And then they arrive at USC in lovely South-Central L.A. ...

November 15, 2013

Australia's Camp of the Saints

The New York Times Magazine has a long adventure story by reporter Luke Mogelson about his infiltrating a group of mostly Iranian economic illegal immigrants in Indonesia who are trying to sneak into Australia by boat. 

Of course, in the article the Iranians are called "refugees" and "asylum-seekers" as if they were Niels Bohr in his sailboat slipping away from the Nazi occupation of Denmark. If you read the article closely, however, the Iranians mostly seem to be seeking refuge from the general cruddiness of life in a country chock full of Iranians:
A majority, I was surprised to discover, were not Afghan but Iranian. Most were from cities and the lower middle class. They were builders, drivers, shopkeepers, barbers. One man claimed to be a mullah; another, an accomplished engineer. Their reasons for leaving varied. They all complained about the government and its chokehold on their freedoms. A few said they had been targeted for political persecution. They bemoaned the economy. International sanctions — imposed on Iran for refusing to abandon its nuclear program in 2006 and later tightened — had crippled their ability to support their families. They were fathers who despaired of their children’s futures, or they wanted children but refused to have them in Iran. The most common word they used to describe their lives back home was na-aomid — hopeless.

The strong desire of Australian voters to avoid a slow-motion Camp of the Saints on their shores has been a major factor in elections in this century, one that the American national media have mostly professed bafflement about.

What never gets brought up in this long article is: "Why Australia?" I mean, aren't there other countries closer to Iran than Australia for Iranians to take "refuge" in?

The handy website Air Miles Calculator shows that the distance from Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran to the airport of Australia's largest metropolis, Sydney, is 8037 miles. 

How many countries are less than 8,000 miles from Tehran?

As its ancient history of civilization suggests, Iran is more or less in the center of the world, with the vast majority of all countries closer to it than the major immigrant destination cities of Australia. So, it would make more sense to ask how many national metropolises are more distant from Tehran than Sydney is.

The answer is just a small number of countries in the western or southern parts of Latin America and in the Pacific. Even Sao Paulo in southern Brazil is closer to Tehran than Sydney is.

Below is a sample of Great Circle distances from Tehran's Imam Khomeini International Airport to the airports of:

Baku, Azerbaijan: 355 miles
Grozny, Chechnya: 622
Dubai: 746
Beirut: 897
Tel Aviv: 964
Tashkent, Uzbekistan: 1,061
Istanbul: 1,270
Berlin: 2,176
Oslo: 2,464
Paris: 2,610
Dublin: 3,001
Lisbon: 3,274
Casablanca: 3,305
Seoul 4,088
Nuuk, Greenland: 4,407
Dakar, Senegal: 4,444
Johannesburg 4,522
Tokyo: 4,819
Cape Town, 5,240
Anchorage, Alaska: 5,664
New York: 6,133
Toronto: 6,165
Vancouver: 6,588
Sao Paulo: 7,557
Los Angeles: 7,606
Monterrey, Mexico: 7,820
Bogota: 7,951
Sydney: 8,037
Honolulu: 8,089
Mexico City: 8,184
Stanley, Falkland Islands: 8,869
Santiago, Chile: 9,183
Auckland, NZ: 9,350
Easter Island: 11,172

Whether Pitcairn Island is nearer or farther than Easter Island is hard to tell because it doesn't have an airport.

Every single one of the more than 40 Muslim-run countries in the world is closer than Australia. Of course, Iranians aren't terribly welcome in the Persian Gulf due to worries that they'd undermine the country. Here in Los Angeles, which is closer to Tehran than Sydney is, there are large numbers of Iranians. And while they are constantly striving to get their in-laws and second cousins into America, I've never noticed much desire among L.A.'s Persians for the gates to be flung open for the Iranian masses to follow in their footsteps. 

At the very end of the article is a single sentence that, perhaps, sheds some light on one technical reason for why Iranians want to go to Australia:
Moreover, unlike with Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, no agreement exists between Iran and Australia allowing for the forcible repatriation of asylum seekers whose applications are unsuccessful. 

But, the main reasons are that Australia is lightly populated, and set up by and still (mostly) run by Northern Europeans.

Liberal v. conservative: Is it genetic?

HBD Chick [or hbd chick] is reviewing Avi Tuschman‘s Our Political Nature: The Evolutionary Origins of What Divides Us. In the comments, I found this:
10/30/2013 at 1:49 AM

... On the Conservatism-Liberal divide – I don’t think this is a “natural” jointing of human personality or societal belief or whatever. In the sense that if you took a big bundle of personality or societal beliefs, and factor analysed them, a neat Conservative-Liberal split would not fall out of the data, “naturally”. 
Rather, what has happened [is] the political process has worked to produce two large political factions which are able to compete with one another (there’s more in proportionate representation democracy but they have to form coalitions so it's functionally similar). 
Each of these large political groupings must market itself to a large section of society and attract functionally high performing people who are willing to talk the ideological talk well, in order to stay competitive. 
It seems like, partly, the way one of these does this is by manufacturing ideological statements which appeal to people who are open-minded, smart, tend towards social anomie / cosmo rootlessness and have high abstract and unconventional thought. The way the other does this is by attracting people who are highly disciplined and achievement oriented, socially connected in their communities and pragmatic. Looking across human societies, this seems like a really common way for two ideological coalitions to form.  
And of course, because these traits are embodied physically in the brain and in the genetic code, there are genetic and physical correlates. 
However, the end result isn’t that either of these political groups actually puts their ideology into practice, but more that they sell off their decisions and stances for money to various stripes of bourgeois-capitalist organisation, with ideology providing some constraints as to how they do so. 
[Jonathan] Haidt is utterly correct that (at least many of) the personality dimensions which underlie political differentiation have evolutionary explanations, but (at least most of) their clustering together to form political positions is driven mainly by the political process (which is mostly a sham for a process controlled by money and interests) NOT an a priori clustering which falls out of evolutionary logic.

In case you are wondering who "Matt" is, well, there are a whole bunch of high IQ Matts these days. "Matt" is the new "Steve."
It might be interesting for iSteve readers to evaluate themselves on Matt's dimensions:

Liberals (at least at the high end):
1. open-minded
2. smart
3. tend towards social anomie / cosmo rootlessness 
4. high abstract thought 
5. unconventional thought. 

6. highly disciplined
7. achievement oriented
8. socially connected in their communities 
9. pragmatic.

For example, I'd say that while I endorse all the conservative virtues, I am not personally all that disciplined, achievement oriented, connected, or pragmatic.

On the other hand, for somebody who is high in #5 (unconventional thought), I'm lacking in #3 (alienation). 

The other odd thing about me is that I'm relatively low in #4 (abstract thought). Instead, I'm high in example-based thinking. I'm not very good at thinking in purely abstract terms, but I can come up with a large sample size of examples, from which I can sometimes extract more general lessons.

Who pushes whom?
For example, when presented with the Trolley Problem -- if it's moral to push a lever that will kill one person to save five lives, why are we more reluctant to push a fat man on to the tracks to save five passengers? -- I immediately start churning through examples until I come up with the fattest fat man I can think of (the Samoan sumo wrestler Konishiki). From thinking about trying to murder Konishiki with my bare hands, I conclude that it would really hard (and imprudent) for me to push Konishiki to his death, so maybe I shouldn't try. And from there, I reason more generally that maybe it is a good thing that human beings seem to have a prejudice against starting lethal brawls with guys bigger than themselves.

November 14, 2013

Fundamental questions about the Common Core standards

Why do the Common Core educational standards (e.g., a list of what needs to be taught in each grade dreamed up by David Coleman) need to be common across the country? Why is it crucially important that 45 states upend what they're doing to jump on board this untested bandwagon? Wouldn't it make more sense to test Dave's brainstorm in one state to see if it actually works before betting the country on it?

For example, a couple of decades ago, the state of California had a great idea: stop teaching kids to read using phonics and use only whole word instruction instead, because studies prove that really good adult readers are whole word readers (e.g., "whooping cough" pretty much equals "whooping crane" in the eyes of the fastest readers). This proved a famous disaster. For years afterward, you could look at California test scores and instantly tell which grades the poor kids who got stuck with whole word instruction were in by how much lower the reading scores were of, say, eighth through tenth graders versus seventh or eleventh graders.

Fortunately, due to our federal system, that only happened in one state (granted, the state that is 1/8th of the country), and other states learned salutary lessons from California's mistake.

The only argument I've heard for why a Common Core being must be almost nationally common is that it would be nice for students who suddenly move from one state to another to find their new school is exactly where their old school left off. But how important is this?

The French minister of education is famously proud that in every school in the country the nine-year-olds are reading the same page at the same moment. Is this better or worse than a more federal system like Germany's? Off hand, the results don't seem all that different. The differing approaches seems more to reflect the French state's obsession with centralization in case they want to put together an army big enough invade Russia again. In contrast, German federalism reflects their interest in decentralization so they aren't tempted to put together an army big enough to invade Russia again.

Moreover, what is the point of lockstep standards, anyway? How do they survive their collision with the reality of human diversity? If you say that all students must learn U, V, and W in 4th grade so they will be prepared to learn X, Y, and Z in 5th grade, what happens to the students who fail to learn V and W in 4th grade and thus aren't ready for X,Y, and Z if fifth grade? What about the students who learned U,V, and W in the first months of 4th grade?

And shouldn't somebody, somewhere test the Common Core before it's rolled out to 45 states?

Education Realist writes:
I’ve stayed out of the Common Core nonsense. The objections involve much fuss about federal control, teacher training, curriculum mandates, and the constructivist nature of the standards. Yes, mostly. But so what? 
Here’s the only important thing you need to know about Common Core standards: they’re ridiculously, impossibly difficult.

America is just finishing up a colossal failure called No Child Left Behind, a plan dreamed up by President Bush and Senator Kennedy that mandated that every public school student in America score "proficient" in reading and math by next May. It was obvious from the get-go that it would never work, but it was wildly popular within the education industry for many years because it justified no end of conferences, meetings, pet projects, days out of the classroom to get "professional development," and all the other things that are more fun than teaching other people's children day after day after day.

Now that NCLB is dying, we have a whole new fad that is suspiciously like the old one.

American patriots dodge the fifth bullet of the century?

This year, we were unlucky, but remember we only have
to be lucky once. You Americans will have to be lucky always.
With House Speaker Boehner finally promising not to get involved in a House-Senate immigration bill reconciliation conference (where Senator Schumer would undoubtedly take him to the cleaners), it's starting to look as if Americans in 2013 may have won yet another political victory over the bipartisan amnesty Establishment, just as we did in 2001, 2004, 2006, and 2007. 

If this pans out, I should be feeling good about it, after all those years fiddling with spreadsheets that showed the conventional wisdom wasn't quite the slam dunk everybody assumed it was. But, mostly, I'm feeling tired right now by the knowledge that nobody will learn anything and we'll have to fight again. 

As a commenter pointed out, Congress's lame duck session after the 2014 election is a particular danger point, since it's the maximum time possible from the next election.

November 13, 2013

JDF: "27% of Jewish Children Are in Orthodox Homes — Huge Jump"

From the Jewish Daily Forward:
Orthodox Population Grows Faster Than First Figures in Pew #JewishAmerica Study 
27% of Jewish Children Are in Orthodox Homes — Huge Jump 
By Josh Nathan-Kazis

The Orthodox population is growing even faster than earlier reports from the Pew Research Center’s recent survey of American Jews suggested. 
A new analysis of data from Pew finds that 27% of Jews younger than 18 live in Orthodox households. That’s a dramatic jump from Jews aged 18 to 29, only 11% of whom are Orthodox. 
“Orthodox birthrates in just the last few years have been soaring,” said Jewish sociologist Steven M. Cohen, who requested the new data from Pew. “The sky is falling for the rest of the population.” 
Previously published Pew data suggested that growth among the Orthodox was tempered by high dropout rates. No data was previously available on the proportion of Jewish children in Orthodox homes. The new figures show that the demographics of today’s Jewish children are radically different from those of even today’s Jewish young adults. 
“There is a trend afoot, and in the next big population survey like this, we will see the beginning of a switch, whereby Orthodox Jews will eventually likely be the majority of American Jews,” said Sarah Bunin Benor, a professor of Jewish studies at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. She, like Cohen, was a member of the Pew study’s advisory committee. 
The Pew report was based on interviews with 3,500 Jews across the United States 
In its analysis of its research, Pew described a gradual decrease in Jewish identity among the non-Orthodox, and a gradual rise in the overall proportion of Jews who identify as Orthodox. The study reported that 10% of Jews were Orthodox, just 2% higher than a roughly approximate study 10 years ago. 
The new numbers give those findings a different cast. 
As a proportion of the community, the Orthodox population more than doubles when you compare the demographic slice of middle-aged Jews with that of Jewish children based on the new data, according to Cohen. “Every year, the Orthodox population has been adding 5,000 Jews,” Cohen said. “The non-Orthodox population has been losing 10,000 Jews.” 
The nationwide findings are in line with a 2012 study by UJA-Federation of New York. The study reported that 60% of Jewish children in the New York City area live in Orthodox homes. 
Much of the growth appears to have come from the ultra-Orthodox including the Hasidic sectors. Though Pew did not break out age data for that subgrouping, the survey found that of the 10% of Jews who identified as Orthodox, only 3% said they were Modern Orthodox. 
The factors driving down the non-Orthodox population were explored thoroughly in early coverage of Pew and discussed widely in the Forward and elsewhere. 
Less noticed were the exceptionally high birthrates reported by Orthodox Jews. 
Low levels of retention among older Jews who grew up Orthodox distracted from the birth rates and gave the impression that enough children were leaving Orthodoxy to keep the population relatively flat. 
The new data challenges those assumptions. 
High ultra-Orthodox birth rates are often visible in news media anecdotes For instance, when Israeli ultra-Orthodox rabbinical leader Yosef Sholom Elyashiv died in July 2012, he was said to have more than 1,000 living descendants. 
Pew puts data to those anecdotes. The study’s numbers suggest that the Orthodox birthrate in the United States is far higher than that of most other religious groups. Pew found that Orthodox Jews averaged 4.1 children per adult [woman, I suspect], while America’s general public averages 2.2 children. The Orthodox number is higher than the average for Protestants (2.2) and Catholics (2.4). Hispanic Catholics (3.1) come close, but still fall short. 
These birth rates, which are helping to push the demographics toward an Orthodox majority, remain confounding to outsiders. 
“Orthodox life is very, very different than a conventional lifestyle,” said Alexander Rapaport, 35, a father of seven. Rapaport lives in a Hasidic community in Brooklyn’s Boro Park and runs the soup kitchen network Masbia. 
He described a social structure designed to encourage and support large families — and that structure has apparently succeeded in more than doubling its share of the Jewish population in less than two decades. 
Rapaport’s wife had the couple’s first child when Rapaport was 21. Their total of seven (so far) is about average for their community. Their latest, a 3-month-old, wears baby clothes passed down from a cousin born a year earlier. 
“My wife didn’t buy any new stuff for my daughter,” Rapaport said. “My sister gave her all her stuff that she had for her daughter.” 
Food, Rapaport said, is also inexpensive. “Most people in New York think of food, they think of eating out,” Rapaport said. In his community, it’s “chulent and gefilte fish eaten at home.” 
Besides economizing and informal support networks, Orthodox communities rely on government aid programs to subsidize their child-heavy lifestyle. 
In Rockland County, N.Y., the Hasidic village of New Square receives Section 8 housing subsidies at a higher rate than anywhere else in the region. In New Jersey, schools in the Orthodox city of Lakewood get more federally backed E-Rate telecom subsidies than schools in any other municipality. Half of the people living in the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic village of Kiryas Joel, in Orange County, N.Y., are on food stamps; a third are on Medicaid. 
Some of that government aid goes to cutting school prices. For secular parents, the price of private school can often be a factor in family planning. Religious school tuition could make having large numbers of children unfeasible, but ultra-Orthodox schools are inexpensive. Hasidic men contacted by the Forward reported that Hasidic families pay between $200 and $400 per month year-round for school and summer camp. 
Catholic elementary schools in Brooklyn cost $3,500 for the school year. Tuition to the Abraham Joshua Heschel School in Manhattan begins at $34,000. 
Large families, however, don’t only create burdens on the parents. Older children are often tasked with raising their younger siblings. The result, according to Lani Santo, executive director of Footsteps, which helps people leaving Orthodoxy, is that a disproportionate number of their members are the eldest in their families. 
A survey of 70 Footsteps members found that 30% were the oldest of their siblings.  
“The oldest children are burdened with a lot of the responsibility of taking care of younger children, and that could lead to resentment,” Santo said. 
That could be a factor in the Orthodox dropout rates, which remain substantial. 
According to Pew, among Jews aged 18–29 who grew up Orthodox, 17% say they are no longer Orthodox. 

One thing to keep in mind in reading about American Jewish numbers is that the study of Jewish demographics in the U.S. is a fraught field. In contrast to Israel, where the government invests heavily in collecting and analyzing demographic trends, since the late 1950s the U.S. government hasn't been allowed to count anything that would be terribly useful in identifying Jews. 

There is plenty of private money and talent to do the job, but the various critics, nit-pickers, and interested parties who want to put thumbs on the scale are also world-class. So, publication of survey results tend to lead to recriminations and spin, such as the early 2000s survey that caused a huge rumpus among Jewish organizations before everybody more or less agreed to forget it ever happened.

"El Futuro"

From a while ago in the Washington Post, Eli Saslow reports from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas on Blanca, a single mother of five:
But the cheap foods she could afford on the standard government [food stamp] allotment of about $1.50 per meal also tended to be among the least nutritious — heavy in preservatives, fats, salt and refined sugar. Now Clarissa, her 13-year-old daughter, had a darkening ring around her neck that suggested early-onset diabetes from too much sugar. Now Antonio, 9, was sharing dosages of his mother’s cholesterol medication. Now Blanca herself was too sick to work, receiving disability payments at age 40 and testing her blood-sugar level twice each day to guard against the stroke doctors warned was forthcoming as a result of her diet.

Hidalgo County, Tex., is one of the fastest growing and poorest places in the nation. Although 40 percent of the county's residents are enrolled in the food-stamp program, diabetes and obesity have exploded in the region. 
She drove toward the doctor’s office on the two-lane highways of South Texas, the flat horizon of brown dirt interrupted by palm trees and an occasional view of the steel fence that divides the United States from Mexico. Blanca’s parents emigrated from Mexico in the 1950s to pick strawberries and cherries, and they often repeated an aphorism about the border fence. “On one side you’re skinny. On the other you’re fat,” they said. Now millions more had crossed through the fence, both legally and illegally, making Hidalgo County one of the fastest-growing places in America. 
“El Futuro” is what some residents had begun calling the area, and here the future was unfolding in a cycle of cascading extremes: 
Hidalgo County has one of the highest poverty rates in the nation . . . which has led almost 40 percent of residents to enroll in the food-stamp program . . . which means a widespread reliance on cheap, processed foods . . . which results in rates of diabetes and obesity that double the national average . . . which fuels the country’s highest per-capita spending on health care. 
This is what El Futuro looks like in the Rio Grande Valley: The country’s hungriest region is also its most overweight, with 38.5 percent of the people obese. For one of the first times anywhere in the United States, children in South Texas have a projected life span that is a few years shorter than that of their parents.

Tyler Cowen's leguminous insight about the future of America -- "Let them eat beans!" -- isn't popular in El Futuro, where local sentiment is more inclined toward "Let them drink Red Bull!" Saslow's article goes on to document how a Mexican-American politician tried to change the law so that food stamps couldn't be used to purchase energy drinks, which are made mostly of sugar, caffeine, and profit margin. But a combination of corporate and liberal interests defeated his reform effort.

The latest Gap

I presume that universal pre-K schooling can solve this. (This is covered in the Common Core, right?)

From Slate:
This week, the New York Times parsed two recent studies of orgasm rates for men and women in casual hookups and found that men get off a lot more in those situations than women do. One study of 24,000 students at 21 colleges found that only "40 percent of women had an orgasm during their last hookup involving intercourse, while 80 percent of men did." ... Gay men and lesbians weren't mentioned at all. I asked Indiana University sex researcher Dr. Debby Herbenick, quoted in the Times piece, to help fill in some of the gaps on the orgasm gap. ... 
Slate: The New York Times story focuses on why women might not reliably have orgasms during casual hookups. But what about the men they’re hooking up with? Why are they so good at it?

You can read the whole thing there, because I can't.

Michelle Obama: Exhibit A for "mismatch theory"

From the NYT:
Michelle Obama urged high school students on Tuesday to increase the opportunities available to them by pursuing higher education as she kicked off an initiative that seeks to increase the number of low-income students graduating from college and signaled her plans to focus more on administration policy during the president’s second term. 
Opening up to high school sophomores gathered in an auditorium at Bell Multicultural High School in Washington, Mrs. Obama spoke of her struggles as an underprivileged student in Chicago, taking a long bus ride across town to attend a better school and dreaming of the diploma from Princeton University that she eventually earned. ...
It was clear from her remarks that the initiative, which will take her to schools around the country, is a personal one. Answering students’ questions — along with Arne Duncan, the secretary of education — she referred to “kids like us” and recalled those who had discouraged her ambitions. 
“Some of my teachers straight up told me that I was setting my sights too high,” Mrs. Obama said. “They told me I was never going to get into a school like Princeton. I still hear that doubt ringing in my head.” 
She continued: “So it was clear to me that nobody was going to take my hand and lead me to where I needed to go. Instead it was going to be up to me to reach my goal. I would have to chart my own course.”

This is all very fine as advice, but not entirely accurate as autobiography.

The First Lady's admission to Princeton wasn't entirely her own doing. Besides the usual affirmative action, she was also a Princeton legacy. In fact, her two-year-older brother Craig Robinson was already the Big Man on Campus, both metaphorically (he's always been popular, although he appears to be wearing out his welcome as Oregon State basketball's head coach) and literally (he's 6'6"). While Michelle Robinson's application was under consideration in the January to March of 1981, sophomore Craig Robinson was helping Princeton to the Ivy League title. Her big brother was then Ivy League basketball player of the year in her first two years on campus, and led Princeton to the 3rd round of the NCAA tournament in 1983.

And I presume her application wasn't hurt either by her being close friends with one of Jesse Jackson's daughters.

This latest speech continues a 35-year-old pattern of Michelle Robinson Obama being peeved that other people noticed that she only got into Whitney Young H.S., Princeton, Harvard Law School, and Sidley Austin because of pull, racial and personal.

"A modern feminist takes her husband's [Spanish sur]name"

From the Los Angeles Times:
A modern feminist takes her husband's name 
A young self-described feminist surprises friends and colleagues by adding her husband's last name to her own. Why? Because she wants to.

By Emily Alpert Reyes 
As a kid, I played with toy dinosaurs and dolls alike. At 13, I insisted that a female rabbi perform my bat mitzvah ceremony. I didn't shave my legs during high school and much of college, in protest against sexist and generally pain-in-the-rear beauty norms. I have a career I love — and no plans to leave it. 
So how did a modern woman like me end up changing her name? 
I am now Emily Alpert Reyes, instead of Emily Alpert. The decision took friends and family by surprise. My bemused and wonderful husband told me, "You know you don't have to do that, right?" My editors found the decision so baffling that they prodded me to write this column. 
"She was the last person I would expect to go along with what really is a patriarchal tradition," a college friend wrote in an email she later forwarded to me. She added, "I am routinely surprised by the number of my well-educated, feminist friends who still change their names without question." 
Why did I do it? Not because anyone made me. Not because I disliked my old name — it's still there in plain sight, sandwiched between Emily and Reyes.

What could be more Spanish-surnamed and thus affirmative action-worthy than "Alpert Reyes?" I mean Alpert is already a Spanish-surname, isn't it? I know it has something to with Tijuana ...

November 12, 2013

"12 Years a Slave"

Brad Pitt drops by 12 Years a Slave
after a barnraising on the Witness set
From my movie review in Taki's Magazine:
New Movie, Same Old Skin Game

12 Years a Slave—a biopic about Solomon Northup, a black fiddler born in New York who somehow wound up a slave in Louisiana from 1841 until the law rescued him in 1853—is the nearly universally acclaimed frontrunner for the Best Picture Oscar. 
Yet it’s built upon a fourth-rate screenplay that might have embarrassed Horatio Alger. Screenwriter John Ridley’s imitation Victorian dialogue is depressingly bad, reminiscent of the sub-Shakespearean lines John Wayne had to deliver as Genghis Khan in The Conqueror
12 Years a Slave is hailed by critics as a long-awaited breakthrough that finally dares to mention the subject of slavery after decades of the entertainment industry being controlled by the South. Yet as cinema encyclopedist Leonard Maltin notes: "12 Years A Slave is a remake."  ...
You can watch Gordon Parks' 1984 version, Solomon Northup's Odyssey, online for $2.99. 
The remake has more whippings, though. 
The message behind the ongoing enshrinement of the rather amateurish 12 Years a Slave is that the cultural whippings of white folk for the sins of their great-great-great-great-grandfathers will continue until morale improves.

Read the whole thing there.

By the way, here's the lobby card from the 1971 movie that has unexpectedly turned out to be one of the major influences upon this decade's Oscar contenders:

Any resemblances between Skin Game, starring James Garner and Louis Gossett Jr. as itinerant rapscallions in the South in 1858, and Django Unchained are not coincidental. Any coincidences between Skin Game and 12 Years a Slave are ironic.

Former Labour minister admits "spectacular mistake" on immigration

From the Daily Mail:
A spectacular mistake on immigration: Straw finally admits Labour 'messed up' by letting in one million East Europeans 
Former Home Secretary said the party's 2004 decision to hand immediate working rights to migrants from other EU states was a mistake 
Admission in his local paper is furthest any Labour minister has gone 
His successor David Blunkett also warned Roma migrants could cause riots 
Government had predicted influx of 13,000 a year - 1m came in a decade 
Jack Straw has admitted that throwing open Britain’s borders to Eastern European migrants was a ‘spectacular mistake’. 
The former Home Secretary said Labour’s 2004 decision to hand immediate working rights to Poles and migrants from other new EU states was a ‘well-intentioned policy we messed up’. 
His comments emerged on the same day as his successor as Home Secretary, David Blunkett, warned that the influx of Roma migrants into Britain risked causing riots. ... 
Virtually every other EU state, apart from Ireland and Sweden, kept their jobs markets closed for the seven years permitted.  
In an article for his local paper, the Lancashire Telegraph, Mr Straw – who is MP for Blackburn – admitted the forecasts were ‘worthless’. 
And he accepted the ‘social dislocation’ which can be caused when ‘large numbers of people from abroad settle in a particular area’.

By the way, Straw has also shown some courage in mentioning the pattern of Pakistani gangrapes of young English girls.

It's interesting how American elites are almost alone in the world in maintaining a unified front in never ever apologizing for what they've wrought with their immigration policies.

The missing I-word in the inequality mystery

From the NYT:
Rethinking the Income Gap and a College Education 
... Still, the growing skepticism about the value of a [college] degree has fed into a deeper unease among some economists about the ironclad trust that policy makers, alongside many academics, have vested in higher education as the weapon of choice to battle widening income disparities and improve the prospects of the middle class. 
It has given new vigor to a critique, mostly by thinkers on the left of the political spectrum, that challenges the idea that educational disparities are a main driver of economic inequality. 
“It is absolutely clear that educational wage differentials have not driven wage inequality over the last 15 years,” said Lawrence Mishel, who heads the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal-leaning center for economic policy analysis. “Wage inequality has grown a lot over the last 15 years and the educational wage premium has changed little.” 
The standard analysis of the interplay between technology and education, developed by economists like Lawrence Katz and Claudia Goldin of Harvard, and David Autor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is based on a simple proposition: technological progress increased the demand for highly educated workers who could deploy it profitably, increasing their incomes. Like trade, it rendered many less-skilled occupations obsolete, eliminating what used to be solid, middle-class jobs. 
This rendition of history suggests that improvements in technology from the PC to the Internet — coupled with a college graduation rate that slowed sharply in the 1980s — have been principal drivers of the nation’s widening income gap, leaving workers with less education behind. 
But critics like Mr. Mishel point out that this theory has important blind spots.
For instance, why have wages for college graduates stagnated over the last decade, even as innovation continues at a breathtaking pace? Between 2000 and 2008 the typical earnings of men with at least a bachelor’s degree fell by more than $2,000, after inflation, to $70,332 a year. Between 2008 and last year they fell a further $3,500. Though somewhat less pronounced, the pattern is similar for women. 
Both sides agree that the overall weakness of the job market since the turn of the millennium is a prime culprit. As Professor Katz noted: “The only moments we’ve had of broadly shared prosperity have been in tight labor markets.” 
Still, the sluggish job growth of the last decade – following the rapid expansion during the second half of the 1990s — demands an explanation, which the interplay between technology and skill does not provide. 
“We have no handle on what happened in the 2000s,” Professor Autor told me. 
“That is a mystery that nobody I know understands, and I can’t point to a single policy lever or a single external force that would explain it.”

Try to guess what word is completely missing from this article and from almost all respectable thinking about this mystery.

Women made up 31% of top novelists ever in a man of letters' 1898 list

At the Times Literary Supplement, Michael Caines reproduces a list drawn up in 1898 by a prominent man of letters named Clement K. Shorter of the 100 best novels of all time.
"He doesn't explain what exactly makes a book one of the "best", only that he has deliberately limited himself to one novel per novelist. Living authors are excluded ..."

The list is biased toward the British Isles, tending to overlook American books (such as Moby-Dick and The Red Badge of Courage), but has a smattering of Continental novels. 

And of course women writers were totally ignored in 1898. Back then, women were kept illiterate and chained to the stove so no women could read novels, much less write them. And if they did, no male critic would praise them.

Oh, wait, that's not true. 

At all. 

In fact, 31% of this Victorian gentleman's choices of the 100 best novelists no longer living are female. Here's Mr. Shorter's list, with female novelists in pink:
1. Don Quixote - 1604 - Miguel de Cervantes
2. The Holy War - 1682 - John Bunyan
3. Gil Blas - 1715 - Alain René le Sage
4. Robinson Crusoe - 1719 - Daniel Defoe
5. Gulliver's Travels - 1726 - Jonathan Swift
6. Roderick Random - 1748 - Tobias Smollett
7. Clarissa - 1749 - Samuel Richardson
8. Tom Jones - 1749 - Henry Fielding
9. Candide - 1756 - Françoise de Voltaire
10. Rasselas - 1759 - Samuel Johnson
11. The Castle of Otranto - 1764 - Horace Walpole
12. The Vicar of Wakefield - 1766 - Oliver Goldsmith
13. The Old English Baron - 1777 - Clara Reeve
14. Evelina - 1778 - Fanny Burney
15. Vathek - 1787 - William Beckford
16. The Mysteries of Udolpho - 1794 - Ann Radcliffe
17. Caleb Williams - 1794 - William Godwin
18. The Wild Irish Girl - 1806 - Lady Morgan
19. Corinne - 1810 - Madame de Stael
20. The Scottish Chiefs - 1810 - Jane Porter
21. The Absentee - 1812 - Maria Edgeworth
22. Pride and Prejudice - 1813 - Jane Austen

23. Headlong Hall - 1816 - Thomas Love Peacock
24. Frankenstein - 1818 - Mary Shelley
25. Marriage - 1818 - Susan Ferrier

26. The Ayrshire Legatees - 1820 - John Galt
27. Valerius - 1821 - John Gibson Lockhart
28. Wilhelm Meister - 1821 - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
29. Kenilworth - 1821 - Sir Walter Scott
30. Bracebridge Hall - 1822 - Washington Irving
31. The Epicurean - 1822 - Thomas Moore
32. The Adventures of Hajji Baba - 1824 - James Morier
33. The Betrothed - 1825 - Alessandro Manzoni
34. Lichtenstein - 1826 - Wilhelm Hauff
35. The Last of the Mohicans - 1826 - Fenimore Cooper
36. The Collegians - 1828 - Gerald Griffin
37. The Autobiography of Mansie Wauch - 1828 - David M. Moir
38. Richelieu - 1829 - G. P. R. James
39. Tom Cringle's Log - 1833 - Michael Scott
40. Mr. Midshipman Easy - 1834 - Frederick Marryat
41. Le Père Goriot - 1835 - Honoré de Balzac
42. Rory O'More - 1836 - Samuel Lover
43. Jack Brag - 1837 - Theodore Hook
44. Fardorougha the Miser - 1839 - William Carleton
45. Valentine Vox - 1840 - Henry Cockton
46. Old St. Paul's - 1841 - Harrison Ainsworth
47. Ten Thousand a Year - 1841 - Samuel Warren
48. Susan Hopley - 1841 - Catherine Crowe 
49. Charles O'Malley - 1841 - Charles Lever
50. The Last of the Barons - 1843 - Bulwer Lytton
51. Consuelo - 1844 - George Sand
52. Amy Herbert - 1844 - Elizabeth Sewell

53. Adventures of Mr. Ledbury - 1844 - Elizabeth Sewell [sic, actually by Albert Smith]
54. Sybil - 1845 - Lord Beaconsfield (a. k. a. Benjamin Disraeli)
55. The Three Musketeers - 1845 - Alexandre Dumas
56. The Wandering Jew - 1845 - Eugène Sue
57. Emilia Wyndham - 1846 - Anne Marsh
58. The Romance of War - 1846 - James Grant
59. Vanity Fair - 1847 - W. M. Thackeray
60. Jane Eyre - 1847 - Charlotte Brontë
61. Wuthering Heights - 1847 - Emily Brontë
62. The Vale of Cedars - 1848 - Grace Aguilar

63. David Copperfield - 1849 - Charles Dickens
64. The Maiden and Married Life of Mary Powell - 1850 - Anne Manning
65. The Scarlet Letter - 1850 - Nathaniel Hawthorne
66. Frank Fairleigh - 1850 - Francis Smedley
67. Uncle Tom's Cabin - 1851 - H. B. Stowe
68. The Wide Wide World - 1851 - Susan Warner (Elizabeth Wetherell)
69. Nathalie - 1851 - Julia Kavanagh
70. Ruth - 1853 - Elizabeth Gaskell
71. The Lamplighter - 1854 - Maria Susanna Cummins

72. Dr. Antonio - 1855 - Giovanni Ruffini
73. Westward Ho! - 1855 - Charles Kingsley
74. Debit and Credit (Soll und Haben) - 1855 - Gustav Freytag
75. Tom Brown's School-Days - 1856 - Thomas Hughes
76. Barchester Towers - 1857 - Anthony Trollope
77. John Halifax, Gentleman - 1857 - Dinah Mulock (a. k. a. Dinah Craik)
78. Ekkehard - 1857 - Viktor von Scheffel
79. Elsie Venner - 1859 - O. W. Holmes
80. The Woman in White - 1860 - Wilkie Collins
81. The Cloister and the Hearth - 1861 - Charles Reade
82. Ravenshoe - 1861 - Henry Kingsley
83. Fathers and Sons - 1861 - Ivan Turgenieff
84. Silas Marner - 1861 - George Eliot
85. Les Misérables - 1862 - Victor Hugo
86. Salammbô - 1862 - Gustave Flaubert
87. Salem Chapel - 1862 - Margaret Oliphant
88. The Channings - 1862 - Ellen Wood (a. k. a. Mrs Henry Wood)
89. Lost and Saved - 1863 - The Hon. Mrs. Norton
90. The Schönberg-Cotta Family - 1863 - Elizabeth Charles

91. Uncle Silas - 1864 - Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
92. Barbara's History - 1864 - Amelia B. Edwards 
93. Sweet Anne Page - 1868 - Mortimer Collins
94. Crime and Punishment - 1868 - Feodor Dostoieffsky
95. Fromont Junior - 1874 - Alphonse Daudet
96. Marmorne - 1877 - P. G. Hamerton ("written under the pseudonym Adolphus Segrave")
97. Black but Comely - 1879 - G. J. Whyte-Melville
98. The Master of Ballantrae - 1889 - R. L. Stevenson
99. Reuben Sachs - 1889 - Amy Levy
100. News from Nowhere - 1891 - William Morris

My potted history of the novel would roughly be that what are now recognized in hindsight as early novels tend to be somewhat isolated tour d'forces by male pioneers like Cervantes and Defoe. It wasn't clear before the second half of the 18th century if the novel was a permanent type of writing. 

But, in the 1740s Samuel Richardson discovered with Pamela and Clarissa that there was a large market for books about women, and presumably read heavily by women, and from then on the novel was definitely a thing. Fairly quickly, women novelists emerged and earned a sizable share of the commercial market by the 1770s.

In general, female novelists tended to be less stylistically innovative or ambitious, and got less critical respect. Dr. Johnson, for example, would grump to Boswell about how much money Mrs. Burney was making, but also confess to having stayed up all night reading her latest page-turner.

The undisputed best of the first couple of generations of women novelists, Jane Austen, was a bestselling writer toward the end of her short life, with a major fan in the Prince Regent. After her death in her early forties, interest inevitably faded, but her reputation was kept alive, although not by critics and scholars, but by subsequent great writers such as Charles Dickens who frequently mentioned his large debt to her books. A recent computer study of word patterns in English literature found that the two most influential writers after Shakespeare were Austen and Sir Walter Scott. 

(By the way, I'm becoming interested in Scott as a political-historical thinker on ethnic conflict, such as between Scottish Highlanders and the English and between the Normans and the Saxons. Any recommendations for the most accessible of Scott's books along those lines?)

In general, I'd say that the male writers on Mr. Shorter's list are, from the perspective of 2013, on average more distinguished than the female writers. This would be another example of the common phenomenon of the male sex having a larger right tail of whatever bell curve you are looking at than the female sex. But the effect is not overwhelming. 

The 1898 list also adds 8 novels by living writers (e.g., Tolstoy, Hardy, Henry James, and Zola), none of them women. That's a tiny sample size, but I suspect that it's possible that women novelists subsequently faded in literary importance for awhile during the stylistically innovative late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Let my children play!

Here in the U.S., a current educational panacea envisioned for Closing the Gap is to round up all the four-year-olds (and maybe three-year-olds, or younger) and set them to studying their ABCs while they get their 30 million words of being talked at by adults with college degrees.

Earlier this month the "Too Much, Too Soon" campaign made headlines with a letter calling for a change to the start age for formal learning in schools. Here, one of the signatories, Cambridge researcher David Whitebread, explains why children may need more time to develop before their formal education begins in earnest.

In England children now start formal schooling, and the formal teaching of literacy and numeracy at the age of four.  A recent letter signed by around 130 early childhood education experts, including myself, published in the Daily Telegraph  (11 Sept 2013) advocated an extension of informal, play-based pre-school provision and a delay to the start of formal ‘schooling’ in England from the current effective start until the age of seven (in line with a number of other European countries who currently have higher levels of academic achievement and child well-being). 
This is a brief review of the relevant research evidence which overwhelmingly supports a later start to formal education. This evidence relates to the contribution of playful experiences to children’s development as learners, and the consequences of starting formal learning at the age of four to five years of age. 
There are several strands of evidence which all point towards the importance of play in young children’s development, and the value of an extended period of playful learning before the start of formal schooling. These arise from anthropological, psychological, neuroscientific and educational studies. 
Anthropological studies of children’s play in extant hunter-gatherer societies, and evolutionary psychology studies of play in the young of other mammalian species, have identified play as an adaptation which evolved in early human social groups.

Yeah, but how many Mbuti pygmies or bonobo chimps made partner at Skadden, Arps last year?
It enabled humans to become powerful learners and problem-solvers. Neuroscientific studies have shown that playful activity leads to synaptic growth, particularly in the frontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for all the uniquely human higher mental functions. 
In my own area of experimental and developmental psychology, studies have also consistently demonstrated the superior learning and motivation arising from playful, as opposed to instructional, approaches to learning in children. Pretence play supports children’s early development of symbolic representational skills, including those of literacy, more powerfully than direct instruction. Physical, constructional and social play supports children in developing their skills of intellectual and emotional ‘self-regulation’, skills which have been shown to be crucial in early learning and development. Perhaps most worrying, a number of studies have documented the loss of play opportunities for children over the second half of the 20th century and demonstrated a clear link with increased indicators of stress and mental health problems. 
Within educational research, a number of longitudinal studies have demonstrated superior academic, motivational and well-being outcomes for children who had attended child-initiated, play-based pre-school programmes. 
One particular study of 3,000 children across England, funded by the Department for Education themselves, showed that an extended period of high quality, play-based pre-school education was of particular advantage to children from disadvantaged households. 
Studies have compared groups of children in New Zealand who started formal literacy lessons at ages 5 and 7. Their results show that the early introduction of formal learning approaches to literacy does not improve children’s reading development, and may be damaging. By the age of 11 there was no difference in reading ability level between the two groups, but the children who started at 5 developed less positive attitudes to reading, and showed poorer text comprehension than those children who had started later. In a separate study of reading achievement in 15 year olds across 55 countries, researchers showed that there was no significant association between reading achievement and school entry age. 
- See more at:

That reminds me of when my son was three. My wife spent a lot of effort getting him accepted by the most fashionable pre-K program in Chicago's Lincoln Park. But at the last moment it all fell apart, when she mentioned that he wouldn't be coming on Wednesdays: That's when he went to his grandmother's to help her bake cookies (i.e., lick the spatula). And maybe he'd come home at lunchtime a couple of other days per week because 8 to 3 was a long day for him. 

The pre-K's admission officer was shocked by my wife's cavalier attitude toward her three-year-old's academic career. All the educational progress they were making would be at risk if he left early, much less spent an entire day per week in the non-academic atmosphere of his grandmother's house. When my wife voiced skepticism, the admission officer pointed out that she had an M.A. in Education and my wife did not. 

Talks broke down irretrievably, so he stayed home another year and kept going to his grandmother's house to help her bake cookies.

November 11, 2013

Rolling Stone needs a large type edition

For the last few months, I find that I have a subscription to the venerable Rolling Stone magazine in print, which helps me stay up to date on what kids these days are into. For example, currently on the cover of the Rolling Stone is Lou Reed. It sounds like this promising young man has a great career ahead of him. 

The only drawback is that the magazine is no longer printed on oversized paper, so the font is tiny. Surely, though, the average Rolling Stone reader must be about as presbyopic as I am, so isn't it about time for a Large Print version of Rolling Stone, just like Reader's Digest long put out?

By the way, here's a 1968 photo of a panel discussion at a mandatory school assembly at Beverly Hills High School following a performance by the Velvet Underground, which had been arranged by student body president Mickey Kaus. From left to right: young Mickey, the school psychiatrist (how many public high schools besides Beverly Hills had a school psychiatrist in 1968? I imagine he was a Freudian, with a couch and everything ... ), a school music teacher, and Lou Reed, who appears less fascinated by what the student council leader is saying than are the two older gentlemen.

By the by the way, this is a good illustration of how male sitting styles changed during the 1960s. The older men have their legs tightly crossed, the way women cross their legs today. Lou and Mickey have their knees splayed wide apart. If they were to cross their legs, it would be by putting one ankle on top of a knee.

November 10, 2013

Tom Friedman: Let them hack cabs and take in lodgers!

Thomas Friedman's estate
Thomas Friedman writes:
But thanks to the merger of globalization and the I.T. revolution that has unfolded over the last two decades ... “the high-wage, medium-skilled job is over,” says Stefanie Sanford, the chief of global policy and advocacy for the College Board. The only high-wage jobs that will support the kind of middle-class lifestyle of old will be high-skilled ones, requiring a commitment to rigorous education, adaptability and innovation, she added. ...
To be in the middle class, you may need to consider not only high-skilled jobs, “but also more nontraditional forms of work,” explained Manyika. Work itself may have to be thought of as “a form of entrepreneurship” where you draw on all kinds of assets and skills to generate income.
This could mean leveraging your skills through Task Rabbit, or your car through Uber, or your spare bedroom through AirBnB to add up to a middle-class income. 

A reader comments:
Menial work + part time driver + renting out your personal space = the bright future envisioned by Tom Friedman, NYT chief futurologist!